What does it take to become a Chiron English teacher? Hard work, lots of flash card practice, and mindless dedication to a company with more than a few quirks. But for Devon, it might take even more than that.
In the latest episode of this Japan podcast, Devon dives into the nitty gritty of training, all the way to the dreaded demo lesson at the end.
Angry Chiron trainers, Japanese curry, riverside CPR… Chapter 3 of Forever Foreign has it all.
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Writing, producing – David Taylor
Sound design, original music – Brock Chrystian
Story Edits – Juan Olivares
Voice of Devon – David Taylor
Coming in a minute!
Chapter 3: I am Become Sensei (Transcript)
DEVON: POSTDATED Wednesday, August 7th, 2013
Salutations foreigner. I’m trying some new sign-ons out, so bear with me. Gotta mix it up after recording for an hour and a half straight.
My brain still thought that it was 15 hours earlier than it actually was on this Wednesday morning, and for the second consecutive night it woke my body up long before it should have. I made sure to check the clock right away this time. It read 2 AM. Actually, I didn’t just check the clock. I stared at it for a good long while. I thought that maybe if I could just burn those numbers into my retina it might convince my brain that it really was 2 AM on the 7th rather than 11 AM on the 6th. If it was working, I couldn’t tell.
Slumping against the headboard, I added up how much sleep I’d got. If I went to bed about an hour later than the previous evening and woke up as much as 3-4 hours later… Well, it was progress.
Rolling around under the covers wouldn’t get me anywhere, so I put on some clothes and walked outside. It was still dark in the station’s east-side plaza at that hour, and other than the statue of the boy with his animal friends I only saw two or three faces that I can recall. In the bar area across the street there were more people, most of them walking alone. They dragged their feet a bit, but the way they moved seemed less stupor and more fatigue to me. If I had to guess I’d say they were getting off work.
Wanting to explore in a different direction from the previous evening I went east rather than south. After five minutes of walking I was rewarded with a shallow stream dividing two one-way roads. Straddling the 10-foot canal was a quaint little walking path with tall leafy trees and shrubs on either side, and a few steps in a clearing emerged.
The landing wasn’t far from where the alley that I’d come from intersected with the canal. Maybe ten or twenty meters. As I approached a set of four or five steps that led to the water came into view. I thought I’d sit down for a while, maybe dip my toes in as I enjoyed the relaxing sounds of the babbling brook. But as more of the scene was revealed I knew something was wrong.
I was startled to see a left arm stretched out across one of the steps. And as I moved closer the rest of a man’s stocky frame became visible. He looked like a corpse at a crime scene, limbs splayed out and head turned to the left, tongue lolling out of a half-open mouth. As I moved closer I got a better look. I’m really pretty terrible at guessing ages, but if pressed I would say he was in his… 40s. Ooor 50s. You know what? Mayyyybe late 30s.
Until then I’d never encountered an unconscious stranger, so… I was terrified. Luckily, a first aid course that I’d taken years ago while working at the Galaxyland amusement park in Edmonton kicked in.
“Heeeeeelp!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. I yelled it once or twice more, but it didn’t seem that there was anyone coming at that hour.
I’m this man’s only chance, I remember thinking as I bent down. Was it two breaths first? Or do I start pumping right away..?
I decided to start with the pumps. Remembering something my instructor had said about shooting for the midpoint of the chest, I unbuttoned his short-sleeved dress shirt.
Pressing both thumbs down on the man’s nipples, I used my index fingers to find the center point in between, gently twisting my thumbs as I went. Even now, I can clearly recall the warmth of his milk chocolaty areolas. As I marked the middle of his chest I heard something. I guess you would have to call it a moan. Accompanying that moan was a jerk of the man’s head which was now looking up at me with wild, confused, bloodshot eyes.
“You’re alive!” I shouted.
The man seemed to stare right through me, as though he knew he was still sleeping but just needed to convince himself. It must’ve been a very strange thing for him to wake up to; a white Canadian draped across his body, fondling his supple teets. The longer I remained at his side the more desperate he seemed to be for that dream to end.
