Exposed

I just found the site “Stuff White People Like“. 

 

Number 31 – Snowboarding
Number 42 – Sushi
Number 58 – Japan
Numer 71 – Being the only white person around
Number 115 – Promising to learn a new language
Number 120 – Taking a year off
Even aside from the other stuff – sea salt, tea, yoga, not having a tv, grammar – I have never felt so transparent.
Although, I guess it’s just my culture. 
Dammit.

Discipline And Other Skills

If you knew me, you’d quickly realise that I am one of the least tolerant people you’ll ever meet. Not that I’m racist, or a fascist or a hater of animals mind you, just that if you put me in the same room as say, someone who genuinely enjoys reading out signs or wearing underwear as a hat while cooking dinner my level of irritation can easily go from zen monk to hissing cat in under ten seconds. 

That is to say, if you met me in a bar, slurring sarcastically about people’s appearances while swirling my drink irresponsibly over your new shirt and dropping ash on your shoes there is no way in hell you would ever leave me alone with anybody’s offspring. Possibly even my own. 

Somehow though, I have ended up frequently being in charge of groups of children. By frequently, I mean over 20 times a week. And by groups, I mean up to 15. And I haven’t even killed any of them yet! Obviously, I’ve had to develop some sort of discipline skills. Otherwise one ends up with chaos – shouting, running around, violence, a nervous breakdown, The Lord of The Flies… you get my drift. 

I imagine that most teachers have ways of dealing with children who won’t pay attention,  screech around the classroom and who think that a good friend-making strategy is a swift kick juuuust under the ribs (in an upward direction). That said, most teachers can speak the same language as their students. What I wouldn’t give to be able to understand the kids. (Actually, don’t answer that. What I wouldn’t give is all my free time to learn Japanese.) Right now all I’ve got is a loud voice and an expressive face. 

Yesterday though, had to be a low point. I want to add, as a disclaimer of sorts, that I have a chest infection, brought on by a weekend of snowboarding. So, yesterday was my first day back at work after a two-day hiatus. Which mostly involved reading the entire archives of flotsam and watching Wife Swap online while chewing down antibiotics and letting cups of tea get cold. 

Wednesday is my worst work day. Partly because many of my classes are obnoxious and partly because I have to do four one-hour classes in a row without a break. Then another class. That’s five. So, by the end of it, I’m ruined. Even without 500mg of amoxicillin coursing through my feverish body. (Before you say it, no, I wasn’t infectious.) 

Anyway, yesterday, I finally lost my temper, something I’ve been threatening to lose with varying degrees of believability for nigh on five months. Yesterday though, at approximately 4.45pm, I had a total melt-down, directed at a pair of utterly horrid 9-year-old boys. They talked though other kids’ answers. They kicked other kids. They kicked each other. They punched each others testicles at ten second intervals, hard. They mimicked everything I said in high-pitched voices, but with everything pronounced in INFURIATINGLY BAD ENGLISH. 

Eventually, I had to drag pull call the two of them out of the room and shout (yes, shout) for a full minute about violence and behaviour and respect. Y’know, because 9-year-old boys are all about respect. Not that they understood a freaking word of it, but I think that the fury in my voice carried the sentiment. It certainly carried it out to the office loud enough that one of the Japanese women who works there came scurrying out to direct me back into the classroom and continue the tirade in Japanese. 

Back in my room, the other kids were terrified. I’m pretty pale, but when I’m angry my face goes a violent shade of red. I had to play games for the rest of the class to get them to calm down.

Now, I’m fairly sure that the red face/shouting was partly to blame, but mostly, it was the fact that in Japan, corporal punishment isn’t exactly illegal. I’ve seen plenty of teachers hit kids. Not in a whipping with a cane kind of way, more a thwap with a laminated flashcard or a smack on the bum. And by god, do the mothers thwap. I was horrified when I first saw it, but now, I’m glad of it. Before you all chime in with accusations of child abuse,  I don’t actually hit the kids. But they know that teachers can hit, so once the temper is lost, the memories of previous thwappings come screeching back, and the kids behave. I suspect my discipline skills are lacking.

Anyway, the second incident came in the Junior High School class. I have a class of eleven 13-year-old boys who vary in ability from competentish to table. My best student is also a kid who, I can tell, sees me as a person. I’m pretty sure that there are adults in his life who take him seriously when he talks. He’s a good kid. He makes a good effort to communicate, to translate what the other kids are saying and he even makes jokes, which is sadly, rare. 

Anyway, the kids were out in the office area after my class doing some kind of written work, eating microwave popcorn. I came through on my way out with an armful of my stuff, swooping down to steal some of this kids popcorn. Straight away, cries of “Teacher! Teacher! Teacher!!” I ignored him, and continued snarfing up the popcorn. “TEACHER!!!” I looked down. The half cup of cold coffee that I had been cradling in my arm had spilled its contents, drop-by-drop out of the lid, all over his white shorts. And his white shirt. And the cream carpet. I fished some tissues out of my bag and help him mop up the worst of it. Then I scuttled out. 

It seems my coordination skills are somewhat lacking too. 

