Everyday Chu Chu

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

This past weekend (Sunday, Monday and until this afternoon) I was working at an English camp for Minami High School which is in Kochi City. There were 8 ALTs including myself and a few teachers. There were 7 groups: apples, bananas, cheese [me] dragons, eggs, fried chicken, and grapes and there were about 5 people in every group. There were only 4 boys total.

On Sunday afternoon we all piled into a chartered bus (they don’t have school buses here) and drove a mile up into the mountains to samuegusa..or something like that. It was very beautiful and there was a huge lake but we weren’t able to go swimming or really ever go outside because it was a bit dangerous. The mountain was quite steep… in every direction.

The students all ranged in English ability. I couldn’t help it but I ended up playing favorites. I tried to hide it as much as possible but at times it’s just difficult. I had 5 girls. One had very short hair and the best English ability in our group (hazuki) Then, there were two girls who looked really similar because they had the same short permed hair cut (chigusa and konoka). Mina was super quiet (but not the quietest) but was always paying attention with really wide eyes. She surprised me many times because things that I did really affected her but I wouldn’t know it until much later after the fact. Then there was Moe who was my least favorite. I’m sorry to say it because my girls were really awesome but Moe had the worst English ability of all the students at the camp. This is not why I didn’t favor her (I didn’t dislike her by any means). She would always tune out everything I said because she didn’t understand anything. Most people didn’t understand but she never really tried. Also, and less importantly, she had a habit of picking at her dry skin. She was constantly itching her arms and they were all scabbed up. I wanted to smack the back of her hand and say “no!” but I didn’t. Mostly, I’m disappointed that she didn’t try. If she didn’t care about it, why was she there? I’m expecting this from students in regular classes but these students were supposed to be the cream of the crop at Minami High School!

I ended up surprising myself quite a bit. When I first got there I was afraid of doing things completely wrong and really disappointing my students but Monique (the ALT coordinator from Jamaica [all the other ALTs were from America…boooooring]) made it clear that this camp was mostly about having fun while speaking English. There were no lessons and no vocabulary to learn. It was just fun English. I also thought that if my students weren’t genki (excited) then there was no way that I’d be able to pick up the slack and bring all the energy to the group myself. It’s like having a one way conversation…which I seem to be doing a lot recently.

And on that note, I ended up bringing all the energy anyway and really doing a great job with it! The other ALTs all had their own style but they were great people to work with and I never felt like I was doing a worse or better job! My students didn’t give me as much feedback as American kids would but I understand that and when they would do things like smile and show that they kinda understand or that they are at least having fun, then it was enough to keep me going. I also was able to actually get answers out of them with jokes…that don’t seem to translate. I don’t get it!!!!

For example:

Nina Sensei (they call me sensei…CUTE!): I have two stories. One about camping and one about the fall festival. Which sounds interesting to you? (<-- I learned real fast that that’s a dumb question because…)


Nina: Do you like camping? Or Festivals?

Students:….. (they start looking at each other…I know they understand damn it!)

Nina: Camping? Festivals?....

Then I change my voice a little to be more high pitched and I say

“No Nina, I hate camping! I think camping is stupid!!!.......I love festivals!!!”

Sometimes they giggle…mostly they kept looking at each other…so I continue

“No Nina, I hate this lesson. I think you are stupid!”

Seriously, Japanese students would never say this and I know they don’t think this one bit, I’m just trying to get a reaction!

By this time I usually get one ‘bold person’ (I use the term loosely) will say that she likes camping and everyone else will agree for agreeing sake.

This all sounds frustrating, I’m sure, but it’s really not all that bad. The kids (Sophomore high schoolers) get into it after a while. And it’s not like I’m doing anything that really takes a lot of effort anyway.

So back to my group and not just the other students that I worked with. My kids were the cheese group. They weren’t the most energetic and they weren’t the most talented but they were great girls and they hold a special place in my heart for being my first students. I hope that all of my future students are as good and caring! But I think that’s too much to ask for. There’s always going to be a couple of bastard kids…I haven’t thought of a good way to deal with them yet because Japanese school teachers don’t punish students for anything other than having cell phones so I’m looking at no help!

But I digress.

I’ll post pics of my kids in my gallery later. They gave me a certificate at the end and it is so cute! One girl wrote in her daily journal that I am “high tension” and most of them said that they like my smile. I think they were surprised at how energetic I was at times. I was surprised myself. Maybe it was because I really wanted them to feel accepted by me and I wanted to kind of impress them with my super genki gaijin powers!

