From: Peter Rivard
Date: Sun Apr 13, 2003 11:51:34 PM Japan
To: Newsletter
Subject: His name isn't really Tim

Hi, all,

       A mish-mash this time. We just had the first measurement day this year--we weigh, measure, and test (eyes and ears) all the kids to see how they're growing. One of my charges at Go-chu pumped the air with her fist and breathed a loud "Yes!" in English (thank you, Mr. Woods) at finally, in her third year of junior high school, breaking 140 cm (4'7"). After she was weighed at measurement day last year, her friends asked me how much I weighed, and I was able to reply accurately, "I weigh three Natsumis."
       This brought back another memory of measurement day last year. I'm not sure what exactly they measure in the nurse's office, but when I rounded a corner I saw a line of girls waiting to go in and one of my scrawnier charges tugging the collar of her shirt out and looking down into it, turning her head slightly from side to side with a quizzical look on her face. I promptly spun on my heels and walked the other way, laughing (I couldn't help it), which of course got all the other girls laughing (I think she'd already been making fun of her own inability to find anything down there). Any sort of teasing on that subject would have been inappropriate, and I'm sure something like "Good luck" or "Maybe next year" would have forced its way our of me if I'd gone on to walk by her. I've learned to avoid the corridor outside of the nurse's office whenever there are girls lined up there.
       The new first years are adjusting to me slowly; at Go-chu they know me from elementary school (the ones who went to my smaller school until fourth grade, two years ago, know me quite well), so the kids there aren't as weird around me as the new ones at Manyo. A lot of them are still too shy to reply to me when I say something to them, and the range of scared or shy reactions continues to amuse me (as long as it doesn't go on for too long). One boy runs up to me every time he sees me and shouts in English, "My name is T-I-M," while making the letters with his body. Not everyone's shy.
       This morning I drove out to a cherry blossom festival way up in the far western mountains of Takefu, in the village of my small elementary school. I ran into quite a few of my Go-chu and elementary school students and a couple of teachers, including Takako, my supervisor at Go-chu. It was nice to finally meet her husband and young sons after hearing about them for the last three years. I also met a lot of kids' families, as well as a few groups of strangers who, in the small world of rural Takefu, turned out to be other kids' families.

      At one point, just after I found out that an older couple in the group that had just invited me over were the grandparents of one of my really cute first graders (on the right; they must have figured out who I was before that; they would have noticed her and her friends following a pretty conspicuous blond guy for quite a while earlier that day),
and while I was trying desperately to refuse a cup of sake or a beer from someone else's uncle--saying that I had to drive home, reminding them that the legal limit is zero, I'm a public employee, etc., another member of the group insisted strongly that it was OK, thrusting a beer at me. "But aren't you a cop?" I replied, pulling at the patch on the sleeve of his uniform and looking down at his gun. I would have said "an on-duty cop" if I'd known how to put that phrase together gracefully. Welcome to the boonies.
      
      I spent a lot of time chatting and playing with students--it was nice to see whole families together, since I usually see the younger and older kids in separate schools and their parents in Sexboy's bar or at the adult end of local festivals

I also spent a while chatting with Sexboy's mom and took a couple of pictures of her sliding down the mossy hill with his little sister.

      At one point, I saw some beautiful little girls in bright kimono serving traditional-style green tea and candies, so I sat down for a cup. Of course, I saw before I got there that they were Mariko, Saki, Chiaki, and Yuka,
the four biggest wise-gals at my elementary school (fourth graders now; Chiaki and Mariko were the two who, in first and second grade, used to flash the other teachers and me and ask if they were sexy [they weren't]). It was hilarious to see them all dolled up trying to act proper, and with enough adults around watching them that they didn't dare tease me.
The REAL Saki--look at that smirk
Saki acting proper, to Sayaka's shock

I told Yuka's mother how much I enjoy talking with those four at school, and how they always tease me, poking my belly and saying, "Oh, it's soft!" From the kids, it's cute. From the mother, saying, "Oh, yeah, Yuka's always telling us at home about your big belly," is not so cute; I have to keep reminding myself that the standards for what's appropriate to say are a little different on Mars. On the other hand, I suppose it's nice to know that the kids enjoy my visits enough to tell their families all about me, and it's nice being a bit of a celebrity in an extremely small corner of the world. I really do love these kids. Every time I've ridden my bike anywhere near one of my schools, I've heard all sorts of reports about where and when I was sighted by grandmothers, siblings, and neighbors. Most of these places have had, in living memory, exactly no foreign passers-by (unless I'd been there before), so any caucasian man passing through is assumed to be me, at least if he's seen by people who don't know me. This could be a recipe for disaster, but as it's happened, every caucasian male ever sighted in these places HAS been me, and I'm pretty confident that every caucasian male sighted there until I leave Takefu WILL be me (and will continue to be me for quite a while thereafter; the odds of another one of us wandering into a place like Nakai-cho being much lower than those of my being abducted off the streets of Chicago and dropped in Nakai by a UFO).
       And of course I sunburned my face and arms into submission, requiring at least four or five days of spending every daylight hour indoors (fortunately, I have a job for the moment).

Peter

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