Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The single life

The Man is away for a couple of weeks, and I am on my own. He was worried about me when he left. He wasn't convinced I could cope on my own.

What an insult! I am a perfectly capable person, all grown up now, and I can take care of myself. I don't know what he was so worried about.

Last night I met my friends for our usual after-work dinner and drinks, and we had a lovely time. I even managed to collect a wonderful malapropism/mixed metaphor/something or other from one of them, and REMEMBERED TO WRITE IT DOWN. "Free and fancy-foot," she said, and we knew exactly what she meant. I laughed so much I was sure I would remember it, but I wrote it down anyway. Just as well, too, because on my way home I tried to remember and couldn't. I had to check.

After I came home I was sure there was something I needed to do but couldn't remember what it was, so I decided it would probably come to me during the night and could wait until morning. I have plenty of time on Wednesday mornings, because I work nearby and don't start until second period, at 10.40.

This morning I woke up, rolled over, and checked the clock. It was half an hour after the alarm should have gone off, and I leaped out of bed, cursing. Then I went back and checked the clock again, and discovered that I had not missed the alarm after all. I had not SET the alarm. I had forgotten completely! Was that what I was supposed to remember last night? It couldn't have been. Setting the alarm is something I do AUTOMATICALLY, not something I have to remember. What was it I had to remember? I still couldn't remember.

I made a cup of tea, and sat down to check my email. I still had plenty of time to remember, I thought. I waited for inspiration to hit. It didn't.

Finally I pulled out the files for my classes today. I knew what I was doing in my lessons. All I had to do was dump the paperwork in my bag. But just in case, I checked my notebook.

That was when I found out that because of a public holiday on a Monday a couple of weeks ago, my Wednesday classes are now ahead of my Monday classes, and I had to prepare a new lesson. At this particular place I am teaching eight classes of students the same thing over two weeks, and a Japanese teacher gets them the other week. In other words the students have me one week and a Japanese teacher the other. As I also have one class to myself every week this means I have five class periods but nine different classes, and it is very confusing. I had reached the end of one of these two-week cycles and had nothing prepared. I hadn't even THOUGHT about what to prepare.

It was now about ten minutes before I had to leave. Whatever I chose I would have to prepare in ten minutes, and I would have to repeat it seven more times over the next couple of weeks, which meant that it was PRETTY DAMNED IMPORTANT. I use the textbook for half the class, then I'm supposed to do something different which is up to me, and which makes good use of my magical 'native English' abilities.

I did a quick scan through the teaching materials folder on my computer and decided it was time to do the general knowledge quiz, since it needs almost no preparation. My students at this university are very low level and tend to get discouraged easily if they do not understand something, but even though they are usually very, VERY bad at getting the answers right, the general knowledge quiz tends to get them going and makes them want to understand what I'm saying, because they get competitive and don't seem to mind guessing. It is also extremely entertaining for me, and I had the feeling I would need entertaining.

I am happy to report my plan worked very well indeed, although the students were even worse at getting the answers right than they have been in previous years. I am getting the impression that the standard of Japanese education is dropping. Did you know that Mt. Everest is in Europe? Or, failing that, Haiti? (I was impressed by Haiti, actually, and so were the other students. Nobody else had even heard of it.) Also, the problem with Picasso's nationality used to be that nobody knew what it was. Now nobody has even heard of Picasso, and they don't know who (or what) I'm talking about. When I tell them Picasso was a famous painter, they guess like mad. "Thailand!" they say. "Australia! India!"

Naming the Beatles was interesting. They got Paul and John pretty quickly, then one girl eventually came up with Ringo. George had them baffled. They suggested "Carl Lewis," "George Bush" (and only a couple of students laughed at that one, which was worrying) and "Abraham Lincoln." Then they sat thinking furiously, hoping that some other foreign names might occur to them. "Al Quaida?" suggested one, hesitantly. Finally I told them that the George Bush guess was HALF right, and eventually, with a few more hints thrown in (first letter, second letter, last letter, etc) they got it.

All in all it was a successful activity, if by 'successful' you mean they were listening VERY CAREFULLY to me speaking in English when they needed hints. If by 'successful' you mean that they could actually answer some of the simpler questions without extensive consultation with each other and numerous hints from me, then perhaps it wasn't, although they did eventually guess right about how many strings a violin has, how many legs a butterfly has, and someone did, after a while, come up with the correct answer to "What is the largest state in the U.S.A.?" which was a very high point question. Surprisingly (to them), this turned out to be Alaska, and not Oceania, London, or Los Angeles. ("It's cold!" was an inspired hint, I thought, even if the first guess after that was "Iceland!")

After work, somewhat exhausted (thinking up hints that don't give the show away entirely is hard work), I went to a coffee shop on my way home. I love this particular coffee shop, mostly because of the woman who runs it. She is lovely. She is in her fifties and does not like harsh lighting, which might have something to do with why I like the place so much. The coffee isn't bad, either, and I like her other customers. They tend to be interesting local characters. Also, she sometimes gives me little presents. Today she had received some gifts from her family in Kanagawa, and we all got to try out her favourite mochi sweet, which I enjoyed very much. Also, for some reason they had sent her two cartons (TWO CARTONS) of fu, and as she pointed out, who can eat that much fu? (Yaki-fu to be more exact.) She gave me some. It is just as well it keeps forever, because I don't know what to do with it. The Man can make sukiyaki for us when he comes home, perhaps.

The other reason I like that particular coffee shop is that the conversations are sometimes interesting, and I can join or not depending on how I'm feeling. Today I joined in the conversation (with the three other customers) about food, and then about local dialects. Their imitations of rural Japanese dialects were pretty funny. There is apparently some very nasal dialect in the Tohoku area somewhere, and when one woman tried to imitate it she sounded like she had something stuck up her nose. We laughed and laughed.

After that I pretended to read my book while they all discussed how beautiful I am, a frequent topic there and one of my favourites. Most of the time I am, of course, not beautiful at all. On a good day out in the sunshine I pass as "What a funny-looking person! She looks nice and harmless." But with dim lighting, the right angle, and a sympathetic and mostly rather elderly audience I have discovered I can do better than that, and I will freely admit to enjoying it enormously. It is especially helpful on days like today. I had been feeling rather elderly myself (teaching 18-year-olds can have that effect) as well as incompetent and disorganized, plus I didn't have time to brush my hair this morning. None of these things matter in the coffee shop. There I am always beautiful.

On days that start like today my ego tends to sag a little, and the coffee shop was the perfect place to get it reinflated. (Teachers NEED inflated egos. It's a job requirement.) A dim light, a sympathetic audience, and a bag of fu were exactly what I needed to end the day. By the time I set off home I was feeling relaxed, beautiful, and perhaps even a little free and fancy-footed.


Faerunner said...

I think I could use a coffee shop myself... glad to hear that everything worked out well with your quiz, although it does seem disappointing that your 18-year-olds don't know who Picasso is. Maybe you should do an "art critique" one day and bring in one of his paintings? It might stimulate some very interesting discussion!

Radioactive Jam said...

Haiti! Iceland! Ringo Picasso!

...So, no onions for a couple weeks, eh? And plenty of time to linger in your coffee shop haven. Definitely free and fancy-footed times await.