Chapter 9: English Camp, Day 1

David Taylor

David Taylor is the creator of the Forever Foreign Podcast. He's been a full-time liver and Part-time lover of Japan for... possibly too long at this point.
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It’s late August in Japan, meaning Chiron’s annual English camp is about to start, and no one is more excited than Devon’s bosses, Timothy and Kaori. But there’s a surprise in store for them when the campus they thought they’d completely rented out ends up being infested by cockroaches masquerading as Minerva employees.

That’s how Timothy sees the people that work for Chiron’s rival English teaching company, at least. But Devon – and most of the other Hotaru newbies – view them a little differently.

Listen to the friction unfold in Chapter 9 of Forever Foreign.

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Production Credits

Writing, producing – David Taylor
Sound design – David Armfield
Story Edits – Juan Olivares
Voice of Devon – David Taylor
Voice of Callum – Josh Leach
Voice of Victor – David Armfield
Voice of Timothy – Juan Olivares

Sound Credits

Coming in a minute!

Chapter 9: English Camp, Day 1 (Transcript)

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Good evening, Henrik.

I’m joining you from the 2013 Chiron English Camp. I didn’t wanna leave this for a postdated entry, but the cafeteria here is about the quietest space I could find for a recording and it’s not all that private. I’m sure it’ll be okay. Everyone had their dinner long ago.

Let’s jump right into it, shall we? And what better place to start then on the train in? Us Hotaru ALTs – hopefully you’ll remember what that stands for by now, Henrik, but if not, it’s ‘Assistant Language Teacher’. Anyway, the Hotaru ALTs had it a little rough. Of everyone in the prefecture, we’re the furthest from Okayama City at an hour and a half, and since we were supposed to be there before 9, it meant leaving at 6:46 AM.

An early morning requires a strong coffee and a strongly worded mug, so I chose the one that says ‘makeru na’. I don’t know why, but whenever I say it out loud I can’t help but put on a gruff anime voice. In English it means don’t lose, if you’re wondering.

While you could interpret the phrase as a stern warning that failure is not an option, I like to think that the real message is ‘do your best’. Ya know, like what all of the other mugs I own are basically saying but with different sounds.

This morning, all six of the Hotaru crew rode the train into Okayama together. Like a super team of English teachers. Allow me to announce the newbies. First, all the way from ‘Down Under’ there’s my commonwealth comrade… Callum! Next, coming in at an inch or two above me and hence quite tall, there’s the giant of Georgia, Alyssa! Last, but don’t tell her I put her there, and also don’t tell her that I left out where she’s from since I don’t actually know, there’s the curmudgeonly, the cranky, the cantankerous B-R-E! E..? B-R-E-E… I think that’s how you spell her name… Maybe don’t tell Bree that I talked about her at all…

You must know them pretty well by now, Henrik, but you won’t be so familiar with the other two on the train; our senpais, Victor and Mio. That’s okay, because I’m not really familiar with them, either. So I guess I’ll generalize. After all, what better time for generalization is there than right after spending a single evening with someone?

In case you’ve forgotten, a boiled down explanation of ‘senpai’ is someone who got into some situation before you did. You can have senpais at work, in school, on sports teams… In my case, I have two senpais who lived and breathed in Japan before me.

My first senpai, Victor, is… well, I don’t mean to disparage, but the word I would use is egotistical. As for Mio, docile comes to mind. Let’s forget about the profiles and get on that train, though.

There we were, the Hotaru six, rolling through forests and along rivers with the train pounding away beneath our feet. Every one of us was bleary-eyed as we made our way from the deep country of Okayama prefecture to its capital city. At first, I was quiet and even tried to catch a few winks before punching in for work, but each time we went screaming through a tunnel I was jerked awake by the pressure change and noise.

As we dove into the south of the prefecture, the green of forested mountains was replaced with the duller grays and browns of office buildings and houses. Empty seats on the train filled up with commuters heading into work, too.

Whether it was because of the growing mob or the caffeine, I found myself wanting to have a conversation. Only I wasn’t sure if it was allowed.

“Is it okay to talk on the train?” I whispered to Victor who was sitting across from me in our open booth.

He pulled his gaze from the buildings zipping past and looked at me. “Do whatever you want.”

