Thursday, September 30, 2004

"Success is when you feel fewer and fewer regrets."

Toni Morrison...a good interview with one of our wise women. Why do we only get interviews like this one in England? Why doesn't the NYT's run something like this?

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

This is not what I really wanted to read in the New York Times today. Ugh.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Some good news from yesterday: my novelette, "The Language of Moths" was accepted for publication in Realms of Fantasy. Really really happy. Out of my own stories, it's one my favorites.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Pics from Beth:

Singing my heart out for the American karaoke team.

Kevin and I try our hands at synchronized karaoke.

Me and a Lion.

Beth's really great picture of the Green Peas building.

The animal girls and me, and an animal boy, too. Where did he come from???

Sunday, September 19, 2004

My friend Beth and I took the train into Tokyo yesterday. On the way, we stopped in Ueno to visit the Toshogo Shrine. Toshogu means, "Shrine of the Sun God of the East". This shrine has been in existence since 1616, when Tokugawa Ieyasu was enshrined in it at Mt. Kuno. Later though, in 1650, the shrine was moved from Mt. Kuno to Nikko, to the Imperial Palace, and finally to Ueno, for the convenience of the feudal lords. It's been there ever since. Here are some pics of it. Beth got some really good ones that I'll post in the near future too.

Entrance to the shrine.

I love this guy. He was outside the shrine itself, sketching it.

Sacred Well where you would wash your hands before entering the temple (if it were still a working temple).

Wall of prayers to the Sun God. You buy these wooden placards at the gate and write your wishes and prayers on them, then hang them on the wall.

Me, musing at a stone lantern.

Mmm, pretty.

Outside the temple..

Some sort of instrument outside the temple. Couldn't figure out what it's purpose was, but it looked cool. hehe.

Small shrine like the one near my house in the woods, only this one has been kept up and looks really nice. It's actually a shrine within a shrine.

Me, musing once more, in front of the main shrine itself.

After visiting that shrine, Beth and I stumbled through Ueno park, looking for a five story pagoda (which we could see from the shrine, but couldn't find our way to). On our search for the pagoda, we accidentally found a real live working shrine. I saw a path leading down an embankment, and these orange gates, one after another, enclosed the path. I recognized the gates as the entrance to a shrine, they divide sacred space from everyday space (go me, reading Japanese cultural manuals) and we headed through them (Beth worried we were going in the way we were supposed to go out, but I think it was all okay and no national crime was committed). Down below, we saw this.

Working shrine

Working Shrine 2

Me, cleansing at the well. The water was really cold and clean.

Beth, cleansing also.

After visiting the working shrine, Beth and I headed off to Tokyo. We stopped in Shinjuku first, then went to Shibuya. In Shinjuku, we visited the biggest bookstore in the world, Kinokuniya. We had some trouble finding it at first, but I stopped a few people and kept asking for directions in Japanese, and between Beth and I, we figured out what they were saying back to us. There was a green building called Green Peas that I had to take a picture of. I'm not sure what's inside the place. I guess I'll check it out later. Also, here's one of the many buildings with the huge widescreen TVs taking up half of the side of a building.

Green Peas

TV City

When we got to Shibuya, which has to be my favorite part of Tokyo so far, there were all sorts of small shrines being hoisted around on the shoulders of teams of men, who danced with the shrines through the streets, chanting and drumming. This weekend was one of the times of years to honor your ancestors, so I'm assuming all of this dancing with shrines was part of that ceremony.

Street shrine.

Street shrine 2.


Tokyo spawns many tribes. Some of them we're familiar with back in America, like Goth Kids or Club Kids. Others we don't have counterparts for. Like the girls who paint the skin around their eyes white, dye their hair blonde, and wear wild clothing. Their group is names after a famous Japanese witch, but I can't remember her name now. I'll have to ask around again. Also there are these kids, girls mostly, who dress up in animal costumes and traipse around the streets together. Beth has a good picture I took with a group of them, so I'll post that when I get it from her, but till then, here's my pic of an animal girl.

Animal girls.

Was a lovely trip. I love Tokyo. I can't wait to explore every single one of its sections. Shibuya is really young and hip and has the most amazing stores. When people cross the street, they cross in the hundreds. I've never been in such a busy city before. Tokyo is smaller than New York City, but has as many people living in it, maybe more. It's lights and neon and glitz and strange characters and narrow twisting roads have really won me over.

