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Overheard in Osaka

June 24, 2007 in Uncategorized

Disclaimer: unlike this post’s inspiration, “Overheard in Osaka” is not meant to denigrate or mock anybody quoted herein. I am well aware that an entire site could probably be made about the mistakes I myself make in Japanese.

That said, here is a collection of some of the things my students have said this week which delighted me; meant only to share what I thought were fun examples of East meets West.

Overheard in Osaka

Fun Then, Fun Now

English teacher: What are you going to do this weekend?
Young sarari man: Eto … I am going to go to drink at bar with … high school students.
Young manicurist: Eeehhhh????
Young sarari man: Yes. No! Friends when high school student days. How do you say?
English teacher: Ah. “Friends from high school.”
Young sarari man: So! So!
Young manicurist: Ah, so so so!!! [giggling] High school student – is very dangerous!
Young sarari man: I am sorry.

North America’s Real Contribution to Japanese Culture

English teacher: Okay, everyone – please open your books!
7 year-old boy: Oh my GOD! Oh my GOD! Oh my GOD!

Eats, Craps, and Leaves

Young father: My baby … he is so cute.
English teacher: What is he like?
Young father: Now he is get fat. He try to sit. Sometimes he laugh and crap.
English teacher: Pardon?
Young father: Sometimes he … laughs and craps?
English teacher: He does this? [clapping hands]
Young father: Yes, he do … does!
English teacher: Cute!

You Think it’s Bad Now …

English teacher: What is your biggest responsibility?
Newlywed sarari man: Once, it was my work. My biggest responsibility now is to go home.
English teacher: What do you mean?
Newlywed sarari man: My wife. She is now always there.

Big is the New Green

English teacher: (holding a large square of green paper) BIG! (holding up a small square of white paper) Little! (holding up the green square again) BIG!
Two year-old girl: (in Japanese, to her mother) Wrong! That’s “green.”

But Do They Give Stamps for Brutal Honesty?

English teacher: What do you usually do on your day off?
Middle-aged woman: I usually go to temples and collect stamps. When you go to a temple you wear a vest. You collect stamps from the temple and you put them on the vest. It is to prepare you for death.
English teacher: Cool!
Middle-aged woman: Yes. I go because my parents are in their 80s and they are therefore near the dying time.

You Know, They Eat Turkeys Where I Come From, Son

English Teacher: (pointing to cartoon drawings of her family which she has drawn – poorly – on the white board to help teach the English names of family members) What’s this?
10 year-old students: Family!
English Teacher: Good! (pointing to the drawing of her mustachioed father) Who’s this?
10 year-old boy: Salesman!
English Teacher: No, it’s father! (pointing to drawing of her muscle bound brother) Who’s this?
10 year-old boy: Macho!
English Teacher: Brother! (pointing to cartoon of herself) Okay, now, who’s this?
10 year-old boy: Mother!
English Teacher: What??? Mother!?!?
Other 10 year-old boy: Ribu! It’s Ribu!
English Teacher: Yes, it’s Liv! (pause) Man, you guys are … turkeys!
10 year-old boy: Ta-kee! Chicken! Ha ha ha ha ha ….

Shock, Horror?

English Teacher: (showing her 6 year-old students the photograph of her family which she has brought in to aid the “My Family” lesson) See? Here’s my family.
6 year-old students: Ehhh!?!?!?!?!
English Teacher: (pointing to her mother) Who’s this?
6 year-old girl: … Mother?
English Teacher: Good!
6 year-old students: Ehhhh?!?!??!!?
English Teacher: (pointing to her brother) Who’s this?
6 year-old girl: Brother?
English Teacher: Good, Keiko!
6 year-old students: Ehhhh?!?!?!?!?!?
English Teacher: (pointing to herself) Who’s this? (silence) Who’s this? (silence) Guys, it’s me!!!
6 year-old students: Ehhhhhhhhh?!?!?!?!?!?!??!!?!??

Good Day/Bad Day

June 20, 2007 in spazarific, Uncategorized

Monday was a bad day.

