Sep

27

Little slice of my life for you

1.

Student 1 is very typical. He tells me he is an engineer, working at his company for the past ten years. 

Me: Do you like your job?

Him: No! I hate. I’m boring. Almost I talk with no humans every day. Just only me, computer, and messages. No humans. So hard, so boring.

Me: Ah, that’s tough. That’s why I like teaching. You talk to many people every day…Have you ever thought of teaching? Like, teaching engineering?

Him: Eh…Actually, I want to do something different. Not related to engineering at all.

Me: Oh. Like what?

Him: I don’t know.

Me: Do you have any hobbies?

Him: That’s my problem. I haven’t found a hobby yet. Only gambling. I like sports gambling.

Me: Hm, I see.

Him: …

Me: …

Me: …Anyway, this lesson is called “Have you ever lived in another country?” So, by the way, have you?

Him: Yes, I lived in Australia for a year when I was 25. “Working Holiday Visa.” 

Me: Oh, great!

Him: I was still in university and I wanted to discover myself.

Me: Oh nice! How did you like it?

Him: Horrible!

Me: Oh no!

Him: There were no convenience stores anywhere.

Me: Wow.

Him: Yes. They had only orange trees.

Me: Really! Orange trees? 

Him: Imagine a place the size of Atsugi City, and only orange trees.

Me: Wow. What was your job there?

Him: I was picking oranges on an orange farm. 

Me: Ahhh.

Him: As I told you, I wanted to discover myself. 

Me: Right…did you?

Him: Oh yes. I discovered I should return to Japan and work in an office.


2.

Next I had my student from the Portland Movement (PM) fame. As I mentioned, he is obsessed with the American-Portland/Brooklyn aesthetic and is renovating his office (a printing company that his father founded) slowly in a Portland style. The first project was installing beams and a garage style door on the office front. Now he is redoing the bathroom. He explains to me that he doesn’t do the plumbing himself. He’s just the designer.

PM: I have a question for you. What do you think of the bathrooms in Japan?

Me: Um…right. Well they’re very different, aren’t they?

PM: Right. Very different from bathrooms in the US. So what do you think? Have you used a toilet like this? 

(He draws the toilet that’s just a hole in the ground)

Me: Ah, yes, hehe, yes I have.

PM: And like this? (He draws the more tricked out toilets that are typical)

Me: Oh yes. They’re very nice.

Him: But what do you think of the materials. What were your first impressions?

Me: Well, at first they reminded me of airplane bathrooms. (The walls, flooring, and hardware in Japanese bathrooms, for some reason, are fully plastic—even in a nice hotel). It’s very sanitary though, so I like that.

Him: I see. What do you think of tile?

Me: I love tile. 

Him: Me too. Is hexagonal tile typical in New York?

Me: I’m not sure. There’s something called ‘subway tile’ that I know is popular, and it’s based on what they use in the subway, but I think that’s rectangles. 

Him: Subway tile! I’m using that for the walls. The floors will be hexagonal tile.

Me: Wow! Sounds amazing. (I am being totally sincere. As nice as the bidet, the bird song sound effects, and the ‘powerful deodorizer’ functions are on the toilets, I would literally kill to step into a tile and porcelain bathroom again. It feels so luxurious.)

Him: And let me ask you something else. What do you think of bathtubs that look like this?

(He sketches the shape of a claw-foot tub)

Me: Oooo, I love them.

Him: Is this typical in America?

Me: Not typical, no. It’s kind of special. But I always wanted one.

Him: I really like this tub. But there’s something I can’t understand about it.

Me: What’s that?

(He points with his pen to the space under the tub, between the floor and the basin that is elevated by the claw feet.)

Him: When the bath is over, and you want the water to go out. How? How does it get out?

Me: Wow. (I’m picturing like a claw foot tub on pinterest that’s in the middle of a room. And I’m like… …) That’s a really good question. Oh my god. I have no idea. What? (I’m turning the picture he drew around and around) You know, I’ve literally never thought about that before. Maybe it goes through the foot. (WTF am I saying????) I’m sorry. I have to look this up for you after class.

Now that the tough questions are over for a minute, we start talking about his strategies for learning English. He wants to know if when I listen to American music, I can understand the words.

Me: Well not always, of course. Sometimes I don’t really listen to the words. But if it’s my favorite artist, I like to know, so I’ll look the lyrics up online if I can’t hear them.

Him: I see. Ok, so it’s the same for Japanese music.

Me: Yes…I imagine it’s not too different.

Him: I listen to American music sometimes.

Me: Oh, great! So you can look the lyrics up online, like on Genius or something if you can’t catch them. Sometimes I do that.

