Saturday, January 26, 2013

Baby talk

My sister had a baby last spring, whom we showered with the multifarious delights of Japanese baby swag. (For Christmas, we gave him a pair of bullet train socks). And Jackie's gonna raise that child right, so we knew that despite the fact that he likes to hang up on me by trying to eat the phone, Davy would not fail to find a way to convey his most courteous thanks. Those thanks have come in the form of Japanese language lessons. Unorthodox, yes, especially seeing as Davy does not speak English yet, let alone Japanese. But he is endlessly popular at Japanese class, where our teacher always asks to see new pictures of him.

Before winter break, we were learning the sentence structure "can/cannot." In Japanese, "able to" is "kotogadekimasu," and "unable" is "kotogadekimasen." This comes at the very end of the sentence: "Watashi wa [I] oyogu [to swim] kotogadekimasu," for instance, is "I can swim." (Unless it's not, because it's late and verbs are confusing. But it's very close.)

I had the following exchange with my teacher to practice this. Please not that there is no "V" in Japanese, nor an "a" pronounced as in "day", just the "a" as "la" so "Davy" is transliterated as デイビー, "Daibii", or "Day-ee-bee." "Chan" is a suffix used for junior, younger, or close people. I am "Nana-chan" to a lot of our Japanese female coworkers.

Me, to teacher: "Daibii-chan wa nana ka getsu desu. Aru... aru... aruku..." (Little Davy is seven months old. Davy wa.. walk...)
Teacher: "Ah. Daibii-chan wa arukukotogadekimasen." (Ah. "Little Davy cannot walk?")
Me: Iie, arukukotogadekimasu. (No, "Can walk.")
Teacher: [perplexed Japanese noise]

Which is how most of us react to the shenanigans of a walking knee-high infant.

Here is the picture of that same conversation in our review session from last week. It introduces the second possible means of conveying ability. Rather than doing an infinitive plus an added verb (aruku- to walk - plus -kotogadekimasu, to be able to = arukukotogadekimasu), one could also just conjugate the verb in an alternate form: "arukemasu." This form is called the potential form.

Davy is full of potential.

We also relied heavily on Davy to teach us causational sentence structure:

These pictures are a bit out of order - this is the second time Davy's name has ever been written in Japanese. The first time was the same sentence, but when I got up to take a picture, our teacher erased his name because she thought her handwriting wasn't pretty enough. Is there a "baby's almost firsts" book?

Not workin' for ya? Allow me to translate. I can only say about six things, but I'll be darned if I don't show them off.

First, the sentence: "デイビーとあって、しあわせです," or the alternate ending "でした"
"Daibii to atte, shiawase desu/deshita."
"Davy with met, happy am/was."
"Because I met Davy, I am/was happy."
("Meet" in Japanese has the connotation "to get together to spend time with" as well as the English "to be introduced to" or "to rendezvous." So this refers to my Christmas vacation with Davy: because I got to see him, I was/am happy.)

Underneath the word "feeling," you can see an alternate ending to this sentence:
Daibii to atte, kaze o hikimashita.
Davy with met, cold (object) caught.
Because I met Davy, I caught a cold.

True story.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A model foreigner

You all mostly know Justin and me as madcap international jet-setting educators or, if you're one of his siblings, you're convinced that we're secret CIA operatives. Ha ha! Good joke there, Pat and Andy. Pay no attention to that van outside your window.

What you don't know is that we are also international models. For real. As of last Saturday, both Justin and I have been paid to be models, Justin in Scotland for the University of Edinburgh prospectus (remember that?), and me here in Fukuoka. Coincidentally, we were also both cast through incredibly stringent selection processes: Justin was the only male to respond to the Edinburgh want ad, and I was the only person to respond to the local art class request, full stop.

But first, a little pro-bono modeling. An incredibly talented G9 student created the following birthday manga for me:

It was so good that at first, I didn't even realize that it wasn't a notepad that came with a professionally-drawn cartoon already on it. Also, I look a bit cartoony, so at first glance I didn't realize it was me. Cartoony-ness runs in the family. My sister was once criticized in art class for a self-portrait which looked "a bit too much like a cartoon character," when of course it actually just looked like my sister.

