You are browsing the archive for 2008 March.

If I May …

March 29, 2008 in The Children

… for a moment be a tad less cynical:

p3230017.jpg

from Reisuke, Kazuyuki and Ren.

Adorable Reisuke was my most zealous 4-year old depantser, the one who so uncannily reminded me of my brother at that age that I often had to keep myself from patting his bowl-cut. As the year has gone on he has grown out of the depantsing and has moved on to trying to eat the pictures of fruits and vegetables that line the classroom walls. The delicious, buttery cookies are from him. Thank you, Reisuke.

Ren is the spunky little sprite with the anime mullet haircut who gave me the beautiful Christmas card and the various tasty treats over the year. I have struck up a pleasant chatting relationship with his lovely, cheerful mother – the two of us, giggling half in her pidgin English and my pidgin Japanese – and I am always thrilled to see his teeny, tiny sister waddle into school behind them. The three of them came to school, after classes had been out for a week, especially to bring me their gifts – the beautiful sakura chopsticks and the silver hair clip.

“Show me how to use the chopsticks,” I gently asked Ren, who, for once, was shy and quiet. He somberly held the chopsticks between his thumb and forefinger, clacking them up and down as his sister bawled in a corner because he had drunk all of her orange Fanta.

The card is from Kazuyuki, the sweetest and un-dorkiest of my dorky 10 year-olds. Every once in a while, there are children who so impress you that you really wouldn’t mind coming back in 10 or 20 years – just to see how it all turned out. Kazuyuki is one of those young men. Quiet, friendly, and helpful, he was cool with the rowdy, silly boys and the shy, stricken students alike – without being saintlike or obnoxious about it. Though the class material was new to him it was still too simple – by the end, I switched subjects, objects and noun categories on him just to see if he’d catch on. He always did. Earlier this year, he broke his arm so badly that it has healed crooked, yet he always stopped to casually – yet carefully – monitor Keisuke, the fellow student with cerebral palsy, to see how he was faring with the crafts projects.

Inside:

p3230014.jpg

Liv,

It’s been fun up until now

Thank you for the lessons

Don’t forget me

Done.

Like Ships Passing Through the Night

March 27, 2008 in The Children

It’s the last week of classes for this school year, which means we are in the midst of a company-wide schedule shuffle. In many cases, this means we will no longer be teaching at certain schools, which, in turn, means that farewells are in order for both staff and students. Teaching three days a week instead of five means that I will no longer be teaching at 2 of my current schools, which a lot of my favorite students happen to attend. At the 3 schools I will continue to frequent, many of my students are leveling up or switching to days that will better accommodate their 2008-2009 school year schedules. There are an awful lot of goodbyes to go around and, despite my fervent yearning to begin my part-time contract, it has been a bittersweet week.

Pictures are snapped. Chocolates are handed out. Sayonara parties are thrown. Drunken speeches at said parties are recorded on digicam and cell phones. Many tears are shed, but very few hugs are given – o bei ka???*

*What are you – a Westerner???

It’s a lot of glorious hoopla for what are, in truth, fleeting acquaintances. It is the young ones who tend to make lifelong friends in a school setting; the same rarely holds true for adults. And even if such pairs click, given our unique situation, these relationships will eventually become long distance, adding another element of difficulty. Time will really tell if we have made any sort of impression at all.

Sometimes I was the kind of teacher who wore sparkly purple eyeshadow, just to have something purple to point to when eliciting the names of colors. Sometimes I was the kind of teacher who tried her hand at juggling just to distract the boys from fighting. Sometimes I was the kind of teacher who was able to make students understand when to use “a” and when to use “the.” Often, I was the kind of teacher who made the difference all the more confusing. Once I stop teaching them, my students will be treated to a whole new crop of pale, funny-looking, big-nosed English speakers from unpronounceable cities; we will all meld into each other. My older students might remember my face and possibly some strange things I said to them. I doubt they’ll remember my name; for some reason, their response has always been an accusatory, “Ribu?” or flabbergasted “Ehhhhhh?” when I first introduce myself and I can count the times on one hand that an adult student has addressed me by name. My school-age students likewise call me “teach-aa” or “sensei” and I’m sure it’s for the same reason. And my teeny, adorable students are so young, so very young, that, even though I made them shriek with laughter at my animal impressions, they won’t possibly remember any aspect of me in years to come.

