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Take 2

September 24, 2007

Well, it looks like I'm having to start this blog from scratch again! I'll try to find out how to recover my old posts, if I can, but in the meantime, I'll just get on with it. At least it's fitting that my new start comes as I am making a new start myself, in my new job, in Kyoto City!

I love my new location. I'm in a tiny little apartment in a building in a quiet little quintessent back street of Kyoto. Some of the houses have walls around them, with majestic doors boasting of wealth, built in a time when your citizen's tax was calculated based on how wide your front door was. In between them are scattered little houses, built on top of one another and causing the narrow street to warp into all sorts of impossible contortions; all wood and sliding front doors, no front or rear gardens, and little old ladies who potter up and down the streets with no apparent purpose but still happy to give me a smile and a bow and a friendly "konnichiwa" when I see them. My apartment building itself is up a set of crumbling stone steps and surrounded by overgrown garden, which is seems to have naturally stopped its own growth right at the point where it's still charming, but before it would get annoying. The back of the building rests up against a rather big nice shrine, which as well as having a number of little places of worship, also inexplicably has a large iron horse, which actually looks kind of angry. Nobody's been able to explain to me what that's all about yet.

My room is on the other side of the building, which means it faces North (in the northern hemisphere, that's away from the sun), which is a shame, but as we're on a bit of a hill here, it also affords me a fantastic view over the northern half of Kyoto city, including a nice clear shot of the ridiculously huge red [i]torii[/i] gates of Heian Jingu Shrine, and all the surrounding folds of hill, in the basin of which lies the pretty city of Kyoto. On those hills, I can see two and a half of the giant Daimonji characters which are set on fire during one of Kyoto's bigger summer events – an event which I missed this year due to visiting my family back in New Zealand. In the mornings, the hills are all filled with rolling mist, during the day they fade away in ever-deepening shades of blue, and in the evenings the whole city is bathed in orange. And just down near my house is a pretty little graveyard. I like Japanese graveyards. As with the rest of the country, each person is given very little room, and so writing on the headstone tends to be one long string of characters from top to bottom. It can often be quite hard to figure out where the paths are, between the closely-packed jumbles of sticks all pointing up all over the place like the skyline of a miniature metropolis. And yet you still see people lumbering through them, offering their respects, each one like a slightly more civil Godzilla.

I've moved from teaching Primary and Middle School students, on to teaching High School students. There's a big difference – although I don't know how much of that can also be put down to the city vs countryside division. High School students are from 16-18 years old. Even within that age bracket, there's a big difference between the first year students and the third years. Some of the third year students strike me as scarily similar to people who I am friends with myself. I still see myself as a fresh Uni graduate, although I guess that's not exactly true anymore…

I am teaching at two High Schools. One specialises in Art, and the other has an Advanced English Course – though I'm not too sure it deserves the capitals. I split my time within a week between the two schools. My "base" school is the Art school, though through some of the beauty that is Japanese organisation, I actually spend most of my time at the English school. I was quite excited to hear I would be teaching at an English School – until I got there. It turns out I am one of three foreigners to be doing the same job at that school. As the other two are there full-time, they have been given the classes with the English course students. As it also turns out, that's only a relatively small proportion of the actual students who go to the school. Most of them hate English. And those ones are mine.

I can't believe the discipline here. I learnt very quickly last year that teachers actually have very little power in the classroom. The old NZ staple of sending disruptive kids out of the classroom doesn't fly here – it would be depriving them of their right to learn. The fact that they are remaining in the classroom, and therefore depriving the other 40 kids of [i]their[/i] right to learn, is one of those dilemmas the higher-ups have apparently decided to happily ignore. And yeah, I said 40. The classes are overflowing. Students are crammed into every corner. And due to the utter impotence of the teachers, the kids can essentially do whatever they want. The teacher can ask them to stop, but if that doesn't work… well, they've expended their arsenal. And as a result, the teachers tend to just ignore whatever's going on in front of them. Kids will be listening to music, sleeping, drawing, talking with friends, putting on make-up, or even getting up and walking off, and the teacher will just keep going at the front of the class, as if all he can see in front of him is a room of attentive angels hanging on his every word. It's so weird. Some of the make-up and hair dye is so extreme it looks toxic, and the uniforms are largely a shambles. The girls wear their skirts scandalously high, having to press them to themselves when they're on staircases. The shirts on girls are often unbuttoned down to the bottom of the ribcage; on guys, down to the navel. Both are untucked. The compulsory tie is optional.

In saying that though, there are alot of good kids, and there are generally a few in each class. Being the new guy lends us a certain amount of power as well, as the kids are generally willing to give us a go, depending on what we have to say. Generally. I had a class or two who spent the whole class looking like they hadn't even noticed I'd turned up. At least outside of class, they're very approachable. Or rather, approaching. They're all very keen to talk to me and get to know me, and tell me about themselves. Sometimes in Japanese, but even the ones who sleep during English class are often happy to try and apply it in actual conversation outside of the class.

At the Art School, the kids are very different. They have no uniform. They are free to express themselves however they choose. How they choose to express themselves is, often, completely without expression. They wear totally, totally, ordinary clothes. There are a few who like to doll themselves up, but largely, it's surprising how completely banal Art students can be. Also, the majority of them seem to be the introverted, quiet type of person who has chosen to express themselves through their Art since they don't seem confident about doing so any other way. Although there are definitely a few performers. By and large though, my extra-classroom meetings with the students at this school are fairly few and minimalistic. There are some terrific artists though.

I'm looking forward to this year, and I am expecting many good things from it! Good luck to me!

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