Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sports Day

Last Thursday was Sports Day, that magical day when I neither have to teach nor sit bored in my office. Preparations for Sports Day began at the beginning of the month. Every morning before first period, the students gathered in front of the school to practice the Korean National Athletic Exercises and the past few weeks have been rife with student coming to class sweaty and late, or not at all. Last Tuesday, the entire morning was devoted to a Sports Day dress rehearsal.

For Sports Day, the school was spit into two teams - white and blue - and the two teams competed for the Sports Day trophy. Last Monday, I was talking with the girls in the broadcasting club after practice and I asked what team they were on. Three girls were on the white team and one girl was on the blue team.

"Is your team going to win Sports Day?" I asked the white team girls.

"No!" they answered. "Our team is very bad at running. We will lose."

Then I asked them if they were excited about Sports Day and I also received a negative.

"No!" 한솜 told me. "I hate Sports Day!"

"Well," I asked, "do you like class?"

"Nooooooooooo!" she told me emphatically.

"What do you like more - Sports Day or class?"

"Sports Day. Okay, I like Sports Day a little."

On Wednesday, I quarried my regular 6th grade classes about Sports Day. "What day is it tomorrow?" I asked at the beginning of class.

"It's Thursday."

"Yes," I sighed. "Tomorrow is a special day. What is it?

"It's 운동회날!"

"In English," my constant refrain in class.

They thought it over and finally decided upon PE Day. "Teacher, tomorrow is PE Day."

Thursday morning dawned bright and clear, and as I walked to school, I passed a vendor selling cotton candy and balloons setting up his cart right outside the school gates. The festivities began with long speeches by the principal, vice principal, head teacher and several people I had never seen before. The students were already lined up in the sun and kept fidgeting as the speeches droned on. Finally the speakers finished and Sports Day could begin in earnest. The first activity was 국민체조 (Korean National Athletic Exercises), which I privately refer to as interpretive dance calisthenics (videos here and here).

Sports Day - 9.16.2010
Interpretive dance calisthenics or Tai Chi to music

Next came the races. There are about 900 students at my school and all of them participated in at least one race, so while other groups played games or gave performances in the center of the playground, at least one grade was holding races around the parameter. It made the day feel like a three ring circus, never sure what event I should be watching. The food vendors and families milling about didn't hurt the comparison either. The students races in groups of five or six, one kid from each class. The younger kids just ran around the playground, but the 5th and 6th graders ran an obstacle course. They had to jump through a hula hoop, crawl under a volleyball net boot camp style and jump over a hurdle. There's a dwarf student in the 5th grade, and when he reached the hurdles, two sixth grade boys ran onto the track and lifted him over the hurdle so he could continue the race.

Sports Day - 9.16.2010
3rd grade boys racing

Sports Day - 9.16.2010
6th grade boy jumping hurdles

All the grades also had jump rope activities. Grades jump roped in unison, jump roped divide by gender, criss-cross jump roped, jump roped use one rope and two people, swung the ropes about like lassos to music, all hilariously unsynchronized. There were also games for each grade. The 3rd graders piled four to a hula-hoop and ran around traffic cones, the 2nd graders tried to break apart two buckets taped together using bean bags (think piñata, only more Korean and no candy inside), and the 5th graders had to keep a giant ball aloft while passing it from student to student. There was also a 사물놀이 (samul nori, type of traditional Korean music) performance by a group of 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders.

Sports Day - 9.16.2010
Dwarf 3rd grader (sister to the 5th grader) jump roping.

Sports Day - 9.16.2010
2nd grade piñata game

The final event was a relay race for the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th graders to determine the winner of Sports Day and my 6th graders prediction came true: the blue team won by ten points. The team leader accepted the trophy, the students performed the national exercises one more time, the cotton candy and ice cream vendors packed up and Sports Day was over.

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