School Day

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This blog entry about the events of Monday, September 27, 2004 was originally posted on October 06, 2004.

DAY 345:  Liz’s job in Japan was a corporate trainer and English teacher for businesspeople.  Most of her clients were Japanese businessmen and businesswomen who needed to learn English for their employers, to reach a particular rating by the Foreign Services Institute so that they could communicate overseas.  Most companies required a rating of 2.2 to 2.4 (on a scale of 0.0-5.0), which was fairly okay.  (By comparison, George W. Bush scored a 3.4 and Bill Clinton scored a 4.2.)

Every Tuesday afternoon, Liz got a break from the corporate scene and went out to the suburbs north of Tokyo to teach English to a group of old Japanese suburban housewife-types — one of them had a son who had taken the corporate training and turned them on to it. 

“[The women] aren’t really interested in learning the English so much,” Liz told me as we rode off to the suburbs.  “They see it as more of a social thing.”  (Just like real school — not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

The previous Tuesday she told the class that she’d bring a guest speaker to the next (me) and that their homework was to prepare an introduction and two questions to ask me.


A TRAIN AND BUS RIDE LATER, we arrived at the Saitama prefecture, a suburban area that reminded me a lot like suburban New Jersey.  We walked into a multipurpose room in a local community center where tables and chairs were arranged in a rectangle, forum style, so people could look at each other and discuss things.  Placed at every spot was an assortment of snacks brought in by the students following the old rule of bringing food to class: If you’re going to bring food to class, you have to bring enough for everyone.  The snacks followed the Japanese tradition of bringing sweets back from places you’ve gone away.  I passed around the snack treats Liz bought in Nikko, while one woman named Yukiko passed snacks she brought back from a recent vacation to Canada:  maple syrup cookies.

I sat at the head of the class like a teacher’s pet.  The faces of middle-aged Japanese women stared back at me while Mrs. Atsumi (Liz) took attendance.  “This is Erik,” she introduced me.  “Did you do your assignment?  You were supposed to write two questions for him.” 

The women shyly nodded yes.

“Now who wants to volunteer and introduce herself to Erik?”

The women, shy that they’d have to actually use their English in a “real” situation other than just to talk to their familiar English-speaking Canadian teacher of over a year, looked a bit nervous. 

“If no one volunteers, can I pick someone?” I asked Mrs. Atsumi at the front table.  “Because I always used to hate it when teachers did that to us.”

“If no one volunteers,” Liz announced to the class, “Erik is going to pick someone.  So who wants to volunteer?  Anyone?”

Threatened by the ultimatum, the women came out of their shells one by one — sometimes by force of another volunteering for her.  Eventually I met all the Japanese Golden Girls, who primarily didn’t define themselves by what they did, but what their husbands or kids did.  There was:  Yukiko, the one who had just come back from Canada, who was also taking Tai Chi lessons; Mieko, who was quite an avid golfer; Yasuko, who had spent some time living in New York City and was happy to meet a New Yorker; Haruyo, reptile lover and wife of graphic novelist/illustrator Yasuo Ohtagaki of Moonlight Magic; and Yoshiko, originally from the Hiroshima area (and had been there when the A-Bomb dropped in 1945). 

Each of them asked questions in varied levels of English fluency, and as predicted, it was the usual “What’s your favorite country?” sort of thing — to keep from thinking about it too long, my pre-thought out answer is always “Bolivia.”  I told them about my anaconda episode in the Amazon and the lesser-known fact that across the street from the Great Pyramids of Giza was a Kentucky Fried Chicken.

“And Pizza Hut!” Yasuko said.  She had seen it on some Japanese television show.


THE LESSON OF THE DAY was comparatives and superlatives, i.e. when to “bigger,” “biggest,” “more” or “most.”  I never realized how hard it might be to learn English as a Second Language with all the exceptions, and I really appreciated those who made the effort.  Mrs. Atsumi wrote examples on the board so they could understand and write their own examples (picture above).  As an exercise, Mrs. Atsumi divided the class into three groups for a game; each “team” would try and stump the other two with a true or false statement using comparatives and superlatives.  Since I, the guest speaking traveler was to be the judge of whether something was correct or not, the subject was world geography.