Finally, the man shifted his weight, mumbling something in a hoarse Japanese voice. I could smell the sour reek of too many beers fermenting in his belly, accompanied by stale tobacco on his tongue. It’s impossible for me to even guess at what he said, but it was clear that he was fine because he rolled onto his side to face away from me and was snoring in no time. He didn’t even think to button his shirt. It was then that I noticed two beer cans at his feet, one of which was open and half-full.
It’s clear that the man was simply drunk now. But for a moment… Just a moment, mind you. I thought I might’ve revived the man by giving him a purple nurple. I know it sounds made up, foreigner, but I promise you this really happened.
I sat next to the fellow for a few more minutes to make sure he really was okay before sliding to the other end of the stairs. There, I leaned back and listened to the water for some time as it lapped against the walls of the canal. On my list of things to clear up, I wrote, “Drinking in public okay?” I’ve learned that it is, by the way.
Before leaving the steps to walk farther up the street, I took a mental picture. Those shores will forever be the place where I found the drunken salaryman, and god bless him.
Fully expecting to find more surprises hiding in the bushes, I paced back and forth along the walking path several times before finally making my way back to the hotel. Safe, but a little bewildered, I was asleep by 4:30 AM. Progress.
A few hours of sleep later, I was up and taking an elevator down to the lobby of the hotel to meet Callum. He wore a tailored black suit that looked every bit as sharp as the blue one from the day before. I decided to gamble on his sense of humor that morning, making a show of checking out his burgundy tie.
“Clip-on?” I asked.
Fortunately, he smiled and said, “Of course!”
We weren’t exactly in a rush, so the two of us stopped by the Belgian waffle stand in the station. I got a black coffee to go with my matcha flavored waffle, and he got one dipped in chocolate.
I’ve had green tea before, of course, but I’d never had matcha flavored anything up until that point. Consider me a convert, because that waffle was as perfectly tailored to my taste buds as any of Callums suits are to his frame. It wasn’t overly sweet, and it had a subtle flavor that just made me feel so… so… so fancy!
At training that morning, we covered several topics related to living in Japan, but what I remember most clearly was the Japanese law section that came closer to noon. There, I learned a great deal of the do’s and don’t’s.
Like much of that week’s training, most of what we learned felt like common sense. You can’t snort cocaine in Japan, for example. You can’t drink and drive, for another. You can’t fight people, either.
Actually, it turns out that self-defense is pretty shaky legal ground, so it’s better not to fight back even if you were hit first. That somewhat cleared up my experience from two nights ago where violence seemed to be off the table for the bar district’s drunks.
By the end of the legalities section, Kevin was breathing heavily and he’d gone from calmly explaining the law in Japan to shouting it.
“Under no circumstances are you to leave work early for your convenience store job that you’re illegally working for extra cash to send home to your family,” he wagged his finger. “And if I find out that one of you has been getting handsy with the school nurse, so help me”
Kevin took a deep breath to calm himself before forcing his frown upside down.
“Just follow the rules that I’ve outlined and everyone should be happy,” he said. “I’ve had to visit too many police stations in my time as branch manager.”
Kevin sat back down in his chair at this stage without further instruction. One awkward silence later, Timothy cautiously stood and said, “It’s… It’s just about noon, so why don’t we take a break. Please be back before 1 o’clock.”
Just like the day before, some of the teachers were talking about where to go for lunch. I’d done a little better with my sleep that night, but there was still a ways to go. So I marched straight to my hotel room, skipping food in favor of rest.
Training in the afternoon was once again Timothy’s domain. After reviewing the basics of vocab drilling that we’d learned the day before he started a new list, titled ‘advanced vocab practice tricks’.
A highly animated demonstration followed, and it became apparent that vocab practice could be something more than just reading off a laminated piece of paper. It could be rousing. Inspirational, even.
Timothy taught us tricks like reading individual words slower or faster, going through the entire list at different speeds, and getting students to say the words first before repeating them back. There were also classics like funny voices and the good ‘ol slow reveal, where the picture is… well, slowly revealed. It sounds way simpler than it really is, I swear. There’s an art to revealing the right amount of flashcard so that it’s fair to all of the students trying to guess the word.
After that, we dove into things like lesson planning and worksheet creation. The afternoon flew by more quickly than I could’ve imagined, and by the time we were done I was positively high on the thrill of good teaching procedures. I may have been alone in that, though.