My mother sometimes asks me, “Do you remember Deana?”

“No.”

“Deana. She was your babysitter back in Boston, when you were two. Don’t you remember?”

“No.”

“Well, do you remember Mrs. O’Brien? She was your teacher in nursery school, when you were three.”

“No.”

“You really liked her.”

“Did I?”

Of course the teeny ones will completely forget me: they’re 3, they don’t know whether it’s day or night. On our last day of class, they were completely oblivious to the fact, greedily accepting my stickers and chocolates as though treats had always been bestowed upon them at the end of every lesson.

However, so far, unlike the school-age children and teenagers, the teeny ones are the only ones who call me by my name.

Grand

March 26, 2008 in Japanese Mix, My Funny Irish Friend, Oishii

There are a proliferation of train track-side noodle stands – guarded by a ticket machine, shrouded by thin curtains and peopled by frantically slurping customers planted at rows of counters without any kind of chair for an extra quick dining experience. Suddenly, like bento, they are extremely appealing to me and I lately make it a point to enjoy a bowl of steaming soba or udon if I have time to kill between trains. Yesterday, Sean and I shared a lunch of soba at such an establishment nearby our old building, before he headed to work and I, free for the day, headed to the bookstore to find my copy of this month’s book club selection. I hunched, quietly, over my tempura soba, trying to slurp quickly since Sean had a 1:25 train to catch.

Suddenly, Sean announced: “I’m too big for this place.”

I looked. Indeed, the counter came up to Sean’s waist and the poor man was twisted, his elbows cemented to the wooden counter, trying to get a decent sip of broth.

“You,” he said. “You’re just grand in a place like this.”

I looked again. Like the two elderly men next to me, my solar plexus met the counter comfortably.

Even in Japan, it’s not often that I’m perfectly sized for anything. Clothes don’t fit properly due to my un-Japanese proportions, train straps dangle high above my head and even my apartments – owned by companies that cater to foreigners – have been sized for someone much larger. In fact, I’ve had to resort lately to pulling our dining table chair up to the high cabinet where Sean has cruelly placed the soba noodles and tea bags.

Thinking of this, I uttered the only suitable response:

“Ha!”

It’s nice to be grand.

Pillow Fight

March 23, 2008 in Japanese Mix

Sumo matches, defined by spastic bouts of extremely girly slapping and shoving, are usually over as soon as they start. If you’re with friends, distracted by questions about where to find the nearest conbini for a beer and bento run, you might miss one all together. This happened continually to Bob, who arrived at Thursday’s tournament towards the day’s end, what any sumo fan will tell you is the most exciting part. He came fresh from sangen practice, the massive instrument tucked into its massive black case, carefully hauled through the crowds.

“I don’t want this,” he said, referring to the English translation of the match list. “I want the Japanese one. Why did they give me this? Who’s up now? Let’s make it interesting. I’ll take the guy in the red, someone else take the guy in the black.”

“Are you sure you want to do that?” asked Alan, who had been studying the English translation. “The guy in the red is the underdog.”

“I like the underdog,” insisted Bob. “Come on, Sean. Winner gets a beer.”

“Who am I for again?” asked Sean. “Your man in the black?”

“I think so. Wait. Which one is the underdog again?”

The crowd roared – Black had flipped Red in the red onto the ring. End match.

Each contestant in the 15-day tournament has 1 match a day; perhaps 10 seconds to shine and if he loses, hurled out of the clay ring, he has 24 hours of depressed nothing ahead of him. Referees announce the beginning of each match by waving paper fans. The wrestlers clomp onto the ring, stretch their mighty, meaty legs and toss defiant handfuls of salt into the air; strictly for purification purposes. When the yokozuna – the highest rank wrestlers – fight, excitement floods the air. When the yokozuna loses, the pillows decorating the stadium seats are hurled.

