"Welcome to Japan, folks. The local time is . . . tomorrow."
- from 30 Minutes Over Tokyo, The Simpsons, Season 10

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Japanese Schools, Part 2

And here's the follow up.

I taught in Iwadeyama in Miyagi Prefecture, which is a pretty small farming community in north central Japan. So that had all the small town politics you could imagine.

I also taught in Yamaguchi Prefecture, which is comparable to many American cities. Not too small, but not too big either, like Tokyo or Osaka. Yamaguchi's on the southern tip of Honshu. And Yamaguchi city has a population of about 140,000, which is the smallest of all Prefectural capitals. It's also pretty close to Fukuoka (a major shopping center), Shimonoseki (which has an amazing fireworks display in August), and Hiroshima.

Another thing I wanted to mention was that nearly all schools require a school uniform. From The first week in October to the first week in June they wear their winter uniform, which is a long sleeve shirt or a jacket and skirt for girls and pants for boys. In June, they switch to their summer uniform which is a short sleeve shirt. There's also a lot of variations on uniforms, like a lot of different styles.

High school students tend to wear really short skirts too. Like when I taught in Miyagi, it was very fashionable for the high school girls to wear their skirt hiked up so high that it barely covered their butt (like it'd be maybe an inch below their shirt) and showed off the gym shorts they wore underneath. I saw at least three different color gym shorts, so my guess was a different color for each grade, but I didn't teach at that school, so I'm not sure.

Also, they typically don't have locker/changing rooms, and when they need to change into their gym uniform (which is the same for boys and girls), they usually just change in the classroom (boys and girls). The junior high school I taught at in Miyagi was kind of unique in that it had "locker rooms" for the students, a separate boys' and girls' one for each class. But, they weren't like the ones in America because if you looked out the window from the teachers' lounge you could see them. So the rule was just don't look out the window. But from an American standpoint, it seemed rather open and not at all private to me, but I would take that to having to change in hue classroom. But then, as you could probably guess from the fashionable high school uniforms, they typically wore at least their gym shorts under their regular school uniform.

Likewise, they rarely had lockers in the classrooms and didn't have any in the hallways, so most students would keep their book bag next to their desk with them. Which can be kind of annoying when you have thirty-some students crammed into a room that should only fit twenty or so. You just have to be careful not to trip over someone else's bag.

Another thing is that Japan doesn't have indoor heating, except in Hokaido. So the individual classrooms will have a space heater. So if you sit next to the heater in winter, you will be quite toasty. But if you sit on the opposite side of the room, then you'll be pretty cold. So some students, mainly girls because of their skirts, will take a blanket to school with them to cover their legs during the day.

And getting back to the school uniforms before I forget again. Not all schools require a uniform. My husband taught at a junior high school where they didn't require one, but most of the students chose to wear school uniforms anyway. Though instead of everyone wearing the same uniform, he said it looked like friends went shopping together to pick out matching uniforms. So there was a wide variety of school uniforms there, but groups of students tended to wear the same one. Except a couple students didn't wear a uniform at al.

And, since often times the uniforms are all the same, the only/main way girls can express themselves is by their hairstyle. So you can see a lot more elaborate hairstyles in Japan than you can see in the US. This might mostly be a junior high school thing though. But if you ever want to change your hairstyle, you can only do it over one of the breaks.

As far as I know, the breaks include Golden Week (a week long in May and corresponds with the Emperor's birthday), summer break (which I think is around July/August and lasts a month), and winter break (which is also a month long and is in December/January). Then there's a break at the end of the year, for about a month, that's in March. Their school year goes from the beginning of April to the beginning of March.

Also, I wanted to add that their breaks usually correspond with the end of a term. And at least for summer break they are usually given homework to do. But I'm not sure about winter break.

That's about all I can think of for now.

Japanese Schools, Part 1

So once again in response to topics over at the NaNo message boards, I have some more stuff that might be of interest here. If nothing else, I get to talk more about my experiences in Japan.