I leaned over and tried Mio instead, who was sitting in the booth on the right side of the train with Bree. “Hey Mio, are we allowed to talk on the train?”

“Ummm, technically yes?” she said. Or maybe she asked. It’s hard to tell with her.

“But?” I prodded. I don’t think she would’ve given a straight answer knowing it was unpleasant.

“But… it’s… not what most people do.”

“Oh, go ahead and talk,” Victor said. “Just don’t start screaming at the top of your lungs.”

“Okay, perfect,” I said. “I wanted to ask what you thought of Chiron.”

“Well, go ahead and ask then,” Victor said.

I waited for him to laugh, which he didn’t do. “Uhhhh, what do you think of Chiron?” I asked.

“They’re the company that hired me,” Victor said. “They pay me on time, they give me plenty of vacation, Kevin and Timothy are great guys. And Kaori… Well, I think us guys all feel the same way about Kaori.”

He gave a wink which I never got a chance to address because next to me Alyssa jumped into the conversation. “Timothy’s a great guy?” she said. “What’s so great about him? The tool tried to deport me for calling him Tim.”

“You called him Tim?” Mio gasped. “You shouldn’t call him Tim. He doesn’t like that.”

“That’s what I tried to tell her,” I said, turning to Mio. “What do you think of Chiron?”

“Well… they’re fine,” she said. “But they weren’t my first choice.”

“Oh? Who was?”


Victor sort of… growled at that. That’s how I’d describe it. It wasn’t a sigh or even a grunt. Definitely something closer to what you’d hear from an angry animal.

“I still can’t believe you interviewed with them,” he said.

Mio shrunk back in her seat, the sight of which made Bree pipe up. “I see you’ve been drinking the Chiron kool-aid.”

Victor leaned across Callum who was sitting to his left, looked Bree dead in the eye and said, “Let me put it this way, little one. If I was on a nice walk along the shore of a lake and saw the CEO of Minerva drowning I’d run to the nearest vending machine, buy a bottle of pocari sweat, rent a row boat, and paddle aaalll the way out. Just to pour it on his head.”

Henrik, once you’ve said that I think you’ve said it all. But I asked Victor to go a little deeper anyway.

“Everyone who works for that company is stuck up,” he explained. “They do the same job as us, but worse, and somehow they have the balls to try to poach our contracts. I’m just glad that I hardly ever see those Minerva turds.”

Everything my senpai had to say about our rival company was colored by pettiness. It also generally had a fecal theme to it. He even went so far as to critique their logo which he described as “a stupid, dumb, owl perched on a log of poop.”

The train was packed by that point anyway and we were getting enough stares to make me uncomfortable, so I stopped asking questions. 15 minutes later we were pulling into Okayama station.

The automatic doors to the train slid open, and people poured out in a wave onto the platform, some of them going upstairs, some down. Many of them were students in school uniforms and a few sported every-day attire, but most wore dress pants and short-sleeved dress shirts. As a rule, these dress shirts were all white. I might’ve seen one that was light blue, but that’s probably just my memory painting the scene with a livelier palette.

Victor and Mio led us down a flight of stairs, following the flow of the crowd. There was a wide underground path, and at the end we stuck our tickets into the automated gates before moving to the other side.

I was surprised to see that there was a large collection of shops and restaurants in the underground. We didn’t have much time to kill, though. Just enough for Mio to take us to what she said was her favorite bakery in the station where I bought a cranberry scone and my second coffee of the morning. After, we walked through a narrow pedestrian tunnel, and at the top of a flight of stairs on the other side were greeted by fresh air for a brief moment before the diesel of coach busses took over.

Victor and Mio searched left and right before finding what they were looking for; a chubby white man in track pants and a tacky yellow shirt standing beside a smaller Japanese woman wearing the same. Timothy and Kaori. When we approached, they were both beaming.

“Welcome. To the 2013 Chiron English Camp,” Timothy said. “How are you all on this beautiful morning?”

To say that Timothy was glowing would be an understatement. And it wasn’t just the pigment of his shirt. I’d never seen the man this full of life outside of the few times during training where he was allowed to get into the nitty gritty of education philosophies. And I guess that’s hitting the nail on the head. The man was brimming with excitement knowing that there were two days of teaching young people ahead of him. His dedication was commendable, really.