“I hope the next one loses,” said Alan, after the first yokozuna shocked and electrified the crowd by losing to a wrestler far beneath his rank. “I want to throw my cushion!”

“But Alan!” protested Steve, ever the gentleman. “You might hit someone!”

The second yokozuna lost and the cushions rained yet again. I ripped my own from my plastic seat and hurled it into the crowd using my patented 9 year-old girl wind up. The cushion fell into the tier below us, clunking a woman on the head who, undaunted, simply scooped it up and hurled it further down. I turned to Steve for my lecture and there he was – hurling his cushion with the best of us.

Changes

March 17, 2008 in Japanese Mix, Oishii

The train doors always open to intense blasts of yaki nikku-perfumed air in Kankokumura Station; the rich, spicy aroma of charred Korean barbecue that used to delight and taunt me as I rode my bike through Kankokumura on the way to work is now the delicious smell of home. If my pocketbook is on the heavy side that day, I can have my pick of some 40 yaki nikku joints clustered around my new apartment. In fact, Sean and I have already piggishly enjoyed Korean barbecue three times since moving here 3 weeks ago, including on my birthday this past Monday with the Kyoto lads and two of our delightful new neighbors.

Shots of the birthday feast, the “A” set involving cow hearts, tripe, liver and “roast.”

Before:

p3020053.jpg

and during:

p3020061.jpg

An “after” pic of yaki nikku is unnecessary, as it would just be an empty sauce-stained plate and a doubled-over figure groaning in the early throes of heartburn. And one must ask themselves, was it worth it? Gobbling up things you’d never eat back home, greedily stuffing your face with what should be disgusting but is somehow delicious … really? Was it? Yes – it always is.

*

I had a thought on my birthday and wanted to type it down as the thought developed but have found little time to write this past week. I am, for some reason, easily distracted. I have also been bombing job interviews, setting up the new house, and training for some new Junior High School class procedures at our company – training which will be useless to me since I am not teaching Junior High School students next year. Sean, however, has recently learned that he will be taking over my class of Evil 13 Year-Olds since, at the start of the new school year, I will no longer be teaching at Fujisan school on Wednesdays. The news has bemused both of us. Sean has heard me complain about these bad seeds all year long so he is on his guard. Sean is also far scarier than I am and I am sure he will put those little creeps in their place. So just go ahead and yuk it up now, Rina, Hitomi, Gay Yuki and Seiya. Draw pictures of poo with my name on them. Answer my questions in a phony whisper. Hurl game pieces and flash cards off the table while I’m trying to teach. Pretend you forgot your textbooks. Guffaw and holler. Enjoy it while you can; the Mad Irishman is coming to town and he already knows all about you.

Anyway, my birthday-themed thought was this: this blog – or at least the material of this here pigeon-monikered blog – began on my 26th birthday, 2 years ago – me, repairing the torn hem of my cheap pencil skirt with mint-scented dental floss. Always a sucker for an anniversary, that realization got me thinking. Oh, about the usual things, really – the tides of change, how the unknown becomes the familiar, how I might have calmed down a little bit had I known that in 2 years I’d be feeling so close to serene. Sitting in seiza on a mustard-yellow cushion in front of my MacBaby. In a brand new apartment, set in a neighborhood glittering with lanterns and lights. Owner of a gorgeous orchid plant, courtesy of my parents, a gift for my birthday, now gracing the outdoor balcony along with the basil, the strawberry, the bonsai, and the fuchsia petunia from Sean. A woman who eats heart, kidneys and tripe happily. A woman who no longer feels crushed and worthless after bombing an interview – one of the only career-related interviews she may well get in her non-English-speaking country of residence – but is simply thinking about happier things; her online writing course (starting tomorrow), creative goals, and the fact that no new part-time job means getting to keep 4 free days a week. Sumo is in Osaka this month, and a day trip with the lads has been arranged for Thursday, a national holiday. The sakura will come, and so will the boozy, bittersweet School Year-End parties, O Hana Mi, festivals and tea ceremonies I now know to watch out for, this being my second year here and all.

