Thursday, February 15, 2007

Santa's Visit

I've been quite lax in my writing lately; not out of nothing to say so far as less time to do so. And, a seeming inability to write on a constant basis. I was home over Christmas and then, after returning to Japan, immediately went off to Cambodia. After coming back from Cambodia I went right back to work - literally, going directly from the airport to school to teach a class. Now I'm trying to interview for jobs in Tokyo so I can move there after my JET contract ends in August. Things have happened, certainly, but these Things get away from me as I put off jotting down stories for another day, which becomes another week, which has become now two months. So, as a stopgap, here is this:

It's speech time again at school. The speeches last semester (last year as well for that matter, though I can't hold this year's students responsible for the ineptitude of their predecessors) were so uniformly awful - in the sense of being awful by virtue of extreme uniformity - that this time kids were required to submit their draft to the teacher before the speech even got to me. The teacher was supposed to reject outright any speeches that were too boring or ordinary, forcing the students to come up with original ideas.

So, that worked, in a way. By and large, the speeches were much less about club activities or the need to study - the mainstays of last semester. And they were more original. One kid talked about how much he loves Rage Against the Machine - even rapping a few of the lines from "Bulls on Parade." (With a solemn expression, he recited, "Weapons not food not homes not shoes / Not need, just feed the war cannibal animal" and then simply announced, "I heard these words and knew they were very true.")

Sometimes their originality left me with some questions about their general mindset. For example, this girl's speech. It starts off with her saying she used to believe in Santa, and one time she saw him. "Oh, that's cute," I thought. I would ask that you click on the image and read how the speech develops from there.

First, this girl is 16. Not only does she still believe in Santa Clause, but she actually does believe that Santa came to her house to take a piss. I talked to her about it when she gave the speech. She insisted.
Second, in what kind of magical Christmas story does Santa take a piss in your house? I'm pretty sure there aren't any carols or claymation specials about Santa sneaking in and leaving that kind of present; even the Grinch stayed clear of that. Even surrounded by bright blue smoke, that's still not a sight to inspire wonder or the spirit of the holidays.
Third, if Santa did come to your house just to take a piss, would it really be something to be so happy about? Something that would fill you with longing and regret that he didn't return to soil your house again with his steaming, yuletide urine?
Fourth, isn't the whole idea of this kind of unsettling? It conjours up thoughts for me of vagrants wandering into her house, or perhaps an alcoholic father stumbling around in the dark.

Other times, the push for originality seemed to result in the students becoming more unhinged than usual. Asking a lot of these kids to write something individual on any topic they like is akin to suddenly releasing animals raised in captivity into the wild veldt; pushed out of the metaphorical cage of their completely structured educational system, shocked by their freedom of expression, freezing stock-still and unable to write at all, or racing off across the fields on some bizarre tangent of communication.

Like this guy. Sandwiched in between the opening and closing lines here is a completely normal speech. That opening line, however, is "I will cause a revolution next year." I read onward to learn of what this kid's plan might be, but to no avail. He just talks about studying and playing basketball. Then the revolution rears its head again. He admits that "causing a revolution is difficult for me" (and I think we've all been there before!) but assures with confidence, "but I will cause a revolution."

When I get speeches like this, I usually pepper them with question marks and send them back to the kid to explain. When it's something I want to hear though, I just leave it, wait for the kid to give the speech, and enjoy the show. They stand up in front of the class and say the most insane things with no comprehension of their meaning. A student declares "I will cause a revolution," but as I break into laughter, he only crinkles his brow slightly before going on, a bit befuddled by my reaction but otherwise unaffected. The rest of his classmates turn back as well to see me laughing, but just shake their heads at me in incomprehension, since they don't understand what the speaker is saying any more than he does.