Saturday, July 15, 2006

Development of the Daughter

Development of the Daughter

Saturday 15 July 2006

The development of my two-year-old daughter Aiko Cornucopia Nishikawa continues apace, to the point where she can now understand the concept of a deal.

During the week, one morning she was reluctant to have her temperature taken, even though the thermometer now being used is the one which delivers a temperature in just thirty seconds. So I said to her, in English:

"If I do beep beep beep, you can have your orange."

And she went along with that.

In regards to the daily morning orange, of which she gets three segments, there has been a development. She has taken to ritually refusing it, saying, in Japanese, "It's not necessary," that is, "Iranai," a statement which lacks the polish of adult politesse.

However, having refused the orange, she always says, once I have peeled it, "I'm going to eat it."

I don't know why she refuses it, but maybe it's an act of independence, something to prove that she is not a helpless orange junkie, although the fact is that she is.

That much I think I understand, but some things I find puzzling, particularly her speech, and specifically this "Ya!" that she keeps coming out with. It seems to signify "No" but I haven't encountered it before.

Perhaps I'm wrong, but I think it's possibly a cut-down variant of "iya," an expression of rejection, meaning "I'm not having anything to do with it."

My big dictionary says that "ya" is an arrow, a plain, a house, a field and an expression equivalent to "Oh boy!" It can also mean "Hi" but, as far as I can tell from the dictionary, it does not normally mean "go and get jumped on."

In addition to having demonstrated an understanding of the art of the deal, as explained above, this week Aiko Cornucopias astounded the world by delivering her first pun.

Cornucopia hiccuped and her mother said "Hiccup," and Cornucopia, with scintillating wit, made her first-ever pun:

"Hick! Kick!"

All going to plan, movie rights to this pun will be auctioned later this year in New York.

In addition to making her first pun, Cornucopia has mastered elements of the library system.

The local library, which is near the supermarket which we generally visit on Saturday mornings, has a great selection of children's books in Japanese, and quite a few children's books in English, presumably because a lot of Japanese parents are eager to expose their children to English at a very early age.

Initially, when we first visited the library, Cornucopia's technique was to haul books off the shelves by the armload, heaping up the loot on the floor as if anticipating that we would drag it all home. But now she understands that we cannot have them all.

On the previous Saturday, she accepted that we could only have one, as I already had five cards out on my card, and there is a six-book limit. As a resident of the city of Yokohama, Cornucopia naturally has her own card, but there were six books out on that card, too.

Books are a big part of my daughter's life, and recently she showed me a book adorned with pictures of two hippopotamuses.

"Unchi," she said.

Meaning "poop".

This was a patent misidentification so I patiently explained that we were looking at artwork depicting hippopotamuses, not at heaps of excrement.

Cornucopia then opened the book to a page which showed the formidable posteriors of two hippopotamuses, one humongous, the other large, standing on a surface which was daubed with what was, indubitably, unchi.

I graciously conceded the point.

"Yes, Cornucopia, you are right. It is unchi!"

Unchi is a big part of the lives of small children. The relevant verb is "deru", meaning "to exit", and from time to time I hear, for the side room which holds the toilets which form part of the daycare facilities, the triumphant cry of a small child:


Meaning "It has issued forth!"

Unchi having issued forth, polite things you can say to the child in question include "O medeto gozaimasu", meaning "Congratulations", or "Pachi pachi!" (which is a childish way of saying "Clap clap!")

The unchi must, on all accounts, be acknowledged and praised, assuming that the child is your own.

Many of Cornucopia's books feature animals, and I am a little curious as to why our culture (Western culture and Japanese culture equally so) is so heavy on large African animals. We don't have elephants, hippopotamuses or crocodiles, but such animals are everywhere in the culture, everywhere from the daycare playground, where there is a slide in the form of a blue elephant, to Cornucopia's "Maisy" books.

One book my daughter has played with quite a few times is ELMER'S CONCERT, which is loaded with African animals, and has a built-in electronic keyboard of animal sounds.

I have my doubts about the authenticity of these sounds, particularly the dawn chorus cry of the crocodile, but, since we don't have crocodiles in our neighborhood, for all I know, perhaps this really is what crocodiles really sound like.

This book was given to Cornucopia in New Zealand by her New Zealand grandparents. Unfortunately, through long use, the batteries eventually ran more or less flat, and the dawn chorus of the African animals became, in large measure, inaudible.

My wife unscrewed the battery compartment and dug out three small button batteries which looked formidably high tech, not the kind of thing you would find at the local convenience store.

I was tasked to go to Best Denki, the electronics emporium at Hiyoshi, where I produced a sample battery which was marked, cryptically, with the legend "AG 13 X6 Nova cell".

