I'm sure in the past I've mentioned that students and teachers here clean the schools--there is no janitor. It gets worse. So much worse. But first, my favorite moment from cleaning time so far. Last week, I was with my little crew using 4th century BC style bamboo-and-straw brooms to sweep the fallen leaves in the inner courtyard. It was a warm day, in the mid-50s. We had piles stacked up, and students were starting to bag the leaves, when a sudden wind--a warm wind, at least 70° F--a true freak of a wind--began to blow over the school, spilling straight down the wall at one end of the courtyard and then down the length of it when it hit the ground, in seconds eroding our piles to nothing. We stared, mouths gaping, and as the last of the piles disappeared, our gaze rose to the tree, which had until that moment lost none of its leaves, standing in the powerful downdraft. Before our eyes, over about forty seconds the wind stripped it almost bare, the leaves racing straight down faster than they could have fallen and then billowing out and down the length of the courtyard as the wind hit the ground. It was a Tom and Jerry moment--I couldn't stop laughing. My students were staring at me, other kids were looking at me from the windows, and my supervisor, in the doorway, didn't know what to make of me. Then she started laughing. Then the kids. The one moment perfectly summed up the futility of the endeavor. Even on a good day, the leaves fall faster than we can remove them, and soon we will be using those same medieval brooms to sweep that courtyard free of snow (the girls bare-legged and shivering in their skirts or gym shorts, I'm sure). As an aside, I saw a road crew using exactly the same sort of ineffectual brooms to sweep the loose tarry pebbles off the road after repaving the other day. Must be some sort of deeply cultural thing, these ridiculous brooms.
But as I mentioned, it gets worse: tomorrow, we wax the floors of the entire school. And when I say "we," I mean "the teachers." For whatever reason, we don't trust the students to do any more than the preliminary washing of the floors, much as they do every day, on their hands and knees (well, on their hands and feet, with their butts way up in the air--I'm not sure if this style is mandated solely for the amusement of the faculty, but it's pretty funny). Then, the teachers wax. Even the Japanese teachers seem to think this is ridiculous (the students should be helping, they say). Our equipment: tiny rags and big tins of wax. I mentioned to my supervisor (I hadn't quite digested the reality of the plan yet) that in America we have big machines that we push over the floor to help us wax--I may have said this exactly as one would say that in America we have big machines and fancy pipes that bring clean water right into our houses. They have waxing machines here, but it would have cost three hundred bucks to get one for the day. This is mind-boggling to me. At our parties, we pay for food but the school subsidizes most of the alcohol, and I'm sure that never runs to less than three hundred dollars; our New Year's Party (a little early, a big crab feast) will run at least $150 each; I would gladly have chipped in $12 or so for my share of the rental to keep myself off my hands and knees for a couple of hours.
Well, I've put myself through worse--just recently, in fact. Last Sunday was likely the last warm day until March, so I spent it climbing a 764 m meter mountain on a peninsula just south of me. This wouldn't be much for some of you, just about 2500' from sea level, where I started, to the top, but it was pretty steep, and I don't have the lungs and heart of a marathon runner (or even a casual jogger). I managed my pace and occasional stops to keep my heart rate under 140 for the 2:20 hike and by the time I got to the top I could have gone farther (but for having run out of both mountain and light--the last half hour of the descent was by flashlight), but I barely had knees under me for the last hundred meters or so of the descent (the steepest part, actually a rough trail stairway). I want to do it again before snows come so I'll have more time on top to find good vantage points and relax a bit. At many points on the way up, though, the trail gave fabulous views over the bay, and then over a shoulder of the mountain to the Sea of Japan on the other side, and over the city of Tsuruga at the end of the bay. I'll post a few pictures soon, mostly of the "sweaty panting Peter on a scenic rock 2000' over the bay" variety. I'm sure you'll notice that I haven't gotten any prettier over here.
I got a bit prettier today, though. I had my second Japanese haircut, this time with a chatty barber. In fact, he was so chatty that I got the feeling that I got the most minutely attentive haircut I've ever had. A million tiny snips. He didn't seem to want to let me go. I'm always happy to meet friendly people, and I appreciate the tradition of small talk to create a comfortable atmosphere, but trying to keep up banter in a language I can barely crawl in is absolutely exhausting. It's ten o'clock now, and I'm about to go to sleep.
And, just to keep these letters from developing any kind of consistency, I'll add that I still walk to my car every afternoon thinking, "I love my kids." I know people have come here and had bad experiences and that I've been very lucky that my particular job has worked out so well, but, in case anyone is looking for a pretty cushy adventure, I can't recommend this program highly enough. Of course, you've gotta like the food.
O Genki De