From: Peter Rivard
Subject: Ohisashiburi desu
Ohisashiburi desu! ("Long time, no see.") I'm still recovering from my disk death, but almost all back. Since I last wrote, at the end of the spring break, I've had some news, and the bad outweighs the good, unfortunately. The worst of it is that a former student of mine died in a bicycle accident on a dark road out in the mountains. Without a light on his bike, he was unable to see that the road turned, so he didn't. He rode straight off an embankment at high speed and shot out over a river, landing far out on the rocks. When I was told, I couldn't remember the student--he was a quiet boy at Go-chu who graduated my first year, and I hadn't had much time to get to know his class before they disappeared to study for their high school tests. His sister, though, is a current student, whom I know a little bit. It's been heartbreaking to see the look on her face every day--I almost feel angry at the boy for failing to recognize such an obvious danger and doing this to his family and community (a small, close village). Even after this accident, it doesn't seem to occur to many people that riding a bike on steep, twisting mountain roads in complete darkness without using a light might be an unnecessary risk.
I mentioned before that Takefu had its first murder since 1949 (two per century isn't a bad rate for a city of 75,000). One night in my Japanese class, Mitsuko retold some of the details of the murder and told me that they finally caught the murderer, a 28 year old mother of two from Sabae, the next town over. Turns out my Japanese still has room for improvement--I found out the next day that the details were of a new murder and the description was of the victim; the murderer is still at large.
Fortunately, the other bad news is not really so bad. At an enkai, I dutifully attended to the PTA honchos, especially seeking out the men Max and I had eaten with a few weeks ago. I finally asked if the fellow who bought us sushi is really a yakuza--alas, he isn't. He's the village leader (thus the deference shown him) and very rich (thus the exceptional generosity).
What else is new? One class has a graduated and a new one has entered. Some of our graduates were hard to get rid of--they hung around after their classmates had left, after the underclassmen finished cleaning up the school, after the underclassmen began to leave school, and a few even lasted until many of the teachers had left (Kana, this means you). The following Monday (the other kids had one week left before the end of the year), gee, surprise surprise they were back. After spending most of their waking hours--11 hours a day five days a week and probably six hours a day the other two for three years, they didn't know what to do with themselves now that they were free. Three weeks later, as the first day of school wound down, quite a few of them were back, showing off their new high school uniforms (and looking about five years older than three weeks earlier). It took about two more weeks for the kids to wean themselves off junior high school. I'll miss quite a few of those kids.
The new first years seem more shy than last year's, with a few exceptions. They seem to know a lot more English at the start, though. It'll take a while to get over the "Oh-my-god-I'm-talking-to-a-foreigner" and the "Oh-isn't-it-funny-I-said-something-in-English" and start getting to know them, except for one confident, simian boy and a girl who took all of one day to start poking me from behind and hiding as I turn around--girls this age are usually very shy about touching boys (especially gigantic foreign ones), so this really caught me by surprise.
The new third years aren't at all shy, however. Last Monday, my new word of the day was "homosexual love." Outside a classroom on the third floor, amid the usual chaos, a pair of girls were hugging each other quite warmly while joking at their friends squatting on the floor around them. I must have made a strange smile, because one of the girls then said, "Peter, this is douseiai. Do you know douseiai?" After I said I didn't, and a bit of consultation among the girls, they came up with a synonym that happens to be a loanword from English: "Rezu," meaning, of course, "lesbian." "We are douseiai." Still curious, I pulled out my handy dandy pocket dictionary and punched in "douseiai." "Homosexual love" it replied, also giving the kanji (pictographic) characters for the word. Cool. I had a new word to impress my friends and colleagues. If it's not obvious, she was joking, but the boundaries of same-sex teenage friendship here do seem to be drawn a bit differently from back home.
I've been spending more time with the girls in the band after school lately, as the sports teams have been practicing for a big meet so I haven't wanted to disturb them too much (though I've been practicing the high jump, of all things, with the track and field team every few days, since it mostly involves standing around and thus gives me a chance to talk to kids). After a long conversation with the percussion section (which seems to attract some pretty weird kids, which I mean, of course, affectionately), Naomi started to tell me the other girls' nicknames--this time real nicknames, but the kind of goofy childish names they really don't want teachers to know, never mind use. One girl's was simply one syllable of her name repeated twice in a sort of baby-talk, followed of course by the "-chan" suffix reserved for close friends and children. This led pretty quickly to "Pee-chan," which I discouraged, although one of the teachers last year liked to call me that. Then Naomi offered "Pee-pee--chan." I failed to maintain a poker face.
For the last week, Naomi's been popping up from odd corners all over school asking me, "How do you say 'pee-pee' in Japanese?" She's often really shy, so I've been glad to see her more interested in speaking English, but I hope she moves on to another topic soon. She seems happy to have something to tease me about. I finally suggested she ask Mr. Omori, one of the English teachers, if she really wanted to know, but only because I was pretty sure he wouldn't be familiar with American baby-talk. The one teacher who might know is the social studies teacher with an encyclopedic knowledge of anatomical and scatalogical English, but the kids would never think to ask him. Sure enough, a few days later Mr. Omori asked me what "pee-pee" means; I could see a pair of matchstick legs sticking out from under a nearby rolling whiteboard. Maybe if she asks me again when she's in college, I'll tell her. In the meantime, if you run into a 5'10" girl with legs one inch thick and a strong Japanese accent, please don't tell her what "pee-pee" means.
That's all for now,