Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Monday, May 11, 2009

Diary Notes from a Study Camp (2009)

(Sorry, no pics. I figured I'd only end up having to sort out most of them to avoid running afoul of the censors, so it just wasn't worth it.)

Today (May 8th) is the day of the Grade 7 Study Camp, Version 2009. This is the 6th time that they've held this event. This is the 4th time I've wound up taking part.

As with the past three times in a row, the plan was to hike the fourteen kilometers from Ye Olde Academy to the camp location. Three years ago I didn't participate. Two years ago I hiked and loved it. Last year they made me drive the school van, and I hated it. This year I was supposed to hike again. I was looking forward to it. Unfortunately, the Pacific has hocked a typhoon loogie just off our coast. There's no danger of it hitting us, but the warm, sunny days they forecast for this weekend weeks ago have turned into unholy skies, gloomy rain, and purgatorial winds. No hiking, folks. This time we go by bus. So what do we do with the extra three and a half hours freed up as a result? Why, hold regular classes, of course! Never mind the fact that the kids are minus their uniforms, books, school supplies, and motivation! After third period is over, we assemble in the auditorium to have lunch, wait for the bus, and try to avoid a bizarre security risk we're suddenly faced with (which I can't explain here). Hopefully the kids won't kill each other.

I seem to have a young suitor. While I try to while away the wait by quietly napping, someone keeps sneaking up behind me and poking me in the back of the neck. Every time I turn around my tormentor has already vanished into the scenery, leaving only a mist of bell-like giggles. Finally a misstep and an awkward fall in the aisle leaves the pony-tailed marauder in full view. Trapped. Instead of trying to make a daring escape, she immediately brings in her friends, and they proceed to pummel me into a stupor with silly questions. We haven't even departed the school yet, and I'm already reeling from the cuteness.

Finally the buses arrive, and we follow my usual path home from work (which plays havoc with my senses) to the camp location. It's a government-run "nature camp" facility which I have stayed at a whole bunch of times for various totally unrelated reasons. The sky is darkening. The rain is getting harder. The spirit of the kids doesn't seem to be getting dampened one iota. After dumping off our bags, we assemble in the gym for the first "fun" events of the day. The first "fun" is watching the camp manager try to get the video player/projector to work so he can give his orientation lecture. (After several minutes of his fussing with it and then giving up, one of our teachers fixes it in about seven seconds.)(What was that bit about, "those who can't, teach"?)

After that it's my turn; I have to spend half an hour trying to help the kids practice singing the school song, which ranks somewhere up there with trying to help them pull off their own thumbnails. However, instead of using the traditional (boring) cassette recording, I spice things up a bit with a combination of my guitar and a more upbeat tempo. I actually manage to coax a bit of vocal strength out of the kids...though the song itself is in a key which tends to be either too high or too low for the boys whose voices are just starting to change. I get a lot of interesting cracking effects, though.

After the singing practice is done, there is a break, and suddenly I'm mobbed by fans wanting an encore. I oblige by singing Bruce Cockburn's "Tokyo" followed by The Beatles' "Nowhere Man" and Led Zeppelin's "Stairway (to Heaven)" (dude!) before the kids are called back in line for the guest lecturer. When she first starts, I'm afraid her talk is going to be horribly hackneyed and lame, but she surprises me by being very good. Her theme is basically proper use of the voice, whether for reading aloud or for greeting people. It's captivating, interesting, clever, and makes good use of hands-on participation. (I wasn't sure just how I should take it when, to my surprise, she played a recording of the singing practice I'd led and compared it with the results of a reading exercise she'd just conducted. Guess who won? Your first two guesses don't count. Oh, well, I guess that's what we paid her for...)

Dinner, as usual, is apparently designed to alienate vegetarians, vegans, and practicing Jews or Muslims (or Buddhists, for that matter). That particular camp cafeteria seems to have made pig the cornerstone of its whole life philosophy. It's the first pork I've had in ages, and I admit I like it.

After everyone bathes (like a hit and run accident since there is only 15 minutes per 32-student class to use the bathing facilities) it's time for the evening lecture and study sessions. They go smoothly, and once again the principal doesn't fail to impress with his ability to keep the kids engaged. Even so, I fight to keep myself away from the vending machines; I really want some coffee...

The kids are less than thrilled when we tell them lights out is at 10:00. As usual, getting them to shut up and go to sleep is a full-time job that keeps the whole staff going full tilt. Actually, however, they're pretty good this year. Only one boy is caught with a Nintendo DS. By eleven the girls are as quiet as a mouse, and by midnight the boys have eased down enough for the grade chief to declare our work done for the day and send us off to bed. I actually get a good night's sleep (which is amazing. Though I slept through it, apparently one of the boys started screaming at three a.m., waking up the female teachers sleeping right above him. They made their displeasure very clear...).

