a week of new nicknames

2 09 2007

タイソン ゲーイ です。 For the linguistically challenged, that means “I’m Tyson Gay.” Well, rather the high school teachers’ softball team (of which I’m now a proud member) has taken to calling me that. In return, I taught them about rally caps; although because of the language barrier, they probably just thought me eccentric. The high school girls call me Prince. I don’t know why, and can’t really decipher the meaning behind it, but I’m sure they can’t either. The irony of the popularity of English, which I touched on last post, is that there can be a six-year old kid with the word “fuck” on his shirt four times and no one would give two craps. So I’m Prince. And Tyson Gay. And White-Legs.

I survived my first full week of teaching. Three days junior high school, one day kindergarten, and one day high school which I didn’t go to—both English teachers couldn’t be there.

My first day at junior high I received quite the welcome ceremony. After botching a speech where I said the wrong name of the teacher translating for me, the third year boys did some performance-type thing where one of them waved around a giant school flag, another beat a bass drum loudly, and three more yelled things at me in Japanese. Then the rest of the student body yelled the same thing at me, and clapped a few times. It was really cool.

The actual class work would be pretty boring for me to explain here. I basically just introduced myself a bunch of times and showed some pictures of home, and people that are cool; asked the students some questions about it all, and then let them ask me questions. I got asked, about five times each how tall I was (187 cm), how much I weighed (75 kg), and how long I was (2 m). Oh and I have 184 girlfriends. And I can use chopsticks. Huzzah.

The high school introduction lesson (last week) was a bit more exciting. I had the same pictures but had the students unscramble captions cut up by word. Then the students asked questions. No, I don’t have a girlfriend. No, I don’t like natto. No. I don’t have a girlfriend. After enough times of answering that question, the teacher just started replying to the girls by saying “chansu,” as in “you have a chance.” (I expect at least one comment about young blood, or something akin to that.). Mmmm, that’s it for teaching.

Oh no, I lied. Next week, for the third year junior high students, I have to teach a fun passage in the textbook. It’s about Hiroshima. Specifically, about a girl whose parents visit there in 1945, and never come back. The girl is bummed. AND THEN SHE GETS CANCER AND DIES. I’m REALLY excited to be the American reading this one. I suppose that’s why a common JET interview question is “What would you do if a student blamed you for the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki?” Puttin’ theory to practice. That’s what teaching is about, right?

Kindergarten teaching, however, is not about that. Kindergarten was about being Godzilla. I had two kids clinging to each leg, and one climbing each arm while I roared and kicked over buildings made of foam bricks. Then I impressed them all with my ability to hula-hoop (for maybe 5 seconds). And then I lifted kids up so they could touch the ceiling until my arms gave out. And then we took a field trip to an exhibit on shells. AND THEN…the point is this was a long morning. Next week, we take a field trip to a horse-riding farm. I love the kindergarten (now that they’ve stopped kancho-ing me…and I understand some of what they’re saying).

Enough about my job. Last weekend I stupidly decided to run ten miles and hike up an 800-meter high mountain (about a 2 hour ascent) in the same morning. So the onsen (public bath/hot springs) was pretty much the best thing that ever happened to me; both the bath itself and standing totally in the buff overlooking a small town’s horse farms and the ocean. It was totally amazing. I took a picture of the view (pun: “which view?”).

A brief aside: right now NHK sports is recapping the IAAF track and field championships (in Osaka) and talking about how great Tyson Gay is, and how that Russian pole vaulter is awesome, and all of a sudden they start making fun of athletes. First for funny things, like a hammer thrower hitting a camera instead of throwing the hammer; or a guy who tried to kiss his [wife/friend/teammate/stranger] and got rejected; or the guy who had unnecessarily long and complex pre-high-jump rituals—of course all set to a funny soundtrack with superfluous cartoon sound effects. Then it got ugly, and they just started making fun of a woman who smashed her face on a hurdle, a man who passed out from heat stroke, and a guy who had a crippling leg spasm after the end of the 20km walk (which is a joke in itself—sorry to the pro-walkers who read this). Is it bad that I laughed? Sound effects can make anything funny, ok!?

Speaking of funny sounds (back on topic now). The high school teachers held a welcome party for the other ALT and me last week, and the latter half of it was prime karaoke-ing, where I blew everyone’s minds with a sweet rendition of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” Mostly sweet because I was totally hardcore up in people’s grills at the table next to us. And yes, there was dirty dancing and inappropriate gesturing. There are pictures floating about somewhere. Other highlights included a choreographed J-Pop duet between two of the teachers. It literally took my breath. I feel quite welcomed and I’m hopeful that this turns into a regular activity. I’ve got plenty of things going on, but not much socially.

At every recent major transition (i.e. high school and college graduations) I end up wondering whether or not my patterns will change. Er…less circumlocutory: I frequently question if I’ve reached my peak. Most of you know that I had/have a tendency (and I like) to commit to a lot of things. It keeps me busy, it keeps me organized—it keeps me happy and healthy. So I worried prior to coming here that “real life” meant settling down, and I’m pleasantly surprised to find that within one month I’ve ended up as active as ever. Even though I can barely communicate, I’ve managed to stick to my old guns, and also pick up completely new activities. I’m totally taken aback looking at the degree of immersion I’ve experienced. The Chicago JETs, prior to departure, were advised by an alumnus to make sure that we do something new each day we’re in Japan. I was pretty sure I didn’t pay attention to anything that day, but I guess some part of me took that advice to heart.

Now comes the hard part: making the day-to-day routine fun and challenging.

PICTURES (click to enlarge):

mountain top

the view from the mountain top

bear bell

bear bells, to keep the bears away

onsen view

the view from the onsen

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4 responses

3 09 2007
Shira

Did I not tell you to watch out for the high school girls??

3 09 2007
Allison

You forgot a nickname.

3 09 2007
Scott

Natto smells sooooooo bad. I can’t even eat it. Also, did the junior high kids pelt you with awkward comments and questions regarding WW2?

3 09 2007
Nell

Damn Zach, 184 girlfriends? I guess you are doing something different each day you are in Japan.

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