Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Boyfriend of the bride

A couple weeks ago, I decided to go into Tokyo to see Maiko model, since it might be the last chance for me to catch her in a show. She will start working at JAL in April and is unsure if she'll continue taking modeling jobs. I took the train into Tokyo in the morning and met up with her parents, also there to watch, at the hotel where the show was being held.

I was really looking forward to seeing her in the show, except for a little thing that made me uneasy. It was a bridal show.

As if that weren't enough, it was a bridal show I was to attend along with Maiko's parents.

So I'm sitting there in the ballroom of a hotel next to Maiko's mother and father, waiting for the show to start. The head of her modeling agency comes out to introduce the show, but this becomes a 30 minute presentation by him, because he's a former model and an insanely self-absorbed primadonna. I know he's a former model because he took pains to mention that 20 times during his presentation, prefacing almost any comment he made with "When I was a model..." His presentation, by the way, was on how to be a beautiful bride, which I suppose he is eminently qualified to lecture on, being an unmarried man. The best part was when he demonstrated the "sexy" way for a women to walk, swinging his hips side-to-side. This may or may not be sexy if a woman were to do it, but it is certainly embarrassing, even to witness, for a man.

Finally, his fawning for attention at an end, he brought out the models. They came down the middle of the room, did a turn, walked back halfway and crossed in either direction. The accompanying music was a pounding and confusing mix of disparate styles only connected by their origin outside of Japan and general awfulness. (This following the general trend of Japanese to throw all western music together under one umbrella - literally, if you go to a record store you might just find a giant "Western Music" section - ignoring not just genre differences but huge gaps in time. Only in Japan can you listen to the radio and hear a playlist combine Led Zeppelin, The Arcade Fire, Michael Jackson, and Kanye West into one show. Nobody else seems to notice, which is what makes me suspect they are ignoring it the same way they are pachinko parlors and the guys yelling on the trains)

Anyways, to this painful amalgamation of noise came the models themselves, wearing a series of dresses I would categorize as alternately baffling and excessive. I could hardly conceive someone walking around in these, let alone down the aisle. The first batch were all in different colors: yellow, orange, red, blue and green. Some looked like the product of a bride with unfortunate taste for her bridesmaids. Another, pictured in red, resembles nothing as much as a flamenco dancer.

Later, for the non-Spanish virgin Japanese brides, I suppose, more normal white dresses were featured. During this portion of the show I became intensely aware of not looking at the models in the wrong way. First, I felt rather guilty ogling women openly when my girlfriend and her mother were nearby, even if it was a modeling show and I was supposed to look them up and down. Second, it made me vaguely uncomfortable to be staring at women wearing wedding dresses. I mean, it seemed like there is something essentially wrong with looking at a bride so closely; you don't sit in the church at the bride walking down the aisle and check her out.

Maiko came out in three different dresses, finishing in an ensemble with some sort of veil. Her mother is elbowing me and saying, "Wow, doesn't Maiko make a beautiful bride!" I choke on my water a little, and offer up, "Well, yes...but I think maybe she looks a little too young to be wearing that dress, don't you?"

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

My underhair

So, along the lines of the previous post about fascination with my hair. This week in the aforementioned homeroom, all the kids were working on skits in pairs at their desks, which mostly involves them chatting with each other and me periodically yelling at them from my desk to shut up and practice. A girl from the English club, Azusa, and her partner were particularly loud, whispering to each other and breaking out into fits of giggles with their hands over their mouths. Finally, I had to ask Azusa what their problem was. Apparently, her partner, Marina, kept trying to get Azusa to ask me a question for her, since Azusa knows me personally from our club activity. Azusa wouldn't, explaining she was worried if she asked me I would get really angry at her.

I roll my eyes at her. I have had many similar experiences during my first week at the school, in which students would take 10 minutes of frenzied conferencing, agonzing, and prodding until one would work up the courage, flushing deep red, to ask me something as innocuous as, "Do you have a girlfriend?" To get them to go back to work, I just told Marina she could ask me whatever she wanted. I figure I can't be embarassed, angered, or shocked by anything this girl might ask. After repeatedly assurances, Marina came up to the front of the class where I was sitting.

She dances around for a while in anxiety about asking her question, looking back frequently at her friends and wringing her hands. Finally, she takes a deep breath, gathers her strength, leans in and, pointing at my golden arm hair, asks quietly, "Is your underhair gold?" I get really confused at first, and repeat, "My underhair?" She makes her meaning clear by again saying, "Gold?" this time while pointing directly at my crotch.