Other than that, I went to get a haircut today. American hair dressers, listen up. The Japanese do it better. Not only did I get a massage while I got my hair cut, they also moisturized my face and shaved me, even between the eyebrows and in the nostrils. Everytime I thought the whole process would be done with, my hairdresser man moved onto yet more pampering. By the time it was all over, I felt like a prince.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Something I forgot to post was how the women teachers at Numasato were all giggling around me and talking about me, and the head teacher, a man, said, Girls Girls, you better watch what you say, he knows a little Japanese and has a dictionary with him. Then all their giggling stopped and their eyes went wide and suddenly one of them said to me, "I make you second husband."

Then they all started laughing again, like schoolgirls, hands in front of their mouths.

Amber, the closest I can translate "You are the cutest of the cute," to is, "Anata ga ichiban kawaii desu." You are the most cute. Or the cutest. "Ichiban" makes all adjectives the mostest. hehe.

Oh, a picture of the girls getting ready to race at Sports Day, for whoever was in despair over that (the blurred quality of this pic is the standard for most of the pics I took of the girl's events. I don't know why they didn't turn out well).

Girl's getting ready to race.

Off to a party at Hiro's house now. Tomorrow (Sunday) Beth and I are going into Tokyo to find a famous 7 story bookstore and to visit a shrine. Will take pictures.

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Another day, another elementary school. This time Numosato Shogakko. My beliefs that the strange Kimiga elementary school in the backwater of Edosaki is unique unto itself with its rabidity has been confirmed. Numosato was wonderful, with exciting students and classical music piped into the classrooms during lunchtime, and the little surgeons outfits were worn while the children served each other. I realized only today that the Kimiga students didn't do that. How uncivilised. (hehe, considering how I'm used to being in American schools where we don't serve each other our lunch but rely on cafeteria workers, and don't wear masks and white gowns to keep germs off, I've quickly become a fan of the Japanese school lunch feels so well, all I can say is we enjoy lunch together...very Japanese, enjoy, together).

Which reminds me. When I arrived, the children were practicing for their Sports Day (the elementaries have theirs the weekend after the Junior Highs). I was made to run out onto the dirt field, get up on a podium before 500 kids who had just got done practicing a dance to a Japanese remake of "Oh Mickey", you know, that Toni Basil song from the 80s, and give a little speech in Japanese to them. Japanese people seem fond of speeches, both opening and closing ceremony speeches, and all sorts of varieties of speech in between. I am not much of a speech maker even in English, so this has really tested a part of my social identity. And that I have to do it often in Japanese really really tests me. So I introduced myself to the kids and told them I was going to be their new English teacher and I kept trying to remember how to say it would be fun, and suddenly I couldn't remember how to say that, and I kept mentally parsing through my limited vocabulary, "Is it Tanashii? Tanoshii desu? No, that's present tense. Is it Tanoshii deshoo? Is that even a really statement? Oh man, is it omoshiroi? Or does that just mean it will be interesting? Oh crap, what do I say, they're looking at me, all five hundred of them) so I finally say, in English, "Let's enjoy it together! Gambatte kudasai! (Do your best please!) and raised my fist in the air, like they do when they say gambatte. To which 500 hundred little fists rose up with me and cheered, and suddenly I felt very much like a Communist.

Anyway, it was a long day even with all the togetherness, then a trip back to Edosaki Junior High to help the speech team prepare for their English monologues contest in October. Came home, wrote a little, drank a couple of Chu-hi's, Japan's version of wine coolers which somehow have more alcohol in them than beer, and watched The Village.

I'm not sure what to say about The Village. I was able to predict its "surprise" just by watching the trailers when it first came out. So I wasn't expecting much going into it, and I guess that's why I have to say I found some things I really liked about the movie, probably because I didn't have high expectations. Shyamalan, as always, has a really good, individual style of film making. In this movie, his slightly wooden sounding dialogue is actually made good use of, do to the faux Colonial setting, and that's really smart of him in and of itself. I loved Ron Howard's daughter, like everyone seems to. She totally won me over to care about the movie and not let the stupid things Shyamalan slacks on turn me off. And the setting was nice, and I'm sorry, I actually liked Lucius, Joaquin Phoenix's character. But I'm a softy for the seemingly inarticulate articulate dark brooding outsider boy. He had me at hello, so to speak. And there were just nice touches in the camera work that really added some grace notes to everything. Sorry, but right now The Village is a winner for me. I do wish Shyamalan would challenge himself in the realm of his twist endings, and figure out a way to reinvent himself plot wise, but in the realm of style and setting and atmosphere, he's really doing something beautiful. I have to segment my reviews so that the things that need criticizing get criticized, but I also have to pay some attention to the things a person does well. I don't really believe in the perfect story or the perfect film, although I do think some people make stories and films etc. better than others. But sometimes there's a writer or filmmaker, musician etc., who has failings but make up for those failings with something they can offer that no one else is out there doing. And I appreciate that. (Although I reiterate, I do wish he would figure out a new way to plot and surprise, or maybe just try a different sort of genre altogether).

