Monday, August 27, 2007

Set you up for good

Farewell to Sam and his family. I hope you do well in Taiwan, and please visit this blog. You can still work on your English. Thank you all of you for that wonderful meal at The Great Taste. Perhaps we can make it there more often . . .

Today is the day that I want to set you up for good. By now you have been exposed to many resources in my class and through this blog. By now you should have a good idea what skills you need to work on to make the most progress with your English. Putting the two together, I want all of you to select a site or tool to concentrate on. This is important. You need to work regularly in your own time in you own area(s) of need.

I shall take you on a tour in the computer suite. Please be there everyone - no excuses today for cold weather!

Before that, my dictation comes from the book: Out of Gas by David Goodstein. It comes from the Dunedin Public Library (333.79 GOO). I highly recommend it for your writing. The sentences are very well controlled, not too long, and very highly crafted. You can learn a lot about how to write, and also about the topic. You can leave out the middle chapters as they are fairly dry and technical, but the beginning and the end should be compulsory reading.

Next, I have a story for you to work on. It comes from the site of 100 stories I told you about earlier. However, I see that not all of those stories are complete narratives. Some of them are more like newspaper stories - not the same thing at all.

I shall give you one such story. It does not have a good orientation, and the resolution is also too short. I have left room on the sheet for you to improve it.

I would like to discuss the following in small groups. The topic, Japanese public baths, was the next on your list. Good luck with the listening link!

  • three aspects of your culture that may require foreigners to get used to
  • an experience in visiting a foreign country where you had difficulty with the language or culture.

Finally, if you would like something more to read, here is an account of my visit to a bath house in Japan in 2005 during our travels:

Getting back to the story . . . After having walked thirty-seven kilometres, and in spite of the two dips I’ve had in the sea, I think that Mami’s suggestion to visit an onsen is a great idea. However, as we approach its imposing exterior, I feel myself growing nervous. I’m unfamiliar with the set-up, I’m uncomfortable with the decor, and I’m put off by the range of over-fancy omiyage.

The staff stand about regally in uniforms. Apparently they don’t do menial tasks. At the counter you obtain your own tickets from a machine. You take your outside shoes off here – what do I do? – and the slippers you replace them with have, in turn, to be removed a little further. It’s all too confusing for me.

Mami breezes through as if it is all old hat to her – of course it is – but when she ducks under the women’s curtain waving me towards men’s, I’m at a loss. Where do I go? Where do I put things? How do I keep my valuables safe? The soap clean? My towel dry? What are the baskets for? Is there a toilet inside, or do I need to go back under the curtain?

Suddenly it all becomes too much. I manage to take a shower in a cubicle just inside the door, but then I rush back outside. I stay away from the bath itself. I refuse to take a look at those facilities. I want nothing to do with those dark, unsmiling, naked men.

When I saw and smelled that onsen, I was in Nirvana. My light-headedness must have distorted my perceptions: to me your pale, panicky face seemed happy, if a little tired. I was shocked afterwards to hear of your traumatic experience, and felt very sorry. I almost wanted to slap myself in the face.

(Slap your face? It was me that needed a kick in the pants. I can’t believe how completely I fell to pieces!)

In the tatami waiting area, I vow never again to use an onsen. I’m happy for Mami to go, but I prefer just a shower or to wash at a sink. The price of an onsen is simply wasted on me – to me hot water is nothing special, nothing to get excited about or rhapsodise over.

But of course I get over the experience. In hindsight, my panic attack occurred not just because of unfamiliarity with procedure, protocol, tradition and habit. It was probably the result of an accumulation of stresses: travelling to Japan and meeting Mami after such a long separation, fitting in with her family, putting on a brave an optimistic face before the camera, plus the prospect of walking 40 km per day barefoot, and several kilograms heavier than I should have been. When we eventually exit, to camp at a public park, I glance back at the name – ‘Happy You Onsen’!

Never mind, you quickly recovered from that nightmarish experience and became quite adept at adapting to onsen. You even enjoyed certain bath house facilities that I’ve never dared. Well done you!

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