Monday, November 16, 2009

My Latest Birthday Present

As you might already know, at the end of each class for the kids age 5 - 12, I make the students say a phrase. If they say it correctly, they can leave. If they mess up, they go to the back of the line. Usually it's something like "Thank you Meg, see you next week. Goodbye!" - nothing too difficult.

On my birthday, I changed things up and had the kids say "Thank you Meg. Happy birthday!" which ended up being unbelievably adorable. The kids were all 5 or 6, and after I told them in Japanese that it was my birthday, they really tried to say "Happy Birthday" like they meant it. I figured it was a good phrase to practice, and they'd smile about it being my birthday and then leave, but after the class one little boy waited for me and said about 80 words to me in Japanese. Of course I didn't understand anything he said, so I brought him over to Mayu, the manager, and asked him to repeat himself so she could translate.

After he spoke, she laughed and told me, "He said he's going to bring you something for your birthday next week." How cute! Naturally I didn't expect a five year old boy to really get me a birthday present, but the sentiment alone was so nice! I hugged the boy and he looked very pleased with himself and skipped out the door. I was touched, but I thought that was that.

A week passed and the class rolled around again. Nothing out of the ordinary. Then after class, Mayu was talking to the same little boy and called me over. "Meg, he has something for you!"

The boy pulled out a gift wrapped in yellow, blue and red truck-themed wrapping paper (he is five, after all) and handed it to me. I couldn't believe he actually got me a present! I opened it and saw it was a box of bear shaped chocolate cookie snacks. Cute!

Mayu had a short conversation with the boy's mother before they left. Afterwards, Mayu told me the mother said that this was the first present her son had ever gotten for a girl! How funny! I'm sure the boy told his mother that it was my birthday, and then remembered to ask her to get me a present! How thoughtful of both of them! I'm guessing he helped pick it out, too.

So now I either have a new favorite student, or a five year old who thinks I'm his girlfriend. Either way, what an incredibly cute birthday present!

Friday, November 13, 2009

10 Things I Thought I'd Never Do That I Do in Japan

1. Drink instant coffee. The coffee here is pretty mediocre all around, so instant coffee is about as good as everything else, and delightfully convenient. (I can imagine my former Starbucks coworkers shaking their heads in shame and disgust as they read this. My dad will likely disown me).

2. Ride a bicycle. It's hard, and we all know how I feel about exercise. Someone should have warned me that there are a lot of hills in Japan. Actually, I take that back; Japan is a fairly flat country. There are just a few hills, and they are all located between my apartment, the grocery store, and my place of employment.

3. Order "Two of anything" at a restaurant. Katie and I went to a restaurant with no pictures, English, or simple Japanese on the menus. We asked, but they didn't have chicken. So we looked up "anything" in my Japanese dictionary and ordered two. Not sure what we ate, but it involved a delicious meat that had a rather funky texture.

4. Pay roughly $15 a month for my cell phone! I don't understand why my phone here is so cheap. Did I mention it comes with a fancy schmancy Phone Ninja?

5. Forget basic French. Apparently there is only room in my brain for one foreign language at a time. Each time I learn a new Japanese phrase it replaces the old French one, though I still remember the French for which I haven't learned the Japanese equivalent. More problematic: if I'm trying to say something in Japanese, my brain switches to Generic Foreign Language Mode. This has forced me to create my own language: Franglanese. Last week in my Japanese class I said: "Watashi no heya o nettoyer." The beginning is Japanese for "my room" and the end is French for "to clean." Just great.

6. Put my fingers in a three year old's mouth. See my last blog entry for details.

7. Eat bags of chocolate breadsticks. This is becoming a real problem. In Japan, they sell bags of 8 ruler-sized chocolate chip-filled breadsticks that I think are intended to be snacks but which I consider to be breakfast, and sometimes lunch and dessert. I figure they're no less healthy than a doughnut, and a doughnut is an acceptible breakfast food, right?