Prior to a couple of weeks ago, I was the teacher of 6 great classes and 1 class of jerks. I’ve mentioned the jerks a couple of times so far. I also teach a class of cuddly 2 year olds, a class of absolutely adorable 5 year olds, 2 classes of sweet and feisty 6-7 year olds, one class of sharp 7 year olds and one class of fun and dorky 9-11 year olds. Up until recently, Jerks = 1 and Awesomes = 6 has been the score.

It’s funny how the tide can change when dealing with youngsters. My class of former jerks are still jerks but we are actually getting along better these days. To my shock, I am now having problems with one of my classes of formerly angelic 6-7 year olds.

The problem crept up slowly. Our first 6 classes together were terrific. We laughed, we sang, they paid attention, they learned – even little Kokoro, my shyest, tiniest, saddest student. A couple of weeks ago I noticed that my boys became a wilder than usual during a game. I attributed this to the broken AC so I foolishly let it go. The week after was absolute chaos. I stared in shock as my formerly well-behaved boys ignored everything I said and raced about the room, yanking toys from the bin, stomping on cushions, shoving each other and disobeying every command. My entreaties of “Stop!” “Stand up!” and “Be kind!” did no good.

The two sweetly behaved girls glared angrily at the bad boys but said nothing. I felt as small and ineffectual as they did. By the time my students left, I was a broken and utterly confused woman. Who were these brats? Where were the smiling boys who crowded around me and played my games with exuberance and obedience?

It’s well known that 6 year-olds have the capacity to change temperaments swiftly, but I know the real root of the problem: me. I didn’t establish effective disciplinary procedures from Day One.

Due to my Liberal bleeding heart hippie tendencies, I’ve always been afraid to punish children. As an American growing up in the genesis of the PC era, I am especially afraid. I am afraid to shout at them (lawsuit!!), punish them (lawsuit and emotional scarring!), or embarrass them (emotional scarring and clock tower revenge!). In training, we were given a series of disciplinary methods to try – a version of the classic Time Out topping the list, followed by Kick Out – but as my kids were great from the start, I focused instead on making the kids laugh, hoping to inspire them to obey me out of love rather than fear.

I do know how important discipline is – my brother and I grew up with a kid named Jeremy who got away with everything because his parents pitied his weight problem. His parents’ inaction coupled with Jeremy’s personality produced a really lousy kid. Discipline and punishment are necessary, no doubt, but I am still terrified. One of my worst flaws is a tendency to swing between too much and too little – how can I find the right balance between ineffectual cries of “Please stop!” … and saying or doing something inherently damaging?

Yesterday, Lloyd, our trainer, came to school to offer suggestions for things I could do differently, which I greatly appreciated. His presence calmed me and class began as normal … until the boys began to get restless, sending shy little Kokoro into a tailspin of bad behavior that began with him laying across my materials and ended with him nearly cutting my finger with a pair of scissors during craft time. All of this, while the other boys ignored me and wrestled, making vocabulary lessons impossible.

Snapping, finally, I focused my efforts on Yuki, who was shouting and jumping and had ignored my request to “Sit down.” He stared at me silently, as though he didn’t understand (which he full well does, since he follows this command every week).

“Stand up, Yuki!” I said, with the intention of putting him into the corner. Again, he stared blankly. “Stand up!” I said. Another blank stare.

I began to lose my temper. “Yuki, stand up!” I said, gesturing with my hands. He didn’t budge.

“Stand up!” I shouted.

Yuki began to cry.

And all of this, with Lloyd watching. I was not only broken and ineffectual, I was now shrewish and embarrassed, too.

Class finished and my children left, most of them grim. Again – who were these children? My children used to leave my classroom shouting, “See you, Ribu!!,” bounding happily to their mothers. I sagged against the door frame and cleaned up the mess Kokoro had made by shredding his worksheet into the carpet while whimpering amid the howls of the boys and the glares of the girls.

