Friday, July 22, 2011

Emergency All-School Meeting

Today there was an emergency meeting. I was working quietly at my desk when I noticed that the staff room was filling up after 2nd period and the principal was in the room.  To be clear, the principal only comes to the teacher’s room when there is a meeting. 

Being that it was at a strange time – the 10 minute period between classes – and unplanned, I asked around and was told that it was an emergency meeting.  The meeting started soon afterwards and I listened intently, trying to figure out the emergency. 

I was proud of myself for catching most of the nouns, but I had a hard time piecing together the meaning.  The fastest talking teacher was announcing something about the incident, and the story that I caught went something like this:

This morning…7:40…junior high school…junior high school student…bicycle…high school students…two people…bicycle…Hokuto High School and Hakuyo High School…hospital...please notify the students. 

In my imagination, here’s how I filled in the blanks:

This morning at 7:40am, by a junior high school, a junior high school student was on his bicycle when two high school students – one from Hokuto and one from Hakuyo – stole/ganged up on/damaged/fought over the junior high school student’s bicycle and someone had to go to the hospital. Alert the students!

Here’s how the story really went, according to an English teacher that I asked afterwards:

This morning at 7:40am, a junior high school student was walking to school when two students riding their bicycles accidentally ran into the walking student.   The City Board of Education has asked that all high schools in Kitami (including Hokuto, Hakuyo, Ryokuryo, etc.) hold an emergency teacher meeting and homeroom immediately to tell all high school students to be careful when riding their bicycles.  No one was hurt and no one had to go to the hospital this time. Please contact the students about this. 

So, what this means, is that the school day was interrupted to gather all the teachers in a meeting to share this story. Naturally, the staff room doors were locked because of the emergency nature of the meeting.  All students went to their homeroom where the homeroom teacher shared this information.  Then, 3rd period began about 15 minutes after it’s scheduled time.  Apparently this was vital news, so much so that sharing the news with the students couldn’t have waiting until the normally scheduled afternoon homeroom.  The news was too important to wait another five hours.

I’m not surprised that there was a bicycle accident with a pedestrian.  Most students use a bicycle for at least part of their commute to school, so there are a lot of bicycles vying for the standard-size sidewalks with other bicyclists and pedestrians.  The closer you get to a school, the more crowded the sidewalks are.  My commute to my base school takes maybe 5 minutes, but I’ve come close to hitting students.  I’ve become a more diligent driver than I’ve ever been before because of the close calls.  I’ll be driving down the main road and students will dart into the street without looking, or they cross the road no matter what the light might say. There is one place where I turn right and need to stop to check traffic.  I might be fully stopped, and have been for some time while waiting for traffic, yet bicyclists have nearly collided with my car.  Did I mention that I’m the one not moving?

The students I see riding their bikes can be dangerous because of how distracted they are.   I’ve seen bicyclists talking on their cell phones, listening to music, talking with their friends (meaning not looking forward), crossing the street without looking, not stopping where they need to, and no one wears a helmet here.  One time I asked a teacher why no one – from the young 4-year-old learning how to ride a bike to the 80-year-old obaachan – wears a helmet, and he said that it’s bad fashion.  

“Really?” I ask. 

“Of course!” he responds.  I think he was joking? 

I remember resisting wearing a helmet when I was younger, but as I’ve gotten older it’s bothered me less. In fact, I remember that it stopped bothering me when I was a late high school student.  I also had parents who never considered fashion to be a good excuse for skipping out on safety. 

I guess I’ll just chalk this whole emergency up to another funny cultural difference not worth sweating over.  I’ll admit, though, that I’ve come to believe that it’s a really good thing that their driving age is 18 here

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