2007 JET Podcast
Some helpful hints from folks already on the JET Programme. It covers all of those very specific things that you really need to know but may have forgotten to ask or that you just couldn't find answers to. Click here.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Last Post of April

Had a great weekend. Have mid-terms coming up for this next weekend. Wish me luck. Three classes (and hard ones too). So far, I have all A's though and even a 100 average in one class.

So far, things have slowed down quite a bit for Japan preparations. There's nothing I can do now except wait for my placement information to arrive. I really, really hope they put me somewhere in the south like I requested. My first choice was Kobe. It seems like a nice city with a really pretty skyline, interesting things to do, and far enough south as to be only mildly cold in the winter. My second choice was Okinawa and third, a little farther north, Yokohama, which is near Tokyo. I hear Okinawa's really nice and I believe that the US Military base is there as well.

I specifically requested southern places and told them why (on the supplementary information section). I grew up in the south. I can stay in any number of hot environments because I don't sweat (seriously), but in the cold, I can't even sleep because I shiver so much. And no amount of covers can really keep me from being cold either.

Sidebar: I have a problem with the word covers. And bubble gums. And also shrimps. I don't like them because they are improperly used words. I think one is not a word at all.

Spiderman 3 opens this weekend. I cannot wait to see it.

They say it's the most expensive movie ever made, but some critics are already saying it's not as good as the other two films. In my opinion, Spiderman 2, just like X-Men 2, was the best of a trilogy. We'll see if SM3 bombs as badly as X3 did.

I hope not. I'm paying good money to see this.

Update: SM3 on IMAX! Where? I gotta find one of those theaters!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Great Futurama Site

For all you Futurama fans out there, I stumbled across this site a little while ago. It's the show's own Wiki site that, like all wiki sites, you can add your own information to. There's a lot of info there already, but the Futurama universe is so vast, that I'm sure there's something you know that would be useful to note.

I sound like such a fangirl, but I'm not that nerdy. I just really like the show. It was one of those shows that was too brilliant for its time and got canned because of ratings.

Sometimes, I hate the way the system works for television. I, for one, think that television has the potential to beat out the film industry as far as outlets for creative works because of its mandatory churning out of product and the relatively short and cheap nature of the work.

Television has amazed at times, even network television. Some shows that come to mind are Futurama, Arrested Development, Rome, Farscape, Six Feet Under, Deadwood, and many more.

It seems to me that many well known, talented film actors are hanging up their feature film hats and opting for the more stable and flexible fair on television. I think that if the television industry takes the hint (and would stop drowning viewers in reality television crap), they could improve that overall "brand" and knock it up a notch.

I'm starting to think of television as the new theater, though I'm sure there are those that would disagree.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Under the Weather

Was a bit sick yesterday. Some kind of cross between a sinus infection and something like the flu. I felt terrible. But then someone sent me the sweetest e-card telling me to get well and, magically, I felt better.

Well, a little better.

I'm feeling half-way better now and I think by tomorrow, I will have kicked this whole thing.

Recently, I got on board with this new acoustic guitar duo, Rodrigo y Gabriela. They are AMAZING! I heard about them while listening to NPR (All Things Considered, I think) and checked them out on itunes. You should check them out too.

It's like rock, acoustic style, and they're very talented. They sound a little Flamenco, but in an interview they said that they can't get the rhythms right for Flamenco, so real Flamenco artists would not call them such. I guess to the untrained ear, any flairy sounding strums are Flamenco. :)

Unfortunately, their US shows are ALL SOLD OUT. How sucky is that?! I would love to see them in concert. Check them out. Their song "Orion" is now on my MYSPACE page.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Guess Who I'm Hanging Out With Today...



Friday, April 20, 2007

One Post About Virginia Tech

I'll admit that I didn't want to post anything about Virginia Tech's massacre. I work in news. I have seen enough of it for the eight hours I am here every day. I, honestly, wanted to leave any reference to it completely out of this blog whose purpose is a hopeful one.

