Those who have known me a while will know that I just about kept my body shape in control (mainly in Okinawa through sweating generally due to the heat and humidity) or because of walking so much with my car dying. It definitely wasn’t due to exercise though! But after a couple of months of being back in England […]
Archive for June, 2009
Earlier this week I mentioned an article I’d been asked to write for CLAIR a while ago to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the JET Programme. Well I’ve hunted around the archives on my hard drives and found it in a dusty corner. The virtual cobwebs have been swept off it and I present it here for your amusement. This was actually written over 3 years ago, when I was a young an naive teacher with only three years of teaching experience (including two years in Okinawa). I have made no edits to the article and this is the exact same copy that you can read on the JET Programme’s official website. Whether I’d change things that I’ve written in retrospect… well, that’s probably a topic for another post! Enjoy, and let me know your thoughts.
Memories of JET
My Experiences on JET
When asked to write an article on my experiences on JET, my mind filled with memories of the past 20 months. Good memories have been made every day and during each lesson, and I am happy to be able to share some of them. Some experiences have created a lasting memory. My proudest moment was accompanying eight of my students as they took part in the 2005 Kansai Model United Nations Conference in Kyoto. It was a huge honour for our school to be invited and the students who were selected spent weeks researching the agenda. The high level of English made for a daunting first day for my students – some of the best English speakers in the Kansai region were present and the quality of discussion was excellent. But my students resolved to take an active part in the conference and surprised many people there, including myself. It was touching to hear some of the comments made by other teachers and journalists who were present at the conference. Since that conference I have seen those students grow in stature in their classes, and aspire to increase their English ability further. The determination and enthusiasm to succeed shown by the students has epitomised my time here in Japan.
My JET experience started in August, 2004. The previous year I lived and worked as an English teacher at an elementary and junior high school in the Maldives. Despite the teaching being extremely difficult in the Maldives, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and returned to England wanting to continue teaching English around the world. I applied to JET, and was lucky enough to be accepted and be placed in my first choice of prefecture, Okinawa. Knowing the potential differences in culture that would be experienced, I made an effort to learn a little of the language and customs, in order to prepare for life in Japan.
Koyo Senior High School in Okinawa is my place of work, and as one of the top 3 high schools in the prefecture, has some of the cream of Okinawan teachers. We are also the only Super English Language High School (SELHi) in Okinawa, a huge honour for a school in the countryside. Consequently we have 2 full-time English-speaking ALTs, and one Chinese-speaking ALT. Being a SELHi school also means that all of our English-based lessons for the international course students are taught completely in English. The teachers speak only English and the students are expected to converse likewise. This is a baptism of fire for students fresh from junior high school, but it raises the standard of English significantly in the first term. I am in the rather enviable position of only teaching English grammar to 3rd year students; I teach PCLL (a course centred around debate and skit) to 1st year students, and Model United Nations (MUN) to 2nd years. Prior to coming to Japan I had never heard of MUN, but have come to realise its significance in our school’s curriculum. Japanese students are very insular, and rarely see beyond their country’s borders, and sometimes beyond their own prefecture. This subject increases their awareness of the world and its problems; over the past 18 months the students have had MUN conferences discussing such topics as AIDS in Africa, child labour, and global warming. Most students had never heard of countries like Somalia and the Ivory Coast, or about the devastation HIV can cause to a region before this course started. Now they are watching TV programmes about the world and want to know what they can do to deal with problems.
One of the reasons JET is so enjoyable for me is because of the other teachers around me. From the moment I arrived in Okinawa the JTEs did everything possible to make me feel welcome and at ease in my new environment. In addition to being co-workers, I have become good friends with a number of teachers at my school, and I will keep in contact with them when I leave Japan. We have some very gifted teachers at our school and especially in the English department. The average age of teachers in the English department is relatively low, meaning the teachers still have much energy and enthusiasm for the course. And this is the key – if the JTE or ALT is not passionate about what they are doing then how can they expect the students to have that desire? At my school all the teachers are pulling in the same direction and so the department is very successful.
