Monday May 17, 1999: The Dead Awaken

I wasn't too excited today about going to Towa, which is one of the rowdier of my schools. Last time I was there, two third-graders came to my desk every break and lectured me on how ignorant foreigners were. Sigh.

I only had two classes, both third grade classes. We played a game where I played music as they passed around a small doll and the person who had the doll when the music stopped had to make an English sentence. Everyone woke up for the game; I was pleasantly surprised! A lot of the rotten apples in the barrel of Towa JHS graduated so it doesn't look so bad.

After school, I finally went to the post office and sent a money order to pay off my $%#!@* student loan which I've been neglecting for months. What a relief to get that thing out of the way.

Tuesday May 17, 1999: Visitation of Skills Forgotten

One of the things I do like about Towa is that the kids in the special ed. class always ask me to eat lunch with them. The meal itself usually passes in relative silence. Everyone eats very methodically and deliberately. After lunch, we play ping-pong, the piano, or just mess around. Today I met several new students. All a little shy, but they are soooo adorable.

After school today we had volleyball practice! Whoopdeedoo! I hate volleyball. I can always count on my job to continually make me do things which I have not practiced in at least seven years, things which I was never very good at in the first place! Tomorrow, the staff at Towa plays volleyball against six other schools' staffs at the prefectural gym.

So I went to practice with many of the other teachers. The students in the volleyball club helped us to practice... man, some of those kids are GOOD! One 15 year old girl had an awesome spike! Haha! She was so nervous when she faced me across the net though... she didn't want to make me (the celebrated foreigner) angry so she always spiked it across the court away from me.

Wednesday May 18, 1999: Facing the Music

Lunch with the special ed class again today. Little Kaori, who was especially shy yesterday, seems to be warming up to me. Yesterday it was glassy-eyed incomprehension, today her stare is more of a curious nature. I taught her the high-five when we played doubles in ping-pong. She totally loved that.

Classes were all right. I was doing introductions for some new first grade classes and the teacher I was teaching with doesn't like me so much! Arrghh! She wouldn't translate everything I said and sometimes she would break off into laughter with the students after she said something and she wouldn't tell me what! grumble grumble But that's the life of an ALT, I suppose. Goes with the territory. I've really got to learn this language though. Starting to bug me.

I saw a teacher scolding a couple girls during my free period. First graders. I'm not sure what it was about, but it usually goes the same way, whatever the crime. The teacher scolds, occasionally pausing for his words to sink in, and the students adopt dejected looks and downcast heads. This continues for several agonizing minutes. I've seen it before at other schools, but this was the first time one of them actually broke down and cried. The teacher seemed to really lay into them after the first sniffle. And it got almost to a yell at the first sob. He stopped after a while and sent them back to class and had a cup of green tea and was joking with the other teachers about an unrelated topic within three minutes. I don't think he's a bad guy, but.. damn. I could never do that. Maybe it's a good thing I'm not making this a career choice.

The volleyball game didn't go as bad as I thought it would. We only played three games, all against the same school and they totally kicked our butts. At least I didn't embarrass myself! That's all I was hoping for. I hurt my leg though in a fall to get the ball before it hit the ground (we scored a point that way, horray for me, eh?!) That's going to be sore tomorrow.

Thursday May 19, 1999

For some reason I'm a little depressed today. Nothing seems real. Almost nothing. Not my job, my life; the only things which seem real are the kids. The look on Kaori's face. When I left the special ed room to go back to the teachers' room after lunch she grabbed my hand and held it for a moment before she would let go. I think this was a really big deal for her.. Physical contact is just not something which is practiced here.. In Japanese families, parents never give a child a hug if they're past the age of seven or so and "I love you" is never said. The pat on the back seemed alien to her at first, but when we played a game together she warmed up to it right away, it was a special reward. She loved the high-fives and giving me a pat on the back too.

Also had a meeting with my supervisor, Mr. Tsuyama. He wanted to talk to the returning ALTs about the renewer's conference in Kobe next week. What a drag that's gonna be. Just before that at the post office, I sent the money order to open my account with my new stock broker. I'm finally getting in!

Friday May 21, 1999: Charcoal.. "It's a Mystery"

Today was the school excursion to Tanabe/Kumano. Here's what happened. OK. So we drive two hours on the bus to get to this museum. From what my teachers were able to tell me (communication barrier there) this was the museum of charcoal. That's right, charcoal. I had never given much thought to charcoal. For me, all you did was dig in the ground and there it was, it never occurred to me to make charcoal. Different kinds of wood that, through a special Japanese process, were made into charcoal. But it wasn't really charcoal-like.. it was kindof metallic or petrified because when you hit one of the sticks of it, it would "ding" just like hitting a metal bar. So we spent a half hour at the wood/charcoal museum. It was almost interesting... but not really.

Next, we went to an ume (Japanese plumb) grove and spent 20 minutes plucking plumbs. They explained how to make plumb juice out of them, you're not really supposed to eat them. Some of my students told me to pick out the really big ones, they said that the big ones were the best tasting, but I heard later on that the large ripe ones are bad, perhaps even poisonous. Hmm. Nice kids I've got, eh?

After that, we went to eat lunch at this exposition type place where they've got some 3D animation type movies (kindof like Captain Eo wannabes) and lots of little foreign food shops. I met some Turkish guys at one of the shops. They were reallllly interesting! They didn't speak any English, but they spoke really great Japanese so conversation was a little limited there. They came over not too long ago with hopes of setting up a restaurant and they did it. Kudos to them! I took about a billion Print Club pictures with my students and then we packed up and went home.

After resting for a bit, I went over to Glen's and Lesa's and hung out and talked about life, liberty, and the pursuit of real education in Japan.

Saturday May 22, 1999: Vindication

Today a bunch of us ALTs got together for Lesa's b-day at the bowling alley. Now I don't like bowling (geez! Do I like any sports?!?) but it wasn't that bad! BUT I could have done without all the jokes about my bowling with the "wrong hand" (I'm left handed). Grrrr. But that was actually cool, not so much the bowling part as being with the gang. Afterwards we went to Royal Host (kindof like "Denny's"). After that, me, Glen and Lesa went back to their place and watched "Sexy Mambo" (long story there, email me if you want details) on cable. Then we talked about life, liberty, and the pursuit of true love.
AFTER I got back to my apartment, I opened a letter from a student at another school (one of Akiko's students). She wrote how things were going at school, and, surprisingly enough, they were going really well!! Over the course of a couple weeks, she wrote, her teacher has become a lot more relaxed!! And the students are doing what she's asking them to do. Her lessons have become more interesting, she said, and now many of the students don't want the "real" teacher to come back after she gets well!! I couldn't believe it!
There are very few, rare moments in this job when I actually feel like I'm doing something right, maybe something even worthwhile and this was one of them. I see students every day, sleeping, talking amongst themselves, or whatever and I usually let it slide. I'm tired of trying to change this world; the world of the Japanese Educational System. But, in some small way, this time, I actually made a difference. I've really given myself the third degree about staying here another year, but right now I just feel so vindicated!

OK, ego trip is over, back to real life

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