There is never a dull moment in our household, and this year has been no exception. We decided, at the very last minute, to join a group called MLI Canada/YES Canada and host an international high school student. What would possess someone to voluntarily bring a hormone-filled, always hungry, non-english speaking teenage stranger in to their home? Well, it seemed like walk in the park after our disastrous attempt to have tenants in our basement.
Kanta, a 17 year old student from Japan, has been with us since October. He is quiet and respectful and has been a great addition to the family. The children love to play cards and Beyblades with him, and he brought them some wonderful christmas gifts from Japan! He is hear for the entire school year to learn English and experience our culture. We are still a bit unsure why he picked North Bay, of all places, however, it is pretty much the epitome of an average Canadian town. Freezing cold winters with tons of snow, hockey-crazed residents, slightly poor and aging population, all with a couple of good lakes for fishing. Oh, and I forgot the shad flies, but he won’t have the pleasure of smelling them, since he will leave for home at the end of June.
We have tried to help him experience Canada and canadian family-life …walking on the Rideau Canal and eating beaver tails, ice skating, snowboarding and sledding on a windy -30 day, nature walks in the dark (with a failing flashlight and oncoming skidoos), and not to mention Trick-or-Treating in the rain (no Halloween in Japan) as a 7 person vampire family. He seems to be taking it pretty well, especially after we strongly urged him to buy snowpants and boots (he is still determined not to wear a hat, but, he’s a teenager, what are we going to do?).
Regardless of how much we are teaching him, there have been two significant pieces of learning for us though, which have really opened our eyes. The first is how different our culture is from the Japanese. You think Canadians are polite? You obviously have not met someone from Japan. Every movement they make shows concern and care for others around them, from taking off their shoes or slippers before entering someone’s room, not putting their feet up on couches, waiting to be offered everything (never asking or taking), speaking deliberately and quietly, and always eager with the thank yous! It certainly can be a bit unnerving and trying, however, in a family that is always in a rush to have someone around who moves so slowly, and it is sometimes hard not to get frustrated with someone who day after day, regardless of our eager prompting, will not ask for or take what they want eat… but who are we to complain. We should be taking a lesson from this young man that life does not need to speed by, and that we will still get there if we walk slowly (we just need to give ourselves a bit more time). We should also be humbled by the fact that perhaps we are not as polite as our reputation lets on. But maybe that part is just me…as a Mom I got really excited when my kids were finally able to tell me/ask me for the things they wanted, tell me how they were feeling and what boo-boo was hurting, so now that I have someone in the house again who is hard to understand and not forecoming with his wants and needs, I am unhappily driving down what seems like Toddler road, all over again.
The second realization came like a hard slap in the face. And we deserved it, all of us! Have you ever tried to watch a Hollywood movie, a sitcom or even a kids show with a person of Asian descent sitting beside you? If you are easily mortified I wouldn’t suggest it. We have had countless of these unfortunate experiences in the past few months and now have to carefully preview our TV/Movie watching selections. Almost every Asian person, and the Japanese especially, are portrayed (or referred to) in the most derogatory and stereotypical fashion you can image; from their terrible English accents, their love of cooking and eating household pets, to their fondness of bowing. And the pattern crosses all decades and all genres. It sneaks up on you everywhere, like the Japanese family singing christmas carols at the end of the 1983 The Christmas Story, or in last night’s episode of The Big Bang Theory. And don’t get me started on YTV’s Japanezi game show (kids show).
I am so glad that we were able to expose our children this year to a very different view of Japanese people than what they would have been bombarded with in the media. How sad is it that they likely would have pictured all Japanese people as embodiments of that idiot character Mr. Chow in The Hangover (not that my kids are old enough to see that movie yet)!
We look forward to the next few years and the chance to experience many cultures from around the world. I only hope that the students we bring in will learn as much as we do!