Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Today read lots, just not "The English Patient."

I am wording together a departing speech for this August and an introductory letter to my replacement. With both I am struggling to avoid imbuing with the cynicism that wants to reveal itself. For the former, I am piecing together a satire on local mores, while for the latter I am still not sure if I should be upfront and critical, or insinuating and optimistic.

My public side is experimenting with the following:

The Japanese are easier to decipher than the American or the Canadian, in part because there is so much written already. What you will find in O- and M- Junior High Schools, as well as the Board of Education, is a hierarchy based on relationships, seniority and personal charisma that is more navigable than its counterparts back home. Imagine in our countries a foreigner being as readily accepted and included as happens here.

The dynamics of the hierarchy can change every April with the start of the new year. At O-, for example, we have a new principal, The Pencil. The Pencil, a sombre man, seems more enmeshed in school activities much to everyone's detriment. Another two additions have yet to make their presence felt in my part of the office.

But the other addition, whom I'll call "Eriko" (not her real name), has a very oppressive presence. She is younger and, by dint of her youth, more charismatic, or at least the students seem warmer towards her, as they were to myself prior to her arrival. She is a perfectionist and I admire that. She prepares - usually that verb can't follow other teachers - and she is active in improving her teaching methods. But a perfectionist can't bear to share space with an upstart. (Here, my snarky side adds its perspective: Eriko is the upstart) Eriko ignores my presence in the classroom. Recently when I am noticed I become the human tape recorder. (Again I must add, this must have something to do with my dawdling in the back of class flipping through art textbooks, moral studies textbooks, and home economics textbooks. She wants to keep me busy. I find it harder and harder to smile even though she said she wants to give me pickles from Kyoto.)

At M-, the new principal is very welcome. I call him "The Hedgehog." He is modest, humble, and is sincerely friendly. He carries his own lunch tray. The others, led by the wily Sexual Harassment Vice Principal, begin lunch without him. Tragic Maria, the other new addition, is just as careful as Eriko, but more receptive to suggestions. Despite the unfortunate events that she has overcome, she smiles all the time. (Rather unnerving. But I must keep thinking about her past.) Unfortunately for her, she is teaching the most useless bunch of whiners.

Dinner is calling. Oops, my public side lapsed into snarkiness. Apologies.

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Last week finished reading Dervla Murphy's "In Ethiopia with a Mule."

Currently reading "The English Patient."

NOT TIE-IN it says on the still-attached price tag. It is radically different from the movie; the main character is not quite the eponymous English Patient or Katharine; the love story is less lucid; and, though the metaphors are beautiful, I am not entirely convinced in the end.

It's strange not to be drawn to a book about names, maps, national identities and shifting stereotypes.

I overheard the very masculine P.E. teacher just now being hateful about a Peruvian student, Emilia, whose name she can't even remember and who is "dirty." She also talked about a girl who is very tall and one who is very short.

Oddly, yesterday, for the first time, she jumped up to get me a cup of tea. Very feminine behaviour in these parts.

I don't know her name and I've availed myself of trying to be her friend. I can give her a truthful nickname. I thought, would Lady Lumpybutt be a good nickname? It is certainly alliterative.

But I don't want to reduce her to just a physical defect. That is not what is irritating about her. She is, rather, sullen, unsmiling, unresponsive to friendliness, critical, xenophobic, perhaps racist.

During a Sports Day rehearsal two years ago, she berated the dancing girls for their lack of zeal: they should have been smiling during the umbrella cute dance. The girls should be more receptive to proscribed femininity.

The male teachers, and the female other teachers, looked on, allowing this woman, a veritable Trunchbull, bellow orders. She who has shunned skirts and frills has the gall to force lacy mannerisms and manacles on her children. I thought of the groups of women who hold down little girls suffering through clitoridectomies.

What do you call such a woman?

My yarrow is flourishing and I added a pineapple mint.

Wednesday, May 08, 2002

Dill: Began sprouting where it left off last fall. Planted new seeds, their offspring getting all furry. The lost dill that JinJing gave up on is resurrected. We discovered the poor green thing struggling on Easter (Orthodox Easter). JinJing removed the thing to his little theatre and has injected fertilizers into it.

Parsley: Going quite mad. Has expanded beyond its pot faster than I can eat it. Invited my neighbour Ruthy to garnish with it. The parsley stalks I already picked at thickened and stand up like soldiers.

Morning Glory: Still just bare sprouts.

Strawberry: Not a hint of blossom or berry. Leaves very profuse.

Basil: It took only two days for three sprouts to appear. Grow, grow, my little topiary wonder!

Mints: All four containers profuse. The shady side mint has worms swivelling in its leaves.

Shiso: The four sprouts in each corner of mint pot #1 developing. Bug problem with shiso in the northwest corner.

Chervil: Dead.

Decorative Cabbage: Dead.

Christmas Tree: Still slanting away from the sun. Roots surrounded by weeds.

Blackberry: Dead.

Raspberry: Flowered and getting leafy.

Lemon Balm: After a close call involving a drought and mysterious red beings, I pruned off the dead leaves, overwatered it, sprayed it with pesticide, and moved it to a more shady spot. It recovered. My herb book said lemon balm flourishes in poor soil, but I won't try that experiment again. It smells pleasantly of dish washing detergent.

Aloe Vera: Edges are pinking up.

Unidentified Houseplant: Hovering between life and death.



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