But it IS important. The tragedy affected me greatly, so much so that I had to take half of a day off of work on Tuesday simply because I couldn't be inundated with it anymore. I spent that half-day working on this blog -- something that made me happy and took my mind off of how screwed up this world can seem sometimes.

So, in this one short post about Virginia Tech, I lead you to another blog that posted something interesting enough to prompt me to post it here.

It seems that one of the posed pictures Cho sent to NBC resembled (and I totally didn't realize this until someone pointed it out) a still from the Korean film "Oldboy". I saw this movie a few months ago and it was very well done. Kind of sad, very violent, with some pretty sick parts thrown in for color. What struck me about the film personally, is that the ending gave justification to the ill-treatment of the protagonist. Throughout the movie, the lead character exacts revenge for a 15-year, solitary confinement that ruined his life.

In the end, he finds out why the main bad guy did what he did, but (not to ruin anything) the bad guy is portrayed as being completely justified in doing it.

I think, with linking this movie to the Virginia Tech massacre, one might draw some pretty strong associations. Anyway, click on the link. Read the post. And that is all I'm putting up here about that tragic day.

A link to this interesting and insightful post about the human psyche and how one's outlook impacts not only how one sees the world, but how one sees others. The implication is that Cho's view of the world (as evidenced by his ranting multimedia manifesto), whether that perception was accurate or not, does offer a plausible frame of mind that would cause someone to not only commit such an atrocity, but to also feel justified in doing so.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

International Drivers License

Yesterday, went into the urgent care for the $40 paper transfer (see previous posts). Even the doctor I saw thought the idea was silly. But he certainly didn't hesitate to take my money and do no work for it. Sigh and double sigh.

I'm trying to figure out if I need to get my International Driver's License for the leap across the ocean. Apparently it's really easy to get if you already have a license, which doesn't make much sense to me. Driving rules and norms vary from country to country. What does having an American license have to do with my ability to drive on Japanese roads? They drive on the opposite side for one, not to mention that the road signs will probably be completely foreign to me. I'm sure there will be similarities such as the all-too-ubiquitous stop or yield sign, but still...

The cost is only around $15 and the cost of 2 new passport photos. What they do is translate your American driver's license information into something like 10 or 15 different languages. After using an international license in Japan for a year, you are required to register for a Japanese license.

I don't even know if I really need one. I'm planning on doing the whole bicycle/public transportation thing. But you never know what might come in handy.

Also, this morning I was awakened by Starr calling to tell me that a guy we graduated high school with was stabbed to death in his front yard at 2 AM. I don't even know what to think. I'm really tired of people I know dying violent deaths. What's the point? Sometimes I wonder, what's the point of anything anymore?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Yesterday, I gave my unofficial resignation to the station manager. It went surprisingly well. He congratulated me on my new position, and, so far, there don't seem to be any problems. I will submit the official resignation letter tomorrow.

That's a weight off of my chest. Now, I can focus on wrapping things up at work and keeping up with the rest of this semester. Taking three 500-level classes and working full time is no walk in the park.

Having many of the loose ends tied up for the coming move makes me feel excited about Japan all over again. See, that's a pic of me being very excited.

Monday, April 16, 2007

So $40 Tomorrow...

$40 just to get a doctor to take a physical form and copy that information to another physical form and sign it.



God Heard Our Prayers...

...and decided to grant the makers of Futurama (and their fans) another chance!

Say hello to more episodes!

Oh, my God! Leela, Fry, Bender, and me. The whole gang back together again.

I can finally stop re-watching seasons 1-4.

FBI Forms, Say WHAT?!

Got an email this morning from Atlanta JET. Apparently, the instructions they gave us for the FBI form were totally off. The FBI is not legally allowed to send criminal background check information to a third party, unless that party is a relative/guardian or something. I've already sent off my form along with the notarized letter stating that they should release the results to JET.

I don't know if JET's instructions of sending an email and correcting this will work. Let's hope.

Right now, I'm trying to decide if I should be sending winter clothes by sea mail and exactly how much/what clothes I should be sending if I do. A current JET on the message group said that it is really expensive to ship the things back and that she wishes she had not done so. I wonder if I can fit all that I will need for the year within the weight allowance from the airport?