So, that's my two cents, months late. (Oh, Adrienne Brody, for me, was the biggest turnoff in the whole movie. Bleah. Bad village fool.)

If I failed to mention it, go read Haruki Murakami's Sputnik Sweetheart. Really good book. Japan's Jonathan Carroll, only he's really appreciated and like a national idol.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

My friend Toby's asking for some help with this. If anyone can lend a hand, I'm sure he'd appreciate it.

After lunch each day, there is a twenty minute break at school, and after that break the students and teachers all clean the building. They put on headscarves and take up their brooms and rags and clean all the windows and sweep out the courtyard and wash down the floors. It's really something. I don't actually do anything but watch. Anytime I've tried to offer help, they act like that would be a capitol crime, and if they let me actually clean something, they would all be beheaded.

In any case, during the fifteen minute break before cleaning time, Fujita sensei has me holding what she calls an English Plaza. She's so suave. Kids who are interested can come and talk in English with me basically, that's all. In any case, usually it's girls who come, but today a bunch of boys came in. I recognized one of them who is always really eager to stop me in the halls and try to talk. We always talk about baseball. He asked if I played baseball when I was in school, and I told him I had made the high school baseball team, yeah. I didn't tell him I barely made it, but he has now sort of taken to idolizing me and he dragged a bunch of the baseball boys into the English speaking plaza today. The regulars who are more of the "smart" kids, the "nerds", looked very shocked and almost offended by their presence. And yet Sho, the boy who can't get enough of talking to me, dominated them in his English abilities. He was translating for everyone else. I guess it goes to show that when you want to understand someone bad enough, you will. Fujita sensei said, "Oh that's right, you were baseball player. This is good. Now the sports boys will be interested in English too, since someone who they think is like them is interested in it." Then she nodded her head curtly, as if the next step in the mission had been accomplished, and marched off to her next class.

I finally got my internet access last night, so I am able to do stuff from home again. Big sigh. So much easier now to keep up with people back home. And to call now, too, since my long distance is tied into the modem that was delivered for the internet access. Once I get a TV, I will be set...

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

The new issue of The Third Alternative has my story "A Resurrection Artist" in it. The cover is beautiful, too. I can't wait to get my copy of it.

Yesterday a boy told me his name was Karaoke. I think I must have heard him wrong. I *had* to.

I not only teach english, but cultural lessons about America. Those are my duties. When I was complaining about that one elementary school with the bad kids to Hiromi, my coordinator at the office that hired me to come here and teach at Edosaki, I told her that I was telling Miyamoto sensei, the second grade teacher with a little English at that school, how the fourth and sixth grades were really good. I didn't say how bad the fifth grade was, or how sort of indifferent the second and third graders were, and thought that was fair. Hiromi said, "You should have told Miyamoto sensei that her second grade class was excellent." I said, "Why?" She said, "Because you taught in her class that day," as if that is reason enough to give out a compliment I don't actually mean. I think this must be that whole Japanese politeness thing. So I told Hiromi, "I'm not just teaching English, but cultural lessons, right? Well Miyamoto sensei will just have to learn that I'm American and I'm not going to say her class was wonderful just because I taught in it."

Cultural lesson one: I don't care if that's offensive. To me, I was being fair. I didn't say her class was bad, I didn't say it was great either. I did mention the fourth and sixth grades were good. I imagine in Japan I probably said her class was bad by not saying anything at all about it, when really I just had a neutral reaction to her neutralized classroom. So no complaints, and no compliments. I just don't always have that ability to go around like freakin Mary Poppins to everyone.

(Although Ben is right, as usual. In the nation of cuteness and delight, I am at my glowingest).


