In each case, these bad classes were followed by a well-behaved class to calm down my frustration. This week, the older students were busy in the final stages of preparing for Sunday's "speech contest". The hardest part was teaching them how to ask questions of other people's speeches. Despite pointing out easy, catch-all questions like "Why did you choose this topic?", their shyness often leads them to long seconds of silence when called upon, which only end when they are given words or sentences to repeat back. The range in both student ability and behaviour is extreme, and I never know who and what I will be faced with next.
The irritations were inflamed by difficulty sleeping. There are at least ten loud Frenchmen in the guesthouse, who seem to not get warmed up until around 1 am. There are two groups of them, and they seem to take turns shouting. After unpredictable periods of silence, they burst into full-volume conversation in the hallways and in open-doored rooms at various times of the night. It is beyond the strength of my earplugs to stop these sounds. Around 3:30 am Monday night, when I heard particularly loud talking, along with the bonus of farting sounds followed by giggles, I had had enough. I opened my door and found a group of them hanging around in the hallway immediately outside my room. I told them, "Je suis desolée, mais je dois vous demander de faire moins de bruit pendant la nuit. Merci." This had a temporary effect. What really surprises me about them is not just their inability to shut up, but that they aren't even just late night people. They will carry on until well past 3 am, and then by 8 am the next morning they are gathered in the room across the hall from me and going at it again.
Dealing with this noise led me to shift my schedule later, from sleeping around 2 am to sleeping closer to 4 am. On other days of the week, even on the quiet nights I found myself unable to sleep much before 4 am. Combined with regular morning interruptions, this has left me grumbling with insufficient sleep.
Fortunately, I have heard that the two main groups of aggravators will be leaving within a week to return to various schools.
On Thursday I attended a before-work karaoke session with the Quebecoises, Cathérine and Marie, who are returning to Canada next week. They are themselves familiar with the noise problem, and it felt very Canadian for us all to be commiserating about the others' rudeness. First, when they learned that I hadn't heard of a Japanese phenomenon that translates as something like "photo sparkle", they showed me one of these very girly booths. You go in and it takes several pictures of you making funny faces. Then you go around, into an adjacent booth on the other side, where you see the pictures on a screen. You set about decorating them with cartoon hats, sparkling things, writing, etc. You pick the ones you want and then wait for a postcard-sized printout of tiny pictures to appear--each one a sticker. It was explained that, based on what they had learned from extensive study of Japanese TV dramas, this is a standard date destination that should be considered "first base" in Japan. Going to the aquarium is considered second base, and ascending the Tokyo Tower is considered a declaration of serious commitment.
Cathérine and Marie are advanced karaokers who have a membership card at Big Echo, and are spending most of their remaining days in Tokyo either amassing souvenirs or karaokeing. Using their own Roman transliterations, they sang various J-pop songs complete with harmonies and the official dances they learned either from the videos or from live concerts. They also, with professional smoothness, sang two English songs. Marie sang the No Doubt song "Spiderwebs", and Cathérine sang "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid, in a proper Ariel voice. I walked through some of my standards, with my tuning in relatively bad form, but of course I still greatly enjoyed myself, until it was time to leave for work.
That afternoon marked the beginning of a long period of exceptionally heavy rains in Tokyo. I found myself at Fujimino station with ten minutes to get to work, in driving rain and no umbrella. I saw four apparently abandoned umbrellas on a stand outside a convenience store there. I waited five minutes and nobody who left claimed any of them. So it seemed that they were available, and I took one with me to the school. Despite having the umbrella, my arms and legs were still soaked. I told the others about my surprise at the umbrella-sharing system here, and they were just as surprised that any such system existed. I was certain that at that one station, where I went for my first school interview, people were taking and leaving free umbrellas. My school and my guesthouse each have a stand of umbrellas available for sharing. So I assumed that's how it generally works here. But I can't say I've seen another stand quite like that one. It seems I may have in fact stolen that umbrella, under the old excuse "I was really just borrowing it, I swear." It was rusty, with a hole in it, so I hope it was in fact abandoned.
After dinner there was a loud thunderstorm, and twice the power went off, leaving the school pitch black for a minute or two at a time. I was disappointed when the lights came back on, as I enjoyed the break. My relief at the darkness reminded me of how grim and disagreeable fluorescent lighting is.
Friday was a day of unintended exercise, as I had to run to school to avoid being late, run to the Mos Burger to secure my dinner during the short break, and finally run home from the bus stop under another bout of heavy rain. The downpours continued overnight, and I was surprised to find that "Torrential rains in Japan" had actually become an international news story.
The big news story of the day, however, was Barack Obama's Thursday night (Japanese Friday) speech at the Democratic National Convention. His ability to speak is so far beyond any other contemporary politician, it makes it seem like the others aren't even trying. Most politicians talk very quickly, and defensively, like they are concerned with not saying bad things, rather than actually trying to say anything. Clearly Obama has actually bothered to study history's greatest speeches. When this perfect form is combined with such agreeable content, it's easy to glorify him as a leader. I remain on the lookout for his flaws, of which his potentially globe-sized ego is perhaps the greatest danger. But he really is the most promising politician of our day. I look forward with great enthusiasm to the moment he steps into the world's most influential position.
I watched the full speech at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/758
The night also hit with the news of John McCain's selection of an attractive young woman, Sarah Palin, as his running mate. This at first light appears to be a brilliant tactical move, especially with its timing quickly after Obama's remarkable speech. It gives "the McCain-Palin campaign" so many good angles to draw moderates away from Obama.
I am also learning of the increasing probability of a Canadian election this fall, as the incumbent Conservatives find their position gradually eroding. Anticipating a weakening economy, and unable to advance any significant new policy with what's left of the butchered national budget, they will be eager to get their formidable campaign engine rolling soon, against a still wobbly Liberal organization. Directed from their new no-expenses-spared "war room" command centre, and flush with party money, the Conservative campaign promises to be the slickest, most artfully executed election bid ever seen in Canada.
It reminds me again that the easygoing summer really is ending, and with September, a dense season of worldly business is quickly moving in.