Adam's IES-B Cafe

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Katty and I just returned from 10 days in beautiful Bali, where we had an amazing time. Katty is doing very well, the baby is fine, and we are both happy to be back in Japan.

So what did we do in Bali? It was a relaxing vacation for us, full of eating, sleeping, walking, reading, swimming, and shopping. The Balinese people are very friendly, especially the wonderful family who owned the hotel where we stayed in Ubud, and we enjoyed meeting people and viewing different aspects of Balinese culture. We especially enjoyed two local dances that were performed in Ubud temples - Lagong and Kecak. We also took beautiful walks through rice paddies and lush, green valleys.

And the food! We dug in and devoured a variety of delicious foods, including a lot of fish, fresh fruit, and crisp vegetables. We tried to go to a different restaurant each night, but some places were so good that we returned once or twice. Also, at our hotel, the owner's family prepared a huge Balinese feast with 15 different dishes! We ate very well, which made pregnant Katty very happy.

If any of my students are still checking this blog, please write and tell me how your breaks are going. I'll also put more pictures on My Picture Page if you want to see more of Bali.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Our Fiction Page

All of the IES-B short stories can be found here. Students, make at least three comments on stories before Tuesday's class. I will give you my comments to the stories this weekend, and we will share and revise the stories on Tuesday in class. Think now about any changes that you will make.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Eight Kamis

In class we are writing short stories... here is the one I wrote, called The Eight Kamis. It is a horror story, so try not to be afraid. I did not take any time to edit or revise it, so if it has mistakes or is not very good, I apologize.

. Nick Casey slicked his hair back one final time, took a deep but nervous breath, and entered the room to face the horror – twenty-four Japanese students. Nick had spent the last nine years of his life as an accountant in Cleveland, Ohio, but one divorce, one mid-life crisis, one education certificate, and one long flight later, he was now a sensei, ready to teach English to a room full of students at Osaka Language College. The Japanese whispering stopped dead, and Nick pushed forward to the oversized teacher’s desk in front of the room, too petrified to look up at the silent students, too shy to do anything but flash a thin smile.
. “Good morning,” he muttered, finally looking up to see… twenty-four smiling, eager faces. Forty-eight alert, patient eyes. “Good morning,” he repeated with confidence. “I’m Mr. Casey, your new teacher. Welcome to Reading and Writing 219.”

. A week later, Nick had memorized all of the students’ names, aided by one helpful coincidence – eight of the girls were named Kami! He had three other classes and not a single Kami, but R&W 219 had eight of them, a fact that the girls themselves found highly amusing.
. “Mr. Casey,” asked the boldest of the Kamis, “you are going to remember our last names?”
. “I don’t think I can,” Nick answered. “You can be Kami Number One.”
. The rest of the students broke into laughter, and the other Kamis demanded names of their own.
. “Well, let’s see,” Nick said thoughtfully, resting his chin in his hand and tapping his cheek for extra effect. “You can be Tall Kami, and you over there can be Kami With Glasses.” More laughter. “Then we have Kami Coffee-Drinker, Late Kami, Kami With Braces… hmmm. Two more. Sleepy Kami, and… Cell Phone in Class Kami.”
. The students howled their approval. The Kami class had quickly become Nick’s favorite because of their good sense of humor and patience – he was a new teacher, and he made a lot of mistakes (like forgetting the books on the second day of class!), but they always treated his with respect and understanding.

. Nick had taken over the classes of a Mr. Benjamin, who had quit the university suddenly and returned to England, where he was from. Because of that, just when Nick was beginning to feel at ease and the classes were becoming more interesting, the semester was at an end. On the last day of class, Kami Number One raised her hand and said, “Mr. Casey, today we have party for last day of class. We will go to a traditional Japanese bar, called izakaya. Can you go?”
. Nick agreed immediately – he hadn’t yet made many friends among the staff, and he thought that an evening out with his students would be a great introduction to Japanese culture. . “You are very good teacher,” added Kami With Glasses. “This class was too short.”

