February 27, 2009 in Things I Will Miss About Japan
Being bowed to at McDonald’s. This truly happens.
There are things you learn so well that they become ingrained – even in a culture that isn’t your own. In the two years I’ve lived in Japan, I now know without a doubt that “ちょっと待ってね,” means “wait a little bit, okay?” “大丈夫?” means “You okay?” and “できた!” means “I was able to do it!” I don’t have to translate for myself anymore – I hear the phrases and I know how to respond. Likewise, I now instinctively know:
But then there are things I can’t seem to remember, even by rote. Like when Last Train leaves. Or how to conjugate many い and な adjectives. Not to trust sushi from Supa Tamade. To walk on the left side of the road. To let the taxi driver open the passenger door for me with the automatic switch. That “2 long, round things” is 2本, not 2っぽん. That I need to pay my gas bill with the bill that comes to my house in the official envelope, not the thin slip that gets dunked in my mailbox each month. That clothes made for thin, angular Japanese women won’t look good on me. That my adult students react like deer in headlights to the question, “How is everyone tonight?” That my young students have no idea what I’m saying 99% of the time.
So I should carry a copy of Why Not Japan?’s last train schedule with me at all times, right? And I should devise mnemonic devices for those darn adjectives and counters, right? And I should look at each student individually and ask how they are – or not even ask anyone at all? And I should avoid Supa Tamade like the plague, even though it’s next door and cheap, right? And I should speak only in nouns to the kids, right? Of course, right.
You’d think I’d know by now. But I don’t.
The school year is drawing to a close and we are given certificates to fill out for the students. Our school has made it as safe for business easy on us as possible – all we must do is sign our names and circle one from a choice of encouraging remarks. Takuya receives special recognition for being a) Energetic b) Friendly c) Hard working d) Helpful e) Polite – and I kid you not – f) Humble. Note the marked absence of g) in need of a firm spanking h) future Yakuza i) breast-obsessed and j) too lazy to even attempt critical thinking. I hovered over my certificates last week during a slow moment at work and was unconflicted about a good chunk of my 5-12 year old students because many of them really are friendly hard workers. As for the rest … hmm.
My coworker noticed me hemming and hawing over my certificates. “You know most of those are Japanese-style euphemisms, right?” she said. Of course. I should know by now. “Friendly,” in Japanese staff doublespeak, can mean either “likes others” or “likes to punch his classmates.” “Hard working”? Either “hard working” or “dumb as a post.” “Energetic”? “Has psychological problems.” Suddenly, filling out certificates for my “active” children was a lot easier.
Sometimes, I imagine a select few of my students going on to commit some excellent crimes later on in life. When their weeping mothers are escorted from their jail cell, they will shake their heads to the warden.
“All the signs were there,” they’ll sob. “How could we have been so blind? We should have known when his English teacher said he was ‘energetic.’”
February 21, 2009 in Things I Will Miss About Japan
Being able to plan an entire commute according to train AND SUBWAY times. For a veteran of the New York City MTA, this is huge. Huge. Ah, Japan.
Living in Japan and not already hip? www.jorudan.co.jp/english. You’re welcome.
Today, I have made the bed, scrubbed the toilet, rinsed out the shower, organized my desk, played online Scrabble, done two crosswords, done the dishes, made soup with leftover rice, ate said soup, washed the dishes again, watched 1 episode of Ugly Betty, rewatched the latest Flight of the Conchords episode, put out the salmon to defrost for tonight’s dinner, even exercised* … all in the name of procrastination. I’m a guilty sort of procrastinator, though, so I can’t fully commit to any distraction. That’s why, for the past week and a half, only measly little nubbin posts have appeared on this site. My apologies.
*Sorry. I couldn’t even write that with a straight face.
Deadlines as usual. It’s good work so I don’t mind, even if I’m inside when I should be outside, inhaling the last of the winter air before the frosty white cherry blossoms start studding the tree branches. It’s fine. Really. After this Friday I’ll be done for a while and will be free to galavant about town. Lotsa good things to look forward to. Nagano. Kyoto. And then, farther-flung travels, TBA.
Yesterday, Sean was sifting through the hamper and came upon a pair of my tabi ankle socks; cleft-toed, meant to be worn with wooden geta sandals.
“How can you possibly wear these?” he asked. “They’re tiny. What’s wrong with them? Why are they so small? Do you have baby feet? Did you have to buy them in the baby section? ”
Of course I didn’t. And I don’t think there’s anything odd about having small feet.