Tuesday, May 11, 2010

School Outing a.k.a. Bad ideas and vengeful teachers

I have begun my new job in a combined elementary/junior high school whose name transliterates literally to “stop stop spine beautiful” – this again is why I love character based languages as place names often take on a surreal nature when read literally (my own “Yahata-cho” translates to 8 flags – so according to the Six Flags’ slogan this place should be off the hook!)


This past Monday was “Kougai Gakushu” (校外学習) – outside the school learning – or basically ‘field trip’. However, while the outside the school part was true (mostly), the learning was a charitable description. In the morning, we started with a game of tag (called Oni gokko 鬼ごっこ), or "playing demons", in the sense of playing house, or playing doctor). There were four “oni” and the rest of the seventh and eighth grade class ran away. Now, the part where the ‘bad ideas’ comes into play was releasing the students into the neighborhood, most of which is newly built houses or under construction. So either one kid was going to meet an unfortunate end via a backhoe, or the residents were going to get pissed at a group of screaming kids running all over the place, and cutting across their lawn. It was number two. Surprising that no one thought to 1) ask the neighborhood association, or 2) let the neighbors know – although they probably would have told the school where they could stick it upon hearing this brilliant plan of turning their neighborhood into pre-teen scream-fest at 9 in the morning.

At this point the treasure hunt scheduled to occur in the same neighborhood was quickly relocated to the main grounds of the school. Hard to make a good treasure hunt in an open dirt field, but better than getting berated by the restless natives.

Following the world’s least challenging treasure hunt, it was lunch time, which was a barbeque (Japanese style, which is basically Korean BBQ – small cuts of beef and pork, grilled quickly over an open flame.) Now, to fully grasp the degree of “this would never – EVER – be permitted in the US,” allow me to set the scene – on the one hand we have half the students cutting vegetables with ginsu-style finger removers, and the other half starting a fire in the grill. The “grill” was essentially a rusted steel barrel cut in half lengthwise to form a trough of tetanus, stuffed with newspaper and charcoal all being lit by the staff-described “trouble student” with matches wearing cotton work gloves that kept (surprise surprise) catching on fire!

Now of course there was some supervision in the way of a few teachers standing back and making noises of reprobation along the lines of “Whoa! Be careful there!” each time the kid’s hands erupted into a lively conflagration. Once the fires were lit, it was time for the cooking.

To say the Japanese beef is high in fat is to engage in a degree of understatement along the lines of “The Titanic had a leak,” or “It got warm on the Hindenburg during the landing.” So when the teachers started piling this (admittedly extremely delicious and tender) high-fat beef on the open flame, the fat immediately melted and dripped into the fire erupting in a massive plume of flame reminiscent of stock footage from a steel mill, which basically cooked the beef immediately, while teachers attempted to pull the pieces out of the holocaust with 30 children screaming “Meat Please!” and arm hair being lost at a profoundly alarming rate.

Although in the end, all was accomplished without any real damage (aside from the hair loss) – so perhaps I shouldn’t be so critical.

Other teachers, however, may have had an axe to grind, because after lunch it was sports time. By now it was raining, so we moved into the gym for a game of basketball. The students were divided into three teams with the teachers making up a fourth team. Have you ever seen the Monty Python sketch from The Meaning of Life where the school children are forced to play the rugby match against the staff (or alumni, I can’t remember)? If so, you know how this game between the teachers and the students went down. It was brutal – teachers were grabbing balls out of kids hands, stuffing their shots at the rim, whipping the ball down court and bowling them over for easy layups, running the score of one match up to a 34-0 rout. There was no “let’s take it easy and not use our dominating size to utterly crush these kids” – it was the exact opposite of that.

It was also hilarious to watch a 40 year old math teacher smack a 12 year old girl’s air-ball into the next time zone, or a 28 year old gym teacher rip the ball from the hands of a waifish boy and whip the ball down to another young gym teacher for the fifteenth layup in a row.

Life lesson? Revenge? Whatever it was, I have never been so good at basketball in my entire life.

Good times.

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