Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Standing in a Total Fog

Foggy watch 3

And now, once again, I'm on morning safety patrol duty. This is a chore that pops up about once every season at Ye Olde Academy. Each of us has to come in early once or twice during a one-week period and stand vigil at a designated location so that we can keep an eye on the students and make sure they're not being naughty. (So, naturally, the students stop being naughty during that one-week period...for the most part.) This time we're backed up by members of the PTA, so we only have to do it once.

The designated location for my group is divided between the main gate and the crosswalk a little bit down the hill from it. Two of the three assigned PTA members and the other two teachers are all gathered around the main gate, and the third PTA member is AWOL, so naturally I get stuck watching the crosswalk alone. Not that I mind that much. It's a good time to stand, think, and listen to the birds...as long as there are no kids or cars around.

Normally at this time of year I'd be wearing a moderately heavy coat and shivering in the chill wind. This time I'm wearing a very light "cool biz" jacket I bought last spring, and I'm sweating. It's well into November, and the weather demons apparently think it's still September. To make matters worse, we are socked in by a thick fog. When I take my post, I can't see the top or the bottom of the hill. Half the world around me has been erased. The fog also serves to deaden the sound, what little there is at this early hour. If it weren't for the birds singing in the trees behind me, it would be really eerie.

We appear to be in the third wave of swine flu at Ye Olde Academy. Just when the second wave, which hit in October, seemed to be done and gone for good, we suddenly got nuked again. Three of the five 7th grade and two of the five 10th grade classes were immediately sent home under quarantine. The 9th graders came back from their 4-day field trip to Okinawa only to have three of their four classes quarantined the very next day. Half our junior high rugby team was wiped out after coming back from a tournament. Meanwhile, individual cases are starting to pop up again in virtually every class of every grade. As a school, we are close to being totally paralyzed.

I'm now also facing the horrible prospect of having the Flying Eggheads Jazz Bigband withdraw from the Kashima Seaside Jazz Festival, which is happening this Saturday. It's one of our biggest and best-loved events every year, but things look bleak. Half the grades have been slapped with universal bans on afterschool activities whether the individual classes are quarantined or not, meaning we might not be able to rehearse. That ban may be extended to include scheduled outings, too. I've also been warned that the administration may prevent us from participating in any case. Dropping out of the event could potentially land us in legal trouble, since we've been on the event posters for months and tickets have been sold, but I have little choice. I refuse to go on stage with an ill-prepared skeleton crew.


A train of the Oarai-Kashima Line clatters by on the ridge overlooking the lower parking lot. It was once my lifeline, but I haven't ridden it in over a decade. It's a small, diesel-driven train with only two cars. Even so, I've always thought it sounds heavier and clunkier than the electric trains, which almost seem to float on their tracks. Come to think of it, I haven't ridden on an electric train in a while, either. I need to get out more often!

Speaking of music events being wiped out by the flu, my wife's school spent months preparing for an appearance at the local district's Grade School Music Festival. All the 4th and 5th graders were formed into an ensemble playing whatever they could find in the music closet (mainly a hodge-podge of recorders, melodicas, and percussion instruments). I arranged a version of Glenn Miller's "American Patrol" for them, and they put a great deal of effort into practicing it. The entire faculty of the school worked hard helping the kids, particularly the music teacher and my wife. (I might add, at the risk of sounding almost as vain as I really am, that my wife took three kids who had never touched a trumpet in their lives and had them playing their part correctly within three weeks.) The result? The music festival was canceled on account of the flu epidemic.

Not wanting all that hard work to go down the shaft, the school decided to host its own performance for the parents. The ensemble was directed by a teacher who had been away almost all summer and thus had very little to do with the preparation
. Naturally, he received a bouquet, a thank-you speech from the students, lavish praise from the parents and administrators, and pretty much all the credit for the effort. What did my wife get for all her trouble? Chewed out. You see, she tried to get the students to make public statements thanking ALL the teachers that had helped rather than just the director (who really hadn't done much). She was told she's totally misguided and therefore a poor teacher, even though she was probably personally responsible for at least half of the work involved in pulling it off. I guess the kids were supposed to learn that appearance counts more than effort, and they were given quite a lesson.

Finally some students come. They're high schoolers on bicycles. They call a cheerful, "Ohayou gozaimasu," to me as they completely ignore both the crosswalk and the railed bike lane and shoot right up the foggy street...slaloming around cars as they go. I could say something, I suppose, but there hardly seems to be any point.

Not long after that, a taxi drives by with a student in the back. Such a hard life...

Foggy watch 1
This is the road the students normally take when they walk from the train station to the school, viewed from my watch station. There are houses further down, but it's awfully remote...and narrow...

After a little while, the rush begins. Suddenly, from out of the fog, a whole tsunami of students comes plowing inexorably down the little back road from the direction of the station. No walking in line for this bunch; they are spread out all over the narrow road and are effectively blocking it. Most of them call a hearty greeting to me and are good about staying within the crosswalk and railed pedestrian lane once they cross the street, but I can't help feeling sorry for the (fortunately few) cars trying to pass along that little road. The students have claimed it for themselves and are defying all comers.

