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August 2006

Tuesday, 01 August 2006

Weddings, roast beef and watermelons

Hi Jenny,

Wow! You are a writing machine! It’s really wonderful to meet someone who is really motivated to communicate in English. I feel lucky to have you as my student blogger. We have so much to talk about, so let’s begin…

My wife is actually Japanese. We had a traditional Japanese wedding last year. My family came to Japan for the ceremony, and I wore a hakama, which is a kind of kimono for men. If you are interested I could post a picture next time.

I’d love to tell you the recipe for roast beef, but I have no idea! I am absolutely hopeless at cooking. I think my mum’s roast beef is the best. Actually, I’m sure that everyone thinks their mum’s cooking is the best. Am I right?

It’s interesting to read about watermelons in China. You can buy them in Japan too, but they are so expensive. One whole watermelon costs about 5 pounds or more!

Positive points:

I really like your communicative style. It’s informal, friendly and shows a desire to communicate. It’s great for a blog.

You try hard to write English in clear paragraphs, which is great. Try to make sure that each paragraph contains one clear topic.

You have used a wide range of structures and vocabulary in your writing, which I really like. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things!

I’ve picked out a couple of things to think about this time:

You wrote these two sentences ‘the watermelon's price decrees (spelling!) down to the history record’ and ‘(The) Government encouraged people to eat more watermelon and gave farmers some subsidies’. I guess that you mean these three actions happened in the past, but they are still related to the present time. In this case, maybe it would be better to use a present perfect structure to emphasise their importance now.

Collocations and phrases with prepositions
I think that you have used a good range of vocabulary in your writing Jenny. I think that noticing collocations and prepositions in English is really important, especially when you are reading. Here are a few for you to notice and add to your notebook:

Verb-Noun Collocations
have a good harvest
commit suicide

in her field
in the morning
in recent years
the lowest price on record

I hope this helps. I look forward to hearing from you tomorrow.

Good night.


Wednesday, 02 August 2006

Watermelons Part 2

Hi Jenny,

I was sitting on the train, on my way home from work, and I thought “How can I best respond to your blogs?” It’s very challenging to correct errors and explain reasons for them, especially in a short blog. I really believe that, when learning a language, it is very important to ‘notice’ natural phrases and collocations (words which are often used together, for example ‘make a mistake’) when reading or listening. So, I’ve decided to try a different way of blogging. I’m still going to write naturally, but I’d also like to try to help you notice useful English, by correcting some of your language (in bold), and also by highligthing other natural expressions (in italics) in my blog. I’ll also make a list of all the useful new vocabulary at the end with some other possible word combinations.

So, I’d like to respond to your 'Watermelons' blog again. Tell me if you think this style is useful. I’m interested in other learners' opinions, too.

Where exactly in China is Xi’an? Unfortunately, I’ve never been there, but I’m sure by the time we finish our blog, I’ll be raring to go. I’ve heard that different weather conditions are beneficial for all different kinds of fruit and vegetables. It must be very stressful for farmers, though, if the price of watermelons has fallen to the lowest on record because they have had the best harvest in recent years. I think it’s a good idea for the government to encourage people to eat watermelons in this case. I’m sure the farmers are glad the government has given them loans, too. It’s such a tragedy, however, to hear that one farmer committed suicide because she couldn’t bear to see the fruit rotting in her field.

In Japan, watermelons are really expensive! I’m not sure how much they cost per kilo, but whole watermelons sell for more than 5 pounds each! I’d love to be able to buy lots of them and make delicious sweet juice like you do…

Well, I should go to bed now because I have to get up early in the morning

I look forward to hearing your reply,


Today’s useful phrases:

(to be) raring to go (somewhere)

(something) is beneficial for (something)

(to) have a good/bad harvest

the price of (something)

(to) fall to the lowest (price) on record – to rise to the highest (price) on record

(to) commit suicide/murder/a crime

(to) not bear (to do something)

in a field/shop/place

early/late in the morning/afternoon/evening

Thursday, 03 August 2006

Green Fingers

Thank you for the information about where you live. You used so many nice expressions to describe the area. It really helped to paint a picture of your community. You must feel lucky to live in such a safe and quiet place with so many kind and generous neighbours.

I also live in a six-storey apartment block. Our flat is on the third floor. This area is also safe and fairly quiet, even though it’s next to a main road in the middle of the city. We’ve been renting a flat in this building for about three years now. It's a short walk to the nearest train station from our flat, which is good for me because in the summer it is so hot that I don’t think I could walk for any longer!

I wish we could buy fresh fruit at 8 o’clock in the morning, but you can’t do that in my neighbourhood. There are many convenience stores around here, which are open twenty-four hours, but I doubt the fruit is that fresh. However, there is a really great greengrocer’s in our local market, where I go all the time to buy fruit and vegetables.

It sounds like many people in your community have green fingers. I sometimes wish I had a garden, like at my parents’ home in England. My mum, like many English people, loves gardening and she is often seen outside watering the lawn, pulling out weeds and trimming the bushes. She planted an apple tree some years ago, but unfortunately, it hasn’t borne any fruit yet. Actually, thinking about it, I don't really have green fingers, so maybe it's a good thing I don't have a garden...

