Friday, September 15, 2006

Oppai! Oppai!

So a lot has happened. I’m nearing the end of my second week of teaching, and things have been crazy. Just thirteen days ago Yoshiko and Sayaka were sitting in my kitchen on the only two chairs in my apartment while I stood awkwardly in the middle of the floor, periodically twisting my left earring, an excellent new nervous habit I’ve developed since getting my ears pierced less than a year ago. We waded through communication barriers caused by my poor Japanese, and Sayaka's strange English translations. Sayaka is my age, and is Yoshiko's other English tutor. Like most Japanese speakers of English, her translations are often ambiguous and oddly worded. Anyway, they described to me the English classes they had available, a variety of ages and levels and locations and textbooks or lack thereof, and told me next week would be my training. After negotiating the language barrier for about fifteen minutes, I discovered that training meant that I would actually be teaching all these classes while Sayaka watched me. I explained to them that I was nervous about this as I’ve never taught children and have no idea what they’ve been learning so it’s hard for me to just jump in with a lesson. They decided they would let me look at the textbooks in advance, and asked me to show up in Saga on Monday. I was pretty terrified, and apparently with good cause.

My first lesson, which was a house call for two brothers aged six and eight, went as bad as any lesson could go. First they were bored and indifferent, then the younger one started crying and didn’t stop for the rest of the lesson. I was shaken when I started the next lesson with three sixth grade girls, who were also beginners. That lesson actually went okay, though. The girls were well-behaved, but also incredibly shy and needed a lot of encouragement to throw the pig. The next day, I took Sayaka's advice for the younger kids and made the class almost non-stop games. That day actually went pretty well. I was warned to get a lot of rest for the next day, as I would spend 9-12 at a preschool helping Sayaka teach four different classes. I was so glad I didn’t have to come up with a lesson plan for this one, because I would have had no idea what to do. Each class had fifteen to twenty kids, and about half of the classes could say their name, how old they were, and what school they go to in English, which makes them more advanced than some of my older beginners. The weird thing about Japanese preschools is that the kids never wear pants. Ever. And I don’t mean “pants” in the British sense, which I just learned about. They only wear underpants. One of the classes, we’re literally teaching babies in diapers who can’t even speak Japanese yet. It’s kind of ridiculously cute. As soon as I sat down in the room for the first time, I was surrounded by pantsless toddlers asking my name (in Japanese of course). When I told them, they all repeated my name with perfect accents, instead of saying Kyashi like everyone else. I was feeling all warm and fuzzy, but within five minutes of introducing myself, a four-year-old girl grabbed each of my breasts, making “Boo! Boo!” sound effects as she did so. I was pretty shocked, and just said, “Nonononono.” I know my physique is different from the average Japanese woman, a fact that I’m faced with constantly as people remark, “[Wow, you’re so tall! Watch your head!]” I know certain things might seem particularly noticeable, but I was wearing a baggy T-shirt at the time of this molestation, and didn’t think my ample foreign bosom was that visible. I was thrown off, but I still had a good time overall. At the end of the class, it’s customary for the kids to line up facing the teachers. They all bow and say, “Thank you very much.” We bow and say, “You are welcome.” Then all the little kids rush forward and clobber us with hugs. The first time this happened, I was a little scared. Anyway, as I was walking away at the end of class, the same little girl actually jumped up and grabbed my boobs. Seeing her, another little boy tried to do the same thing, but I got away. Damn perverted kids.

That afternoon Yoshiko drove me all around the area to meet the parents of the people I would be tutoring in the coming days, as well as help me memorize the places I was supposed to get to. She showed me off, telling them all that I studied Japanese for six years and made me show them my Kanji flashcards. I have to admit that it’s nice to always get so much admiration for speaking Japanese even when I do it so poorly. I got to know Yoshiko as well, and found that in some ways she kind of reminds me of my mom. She grilled me on what I’ve been eating since I’ve been here, and insisted that I make Colin miso soup every morning. (A little culture clash: Everyone asks me what I cook for Colin. I hate cooking.) She gave me lengthy instructions on what I should buy and how I should make it, then said, “[So you’re going to make it, right? Tonight maybe?]” She talks on her cell phone while driving all the time, despite the fact that it’s seriously illegal here. She thoughtlessly coasts through red lights. She seems incredibly busy, yet I have no idea what she does. She stops at convenience stores for long periods of time, leaving me to wait with the car running. She even plays new age ambience music. She has a CD that I swear my mom owns: “Journey to the Temple” or something like that. She divorced a year and a half ago. She has four daughters, three of whom I teach. I like her. I hope she doesn’t fire me.

The next day I taught three hyper little girls in Shi-town, then went on to Kashima for three more hours of teaching with a thirteen-year-old, a fifteen-year-old, and a forty-five-year old. I have Friday off, then teach again on Saturday. It’s all kind of a mess. Always different locations, relying on trains and different people to pick me up and take me only so far. Different textbooks and levels and purposes and styles. I don’t have it under control yet. I don’t know if I have the energy or creativity to come up with something new and entertaining every week for every class. I don’t know if I’m even organized enough to keep track of it all. I’m intermittently touched by my students and intensely frustrated. My lessons have been so hit or miss. At least I’m working. For now.

I was back at the preschool again Wednesday morning. I wondered if the kids would even remember me, and apparently they did. The minute I walked in, the same little girl jumped up and grabbed my breasts. This time I was prepared, and very firmly said, “[No! That’s bad!]” But she had attracted a posse, and now a whole group of kids were leaping up and trying to cop a feel. As I tried to scold them, the little girl started a chant that the other kids joined in on, “[Boobies! Boobies! Boobies!]” It was a pleasant thing to experience in front of my boss and co-workers. I really wish I knew how to say those stock phrases for reprimanding little kids in Japanese, like, “Keep your hands to yourself”, “Use your indoor voice”, and “Use your words”. One thing I haven’t missed about working with kids is being sick all the time. And now I’m sick.

Anyway, things are taking their course, or at least something is. Even if it’s just a TYPHOON. That’s right, there’s another typhoon this weekend, named Shanshan after what girls in Hong Kong commonly name their little dogs. How appropriate.