Densho Digital Archive
Topaz Museum Collection
Title: Bob Utsumi Interview
Narrator: Bob Utsumi
Interviewer: Megan Asaka
Location: Emeryville, California
Date: July 31, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-ubob-01-0013

<Begin Segment 13>

MA: So you were telling me you were part of the first junior high school class in Topaz.

BU: Yes, right.

MA: And what were the facilities like for that one class, junior high school, I mean?

BU: It was just... most of the classrooms were chairs and just tables, like mess hall tables and chairs. I don't think we had those armchairs, I don't think. Maybe later on we did, but I just recall. And they just used one of the blocks, they kept one block empty, Block 32 was the junior and senior high school. And they had all the different classes, classes there. My recollection is that... oh, my feeling is Topaz had a bad set of teachers. We had a few good, few good teachers, but most of them were bad. They were not qualified.

MA: And where did these teachers come from? Were they mostly from town?

BU: I don't know where they got, recruited them from. The... some of the best teachers I had were campmates. And then not necessarily college grads, either. Our geometry teacher, I forgot her name now. Anyway, she was very good, and she kept us all in line, she kept control. Our Spanish teacher was good, campmate Sugihara. Our chemistry teacher was terrible. He was an old man.

MA: Was it a, a Caucasian guy?

BU: He was a Caucasian, and he was just, he was dangerous. We didn't have a lab, and any experiments, the few that they had was demonstrated, and one of the early experiments was involving hydrogen gas. Are you familiar with chemistry?

MA: It's been a while. [Laughs]

BU: Oh, you took chemistry. Anyway, when you put metal sodium into water, the hydrogen gas evolves and hydroxide, the OH, stays in, becomes sodium hydroxide, right? Well, to demonstrate the hydrogen release, there's several different ways. And in our class, he brought this big vat, I don't know, maybe two, three gallon vat of water, and he had it on the stage, podium there, well, stage. And he had this can of metal sodium and a wooden spatula. And to demonstrate it, he'd grab a piece of the sodium and throw it in the water, and it would sizzle. And three of us guys in the back said, "More." So he grabbed a little bit bigger chunk and threw it in there and it sizzled, pop. And we were hollering, "More," so he grabs a great big piece, throws it in there, and it goes, pow. The water goes flying all over the place. Didn't break the beaker or the vat, and of course, we were back there just howling. The kids in the front row were wet, got wet, not real bad, but got wet, but scared the hell out of 'em. And we were just laughing like heck. But this guy's an idiot because what's left in there is sodium hydroxide, which is, you know, lye. And if that thing had broken and spilled or got in somebody's eyes, there'd have been big trouble. One of the other chemistry teachers did it in a test tube, demonstrated it in a test tube. And when he shook it up, put the sodium in there and shook it up, well, the test tube broke. And this time, couple of, one of the guys in the front row got cut. Didn't get hurt bad, but, you know, potentially just could have been disastrous. But those are the kind of things that we had.

We had a teacher that had a hearing aid. Of course, the same group of guys would harass the heck out of him. And when he was up at the blackboard, we'd start singing commercials, you know, horsing around. And kept singing it louder and louder until he heard us, and he'd turn around, then he'd go back on the blackboard. We'd keep, go back to singing, then turn around and he said, "Mickey," and he, he blamed it all on Mickey Suzuki. Poor Mickey got a "D" in that class. But, you know, that, we were just young kids taking advantage, and that's about as bad as we got, though. Oh, one day, back in chemistry, in this chem., our class, we're in the wing of the, chem. was in a wing where normally the laundry room would be, which would have been right opposite the latrine, the boys' latrine. Well, same three guys decided we were thirsty, it was hot, so we want to get a drink of water, so we climbed out the window. Teacher didn't say anything, and then when we were trying to get back in, two of us got in, back in with no problem, but that last guy was heavy, big guy. And we tried to grab his arm and haul him in, but he just couldn't make it. And he started banging the side of the wall, and the teacher could not then disregard us, he had to say something. So then he said something, but meanwhile, the class was in an uproar, and it was just, just harassed the heck out of him after that.

In that class, though, in the early parts, trying to learn the atomic theory from him, we were having, a bunch of us were having trouble grasping the atomic theory. And we were having a heck of a time, and one day, one of our campmates who had graduated high school the year before, he came in, Norman Hirose came in to sub. So we asked Norman, I said, "Could you go over the atomic theory for us?" And whatever he did or whatever happened in that one day that he came in and reviewed it, all of a sudden, for me, anyway, the light went on, or all of a sudden I caught on. And from then on, chemistry was, I was able to grasp chemistry, I had no problems with it. But it was just, whether that particular incident was the teacher's fault, my fault or whatever, but I tend to blame it on the teacher because of the way he was, you know, presenting it. But it was just, never had much confidence in that one.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.