Next to me, Callum was slumped in his chair, staring at the wall. As people stood around us, getting ready to leave, he only sank further toward the ground.
“You weren’t that bad today,” I tried to reassure him. “Much better than yesterday. Besides, it’s only day 2!”
Callum continued his study of the wallpaper. “Let’s get a drink,” he said.
A few other teachers wanted to drink, too, so we all headed to an izakaya in the bar district. Izakaya is basically the Japanese word for pub, in case you haven’t learned that yet, foreigner.
It was strange walking on the east side of the station in the light of day. The plaza was packed with businessmen and students headed in different directions. Busses and taxis came in and out of a terminal off to the side. And the fountain splashed loudly, competing with the din of a hundred voices as our little group cut through to the crosswalk.
I guess it would’ve been just before 6 in the evening at the time, so the street car was still running; a quaint single car on rails that divided the two opposing streams of traffic. Callum took us across those tracks and down the same side street where I’d been going on my midnight strolls.
Instead of zombie-like figures tripping over their feet, the place was filled with class. Women in chic skirts and high heels moved with a practiced grace on the same sidewalks as men in beautiful tailored slacks carrying briefcases. It wasn’t only a place for partying, either, I learned. There was a department store, cafes… even an after-school study center. Definitely not a mere haunt for delinquents!
The izakaya that Callum eventually settled on was a short hike down the alley. Above its glass double doors was a big red sign with white Japanese letters that I was actually able to read. It was called ‘Uwasa’. Apparently it was where many of the other teachers had gone the night before.
There were eight of us in total, and to tell you the truth, foreigner, only one person other than Callum really stands out in my memory from that evening. Our group was squeezed into a corner with booth seating on one side of a table and individual chairs on the other. Callum sat to my right, and to my left was the undeniable Alyssa, a girl that I’d been talking to since we left the training building. Orrrr maybe saying I’d been talked to would be more apt.
Alyssa’s from Atlanta, Georgia, and for the life of me I couldn’t tell what she was doing in Japan. Now, foreigner, before you accuse me of anything, it wasn’t the fact that she’s from Atlanta that made me question why she was in the country. And I’m definitely not trying to say that people of colour are incompatible with Japan either.
The feeling I had came more from the fact that she told me she wasn’t really interested in Japanese culture, Japanese food, Japanese TV… Japanese anything. It wouldn’t have surprised me to hear that she’d ended up in Okayama after throwing a dart at a world map and was now regretting it. It could’ve just been the Chiron effect, though.
In the fifteen minutes it took us to walk to Uwasa from training I found myself quietly nodding along to sentences like, “What’s with all of the stupid rules they’re drilling into us? It’s like they think we’re totally brainless.”
And, “Why did Tim even bother with all of the technical stuff about education? That’s obviously not what we’re here for,” she said as we settled into our seats.
“Oooooo, I wouldn’t call him that,” I said.
Everyone at the table gawked. “What? Don’t you remember when he asked me to call him Timothy?”
Alyssa only laughed at me before continuing. “These two days have felt so patronizing. They won’t even tell us what part of the prefecture we’ll be moving to in 3 days, let alone who we’ll be going with. I don’t know whether Timothy’s best friend here” – she jerked her thumb in my direction – “is going to be my next door neighbor or if I’ll never see him again.”
The others muttered their agreement, Callum more enthusiastically than anyone.
For all of her prickly speech, Alyssa never struck me as angry. Distressed would be closer to the mark. Between her and the dapper Australian on my right I was stuck between the two most disgruntled people at the table, though. And the griping continued until the server showed up with menus and cold, damp towels. When she went away I tried to gently direct the conversation.
“Where were these towels this afternoon when I was sweating through vocab practice, am I right?”
That just led to complaining about the heat, but it didn’t last forever. Drinks and food eventually arrived, and from that point it was a lot easier for us all to make merry.
Actually, I came to enjoy Alyssa’s humor quite a bit once she found it in her to laugh rather than complain about some of the more ridiculous moments of training. Callum, on the other hand, remained sour.
