When Studying Goes Macabre

You will probably need Japanese characters installed on your computer to view this blog correctly.

After I travel somewhere (especially abroad), my teachers ask me to talk about it to my class of students.  This is both to expose them to other cultures and to encourage their English study because most people abroad don’t speak Japanese.  So, since school started last week, I’ve given a presentation on London/Paris eleven times.  Far and away the thing that gets the students saying, “ええええええ〜?” (Whaaaaaaaat?) is the Parisian Catacombs.

Yes, those are real skulls.

I give these presentations in mostly English with some Japanese thrown in when the students are clearly confused.  But whenever I get to explaining about the catacombs, English always fails, so I switch to Japanese.

At first, it failed pretty badly, too:

250年前、ぐらい、パリで沢山人々はとても病気になっていました。でも、理由を分かりませんでした。理由は:死んだ人は。。。えっと。。。bury? [look in confusion at teaching partner] Bury.  Like, you know [make shoveling motions].  Uhm. 死んだ人は地に入れった時、他の人は水を飲んだ。。。

250 years ago, or something, there were a lot of people getting sick in Paris.  But no one knew why.  The reason was: dead people were… uhm… bury? Bury.  Like, you know… Uhm. When dead people were put in the ground, other people drank the water and…

Real skulls I coulda touched if I wanted to. I didn't.

Yeah.  My Japanese was so not good enough to explain this without making everyone, including myself, confused.

FYI: The how and the way (best I could figure) is that, due to poor burial practices, bacteria/germs from decomposing bodies got into the Parisian drinking water.  People drank it, they got sick.  SO! as that is super disgusting and not very respectful to the dead, the leaders of Paris got together and decided to build the Catacombs: a giant, public tomb waaaaaay beneath the ground.  They took most of the bones from cemeteries around Paris and stuck ’em in the Catacombs, and continued to use it for the public for about 60 years.  Eventually, someone got the great idea to turn it into a tourist attraction.  Yaaaay morbid…

After the fourth failed explanation, I got proactive and pulled out my iPhone.  I looked up “bury.”  Here is what it came up with:

葬る(ほうむる):[houmuru] to bury, to inter, to entomb, to consign to oblivion, to shelve.

I also used this to explain Les Invalides: ここでナポレオンボナパルトを葬られました。(Napolen Bonaparte was buried here.)  Though now that I look at the example on my Japanese app, apparently I should make it a present tense intransitive sentence?  Like, “He is buried here”?  Oh, whatever.

Wonder of wonders, my students could understand the purpose of the Catacombs.  (Though I still had problems explaining how the people were getting sick.  Next word: decompose, 腐爛, furan.  Now there’s a complicated kanji!)  And I learned a word in Japanese that I will hopefully never have to use again.  Unless I want to find Natsume Soseki’s tomb!  夏目礎石はどこで葬られていますか。 (Where is Natsume Soseki buried?)

ANYWAY.  I leave you with an adorable picture of a panda so’s you might rest your mind after all that lovely macabre.

It's no baby monkey riding backwards on a pig, but it's still pretty dang adorable, huh?

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