Friday, February 17, 2006

Free pills and vacations

Today I visited one of my universities to take in a document that arrived late, regarding one of my foreign students. In the International Studies office I was filling out the form about the student when Professor N. came in. He is, I recently discovered, an important person on campus.

"Hello! What are you doing here?" he asked.

"I am trying to remember how to spell 'conscientious'," I said.

Professor N., who was wearing a suit and carrying a tennis racquet, invited me to have a cup of coffee with him. He made the coffee for me himself, and my opinion of him shot up. There were two women in the office and he didn't automatically ask them to do it.

While he was preparing the coffee I checked out some of the pamphlets lying around the office. There was one from an outside company advertising English study abroad programs. The only English on the pamphlet was on the front. It said:


It's a good thing I like irony. Japanese universities are full of it.

Professor N. and I sat and chatted for a while. He told me that he used to work in a high school, and after he retired he took the job at the university. I asked him how the two jobs compared, and he became confidential.

"Actually, at the high school the atmosphere amongst the teaching staff was better," he said. Then he added, "To tell the truth, the level of scholarship was higher, too. But that's a secret, between you and me."

"I won't tell anybody," I lied. "But I'm not surprised, really."

He asked me about my classes, and whether I was happy at the university.

"Oh, yes," I said. "I enjoy it, most of the time. Last year I had some very good classes." I paused, as the word DIARRHEA! popped into my head. "Well, I had some very INTERESTING classes," I amended.

He told me that my students like me. "They talk about you a lot," he said. "Are you happy here?"

I said I was.

"Good," he said. "The university wants you to stay."

That was nice to hear. It is a shame that he is retiring (again) soon. I don't know when, but he won't be around for much longer, I suspect. But even if he were staying I don't think even he could wangle me a 'real' (i.e. full-time) job there. I happen to know that there is VERY stiff resistance to the idea up in the ivory towers there. They had one bad experience with a full-time foreigner once, about twenty years ago, and made it unofficial policy not to ever hire another one. If one is bad, we must ALL be bad, right? Also, foreign academics might make them feel embarrassed about their own lack of scholarly activity.

I wanted to ask him about this, but didn't. Instead I put in a plug for the part-time Japanese teachers of Japanese language, who impress me by the way they get together in the teachers' room to discuss their students' progress, and who actually TALK to each other, and to me, and who are clearly serious teachers. My foreign students love them.

He said he was glad to hear it. I stressed the cooperation thing.

"They cooperate with each other, to help the students," I said. "This is the only place I work where I see that. Most teachers don't even talk to each other. But the part-timers here really care about the students."

He nodded. "Thank you for telling me," he said. "I will remember that."

Eventually I felt that the ice was broken enough that I could ask him the question I'd been wanting to ask since I saw him.

"Do you play tennis in a suit?" I asked, pointing to the tennis racquet.

"Oh, no," he replied. "This is for inside. I have stiff shoulders." He demonstrated by hitting himself repeatedly on the shoulder with the edge of the racquet, hard.

"Oh, I see," I said, as if it made perfect sense to use a tennis racquet to treat stiff shoulders, and perhaps it did.

As we were leaving we went past the school clinic.

"That is the school clinic," he told me. "You should go there, if you have a headache. You can lie down and they will give you pills."

"That's good to know," I said.

"They are good pills," he added. "And they are free! You should remember to come here."

That was good to know, too, although it also made me curious. He seemed VERY enthusiastic about the free pills. I made a mental note to develop a headache one day and find out why.

As we were parting I asked him if he would be in the office every day during the vacation. He said he would, most days, and sighed.

"I don't like it," he said. "I became a teacher because I wanted to have free time. I don't know why I have to be here every day."

Apparently it doesn't help to be at the top of the academic heap when it comes to vacations, and suddenly I was glad to be a humble part-timer. We might not get bonuses or medical insurance or pensions or job security or research money or offices or the very high salaries full-timers get (for fewer classes) or anything else, but we also don't have to attend endless meetings, or deal with the extremely unpleasant power games on the top floor. We also get free pills, as I discovered today, and we get our vacations.

Vacations are GOOD.


Radioactive Jam said...

Cliffhanger ending?! Must learn more about the pills.

Also I'm curious about your changing the class description from good to interesting. I suspect Archives holds the answer. If you monitor things like search engine hits on your weblog and see one with 'diarrhea' as keyword -- well. Normally I wouldn't -- well. Never mind.

I'll just be on my way, then. :-)

Radioactive Jam said...

(Later) Found several, and all I can say is thanks, I needed a good laugh.

Wiccachicky said...

I am looking at a LONG week of meetings next week, so I think you're on to something. I often think my full time job would be perfect if I never had to go to meetings. :)

Badaunt said...

RadJam: Sorry about that. Links now added!

Wiccachicky: The meetings here are notoriously long, boring and non-productive. One of my friends got a full-time job with a third of the teaching hours that she'd had as a part-timer, and told me it was twice as tiring because of the tedium and frustration of the endless meetings that never achieve anything.

Wendy said...

Oh I am so with that man on hitting his stiff shoulders. I have very stiff sore shoulders...okay I don't use a tennis racquet...I get my kids to punch my shoulders (which delights them)...but maybe for my alone times, an object of some sort wouldn't be a bad idea. You have some delightful colleagues, you know.

Meegan said...

Ok, so he sounds like a nice, normal (almost) guy in a stuffy but important position. Let's say he’s a non-weirdo :)

But I am VERY curious about the pills. Maybe feign a headache to acquire a sample and then get it analysed for the ingredients before you try it!

Cheryl said...

Those tablets can't be that great if they don't get to his stiff shoulders. Aww.

The Editter said...

I misread your post title as free pills and vaccinations. I guess the pills put me in a medicalised frame of mind.

I've used a tennis ball when on my own for sore back - just place ball between sore spot and wall. Maybe you could tell Prof N and he could take to carrying round racquet AND ball.