The Golden Girls were smart enough to stump each other, and even me with some tough hard-to-call statements:

TRUE OR FALSE:

  1. Monaco is bigger than the Vatican.

  2. Japan is more expensive than France.

  3. Germans are the most polite people in the world.

(Answers below)

At the end of the school day, the class, Mrs. Atsumi and I gathered around for an old-fashioned class picture.  Class that afternoon went well — so well in fact that teacher Mrs. Atsumi didn’t assign any homework.


LIZ WAS AMONGST A SPECIAL (BUT NOT EXCLUSIVE) GROUP of readers of this Blog that had rapidly elevated in the ranks, from “SBR” (Silent Blog Reader) status to Blogreader to Blog Hog to “character on ‘The Trinidad Show.’”  However, she wasn’t the only Blogreader in Japan.  No, there was another:  Szlachta, who had e-mailed me from the other side of Tokyo.  His name was actually John and he too was an American on a trip around the world with his Nicaraguan doctor girlfriend Melissa.  After a couple of e-mails and phone calls, it was his turn to appear on “the show,” as our itineraries had crossed paths.

At the suggestion of Liz, we went out to an onomono-yaki place, which specialized in the Japanese delicacy that is pretty much like a stuffed savory pancake with eggs, meat, noodles, mayonaisse and sauce.  The restaurant was on the upper floor of a hi-rise in the Yebisu district on a nice moonlit night, where we sat around a hot griddle in the center of the table to cook up our onomono-yaki ourselves — although Liz did all the honors so we wouldn’t be too sloppy, particularly with the sprinkling of dried fish flake garnish

“Wow, you work for [world-famous architect] Frank Gehry?” I said to John in our introductory conversation.  “Do you know who Frank Gehry is?” I asked Liz.  “That’s like being in film and saying you know Steven Spielberg.”

“I know him too,” John said.  “And Brad Pitt.  He’s a big fan of architecture.” 

As exciting as that sounded, John too had grown tired of the corporate scene in his late twenties and unplugged himself out of The Matrix to explore the world for six months with Melissa at his side.  So far they were having a good time, particularly in Tokyo, a city they had decided to spend more time than they originally allotted. 

The four of us had our pancakes and washed them down the Japanese way (with beer), all while admiring the lights come on below us.

For Liz it was a school night, so John, Melissa and I went out for drinks in another part of town at Cube Zen, this trendy Euro/Japanese lounge that served up a mean shochu (Japanese hard liquor similar to vodka and sake) on the rocks.  We sat around and talked the usual traveler talk in addition to raving about our impressions of Japan — its cleanliness, its modern culture and its pay telephones with the animated woman on the LCD screen that bows thank you when you hang up.  John too was amazed, just as I was, just how polite the Japanese could be — he would have probably have gotten question number three correct if he had been in class that afternoon.


ANSWERS:  1. T; 2. T (based on the priced I’d seen at McDonald’s); 3. F (that honor goes to the Japanese!)






Next entry: Indoor Fun

Previous entry: Searching For Godzilla




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Comments for “School Day”

  • i’m still stuck in Hong Kong . . . 13 entries behind.  congrats on making it to 11 months, or is it 12 now?
    i need to catch up.

    Posted by Alyson  on  10/06  at  11:33 AM


  • I would have thought GWB would have scored a 0.69

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/06  at  04:44 PM


  • Was very busy the last couple of days…. sorry bro but unlike alyson, I’m still stuck in south america…. got a whole year to catch up.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/06  at  05:39 PM


  • Was very busy the last couple of days…. sorry bro but unlike alyson, I’m still stuck in south america…. got a whole year to catch up.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/06  at  05:39 PM


  • Hey there, not too bad going back to school when you’re the teacher! Good times at Tracy J’s last week, it was great seeing everyone! and erik, thanks for making an appearance wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/06  at  06:03 PM


  • Erik…did you experience the earthquake on Wednesday? Was 5.8 and lasted 10 seconds.  Would it be your first earthquake?  I am really enjoying these Tokyo entries especially your pic’s of Liz. l I haven’t seen recent pic’s of Liz & Hiroshi.  It makes me want to visit them again! Keep them coming.  Does checking 2x daily for new entries make you a blog hog???