Kaori seemed just as excited as she crossed our names off the list on her clipboard. We were about to board the bus when she stopped us, saying, “Where are you going?”

Callum was nearest to her, so he answered. “On the bus. This is the bus, right?”

Kaori wagged her finger. “No no no. You can’t get on the bus until you put on one of these!”

She bent down to reach into a bag, pulling out a shirt just like the one that she and Timothy were wearing. Henrik, do you know the name of the most hostile shade of yellow? Lemon? Corn? I never worked in a paint store, so I don’t know. What I did know was that these shirts were it, and they weren’t made any better by our company’s logo on the front; a centaur with the word ‘Chiron’ tattooed across his body, peering through a pair of bottle-framed glasses down at a thick book. Beneath that noble creature in white comic sans, the shirt read, “2013 English Camp. Let’s smile together.”

As we gave Kaori our sizes Callum turned to me and whispered, “I think I can feel a migraine coming on.”

After getting dressed in the bus terminal’s public toilet we came out looking like a swarm of bumblebees. Timothy wasn’t going to spare our dignity, either. He held out his arm in front of the door as we tried to rush out of the public eye and onto the bus, foisting a sheet of song lyrics onto each of us. At the top was the title “All Around the World, Justin Bieber featuring Ludacris.”

“We’ll be singing this on the way into camp,” Timothy said.

Victor and I cheered, but the others in our group were less excited, Callum in particular. He held his head low as Timothy led us inside.

Henrik, I guess now would be the time to tell you that the students we were going to be with for the next couple days were also on that bus, one or two to every ALT. When we got to the top of the steps we were greeted with row upon row of bright yellow shirts worn by adults doing their best to make conversation with the stiff adolescents next to them in their respective school gym clothes.

Each ALT had a smile shoehorned to their face. I guess they were trying their hardest to put this year’s camp slogan into action, but the end result resembled something closer to a live hostage situation. I don’t know if you’ll remember Leon Rademacher, the guy from training who told the story about losing his treasured family beer stein… Anyway, Leon in particular seemed like he was working so hard on smiling that he’d forgotten to breathe.

My assigned seat was next to an eighth grader named Airi who was one the few people that seemed relaxed. Before I’d even finished stowing my bag on the shelf above she was introducing herself. I gave her my own name in return along with a compliment on her English, and she looked up, beaming. It must’ve been the first genuine smile on the bus that day.

As we pulled out of the parking lot she asked, “Where are you from?”

“Canada,” I said.

She bounced in her seat, clapping excitedly.

“Do you know Canada?” I asked.

“Yes! I want to go to Canada.”

“Well come on down!” I said. “We’ve got mountains, poutine… mountains of poutine. Edmonton – that’s my home town – has one of the world’s biggest shopping malls. I bet you’d love it.”

Her face might as well have been a windows update screen. If it had been one, the percentage would’ve risen painfully slowly as she tried to untangle my rapid fire English before stalling somewhere around the 50% mark. In all the excitement I’d forgotten to adjust my speech for second language learners.

Just as I was about to simplify things, Timothy was on his feet, calling for silence. He had to make that call several times before the bus was quiet enough for him to speak, and by that point the vein on his forehead was about ready to break free from his skin.

Still a little frustrated, our fearless leader’s opening words sort of fell out of his mouth in a jumble. “Welcome-to-the-2013-Chiron-English-Camp-let’s-smile-togetherrrr!”

Timothy punched the air to rally the crowd, hitting an overhead storage shelf in the process. I hate talking about this, but that’s probably the reason half of the bus cheered, while the other half sucked in air, sympathizing with his pain as he shook it off. As for ‘let’s smile together’, some people might describe the lines on his face as leading the way. Maybe. But I interpreted the look as something closer to ‘smile, damn you, smile’.

I tried my best to follow orders and get Airi to smile with me. Timothy needed all the help he could get, after all. Across the aisle from me, Alyssa was hiding behind the chair in front of her, trying – and failing – to contain her laughter. The boy next to her seemed baffled, so I pointed to the smile on my face in an attempt to encourage him. I was probably closer to inducing a panic attack than anything. But hey, I tried.

Timothy went on to explain we would be singing Justin Bieber, but needed gestures to go along with the lyrics. The next 10 minutes were dedicated to finding movements that matched phrases like ‘all around the world’, ‘you’re crazy girl’, and my favorite ‘they’re no different than us’. It’s a beautiful song with a strong message, Henrik. Haters gonna hate.

