Obama, The Comedy Gold That Is Vlad and Awkwardness: Bits And Bobs From This Week
September 11, 2009
– Japanese children dig Obama. I only have two interactive moments in my self-introduction, one being the question “have you been to Tokyo Disneyland” before I blindside them with the fact my Disneyland came before their Disneyland. The other…do you know Barrack Obama? Nearly every hand in the room goes up. The teachers all know him too, and one calls him “Barrack Hussein Obama” with a strange emphasis on that middle name reminiscent of a Birther (mandatory Spencer Kornhaber link). One class decided to deck out their class flag not with anime characters but rather Mr. Obama himself sporting a green headband and the words “Yes We Can” written beneath him. This banner is right next to another poster with Obama saying “Yes We Can” surrounded by blurbs written by the students. My personal favorite comes from another classes flag, however – they use “Yes We Can” as well, but ignores Obama in favor of the dragon from Dragon Ball Z. Anime – the change we really can believe in.
– The one American more popular than Obama to school kids? Spongebob Squarepants. Kids own all sorts of Spongebob swag and I have no idea why. Whatever, better than the Jonas Brothers.
– You can figure out a student’s level of maturity by what they laugh at. The dangerously-adult kids barely bust a chuckle, while on the other end of the spectrum are the little ones who go into hysterics when you say anything in English. The one thing that makes everyone laugh, however, is “Guerrero.” As in Vlad Duerrero, my favorite baseball player. His last name proves to be very difficult to say (the teachers I’ve worked with all need a few shots at saying it) and the students eat it up. Don’t smile for Baron Davis or Brett Favre (I’m glad about this), but when Big Vladdy comes up, room goes crazy.
– Student response highlights from my worksheet: “you can’t kill me!” “You are like tacos and pizza.” A lot of kids writing that their favorite past-time is sleep. A very realistic drawing of Pickachu. “Time is money,” proving Young Republicans do exist in Japan. “You have a cute bike!” Two declarations of love – they actually wrote “I love Patrick” under the “about yourself” category. Either these kids get attached fast or they are excellent suck-ups.
– The Japanese take the word “bathroom” very literally, which led to some Marx Brothers-like comedy between a teacher and I. Awkward.
– Speaking of awkward…I often wonder what my new co-workers think about meet and, more Nixon-esque, if they might be talking about me in front of my face. It’s very easy to become totally numb to the myriad Japanese conversations around me, but I sometimes wonder if maybe, behind all those strings of foreign words, I’m actually the subject.
I’d be perfectly cool if they kept chit-chatting about me in Japanese if it meant less weird talks like the one I have today. A teacher came up to my desk and asked “what kind of girl do you like.” Plenty of other teachers come up to me and ask me questions during the course of the day, such as “do you like Coca-Cola” and “can you cook,” but nothing of this variety. Trying not to turn red, I attempted rolling out of the conversation by answering “any lovely girl” but this teacher (who was a girl, making matters even worse) wouldn’t relent. She then got into specifics…Japanese or American (nationality doesn’t matter), tall or small(whatever), long or short hair (Switzerland would be proud of how neutral I made all these answers). Complicating matters, she would do a sort of weird MJ fist-pump after certain answers as if this were speed dating and I was matching all necessary criteria. Also making matters more embarrassing was a laughtrack provided by every other female teacher in the room.
So yeah, I had no idea what was going on other than I felt more nervous than I did once doing my self-introduction. I finally backed my way out of the conversation by dropping the ultimate cliche – “it’s what inside that really matters” – and went back to putting smiley face stickers on worksheets. Thank goodness sub-Hallmark card material breaks through all cultural barriers.