Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Graduation Story

--This is an entry I wrote for my original blog about... oh, a million years ago--

May is a bittersweet time of the year for me. Like many of my students, I celebrate the end of the academic year, relieved that I have once again survived it--in spite of the fact that summer school starts up immediately following graduation. *sigh*

But, as elated as I am, I am also saddened by the thought that I will no longer see J majors who graduated. They all say that they'll keep in touch. They all say they'll drop by when they're in town. But rarely do they ever show up in my office again, and often when they do, it is usually for a letter of recommendation or some other similar request. But that's okay. Better that than nothing at all... I guess.

It is with this feeling that I go to the local burger and beer joint near school and drink a beer, toasting both the end of the year and the departure of the seniors. Some of my students know that I go there after the ceremony and so they drop by. This year hoymahal grom and fuafuahamu came by. One brought her parents and we had a nice chat. She asked me to tell her parents a graduation story and so I told them a true story--which I will tell here at Prudy's request--that occured a few years back.

Financial Freedom

After a hot graduation ceremony on the Ellipse of Washington's National Mall, I was sitting at the bar of the local burger joint sipping Foggy Bottom brew with M. Immediately to my right were three other patrons who had obviously just come from the ceremony as well--a Dad, a Mom, and a newly-graduated young lady.

Well, M and I are chatting when I notice Dad ask the bartender for a pair of scissors. Now I've seen people ask for napkins, menus, a pen, but never a pair of scissors. Curious, I allow my attention to drift toward this guy sitting two seats over.

With a nod of appreciation, Dad takes the pair of scissors and cuts the edges around a napkin. The daughter begins to pester Dad--What are you doing? Cut it out, Dad. Mom is oblivious. Dad then lifts his beer, takes the cardboard coaster that was beneath it, and begins to cut the corners of the Newcastle Brown advertisement. The daughter seems to have given up, simply rolling her eyes and shaking her head.

Dad, seemingly satsified with the scissors edge, props up his elbow on the counter and sticks his hand out toward his daughter, palm up.

"What?" She asks quizzically.

"Hand it over," he sighs.

"What are you talking about, Dad. Hand over what?"

"You know what," he says, stiffly poking the air with his outstretched hand.

Horror wells up the daughter's eyes. It betrays a true and palpable fear. I can tell because her face is juxtaposed to Mom's face which is now manifesting mock horror--you know the look: eyes opened wide, mouth agape, hands held up in surprise.

"Today?" The daughter asks helplessly. But Dad says nothing. He shakes his open palm resolutely in front of her again. Shoulders slumped, the daughter opens her purse, takes out her wallet and produces a credit card.

"Really, Daddy? Today?"

Daddy--I can't help but chuckle--nods appreciatively as his daughter places a Visa card regretfully onto his open palm. He slowly grips it, wrapping it up with his fingers. He squeezes it lightly as if caressing it, confirming the name and account number with his thumb, then transfers it from his right hand to his left.

"Ah, freedom," he sighs, as he picks up the scissors.

The bartender, M and I roar with surprise, as the daughter sits there stunned at this public spectacle of Dad sending her off toward financial independence by cutting up her credit card--HIS credit card--into little bitty pieces.

Monday, May 19, 2014

たけくらべ Comparing Heights

There's a story in Ise Monogatari about two kids comparing their heights against a well curb. They grew up and, against the original wishes of their parents, eventually married each other--although the ultimate bliss of there marriage is debatable.

At my house I found the names of two students, Patrick and Ian, curiously marked on a door post in my kitchen. I guess they measured their respective heights at the last Major Party. While I don't expect they will grow much more--let alone marry each other--I do get the sense that they have now become a part of our family (even though their heights clearly indicates they are from a different DNA pool).

I just hope this doesn't start a trend.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Summer Session

I will be teaching Japanese Culture through Film in the first summer session. The particulars:

CRN# 11791
JAPN 3162.80
Japanese Culture Through Film
CU: 3.00
Location: GELM 609
Time: TR; 06:00PM - 09:20PM
Dates: 05/19/14 - 06/28/14

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Ruminating on Teaching Foreign Languages

This past weekend I went to the HMS Colloquium held by my department chair, Young-Key Kim-Renaud. It was on Korean linguistics and I found it more interesting than I thought I would. The focus of the speakers was the use of honorifics in Korean, and this got me to thinking about how true it is that language provides insights into a society and its culture.

One speaker mentioned the levels of honorifics that I found amazing and scary at the same time. In Japanese, a speaker needs to understand the social position of the listener, while in Korean one also needs to consider the social position of the topic in the utterance. This is true in Japanese to an extent, but in Korean, one needs to manifest the social position of even family members when speaking: A daughter speaking to her mother about her older sister will require--if I understood this correctly--three levels of honorifics: A low one for the speaker, a high level of respect for the mother and a level of respect to the elder sister but not as high as the mother. Whew! As a stubborn everyone-is-equal American, this level of distinction might prevent me from studying Korean. Or not.

Either way, there is no doubt that it is worth studying. Today's academic administrators give short shrift to foreign language teaching by devaluing it when they insist it is no longer necessary as a requirement in general education.  This is a reflection of their short-sightedness. and shows that they really don't know what they are talking about. Language is not only a communicative tool. It is a reflection of the society and culture in which it is embedded, and Korean is a rather pointed example. Social hierarchy, familial hierarchy are all manifested in each speech act.

Why are foreign languages undervalued so? This used to be the bedrock of a liberal arts education--an education that promotes an understanding among different interests, fields and cultures--but now, at many institutes of higher education--foreign language is not even required for a single year. Literature, philosophy, anthropology, and other fields are equally important as we strive to educate a group of individuals that are the future of our society and culture. What are we teaching them? That you don't need to know other points of view? That understanding different thoughts and cultures is a waste of time?

I sometimes worry that we have lost too much perspective regarding what is important in our $ociety.