Throughout the day I’d done my best to coach him through some of the problems he was having. It couldn’t be said that he lacked ability; all I had to do was convince him that he was having fun and before my eyes he’d transform into a genuine assistant language teaching prodigy. However, that was exactly the problem. I got the feeling that all of this was a little beneath Callum.
Whatever the case, I knew that I would throw everything I had at getting him to pass the teaching test on Friday. I wouldn’t give up on my new friend, even if that meant having to hear him gripe for two hours that’s about how long we spent at the restaurant. By the end I was nodding off, as was Alyssa. It turned out I wasn’t unique in my struggles with jet lag.
Our troupe marched back to the hotel together and piled into the elevator, getting off at what felt like every floor. With a little more energy I think Alyssa might’ve started complaining about the next day in advance. As it was, she settled for a sarcastic, “I wonder what’s in store for us tomorrow,” as I waved at her and Callum before heading for my room. After showering and jumping into bed, the clock read 10 PM. Finally, I was getting on track.
POSTDATED Thursday, August 8th, 2013
Greetings and salutations foreigner,
As happy as I was to have stayed up until a normal bed time, I was equally frustrated when I woke up at 3 AM, unable to get back to sleep. “Progress,” I tried to tell myself.
I didn’t even need to think about it anymore; putting on clothes and stepping out for a midnight stroll was second nature by then. Unfortunately, nothing really exceptional happened that night for me to report. I certainly didn’t find any semi-conscious middle-aged men to molest despite returning to the river. I was back in bed by just after 4.
In the morning, before training, Callum and I went for waffles and coffee, just like the day before. Matcha for me, chocolate dip for him. Now that I think about it, Callum actually looked as though he needed the coffee almost as much as I did that day. We must’ve had more beers the night before than I remembered.
Aside from some minor headaches weighing us down, though, the two of us were in good spirits as we made our way to English teacher school. Maybe we didn’t have any right to be that chipper given how… tense… things would be that day. Let me explain.
The first incident happened in the morning as Kevin was going over some of the specifics of the payment system. What our monthly salary is, when the money arrives, and how to fill out a little sheet that ensures we get paid every month. It was all quite tedious. Until it wasn’t.
Kevin was in a chipper mood as he gave instructions for filling out the sheet when he called on one of the girls in the middle of the room who’d put up her hand for a question.
“Rebeccaaaaa!” he called. His ability to memorize all of our names really was quite impressive.
I remember watching Rebecca smile, pumped up by our trainer’s enthusiasm, as she asked, “Do we need to have that sheet stamped every day before going home from work?”
That sentence wasn’t the problem. The problem came with the quick addition she tagged onto the end.
“It’s just, I know some companies have their employees do that. I have a friend who works for Minerva, and–”
A loud smash erupted from the back of the room. I was out of my seat and Callum was half out of his – as were many others. All of our heads swung toward the entrance where a table was upturned and several papers had been scattered across the floor. A few steps away was sweet Kaori standing over the wreckage, shoulders heaving and hair disheveled.
“We don’t talk about them,” a cold voice at the front of the room declared. It was Kevin’s.
Slowly, our heads turned to face the Chiron Japan West branch manager. He stood brooding at the front with his hands firmly planted on a desk. Timothy was on his feet, too, looking like he was spoiling for a fight.
“We don’t. Talk. About. Them,” Kevin repeated. “Do you understand?”
Rebecca nodded, terrified.
A smile that was, quite frankly, disturbing, suddenly came over Kevin’s face. Foreigner, I had to turn away for fear of bursting into tears. But Kevin just went on with the instructions on the work sheet as though nothing had happened. He completely ignored Kaori, who was still fuming at the back as she gathered her papers.
This was the first day where I wasn’t feeling like a total zombie by lunch, so I went out with a few of the teachers, Callum and Alyssa among them. Alyssa waited until we were inside Coco’s Curry before piping up.
“What the fuck just happened?”
I couldn’t be sure that Kaori wasn’t waiting behind a counter with a butcher’s cleaver, so I stayed silent. Though Callum seemed equally on edge, he answered the question.
“Minerva is another English teaching company kind of like Chiron.”
“So what?” Alyssa said.
Callum shrugged. With all of the other trainees at the table being just as new to Japan as we were it seemed we were destined to stay in the dark.
