I tend to overreact to things.

I tend to overreact to things.

post 127 image 1

But I wasn’t always like this. Actually, back in elementary school, I tended to under-react to things. I wasn’t particularly hyperactive during class. I was quiet and liked to keep my head down.

Not to say that I wasn’t a happy kid. I mean, what did I have to worry about? I had barely any homework and played outside all day. I had friends. My parents fed me. The freeloading life was pretty swag.

post 127 image 2

But I guess in elementary school, I wasn’t a very emotive kid. Or something like that. I suppose. I really didn’t notice. Regardless, in my later elementary years, my teachers took notice of my subdued behavior.

post 127 image 3

This happened more than once.

post 127 image 4

I didn’t really think much of it. Maybe my teachers were just concerned for their students.

Fifth grade was a particularly fun year for me. I had a young, super-cool teacher (who taught us the Pledge of Allegiance in sign language) I really liked my classmates (especially the kid next to me who taught me how to play Yu-Gi-Oh… ooooh, grade school crush) and I got to race cars made from K’nex. Heck, in elementary school terms, I was pretty much living the life.

post 127 image 5

That year, each student had to sit down with their teacher and talk with them one-on-one. Like a parent-teacher conference, minus the parents. I wasn’t too concerned since I wasn’t a troublemaker. Plus, as previously stated, I loved my teacher because she was super-cool.

post 127 image 6

Whoa, hold up. What? She had something to tell me? I did something wrong? My young mind was thrown into uncertainty. Oh no, I must be in trouble! The suspense! Say it, just say it now!

post 127 image 7


post 127 image 8

I needed to smile more? What? But why? I was perfectly content. Did it not show? Did I not smile? Did I look, like, perpetually depressed all the time or something?

post 127 image 9

Wait, she said it again!! This wasn’t a joke!

post 127 image 10

And, if I didn’t smile enough, maybe I was depressed! Oh no!! Have I been secretly unhappy this whole time while I thought I was happy?

post 127 image 11


post 127 image 12

That day, little elementary school me went home very confused.

post 127 image 13

How have I not been displaying my happiness? Was I unhappy? I consulted my closest confidant.

post 127 image 14

I was playing Pokemon. So that pretty much answered the question for me.

post 127 image 15

Still, this was a problem. So, like how Ash resolved to become a Pokemon master, I made my own resolution that night.

post 127 image 16

I walked into class confidently the next day, ready to show that I was a DARN CHEERFUL KID and I CAN SMILE, DARNIT! I just needed the right opportunity.

I found my chance when my super-cool teacher announced that we would be raising animals that year. That caught my attention. Animals?! No way! I had always wanted a pet. I was very excited.

post 127 image 17


post 127 image 18

In fact, each kid would get their own animals to bring home.

post 127 image 19

Specifically, a pair of fiddler crabs.

post 127 image 20

In my determination to show that I had enthusiasm, and the fact that I was actually extremely thrilled about this guys, omg look at their little claws, meant that I was soon reduced to a jumble of breathless chatter and wildly waving arms.

post 127 image 21

I was a mess. A very excited mess. And the thing is, I never stopped being an excited mess. To this day, I gesture wildly, overreact to everything, and generally make a fool of myself.

post 127 image 22

At least my teacher never questioned my emotional health again.

Grade schoolers are better rice farmers than me

There’re so many things I did in Japan that I never blogged about. Time for a blast to the past!

One of my more interesting experience in Japan was when we visited an elementary school. We spent the morning and afternoon at a school in Sapporo to give the grade-schoolers a taste of, well, gaijin! We, in turn, would get a taste of the life of a 小学生. (shougakusei, elementary school student) We were to hang out with the students, teach them some English, and expose them to our American culture.

Though, to be honest…

I think I learned more than they did.

Our very first activity, for example, started out with something I’ve never seen in the US: planting rice. From what I’ve seen, it’s typical for Japanese elementary schools to keep their own rice paddies, which the students help plant, tend, and harvest. And they saved their planting day specifically for the day we visited!

post 102 image 1

Despite the fact that both my parents grew up in Vietnam– my dad on a rice farm, no less– I hadn’t even seen a rice paddy before I came to Japan. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Though my dad’s stories of mosquito bites and peeling leeches off his legs gave me a general idea.

Well, I didn’t see any leeches, but I sure wasn’t expecting the paddy to be so deep. 

post 102 image 2

I also wasn’t expecting it to be so difficult!

post 102 image 3

But it’s okay. I still thought it was fun.

post 102 image 4

After rice planting was lunch, where we experienced another slight cultural difference. You know how, in America, lunch ladies serve the kids? Well, in Japan, the kids take turn serving you. 

post 102 image 5

The lunch, as you’d expect, was completely different as well. Gone was the pizza and hot dogs and mozzarella sticks. Instead, we had a well-balanced meal of rice, seaweed, fish, vegetables, miso soup, and milk. Even the portion size was appropriate! Maybe a little too appropriate…

post 102 image 6

After lunch was, of course, recess. This was a throwback to elementary school– you know, kids playing tag, climbing the equipment, chasing and running and screaming. Though apparently frisbee isn’t a thing in Japan. One of our group members, an ardent Ultimate Frisbee player, demonstrated her skills. To the utter fascination of the kids.

post 102 image 7

Afterwards, my group was broken up into several classrooms. Each American kid was assigned to a table of 4 or 5 students. First, I was put in a group of 4th graders…

post 102 image 8

…and then, at the teacher’s urging, I taught them rock, paper, scissors.

post 102 image 9

After an hour of rock, paper scissors, including a highly competitive class-wide tournament, I was spirited away to another classroom of 5th graders. This time, there was no lesson. Instead, they were supposed to incorporate me into their, uh, “group” as they hung out in their free period.

First, they whupped my butt in a Japanese version of Old Maid…

post 102 image 10

Then they taught me how to make paper cranes.

post 102 image 11

I also tried to converse with them, which was difficult, since all the kids spoke really fast and used a lot of slang. I did manage to ask to see their English textbooks, though.

post 102 image 12

Japan is notorious for its substandard English programs. I got to see why. (not like America is that great at foreign languages, though)

Before we knew it, it was time to leave. My group exited the building to much fanfare. Several of the kids followed us to the exit, and kids would pop out of their classrooms to take a look at the interesting gaijin. We got a final look at one more cultural discrepancy:

post 102 image 13

The kids clean their own classrooms in Japan. Now that’s a reason not to stick gum under your desk.

And then we were free. The Japanese elementary school was different, for sure. Simply in cleaning their own classrooms and serving their own meals, there was a sense of greater discipline and responsibility. Japanese students eat lunch in the classroom.  None of the grade-schoolers were allowed to eat until everyone had been served. I didn’t get to sit in with a real lesson– but those little quirks already showed the difference between American and Japanese culture.

Yet the Japanese kids were just like American ones. They were blunt to a fault. (One of our students got called “hairy.” Another Japanese kid paused, pointed to our Chinese student, and said, “Made in China.”) They play the same games as us. They were hyperactive and crazy and loud just like American kids.

In the end, kids are just kids, right?

Even on the other side of the world.

post 102 image 14