EnglishBloopers Home Page


14 February 2007

Toddler Time

My wife has a Russian friend, Anna, who is married to a Japanese gentleman. Their baby, Laura, is adorable. My wife and Anna meet regularly so that Laura, Mickey, and Milo can play with each other. Here are some pictures from the babies' most recent get-together.

Young love

A moment of happy contemplation

TV time? (By the way, I think the T-shirts qualify as Engrish.)

The princess flanked by her admirers

"Don't cry!" (Laura was frightened when I came home from work.)

Rice time. (On another day, the twins are pictured eating one of their favorite snacks, puffed rice—sweetened with sugar, of course. What is to be done?)

Well, I wasn't late for kindergarten today. Some self-congratulations are in order. Before I nod off, I'll leave you with a link. Although I have definite issues with this site's layout and navigation, not to mention the ads—yes, I know that my site has its own flaws, including a nonsearchable and poorly archived blog—you can see some interesting newspaper classified ads about halfway down this page.

13 February 2007

Fan Mail

I receive rather little feedback about my site via email (this is not a complaint). However, I did get this interesting missive (it is over a year old, sorry). Here we go, unedited in any way, shape, or form (although the grammarian in me recoils when writers fold, spindle, and mutilate English writing conventions):

hi im from Aguascalientes, a city in the center of mexico, and found ur website both funy and interesting

let me tell you about our own spanish blooper

there is a sports club here, called Ojocaliente

an ojo caliente is a hot water spring, and thats why my state and city are called Aguascalientes (hot springs)

anyway, acouple years ago, there was a scandal a bout a sign on that swimming center, because some people complained about the sexual acitvity taking place in the steam rooms

so the gay people complaint, to answer to these by making public the sign on the entrance of the club that said in spanish:

no dogs or gay people allowed

the sign had been there for ages, but until then there had been no complaints, after that, gay people picketed, and there were demonstrations and the like, until the sign was removed

the incident took on worldwide relevance and up until now, i run into people in USA or mexican beaches, who ask me about it, even people who com fromo places as far as switzerland have heard about it

now let me tell you, actually, there is sexual acitvity in the steam rooms of such a family place, but this is in the isolated, men only area of the secon floor, and despites the sign the treatment to customers has always been more or less respectful

I tried to find pictures online of this, but found nothing

would be great if you found some pics of this

thanks and good luck woth ur website, it is very interesting

Hmm, interesting story. I fail to see, however, how the socio-legal breach of discriminating against gays (not to mention placing them in the same category as canines) falls under the domain of language bloopers. If I did have a shot of that incriminating sign, maybe I would slap it under the Oddities heading. Lots more to blog about but that's all for tonight. Can't be late for kindergarten tomorrow.

12 February 2007

We remain fearful...

I was interviewing a student for his final exam and, having dug his pencil case from day one, I asked him to pull it out, take a picture of it with his cell phone, and email the pic to me. That's my paw holding the pencil case.

The small print on the pencil case reads: "It is feared that smoking may harm your health, so please guard against excessive smoking." A warning fit for Victorian-era cigarettes.

10 February 2007: 10:00 p.m.

Ga ga!

The kids love animals. They especially like cats, dogs, bears (mostly the teddy bear variety), and ducks. They watch videos of ducks quacking, they play with rubber ducks in the bath, and they love it when we feed the ducks during our frequent strolls along the river. They quickly learned to say "Ga ga!", which is the Japanese for "Quack quack!" (I for my part am teaching them to say "Duck," "Quack quack" being still out of their linguistic league.)

The Japanese seem much fonder of onomatopoeia than English speakers. While we of course enjoy using the occasional "Bang!" or "Boom!", mostly in writing, the Japanese are avid users of onomatopoeia in daily conversation. Kids often refer to animals by the sounds they produce. Thus, ducks are "Ga ga," dogs are "Wan wan," and cats are "Nyan nyan." Adults also use a plethora of onomatopoiea in both verb and adjectival form. For example, when you talk about your skin being irritably dry, you can say it's "kasa kasa." More on this topic to follow. This page has a long list of Japanese word sounds but not being good enough at Japanese I am unable to vouch for the accuracy of the romanization. (Nevertheless, I think that there are some errors with the use of the letters G and K.)

On our walks along the river, Shiho often dishes out leftover white bread, sweet bread, pastries and the like. However, as a lot of passers-by do the same, I'm concerned about allowing the ducks to subsist on a diet of unwholesome refined grains. I have looked for duck seed at pet stores but have been unable to find it. I will probably bring back a cheap and hefty back of duck seed next time we return from Canada.

I will close with today's Blooper from the Burger King located in Seoul's dynamic Itaweon district.

Note: I don't plan on wimping out like the Engrish.com webmaster did when confronted by Burger King, which accused him of his photo being a fake (I am almost positive it was not) and implied they would pursue a course of legal action against him. (I don't have the link to the text of the missive from BK's lawyers but remember reading it on the Engrish.com website.) If they want to censor me, they will have to buy the photo from me. It's not my fault that Burger King Korea produces Engrish (note how said webmaster was cowed and effaced the BK logo and all other references to Burger King, something which I will not do).

10 February 2007: the Wee Hours

Leaning Out

I'm up at a ridiculously late hour, as is my wont these days. But that's the way things go. I tend to sleep from about 3:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. and then try to catch an afternoon nap.

Anyway, you can see the results of my diet here. A fair amount of fat has been shed.

Speaking of working out, you gotta love the World's Strongest Man contest. Take a few minutes and watch the video below to see what these behemoths can do.