Also having lots of trouble setting up my XE Trade account. They want a photocopy of my passport, but the picture keeps coming out dark because of the security coating. Even though they can read all of the information, they won't accept anything other than a pristine copy. I've tried faxing a copy, scanning, and taking a picture with my digital camera. Haven't heard back about how well the digital camera pics work out for them, but I'm getting really tired of submitting stuff. Maybe I will just go ahead with golloyds for my currency conversion service.

Update: The FBI has already emailed me back and says they will make the necessary changes, although they say it will take a while since they have a backlog of work to do.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

When To Quit

I've been pondering this since before I even got an interview with JET. How do I break the news of leaving to my employer?

The situation is sticky and will require the utmost care.

To illustrate, I will provide an example.

I COULD just tell them I quit at around July 21st. This is seven days before I am scheduled to leave for Japan. I know many people that would do such a thing and not think twice about it. You don't really owe them anything (technically).

My situation is different than this for two reasons:

1. I actually like my co-workers.

2. I am under contract.

The first point relates to my problem in that if I were to up and leave suddenly, I know that my co-workers (who are overworked and under appreciated as it is) will have to shoulder the burden. This may be okay for a few days, but knowing my station, they will not hire another person for my position for 2 years. Don't believe me?

Well, our department has been without a manager for 6 months. No one appeared to be particularly alarmed at this.

I don't want to leave my friends in the lurch.

The second question is a matter of legality. I will be getting out of my contract 4 months early. Theoretically, it's not slave labor. Even with a contract, they really have no hold on whether I can quit or not. I remember a clause in my contract that stated if I terminated early, I would be responsible for the cost of finding my replacement. What is unclear is what these costs actually entail.

Will I have to pay the equivalent of salary for someone? Will I have to pay for the flight and hotel of the candidates they bring in? I think it will be nearly impossible for them to quantify these costs for a court of law. Theoretically, they could add on anything they wished and I could argue that in court should it come down to it.

My contract actually protects me more than them, because it means they must have justification for firing me. They must provide substantial proof that I am unfit for the job.

My opinion is that if I announce in the middle/end of April that I will be having my last day on July 20th, that is ample time for them to bring in someone else and have me train them. That would not constitute leaving them in the lurch.

I have talked to someone who knew someone who jumped out of their contract before it was up. They made her pay back the relocation costs and that's about it. My station didn't pay me any premium for taking my job. No bonus, no relocation. They hired me from my previous part-time job at the station.

My mom is of the mindset that by telling them I am quitting before my contract is up, they will have justification to fire me and I will be out of work for 2 1/2 months. I don't think I agree, but I have been thinking about that possibility.

Another issue is what do I tell the station manager? There are, for instance, certain things that I am unhappy with about the job.

Without having a boss, my job description has changed from being an actively creative one to one where I can't make even a single creative decision without prior approval from a department that has nothing to do with my department. Writing a :30 tease has changed from taking about 20 to 30 minutes to taking nearly 2 hours of my day. I am often pushing it to the last 2 minutes of my deadline to get stuff finished. We don't always make the deadline because of this.

It is literally NOT the job I signed up for and I have brought this up to them on several occasions. No one seems to care.

The stress of this job gets to me in a bad way occasionally and I really do believe is an indirect cause of my IBS and subsequent weight loss.

A friend at work has suggested that I come to them in a positive way, telling them about this amazing opportunity and how hard I worked to get it. I, frankly, don't think they would give a crap about that. They're not in the business of life enrichment. Plus, I'm not asking them to quit, I'm telling them I'm quitting. I think the softer approach won't work.

So, timing, approach -- my latest concerns.

Friday, April 13, 2007

JET and its forms...WTF?!

So, after finally hearing that I have the job, I am now going through the tedious process of getting all my eggs in one basket so that I'm legal and okay to leave the country and be hired to a foreign Board of Education.

It sucks.

Really, it does.

So, for those of you who are thinking of ever applying to JET, please know that you shouldn't actually breathe your sigh of relief until AFTER you get your placement request, because the crap you'll have to slug your way through is just painful. Or maybe I'm just aggravated easily. Or maybe I'm just a brat. Who knows? Anyway...

