Wednesday, October 31, 2007

NOVA implosion

I used to teach English in Japan. I worked for 2 years for the Japanese Ministry of Education as part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) program, until I quit that to play the REALLY sweet freelance orchestra scene. JET was an extremely generous deal, and I would recommend it to anyone at all interested in spending some (relatively lucrative) time abroad. Some of the teachers end up with free housing and if you get posted in the boondocks, you will automatically save a lot of yen. We were in Tokyo, and I was like 24 going on 16 so I kind of spent it all. Sigh.

The front page of the Oregonian today has an expose-syle story about the collapse of a private English lesson company in Japan called NOVA. NOVA and the JET program had just one thing in common: neither required a drop of Japanese language skillz whatsoever, and both paid more than a person could get in the states for teaching, especially with zero experience.

NOVA's reputation when I was in Tokyo always had a certain social aspect, and if I remember right men could request women tutors and vice versa so as to work in a little cool-foreign-social-club atmosphere. We used to tease one of our friends about being a Twinkie (NOVA hostess). It didn't pay as much as the the JET program, but then again at the time you could just up and move to Japan, put on a respectable outfit one day and get a job at NOVA, where all the "teaching" was done from pre-fab workbooks. We used to party with some of the NOVA folks, and that particular batch were seriously wild-seed-sowing types- I think it was a contemporary version of backpacking around Europe in search of good weed. They were ALWAYS out in force in Roppongi, the club area of town, and I don't think they ever caught anything earlier than the morning trains home.

The JET program, in contrast, required us to have a bachelors in something (even music counted! Can you imagine?!) interview extensively at the embassies in the states and once hired we taught children in the public school system, always side by side with a Japanese teacher who had, you know, a degree and stuff. Initially we were exactly as qualified as NOVA teachers, but we were given a lot more training and motivation to foster "internationalism" (JET participants eventually grow really really tired of that vaguely meaningless word). Most of the JET folks were pretty serious about learning Japanese if for no other reason than the fact that we all spent 7 hours a day in a school surrounded by people who were not fluent, and we were only allowed to teach a few classes a day. So there were all these "extra" hours, which I used like everybody did- to try to improve my Japanese. (And I practiced a lot while being paid- it was an incredible concept.) Like I said, not a bad deal at all. I know at least one person who wrote the better part of a novel while working in rural Japanese elementaries.

ANYway, the articles coming out now about these poooor innocent NOVA teachers stuck in horrible dark foreigner-using inscrutable Japan make me smirk just a little. I feel bad for the folks waiting for their pay- one in the Oregonian article said they owe her something like $10,000. But that's a lot of lessons, people. At some point, would the herd not look up from the feed trough and think, hey, I'm missing the last 37 paychecks? And "dark"?!?!? Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, and this is in a very crowded, very modern country with a huge number of people under 35. It's not like they are stuck in Bagdad for Fuji's sake.

The article mentions several times that the Oregonian 20-somethings they interviewed don't speak Japanese. They have each been in country for several years. Does no one else smell the familiar ooze of overpaid entitlement here? I understand they should be paid for the contract they signed- and hey, tangent, that's another thing! The teachers are saying they signed a contract stateside for enough hours to make them eligible for benefits, but upon arrival at NOVA there would be just enough of a reduction to make them have to pay the company for bennies. What is this, the mining era? If you're getting screwed over from day one, perhaps you have chosen poorly, grasshopper. How come they all stayed and taught if it was all such a bad deal?

My favorite quote? "There's (sic) whole blogs now on the best trains to pickpocket on (sic)." If these buttheads are seriously feeling justified turning to crime instead of, oh, I don't know, LOOKING FOR OTHER WORK, then I sort of hope NOVA chapter-11's them out of everything. They'll all end up living with ma & pa in Portland, working at Starbucks and spreading lies about how difficult and racist life is in Japan.

Ahem. Random high horse post: complete.
Sayonara, 'till tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Times they are a'changin

I know this isn't our adoption blog, but there comes a point where it is impossible to really separate these parts of my life.

This is a picture of the girl we might or might not have as our daughter in the near future. We're just waiting for word from her state workers as to how her parents are doing on their caseplans.

I am more and more apprehensive, I have to admit. As this pregnancy progresses, I wonder how we'll do with 2 newbies at once. Selfishly, I wonder about how this will effect my playing- something I was already wondering about the DIY baby.

There have been a few folks in our lives who have not been as excited about adoption, and while I know their intentions are pure and their thoughts run toward our protection, it's sometimes hard to know how to respond. It's hard to explain that I feel a certain parental defensiveness of a kid who is not yet and might never be truly ours. This is further complicated by the fact that we most likely will adopt at some point, so the antiquated opinions they express are about one of our children. Like a mom I met recently said, the kid "was" adopted- a monumental event in her life, and now she's just her kid. You'd be surprised the number of folks who would actually think like Royal Tenenbaum: "this is my adopted daughter, Margot".

