Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Under and Back Again - Pt. II

Thursday, July 27th, 2006
I didn't get a very good night's sleep, partly due to that noisy pump or whatever it is across from my room but mainly just due to jitters. Even so, it feels good to be rested and (especially) washed. I and the other Seishin teachers go to the hotel bistro to find a self-serve continental breakfast bar waiting for us. I have Weetabix (I love those things!) and toast with coffee and plenty of orange juice. Just to do the proper thing, I have my toast with Vegemite. Despite what they say, I actually don't mind the stuff at all. It tastes kind of like BLEU[sNic] cheese...only different.

It isn't long before we're greeted with Mr. M's bright smile and cheery good morning. He loads us up into his truck, and we're off to our first full day at our sister school. Our kids, all dressed up in their usual uniforms, but with their badges replaced with those of our sister school, come rolling in with their respective host brothers or sisters. Then the first order of business is the junior/senior high morning assembly, in which the main order of business is us. There are student speeches. Mr. K gives a speech in Japanese, which I then translate into English (and the local kids are quite entertained by my American accent). Our students introduce themselves in turns. Then there are announcements, and off we all go!

I need to point out here that the assembly is started, ended, and punctuated by various musical performances. The senior choir sings (pretty well, actually). The concert band plays (still building, but pretty good). The Australian national anthem is sung by a senior high boy who is one of the host brothers (and has a FANTASTIC singing voice!). Finally, the school rock band (!!! Wish WE had one!!!) finishes it all with a little Creedence Clearwater Revival (very enjoyable!). Our sister school is a very young school. It is literally still under construction. However, despite severe limits in personnel and rehearsal time, resident music director, jazz guitarist, and all-around interesting guy Mr. S has been doing a wonderful job. I hope our respective music programs can find some ways to work together in the future.

As with most if not all Australian schools, there are no chimes and few breaks between lessons, something the Japanese (and this American) find hard to comprehend. It's all a very laid back, no pressure, "no worries, mate", "if it works it's alright, right?" sort of thing. In other words, it's Australian, and we appreciate that very much. For our kids first period is taken up by a tour of the campus given by Japanese instructors JB (who I've known from the beginning of this project) and Ms. T (a very interesting Japanese woman from Hokkaido who has apparently spent most of her life in Australia).

Our entourage makes its way along on its tour of the school.

Our sister school's campus is very colorful and modern.

Ending our invasion of a Year 3 class. Note the Japanese sign next to the door. The blue and yellow posters were welcome messages directed at us. The hospitality we were shown was very moving!

Just for a little "awwww" factor, this is the Year 1 classroom, with the students divided into groups all doing different activities. Doesn't this look like fun?

After the tour, the next period is spent by JB and Ms. T giving our kids an intensive English lesson, which we all think is a VERY GOOD idea. The kids loved it. They seemed to have an even better time when some Year 8 students come in for some mutual interviews.

Between second and third periods there is a fifteen-minute break for morning tea. (Funny...we had the same thing in my school days, but we just called it "recess". Somehow I think "morning tea" has a nicer ring.)

After morning tea our students are picked up by their respective "shadows" and sent off to enjoy some everyday campus life. I'm not immune, either. Mr. D remembers that his third period history class is currently talking about civil rights and minorities in the U.S., particularly by comparing and contrasting Martin Luther King, jr. and Malcolm X. Having a real, live American on hand is an opportunity that is too good to miss, so he invites me in. It's quite an experience. The students are very interested in the topic, and I get asked some pretty intense questions. A couple of my own students are present, listening intently with apparent surprise and even taking notes. (Are they actually able to follow me? Amazing!)

The lack of chimes makes it extremely hard to stick to the schedule, but that just seems to be the way of things. Lessons start when they do and finish when they do. All this laid-backness is wreaking havoc on my wits since, as an American, I naturally have a stick shoved up my aft shaft (or so they say). Still, as I said before, the system seems to work.

