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Wednesday. Five months and two days in Japan. March 24, 2004

Posted by LHK in Japan.
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I give up. I think I am going to have to clean Belinda’s three-day-old barbecued beef remnants out of our nice Martha Stewart Living frying pan (which Kristy and I jointly bought). Would it be really bratty of me to stick a note to the clean pan, saying, I should not have had to clean this…?

Today, I worked at one of our satellite Nova branches in east Tokyo. This is the place that inexplicably pumps music into lesson rooms. Last time it was tinkly piano music that was easy to ignore. Today, though, it was the same Horrendous Bastions of Western Chick Pop CD playing on repeat throughout the eight lessons. Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated,” Britney Spears’ “I’m Not a Girl (Not Yet a Woman),” that blasted “Milkshake Song,” something that sounded suspiciously like the beginning of the Mary Tyler Moore theme song, and a lot of songs I didn’t know because I’m not up on that stuff anymore. The noise was amazing. I was teaching with Jason, Andrew, and Jim, all of whom insist on yelling their lessons about follow-up questions and relative clauses into the frigid, damp air of those basement classrooms. Couple that with the girl pop and you end up with me sitting in a corner classroom with a 70-year-old real estate agent who’s grinning knowingly at me, because even though she’s having trouble understanding the difference between “sometimes” and “occasionally,” she can tell that the day here is testing both my patience and my eardrums.

The last lesson brought a really baffling student to me. He did fine in the introduction, asking questions to the other student about her job and her interests and her family, but when we got to the structured part of the lesson, it was as though he hid all his common sense under the kidney-shaped lesson table (I am not used to kidney-shaped lesson tables. I like round lesson tables. I must admit I will be happy to once again be teaching at nice round tables tomorrow morning). We were doing a lesson on describing actions with adverbs: “How did he dance / ski / play golf?” “He danced / skied / played golf badly.” Most students, even in low levels, can pick up new grammar points very well after seeing them written down, reading them in context, and practicing them orally. But this guy … was a puzzle. At the end of the lesson, I was trying to engage him in conversation with the other student about a J-pop concert she’d seen recently. I told him to ask questions such as, “How did they sing?” or “How did they play?” I’m not even usually that explicit with the questions they should ask in conversation.

He said, “How did you they see the concert?”

I didn’t know where to even begin correcting that, but I know I couldn’t just let it go, either, because the other student wouldn’t be able to answer it with anything that made sense.

I said, “Start again. How did they…?

He said, “How did you they the concert?”

Crap. Now he was even missing his main verb. Well, that was an easy enough thing to correct, wasn’t it?

“Don’t forget — you need an action! Use ‘sing.'”

“How you see the concert?”

“Not ‘see’ — ‘sing’!” Now I was just trying to get the right verb; I think I had put blinders on to his incorrect subject and overall structure. And all the while, “The Milkshake Song” was being unwelcomely pumped into my classroom.


“How did they…?” I prompted. I saw his baffled look in response to this prompt, and I knew I wasn’t going to get the right question before the bell rang not only for the end of that lesson but for the end of the teaching night. I wrote down exactly what he was meant to say — something I almost never do at the “application” stage of the lesson, because the students should have practiced the grammar enough to be able to produce it on their own. I wrote: How did they sing?

He looked down at the paper, looked up at me, and said, “How they sing a song?”

Britney Spears started playing, and I thought, wow, I am so glad I don’t teach at this branch full-time.

(In retrospect, I probably would have been able to help the guy out a bit more had there not been another student who ran linguistic and grammatical and vocabularial circles around him and who obviously wasn’t up to sitting there while I drilled and re-drilled the same sentence to the dude. Also, I feel like I should be putting I’m usually a better teacher, I think disclaimers all over this entry, but I won’t do it.)

I was still there seven minutes after the lesson’s official end. Jason kindly waited for me in the staff room as I filled out my files, stole a 100-yen umbrella from the lost and found, and dug my train pass out of the American Eagle purse I’ve carried on and off since March 1999. We caught an outbound train together, because I live across the river from Tokyo prefectural limits, and he lives out out out far enough that I call his town Brazil.