I’m glad you like this blog. You used a great expression to describe your feelings about it: ‘Thank you for putting your feet in my shoes.’ I'm also very impressed that you have updated your previous blog. Keep up the good work!

Bye for now and enjoy the figs!


Today’s useful English:

(to) paint a picture of (something)

on the ground/first/second floor (of a building)

at (8 o’clock)

in the morning/afternoon/evening

a greengrocer’s (shop)

(to) water the lawn/plants

(to) pull (out) weeds

(to) trim the hedge/bush

(to) bear fruit

(to) have green fingers

Friday, 04 August 2006

Out of the blue

You sound like a really nice mum, letting your daughter play on the computer all day, even though you had things to do. Did she really draw that animation? It’s so impressive! Does lemon tea help you to think about what to write in your blog?

Your story about Cindy is very interesting. Isn’t life strange and unpredictable? I’m sure when you were at school, and you saw her wearing those nice dresses, and eating chocolate, she seemed to have such a wonderful life. I imagine other children were envious of her good fortune. In life, there are always people who seem to have it all. I remember a boy at my primary school who had all the latest Star Wars toys, including the Death Star! I was so envious…

But life can change out of the blue. After her mum was given the chance to go abroad and study in France, Cindy’s life seemed to fall apart, didn’t it?

I'm happy her story has a happy ending, though. Her step-father supported her through university in America and she came back to China. Her dad must have been so pleased when she sent him a car because her husband’s business was going so well. And he even remarried! It’s easy to understand why the light came back into his eyes.

Cindy’s story really made me think: Does life ever turn out the way you expect?

Keep up the excellent blogging Jenny. Have a great weekend!


Today’s useful English:

(to do something) all day

(to) have things to do

(to be) impressed by something/someone

(to be) impressive

(to) think about (what to do)

(to be) envious of (someone)

(to) have it all

(something happens) out of the blue

(to) go abroad

(to) fall apart

(to) support someone through (something)

(to) go well/badly

(to) remarry

(to) turn out the way you expect

P.S. I’ve amended one of the useful English expressions from my previous blog post: have green ______ (Can you find the word?). Not sure how that happened…

Sunday, 06 August 2006

Resting on your laurels

My wife and I ate out last night with some friends, too. On our way home, Tomono asked me if we could get some take-out takoyaki, which are savoury pancake balls with small pieces of Octopus inside. She just can’t get enough of them. However, she was really disappointed when the shop was closed…

I can understand why you are worried about your daughter spending the whole day on the computer. I think it is very easy to become addicted to playing on-line games. I used to play them a few years ago, and it felt like they had taken over my life! I soon got bored with them after a while, though, and moved on to different things. I think it was just a phase I went through.

I agree with you that Meg has made some great pictures for your blog. However, you seem to think that she has been resting on her laurels this summer, after working so hard last term to get her grades back up. I’m sure it’s difficult to decide what’s best to encourage her to study more. When I was a child just the threat of receiving the rod was enough to motivate me!

Cooper does look a little like Michael Jordan, doesn’t he? He looks very happy to be with Sandra in the photo. I can understand why he spent all day cleaning his room before she came to make her feel comfortable. Like him, I often give my students articles on a wide variety of topics.

I listened to your telephone interview today. You spoke very clearly and articulately. I was really impressed. Have you listened to yourself yet? Personally, I’m not too keen on the sound of my own voice because it seems like another person who is speaking. Don’t you think so?

Well I must dash as we're going to my friend’s son’s birthday party bbq. I hope you had a great weekend…


Today’s useful English:

take-out/take-away food

(to be) addicted to (doing) something

(something) takes over you life

(to) go through a phase (in your life)

(to) move on to (something different)

(to) rest on your laurels

(to) get your grades (back) up

the threat of (-ing) something

(to) motivate someone (to do something)

(to) make someone feel comfortable/at home/welcome

(to be) keen on (doing) something

Monday, 07 August 2006

Every cloud has a silver lining

This is another interesting story Jenny. You love telling stories, don’t you? What is the moral of this tale, I wonder?

I think Jane took a lot of risks in order to become successful. After her friend suggested she invest in a printing business she had to overcome many hurdles. I’m just glad her husband’s job meant that they had enough to live on when they were getting started.

I’m not sure what you mean by ‘She let other shops to tape film and then printed cards by herself’. Could you explain that a little more?

It was a gamble taking out advertisements in their local newspaper, but happily it was one that paid off. ‘You have to spend money to make money’ as they say. It must be a great feeling to be able to pay all the money you owe back, and have no more debts.

Unfortunately, another disaster struck when the shop she was using went bankrupt. I'm sure she couldn't believe her luck! However, 'every cloud has a silver lining', and in this case the girl who used to work there helped Jane’s business enormously by recommending specialist software.

I think Jane was really kind by letting one of the boys sleep in the shop, so he could save some money. Is university education expensive in China? I'm glad Jane agreed to his other requests, too.