By the time the gestures were sorted out and we’d practiced once or twice the bus had turned into a truly happy environment – no simulation necessary! The vein in Timothy’s forehead had subsided, Kaori was tearing up a rug, and the kids were screaming with laughter. Before we knew it the announcement that we were ten minutes from our destination was being made. That meant it was time to put on the final performance, but for that we needed something absurd. You might even say we needed… Ludacris? I had to do it.

When nobody would volunteer to perform the rap section Timothy looked around for someone who he could bully into it. Everyone on the bus avoided making eye contact, so he pointed to the nearest person which happened to be Callum. That was a mistake.

Callum squared up to Timothy and calmly shook his head; a crystal clear refusal. At first I was surprised that Victor wasn’t volunteering, but he cleared that up, telling me that it was impossible for white people to look cool while rapping. This, long after I had volunteered.

Of course, my hand didn’t go up in the hopes that I would look cool spitting rhymes in the middle of a Justin Bieber song. Not at first anyway. My original motivation was simple. I wanted to save the mood on that bus from taking a nosedive after how high we’d been flying for the last little while.

So we sang the song, did all of the gestures that we came up with, and when it was time for the second half of the Biebs-Luda dynamic duo to step up, I was there. I absolutely, unequivocally shit the bed, but I was there. And when I got back to my seat Airi was giggling away, which made the whole thing worth it.

We arrived at the Southern Okayama Primary school shortly thereafter. When the bus came to a stop Timothy stepped off, stretching his arms out overhead and letting out a satisfied sigh.

The rest of us followed and started unloading the kids’ stuff from the carriage underneath, making a game of tossing bags to one another. But there was a growing shadow beginning to spread over our cheerful group. I mean that literally; another coach bus pulled in, blotting out the portion of the sun that we’d been standing in.

Timothy’s grin withered in that shade. He turned to Kaori who had a puzzled expression of her own, and the two put their heads together. The only words I could catch were a frantic, “Supposed to have the place reserved for ourselves.”

The windows on the new bus were tinted, so it was impossible to see any passengers. We waited for the doors to open, and when they did a white man and a Japanese woman stepped out. They both wore polo shirts of the same design; navy blue with a big fat owl in glasses reading a book printed on the front. Written across that owl’s body? Can I get a drum roll please? Minerva.

Timothy’s fists were clenched at his sides and his jaw was firmly set. He was ready for a fight by the look of him. For what it’s worth, Kaori was a picture of professionalism which came as a surprise after the table-flipping incident at training. I guess she, at least, knew when to show passionate loyalty to her company and when to play it cool. Maybe the pair that approached did too. Or maybe they were just less fanatical to begin with. In either case, they wore expressions that were genial. Welcoming even.

Opening his arms wide, the man spoke. “Tim! What a surprise! I knew someone else was renting out part of the school, but I had no idea it was going to be you.”

Alyssa had been standing to my right, and she turned to me then with her eyebrows raised in excitement. Though she didn’t say anything out loud her lips moved slowly enough that I could clearly make out, “Tim the Tool Man Taylor.”

Timothy turned to the man, and through gritted teeth said, “Peter. I had no idea anyone else would be here.”

“We’re on different ends of the campus, but maybe the two of us can get some tea once the kids are in bed. I’d love a chance to chat for old time’s sake.”

“We’ll have to see,” Timothy said. “Someone needs to keep an eye on the kids.”

“You must have some veteran ALTs in the group that you can trust. No? Well, rats. Guess we’ll have to try another time. It’s been too long!”

The woman who’d been standing next to Peter gave Kaori a small wave before the two of them walked off. Timothy kept his mouth shut, and when the two were out of sight around the corner he bent over to clutch his knees, letting out a gasp of air.

“Why are they here?” he moaned.

Victor stepped up from behind me to rub Timothy’s shoulders. I heard him say, “We’ll make the best of this.”

Just then Callum pulled on my arm, dragging me back about ten feet toward our bus. “Did you see that?” he said. “You’d think Timothy was talking to a ghost.”

“I hope he’s okay,” I said. “He looked really shaken up.”

“Come on,” Callum said. “He’s acting like a child.”

