Teaching In Socks

November 5, 2008, 5:02 pm
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For those of you awaiting an aftermath debriefing; Halloween went well this year. I will say though, magic powers or not, me in cape running a classroom with seven children of varying age and English ability is technically not a fair fight. I was able to hold down the fort with minimal damage and convy ample Halloween knowledge, but entropy won its battles. Duct tape was required for minimal repairs, candy was consumed and dropped on the floor, and at times I felt like the broken shell of a teenage wizard.

Also, if you thought being the only white guy in town makes me stand out, imagine what happens when I put on a Harry Potter costume. I am certain the local chiropractors were busy last weekend;  whiplash was inflicted on several innocent bystanders. In retrospect, the ape was a great marketing ploy, perhaps I should I wear the cape at work every day.

Halloween quickly faded to the election this year, even in Japan. If you had asked me at the beginning of this week to take an over/under on the number of times I would have to bravely hold back giggling as someone mispronounced “election” in conversation, I would have taken the over. Seriously, you could have put the bar at fifty times and I’m still taking the over for a number of reasons.

fight obama?!

fight obama?!

Reason number one is that for a change, it appears the Japanese are interested in an election. Albeit, not their own, but still people followed what was going on with some intensity.  Furthermore, I more fully understand the nature of the “r”-“l” confusion. It’s not a mental issue, rather, there is no “l” sound in the Japanese alphabet. In many ways, while I derive humor from it, this impresses me. The Japanese are so phonically cool they don’t even need an “l” sound. This linguistic efficiency is something I marvel at, even if it does make my last name “Reirry”.

So far, I have only encountered the word in question once, and it was so quick I wasn’t able to savor the maturity diliema I had hoped for. My visions of constant sophomoric mayhem have not materialized. Upon closer review, I think history may have tipped the nation off though. People are eager to speak to me about the election, but the avoid using the word at all cost. “Voted”, “Chosen”, and “Picked” are amply substituted in place of any variation of elected. I guess I’ll have to get my jollies the next time someone instructs me to “clap my hands”.

(Also, a little election factoid: Obama means “little beach” in Nihongo and McCain…well its phonetic cousin, “makeru” (mahkay-ru) means “loser”. No joke.)

Speaking of bad words, for those of you in the “First time a student drops a curse word in Ted’s class pool” the winning date was November Fourth!

The goal of this particular lesson was to teach the student about exclamations such as “oops!” “oww” or “ugh!”. I suppose this particular lesson begs for an injection of crude and foul words, but at the time this detail eluded me. I attempted to to elicit such a response by showing a high-level student a picture of someone dropping a glass of red wine on a white carpet, and asked them what this person might say. Her response was swift, “Shit!”.

I nearly fell out of my chair laughing. I appreciated the cultural accuracy. Having previously lived abroad, she knew what she was doing, and the humor was a nice break in the class. Also, I was happy that my first encounter with profanity in my class room didn’t involve me having to invoke the notorious, Forsyth School  "Appropriate versus Inappropriate" lecture. I don’t think I’ve developed the proper philosophical palette, nor cynicism for fun that is required to deliver it properly.

October 29, 2008, 5:10 pm
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This Friday, it has been mandated by the powers that be (management) that I teach a complimentary, thirty minute, children’s Halloween class. Despite my initial resistance to the thought of doing extra work, I’m looking forward to this. Kids plus costumes is generally an equation for spirited fun, and when “gross-out tactics” are not only permissible but encouraged, the degree of difficulty goes down and the quotient for awesomeness increases exponentially.

That said, I’m trying to keep my expectations low. The aim of the class is to attract new students to the school (hence the “complimentary”) but my personal goal is to avoid a situation that lands my name or picture on the news, attached to the headline ” Massive Japan Halloween Folly!”.

This may sound a bit pessimistic, but when children are involved it’s imperative to consider every possible scenario and to think on your feet. In some corners of the planet kids have been known to eat a light bulbs with absolutely no warning or provocation.

This risk will no dissuade me form taking pleasure in being the the harbinger of Halloween awesomeness to Ako (I know, I used awesome twice already). Japan is still an emerging market in the Halloween economy. My older students say it gained popularity withing the last ten to fifteen years, but they still haven’t entirely embraced the holiday. Presumably, and by presumably I mean what the crooked scenario I created in my mind with no factual basis to it, it appears a portion of the country was looking for another  reason to wear costumes and arrange decorations. They looked around, much like the Pilgrims looked for America, and immediately started grabbing orange marigolds, black origami paper and silly bodysuits.

my other costume

my other costume

Surprisingly though, it appears the confectionery industry–really the pay off of the whole holiday–still hasn’t gotten their act together. Their delegation must be shivering in a deep sugar fix somewhere because they haveailed to seize this obvious opportunity. In America, Halloween in like candy’s Christmas. In Japan, while many stores are equipped with small displays totting Disney, Halloween themed treats, the selection is vastly underwhelming; especially when viewed proportionally to the costume and decorating options offered.