So this first post are my answers in response to another user's questions, which is why some of the info may seem a little disjointed.

I was never a student in Japan, but I taught ESL there for about a year, so hopefully I can help answer some questions.

I only taught Monday through Friday, but there were a lot of other activities that took place on Saturdays. Like Sports Day and Culture Festival.

I worked from 8 am to 4 pm. During that time, there were six classes. I think the first was around 8:20 am. There was lunch. And at the end of the day, all the students had to help clean their classroom. Then most students had an extracurricular activity that started around 3. At my school, busses left at 3 then would come back to pick up kids after their activities and leave at 4.

Also, students don't change classes, but the teachers do. So the kids will always have the same classroom and same classmates for the year. And they eat lunch in their classroom.

Elementary school is six years, or US equivalent of grades 1 to 6. Junior high school is three years, or US grades 7 to 9. And high school is three years, or US grades 10 to 12. Each grade starts at 1 for each school. So a junior in America would be a year 2 high school student in Japan. Usually there are more than one classes per grade, so they are usually called 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, etc. depending on how many students there are in each grade. Also, this class number is posted outside the classroom.

Because Japan is very homogenous, non-Japanes people tend to stick out. A lot. I don't know how it is for a foreign student to go there, but as a foreigner in general it can take a lot to get used to, especially if you're used to someplace with a lot of diversity, Like the US.

Foreigners, or at least Americans, are expected to be very outgoing, be loud, and have very animated features while talking. So, as a foreigner, if you say, "Ohaiyo gozaimasu," you're expected to say it loud enough that the entire room can hear you, even if a Japanese person could just say it in a normal voice or even quietly.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Vampire Questionnaire

This was originally posted over at the NaNo message board, but I thought it would be useful to post here as well.

This doesn't cover everything there is to know about my vampires, but it's a pretty good start.

1. Are your vampires "alive" or "dead?"

My vampires are very much dead. The world allows for "living vampires," but I haven't dealt with them yet.

2. Can your vampires eat or drink? How about sleep?

They can't eat or drink except blood. They don't need to sleep, but they need rest because their minds are still active and resting/sleeping allows their minds to process everything, same as it does for humans.

3. It's pretty standard that sunlight and vampires go hand in hand. Is sunlight fatal to your vampires? Does it just bother them? DO THEY SPARKLE IN IT?

Sunlight is not fatal to my vamps, it just weakens their vampire powers/abilities. Most newer camps tend to stay indoors during the day just because the sun bothers their eyes and because they're pretty weak. But the older and/or more powerful vampires don't have as much of an issues with the sun because they have enough extra vampire power to make the sun's effects not seem like a weakness.

4. More myths! Do your vampires have to be invited in to a private residence? Do they have shadows? How about reflections? Are they harmed by Christian objects like crosses or holy water?

They don't have to be invited in. They do have shadows and reflections. And they can be harmed by any religious symbol, Christian or otherwise, so long as the person wielding the religious symbol knows that the vampire is in fact a vampire, believes in vampires, and believes that holding out a religious symbol will actually protect him/her from the vampire. It's possible to kill a vampire with a religious symbol, just not that likely because most people don't have that high of a belief in all three categories for it to be effective.

5. Blood. All vampires need it. Do your vampires drink human blood or animal blood? Can they drink both?

Yes, vampires can drink both human and animal blood and survive. But their preferred blood source is that of other supernaturals (like shapeshifters, witches, etc.).

6. IT'S A BIRD! IT'S A PLANE...NO, IT'S A FLYING VAMPIRE! ...Can your vampires fly or levitate? Do they have any other "special" powers? Are the super fast? Super strong? Telekinetic?

Most newly created vampires are nothing more than ghouls, who only care about getting their next meal. They barely even have a human consciousness. If they survive long enough they can eventually become more vampire-like. I don't know what their abilities are like because I haven't really worked with them much, but they are faster and stronger than humans. Plus they're dead, so not much can hurt them.

