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A major update! – My kids

November 9, 2006

OK! Three months to the day since I arrived in Kyoto, it's time to tell you what the kids are actually like. It's been kind of tricky to do that so far, since they're so hard to get to know.

Extreme country kids are real different from city kids. These kids are far more quiet and withdrawn and self-conscious. Also, they quite literally NEVER hear English except from me. And they never use it. So even though their reading and writing skills might be almost up to sub-par level, their listening and speaking abilities are appalling. Couple that with the fact that they're already countryside quiet, and maybe you can understand why it's been so hard to get to know them.

They love me. Ever since I got here, they've been yelling and waving from every corner of the school as soon as they could see me. And although the blatant kakkoi-ing has dropped down a bit, they're still pretty obviously impressed by the white guy. BUT I can't speak to them. A back-and-forth of "Hello!" can only go so far. If I try to push it any further, 99% of the time it results in the kid either waving their arms in the air and running off, or yelling "No English!" or "I can't-o!" and running off.

I started an English club after school to try and get some kids who were more interested in actually speaking to me a chance to do so without being in front of their peers who might embarass them. It ran into some problems though, when I was told I could only use san-nen-sei (third grade – cutting out some of my stronger second grade fanbase), and that I could only do it once a week, for about an hour or so. Still, I was determined, so I set it up. I turned up to the first one and wasn't particularly surprised to see a bunch of girls waiting for me with big shining eyes (you know the ones). But still, despite my best efforts, I could noto get them to relax and speak freely. Even now, when I corner someone in the club with a question, forcing them to say something, it creates a five-minute conference in hushed whispers between her and her friends before I get a hesitant reply like "…No, I …… don't-o?" But anyway, the numbers of girls in the club have started to swell, so I guess that's OK.

There's a bunch of other noteworthy kids as well. There's this one boy with really long fingernails (and his friends) in second grade who always ask me if I like eggplant. Always. There's this one boy in first grade who decides to make up for nobody else speaking by ALWAYS speaking. His English is kind of good, so I sort of want to encourage him, but on the other hand, he doesn't know when to shut up. So, he never does. And we can't do anything about it. We're not allowed to send kids out of the class or anything, cos that would deprive them of their right to education or something.

Marking the work is always a laugh as well, seeing the butchered English some kids force out, or seeing their interesting ways of saying things. Would you think to describe a snail as someone who "lives in a small tornado house"? Or a vending machine as a "self drink bar"? And how about these for inspiring:

But the most fun are the girls, who have absolutely no shame. There's a group of three absolutely rabid second-graders who go out of their minds when I see them. Or rather, when they see me (which causes me to see them due to the sheer racket they're making). They jump and scream and wave their arms about like mad, regardless of if I'm on the other side of the yard and three stories below, or standing right next to them. They're crazy. Always makes me laugh 😀 And the other girls are pretty wild about seeing me as well, although the blatant kakkoi-ing has dropped a bit these days.

It's not just in school, either, but it's everywhere. Though with slightly different results. One of my rabid fans saw me in the supermarket a couple of weeks ago and just froze. She had no idea what the hell I was doing there. She just stared. I saw her at school the next day and she pointed at herself. I said "I saw you", and she just about threw herself out the window in a fit of ecstacy.

I took the train early Saturday morning a couple of weeks ago to head into the city for some markets. As it turned out, a ton of my students share the same nearest train station as me, so over the time I waited for the train to arrive, I got surrounded by about half the girls at my school who were heading out for their sports games. Every one was the same. They saw me and waved about yelling out my name and running towards me. Then they got to me and after a few seconds staring, realised they had absolutely nothing to follow that up with. More and more of them started to turn up, and then I had a throng of girls about me who all started to talk amongst themselves. We all got on the train, but although there was plenty of spare seats near where I sat, they all freaked out and huddled in a group at the far end of the carriage. Every minute or so, one of them would turn around and wave and grin at me, then turn back to the group grinning like mad because I'd returned it.

And one for the girls:

Well, over time, some of them have started to approach me. Sometimes they will butcher out a sentence or two in English – anything they can think of. "What's your favourite begetable?". Or maybe in response to "How are you?", instead of running away, they'll bravely reply with "Me too!". My Japanese is improving slowly as well, so sometimes I'm able to meet them halfway on some things. I think that's helping ease their discomfort as well; when they see how unashamedly I'll abuse a foreign language, they're more willing to do the same.

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