Xin Yee Tee
Live in the moment
Life advice to students
Life is not about work; It is all about love.
Advice for students who wants to be a writer
Xin: Thank you for sharing your time here with me today! But today you will have only me, alone. Because Natsumi has some plans before we leave Boston.
First Question: Do you like Biz Times…?
Xin: I will start with this question: you have been working on Biz Times for four months…or a little bit longer. Do you like it? And do you have any comment?
Tom: Yes, I like it. Because it is the longest-running newspaper we have ever had in Boston. They usually don’t continue after one and two issues. I think this is the best student newspaper we have had.
Xin: How did you start the first newspaper?
Tom: I didn’t. There was actually a newspaper class in Boston 24 years ago.
Xin: 24 years ago!
Tom: John McCarthy was the teacher, because he used to work for a real newspaper. That class stopped after one or two years. Then later on, I began doing them in my writing classes. It was usually a student activity to learn news writing, a different style of writing.
I’ve always hoped it would become ongoing, but it hasn’t. Because when one semester’s students finish, they go back to Tokyo, and it stops. So, I don’t know about Biz Times. I would like it to continue.
Xin: I hope so too. I am looking for new ways to make it be able to continue. It is kind of hard, especially for the interview section. I am working with Natsumi now, but I think she will have more things to do after going back to Tokyo, I would probably lose my best partner.
So, I think I will rotate my partner with 3 or 4 people, and maybe we can do once a month. I think I will try this way.
Tom: I think this is also a way for you to connect with other students, so I hope you’ll continue.
Tom’s Favourite Article…?
Xin: Can I ask which is your favorite article and your favorite interview? Do you have one?
Tom: Ah! I have to think. I like the interviews the most, especially the ones you did with Gasha- san and Danielle Archer. They’re the longest, the deepest and very interesting to read. I think you yourself feel connected more to those women.
Xin: Yeah! A lot!
Tom: The others I liked were with the McCoys, Dr.Schwartz… but the first two are the most interesting to me. The other articles are good, but they are typical. Every year students write about similar things. The beauty of interviews is that they really go inside a personality. So, they’re good.
Xin: Right! And I think it is very interesting, because sometimes the interview will be done by me and sometimes by Natsumi, and we have different writing styles.
My friend—Mayuko, when she was reading Dr.Schwartz’ interview, she commented that that interview seems less conversational. Actually, it was just because the article was done by different people.
Tom: Actually he did talk more!
Xin: Yes, he did! The difference is because I personally prefer to make it more like a conversation, and Natsumi is very good at summarizing, which I think is easier to read and understand.
Being in Showa Boston for 25 years
Xin: I was having lunch with Stacy (Jenkins, Student Service staff) just now, and we were discussing that you have been working here for 25 years!
Xin: That is really a long time!
Tom: Longer than you’ve been alive.
Xin: Yes! So…how was it like being here for more than 25 years?
Tom: Well, I think about that. I think I surprised myself. I took the job and expected to stay two years…
Xin: Two years!
Tom: Yes, two years. Because Showa is so far from my house. But I was so happy here, I said, “One more year, one more year, one more year…”
Xin: And then 25 years!
Tom: Yeah, right! What I say is, “I came for the money, and stayed for the people.” I had no interest in Japan when I started. I just wanted a salary.
Tom: Yeah, my cultural interests were in Africa, Spanish-speaking cultures. I just didn’t think about Japan or Asia. China, actually – I had been interested in China when I was in high school. Confucius. But I was still more Eurocentric. But being here helped open my eyes to Asian culture. And it became a real, sincere interest. I hope to stay here for 4-5 more years, until I’m 70.
Xin: Five more years, and then you will want to extend one more year, one more year…
Tom: Hahaha. I’m not sure about that, but I’ve enjoyed teaching here. I expected to stop at 65, but I don’t have enough money. That’s another reason to continue. (Laugh)
Showa Students’ Studying Abroad Life: Now vs the old Days
Xin: I think there must have been a very big change in Showa over 25 years…?
Tom: Yes, I’ve noticed some changes in the students. They dress better! (Laughs) Originally Showa was very conservative: they would tell students in Tokyo to dress in long dresses. Now students are more fashionable. On the other hand, they’re less grateful. (Laughs)
I mean students are still grateful, but look at that box (on a bookshelf). That is all goodbye letters, goodbye cards. A few years ago, those stopped, partly because nobody writes now. The students still enjoy the semester, I think, but I used to get lots of these…
Xin: Cards and letters…!
Tom: Yeah! And these ones, a little booklet with photos from the classes. This was common until…8 years ago.
Tom: As I say, students are appreciative, they like their Boston teachers; but nobody writes. This is why I love the newspaper, because students have to write something thoughtful and it’s printed. Otherwise, they do texting. I get texts and emails, but the problem with digital communications is, they disappear! If you write on paper, they stay! So, I prefer written communication.
Xin: Do you read the cards in the box once in a while?