It's time to eat, do the dishes, brush my teeth, and hit the sack.

10 February 2007: Later on

Oh, my Engrish!

What is going on out there? See here, here, here, here, and here. And finally, here.

10 February 2007


Which acronym is better: ESL or EFL? While the two terms are quite similar, each carries its own slightly different shade of meaning. But I won't go into an explanation here. What I will propose is my own hybrid term.

So without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, voilà: ESFL. Otherwise known as English as a Second Fucking Language.

09 February 2007

What the fuck...?

I just accessed my Yahoo! Web Hosting account and it seems like good ole Yahoo! has been taken over by the Blogger icon. (Thanks to Howie for his excellent free screen capture program—visit the section entitled "Misc Software".) Just goes to show you how computers have their own quirks.

It seems like I do a lot of my "writing" when I'm not actually seated in front of the keyboard. That is, some of my best ideas come to me when I'm not disposed to blogging. My imaginative powers are often at their peak when I'm riding my bike, flossing my teeth, or taking a bath.

Today I recalled how little Milo used to have his "Unko Adventures" (unko is the Japanese word for "poo"). When he was younger, from about three to six months of age, he would invariably take a dump within minutes of starting a journey by car. There was something about setting Milo in the car seat that worked laxative wonders with him (but not with Mickey, who seems to have a slower metabolism and in his early months experienced noticeably fewer bowel movements). Often, Milo would crap himself and, soon feeling uncomfortable, begin to cry in the middle of our trip. On one particular outing, we had to stop at a shopping center named Jusco in Imaichi after Milo had pooed his pants. He started to cry when we were still on the road, so we had to duck in to Jusco for a diaper change. I picked him up and found that he had projectile shat and soiled his entire suit; the diaper hadn't proved adequate. We had to clean him up and then spring for a new one-piece baby suit. Anyway, this might not seem like an interesting story to you, but it's a precious memory for me. Milo and his Unko Adventures. He rarely craps in the car now.

I have been interviewing my university students for the last two weeks, as I feel a teacher-student interview is the best way to assess their speaking ability. I had a couple interesting answers. To the question, "When are you going to retire and what are you going to do in your retirement?" one young man responded, "[not verbatim] I want to die when I am fifty because I only want to live as long as I am in good health." (What? You can't be healthy after fifty years of age?)

Another student, when I asked her, "If you had to live in another country besides Japan, where would you go?" responded "[not verbatim] Cuba, because I want to see Che Guevara's grave. He was a revolutionary and he tried to help the poor, so I respect him." I can't understand this second opinion, either. Until a few years ago, I had always wondered why people wore Che Guevara T-shirts. I had wondered what the fuss, mystique, and cult of Che were all about. So I did the right thing and read (most of) a biography of Che. It turns out that he was a socialist revolutionary who cherished the violent struggle as a means to furthering his social ideas.

I have no problem with socialism, but I do have a problem with violence. And what I can't understand is how my student, a nice young lady who wants to help the poor and participates in an NGO that fosters fair trade between Japan and developing countries, has respect for a bloody revolutionary. I still can't understand the mystique behind Che and why people wear T-shirts emblazoned with the dude's famous head, hat, and hairstyle. But at least I know now that, if you don't believe that killing people is a good thing, he ain't nobody to be lauded.

I will close with a long-overdue link. Do you teach ESL to kids—or even just beginners? Then do yourself a favor and check out MES-English.com. This site is simply unbelievable. Tons of free content, tons of free flashcards, tons of original artwork, tons of free stuff period. I can't believe that the operator, Mark, also runs his own school and is married. I can't believe (and I say this in respectful awe) how he manages to have a life. Well, isn't it nice how people are willing to share the fruits of their labor for nothing in return? If you do use Mark's site, let him know whether it was useful to you. I certainly hope you haven't ever shelled out any cash to one of those ESL sites that ask for money in exchange for downloadable resources. 'night.

06 February 2007

Friendly Fire

Is there a term for the unwanted emails you get from friends and family? I'm specifically referring to the many unwanted forwarded emails I get, those that often contain large picture or video file attachments.

It's nice that people think of me when they want to share something they find humorous. I appreciate the thought. But some people go about sharing these files in an ironically empty-headed and self-absorbed fashion. It seems some of my friends are giddily lost in their own world when they send me mutiple large file attachments on the same day.

Here are some specific comments:
If you're one of those people who sends me tons of attachments, you ought to know the following. First of all, I don't even find humorous the vast majority of the forwards I get, so I hardly bother to read them anymore. When it takes me so bloody long to download what I got, it had better be fucking funny; unfortunately, the content rarely lives up to my expectations. Second, I hope the programmers are working on an AI that distinguishes friendly spam from bona fide emails with original, personalized content.

On another note...

When I lived in Korea, I did some ESL publishing. We had a fledgling organization called e4k, or English for Koreans. At one point, my co-founders and I firmly had the idea that we wanted to make some changes in the way English, especially English education content, was produced in Korea. Because of all the idiotic mistakes made by people who posed as competent English education publishers, I had the idea that only qualified, educated native English speakers should be producing ESL content. Koreans would be responsible for producing accurate translations and Korean-language explanations of the content.

Of course, there were inevitably quite a few problems with our company's books, both in terms of methodological approaches (in the way the content was chosen and structured) and actual mistakes (which we were, however, fairly diligent about fixing for future editions). Nevertheless, we thought we had a powerful, original idea—why the hell buy a self-study ESL book replete or even riddled with errors?—but our company never took off.

