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The Week in Numbers

July 27, 2007 in Uncategorized

Plates of delicious curry rice eaten: 1

Tailless stray kitties seen: 7

Breaks at work enjoyed: 1

Hangovers suffered: 1

  • beers drank up: 3
  • bottles of warm sake enjoyed: 1/2
  • drunken rants: 2

3 year-old nose pickers: 2

7 year-old toenail biters: 2

5 year-old toe suckers: 2

Children put in the corner: 1

Kanji learned: 5

Dinners cooked at home: 0 (ha!)

Sore throats endured: 2

Inspiring conversations shared: 1

Bicycles dodged: 50+

Tomatoes enjoyed from my tomato plant: 0 … still

Servings of sushi gobbled: 8

Japanese novels translated into English begun: 1

  • References to living in Japan understood within the first100 pages: 5

Isometric exercises secretly carried out during awkward adult classes to quell boredom and improve my ever-fattening bottom: 1000s

Trains ridden: 12

Yen spent on train travel: 4220

Yen spent on the phone bill: 2990

Yen charged for utilities: 6100

Yen spent on a heather gray on-sale sweater: 1450, marked down from 6000

Instances where “sumimasen” was uttered: countless

Obviously On Top of Things

July 24, 2007 in spazarific

… another thing I really enjoyed about my trip to Korea was the chance to see Pepper in action. She and her manager graciously allowed me to sit in on a few of her classes and I was treated to some adorable and cheeky Korean kid antics, as well as a front-row seat to Pepper’s brilliant teaching style. She is effective, fun as hell but at the same time, doesn’t let the kids get away with anything that disrupts her class. She also manages to do this without being draconian or mean – something I could definitely take a few lessons in. I noticed that she was constantly on top of the situation; while teaching her lesson she would casually and immediately quell a student’s fidgety pencil or deliver a quick, “Erase that” to students who had taken it upon themselves to scrawl with pencil on the wall. All this without ever losing her stride or stopping the flow of her lesson. I thought of some of my kids – namely, Seiya, who is unhappy unless he is interrupting me – and thought, Boy; I could sure take a page out of Pepper’s book.

I had class with my dorky and restless 10 year olds yesterday. I always have a lot of fun with this class but, often, they can get a little too silly and hard to calm down. I decided to start small and try out some casual Pepper-style hyperness-quelling techniques with them.

Yasushi and Shoudai were especially silly that day. Yasushi likes to bring bugs into the classroom with him and Shoudai is fond of mimicking, but the game of the day was “Flick Anything at Each Other While Ribu is Trying to Teach Vocabulary.” My usual reaction to this kind of game would be to bark out a teasing, “Okay, you turkeys, relax!” (which they don’t understand anyway) but yesterday, I quietly took away their carpet strands, pencils and erasers. They didn’t seem upset but became a little quieter and I was pleased.

“What’s this?” I asked, holding up the flashcard for “boat.”

“Boat,” they said listlessly.

“Boat!” I repeated with dramatic glee. They laughed.

“What’s this?” I asked, holding up the flashcard for “helicopter.”

“Helicopter,” said Kazu.

“Good, Kazu!” I said, and as I was about to flip to the next flashcard, noticed the disobedient and persistent dorks flicking something small at each other yet again. I immediately shot my hand out to stop the object and retrieve it, but as I did so and brought it closer to my face to examine it, I realized that I had picked up a small, crusty scab.

At the sight of the repugnant object, all composure was regrettably lost. “What the … Jesus!” I muttered, while flinging it away from me.

“Jesus!” mocked Shoudai, giggling. “Jesus!”

“Jesus!” hooted Yasushi, Tomoyuki and Kazu.

Surely this isn’t how missionaries envisioned bringing Jesus to the English classes.