Tom: Yes, I do! This is a teacher’s reward. We don’t get a lot of money, but you’ll have lovely relationships, good memories with students. Connection, which I like. I wish I could have more communication with students.
Xin: Do you think the objective of the students now has changed?
Tom: Hmm…they worry more about jobs. In the early Nineties, the economy of Japan was down, but they expected it to get better. So, students studied more about literature, art…now, everybody worries about jobs.
The focus is more on businesses, economics, practical skills. I have mixed feelings, because I still think everyone at university should learn art, philosophy, history. Those subjects may not give you a job immediately, but they make you human.
Economics is great to learn, but there’s a rich culture to know, if you are university educated. So, there should not be a narrow focus on employment.
Xin: I think students now have more distraction. If they do not have to worry about their jobs, they have iPhone to play with, Instagram to look at, so…
Tom: That’s true. 25 years ago, students in Boston were cut off from home. They could call Japan, but it was very expensive. No email, no texting, no Skype; they would write letters to their parents, but otherwise, they were very lonely at first. But they were also more in American life.
Now at night, students can watch Youtube, of Japanese television. (Laughs) It prevents English education. You never really leave Japan.
Xin: I know! I am on vacation now (vacation time from myself), so I am watching videos in Chinese a lot, too!
Tom: (Laughs) To be honest, when I was in Japan ten years ago, I watched English-language movies on a laptop! It’s normal to relax from the strain of a different language. But I miss the old days.
Lunch with Students
Xin: Do you usually have lunch with students?
Tom: Yeah, I’ve done it not just here, but for my whole career. It’s partly selfish, since I like to know my students. And getting to know them means they use English, so it helps them.
I feel the best part of Boston is that teachers and students have more contact. In Japan, the system is kind of like, teachers here, and students there, so there’s less contact. To me, knowing people and their stories – that’s the pleasure of teaching.
Xin: Do you think that the teachers in Japan would also like to be closer to students? But only that they do not have the culture/ tradition?
Tom: I think you’re correct. When I taught there, I learned Tokyo has many very good teachers, very dedicated. But it’s hard to go against the culture, and there is just such a hierarchy in Japan. When you’re in this group at this level, you don’t mix with that group at that level. For example, when I was there, I wanted to go to Sofia cafeteria for lunch. Some teachers thought it was strange that I wanted to have lunch with students. I think some of them would like more contact, and they may envy Boston teachers. We always have the opportunity.
Xin: Yeah, and here is smaller.
Tom: Yes, that’s a great help. And you students are around, nearly all the time. In Tokyo, it’s a commuter school. People have complicated, stressful lives. Trains, boyfriends, part-time jobs. So, student life is more isolated. Sometimes I have a sign-up sheet for Lunch with Tom. Sometimes it’s an assignment: you must have lunch with me!
As a Writer
Xin: Do you feel like when you talk to the students in person, they will talk more? Because Cris (Kenudson, faculty member) told me this before, students tend to talk more when they are not in the class with everyone.
Tom: That’s exactly right. There’s a group psychology in the class. Also, that’s Japanese culture again – in general, teachers speak, students listen. But one on one, students open up. In writing, students open up even more. Because writing is individual, private, safe.
Tom: Yeah, that’s why I love using journals in class.
Xin: I used to dream of becoming a writer, but when I grew older, I became busier and I do not have much time to read anymore.
Tom: Yes, writing takes time. It’s a lonely job.
Xin: Are you writing something now?
Tom: Yes, that’s what I have been doing on my research day. I’ve been writing a book about the Peace Corps for many years. I volunteered to teach English in Africa for two years after university. So, I hope to finish it this year.
Xin: This year? How long have you been working on it?
Tom: 39 years. I started in 1978. That’s a long time. Now I’m afraid I’ll die before I finish. So, I’m in a hurry to finish it.
Xin: Is it a secret that you are writing a book?
Tom: It should be a secret. Because my friends keep asking me “Is it finished? Is it finished?” and it’s never finished. But that’s what I do with my free time, my free days.
My first ambition wasn’t to be a teacher. I didn’t want to be a teacher, I wanted to be a writer. But I became a teacher, because you can still write on the side. You can write, but you also have to make money, somehow. So, teaching is a better way for me.
Xin: Do you feel like you do not have enough time to write?
Tom: Yes, that is my one reason to retire. I would miss teaching, I would miss people. But for the rest of my life after retiring, I want to write. It’s my chief joy.
Xin: Do you have another plan for your second book after the first one?
Tom: Already, yes. Plays. I always liked plays. So, the second one will be a play.
Xin: A play? Like a musical?
Tom: No, this will not be a musical. Just a historical play.
Xin: You will need more time to write.
Tom: Yes, that’s what I’ll do after I retire. I expect to live into my 80s, and so I want a few years that I’m just writing. And then I can die happy.
§ Reading Murakami Haruki: Our Point of View §
Xin: What is your writing style? Do you write every day at a certain time or just write when you feel like writing?
