Monday, April 10, 2006

The First Dragonboat Race


Know, O Prince, that in the far south of the Osumi Peninsula lies a land undreamed of, a land of misty forests and ripe rice fields spread like gray mantles beneath the stars. There, in distant Nejime, every year gather the greatest dragon warriors to battle the elements, the Gods and each other for Glory alone.

And so Saturday evening saw us, gathered and united, at the Dome where free food and beer awaited us. Free, that is, except for one important catch-we needed to sing a song. Despite the fine and universally lauded choice of song that had been made, some trepidation existed in our group, and indeed it was only rivalry with the Miyazaki JETS that forced us to go through with it all. The Miyazakis were tough men and women, bred for generations to be dragon boat warriors. By all accounts they had been training for years, running through brick walls, chopping wood with their bare hands, and mediating under ice cold waterfalls. But they didn’t scare us. Rather, we deemed them to be karaoke-stealing, mini-skirted, fake-smiled, over-blond, over-muscled and over-here foreigners. They would pay for daring to step foot in our ken without first groveling face down for several hours in a large bathtub full of natto.

Well, someone did pay. However, it may have been the good people of Nejime, judging by the visages of horror and blank incomprehension which met us as we gutted the soundtrack to ‘Armageddon’. It followed so naturally from the high school big band, was such a match in tone, professionalism and quality that at this very moment I am looking over my shoulder anxiously, waiting for the school leopard to rip my throat out and prevent future shameful episodes.

After the party we returned, rebuffed from karaoke, to my house. Quantities of alcohol were imbibed. And as the Miyazaki team’s efforts to infiltrate our community of sexually desirable and socially advanced individuals was successfully and permanently rebuffed, we proceeded to enjoy ourselves. The highlight of the evening, possibly, was when one ALT, who shall remain nameless*, took it upon herself to test the puke-absorbing qualities of my tatami, and only the timely application of salt saved it from permanent ignominy.

The salt cleansing was no accident. It was, indeed, a deliberate invocation of supernatural power, ultimately inspired by the traditional purification rituals of Japan itself. It is thus a metaphor for, and a reflection of, our own personal journeys in understanding and accepting this ancient culture. Dave’s existentialist action forces us to confront deeply rooted attitudes towards Japan, and raises a challenging question: have you cleaned the puke from your own inner tatami mat?

The next morning a determined group of adventurers, hangover not withstanding, marched to the riverside, and girt themselves with warpaint and expressions of such ferocity that individual children will remain terrified of gaijin for decades to come. Hours of intense strategy discussions followed. Behind us the first battles raged; and dragon blood fell from the sky like rain as we planned our assault. Arrows and circles were drawn with sticks in the sand; pincer movements, encirclements, missile weapons and assassinations were proposed and rejected.
Our first team must have been blessed by the Gods. Initial trepidation gave way to excitement as the race began and when we saw we were in with a chance we gave it all we had. Dave powered us with drumbeats; Leon dreamed of a prow-mounted caterpault; Malia and Mindy transformed into Amazons and Amy gamely wiped puke from her hair as she paddled. Sweat glistened like quicksilver on our muscles and men and women all over Kagoshima fainted from excitement. Dave Williams, destined for this hour the moment he was born, steered us unerringly towards glory. The Force is strong in that one. And for one, brief shining moment, we were all thrusting together, all shouting and plunging and straining and groaning and chanting. Like an orgy. Only not.

And the victory achieved? The great goal for which we had strained and suffered and bled and sacrificed and strived? Noone who was there that glorious day will forget the honour we earned: The Immortal Glory of Nearly Beating The Nurses.

Unfortunately, in the face of such triumph, such success, it takes no holy prophet, no blind seer, no Delphic Oracle to predict the sad fate of our successors; the weight of such impossible expectations would be too heavy a burden for any mortals to bear. The second boat seemed plagued with problems from the beginning. Weight was unevenly distributed. Tricky winds. Gravity warps. Sexual tension. A sheep that Michael had managed to smuggle aboard. Whatever the cause, helpless shorebound observers watched as the boat drifted to the middle of the river. Commands, shouts, screams and an occasional ‘baaa!’ could be heard. Factions formed, leaders rose from the chaos. People huddled in small groups for comfort and warmth. Mai had to be rescued from the rudder, which appeared to be possessed, a kind of nautical Linda Blair. In fact, such were the problems that fine ship faced, it seemed to be having some difficulty reaching the starting line, and was last seen heading towards Ibusuki.

We loved those fine young men and women.
We will miss them dearly.

I must admit, however, to having the time of my life, and invite everyone capable of doing so to return next year.

Even the Miyazaki team.




* Amy Price

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