Of course, I couldn’t have known about any of it – happy moments are never quite so happy if they’re expected and really, thank goodness for that. It’s the quiet, little surprises that please, really … and, anyway, I can’t help it – I feel buoyed, not downtrodden, which surely is a sign of earned wisdom. More and more white hairs are scattered at my crown and for the first time I can see where an eye cream might do me some good. I might not be a fresh 20 year old anymore, but it might be a good thing – I was insufferable when I was 20. And never fresh. Or at least too stupid to appreciate how fresh I might actually have been. And if that all sounds like the rationalization and soul-soothing of a woman pushing prime-baby making age, it might be.

Regardless, I do feel good.

This Month’s Cover …

March 8, 2008 in Uncategorized

… of The Kansai Scene is freaking brilliant:

p3010073.jpg

Not that it bothers me at all, really – the standing out. I didn’t come to Japan expecting to blend in and don’t care about the stares I get, as long as they’re of the curious variety. Besides, being part of a foreigner gang only makes it that much easier to find each other in a crowd when meeting for drinks; we glow, in all our ethnic-color glory.

On the Train, from Utajo to Kankokumura

March 4, 2008 in Japanese Mix, Looking

I like the houses I see in the patches of countryside, between concrete shopping center strips, convenience stores, stark plots of razed dirt, and jumbled, dingy Post-War housing developments. They are the old homes, compact and white, dotted along perfectly combed fields of rice, the rows parted like hair, with mushroom-capped bonsai out front, their trunks gnarled like an old man’s fingers, and swooping roof eaves studded with curved tiles in China reds, silver grays, and royal blues …

like the ruffled wings of some brightly colored bird

roosting, before taking flight.

I’m Lovin’ It

March 2, 2008 in Uncategorized

We can, in fact, hear the trains from our new apartment, despite the double-paned glass that seemed to block out the sounds when we first visited. They rumble from 5 in the morning until around midnight at night. Laughter, too, from passerby, leaks through the walls. Sean, my new roommate, wants to hang up his giant poster of Japan in the living room and his many calendars in random, illogical places.

None of the shelves in the bookcase are tall enough for our books, so they are crammed horizontally in what is actually a magnificent mahogany-colored bookcase made especially for us by the landlord. There is no storage closet, so our suitcases and bags are lining the long otherwise spectacular foyer. There is almost no natural light in this apartment – my plants will surely die now, for reals. They are lined up atop the large, free television for the moment, barring any other decent place to put them. The move itself was a 2-day effort, executed on days we both worked – trips to Kankokomura in the morning before work, trips in the evening after work. Classes in between were conducted with swollen muscles and exhausted minds. On Thursday, I sat in seiza on the carpeted classroom floor as my 8 year-olds ran in a circle around me. I considered it “teaching” since they were running in circles, a shape which we’ve discussed before. They didn’t break anything and no parents were watching so in my opinion, the class was a success.

That said ….

I am lovin’ the new apartment. Lovin’ it, despite the inordinate amount of calendars scattered around the place. I’ve lived alone for 4 and a half years so am no longer used to compromising on decor decisions but have already softened on such things. Besides, Sean is awesome, tall and can reach and lift things. Score! There is space here, rivaling the space of my rent-stabilized palace on Washington Square Park. Sean finally has enough room to practice his karate kicks and I have not only two gas burners but a broad metal countertop on which to cut vegetables. Our furniture is on loan from the landlord – the aforementioned bookcase, the dining table, the two chairs, the coffee table, a squat black leather couch, a hexagonal wooden TV cabinet and a large Toshiba TV/DVD player. We are transfixed – somehow, when sitting on a couch, civilized, Japanese television seems far more compelling. Our miniature rent is paid for the month and we only await the return of our large deposits from Maison Otako and our fat March paychecks. The rumbling of the trains is hardly upsetting – it is, in fact, comforting. And it is all we hear – neighborly noise is somehow voided. Cloaked indoors, without fear of my neighbors’ judgment, I now sing along to “Faithfully,” by Journey.

The Perry-liciousness of this selection will not be questioned.