The Hunt for Poo Socks

July 22, 2007 in Uncategorized

I’m back from Korea. In case you were wondering, I’m also front from Korea. Wakka wakka! 6 months of listening to broken English hasn’t robbed me of my love for a ridiculous pun …

6 months here in Japan – I quietly celebrated my 6 month anniversary of moving to Japan about 2 weeks ago. By “quietly celebrated,” I mean I simply noted the date in my head. Taking my trip to Korea inspired me to celebrate it a little more loudly, by which I mean actively noting differences in my life since I arrived. For example, I arrived on January 8th after an absolutely miserable 13-hour flight spent suffering from a raging flu. The trip from airport to meeting point was made even worse by the fact that I was saddled with two enormous and heavy suitcases. Aching, tired, anxious, sniffling and completely disoriented, I tried to make sense of the airport and find the train terminal. I lugged my bags up and down escalators, made several false turns, attempted to ask airport staff “Where are train tickets?” and discovered to my great dismay that my 2 months of Japanese study had done nothing to help me understand anything that was said to me.

I left for Korea on July 15 and, upon disembarking from the train station with my light carry on, was hit with a sense of recollection and nostalgia. Why, this was the same train station I’d left from 6 months before. There were the signs that had made no sense; there were the ticket booths that I stared at for 5 minutes before finally picking the one that looked closest to what my school had instructed me to use.

On July 15, I knew where to go. This sign said, “International departures” and this other sign said “No. 1 Travel Agency Meeting Point.” I spoke to the travel agent in simple Japanese – “here you go! thank you!” – and browsed the gift shops before boarding the shuttle to reach my flight’s gate.

Once on the plane, I immediately sensed the stirrings of Korean sensibilities. The flight attendants had replaced the now-familiar and comforting “arigatou” with “kamsamhamnida” and I felt a brief panic – in Korea, I would be at square one again, wouldn’t I?

After 6 months in Japan I have managed to learn enough Japanese to make various wants and needs known. I can now also understand when others have certain wants and needs. I can express disappointment, delight, boredom, sleepiness and hunger and can tell someone to stop doing something I don’t want them to do, or, conversely, to please do something. I can suggest activities, I can talk in the past and in the future and can read at least a little bit of most advertisements or signs I see. On the airplane to Busan, my Korean vocabulary consisted of “thank you,” “please give me,” “hello!” “where is …?” certain names of delicious foods and various mild swears – things I learned from Erma and our college roommate, Songhae. Fidgeting on the plane amid Asians who weren’t speaking the way I’m accustomed to hearing them speak, I wasn’t quite sure if I was ready to feel so lost again.

Three days later, my Korean vocabulary included “I don’t know,” “a little,” “over here, please,” “fast, fast – no!,” “yes” and the knowledge that “yoboseyo” is how people say “hello” when answering the phone. I had a little opportunity to use these new phrases plus my old ones but, as I soon discovered, Korea is far more English-speaker-friendly than Osaka. There was English writing all over the buildings and to my shock, it was fairly simple to find service staff who spoke English – cab drivers being a notable exception but as cab rides are so unbelievably cheap compared to Japan, this issue was completely forgiven. Square one at some moments, sure, but since I was on vacation my vacation Korean was perfectly suitable and I needn’t have worried – I’ll save my energy for trying to decipher kanji in instruction booklets that have no English translation, thanks (I’m talking to you, Brita filter!!). Anti-foreigner sentiment might be far more out in the open in Korea than it is in Japan, but they sure seem to be more eager to help us make sense of their country.

Pepper was the ultimate hostess – in 3 days she and her lovely friends showed me an amusement park, a beach, a foreigners-only casino (my first time gambling yielded $15!!), two cities, mountains, shopping and lakes, not to mention previously unexplored culinary wonders. It is not an exaggeration to say that we crammed 6 days’ worth of glorious food into 3. Wonderful, too, was being exposed to feminine energy for the first time in 6 months – the friends I’ve made in Osaka are all male.

There was also a recurring theme throughout the Korea trip – a hunt for poo socks.

Let me introduce you to poo socks. The Koreans call them “ddong socksuh” and the Japanese might call them Crayon Shin-Chan socks (or Crayon Shin-Chan no kutsushita, if we’re being technical). Crayon Shin-Chan is a cartoon character drawn by a Yoshito Usui, Japanese artist. The character is 5 years old and, like any 5 year old, loves taking off his pants and worshiping poo.