“Maybe,” I said.

Alyssa, Bree, and Mio had walked over to us by then. Bree said, “Not maybe. It’s totally unprofessional. We probably won’t even see Minerva at all over the next couple days. Like the guy said, they’re on the opposite side of the campus.”

“It’s a small campus,” Mio said. “But hopefully you’re right.”

Victor and Kaori spent a minute or two consoling Timothy. What exactly they were consoling him over was still hard to understand, but you won’t catch me discounting his suffering. Pain is pain, no matter where it comes from.

While all this was going on we kind of forgot about the kids, and to me that was the real tragedy. I sidled up to Airi and asked her how she was doing.

“It’s hot,” she said.

“Let me see what I can do about that,” I replied.

Walking over to Timothy, I tapped him on the shoulder, suggesting that we get the kids into the building or wherever we were supposed to be going. He hardly seemed to be listening though. Instead, it looked like he was trying to burn a hole in the Minerva bus with his eyes. Their team and students had all gotten off by that point and were unloading luggage, chattering happily as they went.

“We don’t wanna let them beat us inside,” I said, jerking my thumb at our would-be rivals.

Timothy slowly straightened up at that. “You’re right,” he said. “We need to go inside. For the kids.”

“Rrrright,” I said. “For the kids.”

He stormed back over to our bus, elbows swinging wildly to his left and right. He was motoring hard enough that a tiny cloud of dust formed in the gravel behind.

“Let’s go everyone!” Timothy said. “The 2013 Chiron English Camp awaits!”

He led us to the front entrance of the school where two women in skirts and white dress shirts were waiting to greet us. With everything going on, I hadn’t noticed them until then. One of them asked us to follow her on a tour of the school. The second woman stayed behind for the Minerva folk.

Our host was all business, so I never learned her name. Any time she spoke it was to address Kaori in Japanese about some feature of the school that we could or could not use. Kaori would then do her best to translate for the rest of us.

It was an attractive place with hardwood floors that gave off an oaken smell and eggshell white walls with elegant wood working in the half-boards. As we progressed the floor gently creaked, echoing in the wide halls. It almost seemed too nice for a summer camp.

Our group settled in the north end of the school that normally housed male students, cramming into as few rooms as possible. Victor, Callum, and I were in a room with a handful of other ALTs. Eight of us were lucky enough to have a top or bottom bunk, but another three were relegated to tatami mats at the end of the long room. Victor grumbled when Timothy said that the senpais would sleep on the floor while the kohais – new to the company – would take the bunks.

After stowing our bags our host showed us where everything was; the baths, the gymnasium, several classrooms, and the cafeteria. Just before leaving, she gave us meal times for the next day and a half.

It was after 10 by then, and Timothy had plans. He retraced our steps, taking us back across most of the building, through an outdoor path, and to the gymnasium that was detached from the rest of the school. Taking out a key that our host had given him, he approached the sliding doors.

Unlocking them was simple. All that required was turning a key. But it took visible effort for Timothy to actually get them open. Digging his shoulder into one of the vertical handles on the door, he put all of his considerable weight into it. The metal slab scraped and scratched as it grinded against its tracks, resisting everything he put into it, but eventually it opened. When it did the smell of wood, dust, and all of the equipment that the dust had been collecting on hit us.

Inside we opened all of the doors to the gym as well as the dozen or so vents running around the wall, each a foot or so off the ground. The air got flowing and pretty soon the 2013 Chiron English Camp was ready to truly begin.

Timothy had everyone assemble in the center of the gym for a little talk to kick things off. We all introduced ourselves to the rest of the camp and as an icebreaker gave our favorite animal and why – mine was, and always has been, the beaver. Maybe deep down it’s because I’m Canadian, but I think those animals have plenty of merit on their own. I mean, they’re the civil engineers of the animal world!

After the tear-filled account he gave during the icebreaker activity back in training, most of us had our eyes on Leon Rademacher – I don’t know why, but I just can’t call him by his first name alone. It has to be Leon Rademacher every time. Such an amazing name. Leon Rademacher… Anyway, I think I speak for us all when I say that his animal was a disappointment. He chose the lion for no other reason than that he was born in England.

Among the Japanese students things like pandas, koalas, and any other cute, fluffy animal was popular. For what it’s worth, Airi did me proud, going off the board with killer whale.

