Whoops, sorry about the nonsense last night. We had the afternoon off and went to Ginza for a look-see and some food. Turns out anywhere you go in Japan, there’s a lot of sake to drink. I approached this with a “now is the time for all the good soldiers to come to the aid of the party” attitude and saddled up accordingly. In the Ginza restaurant, it was served in a hollowed out bamboo tube, sooooo… I had a sensible three.
Hence all the giggling about the “lover” incident, which in my defense is still hilarious.
Oh, and that also explains the conversation I tried to have with the Australian sisters. That, and the fact that I spend so little of my time now interacting with native speakers. I wind up either spouting flowery blog-speak or stuttering pause-ridden monosyllables.
Them: “Oh, yes, lovely to meet you, we’re traveling here from Queensland.”
Me: “Oh! Hi… oh… um.
Mary and Max? Movie! You sound like her.”
For crying out loud, it’s not even grammatically correct…
Wow, yesterday seems so far away. I had art class in the morning, which was miserable because we had to show our work and say nice things about it, and I don’t have anything nice to say about my artwork, like ever. Then there was that “head and shoulders being really far away from my knees and toes” debacle. And, of course, there were the visits to other classrooms where they asked the same old, same old questions about my height, my marital status, and which Star Wars character is my favorite.
Han Solo, obviously. Although I saw a Darth Tater in the toy store yesterday and really appreciated the combo of the Empire and Mr. Potato Head.
Regardless, I think the most interesting part of the day was lunch. The whole lunch process here is still fascinating to me and I can’t believe I haven’t described it yet. For starters, we don’t eat until 1 p.m. and at that point, I’m slavering for anything you want to throw at me and have to physically hold myself back from biting someone. Especially since the kids start getting it ready at 12:40, and you have to just sit there and watch as things are equally parceled out. Yes, the kids do it all. They retrieve a cart full of lunch, trays, and utensils, roll it back to the classroom- no special cafeteria here- then dish out the goods to the rest of the students and teachers. Everybody waits until everybody’s served, they yell “itadakimas!” in scripted unison, and then boom: culinary chaos while everyone dives in.
The sheer amount of food on each tray boggles the noggin. On a typical day, I get a mound of rice that could hide a melon, a chunk of protein with some side veggies, and a steaming bowl of soup. Oh, plus the weird milky drink they serve here. Think I can chopstick that into my gullet in the mere fifteen minutes I’m allotted? Think again, Sayama-san. I generally heave my face as close to the tray as I can manage and have at it, picking up the soup bowl and slurping directly from the rim as etiquette mercifully dictates.
I’m afraid to leave any crumbs behind, either, because it seems that’s just not done here. I always leave stuffed to the gills, and- hey- I didn’t even mean to make a fish joke! (Yes I did.) Seriously, I eat so much fish here… often three meals a day. I keep waiting for the gray matter to expand accordingly, but have not, thus far, seen evidence to support.
Face-stuffing usually does not leave room for talking, which is fine, because we only have about sixteen words anyway in the middle of our linguistic Venn diagram. Yesterday, however, the protein portion was something that looked like a chicken parm sandwich and “whew,” I thought, “I can eat that with my hands! Maybe I’ll have time to relax and attempt a convo!”
I activated my munch mandibles and quickly polished off what turned out to be a sweet chili squidburger. Oddly delicious, too, which was a shame because I didn’t have to throw it up and use the “release the kraken!” pun that only just now occurred to me.
Unfortunately, this did in fact leave plenty of room for talking, and a nutcase ninth grader named Negi- I think, though I can’t call him that out loud that for fear of the Paula Deen media police- refused to leave me alone. He didn’t speak; he shouted. HE SHOUTED EVERYTHING! VELY VELY GOOD! VELY GOOD SQUIDBURGER, CALOLINE-SENSEI! DO YOU RIKE? DO YOU RIKE? SQUIDBURGER, YAHHHHHHH, CAROLINE-SENSEI!
This l/r thing is killing me. I totally understand it because I can’t say, “arigato, heyyyyyy!” properly, but the mistakes I hear (and see… check this thing out!)
are still, at times, really funny.
I don’t like to believe this is true, but I read somewhere that if the brain isn’t exposed to a particular sound in the first few years of life, it’ll close off certain channels and never be able to hear or effectively replicate that sound. So since I only had an ABC childhood, anything in another language will forever be phonetically inaccessible. You can teach me how to arrange my lips and tongue correctly, but my brain can’t distinguish the resulting noises from sounds I grew up with, so proper pronunciation is a crapshoot. Drop me into the Kalahari for a bushman visit and I’ll love you forever, but I’m damned if I can ever do that clicking.
