The English Menu, or Why I Am A Horrible Human Being…

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“Hello. Welcome. Table for two.” A hand shows the number two visually.

“はい、二人です。”

We are seated. We reach for menus and peruse while the waiter waits, watches us silently for a few moments. We’ve started speaking only to each other, unaware that he is still there, and are taking our time pointing out options to each other. This is mistaken as ineptitude.

“English menu?” he helpfully materializes an English version of the laminate copy. Any other time, I would be grateful. But this is the fifth time at the same restaurant with the same waiter and it’s been a long, long day. I glance across the table where stormy eyes concur with unsaid words. I turn suddenly to the waiter.

“ああ、大丈夫。読める。” I make an attempt at informal Japanese to show I actually can speak informally as well. Dark eyes blink back, slightly confused but the English menu spirited away from sight. Believing, I have established all information we needed to continue with dinner, we peruse at our leisure. We speak of silly things and serious things, we laugh at inside jokes, pointing out delicious options.

Five minutes pass in this way, until the waiter returns with a pitcher of water in one hand and…

…the English menu in another.

My mind screams in horror long before I’ve caught up with it. The pitcher of water is set down and the English menu dropped on the table where it cannot be ignored. To my very core, I am frozen, a mixture of emotions.

Shock. Laughter. Confusion. Fury. Despair. I want to cry. I want to laugh. Mostly I want to have dinner for once in my life, with the full comprehension that I know what I’m doing with a Japanese menu in my hand. Powder and sparks and consuming kisses, iambic pentameter, the sound of the atom bomb tests, Beethoven’s explosive fifth symphony… I think in sound, I think primarily in music. It’s all going through my head at the speed of light and anger wins before the rest of the emotions can catch up.

That all takes a millisecond to process. A fraction of a breath. I bend over across the table laughing into the hard wood surface, my arms encircling my head because I’m afraid of what I may do if he’s still around when I look up. I wait until I’m absolutely sure he is no longer near us. I surface for air.

“That’s it. I’m going to order in keigo.”

“What. No.”

We “argue”, my dinner partner and I, bantering about how we shall order in absolutely perfect Japanese keigo (or not order in such a way until we leave for our road trip and know for a fact that our passive aggressive actions will never negatively impact us).

“No, you’re right that’s just too rude. But still. I really want to order in keigo.” Internally, I tell myself that I might just wear my Waseda sweat shirt next time I go in. A sweat shirt made for autumn weather worn in the middle of summer is sure to illicit some response. Any response to the fact that I may not speak like a native but I can very well order at a restaurant.

Once we are quite sure that we know what we will order, we push the magic button that calls our waiter over and I speed speak through my order to show I’m not going to stumble through the conversation, I even give an explanation for why I can’t eat rice (allergy) and if it would alright to substitute it for naan. It’s not perfect, because I did slip up that last bit of grammar but I made myself more than intelligible.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time. It’s a performance piece we repeat ad nauseum, at every restaurant, and it eventually takes its toll on your self-confidence as a JSL (Japanese as a Second Language) speaker. Deep down inside you may know you’ve done it right, you’ve grammar-ed and words-ed your way through the linguistic minefield of what may be the exact opposite of how your native tongue works, and yet you will be rejected by looks alone.

He walks away even more confused than before. A different waiter comes to deliver the food. I’m unsure whether it’s worked or not, but we’re getting curry one last time before Kimmy leaves so, the fruits of our labor will be made known to us then. I feel like a horrible human being, relishing in the satisfaction of having pulled passive aggression on anyone. There are not buts to that sentence. I let it stand as is.

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A Portrait of a JET in Its Natural Habitat

According to my precocious 1st graders, I look like…

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The days are going much too fast. It’s as if, there’s nothing but waking and eating breakfast then planning for lessons, teaching the lesson and suddenly it’s lunchtime followed by cleaning and more lessons and kendo. Sometimes there’s kendo in the morning, too, and those are the busiest days.

