Grief Comes in Funny Ways

At this point, I’m choosing to believe that 2016 is actually the darkest timeline.

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Either that, or we are the timeline (SPOILERS) where Rick was arrested by the Galactic Federation. In the real timeline, David Bowie is singing at Hillary Clinton’s victory party.

The alternatives are too depressing.

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photo of me during the election

Today was rough for Americans.

My first election ever, I voted for Obama. He was not the first president I traveled under,and the change was immediate. His name was like a high credit score- doors opened, strangers smiled. For a little while, Americans abroad were small time celebrities.

My second presidential election… well, I was out knocking on doors. I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but that was my first job out of college. Registering new voters, talking to undecided voters, organizing grassroots teams. It was an incredible, stressful, transforming experience. One that I can’t really do justice in just a few paragraphs.

It says a lot about this period of my life that I’m genuinely not sure if this photo was staged or candid… including the cheeto hair.

But even when it got ugly in 2008 and in 2012, you could feel the boundaries. McCain would not let a woman at his rally refer to Obama as a foreign Muslim. Romney caught hell for his “47%” comments. Today was something different entirely. It’s really going to be a new era, good and bad.

Today was surreal. One 6th grade teacher told her class to behave, because I had enough stress from the election already. Then I asked them how they would vote, if they could. 29 said for Hillary, 1 for Trump (but he put his hand down when he realized we didn’t mean the trump card game) Many teachers were quite kind and were happy to chat about it, but I could feel some of them giving me a wide berth near the end of the school day as the results were called.

It’s a strange time to be abroad.


No Substitute

Today was an interesting day.

I was called in at the crack of dawn to substitute teach in a different district, about an hour away.

Me Tommy, Tommy Lee Jones. Me too. 

Sometimes I dread subbing. You don’t have as much preparation time, you don’t know your way around, and often, you are reminded of how… “unusual,” for lack of a better word, you are. It’s such a stupid cliche that I hate to even acknowledge it, but I am the only white teacher at any of the schools where I teach so I guess that’s the best way to phrase it. I have had children scream in shock when I walk into their class. Multiple times in the same day. The downsides of subbing comes with perks though. The expectations are lower, you get to see a different style of teaching than what you are used to, and often you can spend a lot of time on introductions, just discussing your culture.

It was a nice school. Teachers were very friendly, and I was set up to teach four 5th grade classes throughout the day. Early on, I noticed a larger number of foreign kids from around the world in my classes; many of them seemed bored out of their skulls at the somewhat basic sentences we were reviewing. One adorable kid asked if I liked history and then started telling me about his favorite era, the Sengoku Jidai, in Japanese. I was pleased that I caught a bit of it.

The more I walked around the class and asked questions, I started hearing…  something unusual.

Different variations of English language accents.


I asked a teacher in the staff lounge (who, coincidentally, had a flawless Vancouver accent)
The part of town I was subbing in hosts the international headquarters for a few companies, as well as some government agencies, so people regularly move back and forth overseas. I was hearing Australian, English, New Zealand, Floridian, Nebraskan accents all throughout the school.

My last class, the homeroom teacher asked if I had any questions for her class. I asked the kids to raise their hand if they had lived in a different country. Around 1/3 of the students raised their hand, having had lived or studied abroad. All of them were around 10 years old.


That was Close

img_20160913_133326391I work at three schools. Because I work with a large number of students throughout the week, my classes generally wear English name tags so that I don’t have to be a jerk and point at them. Usually, this makes things less awkward.

Today, a student forgot his name tag. Conveniently, he was wearing a record company T-shirt, with the logo, Virgin Records, right where his tag would usually hang.

You can see where this is going.

“OK, Ryo, try answering number one.

Sono, you write number two.


I Love My Job

One of my favorite activities to lead has been making flashcards. Because of the language barrier (read: my inability to understand Japanese without copious interpretive dance) it’s a chance for me to get to know my students a little bit better, outside of the confines of my limiting Japanese or the rigid English vocabulary.

A depressing number of kids will just copy the flashcards they’ve already seen from memory, including the oddly specific cartoon style that comes with the English vocabulary words. and honestly, that’s their prerogative- if they just want to finish the assignment, it’s not like it’s a life changing activity. But it gives me a chance to understand their likes and dislikes, their sense of humor.

