Teaching In Socks


Language detective & Other news
September 24, 2008, 7:47 am
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I’m heading to Kyoto for an extended weekend. Hopefully I’ll return with a boatload of pictures and a luggage case full of spiritual enlightenment. I heard a rumor that they have a few temples and shrines there.

I know I mentioned a while back that I was going to stage some sort of elaborate thesis on Japanese politics and the value of honor within Japanese society, however, I have returned to the old philosopher’s crux that the more I think about it, the more I realize how little I know. I’ve only been here two months, so maybe this is a subject I will return to when I feel more qualified to do so. I’ll certainly provide some highlights and insight on the upcoming Japanese Prime Minister election, especially if my students offer me any interesting information on the subject.  So far I’ve mostly received sentiments of cynicism on their part. I can’t blame them, they have had something like thirteen Prime Ministers in the last twenty years. I’m surprised they remember who is in charge, or that they haven’t turned the whole election into an American Idol style competition.

In the meantime, today I stumbled into an unfortunate episode of “Ted Reilly, Language Detective”. During some pleasant lobby talk with another teacher and one of my students about text message abbreviations, the other teacher shared an anecdote about the encounters of her father as a young boy in Japan, with the arriving American GI’s. Her father told her he could remember three things they used to say to him, but he spoke no English, so he didn’t know what they meant.

The first one was “sunavubit”, which she had realized was probably “son of a bitch”. (Everyone in the lobby shared a polite chuckled when she said this.)

The second saying her father had remembered was “gudaamut”. She had determined that this was “god damnit”. (The students and I laugh, pretending to be shocked by the language.)

The third saying her father would recall, was “caasuuka”.  The teacher then says that has never figured out what the one was and she is interested to know what it was and what it means. (All eyes in the room turn to me)

“Do you know?” asked the other teacher.

I stupidly replied honestly, not even remembering to inflect any sort of reluctance and answer until half way though, “Yeahhhhhhhhhhh, I know what it means

My student, curious, eagerly urges me on, “What does it mean?”

“You know, it could be a lot of things actually…” I said.

“My father probably did something to make them angry, right?” asked the teacher.

“Well, you know, the army has it’s own language and it’s own way of speaking, it’s not necessarily a bad thing….”

“But it wasn’t a nice word, was it?” she finished my sentence.

“No, not really” I said, sheepishly.

I guess there were both better and worse places we could have ended the conversation, but we decided to do it here, at that point, I was comfortable with that. These days they might deport me for saying the word in question to a room full of Japanese women. Later, when I used the school computer I saw that the teacher had tried to use “Yahoo:Answers” to figure it out on her own. Someone should tell her about Google, although I doubt she wants to Google this finely crafted bit of slang.

You know, I knew this war thing might lead to an awkward moment or two, but I didn’t realize it was going to be a weekly occurrence. Thanks FDR.



I mentioned the war once…
August 7, 2008, 3:19 am
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Yesterday was the beginning of my company class stint. Twice a week, I bike through a muggy haze past the city castle and down to a local industrial refinery. By the time I arrive, I look like Chris Farely from “Tommy Boy”, had he run the mile in a suit and put on some glasses. The sweat stains are abundant and impossible to conceal. I’m sure it’s a good look for me.

The factory consists of a couple of smoke stacks and an administration building. I go the administration where they quickly escort me to a meeting room with industrial strength air conditioning. Apparently my need of such amenities is visably obviously.

I’m not sure exactly what they do as this compound. While I have seen their finished products, I don’t really have the Japanese or English vocabulary to accurately describe them. I can only say, composites are involved

After a few minutes of cooling down, the workers start to roll in. I say workers, but that’s probably not the proper nomenclature. They are all talented scientist of some sorts. They all wear factory issued blue, grease-stained jumpsuits and almost uniformly sport the type of eyeglasses you would expect Japanese scientists to wear. From what I can tell, they are an intelligent bunch. When they are able to express it in English, it’s evident their science knowledge clearly surpasses mine.

Unlike all my other classes, I teach this class out of an American high school science text created by the Discovery channel, that was selected by my predecessor. It’s basic a science, and we work on vocabulary and pronunciation, so they can converse coherently with their Anglophile customers. It’s simple and fun, however there is one hitch

Upon flipping through the book it became evident to me one of the reasons my predecessor decided to move on when he did. The last unit he taught was unit 9. This was basic bio-chem stuff: polymers, hydrocarbons, your run of the mill photosynthesis unit. When I arrived last week, I got to teach the review of this unit. So this week we move on to unit 10. what is unit 10 you ask? that’s right, it’s Nuclear physics!

These next few weeks might be full of some uncomfortable silences. I asked my teaching trainer,who’s British, if this would be awkward and he just chuckled and walked away. Cheeky twat. I took the liberty of flipping ahead in the book to skim the entire unit, and yeah, there’s a picture of a mushroom cloud….thank Discovery Channel. For the month of August I will be doing my best Basil Fawlty impression, running into doors, abusing the help, while trying to talk around the 600lb gorilla in the room.