To: newsletter
From: "Peter M. Rivard"
Subject: Sunaku


Hello, all,

       Now that I'm starting to repeat the cycle of school events from last year, I find that I'm enjoying it more. I understand more of what's going on around me, I can communicate with my students and colleagues more easily and in more depth, and I've gotten to know a lot of them. For example, Friday and Saturday were Manyo's school festival. While I had a great time last year, this year, because I now know many of the students pretty well and because my language skills are a lot better, I was able to have more interesting conversations with them and to enjoy meeting their families (though some of the nuttier kids I tease a lot were probably a little nervous about what I might say about them to their parents). For me, the highlights were the school sale (donated items to raise money for the PTA, I think) and the brass band club's performance. I found out later I had gone in and bought the prize item before the sale even began, thereby avoiding the line and the chance that someone else would get it before me--and this got me a little teasing later when I went out with the PTA (the item being a bottle of Hennesy XO for about $25, a quarter of the going rate). I spent the rest of the day apologizing for this misunderstanding (I still have the bottle, though). The band played really well; I don't usually enjoy that sort of thing, but they were very spirited and entertaining. The school festival also marks the retirement of the third year students from club activities (so they can study full time for high school entrance tests), so for a lot of the girls, it was their last concert. Although Japanese culture discourages people from showing their feelings publicly, at certain kinds of events it actually compels strong shows of emotion. After a couple of numbers, the first and second year band members left the stage, leaving just the departing third years. Their leader tried to give a little farewell speech, but broke down sobbing several times, as her bandmates and people in the audience shouted encouragement. Everyone in the band and many in the audience were crying, too. Then they played a teary little number that broke off in a few places as musicians were to overcome to play. This scene was repeated at the end of the day, when the student council, which had organized much of the festival, said their goodbyes. I enjoyed watching the reactions of groups of students when the winners of various competitions (chorus performances, which class can paint the best picture in one hour, etc.) between the different classes were announced--tears of sorrow, tears of joy, nail-biting worry, shouts, and furrowed brows.
       After the festival, of course, the teachers went out with the PTA, first to a local restaurant (my bike is still in front of it--I better remember to get it soon), then, in a smaller group, to karaoke. At the dinner place, especially toward the end, I really wished I had a videotape of it to show my kids, because I don't think they would believe the way their parents and teachers act after a few drinks. General party stuff, nothing extraordinary, but so different from the way they act at school. It was at the same karaoke place (in the same room, in fact) that one of the parents tried to start a fight with me at last years version of this event. Last night was the first time I'd seen him since then--his banishment from the PTA apparently being over--but he was friendly and there were no problems. I did spend about half an hour trying to escape from a very earnest, very drunk man who wanted to tell me how great America is, how sorry he is about what happened in New York and Washington, and how, in general, he feels about such things. It was also after this festival last year that I got into a cab with my principal, thought I was being taken home, and ended up eating insects in a bar across town. This time, I was with a different group and really did think I was being taken home, but instead I was hauled out of the cab at a local snack. Snacks ("sunaku" in Japanese, but usually with an English sign reading "Snack") are bars that are largely like private clubs--you buy a bottle from the bar at four or five times the going rate, then pay a seating charge every time you go. In this particular place, the service charge includes young women to pour for you, flatter you, and be pawed by your friends. I actually invited one of the women to sit between me and a companion I wanted some distance from, another very earnest drunk whose hobby is putting together plastic airplane models (never sit next to a forty-five year old man whose hobby is putting together plastic airplane models). She turned out to speak English well, as did all the women there (because they are all foreigners, mostly Filipinas and one or two Koreans). It was here, especially, that I found comparing particular students to their fathers most interesting. I asked one guy I know a little bit, and whose wife I know, why he was interested in fondling and drooling over a stranger in a bar (with no chance of getting her in bed) when his own wife is prettier and a lot sexier (and that's just about the way I put it, too, since he speaks English well). His answer was short and to the point: "Because she is NOT my wife." These places cater to the least ambitious of adolescent desires, for a peek at sex (only a peek), the chance for pointless misbehavior, and to have girls tell your that you're cool. The only way I can understand it is that the men are looking for a thrill but from cowardice or lack of imagination have set their sights so low that this pathetic sort of establishment is actually capable of satisfying them. Despite the obvious, I managed to have a good time there, too. And it's nice to realize that even after a year there are still a lot of typical Japanese things I haven't experienced yet--that there's still a lot more to see and learn.

O genki de,

Peter

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