Here are some examples of the problems in the way ESL content is produced in Korea. Take a gander at this sorry excuse for a headline from the JoongAng Daily English newspaper and read through this impostor of an ESL help column from the Korea Herald.

A caveat: I'm certain you will find typos, grammatical errors, and other such fuck-ups on this blog. However, the key point to be made is that I'm not publishing this for profit and selling it as something that purports to improve your English!

One thing's for sure. The pace of production of English Bloopers, Engrish—or whatever you want to call it—far exceeds anyone's ability to keep up with it.

05 February 2007

Snacks and Videos

My voice has recovered but, true to human nature, I've found something else to complain about. Cute as my boys are, there are two things I don't like about the above photo. Number one, they're only 18 months old and they've already fallen victim to the television trance. Number two, they eat lots of unhealthy snacks (white bread, sweet cereal, cookies, and so on). Regarding the first issue, my stance is of course hypocritical because sometimes I'm happy to be able to eat my meal in peace while they watch a baby video; I think maybe half an hour of baby TV a day is OK, but more than that undesirable. Regarding the second issue, I know I shouldn't be too uptight about what goes into the kids' mouths, but I'm pretty disappointed with a lot of the baby snacks available on supermarket shelves.

It's ridiculous how big companies like Wakodo, which manufactures a lot of baby food, puts trans fats into their packaged snacks. And in my book, white bread is already pretty much a villain, but what's worse is that 99% of the goddamn white bread sold here is made with margarine. Yes, people, margarine (made from hydrogenated oils) is actually worse for you than butter. Keep up with the fucking headlines.

I feel a sense of frustration that I can't have more input into or control over the kids' diet. But let's face it, I'm away at work a lot of the time. You can't argue with the convenience of white bread and snack food (the twins always need a snack during their daily walk) and you can't argue with the fact that it tastes great to them. I have tried, with some success, to get my wife to implement some changes. She appears to be more concerned about trans fats; she has agreed to water down their apple juice; and she tries to buy the kids more non-sugary snacks (there's a good sweet potato chip out there). But I was concerned about the whole issue of them acquiring a taste for and thus getting dependent on all these high-glycemic foods. I want them to drink more water (or barley tea and whatnot) and less apple juice and sweet yogurt drinks. I want them to eat less white rice and less refined white flour, but my wife loves these foods and sees nothing wrong with them. Plus she insists that the refined grains are easier on infant digestive systems.

Anyhow, I know that I, like a lot of kids, was raised on high-glycemic foods. But knowledge of food nutrition has advanced considerably since I was a kid, so we should roll with the changes being advocated by cutting-edge nutritional science. I'm not saying that the kids should never eat cookies, but these things should be put in their proper context; in other words, cookies are OK as a treat but not as a daily menu item.

Other news. The hype about my hometown is unbelieveable. I don't give a fuck what they say about Vancouver being the end-all-be-all, the place leaves a lot to be desired. Bad weather (frequent cloud and rain) sits near the top of the list. But there's something else that bothers me about Vancouver, something intangible (which any survey would be hopeless at measuring). It's the social and cultural qualities. The qualities that attract me to life in Korea and Japan are the very things that are lacking in Vancouver. The respect for one's elders and gratefulness towards one's ancestors, a strong sense of history and cultural identity, a shared sense of morality. There's very little social grounding or shared ideas about morality in Vancouver and I think that's a very undesirable feature. While competing ideas about how to live and exist can be a society's strong point, I don't think they're helpful for an impressionable young person struggling to form his identity. The cultural homogeneity of East Asia strongly appeals to me. You know, the last time I went to Vancouver, almost everyone I ran into was from somewhere else. Rootlessness was pervasive. Of course, rootlessness and diversity have their strong points. But rootlessness wasn't good for a wild, unstructured kid like me. In my early 20s, I almost ended up going irrevocably down the wrong path. People like me need structure and an environment where there is moral clarity.

I know the last paragraph was quite vague, but maybe some of you will understand where I am coming from (literally and figuratively).

Last night, I rocked Milo to sleep in my baby carrier, and I loved the feel of his sleeping body against mine. As I took him out of the carrier and laid him on the bed, he quickly cried out "Dada" and went instantly to sleep again. Nothing is as special as hearing your child call your name.

It's almost 2 A.M., I have to rise at 7:30 A.M., and there's so much more to say. As usual, hands at a keyboard simply cannot match the output of the brain. Most every thought is precious or important. How I wish I could record it all. Nighty night.

01 February 2007: Later the same day

Full Moons, Bad Driving, and Losing One's Voice

Damn Japanese viruses! If this sounds racist, so be it. The viruses in Japan and Korea are much stronger than their Western Canadian incarnations. My immune system has had a lot of training over here. Everybody around me is sick, coughing and sneezing; teachers I know have lost their voices; my kids are sick; my wife is sick—I'm proud of myself for having staved off a cold for more than seven or eight months.

But maybe it was inevitable that a viral assualt should gain a foothold in my body. Symptoms began on Monday night. Yesterday (Wednesday) morning when I began work, I was a little hoarse, but I made it through to the end of the day. When I got home, I could barely talk. But when I awoke in the morning, I found my vocal cords had recovered. Thus, I was off today for another day of work, but I finished the day even worse off. During my last lesson, a private one, the preteen girl I was teaching made a game of my hoarseness by insisting I whisper and refusing to speak to me louder than a whisper.