You mentioned Guilin, (which is ) the most beautiful place in China, in the story. Have you been there? What’s it like? Hopefully, one day I’ll have saved up enough money to visit lots of beautiful places in China.

How did her life change out of the blue? I can’t wait to find out what happened next…


Today’s useful English:

(to) take a risk

(to) suggest someone do something OR (to) suggest (doing) something

(to) overcome hurdles/problems/difficulties

(to) invest (money in something)

(to) have enough (money) to live on

(to) take out an advertisement (in a newspaper/magazine)

(to) spend money (on something)

(to) make money

(to) go bankrupt

every cloud has a silver lining

(to) save money (up to do something/up for something)

(to) agree (to something)

Tuesday, 08 August 2006

Stabbed in the back

I should start off by saying how impressed I am that you were able to tell such a long and complicated story. You structured it well, with a nice use of paragraphs to break the story up into important events. You also used a good range of structures and vocabulary. Here are a few things ‘to notice’:

Guilin sounds wonderful. I’d love to visit one day to see its beauty and experience the smell of flowers in the air. The beauty of the place also seemed to help put the spark back into Jane's relationship with her husband. My wife and I also have a similar dream of owning a house with a garden. Maybe one day I'll have green fingers like my mum...

However, things went downhill after the phone call from her brother-in-law, didn’t they? How did he not notice someone breaking into their little factory and stealing their computer? I’m not surprised Jane dashed to the station to catch a train back home.

The events which happened next really surprised me. How could her employees be so ungrateful? I think they stabbed her in the back by leaving her, starting their own business, and using the skills she had taught them to go into competition with her. I’m hardly surprised she cursed Sean and wanted to give him a good hiding for what he had done.

It must have been a shock for Jane to be questioned by the police over Sean’s disappearance. Did Sean’s wife really think that she was number 1 on the list of people who wished him harm?

The story really did end in tragedy for Sean, however. I’m sure his poor parents couldn’t get over what had happened to their son. He was chased and beaten to death by three men because he owed someone money. And one of the murderers was still at large! What a sad end to a young man’s life.

Even though what happened to Sean wasn’t Jane’s fault, I can completely understand why she decided never to curse anyone again for the rest of her life.


Today’s useful English:

(to) put the spark/romance back into a relationship

(to) go downhill (from that point OR after something)

(to) break into a house/shop/factory

(to) stab someone in the back

(to) start your own business/company

(to) go into competition (with someone)

(to) give someone a good hiding (for something)

(to be) questioned by the police (over/about something)

(to) wish someone harm

(to be able/unable to) get over something

Wednesday, 09 August 2006

Food, housework and a wedding photo

Mmmm…those dishes look really tasty. I love Chinese style cooking. Last year, when I went to Hong Kong, I was in food heaven. Like you, however, I’m not a big eater. Half a fish that size would be plenty for me. I don’t think I could finish a whole one.

Tomono also enjoys getting ideas for dishes from restaurants and making them at home. She also loves having friends over for dinner. Tonight, she is entertaining some of her colleagues, so she is going to prepare some of her favourite dishes. I'll ask her to take some photos of the food to show you next time.

We usually share the housework. As we are both working full-time, we usually only do the housework when it needs to be done. Doing the laundry is one thing we both hate. I don’t mind doing the washing up after dinner, though. I sometimes wish my mum could do our ironing

As I promised before, here is a picture from our wedding last year. The picture was taken just outside the temple where the wedding ceremony was held.

Wedding Photo with my parents

I think you can guess who the people are in the picture, but I’d like to show you a few useful phrases anyway:

The person on the left of the picture is my mum. I’m standing next to her. My dad is on the right of the picture. Tomono is the second on the right.

Tomono and I are wearing traditional wedding kimonos. Her kimono was so heavy; it weighed more than five kilos. It took three people almost an hour to put it on. In fact, the kimono is tied so tightly around the waist that it is difficult for Japanese women to eat anything during the wedding reception. Do you think mine suits me? It was fun wearing it for the day...


Today’s useful English:

(to be) a small/big eater

(to) have friends over for dinner

(to) entertain friends/colleagues etc

(to) do the housework

(to) do the laundry/washing

(to) do the washing up

(to) do the ironing

a wedding reception

The person on the (far) left/right (of the photo/picture) is (name)

(name) is (standing/sitting etc) on the (far) left/right (of the photo/picture)

(name) is the first/second/third person on the left/right (of the photo/picture)

Thursday, 10 August 2006

PC Problems

It’s a shame to hear that your computer has been infected with a virus. I once had to reinstall my operating system after my computer was infected with an email worm. I love surfing the internet, but you can never be too careful. I hardly ever download anything off the net these days unless I trust the website; it’s just not worth the risk. I think your friend may be right about you needing to reset your system. I hope you don’t lose any important data because of it. “My Goodness!” is a nice way to sum up your feelings.