. Nick arrived at Murasaki Izakaya at 8:00 sharp, knowing that the Japanese were usually on time for most events. He nodded his way through an awkward greeting with the doorman, and was led up two sets of rickety wooden stairs. On the top floor of the izakaya was a private room, rented out for large parties – such as twenty-four students and their teacher. As he climbed, the smell of grilled meat and spilled beer faded away, replaced by a sweet smell he couldn’t identify. . Nick took off his shoes, slipped on a pair of too-small izakaya slippers, and slid open the paper door that the doorman had indicated. Surprisingly, only a few students were waiting inside – the eight Kamis.
. “Welcome,” they cried out.
. “Thanks,” Nick said, looking around. “But where are the others?”
. “They had to cancel,” said Late Kami, who wasn’t late for a change.
. “All of them?” Nick asked.
. The eight Kamis nodded silently.
. The room itself was beautiful. The far wall was really just one big window, revealing the cloudy but bright June night beyond it.
. The girls fell unusually silent, and Nick struggled to think of a topic. “I had a wonderful semester,” he said. “I was very lucky to get your class.”
. “Not lucky,” said Sleepy Kami, who wasn’t sleepy for a change. “You are here because Mr. Benjamin is gone. But that isn’t lucky.”
. “Sure it is,” Nick disagreed. “If Mr. Benjamin hadn’t returned to London, I wouldn’t even have been hired.”
. “But Mr. Benjamin no return to London,” said Kami Number One, standing up from her kneeling position. “We get new teacher every month. Mr. Benjamin May teacher. You June teacher.”
. “Every month?” Nick asked. “I don’t understand?”
. The rest of the Kamis also stood up, and Nick didn’t know what to think. He stood up, too, and began to inch towards the door.
. “Do you know what Okami means in Japanese?” asked Tall Kami, who was almost as tall as he was.
. “I haven’t really learned much Japanese yet,” Nick mumbled, afraid now because of the girls’ serious expressions. These were the expressions he had been afraid of seeing back on the first day, and now, four weeks later, here they were.
. “Okami means wolf,” said Kami With Braces, running her tongue across her teeth. “Isn’t it funny that we are all named Kami? That we are all named wolf?”
. Nick took a step back, ready to run, but two of the Kamis had blocked the door. He skirted the edge of the table, and soon was pressed up against the window. The Kamis were coming closer, their eyes vacant. And that sweet smell again. He recognized it. Blood.
. “Look,” whispered Kami Number One, nodding to the window.
. Nick didn’t want to look, but couldn’t help himself. Behind him, the full moon had come out from behind the clouds. He closed his eyes when he heard the first terrible snarl, and waited in the darkness for the Okamis to attack.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Fun Movies

One thing I did over the break was see a lot of movies, and I thought I would give you my thoughts on a couple of them.

1) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: I have read all of the books in the Harry Potter series, and was very excited for this movie because I thought The Goblet of Fire was the best of all the books so far. The movie did not disappoint in the action scenes, but I wasn't sure that the director included enough from the book. There were several moments when I thought that if I had not read the book, I would not understand the movie completely.

One thing I like about the 4th book and movie was that it began to get much darker and serious. In this movie, a major character dies at the end, which is of course very painful for the young witches and wizards. I sometimes wonder if perhaps the movies are now too scary for very young students. Have you seen the movie or read the book?

2) King Kong: Of course the story of King Kong is very famous, and I was eager to see what the director of The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson, would do with the story. Again, this movie had a lot of great action sequences, but I particularly like the relationship between the main character (played by Naomi Watts) and the big monkey. It felt very realistic to me, and I could sense that they had a special bond at the end of the film. Of course, everyone knows how the movie will end, so the ending was fine, but I was a little disappointed that the director left many holes in the story. I don't want to ruin the movie for those who haven't seen it, but I think that everyone already knows that King Kong is captured and taken to New York. But... how did they get him on the boat? How did they keep him alseep and calm for such a long journey? I wish they would have explained these and other mysteries.

The action sequences were amazing and creative, but they were so fast and long that sometimes I was a little confused as to what was happening. Overall, I definitely recommend seeing it. Have you?

3) The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe: This is the first book in the Narnia series, which is a popular set of children's books written by C.S. Lewis. I read these books when I was a kid, and strongly recommend them for my students... they are not too easy, not too hard (certainly easier that Slaughterhouse-Five!). The movie stars four brothers and sisters, and I was impressed with the young actors they chose. Often young actors bother me in movies, but these were very convincing and not annoying at all. The movie was very loyal to the book, for the most part. I was only distressed seeing the children suddenly become leaders of a huge army... of course it is a children's book and not very realistic, but they went from little kids to killing warriors very quickly and with no training. Hmmm.

My only big complaint was the voice of Azlan, the Lion. The Lion is the king of Narnia, and more of a god than an animal. Then why did they give him such a loser, old man voice? Have you seen this or any other good movies this winter?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Hello From Cleveland

I just wanted to say hello to any students or anyone else who might be checking my blog over the holiday break. I am in Cleveland with my family in my dad's new house, and my wife Katty arrived today from Peru, where she attended her sister's wedding and spent Christmas with her family.

