I have my first vacation this week. It is the Obon holiday here, which is when the Japanese remember dead ancestors, so we get a week off from work. My friend Brooke is here to visit me, and we are going to travel a bit – seeing Kyoto and surrounding areas, and climbing Mt. Fuji, and then visiting a few sites outside of Tokyo. Now, suddenly I am not the newbie anymore. I have to tell someone else where to go and what to do.
Today is day one of ouor trip, and so far, so good with the start of vacation week. Brooke arrived more or less on schedule and made it all the way across Tokyo on the subway by herself – at rush hour no less!
Last night, my school held a belated welcome party for me at a restaurant not far from the school. Brooke came along and was a total trooper – chatting up Japanese English students happily, even though she had to have been terribly jet lagged. The party was great. I was honored that so many students plunked down $50 and took time out of their Saturday nights to spend time with me. Of course, there was the opportunity to speak English, several kinds of food, and all-you- can-drink for 3 hours, so those were a nice benefits, but still – I was honored that the effort was made on my behalf. I love having the opportunity to talk to the students more in depth than what we can accomplish in the few minutes of small talk in the lobby at school, or in the somewhat structured conversation exercises we do in class. I learned that one of my students practices hip-hop dance; that another recently vacationed in the Mariana Islands…(in fact it might be more accurate to say that I learned of the EXISTENCE of the Mariana Islands – I had only ever heard of Guam before). I had a great time, and I’m really hoping to have more chances to socialize with the students outside of class.
Today has been all travel. Brooke and I have taken something like 6 different train lines as we crossed the country headed to a monastery on a mountain outside Osaka. I got to take my first ever bullet train trip, which was pretty much just as impressive as I had heard. It took a mere 2 hours to get from Tokyo to Osaka, which is close to the distance between LA and San Francisco.
On the 2 hour local train ride from Osaka out to the monks, the passengers became fewer and fewer, and the stations became smaller and emptier. About halfway to the mountain, some teenage boys got on. There is a certain kind of teenage boy that is the same regardless of language or culture. Cocky, eager for attention, and alternating wildly between cute and obnoxious. These were that kind of teenage boy. One wore a thick gold chain, another wore his pants sagging and threatening to fall off, and the third sported a spiky blond streak accross his forehead. All three wore 80’s style hi-top sneakers. While two slept, the third made himself conspicuous – occasionally staring at me, sometimes watching his pocket tv fully stretched out across the bench, other times singing or roaming around the train car. Since he clearly wanted attention, I thought I would attempt striking up a conversation. “Ego ga hanase mas ka?” I asked (do you speak English). I got a child-like, bashful show of teeth. “no, I don’t.” Came the perfect English reply. But, then he got bratty. He proceeded to go talk to one of his companions about our exchange, and then get on his cell phone right across from us. During both conversations, all I could understand was blah, blah, blah, “American” blah, blah, blah, blah, “no i don’t” NO I DON’T no, I DON’T – said multiple times for effect.
Oh well, I never heard of any cross-cultural agreements or treaties between nations that involved teenagers.