I’m glad you made the effort to go to the internet café to write your blog. It’s funny, but internet cafes are not very popular in Japan. Before I came here, I thought that they would be all over the place. I remember when I was in Korea, I went to one to check my email and it was packed full of people surfing the internet, watching movies and playing online games.

Are summer nights cool in Xi’an? Is the moon often bright? I’m not sure what you mean by ‘It was late at a nice night”. Could you rephrase it? You also mentioned a few men were sleeping on their beds near a gate when you were on your way to the internet bar. Do you mean that they were sleeping rough? I sometimes see some people sleeping on the street on my way home at night, too.

Well, I hope you solve your computer problems soon because I’m looking forward to reading about the next slice of life from Xi’an.


Today’s useful English:

(to be) infected with a virus/worm

(to) install/reinstall software/the operating system/Windows etc

(to) surf the internet

“You can never be too careful”

(something is) not worth the risk

(to) lose (important) data

(to be) all over the place

(to) check (your) email

(to) be packed full of people

(to) make an effort

(to) sleep rough

a slice of life

Friday, 11 August 2006

A crash course in essay writing

I’m glad to hear that your computer is working well after the operating system was reinstalled. I hope you’ll be able to access the internet soon, so you don’t have to keep going back to the internet café every time you want to post something on your blog.

So you told everyone about why you study English, did you? I think it’s great to have a goal and work towards it. For you, and the two other students who want to study abroad, that means you will probably have to prepare for an exam.

I like many of the ideas in your composition, and you used lots of nice examples, too. I believe, the key to good writing is ideas. Always spend time noting down ideas before you start writing, so you can choose the best ones to include.

Next, you have to consider structure and organisation. I’ve decided not to ‘correct’ your writing, but I’d like to show you a useful essay outline which you could use to help structure your compositions. This is only a suggestion, but it’s one which many of my IELTS students find helpful when writing short, academic style essays of about 250 words. I've divided it into 3 parts: Introduction, Body and Conclusion. Useful language is written in italics.

- Include a short general statement to introduce the topic
- Include a 'thesis statement' (this is your opinion – make sure it is directly related to the question)
(In this essay I will give reasons why I (completely/mostly/partly) agree/disagree…)

Body Paragraph(s)
- Include a 'topic sentence' at the beginning of each paragraph (to introduce the main idea of the paragraph)
(Firstly, Secondly, On the other hand etc)
- Include supporting sentences and examples, which are directly related to the 'topic sentence'
(For example, For instance, Such as)

Repeat Body Paragraph for each main point.

- Include a brief summary of the main points of the essay. Do not include any new ideas.
(In brief, To sum up, In conclusion etc)
- Include a ‘final thought’ (something for the reader to consider after finishing your essay – not always necessary)

I hope this crash course helps. Have a great weekend!


Today’s useful English

(to) keep doing something

(to) tell someone something

(to) have a goal/target

(to) work towards a goal/target

(to) prepare for an exam/test/interview

a crash course (in something)

Saturday, 12 August 2006

Escaping the heat

I’m glad you are able to access the internet Jenny! I’m also happy to hear that when you went back to the shop the staff had kept hold of your cable for you. Are there many internet cafes in Xi’an? Do many people have computers where you live?

Smoking is also very cheap in Japan compared with the UK. Not only that, but you can buy cigarettes from vending machines on almost every street in the city. There are about 6 or 7 cigarette vending machines within a five-minute walk from my flat. I think the Japanese government should levy a higher tax on cigarettes in order to reduce the number of people who smoke.

I really love summer. In the UK, summer means strawberries and cream, going for a drive into the country, spending a lazy afternoon in a pub and watching the sun go down at about 10pm. When I experienced my first Japanese summer everything changed. Summer in Japan is a whole other experience. It means watermelons and eel, being woken up to the sound of Cicadas, amazing summer festivals with fireworks and spending days inside to escape the heat. It is unbelievably hot and humid here now. I know how you feel about needing to take a shower after cooking. Sometimes, I feel the need to take a shower after walking to the shops! I still enjoy the season as much as I can, though.

In order to escape the heat, I’m going away for a few days to Nagano in the Japanese Alps next week. Of course, I’ll keep blogging while I’m there. I’m really interested to know what summer means to you in Xi’an. How about other learners from around the world? I’m really looking forward to finding out!


Today’s useful English

(to) access the internet

(to) keep hold of something (for someone)

(to be) (adjective) in (somewhere) compared with (somewhere)

a five-minute walk

(to) go for a drive/swim/walk

(to) watch the sun go down

(to) be woken up (to the sound of something)

(to) escape the heat

(to) feel the need to do something

(to) go away (for a few days)

Tuesday, 15 August 2006

Greetings from Nagano

I am writing this blog post from Hakuba in the Japanese Alps. It is so much cooler here than in Osaka! It took a long time to drive here as the traffic was very heavy almost all the way. I left Osaka at 8am, and finally arrived at the Hakuba Alps Backpackers at about 5pm. After that, I spent a great evening chatting with the friendly owners, meeting other guests, drinking ice-cold beer and enjoying a bbq.