As I picked the scraps of paper out of the carpet, I mulled, remembering Yuki’s face the second before he burst into tears. I didn’t want to be the cause of such a sad little face, ever! On the other hand, I remembered Jeremy’s smug face, too – the face of a creep who knew he could do no wrong in the eyes of his parents, even when it was blatantly obvious that he had done something bad. I absolutely did not want to have a hand in causing a face like that, either. And truth be told, Yuki did behave better after being made to cry.

So I finished cleaning the mess, still unsure of how to feel. I plodded into the teacher’s lounge. And there I saw a brown shopping bag with a note on it:

“Dear Ribu,” it said (Ribu written in katakana). “From Yoko.”

Yoko is one of my adult students – a lovely lady in her 60s who spends her days giving tours of temples in a beautiful kimono, which she sometimes wears to class. Something from Yoko? For me? Whatever could it be?

I opened the bag and saw a box containing a small, mint green fan and pair of wooden clogs designed to be worn with a yukata. Immediately, I understood: during our last class, I had told Yoko that I had just learned what a yukata was and that I couldn’t wait to wear one this summer.

“Be ready!” I had told her. “If the principal allows it, you will see me in a yukata!”

I rushed with the shopping bag to show the principal. “Look!” I cried, showing her the clogs and the fan. “When did Yoko leave this? This is so wonderful!”

“She left it last week,” said the principal. “She said that she found them for very cheap and that she thought you should have them. She also left a map of where you can buy a yukata.” Indeed, there was a little blue street map pinned to the shopping bag.

I was overwhelmed and extremely moved. Not only is the gift beautiful and thoughtful, but it couldn’t have come at a better time. Thank you so very, very much, Yoko; I will indeed be wearing a yukata this summer – hopefully half as beautifully you wear your kimono!!

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So Monday was a good day.

Dignity

June 19, 2007 in Uncategorized

Last week, 5 year olds at my school learned about barn animals. This involved singing “Old MacDonald” and imitating said animals complete with barnyard sounds. I tore into this task with gusto – I love my 5 year olds and will take any chance I can to play with them, regardless of how silly I look. For their part, they love it. They learn the language for the day and despite a little sweat on my brow, we are all happy.

Bob taught 5 year olds this week as well and told Sean that he wasn’t sure how to imitate a horse. Sean asked me later what I had done when teaching my kids.

“That’s easy!” I cried. “A horse does this!” I got down on my knees, neighed and reared up on my legs with my hands held close to my chest like hooves. “See?”I said. “Easy!”

“Brilliant!” said Sean. “What about a cow?”

I clomped on my hands and knees, pretended to chew grass and let out a throaty moo.

“Cat?”

I stalked across the room on my hands and knees, pausing to lick my paw and groom my face.

“Sweet Jesus. Chicken?”

I channeled Mick Jagger circa 1967 and said, “buck buck buck-a buck AAAA!”

“Oh my God,” said Sean.

“What?” I challenged. “The kids love it! Plus, it’s fun! You mean to say that you wouldn’t have gotten into it? What would you have done for a horse?”

“I,” said Sean, “Would have been a dignified horse.”

AO-Hell No, We Won’t Go!

June 19, 2007 in Uncategorized

I have a love-hate relationship with AOL. Back in 1996, AOL was my introduction to the internet and all of its informative-staying-in-touch glory (love!). AOL was also my introduction to the creepy world of internet chats which, regrettably, got me into more trouble than it should have at times (mortified hate!). AOL has given me internet when there was none (albeit via dial up which was what I could afford and what my apartment set up allowed). AOL gives me a free way to stay in touch with my friends and family -I’d take instant messaging over telephone conversations any day. AOL also slows down my aging computer and seems more and more like something I played with as a teenager which has no place in my adult life. AOL’s best features are also all available for free. So why have I been paying $25 a month for the service, a fee that is slowly drained out of my American bank account each month and which could be going to, say, my Japanese curry fund?