The driving out there was especially bad tonight (in other words, the number of fuck-ups out there was greater than usual). Motoring quietly along after a dude in a fast car ripped past me on a country road (he was going double the speed limit), the most recent infringment in a series of infringements, I looked out the window of my car pondering an explanation. I saw a menacing full moon superimposed over freaky gray-and-black backlit clouds, and suddenly I had my answer. People always drive like morons when there is a full moon. Believe me, I learned this lesson while cab driving. Full moons fuck people up. (To this day I remember a really weird night of driving on a full moon night back when I was a cab driver. I can't recall anything specific that was weird about the night, just that the moon really fucked up my thinking and sensations.)

What kind of shit went on on the road, you ask? Earlier today I found myself taking unnecessary risks while riding my bike (a frank admission from me just to show you that I too can fuck up and should not try to exempt myself from the general idiocy). Later on, in the car, there was more than the usual number of tailgaters. When I pulled up to a certain stop sign on my way to an English school, one fuckhead cut the corner big time and almost ran into me (luckily I stopped short—I expect people to cut that corner; they appear to act as if they think it's a one-way street). Other fuck-ups were trying to make a right turn (equivalent to a left turn in the U.S.) from way too far over to the left in the lane the were in (I need a photo). And while I was at an intersection quietly waiting for the oncoming traffic to stop so I could make my right turn, the shitcake behind me pre-empted me and went first. That shocked me. As I made my turn safely a few moments later, another shitcake behind me (perhaps emboldened by the actions of the first) seemed to be trying to pass me in the middle of my turn. He got a lot of wild hand gesturing and honking from me, as I moved my car over to the right to prevent him from passing.

Jerkoffs. What a crazy night. It makes sense why the word "lunacy" derives from the word "moon." The driving I saw tonight did nothing to restore my faith (did I ever have any?) in the goodness of humanity. We're all thoughtless, selfish, self-interested bastards.

Update (9 February 2007): OK, so it wasn't exactly a full moon on this night. That honor belonged to the following night. Close enough.

01 February 2007

Locked In

I have begun watching the CBS series entitled Crime Scene Investigation. I am about halfway through the first episode. It's fairly intelligent stuff, though admittedly rather wanton and inflammatory in its depiction of violence and brutality—but how else to garner ratings, my dear?

I would have to disagree with my friend Kevin's recent contention that TV is 99% shite. Over the years, TV has evolved for the better, in my opinion. Of course, I only watch ad-free DVDs; I fucking hate the demeaning, dumbed-down, and patronizing form of media known as television advertising, a method of communication generally designed to appeal only to mankind's most selfish and vulgar desires. Well, actually, my enmity extends to most of advertising in general.

Anyhow, the first episode of CSI taught me about locked-in syndrome, something about which I had hitherto known squat. Read about the last days of a victim of locked-in syndrome here. You'll also find on that page a link to the first chapter of a book "written" by that amazing person. (You'll need to be registered with the New York Times in order to read it.) I'd like to read the book in French, some day.

May Mr. Bauby's soul rest in peace.

30 January 2007

Battle Scars

The twins often play with me while I sleep. I'm often sleeping while they're awake, seeing as how they get up at 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning and I don't usually rise until 8:00. I have a game I play with Mickey where he comes up to me and I grab him, put him under the blankets and tell him to go to bed. He loves it.

Earlier this evening, while I was taking a much-needed nap, Milo was playing with my prone, unconcious body, repeatedly scaling and descending my blanketed form. I woke up once or twice to give him a kiss and then fell back asleep. A little later, I was suddenly awakened by the wailing of both my sons. Blood was seeping from Milo's mouth; his lower lip was punctured. We used a towel to soak up the blood, but the bleeding soon stopped on its own. Both kids became their normal selves after a few minutes. From what we can guess about what transpired, the kids were playing and Milo fell forward, face first, onto Mickey's head, thus cutting his lip. Although we couldn't find any marks on Mickey, this is our best guess of what happened.

A lot of accidents seem to happen to babies. Milo also hurt himself several months ago. He was standing by the computer desk when he lost his balance and did a faceplant into a toy. A lot of blood came out and we were worried about his tooth having come loose, but the doctor gave him a clean bill of health. I also inadvertently hurt Mickey several weeks ago. I got home from teaching French and was so anxious to see my kids before their bedtime that I opened the door in Mickey's face (he for his part was rushing to see me). Blood came out of his mouth but he got better right away.

And telling these stories reminds of me of when I used to teach English privately to a gym owner in Ansan (a suburb of Seoul). Kim Ki-jun was a very affable fellow who had a little family room on the same floor of his fitness center. Our English lesson would take place on a hard concrete floor covered only by a thin sheet of linoleum (a common arrangement in Korean homes). Well, his baby was learning to walk and wasn't very good at breaking his fall. Over and over, the kid lost his balance and landed smack on his head. On top of that, the baby kept pulling down items that had been precariously placed on loaded shelves. Thinking back, I just can't figure out why they hadn't babyproofed their pad.

And now I draw myself into another digression on safety in East Asia. Last spring when we were in Canada with the twins, we met some Korean friends of ours. We were all going to go to a nearby restaurant. We had come in our own car with the twins in their baby seats, but our Korean friends told us to all pile into their car.

"But what if we have an accident?" I asked our ajumma friend in Korean. "Our kids need to be in their baby seats."
"Sago an-na!" [There's not going to be any accident!] she retorted. I begged to differ, and insisted on going to the restaurant in separate cars. How can you know whether an accident is going to happen? That's why they're called accidents!