Now, there were a few students that weren’t in my group that really stuck out to me. Of the groups, my girls were pretty average but there were two groups that just looked like they were older and they were more sophisticated you could tell. Everyone at the camp wore makeup but these girls dressed more provocatively (they weren’t forced to wear their uniforms, thank god) and they were mostly taller and ….. just older. They were just trendier. There was a point to this but I can’t remember.

Anyway, so there was one girl that I found talking to two other ALT girls. She was badgering them about how they both had boyfriends. (The Japanese love to badger people, I don’t get it at all!!) She would say over and over again “everyday chu chu”. Chu is the Japanese sound effect for kissing. So she’s saying that they make out with their boyfriends everyday. So when I came in she pointed at me and asked if I had a boyfriend, and I said no, she said…oh, not everyday chu chu. So I asked her and she in fact did have a boyfriend…and the annoyance began. Every time after this, when I saw her at a meal or in the hall she would point and say “everyday chu chu!” so I would repeat just to keep making fun of her and then she would do it back to me all over again. We got up to, like, 10 or 15 “everyday chu chu”s and it got really old, REALLY FAST! But she loved it every time. Weird. Her boyfriend lives in Hiroshima so she assures me it’s not everyday chu chu. But I’m sure she chu chu’s him over the cell phone every night ;)

The next student that stuck out to me was one of the boys. I originally didn’t have anything to do with the boys because there’s only 4 of them and what do I care? But this one did a couple of things that made him stand out (and that’s big in Japan when no one really stands out) First, he had pretty much no English ability. But he always tried very hard. He never stressed himself out about the English. He never worried about it. But he always wanted to involve himself in the activities almost more than other students even though he couldn’t speak English. Effort goes a long way for me as it should anyone. Next, for one of the culture activities, he threw on his sumo panties (or whatever) over his pants and showed everyone how he does sumo as his extra curricular activity. He’s been doing it for a few years I guess. He’s not fat or anything but he was larger than the other boys. I also caught the girls that I sat with at lunch checking him out. I wanted to know what was up so I asked. They said that he was on his third bowl of beef rice. Most people couldn’t finish one bowl. wow

But what made this guy stand out to me the most was when we had chill time. Chill time was something that Monique had to work hard to put in the schedule. Last year the kids were running around so much that they never had any time to relax at all. So this year, Monique added a half hour (once on the half days and twice on the full day) when the kids could do their own thing. The ALTs were supposed to set up stations of different activities that the kids could choose to do or not do. I set up an Uno game and he was one of the first students to join. He and this one really outgoing teacher were really into the game and it made the game so much fun! They already knew how to play but some of the rules were a little different so I taught them the American version. After a while they taught me the Japanese version and the small details actually made the game seem completely different and it actually went by faster! Like…5 or 10 minutes per game. I didn’t even need to shuffle the deck once! In the American version, we had to shuffle the deck many…many times in one game.

So during these games we would be saying stuff but the point of me being there was to speak English so that’s exactly what I and everyone else did. I almost forgot that I was allowed to speak Japanese at all. But poor Ryuji (the sumos name) only spoke Japanese so he would be sitting there next to me cursing and mumbling under his breath the entire game. It was hilarious! Because even the people who did speak Japanese didn’t respond to him one bit as if he were just talking to himself!

It’s the little things.

Finally, there was another reason why I was so surprised at how energetic I was. On the first night, after the students went to bed, the adults had an enkaiwa (drinking party). It was very low key and was really just everyone sitting around and relaxing. My roommate and I (McKenzie) went to bed around midnight because we were exhausted and were completely dead to the world in 5 minutes. I ended up waking up around 4am because I had to use the toilet. (I hate drinking alcohol for that reason) When I got to the bathroom I saw a girl standing there and she looked like she was leaning over the sink and just finishing up. She spoke to me in English and asked why I was up. I told her I had to pee really bad and promptly walked into the stall.

By the way, to get off the topic again, it sucks to use those squatter toilets while you’re drunk. It sucks when you’re half asleep too but I’m happy that I’m getting used to it. I don’t have to hang on the walls as much and I hear it’s go for my hips. We’ll see.