Today, my friend and I climbed Mt. Happo and then went swimming in Lake Aoki to cool off. It`s a shame you haven`t been to the mountains with your husband recently, especially if it is so hot in Xi`an. I must admit that I admire the sacrifice you are making to improve your English.

It was intersting to read about the baby who was born with a hair lip. It`s amazing that reports were published in the media about it, and the father then felt he had to explain his and his wife`s actions in his blog. It`s touching that so many people posted comments to send their best wishes, though. I can understand why so many people criticized the press for publicizing such a private family matter. Such invasions of privacy are, unfortunately, quite common these days. In the UK, many people are obsessed with the lives of celebrities, too.

What kind of questions do you ask your teacher about learning English? Can you tell the difference between his accent and your other teacher`s? Some people say that I speak with a southern accent, others say my accent is more northern.

I`m sure it`s really hard to believe that England has football hooligans when all the English teachers you have met are so kind and friendly. I was happy that the police praised the behaviour of the English fans during the World Cup in Germany this year.

As you mentioned in your blog, in this time of globalisation it`s very important that we really make an effort to avoid national stereotypes. I hope that this blog is one small part of that process...


Today`s useful English

heavy traffic

(to) climb a mountain

(to) make a sacrifice (to do something) OR (for someone)

(to) send your best wishes (to someone)

(to) criticize someone for (doing) something

an invasion of privacy

(to be) obsessed with (doing) something

(to) speak with a (French) accent

in the north/south/east/west of somewhere

something is hard to believe

Wednesday, 16 August 2006

Give yourself a pat on the back

Today, I drove to the north coast of Japan to go for a swim in the sea and eat some sushi. The water was great, but the beach was a little disappointing, and it was so hot! The sushi was excellent - really tasty and fresh. I went for a bike ride around the lake in the evening.

It looks like it might rain here later. I’m sure it was nice to have some rain with thunder and lightning the other day. Did it cool the air down a little?

I like the photos you’ve been posting on your blog. I’m sure other readers of your blog are enjoying them, too. How many pictures did you take after you got off the bus? It’s a shame that only one was saved, though. I can understand why you wanted to save space on your computer because I have the same problem with disk space, too.

I’m glad that the bell tower has been repaired many times in order to preserve such a wonderful building. I must admit that I’ve become quite fascinated by China and Chinese history since we started this blog together. I read an article about Chinese history last night in National Geographic. It said that the Han Dynasty was a remarkable period of history which was comparable, in some ways, with the Roman Empire. I’d love to visit Xi’an some day to check out the Terra Cotta army. Have you ever seen it?

Please give yourself a pat on the back for writing such great posts Jenny!


Today’s useful English

thunder and lightning

(to) get on/off the bus/train/bike

(to) get in/out of a car/taxi

(to) save space (on your computer)

(to) be fascinated (by something)

(to) read an article/story (about something) (in a newspaper/magazine/journal)

(to) check out something OR to check something out

(to) give yourself a pat on the back (for doing something)

Thursday, 17 August 2006

It's raining cats and dogs

Today, I went hiking up Mt Shirouma to see a glacier. It took about an hour to get there, but it was well worth it. The cool wind coming off the glacier was so refreshing. After that, I went for a drive in the mountains to Togakushi, which has a famous ninja village. On the way back to Hakuba, the heavens opened up and it started raining cats and dogs. There was even a little thunder and lightning. I have just got back from taking a bath at a local hot spring, and now I’m thinking about what to do for dinner…

Since you started writing your blog you really have become like a journalist, haven’t you? I think it’s great that you’ve put a lot of thought into what to write about. It must be a challenge sometimes to come up with new ideas. I honestly think that anything you can write about your life in Xi’an will be fascinating.

Korean dramas and music are really popular in Japan, too. Yan-sama (I think that's his Japanese nickname) is probably the most popular actor. To be honest, I’m not really into the dramas myself, but many of my students can’t get enough of them. I absolutely love Korean food, though. I love Bibinbap, which is a rice dish cooked in a hot stone bowl. Have you tried it?

I know what you mean about things that surprise tourists being normal to you. After living in Japan for 7 years I have become accustomed to things that seemed very odd when I first arrived. When my family visited last year it was great because it allowed me to see things in Japan with a fresh pair of eyes again.

I hope that you will have saved up enough money to travel abroad soon. It really broadens your mind, and also helps you to appreciate the good things about your own culture, too.

Well, I must go as my stomach is rumbling

Bye for now,


Today’s useful English

(to) go hiking (up) a mountain

something is (well) worth it OR something is (well) worth verb+ing

“The heavens opened up”

(to) rain cats and dogs

(to) put (a lot of) thought into something

(to) come up with an idea

(to be) (really) into something

something broadens your mind

(to) be unable to get enough of something (“I can’t get enough of Korean dramas”)

"My stomach is rumbling"

Sunday, 20 August 2006

Home sweet home

Well, I’m now back at home after my break in Nagano. Over the last two days, I went canoeing on the lake, cycling around the town, and I had one final soak in a hot spring. I will really miss the cool evenings, the breathtaking scenery, and our wonderful hosts, Sakiko and Troy, at the backpacker's lodge in Hakuba. This picture was taken on Mt. Shirouma, at the bottom of the glacier which I mentioned in my previous blog post..