In Korea and Japan, people have funny attitudes towards car safety. I'm somewhat reluctant to criticize other drivers, having done in my time so many stupid things on the road (and thankfully not having hurt anyone or myself), but I just need to say this. In Korea and Japan, many people seem to feel that only the driver needs to wear a seatbelt. Passengers don't need one, and babies can be held in their mothers' arms. You might think Japan is a safety-conscious country, and it probably is in many ways (the bullet train has had a perfect safety record throughout its decades-long operation), but a lot of parents in this prefecture simply forgo baby seats or buckling up the young ones.

In terms of road safety, people here seem to leave a lot to trust. It's as if they trust other cars not to fuck up, which would explain why pedestrians walk down narrow streets (I'm talking about the sidewalk-less streets, of which there are plenty here) without looking over their shoulders at oncoming cars. When I walk down a narrow street, I always walk on the right, which means the cars driving on my side of the road are coming from the opposite direction, so I have a better chance at avoiding them if there's trouble. (When I'm pushing the baby carriage, though, I walk on the left side so that I would get run over first; it's pretty hard to maneuver a big baby carriage out of the way of an oncoming car.)

Anyhow, I can't understand the lack of concern. The cars drive too fast and too close to people, and people do get hurt. I saw two such accidents in Korea, one in which a guy scraped his tire along a middle school girl's bulging calf. In Japan, as well, people seem to have their fair share of car-related scrapes and bruises. A lot of cyclists seem unconcerned about hurtling by you at high speeds, and they often just barely get out of your way. Young people are often engrossed with their cell phones (probably sending text messages, also called email in Japan) and ride without hardly looking.

A colleague of mine told me his student got lost on the way to his place because she was using her cell phone and missed her turnoff. And in the countryside a few years back, my wife and I looked on aghast as we watched an old guy cycle away from a convenience store, his bicycle's basket freshly stocked with beer. While pedaling off, he cracked open a beer with his left hand, took a sip, and returned that busy hand to steer the bike; then with his right hand, he lit a smoke and stuck that between his lips; finally, he again used his right hand to pull out his cell phone and make a call. It boggles the mind.

P.S. I know some of my recent blog entries might not be so much fun to read. Today's entry seems more like a stream of consciousness than anything else. But there's so much in my head just waiting to get out.

29 January 2007

Bottoms up

I can't think of any decent caption or smart-alecky comment for this blooper, but I welcome ideas from my readers.

And, here's one more: should anyone be seeking to fall ill, try this parasite in a bottle.

28 January 2007

You learn something new every day

This picture was taken down the hill from the Sookmyung Women's University instructors' dormitory. Until I stumbled upon this restaurant, I hadn't known that Korean cuisine possessed an erotic side.

Next on the list: this restaurant came up with a new kind of seasoning in order to differentiate itself from the competition.

27 January 2007

Kids, birthdays, and allergies

If you haven't yet seen the HBO series entitled Deadwood, do yourself a favor and watch the first season. At the risk of understatment, Deadwood is truly a fine production all around.

Mom's birthday is coming up in a few days. Shiho, a saint when it comes to sending care packages and presents, got together some items and sent them to Vancouver. Part of me wants to call Mom and wish her well, but the other part of me is recalictrant. The reason is that last time I called her (about a month ago), the conversation did not go very well at all (that's how I saw it, anyway). I had just phoned to see how she was and to talk the small talk, but Mom seized on the occasion to criticize me, my life, my job, and my sponsoring of poor children in Guatemala and Africa. Mom seems to be in a bad humor these days. Perhaps Rodney King said it best: "Why can't we all just get along?"

Last summer marked not only my coming down with the mumps but also, apparently, the onset of a nasal allergy. I say "apparently" because I haven't yet gone for testing, but from my research online I am pretty sure that I have allergic rhinitis. (As for the idea that only doctors are qualified to give diagnoses, I say to hell with that.) At the minimum, my allergies are a veritable nuisance. Upon awakening in the morning, I am invariably drawn into a thirty-minute (or longer) battle with sneezes and runny nostrils. I take allergy medicine, because if I don't, my nose just won't stop running. I need to look into whether it's safe to take this over-the-counter medication for long periods of time.

I can't believe that the twins are now almost 19 months old. I feel like something of a heel for not having better documented their rapid development. I had wanted to blog their progress step-by-step. I had wanted to get a digital voice recorder to preserve for posterity their sundry laughs, cries, and baby babbles. Mickey makes the most delightful squeals upon seeing pictures of dogs, cats, bears, or rabbits. We'll be taking the kids for a walk in our double stroller (brand name of "Twin Spin") and suddenly Mickey will say "Eeek!"—and we don't know what he's looking at until we spot a sign or ad on a wall with a little picture of a dog. They are so observant, kids. It's a shame how many adults lose their sense of wonderment at the world.

We do at least have a camcorder and have been making recordings from about two or three months after they were born. I have to figure out how to digitize all the tapes so that I can upload the videos.

On the topic of baby babbling, they are starting to talk more now. They have both been able to say "bye bye" and "daddy/dada" for a while now. Only more recently have they begun to say "mama." It seems that many words, both English and Japanese, get reduced to a variation on "ba-ba." In Japanese, "baba chan" means "grandma," so grandma in baby talk is "baba." "Ball" is "baba" as well. "Banana" is rendered as "baba" or "bababa." "Anpanman" (a Japanese cartoon character, roughly translatable as "Sweet Red Bean Paste Bread Man") also becomes "bababa"; "pan" (bread) as well as "bird" become "baba." "Video" (they love to watch toddler videos on our laptop) is an exception, rendering as "bilia bilia," as is "shoes," or "ku ku" in Japanese baby talk, and "fish" (which sounds something like "fsh" if you can imagine not voicing the vowel).

