Missing in Action
One of my English teachers at the School of Peace went AWOL.
She’s a young, first year girl, and I was absolutely shocked to find that out. You know how most Asian people look five to ten years younger than they actually are? Well, she is one of the only Asians I’ve ever met who looked ten years older than her actual age. It’s almost like there’s a girl out there who looks ten years younger than her own age by doing a Mortal Kombat Shang Tsung soul suck on this poor teacher. …Come to think of it, that’s probably how the process works. For every Asian you see that looks younger than their age, there’s another Asian who’s been soul-sucked dry and walking around on crutches and shit at the tender age of 22.
I was talking to her one day, and she told me that she was a first year teacher. This was quite a shock to me, because not only did she look older, but she seemed to carry herself at least like an experienced teacher. “Really, you’re a first year? How old are you?” I blurted out. …I might as well have drop-kicked her on the spot, because “How old are you?” is one of the rudest questions you can ask a Japanese woman. I could have told her to get her ass in the kitchen and make me a sammich, fetch me a beer, and prepare some vittles, and it would have been less rude than me asking her how old she was. After apologizing profusely for my cultural slip-up, she told me she was twenty-one. I hid my shock, and checked my urge to ask for ID to prove it. I also found out she’d been a flight attendant for several years before deciding to become a teacher, which also added to my shock. First, where did she find the time to be a flight attendant in-between teacher training? Second, in Japan, the whole flight attendant deal is way different than it is in America. In America, flight attendants are old moms named Fran, and occasionally guys. In Japan, they’re expected to be young cute girls. This is primarily because business men make up the majority of Japanese flights, and they want to have young women in skirts and scarves serving them coffee. In effect, airplane office ladies. Despite her actual age, this teacher didn’t strike me as cute or young, so it left me pondering how she was able to get into that business. I’m thinking she must have made a killer sandwich or something for the airline company present. Plus a frosty mug of beer, and some bitchin’ vittles.
Anyway, one day I went in to work and the head English teacher told me that Ms. Shang Tsung was on vacation because she wasn’t feeling well. What’s wrong, did she catch a cold? The teacher takes a moment to think about how to phrase her response, “Ah, well, she’s sick…in the heart.” So… does she have a really bad case of indigestion? Some leftover wasabi that’d been in the back of the fridge a little too long? No, that wasn’t it. The teacher again thinks about her response carefully. “No…she’s very sad in her heart. So her doctor said she should take a vacation from school for a few months.”
You have to realize that the Japanese are very indirect. You kind of have to look past their words and figure out the true meaning of what they are saying. So basically, “sick in the heart” meant “went batshit insane.” Huh. I made it a point to take note of this, so that I didn’t make the same mistake in reverse. Telling a Japanese person I had a nasty cough could be akin to admitting that I had SARS, dysentery, AND the chicken pox all at the same time. Saying I had a sore throat would mean that I had cholera, and I’d have to dump some of my precious ox meat off my raft if I ever hoped to ford the river in one piece.
There was a school assembly later that week to explain what had happened to that teacher. I woke up late that morning, and didn’t have time to put my contacts in, so I couldn’t see for shit. I’m also not a morning person, and waking up late didn’t help my disposition. (When I say I’m not a morning person, what I really mean is that I wake up hating everything and everyone around me. I barely understand English, so really, Japanese becomes akin to gibberish.) At the assembly, the school principal explained what happened, and held up something that looked like shoes to illustrate his point. In my blind, deaf, orge-ish form I just had no idea what was going on. Going to class, the English teacher asked me if he could have five minutes at the start of class to further talk about what happened with Ms. Shang Tsung. I was thrilled at another opportunity to find out what’d happened to her, however once again, I just didn’t understand the explanation. So much for four years of university Japanese. After class, I told the teacher I didn’t understand the Japanese explanation, and asked him to tell me what had happened in English. “Well, you see…” he started to say, but then a student came up and asked some asinine question, which completely guard-broke his train of thought. We went to the next class, and the exact same sequence of events happened: I didn’t understand the explanation, asked for a translation after class, student jumped in with a 100% thought-breaking combo, and my curiousity was left KO’ed, flawless victory.
Ms. Shang Tsung was supposed to only take a hiatus, but I learned later that she was just never coming back. After some more consultation with her doctor, it was decided that she should quit being a teacher. I eventually did find out what happened, much, much later. As it turns out, Ms. Shang Tsung was having some problems with the students. Apparently, she felt like she wasn’t making a connection with them, and they didn’t respect her. The problem culminated when came to school one day to find her school slippers had been cut up with a pair of scissors (this is what the principal had held up at the assembly). The slipper incident sent her over the edge, and she went into a mental breakdown. I’ve heard it isn’t too uncommon in Japan for first year teachers to drop out. [Insensitive Bastard Mode ON!] Now, I’m thinking… that’s it?! Her slippers got cut up and she suffers a breakdown? Thank GOD she wasn’t assigned to the Ghetto School. She would have exploded. Actually, literally, just exploded. KAPOW, gone.
And at first, I found it a little odd that she could make it in the flight attendant business but not as a teacher. But I’d forgotten to take into account how different flying in Japan is than flying in America. In Japan, you only have to worry about whether the in-flight beer will be Asahi or Kirin. In America, we just have to worry about whether or not the plane is going to be air-jacked, if the iron content in our blood will set off the metal detectors, or if security will let us take that bottle of Johnson and Johnson’s Baby Oil with us on the plane.
I don’t know what happened to this woman after she quit being a teacher, but whatever she ended up as, I do kind of hope that sandwiches are involved in some way. …I don’t know why.