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the great jenga tower

March 22, 2004

tower of jenga

Today I helped T sensei, the maths teacher, construct a Jenga set. The tower in the photo is not yet complete – when finished it will be half as high again, towering a foot and a half above whatever table-top it is placed on, and visible from many meters away. My arms ache from all the sanding, but construction must be completed by tomorrow evening, because the opening ceremony will be at the goodbye meal for five of the junior high school teachers.

Wednesday is the last day of term (Japan’s school year goes from April to April), and teachers here are always on short contracts, changing schools every few years. On the small islands the contracts are even shorter – no teacher stays longer than three years. This means that every year, about a third of the teachers in the school change. This is a fact that has sometimes creeped me out in the past: none of the teachers (or students, since there are only three years) have been here more than three years, but the school itself has stood here for forty years or so. So what is the school? In the right frame of mind, the transience of the people and continuity of the school can make you feel like the school is some kind of weird, looming presence. A huge cowlike thing, on whose back we are merely flies. Which makes no sense when I take a step back from my thoughts, but why should I do that?

Ooh. I just realised that thinking of the school as a ‘presence’ comes from the mistaken assumption that the meaningfulness of a word necessitates the existence of a corresponding thing! Doh! Fancy making that old mistake…! Anyway, I’m not creeped out by the school’s existence any more. Thank goodness I spent four years of my life studying philosophy… to think that at the time it all seemed like a lot of old nonsense and a waste of time which would have been better spent reading detective novels and learning the harmonica…

Also: I am now a licensed scuba-diver. Splendid! Don’t be too impressed, though – to get the basic license you need to be just about capable of avoiding death and/or bursting your eardrums. Which I think I am. Anyway, I’m looking forward to finding out.

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