The Witless Clunkery of a Third-Rate Mind

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The Positive Side of Typhoons

Sure, typhoons are generally bad things, wreaking havoc wherever they go. They always kill people whenever they roll through Japan; not to be too cynical, but they often seem to be very elderly people who, in the middle of the storm, get out the ladder, climb up on the roof (perhaps to adjust the TV antenna, or maybe to see who among their neighbours is also on the roof in the middle of the storm) and then get blown into an adjacent river. This happens more often than you'd think. After every storm, the news reports are full of 78-year-olds who get blown off the roof into a river.

Typhoons also tend to cause landslides. I'm not worried about this, because I live nowhere near a slope of any kind. I am a little bit concerned about the possibility of flooding, because I seem to live in a flood plain, and that sounds like a good candidate for a place that floods frequently.

The reason I mention all of this is that there is another typhoon coming this way right now. It is the second or third since I've been here. In fact, in the 30 days I've been here, I think it has rained at least 23 of those days. Considering that I have a washer but no dryer, you can imagine how difficult it is to do laundry when it rains every day.

The good side of typhoons, if there is one, is that occasionally they are so severe that the rail service gets shut down in certain places. Today, school is letting out early, and I get to go home soon because the local rail service is probably going to get shut down later tonight. Tomorrow, when the storm passes through, if it hasn't weakened or changed course, school will also probably be cancelled. Yippee! That means I get to stay home and, uh, watch Japanese TV, or more likely, Japanese static.

What else is going on, you say, glancing furtively at your watch? My students are very nice. Most of them are keen to speak English, and are really quite charming and friendly. There are some, however, who are suffering from some sort of congenital shyness which renders them unable to speak English in the presence of other people. I'm sure they're very smart at other subjects, but when they start speaking English, it goes something like this:

(In a class where we are practicing asking each other about our families)
Student: Where...(30 second pause) Where...(10 second pause)
Me: (encouragingly) Where....?
Student: Where do you ...
Me: (wanting more than anything else in the world to say 'live') Where do I...?
Student: (no doubt conjugating the verb 'live' in every possible sense and weighing the relative merits of saying 'live', 'lived', 'liveth', 'livery', and 'love') Where do you ... live?
Me: I live in Toyoshiki. And you?

And so it goes. As I say, most of my students are really good, but there are a handful who are just hopeless, and unfortunately, they absolutely know that they are hopeless. Part of this course is about boosting their self-confidence, but it's hard to praise them when they almost never say or do much of anything. Oh well. Next topic...

Cell phones. I know the West is really bridging the cell phone gap lately, but this country is still miles ahead in terms of how cell phone crazy it is. Whenever I get on the train, the entire row of people sitting across from me have a witless expression on their faces as they fiddle with their cellphones, playing games or sending e-mails to their friends. I am tempted to whip out my cell phone and take a picture of it someday. Young or old, everyone has a cell phone, or three. One of my Japanese acquaintances has at least three, for different occasions. There are even phones designed for young children; they can only dial three numbers (mummy, daddy, and home, presumably).

The etiquette of cell phone use here is very well developed. You are never to speak on your cell phone on a train, because people on cell phones tend to speak very loudly and that disrupts the harmonious atmosphere that otherwise exists between fellow travellers. When you do have to take a call in public, you are to place your hand over your mouth as you speak, so that passers-by will be tricked into thinking you're not really talking to anybody. It is also advisable at these times to hunch your shoulders, bend your knees, and try to shrink into a little ball so that some people will fail to see you entirely. Also, if you are speaking to your boss, be sure to bow a lot and say 'Hai' as often as you possibly can without actually cutting him off. Cell phone fashion is also very distinctive. Girls can create a youthful, fun-loving image by adorning their tiny, ultra portable phones with two or three pounds of dangly ornaments, straps, plastic toys, and miscellaneous doo-dads. As phones get smaller and smaller (I have heard of phones only a bit bigger than matchboxes) it gets more and more necessary to strap them to keychains, stuffed animals, bricks, etc. in order not to lose them...

Well, here's hoping that I don't get blown away by this typhoon. Time to go home!


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