To: newsletter
From: "Peter M. Rivard"
Subject: No news (good news?)


Hello, all,

      I feel very sorry for my Japanese teacher, Mitsuko. Class is from 8 to 9 on Tuesdays, and, most days, after about 8:45 I'm a special needs student. On days when I've been to elementary school (like today), that phase starts as soon as I sit down in her kitchen. A generous dose of coffee before I get there and two cups during class will generally keep me going until about 8:30 or so, but after that, I am a very slow puppy.

      Elementary school, though I absolutely love going there, is exhausting both because of the degree of attention required in working all day with kids (and teachers) who speak no English (at the very limits of my Japanese) and because of the physical drain of horsing around with 20 monkeys on my back. Today, I had 80% of the second grade in the air at once (100% if you count the kid hanging from my leg), and I stayed for both recess periods and for dodgeball in the gym (it's more complicated than the American version and it took me the whole first game to figure it out). I learned that in tag here, the preferred spot for tagging is the tush--at least for foreign teachers (maybe that's as high as some of them can reach). They were also trying to teach me gymnastics swinging around the bar, despite the fact that the bar is closer to the ground than the length of either my torso or my legs, making safety a problem. Today, we did Halloween--I explained it, we did "Simon Says" in English with parts of the face, then we made masks and did trick or treat--it was a cheap bid to buy popularity, because it gave me an excuse to hand out candy. Almost no educational component whatsoever, but they said my lesson last time for the 3rd/4th grade was too difficult and the teachers reminded me that I'm not really supposed to be teaching the kids much. At any rate, the kids are incredibly cute, especially the youngest ones, and for some reason they are especially cute when they wear the little painter's caps that Japanese elementary school kids wear on the way to and from school. I was in a drive-through zoo once where they check under your car with mirrors when you leave the big cat area to be sure no leopards are escaping by clinging to the bottom of your car--I feel like I should check my car before I leave school for the same reason. I was usually pretty encrusted with children. Or maybe the other teachers should search me to make sure I'm not stealing any kids--they're pretty irresistible.

      Elementary school is also bad for my language skills because it ends up scrambling Japanese and English. I try to use English words the kids know when I'm speaking, but they're not up to complete sentences yet (except for a few formulaic ones), so I find myself saying things like (when pretending to open the door for trick or treaters and finding the sixth rabbit in a group of 14 kids) "Ohhh! Kawaii! Hoka no rabbit desu! Kon ban wa, rabbits ga takusan arimasu, ne. You're welcome." (Ohhh, Cute! Another rabbit! There are certainly a lot of rabbits tonight. You're welcome.)

      I've enjoyed the fact that the words for "cute" ("kawaii") and "scary" ("kowai") are close enough to allow punning (and the occasional beginner's mistake, as when I told my teacher Yoko how scary she was). Indeed, with women, sometimes there is a line across which kawaii changes into kowai. At a party Saturday night, a far too enthusiastic young woman (bouncy and excited enough to be a junior high school girl) asked me if I was married; I said "no" and asked if she was. She answered "no" and then, unbidden, announced that she didn't have a boyfriend. While I was carefully NOT responding in kind, she informed me that she was looking for one (and brave, brave Sir Robin he did boldly run away). Her friend, a similarly enthusiastic young English teacher-in-training (not a colleague) had, not long after we'd introduced ourselves a few months ago, announced "I am a Yellow Monkey" (unspoken response: "aren't you, though"), meaning, I discovered, that she is a fan of the rock group with that name.

      I'm making my life better with Japanese products--in fact, right now I'm enjoying something I'd never imagined: Kraft camembert (made in Hokkaido) in tiny foil-covered wedges, a la Vache Qui Rit or Pepperidge Farm. Not bad. The verdict on Hokkaido red wine, though--at least on the one I just tried--is that it is definitely NOT worth ¥398 a bottle (a bit under 4 bucks). Ditto the sake that is sold in glass drinking cups. Sushi on conveyor belts, though it can be found elsewhere, is sometimes a good thing (sorry, John and Rho, I've learned to avoid Atom Boy, but maybe it's better elsewhere). I haven't used the vertically stacked parking spots, but they seem like a winner in any Rube Goldberg competition: you push a button, the car in the spot you want to park in rises 6 feet above the ground, you park under it, and then your car disappears into the bowels of the earth, to reappear only when you put your money into the meter on your return (this was the most interesting thing I saw in Kyoto).

      Oh, and finally, the best response to "how are you?" I've yet received: "I'm sleepy." "Why are you sleepy?" "I could not sleep because of the monkeys." Apparently, sometimes the monkeys in the woods around here, especially near my rural school, put up quite a racket. I REALLY want to see a wild monkey. There was a large animal thrashing through the woods about fifty yards from me last week, "large" meaning bigger than a breadbox, but I don't know what it was. I do hear monkeys in the woods sometimes, but not in the woods near me (here in town, the hills are isolated little islands of forest in a sea of rice paddies, so I don't think they support any really interesting wildlife).

That's all. No real news, just random musings. O genki de.

Peter

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