To: Newsletter
From: "Peter M. Rivard"
Subject: Beating crickets into plowshares

Hi, all,

      This will probably be my last letter before I travel (all the way to blessedly cool New Hampshire) for summer vacation, so you may not hear from me again until almost September. I'll let you know if America seems weird to me after a month here, but I don't think I've been here long enough for reverse culture shock to be a problem. I don't think I've run into anything amounting to culture shock in the year I've been here, so going home should be easy (sure, there's been culture mild surprise, culture astonishment, culture amusement, and culture revulsion, but nothing so powerful as to shock my system out of proper alignment). Speaking of culture, I bugged the heck out of a group of kids after looking at some of their anime accessories by describing the items as "Japanese culture." They insisted that Japanese culture is Kabuki and tea ceremony and all those other things they've never wanted to have anything to do with. I told them that to me it looks like Japanese culture is anime, manga (comic books), J-pop, and pachinko (of course, the truth is somewhere in between). They certainly have no problem with thinking of American culture as McDonald's and WWF wrestling.

      Summer heat has set in. I try to avoid any activity that might take me out of the range of my air conditioner's remote control. In addition to the heat and humidity, summer in Japan means insects and spiders. I never walk in the woods without holding a stick about a yard ahead of my face to clear spider webs, but now the enterprising little annoyances are building webs across the entrance to the building's mail area every night, and since all the other residents manage to go under it without having to duck, I tend to get it (and occasionally its builder) right in the face every night. I've even seen some of the fabled two-inch cockroaches, though fortunately not in my apartment. Oddly enough, my tiny cheaply built apartment seems to be well proofed against insects, other than a few gnats who manage to crawl in around the badly thought-out screen--I don't get roaches or any of the other domestic vermin which should proliferate so wildly in this hot wet climate. My one problem is what manages to jump in whenever I open the door to my balcony to put out or retrieve laundry. All night long, I hear the thump and bump of crickets landing on my papers and jumping against the underside of my table. I kill about ten a night, and since I no longer open my balcony door after dark, I don't quite understand how the supply is replenishing itself. At any rate, they don't chirp indoors, and I find them pretty un-repulsive, for bugs (if I had a problem with, say, the eight-inch centipedes that live in the woods near here coming into my apartment, I would already have fled to America and taken up residence in the living room of one of you fine people).

      I've started a small project in the last couple of weeks, and it's turning out to be even smaller than I'd imagined. I told my kids that if they sent me a card or letter with their address in English, I would send them a postcard from the States. Of course, I'd hoped and assumed that only a small number of my kids would take me up on that, since 500-odd postcards would take a lot of time and money, but the number has so far been dispiritingly small. The number has been three, in fact. Of course, Yukari, my number one fan, sent one of the first two to arrive. The other two are from first-years, one of whom laboriously put together a nice, coherent letter, and the other of whom laboriously pasted together words from the dictionary and bits of dialogue from the textbook into something more entertaining. She's only been learning English since April and what she's attempting is way above her level, so really I applaud her effort and her success in producing something partially intelligible, though I treasure the result for a different reason:

Hello, Mr. Peter.

I'm Yuriko Tsuji (class 1-2).
How are you? I'm very hot.
But Mr. Peter, really? Let's go to the United States. I'm surprise. Moreover we will miss you are gone.

I like Ms. Peter's class very much. I like English. Write English letter is an interesting. Don't Mr. Peter's forget. I love you.

Goodbye, Ms. Peter.

Please give me letter.

See you.

Yuriko Tsuji

You can't buy cute like that. Although it's completely accidental, the letter has such a wonderful, odd tone that it still makes me laugh. It took me a while to put a face and personality to the name (which I changed before posting this on the web site), but eventually I remembered this girl, and she's as cute as her letter. Small, very young looking, shyly eager to talk to me, huge smile, bright eyes [correction: tall thin girl who looks a mantis]. For the record (and to avoid my ever having one), I don't find her at all hot; I prefer to think she's referring to the weather. Largely for the ALT's amusement, but ostensibly as a way to teach vocabulary, the other teachers and I have taught the kids to give honest answers to the pleasantry "How are you?" Lately, the answer is always "I'm hot." A few brighter kids eventually stumble on the joke of describing themselves rather than how they feel--my favorite so far was the girl who always replied, "I am beautiful." After some thought, I interpret "But Mr. Peter, really? Let's go the United States. I'm surprise" as "Are you really going to the United States? I'm surprised." I think the kids all understand "I love you," so I assume that line's a playful joke. I do hope a few more letters come in before I leave--I'm at least hoping for a few from the older kids, for some of whom this isn't a big challenge.

      After noon tomorrow, I'm officially off until September, though I have to show up for a one hour ceremony in mid-August (scandalously inconsiderate planning). On Friday and Saturday, though, my kids will be scattered all over Takefu for the city sports meet, so I'll probably show up in a few places, though it'll be too hot to stay outside in the sun for long; maybe I'll become a connoisseur of indoor sports this time--I hear volleyball's nice. I keep planning to do something in the way of exercise myself, but the days here are simply punishing--the thought is unbearable. I have been on out on some late night bike rides, though.

      That's all for now. I'm about to enjoy being in my natural habitat again.

Be well,

Peter

p.s.: I think I have a cricket in my hair.

p.p.s.: I usually go by "Peter-sensei" or just "Peter" in school. I discourage "Mr. Peter." I strongly discourage "Ms. Peter."

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