Part of the reason I haven’t canceled AOL before has been intimidation and frustration – breaking up with AOL is notoriously hard to do; indeed, I’ve tried to do so before numerous times through the internet and only met with walls: “The service you have requested is not available at this time/on this version!” Etc, etc.

Today, however, was the day, my friends. Working with a new monthly budget (made up on train rides home) and finally fed up with the cash being siphoned out of my account each month, I did an internet search and found a very informative tech support page. It gave me the final resolve and after two attempts to call the toll free number on Skype I am now finally free of AOL.

I spoke to two representatives (Skype crashed once and I had to reboot). They each read from a list of questions designed to make me want to stay.

“I’m sorry,” I told the second representative when she asked why I was canceling my service. “I moved to Japan and must use a local service.”

“Good for you!” she said. “May I send you a confirmation letter to your billing address?”

“No,” I said. “Since I moved no one lives at my billing address any more.”

“Will I update your address in our accounts?” she asked.

“No, thank you.” I said. “I’m … canceling my account. I can give you my parents’ address so you can send the confirmation letter to them, if you like.”

“I see.” she said. “AOL will be happy to welcome you back when you come back to America.”

“Thank you. I appreciate it.” I said. The line began to get fussy. The static continued and, lest she hang up and that somehow nullify my cancellation, I said: “Thank you so much for canceling my account! I appreciate everything you’ve done to cancel my account!”

“You are welcome.” she said. “We will welcome you back any time.”

Don’t hold your breath, folks.

Any remaining AOLers out there can quit AOL with success just like me by following the directions on Dave Taylor’s tech support page.

Be firm. Be strong. They’ll find another one just like you and be fine.

Korea!

June 17, 2007 in Uncategorized

It is done – I have bought a ticket to Korea and will visit Pepper during my 3-day weekend next month. Pepper is absolutely right – one can’t live in Asia and not explore as much of it as possible. I have a bunch of 3-day weekends coming up this fall and intend to make good use of them.

Thank you, Pepper. YOSH!!!

It’s My Train Ride and I’ll Drink if I Want To

June 10, 2007 in spazarific

On Saturdays I teach 2 classes of adorable kids and 4 classes of adults in Utajo. My commute is long, my day begins early, my schedule is packed and, happily, the next day is Sunday – a day off. I like nothing better than to celebrate the finish of a long, satisfying day – and the start of a beautiful day off – with a nice, cold can of beer on my train ride home.

It took a while for me to feel completely relaxed about drinking in public. I knew it was legal but for my first few weeks here I couldn’t help glancing around on the street when my friends bought cans of beer at the conbinis to oil themselves up for a night on the town. Eventually, I joined them, loitering outside conbinis or the gates of temples and shrines. Sometimes I plunk 200 yen into the beer machines on the corner of my street and enjoy a few savory sips as I walk the rest of the block to my apartment building.

I favor Asahi Super Dry on the train rides back from Utajo. I crack open the can as the train leaves the station and I gear up for the 70 minute train ride with a book of kanji to study or my notebook. We pass rice fields and houses with swooping roofs covered in curving red or blue tiles, I try my best to memorize my daily goal of 20 new kanji per day and stab my fingers into my phone key pad to type texts to Bob or Sean defending my actions. “I am not a drunk!” I will insist. How dare they! Nothing says “It’s Asahi Time” like finishing a long day of work and therefore I will enjoy my “Thank Goodness It’s Saturday!” beer on the train home from Utajo. Who cares if I’m the only person on the packed train who’s doing it?

Yesterday, I became too engrossed in kanji study and didn’t finish my beer by the time I reached Abeno Eki. I still had about half a can of beer left and I couldn’t see myself chugging it or throwing it out so I took it with me; again, conscious of the fact that I was the only person in the station clotted with whirling eddies of people who was actually drinking alcohol. I took small sips as I walked to the trolley and for the first time felt really unsure about drinking in public. I’d seen people do it at night as they walked down the street, but in the middle of the day? In a crowded train station? ビール?まっぴる間から?