When that activity was over we started setting up for some English games. Just as the plastic balls were coming out for the first one we heard the clamor of the day’s second hiccough heading toward us from outside.

Peter, the Minerva supervisor, poked his head inside the gym, saying, “Ahhh plenty of room in here for both of us. Great!”

We were comfortably using only one half of the gym, so I really didn’t see the problem. But Timothy managed to dig one up. You could practically see the steam begin to shoot out of his ears as he stomped off in the direction of the rival camp. I say rival camp, but let’s be adults here and call it what it is; a bunch of kids who were having fun with their teachers.

Kaori of all people was the one to stop the rampage. She put her arms on Timothy’s shoulders and quietly spoke some words to sooth the savage beast. After Timothy turned back for our group she marched over to a control panel on the wall and lowered a curtain that divided the gym in half.

Most of the Minerva group had their backs turned, busy with setting up their own games during all of this. I don’t think that any of them really noticed, and if they did they were being good about it. Timothy might’ve taken a page from their books, but whatever history he had with them didn’t seem to allow for it.

The rest of the morning went really well, all things considered. We played games like red light, green light, red rover, and a version of tag where the only way you could get out after being touched was by answering questions in English. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. Even Timothy showed improvement, giving the gym’s dividing curtain the middle finger only once!

Both camps broke for lunch at 12:30. There’s only one cafeteria on the grounds, a big hall with wooden tables and enough stools that I’m sure fitting a couple hundred people wouldn’t be a problem. So we both ended up there at the same time.

Behind a counter in wall-to-wall stainless steel were several people dashing about in white coats, hats, and gloves. I might’ve guessed it was a science lab rather than a kitchen if it weren’t for the sweet and savory smells wafting from the massive pots.

Peter was gracious, telling our camp to line up at the counter first. Somehow Timothy seemed to take even this as an insult. I guess he thought going first made him look weak? I dunno. There was some back and forth, ending in rock-paper-scissors, which Timothy won, meaning that we would unfortunately get our food first.

The menu for that afternoon was grilled fish on a plate next to a salad, a bowl of rice, miso soup, and a bottle of milk. Nothing fancy, but still flavorful. I’d give it a 6.5/10.

Airi and I were the last two in the Chiron group to be served, and after sitting down next to Alyssa we still had a couple of seats at our table to the right. There were plenty of other places to sit around the room, but one of the Minerva ALTs decided to take the opportunity to step across the border, setting her tray down next to Airi and me.

I did a nervous scan of the room. In the corner was Timothy, bent over his tray and holding a pair of chopsticks so tight I thought they might break as he looked directly at my table. I flinched away, but not quickly enough to avoid eye contact. Henrik, I can still see those eyes even now. They’re burned into my mind. The cold, naked malice in them was enough to set my teeth to chattering.

The new arrival at our table asked me if it was okay for her to sit there. I couldn’t very well turn her and her student away, so I nodded and she pulled out a stool and plopped down, telling me that her name was Georgia.

Alyssa put her arm across my shoulder and leaned in to say, “Hey, that’s where I’m from!”

“No kidding,” Georgia said. Underneath the smile I could tell that she’d heard some version of that remark before. “I’ve never been there, but I hear it’s nice.”

Quite a bit of small talk followed, and I learned that Georgia is from Canada. Winnipeg, to be precise. It probably doesn’t seem like such an important detail to mention, but for me it instantly created the basis for a bond between the two of us. After all, we Canadians seem to be kinda few and far between over here.

Georgia got to Japan at the same time as me – only a little more than two weeks ago – so she still had a lot of nerves around teaching. “I wish I was as comfortable as you two seem to be,” she said.

“Me? Comfy?” I laughed. “Maybe Alyssa, but definitely not me. I’m just trying not to screw up out there.”

“I saw you running some of the games. You’re a natural.”

“You saw me?”

“I, uh… I just peeked around the curtain once or twice. I wanted to know what things looked like on your side of the gym.”

“How did we look compared to your camp?” I asked.

“Great!” she said. “Really free-flowing.”

Henrik, the word ‘free-flowing’ by itself sounds great, but there was something about the way she said it. It felt like a back-handed compliment. So I asked Georgia to be a little more specific.

