Archive for February 2009

Obama’s (non) State of the Union Address

February 25, 2009

It is customary for a president to be seated for a year before he gives a State of the Union Address, so Obama’s speech last night was not really a State of the Union. Even though the talking heads on TV treated it as such–my poison is MSNBC–it wasn’t. It was more like the Hopeful State of the Union, the way Obama envisions how his stimulus package will work out when implemented. There were a few promising moments, but he grabbed my attention when he got to education. This is the first time I can remember any president speak so publicly about the necessity of HIGHER education–education beyond high school–and how it will hold a place of prominence in his policy.

It is our responsibility as lawmakers and educators to make this system work. But it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in it. And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship.

But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country — and this country needs and values the talents of every American. That is why we will provide the support necessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal: By 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

I’m a college professor, and I’m not embarrassed to admit that I got misty eyed when I heard this.

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25 Random Things

February 17, 2009

There’s this list going around Facebook and I’ve been tagged a couple of times to do it. It’s been awhile since I’ve done a list so I thought I’d comply. Many may already know the contents of the list below, but I will try to include new facts without being too gross.

“Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.

(To do this, go to “notes” under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people, then click publish.)”

  1. I love dark chocolate and rarely eat milk chocolate. This is not a result of being lactose intolerant, which I am, but there is something about the bitterness of chocolate that I crave.
  2. I love dark leafy vegetables. This may be related to dark chocolate in that dark leafy vegetables have a tendency to be bitter as well: spinach, mustard greens, collard greens, shungiku (chrysanthemum leaves), etc.
  3. I feel really old these days. While some of this is physiological, a lot of it is situational. I just don’t understand what my students are talking about sometimes, and it really makes me feel out of it.
  4. I need to write and submit at least one article during my sabbatical, if not two or three.
  5. If I wasn’t a teacher, I’d be a cook–successful or not.
  6. When I retire, I plan to move to Japan.
  7. But I don’t plan to retire for a long time so plans can change.
  8. I got a D+ in Modern Japanese History when I was an undergrad.
  9. It took me five years to graduate from a two-year community college–I was working full time most of that time, and had a lot of Ws.
  10. I wanted to be a professional musician but realized that the chances of an Asian American becoming a rock star were pretty slim back in the 70s. The reality, of course, is that I was never very good.
  11. I tell my students to stop cracking their knuckles, but I crack my own when they are not around.
  12. I can do an imitation of Golum. The voice, not the face.
  13. I am ambidextrous. I can drink beer with either my left hand or my right.
  14. I never cut my fingernails at night because this will bring misfortune to parents–(sub)urban myth in Japan. My parents have been gone for a few years now, but Musubichan’s mother is still around.
  15. I can burp and fart at the same time–Just kidding. I’ve actually never done this, but I bet I can if I tried… Anyway, I always feel like these kinds of lists require something stupid and gross, so I feel obliged to put in at least one gross item, true or not.
  16. I used to be a Republican and I actually voted for Ronald Reagan. As a teenager too young to vote, I even worked briefly at the Asian Americans for Nixon campaign office in LA. I’m now an Independent. My argument, however, is that I have changed very little over the years. The country around me has shifted to the right, leaving me in the middle–fiscally conservative (basically), socially liberal (mostly).
  17. The scar on my right cornea is getting worse, and I think allergies exacerbate the condition. It tears up constantly and it looks like I am crying. Indeed, my right eye often looks puffy.
  18. I dream of having a 31 inch waist again.
  19. I’m not a liar, I’m a storyteller. I will embellish stories to the point that after telling the same story a hundred times, it sorta becomes the truth and I don’t remember exactly what actually happened. Some might call this lying, and so be it. But I prefer storyteller. I once caught a fish THIS BIG….
  20. I used to be a congenital flirt. I love the opposite sex so much–much to the chagrin of Musubichan–that I couldn’t help myself. I have absolutely no ulterior motive–certainly not now at my advanced age (what could I possibly do?)–but I used to love the give and take, the innuendo, and double entendre. The urge is now mostly gone, but sometimes creeps to the surface when I go drinking–it takes a bit of will power to keep my mouth zipped, my hands in my pockets and my eyes looking only at my wife or the beer in front of me. (FYI: Never at work and never with students. Duh!)
  21. I want a large flatscreen TV and HD satellite service.
  22. Everyone already knows this but I am a J-drama addict.
  23. I want to see my daughter in Japan.
  24. I love carbs but its a one-sided affair because carbs seem to hate me. Every time I eat carbs, I gain weight exponentially. If there were carb free potato chips, bread, chewy spree, or even cereal, I’d be in heaven.
  25. I wish I had a salary commensurate with my background, level of education and dedication to my work. I had my taxes done by H&R Block a couple of years back and the person doing my taxes expressed surprise, referring to my W2 as a “workman’s salary”. Indeed, I found out I make less than my plumber–granted he owns his own business…

I’m tagging the following: Dawn-109, Jerjonji, Kenshiro, Kyzer, La Mangust, Onigiri, SunJun, Takunishi, Whonose, The Greatest Pip. That’s 10. The other 15 I will tag on Facebook.

Speaking Japanese

February 4, 2009

When speaking Japanese, non-native speakers need to remember to be polite.

Most languages have at last two levels of speech. In general, they are formal and informal. In the US, this is especially true in business. You call people Mister, unless told otherwise. You speak and act politely, unless you become very familiar with your superior. Do you slap you boss’s back and tell him “Good job, dude”?

In Japanese, the line is even more pronounced. Unfortunately for most Japanese learners, a Japanese speaker will not correct a non-native speaker when they speak informally. Many Americans will come back from Japan thinking their Japanese is all that. I certainly have many students like that as well. And for the most part, their confidence is well founded. Their Japanese is relatively fluent and unobstructed by the fear of using the wrong word.

However, if they are too informal with me, I will always correct them. I don’t mean to be a hard-ass, but someone needs to correct them because if and when they return to Japan for work or graduate study, they cannot talk informally when talking to a business colleague or professor. They have to learn to turn the formality switch on and off in any given situation. And the level familiarity rarely has anything to do with it. I worked at a Research Center for two years in Japan and became very familiar with my bucho (division chief). We often drank together, and he is the one who dubbed me the “American who speaks English“. But one night while drinking, I spoke to him a bit too familiarly. Now, in Japan, drinking often excuses an error in judgment, and most will laugh it off the next day. But my error in being too familiar with my bucho put me in his doghouse for two weeks. He literally did not speak to me during that time, relaying messages to me through others.

The bottom line is–been there, done that. So I tell my students to speak to me formally whenever they decide to speak to me in Japanese. If they think I am a hardcase, then so be it. I take it upon myself to be their practice partner, their opportunity to learn how to turn that formality switch on and off.