Friday, March 9, 2012

Graduation as an anniversary, and cookie-baking

My last class with the 3nens was on their last actual day of class, from what I understand. This was unusual; normally our last class creeps up on us out of the calendar and I'm halfway through conducting it before we realize there won't be any more.

But this year was different. We planned ahead, and I wanted to make it special. So special, in fact, it would require the assistance of those abroad. I was callin' in the pudding cookies.

Other ALTs have done cooking classes with their students, but I never had before. Mostly I felt bad for asking to use the computer room, so the prospect of taking over and making use of not only a special room, but also a bunch of ingredients (which at first I thought, heck I'll just pay for, until I realized that chocolate chips have to be imported too, unless you want to bake with mini bags of mini chips and they just don't make cookies here like they do back home-- which is entirely the point of doing a class like this, after all), and making such a big mess and deal, well it seemed too much to ask, and to do. Plus, I'm not much of a cook. I don't know any really special recipes, right? Or super delicious representative foods?

But this year, I thought, no, let's do this. My favorite recipe is a fairly simple cookie recipe which is fairly cheap and did I mention really easy to make at home. The stuff you need is mostly already in your house. But for twelve groups of middle schoolers with a big shiny new kitchen classroom, it's a bit different. In Japan, everything comes in smaller bags and bottles, and since it was a class thing, we needed massive amounts of all the ingredients. First, we put in orders with Foreign Buyer's Club and YoYoMarket variously for all kinds of things. For the butter and eggs and sundry, we put in orders at the local grocery.

I was struck again with just how much butter and sugar goes into this recipe, but it's my favorite for a reason. The special secret ingredient (which my mom mailed me, thank goodness), makes the cookies really extra soft and forgiving. A few groups were instructed to make the regular "bag" recipe (that written on the choco chip bag) since we didn't have enough pudding mix packets for all 12 groups (that was my bad), but I think the substitutions of measurement and flour type and whatever the hell else happened in the process of procuring and measuring the ingredients in Japan vs. back home caused those poor groups to suffer very flat cookies.

All in all, the entire thing was a great experience, and a clusterfuck, and it gave me a cold. 
The clusterfuck aspect is pretty obvious: the recipe which is easy at home is not easy with a bunch of kids who have never made cookies before. I tried to tell them when a pile of the gooey dough was too big or too close to the others, but having never made cookies (having NEVER made cookies, at home), they couldn't really envision it. Also kids will be kids. I too remember looking at the pan and thinking, this extra dough could be one. GIANT. cookie. Oh awesome. Or, I wonder if we could make a pancake that was ACTUALLY the size of the PAN. So they had to try it, and it was pretty awful.
Also, there is the fact that this was all supposed to take place within one 50-minute class period, which I figured we could totally do. We could not.

Given one whole class period to clean up, we did restore the kitchen to order and were able to move the cookies during 4th hour.

Thirteen batches total. This is more cookieage than I ever made on my own.
The greatness of the experience was in their joy at being able to try it, and also at my own realization that they had just been given a little piece of something American iconic: cookies and milk. They didn't even know the two went together, and were horrified to see my dunk my cookie in the milk box. I was horrified that they had never heard of doing that.

That it gave me a cold is only in the way I stressed out about the whole thing in a manner that increased exponentially each day approaching the baking project. For me, colds aren't simply germs getting in and making a mess. Well it is that. But it's something else, because in my situation, that is, my age and general physical health and occupation, I am around germs all the time. Not like really bad ones, but I do work in an elementary school half the week. Shit goes around. Little kids TOUCH EVERYTHING. Germs are always there; I don't stay healthy by avoiding them, goodness knows. 

No. Getting sick is actually the rearrangement of stress and negative energy into bad physical reactions. It is conducted through the emotional wearing out of a person which leaves the mind and heart weakened against the ever-present opportunistic germs. It wasn't just the cookies thing that wore me out, of course: there are a great many things, mostly small, but too many of them nonetheless.

One is, of course, graduation. Graduations were not ever my forte, and this year there are the added bonuses of 1: these are my three-year students, meaning that when I arrived they were first-years, and now they are graduating, and 2: this is March, in Japan. 

March in Japan USED to mean spring (finally), graduation, and at the very end, hanami. But, and a lot of people don't think about this because it is so different from the western schedule, for a lot of us in schools, March 11th was, before it was the biggest goddamn earthquake of recorded history and tsunami of nearly unwatchable devastation, March 11th was graduation day. So we all sat in chilly gymnasia and cried a little while our teenage students fixed their wet eyes on the future and took flight from us. We all shook hands and took photos and sang songs and then, while we were puttering around the office, the chairs all stacked up, people already out of those black suits (always black suits for these occasions), while we were attending to paperwork or just now turning our attention to the next two weeks of school with the other students (graduates leave early or something), somewhere after the graduation while we were biding time before the evening teacher party, then that terrible disaster happened. 

I have heard other stories, from people in other places. One girl said they were already having the post-graduation party when they saw the shaking roll toward them across the horizon. Their boss said, "save the beer!" so they all grabbed one of the hefty bottles and held it up so the shaking table wouldn't spill it. 

So kind of.. in the way that you remember where you were when such and such a thing took place, and for those of us who lived in Japan, knew someone who lived in Japan, any of those related things, maybe this is one of those things. Everyone in Japan will remember where they were when they heard about the quake (or, if closer than we were, felt it). And for myself and many, many of my cohort, it was graduation day. I was exchanging e-mails, making plans with Sagramore in Tokyo, who noted in an e-mail at 3:05pm that there had been a "big ass earthquake just now, btw," and then failed to respond to my subsequent emails. I'm not into worrying, but I wondered just how big he meant, until others started getting phone calls and we turned on the TV.

So although it's not quite the year-anniversary of that event, it is, because it's graduation again, another Friday afternoon just like that one was.

Today, I'm in that in-between time again, just waiting til I can go home and hopefully take a nap. This graduation has been extra tiring because, as I mentioned, bonus number 1, they are my three-year kids, and also my last graduation, and I can't look at the departing students without seeing my own future, I can't hear their speeches without writing my own. I can't think about "Ichinan Family" without starting to cry. Splice that with the cold I got from cookie-baking and guess how many packs of tissues I've used up today. 

Tonight is the teacher party and once again, my head's not really in the game.

Some second years, being goofballs.

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