Wednesday, February 16, 2005

As usual I'm throwing a bunch of diverse subjects under the same blog posting. I guess you're used to that by now.

I screw up singing performance
Graduation is still a month off, but last week we had a special ceremony last week in which all the younger students sang to the 9th grade students, and then the teachers sing to the 9th grade students, and then the 9th grade students sing back to the rest of the school. It's supposed to be a real moving performance, and the some of the other teachers were upset that the 9th grade students didn't take it seriously enough.

And I'm afraid I didn't help. The teachers were practicing their song after school, and I couldn't be bothered to stay after school to practice them. Not that I don't ever stay after school. In fact I've been doing that quite frequently lately (we'll come to that shortly), but no one gives me advanced notice on these things. So I've got all my books packed up and I'm heading out the door and totally in my "I'm going home" mood, and then someone will say, "Oh, Joel, we're practicing our singing this afternoon. Do you want to stay for it?" And I'll just say I was kind of going home, and besides I have Japanese class in the evenings (which is true) so I just said I'll sit the singing performance out.

But, when the actual day came, the vice-principal thought it was important that I should be standing up with the other teachers even if I couldn't sing the song. The students were very excited to see me take the stage. What can I say, it's easy to be popular in Japan.

The song was in Japanese, and although other teachers had music with them, I had nothing. So I just sort of mumbled along while trying to look over at another teacher's music. The students were beginning to laugh already at this point. I made eye contact with a few in the front row and just winked or shrugged my shoulders, because it was perfectly obvious that I didn't know what was going on anyway. And then came the part of the song that was accompanied by motions, and I had to look around me to see what motions the other teachers were doing and tried to follow it, and I was always one step behind. And that part just brought the house down. Students were laughing so hard some fell out of their seats. Well, you know Junior High School kids, it's easy to make them laugh.

So, it's nice to be popular. I did worry somewhat that my fellow teachers had been practicing this song for a long time, and I just showed up on the performance day and stole the show. I'm not sure if any of them were resentful of that or not, but like I said they did later chew out the 9th grade students for not taking the singing seriously enough.

Busy at School Lately

This week and next week are entrance examinations for students who want to go to high school. High School is not compulsory education in Japan, and in fact after 9th grade the students all go to different High Schools, which they carefully choose, and then have to take tests to get into. It's somewhat like going to University for us.

One of my students wants to go to a high school that has an English interview for an examination test. So, I've been staying after school last week and this week to practice with her. In fact, last week I ended up post poning my trip to Kyushu by one day because my Japanese colleague wanted me to stay after school and work with this student.

Also, during Spring Break we will be having a group of junior high school students from California here on an exchange program. I've been asked to help out with it, which will cut into my spring break when the time comes, and is also meaning after school meetings now.

I've had a bit of experience doing these exchanges before during my stay in Ajimu. There somewhat fun to do because they allow me to feel important as someone who helps to guide translate. I just wish it didn't cut into my free time so much. Also I'm somewhat worried that, as happened with the Australian Rotary club exchange last year, my presence will be a bit superficial, all the translating will be taken care of by people who are better than me, and I'll just be along for the ride and wasting time.

North Korean Versus Japan Soccer Match

Big sports news here last week was the North Korean Japan soccer match. There is always a lot of tension between Japan and North Korea, and sometimes it is difficult to separate sports and politics. The Japan times had an article to that effect here.

Not many people in Japan like North Korea. And with good reason. Certainly no reasonable person in the world favors the North Korean regime, and Japan has a number of legitimate grievances against North Korea, such as the abduction issue which always gets a lot of press in Japan. But relations between Japan and Korea have been hostile for so long that sometimes it is hard to tell where anti-communism stops and anti-Korean begins. Evidence of this is the attacks on children who attend North Korean schools within Japan.

Of course as I write this I am thinking that currently Japan is in a midst of a Korean boom, where all things South Korean are extremely popular. So things are complicated of course, and to go into all the nuances would take a lot of writing, and then I'm no expert anyway.

But I went into a bar with some ex-pat friends to watch the game, and it seemed to us that all the Japanese people there were a little too excited to beat North Korea. I briefly pretended I was cheering for North Korea, and no one laughed at that joke.

Even among the ex-patriots things were a bit tense. The next game Japan has to play to qualify for the world cup is against Iran, and one of my friends joked Japan was taking on the axis of evil one by one. At this point another American angrily said it was about soccer, not politics, and it seemed at the time that a fight was close and only adverted by my friend repeatedly apologizing.

Although, since bars are places that are famous for people fighting for no reason, perhaps this story proves nothing.

Media Mouse Starts On-line Book Review Section
Which you can read about here. And apparently they're looking for submissions, if anyone feels like writing.

Perhaps it would be unfair for me to take credit for this, but I did suggest it to them a long time ago. It was just after I came to Japan, and I was looking for ways to stay politically active from abroad. Media Mouse was redoing their website, and I said I could write up some book reviews if they wanted to post them. I sent over a few reviews, but shortly after September 11th happened, and everyone's priorities started to change and suddenly those reviews didn't seem so important anymore.

At any rate, given what kind of book reviews they have posted now, I don't think what I sent over fit their criteria anyway. I reviewed old classics like "1984" and "Les Miserables" and I think they are looking for more recent books and non-fiction.

"Les Miserables" by the way is more of a radical book than people often give it credit, especially since it has become a Broadway musical. But Victor Hugo spent 20 years in exile for defying Napoleon III. His satirical verses on Napoleon III were considered required reading during the Paris Commune. He was later expelled for sheltering some of the Commune revolutionaries.

And the most famous figure from the Paris Commune, Louise Michel, even took to calling herself Enjolras, after the character in "Les Miserables."

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