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Goodbye, My Dears

Tuesday, January 31, 2006
When I correct papers here, I always make at least one trip to the copy room. Grading the efforts of Japanese middle schoolers is an adventure in mistranslation that more often than not is funny, surprising, or even surreal. I copy the best sheets, not necessarily the most correct ones, but the ones that make me want to call my friends and read these things aloud to them. Since I can't call, I save them, and I'd like to share some of them. Because a lot of text is boring all in a block, I'm going to mix in pictures I took yesterday. Mori, his sister, and his sister's friend came over. His sister and her friend are going to Thailand tomorrow and wanted travel advice.

The third year students had to write about what they did over New Years. Some of them had bits of unintentional comedy:
...it was cold to climb a mountain from early morning and was good because I was able to take the sunrise hard.

Some of them seemed to hint at debauchery and scandal:
I did five friends in Christmas fashion. I did it in a house of a friend from morning. A lot of stories did more it too.

One just sounded really depressed, though I doubt he is really.
I just wanted to spend it happy this year for one year.

The best ones read like pieces of poetry . I don't think they were meant to be poetry, but that's what came out. This sheet had a single photo glued to the top, of a boy jumping rope on an empty street.
It got up early in the morning and boiled rice
was eaten today
Then, he studied.
Daytime ate boiled rice.
Then, a younger brother's skipping rope
was seen
It is making progress little by little.
Night ate boiled rice.
Then, the game was carried out.
Today was also pleasant on the first.

I liked that, and I didn't have any idea where I'd start correcting it. I gave it a double score, the highest, and a medium-low score.
January first cousin.
Supper game.
Cousin play happy.
Study play pleasure.
Cousin come play.

Perhaps the most tragic of them all:
December 31
New Year's Eve.
Turn on the television.
I looked at the Doraemon.
Have a good time.
He was saved by a miracle.
Beat fast.
I was deeply moved by the sight.
I could not hold back my tears.

That's me, sharing the wonders of the new season of 24 with Japan.

Another assignment had the kids writing interview questions they would like to ask me. I received a stack of 30 white sheets with questions on them, and I had to answer them. Some were baffling:
Do you like Stevie Wonder?
Why are they dancing in a circle to music?
You can not speak Japanese?

Some were just on the strange side.
1. What do you think about Osakikamijima?
2. Do you want to make friends with E.T. if E.T. visit you?

One kid seemed to simply be bursting at the seams with questions. The list was scrawled across the sheet, with marks where the pencil lead broke.
Do you like baseball?
Do you like E.T.?
Do you like Mikoshi?
Do you like school?
Do you like coffee?
Do you like

The last interview sheet was a good one. Through the neat handwriting and perfect spelling, I could imagine a voice saying "look at all these facts I know about you!"
Do you play volleyball every Saturday, right?
Why did you buy a cat?
Did your father's boat arrive?

I typed those up last night, and as though to make me pay for choosing the best ones, today I received about a hundred new question sheets, out of which I got some pretty good questions. Interviews, round II:

Right to the point:
Do you like Japan?
How many CDs do you have?

Subtle, like a skillful lawyer:
Do you like rice?
Do you like curry?
Do you like freedom?

Or maybe this one:
5. Have you ever been to China?
6. What animals do you like the best?
7. Do you believe a "God"?
8. What musical instrument can you play?
9. Please explain about "love".

By far the best interview sheet came from Shun Mizuno. It's the only one that got me stressing about my answers.
1. Do you want to marry in the future?
2. A woman said "I love you". You don't like her. Then what do you answer? I hope good your answer.
3. Do you like younger girls or older women?
4. Do you believe U.F.O.? I believe it.
5. Have you seen a like U.F.O.? (Do you want to meet it?)

Mori and His sister, playing with Neko (more Neko later).

At least the E.T. part, I understand. There's a section in the textbook on E.T., and the kids seem to have liked it. The last assignment I graded was a "imagine your own scene from E.T. based on these two pictures." I'll let them speak for themselves. The two pictures were of E.T. reaching into a refrigerator, and Elliot with his head on a desk and a goofy smile on his face.
In the kitchen, E.T. is looking for foods. He was getting hungry. Then he got electric shock through his finger. E.T. became Elliot. Elliot became E.T. too. They were surprised. And they didn't understand what happened.
In the kitchen, E.T. wanted something to eat. He was open the refrigerator and He was surprised. Because, his finger was pinched by a big lobster.

Sometimes I just didn't know what the hell they were talking about.
In the kitchen, E.T. found red birds. E.T. was very hungry. Then a big bird appeared. The big bird ate the red bird. E.T. was very shock. Because E.T. wanted to eat the red bird, too. Then, frog appeared in the garden. E.T. went out to eat frog. E.T. was lost.

Finally there was more surrealism going on with Elliot in class.
Elliot was having science class. The class was to dissect frogs. At that time, frogs were run away by Elliot. He was got angry by the teacher. At that time, he was floated in the air by a drunken E.T.

Tune in again soon for more crazy stories from the minds of Osaki Chugakko San Nenseii students!


Last Thursday marked the exact six-month point of my time in Japan, and to commemorate we had the midyear conference, the last big JET get together in Hiroshima. It was pretty much as expected, boring lectures, the occasional good speaker, and the thrill of being around a number of young people who speak English. I saw my friends from northern Hiroshima prefecture, and we had a legendary night at the MAC Bar.

Byron and Dave, the coolest cats in the Ken.

