It’s only a ten minute bus ride to school, so imagine my surprise when the little, wizened, hatted lady fell asleep on my elbow. Twice. By the second time, I had already thought about how my reaction should have been the for the first, so I widened my eyes as much as I could while sitting bolt upright and staring out the window. I figured this would give maximum entertainment to whomever happened to be assessing the situation, and everything was going well until she awoke with a start, jumped in one smooth motion to look at me with eyes as saucered as mine, and hobbled off the bus, which happened to have just come to rest. I know the the hobbling doesn’t mesh with the jumping… I can’t explain it, either.
This was a much better start to my day than the credit card “customer service” (words dripping with venomous sarcasm here) bullshit to which I awoke, so from here on out I’m repressing that except to say that if you are considering opening a credit account with Banana Republic, you are out of your godforsaken, masochistic mind.
But school today has been much more simulating so far! Fresh from the mobile entertainment, I had a spring in my step for the morning’s assembly. For this, about 500 middle schoolers lined the auditorium military-style and in uniform, adjusting their stances on command. It was kind of amazing, considering my experience with school assemblies consists of constant, low-to-moderate crowd rumble and me mentally hissing, “shut up and get your hands off each other, you damn, dirty apes!” while shooting pointed, poisoned glances at the various barbarians masquerading as children.
And honestly, I really love what I do. Just… American middle school assemblies? No.
Shinagawa-style, however, could grow on me. Apart from the kid who got in quiet trouble for having the wrong shoes and the girl who dropped to the ground with what was either heat stroke or an acute case of malignant melodrama, there was barely any movement at all except the bowing. As various adults stood up and said incomprehensible things, they all just stood quietly pretending (I assume…) to listen. This happening at Lyman Moore might just become my new fantasy. Replacing, of course, the one about being a bawdy medieval wench in a land full of ale, song, and dragons.
So all of a sudden (back to reality here) some nudging and verbal cues (my name- Caroline- no easy moniker considering they have a sound that’s in between an “l” and an “r” here but not a sound for either) prompted me toward the stage for my speech.
“Ohayo gozaimas!” I proclaimed, and instantly became the much-mocked foreigner, “watashiwa Caroline Foster des!”
Mind you, I don’t know how to spell any of that. Yaeko, the Japanese-American sensei who taught our contingent enough culture to avoid some of the more common ambassador pitfalls, wrote our speeches for us phonetically. I’m just reading what’s hopefully a gracious and humble welcome but could very well be lightly veiled atomic threat. Kind of banking on the rice milk of human kindness with that one.
As I continued to address the masses with my best Nippon accent- which I just learned was completely unexpected as they thought I’d be speaking English- I noticed that they did a lot of guffawing. Kids don’t laugh at this school, they howl. It all sounds gleeful, too, which is great because I’m relatively sure they’re laughing at and not with me and somehow that softens the punch.
Oh, my sweet melting heart. I was about to say something self-conscious but a little first grader just blew me a kiss through the window and my whole soul has filled with warmth and goodwill. I’ve been trying really hard to fight what seems like the racist notion that these children are flat-out cuter than any others in the world, but it feels factual when stuff like air kisses happen. Plus the population is so much smaller than what I’m used to and small equals cute, like biologically.
Seriously, everywhere I go, people are gawking at the new Tokyo Tower: me. I had to translate my height into meters for one class, so I made my best guess based on the memory of a meter stick and said, “two” and I’m hoping the math holds up because I don’t want all of America judged on my tendency to fly by the seat of my party pants and say what I think without research.
Aw, shoot. Just remembered I have a converter on my phone (no Internet here) and checked my facts. I’ve been telling these children I’m almost 6’7”. Great. Apparent American arrogance rears its ugly head again. Problem is, it’s too complicated an explanation to try to give to even the English teachers, so I’ll probably just let it go and let them think I’m an ass.
I wonder how often that happens to our immigrants and refugees in Portland… Note to self: reserve judgment.
So yes, I’ve been allotted ten minutes in each of eight classes for a self-introduction, so after adding in the assembly, I’m busy for a good two hours today, a vast improvement over yesterday. Plus I know where the tea is, so I’m settling in nicely. My only current problem is that this school is much better at recycling than anyone, ever, so therefore I can’t find the trash can. I’m not going to hold on to it, though- I mean yes, I’ll hold onto the trash, which I’m squirreling away in my backpack even though it’s a wet tea bag- but I’m letting go of the anxiety. Hold your breath for my new motto here, kids:
When in doubt, think about the funny Asian bus lady. And then giggle, and go about your day.