Pepper and her friends told me about “poo” socks and at first I didn’t believe her but then she showed me the pairs she has bought – Crayon Shin-Chan hugging a mound of poo, Crayon Shin-Chan shaking his naked bottom, Crayon Shin-Chan lying on his back with a censored blurb covering his exposed privates. Instantly, I wanted my own! And thus, the Hunt for Poo Socks began. Pepper and I found Crayon Shin-Chan socks pretty easily and I bought a couple of pairs, but, regrettably, through our search we found none featuring his relationship with poo. In between calbee-eating and exploring, we carried out the hunt for poo socks for about two days before finally giving up. Pepper very kindly gave me one of the pairs she bought for herself. And now, happily, I have poo socks of my very own.

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I can see all of you sick with envy!

An interesting note – Crayon Shin-Chan is big in Korea but the Koreans are quick to tell you that he’s a Japanese creation. My internet research proved that Crayon Shin-Chan is in fact a Japanese invention but I have never seen any Crayon Shin-Chan merchandise and certainly not any socks emblazoned with embroidered poo.

I’m not sure where I’ll wear them – most likely in the comfort of my own roasting 10×8 apartment. I have entertained the thought of wearing them to my kids’ classes. Yesterday, I made clay animals with the 3 year olds and two of them decided to make “unchi (poo)” and “kuso (sh*t)” instead, so I’m guessing wearing them to class would be well-received. Yet, I somehow doubt the staff members will be so welcoming.

A few more Korea shots:

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Colorful Daegu, as seen from Pepper’s rooftop

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The beginnings of something wonderful ….

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Bo kim bop – Fried rice. Kimchee. Cheese. Heaven!

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Another feast

The aftermath

The aftermath

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A beautiful lake in Pepper’s town

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Pepper’s calbee dinner

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Burn, baby, burn …

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From outside Hyaeundae Aquarium – no trip is ever complete without a random picture of a mermaid.

3 beautiful days to recharge, reconnect, and experience more of this crazy continent I’ve chosen to call “home” for the next 8 months or so. Kamsahamnida, Pepper! I boarded the plane, groggy and still full from the enormous calbee birthday dinner eaten 8 hours before. I landed back “home” in Japan about an hour later and, upon entering the airport, realized I felt relieved to hear Japanese around me.

Because it felt familiar.

“Heck, no!”

July 13, 2007 in Uncategorized

Last week, I threw my unruly 12 year olds a bone of cool aunt mercy when I used the phrase “Heck, no!” during my Fourth of July lesson. That simple act might have unwittingly set off a chain of events because I found myself saying, “Heck, no!” a couple of times more this week – to my students.

It’s interesting how things change. At my old job, I said, “Heck, no!” on a half-hourly basis. I had absolutely no problem calling writers into my office and, if their work didn’t meet company standards, asking them to turn in a new draft. My bedside manner in this, admittedly, left much to be desired – I was frustrated with the job and this, regrettably, leaked into every aspect of my performance. My co-worker, Doug, lovingly called me “The Hammer,” but I have no doubt the writers called me far less affectionate things. And I get that.

It’s so different with the children. One look at their little faces and, suddenly, I bear the imprint of their little heels on my back. Precious. Adorable! Just look at that little face – that’s a face that deserves … ice cream! Please don’t let them cry!

But “Heck, no!” is a freeing phrase – perhaps uttering it in class the other week awoke a tinge of the old “Hammer” within me. This week I have put one student in the corner and kicked another out of my classroom. Both times they deserved it and both times I was pleased with myself.

Kokoro was the first to go. The most potentially reactive of my “delicate” class of 7 year olds, he has earned my scrutiny since implementing Lloyd’s suggestions to whip the class into shape. Whereas I once wondered if he might be autistic I have witnessed him behaving quite well and realized that Lloyd was right – Kokoro can behave perfectly when he wants to.

This week marks the 3rd week since the classroom makeover. Kokoro’s perfect behavior began to slip when the little rascal began to test me.

“Kokoro, sit down,” I said. He pranced underneath the white board and ignored me.

“Kokoro, sit down,” I said. He ignored me again. I stood to remove one of the “happy faces” from the board next to his name – a warning. He ignored this, too, but the other students watched, enthralled.