We get up bright and early the next morning and assemble on the parade ground for the traditional standardized exercise routine (called "Radio Exercise" since the official music for it is played on state radio every morning) and another quick run-through of the school song accompanied by my guitar. Then it's time to throw all our luggage in a corner, clean the rooms, and have breakfast (i.e. more pig). After that we're off to the gym again for some fun activities and then the day's main event: Zen meditation. (Yes, you read that right.)

In previous years the kids always made the udon noodles they then had for lunch. Our staff decided not to do that this year. Instead, they invited the chief priest of a famous, 17th-century Zen temple in Itako to come and lead us through a session of Zen meditation. The kids were rather less than thrilled at the prospect, but they are being very cooperative now and participate very well.

Unlike the kids, I don't have a cushion to sit on, but I give it a try myself. It's my second experience with Zen meditation, the first having been at a temple in Kyoto three years ago. On that occasion I found I actually enjoyed it a lot, though I was absolutely sure that I'd wind up being one of the ones whacked on the back with a stick for having incorrect posture. I didn't. I don't this time either even though the two priests seem to be having a jolly time whacking students left and right (as well as the teacher sitting next to me!). Not that I have an easy time of it. Forcing my stiff legs to stay crossed on the hard floor is the least of my problems. The dust and/or pollen in the air is wreaking havoc on my eyes...and since you're not supposed to close your eyes completely in Zen meditation, I wind up with tears literally flowing down my cheeks. Not exactly the best way to achieve enlightenment, to be sure, but as always time flies amazingly quickly during meditation, and when it's done I feel relaxed, focused, refreshed, and full of energy.

I then proceed to put my old Toys R Us stockroom experience to work hefting most of the cushions back up onto the high top shelfs of the closet by myself, not giving the other teachers much chance (and they seem only too happy to let me do it). That's how pumped I feel.

After lunch (yes, more pig) it's time for the afternoon study sessions, and I'm left with absolutely nothing to do, so I space...and force myself to stay away from the vending machines (even though the Mountain Dew is caalllllllliiiiiiinnnnnng...). Then it all ends with us separating into our respective classes so the kids can each give a one-minute speech about their first month as a student at Ye Olde Academy. Almost all of the speeches wind up being about extracurricular activities and are very predictable, though there are a few gems. Most of the girls do a fine job. A few of the boys seem completely lost. Several of them can't read their own writing. We still manage to get through the whole lot in a decent amount of time, and then we pack up to go.

It's a beautiful day now, maybe just a tiny bit hot and humid, but nice. It's a shame that it's now the end of the Study Camp. What lies ahead is the bus ride back to Ye Olde Academy, saying goodbye, having a quick staff meeting, and then going home.

Then I can look forward to Sunday...which will probably be spent in its entirety cleaning house and weeding flowerbeds. Such is life.

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  • I also had to stuff all the weekend work into Sunday...couldn't get weeding done cuz I had to revive the lawn mower and get done before the rains.

    It sounds like a good adventure. That would have been quite a hike too. Maybe next year.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 1:07 AM  

  • sounds like work...

    I thought the world was in the process of banning all pork.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 3:42 AM  

  • Snabudon-
    You're having rain problems?

    I actually did the hike two years ago. It was a chore, especially considering how out of shape I was(/am), but I felt really good afterward. In fact, I felt so good that I then ran half a kilometer to the nearest 7-11 to buy something I'd forgotten to pack. (I got pretty sick after that...definitely a dumb move).

    Fortunately(?) Japan hasn't (yet) succumbed to the swine hype gripping so much of the world. While the H1N1 flu concern is very real, people seem to understand that this is a human-borne rather than swine-borne illness. Pig continues to play an important role in the local diet.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 2:05 PM  

  • Nothin' like hog jowls and pickled pigs feet (favored local food in Hawaii) to initiate the young ones into the fold.

    Zen meditation and pork - must have been a diverse planning committee.

    Glad you had fun this year. They were lucky to have you play guitar for them, no doubt it was a big hit.

    WF: "blomars" - what Bugs Bunny said just before the Marvin the Martian vaporized him.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 4:07 PM  

  • Lovely spam, wonderful spa-a-m,
    Lovely spam, wonderful S Spam,

    By Anonymous The Viking Table, at 8:27 PM  

  • I find dining on pig to be an excellent way to balance out an excessive focus on zen meditation. You?

    By Blogger San, at 4:13 AM  

  • Pandabonium-
    My 4th grade teacher was an immense fan of pickled pig's feet. I have yet to try it.

    I think the planning problem had more to do with the fact that different people planned the menu and the itinerary.

    The Viking Table-
    Why can't you sing the frigging song right?

    Is it the extra cholesterol in your blood? Is that why eating pig is forbidden to Jews and Muslims?

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 9:22 PM  

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