8. Sing solo in front of strangers. I'm not just talking about karaoke (though I've sung there a few times); I also go once a week to a kindergarten (which is like an American preschool, made up of 10 different classes of 3-6 year old kids) where I perform for 15 minutes in front of 4 random classes, holding up flashcards and singing everything from "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" to "If You're Happy and You Know It." "The Wheels on the Bus" was a big mistake, because while the students can sing along to most songs, "The Wheels on the Bus" is far too hard for them, and I was left singing completely alone (they just chimed in for the "swish swish swish" of the wipers).

8a. Sing solo for an audience of one 3 year old. I have a new student who gets a private lesson, and not only is he adorable (he just turned 3) but he's smart and well-behaved and loves repeating whatever new vocabulary I teach him. His only (rather large) flaw is that he doesn't like the songs on the CD I have for my preschool classes. I taught him the words and accompanying hand gestures for the "Hello Song," and he did them perfectly. Then I started the CD, and he literally backed away from me and sat quiety on the other side of the room, just staring at me. However, when I sang the "Hello Song" myself he had no problem with it. This led to me singing "The ABCs," "The Eensy Weensy Spider" and "The Goodbye Song" as well. The 3 year old didn't mind, but I tell you it wasn't pretty.

9. Wear tennis shoes with work clothes. How very "Working Girl" of me. At my school, you always take off your shoes and put on work slippers upon arrival, so I quickly realized that it doesn't matter what shoes I show up in, as no one will ever see them. However, if you spot me on my bicycle on my way to work, you'll catch a flash of pink Reeboks as I cycle by.

10. Go several months without seeing a musical. I must be going through some sort of withdrawal, because in New York I think I saw a musical at least every month, if not every three weeks (wouldn't you say, Lorianne?) and here, well, I don't see any theater at all. I think the only reason I've managed to survive this long is, in one word, "Glee."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Today I Put My Fingers in Hikaru's Mouth

I haven't written in over a month (sad things) so I'll try to make up for it with a quick Favorites story. Today I had Hikaru's class (he's My Favorite; I'm sure no one will mind if I mention his name, and it's such a great name!). In addition to Chihiro, the girl always in the class with Hikaru, I also had a make-up student from another class: a quiet 3 year old boy. My Hikaru and Chihiro are very smart for 3 and 4 year olds, and so they intimidated the make-up student.

Normally at the beginning of class I hold up toy fruits and vegetables and ask either "What's this?" or "Do you like this?". If I ask "What's this?" then My Favorites respond with the number, color and food (they're so smart!); for example, "One yellow banana!" or "Two red strawberries!" If I ask "Do you like this?" the answer is always "Yes I do!" There is an accompanying hand gesture, where the students raise their arms over their head to make a circle. If they said "No I don't" (which they never do), they're supposed to make an "x" in front of their chests with their arms.

Hikaru and Chihiro know what's coming, so the moment I hold up a toy, they start shouting possible answers before I can ask the questions. If I hold up a banana, immediately the room errupts with "One yellow banana! Yes I do! One yellow banana! One yellow banana! Yes I do! Yes I do! One yellow banana! Yes I do!" And each time they say "Yes I do!" they raise their arms over their heads to make circles. It's ridiculous. So while Chihiro and Hikaru were screaming answers like this, the poor make-up student just stared at me blankly. I wanted to give him a chance to answer, so I hush the other two and ask him, "What's this?" There was a long pause, and then he finally, cautiously answered, "banana?" Poor kid.

At the end of class there's usually a coloring activity. Today we were coloring animals, and I'd name the color and animal and the kids would have to pick out the right color, and then color in the right animal. They each come with their own pack of crayons or colored pencils (poor Chihiro only has 4 broken colored pencils, and she politely asks Hikaru to borrow his crayons each week). Most kids, like Hikaru and the make-up kid, have a special crayon set that comes with an eraser, 10 colors, and a pencil sharpener.

