I woke up in a strange place

By Marc Heiden, since 1997.
See also: a novel about a monkey.

« August 7 | Main | August 28 »

August 14, 2003

My plans to bowl were thwarted by torrential rains. There is rarely any fierce weather in Kyoto, surrounded as it is by a ring of mountains, but today was an exception, with a furious downpour for several hours. It was all the more disappointing because I had been fasting for the last few days, since I am presently at the end of my fiscal month (paycheck on Friday) and was facing the choice between groceries and bowling on my weekend (W, Th). My umbrella held up just long enough for a trip to the corner store, where I spent the bowling money on some Country Ma'am cookies. They're kind of weird, but basically all right. All of the cookies in this country come in individual wrappers.

Summer holidays bring out some of the stranger students. Although they work blistering hours when they're on season, the school-kids have three two-month breaks each year, and the adults don't do too badly either. Some are inspired to sign up for a few classes by impending vacations to Guam or Hawaii, and others simply binge on English lessons until they have to go back to work. I am commonly accused by the other teachers at my school of favoring "the creeps and the weird ones" and directing scorn towards "the nice ones". It's probably true. I'm sure that the alcoholic salarymen, the pachinko fiends and gambling addicts, and the unclassifiable oddballs aren't that much fun to actually live with, but within the isolated context of an English classroom, they're just more interesting than the legions of old housewives, who never really want to talk about anything other than meeting their friends for lunch. The latest Takashi to sign up for classes - not to be mistaken for the Takashi who takes six classes in a row every Sunday and can't really speak by the end of them, or the Takashi who can't speak at all but must, according to the government agency that is paying for his classes, be recorded as 'pass' for every class and leveled-up to harder lessons at regular intervals regardless of his progress, with whom I spent an entire man-to-man class explaining the concept of "party", which he still did not understand by the end even though the Japanese word for "party" is the same as the English one, and in whose file, out of frustration, ever since then, I've been writing imaginary exchanges between us about philosophy, socialism and labor relations, where for the most part he comes off as a fiercely idealistic neo-Durkheim - this latest Takashi is a gregarious economics professor who bears a stunning resemblance to Jackie Chan and recently claimed the prestigious title of the all-time sleaziest:

TEACHER: Okay. Let's make a list of three things that are good when they are hot, but if they are not hot enough, they are not good.
TEACHER: Sure, that's true, tea is usually not as good when it is cold.
TAKASHI: My lover's heart.
TAKASHI: No, my wife's heart.
TEACHER: Okay...
TAKASHI: Mm, no, my lover's heart.
TEACHER: Takashi...
TAKASHI: Passion! Yes.

It's impossible not to like the guy, but keeping control of a class with him is like chess: you have to see a few moves ahead for the moment when he's going to bring up "erotic sites on the internet", because he always does, and you have to be ready for it, or the class will be off the rails for the next half-hour. I failed disastrously yesterday, when I was trying to teach the students the difference between "bored" / "boring" and "interested" / "interesting". Takashi was on fire, let me tell you. (Also, let me reiterate that he's an economics professor. In Japan. Think about it.)

I'm trying to get some ideas about advanced Engrish theory up and running. My provisional notion is that the moment when a student masters passive voice is the moment when their Engrish ability is finally, irrevocably lost. That's the final forbidden fruit, the last safe harbor of confused subject-verb relations. Once they master subject-verb relations, they cease being able to earnestly announce "I am very dangerous!" when they mean to say "It was very dangerous for me" (in a discussion about car accidents), for example. It helps that I am one of two teachers at my school who's capable of teaching the passive voice effectively, though, and am appropriately selective about when I do it. "Take care when renouncing your magicks," I tell them. "Take care."

I woke up in a strange place is the work of Marc Heiden, born in 1978, author of two books (Chicago, Hiroshima) and some plays, and an occasional photographer.

Often discussed:

Antarctica, Beelzetron, Books, Chicago, College, Communism, Food, Internet, Japan, Manute Bol, Monkeys and Apes, North Korea, Oregon Trail, Outer Space, Panda Porn, Politics, RabbiTech, Shakespeare, Sports, Texas.


January 2012, December 2011, January 2011, September 2010, August 2010, June 2010, March 2010, October 2009, February 2009, January 2009, September 2008, August 2008, March 2008, February 2008, October 2007, July 2007, June 2007, January 2007, September 2006, July 2006, June 2006, January 2006, December 2005, September 2005, August 2005, July 2005, June 2005, May 2005, March 2005, February 2005, January 2005, December 2004, October 2004, July 2004, June 2004, May 2004, April 2004, February 2004, January 2004, December 2003, November 2003, October 2003, September 2003, August 2003, July 2003, June 2003, May 2003, April 2003, March 2003, February 2003, January 2003, December 2002, November 2002, October 2002, September 2002, August 2002, July 2002, June 2002, May 2002, April 2002, March 2002, February 2002, January 2002, December 2001, November 2001, October 2001, September 2001, August 2001, July 2001, December 1999, November 1999, October 1999, May 1999, February 1999, January 1999, December 1998, November 1998, October 1998, June 1998, May 1998, April 1998, March 1998, February 1998, December 1997, November 1997, October 1997, September 1997, and the uncategorised wilderness of the Beelzetron era: 010622 - 010619, 010615 - 010611, 010608 - 010604, 010601 - 010529, 010525 - 010521, 010518 - 010514, 010511 - 010507, 010504 - 010430, 010427 - 010423, 010420 - 010416, 010413 - 010409, 010406 - 010402, 010330 - 010326, 010323 - 010319, 010316 - 010312, 010309 - 010307, 019223 - 010219, 010216 - 010212, 010209 - 010205, 010202 - 010109, 010126 - 010122, 010119 - 010115, 010112 - 010108, 010105 - 010102, 001229 - 001224, 001222 - 001218, 001215 - 001211, 001208 - 001204, 001201 - 001124, 001124 - 001120, 001117 - 001113, 001110 - 001106, 001103 - 001030, 001027 - 001023, 001020 - 001016, 001013 - 001010, 001006 - 000927.

Written by Marc Heiden, 1997-2011.