Lucky Man

Got a little treat for you today. I found an old post from the Japan days that was never published because I could never quite figure out how to finish it. All done now though! Enjoy…

It’s 23°C outside today. Normally anyone would consider this to be a nice, comfortable temperature but in Japan this is only the case before June. Today the humidity is at 82%. Interestingly, I used to think that humidity was the actual amount of water in the air. I thought this up until about two years ago when the weather report said that humidity levels were at 100% and, inexplicably, it wasn’t raining outside. How the hell is this possible? I thought to myself, and then ran to to my computer to find out. It turns out that humidity is the saturation level; the amount of water vapour the atmosphere contains. The higher the saturation, the less water it can take on, i.e. the less that can evaporate into it. This is why your clothes don’t dry in high humidity, and why your sweat pools in your hair and then drips embarrassingly on your students’ worksheets when you’re trying to help them with something. You sweat the same amount but it just doesn’t evaporate.

You probably already knew this and, despite nobody having done it since the 90’s, will say “well duh” at your computer screens. If there is 1 person that didn’t know however, then writing that paragraph was well worth the effort since you will no doubt be feeling as if you have just discovered one of the great secrets of the universe, as did I. Personally, I blame my geography teachers. You should too. I learnt everything there is to learn about U-shaped valleys and glaciers but they couldn’t tell me about a percentage we see on the TV every day?

Anyway, this weekend I went to Hamamatsu for a speech contest. One of my students from the after-school International Club wrote a piece about the importance of English on the international stage, and how she wanted Japan to introduce gap years so she could travel, see the world and grow as a person. She, a low-level English student from a technical high-school, was up against a whole bunch of English prodigies from various high-level schools with dedicated English courses, exchange programs and Matrix-style machines that you plug directly into your brain in order to upload the entire works of Shakespeare in a pinch. Probably. Considering the competition, she did spectacularly well. She memorised the whole thing, stumbling at only one point and recovering well. She worked hard on her pronunciation, and spent hours perfecting speech patterns and incorporating a few gestures, and she delivered the whole thing with ne’er a hint of nervousness. Indeed, I think I may have been more nervous than her.

The competition as a whole was outstanding. I’d heard that the entrants were going to be good but many of them spoke better, and with more passion than many native speakers from the UK or America. They looked incredibly natural – often as if English was their native language – and spoke about issues that were dear to their hearts. Attending this competition meant that I could not only offer my support to my school’s own budding prime minister, but that I also had a chance to spend a good few hours with some of my students outside of school. A couple of them never have any problems chatting to me in school but most of them are pretty shy, so this was a fantastic opportunity to draw them out of their shells a little bit; swapping music tips, speaking in Japanese as well as English, poking fun at each other, etc. It made for a really nice day out where usually I would have spent the entire time in the house on my computer as seems to be the pathetic norm these days (pathetic to everyone else; divine, self-imposed isolation to me). If you’re lucky, a great day out will also incorporate a train journey…

If you have never listened to Bon Iver – Skinny Love before please do so before/while you continue reading so you know what the hell I’m talking about. You’ll be seriously glad you did. You can find it here (make sure you choose the original and not one of the dodgy remixes). Is it playing? Good. Now, with this being such an incredible, emotive song it has a tendency to make you feel the same way; as if everything matters a little bit more. It’s the kind of song that you’d put on the soundtrack to a film after a girl just broke up with the main character in the rain outside a cafe in Portabello Road; this being the final straw in a long list of collapses that involved losing his job, his mum, his dad and everything else that is important to him in a short space of time. He walks through puddles crying, without direction or purpose, sparks up a cigarette for the first time in years and retires to his lush Notting Hill apartment to brood. Don’t worry though, in this story I just made up he bounces back and becomes a world-class fashion designer with meaningful relationships and a bunch of kids with whom he spends all his free time. He also has a sex change because he’s always felt like a woman trapped in a man’s body and this is the only way he can feel true to himself. His kids understand. His wife doesn’t but she’ll get over it.

I digress. Coupling this song with a journey on the train while you’re staring out the window makes you more pensive than Einstein after five Ritalin and a weekend break in a Buddhist monastery. This feeling only gets better when it’s raining outside. Why do I mention all this now? Well, apart from the love of just going off on a ridiculous tangent I genuinely felt that this was a special, life-affirming day – definitely one of the better ones since I’ve been here – and it was topped off by one of my favourite things in the world; a train journey in Japan with the rain beating on the roof and great music in my ears. I stared out the window at nothing in particular and smiled.

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