Wednesday, 19 February 2014

japanese livin update and reflections

It’s been a while since I did an update of general goings-on and daily life here in Miyazaki – mainly because I was enjoying going through the dozens of Christmas trip pictures so much. I’ll post a picture round-up soon too, but for now here are some recent anecdotes and observations.

January was a little hard – saying goodbye to the family, living in the dark and cold, a relatively quiet social calendar, and dealing with a few things catching up with me, tested my strength – finally Culture Shock Stage 2 had arrived! However, despite cold and wet February weather, I only now have about 5 months left: no more time for homesickness. In any case, I came to appreciate the kindness of my friends here even more – especially Hana, who drove me to the hospital, took me food shopping, carried my bags and fed me my medicine when I got sick!

The view from my staff room during a run of few freak days of sunbathing and warm breezes. 

School has been quiet lately due to tests, but I feel I’m starting to get the hang of commanding a class’s attention and structuring lessons to encourage their participation. Even though I don’t want to teach at this stage – maybe in 10 or 15 years – it’s been extremely valuable growing accustomed to presenting and leading daily, something I only did once of twice in four years at St Andrews.

A sign hung up around school during exam time. Apparently it says "No frustration allowed!" #keepcalmanddon'tloseyourshit 

I’m also absolutely loving my taiko class lately – something clicked about the way to hold the drumsticks (if that’s what they’re even called) and my leg muscles don’t object to the lunges so much anymore. Last week we (the foreigners) practiced a little dance for the routine’s start, with fans and bells, as our sensei entreated us to “Show the gods you’re having fun! Say ‘Look at me having fun, gods!’” I’ll definitely be seeking out a group in London come October.

I'd like to note that this picture has stretched horizontally and that neither Simon nor Jessica are quite that rotund.

Part of our routine. 

In other news, it’s been difficult to maintain teacherly composure recently, as my students continue to surprise, delight and amuse me. Sometimes it’s with their originality and the random things they pick up about English. A chatty third year boy came up to me in the staffroom this week.  “Sophie, read this please,” he said, holding out a piece of paper with the word “better” on it. I obediently pronounced the word, then said it in American, New Zealand, Australian, Irish and London accents for laughs. “Not ‘bedda’?” he said. “Like ‘bedda bedda bedda bedda bedda beddaaaaaaa?’” Good to know my students are learning pronunciaton from The Beatles.

Sometimes, however, they’re not so innocent. . Last month we wrote New Year’s Resolutions in class.
“Sophie-sensei, this year I will be a man!”
“That’s great, Soujiro-kun!”
“I will move on to the next stage!”
“Oh, good English phrase!”
“I will now have different private parts.”

 Here’s the latest gems from their homework:
  •  There lay spread only mountains and rice fields but I felt the dreary scenery representative of sadness to end 2013 soon.
  • I will completeness combustion! I received an instruction about an eyebrow. I will change my heart, I will study hard and I want to be a good student.”  Eventually I divined that students aren’t allowed to pluck – or shave, which is common – their eyebrows and she had received a telling off.
  • My favoruite singer in “sexy zone” be very cool every day and he gives me happiness! I love “sexy zone” and I need “sexy zone!”
  • We had sex education and I thought something about myself after that. That evening, I talked about when I was born with my family. My mother waked up at 2am, because she dreamed about a god turtle was climbing to beach from the sea. 
  • If I could go Tokyo, I woyld go to sweet paradise. If I could go to sweet paradise I would at make cakes. If I could eat many cakes, I would feel full stomac and heart. If I could feel full stomac and heart, I would happy.
  • I became a fan of Mr Nishiioka baseball player. He is very cool and sadistic.
  • We went to the Miyakonojo City Assembly. But I was surprised when a parson used their mobile phone in front of assembly. I thought that I wanted them to get a grip more.
  • Happy New Year. I have decided two goals, first, I will be 185 cm tall. I am 160 cm tall now. I will go to bed early every day this year. I believe that I will be a tall boy.
  • Even though my hero is a hooligan, he is so shy and afraid of ghosts!
  • "What a pity.” I found that my comic book is written in English. It is my favourit I lokked on the Internet. I want to buy them but I don’t have no money. What a pity.
  • Ah… I am regrettable…. I am very very regretable!!!
  • What a beautiful woman Ema Watson is! How pretty the mouse who can speak! How long neck is he who has yellow body! What bad situations they are! I couldn’t say them! [I think you can guess what grammar construction they’d just learned].
  • Today, I will scatter devils in my heart, I have devils such as the devil of doing something lazily, the devil of an indecisive character and devil that can’t get up early in my heart.
  • I ate a long sushi roll at night. I ate it silently. And I made a wish in my hart. After I became an ogre.

These last two were somewhat disturbing revelations to read on a Friday morning. However, I soon found the root of the matter: setsubon. Setsubon is the day before the first day of Japanese spring, and it happened a few weeks ago. It’s kind of like another New Year’s Eve, and thus is replete with purification rituals. One such ritual involves throwing beans or peanuts (‘mamemaki’) at eachother to drive out devils and evil spirits, while shouting “Demons out, luck in!” Then people eat one soybean or peanut for each year of their life. Also, in some areas people eat a whole roll of sushi (ie. uncut into little bit size chunks) in silence while facing the year’s lucky compass direction. Even so, I never realised I had such penitent/ self-critical students! 

Saito-sensei and I still have our conversation times too. Discussing international eating habits, he made the following outburst:
“In America they go to cinema, eat potato chip, eat potato chip, potato chip, goblet of cola, then go out, go to dinner, WOW!!!”
He has also picked up the pharse “Know what I mean?” and enjoys adding it to the end of most sentences, pronounced like “Knowhaddamean?”, with sassy hand gestures. Yesterday our conversation time went like this:
 “Sophie, I am very hungry.”
“Oh dear.”
“Can you give me some food?”
“Er… do you want my banana?”
“Oh no! I don’t like bananas!” *Runs away*
I never know if he is practicing is vocabulary on me or is asking me genuine questions.

However, there have also been some moments that made me grateful for the “exchange” part of my job, and have really touched me. Saito-sensei is a history teacher and was asking me about the second world war, Britain’s relationship with Germany, and specifically my grandparent’s thoughts. I happened to have the very thing on my laptop – a typed version of some memories my Gran had written down for my school project when I was eleven years old. My wonderful Gran passed away in September, and reading through her memories, talking about them, Prestonpans and about her, was very poignant for me. Saito-sensei said after we were done, “This letter is my treasure”. That Gran’s thoughts and memories are being considered, enjoyed and remembered in the most unexpected of places, a school on the other side of the world, taught me something about the small ways we all live on. 

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