But the main reason I have enjoyed my time in Japan so much is because of the students. In my classes I have never had any discipline problems, and am sure you would hear similar things from the other teachers in my department. The students are an absolute delight to teach, and I look forward to every lesson with them. I teach the international course students at my school, and they want to learn English, which makes my job so much easier and rewarding. The majority of my students are eager to speak English to me. They ask me to have lunch with them, ask me questions about my life and the places I have visited, and tell me about what is happening in their own lives. Sometimes they speak in broken English, but it is usually understandable and so outside the class I do not correct them. The classroom is the place to correct mistakes, but stronger efforts are always made to praise their work and the things they do right. A number of my students have a high level of English, but just don’t have the confidence to practise it. And that is where extra-curricular activities have come in.
A lot of my time at school is spent designing extra-curricular activities, and I have done a variety of things over the past couple of years. A weekly poster showing news and sport from the UK, English-language film showings for the students, and a CD library at the school where students can borrow a CD for an evening and listen to English music, have all helped in getting different groups of students interested in learning English. My current project is a countdown to the 2006 World Cup, in which I’m making posters about all of the nations involved. This has got the attention of the football players at school – a group which usually turns away from anything in English, but has a strong interest in anything to do with sport. When the new academic year starts I intend to run a competition for each year of students, in which they have to design an English poster to celebrate the World Cup. While these activities are useful it is vital to vary them in order to keep the students attention.
This article started with my most vivid memory, but there are so many more that I would like to share. Seeing the delight on the students faces when they were visited in late December by “Santa san”, juxtaposed with their horror when they discovered their ALT was taking a short holiday in North Korea are other memorable occasions! My post-North Korea presentation resulted in the question “Does Kim Jong Il wear Japanese underwear?” (in perfect English, I should add) from one of my excited 1st year students! Not all memories were full of joy though; trying to console 11 tearful students after losing in the semi-final of a debate competition was a gut-wrenching moment, but one that shows the pride and effort that these students put into their work.
Being part of the JET Programme has influenced my life, and my plans for the future. I have realised that teaching is my calling, and when I eventually leave Okinawa I intend to combine my two main passions of teaching and diving, and work as a diving instructor. Ideally, I would like to be able to teach both diving and English in the future, and feel that JET has provided me with many of the skills I can use to accomplish those goals. As well as passing on knowledge and information, teachers are continually learning throughout their careers. You learn how different activities affect different groups of students, and how to manage the classroom effectively. This will be vital for me as I continue to teach in the future. Living in Japan has been a life-changing experience and I know the stories of my time in Okinawa will stay with me forever. Through teaching at my school I have learnt the power of positive encouragement and how it invariably brings out the best in people. As someone who is usually their own biggest critic, this has been invaluable. But probably the most important thing I have learned, above the language, customs and culture, is that being a teacher and passing on your knowledge are two of the most important things that anyone can do.
My Hopes for the Future of JET
The education system in Japan is reforming, especially with regards to English education. JET must do likewise if it is to continue having a positive effect in Japan. The first area of reform has to be in the people who are hired as ALTs. There are many excellent ALTs, who work hard each day and who have a passion to enlighten their students. Unfortunately though, there are still a number of people who treat JET as a gap year project; a working holiday that they can take after university before they apply for a “proper job”. Everyone needs to realise that being a teacher is not the same as working in an office; we are affecting people’s futures every day here and should act accordingly. This problem is compounded by the fact that many schools do not use their ALTs well at all. ALTs are either used as tape-recorders, or rarely used in lessons. One ALT I know teaches 3 classes per week, and is only required to be at school during those three hours. If this system continues then JET could run the risk of losing credibility and the students’ English level will never improve.