Mt Shirouma

Traditionally, in the UK, the bride’s parents pay for the wedding, which is the opposite of the Chinese tradition. In China, the groom’s parents pay, don’t they? However, these days, I believe that very few weddings are paid for solely by one side of the family in the UK. Most weddings are paid for by both parents and, in many cases, by the couple themselves. I suppose this is because the age at which people marry is higher than it used to be. My parents tied the knot at 18 and 21, but I didn’t get married until I was 29 and my wife was 27.

Japanese weddings are slightly different. Traditionally, at a Japanese wedding the guests bring gifts of money with them to the wedding reception. This money goes towards the cost of the wedding, which can cost the earth. The amount the guests give usually depends on the relationship between the couple and the guest. However, this means that being invited to a Japanese wedding can be rather pricey. How about in other countries? Who usually pays?

Regarding divorce, the number of couples breaking up is rather high in the UK, but there is evidence to suggest that the divorce rate is decreasing. In Japan, I’ve heard that the divorce rate is high for couples after retirement. Can any readers guess the reason why?

You make an interesting observation about the children’s pictures. In the toddler’s pictures their heads are big, but their bodies are small. Even the adults’ bodies’ proportions are the same as the children’s. I drew in a similar way when I was a child, too. However, when children get older and become teenagers the difference in drawing style is dramatic, as you say.

I hope you have had a great weekend.


Today’s useful English

(to) have a (nice, long) soak (in a bath/hot spring)

breathtaking scenery

(to) tie the knot

(to) get married/divorced

(to) cost the earth

(to be) pricey

(to) break up (with someone) OR (to) split up (with someone)

the marriage/divorce/birth/death/unemployment rate

(to) make an observation (about something)

Monday, 21 August 2006

Sleeping like a log

It sounds like you had a nice, relaxing weekend. I slept like a log on Saturday night after coming back from Nagano. I had such a nice deep sleep. I woke up late on Sunday with my stomach growling, so Tomono and I went to a local Korean restaurant for bibinbap. I ate like a horse...

How often do you see your parents and brothers? As you can imagine, it’s hard for me to spend time with my family as I live a long way from the UK. However, I usually chat with my parents every weekend over the internet. In fact, we had a nice chat about this blog last night .

I can understand why your parents wanted you to go home if Meg hadn’t had any dinner yet. I wonder why Meg didn’t go with you to your parent’s house. Actually, when I was her age I spent lots of time in my room, too. Are teenagers the same world-wide?

The sheep really does look like it's smiling, doesn’t it? There are many stone statues in Japan, especially around temples and shrines. Sometimes I see statues wearing red hats and scarves.

Do most people in China live in houses or flats? In the UK, most people prefer houses with gardens. However, in Japan, because land is so limited and expensive, most people live in flats. It's funny because Japanese people call some flats, ‘mansions’. Before I came to Japan, a Japanese friend told me that many people in Japan lived in ‘mansions’, so I thought everyone must be really well-off. However, I soon realised that the word ‘mansion’ has a different meaning in Japanese. In fact, Japanese borrows many words from English, and other languages, but the meaning is not always the same.

How about in other languages? Do they borrow words from English? Is the meaning the same or different?


Today’s useful English

(to) sleep like a log

(to) eat like a horse

(to) drink like a fish

(to) have a deep sleep

(to) spend time (with someone) (doing something)

(to be) well-off

(to) chat (with someone)

(to) have a chat (with someone)

Wednesday, 23 August 2006

Fighting for the remote

At the moment, I’m sitting at home in front of my PC. Tomono is sitting at the dining table, nibbling some snacks and watching a drama on the telly. I’m not sure what the programme is about, but she’s really into it. We rarely fight for control of the remote because there’s never much on the TV that I am keen on watching, and even when we do, she always manages to wrestle control of it from me anyway...

I find it hard to surf the internet and watch the box at the same time. I think most men like to do one thing or the other. Do you think that women are naturally better at multi-tasking than men?

Am I an international citizen? I’m not sure if I fit the criteria. My Japanese is by no means great; I’m a little embarrassed by my ability, to tell the truth, considering I've lived here for quite a long time now. I really should knuckle down and do a bit more study, especially of the Chinese characters. I also wish I had properties in two countries, but unfortunately I don’t. I’m sure other visitors to these blogs are far more entitled to be called ‘International Citizens’. I hope one day I'll be one, though.

How exactly do you preserve the eggs? Do you just put them into water filled with salt and seasoning? Is it really as simple as that?

I’ve only ever had the water cut off once. Actually, I have to admit that it was my own fault as I had forgotten to pay the bill. I’m sometimes a little absent-minded when it comes to doing things like paying bills. By the way, what did you mean by ‘I topped the electricity card’?

That reminds me; I must put the rubbish out tomorrow morning...