Anyway, I love the picture, and so I asked the student if she would be willing to make one for Justin. His birthday occurred over the holiday, so she teamed up with a classmate to make a digital picture for him which is pretty much the cutest freaking thing I've ever seen. I have to get up and go squeeze him every time I look at it.
Not just adorable, but also extremely accurate.
Then two weekends ago, Justin and I went to Takatori Kominkan, a community center about twenty minutes from our house which offers free Japanese lessons conversation practice with volunteers on Saturday mornings. We can only go sporadically because of things like Saturday standardized tests and the occasional road trip. Still, it's nice to get some practice in.

Language lessons for foreigners are not the only activities at the Kominkan. They have local classes on everything from music to art. You know, like portrait drawing. With models. Live models. And sometimes they want new models, of foreign extraction. And sometimes they look for these models by advertising during the free foreigner Japanese sessions.

My tutor gave me the hard sell. Finally I caved and agreed to do it, mostly on the grounds that weird blog posts ain't gonna write themselves. After securing my consent, my tutor sat back, deeply pleased with himself, and chuckled. "Take a picture!" he said gleefully. "Unless, of course, you are naked!"

Ha ha! What a funny joke! I hope!  Our "in" at the Kominkan is a student's parent, who speaks excellent English. Just to be on the safe side, I asked her what I should wear. "Normal clothes are fine," she said, and did not add, "because you will be taking them off." Which I felt she would have done, under other circumstances.

I arrived Saturday armed with basically no knowledge of what lay in store, but with the firm intention of keeping my clothes on, which actually I think is a pretty good rule of thumb in life. There were about 30 students there, perhaps - it was hard to count since I had to look at the same spot while posing - and most people were over 60. There was a little platform for me to sit on, which was quickly topped with a chair. This relieved me, as the platform, with its cushion, conjured up mental associations with being drawn like one of your French girls.

When I solicited, via bad pantomime, input as to how I should pose, there was a near unanimous desire for a crossed leg. When I jokingly hooked my left arm over the chair in a "heyyyyyyy" kind of way, it was loudly acclaimed. I thought maybe they typically work with Japanese models, who might find a long pose with a crossed leg to be uncomfortable and awkward, like most of us Westerners have trouble with kneeling and floor sits. And the arm hook is definitely a Western thing, possibly even American. I have never seen an Asian female do it.

So here's the final pose, kindly photographed by a student during one of my breaks:

The purple slippers were my Christmas present from Justin's grandma. They are very warm. The English parent friend made certain to explain in Japanese that I have very cold feet.
My schedule was 20 minutes in a pose, break, 20 minutes, break, 20 minutes, break, and 20 minutes, break. Things went faster than I thought they would, but they do that when you have nearly memorized the scripts of entire musicals so you can perform the whole thing in your head. And if that gets boring, you can always replay the German musicals and then attempt to write rhyming English translations of the lyrics. What do you mean, that's boring too? You people have no sense of fun.

I had thought I would do different poses because my sister tried boost my confidence by telling me many stories of her nude drawing class back during her art major days, and the punchline of one story was that she had discreetly seated herself to avoid seeing personal areas while sketching the only male model of the semester, when suddenly he shifted into a new pose and flashed everything, and she got so embarrassed that she started to pass out and had to leave the room. At least, I think she was trying to boost my confidence. She might also have been messing with my head. She does that. Anyway, none of this is relevant, except that it led me to expect that I would be moving. It turned out, however, that wanted the same pose the whole time, so they could do more detailed pictures. It was surprisingly easy, except that I had to keep flexing my toe so my foot wouldn't go to sleep, and I got a bruise on the underside of my left arm from the chair back.

And afterwards, a few of the students put their pictures up for me to see! Take a look - some of them are really talented!

My coworkers think this is the most accurate. I think it's amazing!

This one is cool because the student who took pictures for me happened to capture the exact same angle as the artist, so you can really see it side-by-side. It's also cool because it was incredibly hard to hold a smile for 20 minutes straight, and I'm deeply pleased somebody drew a close up and used it.

One student was really quick and did multiple pictures in ink with watercolor. The pen-and-ink part, I think, really looks like me (he even got the detail of how I was holding my hand), and the color is wildly creative and so energetic.

What's even cooler is that he GAVE this one to me! How cool is that? I'm going to buy a frame for it out of the loot of my lucrative modeling paycheck. And since I'm not naked, I can even hang it up!