I have attached an old picture of my dad and brother and me in Japan, since I don't have any new pictures to share. I also chose this one because I printed a nice copy and put it in a frame and gave it to my dad for Christmas.

It's great being home! My dad and brother and I went to a Cleveland Browns football game, which was fun even though the Browns are terrible and lost 41-0 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Oh well. I have also seen a lot of my friends, and will see more of them tonight. New Years Eve will be tranquil, since Katty and I have to catch a 6:00am flight on January 1st! It's not our fault... they canceled the flight we had, and gave us this one.

OK... I hope everyone is safe and happy. See you soon.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Real Santa?

Who is the Santa in the picture? That's right, it's me on Friday night. The teachers and their families had a little Christmas party, and I was asked and reluctantly agreed to be Santa.

It was more complicated than I thought it would be! Obviously you have the pants and shirt and hat, but I also needed boots, cotton balls for the eye brows, double-sided tape, blush (make-up) for my cheeks, and my wife's glasses.

At the party, most kids cried when they sat on my lap, but I didn't take it personally. Some of the older kids didn't really think I was Santa, but they were too shy to say anything about it. There were a couple of kids at the perfect age, who really did think I was Santa and told me how they drew my picture in school and wrote me letters. It was cute.

After giving out the gifts and crying, "Ho Ho Ho," I made my exit. I enjoyed being Santa, but hope that next year someone else does it.

There is another photo on my English 1 blog, and I will also put more on my picture page if I get them.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Slaughterhouse-5, Chapters 9 and 10

On p. 83, Billy's wife Valencia dies of carbon monoxide poisoning. She is in a traffic accident, and the carbon monoxide that is produced by her car begins to fill the inside. She keeps driving, because she wants to get to the hospital to see Billy. During the trip she becomes poisoned by the gas, and dies.

Harry Truman was the American president who decided to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On pp. 185-186 we get an abbreviated version of his announcement. See the whole thing here.

Vonnegut refers to The Destruction of Dresden by David Irving. Rumfoord, Billy's neighbor in the hospital, wants to read this book because he is writing a book about WWII, and wants to show that Dresden was a huge military success. Rumfoord is portrayed as a military man whom we aren't supposed to like very much -- someone who doesn't see the human side of war.

The students doing the summary this week do not need to mention the quoted text from pp. 187-188. You should all read it, but there will not be test questions about it.

On p. 91, Rumfoord shows his dislike for "bleeding hearts." A bleeding heart (see definition #2) is someone who is politically liberal and is sympathetic to everyone. That sounds like a good thing, but it is often used with a negative connotation to describe someone who is viewed as weak or too soft. An example: "All of those bleeding-heart liberals would be happy if illegal immigrants filled the U.S.A. from top to bottom."

Just to be clear, on p. 194 Billy and other Americans are returning to Dresden two days after it was bombed, to collect things from the slaughterhouse.

A saber (p. 195) is a sword. Like a "light saber" in Star Wars!

Lucretia A. Mott was a famous suffragette -- a woman who fought to give women the right to vote in the 1800's (p. 198).

In Kilgore Trout's book The Big Board, a pair of humans are kidnapped and kept on a zoo on a planet call Zircon-212. Sound familiar?!?! These humans are tricked into thinking that they are playing the stock market on Earth and winning money for when they return -- this is done so that the humans will be exciting and fun to watch. Here are photos of the Nasdaq "big board," so you can imagine what their zoo cell looked like.

On p. 202, a "rabble-rouser" is a trouble-maker.

The Kilgore Trout book on p. 203 describes a time traveler who goes back to see if Jesus' heart is beating after he is crucified. The time traveler does this because Christians believe that Jesus was resurrected (came back to life) several days after he was killed.

There is some irony on p. 204 because the owners think that Billy is a pervert for looking at the "window dressing." A pervert, in this case, is someone who has unnatural sexual interest. Billy is in a pornography store where Kilgore Trout novels are used as "window dressing" -- items kept in the window just as decoration. The irony is that the owners think Billy is a pervert for being more interested in the science fiction books than in the pornography.

A blue movie is a movie that shows a naked woman. It does not show people having sex. Billy watches part of a Montana Wildhack blue movie from early in her acting career.

The radio show that Billy appears on is for discussing the role of the novel in modern society. You do not have to summarize the arguments, and it won't be on the test (bottom of 205 to 206).

Both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated in 1968 (p. 210).

Monday, December 05, 2005

Slaughterhouse-Five, 7-8

Hopefully these notes will help for chps. 7-8 of S-5.

