08 April 2017

Trying to be too Smart with Mrs. Honda, our Nihonggo Teacher


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By my senior year at DLSU, all the fears I used to previously harbor about being kicked out had been laid to rest. I was consistently getting good grades even in those subjects that I failed in my freshman year. Because I had these very same subjects erased from my accumulated total, I even began to entertain thoughts of graduation.

I knew that this year would also be peculiar. Few of my East Asian Studies classmates were Lia-Com, so I knew that at the end of the year, most of them would be graduating. What this meant was that I would be left virtually on my own the following year. I had no recourse but to overstay because I still had a bit of a backlog and wouldn’t be able to take all my remaining subjects in just one school year. Besides, I still hadn’t told my parents that I had dropped Commerce from my program. I was also deliberately under-loading each semester so I would need to stay until the following school year and keep up the Lia-Com farce.

I had the football team, of course; but I was still determined to enjoy my final year in the company of my East Asian Studies class. After spending the better part of one year together, we had become quite a compact group.

As East Asian Studies majors, we were required to take six units of the Japanese language, Nihonggo. Nihonggo I was taught by an expatriate Japanese woman by the name of Mrs. Honda. She spoke, apart from her native Japanese, passable English as well as passable Tagalog. Like many Japanese people, she struggled with the letter “l” and often pronounced it as “r.” I didn’t know it at the time, but apparently this is because the sound “l” is not present in the Japanese language. Because the Japanese people, while growing up, don’t really hear the sound, when as adults they try to learn languages that have the letter “l,” invariably they have difficulty reproducing it.

This was why our Nihonggo class was just this seemingly endless laugh trip. Shallow college students that we were, we burst out laughing at each mispronounced “l,” which if I am being honest was really quite funny. Mrs. Honda never took offence, and this was largely why Nihonggo was so enjoyable. She was this bubbly personality who liked to laugh at herself; and often we just laughed along with her.

But there was this one time when she really got upset at the class and gave us all an earful. Our room was at the fourth floor of the Benilde Building, which had two staircases. One was north side of the building where the staircase led to what everyone called the college canteen. The other staircase was south side and led to the rear of the canteen and the football field.

University policy for late professors was for a class to wait 15 minutes Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and 20 minutes for Tuesdays and Thursdays before it could consider itself dismissed. Our Nihonggo class was an M-W-F one, and there was this one time when Mrs. Honda was not at the classroom when the bell rang. This in itself was strange. Being Japanese, she was always on time.

It was not at all that we didn’t want to see Mrs. Honda because most of us liked her as a professor. Rather, we were certain that she wasn’t coming at all because she was just never late. That was why, after a mere ten minutes of waiting, we all decided that there was simply no point in lingering inside the classroom. But we cheekily took precautions in case she did arrive. We knew that she always took the northern staircase, so we filed out of the classroom and headed towards the southern end of the building. My word, but most of us were already making plans about what to do with the suddenly free time.

Did I not say that it never pays to try to be too smart? We were all happily chattering like early morning sparrows as we descended down the stairs when those in front stopped dead on their tracks at the second floor landing. Guess who was standing breathless right in front of them? Mrs. Honda must have used the southern staircase just that one time in the entire semester, and it just happened to be when we were trying to elude her. The timing of her arrival, when I come to think about it, was really quite creepy.

She did not even say anything to us. With a pointer finger, she waved us up the stairs and back to the classroom. She told us she had a personal emergency that she had to attend to and had to rush just to be able to teach us. Her disappointment in our attempt to elude her was obvious. Imagine us, a class of college seniors, being lectured like elementary kids. Of course, before long, we were having fun again. Mrs. Honda was not the sort to stay mad; and we weren’t the sort to stay somber.

Our professor the following semester in Nihonggo II was a Filipino who had worked in Japan for a few years. He was by a mile the better teacher than Mrs. Honda ever was, but his classes were not as much fun.

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