Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Life After JET: Joe

Paul asked me to do a blog entry about my life post-JET. Since I like the idea of me being able to say I blog, I follow through on his requests from time to time. This way I can tell people “Sure I have a blog! I’ve posted on it this many times.” But I don’t hold up any fingers. It adds to the mystery.
I was a JET. I’m not any more. I wonder, are you a JET? If you’re not, are you wondering what one is? JET is what you become when you can’t speak Japanese but want to work in Japan. The Japanese government hires you to teach a foreign language, 99% of the time that’s English, to Japanese grade school and high school kids. It was a sweet gig. But life had other plans and I got married to continue this charade of being a functional adult. My wife’s job was objectively better due to the higher pay, benefits, and my job having a built in time limit with no hope of career advancement. This means when my wife was transferred to a random branch office, as big Japanese companies like to do for mysterious and nefarious reasons, it was I who had to clear out my desk. I was sorry to give up some of the perks, like having a desk, but we agreed that it would be far easier for me with my lengthy list of credentials (SPEAKS THE ENGLISH) to get another decent job.
I moved from Kansai to Kyushu. I hired a moving company that took all my fragile stuff like my TV, my guitar, my computer, my Fabergé egg collection, and delivered them unharmed and for a reasonable price. The moving company was definitely better and cheaper than shipping it all myself.
Secretly I wasn’t planning on rushing out and getting a job. I figured I deserved a month off to just drink coffee and read manga. But I quickly learned that without the structure that a daily job brings, I act the same as a dog that is left at home without a cage: the dog wrecks the house and feels too apathetic to clean up after himself. Having no job was agony to me. I’d say goodbye to my wife in the morning, my nose pressed up to the glass of the window watching her go, a small whimper slipping past my droopy jowls, then I’d go and tear up some important paperwork and watch a Bill Murray movie. I quickly decided to check out the local International Association. I don’t know who funds these places but they’re all over Japan. They’re a place where foreigners can go to get cheap to free Japanese lessons, post messages on a literal bulletin board (with tacks!), and ask if there are any jobs around. The helpful people there directed me to their website’s forum where job offers are sometimes posted. I used the computer they had available, noticed a job offer for a kindergarten English teacher, and thought, what the heck, I’ll give it a shot.
I’m the youngest in my family so I never spent much time taking care of kids, but I saw Kindergarten Cop so I thought I had an idea of what to expect. My only real experience was when I volunteered a couple weekends a month at an orphanage with Paul and some other JETs (I wanted to rack up some karma points to sell on eBay). I did learn a thing or two about young kids though, and that is: boys will turn anything into a weapon, even weapons, which then become double weapons; and that girls will murder their best friend and a puppy to become a princess.
There are a couple English language kindergartens in my area. I didn’t even know that was a thing in Japan before I started working at one. It seems that the usual way of doing things is everyone speaks Japanese and then they have a half hour a day of “English time”. Obviously this is an awful way for kids to learn a language, and in fact, they don’t. They do things differently at the one I’m working at though. No Japanese allowed. And, who’d a thought, when you make kids speak English they speak English. It’s pretty amazing how good these Japanese kids are considering they’re only at the kindergarten a couple hours a day. The oldest kids who are around six years old can all understand fluent English spoken at normal speed, and can speak pretty well, but some kids are better than others. All of them have a high English vocabulary but when they try to make a complex sentence, some just don’t have the grammar, so they default to Japanese grammar with English words. This comes out bizarre. Obviously, Japanese being a different language and all, its grammar has parts that English lacks. For example the gobi “ne” and the particle “wa”. So at some point a student asked a teacher what “ne” is in English, and they were told “right?” Which is a fair translation I guess, but that spread throughout all the other kids and degraded to “rai?” And somehow “wa” became “is”, and “aru” became “I have it” regardless of who has the thing that exists, since in Japanese that’s just left up in the air. So the other day a girl wanted to tell me about a poisonous spider and she said, “Spider is, rai, poison I have it.” And I’m like, “What are you, a windtalker? Are you speaking in tongues?” They can all understand each other fine but it’s like these 70 kids have their own private language. At least they can understand us when we speak English, and next year they’ll go into the Japanese school system, start studying English the government-mandated way, and immediately lose everything they learned.
So that’s what I’m doing now, post-JET. I occasionally teach the odd English conversation class but mostly I try to get kids to speak a language that exists on earth.

No comments:

Post a Comment