Today’s useful English

(to) sit at the dining table

(to) nibble (something)

(to) fight for control (of something)

(to) wrestle control (of something) (from someone)

(to) surf the internet

(to) watch TV/telly/the box


(to) fit the criteria (for something)

(to be) embarrassed (by/about something)

(to) knuckle down (and do something)

(to be) entitled (to something)

Something is as + adjective + as something: “It’s as simple as that”

(to) have the water/electricity/gas cut off

(to) pay a/the (phone/credit card/gas/electricity etc) bill

(to be) absent-minded

(to) put the rubbish(British Eng)/garbage(American Eng) out (for collection)

Thursday, 24 August 2006

When in Rome

When I meet friends, the way I greet them generally depends on where they are from. With my western friends, we usually just say ‘hi’. Some people hug and kiss each other on the cheek. We usually shake hands when we meet for the first time, and sometimes if we haven’t seen each other for a while, too.

With my Japanese friends I greet them according to Japanese etiquette. I usually say ‘hi’ and sometimes bow; it depends on our relationship. Bowing is very important in Japanese culture. Many of my Japanese friends have told me that when they started working for a company they had to take bowing lessons. The depth of the bow depends on the relationship with the other person. I sometimes see business associates bowing very deeply and repetitively when they are saying goodbye to each other. It’s an important sign of respect to the other person.

Couples in Japan very rarely show affection to each other in public. When they greet each other they neither hug nor kiss, but in the UK couples usually do.

When my family came over to Japan last year, my parents-in-law treated us all to a gorgeous meal at a Japanese restaurant. Tomono’s family also took my family to a hot-spring resort in order for everyone to get to know each other a little. When our families came to say goodbye, my family naturally expected to say goodbye with a hug and a hand shake. However, I had to explain to my family that doing so may make Tomono’s family feel uncomfortable. So, instead they made a polite bow and said 'sayonara'. As they say: “When in Rome…”

Thank you for the clear instructions for preserving eggs. I think I’ll give it a go!


Today’s useful English

(to) shake hands

a hand shake

(to) take (bowing/English etc) lessons

a sign of respect (to someone)

(to) show affection (to someone)

(to) treat someone (to something)

(to) get to know someone

(to) make someone feel uncomfortable/happy/at home etc

(to) make a bow

“When in Rome (do as the Romans do)”

instructions (for doing something)

(to) give something a go

Friday, 25 August 2006

As right as rain

This morning, I woke up with ever such a slight hangover. Last night, Tomono and I went out for dinner after work. Actually, she treated me to a really nice meal at a teppanyaki restaurant. In this type of place there is a large hot-plate on the table where you, or a chef, cook your food. We had steak, seafood, vegetables and okonomiyaki, which is a popular egg and cabbage based dish. Tomono knows the owner quite well and he kindly offered us lots of delicious drinks. How could we refuse? Unfortunately, I may have had a few too many, so it was a bit of a struggle to get out of bed this morning. However, I soon perked up after a cup of coffee and some toast, and now I feel as right as rain. What perks you up when you are feeling a bit rough?

Has your husband been feeling a bit out of sorts recently? I can understand why he wanted to escape from the hospital. It sounds a bit scary, I must admit, and I would probably feel scared in that situation, too. However, I’m sure suffering a little discomfort by having his stomach checked with a mirror will be worth it in order to get to the root of your husband’s minor problem. I hope that he is given a clean bill of health by the doctor soon.

Thanks for the new pictures. Xi’an looks like such a picturesque place. It’s amazing that all the structures were built such a long time ago. There are many beautiful old buildings in Japan too, but nowhere near as old as in Xi'an. I recently visited Matsumoto castle when I was in Nagano. I've never seen any crabs in a castle moat in Japan, but there are often loads of huge koi carp. I hope you like the photos.

matsumoto castle

Have a lovely weekend!


Today’s useful English

(to) have a hangover

(to) go out for dinner/a meal

(to) have a few too many (drinks)

(to) offer (someone something)

(to) perk up

(to) feel as right as rain

(to) feel (a bit) rough

(to) feel (a bit) out of sorts

(to) feel scared/bored/excited etc.

(something is) scary/boring/exciting etc.

(to) suffer discomfort

(to) have something done “I had my shoes repaired” “He had his stomach checked”

(to) get to the root of a problem

(to be) given a clean bill of health (by a doctor)

Sunday, 27 August 2006

A rewarding experience

I must admit that I found it very difficult to tell the difference between the two copper lions. They look identical in almost every respect, don’t they? Are they a happy couple, I wonder? Both of them look a bit cheesed off about something if you ask me. Maybe, the female would prefer to be out having a kick about with a football, and the male would like to be at home raising the cub. As you say, men and women are capable of doing many of the things which are traditionally assigned to the other sex. Although, that does raise an interesting question: Are men and women naturally better suited to certain tasks? For example, do you think women are naturally better suited to raising children?