One relatively high-end car eases its way gingerly through the teen tide, turns out of the back road onto the lane in front of me heading uphill, and stops on the crosswalk. A window drops, and a very angry woman says, "Make them walk on the edge of the road!" At first I don't really understand her; she uses a word that I don't know (but later looked up) plus a verb form that takes a second or two of thinking on my part to work out. While I'm pondering that, she repeats herself even more vehemently before driving on up the hill. It's enough for me to get the gist of it. Okay, I guess I got my complaint for the day. Maybe I'll actually write a report this time.

I'm having a great time on Facebook these days, and I'm making a whole lot of new friends. I would consider that a very good thing except for the fact that it now seems to be monopolizing everything. "Let's do this for ten minutes" quite often winds up eating up my entire break period. "Oh, I have two more hours before I need to go to bed," quite often winds up morphing into, "Oops...I should have been in bed an hour ago." It's bizarre, and it's also costing me. My average sleep time has dropped, and other projects aren't getting done. So why don't I just get off the damned thing? Because it's too much fun! (Dumb question...)

In the distance I can hear the Westminster Quarters (in the key of F rather than E) announcing the start of morning homeroom. That means my safety patrol detail is over. It's time to walk back to the sprawling campus. The fog is melting away quickly now, revealing a hazy blue sky and an autumn sun...but it's still way too hot for this time of year. I make my way back into Ye Olde Academy thankful for the abundant nature both within and around its perimeter. The change of the seasons is quite vivid here in the Land of the Rising Sun, and the Japanese do their best to cherish it (when they're not tossing trash all over it). Half my classes are canceled today thanks to the flu. It should be an easy run. Maybe I'll even run up the hill; I can certainly use some exercise.

Foggy watch 2

7 Comments:

  • A shame that all the practice and rehearsals for these various events are at risk of being shut down due to H1N1. I was very impressed with your wife's accomplishment. And I bet those kids who learned how to play (competently enough for this performance) within the three weeks were encouraged, too. Stay well, MM, and get some sleep!

    By OpenID nikkipolani, at 1:29 PM  

  • Fog obscures, Chicken soup cures.

    Soon, perhaps, the flu will run its course and you can go back to normal. Until then, perhaps its best not to try to hard. Get some rest.

    Your face book obsession will wear off soon. And I might ask, what is so damn interesting about mafia wars? Also, I read a bit of bad press about these games, and that is there is a hazard of spending actual money on the game to enhance play. Not worth it. I guess I'm a bit of a stick in the mud when it comes to computer and video games.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 2:44 PM  

  • The warm or even hot fog thing is quite interesting to me as I did not experience it until about a decade ago on the east coast. They can keep it as far as I am concerned.

    Sorry about the wife. She did NOT deserve that treatment. It might make her feel better if she told you to shut up and hit you for old time sake. ;)

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 2:58 PM  

  • Nikkipolani
    The kids seemed pretty enthusiastic and were working hard during the rehearsals I assisted. Not bad for a school notorious for its helicopter parents and spoiled underachievers!

    Dave
    I find Mafia Wars interesting because:
    a. It's not just a combat game; there is strategy, adventure, and puzzles to solve.
    b. There is a considerable social element; to be able to do anything, I had to make lots of friends and have them join my team. We also do our best to help each other.
    c. As your character grows, the game grows along with it.

    It's true that all these net games give you the OPTION of using real money to augment your play. That's how the game companies make their money. However, I will reiterate that it's an OPTION (and I find your use of the word "hazard" ridiculous). I have not spent a yen of real money on any of the net games I play, and I have no intention of doing so. I may not get certain funky items, but I've been doing just fine so far.

    Don
    My wife has been taking a lot of abuse during the two years she has been at this particular school, and I have to wonder why. Her track record at her earlier schools was quite good. Now it seems they attack everything she does. Recently she was asked to do a demonstration lesson, and they made her redo her lesson plan several times (without offering any advice on how to make it better) before telling her to stick with her original plan...which was on the laptop computer that died (and she'd already replaced the backup with the newer versions). She was awfully stressed out about that. When the last school year ended, the principal gave her the lowest possible score in her evaluation while giving high scores to teachers whose classes were completely out of control and abysmally low in terms of academic performance. (The reason? "Those teachers make efforts to be popular among the students and parents. You don't. That's wrong." In other words, ass-kissing is more important than educating.)

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 3:27 PM  

  • By hazardous I meant surrendering credit card data to untrustworthy scoundrels.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 4:36 PM  

  • Ah. Yes, I can see that. That's why I don't intend to do it.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 6:42 PM  

  • That fog looks pretty bad.

    People here in KL are expecting a 'freak winter storm' today. Can you beat that? Someone concocted a hoax about this storm and my blog has a good number of hits looking for it.

    Surprised your school is not closed due to the high number of H1N1 cases. If yours were to be here, it would have been closed until conditions improve.

    Your wife's school is not being fair to her. She can do with more 'stress-free' moments (read vacations and retail therapy) on the home-front. ;p

    By Blogger HappySurfer, at 4:16 PM  

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