The list of things to do before leaving or even getting a contract for the job are as follows:

Health Check
Reply Form
FBI Criminal History
IRS Residency Form

They seem innocuous enough, but in the following tale, you will see they're really just a pain in the bum (and kind of expensive, depending on your situation).

The reply form was easy. I basically told them that "yes", I would be accepting the offered position, reaffirmed my permanent address, and sent in two extra passport photos and some passport information. I had already sent in a copy of my passport and diploma when I applied so I didn't have to worry about that portion. I mailed this off in no time (something like two days after receiving word of acceptance).

The FBI Criminal History form was a bit more difficult, as it required fingerprints and notarization and there are not a whole bunch of places that do fingerprints. My mom warned me that the sheriff's office near where she worked charged $10, which may or may not be a reasonable cost. I'm not sure, since I haven't had any other reason to be fingerprinted and do not know how much it costs the police for things (like the card, the ink, blah blah).

However, I was pleasantly surprised to find the Sheriff's office near me (which is so randomly out of the way of regular traffic, it's surprising anyone can find it) didn't charge a thing. They didn't really ask why I needed it or anything. So, I sent that along with a really confusing generic cover letter (that would enable the FBI to send the results to JET), a notarized form, and an $18 processing fee through the mail, regular postage. Easy enough. Not as easy as the reply form, but not too bad.

The IRS Residency form was, like many things dealing with the IRS, hell on earth. For starters, the form was buried very deep into the IRS website. Then, to back up for a second, you are not really filling out the actual form you need to prove to the Japanese government that you are a US citizen (so you don't have to pay Japanese income taxes), you are filling out a form to receive the form you need to prove to the Japanese government that you are a US citizen for tax purposes. The cost for up to 20 different ones is $35, but you can't get multiple copies for the same country. So, you end up paying $35 for what amounts to one sheet of paper, that, in the event your house blows up before you can leave the country, you'll have to pay to have reprocessed.

The instructions for this two-page form are 12 pages long, if that gives you any indication of its difficulty.

I filled out the form three different times, as the IRS had changed its requirements from those provided by JET and there was much confusion on the finer points of the form. I called the IRS myself just to make sure I was filling it out right. At any given time I was unsure of (a) did they actually want a copy of my 2006 tax returns (b) which address to send it to (c) was the IRS really the bureaucratic, earthly equivalent of hell and (d) did I really need to save the thousands of yen on income tax payments?

Finally, I figured it out (I think) and sent it off, but stupidly forgot to enclose payment. Luckily, I found out later that I could just pay for it online -- which I did, and am hoping and praying that the IRS's databases are all in sync or at worst that they won't just FORGET to call and tell me that they can't process my form because they are unaware of any payment being made for it.

Three down, one thing left. As simple sounding as a physical may seem, this was by far the worst.

My foray into the relatively simple physical they wanted me to get answered one of my earlier questions. The IRS, in fact, NOT the bureaucratic, earthly equivalent of hell. The US health care system is. My mistake.

Let's just get a few things out of the way first though. For one, I pay good money every month for health insurance through my job. The coverage is quite good and, until now, I have never had any complaints. I don't use it for much. I haven't been to the emergency room yet. I get something like one physical a year, a tooth cleaning, and one or two visits during bad sinus or flu times. Last year, I had a colonoscopy, but that was preventative, so, no biggie.

So, I make an appointment at my primary care physician, go in and show them the form that JET wants filled out and they completely freak out. They say it's not covered under insurance. I call the insurance company and they say, of course, I'm completely covered for physical exams. After further investigation, I discover that while I am covered for physicals, I cannot get a physical done for JET. So, I ask them, if I can get the physical (like I would get my yearly physical) and bill it as such, if they could just fill out the JET form with that very same information that would be in my file. They say no. I ask how much an out-of-insurance visit of that sort would cost me and they quote almost $300. For a physical!?? A physical I don't even really want or need?!!