After fourth period and lunch our students and our sister school's entire Year 8 gather in the meeting area for some demonstrations and explanations of Japanese traditions. It's a lot of fun.

A demonstration of kendo, Japanese fencing.

Kamishibai - the art of telling stories using pictures.

A round of the karuta card game.

A lesson in how to make origami shuriken (throwing stars).

There are other activities, too, but I won't overload this post.

Sixth and seventh periods are regular lessons. Once again I get scooped up by Mr. D, this time for a history class talking about the Vietnam War. Mr. D is particularly interested in how American society regarded that conflict and treated its veterans after it ended, particularly when I was growing up. It's a very sensitive and complicated topic, not always easy to talk about, but there's still a lot to say...and a lot of things for the kids to ask me.

Classes end, and the students leave immediately followed shortly afterward by the teachers. By four o' clock the place is almost totally deserted. My Japanese colleagues are shocked. Such a thing could scarcely be imagined, let alone practiced, in the Land of the Rising Sun!

Mr. M runs us back to the Currimundi Hotel, but we don't stay there very long. Tonight we are being treated to dinner. Dr. D, Mr. M, the members of the Japanese department, and the participants in last year's visit to Seishin join us for a wonderful meal at a restaurant in one of Caloundra's glittering, new condominium complexes. I forgot that in Australia you definitely eat well; servings tend to be VERY generous. I foolishly order a full four-course meal and am nearly wiped out by the appetizer! Even so, I somehow make my way through the whole thing while enjoying a very nice Hunter Valley white wine.

I'm stuffed, I'm tired, I'm comfortable, I'm happy, and I sleep VERY well.

(Oops...I intended to cover two days with one post, but there's too much to talk about here. Okay, more next time!)


  • definitly colorful and modern...

    it looks like fun.

    By Blogger RC, at 5:30 AM  

  • Andhow is that lager settling in:)? I think I like the Australian idea of no hurries, no worries.

    By Blogger Pa've, at 6:06 AM  

  • Oh great, a liberal view as their "example American"! :-P

    Seriously though, I'm enjoying the read. Can't wait for part III! :-)

    By Blogger DewKid, at 8:27 AM  

  • WOW!!!

    By Blogger Tanker Angel Nelly, at 9:18 AM  

  • A 'morning tea' break. Haven't heard of that one down in Victoria.
    Singing the National Anthem? I haven't heard of that one lately, or perhaps Queensland is different - we always reckon they are.
    Did the kids actually put vegemite on their toast and like it?
    Thanks for the informative story of your trip Down Under. A great experience for the students. They would find the Oz kids very free and easy.

    By Blogger Peceli and Wendy's Blog, at 2:43 PM  

  • I am thoroughly enjoying your posts on Australia. How interesting. I'm fascinated about your going in and talking about all things American and how interested they are. I wouldn't have thought they'd be so interested, and I'm sure it was very exciting for you. What did they think of what you had to say? What did they think of the afro-americans were treated and the war veterens? Very interesting stuff.

    The way the classes are run is something that would have been nice when I was in school. I cant imagine that type of laid back attitude, but the schools there seem to be really good... from what I've heard. Totally different than the U.S. though!

    Sounds like the kids and even the teachers are having a good time. It's nice to see all the pictures... the Australia kids look to interested in what is being shown to them. That's good to see.

    What did they think about your translating the Japanese to English? Were they surprised?

    By Blogger tooners, at 3:59 PM  

  • RC
    Hello and welcome! The trip was a blast! Still more to come...

    Funny you should mention lager. :-) I will be commenting on that soon. I sampled the local wares, including food and drink...rather generously (and gained about an inch of waistline within a week as a result)

    Yes, Australian society in general seems much more relaxed than American. Then again, I think you'll find that about half the world is more relaxed in general than we "stick up the arse" Yanks (septics?) tend to be! ;-)

    I prefer to think of myself as "center-left". To be honest, extreme liberals piss me off just as much if not more than extreme conservatives.