Tom: I write my journal regularly, twice a week. For more serious writing, it’s hard to do when I teach. So, between semesters is when I write the most. I go to the public library in my town, which is quiet and empty. No one is getting books. So, for six or seven hours, it’s me and a laptop, no distractions. That’s probably the best.
Xin: You know the writer, Murakami Haruki, he writes a lot about his writing, about how he writes. I think he loves running too. He is more a regular writer, he writes every day.
Tom: Yeah, he is a very good, serious writer. I have a bunch of his books. He’s my favorite Japanese writer. Very disciplined. So, that’s what you need to do.
But he’s now rich and famous, he doesn’t need to do other jobs. So I think he can write 8 to 10 hours a day.
Xin: Do you think the English translation is good?
Tom: I love it, but I can’t judge because I can’t read Japanese. But I think he has a good translator, since he’s very popular in America.
Xin: I think his books are very magical, I do not read his book in Japanese either. But the Chinese translation is very good, too.
And I never understand the stories or what he wants to explain. But it is just beautiful words and sentences that I want to read through again and again, once in a while.
Tom: Yeah, I re-read his books. I don’t re-read many people. And I know what you mean – page by page it seems wonderful. But at the end, you wonder, what is it about? It’s hard to say.
Maybe I’ll understand sometime. He’s good, he wrote a book called What I think about when I think about running. He spent a lot of time in Boston, at Tufts University. He ran on the Charles River. Writing and running go together.
We are leaving soon…
Xin: So, do you feel sad as your students, including me, are leaving?
Tom: Yes, every semester I get close to some students. I enjoy almost all my students, but saying goodbye is part of teaching. So yeah, sad.
There will be more in the future, that’s the nature of it. I like teaching because you connect strongly for a short time, and then you separate.
Tom: Well, maybe not forever.
Tom: Yeah, usually. Some students come back for vacation. When I went to Japan, I met with old students. Usually I met with more recent students.
Anything special about this semester…?
Xin: Do you recognize anything special about this semester…?
Tom: I would say this global business group has a range of extremes. There are extremely good students, and extremely poor students. Usually they are more in the middle, but this group was kind of divided.
We have some students that just do not study. That’s kind of new. But on the other hand, they take more advantage of Boston. Usually I joke with my classes that, “This is Showa-jima (Showa island), this is a Japanese island. Get off the island, and go to America.” And your group did, I was pleased.
Every Monday, I asked my classes, “What did you do this weekend?” Usually, they had gone somewhere around Boston. I like that as a teacher. I feel bad when the students come 8,000 miles, and just stay on campus. You don’t learn English that way.
Xin: Showa-jima! (Laughs)
Tom: They say there are four major islands in Japan – Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu. And the fifth island…
Tom: Yes, Showa-jima.
Xin: And…this is hard, how would you summarize your students in this semester, if you can?
Tom: Pretty genki, which we like! We like genki students. Also, some had higher intellects with active minds.
Xin: Because of the globalization?
Tom: Yes, that could be. They took advantage of opportunities. They were willing to step out.
Two pieces of advice from Tom
Xin: I’ll conclude this interview with two last questions! First, please give advice for every student for their life. And second…do you want me to say both questions first, or should I say it after your first answer?
Tom: Hmm…what’s the second one?
Xin: Second, please say something to students who would like to become a writer!
Tom: Okay. Interesting questions. First, my advice to all students. I should say, “Work harder.” But they’re Japanese, so instead, I’ll say, “Work less.” “日本人は働きすぎます！” (Japanese always work too hard). “Work less, love more.”
I think there’s too much stress in Japanese life: work, work, work, work!
The purpose of life is not work; the purpose of life is love. I don’t mean romantic love, but love in all your relationships.
Xin: That is right.
Tom: At the end of your life, don’t ask, “Did I make a lot of money?” or “Did I achieve a lot?” But, “Did I love well?” If you loved well, you’ll be happy.
Tom: As to becoming a writer: read! (Haha)
If you want to write, read! Reading is not only pleasure in itself, but slowly, the words begin to flow through you. Then when you write, you’ll write better. Writing clarifies your thinking, your opinions. And it calms you down, like therapy. It makes you human.
So, even if you do not write books that make lots of money, write a journal. Write a diary, write letters, and that too will bring happiness.
Xin: I hope you enjoyed this interview!
Tom: Yes, I did.
Xin: Thank you.
After the Interview
Xin: This was my last interview in Showa Boston. Interviewing Tom before going back was our plan (Natsumi and me) at the very beginning.
For reasons of time, I had been struggling if I should give up the interview or not. Now I am glad that I did not give up the plan; because I know that it would be my greatest regret in Boston if I did not do that.
The article you are now reading was done on my way back to Tokyo. I have hours to work on it on the plane. I just left Showa Boston hours ago, but when I was listening to the voice recording while doing the transcript, I was missing Showa Boston already. The people, environment and the language!