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The workings of the juku are mysterious.

The workings of the juku are mysterious. published on

A lot of the older kids are coming in early in the day now. I think they’re cramming for standardized testing now that school’s on break? Not sure. The life of a Japanese kid is a hard one.

Anyway, Kitty and the Devil came in early both yesterday and today. Like kids do when they see the adults fooling around on a laptop, they came over and looked over my shoulder. The Devil asked of my Kinuko Craft desktop background, “Who’s that?” I said, “I don’t know,” because I have no idea (it’s not from a McKillip book), and “She’s pretty, though!”

“No,” said the Devil in English.

“Yes, yes,” I said. “Kitty, is she pretty?”

Kitty, fearing the English, glowered at me and went to sit on the couch. She seems to be convinced the Devil is better at English than her, which is somewhat true, but only because Kitty never studies.

Then I showed the Devil the Conan the Barbarian video clip I downloaded for Little Miss Conan. She stood there and watched it to the end in perplexity, saying, “I don’t understand, I don’t understand.”

Yesterday I was brooding over a worksheet I was making for another class, and she came over and stood over my shoulder and looked at it. Then she leaned over and typed gibberish on it. “Oh yeah,” I said, “That’s English, right there. That’s absolutely English.” She nodded in agreement, then carefully erased both what she’d typed and what I’d typed. I then chased her away.

Cookie has also been hanging around the juku a lot the last couple days. Cookie’s a weird kid. He seems to have a fair amount of exposure to English somewhere in his life – maybe his family watches a lot of English-language TV? – because his pronunciation’s excellent, and he’s good at picking discrete phrases out of what I say and using them himself. “Oh, my god!” (from Previous Teacher) was his favorite for a while, and then “oh no” and “too bad” (from me). He’s also one of the ones who likes chanting “Yes, we can!” and “No, we can’t!” He’s always the first to get new vocabulary down, and he whispers answers to Zuzu all the time.

He doesn’t know very much vocabulary and structure compared to some of the study-prone kids like Mr. Sleepyhead and Mee – I think he’s only forgotten his homework once, but he doesn’t seem to do any prep beyond that, and he doesn’t always pay attention in class. He’ll ignore me and start talking to Zuzu, or grab a toy out of the box and start fooling with it, or wander over to the window or the bookshelf. So he’s not exactly a good student. He’s just got a really good instinct for which words in a sentence are the important ones. This is a superpower I wish I had.

(Goody Proctor seems to have this power as well – it’s pretty much what keeps her afloat, since she’s an even bigger slacker than Cookie – and possibly Mr. Wow, though it may just be his big vocabulary at work. I suspect Mr. Wow of being one of those unnatural children who actually enjoys studying like a good boy/girl. When he is slightly older he will own and use highlighter pens, and mark with those little Post-It flags the pages which he feels require the most careful perusal. Goody Proctor and Cookie, my spiritual kindred, will never do such a thing.)

Cookie’s kind of weird-looking. He’s one of my Exactly Three overweight students, and he’s got huge, bugged-out eyes that make him look kind of goofy, but he’s very self-possessed. He goes up to older students and teachers and calmly starts conversations with them, and when I say stuff to him in English, instead of getting self-conscious or glaring at me like most of the kids, he thinks about it and comes up with a response. Today I was copying some coloring sheets, and he came over and looked at them:

“Wow!” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. “Definitely wow. More monsters to color.” (This week it’s some octopus-mermaids.)

“Monster!” he said, and then in Japanese, “I want to color one.”

Because his class is on Saturday, I said, “Nope. Not today. You can have one this weekend.”

“‘Not today,'” he said in English, making his concentration-face, which makes his eyes seem to bug out even more. “‘Not today.’ We’ll do them in class?”

“That is correct, sir!” This is one of my auto-phrases, possibly left over from some previous incarnation as a foppish dandy, which initially confused some of the kids because there’s no “yes” or “okay” in it. Cookie was one of the first ones to figure out that it signified approval.

Cookie also has excellent fashion sense. When I was going out for lunch, and he saw me putting on my bowler hat. (Another stylistic relic from my previous life.) His eyes got bigger, and he pointed to it and said in Japanese, nodding approvingly, “That’s cool!” “That is correct, sir!” (This may be merely suck-up skills at work, but I actually don’t think so. Given the casual nature of his bad behavior in class – he doesn’t act up to annoy me, he does it because he’s not interested and doesn’t really care if I get annoyed – I don’t think he considers brown-nosing necessary.)