On the topic of videos, I originally hadn't wanted them to watch TV until they were a little older (two or three). However, events unrolled in a fashion aptly befitting the contigent nature of life. As an experiment, I showed the kids a short video on the computer, and now, two months later, Shiho plays short videos for them three or four times a day. You can really see the power of television, as nothing can mesmerize them or capture their attention like a Baby Einstein video. Of course they love their toys and books, but TV elicits a zombified effect. At first, I protested all the video playing, but my wife retorted (instantly probing my weak spots with her verbal barbs), "How else am I supposed to occupy them when you're at work?" She's right, of course. In centuries past, family life took extended form. In Meiji Japan, there would have been aunts, grandmothers, and mothers-in-law following the twins' every move.

Since the age of six months, the twins have developed apace (the first six months, by contrast, see only gradual changes). In the very beginning, they could only move their heads. Next came limb movements. After that, they were able to raise their heads if we flipped them onto their stomachs (Milo was more precocious than Mickey in this regard, which earned him the Japanese nickname "kame" [turtle]). Soon they were rolling around on the floor (at that point their only way to move around). All this until six months, at which point they could suddenly sit up erect. Then, Shiho was spoonfeeding them. Soon after this, they started to crawl; then they learned to grab onto furniture and pull themselves to their feet; after which "crablike" walking followed. And soon they were taking their first uncertain steps (falling a lot on their tuckuses), then walking with confidence, and now they can run around the apartment and climb the furniture. Fortunately, Shiho has a calendar upon which she has been diligently making notes of the twins' milestones. Thus, sometime in the near future, I plan to blog in detail about when and what the kids have accomplished.

The last few months they have been into everything, taking eggs out of the fridge and breaking them, shredding the wallpaper, plucking keyboard buttons from our now even more wounded (but still miraculously functioning) all-purpose laptop. They have generally spared our houseplants, however, which is a relief.

Yesterday I held and serenaded them both to sleep (one at a time) before going to work. I like it when I have the chance to do that. Milo was super clingy a few weeks ago and then, suddenly, he wouldn't even let me hold him for a few days. I read in Dr. Spock's book on childcare that babies start to realize they are not meant to be lovely little dolls for their whole lives. That fits the bill; they are gaining their independence.

As they learn more and more, they become more like kids and less like babies. It's delightful to watch their intellects grow. They watch and observe, and then mimic us adults. They like to help with the housework; they want to use cutlery and feed themselves; they like us putting socks and shoes on their feet; they love the daily routine of eating, going for a walk, watching a video, reading books, having a bath, and then drinking milk before bed.

Pattern recognition, according to Ray Kurzweil, is the principal basis of human intelligence. I was surprised to learn how quickly babies can find patterns in things. Mickey, for example, knows that a simple two-dimensional line drawing of a cat and a real cat in the street are the same animal; and that dogs, which come in all colors, shapes, and sizes, are all "wan wan" ("doggie" in Japanese). So to reiterate I was surprised and pleased to see how quickly they catch on and discover patterns in this world of ours; intelligence, I read somewhere, is finding patterns in phenomena that previously seemed random or devoid of meaning.

Anyhoo (not a typo), this was quite a messy blog entry but there was a lot I wanted to say. Maybe I'll come back later and clean it up a little. Goodnight.

26 January 2007

Sometimes the smallest little details stay with you...

If I have any sort of innate gift, it must be orthography. I remember when I was six years old, I was with my family visiting our relatives in New York City. While I was on a walk with my Aunt Stella, we halted a crosswalk to wait for the light to change, at which time I pointed out to her that the electronic "Dont Walk" sign was missing an apostrophe (although at that age I probably didn't yet know the word for that mark of punctuation).

Once I learn a new word, I invariably remember its spelling. More specifically, I seem to retain a photographic impression of how that word is "supposed to look" on paper. This ability of mine, however, does not preclude the production of typos. Typing, when compared to writing by hand, is a whole 'nother ball of wax. There is something about the act of typing—I wonder how science would explain it—that facilitates the commission of errors that would be very unlikely in handwriting. Maybe it's because there is no thought process devoted to forming the letters themselves? All you do is press a series of keys in rapid succession....

Anyway, science aside, I have an anecdote to recount about my early teenage years. I remember being quite cocky and conceited as a young lad; I always thought less of people who couldn't spell as well as I. I still recall today how Hermann Schurr, the proprietor of Jungle Land Pet Shop, couldn't spell to save his life. The exact wording of a dot-matrix printout he posted on the glass door of the bird-cum-reptile room was as follows:

"We cannot gaurantee lizards due to thier sensative nature."

Pedant that I am, I can't for the life of me forget that printout.

P.S. Tonight I turned down a request from a Korean publisher to do some freelance writing. I have published books with and written for this publisher extensively in the past. Nevertheless, they still wanted me to go through a screening process which involved researching a topic, submitting a 400-word writing sample, and waiting for a response as to whether they would accept my services. In other words, if they said no, I would get diddly-squat. And they were the ones who originally solicited my help! Fuck 'em, I say. I don't have that kind of time. One thing that galled me about the whole process was that another Korean publisher had solicited my services in the past; they too asked me for a writing sample on two separate occasions—and rejected me, twice! Consequently, with this bad memory lurking in my brain, I was not inclined to risk wasting my time and energy again. The other thing that galled me was—and here is where my snobbery comes in—What qualifies these semiliterate-in-English nonnative speakers to judge, not to mention reject, my writing? I'm not a great writer; there are a lot of areas I need to improve upon. But I can say without too much narcissism that I'm pretty damn good with a pen (or keyboard, as the case requires).