I call JET and tell them about this little minor hiccup, thinking that maybe they'll understand. I mean, $300 IS lot of money for an unnecessary medical procedure. I tell them that I can send them the results of my physical in a different format. That way it can be covered under my insurance (because in actuality, it is only the presence of JET's form that's not covered, not the physical or the results). They say no, they need it on that exact form.

So, I'm pissed, but I say okay. I talk to Ted, whose mom is a doctor and she agrees to get take the results my doctor will give me and fill out the form for me. Yay! I found a way! The problem is, the form is supposed to be in by the 20th of April. No later. Despite the fact that the FBI background check won't arrive possibly until I'm already in Japan, despite the fact that the IRS form won't arrive until next month or later, for some unknown reason the medical form (which only substantiates that you were truthful in the initial self-medical assessment in the application) MUST be in by the 20th.

I can't possibly get it in by the 20th since my new doctor's appointment is on the 13th. I have to get the results, mail them to Ted's mom, have her receive and fill it out and mail it to JET from North Carolina. I mean, maybe it will get there, but realistically, I think not.

They wouldn't budge. So, I'm like, do I pay $300 for a physical or $25 bucks for a physical whose form might not make it to Atlanta JET by the 20th and possibly disqualify me from the program I worked so hard to get into? And what if they suddenly decide that I can't go -- such as if the medical results show something they don't like or they can't find a placement for me (highly unlikely)? Am I just out of $300? Too bad? Mind you, I haven't even signed a contract, because in order to get the contract the medical form must be sent in. For $300, they wouldn't have guaranteed me a single thing.

And let me just pose something to you folks, in case you need more convincing that this is just plain stupid:

In any other arena, employers pay for any pre-employment exams for their employees. Drug tests, background checks are all taken care of (monetarily) by the employer, because otherwise you are asking a person to pay to be hired, which may amount to discrimination in hiring. If a person can't pay, do they not get hired? That's taking it to the extreme, but I think you get the point. And worst of all, I wasn't the only one having this problem. Others, many of them still in college (college=broke) were being turned away by their insurance providers and told to pay hundreds for this stupid health check. And to top it all off, JET would not budge to allow these people (myself included) to find a different way that might take a day or two longer.

There were also people, whose insurance or physician didn't mind filling out the JET form that couldn't get appointments with their PCPs until very dangerously close to the form deadline. Totally out of their control, but alas...

So, I emailed JET and stressed to them the cost again and said, hey, this is when it's probably going to be in but, I will try my best to get it there by your deadline. They finally said OK.

So now, after having had my physical, I am about to send this stuff to Ted's mom. Perhaps she can fax it to them to get it there faster...who knows?

All in all, a ridiculous set of hoops to jump through. But I guess it keeps me from worrying about going to another country for a year. Again, maybe these things weren't such a big deal after they were all said and done, but please remember I'm in graduate school full time and I work full time. I'm already stressed, and then to be initially told that perhaps my 6 months of hard work and waiting to get into the program could be totally worthless because of a physical exam -- that's classic.

Cheers all.

I'm planning on documenting this whole thing from start to finish. And it's going to be a very frank account, complete with all my little anecdotes.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Welcome to JET

So, I have been accepted into the JET program. For those of you who don't know what it is, JET takes American citizens, usually young-fresh-out-of-college American citizens and gives them a job teaching English in Japan. The pay is better than an entry-level job. I applied to JET last year. The application process is long and difficult. I think it takes around six months from the time you turn in your application to the time you are even told you have the job.

Right now, I work at a television news station as a Marketing Producer. It's not EVEN what I want to do with my life, though there are probably people out there that think it's a dream job. It is a good, cushy job, but it's limiting. I work there so that I can afford to finish up graduate school. Now that grad school is almost complete, I don't have to be employed there. Since I'm not married, don't have a house or kids -- why not go to Japan for a year (or 2 or 3 or 4)?

This blog will chronicle my life there -- the people I meet -- the things I do. It is for my friends, my family, and anyone else who happens to stop by.

My name is T. F. McMichael. I'm smart, creative, Christian, and gay. I'm also really happy. We'll see how Japan changes my life, okay?