Wednesday, 15 October 2008

My Japanese Education (Part I)

Every now and then, I'm always amazed at the things I learn from my students. Every time that happens, I get really excited. Little do most people know, being a teacher means being forever a student.

Today my Japanese students taught me about "gratin," of which I didn't know what it was but my colleague did me a favor and googled the word. Gratin is a type of casserole. Well, the word alone is nothing to be excited about, but let me explain. Last week I was getting disheartened about the subject I'm teaching, ESL or English as a Second Language. I felt unmotivated that I'm teaching something so, so basic. Last year I was spouting Shakespeare sonnets. This year, I'm doing apples and oranges.

I miss doing gymnastics in my mind and having intellectual discussions with my students. My skills have been reduced to asking the simplest questions like "What's this?" or "What's that?" Never mind the whole higher level thinking. Picture word recognition is the key. Spelling. Ummm... That's another story when you try to explain the difference between "rice" and "lice," of which you may have to mime picking something out of your hair with your thumb and forefinger, make a disgusted face, and eventually flick it in the air, although some of my colleagues may opt to put it in their mouth for entertainment purposes.

On the flip side, I'm speaking a new language. I can now confidently say "sit down" and "be quiet" in Japanese. Counting from one to six, I've mastered that too.

Today a fifth grader made me laugh. This whole week, I've been teaching the same lesson on food. Most students would come up with typical food like rice, chicken, and salad on their menu. But not Yuki. He kept asking me non-stop how to spell red wine, beer, lobster, caviar, king salmon, shark fin soup, and fondue. Things that actually made me salivate.

I've also noticed the difference in attitude between Japanese and Indonesians. Indonesians put so much value in learning English. They gobbled up everything I taught, whether in a proper school or in an after school program. But not here at the Japanese school in Thailand. English is an add-on subject. Many students don't seem to care if they don't speak a lick of English, especially at the junior high level. Knowing English isn't considered a form of superiority to the Japanese. That is the first time I've encountered such a culture. So much pride and love for their own culture and language. It's not surprising that Japan is one of the world's leading countries. You can see it in their people. The discipline in how they eat is also mind blowing. I remember getting told off for chewing gum, during my free time. It's like gum and every kind of candy are forbidden on the premises. In other first world countries, kids struggle with the problem of obesity. Oh, not the Japanese. They don't even allow the kids here to eat snacks during the day. No other drinks except water and tea, which makes some of their teeth yellow. There's no canteen in the school. Every student brings their own food or order it through a Japanese catering service. They also don't drink soda. It's just not their habit! No wonder why Japan could recover so well financially after two nuclear bombs--by reducing their people's diets to the bare minimum. In all honesty, their level of discipline is not something to be trifled with, of which has led me to have much respect for my Japanese colleagues regarding work ethics. Sometimes I wonder if their bodies were made of machine.

Once again, I'm adjusting, the practice that seems to be the pattern of my life, and making the most of my opportunities. Learning from what I see and seeing them in new ways.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

On Matters of Talents & Dating Practices

I don't consider myself as someone with exceptional talents, but I've got some. Having been part of big churches like the OC or the Jakarta church, I only had offered one or two talents at most to serve others. Things like encouraging or serving others. I'm quite good at washing dishes by the way. When we had parties back in the US, I'd be the one to wash dishes. Strange to say, but I love washing dishes. I find it therapeutic since my job involves a considerable amount of brain work, I prefer to do things without having to think once in a while.

At this point I have to go off on a tangent and link the topic of washing dishes to dating. In our church, tradition has it that when disciples go on dates in the US, whoever asks the other out takes care of everything. For instance, if you ask somebody out and decide to prepare a meal at home, then you'll be doing both the cooking and cleaning. Fair enough since your date gets to feel like a prince or princess for the night. But in Australia, the rules are if you prepare the meal, your date washes the dishes. I was surprised when that first happened to me. By the time I made it down under, I was so conditioned to cook and clean on a date for my prince like a good Cinderella that I am. But soon I realized that when in Australia, do as the Australians do, as my modified version of the saying goes. That way we both can share the Cinderella experience together. Oh, so romantic!

Oh ya. Back on the whole talent thing.

I've been back in Thailand about two months now and I have done more for the Bangkok church than I probably did eight years in big churches. I got to share my life/preach for the first time to the single sisters at midweek. That was a nerve-wracking but worthwhile experience. All of it, the preparation, butterflies on stage, and cleaning up afterwards since I asked them to write down their anxieties on a piece of paper and physically cast them on the floor as a reminder of how Christ wants us to cast our anxieties on him. I'm also designated the interpreter now for the church. Sometimes, I get to joke around with my audience if I know who are listening. In addition, I'll begin translating sections of a book from English to Thai. That'd be interesting and daunting at the same time since I haven't written anything properly in Thai for fourteen years. But a friend told me not to worry because she'll ask somebody to translate my Thai into the normal Thai.

Yes, my Thai is still rusty and I still use wrong words here and there and mix some English words in my Thai. But I'm getting much better now.

All in all, I'm glad God has blessed me with talents and there's nothing better than using them to glorify him and to benefit his kingdom.