An expert was produced from the inner recesses of Best Denki, and he offered a battery which might fit the bill, though he could not guarantee this, and threw the English word "risk" into his Japanese-language conversation.

Since the batteries were cheap, I bought three on spec, and, as soon as my wife inserted the first one into the battery compartment, it was clear that the product supplied would work. And soon ELMER'S CONCERT was as raucous as ever.

(Book authored by David McKee, published by Random House Children's Books, London, ISBN 0 09 950321 2.)

For the record, the Japanese battery which proved to fit the book was the Panasonic LR44, which, from the label, appears to also be described as the L1154 and the A76.

At Best Denki I also picked up some of the little batteries, about half the size of an AAA battery, that I need for the LED (light-emitting diode) flashlight which I bought to light me up at nights on Japanese streets on which cyclists, all too often, travel recklessly with no lights of their own displayed.

Because the torch was German-made, it never occurred to me that the battery would be a weird "only-in-Japan" thing. Here in the Tokyo-Yokohama area, you can buy these batteries, labeled as size "5", in convenience stores.

So, when I was in New Zealand, I expected to be able to buy the battery desired, the 1.5 volt LR1(G), in Japan a size 5 battery.

All confidence, I went to the camera shop in Devonport. Did they have the battery? Well, they had one exactly the same size. But it was 15 volts rather than 1.5 volts. My LCD torch takes three cells, and I was unwilling to experiment with putting 45 volts into a piece of electronic equipment designed to take 4.5 volts.

In New Zealand, my family was initially convinced that my inability to buy the requisite battery was due more to my brain-damaged condition than to the unavailability of the battery in question. But eventually it was conceded (with a certain degree of reluctance) that the desired battery was quite simply not on sale in New Zealand.

At Hiyoshi, I bought three cells for my LCD torch without difficulty. With similar ease, once in Japan I was easily able to purchase something which had eluded me in New Zealand, a device to convert a New Zealand three-pin electric plug to an earthless Japanese two-pin plug. This I bought with no problem at Bic Camera in Shibuya.

The voltage in Tokyo is 50 cycles at 100 watts -- in Osaka it is 60 cycles at 100 watts - which is a lot less than the New Zealand voltage. But I wanted the plug for my ThinkPad, which has an international transformer which will happily feed on just about any kind of mains power supply you are likely to be able to find to plug it into.

So the battery problem was sorted out and the daughter's dawn chorus was restored to full health.

Friday, my wife asked me if I was okay with continuing to take daughter Cornucopia to the daycare center, and I said it was no problem.

To begin with, it was painfully difficult for me to learn the routines. There are TWO aprons, one of which goes into each of the apron basket, but there are THREE towels, one for each of the three towel baskets. And, to begin with, it was very difficult for me to learn these simple details.

I find my existing skill set is intact. I have installed my igo program on my ThinkPad and find that my gameplaying skills, the fruit of playing the game for over twenty years, are intact. But learning new things, like the daycare routine, is painfully difficult.

However, I have now mastered the system.

As far as teaching is concerned, I have no problems. All my old error-correction techniques are intact, as are the required short and simple grammatical explanations, and the ways of explicating new vocabulary items.

I also remember how to write upside down, a skill I developed some years back during my first two years spent teaching in Japan, working at the same school at Waniguchi.

The advantage of writing upside down is that students can watch a word or a sentence take shape on the piece of paper you are writing on, without you having to first reverse it so they can understand what you are writing.

I never planned to learn how to write upside down, but I naturally fell into it during those first two years, a period in which I was working full time and was teaching far too many lessons in a day.

My skill set for teaching, then, remains solid, and I have no problems with the actual teaching.

My main problem at work is stamina, pure and simple, but I'm only working a three-hour day, which, at the moment, is pretty much my limit.

Last Sunday, as I was sitting at home with wife and child, the phone rang at about 0930, and it was my employer's central office in Tokyo. They were looking for substitute teachers for two schools, that morning, and could I go to one of those schools?

I politely explained that, sorry, no, I had childcare commitments, and that was why I had taken on this part-time job in the first place.

If I wanted work, I could work all the hours god sends. I met one young woman working for the same company who worked 40 hours of overtime in the previous month.

During my first two years of working for the same company I often did work overtime if I was asked to do so at the Waniguchi branch, but, these days, I wouldn't have the strength to work extra hours even if I wanted to.

On my Monday through Friday working day, I generally arrive home and lie down on the sofa and sleep for anything from twenty minutes to an hour, prioritizing sleep before I go online to check my e-mail.

My main problem, then, is stamina, and the three-hour working day means that this problem is manageable.