We start the coloring activity. I say, "We're going to color the tiger orange". Chihiro colors the tiger orange and says in Japanese, "What's next?" The make-up student picks up a black crayon and stares at me blankly. Hikaru, out of nowhere, starts sharpening his crayons.

"Good job, Chihiro, now color the bear brown," I say.

Then to the make-up student, "No, that's black. Find orange. 'Orenji' in Japanese."

"Hikaru, stop it. Don't sharpen your crayons now."

Chihiro colors the bear brown. The make-up student picks up the purple crayon. Hikaru ignores me and keeps sharpening.

"Okay Chihiro, very good, now color the fox red." Chihiro colors the fox red.

"Here's the orange crayon. Color the tiger, here." The make-up student takes the crayon and scribbles in the middle of the page, then stares at me.

"Stop it, Hikaru!" I take his sharpener away. "Color the tiger orange." Hikaru picks out the orange crayon.

At this point I look back over at Chihiro, who is patiently waiting for the next animal. "Color the rabbit pink, Chihiro." Then I look to the make-up student, who is scribbling with two different crayons, one in each hand. "No, like this, color the tiger orange," I say, and show him what to do. I finally look at Hikaru, who is putting orange crayon shavings into his mouth.


Guess who got to stick her fingers into Hikaru's mouth to stop him from eating orange crayon shavings. Holy cow. He can say "Four red balloons" clearly in English, but he doesn't know not to eat crayon. He's still My Favorite, but gross.

And of course, as I wiped the orange crayon shavings from his chin and picked them off of his tongue, Hikaru ignored me and confidently colored the tiger orange.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

It was adorable.

This week my schedule changed a bit and I don't have one of my cutest classes anymore. It was the "Baby Rhythmic" class, but I always called them my Rhythmic Babies. The Rhythmic Babies were all 1 to 3 years old and came with their mothers for a 40 minute class. I was pretty much the entertainment. If they were bad their mothers took care of them, and I didn't have to plan for the class because the woman who plays the piano told me what to do. It was great (except for my singing). I would start a song or an activity and then walk around giving each child special attention. When I came near a Rhythmic Baby, the mother would turn their kid's head in my direction, being like "Look, here comes Meg!" as if I were a celebrity. And I'd always say "touch!" and the kids would high-five me. It was adorable.

The mothers must have had an unspoken competition to see who could dress their kid in the weirdest outfit for the class. While a few Rhythmic Babies wore reasonable playclothes, others arrived in everything from Hawaiian shirts and visors to pressed party dresses. One little girl strolled in one day in black boots, zebra-striped leggings, a black and silver star-adorned t-shirt, and a bright pink scarf. However the best outfit I witnessed was worn by a one year old boy. First, when I say outfit, I mean that he wore a bathing suit. It was a one-piece girls' style suit, and it was designed to make him look like a watermelon. The bottom was rind-green-colored with watermelon rind patterns, and the rest of the suit was red with black seed spots. This would have been ridiculous enough, but no, the kid was also wearing a hat. It looked like a ladies' swim cap, also made to look like a rind, and it completed the entire watermelon ensemble. It was adorable.

There were some super cute moments in this class, like when a mother told me that her daughter had walked for the first time ever that same morning, and then she put the girl down and let her walk over to me. The girl was too young to speak during the class, but she'd clap along and know what was going on. I would lay out colorful alphabet magnets and ask the children one by one to come find a letter. After they grabbed one, I would lift them up so they could put it on the board. At first, I intended to have the parents lift their own kids (I didn't want to accidentally drop a Rhythmic Baby in front of the class) but even if the kids were shy, the parents would shove them towards me. Then, after putting a letter on the board, the kids would high-five me (of course) and run back to their parents. The last class I taught, I lifted the particular girl who had just learned to walk and then put her back down after she had put her letter on the board. Instead of running back to her mother, she just stood there hugging me. I high-fived her again as all of the parents said "cute" in Japanese, and the girl just stood there smiling at me until her mother carried her back to her spot. It was adorable.

