Friday, July 08, 2005

On a lighter note...

Today was the once-every-two-years sports festival at my high school. The emphasis is on the word festival, for unlike the sports days that loom large in England, this was to be a celebration of culture and kinship...

So what sort of things happened? The first event was a relay of sorts that involved students racing to a table and thrusting their faces into bowls of flour to pick up candy with their teeth, and then passing the baton to their teammates, who did the same thing, finally racing to the finish line, all white faced and coughing.

After this came a different relay, which was really just an excuse for the various school clubs to parade about. Each club member had to complete a lap, but with a gimmick particular to their club. So the volleyball players ran whilst setting and receiving the ball, the tennis players bounced a ball on their racket, the male gymnasts wowed the crowd with incredible back somersaults and occasional apparatus routines, the brass band club jogged around the track with their instruments, stopping occasionally to treat the students to a bit of improvised jazz, and an unknown club decided to dress in girls underwear and dance around the track, falling over and screaming at everyone and everything.

The next event was something that really appealed to me - the sports field was cordoned off into two halves with a team occupying each half. They then had to throw hundreds of tennis balls into a plastic bin that was held aloft on wooden stilts! The team that had the most balls after a certain time was declared the winner.

Next was the tug of war, and although it brought a much needed burst of competitiveness and machismo into the proceedings, it failed on two counts. Firstly, most of the students were barefoot, and everyone knows that one of the secrets to tug of war is to wear big tough boots and dig your heels in as you pull. Secondly, there were no anchor men. The students at the end of the rope just held it gingerly and let their teammates at the front take all the strain. This was a golden opportunity for the overlooked and ridiculed class fat kid to shine. All he had to do was wrap the rope around his waist and lean back a bit and he would have been king for the day.

After this came the "performance" pieces, which were large scale war-dances, rather like the New Zealand hakka. One or two members from each team were designated to play the huge taiko drum, and the others acted out meticulously rehearsed movements and shouts. One teams kung fu style performance was particularly fine, and their drummer was exceptional with his "drunken master" style.

Next was the horse race, where three students held up one, and they ran around the track, passing on the baton until everyone had had a go. There were tumbles and grazed elbows and squeals of delight from certain girls as they neared the finish line neck and neck.

After this was a game that was "very difficult to translate" according to my boss, but from what I can gather it involved the students racing to a table and choosing a card, which had some sort of task for them to complete, for example a simple maths problem, or finding a hat, or a teacher that wears glasses.

The "High School Quiz" was next, and proceedings took a turn for the bizarre when the compere, a sports teacher who has a reputation as a bit of an extrovert at the best of times, appeared on the roof of the school with a microphone and the biggest red sparkly bowtie you will ever see. The students were instructed to all stand in the field and listen to a statement about their high school. They then had to decide whether it was true of false, and stand in the relevant half of the field. Those who were incorrect were out, and the winners went on to the next round, and so on, until the final half dozen were given silver bags filled with piss-poor potato snacks.

The final event of the day was the "block relay" and involved every single student and a great deal of teachers running a lap each and passing the baton to see which team would emerge as the winners, some 45 odd minutes later. Perhaps the highlight of this was the sight of the 250lb underdog setting the track on fire with his pace, shaming his slimmer and more fancied colleagues in the process.

All in all it was a good day, certainly something I've never seen before and there were moments of inspiration that transcended the hours and hours of shy girls shuffling along with condiments on their cheeks. Sitting behind the Principal, he regularly turned around and cheerfully explained some obscure activities that would have gone completely over my head otherwise. Afterwards he invited me up to his office for a coffee and we chatted lazily about Oxford and the Lake District for about an hour or so. "I would like to live somewhere like Oxford," he beamed as he sipped his very black coffee, though I couldn't help thinking that he'd miss the flour-covered teenagers and the screaming cross-dressers.


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