The first song sung by the barbershop quartet on p. 155 is rather disgusting and sexual. That this is Billy's father-in-law's favorite song tells us something about his personality. A barbershop quartet is a group (of usually men) who sing without musical instruments.

Billy thinks that the skiiers who rescue him look like golliwogs. Golliwogs are characters meant to resemble African Americans that were popular many decades ago. Golliwogs are widely considered to be racist symbols today.

On p. 162, Campbell comes to the slaughterhouse to recruit Americans to fight for the Germans, but only against the Russians. In this map, you can see how the Germans were fighting the Russians to the east and England, the U.S., and other countries to the west.

You can probably figure it out for yourselves, but the meat locker under the slaughterhouse where Billy and the Americans are kept when the air raid siren goes off is a big cold room where meat is kept. Like I said, you probably knew that.

When Billy first meets Kilgore Trout (166), Trout is the boss of a group of paperboys -- boys (and a girl) who deliver the newspaper to people's homes. Billy soon refers to a Trout novel in which a robot drops jellied gasoline on people from bombers. This jellied gasoline is a reference to napalm, which is a jelly made by Harvard scientists that was used to make terrible bombs and flame throwers in war.

Billy keeps the denture he found in the war in his cufflinks drawer. Cufflinks are small pieces of jewelry that men use to hold together the cuffs of their shirts (175). They go through the button holes.

Nobody ever leaves any comments, but if you have any questions that you think might benefit the class, ask them here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Help for Chps. 5-6

Chapters 5-6 make up the longest reading section in Slaughterhouse-5, so here are a few notes that might help.

p. 89 - The Grand Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns are two natural sites in the Western part of the U.S. It is common for families to take vacations to these places.

p. 91 - When the German guard says, "Vy you?", it is his pronunciation of, "Why you?".

p. 91 - A dogtag is a necklace given to soldiers as identification. The Germans give Billy and the other soldiers an additional set of dogtags, so they have two sets.

p. 93 - The Pirates of Penzance is a British musical comedy by Gilbert and Sullivan, who wrote many of these musicals. These musicals are very British, and an American would probably be unfamiliar with them.

p. 95 - Jerry is a term that was used to refer to Germans during WWII. It isn't a nice term, and it isn't often used now. You shouldn't use it when referring to Germans.

p. 96 - This is disgusting, so read with caution -- during WWII, the Germans often used the fat from dead bodies to make candles. Most of these dead bodies were killed in concentration camps.

p. 98 - The British perform Cinderella. Later, we meet the man who played the Fairy Godmother.

p. 99 - The hospital where Billy is staying in 1948 is a psychiatric hospital for soldiers who were affected by the war. Billy went there voluntarily because he knew he was having difficulties adjusting to life after the war. His roommate, Eliot Rosewater, appears in other Vonnegut books. Both of them read a science fiction author named Kilgore Trout. Trout is not a real author, but also appears in many Vonnegut books. The only thing you really need to understand about Trout is that he writes absurb but creative science fiction books, just as absurd and creative as Billy's own story of life on Tralfamadore. Hmmm...

p. 111 - A silver pattern is a set of expensive dishes that many couple order when they get married. The funny names on p. 111 are different patterns.

p. 111 - To get an idea of what Billy's geodesic dome home on Tralfamadore looks like, click here.

p. 112 - Sears Roebuck is a department store in the U.S., like Hankyu. That's where the Tralfamadorians got most of the equipment for Billy's zoo dome.

p. 114 - Because the Tralfamadorians can see in more dimensions than humans, they tell Billy that there are actually more than just two sexes - male and female - but that humans can't see the differences because they can't see in these dimensions.

p. 124 - Because he is stuck on the fence, Billy looks like a dancing scarecrow.

p. 125 - A latrine is a bathroom. All of the Americans are in it because the British welcome dinner made them sick.

p. 128-130 - You should read all of this stuff about Americans, but it won't be on the test and it doesn't need to be in your summary.

p. 137 - This page is a little confusing. Billy senses that there are two small items inside the lining of his coat. He feels that they are sending him a message -- that he shouldn't take them out and find out what they are, but that they will help him later.

p. 142 - Billy claims that in 1976 the U.S. will be divided into 20 little countries.

p. 143 - The author refers to this painting, The Spirit of '76.

p. 149 - Billy and the other Americans are brought to Dresden to work.

p. 150 - Billy finally takes the two objects out of the lining of his coat -- they are a big diamond and a partial denture. A denture is a set of false teeth.

