Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Princess and the Pond

My high school was written up in a recent biography of the Crown Princess of Japan Masako Owada. She attended the high school before I got there. I have no idea if she was interviewed or even consented to this biography.

A friend, and fellow BHS grad, received photographed pages of the book taken in a Tokyo bookstore. He in turn sent them along to me. The following dissection of the translated passages are in no way meant to offend anyone (so calm down all you readers in Japan).

I indent the passages from a translated version. The author writes:

Even though she had attended primary school of three years in New York, nothing better illustrates the culture shock the young Masako would have to cope with than her new school. The contrast between the strict, prudish nuns of Futaba and freewheeling Belmont High School in semi-rural Massachusetts could not be starker.
Freewheeling? Semi-rural? I read that and think cows (well, cows on drugs). Or Vermont. We were less than 4 miles from the state capital, had public transit and no farms. I comment on drugs below.

Set beside a large lake in grounds full of silver-birch trees,

The "large lake" is called Claypit Pond and would never be mistaken for a lake. And full of birch trees? This is a photo from around the time the eventual Princess attended BHS. I did drive by last night and there are a lot more trees around today. So many you really can't see the school from the street. While an accurate description today, not so 20+ years ago.

Belmont's emblem is not a symbolic green sprig, but a pirate with a dagger clenched between his teeth wearing a tricorn hat emblazoned with a skull and crossbones.
I never thought of our Marauder that way but yes, we were fancy pirates. Argghhh.

The school has grassy sports grounds, where Masako would continue to play softball, an ice-skating rink, and a huge parking lot for the staff and teenage students, many of whom drive themselves to school.
It is true we had very, very nice sports facilities including a pool. The parking lot, however wasn't THAT big and in my day some kids did drive themselves to school (I was not one of them). What? Everyone walked to your school?

Instead of religious icons, the walls are covered with great splashy pictures of comic-book characters.
Really? Where? I would've LOVED to gaze at Wonder Woman during biology.
It is co-educational, and as for tucking one's socks over three times to just 15 centimetres above the ankle, the uniform is gangsta (their spelling) rapper chic - forage caps on backwards, baggy pants, football jumpers and sneakers. And make-up - banned on pain of expulsion at Futaba - is de rigeur (their emphasis).
Had "gansta rap chic" even hit the suburbs in the early 1980's? And what are football jumpers? I was too busy wearing over sized Frankie Says Relax t-shirts to notice.
Ethnic homogeneity is replaced with diversity - one in five of the students at Belmont is Hispanic or African-American.
This part is probably the most horrific because it is just patently not true. While I was at BHS I literally cannot recall any Latinos and all the African-American students were bused in - I kid you not - through a program to get "inner city" (read Black) students into suburban schools. There were maybe 5-10 Black students per class of 250-300. That's more like one in twenty. And at times a pretty lonely one too.
The notice board, rather than having notes about upcoming softball fixtures and music clubs, has the phone number of the Samaritans' suicide helpline, and newspaper cuttings with cautionary headlines such as '20 Shots of Scotch Prove Fatal to Student' and 'Six-Pack Cost Him $4722'.
The only place I can think of that had these posted was the health ed classroom and I was able to get out of that requirement because it met during band. Plus, what health problems could band kids get into anyway?

Julie Yeh, a Taiwanese student who befriended Masako, says that, compared with their new American classmates, they were both initially rather socially naive. Masako was shocked at the drug use and dating.
Yes, there were drugs at BHS. I can't comment if it was more or less than other schools since I didn't A) attend any other high school or B) use any illicit drugs. Yes my dear friends, I have never smoked, snorted, nor injected. I've never smoked a cigarette.However, did you notice that in the above sentence from the book they put dating and drug use together? As if they go hand-in-hand? Yes, I dated in high school but wasn't getting stoned or drunk with them.

When they went to the school prom, Masako blushed at the couples kissing in the dark, and since they didn't know how to dance, the two girls spent the night watching movies in the school auditorium.
Now I know for a fact that the author(s) have no clue what they are writing about. Every BHS Prom is held at one of the swanky downtown hotel ballrooms. And the room is always well-lit so kids can enjoy the ridiculous opulence around them.

There you have it. Of course, I'd love to know what the huge busloads of Japanese tourists who drove through our town in the late 1980's and early 1990's thought of it all.

I've got to say that letting people pick if they want to participate in a meme takes the stress off of receiving them. Jodifur listed a wonderful set of 9 (hey, more is better). My favorite of her list - she wants to own a winery. Darling you have an investor, as long as I get a case every year.


Jodi said...

First of all, I'm such a moron I didn't even realize I listed 9.

Amazing, amazing story. How odd she attended your high shool!

cathouse teri said...

Weird, eh?

Real Life Drama Queen said...

Odd.. but the authors that wrote the book sound like idiots.

Brillig said...

Oh my gosh, that would so be funny to read--about a place that you're intimately familiar with, being described completely differently than you experienced it. Crazy!!!

Jenn in Holland said...

Wahahahaha! Loved the music behind the post today SMID! (can you teach me how to do that?)
I was kind of bouncing in my chair and giggling over the discrepancies between the book and your memories. Maybe you should have done drugs, it might have altered the experience for you.

I come from a place where there was NO, (read as ONE lone kid)diversity either. I think SLC has changed some too in the past 20 years, but the area I grew up in was strictly white bread bored rich kids. Talk about hunger for diversity in a community, we were starved for it.

There is a spot out near the grand canyon in Arizona called "Jacob Lake" (named for a famous ancestor of my husband). We hiked off one day to spend time at the lake only to arrive and find it can't even be called a pond. It's really just a muddy hole in the ground. But the whole area is tagged with the name as if it really is some landmark property. Too funny!

Love the post. Going back to the front page for more rockin' out.

CableGirl said...

Brings a whole new meaning to Lost in Translation.

Jami said...

It's all about the bucks (or yen, I guess), honey. You gotta throw in some exciting stuff or the books don't sell. And you know that the Japanese all think that America is just like the book portrays it. Or yeah, maybe it was just translated poorly.

Jose Melendez said...

Come on, technically there was and still is one farm in Belmont, Sergei Farm.

soccer mom in denial said...

Now I see what it takes to get the famous Jose M to reply to a post - write about his beloved home town.

Jenn said...

Hehe. Was this written by a Japanese author? Makes sense if it was. It takes 2.5 hours to get outside of Tokyo. It's the largest city in the world. So I'm sure that Belmont seemed quite rural to her.

And there is no crime at all in Japan. Only random crime. And they just don't understand it. My professor told me a story about his daughters 5 year old friends stealing candy like it would them to be mass murderers.

I wonder what would have happened if she had ended up in Dorchester? Or better yet, The Bronx. Heh.

Jose Melendez said...

Jose's sources now confirm that it was written by a white American dude You can read about it here.