Canada

I am @PeopleofCanada for a week.

So, there’s this thing. Rotating curation Twitter accounts, they’re called. Basically, a certain group is represented by one member on twitter for a week, and you get an insight into that group through that member. The original was @sweden, I think, where one Swede a week posts about daily stuff and answers questions and whathaveyou. @PeopleofCanada is one for Canada.

And criminy jibbit, I’ve been selected to be that Canadian for this week.

It’s… I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that it’s kind of a strange week to be curating that account. In light of what’s happened in Canada over the past week or so, it will be… interesting. And difficult, because I’m on the other side of the planet.

But I suppose that’s part of what @PeopleofCanada is about. Showing real Canadians, in all shapes and colours and places, even if they may be a bit of un canadien errant.

So, I hope you’ll follow me and tell your friends. And hopefully I won’t cause any international incidents.

K bai.

Zazu in a ribcage.

Zazu escapes the alligator.

The door opened, and the boy entered without a word.

“Oh, hello. I wasn’t sure if you were coming.”

He just grunted while he pulled out his books. I thought nothing of it — it certainly wasn’t out of the normal.

“So, how are you today?”

“Fine…” This was clearly not a truth.

“Really? You seem… I dunno. People who are fine say, ‘Fine!’ but you said, ‘Fine…’”

He looked around the room. “I mean, uhhh… futsuu?”

“Ah, then I guess ‘fine’ is okay. Maybe ‘so-so’ is better today, though?”

He nodded. “Yes. So-so.”

“Okay, gotcha. Why so-so?”

He shrugged. “Just because?” I asked. He nodded once. Fair enough.

We continued the normal class opening. I asked him the day, and the date. He thought it was yesterday, for one reason or another, but he could say both so no problem. I asked him the weather. I asked him what he had for lunch. While he was answering, I noticed scrapes here and there on his hands and elbows. Looked like he’d taken a fall off a bike or something. My troll brain immediately started seeing him as a zombie.

Zombification would certainly explain his being so-so.

The topic was THINGS VERB OTHER-THINGS. Specifically, we were focusing on the verb ‘eat’. “Can you read this sentence?”

“Um… Lions eat meat.”

“Good work! Do you eat meat?”

“Yes. Meat is yummy.” Zombie, I’m tellin’ ya.

“Good. How about this sentence?”

“Hippos eat plants.”

“Right. Do you like hippos?”

He thought for a moment. “Yeah,” he drawled in his nasal child voice, “they’re cool, I guess.”

“Right. Last one.”

“Alligators eat fish and animals.”

“Good. Do they eat birds?”

“I think so. But look at the picture! Zazu got away.”

“Lucky Zazu!” Wait, an alligator in Africa? Surely this is a crocodile. Dammit, Disney.

We carried on to the next page. Some phonics funtime. Hearing the difference between /ar/ and /or/. Yarn v. corn. Then, it was song time. The book provides lyrics, but as I don’t have the CD, I have to make up the tune on my own.

“Lions eat meat. Yes they do. Woaohaohaoaoh.

Hippos eat plants. Yes they do. Woahaoahaoahoh.

But giraffes and elephants, they eat leaves.

Leaves aren’t plants — they are leaves.

Lions eat meat and hippos eat plants.

Woahoaohaoahaoh.”

Look, take it up with the Disney English people, not me. I’m only the performer.

At the start of the class, the boy had seemed a little sullen, but once we got into the work, he seemed like his usual self. When we reached the end of the chapter in the book, we still had a bit of time. The next chapter is about that movie Disney/Pixar made that’s exactly the same as that movie Dreamworks made the same year. I decided we’d deal with that next week and so I let him choose a game.

He rummaged through the card drawer, and didn’t find anything he was interested in. He looked through the board game pile and was similarly unsuccessful. He went to the secondary board game pile. Nothing. He found the small foam football, but placed it one side. He lifted up the half-deflated mini-soccer ball and retrieved Uno from its hiding place. “Can we play this? Please?” We were nearly out of time anyway, and he’d worked hard, so sure, why not.

“Okay! Sounds good!”

The luck was not with me this day, friends. A cold wind blew from the west, and I couldn’t for the life of me win a hand. Even that one hand where, somehow — probably due to poor shuffling on my part — we both ended up with hands full of +2 and +1 and +4, which are stackable under common Japanese house rules, and he had to draw 19. Even then, he somehow managed to come back and beat me. No, the cards were angry this day.

When time was up, we gathered the cards and put them away. “Thanks for coming! Good work. Remember your homework.”

“Three pages, right?”

“Yup. Have a good week.”

“Bye!”

He left. I watched him descend the outdoor stairs to the office, grasping at his hat as the wind tried to take it from him. Black clouds were moving in, replacing the clear blue sky.

At the end of the day, as I was cleaning up and returning my texts to where they ought to be, the Boss Lady asked me how the boy was. “He was normal. Good kid, bright kid. Works hard. Why do you ask?”

“Well, his mother came here this afternoon.”

Here we go, I thought, what am I not doing in class that she wants me to do. Parents can be so meddlesome sometimes. Trust me, I know what I’m doing, I don’t need pointers from parents. “Oh?” was all I said, though.

“Did he say anything about his father today?”

“No. I don’t think he’s ever mentioned his dad. His mom, but rarely his dad.”

Boss Lady nodded solemnly. I could see her eyes were red. In that split second, I saw it coming but couldn’t react.

“His mom came to tell me that his father died two weeks ago. I couldn’t ask for details, it would be rude, and she didn’t offer them beyond that.”

Yep. “Oh, wow, that’s terrible. No, he didn’t say anything. I guess, in retrospect, he seemed a little down at the start, but if I didn’t know this, I’d just have thought it was normal mood variation.” Yes, I really talk and think like that. This is why I’m alone.