I laugh at this, because I mean, sure she's being rude - especially to ask this of a teacher - but when I look up into her eyes I see no guile, just doe-eyed curiousity. And, I did foolishly insist she could "ask anything." Of course, I refuse to answer though, because this is hardly the kind of thing I should be discussing in class, aside from the fact that I don't like being treated like a circus animal.

L: "I'm not answering that."
M: "But you said I could ask anything!"
L: "You can ask, yes, but I never said I would answer. (I pat myself on the back mentally for this rejoinder) Why do you want to know anyway?"
M: "Hmm...because I want to learn about different cultures?"
L: "Marina, you know this is not a cultural question.
(Her response actually causes me to choke on a laugh because it's an unexpectedly witty response and I'm trying to be serious. I decide to play a card to end the discussion)
L: "No, I think it's just you being a little eroi (perverted)"

As intended, Marina goes crimson, drops the subject, and runs back to hide at her seat. Azusa and several other students are just in hysterics having been watching the whole time. The Japanese teacher, having overheard only the laughter, comes by and asks me what's going on. I shake my head, tell him it's nothing, and try to move on with the class.

After the bell rings Marina comes up with a worried look and asks me in her little Japanese voice, quaking, "Adams-sensei, do you hate me now?" I tell her no, of course, patting her on the shoulder with the general admonition to try to be a little more aware of boundaries of politeness. She nods and heads off and I try to laugh off the whole thing.

But in my mind she has left me with a suspicion that every student I see harbors the same curiosity in their mind each time I walk into the classroom.

So yeah, go JET program.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Class Pet

One of the homerooms I teach, 15 homeroom, is pretty much notorious among all the first-year teachers. Any teacher on their way to the classroom is sure to be trudging heavily and shaking their head. When we had a teaching evaluation last month, my teacher lied to the principal and vice-principal about when she was available simply so they wouldn't end up watching her teach that class. Simply saying the name of the homeroom causes teachers to roll their eyes and emit a collective sigh.

The main reason for their communal angst is just a number of noisy girls in the class. They talk loudly in class, wear their skirts too short, and constantly interrupt to ask questions wildly unrelated to anything going on at the time. The attached picture was taken when I caught a few of these girls after school rummaging through a boys desk, reading his papers, and writing a letter to him telling him about all these embarrassing things they found (I say "caught" in the sense of "watched them do it and took a picture while laughing"). One of the girls takes special pleasure in going into the teachers office between classes and basically bullying this 35 year-old math teacher who is clearly uncomfortable dealing with women. I mean, not bad kids by American standards, but they certainly blow carefully organized Japanese classes to hell.

I, however, have no problems with the class. Like I've said before, behavior disruptive in other classes can be easily guided into oral communication activities, people who aren't shy about being loud also aren't shy about speaking out or answering questions, and the kids are in general just a welcome change for me from those that I have to basically grab by the scruff of the neck to get to acknowledge my presence in the room. I also seemed to have tamed the class to a degree - noticed by the teachers - by way of having some girls develop crushes on me.

For example, while correcting skits the other day, I am inviting the students in their groups of 2 or 3 to come up to the desk so I can correct their scripts. As I read over it, I make corrections and offer them suggestions. One girl just stares at me transfixed the entire time with her mouth agape. Finally, I ask her what's wrong. Continuing to gaze into my eyes, she just cooes, "Adams-Sensei, your eyes are soooo blue!"

Then again, there is a fine line sometimes between this adoration and a fascination more of the freak-show variety. Another girl in the class is just endlessly amazed at my arm hair. Japanese people, in general, don't have much body hair - on their limbs, at least. During the very first class I had with this homeroom, I knelt down at her desk to help her with a problem, and as I try to walk her through the answer, I realize that she is not listening at all, just looking down at my arm. After gaping at my arm for a while, and slowly moving her hand closer and closer, she is now in fact petting my arm hair. This takes a second for me to process, until shaking my head clear I ask her, "What do you think you're doing!?" She raises her eyes, which are open wide with wonder, near crying in awe and, continuing to run her fingers over my forearm, whispers,

"Adams-Sensei...your GOLD!

After clarifying that I am not a dog, I take my arm back. Still, she tries every week to run her hands through my forearm hair, pretending to have questions and calling me over just for that moment to reach out and stroke my apparently golden forearm mane with the excitement of a girl and her beloved pony.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Snapshot of Today

Snapshots from today:

In class, students are working in pairs preparing a skit; writing, asking for pronounciation and practicing. I'm walking around the room helping them out when I find this girl's bag. The bag is in the colors of the Jamaican flag, with CANNABIS written right under a large picture of a marijuana leaf. I kind of do a double-take, and then laugh and ask if I can take a picture. (She responds by looking down, because she's embarassed. This is why there are so few pictures of students on the blog; it's certainly not from lack of trying, just that putting lots of shots of black hair face down on a desk adds little to a story) She eventually ventures a question of why I'm laughing. I ask her if she knows what "cannabis" is. She doesn't, she confers with several friends, they don't either. I tell her it's the latin word for the plant that produces marijuana. She doesn't know what that is either. Rolling my eyes and changing gears, I ask why she bought the bag in the first place. She says her friend got it for her because it was "so colorful and adorable." The teacher in the class, coming over to see what we're chatting about, hears this part and agrees, "What a cute bag!!!"

