Monday, November 15, 2010

The Bat and The Bear: The Bat

 It’s cold. It’s wear-tights-under-my-pants cold. It's runny-nose cold. I have a long grudge against cold weather. In October when all the folk at home were celebrating the advent of sweater season, I was grumbling as I dragged out my heavy blankets and switched my sheets to jersey.

This will be my third winter in Japan. Anyone who talks to me has heard me bemoan the lack of insulation and the inescapable frigidness. I was discussing this with a teacher the other day. I had decided that maybe I was being melodramatic. The new ALT is a Minnesotan, and she once went trick-or-treating in a blizzard. In Oklahoma a foot of snow stops life for a week.

My teacher said, “My friend from Hokkaido—you know Hokkaido, the farthest north prefecture in Japan?”

Japan’s Minnesota. “Sure,” I replied.

“My friend said that Kyoto winters are worse than Hokkaido’s!”

“What?” I exclaimed.

“Because you say, the buildings in Kyoto are built, not for winter,” he explained. “The houses are not warm. Kyoto and Kameoka, we call them bonchi. It means they are low cities surrounded by mountains, so the cold air stays. So winter is easier in Hokkaido.”

I responded with some noise and facial expression reminiscent of an angry housecat. No wonder.
We have had some beautiful sunsets. This was even more vibrant from my kitchen window.

Among the municipal ALTs in Kameoka, Kim-Chi and I seem to be most adversely affected by the cold. We talk about it at great lengths, and by “talk about” I mean “complain.”

Kim-Chi and I have discovered that we hold similar postures when we’re at our schools in winter. We pull our sleeves up to cover our hands or (despite what well-meaning teachers tell us) wear our fingerless gloves in the office. We sit or stand with our elbows in and our hands clutched to our chests. We hunch over our desks, writing with crabbed hands. Our expressions are sour—upper lips curled, brows drawn, runny noses wrinkled. Kim and I have termed this “bat face” because it clearly says, You want to talk to me? I’ll give you rabies.

The Bat is a crabby soul. The sour mood brought on by Seasonal Affective Disorder is pervasive and subtle, and the Bat is the unwitting result of not recognizing how severely being cold affects one’s psyche.

I was at an elementary school a couple of weeks ago, and I was pissed off. The object of my wrath was the English supporter, a Japanese woman who does my job but at only five schools and only with the 5th and 6th grades. I should preface with that I’ve had a couple of issues with this woman in the past. It has never been anything big, just small things like hearing her teach incorrect English. Or that the teachers who used to try to talk to me directly now wait for the supporter to show up and translate. Or how she seems convinced that I can’t communicate with Japanese teachers on my own. The previous Friday the supporter, who shall from henceforth be known as Mrs. Westmouth, had deemed it necessary to explain BINGO to me. It went something like this:

I have italicized the parts that were originally in Japanese.
W: Okay, Ryan, okay.
Me: Yes?
W: Today’s lesson, sixth graders, play a BINGO game.
Me: Yes. It’s lesson 7.1 in the manual.
W: Okay, Ryan. Mm. Um, sixth graders cut the cards. Have cut cards. Student have cut the cards, and put on.
Me: Yes. Just like regular BINGO. We played this last year. I often play BINGO in class.
W: Okay. Students a put on card, on the paper, and Ryan say a card. Ah, pyramid!
Me: Yes. We have played this before.
W: Students, ah, [in growly voice] “pyramid” and put the card. Take off card.
Me, glancing at the sixth grade teachers watching us: Yes. I know. I understand
W: And Ryan, “Germany,” say “Germany,” and students [in gravely voice] “Ah, okay, Germany.” And, take off Germany’s card.
Ms. Miyoshi, 6th grade English coordinator: Er, the students haven’t cut those cards out yet.
W: Ah, Ryan, sixth graders, have—
Me, to Miyoshi-sensei: That’s okay. We have a lot of [those] country [flag] cards.  Please using just those. Those only are fine.
            For the record, I did mean to say, “we can use” instead of “please using,” but I am not good at this language.
Miyoshi-sensei: Ah, okay. Thanks. Is it okay if the students just write the country names into the BINGO blanks?
W: —not cut cards. So, Ryan, ah, what should we do, I wonder?
Me: Yes, to write also okay.
W [to Miyoshi-sensei]: What should we do? We could use the country cards. There are a lot of those.
Miyoshi-sense, gesturing at me: Oh, uh, yes. We’ll just use those and write the country names in the blank.
W: Okay, in Japanese?
Ms. Miyoshi looked at me.
Me: In Japanese is okay.
Miyoshi nodded.
W: Okay, Ryan, okay, Ryan will use country card. Westmouth made, country cards, do you remember?
Me: Yes, we used them last year. Thank you.
W: Mm, not so (translation: Oh, no problem). Okay, Ryan will use Westmouth’s cards. Germany, Ghana, Swiss, Canada, Ryan will use BINGO’s game.
Me: Yes.
W: Students not use, will not use cards. Students will write name, country name, in BINGO sheet. Ryan will…

