Monday, April 28, 2008


On Sunday morning, before The Man had woken up, there was a phone call from his mother. As usual, she was talking rapidly before I had even got the phone to my ear and figured out who it was. I caught something about her going to the supermarket, her house, and a fire. After a while she stopped and announced herself, and wanted to know who I was.

I told her.

"How are you?" she asked. "Are you well?"

"I'm fine," I replied, somewhat confused.

"Is The Man there?" she asked.

"Yes," I squeaked. My head was still spinning. "What did you say about a fire?"

I had a vision of her house burning while she asked after my health.

"It's gone! I can't get into the house!" she said.

I thought about this, and the vision in my head shifted slightly. Now the house was on fire and front door was buckled so she couldn't open it. But what was 'gone'? And why was she trying to get into a burning house? Nothing made sense.

"I'll get The Man," I said. I was pretty sure this was an emergency.

I started to run upstairs. Halfway up something in my head clicked, and I slowed down.

"Oh! I get it!" I said. "You lost your key!"

"Yes!" she said.

I am always mixing up kagi (key) and kaji (fire). If I think about it I am not confused, but when Okaasan is involved it is hard to think clearly.

I woke up The Man.

"It's your mum," I said. "She lost her key and can't get into the house."

"Eh?" he said, groggily, and took the phone. "Moshi moshi," he said, and after a pause, "MOSHI MOSHI!"

But Okaasan had gone.

Eventually she phoned back (she is a little confused by public phones) and we ended up having to visit her, taking The Man's key and getting another two cut along the way. Now she has an everyday key and a hidden spare. It was a relief to see the house. A part of me was still anxious about the non-existent fire.

Okaasan was so pleased to see us that she gave me her first ever spontaneous hug. Usually I hug her, not the other way around. I have been training her to hug for years. The first time I hugged her it was like hugging a small, rigid mannequin. Yesterday she collapsed into my arms, all soft and relieved, and it was lovely.

But as we left I found myself wishing that the hair salon Okaasan patronizes would burn down. I knew her hair was a weird purple colour but I hadn't seen it in daylight before, and it gave me a bit of a fright.


The butterflies like the yellow flowers growing down by the river.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Mr Spoon

Last night I slept for twelve hours. I only woke up once. At that time I asked The Man, urgently,

"Is it Saturday? Can I sleep more?"

"Yes," he said, and he may have said more but I did not hear it. I was asleep again already, dreaming.

I dreamed that I met a spoon with the head of a man. He had a very tidy haircut, and his face was long, white and sad. Also, he had an extremely long neck. In fact, that was all he had, because he was a spoon.

"Help me!" he wailed, and big tears trickled down his face. "Please! Help me! I want to pee!"

But I did not help him because I had been told, or maybe just knew (in the way you know things in dreams) that it was a trick. He was dangerous. He continued to cry for help and I carried on, along with everybody else. There were a lot of people.

It was a postmodern dream. I know that because somebody in the dream told me so.

"So this is what the future is like," I remember thinking. My sleeping brain interpreted the word 'postmodern' very literally.

When I woke up Mr Spoon was still vivid in my mind, but the rest of the dream faded rapidly. I laughed at the idea of a spoon with a man's head. How silly! I thought. How utterly bizarre! But he also made me feel a little anxious. What was so dangerous about him? Why couldn't I help him?

And what was all THAT about?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Is this camomile?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

That guy with glasses

Today I had a small class of repeat students (students who failed a required course and are repeating it) doing a quiz that I made from questions devised by first and second year students for homework in the last couple of years. These repeat students are all third or fourth year. I don't know how many are in the class because we don't have the lists yet, but so far I have seen thirteen. In the three weeks so far nobody has managed to come all three times, which probably explains why they failed in the first place.