Actually I really do have to write about all the cuteness and delight stuff here at some point. It's both sweet and ridiculous at the same time. I think the two favorite English words the Japanese like to use (in completely weird ways too) are 'together' and 'enjoy'. Let's enjoy soccer together. Let's sukiyaki together. Happy together. So happy together! and on and on and on and on....

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Yesterday was Sports Day in Japan. What a really cool event. The school split their students in three teams, Red, Blue and Green, each with a different name of course, like Kyodo and Sekanin (I forget what the third team was called), and the kids play games against each other, scoring points until all the events are over, and whichever team has gotten the most points by the end, of course, wins. I wasn't familiar with a lot of the games. Mainly the races were the only familiar thing, oh and tug of war. Other games included Steal the Hat, where three or four kids for a human pyramid, three carrying the fourth like a rider, and this human chariot carries the rider around the playing field, trying to steal the hat off of the opponent chariot riders. Another was the human bridge race, where the kids kneel down on hands and knees and another kid runs atop their backs. Once the runner has run over you, you have to get up quick and go to the front of the line in order to keep the bridge going for the runner. Once up the field, once back. Another game was where a pole with a basket on top was held by a couple of kids, and their team mates had to throw all these balls on the field into the basket in such and such amount of time. Whichever team got the most balls in won, of course. The way they counted the balls was fun, too. An annoucer counts, and a kid from each team throws a ball out of the basket, high into the air for each number. Eventually as the numbers get higher, they run out of balls, and the last team still throwing balls up wins.

Here are some of the pics.

Sekanin, the winning team.

The Human Bridge Race

Bridge members running ahead to kneel down before the runner runs out of backs to step on.

Basket Toss.

Human Chariots.

More human chariots.


More cheerleaders.

And yet more cheerleaders.

All in all, a great day (though I got a really bad sunburn on my face. Ohama sensei grows aloe plants at the school, though, and broke a stalk open for me to swab with, and gave me a plant to take home. She's so nice. The kids were all really fun to watch and cheer for. I'm starting to know who a lot of them are, and building relationships with certain students who are really into speaking english with me. It's funny, too, because little kids from the elementary schools that I've taught at came to the junior high Sports Day festival with their parents to watch their older brothers and sisters play, and they would see me and shout, "Chris sensei! Chris sense! and come running up to say hello and how are you and that they are good. Then their parents would look shocked to hear their children speaking english and the mothers would clutch their hearts with pride and the fathers would clap in astonishment. I didn't mention that there was a teacher here before me, though. I'll just take the credit. hehe.

After Sports Day, I went out with the teachers for a huge bash. Boy, the Japanese know how to party. I may have found home. hehe. A work party is full of lots of good food, saki, beer and wine etc. Lots of speeches were given throughout the night. I was welcomed in English by Nobuo, who is the young cool new English teacher at Edosaki, and then I had to give a speech in front of everyone at a microphone too. I basically told everyone how lucky I felt to be at their school because they've been so kind to me and have made my transition to Japan very easy and have made me feel at home here. Ohama senei was translating for me, and she kept telling them I had said how beautiful she is. She cracks me up. Later the teachers who were the team captains knelt in a chair on stage while another teacher berated and praised them for their efforts. Then I was brought up on the chair as well, and the science teacher, a really cool guy who taught me how to make a duck from a washcloth earlier in the night, hehe, did the praising of me. It sounded like he was really mad, but he was saying how earlier I had said When in Rome, do as the Romans, and how I planned to adapt that saying here as well, and how they were all happy to have me at their school, and that I make it easy for them to make me part of their family because I'm so warm hearted. And also he added how the first day Ms. Ohama came into the faculty lounge and they asked her what she thought of me, and she said she was very impressed, with that Ohama wink in her eyes that means more than what she's really saying, and they all laughed at that.

