Saturday, September 16, 2006

A "typical" day

06:30: Wake up. Get out of bed.

06:32: Scan the bathroom for cockroaches. See one lurking behind the soap dish. Scream. Run out of the bathroom. Grab the vacuum cleaner. Chase the cockroach around the apartment until it finds a hiding spot the vacuum cleaner can’t reach. Am fully awake now.

06:35: Shower. Turn the gas line on. Hold down the knob on top of the shower heater while turning the crank on the side of the heater. Bend over and look inside the little window on the bottom of the heater to make sure there is a flame. Keep turning the crank until a fire is lit. Turn the shower on. Shiver violently under a steady stream of cold water.

06:45: Get dressed. Wear newly purchased ghetto outfit in order to fit in at school where all of the teachers wear polyester tracksuits.

06:50: Eat breakfast. Make toast by putting slices of bread on the fish grill, as there is no toaster or oven in my apartment.

07:00: Watch Japanese morning “news” on the one channel my TV actually gets. The top story is almost always about baseball, usually the heroic feats of some guy named Matsui. This is followed by a report about a horrific traffic accident somewhere. The rest of the “news” consists of press conferences with American celebrities on tour in Japan.

07:45: Bike to school. Bow to the grannies along the way.

08:20: Attend the staff meeting, which is conducted entirely in Japanese. Try not to look too confused.

08:30: Teach English. I usually teach four classes a day, alongside a Japanese English teacher. I am based at a public junior high school where the students range in age from 12 to 15. Some of them spend the class asleep at their desks; others talk with their friends. Apparently, this is all perfectly acceptable classroom behaviour. Last week, I watched one kid turn around and squeeze the blackheads out of his friend’s nose for five minutes while the Japanese teacher carried on like nothing was happening. Of course, there are loads of kids who are enthusiastic about speaking English. There are even a few who like to scream my name down the hallway. When I’m not in class, I sit at my desk in the staff room, study Japanese and inhale second-hand smoke.

12:40: Eat lunch. The school serves up a hot lunch every day (usually rice, fish and vegetables). The students eat lunch in the classroom. Two students from each class put on hospital scrubs, surgeon’s masks and hairnets, and serve lunch to the other students while elevator music blasts over the loudspeakers.

15:30: Clean the school. The school shuts down for 15 minutes every day so the students and teachers can clean it from top to bottom. The principal blasts frantic classical music over the loudspeakers. His favourite song is Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, which always makes me feel like I’m in the middle of that famous scene from Apocalypse Now. But instead of machine guns, everyone is running around with brooms, mops and rags ready to wage war on dirt and dust.

16:40: School ends. However, almost all of the students and teachers will stick around for another few hours for sports practice. These kids are mind-blowingly good at sports. They take it very, very, very seriously. I peeked in on the girls’ volleyball team and my jaw hit the ground. Each and every one of them was practically an Olympic caliber athlete. Same goes for the judo team, the softball team, the track team. It’s absolutely incredible to watch. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. They train with military precision. There are no breaks. Drills are repeated again and again and again until the kids get it right. Anything less than perfection is unacceptable. This rigorous training probably explains why so many kids are asleep at their desks during the day.

18:00: Bike home. Bow to the grannies along the way. Make dinner. Watch the evening “news” on TV, followed by Full House dubbed in Japanese.

19:30: Bike back to school for volleyball practice with the locals.

20:00: Play volleyball for two hours. Suffer incredible forearm pain and soul-destroying humiliation.

22:30: Bike home. Scan the bathroom for cockroaches. Shower. Crawl into bed. Wake up eight hours later. Repeat.

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