Teaching In Socks

Nerd alert
December 15, 2009, 5:04 pm
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Two weeks ago I took the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. taking the test was a voluntary exercise; my employer didn’t require it or recommend it, nor will I receive any sort of performance-related benefit based on the results. I simply wanted to challenge myself and give my studying motivation a little boost. If my grade school self heard about this he probably would have called me a nerd-face and then pushed me off the jungle gym. He would have had a fair point.

My present day self also took issue with this decision when it was discovered that the test started at 9:30 on a Sunday morning. This was compounded by the fact that my assigned testing site (and this was the closest venue) was in Kobe–and not event convenient central Kobe, but the outskirts of Kobe, at a university that required me to switch trains, take a subway and then walk a bunch. Thus, I found myself awake at 6:45 AM on a Sunday morning, which is never something I’m happy about.

I was able to overcome my allergy to mornings and make it to the testing site without any problems–which, given the degree of difficulty in my situation, should probably have counted towards my test score (or maybe that should have just been the test, howdoyoulikethem apples?).

The test experience was far from what I expected. First, there was not element of danger. I was not placed in a hexagon of death, no one was chasing me, and alligator clips were not attached to any of appendages.  Secondly, the nationality make-up of the testing pool was far different from what I imagined. Now, this certainly didn’t bother me in any way, but I suppose in imperialistic subconscious, I imagined the kind of people who studied Japanese and who took this test were American, British, or Aussies who are in country and trying to learn the language. What I neglected to logically think about where the hundreds of thousands of continental Asians that come to Japan to study abroad or work. Thus, in my classroom of fifty people, it was me, a girl from Switzerland,  a thirteen year old Indian girl and mixture of forty-seven Vietnamese or Chinese students. I guess at the heart of the issue, I was under the impression that at a test for foreigners I was going to be able to hide in the crowd for the first time in a while. Instead it was the continuation of my everyday experience, life as a spectacle.

One thing I did expect, was the Japanese would run their test very tightly. On this note, I was correct. They had three proctors for each room, and each proctor had a red card and yellow card they could issue you for a variety of offenses (ringing cellphone, talking, cheating).  Each classroom at the testing site (and possibly throughout Japan) was synchronized to a radio broadcast, which provided us with instructions and listening passages. I will admit that i assumed the the carding systems was merely for show, and something that wouldn’t be put into use–and it was that way for a while. Then during the first listening question, someone’s cellphone alarm went off. Then some of the students taking the test were warned for talking. It was a Millwall v. West Ham fixture it was sort of perplexing to witness someone receiving card during an examination.

When the test was finished, I didn’t feel very confident about my score. Apparently, the testing system will be changed next year, and thus many of the mainstay topics in the vocabulary and grammar sections have been changed already. Still, the benefit for me is not in a passing grade but in all the studying I have done, and the fact that test is only given once a year so I can’t talk myself myself into waking up before 7 on a Sunday for entire year.

Light-up situation
December 2, 2009, 5:45 pm
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Two weeks ago I went to (and this verbatim from the ticket stub) “Scarlett Maples Leaves At Night in Eikando Zenrin-Ji” in Kyoto. Eikando Zenrin-Ji temple is famous for its brilliant fall foliage (and a buddha statue with it’s head turned round like an owl).  Apparently, a few years ago someone at the temple got wise to the fact that the Japanese love technology + everything and realized it would be a great idea to charge people 600 JPY to see the autumn foliage lit up at night. I, on the other hand ,was intelligent enough to pick a holiday weekend in right at the height of tree-viewing season (if such a things exists–which it does) to pay 600 JPY to see trees at night, because I also wanted to wait in line outside the temple beforehand.

I also had the great misfortune of going on a cold and rainy night–which only makes the line-waiting better. Inside, the leaves and lighting dynamics were stunning. I was worth the prcie of admission. However, it was hard to appreciate them while dodging umbrellas. For all the emphasis the Japanese place on respect and social protocol, when a large group of people are gathered in a small public space it might as well be a Metallica concert. Elbows are thrown, common decency is tossed out the window.

Also, my height–compared to that of the average Japanese person–doesn’t bode well for me when umbrellas are involved. It somehow always works out that the rusty brim of the $1 umbrella (so that’s unregulated Chinese rust) that the guy in front of me is holding  is sits right at eye-level.  It’s at times like these that I am thankful that I wear glasses but curious about when my last tetanus shot was. The rule of thumb on tetanus shots of course is: if you have to be curious, it’s been too long.

Still, in retrospect, fun and danger go hand in hand.  While I probably appreciated it less at the time, there really is something to leaves in Kyoto. I’m by no means and expert on the quality of autumn foliage, but the mountain air seems to enhance the saturation of the color in the leaves–or it could just be the lighting.

injury free, master of this domain