“Kokoro, sit down,” I said. He ignored me again. Two smiley faces gone – get in the corner, Kokoro! He went, but huddled himself into a tiny ball, sniffling, and refused to come back when his 2 minutes were up. It was my turn to ignore him – I continued with the lesson plan, pausing once to angrily remove a smiley face from Ryo who had thrown a wadded up paper at the sobbing Kokoro. Every few minutes, I patted Kokoro’s back and asked him if he wanted to come back to the class but he only wept.

Kokoro’s mother hovered outside the classroom and noticed her small son crying in the corner. The principal poked her head inside and, in Japanese, asked Kokoro if he was all right and if he wanted to come out. He ignored her as well and, to my delight, she came inside and hauled him out, his wee body and tiny bare feet dangling from her arms.

Class continued. We sang a song and reviewed our vocabulary. With 5 minutes left to go, the door creaked open and in came Kokoro, looking ashamed. He quietly sat next to me as I was explaining the homework, his chin resting on his hands and his soggy, red-rimmed eyes peering up at me.

The principal told me later that she and Kokoro’s mother had taken their attention off of him for a second and when they looked up he was coming back into the classroom. They thought he was coming in to get his back pack to leave but to their surprise, he stayed.

“He deserved to be in the corner,” said the principal. “Keep doing it!’

“Heck, no!” incident #2 came with my other “delicate” class – the 12 year olds. As one might guess, it was Seiya who got the boot.

I had been warned by the principal that Seiya was even more “active” than usual. Undaunted, I breezed into class, my arms full of class materials (the plan for the day: “Mad libs!”) and began my lesson. Seiya was indeed quite active – shouting and jostling the table on its legs. I was having fun with the other students creating a story of sorts on the white board so I ignored him mostly, apart from interjecting here and there, “Seiya! Relax!” Our story grew and finally, towards the end I realized that I was shouting to ask the other students what word came next … and I was shouting because Seiya was hooting and hollering and, as usual, disrupting my class. Hell, no!

“Seiya!” I snapped. “Get out!”

“Uh! Buh!” he squawked. Yuuki, his partner in crime, howled in laughter.

“Get out!” I said again, opening the door and pointing.

“Uh! Buh! Teach-a!” Seiya howled, pointing frantically at Yuuki, slapping at him with his notebook. Oh, hell, no!

“Get out! You are very rude!” I said. “Get out, Seiya! Go!”

Seiya went, but not without his close-up. As he turned to go, he pointed wildly again at Yuuki.

“Gay!” he declared emphatically and exited stage left.

The principal came to investigate once she noticed Seiya loose in the hallway. I excused myself from the classroom and asked her to tell Seiya that I had kicked him out because he was being very rude. We would be happy to have him back in class if he behaved, I added. The principal spoke to him – no doubt a watered down version of what I had said. Seiya followed me back into the classroom, where the other students were shifting uncomfortably.
Class was nearly over by now so I wearily asked them if they had any questions.

“Hai!” said Gay Yuuki. “Do you like car?”

“Cars are okay,” I said.

“Do you like Seiya?” Gay Yuuki asked.

“Yes, I like Seiya,” I said. “I think Seiya is great! But Seiya is very noisy.”

“Eeehhhhh???” asked Gay Yuuki.

I made flapping motions with my hand in front of my mouth. “Noisy!” I repeated. “Baa baa baa baa baa!”

Gay Yuuki hooted. Now that I think of it, if Gay Yuuki was contributing enough to the noise to earn Seiya’s vengeance then he probably should have been thrown out, too.

But there’s always next week.

Simply Irresistible

July 8, 2007 in Uncategorized

Since I am “at that age,” I often look at my wee students and want to hug them or squeeze their little potato feet. Imagine my surprise to discover that the sentiment might go both ways – this week, I have been felt up by not one, but two of my own young students.

Now, if it had just happened once I might let it go as sheer clumsiness – 6 year olds aren’t exactly known for being graceful. Yet, in two separate classes I called out for students to “touch green,” “touch yellow,” and when I called out the color that I happened to be wearing, two little girls each raced up to me – not the many posters in the room that showcased “blue” and “purple” – and grabbed a hearty handful of my breast.