P.P.S. Today I guzzled over two-and-a-half liters of oolong tea and green tea. Today was a good day.

23 January 2007: a little later

Crab Motherfucker!

The title of this blog entry is a reference to the movie Romeo Must Die. I just liked the phrase. Anyway, here is what passes for pizza in Japan. If you've been to Korea and were turned off by pizza accompanied by corn and pickles, you're in for an even greater surprise. And, oh no! What's that over there? Am I having a bad dream? No! Argh! It's pizza with mayonnaise on it! Stay away from me...!

23 January 2007

Flame on

Too many "suicide wings" (super spicy chicken wings) last night? A surfeit of salsa on your nachos? Too much gochu jang (Korean hot pepper paste) with your bibimbap? I know the feeling.

22 January 2007

One in the pink

The Bloopers section of this website is, I will be the first to admit, totally out of date. Part of me would like to see it updated, all shiny and new, with the scores of Bloopers photos I have uploaded on my server. But the other part of me, the one with more weight, just can't picture myself spending all that time hunched over the computer terminal doing all that fiddling with keyboard and mouse.

By contrast, the Blog section of this website is the one part I keep reasonably up to date. What I will do from now on is start digging in my archives and post the occasional standout snap. Please enjoy today's offering, a shot of a clothing boutique a little bit down the hill from Sookmyung Women's University in Seoul.

19 January 2007

Supplement Skeptics

As you may know, I take supplemental vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. I make sure my wife takes some every day as well. My insistence on taking vitamins is not a capricious fancy. Science has produced reams of research on the health benefits of supplementation. As of this writing, I know several people who "don't believe" in taking vitamins; they adhere to a (conventional) belief that you can get everything you need from food. But they probably don't know that modern farming practices have played a role in depleting our food of critical nutrients (sorry, don't have the source article with me right now). Nor do I think these naysayers read the studies out there. Let the research be your guide.

When it comes to taking supplements, the issue is probably not one of survival; if you're healthy, active, and eat a balanced diet, you most likely do not need vitamin supplements to survive. Rather, the issue is one of living optimally and living longer.

This recently in: don't add milk to your tea if you want the brew to retain its health benefits.

19 January 2007

How to Save Money in Japan

What follows is a list of techniques I employ to cut down on the cost of living here on this island nation. I don't have many luxuries (I hardly buy clothes anymore), but I do spend a lot on food, vitamins, as well as protein powder and other bodybuilding extravagances. May this list prove useful to my readers.

1. Use the can at work

In terms of tap water consumption, I had to make quite a large adjustment after moving to Japan. In Canada, tap water is free for renters (I believe homeowners pay a flat yearly rate). In Korea, tap water is metered, but it's dirt cheap. In the land of the raw fish eaters, however, tap water is very dear. In the summer of 2005, when we moved into our first apartment here, I wasted water with abandon, which resulted in a tap water bill of about $160 for two months! That's just plain cold water, boys and girls. And we have neither a thirsty garden nor a hose to wash our (often-in-need-of-a-wash) company car.

I sometimes wait until I get to the office before I brush my teeth, take a leak, or use the shitter. I also wash my Tupperware in the office sink before heading home (free soap and hot water being two more bonuses). Finally, I schlep empty plastic bottles over to the water cooler and fill them to the brim up with delicious, free mineral water.

2. Never pay for personal photocopying or printing

As an English teacher, I have unlimited access to copiers and printers, so this item warrants no explanation. However, I heard an interesting anecdote about a language school where the teachers were forbidden to make photocopies by themselves. To get the job done, they were made to present the source material to a staff member and specify the requisite page numbers and number of copies. Can't imagine myself working there.

In a related vein, I use the school telephone whenever I need to. Not having a cell phone is a good excuse.

3. Cook the books

I use my company car to transport myself to various schools. As compensation for my business mileage, I get reimbursed to the tune of 10 yen (about 10 cents) per kilometer.

Sometimes, though, I use my bicycle to head to nearby schools. This means I can pocket the mileage remuneration (thanks, Kevin—until recently, I had always thought it was "renumeration") in addition to getting exercise, enjoying the open air, and reducing my stress levels.

I don't believe, by the way, that this tactic is out of line. When I ride my bike, my caloric expenditure rises, which means I'll eat more food. And food costs money.

One of my coworkers takes the train to a school out in the boonies. The company pays for bullet train fare, but if he has extra time he rides the regular train and pockets the difference. As for me, I feel my time is too valuable to be plopping my ass on the seat of a slow train.

I like being frugal; it's fun. There's a difference, though, between being frugal and being stingy. I read somewhere on the net that a frugal person reuses a teabag for himself while a stingy person proffers the secondhand infusion to his guest.

Before I go, I'll let you know that I recently found a decent (and free) French/English dictionary online. See ya.

13 January 2007

Slang Rules

Oh, the English language! One of the things I like about English is the way we produce new slang words so easily, and just the way that these terms sound to the ear. Here I will claim ignorance of the full workings of other languages—although I can get by in four other languages besides English, I can't say that I know much about slang in other tongues—but I might be right in saying that few or no other languages can match English's ingenuity and flexibility in creating new words.