There were nine today, so I had them in two groups, asking each other these quiz questions. Some of the questions could more accurately be called definitions, some are general knowledge questions, and some are simple-but-tricky questions dreamed up by the more devious-minded of my previous students. ("Yesterday this day was tomorrow" makes eyeballs swivel as students try to figure it out.)

Today I discovered that third- and fourth-year students are no better at general knowledge than first and second year students. In the group of five, somebody asked,

"Who is the Prime Minister of Japan?" and once they'd figured out what Prime Minister meant, the entire group fell silent. Finally a girl said,

"Oh, I know! It's that guy with glasses, right?"

But the bit I enjoyed the most was a little later, when a definition question came up:

"You use these when you eat. They are long and thin."

There was a long silence as students tried to figure out what long and thin things were used for eating. Finally one of them understood what was meant but couldn't think of the English word. He got terribly excited, because it was on the tip of his tongue and he really wanted the point. He hadn't been doing very well so far and they were getting very competitive about the whole thing.

"I KNOW! I KNOW!" he shouted. "CHIP- ... CHIP- ... CHIP- ... I KNOW! I KNOW! CHIP- ... CHIP- ... !"

I couldn't help it.

"Chipstocks?" I asked, innocently, over my shoulder. (I was half listening and half making name cards.)

"CHIPSTOCKS!" he shouted. Then he frowned. "Eh? No, hang on ... "

One of the others in his group suddenly got it.

"CHOPSTICKS!" he shouted, and got the point.

The first student turned and glared at me, half-laughing and half-accusing, as the others mocked him.

"Chipstocks! Ha ha ha!"

"Sorry," I said.

I felt a little ashamed. Teachers are supposed to help, or at least keep out of the game. We're not supposed to make things worse.

I should remember that.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008



I can't decide whether I keep looking at this picture because I like it or because I'm trying to figure out what is wrong with it. I took some other pictures of margarite, but they are quite boring. I can't remember taking this one, though. Why did I tip the camera sideways? What did I think I was focusing on? Did I think I was being clever and artistic?

I think I must have taken this picture by mistake.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Piano teacher

One of my students was having trouble with her writing today, and called me over. I figured out what she wanted to say, and told her what to write:

I want to be a piano teacher.

She dutifully wrote this down, but was not particularly happy with it. She and her friend stared at it and talked about how it seemed a bit funny. They wondered whether I had misunderstood what she said.

It seemed simple to me. What was the problem? I told them it was correct and moved away, but continued to listen to their chatting. It was a while before I finally figured out what the problem was.

She did not want to teach pianos. She did not even understand how that was possible. She wanted to teach PEOPLE.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Botan (Japanese tree peony) in a pot outside our front door.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


One of my colleagues has what I think must be a really odd marriage, or at least not one I can get my head around at all. She has been married for several years and has two children, but one time she told me that she had never farted in front of her husband.

I cannot imagine this, especially because they live in a fairly small apartment. What does she do? Hold it in? Go to the toilet to fart? Does she flush the toilet afterwards in case he suspects his perfect wife has done something disgusting like expelling gas from her bottom?

I told her that holding it in was bad for her, but since she was not suffering any ill effects that meant she was probably farting in her sleep all night, like a machine gun.

I probably shouldn't have said that. She was deeply upset by the idea. I think it gave her a few sleepless nights.

There are no problems with farts around here. Every time The Man farts I bless him. This is probably a bad idea, because it has become a habit, and one day a student will fart and get entirely the wrong idea about when it is appropriate to say, "Bless you."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

What does it mean?

In one of my classes this morning, of second-year students, at least half the class are students I had last year. It is embarrassing to have forgotten which names belong to which faces, but I didn't expect to have them again. Also, last year they were in a very large class, and I had a lot of large classes. This year they're in a class of about twenty.

I remembered a bag, though. As I was perambulating around the classroom I almost tripped over it, and recognized it right away. It was like meeting an old friend. Last year, when things got out of hand in that class, I would distract myself by speculating on what the bag meant and what was in it. Malfunctioning hedge clippers! I'd think desperately. Dangerous hairdressing equipment!