“Your company does things differently, that’s all,” she said. “The way Minerva taught us to teach English is really structured – not that Chiron isn’t. It’s just that we have a formula for English lessons. It’s proprietary, actually.”

Alyssa piped up at that. “Teaching can be proprietary?”

“Can’t pretty much anything?” Georgia said.

“You might be right about that,” said Alyssa.

“Well, tell us about it,” I said.

“I can’t,” Georgia said. “They made us sign agreements and everything.”

“You can’t tell us anything?”

She bit her lip and looked over her shoulder before dropping to a whisper. “Well, I guess I can tell you one thing. Part of it’s called the ‘Blizzard Method’.”

“What does that mean?” Alyssa asked. But Georgia wasn’t about to say any more. She nimbly picked up the grilled mackerel in front of her with her chopsticks and started chewing a piece like it was her job.

The Blizzard Method to teaching… I wonder what the goal of that could possibly be. To provide so much knowledge on some subject that it whites out everything else? To freeze the students’ prior beliefs and insert new ones? I don’t have a clue.

Georgia certainly wasn’t budging on the subject, so I asked a different question. “Did our company ever come up during the training for yours?”

“A bunch,” Georgia said to my surprise. “Actually, our week-long training session started with talking about Chiron and how it’s a part of our company’s past. Did you know that Minerva’s founder used to work for Chiron?”

I nodded. “Yeah, I heard about that. Georgia, did any of your trainers get angry talking about Chiron? I mean, like, just as a completely random example, did someone mention Chiron in a question and one of the trainers at the back flipped a table?”

“What?” Georgia said.

“Nothing,” I replied. “It’s nothing.”

I took a moment to flash my eyes in Timothy’s direction. He was still sitting in the corner, glaring at me. Only now he was shoveling rice into his mouth and bringing a bowl of miso soup to his lips. Somehow his casual indifference to nutrition made him appear even more threatening than before.

Timothy never made it known to me what exactly was bothering him. He kept it deep inside. Maybe he decided that making me uncomfortable sent enough of a message.

Across the table from me, Airi burst out laughing. She’d been talking to the student that Georgia brought over for a while. The two of them looked like they either already knew each other or just had a natural chemistry sparked by pickled vegetables and milk.

The cheer on the faces of those two was enough to break whatever spell my brooding boss had cast on me from the corner. Looking around the room I saw dozens of similar scenes; kids having a blast on both sides of the room whether their ALT wore a blinding yellow shirt or a subtle navy blue one. People waving their hands as they told funny stories. Others looking thoughtful as they did their best to communicate in English.

Shaking my head, I joined in on the fun, and for the rest of lunch – and all afternoon – I focused on being good company. For the kids.

After finishing our food we went back to the gym and played more games. A lot of them were like the basic summer camp games that we’d been playing in the morning, but Timothy also started to organize more conversation-based ones as well. I forgot all about the drama from earlier in the day and let myself be totally absorbed in just being a kid. A simple afternoon of running around and sweating. Forgetting problems. Actually being present and not worrying about what’s behind or in front.

Time flew by and before I knew it we were breaking for din…ner.

(footsteps fade in)

DEVON: Might have to shut this down early. I think I hear someone coming. Maybe I can just hide away from whoever it is…

(chair scraping)

*Callum and Victor enter together*

(footsteps stop)

CALLUM: I could’ve swore I heard his voice.

VICTOR: I heard it too. He’s in here somewhere.

DEVON: (whispered) Henrik, I’m underneath a table right now. I don’t think they can hear me.

CALLUM: We can hear you, Devon.

DEVON: (whispered) I’ll just wait until they’re gone to finish the entry and then slip back into the dorms. No one’ll be the wise—

(chair quickly scraping back)

CALLUM: (slightly raised voice) We can hear you, Devon!

VICTOR: Why are you hiding from us?

DEVON: I don’t know. I heard someone coming and figured I should hide. Must be all the games we played today…

VICTOR: Well, come on out.

DEVON: I still need to finish the diary.

VICTOR: We’ll help you.

(shuffling as everyone sits down)

DEVON: Actually, I was about to talk about dinner, but I don’t need to get into that since it was pretty much the same as lunch. I guess I was finished after all!

VICTOR: What about the group bath?!

DEVON: The group bath? I dunno, I thought I might skip over that.

