This month I was finally able to share the letters from Canada with my students. The third-year teacher generously let me devote an entire class to them. First I showed the students some Canadian maps demonstrating where the school was. Then I told them that the kids at the school had heard about the earthquake and tsunami and had felt moved to write letters to Japan. I read them the cover letter that the Canadian teacher had written, and my teacher translated it for them. Then I put them in groups and gave each group two letters to share. Each student got a question sheet and a glossary. The former was to give their reading some direction; the latter was to help them with difficult words and phrases.
For the most part, I was impressed with the response. Not all of the students took an interest in the letters, but a surprising number did. Even students who struggled with the regular class readings worked hard to understand them and find the answers. It was a welcome change to see them actually engaging with a reading, rather than simply doing the mindless repetition and translation work they’ve been trained in. I think they appreciated that they were holding real letters written by real people, and that made them much more meaningful. Most gratifying of all, a few of the students even asked if they could write responses. Of course I told them they could, and offered to give them any help they needed.
In my second-year classes, the teacher has finally started implementing her idea about having the students do short English speeches. So far the the students have complied reluctantly, and most of them have been doing only the bare minimum, but my hope is that they will warm up to the idea once they get used to it.
Fall is officially underway here. The trees have changed colour and the temperature has dropped. I seem to be dealing with the cold better this year than last, though I’m not sure whether that’s because I’m acclimatised or because this November is simply milder. One thing that’s certain is that my toes are freezing! Cold digits are a fact of life for me, and in past years I haven’t worried too much about frozen toes – after all, I can think of way worse things than not being able to feel part of your body. But last year I actually got an infection that took weeks and a lot of medication to cure. I want to avoid that happening again this year, so I’ve been wearing warm socks and also bundling up, drinking hot beverages, and making liberal use of my kotatsu. Still, it’s hard to keep my extremities warm when I’m outdoors, and with no central heating indoors can be pretty cold, too. I wish I lived in Korea; I hear they have heated floors!
At the beginning of the month the English teacher at my church put on a “harvest party” to share some traditional American cooking with the locals. I went and brought my tea lady along with me. The traditional dishes we ate were chilli and cornbread. I was especially fond of the latter; I haven’t had cornbread in ages! The event was the closest I came to celebrating Thanksgiving this year.
The fall colours haven’t been as brilliant in my area as I remember them being last year, but I have been making the most of them with a few different excursions. My tea lady and school nurse invited me to go with them to Matsushima to see the evening light-up of the trees. I went with my church to an onsen in Akiu, where we got to admire the leaves. I also finally made my own trip to Yama-dera, which my buddy from Korea had visited the previous month. Yama-dera (literally “mountain temple”) is built into a mountainside, and it’s a steep climb to get to the top. From there we had a nice view of the surrounding countryside with its multi-coloured hills.
Movies I’ve seen this month:
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – The only adaptation of the Harry Potter books I’d previously seen. It succeeds in covering most of the plot of the novel, but does so in such a flat and unimaginative way that it hardly seems worth the effort. Part of the problem is that it there is so much exposition and it feels rushed and charmless. The biggest fun to be had is from seeing which actors are playing which characters. Maggie Smith seems well-cast as McGonagall; I’m less sanguine about Alan Rickman as Snape. More important to the film are the child actors playing the main characters. Sadly, none of them has the talent needed to carry a whole movie. Of the pint-sized cast the one I found myself warming to the most was Draco Malfoy. (Two and a half stars)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – This film holds together better than the previous one, having less exposition to get through and more time to focus on the plot. Unfortunately, I had all the same problems with it that I did with the book: the adults are useless, the kids are dumb, and I can’t stand Dobby. Kenneth Branagh feels reasonably fitting, if a bit wasted, as Gilderoy Lockhart. I’m still not big on the child actors. (Three stars)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Three stars) – In contrast to the slavish fidelity of the first two films, this one is willing to get a bit creative with some plot elements. The result is a somewhat more enjoyable movie; I especially liked the climactic sequences. On the down side, a lot of exposition gets left out, to the extent that the story wouldn’t make sense to anyone who hasn’t read the book. (Notably, one could get through the entire film without a clue that the Marauders ever got up to anything besides map-making.) Lupin isn’t how I pictured him, but I think I like him, and Gary Oldman seems to work as Sirius, though he doesn’t get much screen time. (Three stars)