Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What I learned yesterday in school

On Sunday a friend told me of her wonderful new method for combatting back pain. It really works, she told me. She did not have back pain any more. And when she went to her acupuncturist on Saturday, and he was giving her a massage, he commented, somewhat surprised, that her body had changed shape and her back was stronger. Because she knew that I suffered from back pain (particularly when I'm working and on my feet all day) she thought she should tell me about it.

I asked her if she learned her new trick from the Internet, but no, she learned it from a book.

"How old-fashioned of you," I said.

The method is not complicated, but is easier to understand if someone is showing you rather than just telling you. It's the ten yen coin trick. I remember reading about it somewhere (probably on the Internet, because I'm a modern person), except that wherever I read it, it was a credit card trick.

You pretend you're trying to hold a ten yen coin (or a credit card) in your buttock crack.

That's not all, though. You also tense the muscles in your upper thighs and stomach, so it's not all about your bottom. You do this while you're standing, sitting, or squatting. And at the same time as you're doing this, you relax your upper back and shoulders.

My friend had only been doing it for three weeks and it has already made a huge difference.

Yesterday I tried it in my classes.

What I learned was that it is impossible to clench an imaginary credit card (or ten yen coin) in your bottom while you are teaching. There are MOMENTS when you can do it, but they are few and far between.

It was the first day of classes for this particular university. (I started back at the other place last week.) I was sitting behind the podium, sorting through class lists and trying to figure out how many of the students in my class were actually supposed to be there, and at the same time trying to clench my bottom and stomach and thighs, and relax my shoulders. I remembered for whole seconds at a time, but then I'd notice that I was doing it the wrong way around – my shoulders were clenched and my bottom was so relaxed it was almost around my knees. Yesterday I had to get rid of a total of about fifteen students who were registered in other teachers' classes but had come to mine because they had assumed they would be in the same class as their friends. I also had even more than that suddenly appearing about thirty minutes into each class, after going to another teacher's class who doesn't check as quickly as I do. (Seven turned up suddenly in my last class. SEVEN!)

These disruptions make it hard to concentrate on bottom clenching.

I thought I might do better when I was standing. I stood up to write on the board, resolving to clench my bottom while I did so. Then I had second thoughts. I imagined what it it might look like from the back if I suddenly clenched my bottom. Students watch teachers very closely on the first day of classes, and I'm fairly sure bottoms do not escape their scrutiny.

Then I thought that MAYBE I could do it, if I did it while I was behind the podium and kept my bottom clenched when I moved sideways away from the podium, That way it would be the same shape all the time.

I stood behind the podium, bottom (and tummy, and thighs) clenched, writing on the board. It was hard to concentrate on clenching and writing, and even harder to keep my shoulders relaxed while I was writing. Then I had to move over to the side because I had run out of board space, and discovered that shuffling over while clenching my bottom AND remembering what I was writing was too much for me. I can multi-task like mad most of the time – that's what teachers DO, after all – but apparently not the bottom-clenching thing.

My bottom sagged.

Bottom clenching requires a lot more concentration than I expected, and I will have to practice a lot harder before I can do it on a regular basis during classes. For now I will have to confine my bottom clenching efforts to when I am on the train, strap-hanging.

That was the other thing I learned yesterday, as I was coming home. Strap-hanging on the train is the PERFECT time for the bottom clenching thing. When you are coming home after being confined in a classroom all day you are past caring what it looks like from the back when your bottom suddenly changes shape as you remember to keep that ten-yen coin gripped tightly. Why should I care? It was just a bunch of random strangers behind me. Most of them were pretending to be asleep anyway, because they were in the seats reserved for the old, the handicapped, and the pregnant. They were too scared to open their eyes in case they were confronted by the sight of a ninety-year-old pregnant, handicapped person hunched reproachfully in front of them, wheezing.

So I am safe from bottom-scrutiny on the train. As long as I stand in the handicapped seat area I will be able to do my bottom-clenching exercise as much as I like.

Today I also tried walking while doing the bottom-clenching thing, and discovered it was a lot harder than I'd expected. The first time I tried it I goose-stepped a few paces until I remembered I was allowed to bend my knees. Also, I had to keep reminding myself to relax my shoulders.

I'll get it right eventually, I'm sure. My friend assured me it gets easier. After two days of it I'm not quite convinced it will ever be automatic, but I think I might eventually be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Saturday, April 03, 2010


Because it's that time of year...

Friday, April 02, 2010

All your hair are belong to me

Today I had a haircut. My hairdresser looked at my hair, picking up strands and running it through her fingers.

"Spring is coming," she said. "I think I'd like it a bit shorter."

"Whatever you like," I said.

I'm not sure whether it is just that she uses English with me and her English has certain idiosyncrasies, or whether she really thinks like this, but I must say I rather enjoy the way she talks as though my hair belongs to her.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Taking the bus

The other day I had to take a bus. I was in a coffee shop beforehand, and asked where the bus stop was. I was pointed in the right direction. As I started walking towards the bus stop, I had to cross a wide and busy road. The light was green, so I started crossing, expecting to pass the old lady in front of me. I usually walk faster than old ladies.

But not this old lady. She was an old lady in a hurry, and she hurtled across the road far quicker than I did, and galloped towards the bus stop. As she approached it I realized why she was running. A bus rounded the corner, stopped at the bus stop, and then took off again, not noticing the old lady waving her umbrella and shouting. The driver should have seen her, but either he didn't, or he did and ignored her.

As I approached she turned back. I caught her eye, and shrugged. She burst into an annoyed speech about missing the bus, apparently not even out of breath. I sympathized, panting slightly.

Then I asked her where that particular bus had been going, and she informed me that it was, in fact, going where I wanted to go, too, and not only that, there was only one bus an hour.

I was a little confused. I thought my bus was on the other side of the road, and going the other way. Had I been turned around again? My internal compass isn't very good, but I thought I knew where I was. I asked her about it, and she told me that yes, the bus went to the same place from the other side of the road too, and in fact that was where she had been waiting when she realized the other bus was coming soon and would be quicker even though it went all round the houses first.

I thought about taking a taxi, but the old lady seemed like good company. We walked together back to the other bus stop, where I discovered that the bus would be coming in twelve minutes, not such a long wait.

The old lady pulled out a cigarette and lit it. Then she told me how much the bus would cost.

"But it's not that much for me," she said, smugly. "I'm old!" She took out her bus pass to show me. It was a senior citizen bus pass, and had her age on it. She was 81.

I had only glanced at it when she took it back, covered the age with her thumb and asked her how old I thought she was.

"Um... seventy, er, something...?" I asked.

She moved her thumb off the card.

"I'm eighty-one!" she said, triumphantly. "See?"

"Really?" I said, and looked suitably impressed. "I thought you must be younger, you were going so fast."

"Oh, I'm pretty healthy," she said, taking another drag of her cigarette.

We stood there for a while in companionable silence. Then she said,

"I have three children. They're all in their fifties, of course. My son is a police officer, like my husband was."

"Really?" I said.

"And so are both my daughters," she said. "Even though they're girls!"

This fact seemed to still amaze her, even after what must have been at least a couple of decades. I congratulated her on her accomplished children.

"That's a lot of police officers for one family," I said.

She looked at me sideways. "I have four grandchildren, too," she said. "And one of them is a police officer as well!"

I was running out of ways to express astonishment in Japanese.

"I'm surrounded by police," she said, with a twinkle in her eye, then delivered her punchline. "I can't do ANYTHING naughty."

I laughed. "But that's probably why you can run so fast!" I said.

Taking the bus is not just cheaper, it can more entertaining as well.