Sports Fest or Dances With Monkeys
September 17, 2009
In high school we had a day-long event called “Jog-A-Thon.” I don’t recall the specifics but I remember the general idea was you spend an hour of the day jogging/walking around the school. You had to pay to participate (or was it get people to pledge money for each lap you “jogged?” The money all went to a Catholic high school, so it was wasted all the same) and after kinda running for 60 minutes there were all sorts of events set up to enjoy. Besides the teacher dunk tank (“fuck you Algebra II teacher!”), most of these things were incredibly stupid. “Check out our car show, featuring all the rich kids cars! Bet ya wish you could be this cool!”
Japan thankfully does not have the Jog-A-Thon, but they do have the Sports Festival. Replacing mindless celebration of Capitalism with mindless competition, the Sports Festival is an all-day affair where a school’s classes divide into teams and square off in various games. The Sports Fest is kind of a big deal – the whole shebang lasts the entire day, meaning no classes for the kids…or us teachers. That alone is a good enough reason to love the Sports Festival.
As noted, the Sports Festival is a major happening. Monday we spent half-an-hour pretending to be prison inmates as we picked up rocks from the yard where the games would be held. Wednesday, we had a two hour practice Sports Festival. And not just for the opening and closing ceremonies – they actually practiced the events themselves. That’s like rehearsing the Academy Awards and announcing the winners.
Yet actually seeing the official Sports Festival sort of explained why they do this. This event actually draws a crowd…I’m sure most of the adults setting up lawn chairs were family (or members of the PTA, as revealed later), but still…a good number of people came out to this. The local media sent two photographers to cover this – in America they would have sent a “mojo” (mobile journalist, for those not in the know) and slapped together a blog post. Based on the amount of pictures they were snapping I have a feeling this is front-page material.
Most of my time was spent sitting around watching the various events, broken up by the occasional walk to the other side of the field to get a different vantage point. The majority of contests seemed to be foot races – mostly dashes that often ended with the winning student breaking out the Usain Bolt pose. All of these races were soundtracked by various patriotic United States songs – I don’t know why the Japanese think “Hail to the Chief” makes great running music, but more power to them. Actually, all the music played during the festival was abysmal – besides the displays of American pride, the rest of the day featured atrocious techno remixes of otherwise great songs. Songs like “Living in America” and, most ear-wrenching, “Imagine” were gutted of all traces of humanity in favor of copious amounts of laser sounds and vocoder. They also used a Mariah Carey breakup jam about waiting for your hero (spoiler: the hero is you) during warm-up stretches. I can’t think of less “get pumped” music than that.
As lame as the music might have been, the rest of the events more than made up for it. Games ranged from the “bucket relay” (carry a bucket of water from one end to the other, team with the most water in the bucket wins) to the “descend on a pile of tires like vultures” game (exactly as it sounds). My personal favorite was a competition where one kid wearing a paper hat was hoisted into the air by three other classmates and they had to move him around as he tried to snatch hats off of other classmates. It looked like a game of Chicken gone hay-wire, and from my spot on the sidelines it was very entertaining.
Even though I spent most of my day watching other kids beat the crap out of one another (and realized the reason we moved all those rocks wasn’t as much the students would fall on them as much as they would chuck them at one another while waiting to compete), I couldn’t be a benchwarmer the entire day. Immediately after lunch, all the teachers took part in a relay race. I would have to run an entire 50 meters while holding onto a baton. I hoped my team didn’t have high hopes of vanquishing a bunch of fourteen-year-olds as one, I’m slow and as coordinated as corral and two, there was a very good chance I’d either drop the baton and/or go into cardiac arrest running the tiny distance.
Somehow, though, when I grabbed the baton out of the hand of one of my English teachers I neither tripped on my own feet or collapsed five steps in. I sprinted as fast as I could (read: not that fast) and handed the crudely painted pipe off to another teacher. My burden was complete – I could go back to sitting in a chair and saying “hello” to random students.
Or so I thought.
I went into the school to use the bathroom (errr, check the score of the Angel game. Hate you Boston). Inside the staff room, one of the teachers had changed out of his exercise clothes into a monkey costume. I imagine walking in on this generates the same feeling most David Lynch characters feel during the course of his films. He looked absolutely mortified to be stuck wearing this get-up, and I couldn’t blame him – they even included a bright red ass for ultimate humiliation. I saw him and laughed a laugh that could only mean “oh man that sucks.” Apparently, he would be doing a folk dance dressed up this way.
“Would you do the dance with me, Patrick?” he asked. He clearly didn’t want to suffer the laughs of 300 junior high school students alone, and needed someone else to enter the fray with him. Having done much more humiliating things before in my life, I said “of course!”
So there we went, a man and a monkey-man, into the middle of a field surrounded by kids. Predictably, the kids went (sorry) apeshit at the sight of the monkey costume, laughing and grabbing his tail. After several minutes of groping, things calmed down and the dance was about to begin. Nobody briefed me on what the actual moves were, so I felt a bit surprised to suddenly be caught in a circle of 14-year-old girls spinning around and kicking our feet. I can’t really explain what happened, but it was a bit like a Bar Mitzvah mixed with a virgin sacrafice. I clapped my hands a lot. I danced with upwards of 30 teenage girls. A man dressed as a monkey was next to me. The local press took so many photos of me and the monkey-man you could sink my not-to-be Senate run from the get-go.
Things got considerably more normal after the pagan monkey dance. Awards were distributed, chairs were put away and I stood around unsure of what to do. All in all, it was a fun albeit slow day, and it was good to see the students get a chance to run around in an aimless circle instead of sleep through my self-introduction. And hey, I didn’t have to teach it. Love you, Sports Festival.
Though I don’t want to see tomorrow’s paper.
(I Am Not Qualified To Teach Children #2 – I wore mismatching shoes today, and didn’t realize it until lunch. Seriously, one foot had an LA Lights exercise shoe and the other had a white Addidas. My Nikes socks made me the ultimate corporate shoe whore. I don’t know if I was really tired, or it was dark, or I’m just an idiot, but I somehow put on two completely different types of shoes. Once it dawned on me that I looked like a total putz, I felt highly embarrassed the rest of the day, though nobody else noticed. Errrr, I should say nobody said anything. Anyway, anybody incapable of matching up shoes probably shouldn’t be allowed to leave the basement, let alone be allowed into a school.)