You’d think it’d be hard to enjoy food under those circumstances, but somehow I managed. Learning that Japan had its own take on curry… let’s just say it didn’t hurt. It was a heavier, almost gravy-like sauce served over rice, and, in this case, fried breaded pork.
Foreigner, if you haven’t tried it yet I implore you. Japanese curry is incredible. Astonishing, even. I could see myself skipping the rice and pork and just dumping a bucket of that sauce down my gullet!
Succulent food aside… As I record this entry I’m 2 days removed from that morning’s outburst and still haven’t heard a good reason for it. And, like I said, it wasn’t the only incident of the day.
In the afternoon we were learning… What were we learning…? I dunno, proper chalkboard writing technique or something. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Alyssa was the catalyst for a new clash. She’d been leaning back in her chair, casually twirling her pencil behind Callum and me, when a question apparently just had to be asked with no delay.
“Hey, Tim,” she said. “Do they really use nothing but chalkboards here?”
When she saw Timothy’s face, the pencil dropped.
Elbow on desk, I lowered my forehead onto the palm of my hand, shaking my head. I did it partly to avoid the murder in Timothy’s eyes, but I was also trying to covertly signal to Alyssa to back off. But she wasn’t looking at me at all.
“I told you to call me Timothy,” our head teacher said.
Alyssa didn’t balk. Instead, realization seemed to dawn on her face. Foreigner, I’m positive that she wasn’t trying to push his buttons. I truly think she just got excited when she finally figured out what Timothy’s peeve was. She couldn’t help but say what came next. I don’t know if that makes it any better, but I thought I’d tell you for what it’s worth.
Alyssa looked up with wide-eyes, figuring it out as she went along. “Tim Taylor. Tim. The Tool man. Taylor. You don’t wanna be called Tim because of Home Improvement!”
I actually thought Timothy would lunge across my table and the one behind it to get at Alyssa. His fists were clenched, his face went red, and his second chin looked like it was going over a bumpy road. But he never resorted to violence. He told Alyssa relatively calmly and quietly to get out.
She stared in disbelief, but eventually realized by the look on Timothy’s face that he was serious. Grabbing her bag, she muttered some apologies and left the room. Kevin jogged out after her, glaring at Timothy, and Alyssa was back before the next teaching drill had started.
Nobody asked any questions for the rest of the day. Nobody uttered Timothy’s name properly or otherwise. Like I said, it was tense. The worst part came when the contents of the teaching demonstration were explained to us. We would all need to devise a short, 10-minute lesson plan to be performed the following morning.
In other words, we couldn’t even wash the mood away with good food and jolly conversation. We would all be holed up in hotel rooms for the evening, thinking of what games we would have our pretend students play, how we would hold our flashcards, and ways to avoid writing on the black boards. Seriously, I am teeeerrible at writing with chalk. I usually have really neat writing Everyone says so! But for some reason I just can’t– I digress.
Callum was at peak stress levels, so the two of us grabbed convenience store dinners and plopped down in my room to go over our lessons. It took us about an hour to come up with solid plans, and after that it was a matter of practice. I went first, breezing through mine. It felt really good, and Callum agreed, so we left it at that.
Callum’s however… Well, it wasn’t great. Honestly, I don’t know how he managed it, but after 3 days of training he was worse at holding flashcards.
From where I was standing, it was clear that he was getting worked up over the big picture, so I handed him a microscope. Nnnnot a real microscope, a metaphorical one. Does that make sense?
What I mean is, I went through every step of his plan, first getting him to practice simply getting up from his chair when he’s called. Next, I had him practice looking at the flashcards to make sure they were facing the right direction. After that I had him bring the cards to shoulder level, look at the word, then back to the audience…
We went through every step of his lesson in minute detail. By the time we’d finished, it was 11 PM which meant that we’d been working on his performance for a solid 4 hours. It seemed like it’d paid off, but come Friday morning we might be back to square one. Only time would tell.
POSTDATED Friday, August 9th, 2013
Konnichiwa foreigner! Ugh, that felt awful…
I went to bed almost the moment Callum left the room the night before. I slept like a rock, albeit not as long as I would’ve liked. Jet lag had taken on a new form that evening. Rather than boot me awake in the middle of the night, it chose to rouse me at 6 AM instead.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “6? If you went to sleep at 11 that means you got a full seven hours! What’s the problem?”