No one pours their own drinks at these parties. You pour for each other as you see someone's glass draining, or you go up with a new glass to someone and pour for them just to show them courtesy and that you want to serve them. You say, Otsukare sama deshita, which means, You did such good work today, you must be tired, here, drink this. And the receiver holds the glass with his or her right hand, and the bottom of the glass with their left hand and says, Yoroshiku onegaishimasu, which pretty much just means, I'm happy to meet you. I'm not sure why that is said by the receiver in this instance amongst people who obviously know each other, but hey, I went with it big time. Three young teachers cornered me to ask how old I thought they were and to guess my age and to ask if I had a girlfriend, and what my blood type was for some reason, and apparently I am going out with all three of them in a couple of weeks after the students are done with their tests. They are competing amongst each other to be my Japanese girlfriend. Ikue is one of them, an english teacher too, who happened to hear me tell a student in class one day that I liked hip hop, and so she asked if I like Eminem. I said I did, and now we are going to watch this dvd she has of him together, I guess. Apparently I look like Eminem, they said. I said, not really. But then they said, yep, you got it, that I have the same eyes as him. Blue blue blue.

I had a great time. Onuki sensei drove me home and then my friend Kevin came over and we drove to pick up Beth, his wife, at her work party. They had moved theirs from a restaurant to karaoke, and as soon as we came in, we were made to sing with a bunch of drunk Japanese people. Then they asked us to sing Queen songs for some reason. And the Beatles. So the party just kept going. People were passed out in the karaoke room's couches. Crazy bunch of of people here.

Obviously I *love* it.

Which is what I've been thinking about this morning and afternoon. I've had a few rough days here and there since moving, but really nothing terrible. Yes, some culture shock, yes some feelings of loneliness and why am I doing this sorts of questions, but nothing lasting. Most of the time I'm really digging it here in a big way. I feel like I'm going to make some important relationships here, and I'm already learning alot of things. About this place and these people, and also about myself. This afternoon I was cleaning my apartment and I thought, I think this is one of the best decisions I've ever made, coming here. And in the background, Tori Amos shouted, "You bet your life it is!" so you know it's true. Later I was looking through pictures of my family and friends and places that I love and feel are part of me from back home and I felt like I had a new relationship to all of those people and places. I can't explain it, but I brought a lot of pictures. Some are really old, from the thirties and fourties and fifties etc. and they're of family members I barely know or who died before I was born but I feel like I know them through stories, like my mom's dad, and I felt this huge surge of who I am, all these people and places, that washed through me, and then I saw a picture of my dad when he was a teenager holding up two squirrels he'd shot and I suddenly started crying because I was overcome with this sense of seeing who these people are with such clarity it sort of hurt, but it a good way, and I guess what I'm saying is that I just finally saw how much I have back home. So many wonderful wonderful friends and family and people I've loved and still love, and if that's all coming to Japan ever gives me, that realization of just how wonderful and, yes, blessed even, my life has been, it will be more than I'll ever need.

First day of school

Friday, September 10, 2004

Yesterday the Kimiga Elementary school kicked my ass. I thought for sure it'd be easier than the Edosaki elementary school, because it's student population is smaller, but it was hard. Early on in the day, I wanted to just start speaking in English and let everyone just deal with it.

Kimiga is way out in the country. I'm talking like I think I saw some paper walled houses (just kidding). The entire student body, from first to sixth grade, is 79 students. No kidding. I thought it would be a cinch, having real small classes to work with, but only two out of five classes were any fun. The second and third graders were mainly puzzled and looked like they were suspicious of me. The fifth grade were just badly behaved and their teacher thought it was just funny. That was strange for me to see because not in any other place or any other classroom in Japan have the students been badly behaved. Usually they are excessively well mannered. But some of the fifth graders at Kimiga made me think they had grown up in America.

At any rate, the teachers were nice and all, but spoke almost no English. One or two of them had a little. But of course it was the ones who can't speak a lick of it that actually want to talk a lot to me. So they stand at my desk and rattle on, not even speaking slowly for me, then stop and look at me with expectant smiles. Two older obasans were trying to fix me up with a 27 year old second grade teacher, I think, from what I was able to make out. And speaking of Obasans, Japan is the only place in the world where I've seen middle aged and elderly women wearing housecoats and nineteen fifties looking aprons while they ride down the street on their mopeds and motorbikes. Somehow that image is very buoying to my spirits.

I've been working on a story since a week or so after I got here, and reading too. The first book I read was Kawabata's House of the Sleeping Beauties, which is marvelous. He's like a Japanese Kafka in that collection. Then I read Banana Yoshimoto's Asleep, which actually has a lot of connections, I think, to Kawabata's collection, and strangely I picked them up at the same time. Yoshimoto is decent, but awkward and I don't know if it's the translator's fault or if her stories would feel slightly dumb at times as they do in english. Kawabata's didn't feel dumb at all, but it's hard to tell. I just finished reading Like the Red Panda, by Andrea Siegel, and wow, what a heartbreaker. That ending is relentless. If you like coming of age novels, you have to read this one. Have to. Next up is Murakami's Sputnik Sweetheart, which I started last night and love already, and after that is Mishima's Confessions of a Mask.

