Kobe Days

34.6911° N, 135.1973° E


Recap: Kyushu Day 0~1 Yamaguchi/Fukuoka

As I’m trying to write this post I realized why I stopped putting up my travel posts. How do I write all my posts when it takes forever to upload my photos?!


So I think it might be time to do some recap on my travel adventures. It’s been way too long, hasn’t it? Well. It’s a cliche, but better late than never, eh?

Anyway, the trip to Kyushu, which took place in Golden Week 2013 (I know, thank you very much), was planned between 5 Singaporeans from 5 different places – Hiroshima (WT), Hokkaido (LJ), Ishikawa (LQ), Miyagi (LC) and myself, Kobe. Just that alone would give you an idea of how difficult it was to plan, even with modern technology. Still, we managed it somehow. I was going to join them for the first part of the trip, then break off to do my own thing since they wanted to go to Oita, where I had already been. We arranged to meet at Fukuoka to kickstart our trip.

WT and myself planned to take landed transport to our destination. She was going to take a bus in the morning and I would take a overnight ferry. The other 3 would meet up at KIX and take a Peach flight down later in the day. With that planned, I set off to the ferry terminal for my first experience on the ferry.

As usual, click for piccies.


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About Englishes

Recently I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learnt since coming on JET (during the spare moments not spent Cumberbatch-ed…). Mostly inspired by the new group of JETs, I thought about what I’d learnt over my years here, and this little thought came to me one day during English class. So in typical narcissistic fashion, here it is.

Dear newbie Singaporean JETs,

If there’s one tip I can give you now, specifically for you, this is it: be aware of the way you speak English. Throughout the CELTA course I did, the 2 years I’ve spent teaching in Japan, I’ve learnt so much about the way I speak English that I had never known while living in Singapore.

Now, I want to point out that there is nothing wrong with the way we speak English. (And I mean English, NOT Singlish, all right?) Many Singaporeans can express themselves in grammatically correct English, albeit with a Singaporean accent, and that’s perfectly fine. And Singaporean English, like British English or American English, has its own set of lexicon which is unique to the region.

But unlike British/American/Australian accents, which most of the non-English-speaking world usually have some access to thanks to their great TV shows, singers, etc, Singaporean English is not as often heard. As a result, many people, even native speakers of English, can’t understand what we say.

And it’s not their fault, neither is it ours. It’s just a lack of exposure. So how do you deal with it?

When you come here, you’ll find native speakers begging your pardon over and over again. You may get Japanese teachers questioning your pronunciation. You’ll be asked to slow down (we really do speak fast), or you may find yourself needing to change your accents or stresses or slur your ‘t’s to be understood (twenty versus twenny). You may find your identity as a native speaker questioned in rare cases (just shrug it off).

In the classroom, you’ll need to think about pronunciation (and spelling, of course). Some of our pronuncation is influenced by our more British background. Vase (Br) versus vase (Am), for example. Can’t (Br) versus can’t (Am). Our pronunciation is shaped by our heritage and the English our teachers had used, as well as the English we hear in the media (not always accurate, as you may well know). To relate a story, I still pronounce ‘academic’ as sounding similar to ‘academy’, thanks to years of listening to teachers talking about ‘the aCAREdemic year’. It’s one of the few words that I really need to think about before saying.

Other things I’ve noticed I occasionally lapse into include forgetting my ‘th’ (teeth/without), shortening my vowels (book), dropping verbs and replying to my teacher’s question of ‘Can you…’ with ‘Can!’ >< None of this would be a problem in normal life, but when you're teaching and hoping that students will follow your pronunciation/use of English, you need to note what you say to them.

If you're teaching higher levels, you'll need to revise grammar rules, because as likely as not, you'll have teachers or keen students asking you to explain why a certain form isn't right. I don't know how grammar education in Singapore has changed while you were a student, but I was well-drilled in grammar, so I found it a fascinating experience answering such questions. If you aren't a grammar aficionado, though, you probably won't enjoy it as much.

So as you plan for your year(s) ahead, worrying about packing all the Prima Taste mixes in your luggage without going overweight or what omiyage you need to buy, a note to remember: in our unique position as the only "non-native" native English teachers on the JET programme, it is as much a learning experience for us as it is for them. So try to learn about teaching and learning English as a Foreign Language, teach them about our experiences learning English as both a first and second language, and help your students avoid making the same mistakes we learnt studying English growing up.

It's an experience to be savored. (See what I did there? ;p)

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Cumbercookie in the making

Since coming back from London, I have:

1) read/watched/re-lived Harry Potter;
2) drank plenty of Pimms;
3) FINALLY watched Sherlock (Yes I know I’m slow but in defence I’ve never really watched TV or movies);


4) hence decided to put myself through the wonderful process of becoming a well and thoroughly baked Cumbercookie. (Well, a Cumber Collective member, if you want to be all official, but I like being a -cookie in the -batch.)