ANYWAY, so I’m in the stall thinking about how that girl was really cool to be speaking English so early in the morning and I should give her something for her great effort. When I got out she was still there. I asked her if she was OK and she actually said no. I was kinda surprised actually. I asked if she wanted help and she said yes. Wow

I was still half asleep so I woke up McKenzie. It turns out the girl in the bathroom was in her group. While they were talking I woke up a main teacher because this is something that really should be dealt with by a native Japanese speaker…or someone who can actually speak Japanese.

As soon as the teacher got there, she sent us both to bed. We noticed that the teacher was also sending the girl to bed as well. This seemed a bit prompted for someone who looked like she was about to throw up. (did I mention she motioned to me that she was going to throw up?)

I went to bed and didn’t worry about it.

Until 5:15am when she knocked on our door. McKenzie answered to door because I was completely disoriented. I kept lifting my head and saying “huh?” because I just didn’t get what was going on until the girl standing in the doorway started crying. Apparently she wasn’t sick, she was having anxiety about being away from home. She wasn’t able to sleep because she was so upset.

So, being the good ALTs that we were, we stayed up playing cards and listening to soft music until it was time for everyone else to wake up. (about 6:30) At around 6am I heard other students that were walking the halls and upon investigating, we found out that it was girls who were getting up early so they could put on makeup. I’ll never get it, but these girls spend HOURS in the bathroom over stupid stuff like makeup. I hate it when my hair takes 10 minutes to style!


So, at around 6:15 I left to go take a shower (not that there was a rush to get into the bathroom before anyone else because most Japanese people shower at night)

Oh, the bathrooms and showers were communal btw (not unisex though). The hotel also had an onsen (hot bath). Very nice.

When I got back from the shower, McKenzie told me that the girl’s dad had come to pick her up. (it’s an hour up the mountain by the way and that’s if she lives close to the school which most students don’t)

That wasn’t the only student of McKenzies to bowed out before the end. Another girl in her group actually got sick and had to go home. There were only two people who left early. Poor McKenzie!

That was pretty much it for the camp. I had a great time and I’d do it all again in an instant. I was still going too when everyone was saying there goodbyes. I wanted to go out with the other ALTs whom I love but they were dead tired and just wanted to go home. My apartment is too boring….there’s no one here…..

But I made plans for tomorrow so no worries!


Japanese culture update:

Chu-hi (hi like hello) is a can of Japanese “sake” which is like a cocktail. It’s super sweet and in different fruity flavors but it really good. I prefer it to beer. My flavor of choice as of right now is Yuzu which is some strange fruit that is rumored to only be in Kochi. I have no idea though.

Oh, there are lot’s of things in Kochi that are “Kochi only”. There are certain fruits and certain foods or items that are exclusive to Kochi. This goes for every prefecture. Sometimes there are even special flavors of pocky!

I need to get cable TV. Right after I get internet. I heard that cable is a good way to get some English news (though I could use the internet but I’d like to know what’s important to Japan as well) and I also want to keep in touch with what my students think is popular since if one person in Japan thinks it’s cool then everyone thinks it’s cool. Besides, the entertainment value of cable is a plus too ;)

I’m thinking about buying a bed frame for my futon. I don’t like sleeping on the floor. Everything else ends up on the floor too. Including dust and crap which I refuse to vacuum every single night!

Tomorrow, I have plans to visit AEON (eeon) which is a western style shopping mall. It’s more expensive but it’s like 8 floors. I know I can get everything I’m looking for and then some. I’ll probably hang out there until Monique is done with work and we can hang out.

I think I’ll take my summer vacation days. I won’t really be doing anything at work so they won’t miss me and I won’t be bored behind a desk. Now the question remains with what I shall do with this extra time?

Last thing, I am consistently surprised by how many bugs there aren’t in my apartment. I’ve heard many a story about different bug annoyances and how one must guard against them. I have done my best but I have also practiced high risk behavior. Mostly, to get a breeze going through my apartment I have to open the front door and the back door. The back door has a screen but the front door has nothing. My predecessor left some smoke incense that is supposed to keep the bugs away but I doubted it would do much of anything. So I turned off the lights in the rooms that I wasn’t using so I didn’t attract the bugs and crossed my fingers. I have done this sort of things many times since being here and I have yet to see one bug. I don’t get it. I don’t think that smoke stuff really works THAT well. Maybe it’s my location. I don’t know. But I’m not complaining!

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