Hello, friends,

      Yes, the news from Japan has slowed a bit lately. Maybe things over here are starting to seem normal to me. Nahhh, that's not it. I did manage to be sick for two weeks (missed four days of school), but I'm back in form now. Exactly what form may be debatable, but it's roughly the one I started out in.
      There really hasn't been any news. I'm still having a great time at work, and I still love my kids. One of the great benefits of poor language skills is that not understanding adds to the mystery of everything around me. Today, I came in expecting to team-teach three classes, and, instead, I found myself climbing around a 45 ton truck with a hundred or so 12 year-olds. I missed any discussion last week of the fact that there were no classes today for the first-year kids (seventh graders), their day instead consisting of testing and then a field trip to a dam construction site (no, I didn't forget the final "n") way up in the mountains. Unless someone specifically tells me something, I don't know about it, even if it's been discussed in front of me a dozen times and posted on the bulletin board for a month. I was thrilled to see that for the big projects the Japanese (at least these Japanese) had bought a lot of VERY EXPENSIVE American construction equipment (although the stuff said "Caterpillar" all over it, I thought it wise to ask one of the workers where it was made before telling everyone it was American stuff--he seemed stunned that I could say anything in Japanese). My fellow teachers and the students seemed surprised that all of this huge stuff wasn't Japanese. For reference, a Caterpillar 773D 45 ton dump truck runs about $800,000 and the matching 39 foot long front end loader will set you back a bit over a million and a half bucks. A slightly larger dump truck goes for about a million two, and various other pieces of impressive Cat machinery can be bought for about a half million apiece. These prices are VERY IMPRESSIVE in yen (¥175,000,000 for the front-end loader). Shipping and handling must also be a big hit in the wallet.
      Almost as interesting as the dam were the ways the kids found to keep themselves amused. Once we were issued helmets and big booklets, I discovered we had the tools for a time-honored local game. Rock-paper-scissors ("jun-ken-pon," usually just called "junken") is a religion here. Where aggressive indecision is considered good taste, it provides an impersonal way of making decisions. In any group of thirty Japanese (and I'm not sure that this applies only to children), there will be at any point in time at least four games of junken going on. I'm convinced that junken games in the Diet are the only reason there's no Japanese C-SPAN. Sometimes it's just for amusement. Today's helmet and booklet version works as follows: two players sit facing each other with a helmet and a booklet rolled up into a club between them; they junken; the loser at Junken then tries to put on the helmet before his opponent wacks him on the head with the booklet. I later observed that, even lacking the accoutrements of the game, just wacking someone near you on the head is considered entertainment. I watched one girl exchange fairly vicious wacks with the girl across the aisle from her for about twenty minutes on the bus ride home (no helmets--the wackee would just sit there through a certain number of wacks, then start wacking the other girl, who would then just sit there--this was completely fascinating to me). I also (as a teacher) felt compelled to observe the one boy who seemed to find it endlessly amusing to stretch the clear plastic sickness bag over his head, intervening only when his friends decided to pull out a sharp pen and draw eyes on the plastic over his real eyes--which on a jolting bus didn't seem terribly bright to me. Other than that, I'd just look over every so often to see if the little putz was turning blue; it eventually occurred to him to poke himself an airhole over his mouth. You ever wonder who that warning about not letting infants play with bags was meant for? Come to Takefu. He's 12 years old.
      That's it. It's lovely here in the fall, but still no glorious fall colors, even though it's mid-November and the nights frequently approach freezing. There's quite a bit of muted color, greenish yellows and rusts, but very little flamboyant red or yellow and almost no purple--most of the trees are still green. Still, it might be glorious when it comes, unless it's just more of the muted colors we have now. Japan's supposed to famous for fall colors, especially around here, so we'll see. So far, Vermont's not getting nervous. Hell, New Jersey's not getting nervous. It is gorgeous in its own way, though, and the light and the air are wonderful for tramping about on the mountains. Next weekend, if it's nice, I want to climb a mountain on a peninsula near here--the mountain pretty much is the peninsula, with steep dropoffs to the sea on three sides. That's if all my friends aren't too hung over from a big party in Fukui-shi Friday night.

O Genki De,

Peter



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