It's hard to get English language books where I'm living. I have to go into Tsukuba City to their university bookstore to have just a very small selection. In Tokyo, Tower Records has a whole floor, I guess, but I haven't gone back to Tokyo since my last visit yet. Probably I will have to do that very soon.

I will probably have more photos to put up in a couple of days. Other than that, things are starting to settle here, slowly but surely.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Lalala, at work, twiddling my thumbs, as the students are all practicing for Sports Day this Saturday. Their version of the mini-Olympics. It's a big deal, I guess, as all week long the afternoon classes are canceled so the kids and the teachers can practice whatever their specialty sport happens to be. For hours and hours. It's crazy. And at various times, they get into the three teams that the entire population of Edosaki Junior High comprises, and practice their team chants. I think it's just a form of cheerleading, sort of. But more along the lines of lining up at different places on the field and one group starting a chant that says they're going to win, and then the other teams doing their replies. Sort of like that movie, Bring it On, only no black and white girl class problems.

Earlier I taught my first Sawayaka class alone. Sawayaka, I think, means refreshing or to refresh, and it's just a nice way of saying Special Education. I had four kids to teach who are really really really behind in all aspects of their education. They understand how to greet and ask how someone is, and how to answer that they are good, thank you. But since they mostly seem tired all the time, I decided to teach them more expressions for how to answer if someone asks how they are. Now they can say, So so, or I'm tired, or I'm hungry, or I'm cold or hot etc. They liked being able to say they were tired. We mostly played identification games the whole time, for days of the week and colors and roman alphabet letters. Games here will get any kid's attention.

Have been reading other people's accounts of Worldcon, and getting emails about it. Wish I could have been there and seen everyone. Alas, I am like, working. An eight hour job five days a week. Wow, it's been a long time since I did that. I'm exhausted at the end of the evening. But I feel really bad for the Japanese teachers, because I leave at 4:30 but they stay for hours and hours longer. Till 7 or 8 at night, and come back at 8 the next day and do it again. I will never complain about jobs in America again.

I really don't know how they do it and are still sane. I would have gone postal by now. Heck, eight hour five day a week jobs make me crazy in a matter of months, so their ten and twelve hour long days five days a week, with no end in sight, since this is their career, would give me enough reason to find the nearest bridge and jump off it screaming, *Bonzai!*

Every morning I listen to J-Wave on the radio as I drive to work. J-Wave is a decent station. I pick up little phrases occasionally when the DJ goes back and forth from Japanese to English. I have lately, though, been really irritated by a song that has become popular in the last week or so. I don't know its name, alas, but basically it sounds like a Japanese version of Paula Cole. I mean, it's in English, but sung by a Japanese woman who sounds like Paul Cole. And she has this refrain that goes something like, You're easy breezy and I'm Japan easy. And she complains about whoever is easy breezy going around telling his friends how he got with her the other night. Somehow she thinks she has one up on him, but though I've listened to the song a million times it seems, bleah, I still can't figure out her logic. And I am just sick of her saying the easy breezy Japan easy thing. *hates*

On the other hand, there is another song out that is sung in Japanese that reminds me of a Japanese TLC sort of song. That one I like, even though I can't understand it, maybe because I can't understand it.

It is hot and humid here like nearly every damned day. And supposedly I missed the hot season. I am ready for fall, dammit. Apparently there are signs here that it is on its way, but the only one I've noticed is the sun going down earlier, it seems.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Well it's been a long week, but I can say that I really do love my coworkers at Edosaki Junior High, and I loved teaching at my first elementary school, though I was exhausted by the end of the day. On Wednesday I came into the teacher's office and everyone was saying good morning to me, and during the morning meeting, I was asked to stand and give a little speech, which I did in Japanese. The first thing I said was Ohayo gozaimus to everyone, which is just good morning, and in unison the entire faculty said it back to me. I sort of blinked, stunned by the communal return of the greeting, and then went on. I was applauded afterwards. Then, later, I was introduced to the entire school in the auditorium, where a selected student came up onstage and welcomed me in english, and told me the Edosaki students were gentle and cheerful and happy to have me be their teacher of English, then they all stood and bowed to me. I gave a speech half in Japanese and half in English, and one of the English speaking teachers translated my English to the school. Everything went swimmingly.

