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CA's JOURNAL, 2001


These are the year 2001 entries to: CA'S LATEST NEWS.

On Christmas Eve, I attended a party at the home of Hideko Ito, a lawyer who once ran for governor of Hokkaido. To my surprise, it was a very international group, including men, women, and children from from the U.S., China, Germany, and Pakistan. One, a former American who's now a Japanese national, David Ardwinckle or Arudou Debito, has gotten very involved with the controversy and lawsuits in Otaru, Hokkaido, where some public baths exclude foreigners.

On December 23rd I sang in the annual Xmas Concert at Kitara Hall. Since many of the pieces were in English, I was commissioned to teach English pronunciation. Among other pieces, we sang two from the movie Home Alone: "Star of Bethlehem" and "Somewhere in My Memory."

On December 1st, Japanese were excited when Crown Princess Masako gave birth to a baby girl. The new princess was later given the name Aiko, Ai meaning "love" and Ko meaning "child." The current tradition is that only male members of the royal family can succeed to the throne. However, who knows? Perhaps Princess Aiko could eventually become the Japanese Empress.

In November I was interviewed by STV, a local TV station, about my views on 9/11 and the subsequent events. Also interviewed were a Pakistani, an Iranian, both against military reprisals, and another American whose views differed from mine. Although I was interviewed for over an hour, the segment viewed on TV showed only about 30 seconds during which I said, in Japanese, something to the effect of, "If there's more killing of people, how long will it continue? Perhaps forever." In English, I said, "Killing doesn't stop killing."

In November, my best friend's daughter, Alison L. Parker, spent three weeks in Pakistan working as the Sandler Fellow on Refugee Policy for Human Rights Watch. Her travel through the refugee camps with an interpreter, driver, and male colleague gathered information that can be accessed through the Human Rights Watch web site. During her stay in Pakistan, she observed the customs of the country by fasting from dawn to dusk during Ramadan.

In October-November I took the Advanced Workshop for On-Line Presenters sponsored by Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. We set up courses at blackboard.com. Because we were working with sound and other tasks I had never attempted, it was rather challenging for me. I hope to get into more teaching online, i.e., via the Internet, especially writing!

On October 20th, Ahmad Jan, an Afghan graduate student in engineering at Hokkaido University, spoke at METS (Meeting of English Teachers in Sapporo). He talked about the current situation in Afghanistan but focused on the problem of landmines. Before coming to Japan, he worked for a United Nations demining organization. More information can be found at Association for Aid and Relief, formerly Association to Aid Refugees.

On September 19th: in the annual concert for my chorus, Sapporo Academy Chorus,we sang Petite messe solennelle by Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868) and a number of pieces from Italian operas, the latter all by memory! Because I was still in a state of shock from the events of the previous week, it was one of the most difficult concerts I've ever sung in. My chorus acknowledged the tragedy by singing "Amazing Grace" at the beginning of the program. When we sang the last verse, I nearly broke down.
Through many dangers, toils, and snares
We have already come,
'Twas grace that kept us safe thus far,
And grace will lead us home.

9/11: The world shifted. Hate was released. The health and wealth of the world were affected in ways not yet fathomed.

Most of my summer vacation this year was spent getting caught up after one of the busiest semesters of my life. Besides checking portfolios and writing grades, I taught some extra classes (including one using an episode from the American TV program, the practice), did some proofreading, and prepared for my classes in the fall. I also had the honor of attending a lecture by Dr. Rebecca L. Oxford on Learning Strategies. I'm interested in trying the assessment inventory she developed, SILL (Strategy Inventory for Language Learning), with my students.

In May I completed the 1st semester of a new computer course, The Basics of On-Line Instruction, as a student! It was taught through the international organization, Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, at blackboard.com.

On April 30th, I went to a pre-World Festival of Sacred Music 2001. The actual event was held in Hiroshima and initiated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I went particularly because I had another opportunity to hear Mamadou, the drummer from Senegal who married a Japanese woman from Sapporo [see below].