JET should start to look only at ALT candidates who have an educational background or experience. This could mean hiring incumbent teachers from their home countries, graduates with a degree in education, or newly certified teachers. Many of these people would jump at the chance to travel to Japan and hone their skills teaching English here. JET would be assured that the ALTs have a desire to teach and have the ability to do so. It may result in a smaller number of candidates for JET, but would ensure the future success of the programme and of English education in Japan. Another consideration could be Japanese English teachers (maybe just at a senior high school level, considering budget restraints) having an exchange with teachers from English speaking countries. This would improve their level of English and undoubtedly make them better teachers. In addition, the travelling of JTEs would heighten their students’ motivation to travel and learn about the world, and would consequently raise the level of English further. Plans have been made, but strong reforms must be carried out by both MEXT and JET if the standard of English is to improve in Japan. As the JET Programme’s 20th anniversary approaches, its success is showing all across the country. JET has changed the lives of many people in Japan and all over the world, and I am proud to be a part of it
“We only fail when we give up trying” – Wayne Bennett
2nd year ALT
Koyo Senior High School, Okinawa
We seem to have a drugs theme going on here at the moment. Last Friday it was two English teachers in Okinawa, and I just read on the news that yesterday Wigan and England second-rower, Gareth Hock, has tested positive for cocaine. Is the world going drug mad?!
Hock was tested after the match against Salford on June 5th. A second sample will be tested on June 30th and if confirmed Hock will face a 2-year complete ban from the sport. There have been some rumours circulating around about the Wigan back row forward concerning drugs for some time now, but I don’t think anyone was expecting this to come out. Maybe this was a reason why he wasn7t included in Tony Smith’s special England training party who must be ready to give a sample for a drug test at any time.
If this is all confirmed then I can’t really have any sympathy with the guy, and I am sure the rugby league community will agree with me. In any job you cannot condone taking illegal substances but when you’re a role model (either by choice or not) to lots of kids then these substances are something you want to stay as far away from as possible. From a Wigan point of view it is saddening as he was one of the top performers of a frustratingly inconsistent season, but even more so that he’s let down his teammates, the club and the fans by his actions. Whether or not he will be able to resurrect his rugby league career after this potential 2-year ban (if found guilty) is another matter. Let’s just hope that this is a very isolated incident and that drug-use is not more widespread in our sport.
The car was left in the parking lot at work yesterday while I was at my school festival all day. I got out of work at 7pm and get to the car. Get in and there’s kitchen roll (which was in the back seat) everywhere. My box of wrenches and sockets open and all over the place, one wrench even sitting on my dashboard. I’m thinking “Someone’s got into my car while the festival’s been going on”… but all my doors were locked. And then I noticed the big tear in my rear seat and something sticking in it.
A can of compressed air I had in there for cleaning a few engine parts had exploded in the heat in my car, causing everything to fly all over and the can to rip a hole through the seat, through the foam below it and make a small dent in the fuel pump cover. That must have been some serious explosion in my car, and I’m lucky that no glass was smashed or anything else is damaged.
It is just another thing that needs repairing now (in addition to a new coat of clearcoat being needed on the damn thing). But it still runs I suppose, or it did until 6pm tonight. Who knows about now!
Well the story I wrote about last night has made the national headlines, with the Daily Yomiuri carrying the story, as well as the 47 News website. As Jay commented on the original article, it looks like these “party pills” which contain benzylpiperazine were the ones imported, although 47 News is reporting that it is methamphetamine. That latter report does appear to be the only one stating that though. It’s also alleged that 44 pills were imported, which you would think is a little above what they could class as personal consumption.
It is this benzylpiperazine which is a banned substance in a number of countries, including Japan, New Zealand, USA and the UK. The stories are also reporting the pills were purchased from a British company online in mid-April and were seized on arrival in Tokyo. If these pills do contain this substance then the defence that they didn’t know it was illegal looks very shaky considering the same pills are illegal in their home country.
All education staff at my school are now fully aware of what has happened if they weren’t already, following it getting a hefty mention in this morning’s staff meeting. The superintendant of education in Okinawa has already made a statement on the matter, saying it has damaged the trust placed in the education system, and, as expected, the incident was described as “regrettable”.
Pretty unfortunate news as foreign educator in Okinawa today as two teachers were arrested on suspicion of importing illegal substances into the country. The police have immediately gone public on the case (as is the case with foreigners being involved in crimes) and the two have been named as Americans Ashley L (22) and Kristin Z (23), working with the JET Programme.
There’s not a huge amount of information yet on the case except that the substance was bought online and both suspects are claiming they didn’t know it was illegal in Japan. Tough to say what will happen to these two, but the authorities take a very stern view of any drugs offences, and especially those involving foreigners. Speculation at this point, but it’s tough to see them being able to keep their jobs.
