Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Cool New Webtool

I've been waiting for something like this for a while ... actually went looking for it a few months ago, when the need arose, but sadly (as all too often happens) what I wanted hadn't been invented yet, and I didn't need it badly enough to learn how to invent it myself.

Well, now that's all over! WetPaint has opened it's doors to the world. Making your own wiki is now as easy as making a blog (ie, as easy as writing an email.) I've already set one up: eikaiwa sensei, for all your curricular needs (if you're teaching English, that is.)

Friday, June 09, 2006

In Which I Brag

So I've been studying Japanese at the sedate pace of a few hours a week (on average: I go through flurries, two+ hours a day for a couple of weeks, followed by weeks of not even glancing at the book) since last September, which I like to think isn't all that long. I think I'm officially starting to get somewhat decent at it, and here's my proof:


And the translation:

Now, my Japanese is more skillful, and, the book is not good and so before class I have to write a lesson plan. 2000 yen is too small. Thus, if it becomes 3000 yen, I will teach.

Actually, that's a pretty rough translation (and after I sent the above, I discovered a spelling mistake ... and there's probably more. I'm not saying that my Japanese is perfect ... just better.) At any rate, as you can see, I successfully engaged in simple wage negotiations, in Japanese (weirdly, this is the first time I've ever negotiated for higher pay.)

At any rate, I received an email a few hours later, in which the company in question (that would be Hello Teacher) agreed to pay me 3000 yen an hour. I felt pretty good about myself after that.

Getting Screwed at the Immigration Office

So, it's been almost a year in Japan (officially, one whole year tomorrow) and so a couple of weeks ago I trudged down to the immigration bureau (the small, less-well-known one in Tachikawa, much closer than the main center in Shinagawa) to get my landing permit extended by another year. Of course, me being me, I forgot a crucial piece of documentation at home: while I brought my passport, gaijin card, and tax forms, I left my contract back in my room. Luckily they were nice enough to do all the paperwork, and told me simply to come back in two weeks or so (once a postcard came in the mail), with the contract, and they'd finish the process.

The postcard came a few days ago, so I woke up early-ish today - it being my day off - trudged down there in the pouring rain, took a number, and waited for an hour. Finally it was my turn, and I went up, gave the clerk my postcard, and was told 'please give me your passport, your gaijin card, and 4000 yen.'

'4000 yen? For what?'

'The revenue stamp.'

'But I bought a revenue stamp the last time I came!'

So the clerk went, took out my file, and leafed through the various forms and documents therein. I could very clearly see a little square of abraded paper on the corner of the application, where the stamp had obviously been removed.

I pointed it out, but of course it counted for nothing. So, once again out into the rain, to track down an ATM and buy a revenue stamp.

The moral of this little story? Well, I take away two. First, obviously, always remember to bring all your documents ... especially when going to a government office in east nowhere, suburbia, where the nearest ATM is a fifteen minute hike away. And second - while I'm sure there's a perfectly rational explanation for the missing revenue stamp - my inherent paranoia and prejudice against bureacrats leads me to suspect that the slime removed the first revenue stamp after I left, purely so I'd have to pay twice and, thus, increase their precious revenue (after all, what could possibly happen to them? If I start complaining, then 'sorry, I do not understand. My English is not so good.' Not that I don't do the same thing in reverse whenever convenient, but still.)

Sunday, June 04, 2006

A Tale of Three Words (or, depending how you look at it, of One)

Back when I was a teenager being forced to study French, it one day occured to me that maison was very similar to the English mansion, at least insofar as both words referring to a dwelling of some sort. The interesting thing, to me, was where they differed: maison refers to a simple house, whereas mansion refers to a big, fancy, luxurious house. This made an intuitive kind of sense, given that the French-speaking Normans conquered Britian in 1066, and for several hundred years after that the English aristocracy spoke French almost exclusively. Given that, it's not at all surprising that the word was adapted in English to mean 'big fancy luxurious house'.

When I came to Japan, one of the first things I learned was that modern Japanese contains a very large amount of 'katakana English' (katakana is the alphabet the Japanese use to write foreign words.) Only rarely does the meaning survive entirely intact, and manshon (マンション) is one of those. For some reason that I don't really understand yet, manshon refers to a large apartment. This can lead to occasionally amusing situations (Me: "Where do you live?" Student: "I living in manshon in Tachikawa." Me: "Wow! That's really cool! It must be very expensive for all that space!" Student (looking confused): "It is expensive, but it is very small." Of course that doesn't happen anymore, now that I know what manshon means.)

So here you have a word, which originated waaaay back with the Romans (the Latin mansio, according to my online dictionary); was elevated, on a rainy isle off the coast of Europe, to the status of 'rich man's house'; crossed two continents and found a third home in the difficult tongue of another archipelago, where it was used to refer to a kind of dwelling that didn't even exist when the word itself was first spoken.

Kinda cool, no?