Thursday, June 14, 2007

Getting paid to swim

As much as I don’t like having my identity tied up with being an outsider, there are times when it comes in handy.

Being a foreigner means I can get away with things Japanese people can’t. Like swimming with the students during school hours, for example.

The school’s outdoor pool finally opened last week and I’d been looking on with envy as the kids swam laps during gym class.

“There’s got to be some way I can join them,” I thought to myself.

I ran the idea past the vice-principal.

“Mmm . . .” he said, sucking air through his teeth. “It’s difficult.”

He polled a few teachers in the staff room. After a few minutes of intense debate, they agreed the head PE teacher would have to make the final decision.

I laughed inwardly. This was way too easy. The head PE teacher was a lecherous lady-killer whose favourite pastime was getting drunk and hitting on me at staff parties.

When the PE teacher walked into the staff room, the vice-principal asked him if it would be okay if I swam with the students.

He raked his eyes up and down my body and said something in Japanese that sounded like, “HELL YEAH!”

The students’ reaction was equally priceless. The first time I showed up on deck, I was greeted with a loud cry of “Eeeeeeeeeeh!” (which is basically the Japanese equivalent of “WTF!”)

One student spelled it out for me in English afterward.

“You come,” she said. “We surprise.”

Swimming with the kids during school hours is awesome. We warm up for about 10 minutes and then do some 25-metre sprints. After that, it usually deteriorates into handstands and synchronized swimming and competitions to see who can hold their breath underwater the longest.

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of telling the PE teacher I once held the provincial record for the 200-metre butterfly. As a result, he now ends every class by making the students line up and take turns racing one length of butterfly against me. By about the sixth kid, my arms are ready to fall off.

Still, it’s the most fun I’ve ever had on the job. Sometimes it’s good to be a foreigner.

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