Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pretty flies for a white guy

Or, "You can't mistake my biology"
Or, "Science is golden"

I got some good news today. Sixteen months after submitting the first draft, my research paper (the snappily titled "A model of visual-olfactory intregration for odour localisation in free-flying fruit flies") was finally accepted for publication in the Journal of Experimental Biology. In that time it has been rejected, found by myself to contain serious errors, reworked, resubmitted, re-rejected, put on the back burner as I left the country, all but forgotten about by me, recently moved back to the front burner my my supervisor and co-author, and finally accepted. Third time's the charm.

This is my first (and possibly my last, but who knows) serious publication (I scored a dodgy conference paper back in '05). It's a nice feeling to know that I have, in a very very small way, contributed something to human knowledge. It's pretty cool to think that I can walk into any decent university library in the world and find something I wrote. And it does make me feel slightly less bad about all that taxpayers' money.

I couldn't bask in academic glory for long though, as I was required to teach kindergarten again this morning. The three preschool years generally aren't numbered, but instead named after fruits, arranged in increasing order of size. Today I had ichigo (strawberry) - the smallest of all fruits. So, my classes were composed of 3-4 year olds. I had racked my brain to think of the simplest thing I could do, and I settled on counting. But I think I still went too advanced for them - I suspect that some of the class would have struggled to count to ten in Japanese. The kids could just about memorise the sequence "one, two, three...", but actually grasping the concept of, say, "seven" in isolation seemed beyond them. Which is kind of interesting from a developmental psychology standpoint, but that was scant comfort to me at the time.

In the afternoon I returned to the more comfortable territory of junior high school, which requires a bit of a mental gear change so that one doesn't massively patronise the adolescent students. In the staffroom an English teacher said to me, apropos of nothing, "My daughter has a broken heart". Interesting conversational gambit, I thought. I probed further and discovered that her daughter had recently broken up with her boyfriend. Now, the Japanese don't seem to show much reserve in talking about relationships - you'll recall how I was asked about my marital status in front of 300+ kids. I offered the English idiom (she kind of collects these, so I try to come up with one for every occasion) "there's plenty more fish in the sea", to which she replied "you're a fish". I attempted to gloss over this, but she was having none of it, abandoning all subtlety and saying "I would like to give my daughter to you".

I was now officially uncomfortable, so I said "but I can't speak Japanese". This is my standard get-out whenever anyone starts trying to set me up, not that it happens that often. It's not just an excuse though; I genuinely don't think I would want to get involved with someone who couldn't speak English, at least until my Japanese is considerably better. "But you would become good at Japanese..." she responded (in Japanese). I have met gaijin who have also offered the viewpoint that the best way to learn the language is to get yourself a Japanese girlfriend. Call me old-fashioned, but I can't imagine having a relationship with someone with whom you couldn't say anything more complex than "If it rains, I will not climb the mountain". People do it though. I literally can't understand how it could work.

That not inconsiderable issue aside, I feel pretty sure that I don't want to get together with the daughter of a colleague. Knowing that my every maladroit romantic move was getting reported back to my co-teacher, and quite possibly to the Board of Education, would surely result in me experiencing almost lethal levels of anxiety.

Sensing that the linguistic defence wasn't working, I asked how old the daughter was. "Twenty-one", came the reply. "Oh, too young for me, I'm 27." "Really? What age girls do you like?" "The same age as me", I said. Whether 21 is actually too young is an interesting question. I'd say it's right on the cusp. She finally backed down, and I got on with my marking.

Five minutes later, she gestured over to the (quite attractive) Japanese teacher sitting not five feet away from me, as said simply "She's 28". Awkward.


  1. Finlay - I really enjoy your blogs but why am I the only one who feels the need to comment? Is it not done in blogland to comment?

    Anyway, I'm sure there are millions of people reading your blog who must have thought "Hmmmmm, married to a 21 year old who can't speak your language? Must be a catch somewhere."

    Tally Ho!

  2. No, you're not making a faux pas. Everyone else is just shy, I guess. Keep the comments coming!

  3. LOL. You should also have asked if the 28 year old has a twin ;-)

  4. Why don't you ask someone out on a date?

  5. Well done on the paper :-) I agree with Danny, but I think you should look further from the staff room....
    Jude x
    p.s. Check out the offspring now

  6. Why don't I ask your respective mums out on a date?

    Also, that link doesn't work for me.