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


      Not too much more news from Japan. I'm having a good week, though. At the beginning of it, I was worrying about a particular student, but now I see that things are much better for her. Also, my suspicion, already strong, that she has a crush on me has pretty much been confirmed. Whenever she talks to me, she really tries hard to think of things to say, but she smiles radiantly--so warmly that she cheers me up for the whole day. Also, when we run out of small talk, she just stands there smiling up at me until I say "good-bye." Anyway, I noticed twice this week that when I was coming down the corridor when her back was turned, her best friend whispered to her, "Hey, Alice, there's Peter-sensei." Very cute. She's a great kid and a little bit of an outcast, and a little bit of attention, especially publicly, seems to do a lot for her. She seems to be coming out of her shell in the last two months or so (according to other teachers, and in line with how social I've seen her being this week, when I was really keeping an eye out for her). I was glad to find out that she's one of the kids coming to an all-day English seminar I'm helping out with in a couple of weeks. I think she'll enjoy getting to talk with several other foreigners. Some of my other favorite kids are also coming (not that teachers are supposed to have favorites, of course, but I have quite a few).
      Last night, I had a planning meeting with the Rotary Club of Takefu, which sponsors the seminar. And by meeting, of course, I mean "meeting," but it did include a huge dinner with a lot of beer. The Rotary guys (and they're all guys) are really nice, and much more professional than the crowd I usually end up with--they all seem to be company presidents (of course, we're not talking Toyota or Honda here). Oddly enough, dinner closed with a cheese course, with two different kinds of brie, and they sent us all home with doggy bags of brie. The seminar itself should be a lot of fun--I really enjoy working with junior high kids, especially in small groups so I can get to know them a little bit, and this crowd will be self-selected for kids who are enthusiastic about English (or whose parents are).
      I met some of the local constabulary one night a week or so ago. Me and two friends in another car were looking for some tennis courts we'd heard existed in the next town; we'd been given bad directions. Kevin, figuring we were nearby, started wandering around on foot and asked a couple of cops where the courts were--they pointed them out, just further up the street he was on. So, two minutes later, our two cars turned onto the street, headed up--and were stopped by the cops. They checked our papers, asked a couple of questions (but not in an unfriendly way), and after twenty minutes or so let us go (it took that long to write down all the information on our registrations and resident alien cards--I don't know why). Comparing notes a few minutes later, Kevin and I figured out they were stopping everybody in the area to get information about an arson the night before. If they get any witness reports that the perp was a 182.5 cm blond man with round eyes, pale skin, and a big nose, I could be in trouble. The tennis courts, of course, were closed.
      One of my students really cracked me up earlier this week. I was having six person groups write short directed essays on problems facing Japan, and one group had chosen stalking as a major problem (it's sort of a national hobby here, in fact, and it upsets me that my junior high school girls have to worry about this). One girl called me over to ask for help and asked me, "How do you spell this in English?" She had written in katakana, the phonetic alphabet, what worked out to "sukunko pu." "Skunk poo?" I asked. "Yes." Her solution to the stalker problem is for women to carry skunk poo in their handbags to throw at threatening men. This is the girl who answers "I am beautiful" to the greeting "How are you?" I love these kids. Other groups tackled such vexing issues as ugly makeup (solution: jail the offenders), too much homework (solution: make the teachers disappear, toss dynamite in the principal's office), and too much pressure for entrance exams (solution: blow up the ministry of education). I had encouraged them to be less than serious.
      Another group chose a problem I can't remember, but the solution involved Doraemon, a robotic cat from the future, and one of the kids in this group kept trying to tell or ask me something, but couldn't get it out in English and kept falling apart in hysterical giggling whenever she tried to say it Japanese. Although I tell half the kids in school that they're crazy, I really believe this one girl has a few screws loose. She routinely gets so excited, and so entertained by her own jokes, that she becomes incapacitated. (note added a year later: click here to see how stupid I am.) There are also two first year girls I think have slipped some gears. These are the two I once described hitting each other over the head repeatedly on a bus trip; they'll also sit in the back of the classroom (when there's no class) hitting each other on the head. Yesterday, I watched them practicing tennis in the corridor after school. Girl 1 would toss the ball at Girl 2, who would wack it randomly down the hall. Girl 1 would not attempt to stop it, but would calmly walk after the ball, retrieve it, walk back to where she'd started, and toss it at Girl 2 again. This was repeated for a long time. There seemed to be no learning curve whatsoever involved. This wouldn't be weird at 6, but they're 13. Maybe all that hitting each other on the head has had some effect.

      Anyway, such is life in a typical week for a junior high school ALT.

O genki de,



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