The English speaking teachers at the junior high are so nice. I like them a lot already. Kazuaki is my age and in charge of my schedule, and he's really nice to talk to and teach with. Nobuo is the new guy on staff, twenty two and just out of college, and really sweet. Fujita sensei is a woman of the world, knowing both English and French, so we switch back and forth during the day sometimes just for fun. Her desk is right next to mine. Ohama sensei is incredibly funny. This is the woman who said, We will drink lots. In class she tells the students she is twenty-seven years old this year, though she's in her fourties, and she told me this and I played along and she told me I am very honest. She is always telling me that for some reason. And she asked me for the class what my favorite season was and I said autumn and they wanted to know why, and I said because the trees change all sorts of colors, and Ohama sensei said, Ahhhh, you are romantic!

I eat lunch with a different class of students everyday, and they are all so sweet and interested and eager to talk with me, both in Japanese and English. the junior high kids have more English, some more than others, so they are able to ask me more questions. Mostly they want to know if I have a girlfriend. They also want to know what sports and music and movies and books I like. I think this is the extent of their question asking abilities really, but they want to exercise them and are interested in me in general. No matter where I go in the halls, the students are always saying hello! and how are you?? and wanting me to speak to them. They're all sweet and polite and I love them already. Tons of fun.

The elementary school on Thursday was awesome, though tiring. I taught five classes, and of course no one in the elementary schools speaks English, except a word or two here and there. I shared the principle's office with him while I was there, and he is totally nice. He knows a little english and I know a little Japanese, and so we spent much of the time I was in there with him trying to talk back and forth. I was nervous and he said he was too because he was new to the school and was only there for a month now and had to address the entire school for the first time the day before I came and he said he knew how I felt, we were both new guys. The teachers and I got by with whatever Japanese I knew, which was more than I thought I had possible, and managed to have great classes. Lots of fun. The kids come and pick me up in pairs of two or three or four in the principle's office and take my things from me and walk me to the class, chattering away in english and Japanese. One boy with his leg in a cast came to pick me up with a girl, and before I knew it, I had asked him in my broken Japanese if his leg hurt. I was really only able to say, Does it hurt? Ittai desu ka? and point at his leg, but that was all I needed and he nodded and said Ittai desu, with much affirmation. Later during the game we played he ran so fast towards me, he almost fell and I had to catch him. These are very eager kids. heheh.

At lunch the kids serve each other their food in their homeroom classrooms, both in the junior high and elementary schools. I imagine in the high schools too. They clean up after themselves, no dropping trays off for cafeteria workers. And mostly I sat next to a little girl who kept saying, Chris sensei, do you like such and such a thing? I do. She was thinking of as many possible things to ask or say. Very cute. And I never thought I'd ever be called sensei in my life. Weird.

The cutest thing in the world is watching the elementary school kids at lunch. They dress up in white smocks, the servers, and white caps and put white masks over their mouths so no germs or hair gets into the food they are doling out to their friends, and they run around with trays from desk to desk, looking like three foot tall surgeons. At recess, they gather at the principle's office window, when he's not there, and wave at me and blow kisses. Sometimes they surround me and want to just touch me and chatter nonstop in Japanese, and I keep telling them I'm sorry, I don't understand, in Japanese, and finally one group of boys who were ushering me back to office that I said this too stopped asking, except one was persistent and continued to do so. Finally one of the other boys pushed him on the shoulder and said, Stop it, idiot, he doesn't understand us. Which I laughed out loud at because I DID understand THAT, and then they were shocked and laughed at my understanding, but then they thought, OH! he knows Japanese, and started the questions up again. Vicious cycle. But a cute, easily endured one.

I feel like I did at Disneyland. The character they all want to touch and talk to and take pictures with. It's odd. For the first time in my life I was at home one night, taking my contacts out, when I looked in the mirror and really saw what I looked like. I don't know how else to say that but I think it's because I'm surrounded by people who don't look a thing like me, and suddenly my self reference became more oriented to Japanese features, and then I looked and saw my face for the first time in a shocking sort of way. I looked for a while, interested, just sort of looking and feeling a bit like a new sort of person to myself.