“Bwoy dem people yah really a tes mi fait(h)” was what I thought as I shook my legs frantically, my brow in a tight knot.
I wasn’t in the quick transactions line at the Scotiabank in Half Way Tree watching all the people in the regular, presumably, slow transactions line pass me by. Nor was I in traffic in said HWT watching a taxi man or a coaster bus driver trying to bad drive his way out of an existing bad drive.
I was sitting in an exam room in a place called Kurume in Japan. Just sitting. Not because I didn’t know the answers or I had finished, but because we had been told to do so by the examiners.
Let me attempt an explanation and hope you understand. There were three papers for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, Level 4— Reading and Writing, Listening and Grammar. The exam started at 10:00, I believe, and ended at something like 3:00. Sounds like long papers, right? Wrong! Each paper was actually less than an hour, I think, or at least it felt that way to me. The chunk of the time was dedicated to this sitting business.
So the ritual for each paper was something like this: Hand out the papers, check our pictures against a register, read some instructions, and then just stand there looking at us. Note: one of those instructions was not to actually start the paper. And for about 15-20 minutes we were all just sitting or falling asleep or whatever.
So, at the start of one of the papers, when I thought sitting time was over, I proceeded to open my question booklet to the example page. Being quite unsure what to do, I was just staring at said page for a while. This was the listening test, so you really couldn’t do anything if they didn’t start playing the tape. So I now I was both sitting and staring. Essentially I was doing nothing. Next thing I know, yellow card!
I got a yellow card in an exam for opening the test paper before time. In the 500, 000 rules you get before going to the exam, it says that you can get a yellow card for such and such an offence and if you get two yellow cards, you get a red card and will be asked to leave the exam. And there are some offences that warrant an instant red card. Sounds a little like a football game in prison, doesn’t it?
On our way to the test site, we joked that finding the place seems to have been part of the test. At lunchtime, we (half) joked that they were testing a few things including how patient or how Japanese we could be. Perhaps actual Japanese proficiency wasn’t the issue here.
If a mouse were to fart in the room, one guy said, they would find someone to pin a yellow card on.
I don’t know if it was taking an exam in an entirely different language, meaning the instructions were in Japanese, the examiners only spoke Japanese, which made it feel oh so strict. At the end of the first paper, they actually had to emphasise that it was quite okay to leave the room, as everybody just sat there in uncertainty even after all the scripts had been collected. At the announcement, everybody let out a little still nervous laugh.
But there is also a specific way to be Japanese, as there is I suppose, a way to be Jamaican or anything else. And I still don’t know what aspect of that persona that exam represented, if any at all. But among ALTs we often talk about the differences in the students at the elementary, junior high and high schools.
At elementary schools, they are the most open, sweetest kids you can find. At the first year of junior high school, they are still like that. But somewhere in second and third year of junior high school they become completely different and by high school, where I teach, they are under lock and key. They do not speak. Some of them do, of course. But many are shy.
The other day, a guy who has taught in this country for many years was giving a presentation in which he, citing some sources I forget now, said shyness was quite a desirable quality in Japanese children, especially girls. Interesting.
I had not actually intended to write about any of that…because they yellow card affair was still fresh in my mind when I started this post. So, if you get to the end, forgive the length.