I’ve realised that so far most of these posts paint me in a rather positive light! Don’t worry, this one doesn’t!
When I was 17, I was selected to represent the UK at an international schools forum in Japan. While that may seem like a big deal, I should probably point out that our school had a really good relationship with the Japanese Studies department at the University of Reading, and the university had been asked to pick a secondary school student to go over to Japan.
The result was an all-expenses paid trip to Japan. And it was awesome! It was my first real experience of travelling alone, though once I was in Japan, I was treated like a VIP. Around 15 of us had been flown in from across the world, and we did a two day conference, where we talked about sustainability and what we did in our countries to preserve the environment. The rest of the week was basically spent seeing Japan.
I have to admit I don’t remember huge amounts from the trip (which is 15 years ago now!). I remember there was a talent show of sorts, where we were asked to showcase national dances or entertainment from our countries. I remember opting to read Shakespeare, and carrying a fake skull through customs in my luggage! I remember being given a kimono, and taking lots of photos in sticker photo machines with Japanese students. And I genuinely remember posing for thousands of photos, with everyone making the ‘peace’ sign. Everywhere I went for the week-long period I was referred to simply as ‘United Kingdom’, and I even walked into a couple of events with the national anthem playing. It was all rather surreal, to say the least!
During the trip we had a ‘cultural’ tour of a sake factory, and another to a noodle-making factory. While my memories of some of the trip are quite bitty, the noodle-factory visit remains crystal clear, because at the end of the tour, the international delegates were asked to take part in a traditional noodle-eating contest.
The whole event was filmed – I’m not sure if it was just on local TV or on national TV … I would hope only local, but either way there is video footage somewhere of the entire event. We were each seated at a long table, facing out towards the crowd and film crew. In front of us were tens of small bowls, each one containing a large mouthful of cold soba noodles. We were given chopsticks, and instructed that when the klaxon sounded, we should begin slurping the noodles into our mouths, ideally in one mouthful, that you basically swallow without chewing. We were allowed a taste of the noodles – they were vile! Cold, rubbery and not remotely appetising. Once we’d finished a bowl, we should add it to the empty stack on the table. The judges would then count up the empty bowls at the end of the allocated time (maybe 2 or 3 minutes?).
I knew immediately a) that I didn’t really want to eat the noodles, and b) that I didn’t have the remotest chance of winning. We’d been travelling around as a group for the best part of a week and were all getting on really well, so when I was seated beside one of the Canadian delegates – a strapping guy who probably had about a foot of height, and 4 or 5 stone of weight on me – I figured we could have a bit of a laugh.
As the klaxon sounded, and he began eating, I began jokingly stealing his empty bowls from him. I didn’t do it discreetly – the whole point was that I wanted him to see what I was doing, and that I wasn’t taking the competition seriously. The Canadian guy carried on eating, and I carried on stealing his bowls.
And then the final klaxon sounded, and the judge came around to count our bowls up. I had won! The camera zoomed in on my face. ‘And the winner is … United Kingdom!’
I had just been filmed, brazenly cheating, in the name of my country, on maybe local, maybe national Japanese TV! Oops!
You could not make this sh*t up!