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2006-04-27 9:18 p.m.

the priest, the book, or the congregation

If you will, please take a moment of silence for Uncle Bob.

Okay, that will do. Let’s talk about ME!

Well, dear Autumn is starting to bug the hell out of me. It’s always “my last ALT did this” and “my last ALT did that.” Unfortunately for everyone involved, I am not her last ALT, God rest his soul (though he’s not dead). (ALT, Assistant Language Teacher, is my job title, by the way.) She asks me to prepare all this crap for class, and then she completely ignores it and uses what she prepared instead. She lets me teach a section but then interrupts me in the middle and takes over to do it her way. Or, more commonly the past few days, she just does everything herself from the beginning, including the things she told me she wants me to do, including the things she really ought to let me do (I cringe when she tries to model pronunciation for the kids, especially when she blatantly pronounces things exactly as I specifically told the kids not to).

Basically, I feel like the subtext of most everything she says or does is “you are incompetent and useless to me.” Which is not actually true, mind you. It is true that I’m not really used to actually teaching at the middle school, where the format is quite different from the other schools, and it is probably true that I don’t teach quite like she would want. But I absolutely do not teach poorly. Even if I did, I’d rather she try to help me than just shut me down. Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. Take a man’s fishing pole, snap it in two, and throw it away, and he’s likely to get really annoyed.

So, I’m starting to resent her, which does not improve my classroom manner. We’ve found other ways to annoy each other, as well. In addition, the fact that I’ve been through this once before and that I’m out of here in three months makes it extremely hard for me to give a damn, adding an extra layer to everything.

Yes, it’s like Matchan all over again. The difference is that this one is actually a good teacher, probably the best I’ve yet worked with. Matchan was bad for me and bad for the kids. The Hawk was good for me but not always so good for the kids. Autumn is bad for me but good for the kids (except when it comes to pronunciation, which the Hawk was extremely good at).

It’s for the children… It’s for the children… Just gotta keep telling myself that.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, middle school SUX! Team teaching often does, too…

She did ask me to record myself reading the textbook so that the kids can hear my pronunciation at home, even after I’m gone. It’s a little unnecessary, but I’ll do it. I like the idea of these kids having something to remember me by. It will be my legacy…

And she did mention that the first years can read and pronounce English better than any other first years she’s ever worked with. Which you can thank me for. (Though honestly they are an astoundingly good class, and you might as well thank them for it. Even the relatively slow ones are very enthusiastic and work really hard.)

Maybe we just need more time to get used to each other…

Sometimes going to the preschool cheers me up. Usually it does. But other times it just pisses me off even more. There’s a kind of social darwinism that goes on there. When you’re surrounded by six little kids, each of whom is fighting for your attention, the one who sticks his/her finger up your anus or grabs your genitals is the kid who gets your attention. The term “child molester” has taken on a whole new meaning for me. I’ve been violated, I tell you, violated! By five year old girls!

My little English conversation class has taken a turn for the worse recently, as well. Two new kids have shown up. One of them is just great; she’s smart and sweet and wants to learn. The other seems to have zero interest in learning English. I suspect the only reason he’s there is because his mom thinks that if, for 90 minutes a week, he sits and does not listen to one word that comes out of my mouth, even when I’m calling his name and waving my arms at him, he will magically learn to speak English. Not likely. When he’s not sitting under the table doing hell knows what, he’s shouting and distracting the other kids. Dragon is prone to do this sort of thing, as well, but Dragon is both three years younger and genuinely enthusiastic about learning, so I’m much more willing to be patient with him. (Dragon’s also been doing much better lately.) While admittedly the stuff I do there is a little more studious than the stuff I usually do with kids that age, this new kid participates extremely unwillingly even in the more active, jump around games we do. He does like karuta, though. They all love karuta, and expect to play it at the end of each lesson. (Karuta is when you lay a bunch of picture cards or whatever out on a flat surface. Then you say word applying to one of the cards, and whoever grabs it gets to keep it. The kid with the most cards at the end wins.) I gave him a stern talking to the time before last. Last time he didn’t show, but if he does come next time and is still problematic, I’ll have to have a talk with his mother…

So it seems my enjoyment of this place has taken another downturn recently. It goes in cycles. It comes down to this: I love the Rock, but I have a love/hate relationship with my job here. I guess it’s good that I’m leaving soon.

I’m going to South Korea next week, and South Korea is already starting to annoy me, as well. I booked a hotel online for 63 bucks a night. Then the website sends me an email saying, “sorry but this hotel has a special rate for American citizens- 108 bucks a night.” Uhhh… Hell no. (I booked my Bangkok hotels with through the same website and did not have this problem.)