My strongest vampire is stronger and faster than other vampires, can "melt" into her surroundings, and has the power of her Beast (which I don't really know what that is yet either). And these are while the sun's at it's brightest. She also has some other abilities that I have written down but can't think of at the moment.

7. Speaking of dhampirs, does your novel have any? Oh, and for those of you that don't know, dhampirs are half human, half vampire.

No. Even though they could potentially exist in the world.

8. Okay, I gotta know. Can your vampires reproduce? Are they fertile? Can they "mate" with humans?

No. With the exception of "living vampires," but then I don't think those are really vampires to begin with.

9. Hey, you're almost done! Anyway, what do your vampires look like? Any defining characteristics? Are they more Count Orlok than Lestat?

The main characteristic of my vampires is that they all have ruby/blood red eyes. Also, they have a severe allergy to wood, so they tend to avoid things like toothpicks, wooden chopsticks, stakes, and pretty much anything else that contains wood.

10. Yay, last question! How were your vampires made? Virus? Evil warlock? Can they bite people and turn them into vampires?

The original vampire was created by the Angel of Death. He figured since the other gods were creating their own supernaturals that he should be able to create his own. So the Angel of Death created the first vampire, who changed his wife into the second vampire. Then the first vampire got cocky and wanted a priestess for his mistress even though she was married and had kids. But he changed her into a vampire anyway. When she changed her children into vampires, because she didn't want to spend eternity without them, the first two vampires tried to kill her. She killed them instead. Now she's the most powerful vampire. And her kids are responsible for making all the other vampires, except for one (my MC).

In order to become a vampire, you have to die (usually quite violently too), and loose over half your blood in the process. This is from a vampire trying to feed on you and/or kill you. Then either that same vampire or another vampire has to give you enough of their blood to make up for the blood you just lost. Since this severly weakens the vampire who gives you their blood, most are against actually doing this. Yes, my vampires would rather just let you die than turn a dying human into a vampire themselves.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Back to Revisions

I'm like doing a posting marathon today or something, but these are just a couple things I wanted to add. And having a distracted toddler long enough to post some stuff isn't an everyday occurrence.

So here's another one cross-posted from the Den of Shadows message board.

I'm getting back to revising my sci fi/urban fantasy. It's going to be difficult starting out because I'm switching two scenes around. That doesn't seem all that hard, but then I have to make all the scenes in-between and around those two scenes flow together. Plus I need to delete a character (which makes him happy since he'll be alive to hopefully come back in another book), and I'm hoping to give his important scenes to one of the antagonists (and the guy I'm deleting was a semi-love interest).

In my head it all sounds like a really good idea and a way to make a much stronger opening and story in general. But then the outline I had for my first draft also sounded pretty good in my head. So we'll see what happens. And we'll see how much I can get done before November.

Additional comments.

I'm just excited to be working on this story again. I've been wishy-washy with it all summer and now that it's almost time for NaNo, I'm gonna see if I can get it done before then. Or at least get a significant way through this set of revisions.

But then I have a pretty good motivational treat this time around.

Mature Themes and Writing YA

These two posts are both cross-posted from the NaNoWriMo message board, with some addition comments.

The thread is about mature themes/topics in YA books and what readers can handle versus what writers can/should write. It's a long debate, especially with books like The Hunger Games trilogy where many readers, parents, and librarians were outraged at the violence of the trilogy, especially in Mocking Jay. I haven't read the books yet, but they're on my list. But then you have other books that have teen sex, drugs use, drinking, any number of things that some adults don't want/thinks teens to/should be exposed to.

Actually, I think the thread started as a rant, but as someone who writes YA, this interests me beyond the level of a rant.

So here's my first post.