I know (or at least I think I know) what it is supposed to say (and doesn't), but . . . well, if it actually means what it says, what does it mean?

The bag says:


Wednesday, April 16, 2008


PC idiocy

The loopy professor is absolutely right about one thing, at least. In my first class today, at a different university, I had a student with an eye problem, which (of course) I had not been warned about. I did not notice this kid's problem until halfway through the class, at which point I realized he was struggling and I needed to write a lot bigger on the board if he was going to be able to make any sense of anything. I checked with him first to find out whether he could read anything at all (I was worried by the enormous magnifying glass he had), and he said if I wrote big he'd be able to manage. He also told me he needed to sit at the front. I had moved him to a group at the back of class using my usual random counting off method for putting students into groups, and this made me feel like an inconsiderate, insensitive teacher.

But he shouldn't have had to explain all this to me, and the fact that he had to is due to the idiotic notion that seems to have taken hold here that even mentioning a disability is 'discrimination,' and that equal opportunity for disabled people means the disabled should be treated the same as everyone else. This is political correctness gone mad, and what it actually means is that disabled students are not given the same opportunities as other students because the teacher does not know what they need. If I had been warned I could easily have written bigger right from the beginning, and made sure he was seated at the front. Also, I gave students a handout today, and I would have enlarged his if I'd known he was going to have trouble reading it. As it was some idiot had left the lithograph set to 80%, and another idiot (me) did not notice until it was too late, so the poor kid ended up unable to read the handout at all. It was perfectly legible (although rather small) for all the other students, but he was made to feel unnecessarily inadequate because NOBODY TOLD ME.

I hate having to make a big deal out of the whole thing. If there is something I can do to help a student, I will do it. It is not a problem to make larger copies or write bigger on the board. There doesn't need to be all this fuss and singling out the poor kid for special attention. I just need to be TOLD, so I CAN DO MY JOB. His disability is not something that should prevent him learning if his teachers are prepared for it.

In my last class I had another disabled student, this time in a wheelchair. This was no problem at all. All it meant was that when I put the students into groups we moved a chair out of the way first. In that case it didn't matter at all that I hadn't been told, and I wish the PC idiots in the office would learn the difference. I want to know about a disability IF IT MIGHT INTERFERE WITH A STUDENT'S EDUCATION. Why do they insist on making everything so bloody awkward?

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A happy life is sent every day

Yesterday the loopy professor wafted into the teachers' room just after I arrived.

"Badaunt-sensei!" she cried. "I wanted to talk to you!"

The part-time teacher who had just been starting to tell me some scandalous gossip about the school melted away discreetly, and the rest of the room miraculously emptied as well.

"How are you today?" I asked.

"I'm very well, thank you!" she said. "I have some information for you. We have new classrooms. Today we are in these rooms . . . wait . . . I have the paper here . . ."

She rifled through some papers and most of them slid to the floor. As we were picking them up she suddenly remembered she had to make a phone call, and rushed off.

I finished picking up her papers and started sorting out my own. After a while she got off the phone and came back to where I was sitting.

"I want to tell you something," she confided. "Administration has told us about some disabled students we have in our classes. I don't have any, but you do. I have the names here."

"Thank you," I said, wondering how I could have missed disabled students last week. "It's good to know about things like that."

"Yes!" she said. "The teachers should be told! I'll make a copy for you."

She went to the lithograph machine and started pushing buttons. After a while of nothing happening I noticed what she was doing and suggested that since she was only making one copy she might want to use the copy machine instead.

She made the copy.

"Here you are!" she said, handing it to me. "Let me see . . . you have a deaf student in your Wednesday class."

"Oh," I said, staring at the paper. "Um . . . I don't have a Wednesday class this year."

"Oh, yes!" she said. "That's right!"

"But I appreciate the thought," I said. "It is important to know these things."