Incidentally, students are constantly using multiple exclamation points in their papers, which I always erase down to one or just a period. Recently I've started thinking that maybe the way they talk really does require this sort of emphasis though.

Grading papers from students on the topic of "What country do you want to visit most?" I find in this informal survey of 200 second year students that an alarmingly large amount of Japanese kids age 16 or 17 years old polled, think:
1. Americans are tall simply because they eat so much beef
2. The two main tourist attractions in the US are: the Statue of Liberty and cornfields
3. London, New York, Alaska, Hawaii, and Africa are all countries

Incidentally, the kid who wanted to visit the "country" of Africa was - and this is a direct quotation - "particularly interested in running with cheetahs." (emphasis mine) I understand that students here in Japan - and in the US too, of course - have a limited, if not myopic, worldview, but I would hope this guy would know that if he ever does get close to a cheetah on the African Steppe, the last thing he'd want to do would be to provoke its hunting instincts by galloping past at full speed.

Later, chatting with the Beach Boys Sensei about a poem, another English teacher comes up to use the printer. He studied abroad for a year in college, and loves using profanity. He especially likes saying "fucking," which he pronounces more like "fuh - KING" with a stop in the middle and the second part almost spit out. He also hates working, or perhaps loves talking about how much he hates working. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) he really doesn't know how to use profanity. So this conversation ensues between these two Japanese men in suits with tweed sweaters, one in his late 30's and one in his 50's:

Sensei 2: "Hey, what's fucking?"
Beach Boys Sensei: "Ah...(decides to respond in kind)...I don't...fucking know."
S2: "Fuck! This school is bitch!"
BBS: "Who's the fucking bitch?"
S2: "Bitch! Fucking tired."
BBS: "Are you smoking marijuana?"
S2: "No, I am sober, but this fucking school! Fucking tired. Well, see you later."

Then he walks back to his desk, and the other teacher resumes talking to me without skipping a beat. Nobody else minds either, not understanding any of it - in fact, several look at me strangely for laughing.

Life=Happiness Music?

I forgot a key story from the day Matt came to school:

As Matt and I walked down the stairs outside of the English room, we came upon a student of mine, who yelps "Oh!" upon seeing us and stands transfixed for a bit with his feet on different steps in between strides before deciding to stay and chat.

This is a profoundly strange kid. I love this kid because he always tries to talk to me outside class, even if what he says makes no sense at all, which is most all of the time. Often I get the feeling he is just speaking to me in disjointed sentences directly stripped from his textbook and their context therein. He also wears a printed hawaiian shirt underneath his school uniform every day for some reason. (As an interesting side note, it's likely that all of the best students in my oral communications class are off-kilter in one way or another; the average Japanese kid is rather unwilling or afraid to participate on an individual level, let alone talk to me outside of class. Only the kids who just don't care are fully comfortable speaking out)

So I ask the kid, "What's up?"
"AH! Ahhh....yes," he replies, fully in agreement with whatever I said in his head, "Good job!"
"What? Good job?" I ask, "I said 'what's up'; I'm asking how you are."
"Yes, yes, yes!" he exclaims in glee, as if to let us know that there is nothing he is more keenly aware of than this exchange, his eyes open wide. He looks quickly from side to side and, leaning in as if to impart to us a great secret, he begins in a whisper:
- I crane forward to catch these seemingly vital words -
" happiness music."
Finishing, he nods his head in satisfaction, basking in his own beneficence after laying this deep insight at our feet.
I am less impressed, "Dude, what the hell are you talking about?"
"Oh, oh oh oh!" he replies, and with a triumphant flourish of his hands, exclaims, "Good luck!"

And, such blessed with his benediction on our way to enlightenment, we stand stock still as he brushes past us up the stairs, mission accomplished: another two souls saved.

I am just really amused, since I am used to this sort of regular insanity from students. Matt is rather confused through this whole conversation, and I have to repeat it for him to confirm that it did in fact happen, and that was definitely what the kid said. He made sure to write it down, so this wisdom could be preserved and passed on.