Wednesday, October 18, 2006

My Christian Daughter

My Christian Daughter

This blog entry was written to go with a photo, but I'm afraid you're just going to have to imagine the photo, because my Blogspot site has been responding very slowly for the last couple of days, and I have wasted too much time already trying to upload this photo.

The photo (which, as I've said, you will have to imagine) shows the elephant in the garden, as seen from the balcony upstairs. It shows the mysterious "fences" which my wife said she would purchase at the garden center, which turned out to be trellises. It does not, however, show the rabbit.

The rabbit is a porcelain rabbit which is out of shot, off to the right, and one day I caught my Christian daughter down on her knees in the garden, eyes shut, and praying to the rabbit.

The prayer she was reciting was the prayer she says before meals at the Christian daycare center to which she goes from Monday to Friday. She has it down pat, and I hear her praying, for example, while having a bath.

Personally, I don't think of getting down on my knees and praying to a rabbit as being my idea of a fun religion. But, that granted, I have no objection to the fact that my daughter is, for the moment, a Christian.

In fact, I believe that all small children should be exposed to organised religion as a matter of principle, and it doesn't really matter what the religion is, whether it's Scientology, the Baptist church or the Reformed Church of Metaphysical Satanic Death Metal.

The point is that if you've never met up with religion before then, later in life, possibly at a vulnerable moment, you'll unexpectedly get ambushed by this wonderful stuff called religion, which you've seen mentioned in the dictionary but which you, up to this point, have never before experienced.

So I see the devout prayers which my Christian daughter offers up to the rabbit as being a kind of mental inoculation, insurance which guarantees that she will not, one day, end up serving the Caliphate as a novice suicide bomber, or something like that.

(On a theological point, the daycare church is a branch of the Protestant church in Japan, and, unless I've got something wrong, in the Protestant tradition you pray directly to God, and you do not go through an intermediary, such as Saint George, Mother Teresa or the rabbit in the garden. But maybe in the local church here in Japan you can direct your prayers to an intermediary, a bunny rabbit or whatever.

I mean, this is what the Reformation was all about, right? We cut out the middleperson bit. We no longer go through priests and saints. Instead, we get our own broadband connection direct to God, and we go one on one with the Big Man Himself, and do so in our own vernacular tongue, not in this Latin stuff which the priests are trained to understand but which we cannot read, write or speak.

As noted above, the photo does not show the rabbit but does show the elephant. Also the grapevine, which is why my wife went and bought the trellises. The grapevine had Caliphatic ambitions of its own, and seemed bent on world conquest, and, after it started spilling over into the neighbor's garden, my wife decided that it was time to take action. Hence the trellises.

When I bought the grape vine, some years ago, I fondly imagined that we would have grapes of our own growing in the garden, and would enjoy them in the summer. But this did not happen, because two-year-old Cornucopia went and scoffed them all, even though they were so sour as to be uneatable, at least for an adult.

As a baby, Cornucopia demonstrated an incredible capacity to eat sour things, once eating half a lemon and then complaining when anxious adults withheld the remainder of the lemon from her. At the age of two, going on three, she seems to have retained at least some of this capacity for consuming the sour, and with gusto.

Cornucopia having eaten all our grapes, we benefited from a glut of grapes on the market in this the autumn season, and did get to eat grapes, though not our own.

At this stage of her existence, Cornucopia is starting to show signs of becoming a rational being. She still, however, does sometimes try to improve the world by the simple process of screaming at it.

This she did after the peach season came to an end and there were no more peaches to be had. She screamed, monotonously, every evening, for some time. Then it was the nashi season which ended, after which she screamed for nashi.

That said, she is at the stage where it is possible to reason with her. Sometimes.

Recently, Cornucopia was standing on a chair (an adult chair, not her high chair) at the dinner table, practicing the art of being obnoxious. Since part of my role is to do my fair share of the growling (my wife does not like to be put in the position of always being the one who tells Cornucopia off) I decided it was time to growl. So I laid it on the line for Cornucopia. In English.

As a rule, Cornucopia speaks Japanese and rarely says a single word of English, but she understands it just fine.

I said:

"Cornucopia, you have two options. One is to sit down and eat your rice. The other is to get down from the table and leave. Choose one. Sit down and eat or leave."

Her response was a single word of English:


I find I can get her to go somewhere by threatening her with this option:

"Walk or be carried."

She hates being carried, unless she is in the mood to be carried, because being carried is an insult to her independence, and she is, at this age, fiercely independent.

Although negotiating matters with my daughter is a hit-and-miss affair, I am starting to make a little headway.

Recently, my wife gave Cornucopia a jam sandwich. Cornucopia proceeded to lick off all the jam then demanded more. More jam, that is. Bread? No, I don't want to eat that bread stuff, I want jam.

I decided to take matters in hand, so I went to the kitchen and got the jar of strawberry jam from the refrigerator. I put the jam on the table.

"Here's the deal, Cornucopia. I will put some jam on some bread. You will eat the jam. And the bread. Then I will give you more jam. If you don't eat the bread, you won't get the jam."