When we played London Bridge, a mother would help me make the bridge, while the other parents and children walked underneath our arms. The little one and two year olds would duck like their parents, even though they were not in danger of bumping their heads. We'd have "sway and sing" time where the parents would each, well, sway and sing while holding their kids' hands or carrying their kids in their arms. One mother had two sons, so the older one would sway and sing with me. Being a rambunctious boy, he'd violently swing his arms (and mine) back and forth while the other mothers laughed. The funniest sway and swing though was when a mother with twin one-year-old girls came. The girls were very tiny and barely spoke, but the more outgoing twin was brave enough to sway and swing with me. She'd never come to the class before, so I assumed she'd just stand there holding my hands in shock. When the music started, however, she immediately leaned to the left and lifted her right leg up above her head like a little monkey. Slowly she put it back down and moved on to her left leg. Imagine a tiny girl holding my hands and lifting her legs like a monkey. All of the parents were looking at us and laughing hysterically. It was adorable.

So no more Rhythmic Babies. Luckily my Favorite class is still in tact. Yesterday, the little girl was absent so My Favorite boy had a private lesson. Before he arrived, I was in the waiting area talking to my last five-year-old student and meeting his little sister. I asked this boy how old his sister was, and he said "zero," though his mother later clarified that she was eleven months old. She clearly just learned to walk, because she stood in the center of the room looking stiff and unbalanced, just staring at everyone. Then, out of nowhere, she'd lift her arms up and make a noise like a dinosaur. I'm not exaggerating. "Fgroahhh!" Everyone was saying "cute!" and laughing. I tell you this because I was kneeling on the floor playing with the cute dinosaur girl when My Favorite student arrived. He ran in the door, pointed right at the dinosaur girl, and asked loudly in Japanese "What's that?" Makiko and I couldn't stop laughing. It was adorable.

Each week I have a drawing on the board for my Favorite class. When they come in, they either point out what's missing ("where's the sun?") or ask me to draw something new. Then I teach them the word in English. For example, a few weeks ago My Favorite asked for a "hikoki" and luckily I knew it was an airplane and drew it. Last week he was wearing a shirt with a fire truck on it, and so I drew a firetruck on the board for him. The girl had trees on her shirt, so we drew those too. Well this week I had the airplane and firetruck from before (along with a tree, the sun, a flower and a spider) and My Favorite immediately requested I draw three cars and a bus. After, he started shouting "fūsen! fūsen!" and I thought "What's that?" I gave him the marker and he drew about twenty circles with lines coming out of them, all in a row, crying "fūsen! fūsen!" as he drew. After class, I asked Makiko what "fūsen" means, and she told me "fūsen" is "balloon". My Favorite drew a row of balloons on the board! It was adorable.

The rest of the class was great. He has a bit of an issue with personal space and was sitting inches from my face while I flashed cards or held up toys, but that's adorable too. He also got a haircut, so he looks a little less wild than he did before. I'm sure it will grow out. He still runs around wanting things his way, and he hates songs. When I played the Hello Song for him yesterday, he immediately started running in a circle around the classroom while he sang. I chased him (I have no dignity while teaching three year olds) and he laughed hysterically until the song finished. Then he surprised me by being wonderful during the rest of the lesson. He said things that other five and six year olds struggle with ("two red apples" "one yellow banana" etc) and he put the alphabet magnets in order on the board himself. It was adorable.

Friday, September 18, 2009

What Is Important

Every Friday I have a private lesson with a fourteen year old girl whose English is incredibly great. The text book we follow brings up social and cultural issues that always lead to interesting discussions. Today we talked about What Is Important.

This quickly lead to me drawing a cline (that's right, I'm using my CELTA vocabulary) on the board, with one end labeled 'Not Important', and the other, 'Most Important'. I then named various events, actions, or things and asked my student to place them in order from least to most important, according to how she felt about them. I'd like to share with you what she came up with.

