Strange day

I got my first disparaging/insulting comment yesterday.

I was at one of my elementary schools–afternoon classes were canceled (due to the school having a Human Rights Day where parents could come in and watch their kids’ classes as the teachers talked about equal rights for everyone and being kind towards your fellow man and whatnot), but they’d forgotten to tell me since last Friday was a holiday, so I walked in and was met with confused-then-alarmed-then-apologetic looks. The teacher of the class I work with walked in and sat at his desk, looking thoroughly exhausted, and I said hello and gave him a polite smile and a bow, and he looked at me, blinked sluggishly, and went, “Eh?” It was cute. ;o)

Anyway, a little later, one of the teachers, one who spent some time in the US and speaks English, offered to take me around to see what all the classes were doing. I thought that was sweet of her, so I went along, and she explained what each class was talking about as we went, and talked a little bit about the differences between American and Japanese schools.

As we were walking down a hall to get to the last 2 of the 6 classrooms in the school, we passed some woman I’d never seen before, possibly a parent. She smiled at us and then said, in Japanese, “Sensei, it must be a burden on you to have to take care of this ___!” I don’t remember exactly what she said, but it was an insult describing me and pitying the teacher for having to babysit me, and essentially saying that because she assumed I was a foreigner and therefore knew nothing about Japan or its culture or language, it was a big nuisance for the teacher to deal with me.

But justice was at hand: the teacher immediately smiled back and replied, “Oh, no, no, it’s no problem at all! And she speaks Japanese very well!”

The smile on the woman’s face froze in place. And after a brief moment of silence as she and I stared at each other, she mumbled a quick “shitsurei shimasu” (excuse me, I’m intruding) and hurried off.

I’d almost forgotten that there were some people who really didn’t take kindly to foreigners, considering that I’d had an exceptionally warm reception thus far. I was able to brush off her comment quite easily, but it left me feeling fairly uneasy–I am a foreigner, in a country that’s literally 99% Japanese. It’s easy to forget that sometimes.

I also had to deal with a perpetually drunken guy who likes to go eikaiwa-hopping (like bar-hopping, except he goes to a different eikaiwa every week). His English was quite good, better than the ladies in my intermediate eikaiwa, but he said he really wanted to join my beginners class, or something…and one of the normally warm and sweet women in my intermediate class took a minute to talk to him in fairly icy tones, and I later found out that he’d come by before and my predecessor had told him to not come if he was going to come drunk. He behaved himself, and was fairly friendly, if a little odd, but he did interrupt several times with totally unrelated questions. But it’s weird–I was put into kind of a strange situation. These students all knew him, but it was on me to take the authoritative step. And later that day, I spent 50 minutes going back and forth with one of the women in the community center who was trying to tell me something about him, except I just couldn’t understand her…finally, though, with the help of Excite’s babelfish software, we figured it out, and essentially he isn’t allowed back because of a 10-person-maximum rule my predecessor had instated, and somebody had called to request the 10th slot in one of my classes the week before he came by the community center and invited himself over.

Other than that, things are going well…it’s just hard to keep up with all my elementary schools, because I think there’s one that’s now 3 or maybe 4 weeks behind the one that’s managed to convene every week since the start of term. My junior high’s okay–it’s a relief to not have to manage those classes and to follow my JTE’s lead. I also got a really cute hand-drawn thank-you card from my two speech contest girls–oh! They ended up not winning; both of Lindsay’s kids at Ikeda Chuugakkou won, which honestly surprised everybody, Lindsay included. Everyone did agree that my kids were the most natural of the bunch, though, but despite 2 of the 3 judges being past/present ALTs and agreeing that the contest should be decided on who seems to have the best grasp of how to use English, the contest was decided based on Japanese criteria: did they memorize everything and not pause or lose their place at all? We all think it’s pretty unfair, and rote memorization says nothing about how well you’ve mastered a language, but…well, oh well. My kids know they did well, and they’re doing just fine.

The one thing I’ve been lamenting is the lack of a classical music following here–but there’s a concert tomorrow with music arranged by the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra that I’m going to with Yuri, the fiancee of a JET in Sadamitsu; and I’m taking my violin when I go visit Louise next weekend in Fukushima-ken, so we can play some duet music or something together; and the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra themselves are coming and doing a pops concert within the next couple of months; and there’s a romantic piano concert up in Takamatsu during midweek in early November. When it rains, it pours–except it’s raining classical music, which is totally fine with me!

The weather’s also started to chill a little bit–I had to wear my fleece several days last week. But just in time, my box from home arrived on Thursday, so I have all my winter clothes, DVDs, a few books, shoes, my stuffed hippo Crinkles that I’ve had since I was a little kid, and food (peanut butter, Velveeta Mac&Cheese, Thin Mints, Famous Amos chocolate-chip cookies, and vacuum-sealed Indian curries). It was like Christmas! So many goodies in one beat-up but resilient box. I may go make some macaroni now and then go and walk around for a while, so…till next time.

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