Monday, October 09, 2006

If I were an African, I'd smack that kid

On Friday I was teaching a second-year writing class with another teacher on the subjunctive mood (ex: if I were you, I would...). The writing class is filled with kids who, rather than simply providing simple answers, try their best to come up with something amusing and unexpected each time. To give you an idea of what it's like, both Duckboy and the sagely Life=Happiness Music kid are in the class.

We're calling on students for example sentences using the subjunctive mood. The depressing answer of the day is the completion of the phrase, "If my father had more free time.." with "he could be working harder." Wow, sucks to be your dad, you little authoritarian prick. But generally, we get innocuous answers like "If I had enough money, I would buy a big house." and "If I had enough time, I would want to play soccer." Fair enough, I think.

Then the sage raises his hand and volunteers his sentence:

"If I were an African, I would hunt animals."

I go over to make sure that he actually wrote down what he just said.

Yeah, he did write and say that.

Meanwhile there is little response from the rest of the class, and as I turn around I realize the teacher has just gone ahead and written down his answer on the board. I roll my eyes and take this opportunity to teach the kid a couple of pertinent English words by leaning over to type into his electronic dictionary: "S-T-E-R-E-O-T-Y-P-E." and "I-G-N-O-R-A-N-T." as in, "If I were you, I'd be embarrassed as your stereotype shows how ignorant you are." I write this on the board and make a mental note to ask their social studies teacher to maybe point out next class that not all Africans are currently hunter-gatherers.

Later in class, I realize that they've all just copied down what I wrote on the board as if it was another example sentence from the textbook, missing the point entirely. JET internationalization fails again.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Designated carpool

Last week we had the sports festival at school. Last year, I was excited to see all the kids out in their teams with their different colored shirts running around. This year, I stayed inside and read so I wouldn't get sunburned. Some things get old quickly.

It's quite a big event though; all of the students at the school have to participate in some capacity, and it goes on for the entire school day. The P.E. teachers have to plan and run the whole thing, so after a long day of work, they do what people do in Japanese workplaces everywhere - go out and get drunk. And I don't mean "a few beers with the boys" drunk, I mean "passing out in your suit on a bench in the train station" drunk.

The next morning, after getting out the shower I notice I got a call from my neighbor, one of the aforementioned teachers. I'm surprised because - though I often call him when it rains to get a ride to school - he has never once phoned me. I call him back.

Me: Good morning!
Teacher: RUKAS~! (He seems to really love yelling my name like this) Good morning.
Me: You called me?
Teacher: Ah...yes. I was going to ask you, can you drive a car?
Me: Huh? Yeah...Why?
Teacher: So, last night, after sports day, I had a drinking party with the other P.E. teachers...
Me: Ah, good work on sports day.
Teacher: Thanks...well, I had a bit too much to drink last night.
Me: Well, are you okay?
Teacher: Yes, but I'm still a little drunk, actually.
Me: (Pause) Umm, okay...
Teacher: So, would you mind driving me to school in my car?
Me: (Pause to laugh really hard)...Sure, no problem.

So, I go down and he's sitting in the passenger seat of his car with the car running, waiting for me. I jump in and we head off to school. He tells me he got home really late the night before after too many beers, and decided it wouldn't be safe for him to drive himself to work. On one level, I think this is responsible and admirable, as drunk driving is alarmingly commonplace - both in frequency and level of acceptance - in Japan. Of course, on another level, he is going to work drunk. And on another, more hilariously terrible level, he is going to teach at a school drunk!

I laugh about this the entire trip, even more as he keeps giving me directions on how to get there; I feign surprise and gratitude when he tells me where to turn to get into the parking lot. Sure, it's ridiculous, but I'm thinking about this too much as an American. There, this kind of thing would be considered alcoholism and could get you fired. Here, they hold drinking parties at least twice a term which all teachers are required to attend - and the hundreds of bottles of Kirin there are all paid for by the school.

In the end, I just laughed and told him to just stand out on the field during class with his sunglasses on and his arms crossed till he sobered up. After all, he's just a P.E. teacher; that's basically all he does every day anyway.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Everything true and real

The beginning of the school year here means another 400 speeches for me to attempt to correct. When fortune smiles upon me, I just have countless speeches about club activities with simple grammatical and spelling mistakes to make it through. These depress me terribly, because they prove how terribly depressing most of the kids' lives are - even during summer they spend too much time studying and doing club activities and don't see their friends - but at least I can slog through them. Sometimes I am hit by a paper that is basically indecipherable; it looks like it has been translated word for word from Japanese to English, despite the complete lack of structural affinity of the two languages; it contains bizarre sentences without subjects or objects that I cannot conceive of; it is still written partly in Japanese that I have to then translate. These take much longer to get through, because they often seem to have been penned by Gollum, all sentences with off-putting subjects ("It tires," "It hurts us", "It eats well,") possessing that same structure of a maniacal rant struck down on paper.

Then there are the fantastic ones like this (Please click on the picture and read). He begins talking about how he loves music, which I appreciate, and then starts talking about how his favorite kind of music is hip-hop. Any kid who doesn't listen to Japanese Pop is cool to me, but then he ups the ante by dropping the name of Jay-Z. The rest of the essay is just pure gold. This is my favorite type of writing I get from students, because it is simply non-reproducible by a native speaker. Freed from an understanding of diction, style, and often grammar itself, and the burdens those things may impose, the Japanese students seem to be able to do things unintentionally with English that are both hilarious and novel.

There are some great lines: "His rap is smooth just like a flowing river," and the songs "have the samurai spirit." But, my favorite part has to be when he writes, "the words of [his] songs [are] everything true and real."

I believe what he meant is, "Everything Jay-Z says in his songs is true and real." But, instead of that stolid phrase, he says the words themselves are everything true and real. He's not talking about the veracity of Jay-Z's experiences, but claiming that the words of Jay-Z represent, perhaps even create, truth and reality in themselves! What made me laugh even more than this, was that it almost sounded like something Jay-Z himself would say; it's the kind of self-aggrandizing lyric a rapper would wish he'd written.

Long story short, I gave this guy high marks and told him I expected a report on the meaning of the song "Girls, Girls, Girls" next week.