Written by Lorna Shapiro
Mariko is a public school English teacher in Japan who lived with us for several months when she spent a year in Vancouver studying English. She is quite remarkable, having made the year-long trip to Vancouver after recovering from treatment for ovarian cancer. Mariko is cancer-free today. While here, she took up salsa dancing, which she happily continues to enjoy back in Japan. Mariko still goes to classes and leaves her husband to fend for himself in the evenings. She is not your stereotypical Japanese wife and mother, and she is delightful and a dear friend. We visited her several occasions during my trip to Japan and I suggested it would be good for her high-school English conversation students to have the chance to talk to me about Canada. I said we could do that if I visited her class one day. She was delighted with the suggestion, and she arranged my visit. She kicked off the class with a PowerPoint presentation of pictures from her time in Vancouver and our home. The students were by turns amazed and amused at the things they learned about Canada through this discussion. It was amusing to them that our public washrooms have doors that do not run floor to ceiling and that often do not have a red “occupied” indicator, causing us women to walk along the row of stalls looking under the doors for feet to determine if a stall is free or not. They also found the size of our kitchen amazing. The first question they asked, when given a free run, was: “what is the food for which BC is best known?”. This question is a very Japanese matter. The last question I received was from a group of young girls who were about to leave the classroom. They wanted to know if I knew Justin Bieber. This matter, I think, is a universal young teenage girl question.