This was the top story on Okinawan TV news and is currently the leading story on the Okinawa Times website (story link in Japanese). What this will also mean is that now a shadow of doubt is put over all foreign teachers within Okinawa. It’s like I’ve mentioned before with incidents involving members of the US armed forces in Okinawa, if one person messes up it’s made to look like everyone is a criminal just waiting to be caught.
I’ll report more on this breaking news story as I hear things. It’s certainly going to be an interesting day at work tomorrow.
“What’s the best way to break in a new engine?” This is a question I’ve been asking myself over the past few weeks and opinions on breaking-in or running-in an engine is a topic of huge debate. People often sit in one camp and will rarely listen to the opinions of others and accept that they may be as good or even better than their own. In the next couple of articles I’d like to cover a couple of methods of breaking in an engine, which will maybe give you some ideas if you are in the process of doing an engine rebuild. This first method I will describe is the method I am currently using to break-in my 4G63-based Evo I.
The first few steps seem to be common among all the theories, and involve putting in cheap mineral oil into the engine, along with a cheap oil filter. This is partly because they will be replaced very quickly, and partly because mineral oil offers a little more friction which will be useful as the car starts. You want to prime the oil system first, either by spinning the oil pump sprocket with a drill with the timing belt off, or turning the starter with the fuel and ignition disabled. This will get oil pressure into the system which will help get things lubricated and running smoothly as soon as the engine starts.
The engine is then fired up and allowed to warm up for 20-30 minutes. While it’s warming up you’ll want to keep the radiator cap off and keep an eye on coolant levels/check for oil leaks/fuel leaks etc. As it’s up to working temperature you’ll also want to take a timing light to the engine and set the base timing (5 degrees for the early Evos). Once the oil and engine are up to speed then turn off the engine, change the oil to your regular synthetic and change oil filter too. This is because in the engine assembly there will have been contaminants covering a lot of the parts. 20-30 minutes of the engine running should have got these contaminants either suspended in the oil or caught up in the oil filter.
Right, with fresh oil in the engine the fun can begin. The important thing to remember during the break-in is not to go too easy on the car, especially in the vital 60-100 miles. There is a good chance if you do that the cylinder walls will glaze and the piston rings will never get a good seal. In decades gone by people were told to be very gentle on their cars for the first thousand or so miles, but this was so that parts which may have been badly machined could be rubbing against each other and you wanted to reduce their friction as much as possible. These days, if parts are rubbing against each other then you already have a big problem. So I am trying to keep my revs above 2,000rpm.
With regards to driving, I’m doing a lot of high throttle/low boost runs from idle up to anywhere from 2-5,000rpm. I’m hitting a maximum of about 0.7bar of boost during this time. When I hit the top rpm I want to reach I won’t brake or upshift; I’ll just take my foot off the accelerator and let engine braking slow the car right down to idle speed again. This supposedly helps the piston rings seat themselves which will obviously help in the long-run. The only other thing to be wary of is travelling too much on the expressway at a constant speed. That won’t really do much for the engine in these important early miles.
I’m planning to follow this path for around 4-500 miles and then have a good tuning session on the car and start to put my foot down! It’s pretty difficult at the moment as just as the car starts to wake up I have to get off the throttle, but the break-in is not something you want to rush. Any thoughts on the way I’m going about it, either good or bad?
Apologies for the late announcement of the results of this competition. I have been crazy busy these past few days getting the car working and then returning tools and such to people who’ve helped me out. But I have some time now to review all of your entries for the first Big in Japan competition.
First of all, thanks for giving me some excellent comments to read through in the first ever competition here at Big in Japan. We had everything from the sublime to the ridiculous, and some very funny ones too. Fair play to Gooch’s entry, although far too many people have already seen pictures of me and a certain donkey! But enough banter and onto the results.
In 3rd place we have Enoch’s entry, which read:
“I will send you weekly reports of chapters covered. I intend to learn as much as i can about our potent power house engine for both personal and financial reasons.IT WILL BE CARED AND・USED. I too live on an island, you could be fertilizing the 4G63T tuning culture here.”
In 2nd place an entry from redcup which made me think “how true”:
I should win this book so that next time I blow my Evo III up I can sort it out myself rather than contributing towards a new conservatory for the owner of my local garage.”
