The other day I heard someone playing the piano downstairs during lunch break. I figured it was A-san, one of the 6thgrade girls who is a wonderful pianist. I don’t know anything about playing the piano, but she can play things like Fur Elise with no problem, so I think she’s good. She likes it when I come by and watch her play, so I thought I’d venture down stairs to the elementary school and listen for a bit. After descending the stairs, I rounded the corner, and as soon as A-san saw me, she stopped playing and called for me to come over to her.
As I was walking over, she said (in Japanese), “Hey Michelle, you know, December 21st…”
I replied (in Japanese), “yeah, your birthday, right?”
Then she said in English, “No, my birthday is December 22nd. December 21st.”
I was so happy that she used the English we had been studying in class! I gave her a high five and she lit up like a little Christmas tree. Then she continued her conversation, but I couldn’t understand what she was trying to tell me. She said some long word in Japanese. When I asked her to repeat it, I still had no clue what she was talking about. Then, the poor girl, with tears welling up in her eyes said, “I don’t want to die so soon.” Then it clicked, she’s talking about the “end of the world.” I immediately tried to console her and told her that the world wasn’t going to end. I spoke to her in Japanese and said something along the lines of, “Don’t worry, the world is not going to end. Those people said that a long time ago, but they made a mistake.” She still looked a little shaken and asked, “so those people are liars?” I was most concerned with making her feel better, so instead of explaining all of the complicated history behind why the Mayans predicted the end of the world (I don’t think my Japanese ability is good enough for that anyway), I replied, “Yes, they are liars. Don’t worry, your birthday will come.” At that, A-san had a big smile on her face and with a sigh said, “Oh good, because I really like birthday cake.”
Poor thing, she was convinced that the world was going to end the day before her birthday. We continued talking about it, and she asked me a few more questions. She was scared because her friends were talking about the end of the world and she had also seen it on TV.
I have had a few proud moments in my adventures of studying Japanese:
- · Being able to properly show gratitude to my coworkers after hosting an event.
- · Understanding my supervisor, who speaks a mile a minute in the Chibu dialect.
- · Understanding my supervisor on the phone.
- · Giving a speech in Japanese.
- · Interpreting Japanese into English for Khoa.
But this has to be my proudest moment so far; being able to cheer up a little girl who thought the world was going to end the day before her birthday. This is why I study Japanese; to be able to connect with people in Japan, to be able to answer questions people here may have about other countries or cultures, and to give my kids a good impression of foreigners. I hope I’m doing a good job.