 

Home

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve done any regular posting, but honestly, it’s been a little tough around here the past while. It’s now been 15 days since I came back to Japan. I went back home for Christmas/New Year and stayed 3 weeks to make the exorbitant cost of the flights justifiable. 

 

The time at home was a blur. Apart from Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, there wasn’t a single day that I didn’t have two or more appointments. By appointments, I mean things to do. With other people. Like lie on their couch and eat cheese. 
After five months in Japan, it was strange to be back. Little things, like being able to understand menus (a great thing), tv (not such a good thing) and overheard conversations (definitely not a good thing) were odd at first. I found the level of English I had to listen to and speak on a daily basis to be slightly overwhelming. It took about a week to get back into the swing of normal conversation. 
Not that much of the conversation was normal. Everyone just wanted to know about Japan and I found myself erasing all the bad things and raving about the good things. I told the same stories over and over until I bored myself. Nobody wants to know about the loneliness, or the spates of boredom, or the wondering why the hell I ever came to this godforsaken country. All these things pass though, and at the end of it, I do like being here. So I talked about that. 
There were things I had forgotten that I missed. Just the general, everyday banter you have with strangers. Like, for example, I was in a garage, buying gas and a coffee with a friend, talking about these boots I had bought in Japan. Opinion at home was mixed, to say the least. I was telling him this as we were waiting for the girl at the counter to stop applying lip gloss and take our money. He said he wasn’t sure about the boots. The girl at the counter said “Don’t mind them, I think they’re deadly”. (“Deadly” means brilliant, by the way.) I was stunned. A perfect stranger, butting into our conversation! An employee, stepping out of her employee role and offering an opinion! Wooohoooooo! In Japan, it’s hard to get the local 7-11 girls to recommend a brand of canned coffee. I go there every freaking day!
Other things too, like not being the chubbiest, scruffiest woman within a two-town radius. I went to visit a friend who has just moved into a new apartment in a swish building. In the lobby, there was a woman in her pyjamas. She was wearing a coat mind you, because of the cold, and carrying a shopping bag. IN HER PYJAMAS! I nearly kissed her. I probably would have, except I was afraid of getting knifed. 
And then, there were things I didn’t miss. Like public transport – getting anywhere was an exercise in frustration and disappointment. Not to mention the recession. Ah yes, The Recession. It will certainly be the topic of another post, but for now I’ll just say that before I went home the global recession was something of a myth. I read about it in online newspapers and I heard about it from family but I hadn’t seen it for myself. Going home assured me that it was actually, depressingly, real. 
It made me grateful. Although I’m worried for friends and family, and for my country, and the world at large, I’m grateful that I have a job. It might be exhausting at times, but really, I have it easy. I get paid a wage that rises by the day due to currency fluctuation (I still calculate my wage in my home currency) and my living costs are low. Mostly though, I’m grateful that I was born into a language and an economy that has made it possible for me to be able to be welcomed to Japan, with enough money to be able to fly across the world for a few weeks for the holidays. 
Altogether, I had a good time at home. It was tough to come back. There were tears at the airport and tears on the plane. But then, I arrived back into the bosom of Japanese efficiency and helpfulness, was guided politely from the gate to a coach to my town where I was picked up by my boss and driven home. 
And you know, I was glad to be back. 

Yes They Can

Photograph: Graham Whitby Boot/Allstar

Almost 24 hours ago I was crouched in front of this very computer to watch The Inauguration. Even though there have been other inaugurations, this one deserves capitalisation.

I should say now, I’m not American. This you might have inferred from the lack of the letter “z” in this blog so far (though the spellchecker constantly tries to correct me). Last night however, was the third time in my life that I almost wished I was. (The second was during Obama’s victory speech, the first was some years ago on a beach in San Diego. Tequila was involved. In the latter, not the former.)
Today, I taught five classes. One was made up of 4- and 5-year-olds and one had a group of exceptionally quiet girls, but in the other three I was greeted by Japanese children leaping around the classroom shouting “Yes we can!! Yes we can!!” on repeat. They learned the words “inauguration”, “speech” and also, “assassination”. 
Obviously, that last word was not part of the lesson plan. In fact, none of those words were, but the a word came up in response to a group of 7-year-old boys miming the assassination of “Keneji“, a chair playing the role of the Book Depository. 
That this event has permeated the minds of school children in a small town in the Japanese countryside is some indicator of its importance. It was something to follow in the media, to discuss and to explain to the children. 
I, for one, will remember where I was when a black man took “a most sacred oath”. I will tell my children about it. 
And for once,  I hope, really hope, that those kids will forget a word I taught them. 

Aaaand… I’m back

In fact, I’ve been back for ten days or so. Jet-lag hit me like a brick to the face though, so blog posts have been interrupted by sleeping. 

Normal service will resume tomorrow.

Apologies


Presumably any readers I might have had have jumped ship by now. 

My humblest apologies, I’m a bad bad blogger. 
Excuse? I’ve been home for Christmas. All of a sudden I have a social life that does not involve the internet and it’s been seriously eating into my computer-love time. 
I’ll be spending the next couple of days buying my computer chocolates and serenading it from a balcony. Plus travelling back to Japan. 
Updates will follow. 
I promise. 
To placate the angry mob I’ll leave you with a cute photo. Don’t eat it all at once.