Granted I'm no longer in the YA age range, but I still love reading and writing YA. I read YA a lot more now then when I was actually in high school just because the YA market has become it's own entry since then. Before I would have to look for books in the adult section and hoped they had younger characters or just deal with it.

But now YA has exploded as a market, and in some cases it's more popular than the adult market in the same genre. So it seems like a lot of authors are crossing over, meaning they're writing the same genre, but now for both markets.

The only problem I have is that it seems that some of these authors need a formula in order to write YA. Like the last book I read, it seemed like the author made a checklist of all these things that are in YA books, and therefore she needed to use them in her own writing.

Her philosophy seemed to be:
Every teen drinks, unless the parental units are around.
Teens do drugs, like pot and cocaine.
Every teen has sex.
If you can't have sex, you'll masturbate.
Even if the character's in a steady relationship, there still needs to be a love interest that's the new student at school.

That's all I can think of for now, but it just really annoyed me.

I think as an older person trying to write YA I'm more sensitive to some of the stuff that older YA writers feel like they have to include. Mainly because when I was in high school, not everyone was drinking or smoking or doing illegal drugs or even having sex. And sometimes I feel that older YA writers feel like they have to include these things otherwise they won't be true to the YA market, when instead it feels like they're writing stereotypes of teens.

And my second.

When I was in high school I didn't want to read about characters swearing, drinking, having sex, etc because I didn't do any of those things. So a lot of the fiction I wrote at the time was anti-swearing/drugs/sex and it seemed like I went out of my way to avoid those topics in my writing.

But now, ten years later, I've learned a lot about writing, creating characters, and life in general. Now I don't have a problem writing about some high schoolers going to a party and drinking. I don't try to write how evil acohol is, even though I don't drink myself and would prefer my son didn't drink until he's 21. At the same time, I don't write it that every character drinks, has sex, does drugs, etc. It's not who I am now and it wasn't who I was in high school, so I think it's important to show that not everyone does these things, but I think it's more important to be true to the character.

Just like some people experience more "mature themes" at a younger age, some characters can and should experience those same things at a younger age. But just because some teens drink, smoke, do drugs, and have sex, that doesn't mean all teens do or that all teens should in writing either.

Finally, some additional comments.

Do I think that writing YA makes me obligated to write about teen sex/smoking/drug use/drinking/swearing? No. Just because it seems likes it's becoming the norm to write "edgy" YA doesn't mean I need to. That's like saying just be use I write adult fiction about a character in a romantic relationship, I need to include explicit sex scenes. (But that's a topic for a later blog post.)

Some people mention (not necessarily on that thread, but this is just what I've picked up around the blogosphere) that if you include sex/drinking/swearing, etc. you should be obligated to educate your readers on it. Like at another message board I go to, someone said if your teens are having sex, they need to have "safe" sex (which was suggested to them by their agent/editor). I have nothing wrong with that, but birth control still isn't 100% effective. You can extrapolate this into saying if your characters drink and drive, they need to get into an accident or get pulled over by the cops or something.

But other people say that the only obligation you have to your readers is to tell them a good story. You don't need to preach to them about the horrors of teen sex/drugs/drinking or anything else--whether that's your view or not.

To me, telling a good story is being true to my characters. Some of them drink, others don't. Some of them have sex, others don't. Just because I think writing young adult should be true to the young adult experience. Not every teen drinks. Not every teen smokes. Not every teen has sex. So why should all of my teen characters drink, smoke, have sex, etc.?

Inspiration and Procrastination

This is cross-posted from the Den of Shadows message board.

If I can't focus on my writing for lack of ideas/inspiration I usually read (if I'm in a reading mood), or do a Google image search. Like lately I've had a couple ideas for different stories but nothing too solid, so I've done a couple image searches because looking at pictures helps inspire me. The downside is that it can be a huge time-suck too. So it's just a matter of finding the balance.