Thankfully it’s going to be a slow weekend this time. I’ll probably finally get Skype time with my parents. The first in nearly two weeks. In fact I’m going to schedule that now… Not now… In a couple hours when it’s not 4am in California. Anyway. I digress…

MACHIMONOGATARI, PART I

Long time, no write and hopefully it will be the last long hiatus! I wish I could brush it off as a matter of not having enough material from which to make a post, but the truth of the matter is that the opposite occurred and I have too much material and not enough days to whip up the requisite posts to do justice to all of these wonderful adventures. August and September are the busiest time of the year in Aomori Prefecture in terms of matsuri and speech competition training.

In a nutshell…

6am: Wake up, stretch, exercise, clean house… lately though my am schedule has been to furrow even more deeply beneath the covers and hibernate until the last possible moment. It’s so cold I already brought out the second blanket. Can’t wait to see how long it takes before I need to plug in the electric blanket >.>

7am: Cook and eat the best meal of the day: Breakfast! I’m a breakfast person; it excites me more than dinner or lunch although recently with kyuushoku with the kids

7:30am: Last minute preps/head out the door

8:15am: Monday through Friday, I teach at a different school in the area and in most cases teach just about every level imaginable depending on what they need me for that day. For the most part I love the elementary schools, crawling with children eager to play and sing in a foreign language. Middle school is trickier. By this age they’re quite over English and though it outranks math and science in terms of interest from the students, it’s still pitifully low on the scale. It’s a language so absolutely foreign, with so few opportunities to hear or to practice, that it gets chucked in the metaphorical bin in favor of more important subjects. English is studied intensively as a means of being admitted to a good high school or university but otherwise not regarded as a useful life skill. Unlike the United States where entry into high school is guaranteed on public funds for all minors, the Japanese school system favors test scores for admittance. Those who aren’t admitted into the public schools because their scores were too low must then apply to private schools, which are looked down upon for accepting anyone who pays. During the intervals when I am not teaching, I use the break to set up lesson plans and test out games. On the rare days when I am so well prepared there is not much to do, I study for the N2 as diligently as I can… which is to say not very.

Noon: Kyuushoku (school lunch) with the selected class of the week/day (more pictures to come). Not sure if this is just Aomori Prefecture but Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday is traditional Japanese meal: bowl of rice, bowl of soup, two side dishes (one veg based, the other fish/some sort of mystery meat). Wednesdays are considered the fun kyuushoku days: you either get bread or noodles (or both, as I experienced recently) instead of a bowl of rice. For me, Wednesdays are a Godsend because my body can’t digest rice… I don’t really eat much on the rice days. However, Wednesdays are however, either a hit or a miss. For example, the Doraemon pita pan kyuushoku featured: pita bread, noodles, and veggie salad… the kids ate the veggie salad and put the noodles into their pita bread… and they laughed when I did the opposite. Culture shock, man.

16:15pm: End of work. I like to stay behind for a couple extra minutes before leaving as it’s the polite thing to do in the Japanese workplace. Because I have my own car now, I’m not rushing to the bus station but can leisurely meter out my goodbyes and the general hum of cleanup time. I try to work out with my colleague Mina at least twice a week at the local gym, break down them kyuushoku carbs!

17:30pm: End of work out, grab dinner, prep for the next day, watch TV, read…

I’m practically dead by 21:00pm. Gone are the days when I could party all night long, sleep two hours, and get up in time for 7am class. I find myself missing my Waseda days more than I originally gave them credit for, especially since most of us are back in Japan spread out for work or school. I see my friends’ Facebook posts and think, man, wish I could be there now… but then I take a look at the beautiful inaka life that is Gonohe and I wouldn’t want to peace out on it for too long. Although I miss my family and friends, living on my own at my own pace suits me well 95% of the time 😀

DIY Project 01: Teacher’s Survival Kit

I’m not going to lie: this was totally inspired by the Altoid survival kit for campers and decided to create a variation with teachers and teaching assistants in mind… because you know, I’m going to be one in a matter of weeks. Working at two different schools, having two offices… I felt like I might need this on my person just to make sure I’m prepared.

