Saturday, May 19, 2007


This is graduation weekend at school and I have a number of students graduating. I am, as usual, sad to see them leave, but I am also happy for them, for they advance on their road toward adulthood--new horizons, new challenges, more responsibility, health insurance premiums, credit card bills, student loan payments....

Well, maybe I shouldn't be too happy...

Anyway, pat yourself on the back, guys. You deserve it... well, most of you do...

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Teacher Eating Sea Turtles

Students kill me. The good students are the easiest to deal with and digest. They come to class. More importantly, they come prepared. They never complain. These are usually the best students in class, because my classes are not very demanding--even my bungo class. The atmosphere is non-threatening, the grammar is explained in English, and the readings come with a wordlist. An extensive wordlist. I know of no other instructor anywhere that gives as extensive a wordlist as I do. My point is that I want my students to focus on the grammar, not the vocab--which they can look up if given the time. Of course, once you start spoon-feeding them, some come to expect it as a matter of course, and they can't stop chomping on the spoon, then the stem, then my hand.

But at least they're hungry. And I am always willing to feed those who want to be fed.

Not all students are, you know. For one reason or another, some simply refuse to eat... anything. Some are lazy, some have to work 40 hours just to pay tuition, some have personal issues. They come to class. They come to class late. Or they don't come to class at all. Whatever. We all have different priorities. But in the end, they need to eat or die of starvation, so now I find myself having to help one student over the summer so she can graduate, because she wouldn't or couldn't eat over the course of the semester. Perhaps, she thought I would let her slide and barely pass her. Fat chance. That would be unfair to the students who gorged themselves off me. So I will make her work... I mean eat. This is her last chance.

In any event, I had to figure out how much to feed her--one of her jobs is to do an extensive translation. And to gauge how many pages she would have to do, I translated a short piece that is similar to the work that she will be expected to do. Since I translated it, I thought I'd share it with you. It is a short-short story by Murakami Haruki that most of my students will instantly recognize, one about the youth consuming the previous generations.

Julio Iglesias

After being tricked out of our mosquito coils, there wasn't a single means left to us to protect ourselves from the attack of the sea turtle. I had attempted to order new mosquito coils by phone and by mail from a mail order company, but just as I had feared the telephone lines had been cut and the mail had stopped since half a month ago. When I think about it, there was no way that that cunning turtle would have let us off the hook so easily. The dude had been made to suffer bitterly thanks to the mosquito coils we possessed. So there is no mistaking that right about now he's chuckling at the bottom of the deep blue sea, even as he naps in preparation for the night.

"We're done for," my girlfriend said. "When night comes, we'll be eaten up by the sea turtle."

"Don't give up hope," I said. "If we rack our brains, would we be defeated by the likes of a sea turtle?"

"But every last mosquito coil was stolen by that sea turtle."

"We've got to strive to put our theoretical minds to it. If the sea turtle hates mosquito coils, there has to be something else the dude hates."

"Like what?"

"Julio Iglesias," I said.

"Why Julio Iglesias?" she asked.

"I don't know. It just came to me right now. Sorta like a gut feeling."

Following my gut, I set Julio Iglesias' "Begin the Beguine" on the stereo's turntable, and waited for the sun to set. When it gets dark, the sea turtle will attack for sure. When the time comes, we'll settle this thing once and for all. Either we'll be eaten, or the turtle will weep.

A little before midnight, when I heard squishy wet footsteps near the entrance, I set the needle onto the record without delay. As soon as Julio Iglesias began to sing "Begin the Beguine" in that sugar-water like voice of his, the sound of the footsteps stopped abruptly and in its place I heard the painful moans of the sea turtle. That's right, we beat the sea turtle.

That night, Julio Iglesias, sang "Begin the Beguine" 126 times. I too tend towards disliking Julio Iglesias, but as luck would have it, not as much as the sea turtle.

Monday, May 14, 2007

One Way to Stay Grounded

I enjoy teaching and try my best to make the material interesting and relevant, which is hard to do with literature. For the most part, I like to think I am successful. I get my share of compliments and sometimes I can actually feel my had swell. So I guess its a good thing to get shot down from time to time.

Just the other day, a student came in to hand in her final exam--a take home--and she mentioned that she rated me on This site has no real control of comments, and as a consequence, it has little value to instructors. Indeed, some of my older readers may recall that someone once put up on that site that I would take bribes for a grade. This was--and still is--totally bogus, but as I said there is no control of raters and their comments. But it is, I suppose, a beauty contest of sorts, that can give some students--and their parents--a rough idea as to how an instructor is viewed. So, anyway, I was curious to see what this student wrote, and found her comments rather complimentary, but I also noticed the following comment.

[Onigiriman] is a ****. The online quizzes are stupid; there's a ridiculously short about [sic] of time to do them & they always have trick questions in them. Online quizzes are supposed to be easy because you can use your book! Plus he takes forever to grade papers. I wish someone else was teaching this class, not just him.

Okay, I'm not sure if this was real or not. I mean, I find it odd that someone would complain about these online quizzes--questions strategically posed notwithstanding--because 15 minutes to answer seven to ten questions that are multiple choice, fill-in or true-false should be plenty of time if you've done the reading and come to class. Here's a couple of examples from a quiz based on readings, required viewing and lecture on Akutagawa.



Q: Who is this man from Rashomon?
Question 1 answers

Now the first one was a gimme. Some might construe this question as a trick question, but anyone who read the story would know, and those who didn't might even hazzard an educated guess. The second question would have required you to view this film, maybe just the first 20 minutes of it. But if you did, then the answer would have been a piece of cake. I'd wager that some of you who saw this film years ago can still answer this qustion without a moments hesitation, right? I contend that these questions are easy if you have done the assigned work. Prove me right by giving me answers in the comments.

However, if someone doesn't have class notes or needs to do the assigned reading or viewing WHILE TAKING the quiz, well then, 15 minutes is probably not enough time.

The other point: I must admit that I can sometimes be slow with grading. I give a number of hardcopy quizzes in my language courses and they usually get priority over any other grading I do, so lit essays sometimes take a back seat.

In any event, this student is/was obviously dissatisfied. I'm not sure what was deleted with asterisks, but from the context, I would guess that I am "a jerk"--if the number of asterisks is indicative of the number of letters in the word, I can think of no other.

Oh well, this is just a reminder that I can't allow myself to become complacent. While I obviously can't satisfy every student, it doesn't hurt to try.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

It's Finals Time

So I'm grading... and grading... and grading...

Saturday, May 05, 2007

An Eye Opener

We age in different ways: physically, mentally spiritually. Fortunately for me, I think I age a bit slower than many others. I don't know if it has to do with being Asian, or if it's because I chose a profession in which I am surrounded by younger people, or simply because I allow stressful situations to slide off my Teflon-coated teenage mentality.

Still, while my aging rate may seem slower, I am aging nonetheless.

I previously wrote that I once had people tell me that I resembled Jackie Chan. My step son said so, but I thought that was mere flattery on his part. But I had other people tell me this when I came to DC. This was ten years and 26 pounds ago, a time when I worked out regularly, running 10 to 20 miles a week and lifting weights about every other day. Unfortunately, as my work increased and the number of other activities grew--altough I'm not sure if watching J drama can be considered an activity--I have been taking less and less care of my body. Yuck.

Well, this lifestyle has its consequences. While many still seem surprised when I tell them I will be 52 later this year, the gap between my real age and the age I appear to be in the eyes of others is closing dramatically. When I came to DC, I was 40 but many thought I was under 30. In fact I was carded more than a few times. This was, as you might imagine, quite an ego booster. But now, people will guess my age to be around mid to late 40s, which is not too much different than my actual age.

The othere day, however, was the last straw. I went to my bank to wire some money to my step-son in Japan--don't ask... Anyway, at the bank, I was filling out the form and making small talk with the bank officer helping me. I must have said some humorous things as it elicited a few chuckles. Then this officer strikes me with the equivalent of a punch to the belly.

"You look like that guy in the Karete Kid. You know..."

"You mean Pat Morita?" I ask.

"Um, you know, the guy who was the teacher?"

"Mr. Miyagi?"

"Yeah, yeah! Mr. Miyagi."

I laughed with her, but deep down inside me, I was floored. This was a real eye opener for me. No more can I fool myself into thinking I look younger than I am. No more can I pretend to think a youthful attitude will cover for an aging body. My physical appearance has finally caught up to me. In the span of about ten years I went from Jackie Chan to Mr. Miyagi.

Well, there is only one thing for me to do this summer. I swear...

Wax on, wax off...

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Semester is over!

Today was the last class of the semester. I have Final exams to give and grade next week, but I don't care what anyone says. I'm having a beer... As if I needed a legit reason to draw a pint.