daily preciousness

Tuesday, April 25, 2000

the pigeon dirt-digger

You wouldn't think that a little kid would be so fond of heights. Yuki, at age 8, had proven his love of heights and depths in a most extrordinary way.

While he wasn't busy digging for new additions to his rock collection, he was diving off of rooftops. Yuki had earned quite a reputation around Koya elementary school. Known variously as "the pigeon" and "the dirt-digger," he was often found during recess trying to dig his way to the other side of the planet. Who would think that a soup spoon could be wielded so industriously? He managed to dig about two feet down (the entire length of his arm) within the span of a single day.

After his last class, he often managed to climb up the large iron fence that surrounded the schoolgrounds. He would stand there, attentively and with an owl-like fascination for the goings-on underneath him. I would often catch his eye as the school secretary drove me home after my day of work.

Every third week, when I attended his particular third grade class, I was the unwitting embodiment of playground equipment. Usually, I would be approaching the classroom or exiting it when Yuki would attack me from behind (frequently when I was kneeling down or squatting) and proceed to climb up to my shoulders. It was a peculiar form of guerilla piggy-back riding. Yuki was a fast one. And I had a difficult time saying "no" to students.

Looking back, I can remember my first visit to the school's vivacious and strikingly honest third-grade class. I say they were honest because I think that the third grade is a special point in the development of Japanese children because they're too young to be fully aware of "proper" behavior and they're still bursting with life, clueless about the impropriety of asking personal questions. It's all so new to them that they immediately accept things at face value. (Consequently, they have no time to think about losing face.)

Yuki, the boy with the shoebox rock collection and penchant for diving off trees, swings and jungle gyms, dive-bombed me the very first day of class. Figuratively and literally. "Do you have a big American penis?" he asked me, in a booming voice that was a giggle-cue for the other 28 youngsters. "American boys and men have penises, too," I started off, wondering desperately how I would complete the thought. My face was warm and I suspect as red as the rosy-cheeked girl in the first row. "And well..." seemed like the most culturally appropriate way to finish/not finish the thought, since everybody loved to use the uniquely Japanese answer with me. Why couldn't I employ this valuable counter-communication communicative technique also? So I did.

After the Q & A session, I got mobbed for autographs. I didn't mind this at all. (Indeed, it fed into my celebrity complex which continued, unabated, for the next three years!) The kids made offerings to me of origami cranes and Pokemon stickers. One kid with a snotty nose and a lazy eye even gave me his half-used eraser. How generous. Still recovering from the glow of student adoration, I was taken by surprise when Yuki dive-bombed me a *second* time, this time literally. He rushed at me and pounded me in the stomach with his fist, a maniacal grin on his face and mischievious eyes twinkling in half-crazed delight. This kid had more penis envy than a room of drunken salarymen. And I bore the brunt of it.

Sure, he was just an 8-year-old child, but when you don't expect a punch in the gut, it can be painful. I had the wind knocked out of me and I couldn't really hear the teacher's loud "No, Yuki! What do you think you're doing?!?" All my attentions were focused on assessing the damage to my internal organs, not listening to the angry instructor. But nothing was really hurt, just a little bruise.

After he punched me, he showed me his rock collection for the first time. I suppose that's why I remembered him so clearly, even among the sea of grinning brown-eyed, black-haired children at the school. Physically assaulting a teacher on his first day is a great way to make yourself unforgettable, I guess. That says a lot for his spirit. I think he offered me a rock from his collection, but I politely refused, saying that I had a lot of rocks in my backyard already and I didn't need another. Yuki's bravery was charming, because it takes a lot of strength to speak up in class and ask the "tough" questions to your new English teacher.

Anyway, I had to write this little memory down about Yuki. I left Japan nearly two years ago, but I dreamed about Yuki last night and I knew I had to write about him first thing this morning.


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