You know, the mother-daughter relationship between Natch and RahRah is really sweet. They have an easy, understated affection for each other that is fun to watch. RahRah and I have a good rapport, too, I think. She’s like the kid sister I don’t have anymore. I mean, I still have a younger sister, but she’s not a kid anymore.

I saw three movies in Fukuoka last weekend. First was The Libertine, which was… quite in line with its title. It’s certainly not for everyone, and I think you can judge from your reaction to the title what your reaction to the film itself is likely to be. (The Wikipedia article on the guy gives a fair overview (though note that while the film does “downplay” his bisexuality, it is hardly absent, and the film also does not include his purported deathbed renunciation of atheism), if you’re interested.) Me, I liked it. Johnny Depp is cool. The main character was like a blue blood version of Captain Jack Sparrow, except firmly chained to reality. By the end of the film I absolutely despised and adored him at the same time, which, incidentally, seems to be how all the other characters in the film felt about him. (My favorite character was probably his wife, played by one Rosamund Pike (“An able scholar… She is a skilled cellist, and fluently speaks German and French.” Nice. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?).) I think the filmmakers did an excellent job of producing that reaction. He actually reminded me of a Dostoyevsky quote I found a while back: “Sarcasm: the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded.” The movie had several good lines, as well, though I can’t remember exactly what they were. Guess that means I’ll have to watch it again. 3 stars, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Next I went to a showing of V for Vendetta. Yes, I liked it a lot. Yes, in many ways it was written with people like me in mind. But I don’t think it’s quite as simple an anti-Bush diatribe as many people seem to think. ‘Cause you know, there was that one thing he did (if you’ve seen the film you know what I’m talking about) that really bothered me. That was very not cool. To me the question the film asks is, to what extent do the ends really justify the means? Certainly, as Lemony Snicket said, “There are times in this harum-scarum world when figuring out the right thing to do is quite simple, but doing the right thing is simply impossible, and then you must do something else.” Certainly, we have an obligation to fight for our ideals and for the people we love. But where do we draw the line? At what point do we start betraying our ideals in our rush to defend them? At what point do we need to realize that the means have become the ends? I wish I knew.

After watching the film, it was 2 am and I found myself walking through the city streets to my capsule hotel, listening to music, passing all the homeless people sleeping in their cardboard boxes, and thinking about what I had just seen and what I was then seeing. (This seems to end up happening a lot when I go to Fukuoka.) I was listening to Rage Against the Machine. Mic Check is a surprisingly fitting song for such a situation:

who got the power, this be my question
the mass or the few in this torn nation
the priest, the book, or the congregation
the politricks who rob and hold down your zone
or those who give the thieves the key to their homes
the pig who's free to murder one shucklak
or survivors who make a move and murder one back

My thoughts exactly…

Anyway, I kind of regret not having read the comic book first. I have this feeling like the comic book probably has a more believable character development and is probably a little more clear about the moral ambiguity of what V did. 4 stars, though, for being so thought-provoking.

In the alternate future history in which the film takes place, V will most definitely become a national hero. But that thing he did is almost certainly the kind of thing that would be carefully kept out of history books if not erased completely out of the records (if those who knew about it ever told anyone). Which brings us to the film I saw the next morning, The New World, about Pocahantas (though that name is never mentioned in the film) and her relationships with John Smith and John Rolfe. Normally I probably wouldn’t have bothered with a film like this, but I had read an article about how the director hired a linguist to reconstruct Virginian Algonquin for the sake of the accuracy of the film, which was very cool of him. So I thought I’d go see his movie.

And it was better than most such films. I wondered how true to reality it was, though, and if Wikipedia is to be believed the answer is “not very,” especially in the case of the John Smith stuff. And they still did the whole “aw, look, we done civilized this here savage” thing. Certainly the Europeans had superior technology and social organization, but it seems their superiority ended there. The fact is very few natives had any interest in joining European society (and only in very few cases did they really even have the opportunity), while Europeans ditching the towns to go live with the Indians were extremely common. It seems native societies were, generally, relatively free of the racism, sexism, classism, and religious intolerance that characterized European society at the time. (If I recall, the Puritans had such a problem with people running off to join the Injuns that they made it punishable by death (if they caught you). ‘Course, just about any society would be better than Puritan society. When I was in high school I read a book called, I think, Crime and Punishment in New England, which was quite stomach turning. Those guys were horrible sadists, and when I say “sadists,” I mean they took immense pleasure in inflicting pain and suffering on others.) The scene where they washed her with soap was quite interesting, since bathing was not at all fashionable among Europeans at the time, and the natives had much better hygiene. In fact, the natives were horrified at the rancid stench coming from the Europeans (which is actually referenced in the film, if you know to recognize it). It was also very interesting to compare the beautiful and clean England of The New World with the disgusting shithole England of The Libertine (which is set fifty years later)…

"The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do." -Samuel P. Huntington

The major thing they left out, of course, was the fact that by 1620, it is estimated that 90 to 96 percent of the native inhabitants of coastal New England had died of communicable diseases brought across the Atlantic. In defense of the film, it seems that it didn’t start to get really bad until around the time Pocahantas died (at around age 20, apparently of a communicable European disease), but that still seems like a pretty huge thing to leave out. In fact it seems that similar percentages of people all throughout the Americas got killed off by diseases brought from Europe. What happened in the Americas on the arrival of the Europeans makes the Black Death look like a bad flu season.