I shan’t recount the rest. Westmouth proceeded to tell me in what way a student might achieve a BINGO, and how to play a game called “What’s this?” which involved me showing the students part of a picture and asking them to guess what it is. The whole conversation, or whatever you call it when two people talk but one doesn’t listen, lasted for at least five minutes. My part was mostly saying “Yes, I understand. I have done this before,” and “Yes, it’s right here in the teacher’s manual.” Westmouth did a lot of gesturing to the cards that hadn’t been cut and country flag cards, confirming with Miyoshi-sensei, and demonstrating how I should call BINGO cards.

Woman, I wanted to say, BINGO is an American game. I know how to play it. I’ve been playing BINGO in classrooms for the last two and a half years. Don’t presume I need a crash course in BINGO For Dummies, especially in front of the other teachers. I may be smiling, but Imma bite yo face off.

Some of my outrage might be merited. It’s never fun to be treated like a stupid child. However, Westmouth is an incredibly nice woman, and she bends over backward to make sure that her schools have everything they need for English classes. She often drives me home, and once when I was going to bike home and back during recess (I’d left some materials at home) Westmouth followed me home in her car, and then drove me back to the school. Still, this BINGO explanation drove me nuts. I grumbled about it all weekend.
A portable shrine featured in the Kameoka Festival

When I woke up the following Tuesday, I was cold. I didn’t want to put my feet on the cold floor. I didn’t want to get out of my warm bed. My nose was frozen and my fingers were stiff. I dragged myself out of bed and made sure I got on a bus on time. I had reviewed the plan for the day’s lessons (the school had given me a detailed outline of when each grade would be studying what part of the textbook) so I walked into the elementary school feeling prepared.

I entered the teacher’s office, said a cheery Ohaiyo gozaimasu, and sat down. The office manager came to my desk. She held a clear plastic file that contained one piece of paper. She said something like “The other teacher, what’s her name again, left this note for you.”

“Westmouth?” I suggested, taking the file.

“Yes. She left this for me to give you.”

I thanked the lady and resisted crumpling that note in my hands. I won’t retype what Westmouth had written. Let is suffice to say that it was information that I already had available, and without which I would have done just swimmingly. This note really bothered me. I fumed the whole day. At one point I sent Kim-Chi a text message that simply said, “I’m like to murder some folk.”

She replied, “Is it the coming of the cold? I’ve been like to kill people all week.” Then she inquired after the potato soup I’d made the previous night.

I pshawed. The cold? What would the cold have to do with the idiocy with which I was surrounded? It was that woman’s fault, what with her micromanaging and her notes. And the teachers who walked out of the room when I was teaching. And those dumb kids with their yapping and telling me that my hair was weird and making fun of me. And the stupid school lunch sitting on my desk until it got cold while I waited for the students to get their act together and come get me. And the stupid school with its open windows in the staff room that made my nose was cold and runny…Ah. Maybe I was cold.

The Bat. It is an ugly creature.

1 comment:

  1. Oh man, this is inspiring me to blog about S.A.D. cause it effects me in a BIG way. Big way. I hear ya, sister. And when I saw that, I mean it in the way black people do because it is more meaningful, I think.