Friday, August 10, 2007

Ramble, ramble, ramble, oh look a pebble, ramble, ramble

Even though I announced that I was looking for a new job, maybe I’m once again backpedaling. For the most part, I don’t like the situation with my two superiors, and I don’t like the stranglehold they have on me, which generally revolves around “Trust us, we’re Japanese”, and “But we sponsored your work visa”, used respectively for when I request an explanation for some ridiculous work practice and when I ask for any sort of lenience. There are things I hate, hate, hate about my job. But, as a wise man once said, “Everything seems bad if you remember it.”

Basically, I’m not ready because goddamn, I love my students. There’s probably no other job that I would get to know such bright, interesting students on a personal level. If I worked in a school (which in many ways would be lovely), I would probably see them mainly as a big uniformed mass, with faces and names occasionally poking through when they run up to me to tell me how tall I am or grab my boobs. I would have much less control over the classes, and would likely have to bite my tongue while a Japanese English teacher butchers the language. I would witness firsthand how the educational system doesn’t teach these kids a lick of English. Now, at least I’m part of an institution that helps kids learn English, since the only way they learn is by studying abroad or taking eikaiwa classes (like mine). Too bad I’m not a very good teacher. Maybe they’d do better with someone who’s actually qualified to be a teacher. Ugh.

Speaking of students I love, I recently helped my ninensei junior high student pass a test she was completely unqualified for, which made me elated and filled with pride. I always have to take a step back and remember she was the one who actually did it, not me. We had about two months, or eight classes, to prepare for sankyuu eiken, which is a national English test that people take to prove their level of English ability to employers or study abroad organizations. Sankyuu is third level, with first being the highest and extremely difficult. Basically, for two months we plowed through the study book, and I attempted to teach her dozens of grammar forms she’d never seen before, quiz her every week, and chastise her when she didn’t finish her homework. I was inaugurated into a level of Japaneseness. Maybe I’m now yonkyuu in Japanese culture. I experienced the stress, pressure, and responsibility that the cram school teachers have regarding their students’ entrance exams. It’s not like in America, where the teacher does everything they can but knows it’s ultimately up to the student whether they will succeed or not. I knew that if she failed, it was going to be on me, too. I remember giving her a lesson on “should”, “have to”, and “don’t have to”, maybe a month before the exam. “For example, you don’t have to study for the English exam tomorrow.”
“But really, please do.”

She passed, we were all ecstatic, and now we’ve returned to our regular eikaiwa classes, in which she’s learning incredibly simple grammar compared to the stuff that was on that test. Man, Japan loves tests. And for some reason, they don’t seem to make any difference on actual knowledge. Take the driving test. It’s insanely difficult. It’s ridiculously difficult about arbitrary things. Nobody passes it their first time. Japan perhaps has the most difficult system in the world to acquire a driver’s license, but as soon as they get on the road, they’re idiots just like the drivers in the rest of the world.

Complete change of subject: Yesterday (for us) was the anniversary of dropping the A-bomb on Nagasaki, which is kind of a big deal, since we’re like an hour train ride from Nagasaki. With all the time I’ve spent in Japan, over the past year and back in high school, I’ve kind of expected that I would be called upon to discuss world war two and the bomb. I’ve been to both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I’ve been on a trail of tears WWII museum tour in Okinawa, and have strong opinions formed on the issues. However, in my experience, Japanese people seem to have little interest in discussing the war. It’s not even like they’re repressing or being silent about it, they just seem kind of indifferent or something. A good example of the attitudes I’ve encountered comes from when I was talking to Sayaka after my first time in Nagasaki:
“[What did you do in Nagasaki?]” she asked.
“[We walked around, went to Chinatown and had some chanpon].”
“[That sounds fun.]”
I added, “[We went to the Peace Park and A-bomb museum.]”
“[Oh, really?]”
“[It was sad.]”
“[Yeah, I bet.]”
End of discussion.

Finally, it happened. It was Wednesday night, after the festival in Kashima, and Colin and I were sitting and chatting with another American teacher we don’t know very well on what we call Izakaya Row, which is an alley-like road lined with bars and a couple hostess joints. A drunk thirty-something Japanese guy stumbles toward us and starts talking about all the usual things, I want to learn English, I love American rock n’roll, do you know Aerosmith, when BAM! “[So tomorrow is the anniversary of the bomb dropping on Nagasaki. You’re Americans. What do YOU think of the bomb?]” I was pretty shocked and trying to form sentences in Japanese in my head when, oh, let’s call him Steve, launches into a long, complex speech. Colin and I both thought about adding our two cents, but we mostly sat back and thought, “Wow, Steve’s really good at Japanese,” and nodded occasionally. But then he kept going. I felt a little bad about my most obvious nodding being to the Japanese guy saying, “[But Japan was bad, too.]” Maybe I just wanted to support him since that was one of about four sentences he managed to say the whole time. Steve continued his rant. The drunk guy started wandering away occasionally to look at text messages on his phone. You know you’ve done something wrong when the random Japanese person on the street gets tired of you first. It only ended when Colin and I got up to leave.

To conclude in keeping with the scattered nature of the rest of this post, I’ll inform you that I decided to make pet rocks at my America camp. I found a bunch of rocks, and the kids painted them to look like bunnies or aliens or fish and glued eyes and pipe cleaners on them. And we sang Kumbaya. And we tried to play Big Booty. It was pretty successful, but four hours of it left me crazy plastered to the floor tired when I got home. I don’t know how art teachers do it. Nonstop throughout the entire session, the kids would practically simultaneously be saying to me, “[Cassie, I need another toothpick,]”. “[Cassie, I need more glue],” “[Cassie, we’re out of yellow]”, “[Cassie, what do I do with my brush]”, “[Cassie, I’m done]”. Colin was indispensable. I couldn’t as easily rapidly communicate orders with the Japanese helpers.

By the way, maybe I’m even sankyuu in Japanese culture. I’m starting to do that arbitrary ignoring and enforcing of rules thing. The same day as the camp, we moved all the tables and chairs out of the office and in front of the building so we could put down the tarp for painting. I was in the process of moving a table out the door along with one of the Japanese employees when I realized I wasn’t wearing shoes and quickly slipped on the slippers that were nearby. (Quick culture refresher for some of you: schools, offices, and hospitals require you to take off your outdoor shoes at the door and put on slippers, or indoor shoes)
“You’re going to wear those outside?” Colin said, astonished.
“Yeah, it’s fine,” I replied. The Japanese employees did the same thing.
Later that day when I was looking for Colin during the hectic camp session, I opened the door and saw him returning from the vending machine across the street with a coffee while wearing slippers.
“What are you doing? You can’t wear those in the street!”
How very Japanese of me.