I had only a few sips of beer left as I boarded the trolley. I noticed an elderly woman sitting on the seat across from me, calmly surveying me as I drank. Flushing red, fully convinced now that I was committing a breach of Japanese etiquette, I immediately guzzled my last sip and stuffed the empty can into my briefcase.

When I dared to look up again, she was smiling.

Protected: Audrina: The Fabulous (!) Comes Through

June 6, 2007 in Uncategorized

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From Arigatou to Zed

June 5, 2007 in Uncategorized

I would like to direct your attention to the newest member of I Eat My Pigeon’s Pages family: The Glossary. The Glossary was born at 2:48 p.m. Tokyo time and provides story-and-joked-filled descriptions and definitions for various terms I often use in my blog entries. Said terms range from Arigatou to Zed. It is also an interactive dictionary!! If you see a word on I Eat My Pigeon that you don’t know, please contact me and I will add it to the Glossary.

You can find the Glossary between my FAQ and Picture Pages, Picture Pages. Picture Pages is still password protected but everything else is open to ye public and ye weirdos who find this blog by googling things like “eat + clean pigeon” or “Drew Barrymore is a fat pigeon.” Honestly!

Further note: it’s NOT wasting a day off as long as you’re doing something creative like adding a glossary to your blog. So there.

Mmmm ….

June 5, 2007 in Uncategorized

Several lists – an accidental advertisement of sorts, created for my comfort during an idle shift at work:

WESTERN FOODS I MISS AND CAN’T GET HERE

  • Gray’s Papaya Hot Dogs
  • Claussen Dill Pickles
  • Yonah Shimmel’s Knishes
  • Gabila Knishes
  • Dojo’s carrot and tahini salad dressing
  • Canada Dry Mandarin-flavored seltzer
  • Oreo cookie milkshakes
  • Chef Boyardee Beefaroni
  • Stove Top Stuffing
  • Kraft Mac and Cheese
  • Hamburger Helper
  • Pillsbury Yellow Cake Mix plus Pillsbury Chocolate Frosting
  • Pillsbury Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
  • Crumbs’ Buttercream Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting
  • General Mills Cinnamon Toast Crunch
  • Post Fruity Pebbles
  • General Mills Kix
  • Cozy Diner Fried Egg Sandwiches on a Toasted Bagel
  • Buffalo Wings
  • Cozy Diner Manhattan Clam Chowder
  • Au Bon Pain Blueberry Muffins
  • Naked Juice
  • Silk Vanilla Soy Milk
  • Tropicana Grovestand Orange Juice
  • Welch’s White Grape Peach Juice
  • Sal’s Pizza from Avenue A and 7th
  • Pepe Rosso (on Thompson, off Houston)

JAPANESE FOODS I’VE BECOME DEPENDENT ON:

  • Aquarius Vitamin Water
  • Soba Meshi from any friendly neighborhood conbini ((a rice patty interspersed with soba noodles, bits of grilled chicken and flavored with saffron – YES!!!)
  • Matsuya Curry (mildly obsessed with this)
  • CocoIchi Curry (completely obsessed with this, I must have a plate each time I teach near a location)
  • 99 yen packets of curry from the 99 yen store, to be eaten with 99 yen packets of cooked rice
  • curry made by friends like Carnitas (HOLLA!!!)
  • any curry
  • Maguro Don from the fast food place near my apartment – nothing says lovin’ like raw tuna, soy sauce, wasabi and rice in a bowl.
  • guacamole and enchiladas from El Bigote’s Mexican restaurant in Kokoromura
  • sushi from the 120 yen-a-plate kaiten sushi place near me
  • Morinaga wafer and chocolate ice cream bars
  • Calbee Jagari Potato Sticks – they come in a paper cup and are magically crunchlicious
  • Calbee Salt and Pepper Taste Potato Chips
  • Calbee Hot Taste Potato Chips
  • Ramen from anywhere, any time – covered in savory pork slices and bamboo
  • tasty yakitori from the friendly yakitori place in my neighborhood where Bob, Sean and I have gone together so often that the staff automatically brings out 3 beers if they see just one of us enter.
  • Takoyaki – translated to “octopus balls” in guide books. Tee hee!