* Spiders
* Magazines and Comic Books
* Having a Boyfriend
* Looking Fashionable
* Learning English
* Being a Kind Person
* Brushing Your Teeth
* Doing Well in School
* Being Popular
* TV
* Pleasing Your Family
* Making Money
* Being Happy

So what if you aren't a kind person, you're failing school, or you don't brush your teeth; at least you're popular and can watch TV.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wakayama & Nara

I went to Wakayama (a beach town, and home of Adventure World) and Nara (a historic city best known for Toudai-Ji) for a weekend with Katie, her student Senae, and Senae's husband, Masataka. Undoubtedly you've seen my many photos of this trip on Facebook, so let me just highlight ten of the best-of moments.

1. Upon arriving at Adventure World, the four of us immediately got into a line. We thought it was where you waited to see a baby lion cub, but we were soon informed that it was the Hold a Monkey Line. Monkey holding ensued.

2. There was a gateway labeling one part of the park "The Feeling Area," though I'd classify the entire thing as a giant petting zoo. Animals I touched included a monkey (see above), a wallaby, a deer, a wallaby/deer/rabbit hybrid, an American bison, a giraffe, some elephants, many goats, and almost a rhinoceros.

3. Animals that I could have touched, but did not touch, included many dogs, a monkey riding a dog, a raccoon-colored monkey thing, numerous birds, and lions. Though we waited in the Feed the Lions Line for fifteen minutes, the lions were not hungry and we did not get to see what feeding them entailed. I imagine it entailed handing them steaks and petting them.

4. About my almost touching a rhinoceros. We were following the same path as the rest of the tourists through the safari part of Adventure World, but after touching elephants, an American bison, some goats, and a giraffe, we were unsure whether to continue straight past the rhinoceros' cage, or turn left and venture closer to the rhino. As there was nothing obstructing the left path, my friends and several other visitors took it. We were able to walk behind the rhinoceros, as he sat in his little Rhino House, and look at him through a window. We were still separated from him by small bars. Continuing around, we then found ourselves right outside the cage. Thick bars that stood three feet apart kept the rhinoceros from coming out. They did not stop us from going in.

Senae pushed Katie into the cage, and we all followed. Later, we discussed that had the rhinoceros been standing, we might not have marched unabashedly into his cage, but as it was he was lying down and looking unwell, so we weren't as afraid as we naturally should have been. The other visitors were most daring, as they walked right over to him and touched him (and yes, they had young children with them).

I entered the cage and took pictures, intending to touch the rhinoceros afterwards. Before I had the chance, an Adventure World employee holding a radio walked briskly towards us, saying, "Abunai! Abunai!" That means "dangerous." He explained in Japanese that we were not supposed to have wandered into the rhinoceros' cage, and it would be best if we exited immediately. I like to think that he was standing nearby when, over his radio, a voice cried: "Hey, man! There are tourists in the rhinoceros' cage again!" Crrssshh (radio noise), then his response: "Again? That's the fourth time this week!"

5. Soon after we accidentally walked into the rhinoceros' cage, it was Panda Feeding Time. This came after Panda Wake Up Time, which I think was even cuter than Panda Feeding Time. They actually called it Panda Wake Up Time, in English. Once awake, the pandas would assume the Fat Seated Hamster Position (thanks, Jesse!) and drink from milk bottles while being monitored by Panda Supervisors who wore Panda Hats. I think I've found my calling.

6. The last thing we did in Adventure World was to ride the Kandansha (Ferris Wheel). Masataka held our things while Senae, Katie and I rode. Senae suggested we wait longer to get the "Crystal Cabin," a car that was entirely clear, including the bench and the floor. We did, and the "Crystal Cabin" was excellent.

7. That night we checked into our resort hotel that overlooked Adventure World. It was beautiful. Our room was so large that it had a dining room, separate from the living area and bedroom area. It also had a balcony overlooking the pool, hills, Kandansha and ocean. It would have been altogether perfect, except that when we tried to buy beer from the vending machines near the elevators, they would not take our money. We tried several floors. What's with that, Japan?