Anyway, I felt disingenuous pretending it's possible to segregate my life into adoption/unleaded, and this is what is going through my beady little brain today.

We're off to the Aumsville toddler spa for a few days. I'll try to drag myself down to the coffee-wifi hotspot at some point. It'll be rough, but I'd do that for you, and for Nabllaehriarh training.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Crankiness mitigator

I'm a joiner. (part II)

I'm doing Nabloadpsifhawerhe again! (So you will be pelted with the gem-like drops of jupiter that are my blog posts daily for the month of November. Joy? Joy.)

And I even joined a group. There were so many to choose from- from the potentially self-righteous (cloth diaperers, unschoolers, gardeners- you know the type) to the wacky (fat bloggers, bikes are fun, crazy cat people).

The group I joined? Because pregnant groups and mommy groups just didn't catch my fancy today? Cranky bloggers. But I'll try not to let it get too fussy in here. Get it?! Fussy started Naboad;sfkjkfjgha?! Hah! Maybe I should start an unfunny bloggers group...

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Oh, Garrison.

We have listened to Prairie Home Companion for years now. A bassoonist friend of mine even worked as Garrison Keillor's assistant for several years, and said it was a good time.

But today's show was the final straw. We have for some time been turning the volume waaaayyyy down when the show's normal members sing. But today we might as well have unplugged the thing. I think they ruined the milk in the fridge.

It's time to put a long run to bed and go out while things are still... popular.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Don't say I never taught you nothin

Did you know that both Merry and Pippin mean "truth"?

But no, I swear I wouldn't do that to him.

XY... let's call him Zed!

Yay! A pert triangle appeared between two femurs (we were looking up from underneath).

I feel prepared for another boy.

Except we were going to name the baby Charlotte.

So, did somebody mention names?
Here are our requirements:
1. It can't be very high on the most popular names list. I really liked that there was never another Miriam in my class at school. In fact the only other I've ever really interacted with socially was a gospel pianist in Madison and she was such a hoot. Plus I was there first so everyone called her by her full name, and I got to be the original. Like they said on House the other day, she was Miriam Lite.

Because of my love for difference, if I were a single mom my kids would have fruit nuts names. I love Asher and Ezra. Aren't they lucky they have Jonathan on their side?

2. If it shortens, it's gotta be a good nick. Richard just seems cruel. We liked Charlotte, but Charles is iffy because then it becomes Chuck. Cute in Peanuts, but in real life ew.

3. It does NOT have to be biblical, even though the ones I mentioned liking tend to be and Tobias sort of is.

Boys are sweet! Getting hugged by the tiny ones is so lovely. And they are easier to diaper, so there we go. Yay for boys!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I (will) heart you.

Tomorrow morning I have an ultrasound where they will look for certain Organs.

Knowing the baby is a boy or girl is essential to me feeling closer to it. Picking names, getting together an itty-bitty wardrobe, and daydreaming about eventual bedroom designs makes it much more real to me.

I have been worrying a lot more this time around. Maybe the baby doesn't move enough, maybe I didn't take enough folic acid, maybe my eggs are getting old and raisin-like. It's a lot to keep track of.

Look, a picture!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Trees are pretty.

This is it, the time of year for which I love Portland most. This area has the longest fall ever. To my once-Alaskan body, it feels almost like there is no winter, that fall stretches on until you start to wonder if there are any other seasons left and spring finally shows up. Even the cute little snowstorms that utterly sideline life here wouldn't have heralded the start of Winter-for-reals in Fairbanks. They would have been forshadowing at most. Plus, smack in the middle of the worst months here you still see the odd 65 degree sunny day, and that just can't be part of W-f-r in any sort of manly definition.

Today it's 70 degrees, the sun is shining and the air is crisp and clean. To say there are a lot of different kinds of deciduous trees here is just not adequate. The variety of maples alone is incredible, and this is their moment to burst into flame, or melt into purples, or light up with gold. Also, a perk of living in a homogenized carton of townhomes is that they have these nice men who come and blow it all away twice a week.

It has been a nice fall all around. On our Montana road trip last week, the larch were a delicate yellow that looked like sunlight itself was sitting among the pines. In all the years I've done that drive (since infancy, dude- just ask J about my love for the 10,000 Silver Dollar Bar and you'll understand it is an infatuation held over from elementary days), I don't think I had ever seen it right at the peak of color, and it looked like holiday candles smell. There is something so Bachian in a mountain covered in trees shaped alike, half christmassy pine and half golden shadows. I kept thinking about the Goldberg variations, and I promise I'm not usually fruity like that.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Concert review: PFMS

Last night's Portland Folkmusic Society concert was, in all honesty, wayy cooler than I had expected. I knew Jen and Aage's sets would be worth hearing- and they really are as rad as everybody is saying. I can't wait to see them again. The repertoire! The sass! The lovely timbres! And I can say I sort of know them now, so I'm, like, totally in.