Story Collection March 22, 2004

Posted by LHK in Japan.
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Sunday nights with Dorothy are becoming a tradition. Last week was the all-you-can-eat buffet at Sizzler (!) in Kameido. This week we were very directed. “What are you guys doing after work?” Vesta asked on Sunday morning. “We’re getting wasted,” I replied, very matter-of-factly. There’s always a goal, always a destination, but the real focus of the Sundays is the process of telling stories. We collect them over the week and then start spilling them all on Sunday afternoon, almost as soon as we can get out the doors of Nova and pass the Ukranian prostitutes always lurking by the hostess bars. Usually there isn’t time for all the stories, especially if one of us has made a resolution (flimsy or not) to catch the last train. We have to prioritize: stories about ourselves first, and then we’ll delve into the third-person tales we collect slyly, mostly about our male co-workers who don’t realize what good listeners we are. Last week was pretty epic. We were catching up on two international vacations, and so the massive food intake was justified by the energy we expended to talk about such huge topics. This week didn’t need to be so grandiose. We started before 6, with small pizzas and coffee at Cafe Tomato Jr., then headed across the street to Wara Wara, where we kept the bottles of wine coming until I forgot all my Japanese except “Hashira naito ikenai” (“I have to go running”) and our eyes were so bleary that they kept us from being able to see the menu and order any greasy izakaya food.

Stories (somewhat prioritized):
— how on Earth I ended up spending three hours talking philosophy with Jason and Ben on Friday night. How Jason demonstrated the creation of black holes with raw squid tentacles, soy sauce bottles, and dirty napkins. How I gleefully stumped Ben with my non-linear time theory, whereas Ben as a person usually stumps me. How Jason’s ultimate goal is to own a mall in Japan.

— how on Earth Dorothy and her ridiculously good-looking roommate ended up karaokeing with two Japanese businessmen they met at the Shin-Koiwa train station. How the roommate ended up making out with the older, married businessman, and how Dorothy is still waiting for the younger, cuter, unmarried one to call her.

— how Dorothy had a well-intended coffee outing with our co-worker Anna, but how they two of them discovered they had nothing in common and sat literally staring at each other for thirty minutes.

— how Dorothy had another well-intended coffee outing with our co-worker Grant, but how it turned into an excursion into the realm of Too Much Information when Grant told her all about “discovering the body” of one of the Japanese girls who used to work in the front office.

— my retelling of Craig’s disastrous third date with Sachiko. (“I just couldn’t talk to her at all. All I could think about was baseball.” — vintage Craig)

— my retelling of Ben and so-called boss Adam’s sordid night in Roppongi, when they ended up trapped in a Ukranian strip club while trying to “score some coke.”

We paid the bill after three hours and took the train to Shin-Koiwa, Dorothy’s station, where we did karaoke for an undetermined number of hours. There’s something oddly fun about doing karaoke with just one other person. It’s quirky. It’s unnatural — standing in a little dark room with a friend and screaming songs at each other for hours. We were stuck on singing Wham!’s “Careless Whisper” last night (“I’m never gonna dance again / guilty feet have got no rhythm”). We were queueing it up over and over, such that in the last hour, our queue on the screen read something like this:

1.) “Careless Whisper” — Wham!
2.) “Allentown” — Billy Joel
3.) “Careless Whisper” — Wham!
4.) “My Life” — Billy Joel
5.) “Careless Whisper” — Wham!
6.) “We Built This City” — Starship

We concluded with a little more “Careless Whisper” and then dragged ourselves back to Dorothy’s place to sleep. The ridiculously good-looking roommate met us at the door and laughed at our glassy eyes and hoarse voices. Like an annoyingly humorous recurring character in a sitcom, the sorority girl from Alabama happened to have been hanging out with the ridiculously good-looking roommate that night and was also spending the night at their place. There’s only one large bedroom in the apartment, and we had to push all the futons together and sleep in a row of two bleached-blondes, one dark brunette, and me. I woke up warm and bundled up, with a pounding headache and the back of a date night t-shirt staring me in the face.