Reading is probably a better idea for inspiration because I think it serves double duty by helping you analyze others' writing too. But I have a hard time finding what I want to read or something that will interest me.

My problem now is that I have two stories I want to work on, but I want to keep one for NaNo and the other is a short story I want to finish before NaNo, and I have to work around my toddler's schedule. Which leaves me to write early in the morning before he gets up, during nap time, or after everyone goes to bed at night, and I just haven't found what time works best for me yet. (Part of that's also an excuse to procrastinate.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

NaNoWriMo and Pregnancy 2

Here's another pregnancy related topic from the NaNo message board. This was posted on October 10 in the thread Anything and Everything About Giving Birth.

1. My delivery was painful, but I opted for the no drugs option. I don't know about nation-wide, but in my city (southern Minnesota) about 80% of women get an epidural, which is a shot in the spine to numb everything from the waist down. Lucky for me, the whole labor and delivery thing lasted only a couple hours.

2. I read that it's possible to know the gender as early as 12 weeks. However, most places do a 20 week ultrasound where you can learn the gender then. I haven't heard of anyone actually learning the gender before the 20 week ultrasound. 20 weeks is about 5 months.

3. Gestational hypertension, pre-eclampsia, and eclampsia that I know of. (Note that this used to be called toxemia because they thought it came from a toxin.) These are all part of the same thing, just to different degrees. It starts with gestational hypertension, which is increased blood pressure while pregnant. That's what I had. And for the first part of my pregnancy my blood pressure was normal, then in the last couple months it started going up and up and up to where they had to induce me because that's the only way my blood pressure would go back down. Usually when the mother-to-be has this, shell give birth early. How early depends on how severe it is. I was induced two and a half weeks early, but I know someone who had pre-eclampsia and was induced a month early. Some symptoms include sudden swelling of hands, legs, feet, and especially the face. More severe symptoms are blurred vision and headaches (I think), and seizures. Actually, I suppose I don't know if this is fatal or not, but I do know that the doctors take it pretty seriously. Even thought I felt fine, I couldn't have the lights on, the shades drawn, or even the tv on, or a radio while Ii was in the hospital e they thought any of those things could lead to a seizure. And I had the mildest form of this possible. I also had to have bumper pads on my bed in case I did have a seizure.

4. Since I was induced, I knew the labor would be coming. I was annoyed that they wouldn't let me get up and walk around. I felt fine, but because of the IV and the magnesium drip I was on, they wouldn't let me get out of bed. I was glad mine was very short.

NaNoWriMo and Pregnancy 1

For some reason there's a lot of threads on pregnancy over at the NaNoWriMo message board. That or I'm just more aware of all the pregnancy topics being that I'm over halfway through my second pregnancy. Either way, rather than repeating myself or just because I want to keep that information available here for other people, I'm going to cross-post my responses here. Since some of them are pretty long, I'll probably take a couple blog posts to do it.

This one was posted on October 18 in response to the thread Not knowing you're pregnant/pre-eclampsia.

The first thing with pre-eclampsia is that it starts with elevated blood pressure. For me, it didn't get above normal until I was around 30 weeks along or so. But even then, that wasn't enough to say I had pre-eclampsia.

From what I understand, a lot of women who don't know they're pregnant are on the heavier side to begin with. And the heavier your are, the less weight you're likely to put on while pregnant. And I'm pretty sure that some heavier people already have blood problems to begin with, so its not that uncommon for them to have higher blood pressure.

But having high blood pressure isn't enough to have pre-eclampsia. It's a symptom, but not the only one.

Other symptoms of pre-eclampsia include having headaches, seeing spots or having blurry vision, and swelling of your face, hands, and feet. So I'd imagine if someone came in with these symptoms, that a doctor might think to check if the woman is pregnant, but that also depends on what other conditions might share these symptoms.

Also, note that I'm not a doctor or any other type of medical personnel, just a woman who had gestational hypertension with my first pregnancy.

