Monday, August 2, 2010

Japan Part Two

Day two consisted of shopping in the morning and meeting up with Erin’s future employer in the evening. Erin’s contract with the city of Takamatsu was up the end of July and a new student from Eckerd is coming to replace her. Thus, to stay in Japan, she needs to get a new job. The school she found is a private English school that is basically the Japanese equivalent of mine. The principal who we nicknames ‘Grandma’ due to her sweet and understanding disposition and the fact that every time we went out to eat she would refuse to let us pay, saying ‘Grandma’s got this one’.

Grandma seemed intent on wooing me to come teach in Japan but even if I hadn’t signed a binding, legal contract with my Korean employers I don’t think I’d come to Japan because it’s SO EXPENSIVE. But at least I know that Erin will be in good hands. Her new schedule is a little busier than her old one but when she signed the contract, she was ecstatic to be spending another year in Takamatsu.

We also went to see her employer because I was going to be working for them for a couple hours the next day. See, they were supplying foreign teachers for a special conference for Japanese elementary school teachers. They are required to teach their students at least a little English and they needed someone to help with pronunciation and grammar.

Since Erin couldn’t do it because of a previous engagement with her other job, I was signed up for the roll of ‘foreign lecturer’ for the day. Grandma asked me if I had any nice clothes – which of course I didn’t – and if I had any nice shoes – also no.

Thus, the next day found me in a borrowed top, a half-made skirt and my clunky sneakers in front of a room of Japanese elementary school teachers. Grandma insisted on staying to introduce me so she could ‘explain me’. Which I took to mean my outfit was far from satisfactory.

It was very interesting, not only because I was teaching in a different country, but also because I was teaching adults (Read: people who actually wanted to learn). They had me say sentences for them with my accent so they could copy me. Then they got into groups and had mock conversations so they could practice speaking English. Some were very good and I think some where just really shy.

Just when I was feeling useless there would be some point of grammar or speech I felt I needed to point out. Some examples: The fact that two dice are called ‘dice’ and one is called ‘die’. The same with ‘octopus’ and ‘octopi’. The best one was when they were having a conversation about what animals they liked. The question was ‘what animals do you like?’ and in the book it said the response should be ‘I like dog’. I had to correct them and say, when you say you like and animal, its always in plural (my Korean students have problems with this, too). Because if you say ‘I like dog’ it means you like to eat dog.

After everything was over, one of my students came up to me and spoke long and eloquently to me about my teaching. Too bad she was speaking Japanese and I had no idea what she said. It’s strange how long it took the students to understand that I didn’t speak a word of Japanese. It took my all six days to get down ‘thank you’. Grandma, who was there, said the woman was very impressed with my teaching style and was very thankful to me for coming to teach them on my vacation. I, unaware that I had any ‘style’ whatsoever when I teach, was very appreciative of the compliment.

That night, some of Erin’s friends were throwing me a welcome party which was super nice of them considering they don’t know me. Naoko and Chikako (“Chica”) were the co-conspirators in this slice of Japanese crazy and absolutely made the night a success. They even picked the perfect venue – a bar called ‘Drunk Monkeys’.

They invited some Japanese friends , one of whom is a famous craftsman, designated as a ‘living treasure’ by the Emperor himself. He makes traditional candy molds out of cherry wood by hand. He was the one buying most of the drinks.

Japanese meals come in stages and after about five of these, the chef brought out a plate full of little round balls. Naoko referred to these as ‘tako balls’. I had already been warned by several people that ‘tako’ is Japanese for ‘octopus’ not ‘Mexican deliciousness’. So, I had already planned not to eat them (I just can’t do it – they’re too smart to eat) when Chica, who had demonstrated only moderate English skills up until this point said, “It’s a game, like Russian Roulette’. Since the term ‘Russian Roulette’ is not in your standard English phrase book, I was intrigued. She explained that they all had tako in them, but only one had a red pepper tucked inside. We were all going to eat one and a bystander was going to have to guess which of us had eaten the spicy one.

The bystander chose Erin first because she was so red – Erin just is always red – and me second because Chica had convinced him that since I lived in Korea and eating spicy Korean food I could bluff better than most. Third he chose the craftsman who, in my opinion, has no poker face and gave himself away immediately.

They then procured this barrel with a monkey on top. We stuck swords into the barrel until it popped out. The loser had to wear something ridiculous. I ended up with a traditional looking head band on that apparently said something about being ‘sure to win’ on it. Erin got bunny ears, and the craftsman had to wear this red Japanese robe. Shaun, another foreign teacher in attendance, had to wear the Japanese version of Groucho Marx glasses.

We had so much fun that we missed the last train home (at the ridiculous hour of 11pm) and had to walk all the way back to Erin’s apartment.

Still to come is my harrowing journey our of the country on the next installment of: Emily's Time In Japan.

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