To: newsletter
From: "Peter M. Rivard"

Hi, all,

      I can now add "ski instructor" to my job description--I had my first combo how-to-ski/how-to-teach-skiing lesson last night (I love how-to's in a foreign language), one more next week, then I get to go skiing with each of my two schools--on work days! I get paid for this! Is this a great country or what?
      The students I've been helping prepare for an entrance interview for a prestigious English program in a nearby high school are having their interviews tomorrow. Tonight, as we were leaving, they asked me to (something spiritual, I guess--they gave little charms to hold for a minute; they'll wear these around their necks during the interview--it's not a very religious culture, and I think this is more at the level of good luck and a way of carrying all their friends' best wishes, but I really don't know much). I'm a little nervous for them, but I think they'll do well--there's just always the fear that one could have a bad day. One of them speaks exceptionally well--if she doesn't get in, I'm going over to that high school and give them hell. Both of the others speak very well and are really intelligent, and one of these two is really thoughtful and almost poetic in her answers. They've been really nice to work with and I hope they all get in.
      How much exposure do they get to foreigners here? Well, from a post office out in the boonies near my visiting school, I got to be the first ever customer to send money abroad. They had to dig deep to find the forms and pore over the procedures manual, but they did it. That also shows how far people will go to help a foreigner. Tonight, I wanted to buy a ski rack for my car, but my car wasn't on the chart of what rack goes with what car, so a guy went out in the rain to look at my car (no luck, though). A while ago, a car at a gas station honked at me as I was filling up, and next to a smiling and bowing lady was one of my boys, waving, bouncing up and down, and generally looking like he was about to wet himself with excitement (boy D1 in this picture, a great kid). The next day at school, he was very excited when he came up to tell me he'd seen me (he knew I'd seen him, too, because of course I'd returned the waving and bowing [but not the wetting] at the station). I think he was thrilled that after he'd pointed me out to his mom I recognized him. He's a really sweet, funny kid. Also, today, I was standing near a window, looking at the sky, when I noticed that kids in two classrooms in the opposite wing were waving to me (during class--I signaled them to stop and to pay attention to their teachers)--one of the girls, who is maybe the third craziest girl at Manyo, came up to me after class to tell me she'd seen me.
      There's a tie for craziest girl (the craziest boy award is already locked up), although Asami is less crazy than I thought for a few minutes yesterday. In the misnaming your classmates category of teasing the gaijin, she had used the word "awabi" as a boy's name in a game we were playing in class. I asked what it meant, and she laughed--everyone around her laughed, too--and said it was the nickname of the boy in front of her. I asked, "you're awabi?" and the whole class cracked up. The name came up again a few minutes later, and I remembered why that name rang a bell. It was the very dirty word one teacher was explaining in a bar when another teacher told me we shouldn't call each other "-sensei" because we didn't want people to know we were teachers when we were using such words. Very dirty word. Its equivalent in English is one of the very few words whose use I avoid, and I'm sure you know how squeamish I am about language. Everyone was cracking up, even the teacher, so of course I couldn't get mad, but I made a big show of pretending to be angry, reprimanding the girl theatrically. All is not as it seems here, though. Because of the kanji system, words are so closely linked to very differently written characters that homophones don't run together as much in the Japanese mind as in ours (also, Japanese, an often vague language, relies much more on context, so in a certain context the wrong meaning is much less likely to occur to a Japanese than to an American speaking English). Meaning, of course, that the girl didn't have the faintest idea of the nastiness I thought she was saying, even after my performance (unless the teacher explaining this later was just bullshitting me [I taught him that term in English some time ago] to save face for everyone involved). Apparently, the boy's nickname really is pronounced the same as "part of female anatomy" yet he doesn't catch hell for it. Did anybody see the recent John Waters movie "Pecker"?
      The beginning of a fairly long conversation with one of the top ten crazy girls today:
                  Peter: How are you?                        Girl: I am beautiful!
After a few minutes of joking, this brought us to her pointing at her friend and saying, "She is NOT beautiful," at which her friend hit her a couple of times (hard, but in a friendly way) and replied, "She is crazy girl. She is not cute." Before Christmas, I found where a bunch of the Go-chu boys hide after class to keep warm (the office of the really cute school nurse--she's also part of the appeal, I imagine). First they asked me, hoping apparently that she doesn't speak junior high school English, what I thought of her... appearance. "I'm not going to answer that" (if she did understand, though, it's possible she would be more offended by my discretion than if I'd said something complimentary like, "oh, yeah--major babe"). Then they asked me--and this is my favorite question so far--which girl at Go-chu do I think is the hottest (he used the word "cutiest," which means "most babe-alicious" in the local version of English, as distinct from "cute," which actually means "cute"). I said, "I'm a teacher. I am 32 years old. I don't think junior high school girls are cuty." Could he really have thought I'd be stupid enough to answer that? Even if I didn't get deported, I'd embarrass some girl for the rest of her life. Next, he asked which were prettier, Go-chu girls or Manyo girls. Here, I let my guard down a bit and said, "well, the girls at this school, of course." For some reason, the girls at Manyo are friendlier than the boys, but at Go-chu the boys are friendlier.

All for now--be well



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