Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Just When You Think You Know It All

My third year students are a somber and studious lot. Class sizes are small (12 students max)and the level of English that they are learning is harduous (typo, but somehow suitably illustrative). University entrance exams in Japan are a make-it-or-break-it (also an excellent TV programme if you are gymnastically inclined) situation - if they fail the exam, there is no second chance. As such, the build-up to these exams starts extremely early and is taken very seriously. In fact, it is common - indeed, expected - for third year athletes to `retire' from their sport at this time of year, giving up club activities in deference to the need to study. Ask a third year what he has been doing in the weekend, and the answer will invariably be 'studying`. And, I suspect, this is not studying in the same class as my NCEA preparation (lying on the grass in the sun with my eyes closed, eating assorted snacks, biology text book open on my stomach, relying on information-osmosis). This is genuine bread-and-water-don't-come-out-of-your-room-until-you-can-recite-the-Oxford-English-Dictionary-backwards type study. So: they are academic, dedicated and scared shitless.

Therefore, when I was told an hour ago that the third years were congregating in the gym and that I was welcome to observe if so inclined, I envisaged many possible scenarios: a speech competition, a lecture, a communal study session, a sacrifice to the Japanese God of Graduation (lesser-known).

This is what I did not expect: three hundred students yelling and screaming during relay races, in which students race to a washing line suspended across the gym, from which dangles bread buns at head height. I did not expect them to then have to grasp said buns between their teeth and race to the finish line, body slamming each other as they did so. I did not expect to observe my formerly staid JTE (Japanese teacher of English), with sports jersey covering his pristine shirt and tie, sweating his way around an obstacle course hand and hand with a student.

Sometimes, things are so comfortable here that I forget I am in Japan.

But then something like this happens and I remember why my first month here felt like I was unwittingly partaking in a Japanese game show. The TruEnglishMan Show.

Apparently, this period in the week is the 'BS' period, and is usually occupied by - surprise - studying, but is occasionally used as an excuse to burn off some of the steam that these retired athletes are daily accumulating.

Supposedly, 'BS' stands for 'Blue Sky', but I can think of something much more suitable.

(PS: They continue these activies, increasing in bizarreness as the afternoon progresses, as I type, but I was too terrified that I would be forced into some sort of risible athletic-type situation to remain)(Am simply too large to blend)(Also, am wearing bright yellow)(Am hiding in the computer room)(Join me in a prayer that they not find me).

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