"Yes! It's VERY important! I don't know why they don't tell the teachers. Oh, and here are our classroom assignments for today's classes," she said. "I changed them. Now we have classrooms with DVD players!"

She giggled.

"That's good," I said, smiling at her, but she had gone off to make another phone call.

The bell rang, and I waited. Eventually she came back.

"I have the information here about our classrooms today," she said, and started going through her papers again.

"Here it is," I said, showing her the paper she had given me.

"Oh, yes!" she said. "And don't forget to take this one, with the information about the deaf student."

"Thank you," I said, taking it.

"Teachers should be told about the disabled students," she said, and I agreed thoroughly. We are not usually told, and telling us a week after classes have started is better than not telling us at all. Telling us about disabled students we don't actually have in our classes is perhaps a little less helpful, but never mind.

I got to my first class five minutes late yesterday. But that was all right, because my boss was even later. After talking to me she had to go up to her office to collect the teaching materials she'd forgotten.

Classes went well, though. One of my students was wearing a sweatshirt that said,

milk love
a happy life is sent every day

Monday, April 14, 2008

Did we win? Anything?

Tonight The Man was watching K1 when he called upstairs to me.

"Quick! The New Zealand national anthem is playing!" he shouted.

I ran downstairs, wondering why I was bothering. Sure enough, just before a fight that involved a New Zealander, the NZ national anthem was being played. I sang along hammily. This reminded me of how much I dislike the NZ national anthem. It sounds like something you'd hear at a funeral. And the words are awful. (Actually I've forgotten most of them.)

"Probably you didn't really want to hear that," said The Man as I warbled the last notes ("New Zeeeeeeeeealand!") and started to leave the room. "But I think that was the first time for me to hear it. NZ never wins anything."

I paused on the bottom step, but decided I was too depressed by that mournful dirge to bother going back to slap his face. Besides, I couldn't remember the last time NZ won anything.

When WAS the last time NZ won anything? We never get the sports NZ is good at on TV here.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Mystery trousers

Two more first days done, at my busiest university, and only one weird student! I am so pleased, particularly as the weird one (yesterday) was only unbelievably nerdy and socially inept rather than mentally ill. Of course it's too soon to say for sure, but it's looking good.

In fact it turns out that my most difficult two classes seem likely to be the last two of the week, when I am least equipped to deal with them. However, they are large, noisy, joyful-difficult rather than quiet and sullen-difficult. It will just be a matter of maintaining inner calm while the clown in the fourth period reduces the class to helpless laughter and the girls in the fifth period fall in love with me loudly and joyfully. I don't recall ever getting declarations of love on the first day before, much less from girls, but that's what happened. Perhaps in the short time I spent with my nieces and nephews I turned into a Universal Aunt. Or perhaps they are just sick of being in the minority all the time. There are only a handful of girls in that department, and while that particular class had more than any of the other classes today, that only meant there were eight out of thirty-four-odd instead of one or two. Getting a female teacher probably made them happy.

Speaking of the male/female ratio, I am sure there were more girls in that department when I used to teach there a few years ago, and told my new boss so when I bumped into him in the corridor.

"In my first two classes I have a total of fifty-four boys but only three girls," I told him. "And one undetermined."

"There are never many in this department," he said. "I don't think it's changed that much. What's the undetermined one?"

"I don't know," I said. "That's why I said undetermined. It's either a very pretty boy or a rather handsome girl."

"Well, why didn't you check?" he demanded. "One little peek inside the trousers would have settled the question in no time at all!"

He laughed so hard he had to hold onto a door frame. Then he added,

"Oh, you're so funny! I'm going to enjoy working with you!"

I think I'm going to enjoy working with him, too. It's takes the pressure off when the boss makes the jokes, laughs his head off, then attributes them to you. You don't have to work so hard to keep them happy when they do it all themselves.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A theory

Tonight I could not avoid it. I had to have a bath, and wash my hair. The gas water heater will be replaced tomorrow, but I had to wash my hair tonight. It has been too long, and I have another first day of classes tomorrow. It would not do to turn up with dirty hair. New teachers should have clean hair.

