Monday, August 29, 2005

Dragon Boating and skipping through the fields of my youth with Catholicism

I have returned to the fitness condition I had pre wisdom tooth operation. If I want to get my times at the pool any more accurate it will involve the incorporation of a stop watch into my exercise equipment. I was just over seventeen minutes last week over the one kilometer distance.

Japan is beginning to cool off a little bit, although the proclamation by Junichiro Koizumi earlier on in the year that offices should dress more casually and avoid using air conditioning to save power has worked its way down through the strata of Japanese Society. This means that my normally cool staff room is at ambient air temperature, which would be okay if I wasn’t wearing black.

School will begin again on Thursday after over a month of recess, then we will move into typhoon season and the period of regular three day weekends. I decided to slip in this morning to make an appearance and get some work done, which is just as well as now there is a major staff meeting.

I spent a formidable amount of time this weekend hanging out with a new French Canadian friend of mine, and we had a very good time. My Japanese skills, however limited, are proficient enough to take someone out to dinner. The weekend contained a distinct lack of sleeping in, again, but I wake at 6ish regularly now, so…

What the hell.

Most of the weekend after Friday night’s beer garden adventure in Saga was taken up with my last minute entry into the Saga Gaijin dragon boat team, Gaijin Ima. Ima meaning now in English. Kind of a play on Apocalypse Now. It was a weekend of distinctly Asian culture, except for the dinner on Saturday, and the viewing of a Shakespearean film on the night of the same.

Saturday was training and about eight members from a team of eighteen showed up.

I forgot how much dragon boating can hurt if you do it wrong. The only two people on the team with any dragon boating experience were me and Jayne. Jayne having the most recent and larger amount of experience took the lead and I gave pointers to people about rowing technique and timing. The last time I was in a dragon boat I had the haircut from Braveheart, much more acne and a distinctly lacking sex life, however, the remedy of these three things proved not at all useful in regards to actually helping ease the anaerobic workout induced by paddling a 250kg boat up and down a river with only half the crew in it.

Had an American style diner in Takeo during which I consumed two large hamburgers and a plate of fries.

Found a video copy of Julie Taymor’s film adaptation of Titus Andronicus on sale for only 190 yen. There are benefits in living in a society that has a distinct challenge in appreciating the finer points of Shakespeare on film. I did cock up horribly when selecting a copy of Hero on video, as I forgot that a copy in Japan would be in its native Chinese language with Japanese subtitles. However, the film is shot so beautifully it was nearly an hour before we could bring ourselves switch it off, despite not understanding a single word of dialogue.

Sunday dawned grey and overcast, but the cloud burned off during the day. I avoided all hint of sunburn by staying under shelter religiously except when racing. I was very surprised at how really quite good we were on the water in the first leg of the first race. We were clearly in the lead at the first turn! I thought that a Japanese dragon boating regatta would be littered with well trained crews with a perfect paddling rhythm, the most essential element of a successful dragon boat syndicate, worked out.

Some boats looked like caterpillars crawling along the river they were so out of time. One all female team with decent rhythm bet an all male team by four boat lengths due only to the fact the men were so horribly out of time with each other in the boat. This, for a group of Japanese men I believe would be quite humiliating. So we helped by taunting them a bit from the sidelines.

Our timing was really quite decent which meant that in all our races we managed to put at least a half boat length between us and our nearest competitor. Now this course is a massive 500m course, one leg up to a buoy, around the buoy and then a return leg. We hit our first turn quite fast, but got clipped by the front end of the boat behind us, sent away off course and impacted onto the bank of the river. The return leg was the low point of the day for the team; however, we had glimpsed the thrill of victory during that first leg, and resolved to win the next race later on in the afternoon.

Which we did, by five or six boat lengths.

Our turns were practiced after lunch and, after we had flicked water at any opposing boat pre-race, we had a good lead during the first leg. We went into our turn first, into clear water, with a lead sufficient to ensure no collisions would take place. The other boats seemed to lock up around each other and get caught in the wake water of our turn. We advanced to a supreme lead as they disentangled themselves and won convincingly.

A sojourn across town to the Saga cultural centre was then taken to view the best of Kyushu’s Taiko drumming groups. The Saga cultural centre is one of the grander buildings in little old Saga, and is relatively new and rather very nice. The Taiko was top notch and amazing to watch, although the small boy sitting near the front, who leaned back over his seat and looked at me with his hands clapped over his ears before ducking back down again at his parents insistence seemed to differ in opinion from me.

He reminded me of my behavior when I was taken to church by my parents, often being told off for smuggling in Asterix or Tin-Tin comics to read during that hour, which, for a seven year old boy, was painfully, hideously boring and to be avoided at any cost possible, especially when it was a whole hour of precious weekend freedom.







Don’t confuse this with spirituality, which I have developed in my own way, based on my own life experiences. However, the Catholic churches form of worship is not the one for me. Even when I was very young I remember having to complete all these worksheets that were designed to instruct me in the catholic faith. I completed them methodically and with all the answers I assumed were supposed to go in the right boxes according to what I heard droned at me from a pulpit every Sunday.

But unlike many of my classmates in school, I just didn’t feel it. Ever. This had nothing to do with the efforts my parents did put into my spiritual education. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him put some in the fridge to use as ice for Gin and Tonic later on. And I remember wondering in church on day if someone could have just made all of what I was hearing up as a bit of a prank.

I did all of these worksheets and exercises, with appropriate responses leading up to the various sacraments one takes as a child in the catholic church simply to expedite my release to go and play with my dinosaurs, or read, or whatever it was at the time.

Now that being said it’s not that I think the Catholic Church at a community based level is a bad organization. It can in times of need help its members and forms a very strong part of the community, particularly on my mothers side of the family. It’s not that I think the priests I came into contact with as a child were awful people. They weren’t. They were kind and devout teachers who I still remember today.

I ambled along at my own pace over the years, growing more tolerant of the Church services as I realized an hour wasn’t really that long. However, I still had to force myself into the car and spent most of the time wondering what else was going to happen that day, whether or not someone had discovered a new kind of dinosaur, whether I would ever find one myself, and would it be worth digging in the garden again to try and find one after all.

That’s enough on that subject for now. Maybe later I will post the second part of my journey with the Catholic Church during my teenage years, or, ‘The Shitty Part’ as I like to refer to most of them.

Suffice to say that Gaijin Ima placed 10th out of 50 teams and I came home with a bottle of Sake and slept a solid eight hours last night.

Regardless of the Sake, of which I tried one cup. A Sake cup. It’s like a shot glass, but ceramic. I couldn’t maintain the levels of fitness I have if I drank as much as some of you entertain.


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