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.

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