Chances are it was left out of your high school history class, too, if you live in America (and it wouldn’t surprise me if Canada was the same). My source for all this, incidentally, is Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen, which I read a while back. I always thought American history was deathly boring growing up, and this book made me realize why. It also made me realize that I was far from alone in thinking U.S. history to be boring, and that U.S. history is in fact quite interesting. The reason is that U.S. history in the U.S. is typically taught to make you feel good about being a (white) American, to give you the impression that everything went down the way it was supposed to, that the results are things we can be proud of, and that the way things are today and are going to be tomorrow is just peachy. This means leaving out (or even outright falsifying) the bad stuff and sucking the life out of all the conflicts in our history in order to assure us that the good guys (us) always won out in the end. Boring! But dammit, it doesn’t have to be.

This was the first book that really brought home to me the magnitude of what was lost when Europeans came to the New World. It also made me really pissed off at what I was always led to believe was lost, at least in North America- nothing much. Oh, it makes me angry. This was also the first book I read that got me really interested in learning about Native American history, culture, and religion. And again, I get really annoyed at how history classes growing up convinced me that there was little of interest to learn about there. (One of my favorite passages in the book is a description of Christianity in the style that textbooks use to describe Native American religions: “These Americans believed that one great male god ruled the world. Sometimes they divided him into three parts, which they called father, son, and holy ghost. They ate crackers and wine or grape juice, believing that they were eating the son’s body and drinking his blood. If they believed strongly enough, they would live on forever after they died.” It recommended God Is Red for a good presentation of native religion. I haven’t read it, but I would like to.)

Of course, the pandemic wasn’t really the Europeans’ fault. It was horrifying, but that, at least, does seem like it was bound to happen sooner or later. The crime is in the cover-up. I suppose they did it because directly facing the fact that the actions of your ancestors killed off millions of people might make one think that maybe the coming of Columbus or the founding of Jamestown and the Massachusetts Bay Colony didn’t exactly herald the beginning of a new era of peace, safety, freedom, and enlightenment in the world... And we can’t have that, now can we? Funny that the major thing that does seem as if it was fated to happen is hardly mentioned at all in our Manifest Destiny textbooks… (Though I get the impression that textbooks have improved somewhat in the ten years since I was taking U.S. History in high school.) I don’t know about you, but I want to remember and honor all those people for what they had to give up in order for me to have what I have. I don’t want to forget them. I want to learn all I can about them.

Anyway, I’d recommend that book to anyone interested in American history, or anyone who would like to be interested in American history. I found that the author’s own (socialist) bias shines through in a few places, especially the chapters on progress and socioeconomic mobility in modern America, but it’s still good to get the other side of the story…

“Textbooks should show that neither morality nor immorality can simply be conferred upon us by history. Merely being part of the United States, without regard to our own acts and ideas, does not make us moral or immoral beings. History is more complicated than that.” –James Loewen

ANYWAY, the movie (which I give 2 stars) did get me thinking about my own ancestors. Of my grandparents’ lines, one has been in America since the 1600s and two since the 1700s. The ancestors who gave me my last name lived in New Amsterdam. What must it have been like for them? What kind of people were they? What were their attitudes towards the natives? My parents have done a fair amount of genealogy. I should get into that again. What would it have been like for me if I had lived in Europe at that time? I tend to think that I would be one of those who took off for the New World, like my ancestors did. How would I have responded to that situation? I have a feeling I would have been one of those who went native, actually…

You know who they should make a movie about? Squanto. First one of John Smith’s buddies kidnapped him to England, where he lived for nine years, then he finally got back home only to be kidnapped again, this time to Spain. He finally got home again five years later only to find that his entire tribe had been killed off by smallpox, at which point he threw in with the Pilgrims. Then he got sick and died, himself. Now that’s a story, and, strangely enough, one most Americans haven’t heard before. All they know is the boring Thanksgiving version of Squanto.

Alright, I’m ending this now. This was really long. Did you read all of it? Wow.

Wish me luck in South Korea next week. And on the excursion I’ve got planned for this weekend (which I don’t want to talk too much about until it’s in the past).

i am the nina, the pinta, the santa maria,