The problem, foreigner, is that I’d set my alarm for 7:30. I was supposed to get an optimal eight and a half hours of sleep, but would have to settle for less. This, on the day of the demo lesson, not to mention the fact that I already had a mountain of sleep debt.
Knowing that laying in bed would do no good I bought a cold coffee at a convenience store downstairs and went out to the plaza to watch the morning commuters. From a bench that encircled the statue of the boy with his animal friends, I watched the area slowly come to life.
I’m not sure why it was so interesting to me, foreigner. It was just a bunch of people going this way and that; something I’ve seen before. But… Now that I’m talking about it… I think it might’ve been the first time that I’ve stopped to just… watch people going about their day without needing to be anywhere myself.
There was something liberating about it. Everyone looked so caught up in where they were going. So busy. And there I was with nothing to do, sitting next to a statue of some hero who seemed to be looking to the horizon himself.
Pigeons flew in at times, hoping for scraps. Busses milled in the terminal off to the side. And the rumble of trains could barely be heard leaving the station in the underground. As the day grew brighter I was the only person without somewhere to be.
Just before 8, I returned to my room to put on a suit. Half an hour later, I met up with Callum for our morning waffle. He was wearing a light gray suit that day, with the same black clip-on that he’d worn earlier in the week.
“How many suits do you own?” I asked.
“Just 3,” I think is what he said. Just 3.
When we got to the building for training, the hostility from the previous day seemed to have disappeared. In its place was good ‘ol anxiety.
Three of the corners in the room had whiteboards, which I was silently grateful for. After all, chalk was probably the only thing that could’ve stood between me and passing the test. Timothy greeted us as we entered, assigning seats randomly. As we parted ways, I gave a reassuring thumbs up to Callum, relaxing the worry on his face only slightly.
Kaori, Timothy, and Kevin would judge each section separately, each carrying a clipboard and pen. Callum was in Kevin’s area and I ended up in Kaori’s. Sweet, sweet, Kaori who I now understood wasn’t so sweet, and in fact had a violent demon lurking beneath the surface ready to flip tables. Thinking about that almost made me prefer having Timothy as my judge.
Out of my group of ten trainees I was the 3rd one up. To start, I introduced the vocab to my fake students: monkey, dog, giraffe, etc. Then I got more aggressive, going through the list faster at first, then painfully slow. On a whim, I busted out a Mickey Mouse voice in an attempt to play to my Disney-loving judge. The whole group was busting their guts laughing, and Kaori even gave me a standing ovation.
Next, we played a short round of ‘guess the animal’. I imitated a rabbit at the front and the students had to use the sentence “It’s a rabbit” in order to get the point. I did two more examples so that they knew exactly what they were doing. The first one was a lion, and the second… Well, I threw a bit of a changeup at them, calling back to the Mickey Mouse impression from earlier. They ate it up.
Finally, after having the fake students play for a while I moved on to the finale a guessing game where everyone walked around with pretend animal playing cards. They had to be pretend since, ya know, we didn’t have real ones. The goal was to talk to the other people and guess what they were holding.
Aaaaand I think that was it! For the rest of the morning all I had to do was enjoy watching the other teachers in my group, one of whom was Alyssa. Her lesson was better than mine. Like… wayyy better. I don’t know what she went to college for, but if Alyssa told me she had a degree in knocking people’s socks off, I’d believe it.
I was actually having such a good time that I completely forgot to sneak a peek at Callum. Before I knew it we were being dismissed for lunch, but not before receiving copies of our evaluation sheets.
Alyssa, Callum and I went back to Coco’s Curry, the same chain restaurant that we’d been at the day before. Alone on one side of the booth, Alyssa unfolded her sheet and smiled, satisfied, before tossing it onto the table. “46 out of 50,” she said.
I told her that they probably didn’t give perfect scores because of some policy. Call me crazy, but it didn’t seem possible to teach English for 10-minutes better than Alyssa. In any case, she didn’t seem bothered.
I was about to unfold my own sheet when I noticed Callum. His shoulders were hunched and his hands were gripping the laminated menu in front of him so tight that his knuckles were white. On the table to his left was a folded piece of paper just like mine and Alyssa’s that he was doing his best not to lay eyes on.