Just try rolling off your tongue words such as rock ho, crispy critter, cock blocker, spear chucker, and corpsicle. How about butt plug (thanks, Kevin), and the internal rhymes in fag hag, gangbanger, and gramps champ? As well, you gotta love words like fucknut, loser cruiser, and brick shithouse, just for their sheer sound. How about the cacophony of skank, dyke, and fuck truck? What about the alliteration in sack of shit, wet willy, and "There's no going back after black"? Lastly, don't forget "One in the pink, one in the stink."

I often hear a fun, new (to me, at least) slang term from a movie or TV show and it will stay with me for a long time. At the risk of repeating myself, I love the way English slang strikes a chord.

12 January 2007

Life in Low Res

Today was the last day of the second semester of my Beginning French course. Last week I asked each student to bring something to eat for the party this week, items such as drinks, chips, rice balls, cookies, crackers and the like. I then wrote on the board their names paired with the food they had decided to bring in order to solidify in their minds the fact that they were going to have to participate. (As it turned out, my plan worked; both classes boasted perfect attendance today!)

My French students are on the whole a timid lot, and some of them were reluctant to select a comestible. I had to threaten them with the choice between choosing some food to bring to the party or else writing an impromptu test to be held solely for the party-poopers while their classmates ate and made merry. I encouraged the students to take pictures with their cell phones, but despite repeated goading, only two students emailed me photos, and most of the snaps were of me (whereas I had wanted them to snap shots of everybody eating and having fun)—oh, well! Here are the low-res beasties themselves.

P.S. I am cooking crêpes in the photos. Yup, I hauled all the ingredients and cooking implements, including the electric griddle, onto the bullet train!

P.P.S. In case you're wondering what's written on the blackboard, I came up with prices in euros for all the foods available to eat (except my crêpes), then passed out some Monopoly money to everyone, and then had the students "buy" food from each other using French. Nifty, eh?

26 December 2006

We've been to the zoo, zoo, zoo!

Well, we went to the Utsunomiya Zoo last month. An interesting place. Rather run down. But the plus was they let you feed the giraffes—by hand! Here is the story in pictures.

31 October 2006

Trip to Nikko

The four of us, plus Shiho's parents, her maternal grandmother, her paternal grandparents, and one of her aunts, all took a trip to Nikko last Saturday.

There were several highlights of the trip. The first highlight was being stuck in a traffic jam going up a mountain. It was gridlock for about two hours on that mountain before we were able to enter the town by Chuzenjiko Lake. The second highlight was the hot springs, whose sulphurous emissions rivaled my farts on a bad day. The next highlight was the evening meal and the following morning's buffet, which brought out the glutton in me (admittedly, my gluttonous tendencies needed little coaxing). The final highlight was the return trip, which featured a seemingly endless mountainous descent through a myriad of treacherous curves, on a road that was open to two-way traffic but often not wide enough for more than one car.

We took a messload of photos for your viewing pleasure. Before you click, a few comments. 1) The sign in Japanese says "Deer Bowl" (venison and rice) and "Duck Bowl" (duck meat and rice). 2) The cows were domesticated. 3) The monkeys were not.

Click here to see the whole story.

25 October 2006

Early Autumn Photo Opportunity

Here are some recent snapshots of life around the household. The white stuff on the twins' faces is yogurt.

17 October 2006


I remember teaching Taiwanese students in Canada about eight years ago. Anticipating problems with China, perhaps fearing a PRC-ROC confrontation, many had immigrated to Canada and obtained Canadian passports as a safety precaution. I also remember how one day my students, with glum faces, told about how they had put a lot of their money in gold, because they felt gold to be very secure. Alas, they sighed, the price of gold had only dropped and dropped; they had lost a lot of the value of their investment.

Well, I certainly hope they held on to their gold. Gold is now at a historic high. Take a look at the "20 Year Gold Price Chart" on this page to see how far gold has gone up since 2000.

Talk about kicking yourself. Wish I had bought some six years ago. (Same goes with Starbucks stock. I worked there way back when, before the coffee company went public. I had the chance to buy employee stock options, but neglected to take advantage of the opportunity. Starbucks stock today is roaring along.)

Many people here in Japan are enamored of gambling, especially pachinko and slot machines. I never saw the attraction. If I wanted to gamble, I would play the stock market full time. A helluva lot more exciting.

10 October 2006

Spent a day at the parents-in-law's place in Imaichi. It was nice and sunny today. That gave me a chance to wash both my father-in-law's car and my own car by hand. Took my shirt off and tried to work on my tan. These days, I often find myself wishing I had an outdoor job. I really enjoy manual labor, working with my body. I don't like being sedentary or office bound. Plus, I feel it's a sin to be indoors during nice weather. Desk and computer work can be saved for nightfall.

If you haven't seen HBO's prison drama named Oz, do yourself a favor and check out the first season. Watching the series makes me think of an old Ice-T quote:

The joint is like an oven of caged heat;
You're just a number, another piece of tough meat.
Killers and robbers are all you greet;
Act soft you will get beat.
On death row they got their own hot seat
For those who feel that they are truly elite.
The last thing you see's a priest;
The lights dim, your life ends

I was browsing the photos stored on Minoru's (my father-in-law's) computer and I found a couple cute ones from a while back.

09 September 2006

Summertime Fun

Well, there sure weren't many sunny days this summer. I think it's that way here every year. Such is life in this part of Japan (Utsunomiya City). When we did have hot sunny days, we gave the twins a little pool session out on our balcony. Have a look for yourself. In the first picture, notice one of our poor houseplants that have been banished to no man's land (the balcony). It's for the plants' own good (the kids would tear them to shreds if we left them inside).



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