So, eh, yeah. Expect radio silence.

Will still answer questions, so feel free to ask, but all spare moments shall be spent on the ベネディクト in the near future.

PS. Any fans want to recommend which of his works I should look into next?


So hard to say goodbye

The thing about JET is that you really don’t know where you end up after you get accepted. Take me, for example. I had asked for a sub-urban placement with no preferences for prefectures, and I ended up in one of the most urban placements right next to where I had lived the previous year.

Kobe, as a designated city, is like a mini prefecture. Over 100 ALTs are spread out over 9 SHS, 82 JHS and 166 ES, and you don’t really have a choice where you go. One of the ALTs said that school placement is like an arranged marriage. You don’t know what you’re getting into, but all you can do is try and make things work with the other party. She’s not wrong.

I was placed in a really large JHS with 3 ALTs (anyone would tell you that this is really uncommon). Besides taking one grade of students (over 300 of them), I also took on the task of teaching at a mammoth ES. In order to meet requirements, I had to spend 2 days every week at there, sometimes teaching 6 straight classes a day. For someone without teaching experience with children, I can tell you that it was not an easy task.

But with the hard work came the most friendly environment an ALT can have. The principal had taught overseas himself, and is a firm advocate of English in elementary schools. The vice-principal is a friendly, fatherly man who would answer my numerous questions about Japanese school culture and kept an interest in what I was doing. The school nutritionist would join in our conversations and kept me fed with all kinds of sweets and tidbits.

The school had a great system for planning classes. Each grade had a teacher in charge of English, with one of them my overall contact for the school. Every time I was due to teach a new grade, I would sit down with that teacher and discuss the next lesson. It’s easy for me to do so because I speak pretty fluent Japanese, but the teachers themselves are mostly younger teachers, and they are happy to listen to my ideas and discuss my plans, which makes lesson planning a joy.

When I received my new posting for the new school year, I was both happy and sad. Happy because I was moving to a high-level SHS, something that I’d worked towards as part of my own professional development, but sad because I was going to have to leave my ES. I loved the school – it was the only reason I stayed in my current JHS despite having a terrible first year (the second year was great).

On my last day, the principal congratulated me on being transferred to the SHS, saying that my hard work has been recognised. He has always been a firm supporter of my work, and I know that he often spoke of me to the BOE. He made the announcement of my leaving to the school at the morning meeting, and the looks of surprise on the teachers’ faces made me tear up again. I cried so hard when I made my leaving speech, something I didn’t think I would do, but I was grateful, so grateful for having been placed in such a supportive and nurturing school for my first ALT experience that I couldn’t help myself.

So many teachers came up to me to congratulate me and encourage me after that. A couple of them got their classes to write goodbye notes to me, and I was beset upon by a class of 4th years after school, thanking me for teaching them. I hung around after working hours, helping out with graduation prep just so I didn’t have to leave, and I found myself tearing up again as I handed in my staff pass to the vice-principal. “I’ll hold it for you for the next time you come back,” he said.

Thank you, IBKH ES, for being my home for the past 1.5 years. I don’t believe there can be any placement more welcoming that you were. I’ll miss you so, so much.

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(as told by my 6th graders.)

“Um…turtle…(looks at friend) いじめられるは何だって?”
“Boy…(pretends to beat up his friend acting as a turtle)”
“Taro…turtle rescue!”
(Bonus points for ‘rescue’!)
“Taro turtle ride. Go Ryugujo.”
What’s Ryugujo?
Ah. Then?
“Dancing fish!”
“Um…box! Present!”
“Go home! Father, mother, no!”
“Box open, smoke! じいさんって何? Grandfather!”
Grandfather comes out of the box?
“No!! Um…Taro! Grandfather!”

Best story ever.
Non-ESL teachers can click here for the full story. (^▽^)

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Just like Hokkien and Singlish, Kansai-ben has reached a very special place in my heart. I think it really hit hard these couple of weeks when I (finally) sat down to watch Hanzawa Naoki, otherwise known as the greatest drama hit of 2013. The first half was set in Kansai, and while the scenery (shots of Kyoto, Kobe and Osaka in abundance) was lovely, the fluent Kansai-ben made me laugh out loud more than once. Following that with catching up my reading of Hankyu Densha and re-watching the movie made me realise just how much I love it.

Almost everyone around me use it. My teachers use it to speak to their students. My students use it to speak to me. The fact that I’m beginning to comprehend so much more of it after three years makes me proud to consider myself as becoming more of a 関西人.

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Doesn’t mean I can speak it though. 😛

PS: Sakai Masato is so attractive. I wish I knew who he was earlier.


Love is…

your mother trying to figure out a way for you to smuggle some pandan leaves in your luggage against the wishes of your father who is worried that you might get stopped at customs.

I ♥ my mum and dad.