“Someone in my group was being a real bogan,” he said. “Not just for me, for all the presenters. The guy had it in his head that our fake class needed a misbehaving student. I mean, what is that? We’re all just trying to get through this week, aren’t we?”
“Callum,” Alyssa said as she bit her lip, trying not to laugh. “I’m sure it wasn’t as bad as you think it was.”
“He kept interrupting me as I was going through the flashcards. He kept saying, ‘Unko! Unko!’ as I was trying to practice food vocabulary.”
Callum had lost Alyssa and me, so he added, “Unko means ‘poop’.”
“You’re joking,” Alyssa said.
“That’s not the worst part,” Callum said. “The worst part was when I snapped and told him to get him out of my class. I can’t believe neither of you heard me.”
“I guess we were having a pretty good time on our side of the room,” I said. “Honestly it was a riot the whole time. But uhhhhh, that doesn’t mean we all did well! Let’s check our scores together.”
“You check it,” he said.
The words had hardly left his lips by the time Alyssa had the paper in her hands. As she read it from top to bottom, her eyes grew wide.
“No way,” she said.
Callum’s forehead dropped onto the table.
“Well?” I asked.
“49 out of 50,” she said. “And a comment that says ‘You handled the unpredictable very well’”
Callum’s head slowly rose. “What?” he said, and Alyssa handed the paper over.
“I passed,” he said. “I can’t believe I passed.”
“You didn’t just pass,” I said. “You were almost perfect!”
Foreigner, I knew Callum would do well if he could forget about himself for a minute. I figured the antidote would be a lively atmosphere, but in the end it was overzealous adults that didn’t know how to read the room.
Between the three of us, there was only one sheet left unopened. I snatched it off the table before Alyssa had a chance.
“Just mine left,” I said with a smile.
I still have it somewhere in this pile from training… Where is it..? Ah, there we go. How could I miss it?
When you open the evaluation sheet you’re swarmed with a sea of red ink. There are numbers filled in here and there, but all of them are crossed out: four out of 5 on clarity, four out of five on expression… three out of five on energy? That can’t be right… Oh, here’s a good one. Under ‘vocabulary practice’ the number four was crossed out, then three was written next to it, and finally Kaori settled on two.
There are plenty of other categories on top of those. Some have numbers written and crossed out, but most were left empty. This brings us to the comment section. Kaori managed to squeeze a hell of a lot into the tiny little box, so I’ll just read my favorite bit. Word for word, Kaori wrote, “Your topic was ‘animals’. Mickey Mouse is not an animal. And your impression was not good.”
Her writing is about as adorable as her voice is, foreigner, which somehow makes the blunt honesty even harder to bare. I wish you could see it. If the dots on lower case I’s could physically wound, well, I’d be riddled with heart-shaped bullet holes.
The worst part of it all is at the bottom of the page. In the corner where the sheet has a blank space for the score out of fifty, the word ‘REDO’ was written in capital letters.
Back at that table in Coco’s Curry I tossed the paper face up on the table for Callum and Alyssa to gawk at.
“Damn, Kaori,” Alyssa said. “Your Mickey Mouse wasn’t great, but I didn’t think it was that bad.”
“I’m sure you’ll pass the redo,” Callum patted me on the back.
That afternoon should’ve been my last few hours of Chiron training, a fact that I was painfully aware of. It also should’ve been the most exciting. But I couldn’t help but think about the redo demonstration I was set to do the following morning.
As it was, Kevin stood at the front of the room with a single piece of paper in his hands. Timothy was on his left, standing in front of a pile of envelopes with each of our names at the ready.
Once we were all seated, Kevin began reading from the paper in his hands. It was an alphabetical list of different towns in different prefectures that were within, or at least very close to Okayama. First, he listed a group of teachers, and second, he called out the name of the town that they were to be dispatched to. In other words, Kevin was handing out new homes.
I should have been excited for this, but all I could think of was, Now I get to find out the name of the town that I’ll never get to live in because I can’t hold it together for a 10-minute demo lesson. Callum looked as though he wanted to slap me as I teetered back and forth.