I believe this a result of the absence of trick or treating. For reasons unknown to me, and possibly having to do with a variety of Japanese social moires, the tradition of  going from house to house to collect free candy in exchange for a barrage of fabulously lame jokes hasn’t spread like wildfire. This saddens me. A world devoid of trick or treating robs these children of a valuable learning opportunity.

These children will never learn about MUNG or razorblades in apples. Proper retribution for people who give out dimes instead of candy. How do you expect a child to develop any appreciation for humor when they don’t know what a vampires favorite fruit is? (nectarine) What do you expect them to understand the deep metaphysical mechanisms of society when they don’t know what a ghost’s favorite fruit is? (boo berries!) or why mummies have trouble making friends? (They’re soooo wrapped up in themselves).

Thus, it is left to me to deliever this vital knowledge to the young and impressionable minds of Japan. Which ultimately, fufills the vision and dream that I had when I took this job–that one day, in ruraly Japan, I would change the world while dressed in a makeshift Harry Potter costume.

“dorkus facimus!”

Candy and Calligraphy
October 8, 2008, 3:57 pm
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One small fold for mankind

One small fold for mankind (via Pinktentacle)

First, I just want to say I think it’s cool that I live in a country that look up at the stars and wonders, how can we get origami up there. These ships are going to be thrown towards earth from the ISS.

Now to content:

My experience living in New York with a cleaner than usual roommate has left me damaged (read: civilized). Suddenly, it’s never clean enough any more. I even dusted the other day. In the near future, I promise to share the the details of my “apaato” with you, but in the meantime i haven’t been able to keep it up to Home & Garden photography standards (sorry, Grandma). Sadly, it constantly looks like someone lives here of something.

In the meantime, my mom went retro-summer camp style and sent me a packed stocked with Halloween candy. The amount of candy contained in this package was daunting and surpassed my best candy consuming abilities. Plus, I have a duty to instigate a little cultural exchange with my students from time to time. Apparently this is part of what they pay for.

Thus, I took potion of the stash  into school to share. Specifically, I took the jumbo bag of DOTS–sporting a ghost/”invisible mystery flavor” theme for the season. In retrospect, I see it was a bit cruel and perhaps and error of judgment on my part to try and pass along something with “mystery flavor” theme to my students. In my defense, certain items at the grocery store would convince one that nothing, let alone a :mystery theme” could inspire culinary shyness in a Japanese person.

However, this is exactly what happened. I admit was put off a bit when they approached it with the same reaction I approach Japanese candy. It was like watching Superman encounter Kryptonite for the first time.  They found the packaging a bit intimidating, and most of them cautiously took timid half-bites into the individual DOTS and reacted with a variety of faces. It was a winner with some of the students, but they all had an opinion to share. The stickiness of the candy certainly was a talking point.

I guess it was a bit ethnocentric of me to expect them to worship this as the gold standard of candy. Also, I was thrown because Japan is a gel/food culture. I think this has to do with their fish-centric diet. In this respect, DOTS are perhaps the most Japanese of the canon of classic American candies. Perhaps, the medium is the message, and that medium full of English writing, mystery flavors, and only semi-goofy pictures of cartoon ghosts says “strange” to my students.

I suppose i might end up bearing the weight of making sure this candy does not go to waste. There might be a number of nights during the next month that I end up like good ol’ Hariett . Pray for me to make it until All Saints Day.

This week I have also undertaken the task of learning Hiragana. It’s one of three Japanese systems of writing, and perhaps the easiest of the three. It’s phonetically based, which is nice. I’m enjoying the process. Today, one of my students was giving me some help when she decided she wanted to figure out a couple of ways to write my name in Kanji (a pictograph system of writing). She could only think of one symbol for “Te” which was the symbol for “Hand. The two options she gave me for “Do” (there is no ending “d” sound in Japanese”) were the symbols for “sand” or “door”.  So there you go, I am either “hand sand” or “hand door”. I think those both suit me well.

And now, “sophisticated” Britons let loose in Japan: