All this happened, more or less...

My name is G and these are the true stories of my adventures.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Clinger

Scheduling English lessons at a Japanese chain school is basically like scheduling a dentist appointment. You call. You tell the Japanese staff what day you want a lesson; she'll tell you what times are available. If you're picky about which hentai no gaijin you have for a teacher, you express your druthers, and she'll try to make you happy.

From the teaching perspective, this has up-sides and down-sides. On the one hand, it provides a lot more variety than, say, teaching mandolin lessons, which traditionally meet at the same time with the same students every week. Variety is cool. You work with a much wider range of students, and you get that little element of suspense as you stumble into the office and scan through the schedule to see what the day holds. On the other hand, you work with a much wider range of students, and you get that little element of suspense as you stumble into the office and scan through the schedule to see what the day holds.


No, not a typo. The up-side and the down-side are the same side. Have you ever seen that stupid party trick where someone takes a strip of paper, twists it, and tapes it into a loop so that it only has "one" side? It's like that. (If you haven't seen the one-sided paper, let me know. I can provide some diagrams. Also -- by "stupid party trick" I don't want you to think I'm being critical. After three or four beers, this trick will blow the mind of anyone at your party. Try it. Impress them. Be adored. You deserve it.)

The disadvantage of dentist scheduling is that you never know what you're in for. At least with mandolin scheduling, you know which days are going to be hellish and which days you will probably survive. At the chain school, you're blind-sided. (Unless you've done something to piss off the Japanese staff, in which case you can pretty much count on a hellish schedule, but that's a special exception.)

The major difference between scheduling at a dentist's office and scheduling at a chain school is that at the dentist's office, patients only come twice a year. At the chain school, they come as often as they want. They also stay as long as they want.

Now you ask, "But what sort of person would want to hang out at an English school all day long? Don't they have anything else to do with their time?"

What an excellent question, O Perceptive Reader!

The sort of person who would hang out at an English school all day long is the sort of person who has nothing else to do with his time. He has nothing else to do with his time because a) he has no job (typically because he is emotionally or mentally unable to keep one); b) he has no family (or they have long since abandoned him); c) he has no friends (see previous brackets); and d) at least at the English school, people will talk to him, even if it's because they're being paid to.

I'm serious; if I was trying to be funny, it would be cruel. This is all very true. It's also very sad. A simple truth in Japan -- if you are a misfit, there is absolutely nowhere for you to even pretend that you fit. You might as well hang out with those freak foreigners.

And so they do.

I call them "clingers," though they have a variety of more colorful labels as well. Every branch of every chain school has at least one -- because I was in a mid-sized branch in a mid-sized city, we had a handful of them. We also, just because we were lucky, had their king.

This is not bragging -- I worked for an incredibly large chain school and this man, T-san, (or "Mr T" as we call him) has the longest running student career on the books. He started when the chain school opened its first branch twenty years ago. TWENTY YEARS AGO. And for twenty years, every Sunday, he's scheduled as many lessons as he could manage and stayed all day long. He can do this because somebody had the clever idea to put in an English conversation room where students can just hang out when they don't have an official lesson and speak English at each other under the casual supervision of an instructor. It's important to note that by "all day" I don't mean 9 to 5. I mean 10 in the morning until 9 at night. The man is a chain school junkie.

Try teaching an English lesson to a chain school junkie. For starters, even though he's been coming for twenty years, his English is still absolute crap. His ability level has "plateaued," to put it politely. That being said, he still knows the lessons in the book better than you -- but he knows them by rote, not because he understands them.

He's also thoroughly awkward. You suspect that the reason he doesn't have a job has nothing to do with his skillz and everything to do with how uncomfortable he makes people around him. Especially other Japanese people. He defies the very definition of "Japanese." If you have him in a lesson with other students, he will make them wiggle and squirm and peer at him sideways for the entire forty minutes by doing the following things: 1) He will answer the question "How are you?" truthfully in 500 words or more. 2) He will mention some incredibly intimate and un-Japanesey detail of his personal life, including any recent diagnoses from new doctors or how well his antidepressants are or aren't working. 3) He will ask intimate and un-Japanesey questions about your personal life or those of the other students, with a special emphasis on your health, your sex life, and anything else that makes you unhappy. 4) Once he has quieted down for a bit and you have finally gotten some momentum going in the actual lesson, he will interrupt, completely out of left field, to bring the conversation back around to something, well... un-Japanese.

After he's taken all the official lessons he can afford for the day, he'll hole up in the conversation room and repeat the same antics in there for hours on end.

And the worst part is, of course, you never know which Sundays you can tease your co-worker for getting stuck with him and which Sundays he's going to be ruining your lessons and contributing to the early demise of your liver.


Our office looks more than a little bit like an asylum.
Coincidence? I think not.

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