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/06  at  06:10 PM


  • FOR THOSE WHO DON’T KNOW, NIKKIJ is referring to the fact that a printout of my ass (Day 340) went out drinking with some friends of mine back in NYC…

    I hope my ass had a red devil!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/06  at  06:37 PM


  • ROSE:  Yup, that was my first “real” earthquake… the one I felt in the New York area (1987) was pretty lame…

    And YES, you are a “Blog Hog.”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/06  at  06:43 PM


  • i dunno markyt, after the first debate, i would think bush is a 0.2. though his use of “um” and “er” are quite good. and we must not forget about poland.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/06  at  08:34 PM


  • I would have thought that GWB would have been lower also… very much lower.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/06  at  10:07 PM


  • NOELLE:  Have you figured it out by now that he probably fixed his FSI results too?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/07  at  05:48 PM


  • ELI (NYC)... stick to it, man!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/07  at  05:50 PM


  • Bored Japanese houswives…... sounds like a movie possibility there.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/07  at  08:31 PM


  • Erik - he faked everything… going to NV in a few weekends to campaign for Kerry. YEAY!

    And, don’t knock the Housewives show on ABC - it’s FANTASTIC!!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/07  at  09:40 PM


  • I’m not knocking any show…. I didn’t even know there was such a thing.  Although maybe if I did know….....

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/08  at  04:50 AM


  • Loved this entry as it is so dear to my heart!  I can’t wait to start teaching ESL Liz: I’m so jealous!!!!  Hmmm I scored 2/3 on the geo test.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/08  at  05:29 AM


  • I shouldn’t have read this before dinner! I so miss the good sushi’s I used to get at home (Sao Paulo, that is, home of the secont largest colony of Japanese outside of Japan). Japan is a big thing here inMalaysia now, but they just make those conFusion shushis, you know. no good.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/11  at  08:07 AM


  • I shouldn’t have read this before dinner! I so miss the good sushi’s I used to get at home (Sao Paulo, that is, home of the secont largest colony of Japanese outside of Japan). Japan is a big thing here inMalaysia now, but they just make those conFusion sushis, you know. no good.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/11  at  08:07 AM


  • Bill - it’s honestly quite good… Sundays at 9pm on ABC. I was prepared to be bored and annoyed at it, but it’s got lots of twists and turns and is good. smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/11  at  05:40 PM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.


Next entry:
Indoor Fun

Previous entry:
Searching For Godzilla




THE GLOBAL TRIP GLOSSARY

Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

The Big Trip: the original sixteen month around-the-world trip that started it all, spanning 37 countries in 5 continents over 503 days (October 2003–March 2005)

NIZ: acronym for "No Internet Zone"; a place where there is little to no Internet access, thus preventing dispatches from being posted.

SBR: acronym for "Silent Blog Reader"; a person who has regularly followed The Global Trip blog for years without ever commenting or making his/her presence known to the rest of the reading community. (Breaking this silence by commenting is encouraged.)

Stupid o'clock: any time of the early morning that you have to wake up to catch a train, bus, plane, or tour. Usually any time before 6 a.m. is automatically “stupid o’clock.”

The Trinidad Show: a nickname of The Global Trip blog, used particularly by travelers that have been written about, who are self-aware that they have become "characters" in a long-running story — like characters in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show.

WHMMR: acronym for "Western Hemisphere Monday Morning Rush"; an unofficial deadline to get new content up by a Monday morning, in time for readers in the western hemisphere (i.e. the majority North American audience) heading back to their computers.

1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.




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