8. The next day we drove to Nara to see Toudai-Ji, the largest wooden temple that houses the Virocana Buddha. The temple was very interactive. You washed your hands, wafted smoke by the door, and lit candles; and all before entering. Inside, after looking at the immense Virocana Buddha, we had our fortunes read. This involved shaking a box of wooden sticks until one came out, reading the number on the stick, and then having a man hand you your corresponding fortune. Fortunes came in Japanese, Chinese, and English, which was convenient. Though they had small, vague details about travel and health and so on, the best part was the title. Katie and I both got 'Good Luck.' Huzzah. Then Senae got 'Good Luck Later.' I guess she'll have to wait. After we'd read our fortunes, Masataka strolled up to us, looking very pleased with himself. He held up his fortune: 'Best Luck.' Well then!

In addition to pulling a stick and getting your Fortune Slip, you could also get good luck by squeezing and squirming through what I'd estimate was a 1.5' x 2' hole, maybe 4' deep, through a giant wooden support pole holding up the ceiling. We watched high school students go through before deciding I had to try. I attempted several unsuccessful approaches but ultimately I just had to reach my arms in as far as I could so Katie could pull me through. I flopped out on the other side like a fish; albeit a lucky fish. As you left the temple, you tied your Fortune Slip to a pole as a scary looking wooden statue dressed in red looked on. Good Luck, here I come.

9. The deer. There were SO MANY DEER. When we first arrived at Toudai-Ji, we were surprised to see a deer approach us in the parking lot. Having grown up around scores of deer in Maryland, it was exciting to be able to pet one for the first time. Katie and I stayed around the Parking Lot Deer, petting it, as Senae and Masataka called to us: "there are more deer over here." And boy, were there. When we abandoned the Original Deer to enter the park outside of Toudai-Ji, we were immediately met with swarms of deer. Senae and Masataka had bought us deer food (yes, vendors there sold deer food) so the deer instantly knew to attack. Quickly, cuteness became scariness (kawaii turned to kowaii) and I found myself actually running away from a deer. Please see Facebook for proof of this embarrassing moment. I did indeed flee from a deer.

Once we'd run out of food, the deer became passive and gentle. I found myself casually running my hand along this deer or that deer's back as I strolled by, since there were so many deer to be found at Toudai-Ji. Later, during the car ride home, I learned to say "The rhinoceros wasn't scary, but the deer were the scariest" in Japanese. I think it went something like: Sai wa kowaikunakatta desu demo shika wa ichiban kowaikatta desu.

10. Saiin Garan at Hohryuu-Ji. This was the second temple we saw on our second day, about thirty minutes by car from Toudai-Ji. It was stunning. Very peaceful and spread out, it consisted of many small temples or buildings in a practically tourist-free zone. I loved it. Though the pictures don't capture how lovely the area was, I especially liked the five-story pagoda, Gohjuu-no-Toh, and the central gate, Chuumon. There's not much to describe but I took some of my favorite photographs here; namely, the beautiful manhole cover, the cat defecating in front of the temple, the 'angel staircase' sun rays, and the parking lot structure. Please enjoy.

I know I said there were ten highlights, but we have to make this an uneven Eleven.

11. Senae and Masataka. They were wonderful. They planned the trip, drove us everywhere, and treated us to lunch and dinner each day. Unbelievably nice, and on top of that, they were also hysterical. There's a photo of Masataka, outside of Toudai-Ji, holding two lit candles over his head like devil horns as Senae laughs and moves to stop him. That sums up their relationship perfectly, and they were just as entertaining throughout the rest of the trip. A good example was when Katie, Senae and I were jokingly discussing how we should come back at night to rob Saiin Garan, estimating the value of its ancient artifacts. Masataka, without saying a word, mimed the best Cat Burglar Stealing a Gigantic Ancient Statue that I have ever seen.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Random Events from the Last Few Weeks

The Good.