In the UK, I think that many people accept the idea of men staying at home to take care of children. Actually, my brother is a kind of house husband. His wife works full-time, but he only works on weekends. During the week he stays home and takes care of their two children. He loves being able to spend quality time with his kids, which he finds a really rewarding experience. What do you think about this situation? Does it happen in your country?

Well Jenny, you must be worn out after your hectic work schedule last week. I hope you were able to recharge your batteries at the weekend, so you can keep writing great blogs next week!

I look forward to reading lots of comments from visitors about this topic.


Today’s useful English

(to) tell the difference between (two or more things)

(to) look identical (in every respect)

a (happy/cute etc) couple

(to be) cheesed off (about something)

(to) have a kick about (with a football)

(to) raise a child/children

(to be) capable of (doing) something

(to) raise a question/awareness of something/an issue

(to be) (better) suited to (doing) something

(to) take care of a child/children

(to) spend (quality) time with someone

a rewarding experience

(to be) worn out

a hectic (work) schedule

(to) recharge your batteries

Wednesday, 30 August 2006

Actions speak louder than words

I’m sorry I was unable to blog yesterday, but on the way home we experienced an amazing electrical storm. Dazzling lightning bolts and cracking thunder greeted me when I got off the train. The rain was bucketing down and by the time I got home I was completely wet through. I think the storm must have affected the phone lines because I couldn’t connect to the internet. Hopefully, it will all be sorted out by the time I get home tonight.

It’s a shame to hear that one of your friends has had some conflicts with his parents over his choice of girlfriend. I agree with you that he shouldn’t rush into getting married when he is feeling so emotional about the situation, otherwise he may live to regret it. I’m happy that he saw sense after your chat and agreed with you about what to do. I’m sure if he and his girlfriend prove their commitment to each other and show his parents how serious they are, then they will agree to their marriage.

I remember when I met Tomono’s family for the first time. I felt nervous that they wouldn’t agree to our relationship as we are from different countries and cultures. I suppose they were concerned about their daughter being with somebody who wasn’t Japanese. In Japan, I think the phrase ‘actions speak louder than words’ means a lot, so I worked hard to endear myself to them by working hard and taking care of their daughter. They saw how happy Tomono was and when we told them that we had got engaged they were overjoyed, and her mum even gave me a big hug! We were really lucky to have such open-minded and understanding parents.

Your next blog post describes a very tragic event. My heart goes out to the soldier’s family, who must be going through a terrible time. I hope that the war in Iraq ends soon so no more parents have to mourn the loss of their children.

Who do you admire most?” That is a tough one to answer. Gandhi is a very good choice as he brought an end to British rule in South Asia without the use of violence. When you look at the world today and you see conflicts and violence used to settle disputes, it really amazes me that Gandhi achieved his goal using non-violent methods.

I’ll have to think about the question a bit more…How about other readers?


Today’s useful English

(The rain is) bucketing down

(to be) wet through

(to) connect to the internet

(to) sort out (a problem)

(to) have a conflict (with someone) (over something)

(to) rush into (doing) something

(to) live to regret (doing) something

(to) see sense (about something)

(to) agree with someone

(to) prove something to someone

(to) agree to something

‘Actions speak louder than words’

(to) give someone a hug

someone's heart goes out to someone

(to) go through a tough/difficult time

(to) mourn the loss of a loved one/a child/a friend, etc.

(to) bring an end to something

(to) settle a dispute (by doing something) OR (with something)

(to) achieve a goal

Thursday, 31 August 2006

Are you a dog or cat person?

I think that anything in excess isn’t a good thing. Twenty stray cats in one apartment complex seems like an awful lot to me. Look on the bright side, though, at least you’ll never have to worry about mice or rats!

The Persian cat looks a bit worse for wear, doesn’t she? She must be sweltering in that long coat in the summer. Is it usual for cats to have eyes which are a different colour? Have you held the cat to see that one is yellow and the other grey?

The black cat might just be the bad apple of the bunch. People often feel intimidated by animals with claws and teeth, no matter what size. In my experience with dogs, it is always the small ones who seem to have a chip on their shoulder about something. Don’t you think that small dogs are more aggressive than large ones?

The reason there are so many cats must be because of the ‘cat mothers’. Surely they are encouraging more and more cats to come to your complex by making baths for them and feeding them. I can imagine the frustration of the other residents who are being kept up all night by the cats making a racket outside. There are some cats in my neighbourhood which make loud noises like babies crying. It’s very disturbing. Have other residents voiced their concerns about the growing numbers of cats to the ‘cat mothers’?

Some people say that you are either a dog person or a cat person. Personally, I prefer dogs to cats. Dogs are more playful and loyal, whereas cats seem a bit aloof and snobbish to me. How about you? Are you a dog or cat person?


Today’s useful English

(to be) in excess

(to) look on the bright side (of something)

(to) look worse for wear

(to be) sweltering (in the heat)

“the bad apple of the bunch”

(to) feel intimidated (by something)

(to) have a chip on your shoulder (about something)

(to be) kept up all night (by something)

(to) make a (loud) noise/ a racket

(to) voice your concerns (about something)

August 2006

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