Monday, March 7, 2011

Tick Tock

I`m just going to continue putting it out there - it`s killing me not having a computer at my apartment. Although I am averaging a book a day and I`ve finally started to hunker down to re-study all that high school math that will be on the GRE, I am going bonkers. It`s so quiet! And I yearn to google and wikipedia things (I know, I know - don`t trust everything you wikipedia). The other day, I thought "I wonder if Japanese restaurants boil their fish to get it to taste so tender and juicy" and then sadly remembered that the answer was not at my fingertips. "I wonder what was on the Friday episode of the Rachel Maddow show?!" "What is happening in my home state with the Wisconsin protests and that power-hungry, union-busting governor, Scott Walker?" These were all pressing questions that had to wait until today when I could access my computer at work.

I love finding out that students passed major English exams. I worked with a 10th grader for a week, studying for an exam where he had to answer questions about a picture and then answer open-ended opinion questions. It was difficult at first but then he began to improve and he passed! Sadly, he is moving to Fukuoka next year so his family can be near his sister as she begins beauty school. He`s the best in his English class so I will miss having him as a student. A senior I have worked with several times who already has pretty amazing English wants to go to university to become an English teacher and she just passed her exams. I don`t know why she is at school again today. She appears to be the only senior at school studying. Give it a rest! Go enjoy the last days of your childhood and go on a road trip before university begins. The island is like 8 km around but hey, it you take every road and do a few laps, that could constitute a road trip. I can`t help but think about a bunch of kids in a really small car, listening to mixed tapes and whipping donuts in the parking lot of either the city hall or the public gym - the only two parking lots on the island conceivably large enough for whipping donuts.

I had a meeting at the elementary school last week, according to the schedule I received from them at the beginning of the term. Once I got there, I was waiting at the table to have lesson planning meetings with teachers and no one showed up intitially. A very kind woman who speaks English and works at the school approached me and asked me who I was waiting to meet. After I told her, she went and checked and then returned to inform me that the meeting was actually the next week. I said "oh, okay," slightly put out that I hadn`t been made aware of this but it wasn`t life altering. So I began to pack my things and stood up. She apologized and just stood there, looking at me. I find this happening a lot. I say something and people just stare at me awkwardly. I just chalk it up to Americans and Japanese having different ideas of conversation fillers and awkward silences. In the states, when a misunderstanding of a meeting time happens, we sincerely apologize and then drop it. We don`t wallow in the awkwardness. People on the island are super polite though and any misunderstandings of meetings or events is apologized for to the extent of beating a dead horse. I once received a profuse apology and a present of chocolates from a teacher because she forgot to show up to a lesson planning meeting.

I have been roped into joining the brass band for their string of end of the year concerts. One on the 12th, 13th and 19th each. One is on Uku island, the island just to the north of Ojika. I wasn`t going to do it because as I have expressed before, I have never actually enjoyed playing the trumpet. I started playing in the 3rd grade and I just kept doing it because A) my parents had purchased me a trumpet, B) it was my only social activity the two years I didn`t have friends after switching from Catholic school to public school and it only made sense to continue it because my friends were in it in high school and C) my senior year we were going to DisneyWorld. I would be lying if I said C wasn`t the main reason. I am doing it because I like the music teacher, she is my neighbor and she took the time to translate a letter to me in English, asking me to play with them. And signed it "my best regards." I can`t say no to that much effort. I was talking to my English teacher co-worker about band. She plays in the brass band when they ask her and she was a total band geek growing up - evidenced by her ability to play several songs on her flute without reading sheet music. When asked to play in a badminton tournament or any sports competition, you can see a part of her dying inside. She lacks what many would call athletic talent. I, however, have always enjoyed sports and the competition, and I would rather play tennis with the tennis club. So I had to describe to her that her badminton is like my brass band - the krytonite to our supermen. I think that really drove home my point of disliking band. I think the kids in it are great kids but I just can`t match their level of dedication. It`s like a part time job for them, logging at least 28 hours a week in practice.

For example, I was told that band practice would begin at nine o`clock on Saturday. So, despite having attended an enkai the night before, I peeled myself out of bed the morning of and went to practice. I got there a little before nine and realized that I had been Bat Girled. You may ask yourself what Bat Girl is. The Bat Girls was a softball team I occasionally played with during summers and winters in high school. It was this group of extremely dedicated softball players. And by dedicated, I mean, these girls were required to show up two hours before games to begin warm-up. It was borderline obsession and while I do credit the Bat Girls with keeping my pitching arm intact during the off-season, I felt a special kind of resentment to my teenage days of winter and summer freedom being eaten up by hours of batting practice and fielding grounders. I remember faking being sick one time so I could spend a lovely Sunday at home. Sorry, Mom. No matter how much I denied it, I was , in fact, faking it. I felt a tiny twinge of guilt about lying. However, as I sat back watching Meet the Press and reading the Sunday comics in my pajamas, much like the cheerios in my cereal bowl, the guilt faded.

But back to band practice, it turns out that nine o`clock is actually the time that everyone gets there to begin warming up but the actual rehearsal begins at 11. Two hours to warm up! You can imagine my dismay. I had been Bat Girled (two hours early to warm-up). I sat on the gym floor, reading my kindle, while people came and went and practiced their french horns and clarinets to the beat of metronomes. It sounded like that place with all the stashed clocks in the movie Hook (so Captain Hook wouldn`t be driven crazy by all the incessant ticking) when people took breathers. I stayed for practice and then when it was time for lunch, I hightailed it to the high school to use the internet. After lunch time, I went to the baseball game, just outside the gym. I was surprised to see that while a game was going on between the high school and junior high students, the french horn player was outside, still practicing! Her french horn was so loud but she seemed completely oblivious to the baseball game people were trying to focus on. I turned to a parent who is also a member of my adult English language group and asked her if people didn`t find that french horn annoying. She just started laughing and said "Maybe, yes." I know that in the states, we would have asked her to shut up but the people at the baseball game were too polite to ask for peace and quiet.

So I am destined to spend my after school time for the next week practicing with the band, waiting in the constant purgatory of wondering if the band director said "D" or "E" when saying where she wanted us to practice playing on the sheet music. It is great to see how much the kids enjoy band though and how it is their time to socialize with friends and goof around. But after band, I can`t help but looking forward to going home, enjoying my kindle while eating some chicken nuggets, and then re-maneuvering my way through those damn fractions.

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