JAPANESE FOODS I WAS ONCE DEPENDENT ON BUT ATE TOO MUCH OF AND CANNOT SMELL OR LOOK AT EVER AGAIN:

  • Negitoro onigiri; once a “safe” option in the conbiniento stoa rice ball arena (i.e., a rice ball filling that had nothing to do with mayonnaise, fish eggs or fermented soybeans) I stared at the innocent onigiri in my lap last week and, suddenly disgusted by the strangely pungent aroma piercing my nostrils, found myself absolutely unable to bring the once-beloved rice-and-raw-tuna-filled product to my lips. I am officially negitoro-d out which is a shame because onigiri are an extremely quick and cheap lunch or snack option.

JAPANESE FOODS I JUST CAN’T GET INTO:

  • Okonomiyaki – a kind of savory pancake that originated in the Osaka area but has permeated all parts of Japan, including Abeno. Its main ingredients are flour, eggs, shredded cabbage and any kind of meat you can picture (often pork or squid) … it is fried with oil on a skillet-surface stove and after it is cooked, it is covered in okonomiyaki sauce (kind of like Worcestershire sauce), sprinkled with seaweed and fish flakes and then … drizzled with mayonnaise. I absolutely hate mayonnaise. Even requesting this dish without mayonnaise makes me nervous, as the different orders of okonomiyaki are often cooked on the same grill. It’s too bad. Okonomiyaki looks quite nice and is beloved by nearly all who try it but when at an okonomiyaki place with my ravenous and delighted friends, I stick to the yaki soba. So, yeah, in short – fish flakes and seaweed are okay in my book but keep that mayonnaise as far away as possible.
  • Oden – vegetables like radish and such stewed in a light dashi (fish, soy) broth. I like radish and fish fine but cannot get over the repulsive smell and sight of these yellowed elements stewing in metal vats for hours and hours at any conbini.
  • Red bean paste – this gooey, chocolate-colored semi-sweet paste is harmless; I don’t even hate it. If it were served to me at a function I could certainly get it down. I just find myself unable to respond to it with enthusiasm and will avoid what appear to be lovely pastries at bakeries because in Japan, foodstuffs very often come with surprise fillings and after 5 months here, I know all too well that that surprise filling will probably be red bean paste. Or some kind of fish product.

The moral of this story is that my addiction to high-fat, high sodium, high-cholesterol food (and my dread of mayonnaise) has followed me across the Pacific. Ignore the moral, however – pay attention instead to the subliminal messages woven into the “WESTERN FOODS I MISS” list. Contact me discreetly for address details and nobody – nobody – will get hurt.

One, Two, Three … WHORE!: Part Ni

June 2, 2007 in engrish

Just for you, P-Jay …We here at my English school not only categorize typical Japanese pronunciation mistakes (See “One, Two, Three … WHORE!”: Part Ichi) but sometimes we discover brand new ones. Today I taught my class of adorable, wriggly 2 year-olds again. Kazuki, the wriggliest of them all, bumped his nose on the folding table and cried for a good part of the class. After his tears dried, he pressed his face into his mother’s bosom and refused to chant any of the new words I was teaching. Kumi and Aya dutifully repeated the names of animals but Kazuki continued to turn up his nose while his mother chanted the words in his place. One might have thought that Kazuki’s parents weren’t getting any of their money’s worth for that particular class until Kazuki surprised us all by suddenly shouting out the words that matched the flashcards I was holding up. When he managed to find time to learn “dog” and “alligator” between ignoring me and crying I’ll never know but “dog” and “alligator” it was …

I held up “sun.”

“Sun!” shouted the children.

I held up “grass”

“Gu-rasu!!” shouted the children.

I held up “moon.”

“Poon!!!” shrieked Kazuki.

P for M? Since when? Bless the children … every one.