I decided to use the bath and the bucket to wash my hair, and then risk the hot water heater to rinse it out. I heated up the bath. I washed my hair. Then I turned on the shower. The water ran warm. I rinsed my hair. It worked!

And then . . . it didn't work!

Oh, well. At least my hair is clean.

I have a theory about these gas heaters. My theory is a conspiracy theory.

Aside: I work with a guy who makes up much better conspiracy theories than I do. (He actually believes his conspiracy theories, which is another difference, although sometimes it's difficult to figure out what they are.) He tells you something like, for example, "Did you know that the Queen of England gave the Japanese Emperor the Order of the Garter in 1929 AND 1971?" He pauses for effect, then adds, meaningfully, "Think about it!" Then he walks away, leaving you to think about it. This can disconcerting, to say the least. You end up thinking meaningfully about things you never thought you'd give head space to, and you're not quite sure what it actually is you're thinking about.

Anyway! (As you may have guessed that one still has me thinking meaningfully.)

My theory is that gas heaters are made to last forever, but with one little flaw. The little flaw is an electrical connection in the control box. That is made to last ten years, more or less. After ten years the connection stops working properly, and the gas heater doesn't work anymore. At that point the afflicted and possibly shivering owner calls the gas company.

"Our hot water heater is broken!" they say, "We don't have any hot water!"

The gas company sends someone around to check.

When they see the water heater they snigger to themselves, but keep a straight face.

"It's old," they inform the owner. "You need a new one. These last ten years."

The owner is annoyed but also is finding life rather difficult without hot water, so pays out the exorbitant amount required to buy a new hot water heater (which will also only last ten years).

When the new water heater is installed the old one is removed. The old one is taken back to the company, where the faulty electrical connection is fixed and replaced with another electrical connection that will last ten years. It is a simple procedure.

The old hot water heater is given a new 'face' (maybe a new control panel, to make it look new) and sold on as a 'new' hot water heater, at a 'new' exorbitant price, to the next person who calls after getting a surprise in the shower.

And that's my theory about hot water heaters.

Monday, April 07, 2008

She's still loopy

First day back today, and the loopy professor is as loopy as ever. I had been a bit worried about seeing her again since the student evaluation results came back. This happened while I was away, and The Man opened the envelope. He found the results funny enough to email some of the comments to me. The loopy professor's classes are a waste of time, students wrote (yes, multiple students). She talks about herself all the time. Badaunt's classes are fun and interesting. She listens to us and helps us to understand.

Words to that effect, anyway. Usually they don't bother with writing comments, but apparently they felt pretty strongly about it. I got a lot of positive comments. The loopy professor got a lot of negative comments.

I laughed when I read The Man's email, but I laughed nervously. This woman may be nuts and a horrible teacher, but she is my boss.

I discussed with friends how to deal with it if the topic of the evaluations came up, and decided that the best way was to be the 'dumb gaijin who can't read,' and with a bit of luck she wouldn't remember that I live with a translator. Actually I was fairly sure she wouldn't mention it at all.

But it was almost the first thing she said to me.

"How lovely to see you!" she blethered as she wafted into the teachers' room. "I am so happy you can work with us again this year! The student evaluations were very good! They like our classes VERY MUCH!"

"Er, how wonderful," I said, weakly, and as she looked at me expectantly added, more enthusiastically, "That's very good to hear!"

"Yeeees!" she said. "The team-teaching system is working VERY WELL!"

I'm not sure whether she doesn't realize that the evaluation results were posted to me, or whether her brain has just papered over the inconvenient fact that the students thought her classes were rubbish and were uncharacteristically eloquent about it.