A few weeks ago I went to see one of my Hisai students' friend's art show. Her name is Kikue Miyatake and the exhibit was a restrospective of her artwork for the past fifty years from age four to fifty four. At age eleven she had artwork in a Japanese national gallery, she later had shows around the world, lived in New York, and painted on the Berlin Wall. She's been invited back to Berlin to recreate her painting in what she said was the world's largest permanent outdoor gallery.

That's right, I said 'she said.' Even though this wasn't an opening, an event, or a one-day engagement, when I went to the gallery around noon on a random Thursday, the artist was there. I had looked through the gallery before I started to guess that the woman hanging around the door greeting guests was the artist. Her paintings are very interesting. Most are enormous and abstract and very unique (I thought). Her earlier ones looked Pollock-esque, and she went through a flowers-in-France phase, but everything was lovely. There was a giant photograph of her painting on the Berlin Wall. This is a picture of the painting, but the exhibit's photograph captured it better (it looks oddly flat here):

The problem with viewing abstract artwork in Japan is my inability to read the titles. It's always fun to know what the artist calls the splotches of paint you're looking at, and so I tried to copy the names of the ones I liked best to ask one of the GES managers about later. As it turned out, I had the artist explain her work to me firsthand. She walked me through the gallery and told me many of the titles, explained her process, and talked about New York (she'd lived in the East Village for a few years). I was in a great mood the rest of the day. What a great suggestion from my Hisai student! I also learned that "buumeran," a katakana title I could read but not understand, means "boomerang". "Himawari" is "sunflower". A little at a time...

The Bad.

Two men just came to my door. I considered not answering because one can only assume they were more Jehovah's Witnesses. And also because I was wearing pajamas (who wouldn't be, at 3pm on a Wednesday?). Nonetheless, I answered and was handed an opened envelope that, among many Japanese things I can't read, says in English: Tax Payment Notice. One of the men pulled out the papers and showed them to me. I said "Japanese little," because if they hadn't already guessed I can't understand them, my inability to make a sentence out of those two words would certainly clue them in. They said "tax" and in Japanese asked repeatedly "Margaret Delcher wa doko desu ka?" "Koko," I replied. "Here!" One of the numerous papers seems to say that I owe $16 each month for living here. Fine, except why was this mail hand delivered when they had my address, and why on earth had they opened it before I had even answered my door? Japan, you confuse me.

The Ugly.

My Favorite student knocked my classroom wall down. The classroom is half of a larger room, split in two by a moveable dividing wall made of fairly heavy wood panels. I can move them myself, but not without effort. I've been teaching in there over a month, and even with students occassionaly hitting or running head first into the dividing wall, I've never seen it budge. My Favorite knocked it so far out of place he could go through it to the other room. For the last ten minutes of my three year olds' class, my eight year old students in the other room, waiting for their lesson, were sticking their heads through the wall and laughing. Great.

To be fair, My Favorite is getting a little better. I've learned that he'll behave easily enough, as long as he controls everything. He goes around the room selecting which cards to use next, or pointing at something he'd like to do, and we do it. Am I letting this three year old control me? You bet. If it keeps him in the classroom (what's left of it) with his pants on, then that's good enough for me.

Yesterday as I was teaching the class that comes right before My Favorites, I heard a piercing scream sound from the waiting area. "Great," I thought. "My Favorite boy is out there throwing a fit." I finished up my lesson and went out to see what all the commotion was. First I saw the boy, standing on the window sill with one foot in a plant. Well that's normal. But next to him was the little girl, the other half of My Favorite class, bright red and screaming! What's this? The little and usually angelic girl was throwing a tantrum! She seemed to be angry at her mother and was shouting, but then when she saw me she almost melted into the floor out of embarrassment (while continuing to scream, of course). The mother looked at me like, "I've done all I can here," so I picked up the girl. Not under my arm like I'd done with the boy in the past, but nicely, and I carried her into the classroom. Then I held her screaming in my lap as the boy ran the lesson, until she was distracted enough to forget why she was angry and crying. From there things ran smoothly, until the boy knocked down the wall.