Since I assumed that my students’ actions were innocent, I let it go (not without squirming slightly on my cushion). After all, I have heard of far worse – back when we first began teaching, Bob had to field an attempt of the dreaded kancho and another teacher I spoke to reported that one of his students tried to kancho him with a pair of scissors. Yet, I will have to be on the lookout for more of this behavior. After all, though I really adore my young students – and though I recognize that the sight of my exquisite bosom might in fact inspire them to prefer mixed race women in authority positions over little Japanese boys – I simply cannot allow our relationship to include “Touching Time.”

I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy

July 6, 2007 in Uncategorized

Any ex-patriot will tell you how strange it is to live abroad during one of your country’s big holidays. “Strange” is, of course, a shallow and overreaching term – in some cases, there is a sense of guilt (“Woah. Was last week Thanksgiving? I didn’t hear anything about it …”) or a sense of loss (“All of my friends back home are drinking green beer tonight and I’m not!”). On the flip side, there can be a sense of exuberance (“Woo! I can send a package today even though it’s Memorial Day!!”) and a thrilling sense of playing hooky. On the really big, beloved holidays like July 4th it’s more of the sense of loss.

I love the 4th of July – especially in New York City. Rooftop parties, barbecues, watermelon, beer, the Macy’s Fireworks show … what’s not to love? I don’t really get homesick often but I will admit to a tinge of nostalgia in the days leading up to Independence Day. And as my friends here are a) not from America or b) from America and seemingly unconcerned with events back home it was up to me to celebrate the Fourth of July in Japan – in my own way.

The Fourth of July fell on a Wednesday this year – the day I teach my disinterested, disrespectful 12 year olds. Though I have stopped caring whether or not they like me, I usually am very concerned with whether or not they produce English properly. Them, them, always about them. Not on my country’s biggest holiday, fools!

I patiently waited until we had gone over the day’s target language and, as they yelled and hooted in Japanese, set out my materials. Pulling “How are you today?” and “What’s your favorite color?” out of them had been mind-numbing for all of us but as I began to write words on the board in red marker they looked up with interest.

I wrote:

Today July 4 is.

“What’s this?” I asked, pointing to the words on the board.

“Today … July 4th … is.” They said in a monotone.

“Today July 4th is?” I asked with an eyebrow raised. “Today July 4 is?”

More tittering. “Today is July 4th!” supplied Yoko, the only student in class who seems to care.

“Thank you, Yoko,” I said. I wrote the phrase correctly and then wrote, beneath it, “Today a great American holiday is.”

“Today is … a great American … holiday,” the class read.

“Good!” I said.

I then drew a wonky picture of America in the board’s upper left hand corner.

“Ha ha ha!” bellowed Seiya. “Chicken!”

“No, not chicken,” I said, pointing to my mangled red-markered country. “What country is this?”

“United States,” said someone from the back.

“Good!” I said.

(Now here’s where it began to get tricky – after all, how do you teach American history to people who barely speak English? My solution – pantomime, graded language and lots of cartoons)

A similarly wonky cartoon England came next, drawn in the upper right hand corner of the board. “What country is this?” I asked.

“England,” “U.K.” blurted the class.

“Good.” I said, scribbling. “What’s this?”

“Boat.” said Seiya. “Columbus!”

“Not Columbus,” I said.

“Ehhhhh?” grumbled the students.

“Watch,” I said, pointing to my eyes and then pointing to the board.

I was drawing my 3rd colonial settler peering into the woods with a question mark over their head when I realized that, for once, I had their – mostly – undivided attention. I heard mutters of “sensei” being snickered behind my back as I drew (“Sensei is tolerable today”? “Sensei is out of her gourd”?) but, for the most part, they were paying attention. Of course, I can only assume that their attention was in gratitude for not having to play the games they can’t stand but, nonetheless, I had it.

Exhilarated, I continued to draw – scared settlers peering into a forest followed by settlers building a city with big grins on their face – all the while eliciting vocabulary from them. They groaned when I erased the forest and the city and chattered in Japanese.

I drew again, next to England. “What’s this?”

“King!” shouted Seiya.

“King from where?”

“English king!”

(now for the extremely simplified revisionist history part … but give me a break – I had 40 minutes and the kids don’t speak English)

I drew an angry face on the king and the kids exploded into laughter. I drew a cage around America and changed the king’s face to an evil smile.