It’s the same thing with the Japanese l and r. I can logically understand when people can’t hear the difference, and I can recognize that I’m doing essentially the same thing myself. I’ll just never stop laughing when they bust out unexpectedly from the supply closet in that Weird Al movie and happily yell “supplies!”
Anyway, lunch eventually ended and Negi went away to do his job. The kids have to clean everything, too, which is refreshing. It’s also freakin’ adorable when I’m headed downstairs and pass a bunch of little first graders alternately sweeping the halls with child-sized brooms and diving with their wipe cloths like the floor is some kind of slip ‘n’ slide.
Lunch marked the end of my school day because the assistant superintendent gave us the afternoon off, probably in recognition that the two hours of stand-and-deliver teachers’ meetings would be a colossal waste of our time. That’s how I came to leave school early and the four of us found ourselves in Ginza.
Ginza. How do I describe this? It’s pretty lush. Very swanky New Yorky, and it was clear to me that I should have done a bit of research before flip-flopping my way down the ave in my v-neck tee and denim. The Cartier building was gold. The Swarovski one was dazzling crystalline. Louis Vuitton was there, Vera Wang… essentially anyone you see in a Vogue spread. It was kind of an alien world to me because my closest association with haute couture is when Miss Piggy says “I want be a high fashion model!” in the Great Muppet Caper, or maybe when Tyra makes them booty tootch. Bottom line is that I was happy when our destination was a toy store and then eating. Masterful eggy thing, too: my compliments to that tavern’s version of Mr. Boyardee.
And today, I’m back in school.
I found myself in third grade again, and was surprised to get my first hug in the better part of two weeks. This kid actually climbed me like a monkey on a pole to get his arms about my neck, and two little girls grabbed a hand apiece to lead me into the room. They were my artist friends from the leaf sketch day, and I was gratified to learn that I’d made an impression.
Holy boring asking them if they liked coffee for a half an hour, though. How is that an appropriate conversation for an 8 year old? Some lessons are weird here.
My next block- with the ninth graders- was an unmitigated disaster. Unbeknownst to me, I was supposed to create and deliver the entire fifty minutes myself. Since I’d been under the impression that I was to introduce Maine in a 10-minute slide show, that’s what I did. Well, it totally fell flat and the next forty minutes were amongst the most awkward and horrible of my heretofore blessedly cricket-free existence. Really, teacher, you’re not going to rescue me on this? I asked for questions to fill the time- hoping against hope I’d understand their accents- and nobody, not one person! spoke up for a solid five minutes. The entire rest of the class went the same. Absolutely terrible.
This doesn’t happen to me in the States. I mean, shoot, I can talk about anything. All of my students can attest to fact that we’ll go off-topic at the drop of a hat and I’ll wax poetic on space, evolution, anthropology, Genghis Kahn- whatever, really- as long as they’re learning and it’s interesting. We once spent an entire 45 minutes on the etymology of homosexuality because why not? They asked, and it’s socially significant. Those kinds of days are when I really love my job.
(Okay, so it’s not in the curriculum. I’m not fired, though, right? Nobody send this to Steve.)
Anyway, I couldn’t do that here. I mean, I could have spouted off in English, but I thought that might have been more awkward, so I just stood there muttering and waiting for their real teacher to jump in with something more textbook.
Did. Not. Happen.
Luckily I had some prep time before delivering what was intended to be an identical lesson, so I turned the thing into a Jeopardy game. Sooooo much better but ugh, what a bad taste in my mouth about that first one.
After lunch I had some blog time, then wove my way around meandering hallways, up three flights of stairs past the dojo, then down three more flights to the pool.
Did you hear that, you guys? There’s a dojo here! I had to look it up, actually, but I just know Dwight Schrute would have a field day. I need someone to teach me to be a martial artisan now.
So back to the pool, which was interesting, too. It was girls day, so they all dressed in one of two acceptable but equally stodgy swim uniforms and donned yellow caps and their goggles. My English teacher explained to me that the entire floor of the Olympic-sized pool can be mechanically adjusted by height, so for these seventh graders they’d dropped it a bit, though they’d raise it again when elementary students came back in. Honestly if someone had described it to me before seeing it, I would’ve been all “hahaha! That’s an awesome idea!” but dismissed it as hypothetical in the same way I might dismiss, for example, time travel.
It was really very cool, though.
Oh, my gosh, are they playing cricket outside?! No, shoot, it’s just creative baseball. I think I’m heading out anyway, though, because little people are funny.
And maybe later I’ll discover some time travel. Take back a can of that sake, yes?