Their friend, whose name I cannot remember. He is from South Africa, and there is an incredible story of intrigue and espionage around his family.

The guy who sat across from us and didn't drink much, didn't say much, but sat right in the light and looked very serious the whole night.

You can kind of see in the background of the last picture that the walls of MAC Bar are covered in writing. MAC is a gaijin bar, catering to the ex-pat scene in Hiroshima. All kinds of people pass through, leaving their marks. There are dozens of countries named, some later crossed out by other people, some circled with notes or phone numbers added on. People draw things, paint things, leave messages for each other, all in marker on raw wood. The last time Byron and Dave were at MAC (I was in Thailand), they met a bunch of US Marines. They said the Marines were all young, some back from active duty in Iraq and looking a little rough around the edges. On the walls of MAC there are a number of messages left by Marines, and one was surprising and raw.

The night went in a crazy spiraling course for the rest of the evening. Truth be told the details of the later parts are a bit blurry, but I made it to the seminars the next morning, and I shared a pretty good headache with a bunch of other folks.

The Taiko drumming didn't help with the headache.

In seriousness though, Taiko drumming is awesome. I had never seen it before I came to Japan, but since I got here, I've seen maybe ten or fifteen performances, from Junior high level to the pros. It's always great. If a Taiko troupe comes near you, go see them. I recommend it.

Cat News

It's got a bold headline, so it's got to be news! Actually, Neko just continues to get bigger, stronger, and sharper. She's just gotten her new lower teeth, and now when she chews on my hand the pain rating has been upgraded from "6 - mild torture" to "9-ow! ow! ow!" The new top ones are coming in now, so I'm going to have to watch out. In an effort to get her to expend her energy on something other than eating me, I decided we should go outside. It took her half an hour to get down the steps from my front door (each step was carefully inspected for traps and other hazards), but once she got down, Neko and I had a little slow walk around my house. It was her first time outside, and for most of it she was low to the ground with her tail bushed out, trembling with excitement.

Considering the great outdoors.

What a pretty cat she is! Not much of a kitten any more, just a small cat. The best small cat around, though.

The big adventure of walking on grass proved to be a bit too much for her first time out. She looked at it for a long time, tried to knock it down, and then gave up.

Bad News

I've been mentioning bad news for a little while, but I didn't want to write anything until the plane had taken off and I could be sure this was actually going to happen. As you may know, Megan, the other teacher here, is about six months pregnant. She was planning on having her baby in Japan, the JET program offers two months of paid maternity leave, after which she was going to head back to Canada with Cory, her husband. As she learned more and more about the Japanese medical system, she got to thinking she wanted to have a home birth.

Now, 40 years ago, all babies born in Japan were home births. It was the way things happened, and there was no real alternative. Nowadays, Japan has fully embraced hospitals. Midwives are few and far between, and when you say home birth to a Japanese person, often you'll get a quizzical look that seems to say "but why would you want that?"

The reason Megan wanted a home birth is because a typical childbirth in Japan involves an extended stay at a hospital, a compulsory shaving, episiotomy, induction of labor, no choice of labor position, and you have to ask if you want to make noise. After the baby is delivered, it is taken away for a day or two and fed sugar water. There is no expressing your opinion, as informed consent is not really a concept here. The doctor says, and you do. It's as simple as that, but for Megan, unable to find a midwife who would come to the island, and having meetings with Japanese doctors via translators, it was understandably terrifying.

About two weeks ago, Megan and Cory finally decided to break contract and go home to have their baby in Canada. At the end of the day, I think it was the right decision, but it's been a little rough for me. Megan and Cory lived downstairs from me, and they were my ex-pat community. We ate meals together, commiserated and laughed about living in Japan, went on trips together, and their apartment was often the first place I'd go after work. Cory and I played video games together, Megan and I bitched about work, and together the two of them taught me everything I needed to know when I got here. To have them suddenly leave me here alone was not the easiest thing to deal with, and I'm still dealing. The saddest part is that I won't get to see Megan's baby, something that I was really excited about. (I may have been more excited than they were when they first told me).

They left on Sunday, and I went with a big group of people from the island to Higashi Hiroshima to see them off at the train station.

A crowd of students and teachers came to the ferry port to see them off. It was all very dramatic with waving and crying long last looks at the island.

We drove out from the ferry, our cadre of small stuffed toys leading the way.

At the platform we all waited for their train as the ultrafast Shinkansen whipped through the station at 200 miles an hour.

The train came and this was the last look, waving through the glass as the train pulled out of the station.

And that was it - off they went and now they are back in Vancouver.

It was a strange afternoon without them, I was feeling a little lonely and Liz offered to come by and meet me in Takehara for lunch. It was nice to have someone to talk to for an afternoon, and we went on a walk through some empty part of Takehara, and found a cool empty fish shop.

I'm not sure if it opens in the summer or what. It certainly didn't seem to get much use now.

It all seems fairly tragic, and in the low moments I am certainly more lonely here. There are other times though when it doesn't seem all bad. Let's look at gains and losses.

Cory and Megan leaving - Net Gains:

One modified Playstation 2.

One pair of motorcycle goggles and a quarter of a bottle of Glenlivet.

One car, two scooters, and six bicycles. Six. And a car that is mine!

Cory and Megan Leaving - Net Losses:

Two good friends.

I think the total still comes out as a loss, but only by a little bit. I'll be ok, and I've got a car, a Playstation, and some scotch if I'm not feeling ok.

Good luck with everything guys. I'll miss you.