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Browsing Posts published in June, 2007

Because (train) knowlege is power


A public service announcement from Brian Blanchard
I finally got around to encoding and uploading the instructional video I made for IES back in the summer of 2005 when I was interning there. It’s a basic guide on how to use and ride the trains here in Japan. I think they still show this at the orientations, or at least they did for a year or so.

It was quite a rush job, and if memory serves me right I went out and filmed it with Blanchard all in one morning/afternoon. After pulling an all-nighter to finish editing it on Blanchard’s Mac with Final Cut Pro before he left for the airport (yes, I was cutting it that close), I finished it somehow. It’s actually not too bad now that I watch it again. Not my best work, but not horrible either. Of course there are no graphics or titles since I didn’t have time to bother, but overall I suppose it’s a decent way to introduce trains to IES kids. My favorite shot is the station attendant scratching himself.

Oh and some more random behind-the-scenes stuff about this video. I had a very rough script outline, but no cue cards or prompter, so most of the lines were me and Brian reviewing my outline before each shot, and him memorizing/improvising with each take. No one would be able to notice, but every station or train included in the video and b-roll was along my usual commute path from Myoden to Kaihim-Makuhari, passing through Nishi and Minami Funabashi along the way. Do you like the snazzy music? All from FreePlay. Also, I’m sorry there are so many handheld shots; I know someone will yell at me for that.

It’s here on YouTube for easy viewing, or I’ve uploaded a higher-res version in MPG format on the Videos page.

Hong Kong for food and bootlegs


2 national heroes side by sideLast Friday I left for vacation to Hong Kong for 3 nights and 4 days. This was my first trip since December, and also my first time to leave Japan since arriving last September. It was an awesome trip; amazing and cheap Chinese food and cheap knockoff products like DVDs, t-shirts, sunglasses, and watches. I wish I would have had more time to be there, but in the short amount of vacation I had I think I did a pretty good job of enjoying myself.

I did my usual pre-vacation routine on Thursday night, pulling an all nighter, not packing until the last minute, and rushing myself at the end so as to not miss my train/plane. I made it, however, with plenty of time to spare at Narita before my flight, even after getting my JAL mileage card and boarding pass stuck in a machine and arguing in Japanese with a retarded luggage carrier grunt. My JAL card had a dent in it, so it must have jammed the machine. After I put my documents into the machine to try and get my frequent flier miles, the machine shut down and displayed a “Out of Order” message. I call the worker guy over, and tell him that my stuff is stuck and I need to get them back. He is obviously confused by this, and points at the 4 kanji on the screen reading them aloud slowly, “Out. Of. Order.” I almost bodyslammed the guy right there. Yes, Ace, it went out of order after it ate my docs; get them out! Luckily a real desk worker lady came over quickly when she realized I was talking to the retard, and she helped me out with about a thousand apologizes and bows. So yeah, JAL staff is really helpful at the airport as long as you don’t ask the retarded luggage carrier guy.

It was about a 4 and a half hour flight from Tokyo to Hong Kong. I think it was actually delayed, but as soon as I sat on the plane I fell asleep until we landed. I was so tired I didn’t even wake up to eat the nasty airplane meal, which I usually would at least do. From the airport, got on the Airport Express train line to central Hong Kong island. The train was really nice, about on par with the shinkansen in Japan. I was quite impressed. Met up with Spiderman Derek, who works and lives in HK. He picked me up from the train station and hauled my suitcase a few blocks to his office. I would usually feel bad about my friend lugging my stuff that far, but since Derek can bench press Godzilla, I figured it was OK. Derek’s office was way sweet, if not in the very least because of the vast amounts of free snacks and drinks for the employees. I went to explore HK a little while Derek finished work, wandering around shopping centers in Central and Causeway Bay. It was pretty awesome just to explore. I’ve only been to HK once with my family when I was in middle school, yet somehow a lot of things seemed familiar. Even the smells of HK, good and bad, seemed the same as nearly 11 years ago. I should mention here, however, that Hong Kong was incredibly hot and humid, especially compared to the weather we’d had here in Japan before I left. Just walking around I felt pretty gross and exhausted from the traveling.