This student, writing as God, says that he hates studying but likes video games. Not listed, but quite apparent from the drawing, is that God likes six pacs, pecs, and beards as well.


After practicing likes and dislikes with the 5th graders, I return to the teachers lounge, where the art teacher shows me… this.
I immediately try not to tear up, and fail.
As part of a drawing of the whole school with all the staff, the kids drew… me.


Maybe I’m a bit soft about some things, but it immediately became my first priority not to tear up in front of the art teacher. Because of the language barrier, it would have been too difficult to explain that there wasn’t anything wrong and that I’m not insane.

It has been hard- between being at three different schools, having over a thousand students, and a pretty impressive language barrier, to boot- for me to feel like I am concrete part of this community. That my efforts had any lasting value to the students, besides being something of a novelty. This felt a little like affirmation.

Sardine Can Time

Earlier this week, I was called in to sub at a junior high. This was the sight that greeted me at the train station:


Trains are usually quite packed in the morning; it’s standard to really be able to move your arms or legs, or even see below chest level. I’ve heard stories of people losing their briefcases or bags, stuck in between people. But this was a different issue altogether. Train delays meant that we were really going in, sardine style. And it was an hour long train.


Luckily, I was subbing at a school where a friend worked.After this wonderful human being learned of my plight via text, I was met with surprise breakfast at my desk. The rest of the day passed much better than the morning commute, including a short discussion in one class on the American civil right’s movement.

Flu season

Walking into a second grade class room, I’m immediately enveloped from the waist down by a small cluster of children, all huge smiles, happy to see me. I give out a million high touches, feeling like the Pope in a crowd at Easter, and shoo the students back to their seats.

“OK class, who is feeling happy today?” Four or five hands shoot up.

“Who feels angry today?”

One hand.

“Who feels sick?”

Over ten hands shoot up.



Alphabet, continued

When I try to win cool-sensei points with my 5th graders by shoehorning AKB48/Yokai Watch/Pokemon Go/Vodka Tampons (kidding) into any conceivable topic, only to find out that was soooo last week.

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26 is not that old, y’all.

I did make some progress with a class when, frustrated at the difference with capitalization, I explained that letters evolve under certain circumstances, like Pokemon.

“So we learned ‘a’ last week, which evolves into ‘A!’ same with
‘b’-> ‘B’, and
‘c’-> ‘C’!”

And that was when I felt like this:


ABCs and 1-2-3’s

A few highlights from my week spent teaching the alphabet to 5th graders and telling time to 6th graders.img_20160913_133326391

•Repeating “What Time Is It?” endlessly and getting the Hamilton soundtrack stuck in my head on repeat for two weeks (What time is it? SHOWTIME Like I said….)

•Letting the 5th graders pick their own team names and finding out days later that team tama tama just means “team ballsack,” which I repeated multiple times in class. *shakes fist to the sky* They got me this time.

•Accidentally leading the 6th Graders in a Nazi salute while teaching clock gestures.

•Dropping my teaching materials on telling time and watching them scatter around the room. Crack myself up (and no one else) by saying “My, how time flies!” RIP, gold star pun, you were too good for this world.

•Waiting to buy omiyage until the last minute at the train station halfway home from Kyoto. Realizing later that the package says “Nagoya” in Kanji. Have friendly coworkers ask for a week what I thought of Nagoya. Waffle between trying to explain in broken Japanese that I went to Kyoto (making them think I really am just incredibly, incredibly confused all the time) or just agreeing that Nagoya really is lovely this time of year.

•Being included in a formal school photo for one of my school’s 60th anniversary celebrations.

•Eating lunch in the formal dining room with the 2nd graders. Stare in disbelief as the clock splits in half on the hour, plays a tinny version of “My Heart Will Go On” as each half-face spins in its own circle before closing together seamlessly like nothing happened. Wondering  afterward if someone slipped acid in the udon.


What do American ducks say?

“Okay class, what do cats say?”

“Nyan, nyan!”

“And what do american cats say?”


“Great! What do dogs say?”

“Wan wan! wan wan!”

“And what do American dogs say?”

“Ruff ruff, bark bark!”

“What do ducks say?”

“Ga ga ga”

“Good, what do American ducks say?”