The other acts were fun, too. The concert featured artists from the Rampur records label, which is basically a small folky funky hippie kind of thing as far as I can tell. The founder guy looked a lot like my uncle John, except my uncle would never sing a Janis Joplin song while accompanying himself on the mouth-bow. Imagining my uncle John as anything remotely approaching a hippie is... just wrong and it gave me the giggles during the show. I know, despite my professional musician papers, I am about four years old as an audience member.

The third act, Tricia Alexander, really surprised me. Every time she opened her mouth to speak all I could hear was Joan Cusack in one of her Minnesota accent roles.

But then she sang some blues and played the harmonica- and when some one really plays that thing, it's not just what pitches come out, it's the way they breath through it and the rhythm they make with all those little auxiliary sounds achieved with the cupped hand's angles. Some of her stuff was what I had expected- sort of preachy folk guitar driven stuff, but then! She really brought out some great deep rooty soul. If I had just found her unannounced on the radio I would have pictured an aging black songstress.

How sad is it that I don't go to concerts very often? Very. The things I like tend to be so danged expensive, and then there's the tyke, and there is always some reason not to, y'know? But this time, I am so glad I went. Here's hoping this is the beginning of a concert-going trend.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


He's bilingual!

We have approximately seven thousand electronic noisy toys for Toby, all of which were gifts from the grandparents and various relatives. My mom knows I can be a little prissy about how annoying this kid stuff can be, but he really really likes them. He'll play for hours on his own, going from his singing bike to the "happy and you know it" car, to the newest, a car steering wheel console that announces all sorts of things in either English or Spanish.

The first thing a toddler does with this stuff is figure out exactly where every bell and whistle lives, and then they will choose a few favorites and press those. Repeatedly is not a strong enough word. We once had to give up a Spanish Frog doll up for adoption because she was so insanely horribly shrill. If you've seen the more recent Willy Wonka where the dolls are on fire, you know what I mean.

Toby always sets the steering wheel to Spanish, and after he's left it for about 30 seconds, it says "see you later" as though it were a possessed and clingy prop from a bad Outer Limits episode. But I can live with that, because as of tonight (drumroll please) my genius darling is speaking a foreign language. So far it's just "Waygo", as in hasta luego, but it's a start. Sometimes I speak Japanese to him when one of us is really bored- maybe I ought to ramp that up a bit. How cool if I could ask him embarrassing questions in our own secret language once he starts potty training, for instance. Of course, in Portland it's not like Japanese is a rarity.

Ahhhh, parents really do think every little thing a child produces is a glowing gem. I suppose it's inevitable, Senor Anderson.


Update/Warning: upon reading this post a few hours later, I realize that being your own cheering section is profoundly dorky. And maybe a little desperate. But still, I never claimed not to love, emulate and maybe resemble Pollyanna, so you get what you get. Just remember I'm usually much cooler, more bitter and insecure.

I think I am getting better at playing the viola, and that makes me really happy. I played for a friend in the symphony last week, and the audition today went well. My concerto in particular seems to be back in shape after a somewhat ragged experience in Podunk, Oregon a few weeks back.

In preparing for this I tried to imagine I was going to play the actual symphony audition. (It was actually just a sub audition, and kind of a farce at that because they're effectively unable to hire subs this year.) I was pleased that I was able to settle myself and focus on what I wanted to hear, even though one thing they requested wasn't ready.

This isn't the kind of audition you "win", really. Except maybe they'll keep calling when they can hire. But two more of the violists there have now heard me play, so that's something.

I have a student at the little college! So now I'm going to play for people much more frequently, since I'll have the dough to cover those who charge.

It's true, there are fifty little brats in conservatories right now with nothing better to do in the world than practice excerpts all day. But I'm going to just keep doing what's in front of me and try everything I can to continually improve and really compete when big contracts are available. I want to be greater. What's the alternative?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Wrap up!

Today is J's last day at the firm.


He has two whole complete weeks off before beginning the new job, which you need know only two three things about.
1. 8am-5pm, baby. Unheard of, right? In law, a giant fairy tale!
2. More interesting work. That's pure speculation- will confirm or deny soon.
3. Locale is in MUCH cheaper area 45 minutes away. Four bedrooms any one?

We are packing up the kid, the kid's cars and trucks, the kid's bed and diapers and creams, the kid's treats and books, our own toothbrushes and maybe some fresh clothes, and heading to MONTANA on Wednesday.

I have an audition for a job that doesn't exist on Tuesday (the major arts organization who can't hire subs this year is having a sub audition), but otherwise we are unencumbered and ready to hit the road.