I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any specific questions about the chapters.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


I went hiking last weekend in a very nice area about 40 minutes away from Hirakata (I'm not sure where because my friend drove and I didn't pay attention). We had a great day, hiking for about 5 hours. We saw a waterfall, a lot of changing fall colors, and ended up in a small village with a cool shrine. It was great.

There were a lot of signs warning of snakes, but they were in Japanese so I couldn't understand much (sorry I didn't take a picture). I wasn't worried about it, though, until that unfriendly fellow above crossed my path! My friend didn't see it so I just started mumbling "ay, bu, ee, eh" until he looked. He said it was a poisonous snake, but didn't remember what it was called. I found a website describing poisonous snakes, but I don't know if the one I saw was a mamushi. Does anyone have any information for me?

Either way, I was nervous the whole way back. When you're scared, roots look a lot like snakes.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Help with Slaughterhouse-Five

Here are a few ideas that I really want you to understand about the book. Email me if you have any questions.

1) Slaughterhouse-Five and Animal Farm have very different styles. Animal Farm is like the still life painting above (the second painting)... it is pretty easy to look at it and understand how everything works and what everything is. The symbolism about Stalin and Marx and Communism is all pretty obvious, and after you read it you have the feeling like you understand Orwell's main point. This is not to say that Animal Farm isn't a brilliant book, because it is, but it's pretty straightforward.

Slaughterhouse-Five is more like the Picasso painting of a guitar and violin above (the top one). You need to look at that painting for a long time to understand what it is about, and even if you do look at it for a long time, you might see something that I don't see, or vice-versa. You might look at it again tomorrow, and see something different. Slaughterhouse-Five is like that... it's not easy to say what a particular part is about, or why it is in the book. Everything fits together like the shapes in Picasso's painting, and you need to read all of it in hopes of understanding it. Personally, I need to read a book like this 2 or 3 times to really feel like I "get it."

2) I will not ask you any test questions from p. 15 (the middle) to p. 18 (the middle). This section is a description of the real life Children's Crusade, which is interesting but not essential to understand, and also about the history of Dresden and how it was destroyed in 1760, which, again, is interesting, but not key.

3) There is an important moment on p. 43. This is when Billy first comes "unstuck in time." One minute he is in the forest, leaning against a tree, and the next minute he is jumping around to different moments in his life. He returns to the past, for example, and re-lives a moment when he is about the swim with his father at the YMCA, and also jumps to the future, such as to 1958, when he gets drunk and cheats on his wife. He goes to several of these moments... you should understand that much of this book will be written like this, with Billy living moments not in the order they occurred. It is different than memory -- he is not remembering things, but rather is living them in random order. I won't ask you for a lot of detail about the different times that Billy visits in Chp. 2, but you should be able to list a few places that he goes (such as the two I mentioned above).

4) Billy has an important conversation with his daughter on pp. 29-30. She is angry with him for writing letters about being unstuck in time and kidnapped by aliens, and basically thinks that he is crazy. He insists that he isn't crazy. Then she asks him, "Why is it you never mentioned any of this before the airplane crash?" She is implying that he suffered brain damage in the plane accident, and that he is imagining that he jumps around in time and imagining that aliens kidnap him. He replies, "I didn't think the time was ripe," which basically means, "I wasn't ready."

This conversation makes us ask a simple question -- Is Billy really unstuck in time and kidnapped by aliens, or did his horrible experiences in the war and his airplane crash make him crazy? Obviously we know what his daughter thinks... as you read, you should consider this question for yourself.

OK... my fingers hurt! If you have any more questions, please email me, or comment on this posting.

Indirectness in Japanese Culture

The following excerpt is from a book called the Japan Career Guide which gives advice to Westerners who are living or working in Japan. Read it and tell me if you agree or disagree with his opinion. Does this excerpt give a fair and complete view of Japanese culture? Would you give the same advice to a Westerner? Include at least one example, detail, or fact that supports your opinion. Your comments on this posting should be at least 50 words, but more would be nice.

. Master the techniques of using and interpreting indirect speech. Since harmony is so important in the culture of Japan, it can be very difficult for the Japanese to say or do anything that is disagreeable, negative, or confrontational. You will rarely hear someone living in Japan say "no" or directly confront, deny, challenge, or disrespect anything you say. This does not mean they don't disagree; it means they are indicating disagreement softly and indirectly. Phrases like "this needs further study," "these things can be difficult," and "perhaps we can look at this in a different way" all indicate a definite problem. If things really are difficult, you might simply get silence. Don't press. Remain silent. Change the subject. Lighten up around another issue. If you press too hard, the Japanese might indicate this by sucking air deeply through their teeth and remaining silent.