He gets to go through Vancouver, and so does C. on Wednesday. They’ll both have eight-hour layovers, and C. will be using hers to pop downtown (it’s just a 45 minute city bus trip each way, and each trip only costs $2.50) and explore. Lucky! But I may get to see Vancouver yet – if I stay past my original contract, the school will have to buy me a new one-way ticket, and I’ll lobby for Vancouver and attempt to extend my layover after they book it. (But even eight hours is better than nothing.) The school usually only buys one-way tickets – what happened to F. and I was an exception, forced upon them due to the work visa uncertainty (you can’t enter many countries on a tourist basis without proof that you will eventually be leaving).
The Kyoto speech contests on the 20th were a disappointment. Ms. W. expressed the audience’s disappointment that we had so many students giving identical speeches. (The speeches were selected before I arrived; I had no control over that.) And J. was about to come down hard on me about a gesture (“This is Japan,” were her opening words…) but fortunately it was made clear that this incident, for once, wasn’t my fault.
See, I had found out about two weeks before the contest that the students were expected to use gestures in their speech. So I suddenly got the students to do little things like pantomiming dropping the saddle, and running in place when appropriate – things like that. And that was OK, but the gestures could have been more fluid.
The problem came when the students executed my gesture for “The farmer sent the boy to his room for talking crazy, and went out to saddle the mule.” At ‘crazy’ I tried to get them to point to their head and make a rotational gesture. You’ve all seen this common, garden-variety Western euphemism for ‘crazy.’
It turns out that this is a rather offensive gesture in Japanese culture.
We all had a good laugh about it, because they realized I had no way of knowing this, and my mouth-agape horror was palpable enough to elicit laughs in its own right. (I’d been slaving for two months over these speeches.) My students weren’t confident enough to voice any objection to my instructions, and that fact saddens me greatly. I should have realized something was wrong when I couldn’t get any of them to emulate my ‘crazy’ gesture very precisely – they were pretty good and sometimes terrific on the other gestures, but with ‘crazy’ they often just waved nonchalantly at their head! No wonder.
In order to improve the performances, this coming year we’re going to start preparing for the speech contest directly after the student’s summer vacations (we don’t get a summer vacation, nor a spring vacation, although our workload gets a tad lighter during these times as we just have to help mind the students whose parents pay extra for a “day care” program). This news sent shivers down my spine, because preparing for the speech contest means four days a week of hour-long after-school rehearsals – these eat up all our prep time, and on top of the rehearsals we’re expected to do an informal after-school study program too. This past month, F. has had to do the after school program for days on end, because we’ve been busy preparing our students for Kyoto. So I broached this concern to Ms. H. and W. through J., but J. just stated “Well, it’s your job,” and didn’t deign to relay the message for me. Ei yi yi.
On the other hand, I can understand the temptation to dismiss out of hand a concern I raise about something that’s months and months down the road. J. correctly reminded me that we won’t have to worry about this until September, and this is March. One of my chief weaknesses is a proclivity to take things a bit too seriously.
What’s more: to their credit, they gave D. and me leave to depart half an hour early tomorrow because we stayed for the whole meeting, which went past five. Ms. H. and W. are, by any sober account, habitually generous, reasonable people.
And next year we’ll have our students perform for their homeroom Japanese teachers, who then can catch any egregious violations of Japanese cultural norms.
* * *
My utility bills continue their downward slump – my gas bill (used for the on-demand hot water) tumbled down from ¥5870 to ¥1800 (basically $58 to $18). We’ll see next month if this was just a fluke. My power bill should be lower, too – I still haven’t had to put the heat on, though I admit I’ve been tempted once or twice, especially on these gray days when there’s not much warm sunlight available to flood my living room.
Edit: Augh! It WAS just a fluke. They must have been checking the meter aperiodically because my gas bill for March is ... drumroll... ¥8070! What in blazes?! I'm taking fewer, shorter showers - why is this happening? I do have one idea - I wash my hands quite a bit, and every time I do, I turn the hot water tap on even though it takes like a minute to get any hot water. Then I'll come back again and the first bit of water will be warm. I've got to stop turning on the hot water tap except for showers and washing dishes.
If I continue on my path of frugality, I should be able to afford to go back to school when I return to Canada. I also hope to make a trip up to Tokyo this summer – I’m saving for that by putting away my unused spending / bill money at the end of every month.
Mt. took us on a spectacular road trip to the western parts of Tokushima yesterday, and I’ll write about that soon. We got some excellent photos, too.