VICTOR: What?? Your first time getting naked with your senpai and you’re just gonna toss the memory in the trash? Or do you just not want me talking about your Pork Beats?

DEVON: Pork Beans?

VICTOR: Pork Beats. You haven’t had Pork Beats yet? They’re a brand of sausage over here. Tiny ones no more than an inch and a half rock-hard. Maybe a quarter-inch wide.

DEVON: Can we not?

VICTOR: What about you, Callum? Tell me you didn’t have a great time.

CALLUM: Well… I don’t know about ‘great time’, but it was definitely a new experience. I could get used to it.

VICTOR: See? That’s what I’m talkin’ about! Getting naked with your bros is one of the best things about living in Japan! Bath houses, hot springs, gym locker rooms… Inside, outside… It’s the best! Of course, naked girls would be better, but you take whatever nude body you can get, am I right?

CALLUM: To each their own.

VICTOR: Look. I get where you’re coming from, Devon. It can be weird at first. It wasn’t for me, but I’ve heard that from others. Whenever I bump into those people I try to teach them about an old Japanese saying that I think is helpful: ‘When you’re in the bath everybody’s dick floats.’ There’s something beautiful about that.

CALLUM: That can’t possibly be the saying.

VICTOR: “We’ve all got a chocolate starfish”?

CALLUM: yeah, nah

VICTOR: Who’s the senpai here? You or me? Whatever. It doesn’t matter what the saying is word-for-word, the point is that once everyone has laid it all bare there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

CALLUM: See, now THAT actually sounds like it could be a saying.

(footsteps as Timothy enters the scene)

DEVON: I guess I could see myself coming to like public baths. I just need to get more used to them, like you said, Victor.

(Footsteps stop as Timothy stops behind Devon)

TIMOTHY: You’re… all here. Good.

(A bit of shuffling as Devon turns to look behind him)

DEVON: Timothy, I just came down for a drink, I swear. I was about to head back up and go to bed when these guys came down.

TIMOTHY: Nonsense. This is… the perfect place for us to meet.

CALLUM: Meet? What about?

TIMOTHY: We’re going to get back at those little Minerva shits.

DEVON: Uhhh get back at them for what, exactly?

TIMOTHY: Don’t act like you don’t know. Just because you had a cute lunch date with the enemy doesn’t change anything. You know they sent her to you on purpose, right?

DEVON: (chuckling) Georgia? Somehow I doubt that. Unless you think they sent her to talk about Minerva’s company secrets.

(frantic shuffling as Timothy moves to grab Devon)

TIMOTHY: Secrets? What secrets?! What did she tell you?!?

DEVON: Nothing! Nothing, really! Just that they had some special way of teaching. Sh-she didn’t get into specifics.

(slight shuffle as Timothy lets go of Devon)

TIMOTHY: Everybody knows they have a special teaching technique. They call it the ‘Blizzard Method’ but the secret is guarded so carefully that we’ve never been able to figure it out.

DEVON: Sorry I can’t be more help.

TIMOTHY: Maybe there is a way. (a couple seconds of silence) Yeeees, we can use your relationship with this… Georgia? to our advantage. I think I have a plan. Are you all in? Victor?

VICTOR: Anything for Chiron, boss. Just say the word.

TIMOTHY: Callum?

CALLUM: You’re insane. Timothy, I think you need to take a vacation to get your priorities straight. A month would do. Mio tells me Hokkaido is really nice this time of year. Maybe you could get a tent and go for a long hike or something.

TIMOTHY: Is that a no?

CALLUM: It’s definitely not a yes.

TIMOTHY: Hmmm. Well, we can still do my plan with three people. Devon? This is your chance at redemption.

CALLUM: (laughing) Redemption for what??


(a short pause)

CALLUM: Devon, mate, just go to bed.

DEVON: I, uh… Okay, Timothy. I’m in. What do you want from me, Callum? He’s my boss.

CALLUM: Whatever you need to tell yourself. Goodnight.

(footsteps fading away)

TIMOTHY: Good riddance. Alright, here’s the plan. We’ll meet back down here at 1 AM to execute things. Victor, you’re job is— What’s that? Have you been recording us this whole time?

VICTOR: It’s just his diary.

TIMOTHY: Well, turn it off. The last thing I want is evidence.