Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Tired ape

Most kids at school don't ever talk to me outside of class. Really, there are probably less than 10 that ever do talk to me on their own. 10 out of 400 of students I teach, or 10 out of 1200 total. There are however a lot of kids who yell "HELLO!" in hideously accented English at me every time they pass me in the hallway, at least 10 a day. But that doesn't count.

One, I don't think it counts because it isn't really a word at all since it sounds an awful lot more like "HARROW!" (rhyming with "borrow") Also, I don't like to count this because it depresses me deeply that after 3-6 years of English education, nigh every student in the school is incapable of pronouncing the absolute first word you should learn in an English class. I mean, that's the first day. You shouldn't be able to get through that day without being able to say "Hello". I just get the feeling the class went more like this:

Teacher: "Hello class"
Students (in unison): "HARROW!"
Teacher: "Hello!"
Students: "HARROW!"
Teacher: "No, no, no...He-llo"
Students: "Harrow?"
Teacher: "(sigh)...Alright, fine, "Harrow", whatever."

Then everyone gave up on pronunciation forever.

Anyways, this isn't just me making fun of kids for not being able to pronounce English words. While every greeting is a bold declaration of the failure of the educational system and a great blow to any confidence I have towards making a difference, I think we all know from years of stereotyping that Japanese people have problems with L's and R's. What really disturbs me about the kids yelling the word at me is the way in which they act saying it. I am not sure exactly what this signifies. The simple explanation is that they are just so pleased at themselves for saying something in English that they are just giggling with a mixture of pride and embarassment for taking the chance. But, I also question whether they are really trying to communicate at all.

Sometimes, I watch a group of girls draw near, and as a single one approaches me to yell "Harro!" and wave frantically in my face, running back to the safety of the group, watching my reaction with supreme fascination and anticipation, I wonder if this greeting is really not more akin to people yelling at a some great ape in the zoo, except this ape curiously can be found loping around the hallways of the school. I am the orangutan that students notice while walking with their friends, the gorilla with almost-human expressions and features. For the amusement of said friends, one intrepid student imitates noises to try to draw the beast out. Of course, they can't mimic the sounds exactly, but perhaps one comes close enough that the simian recognizes in the mockery a echoing of its own language (which is, of course, a mystery to this student and his or her friends), and - this is almost too much for them to bear - it evens attempts to reply in this mysterious primate tongue! Having accomplished their goal and all having had a good laugh, the students move on, leaving the ape where they found him, waiting for a conversation that will not come.

After about 10 of these a day, the ape often feels like pounding his head on the glass a bit. He understands why the gorilla at the San Diego Zoo liked to sit with his back to the glass; so he could ignore the people outside gesturing and yelling widly in an attempt to provoke him into acting like the dumb animal that he surely is.


Jess Porter said...

NY Times has been a consistently satisfying source of travel tips for me too-

"I've got moves out the ying yang- If we were some Chinese symbol of life and death- I'd be out of it!"
-Luke Adams 12:33pm 12-16-2001

Matty said...

Always a good laugh that little shit Kim LI in Team America...ha!
That sucks you feel isolated now, soooooo it has turned from a celebrity status to monkey business?