But in first place, and winner of How to Build Max Performance 4G63T Engines is…
Congratulations for your winning entry which read:
“I think I should win this book. I have sacrificed a lot over my life and every time my DSM is put on the back burner. Most importantly (and most recently) I was forced back into the Army and deployed to Afghanistan. Since I have returned I simply have not had the money and/or time to pick up where I left off. I am constantly reminded of these sacrifices by the remnants of a half completed project Rally Talon that sits in my garage.”
I’ve got a lot of respect for anyone working in the armed forces, and that feeling has increased since I have been in Okinawa. So I tip my hat to you and a book will be winging its way to you very soon. Do keep in touch and let us know what you think of the site.
For now, if anyone else wants to get a copy of this excellent book, then check it out at Amazon.
As Canned Heat famously sang many years ago, I’m “On the Road Again”, and boy does it feel good to be able to drive places in my own car. It took a pretty big effort and most of the weekend to get it up and running though, and wasn’t without incident, as you’ll see.
My weekend started early… at 5:30am on Saturday morning to be precise, when I got up and got the bus to Naha and then up to Chatan. Clouds were low and there was some drizzle in the air so I was hoping it would lift and we could have dry weather for the work. I picked up some mineral oil, some synthetic oil and a couple of oil filters and then headed to Starbucks for a coffee. Met up with one of the guys who was going to help me (Matt) and we headed back down to my place. I was pretty lucky as this guy is one of the most knowledgeable engine builders in Okinawa and really knows his stuff when it comes to what needs to be done. Another good buddy of mine, Chris, also came down and helped out.
We set to work doing a bit more cleaning of the engine block, and cleaning & covering in molylube the ARP head studs that were going to be holding the head and block together. The stock headgasket was put in place and the engine lifted on. Although this wasn’t done before Chris had his final chance to leave a mark on the engine, and he did, quite literally! See the photos below (and the “Skrappy” written on one of the pistons refers to the curse he has on me and my car, as discussed here).
Timing belt was a bit of a pain to fit, but that’s mainly due to Mitsubishi’s wonderful lack of ingenuity when it comes to this part of the car. I love the 4G63 engines, but some things about them just defy belief and logic. The marks were all lined up and so to check everything we but a breaker bar into the crankshaft socket and turned the engine over to make sure everything was nice and smooth. It wasn’t.
I fact, it wouldn’t budge an inch. To say my reaction wasn’t one of complete ecstasy would be a gross underestimate! And we’d got the head on, the head studs torqued right up and the timing belt off, and now the prospect of taking everything apart again. And just then, right on cue, the heavens opened and it started to rain. Straight away Matt had an idea of what it could be to cause the engine to seize completely like that, and he told me to drop the oil pan so he can take a look at the rods and crankshaft himself.
Oil pan was dropped as I started to resemble a drowned rat more and more and Matt dropped under. The rod caps nuts on rods 3 and 4 were loosened first and immediately the engine started to move freely. They were hand tightened again and the motor was stuck solid. With some turning of the engine and looking at faded markings he eventually realized that I’d mixed up caps 3 and 4. While you might not think this would make a big difference and there are only thousands of an inch difference, it is enough to turn a free motor into a completely seized one. The caps were swapped and tightened up, and all was well again. Was a little annoyed with myself as I thought I’d matched everything up right, but I hadn’t and at least nothing broke or blew up.
So with the motor running freely, all that was left to do was attach the bolt-on parts and make sure the engine has oil pressure before starting it up, all of which I left until Sunday. It would only take a couple of hours at most and then I would be up and running. The first part was easy; the latter not so much. Giving the engine oil pressure is also known as “priming” it. You don’t want the engine to start and for the oil pump not to be sending oil around the engine as you’ll very quickly ruin parts. And the way you do that is you turn the engine over with the starter but with no spark plugs connected and no fuel going into the cylinders. So I pulled off the cam angle sensor, filled the engine with 10w/40 mineral oil, and got some jumper cables going to my girlfriend’s car. I had to turn the key for 15 seconds or until I got a reading on the oil pressure gauge. If nothing happened after 15 seconds I was to wait for the starter to cool down for a minute and then try again.
