From: Peter Rivard
This is a mish-mash e-mail, since it's been a while since I've written much.
First, I hit a bit of minor celebrity. I stopped by the museum in the next town over, sort of a rural suburb of Takefu, to see an exhibit of a modern painter, Ikuo Hirayama, who'd been recommended to me. While strolling the gallery, I noticed a guy with a big video camera taping me. It looked like a rather professional rig, so I assumed it was for some sort of promotional thing, maybe for the artist's own museum. At any rate, the guy hadn't bothered to ask me--was probably afraid to, on the assumption that, being blond, I can't speak Japanese, a fear I always find mildly annoying, even if I understand the cultural reasons for it. At any rate, it's rude to film strangers without asking, even here. I felt I had to try my hardest to look interested and thoughtful; I guessed that the one moment I forgot about him and moved my lips to some thought like, "What the #$&*+¥´&Mac198; is this?" or indulged a need to scratch somewhere would make the final edit. Monday afternoon, one of my kids ran up to me to tell me he'd seen me on TV, in a museum somewhere. Of the 650 students and 50 teachers who know me, only one, Satoshi, noticed me on the program. I imagine the narration was something like, "People have come from all over the world to see this important artist" (if the guy had spoken to me, he'd have found out I'd come all of five miles to see this important artist). Even barring a shocking foreigner sighting, any event big enough to draw seven or eight people (attendance at the museum that afternoon) to exciting Imadate-cho has got to be newsworthy.
Next, a brief cultural observation. We had another fire drill, just as inane as the ones before (recap: kids are trained to, on hearing the alarm, freeze in place and await instructions over the PA; not only does this mean they are just starting to move by the time American kids would be lined up in the field watching the building burn, it also ignores the hard-learned lesson that most fires are electrical and tend to take out all sorts of wired [even independently wired] systems like, gee, the PA [American alarms are just simple buzz circuits, and each bell is wired to go off by itself if the system it's connected to fails]). Even better, after the evacuation, firefighters taught the kids how to approach a fire and put it out with a fire extinguisher--and from pictures I saw at my elementary schools, even first graders get the same lesson. Even in the staged demo, the kids only succeeded in putting out the fire about half the time. American lesson: children should get the hell away from the fire. Japanese: children should wait around until told to get out, and they should consider trying to fight a fire at home themselves. A six year-old with a 20 lb. fire extinguisher fails to inspire confidence.
Oh, yes, I've lucked out in the crush lottery again. My crush girl: the smallest kid in school, a navel-high second-year with a flirty/shy personality who likes to tease me (she's the one who told me I've got a big butt); she could pass for nine. Sweet, innocent, harmless; the crush may have already passed. Omori-sensei's crush girl: a well-developed third year who proudly tells everyone how much she loves him; her hobbies are waiting for Mr. Omori wherever she thinks he might turn up, following him into rooms to tease and flatter him, and staring at him through binoculars from the third floor window when he's coaching tennis. She's even got a cute nickname for him. A recent conversation:
Peter: Chiho, are those your binoculars?
Chiho: The school's.
Peter: Are you looking at Omori-sensei?
Chiho: I love Mososan!!!
Peter: Chiho, you're a scary girl.
Chiho: Not scary! Cute! Very sexy!
Other girls (pointing and shrieking): Scary!! Scary!! Chiho is scary girl!!!
Peter: Scary. Dangerous. You're a dangerous girl.
Chiho: Sexy girl!
Peter: Chiho, how old are you?
Chiho: I'm fourteen years old.
Peter: A fourteen year old girl with binoculars is not sexy. She is scary. Chiho, here is a new word: "stalker--stah-kah."
Good luck, Omori-sensei.
Omori-sensei managed, accidentally, to give me the best laugh that I've had in years--and the hardest to suppress, as was necessary. To break the tedium of teaching the new first years, he taught them to address him using the English honorific "Sexy," as in 30 voices yelling in unison, "Good morning, Peter-sensei, Mr. Terao, and Sexshy Omori." All well and good: "sexshy" has become a Japanese word, so no one's going to innocently use it when they meet a new foreigner. However, using it in the initial greeting became a habit, and habits are hard to break, even when students have been told not to use that greeting on a particular day, and even when their mothers have come to school to observe classes.
I may have one more crush, but it's even less threatening. The girl at my thrice-a-year elementary school who'd kept my hand pressed to her face when, sick as a dog, I'd visited her school in February asked me on my recent return if I'd remembered her name (I hadn't, but I will next time), and she kept near me all day, except when I was teaching, again stroking my hand and arm and pressing the back of my hand to her cheek all day. Probably the same sort of reaction a little kid would have if someone brought a rabbit or a cute dog to school, but heart-warming nonetheless. Yuko is about the cutest kid you could imagine: ponytails, really big eyes, pretty face. All you'd ever want in an eight year old. Unfortunately, if I manage to get one of my own, they start off smaller and incontinent, and though they get cute soon enough they don't stay that way forever (before long they're staring at married men through binoculars for 2 hours every afternoon). Such is life.
Finally, a happy event in my life: I've bought a car. My old one, with its dead shocks and frightening handling, began to show signs of the final steering and brake failures my mechanic had warned me about six months ago when my transmission went on the fritz (ironically, it stabilized and works perfectly all but one or two days a month). This time, rather than trusting people (I'd been in Takefu about three days when I bought the last one, at the recommendation of my boss), I studied how to check a used car on the internet and checked all sorts of things. I eventually found a 4 speed in great shape--with good handling--for only ¥120,000 ($960), with an inspection sticker good until after I leave. I was a bit put off by the 4 speed, since I'd never liked them back home--I suppose I was a 5 speed snob--but then I realized that I'd still have more speeds than cylinders and that the point at which I'd shifted into 5th back home was faster than the point at which a speeding ticket becomes an unbearable expense on the roads around here. It's a Honda, which makes me happy, too. I pick it up tomorrow. I was thrilled that the dealer is not only taking my old car off my hands (sparing me the $300 expense of recycling it) but is even giving me a set of snow tires in exchange for it. Life is good.
It's still the rainy season here, though after two or three weeks of rain almost every day we're now getting a lot more good days than we should expect; it's starting to get hot. Now, instead of joining the PE classes, I watch from the window, sipping my iced tea. The PE teachers have a good set-up now. They generally lump two or four homerooms together into one class to cut down on the number of classes. First, the kids gather outside, and student leaders direct the rest of the kids through their stretching exercises. Lately, this has been followed by, for whatever reason, ten minutes of frisbee playing. Then the PE teachers saunter out, set up their lawn chairs, and yell a few directions through a huge megaphone. Sometimes, they come by on bikes to lead the kids on a 3 km jog around the neighborhood, a big pack of sweating miserable kids lead and trailed by teachers riding at what is for them quite a leisurely pace. The teachers generally wear hats, visors, and neck guards, but the kids are browning up nicely. I think they'll be done soon.
So what do they pay me so well to do over here? To what use do they put their highly trained foreign and domestic teachers? Today, we joined the kids in preparing for sports day tomorrow. How do we do that? We go out onto the huge dirt athletic field, squat in place, and remove pebbles by hand, one by one. Then we move a meter or so, squat again, and remove some more pebbles. While I appreciate the virtues of free child labor as much as the next guy, sometimes I do think it's astounding the uses that children will be put to over here. Apparently, given some rags, a few buckets, some bamboo, and two hundred children, you can move mountains (actually, this isn't too far off some of the wartime stories I've heard).
So that's life here, a little of everything. I hope all is well back in the real world.
O genki de