Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The one in one hundred

“Teaching is in each moment, in every existence.”

—Shunryu Suzuki
(from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind)

“Eigo no sensei desu,” and I bow my head.

I’m an English teacher.
I’m a teacher of English.
I teach the English language.

I bow my head.
I’m a student, a learner, a beginner.

*            *            *

“Let’s sing a song.”

Clapping hands, I lead:

“Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes. Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.”

Stand. Squat. Stand. Squat.
The kids follow suit.

“Head shoulders knees and toes knees and toes. Head shoulders knees and toes knees and toes.”

Stand. Squat. Stand. Squat.
The kids follow suit.

“Headshoulderskneesandtoeskneesandtoes. Headshoulderskneesandtoeskneesandtoes.”

Stand. Squat. Stand. Squat.
Laughter and we all fall down.

Our metronomic hand beats speed up so much they start to go off-kilter. The spaces between one child’s clap fill with the clap of another child. My claps lose their rhythmic potency. The room swells with one sound from one hundred tiny sounds. I fold my rug-burned knees under themselves and lower to the floor.

The kids follow suit, their giggles subsiding with the descent.

“Let’s read a book.”

Eyes widen. We take turns touching the textured pictures, counting the birds, pulling the arrows to make an image pop out of the pages. We turn to the picture of a little mouse. I know what comes next. The kids squeal and race to see who can be the first to touch it with a finger. I quickly slide my finger into their pile of little fingers. We cover the mouse and say "mouse."

They giggle.
I follow suit.

Yasu sniffles. Hoshino rubs his feet on my knees. Maki opens her mouth and tilts her head back in a gesture of glee. A little bit of saliva drops onto my pants. A tumbleweed of dust rolls across the carpet. I shift my weight onto one shin and then the other. My left foot falls asleep. I wiggle my toes, readjust, and settle into any lingering discomfort.

I’ve read this book over a hundred times with these kids. I like the way they gather round it with continued excitement, despite knowing exactly what comes next. Every page is a new page because reading the book today is different from reading it yesterday.

When the last page peels away from the back cover, we pause, take a breath, and start all over again.

The kids smile in unison.
I follow suit.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Call of the Kimono

In Japan, almost every month has a national holiday. This is a recent initiative created by the government to give hardworking Japanese people a built-in day off.

The day is random.
The holiday is random.
And most people don’t actually celebrate, except perhaps by luxuriating in the opportunity to sleep in.

In September we had a day off to appreciate the elderly.
In October we had a day off for Sports Day.
Today is Culture Day—I must say my favorite of these holidays so far.

Culture Day. What does this mean?

Perhaps lounging in pajamas all day.
Perhaps eating sweets.
Perhaps watching traditional performances.
Perhaps participating in Japanese arts and crafts.

For me, Culture Day was a day of seduction.

I let myself be seduced.

My plans to attend a culture fair unraveled when I stepped outside and saw the way the light hit the autumn leaves.

After three days of constant rain, I let myself luxuriate in the sun.

I gave myself permission to meander.

Walking about town, I willingly succumbed to the call of the kimonos, like seductive sirens beckoning me to take their photograph.

Hand-painted silk threads.
Creative color pairings.
Ode to the seasons.

History reinventing itself.