So I tried… and tried… and tried. I even tried pulling off the oil filter and pumping oil directly into the engine and pump to try and get some pressure going. I was getting absolutely no oil pressure at all. What should have taken about 15 minutes to do I was doing for almost 3 hours. In the end I was just losing all will to live and the clouds were dropping again signifying rain was on its way. Turning the starter at that slow speed wasn’t enough to get oil pressure so the only thing I could do was to start the engine and watch the oil pressure gauge. If it didn’t register any pressure within the first 5 seconds the engine would be shut off and I would get even more depressed.
Nervously I put the spark plugs back in and finished plugging everything else back in, and then I turned the key. After turning for only about 2 seconds the engine fired up into life once more, and a huge feeling of relief came over me. This thing has been down for almost 2 months and I’ve done a rebuild, on the whole, by myself. I’ve messed things up along the way, but have got advice and have been able to fix my errors, but it’s the first time I’ve ever attempted anything like this and it has been successful. Have to say I did feel proud for a second or 2.
That feeling quickly subsided when I did notice that one of the hoses going to my fuel rail was leaking fuel onto an already very hot intake manifold! I ran to the driver’s side and turned off the ignition before tightening up the hoses and starting it up again, and all was well. I got some lifter tick at the start but once the oil was circulating the noise went away. Same with a bit of smoke that was coming out of the exhaust from any contaminants that had got into the engine. After it was warmed up I turned the engine off and changed out oil and the oil filter (as both would have picked up a lot of grime from the parts that had gone in.
Just got a couple of issues that need ironing out now. First is that the stock tachometer seemed a little dodgy while driving last night, but I think that is down to a dodgy connection somewhere, and it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. The other might be a little more serious, although no huge problem. I think my excessive attempts to get oil pressure into the engine may have caused a little damage to the starter motor, and it’s now screeching for about half a second after the engine starts up. Fortunately I’ve got a spare starter motor on my spare engine, so I’ll put that in when I’ve got the time & inclination, and hopefully before it packs up altogether and I’ve got to resort to push starting it!
But I am running again and the car feels pretty nice actually. I’m on a breaking-in period now which means no really hard driving, but it is great to be in a car again, and one with a little power. I’ll write a little more about how I’m going to break-in the engine in a later post. Once again, many thanks to all those that helped me out. I really appreciate you folks. And hopefully I won’t have to see the sight below again for a very long time.
The first Big in Japan competition is coming to a close, and I’ve had a whole host of funny and interesting entries so far. If you missed it the first time, then don’t miss it now. The prize on offer is a copy of the excellent book “How to Build Max Performance 4G63T Engines” by Robert Bowen. It’s a great read for anyone with an Evo or 4G63-based DSM, and this competition is so simple to enter.
All you have to do is let me, know in 50 words or less, why you should win the book. Sound easy? Well it is! So head over to the main competition page and leave your entry. Closing date is Friday evening Japan-time.
Got back in from work last night and immediately dropped under the car to continue putting things back together. After quite a long fight with the oil pan (it put up a determined effort not to go into place past the axle) I managed to get it lined up. Put a hefty layer of red RTV on it to seal it and tightened it all up to spec (5lbs/ft if you’re accurate, or “just snug” is good enough). Had to wait an hour for that to dry and when it was all attached I lifted the transfer case back into place and tightened it up. One of the bolts wasn’t tightening fully but I think that’s just due to it not having a crush washer on it (something I need to get this weekend).
But finally the car is starting to come back together. Tonight might be a big night with it as I’m going to have a look at a threaded rod I’ve got stuck in the timing belt area. It’s stuck inside a bracket and I need to see how to get it out. Think my options are going to be:
- Remove the whole bracket and cut/drill the rod out
- Use a dremel & cutting attachment to cut through the bolt with it still attacked to the engine block
Number 1 is preferable but I need to see how easy it is to get this bracket unbolted from the block while it’s still in the car. So we’ll see how that goes. If I can get it out then the head is ready to be put back on it, the headstuds tightened up and the timing belt ready to be put back on. After that it’s just bolting on the parts I had to remove to get to the engine and making sure everything is connected. Wish me luck and I’ll report back soon.