“Ah, I see.” She paused. “The mother, I could tell she’s still quite sad. The tissues had to come out.”

“That’s really too bad.” I am bad at feelings, especially those of others. Besides, nothing I could say would make things better, so why say much at all?

“Well, don’t bring it up with him, but if he brings it up, talk about it as much as he wants to.”

“Yeah. I know kids, and I know trauma. Don’t worry.”

She nodded. Conversation moved to other topics and then I was away home for the evening.

Perhaps I’m cold-hearted. Perhaps I’m just stunted because of my relationship with my own parents. But I find it incredibly difficult to empathize with people having trouble with their parents, or even people who’ve lost their parents. Friends, yes. Parents… I can’t do it. It’s a flaw of mine, to be sure.

As I walked to the bus stop, the cool rain started to fall, and the wind blew stronger.

Ms. Cruiseship

Ms. Cruiseship

The woman comes into the room, her slow movements and her close body position betraying the nervousness she feels. The crows feet around her eyes move animatedly as her glance darts here and there. “Good afternoon!” she says.

It is evening. I don’t correct her.

“Nice to see you! Come on in, have a seat.” She does so and sets about unpacking her things. The textbook we never open, the notebook in which she scribbles in a doctor’s hand, a bottle of tea. “It’s getting cooler these days, isn’t it?”

She looks up, searching her mind for the meaning behind what I said. “Cooler… yes! It’s mid-autumn, you know.” She takes a dainty sip of her tea. “Tea is important when seasons change. It will keep you healthy.”

I smile and nod. “I’ll keep that in mind. I don’t drink much tea though.”

“Don’t you like Japanese o-cha?”

I shake my head. “Not really. I don’t drink any hot drinks, and I find tea too bitter.”

“It’s healthy though.”

“Most healthy things are bitter, I’ve found. But so is the sting of being unhealthy. It’s difficult.”

She nods sagely.

I remember I have to return something. I push a small paper bag from a high-end boutique toward her. The pink rings of roses catch the light. “These are yours, by the way.”

“Oh?” She cocks her head to one side.

“The food you cooked me was delicious. Thank you. I have to return these. Sorry I took so long.”

“Oh, my containers! Thank you. I’m glad you liked the food. I’ll cook for you again sometime!” I can’t tell her that I threw the food out. I never eat homemade food from my students as a matter of policy. For the same reason, though I am an avid baker and cook, I will never try to serve my homemade food to my students. There’s just… it’s too dangerous for both us, I feel. Regardless of the truth of whether I ate or not, the sentiment of gratitude was still legitimate.

“So,” I continue, “You were away last week. Was everything all right? I know you’re worried about your health these days.”

Her eyes light up and the wrinkles around her mouth spread as she smiles, revealing white but uneven teeth. “Oh no, I’m fine. I went to Hawaii though!”

“Hawaii! I’m so jealous!”

She giggles. It reminds me of a girl I knew when were in elementary school. “You should go some day. It’s beautiful.”

“What did you do?”

“I took a cruise. The ship was very nice.”

“You like cruises, don’t you? You’ve been on several right?”

She nods, thrilled that I had remembered. “Yes! I was on the maiden voyage of the Nippon Maru, and the Sakura Maru, too!” I search my mind for those two ships. The only results my inner Google provides are of troop carriers during the war. But she can’t be that old. Can she? And why would she be on them anyway? I let it go for the time being. “I rode a cruise boat when I visited Italy, too. It was a famous one, afterwards… oh what was its name… ko…ka….cosu…” The intense concentration causes her pencilled-on eyebrows to nearly meet.

“… wait, did you ride the Costa Concordia?”

“Yes! That’s the one! Costa Concordia.”

“But it sank!”

“Well yes, but I rode it, hmm, three or four years before it sank.” She nods. “My captain was good.”

“Oh, well that’s okay then.”

“Yes. My captain this time was good too! He was very handsome and very tall. Twice as tall as me!”

“Wow, that is tall!” Though she’s an old Japanese lady, she’s not much shorter than I am, so this man would have had to be over 2m in height. If he had actually been “twice as tall”, as she claimed, closer to 3.2m, and I don’t think anyone is quite that tall.

“My favourite part of the cruise was the disco hall.”

“There was a disco hall! Wow, that’s… very… 70s.” I can’t help my snark sometimes.

“It was so much fun. I danced and danced and danced.” She stops and looks around, then leans in conspiratorially. “But it was full of black people.”

Ah, I see casual racism time has started. I didn’t hear the klaxon. “Oh?” I ask, trying not to sound judgemental.

She nods. “Yes, but they weren’t dark black like your iPhone’s screen,” she said, “no, they were the colour of President Obama.”

“Oh, well,” I fumble for a reply that will keep the conversation going. “That’s… I see!”

“Though,” she continues, “there was one man who was twice as tall as me —” again? Really? “— and he was as black as the night.” I can’t believe I’m listening to this. She’s just old, she’s not actually a real bigot.

“Oh really?”

“Yes. My friends were very scared of him. They all pointed and gasped. But I got up and walked up to him and asked him to dance. My friends were shocked and very afraid for me. Their faces were funny.” See, I told you.

“I can imagine!”

“He was a gentleman and a very good dancer. I hope I changed my friends’ minds about him.”

“I’m sure you did. Good work.”

She smiles.

Our chat continues and meanders here and there. She promises that next time, she’ll tell me the story of how she climbed Mt. Fuji in a typhoon and took shelter at a shrine in the caldera, but she can’t go there anymore because it’s been closed “for the safety of tourists”. I can’t wait.

I am slowly going crazy, 壹、貳、參、肆、伍、陸、 switch.

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