She told me that she wanted to combine our first class. I mentally threw my lesson plan out the window and told her what a good idea I thought that was. In fact admin had forgotten to assign us two classrooms, it turned out, so we didn't have a choice.

Naturally, she took charge and I was the gaijin tape recorder. She taught the students a few facts about foreign culture she made up on the spot (as far as I could tell), told them to ask me my nationality and name and to ask, "How do I call you?" Then she told them to call me Badaunt-sensei, something I usually spend quite a bit of time trying to teach students not to do. "Call me Ms Badaunt," I tell them, "Or else use my first name. We should use English terms of address in an English language classroom."

I must remember that this year I am Badaunt-sensei at that university. It would not do to tell the students the loopy professor has it wrong. And I'm hoping they'll forget "How do I call you?" even though she made them repeat it about fifteen times. What do you do in situations like that? Correct your boss in front of a class of first-year students? I DON'T THINK SO.

While I was typing up the class list (I took the opportunity of my lack of a clear role to get some paperwork done) she finished explaining the course to the students, then got out a DVD she wanted to show them. She opened the video cabinet and fiddled around. After a while she came over to me.

"Do you know how to work the DVD player?" she asked, handing me the DVD, and giggling slightly hysterically. "I can't figure where it goes. Hee hee hee!"

It turned out that the classroom was not equipped with a DVD player. She had been trying to put a DVD into a VHS player.

I volunteered to run downstairs and get a DVD player.

When the guy came with the DVD player, he could not get it to work properly. He could get sound, but no picture. The loopy professor ended up babbling at the students until they were terminally confused, then letting them go early.

It was a funny sort of start to the week, but I am looking forward to seeing half of those students next week, on my own, and demonstrating to them that at least one of their teachers is not a complete imbecile.

Beginnings and endings

Last week our hot water heater started acting up. Sometimes when we were using hot water it suddenly switched itself off. We called the gas company, and a man came and checked the heater. He told us that he couldn't tell what was wrong. If it was this, he said, then it would cost a little to fix. But if it wasn't this, it could be that, and it would cost quite a bit more. And if it wasn't that either, then we would need a new heater. In any case, he said, our heater was old and they only last 10 or so years anyway. We probably needed a new one, which would be quite a lot more.

What on earth is he talking about? Ten years is not old! Didn't stuff used to last longer? I still thought of that heater as a 'new' one. How could it have broken down already? How badly are these things made? And why do they cost so much when they so badly made?

Tonight I had shampoo in my hair when the water suddenly went cold. I did a little dance around the bathroom and yelled frantically. The Man turned the heater on again for me. (The controls are in the kitchen.) Then I applied conditioner and the water went cold again. This time The Man was unable to get it started again. Apparently it has died completely.

I used water from the bath (the bath water heater is NOT broken, and it is at least twenty years old, hallelujah and long may it last) to rinse my hair, but we are getting a new hot water heater SOON. The weather may have warmed up a little, but it's not THAT warm, and that was not a pleasant experience.

Today as I was cycling in the neighbourhood I noticed the cherry blossoms are at their peak. They are a little earlier this year. Usually classes have started already and I have very little time to see them. This time I managed to get pictures, and the sky was even blue.

Classes start tomorrow, and rain is predicted.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The great shrimp

Today I got a haircut. I did not ask The Man to do it for me. I went to my usual hairdresser, and she charged a lot more than The Man does. On the plus side, she did not end up bleeding all over the place, and I did not have to take off my clothes.

On the way back I found myself sitting on the train next to a high school student who was studying an English vocabulary list. Naturally, I peeked. I am always interested in what high school students study in their English classes. It fascinates me. It always looks as though they study very, very hard, and learn all sorts of difficult things. I always wonder how they manage to study so hard to so little effect.

His word list was in a textbook, and seemed to be in no discernible order. It was not alphabetical. Nor was it arranged by subject. In fact the only category I could think of that these words all belonged to was the category of 'English words that will probably turn up in a vocabulary test.'

