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Friday, November 26, 2010

Medical Exam

Every year, every public worker in Japan MUST get a medical exam. I probably shouldn't complain because there are millions of people in the world who would like to see a doctor, and I go every year for free.

Here's a pic of a part of the English translation of the Medical Exam form. Please note, this is my 3rd year. Never before has anyone given me an English translation. Imagine trying to mime/pictionary something like cancer. Yes, I have done that.


First you register, and they put your medical form in a plastic folder, and give you a sticker with your name, and a little card. And then they give you a cup to pee in. But, this being Japan, it's not just any cup. In my town, the cup is always green, and I assume, it's green everywhere. And it has measurements. And the guy actually says to pee to the 25 mm line.

I always pee too much.

Then you have to bring your cup to another desk, where you put it on a circle they've printed on a laminated paper. I kind of wonder what would happen if you didn't put the cup in the circle. :)

Dude puts your pee in a little tube- 25 mls of it, and throws the rest in a bucket. Another temptation- kicking the bucket. Wait, did I just say that?

Right next to him, you do an eye test. There's a bunch of C's, oriented in different directions and you have to say if the space in the C is on the right, left, up or down. Then that same dude weighs you (Yes, I've noticed I'm overweight, Japan. But thanks.) and measures your height.

Then it's off for blood pressure and blood tests. The dude next to me was frightened of needles. I don't have that luxury. See, I have no veins. This is not the obesity speaking. Even as a baby I didn't have veins. (I've had blood taken from the back of my hand, and from the space inside my thumb and forefinger. I don't recommend either, unless you don't mind not being able to use your hand for a couple days.) Every time I get to this station, I remember that Japan doesn't know that much about the outside world. And I know that they probably all think that Black people just don't have veins. Sorry, Race.

Then you go to the heart doctor, who listens to your lungs. ??? Medicine is so confusing. And then you do an ear test. They give you a pair of headphones and you press the button when your hear the beep.

And then it's off to the buses.

For the operations which require equipment, they've renovated these buses. At the front, it's a regular bus, but in back, they've put in a door, and you go through the back and have your exam done. The perk of this is that hospitals outside big cities don't need expensive equipment. It just drives around in a bus.

This is a picture of the breast cancer/gynaecologist bus, which they sent me too without warning. Seriously, supervisor gives me paper I can't read and tells me I have an exam. I turn up and everyone starts taking their undies off. Weird, to say the least.

Yesterday there were two buses. In one you get a chest x-ray, and in bus 2, they do two things, neither of which I'm fully sure of. In the back, they take a picture of your eye. In the front, the put a bunch of metal clips on your arms, legs and chest, and shoot you full of electricity. I don't know what the machine did, but it shook the whole bus.

And then you're done!

Thanks for enduring two weeks of medical posts. Here's a reward, from today's school lunch: Almond Fish. I wish I was making this up.

Sadly, it tastes pretty good.

I've been here too long.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Fake fires, real nurses

Today, we had a Friday drill at my big elementary school. Somehow, Japan makes even the most mundane things ridiculous or amusing, or both.

Now, this wasn't my first drill. Last year, we had an earthquake drill at JHS, and I discovered, much to my dismay, after wandering outside 7 or so minutes into the drill, that I wasn't on anybody's accountability list. On my old schedule (a week at each school), if I'd been buried in an earthquake on Tuesday, noone would notice until Monday. And even then, it would be my foreign colleagues, and not a Japanese person.

Anyhow, back to today.

The Senior Teacher warned me that the bells would ring at different times today, because of a fire drill. Okay, I thought, and went back to lesson planning.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

There is a fire truck reversing outside. I furrow my brows. Are they for real? In answer to that question, an ambulance pulls up. The firemen come in- in my town, the Fire Service mans the ambulances as well- and go into the Principal's room, where they have green tea. Around 9.30 the firemen and the Principal wander back into the staff room. The Senior Teacher comes and stands at the PA system, which happens to be right next to my desk. I'm ignoring everybody and drawing pictures of Doraemon and Naruto for a game.

That is, until the Senior Teacher presses a button, and the most obnoxious alarm I've ever heard goes off. The Senior Teacher then announces that this is a drill and there is a fire. The School Secretary and the caretaker come over to the PA system, which also has the fire alarm monitoring system, and figure out that the fire is in a classroom on the 3rd floor. They grab a fire extinguisher and race upstairs, accompanied by a fireman. At this point, I wonder if they plan to have a fireman at the school before a real fire alarm, but then, there might actually be. The firemen and the police are at my schools so often, I can recognise them. I also realise that the alarm sounding in the hallway is a normal alarm and not the obnoxious sound playing in the staff room.

The Secretary, Caretaker and fireman return. They report to the Senior Teacher that they could not control the fire. She then announces that we're to evacuate. The Principal turns off the lights in the staff room and we head out. Some of the staff go to the genkan (entrance way) first to get their outdoor shoes. I go with them. If I wear my indoor shoes outdoors, then I have to stop and clean them before I come back inside. I wonder if, in the event of a real fire, people would go get their outdoor shoes.

