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.