Before Golden Week I had met each of my classes at least once. Two of them are really large–one had 55 students–but the schedule worked out rather nicely. (You can see the syllabi by clicking on the underlined courses.)
Monday, I have the same classes I've been teaching for 2 years at Hokusei Women's Junior College. The first class is a composition class for freshmen. It killed me when I first took attendance and discovered that they were all sitting in rows, alphabetically. I'd never had that before. The quality of writing in their first compositions on "My Name" looked pretty good. At least they can form complete sentences.
Then I have two 45-minute conversation classes back to back. That's where we did the cell phone thing. We'll be covering movies, fashion, fortune-telling, and a lot of topics that appeal to young women.
First period Tuesday morning, at Sapporo University, is the roughest because I have the class for future English teachers, except that several students told me they don't plan to teach English! I'm not sure why they're taking the class. Also, SU had a reputation for students who couldn't make it elsewhere, but that's slowly improving–plus I get 3rd year students who are a bit more motivated. There were 35 the first week but, if it's like last year, some will drop and new ones will show up tomorrow. That's a pain, but it will even out eventually with the less motivated ones dropping out (last year I ended up with 19). The good part is that quite a few of them are taking one other course from me so I'll get to know them fairly well.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, I have two sections of Advanced Writing. The first week there were only 6 girls, so it was nice to work with after the large first period class. In the other one there were 20, a bit unwieldy because we're meeting in a computer lab that has only 9-10 Macs. Fortunately, there's quite a bit of desk space, and I can put 2 students on each computer. We're going to start with short essays, getting them used to writing in English and using word processing. Gradually we'll get into doing research–summarizing, paraphrasing, doing a bibliography, and all that. Finally, we'll work on stylistic problems. (It's a full-year course.) Most of them plan to study abroad, so I can make the class really tough!
Second period Wednesday should be fun because it's a conversation class with many of the same students. The first week we talked about Superstitions, and the second week it was Dangerous Friends. They chose the topics from the 30 in the textbook that looked the most interesting to them, and I developed the syllabus from that. The author happens to be a former professor of mine from University of Hawaii. Also, a couple friends teaching at other schools who are using the same text and I have formed an egroup to discuss how we use the text, develop questions for discussion, do problem-solving on classroom logistics, etc.
Thursday are my private classes—one in the morning and one in the afternoon, all women. They all love talking in English and we get into any number of topics from politics to recipes. They're a well-traveled group as well, so we're constantly getting reports on so-and-so's trip to England or wherever. I basically help them with new vocabulary, particularly slang, and difficult grammar. I have so much fun with them that I call it my dessert day. (Besides, it's refreshing to be with grown-ups after talking with 18 to 20-year-olds all week.)
Friday is my longest commute—to Hokkaido University of Education—an hour and 20 minutes each way, but ironically the easiest because I can basically read or use my computer the whole way. First period is a required semester of language for Freshmen, but I have the Global Education students who are the smartest and most highly motivated bunch I'm teaching. Several of them have been abroad, particularly to China, if only for a short time. The text is one I've been using for years, so the lessons are easy for me and I can embellish on them. That's the class in which we do the Flea Market and play The Dating Game.
Second period is similar to the conversation class at Sapporo University because we're using the same text. However, this class chose a slightly different set of topics. On the positive side, I've already had a lot of the students for one semester of required language and, since they chose my class, they must like me (although it does happen to be required for a teaching license). On the negative side, this is the one with over 50 students. They have discussions in small groups of 4, and I can only meet with about one-third of the groups during each class period. I calculated that it comes out to about 6 minutes per student per semester. And then they wonder why Japanese students are so poor at speaking English! Of course, they're getting practice with each other for almost an hour per week, so their speaking does improve a little, but it's certainly not enough to become fluent. I'm hoping I can eventually lure some of them into my private classes.
Saturday morning I have another private class–oh, and one on Tuesday evening I forgot about. Again, all women and all highly motivated. In fact, most of them were former students at Asahi Culture Center and wanted to continue with me. One, a delightful young woman in her 6th year of med school (which they start right after high school), is doing her rotation now so we get to hear about her experiences with anesthesiology one time (her classmates and she actually enjoy practicing inserting needles on each other) surgery the next time, and ER the next time. She hasn't decided on her specialty yet, but I would trust her to be my doctor any day!
And that's not counting my private students–a homemaker in her 60s who's been my student since the early 1980s (and visited me in Boston because she was doing homestay in Canada at the time), my conductor's daughter who just left for England to study piano, and a kindergarten teacher who worked in Honduras for 2 years with the Japanese equivalent of the Peace Corps and was the one who took me to the concert with the Senegalese drummers. All in all, it's quite a week!