Having grabbed our shoes, we head back the way we came to go out the back of the school. The School Nurse is running across the field with a green cross flag. Class teachers aren't too far behind. They all have flags with the number of their grade on them, and they're being followed by their students. They actually used the pretty staircase on the side of the building. It never occured to me that it's a fire escape. It's really pretty, it has a glass roof, and green floral designs in the metal on the sides. They sit down and make sure the kids are all accounted for (noone checked the teachers- I'm just going to bail out in the event of a real emergency, cuz noone will notice I'm missing til I'm dead).

And then, we did the Japanese thing. A fireman came up and gave a speech. I don't know how Japanese people manage to work a full on speech into everything, but they do. And then it was over, and the kids went to clean their indoor shoes, but not before I wondered what would happen if there was an emergency which required an ambulance while this was going on. The central part of my town has at least 7,000 people, 8 fire trucks and 1 ambulance. I don't know why we need 8 fire trucks either. At home we've got 270,000 people and we have like 11.

As promised, I'm also going to tell you guys about the Nurse Room kids. People who've never lived in Japan think that the society is all orderly, and obedient. They are sooooo wrong!

Here's the thing: in Japan there's no punishment. Yep, NO punishment.

Okay, that's not exactly true. But the only punishment for most things, is social ostracism. Japanese society is very dependent on the idea of being part of the group. You want to be like the members of your group and you don't want to displease them. That's all well and good, but if you're like me, and you don't really give two monkey coronaries what other people think, you can do whatever.

The Nurse Room kids are a prime example of this.

In Western society, if you have a problem with a kid in your class or a teacher, you deal with out. You can't just not come to school. I mean you could, but they'd have the truant officer on you in a minute.

Here, if something in class bugs you, it's perfectly okay if you stay at home. One of my ALT friends had a student who never came to school, except for the days when his wife (not an actual employee of the school) would come to school and draw manga characters with her. That same student never spoke to males.

Apart from not coming to school altogether, you can come to school and just go to the Nurse Room all day every day. There's even a possibility, that they will be an extra teacher to work with you, even though there's a teacher already on the payroll, teaching in your classroom.

By the way, this concept isn't just for kids. Adults can take kokoro no byouki (heartsickness), a seemingly unlimited amount of leave so they can just not come to work for whatever reason.

Another random thing I found out recently, kids are not special ed. if they disagree. Your teachers can say you belong in Special Ed, your parents can say you belong in Special Ed, but if you (the unqualified minor) say you don't, they have to put you in with the regular kids! I have seen this happen. In Special Ed, they would have learned at a slower rate, in the regular classroom they learn nothing. It's really sad.

Sometimes, Japan gets it so right. Other times, well at least they're good at judo!*

* Last year I had a kid who really struggled in all his subjects. I asked a teacher: Mizuki-kun** really struggles with English? And his response was, He's good at judo!

** name has been changed.

PS, Don't forget to check out my new blog on writing, music, travel and everything else.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival)

I am writing today from Sapporo, the site of the World's Best Snow Festival! Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido, which is the northernmost of Japan's 4 main islands. The snow festival is in its 61st year and is held every year in the week ending February 11 (National Foundation Day).

I'm just going to let the pictures do the talking today.

Here I am with the Tower and Marimo, the mascot of Hokkaido.

The smoking area was an ice sculpture!

Most of the stages were ice or snow sculptures.

People were snowboarding on a slope made on scaffolding!

JAL's "Northern Zooland"

"Where Dreams Come True"

"Michael Forever"

Korean Royal Palace


Thomas, the tank engine

Chibi Maruko

NZ's entry for the International Competition "Taniwha"

Hong Kong's entry was the God of Art and Literature, but I don't know why the guy on all fours has something sticking in his butt...

As far as Japan is concerned, Hawaii is a country!

Thailand won!

I love Stitch!



This was my favourite sculpture. As a writer, I love the concept!

Once in a while, Japan is the coolest place on Earth!Yu

Friday, February 5, 2010

10 Rules of Iwate Winter OR WHAT? You don't have central heating or insulation in -12C? (fof!)

1. Put your toothpaste and deoderant in the fridge to avoid them freezing.

2. Defrost the washing machine drain before washing to avoid turning the wash room into a frozen lake.

3. Give up on washing your hair. Your conditioner will freeze and the shampoo will be so cold you won't want to touch it.

4. Dry off faucet after use, to minimise icicles forming inside them.

5. Do not stand directly in front of the shower head to avoid being shot by said icicles when you turn on the water.

6. Turn on the water in the shower before getting in to melt the ice stalagmites.

7. Don't leave water in containers in the sink. Everything freezes together.

8. Do leave water in the kettle. If the faucets freeze, you'll need to run boiling water over them.

9. Get used to wearing cold clothes. Your clothes will never again be warm. NEVER!!!

10. Love your toes. Every second you still have ten of them, is a good second.
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