She understood the deal, and ate the first piece of jammed bread. Seeing that I was on the track to victory, I added a rider:

"And you must eat the crust, too!"

She never eats the crust. But this time she did.

I think the deal worked because (a) she wanted jam and (b) the jam was right there on the table and (c) instant gratification was possible if she complied with my
requirements and (c) she understands enough English to get a grip on the deal.

Although she doesn't usually speak English, this evening, when I picked her up from the daycare center, when it came time for her to sit in the pushchair (into which I had dumped her unceremoniously, the "walk or be carried" threat having, for once, failed to produce the desired perambulator effect) I realised she had an autumn leaf in each hand.

"Hapa," I said, meaning, in Japanese, "leaf." Or, if you like, "leaves."

"Leaf," said Cornucopia, in English.

She can speak at least some English, then, and, no doubt, will learn more as time goes by. I do my best to improve her English skills, and I am not discouraged by the fact that Japanese seems to be her dominant language.

I have taken a shot at trying to teach my daughter the phrase "I hear and I obey," but so far without success. But I have taught he the meaning of a countdown.

My wife asked, one day, "What's this time out business?" Cornucopia had been saying it, and my wife was curious.

So I explained. When it's time for me to take Cornucopia to the daycare in the morning, she has a count of ten in which to clip each of the two clips of her seat belt. If she can't manage it, then it's "Timeout!" and I will fasten them myself.

I got in the habit of driving kids along with a time limit when I was team teaching at junior high school in Japan. Give the kids a simple instruction like "Write your name on the handout" and nothing will happen for five or ten minutes or more. So I got in the habit of giving timed instructions. "Write your name! You have one minute! I'm timing it!"

I'm Mister Authoritarian in the classroom, and if Japanese schools went in for beating then I would happily become a child beater. But, in the absence of corporal punishment, time limits are a good way to drive things forward.

I still use time limits in the conversational English teaching that I do at Waniguchi Gakko here in Japan. And, in fact, setting time limits is one of the techniques which the company for which I work authorizes and teaches.

For example, "Think of a country you want to travel to. What do you want to do when you get to that country? Please discuss. You have two minutes."

In modeling this procedure, I gave the following example today, Wednesday 18 October 2006.

"I want to go to North Korea. When I get there, I want to meet Kim Jong Il. I see him all the time on TV, and I'm curious. I want to ask him a question. Why do you never smile? What's your problem?"

I mean, I've never seen this guy smile. Not once. So what's going on here? He enjoys absolute power, is known to eat very well, and is said to have far more than his fair share of girls. All this and he's got his own nuclear bombs, too. So why doesn't he smile?

I saw a smiling North Korean on TV recently, the ambassador serving North Korea in Australia. He was being interviewed on the street as he was walking along, and he was beatific, he was lit up, he was the happiest man on the planet. Really. The face of North Korean inscrutability had crumpled away, and happiness and delight were revealed.

But the boss man, the living god (that's pretty much what he is, in practice if not in theory), he never cracks a smile at all. Just does his ceremonial hand-clapping thing. Nineteen Eighty Four for real, Orwell's Stalinist nightmare made flesh.

I guess you're all up to speed on the North Korean nukes issue, but if by chance you aren't, here's a recap.

The North Koreans recently tested a nuke. From the seismograph readings of the underground test, the size is estimated at about one kiloton, ie the equivalent of a thousand tons of TNT. This is pathetically weak, so probably the North Koreans messed up the business of implosion, the initial stage where you use explosive charges to drive together lumps of fissile material to form a critical mass.

Since they messed up the first time, they're probably going to do a fresh test real soon now, and this time they'll try to get it right.

Some years ago I saw a North Korean propaganda animation showing (it was a lie, pure propaganda) a satellite which the North Koreans had supposedly launched into outer space. And what struck me about this animation was that the circle which the satellite was making around planet Earth had square corners. Their computer science was so primitive that their satellite was going round in a squared off orbit.

High tech they are not.

Even so, they have made and have tested, with partial success, one plutonium-based atom bomb. It was an underground test but, nevertheless, released radioactivity into the atmosphere, and American technology has determined that plutonium was the material that was used for the bomb.

The North Koreans are reckoned to have enough plutonium to make (to give you an approximate ballpark figure) perhaps ten atom bombs.

At the moment, however, they have only demonstrated the capacity to detonate a one kiloton device, and it is not known whether the long-range missile which they have successfully test-fired over Japan is capable of delivering an atomic warhead.

As noted above, North Korea's bomb is a pretty pathetic firecracker, good for only one thousand tons of blast. By comparison, America's first nuclear test in New Mexico back in 1945 released a power equivalent to the detonation of twenty thousand tons of high explosive.

The North Koreans have got some way to go, then, before they can unleash the kind of destruction demonstrated by Little Boy (the uranium bomb used on Hiroshima) and Fat Man (the plutonium bomb used on Nagasaki).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

and there I was thinking the north korean upper echelons were like the guy in the james bond movie (forget which one; maybe the last? had the ice palace in it and was directed by nzer lee tamahori) who had all the fancy gear, including the wrist-mounted camera that could do facial recognition!

6:12 AM  

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