There were a lot of destinations in the region, and they all received a different number of teachers. Some got three and some got as many as 10. Some even hosted single teachers. At some point I allowed myself to forget about my failure and got a little excited. After all, they probably wouldn’t deport me for a bad Disney impersonation, right?
Kevin ran down the list, calling what felt like every name in the room other than mine. Just when I was beginning to think they really were considering sending me back to Canada, he said, “Devon Glendenning.”
I jumped out of my seat and several startled eyes fell on me, including Kevin’s. Composing myself, I calmly walked to the front to get my envelope from Timothy, ears perked up the whole way, waiting for the next name to be announced.
At this point I’d completely forgotten about the failed test and started clapping excitedly. If I could somehow appease Kaori, not only would I have a neighbor, but it was someone I was already friends with! The two of us high-fived as we passed each other at the front.
The next name Kevin said was, “Callum Rashford.”
“What?!” I shouted. Unfortunately, foreigner, I really did shout it. I couldn’t help myself. My luck to get sent to the same town as two people that I already got along well with was unbelievable. Callum, Alyssa and I had practically started choreographing a team dance when a fourth name was announced.
I’d never heard of a Bree Song until then. The three of us were jumping up and down, but the celebrations came to a sudden halt as we craned our necks to get a look at our fourth member.
On the opposite side of the room a short girl with long black hair tied back in a tight ponytail stood. I gave her a wave just before she got to the table at the front, which she returned… sssomewhat reluctantly. Another new friend, I hoped.
After Bree and Callum had taken their seats, Kevin announced that the four of us would be going to a town called Hotaru. Before coming here there were only about a half-dozen names of places around Japan that I knew of, none of which were in Okayama, so naturally the name meant nothing to me.
As the rest of the trainees were called I peeked inside my envelope. One of the papers was a map of Okayama with Hotaru highlighted in the northwest corner and a few details written on the bottom. The number of inhabitants, for example, is a little over 30,000. And the town’s main train station is more than an hour and a half from Okayama City’s.
While going over things like our living situations and schools I found myself firmly stuck in a daydream. Images of what this little town called Hotaru might look like flashed through my brain. I pictured the mountains and rice fields that I’d seen coming in from the airport. A charming little train station maybe. And, of course, the adorable students that I would teach.
Those thoughts carried me all the way to the end of the day. I rejoined reality just as Kevin was saying that our entire training group would be reunited for an English day camp later that month; a short, 2-day summer camp for junior high school students led by Timothy. He didn’t say much about it, but I can already tell it’s going to be great.
After Kevin had already said goodbye and people were beginning to stand up, he said, as if it were an afterthought, “Oh, and for those of you who need a demo lesson redo, we’ll see you tomorrow morning at 8 sharp.”
Run from the demo lesson all I want, it would still come.
When the end really did come, some of the trainees went to shake hands with our trainers, some stood around, talking excitedly in groups, and many of them shot out the door for a well-deserved beer. I tried to track down Bree Song in the crowd, but she must’ve slipped out the moment we were free. I would have to wait until the following day to meet her, it seemed. Our little group had instructions to meet at Okayama’s east entrance at 9 AM where a van would pick the four of us up and take us to our new home. That is, if I could satisfy the vengeful Kaori.
With that in mind, I took a rain check on the celebrations and went straight to work on refining my lesson plan. I guess I spent a couple hours on it before jumping in the bathroom for one last hotel shower.
Clean and feeling as good about my lesson as I possibly could, I slipped under the crisp white sheets tucked into my bed. There was still plenty of time before I needed to sleep, so I turned on the TV. Some old movie that I couldn’t understand was playing, which was fine by me; I could only spare so much of my attention, anyway. Most of it was still focused on what lay ahead.
Halfway into the movie I turned it off and sunk deeper into the mattress, pulling the blankets tight up to my chin where they met a smile that reached for my ears. How I was able to smile, I can’t really say. The day was supposed to have been a failure, after all, and a large part of me was well aware of it. But maybe the other part somehow knew that everything would be okay.
All I know is that after struggling to get much rest throughout the week, I would snooze all the way through the night for the first time since arriving. My dreams would be of the adventure that had yet to begin. An adventure whose first chapter would be written in a little place called Hotaru.