Hi, Dad and Rho,
I mentioned that the Manyo groundskeeper was going to give me his son's old bike tonight at the enkai. Well, he did, and it's great, Of course, it's a bit small, but I'm going to have a bike shop fit something to raise the handlebars and the seat higher. Mr. Takeuchi put new tires on it before he gave it to me, and it's got those fabulous V-brakes. I'm even happy that the frame's got a lot of visible rust, because this makes it much less of a theft target. It works beautifully. I rode it home from the enkai tonight. I was a bit wobbly as I stumbled into the parking lot, but I knew that by the time I hit the main road I would be fine (and I was wearing my helmet, with the wonderful light you sent me, Rho, strapped to it). Unfortunately, the teachers all had to wait for the cabs that would take them home (public servants really get nailed to the wall if caught DUI here, and the legal limit is not .08 but absolute zero), so they had gathered to watch me disappear into the night on my wonderful new bike. Try to walk straight, boy. Fortunately, physics decrees that it's easier to ride straight than to walk straight, so I was able to circle the lot twice to general applause and head off into the night with impressive (well, I managed to impress at least myself) steadiness. Indeed, a bit of exercise and cooler air, and I was fine by the time I hit the main road. (I am smart enough to call myself a cab if I don't think I can make it home safely, and I'm no cowboy). In short, I'm now the proud owner of a bike with many speeds (probably 21), new tires, impressive brakes, and, coming soon, a seat and handlebars high enough for a foreign male.
Oh, and speaking of exercise, I found out this morning I'm still in decent enough shape to chase down a 12 year-old and then dangle him by one ankle while delivering a lecture on where it is and isn't appropriate to touch a teacher and a warning that the next lecture will take place upside-right and in the principal's office. This was actually a really nice kid who already knows some English, so I indulged in the rough-housing to let him know I still liked him and wasn't really upset with him THIS TIME.
I've taken a bit of a gamble. Next Tuesday, I'm joining the second year class at Go-chu on a field trip to Kanazawa, about an hour and a half north of here. They'll split into groups of five or six kids. I'd rather stay with students than with teachers (the teachers are all going their own separate ways for the day, so I'd probably end up with the very nice gym teacher who's been trying to flirt with me but who could easily rip me in half), so I've asked that groups who might want me along decide ahead of time who gets me. Obviously, the fear is that no group will want me. I can't blame them for not wanting an adult along to temper their freedom, but at the same time I'm not quite in the same category as the other teachers. I've pinned my hopes on a couple of English enthusiasts (and sweet kids) whose language skills far outstrip anything we've managed to teach them at school, but really I'll be happy if anyone wants me. Of all the classes in both my schools, this is the one that in general I get along the least well with, although there are many exceptions (including a couple of my favorite kids) and it's been getting much better lately.
Oh, yes, to toot my own horn, I found out tonight that the teachers have been talking about me recently. Apparently, one teacher was really surprised to hear me addressing some boy by name, and mentioned it to the other teachers, and from the ensuing conversation it came out that I know all of the students (in reality, I'm sure I know well under a quarter of the Manyo students by name), and the general tenor of the conversation was that they are really pleased with how much attention I pay to students. I accept the praise, since this is part of the job, but at the same time I think it's a bit silly, since interacting with the students outside of class is what I enjoy most about my job, and how I actually go about it is more like goofing off than conscientious professionalism (an example: the tennis coaches, my boss, and the principal have been really thrilled that I've been practicing with the boys' and girls' soft tennis teams once or twice a week; my goal hasn't been to internationalize students or increase their enthusiasm for English but to get into better shape while improving my skills for games with the other ALTs in town). In real terms, when the students are not in class, my options are either to stay in the dreadfully quiet teachers' room preparing lessons or studying Japanese or to head out into the halls to talk and play with the kids. Option 1 is hard and boring, option 2 takes no effort and is fun. Some of the kids are really entertaining, and many of them are so thrilled to have any interaction with the resident exotic, even the kids who talk to me every day, that even simple conversations with them give me a real lift. Granted, most of the jokes the kids come up with in English are childish and silly, but just getting a joke across so that I can understand it is a real accomplishment, and the enthusiasm behind it makes me smile even if the joke itself is a groaner. And, as I've mentioned, there are a bunch of smart kids whose English is great or who are so enthusiastic about talking to me that they are genuinely interesting.
In some ways, the kids seem more interesting to talk to than most adults. They're not afraid to try to communicate ideas that are well beyond their language skills, and they also don't seem to be as afraid to communicate honestly. They'll joke about anyting. Their openness is charming. Here and back home, kids this age and a little older are still trying to figure the world out, so they're still thinking about it much more than adults, still engaged with the most interesting questions, and still so energetic, that dealing with intelligent kids can sometimes be more interesting and more rewarding than dealing with average adults. Maybe it's just the energy itself that's refreshing. Another theory, and this must be part of the truth, too, is that just bridging the language gap occupies so much of the intelligence on both sides of a conversation that the conversation itself can be very rewarding even when it's incredibly simple. The more I think about this last idea, the more I like it. It certainly explains why 40 times a day both I and a student will both walk away smiling from a conversation no more involved than me asking how the kid is and the kid answering and then asking about me. Of course, in any large group of kids you're going to find a few who are already smarter than most of the adults around them, and that's part of the pleasure of talking to students, too.
Oh, well, I'm running off at the mouth, or at least the fingers, so I'm going to sign off. It seems wise to remember my post-enkai routine of drinking a quart of water before hitting the sack.
Alls well, and I hope it is for you, too