William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

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96. Thoughts on a Friday Afternoon

Tokyo, Tokyo, Tokyo. It’s a broken record playing over, and over, and over. I guess it’s a good excuse to sing “Tokyo Love Song!”

I played chess with a Year Two student this morning. I won, but I don’t think I’ll be going far up the World Chess Federation rankings for beating a kid whom I had to remind how the pieces move. =) Nevertheless, it feels really good to say “checkmate.”

Also in day care, I observed how the biggest kid in a North American classroom would be highly unlikely to even have green tea in his Thermos, much less share it with a teacher (F.).

I also discovered an awesome older comic: The Adventures of Sakae-San. Or did I? I can’t find references to it anywhere, so I must be misspelling it. At any rate, you wouldn’t think there was much humour in Japan’s postwar period, but the cartoonist (a woman!) found it and captured its spirit for generations to come.

I’ve got a few plans for Tokyo already – I won’t get into it now, but I have made arrangements to meet Masae (and perhaps her husband as well) on Monday morning after I get my Lloyds Bank stuff taken care of.

I was also stamping pool permission cards this morning and one of the children remarked on the fact that my name was in katakana: ma-se-so-n (マセソン). Of course, the inkan of the Japanese teachers were elegant kanji. I can’t help but feel somewhat second-tier, and I don’t want a linguistic reminder of my transitory status.

I facetiously propose this: that Mathesons in Japan identify themselves as ku-ma no mu-su-ko (熊の息子), or “Bear’s Son,” which is close enough to “Son of the Bear” for our purposes. It conveys the meaning of the name, plus you get some cool kanji. Maybe I should actually identify myself as kuma no musuko when speaking Japanese, and see if it catches on! =)

Alternatively (and this goes for everyone), you could just insist on having your name rendered in Hiragana (mine: ませそん), although I guess that could confuse people. You may wonder why I seem to have something against katakana. Well, it’s used for loan words, and for things from outside Japan – yes, I’m from outside Japan, but that shouldn’t also mean outsider – moreover, I am a person every bit as much, no more, no less, than any Japanese. Lastly, in Japanese, katakana serves the same purpose that scare quotes do in English. Let’s say someone is referring to me in writing and using the form “Maseson-sensei” (though you don’t call yourself ‘sensei,’ in much the same way you don’t call yourself ‘mister’). Normally, they’d use katakana and kanji: マセソン先生 And that’s a lovely-looking honorific. But if they wanted to be cruel, they could use all-katakana: マセソンセンセイ This rendering would be taken to be highly sarcastic, even though it’s orally identical.

Despite all this, though, I think “ma-se-so-n” is a bit more fluidic than “ku-ma no mu-su-ko.” =) And as to appropriateness, I’m uncertain, as 1) I don’t have many Japanese friends and 2) As a result, my true understanding of Japanese culture could maybe fill a few thimbles – and thimbles have holes!

Speaking of appropriateness, one valuable thing about this job is the ever-present opportunity to make a complete ass fool of yourself. Kids aren’t shy about showing wry, askance glances when you do something stupid, to wit:

F. and the big kid were about to play hangman, and they got to talking about how.

Always looking for a place to barge in, I said, “OK, this is what you do. Stand on this chair… OK, does anyone have a rope?”

Bzzzt. GONG

Don’t make jokes about capital punishment. Especially not to kids. Especially not involving the kids. Especially not in a country with such a bloody past history.

(“Past history” seems tautological, but if I were only to say “a bloody history,” people might think such history was still ongoing. Oh, damn, there’s another one again!)

* * *

It seems like every time I turn around there’s a new revelation. You know those after school study sessions that T. started out of the kindness of his heart?

The school charges for them.


Geez, no wonder they were so strict about getting us back on schedule. No wonder they didn’t treat it like the voluntary, working-above-rule thing it had started as. It’s money to them. (And we don’t even get a cut? =) And for the money I hear is charged, the parents could just get a private tutor, which would more directly target a student’s problem areas and give them much better value for their money.

I was also trolling our school’s Facebook group, and I couldn’t believe what I saw – Japanese and foreign teachers freely hanging out, Ms. M. (the big boss) hosting a “Welcome to Japan” barbeque – such things are unthinkable in the current climate.

M. and I had thought that S.L. had oversold S.G., but now I think I know what really happened – she was selling the happy place it was when she was here. It’s not the same now.

It’s not all doom and gloom, but you’d expect that a school based on such a unique idea (partial English immersion – it takes pain to resist using scare quotes on that last word) would be prospering. But it’s not. It’s on life support.

I certainly don’t think the teachers are willing to throw in the towel, though I sometimes wonder why some of them stay. Many labour under the impression that all you need to do is work harder and all will be well. That might work for a superhuman, but I’m not sure about the rest of us.

For example, if I were to say, “Gee, a set of modern science textbooks in English would be nice,” the response might very well be, “Why don’t you just make up the materials or a little textbook yourself?” This is sort of what I’m doing – fortunately, the previous science teachers did a super job of keeping their materials on file, but the end results are amateurish either way. Outside of core English, we’re all faking things to a large extent.

The science lab (before the still ongoing renovations anyway) was a nightmare. No sane person would have wanted to go in there – it was dank, dusty, disused, and everything was rusting and falling apart. I’m not even saying that I’d know what to do with a gleaming bright new science lab, and I can do a fair number of experiments in the classroom with ordinary materials. And I guess it doesn’t matter anyway, because no science-educated certified teacher would work here – this isn’t S.G.’s fault; there are just too many lucrative opportunities closer to home.

When I wrote this, I had a thought: Do I mean disused… or unused? I consulted my desk dictionary and learned something new. “Un” tends to just mean “not,” while “dis” carries nuances of finishing, putting aside, and even destroying. Examples:

Uninterested – Not interested
Disinterested – Not attached, disavowing attachments (a judge should be disinterested in his cases)

Disused – Not being used, no longer used (perhaps because it is in disrepair)
Unused – Not yet used (new)

Unencumbered – Not burdened or liable
Disencumber – To free from such engagement or burden

Unconnected – Not connected (the freeway and the street are unconnected)
Disconnect – To break a connection.

I’d known that uninterested and disinterested weren’t synonymous, but I didn’t know why. Now I know!

And knowing what I know now, the road ahead should be fine. There’ll be a lot of new things, but it won’t be the reinvention of the wheel that the last two terms have been (the first was my first; the second was the first one of this academic year). For this alone, I should be, and am, optimistic. Let’s have a great Term 2!
Tags: english, japan, japanese, language, names, school, stories, teaching, translation, transliteration, words, work, writing

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