To determine if it's more than hypertension (high blood pressure), you have to do a protein test. For this test, they give you a large container where you have to keep all your urine for 24 hours (you also need to store the container in your fridge so the urine doesn't go bad). If you don't collect all the urine, then you have to start all over, so it's highly recommended you do it right the first time around. Once you have all the urine collected, you take it to the lab and they test it for proteins. There's something about pre-eclampsia that makes it so you can't properly process protein and that shows up in your urine. It also doesn't matter if you eat a lot of meat (have a high protein diet) or are vegetation and eat a low protein diet (like I do). (I asked about this, because I thought it might interfere with my results, but it doesn't.)

My protein test came up as negative for pre-eclampsia, but they still had me keep track of the other symptoms. I also didn't realize how much of a blimp I had become (like how swollen my face, hands, feet, and legs were) until after I had given birth and look at the birth pictures. My sister said I looked like a football player with how swollen I was.

If there is swelling, they'll suggest you go on bed rest and try to put your feet up whenever you sit down. For me, my "bed rest" was to lay down for six hours a day (in addition to sleeping at night) and this could be broken up into two hours, three times a day. They also suggested that I sleep with my feet up, which meant putting a pillow under my feet, which is a little uncomfortable when you can only sleep on your side. (Sleeping on your side only is for any pregnant woman more than 18 weeks along.)

Though just because the swelling goes down doesn't mean your blood pressure will go down. I was able to get some of the swelling down in my legs and feet, but my blood pressure still went up.

As to the differences between pre-eclampsia and eclampsia, I'm not really sure what they are. Eclampsia is more severe, but even with gestational hypertension, they still treated me as though I had eclampsia when I was in the hospital to give birth.

Actually, I think one of the biggest symptoms of eclampsia is the seizures. When I was in the hospital, they wouldn't let me watch tv, listen to music, open the window, or even turn on the lights brighter than a low lamp because they thought any of those things could give me a seizure, thus making it so I had eclampsia. They even put bumper pads on my bed and added an extra pad over the mattress to make it extra soft in case I did have a seizure.

With me, they had to induce labor because my blood pressure wasn't going down and they figured the only way it would go back down to a healthy level would be to get the baby out of my body. I was about 37 and a half weeks along. (But then 36 - 37 weeks is near-term, 38 - 40 weeks is term, and 41 - 42 weeks is post term.) I don't remember exactly what my blood pressure was, but whenever I told health care professionals what it was, they were pretty shocked/horrified by how high it was.

I don't know if there's really a length of time in which it goes from pre-eclampsia to eclampsia. I think it just depends on the woman and what are symptoms are.

I only had gestational hypertension and was induced about two and a half weeks early. I know know who had pre-eclampsia or maybe eclampsia (I didn't talk to her that much, only that when I said I only had gestational hypertension she was like oh, well that's nothing, which was kind of insulting to me because what I went through wasn't "nothing") who was induced a month early. He baby even had to spend time in an incubator whereas mine didn't.

If this were to go untreated, I don't know how long the baby could survive. But I'd imagine that a doctor or someone might get the idea to see if this woman is pregnant or not, be able to do a pregnancy test/ultrasound, and then get the woman induced if they were that afraid of her having eclampsia.

Depending on how good the hospital is (like how week equipped they are, whether they're in a large city or a small town, and whether they specialize in babies or not) depends on how long a child can survive. Like I heard about a baby surviving (I don't know how long) when it was born around 22 weeks, but it was connected to an incubator and various medical things to keep it alive. But that never would have happened at the hospital was in, because it's just smaller and not equipped to deal with a situation like that. Also, this story happened at one of the children's hospitals in the Twin Cities, which specializes in infants and children.

And if the induction doesn't work for a woman, depending on how severe the pre-eclampsia/eclampsia is, she may need to have an emergency C-section.

I don't know if I actually answered your question, but I hope you find something useful in my long post.