Well, one of my friends is summering at the South Pole right now, so I really shouldn't go on about snow (they don't get much new snow there, but what's already on the ground is two miles thick). The locals are starting to acknowledge that, gee, this IS a lot of snow. Yesterday, they shut down the expressway, even as the storm tapered off, and we teachers got a call from the groundskeeper (calling all the way from the back of the school) to please come and help dig out the school's front-end loader. That's right: our snow removal equipment was stuck in the snow. Monday and Tuesday, we delayed the start of classes to send the kids out to shovel, and for the forseeable future cleaning time will be devoted to shoveling (although yesterday's was less productive than it could have been since I joined a snowball fight with the students I was supervising rather than yelling at them to get back to work). I got what should be a funny picture of the girls shoveling snow in their gym shorts and big rubber boots, but it will be a while before a trip as far as the cheap photofinishing place is feasible. Today, even though the roads are better than before--some of them are up to Bosnian standards now--I got a call from a teacher at my other school, where I'm going tomorrow, telling me that the road to that village is out, advising me to detour through the village that was cut off, stranding our mailman, on Tuesday. Snow removal here is half-assed: they do the absolute minimum to keep traffic moving during the storm, then when it ends they shut down roads to clear them. They clear them as if clearing a parking lot, using front-end loaders as wide as both lanes of the road and hauling the snow out with dump trucks, instead of just pushing it up and off the road by sending one plow down it every hour during the storm and thus keeping it from ever getting that bad. Also, they return each road to pristine newness before moving on to the next, so instead of many decently usable roads they have a small number of perfect roads while most are nightmarish. One of the teachers and the secretary at my main school in Takefu live in the village of my visiting school, so they've been giving me horror stories about the road each morning (they drive trucks; they both have great kids who are my students, and I tease the kids about the parents and the parents about the kids--and for those of you who know my friend Keong, the secretary's son not only looks just like him but has a very similar intelligently goofy personality). Today was the first day since last Friday I had less than a foot of snow on my car in the morning and at the end of the day at work--less than 4" in the morning and less than a quarter inch in the afternoon.
For the last week, instead of bothering random students after school, I've been concentrating my attention on just three girls, Mume, Rie, and Asuka, who are preparing for an interview to get into a prestigious special English program at a local high school. Rie is the girl who told me she was Canadian as a joke, but I believed her for months. I've been finding that the closer the contact I have with students, the more I like them--especially some of the shier kids I wouldn't have gotten to know otherwise. These three are great, and it's a lot of fun to work with them. It hasn't always been fun for them, because I ask them very difficult questions to simulate the interview. I've been very impressed with how well they understand me and with the thoughtful replies they've given. I've also been asking them goofy questions and some that are interesting but still difficult, as well as the tough groaners likely to come out in the interview. I know both ALTs at the school (there will be a teacher and an ALT at each interview) and I've looked at reports from the last few years of interviews (we debrief the students to help prepare next year's kids), so I have a good idea of what the interview will be like. Today, before me they had practice with our kocho-sensei for the Japanese portion of the interview; they looked frightened. They've promised me one more session after their interviews; they will help me practice by asking me difficult questions in Japanese (the Japanese word for this is "revenji").
I'd like to close with another Engrish gem. I bought some chocolate just for the name: "Asse." Better yet, it comes in a box of 15 pieces, so that you can offer some to your friends (I don't need to spell it out from here, do I?). Oh, well, I come from the country that tried to sell the Chevy "It doesn't go" to Latin America, so I know it's not just the Japanese--but let me tell you they are the random bad language kings.
With any luck I'll get to work tomorrow.