Friday, though, I hit an entirely different problem, and got to work five minutes late. I was heading in the direction of Tokyo when someone jumped in front of a train somewhere between Hataraku and Miorenji. That was in the opposite direction, but, even so, trains heading toward Tokyo on the Toyoko line halted.

All the intercom announcements were in Japanese, so, for monolingual foreigners, it was, potentially, a very confusing situation.

As I've written elsewhere, a "jinshin jiko", a "human body incident", is part and parcel of what constitutes normality in Japan. A lot of people jump in front of trains, the number running into hundreds each year in the Tokyo-Yokohama area.

I was perfectly happy sitting on my air-conditioned train reading my book. It was the slow train which, if you sit on it for long enough, goes all the way to Kitasenju, on the far side of Tokyo.

I'm done with the daycare by, as a rule, about 0855, and get on the train shortly after 0900. Because it is the slow train, even slower than the stop-at-every-station local train, it is largely empty at that hour of the morning, at least when I board, so I can take my choice of seats.

At the end of my journey, at Waniguchi station, I collected one of the "sorry your worker was late" slips which the train company routinely hands out in such cases. There was no trouble finding these things: a number of staffers were near the ticket wicket holding bunches of these things and shouting out loud to advertise their wares.

I handed in this sorry slip to the Japanese-speaking reception staff at Waniguchi Gakko, but, by the time I arrived, they already knew about the delay, and one of them had found the student files for the small class of just three people that I was scheduled to teach first up that morning.

So I was in the class teaching shortly after arriving at work at about 1005, just five minutes after my official start time.

Friday, yesterday, the day of the train delay, I celebrated the end of the working week by eating out at a conveyor belt sushi place which my wife had earlier taken me to at Waniguchi. It's very near Waniguchi Gakko, the conversation school where I teach.

I finish at 1310 and so, by the time I get to the conveyor sushi place, the few saucers of sushi on the conveyor belt have dried up and are not as nice as they should be. But you can order from the sushi chef, which I did, two saucers of squid, two of scallop and two of salmon roe.

It's currently really hot in the Tokyo-Yokohama area, and a good thing about a conveyor sushi place is that you can drink as much green tea as you want. The teabags are there on the counter and unlimited boiling water is on tap, so you can help yourself.

While I was eating, I realized that the names of all the available sushi toppings were displayed in Japanese hiragana script on the far side of the wall, in a script large enough for me to read from across the room.

So I have decided to eat kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi) every Friday from now on.

"Kai" means "round" as in "going round", "ten" means "point" or "piece" and "zushi" is a phonetic variant of "sushi", so "kaitenzushi" means, literally, "pieces of sushi going round".

The good points about kaitenzushi are that, for a start, you don't have to decide, in advance, how much food you want to eat. I am slow to make decisions, so the liberties of the conveyor belt system suit me fine.

Additionally, you can get food without using language, although at this stage I do know the words for my favorite sushi toppings. Squid is ika, octopus is tako, salmon eggs are ikura and scallop is hotate.

I plan to work my way through the whole menu which is up on the wall and try new things.

I heard a guy ordering "suzuki", which I had, up until then, always thought was a motorbike. But apparently it's some kind of sushi topping. My big dictionary defines "suzuki" as a sea bass.

The guy who ordered it seemed to get only one piece on his saucer, so maybe it's expensive. I'll experiment next week and find out.

To finish, one last point on the development of the daughter. Some days back, I thought she had somehow developed psychic powers. Because, as she came down the stairs in her mother's arms, she started screaming for orange even though the orange was nowhere in sight, as I had cunningly hidden it in the kitchen until the time for sharing had arrived.

"Orange! Orange! Orange!" she screamed.

The word she screamed was the English word "orange" rather than the Japanese equivalent, which is "orangi".

"How did Cornucopia know there was an orange?" I asked my wife, as I surrendered the orange.

"We could smell it as we came down the stairs," said Murasaki.

This had not occurred to me as my sense of smell is very poor, and always has been. But the smell of orange had been immediately clear to my wife. Similarly, she had picked up on the fact that I had polished my shoes, as the smell of shoe polish was lingering in our minuscule foyer.

In addition to all my old shoes, I have two pairs of new black leather business shoes which I bought in Devonport, New Zealand, and I have taken to wearing them week and week about, leaving the fallow pair stuffed with newspaper, and leaving the added polish to sit for a week before being buffed off.

When I bought the shoes, I was uncertain as to whether I was really going to be able to return to the kind of normal life in which one gets up in the morning and goes to work, but that, it seems, is what has been achieved.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Hugh, thanks for great blog. Very matter-of-fact, perceptive style.


7:53 PM  

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