“Good!” I said, giving a thumb’s up sign.

Next: angry faces with “America” written over them and a word balloon saying, “No!”

“No, England!” I shouted, and since the kids had given me so little trouble, added: “Heck no!”

“No!” shouted the kids.

“That’s right!” I said. I erased the angry faces and drew another ship coming from England to America, with “U.K” written on it.

And then I drew the battle field. At this point, Seiya became very excited and jumped up to help me draw additional dying and shooting soldiers and I welcomed the help. The kids shrieked and hooted when I drew the first pool of blood coming from a dead soldier and when I drew a soldier holding a white surrender flag, laughed.

“England dead!” said Seiya.

Here, again, my history became revisionist but there was no way I was illustrating the formation of government and the writing of the Declaration of Independence. I wrote the date on the board: July 4, 1776, erased the cage from around America and announced: “America – free!!”

To my pleasure, several of the girls gasped: “Ohhhhhhhh!!” in recognition.

“History?” asked Yuko.

“Yes,” I said.

I then drew a barbecue scene with fireworks overhead.

“Watermelon!” said Hitomi.

“Beer!” exulted Seiya.

“Yes,” I said and, after scrawling a quick American flag on the board, cleared my throat. Even though Sean had threatened to kill me if I ended my lecture by doing this, I did it anyway.

I belted “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” and saluted the American flag.

My kids snickered and at the end of my 30 seconds of patriotic pomp, Yuuki gave me the thumbs up.

“Teach-a!” he said. “Your speaking is … ” he looked to his fellow students for guidance and finally ended with, “… well!”

“Thank you, Yuuki,” I said. I glanced at the clock. As I had some time to kill I asked the students if they had any questions.

They discussed amongst themselves in Japanese and, finally, Yoko spoke for the rest.

“Hai!” she said. “How tall are you?”

Suffer the Children to Sing “La La La” Unto Me

July 1, 2007 in Uncategorized

Each week, I bring new things to my children’s classes. Right from the start I enjoyed being silly and using strange voices to maintain interest when I drilled them with flashcards but, as anything, my teaching “shtick” evolves. I now enjoy teaching letters and their corresponding phonic sounds through musical scales (this exercise borne out of an attempt to get them to hear the difference between “la la la” and “ra ra ra”). I also enjoy shouting “Stop!” with my palm held out flat in front of me like a policeman if they try to enter or leave my class without answering questions in English, juggling colored balls and asking them to name whichever color ball I have caught and, lately, drawing cartoons on the white board to help illustrate the phrase I am trying to teach them for the day. Since we are not allowed to speak Japanese to the students, illustrating concepts like “How old are you?” and “I like/I don’t like” can be challenging. Though I am not an artist by any means I’d like to think that my drawings and countless hours spent poring over comic books as a kid help the comprehension process. My favorite, from this week, to help illustrate “Do you like ____?” “Yes, I do!/No, I don’t!”:
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Further, this week’s favorite student quotes were gleaned by eavesdropping during an arts and crafts project that required one of my classes of 6 year olds to draw pictures of their family. I also joined in the crayon fun and drew “father,” “brother” and “sister.” Since I don’t actually have a sister, I drew the sister I’ve always wanted – Sailor Mercury, resplendent in her pervert-provoking school uniform and bright blue bob. This action sent my students into paroxysms – they literally shrieked when they saw me giving my imaginary sister blue hair. A flurry of Japanese ensued; I caught the words “gaikokujin” and “sensei” coming from Hitomi but couldn’t understand the rest.

My guesses as to what Hitomi might have been saying:

  • “Lots of gaikokujin naturally have blue hair. It’s completely normal in England, where sensei is from!”
  • “I think sensei is trying to copy manga, but gaikokujin never do it right!”
  • “Sensei is such a silly gaikokujin!”

I calmed the students down by instructing them to draw pictures of their mothers. I scribbled away and thought my own picture came out rather well, but apparently two of my girls did not agree because they glanced over at my artwork and gasped in shock. The Japanese began again, but this time I understood:

“Creepy!” cried Miko.

“Poor sensei!” agreed Hitomi.

I apologize heartily to Isa, my beautiful mother. Forgive them, mother – they know not what they do.