Thursday, January 22, 2009

Chickenpox at age 39

Came home late from work yesterday (8PM) and took off my dress shirt to find my chest and back peppered with what looked like bug bites. As I took my bath, I remembered two unfortunate facts:

1. My mother-in-law came down with a mild case of shingles over New Year's, and shingles are a form of chickenpox.
2. I've never had chickenpox in my life.

By this morning the sores were covering just about every inch of my chest and back and were creeping up my neck and down my arms and legs, so off to the clinic it was. "You think you have...chickenpox? At your age?" said the doctor, flanked by two nurses. In reply I took off my shirt. Dan says the reaction from the nurses was like something from the Exorcist--they drew back in horror and he half-expected them to cross themselves. "Oh, yes, that's chickenpox" said the doctor. She gave me some ointment and anti-virus medicine and sent me home to quarantine.

Chickenpox tends to much worse when contracted as an adult--I kind of hope so, because I certainly wouldn't wish this on any child. I don't have a fever, but the sores are everywhere, including places like the inside of my mouth and, well, other places the sun don't shine. They don't hurt, but the itching is unbearable, and I can get very little done because a good portion of my mind must always be on focusing and making sure I don't scratch. It's surprising how much mental energy simply not scratching your body can take!

Well, a new experience. Chickenpox in a post-Bush world. I can take it, I think.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Jumping Jacks

I'm standing in front of a class full of Japanese high school students. This is a special class for high school seniors who've already passed early admission into college and thus have no burning incentive to sit through regular classes. The high school brings in college professors to teach a "college class" for them.

My class is a lecture on images of Japan in Western media. I've taught a variant of this class each year for four years now, and here that moment comes again. I finish showing them a clip from the 80s Michael Keaton movie "Gung Ho." In the movie, a Japanese company buys an American car maker and the Americans have to please their new Japanese bosses. On the first day of work, the Japanese bosses have the Americans gather in the factory courtyard for exercises, as is traditionally done in Japan. They exhort the Americans to work as a group, then launch into a series of perfectly-synchronized jumping jacks. The Americans slouch and scoff and mock them openly, disbelievingly. The poker-faced Japanese men in their identical suits wave their arms robotically and glare disapprovingly.

The clip ends and I bite my tongue, trying not to say what I always say next. But it's no use: try as I might to resist, it's an involuntary reflex. I open my mouth and, as I do every year, explain to the students:

"This is a stereotype, of course. It's America's image of Japan, not how Japan really is. It's an exaggeration, for comedic effect. It fits the basic culture of each country, but of course Japanese people aren't really like that."

The students blink at me, as they do every year, and I kick myself. I've had this conversation. I know that the students, on the whole, find the slovenly, slouching, selfish Americans pitiable. My instinctive cringe at the robotic, obedient, humorless Japanese is culturally-bound and not necessarily one they share. I'm apologizing to them for a movie that presents Japan in a positive light, I'm saying "Don't worry, I don't think you're really like the efficient, selfless people in this film". I'm speaking gibberish. They smile at me politely and wait for me to start making sense again. I try to do so.

After the lecture, I pack up my computer and notes. As I leave the building, a group of students has gathered outside in the chill, thin January sunlight for a PE class. They're all wearing identical PE uniforms.

As I walk by, they start doing jumping jacks in perfect unison.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


So true. So, so true. speaks to me once again.

Top of my to-do list is to be healthy sometime in 2009. I've got a cold that seems to have settled into my sinuses with the intention of making it a permanent residence. A friend recommended pouring large quantities of warm salinated water into my sinuses and letting it drain out. Doing this made me so wretched it overshadowed the cold, but had no other clearly beneficial effects, alas.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]