Phase, I read, and when his thumb moved out of the way, frustration. Then propaganda and hypothesis. Herald came next, then paradox, friction and thrift.

I suppose my students can't remember many of the words they learned in high school because they studied vocabulary the way the student sitting beside me was studying it– as random lists of unconnected words, memorized for an exam.

And that reminds me of a private student I had years ago, whose English was pretty good and who had a seemingly endless supply of funny stories about herself. She told me she learned the hard way that it was not a good idea to learn new words out of context and in alphabetical lists. She used to study on her own, and in an effort to improve her vocabulary she studied the way she had learned to study at school. She made lists of words. But she put them in alphabetical order.

One day she was in Kyoto when a very nice American tourist asked her for directions to somewhere. She ended up showing him around Kyoto and enjoying herself very much, practicing her hard-won English. The highlight of the day was when she took him to a famous shrine. As they approached the shrine she mentally rehearsed the words she would need, and rounding the corner flung her arms out dramatically and proclaimed:

"And this is the great Yasaka Shrimp!"

Her guest was, she told me, 'very surprised.'

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Faux pas

Yesterday I went to a meeting. It was at one of the universities where I've worked for a while, but most of my classes this year will be in a different department. This means that I have a different boss for those particular classes. I like my new boss and am looking forward to working with him, but not looking forward so much to actual classes. The students in that department have a reputation, and it is not a good one.

There were quite a few teachers at the meeting, and it was fun to catch up with my colleagues. There was not much other reason for the meeting, really – everything we were told we either knew already or could have been told via email. But we also got to meet our OTHER boss, the Japanese one (i.e. the real boss rather than the token foreigner one).

The meeting started with the foreign boss introducing the Japanese boss. We were told that he was very busy with an important publishing deadline so would only speak for a moment and could not stay for the whole meeting. We had not met this guy before, and were all very aware that this was the man who really hired us, so prepared to listen carefully and impress him with our professional attitude.

After the Japanese boss was introduced we all clapped, and he stood up to give his welcoming speech.

He spoke in a friendly, chatty way. He started by telling us his name, and then his title in Japanese. Then he translated his title into English. His title was a long one.

"I am (deep breath) the Chairman of the Y Department of X University Committee for the Promotion of Proficiency in English Education," he said.

He exhaled, and smiled.

We were not sure if this ridiculous title was officially funny or not, so didn't laugh too much, just in case. Instead we chuckled warmly in a way that could be taken as appreciative of his superior status OR appreciative of his making fun of his own title.

The chuckling was fading away when a deeply sarcastic voice from the other side of the room muttered quietly (but unfortunately not quietly enough),

"Whose idea was THAT?"

The Chairman looked at his heckler. "Mine," he said.

It was a brilliant comic moment. The guy who had asked the sarcastic question went bright red, and the rest of us howled with laughter.

Ooh, good one! I thought, as I wiped my eyes. Our new boss has an evil sense of humour! How wonderful!

Amidst the uproar the Chairman gazed around the room, smiling pleasantly. But he also looked rather puzzled, and gradually the realization dawned that his stupendously brilliant comeback at the sarcastic teacher had been entirely unintentional.

It was awful. The sarcasm had gone straight past him! He had answered the question seriously! He had no idea what we were laughing about! He probably thought we were laughing at him!

We stopped laughing. This was not easy, as the situation had just racheted up to a whole new level of funny, only this time the joke was on us.

The Chairman resumed his speech, and after our dreadful collective faux pas we were all very careful to smile and laugh in the right places – the OBVIOUS places when he said something clearly identifiable as a joke, and paused especially for laughter. After he'd finished we all applauded again, probably a little too enthusiastically. Then he made his excuses and left, and we carried on with the meeting.

I am fairly sure that we did not make a very good first impression on our new boss, which is a shame, really, because he seemed like a nice man.

And we're not bad people, not really.