So I turn 27 on Sunday! My, how time flies. It feels like just yesterday I was graduating from high school or college. I still feel like the same person and I have yet to find a gray hair. That`s the bonus of having what my mother jokingly refers to as "mousy brown" hair. I believe another phrase is "dishwater blonde." I have yet to hear a lot of positive terms for my hair color. Anyways, I will spend my birthday in Ojika, relaxing and having lunch with some friends. I never do anything crazy on my birthday and when I was in Wisconsin, it feels like I was always sick for my birthday. I remember my junior year of university when I studied abroad in Ireland. I had a bad cold AND I was turning 21, a typically exciting birthday in America, in a country where the legal drinking age is 18. Very anti-climatic. My best birthday in recent memory would have to be the one I had my second year in Mozambique, sleeping on the beach with friends, sand fleas and a bottle of wine.
Life in Ojika is running on as normal. I have spent most of my time this week at the elementary school and those kids have been endlessly entertaining. Every time I am walking to school, I pass the window of the first grade students. As soon as they see me, they all run to the window and scream "Erin-sensei!" and wave to me. They are adorable and have been some of my favorite students based on their enthusiasm. They aren`t shy like some of the older students. When we sing the hello song and bounce around the room, I have to shake hands with them to introduce myself. There is always a student who rushes up to me to shake hands with me. It`s totally different with the third graders. I practically have to tackle them with a vulcan death grip to get them to shake my hand.
I was in the fourth grade classroom yesterday and in the middle of class, a boy plugging his nose said "Erin-sensei! Gas-u!" and pointed at the boy in front of him. Now one would think that someone who is about to turn 27 wouldn`t find flatulence humorous but the kids were dying in that corner of the room so I couldn`t stop laughing. It was pretty pungent. Finally, he who dealt it got up and fanned out that sector of the room, trying to push it out the classroom door like he was exorcising a demon. The student who did it is so loud to begin with that he completely owned up to it and didn`t seem embarassed. It`s difficult to continue on as normal with a lesson after that.
One area that I vow to improve in at the high school is cleaning time. Japanese schools don`t have janitors. They have the students clean all the rooms except for the bathrooms. Every day for about 20 minutes, the students have a scheduled time to clean a designated space in the school. My space is the teachers room and I always feel like I don`t know what I`m supposed to do. We remove the garbage and cardboard and sweep or wash the floor almost every day. I do this with the first year students in the high school and I just feel like I am in the way more than anything. Also, washing the floor down every day on your hands and knees seems a bit excessive to me. Students asked me "do you clean your high schools in America?" and I said there were jobs for that. They said "America is rich." That was the same reaction I got when I said that Americans heat their classrooms in the winter. You call it rich, I call it sane. I prefer to not feel like I`m practicing present continuous in a workhouse in a Charles Dickens novel.
On another note, I have been helping a student practice for an oral exam he has this weekend. One of the questions I asked him was "some people say that Japanese students don`t study enough. What do you think about that?" He agreed and said that Japanese students don`t study enough. I almost guffawed out loud. In my opinion, Japanese students study extremely hard - at least in their senior year of high school if they are planning to go to university. After our practice time yesterday, we were walking down the hall and my co-worker pointed out an article on the window that said how Chinese students are very intelligent, study hard and get the highest test scores. Japan and China are too competitive. I guess that from my point of view, the time and stress put into high test scores and bragging rights don`t necessarily equal happiness.