    For the record, though it's hard to be totally unbiased, I did my best to keep all politics and personal opinions out of those lessons I attended. I stuck strictly to facts and events as I saw/heard/read about them as I was growing up. As far as the Afro-American civil rights issue, I mainly talked about how I more or less grew up with MLKjr whereas I knew very little about Malcolm X (actually, I hardly even knew he existed until MUCH later) simply because the latter was considered too radical and dangerous. I mentioned that I never had any Afro-American classmates until senior high, and even then there was only a handful. There never seemed to be any hostility between them and the white (should I say "Anglo-American"?) students, but there was a certain amount of tension probably because we (i.e. the whites) had grown up hearing a lot of negative comments and jokes about "niggers". That made things a bit awkward.

    As far as the Vietnam War, I focused mainly on the fact that American society tried to forget all about it. Veterans were not treated very well, to say the least, and a proper memorial wasn't even dedicated until the 80s. I talked about how the teacher of my "American Wars and Diplomacy" class in high school talked eagerly (proudly?) about every conflict the U.S. was involved in throughout history until we got to Vietnam, and then he more or less said, "Close your textbooks. This class is finished." I also mentioned how "Platoon" was the first American movie to give a realistic rather than sugar-coated portrayal of American troops in Vietnam and the conditions they faced, and when the movie first came out real-life veterans felt vindicated, but the producer (Oliver Stone?) was widely the point of being accused of being anti-American.

    Do these constitute a "liberal" view?

    Part III is coming soon!

    Tanker Angel Nelly
    I agree! Well said!

    Actually, I've heard that Queensland has a number of customs (and words) that aren't shared by the other states. Of course, PLC is a private school. Back in 1990-1993 I taught at a Japanese public senior high that had two sister schools in Adelaide, one public and one private, and they were quite different.

    I liked the morning tea break. It was a nice, relaxing bit of a breather between the early and mid morning classes.

    I actually felt a bit awkward at first at being the American guest (target?) in Brendan's history classes, but it was actually kind of nice. I was surprised by the questions I was asked. Both Brendan and I tried to be objective, sticking to facts without expressing personal opinions or political beliefs. The kids seemed to be interested in knowing what it was like for me to grow up with these things happening around me so they could get a personal feel for it. (Considering how political high school students in 80s America could be, I was appreciative that the Australian kids seemed to be trying to avoid that.)

    The civil rights issue is a very relevant one because of the Aborigine situation in Australia. There are many key differences between that and what Afro-Americans have faced; Australia is the Aborigines' home country, and they've made efforts to retain their root culture (even despite efforts to eradicate it) without resorting to radical or violent means to the extent of what has happened in the U.S.. As for Vietnam, Australia also participated, just as they are now participating in Iraq. The level of controversy is less than that in the U.S., but it is still there, and people are still concerned about what direction it will take.

    The Australian students were surprised by my translations, yes, but they were also amused by my American pronunciation and speaking habits. I was the one with the "accent", and they found it entertaining.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 2:06 AM  

  • Moody, I've always enjoyed debating with you, because you use reason more often then some I know, and that makes for real progress in a discussion. I would position myself "right-of-center", and equally find a sour taste in my mouth regarding hard right or left. I'm sure you did a better than average job representing the history (I was mostly just giving you a hard time). :-)

    By Blogger DewKid, at 5:22 AM  

  • MM, I really enjoyed your post - eye-opening. Exciting too. The comments here add more insight. Thanks for sharing.

    "Recess" I can identify with as we too have that in school. You're right "morning tea" would sound better.

    "Center-left" - count me in too.

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 5:00 PM  

  • Wow, I really enjoyed reading this!
    Thanks for sharing in such detail - I wish I were there too!

    Australia mystifies me - it's so...colonial, so new, even newer than America and feels as though they've just figured things out. And also, seems quite isolated from the rest of the world: its own continent and an island as well.

    I look forward to the next instalment.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 1:07 AM  

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