I flew home to America for Christmas. Well, after Christmas technically because it’s cheaper that way, but I went back during the holiday season. By that point, I’d been in Japan for almost 5 months.
I was also starved for a good steak. Japan has beef, but not real beef. It’s tiny little strips, a quarter of which is fat, and they barely cook it! I suffer at yakiniku, which is where they bring you raw meat and you cook it yourself. I like my meat well done, and most Japanese people eat their beef still slightly alive (no really, raw beef is actually considered a delicacy here). So I wait for the meat to get really cooked, but before a piece can reach its full taste apex someone else plucks it away. It’s a goddamned shame.
I often use nicknames for my kids. I have around 900-1000 students in total, so learning everyone’s names is quite hard. It’s easy to nickname them though, and at one school in particular there were certain attributes that just jumped out.
These are my personal nicknames. I don’t actually call the kids these, and soon you’ll see why. Some aren’t particularly nice, but I never claimed to be a saint.
Bessie – Her face, her body, everything just droops down, like a cow. Hey, I warned you not all of these were nice. She’s a nice girl, but apparently gravity has already kicked her ass.
Ah-buuh – She got this nickname because her lips ARE NEVER CLOSED. She’s a quiet girl so it’s not that she’s talking. It’s just she always leaves her bottom lip hanging down, and “Ah-buuh” is the sound you’d imagine coming from that face.
One day, I was in class, and I saw a girl I’d never seen before. I spent a few minutes trying to figure out who she was. A new student? A transfer? Did I just never notice her before? Eventually, I came to the shocking realization that it was Ah-buuh with her lips closed. I didn’t even recognize her.
This is a smattering of things the kids have hit me with at some point in the classroom. Most are in English, or at least their best attempt. All are completely faithful to the kids’ statements.
During a quiz game, I asked, “What’s the name of the famous bridge in San Francisco?” They always guess “Rainbow Bridge” because that’s the name of the famous bridge in Tokyo. Um, no. Not quite.
One boy completely surprised me though. He slowly and timidly approached me, looked up, and hit me with his guess: Gay Bridge.
There’s no way he could’ve said that.
I leaned in closer and asked him to repeat it. Sure enough, “Gay Bridge.”
There have been very few times in my life when I laughed so hard I couldn’t stand, but this was one of them. My Japanese teacher asked me what was wrong, and when I finally managed to spit it out he joined me on the floor. He later explained it to the students and then the teachers’ room. All were KO’d by that kid’s answer.
If you think about it though, he wasn’t too wrong.
I really don’t like one of the teachers I sit next to in the teachers’ room. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why, but then it finally hit me – he is completely enamored with the sound of his own voice.
He is always talking. Always. If the conversation doesn’t involve him, he’ll butt in. If he can’t do that, then he’ll talk to himself. If he has nothing better to say, then he’ll sing. Or just make sounds. Really, there is no point during the day at which sound is not coming from his mouth.
Not to mention, he’s always on the school’s PA system. It’s like his personal toy at this point. Half the time he’s announcing things that aren’t even important. When there is something to be shared, he’s the first to get up and say, “Shall we communicate it?” I can hear giddiness in his voice as he frolics to the machine. When he’s on it, it’s just pure joy. I can almost hear him thinking, “I like this wonderful machine because it makes my pretty voice big, so that all may hear.”
Two of the schools where I work are really nice; one was built just 7 years ago. A teacher described it to me as a “hotel” on our way there the first time. I thought it was just Engrish at work again, but it kind of does look like a hotel. Looks aside, the students are all pretty good. There are some rough and rowdy kids, but on the whole they’re not bad.
And one of my schools is in the ghetto.
Well, it’s not actually in the ghetto. It’s close though. In my town there’s an old and new part. The new part is really, really nice. There’s a science city with research and development companies and important national resources. Everything’s fast and shiny and modern. The old part is, well, old. But the real division is behind the train tracks in the old section, where things turn really run-down. Yes, this Japanese ghetto, if you can imagine such a thing, is literally on “the wrong side of the tracks.” (Amusingly, my first apartment was directly behind those tracks.) It looks it, too– old and crumbling, doors that don’t open, doors that won’t stay shut, and broken windows that have been covered up with tape and cardboard. Old. That’s the key word; everything’s just old.
I’m assigned to three different Japanese middle schools. The grade levels are ichinensei, ninensei, and sannensei. These translate to “1st years,” “2nd years,” and “3rd years,” and are equivalent to American 7-9th grades. So the kids are about 12-15 years old. The ichinensei are just beginning to learn English. So this means they know nothing. Well, they know “Good Morning” and “I go to school by bike” but that’s about it. Some of them don’t even know that.
You know what’s kind of funny though? Some kids can’t yet say “Good morning” but damn near all of them can ask if I have a big dick. Or “bigu dikku” in Engrish.
You see, Japan’s an island no bigger than California, and information about the rest of the world is filtered. There are so few foreigners here, their only impressions of things outside Japan are from the media. And to be honest, they don’t really give a damn about anything other than America. So try to imagine a country where the national perception of you is created by American movies, music, and MTV. When you stop crying and shaking at the sheer horror of that thought, I’ll be here waiting.