I'm sitting in a brand new staffroom that smells of paint and optimism. For the last two days my current school has been relocating from the crappy old post-war building it previously occupied to a spiffy new one on the same site. Presumably there will be an exciting demolition in the not-too-distant future.
Although on a more modest scale, the place is uncannily similar to Edinburgh's new Informatics Forum. The world over, it seems generations to come will be able to instantly identify buildings erected in the early part of the 21st century by their ostentatious multi-floor atria spanned by weird bridge-corridors, their copious exposed wood, and their colour scheme of mostly white walls with the occasional deep fuchsia or electric lime stairwell.
It's all very flashy and modern. There seem to be plasma screens bolted into the ceiling all over the place. One of these in reception is proudly announcing how many kilowatts the solar panels on the roof are generating, which I can't look at without wondering what percentage of that output is being spent on advertising the fact. On the walls are boxes with antennae that look just like wifi routers. I got all excited about the possibility of unfettered internet access at school, but I've just been told that they are in fact some kind of weird building-wide voice communication system. Denied.
Most of the big stuff has been moved now, so I've decided that my lifting services aren't really required anymore. Coordinating 340 kids to move the entire contents of a school is a tough logistical problem, like a really hard and tedious level of Pikmin, but with tracksuited Japanese teenagers instead of flower-headed imps. Because the second- and third-graders still have the tracksuits from their pre-merge schools, there are in fact two easily distinguished tribes. I'm curious as to whether the ones in blue can survive indefinitely underwater. I did wonder whether a bucket-brigade approach would be more efficient; we certainly had the manpower for it. However, we'd probably end up forgetting Susie-chan. (I think that reference, to a removal firm advert that aired on Grampian TV about 15 years ago, is comfortably the most obscure one ever to appear on this blog.)
The move has been a fun opportunity to hang out and chat to students. I just had a very confusing trilingual conversation involving a poor kid who recently moved here from China and appears to be worse at Japanese than I am. Fortunately, another student, who I know relatively well as I've coached her for speech contest, turns out to be Chinese too - I had no idea - and was acting as interpreter.
The other thing I've been doing this week is appearing at kindergartens as Santa Claus. The inherent deception in this task stresses me out a little. I know they're only little kids, but I'm clearly quite a bit younger than most depictions of Saint Nick. Having said that, I have pretty big problems judging Japanese people's ages, so maybe the same thing works in reverse. However, surely even the three-year-olds are sharp enough to detect that my beard is not the real thing, but in fact a crude facsimile made of felt and held on with string.
On these visits I am accompanied by a little helper in the shape of my supervisor from City Hall. He's there to translate, although I'm much more able to field the kids' questions on my own than I was this time last year. (Weirdest question so far: "What kind of (eye) glasses do you like best?") Yesterday, the kindergarten supplied a Rudolph costume for him to wear, which never stopped being hilarious for me. He initially put it on backwards, and the resulting positioning of the tail caused me to momentarily think it was an unusually anatomically accurate reindeer likeness.
As ever, I am surprised at just how adorable I find the children. They always perform a little song as their present to Santa, and now that I can actually understand some of what they are singing, it's almost unbearably sweet. Before anyone suggests it, I'm not getting broody (does that word even apply to men?). Chimpanzees are cute too, but I wouldn't want to share a house with one.