Had lunch at some Chinese fast food place. For 39 HK dollars, only around 5 USD, I was able to get a nice bowl of rice with cha-shu roast pork and a drink. Absolutely amazing. I wish food in Japan was half as good and cheap as food in HK. Then for dinner, Derek took me to this place named Satay King feastSatay King which has some amazingly good and cheap food as well. We ordered enough food to feed the entire Brady Bunch, and did pretty well on it, having to only take 2 small doggy bags afterwards. We had some good chicken wings, stuffed snails, curry, and a ton more food. The absolute best, however, was one of the most popular dishes of the house. It was some kind of special Satay noodle soup, kind of like ramen but with the thin vermicelli noodles. But the soup, oh man. It was amazing. Kind of like a thick miso ramen base, but definitely had more interesting spices and maybe some kind of peanut sauce in it? I actually have no idea what was in it, but it was probably the best soup I have ever tasted in my entire life.

greatest brunch on the face of the Earth

If you haven’t guessed already, one of the main reasons I went to Hong Kong was the eat awesome food. Sunday morning, Derek and I went to get dim sum. We were going to try the City Hall place, but it was packed so we headed to another place Derek knew in Causeway Bay. It was definitely not a bad second choice. Much more local, but it was amazing nonetheless. Between Derek knowing how to speak Chinese and read some, and me knowing how to eat Chinese food and read a few kanji, we were able to figure out what was what on the menus. We ordered tons of food again, and yes it was great. Cha-shu bows, noodles, more noodles, tripe, chicken feet, etc. After lunch and on our way out, the rain of the day started up. It was really strange; kind of on and off but really pouring whenever it started. Anyways, I went off to check into my hotel for the last 2 nights. The Eaton Hotel somehow gave me a free upgrade, so for pretty cheap I had a really nice room on the 19th floor. I spent the rest of Saturday shopping in Mong Kok and Temple Street, the famous night market which happened to be 2 blocks from the hotel. These street markets are the kind of place where you can get the shady bootleg stuff. I picked up a t-shirt, a watch, and some DVDs the first night. Unfortunately, Hong Kong is recently cracking down on the bootlegs or something, so while you can still find them easily, it’s not as ridiculous as I was hoping for. They also had a lot of stuff on DVD-9 format, which means you get a ton of episodes, but the compression is so high the quality is terrible. I had a feeling this was the case, and luckily only bought 1 set to test first. I got the first 3 seasons of The 4400 on DVD for 100 HK bucks (about 13 $US). Not only were the episodes TV rips probably gotten off BitTorrent, but all 3 seasons were compressed onto 2 discs, meaning the quality was like YouTube. Needless to say, I didn’t bother buying anymore of these super compressed sets.

Sunday, slept in and watched some TV. I hadn’t seen American stuff like Leno since last year, so it was fun to watch. Also I was never a Letterman fan, but has he always been this terrible? I watched an episode and pretty much every joke seemed just awful, and the bald guy in the band who is like Letterman’s co-host really needs to just shut up. Anyways, met up with Derek again and did some shopping and exploring in MK (everything in Hong Kong has an abbreviation it seems) then headed to Causeway for dinner. First we had snake soup, which was pretty delicious, then we had time to kill so we went to this electronics shopping mall which was cool to look around in but very tempting. Then for dinner, went to this great yakiniku viking. Believe it or not, I defeated Derek. Yes. The King of Yakiniku was defeated. Actually Derek had to get up and run to the toilet to relieve himself supermodel-style. Hahaha.

Spent my last night shopping in Temple Street and trying to buy a bunch of stuff. I got a nice compact DVD player for 300 HKD that plays pretty much everything: any region of DVD, DIVX, VCD, MP3, MPEG, karaoke, etc. It actually works, so I’m happy. I bought some more DVDs, t-shirts, 3 fake RayBan aviators, and a polo shirt that was cheap but feels really thin. Anyways, I stayed up late, woke up later than planned, and had about an hour of panicked last-minute shopping at the nearby department store. Headed home in the afternoon and arrived in Japan around 8PM on Monday n
ight. Narita was a ghost town that late, which made immigration and customs super fast. All in all an awesome trip. I’ll write some more about HK observations, but now I need to go to bed.
(I finished this blog around 4AM after starting it much much earlier tonight and being distracted by Futurama on my mega-DVD player.)

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Quick update from HK, since I finally got an open computer that works at the hotel’s coffee shop. It has been a really awesome trip so far; I have 1 more night and a few hours tomorrow then it’s back to Japan and work on Tuesday. The food has been awesome. I’ve already got some counterfeit DVDs, neckties, and t-shirts, and will buy a ton more tonight I think.

Exotic/weird foods and new animals I have eaten since coming to HK: stuffed snails, snake soup, beef tripe and chicken’s feet. Not too impressive a list as I thought it would be, but I still have a few meals left to go.