Ootomo-Sensei
In April I had my first lesson with the chorus's new Soprano voice teacher, Otomo-Sensei. Her name means "Big Friend." She tiny but a total bundle of energy. She has long gray hair tied back in a ponytail, wears thick-lensed glasses, and is completely unpresumptious, carrying none of the prima donna air that so many great singers seem to have about them.
The lesson was amazing. I was practicing two arias sung by Cherubino in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro. Otomo-Sensei got me to sing in ways that I didn't realize were possible. First she got me grounded and breathing correctly, then made me sing with a totally slack jaw—holding my jaw too rigid is my worst habit.
Then I had to think up loosening up my shoulders, filling up the space above, in front, and behind me. A lot to concentrate on! All the while, I had to continue to work on breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth. To get me breathing in the right way, she actually knelt down and pushed me in the stomach. The feeling, when I started producing some sounds correctly for the first time in my life, was so strange that I burst out laughing. I sure wish I could have met her 30 or even 40 years ago, but I probably wouldn't have been ready.

On March 31st I went to an African drum concert. There's an interesting story behind it. A middle-aged Japanese woman, friend of one of my students, went to Senegal to study African drumming. She ended up falling in love with her teacher! How they communicated, I'm not sure, since she spoke only Japanese, and he spoke only French. When she returned to Japan, they continued to correspond by fax. Eventually they decided to get married, but first she needed her parents' approval since he was not only African but also Muslim. When the two mothers met, they apparently it hit off, using all sorts of gestures to "speak" to each other. The happy couple is now living in Sapporo. You can see more about the husband at: Welcome to Mamadou.

Mamadou and Senegal Drummers

The concert was held in an old warehouse with a truly Bohemian atmosphere with its natural peeling brick walls. It was intimate, with space enough for only a small audience, which included several children, some of them in wheelchairs. There were five drummers altogether, three Senegalese and two Japanese. The way they spoke to one another with their drumming helped me understand the roots of jazz better. I can't describe the primal feeling aroused by the drumming; it resonated throughout the body. It was impossible to listen without moving; at first nearly everyone was clapping to the music but, by the end, a large number were out of their seats dancing. I was one of them!

From February 11th to March 5th, I took my first trip to the U.S. in two years. My stops included Milwaukee (my mother), Cleveland (my aunt and uncle), Denver (good friends from my college days), and Los Angeles (my sister and nephew), but I was especially looking forward to going to the Tampa Bay area in Florida for a weekend. There I met many of the people in my e-mail support group Lifering Secular Sobriety, who come from all over North America, for the first time!

On February 4th I sang in our chorus ensokai, or "in-house recital." I did two pieces by Schumann from Leiderkreis (opus 39): Die Stille and Waldespräch. I was fortunate to have a couple of lessons from the former concert master for our chorus, Suwa-Sensei, and to be accompanied by his daughter, who happens to be a 4th year student at the educational university where I teach (although she's not in a class of mine). German is not my favorite language to sing, it being so gutteral, but the pieces are emotional and I could enjoy using my flair for drama in performing them.
I was also introduced by my teacher to one of the great tenors of the 20th century, Fritz Wunderlich (1930-1966). Tragically, he died in a fall down the stairs at a friend's home after consuming too much alcohol. Interestingly enough, when I was looking for a CD of his work at Tower Records in Denver, I couldn't recall his name. I ask for help from the clerk in the classical music section. He simply asked, "How did he die?" then led me directly to the CD I had wanted!

On January 3rd and 4th, a friend and I stayed overnight at a hotel in Jozankei, a resort outside Sapporo. The main purpose of our stay was to relax in the onsen, or hot springs, including a rotenburo, or outdoor hot springs. We also had an enormous feast for both dinner and breakfast. The former was served to us on a small table right in our room. After it was cleared, the maids came and spread out futons in the same area on the tatami (straw mats). Talk about total relaxation!

CA at Jyozankei

My New Year began with a countdown 30 seconds after finishing hiighlights of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. Some of the people in my chorus (Sapporo Academy Chorus) joined others at a hotel in Chitose. We were accompanied by the Chitose Citizen's Orchestra conducted by our chorus conductor, Yukio Nagai. The soloists were also members of our chorus. Although it was a totally amateur performance, done as part of a "Countdown Festival," it was a truly novel way to begin the new year/century/meillennium!

CA at Countdown Festival 2001

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Last updated February 16, 2002.