Him: I have one more question. What does ‘alternative’ mean?

Me: Oh, it means ‘different.’

Him: But it’s a music genre, isn’t it?

Me: Oh yes, that’s right. ‘Alternative rock’ is a music genre.

Him: What is it?

Me: Oh Jesus. Oh God. Um, you know, I think it’s from the Nineties. Um. Let’s see. I need to ask my husband this for you. I’m not, like, an expert. But, I think it means it sounds a little lo-fi.

Him: What does lo-fi mean?

Me: Oh no. (why did I say that?). Like, low quality, maybe? 

Him: Low quality??

Me: No no, sorry, no, not low quality. Maybe it’s not made by a corporate record label. No wait, that’s Indie Rock…what am I saying.. Ok, alternative rock is maybe just a type of radio station…? (Oh my god!!!! Now I’m just sweating and praying we run out the clock, and finally the little song plays, which means we have).

Me: Ohp! Well, would you look at that, that’s all for today. Great job with using the pronouns today. Thank you very much for the hard work.


3.

He is out the door before I can google any of his questions, and anyway I have five minutes to prepare for my next class. It is a kinder-class of six 3-5 year-old babies. I brace myself for sheer chaos. There are a couple of flash cards with different phrases they are supposed to be able to say by the end of the class, but how I get them into their little baby minds, that can hardly speak Japanese yet, is up to me. Typically when I seat them at the table, they like to climb on top of it, hang off the chairs, or roll around under it. So today I have pushed the table aside to sit with them on the floor. We get through the ‘hello song’ and the ABCs, (I don’t sing the company version, I do the one I know). Then we do ‘head-shoulders, knees, and toes,’ and ‘the hokey-pokey.’ ‘The Itsy-Bitsy Spider.’ Those are all the songs I know, and there’s only so long I can put the flash cards off. So I pull them out. One of them grabs them from my hands. Today we are learning “dishes” “plates” “cups” and “forks.” 

“Ciricle!  Square!”

“Good! But no! That was LAST week. Now I have NEW cards!” 

They don’t know wtf I’m saying. One of them has crawled on top of me and is stroking my face. Another is hugging my leg with their head in my lap. In a way it’s a dream scenario, as whenever I see kids this age riding the subway (ALONE, as is typical in Japan), hurrying to make their transfers with their shoulder bags the size of their little bodies, and holding onto their straw hats (!) that they have to wear to school, I have dreamed of kidnapping one and doing just this. But now as one of them is clinging to my legs, a few of the others have taken the chance run to where I pushed the table and are getting ready to climb it, so I have to pry the tiny arms off of me and yell,

“Come back! KATSUMA! YUMEHA! WE NEED YOU!” I start playing ‘head shoulders knees and toes’ again to lure them back, but they are wrestling with each other and not interested.

Finally I get their attention with a game where I hide the flashcard behind my head and show it to them for a split second so they have to watch closely or they miss it. I have to do it differently each time, like by putting it under my leg, or doing a funny spin, (once I seriously injured my shoulder trying to impress them this way), until they get interested and come toddling over from under the table. Yumeha is just barely 3 and can hardly form words. Her big sister is in the class and likes to grab her by the mouth and cheeks and ‘help’ her say them, then sometimes the younger one will start smacking her when she gets tired of this. One little girl, who is Chinese, can’t speak Japanese yet, so English is like a first language for her, and she saves the day by repeating each word perfectly. The others kind of follow her lead and miraculously they start saying the damn words in no time.

When it’s time for their ‘quiz’ they all get very serious. They take their pencils out of their little pencil cases with great pride and if they make a single mistake they are all erasing the whole entire page while I am like “stop! stop! What are you doing!! It was just one tiny part that was wrong!” They don’t know what I’m saying, so now we have to start the whole quiz over. Finally the quiz is complete and they all shout at me ‘Sensei!! Sensei!” so I can come check their ‘work’ (usually coloring) and give them a sticker from a pack I got to bribe them with, and draw over the whole page this special flower, a huge red swirl called ‘the hanamaku,’ that is the symbol in Japanese schools for completed work (correct work? I’m not sure, but I know they all need to see it scrawled over their page to feel they’ve accomplished anything). Outside I have to greet their parents (the ones that came. Some literally walk home by themselves at this age), and get them to say the words one more time in front of them. Usually the little ‘angels’ come through for me. Thank god that class is only once a week.

This has been only 3 of the 8 or sometimes 9 classes I teach every day. But I hope you get the idea.

(below, some much older children than the ones in this class)

Follow the author on Twitter: @rtneeder


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