Take Off

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In about an hour I’ll be heading to Narita to get on a plane for Hong Kong. I always manage to leave any packing to the very last minute, cutting things close and all that. Stayed up all night, didn’t really start doing anything productive packing-wise until around 3:30, but should be all set to sleep the entire way of the almost-5-hour flight to HK. Vacation here I come.

I’ll pack tomorrow

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Counseling Week has been way easy so far. No regular classes, just a few special classes and some private lessons here and there. I did a special lesson on tongue twisters last night that was pretty funny. One guy was so excited I thought he was going to have a seizure. Also I realized that I am pretty good at tongue twisters myself, although this could be because I was doing them along with 3 people who have only been studying English for a few years.

In more exciting news, I’m heading to Hong Kong early Friday morning for a nice 3-night, 4-day excursion. I’m way pumped, first of all because I don’t have to work, but mainly because I get to go to Hong Kong. I’m going to meet up with Derek (Spider-Man), eat tons of awesome food, and buy tons of cheap stuff. I have done very little planning except for the basics, so mainly I’m going to go eat at good places with Derek and then go shopping and buy a load of cheap stuff. Sounds like it will be a good vacation. I’m going to take a ton of pictures as well.

Another Melvin Gaijin on TV

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I made the mistake this evening of turning on the TV. As I was flipping through the channels, I landed on NHK, the national public station. NHK is a lot different from traditional PBS stuff we see in the US, primarily because people actually watch it. There are, however, a lot of trash programs on the station, including educational ones. I think I’ve complained before about my intense hate for the English educational shows on Japanese TV. Tonight may have been the worst I’ve seen, primarily because of this mega flamboyant possibly transvestite foreign teacher:

Look Ma, I'm wearing makeup!

Yikes is right. I’ve uploaded some poor-res video clips of this show on Youtube. Links are at the end of this post. You can probably imagine how freakishly strange this “guy” sounds, but it’s even worse than that. Please listen for yourself. Although he looks like Mimi from The Drew Carey Show, his voice is much, much higher.

The show is part of the Koukou Kouza series (NHK高校講座), which seems to have all kinds of lessons in different subjects targeted at high school students. I guess this show is actually for retarded high school students, because they have a teacher who speaks around 1 word a minute, and has to resort to extreme body and facial movements to keep your attention as he tries to get a full sentence out. Speaking of retarded high school students, check out the third video I uploaded from this show; not only do the kids speak English like they have speech impediments, but the conversation has no real logical flow either. The entire show is sentence repetition and basic conversations, which all in all isn’t that bad. My main beef with the show was the foreign host, who acts more like a clown that a teacher and doesn’t sound natural at all. If you spoke like that to a real native speaker, they’d laugh at you and walk away.

Of course I understand that you have to speak slowly and clearly for learners of English to understand you; I do it on a daily basis. However, this guy takes it over the top and deserves to be punched in the face for the way he acts. Most high school students don’t need to be spoken to this slowly. The students on the show, for example, spoke a lot faster and don’t need him breaking up every word into its own galaxy. Stop patronizing these people. I worry when I think about people actually watching these shows and thinking they’re going to learn how to speak English from someone like Mimi on TV here.

This guy’s name is Brian Wistner. After doing some hardcore research, by which I mean 1 page of Google search results, it seems as if this guy teaches English at some Christian college in Tokyo, and has also co-authored a book on taking TOEIC. Let’s hope for the sake of his customers and students that his on-camera persona is some kind of self-degrading joke, and he doesn’t really act, speak, or write like he does on the show. Something tells me that’s not the case though. I still can’t stand how pretty much every foreign co-host of these English shows on Japanese TV is a major toolbag. Yes, I said co-host, because I have yet to see a program that is hosted by a lone foreigner. There’s almost always a Japanese person there to lead the action, and that Japanese person usually speaks perfect English without acting like a high-school drama club reject. Hey NHK, here’s an idea: ditch the crap foreigners and just let these Japanese people host the shows.

Here are some clips of tonight’s show, in case you’re curious as to why this stuff annoys me so bad. I used my camera to take video off the TV, then posted them to YouTube, so obviously the quality is terrible. You can still watch them though.

  • Clip 1 – Watch Mimi-sensei spell out a sentence as if he were teaching a dog how to drive a Jeep.
  • Clip 2 – Another one!? Now he goes and talks to some Australian woman. This is the most awkward conversation using What’s up ever recorded on camera.
  • Clip 3 – Since the program was so awful, the kids didn’t learn anything. She’s hungry. Heading home now. Pork chop sandwiches? Duuuuuur.
Make it stop!
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