I only used items that I could find around the house (as a writer, former student, and former-not-so-former teaching assistant, I have a treasure trove in excess of school related paraphernalia) but if you find yourself short on any of them, a quick run to the nearest discount store will provide a cheap alternative. Also, having your own personal variation is not only unique but will also serve your needs better. Don’t need a hole puncher? Toss it, simple as that. The whole point is, of course, to find as many items that fit the essential tools of your trade. Preferably ones that you can find at home 😉 Total cost: $o.oo to $5.oo (depending on how many items you might need to purchase).

Dimensions of box (recycled cell phone box)

5.5 inches/13.97 cm L x 3 inches/7.62 cm W x 2 inches/5.08cm H

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Items used: 1 red correction pen, 1 pencil, 1 black pen or small mechanical pencil, 1 USB with enough memory to back up semester/year’s worth of lesson plans, 1 pencil sharpener, 1 stapler, 2 packs of staples, 2 small magnets, 3 plastic clips, 2 medium binder clips, 1 staple remover, 1 manual paper hole puncher, 10 paper clips, 2 small Post It Note stacks, 4 thin stacks of large Post It Notes, 1 small bookmark, 2 mechanical pencil lead refills.

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Step One: Place bookmark flat against wall of box length-wise.

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Step Two: Place the two staple packs against the same side you put the book mark and line bottom of box with post it note flag dispenser.

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Step Three: Nestle the staple remover inside of the hole punch remover grip (this will ensure that the staple remover compresses to save space). Place them flat against the floor of the box on top of the post it note flags.

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Step Four: Nestle pocket-sized stapler next to the hand held hole puncher and on top of the post it note flags.

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Step Five: Next take the two medium sized binder clips and settle them however they best fit into the box without adding bulk. In my example, one lies on top of the hole puncher and the other against the wall. USB will be lined on box wall opposite the two stacks of staples.

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Step Six & Seven: The two small magnets should be placed directly above one of the stacks of staples (metal attracts magnet end), slip the plastic clips onto one of the small stacks of Post It Notes to compress, and top off with chain of paper clips.

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Step Eight: And finally! Place (and flatten as much as possible) the last few items – red correction pen, pencil, small pen (or mechanical pencil), two mechanical pencil lead refills and small pencil sharpener into place 😀

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Step Nine: Top off with large Post It Notes to act as intermediary cover and…

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Step Ten: …Done! Should fit snug but well. Not exactly necessary but if the dimension of your box make it necessary you can opt to wrap a bento box band to make sure it doesn’t open in your suitcase 😉

So that’s the Teacher’s Survival Kit in a nutshell! It’s simple, cheap (practically cost-less if you can find all items or variations thereof at home). Remember, the point of the survival kit is to have an easy to reach and close at hand set for those moments when you might need it for emergency purposes. Keep it in your purse/backpack, inside your car, or homeroom desk drawer in case you forget something important in the teacher’s lounge/home.

For the student variation: substitute the red correction pen with a highlighter and the large Post It Notes with a small stack of flash cards. Magnets and plastic clips can be substituted for small erasers. Hole puncher can be replaced for correction tape/small bottle of white-out fluid. Also, packet of hole punch reinforcements are immensely helpful for those days when you accidentally tear out a page from your binder! In reality, two packs of staples might be a bit much for a survival kit so feel free to toss one out entirely. I just have an irrational fear of not having enough staples for some odd reason >.>”

For the artist variation: Use your preferred medium. Classic examples include: 1 sketching pencil, 2 artist pens in colors of choice, 2 small erasers, a pencil sharpener, and 1 Exacto knife. Can also add: 5 small tubes of paint of your choice (three in primary colors plus black and white in either watercolor/pastel/acrylic/etc) with corresponding brushes of your choice and a brush cleaner, a small shot glass for water. Or if you prefer: a set of small colored pencils or set of molding clay. The combinations are endless.

For the crafter variation: 1 glue stick, 1 tube of crazy glue, 1 pencil, 1 pen in color of choice, 1 Exacto knife, some yarn or a spool of thread, 1 small pin cushion with pins/needles, small scissors, set of small origami folding paper (multicolored), assortment stamps and ink pad, ribbon, trimming, cloth swatches/patches, assortment of buttons (different sizes/colors).