Monday, December 05, 2005


The legend of Zhang Hong-Hai

So, today was my second attempt at the level 3 Japanese proficiency exam. Having spent the last two-and-a-half months cramming vocabulary into the limited cranial space available to me, I did my best to undo the good work at Niki's sayonara party last night. The party having finished in time for everyone to catch the last train, I decided that this was a rather pitiful send-off and instigated further drinking at the 280 bar, foolhardiness which earned me a 3.30 am bedtime as well as the stinking cold I woke up with at 7 am.

The JLPT only comes once a year, so it's a good idea to be a little better prepared than I was this morning; spare a thought though for the guy in our party who, when we arrived at Osaka University, discovered that he was meant to be at Kyoto University. I'm not too sure what happened to him in the end as I had to run to the first exam, but, given the Japanese love of bureaucracy and procedure, I find it hard to believe that he would have been able to sit the exam.

(EDIT: I saw him in the bar before I finished this post. Let's just say he'll have plenty of time to brush up his technique for next year's exam.)

Upon arrival in the exam room, I was surprised and happy to see that one of my football friends, Bob, was sitting a row in front and one seat across from me. Bob actually lived on Spencer Avenue, my old street, when he was at Warwick University. Other than that, he's sound.

The examiners were talking us through the list of yellow (chuui) and red (shikaku) card offences when I realised I'd forgotten something.

Dan: Pssst, Bob!

Bob: What's up?

Dan: What's the verb for tidying up?

Bob: What?

Dan: What's the verb for tidying up? I've completely forgotten it.

Bob: Surely if I tell you at this stage, they'll give me a yellow card.

Dan: Just tell me, twat.

Bob: Katazukeru.

Dan: Tazukeru?

Bob: Katazukeru. We use it all the time at my kindergarten.

Dan: Great, whatever.

This didn't really count as cheating in my books as they hadn't even given out the test papers at this stage. Little did we know the drama that was to unfold to my right, directly behind Bob...

As per last year, as soon as the question papers were handed out, there were one or two who couldn't resist taking a peek. The guy to my right was a case in point. In the five minutes that elapsed between us being given the papers and the test starting, he continually perused his booklet, closing it whenever a proctor got within two metres, only to open it again once they'd passed.

After the fifth or sixth time he was caught doing this, he was finally yellow-carded. I sniggered.

Having seen the none-too-subtle tactics of this muppet, I hid my answers as best I could in order to protect him from himself. The last thing I wanted was for the daft sod to get himself red-carded for having a sly peek at my answers when they probably weren't worth a damn in the first place.

I might as well have saved myself the effort.

When the exam time was up, a recorded announcement informed us that the test was over, please put our pencils down further writing was prohibited. At this exact moment the would-be academic snatched up his pencil (which had lain untouched for so long that it had actually begun to accumulat a fine layer of dust) and started bazzing away at his answer sheet again. The slightly more rotund and friendly of the two female proctors dashed up and politely requested him to stop. For a brief second, I thought he was going to see sense and put his pencil down... nope, it seems he was only turning it over to rub something out; then he carried on writing. The less rotund and friendly proctor barked out an instruction from the front of the room to give the rascal a yellow card; her comrade flapped her arms helplessly, knowing that to do so would end his dream of level 3 certification.

At this point, I feel it's worth pointing out two very good reasons not to cheat on the level 3 test.

1. The certification isn't worth jack. Nobody gets a job on the basis of anything less than level 2 certification, which is a hell of a lot harder than level 3. It actually requires competence in Japanese, for one thing. If you're going to cheat, you might as well do it to gain something worth having. A sheep for a lamb, as the saying goes.

2. The exam fee is expensive. Combine this with the money you spend on Japanese lessons, revision materials and the like and you can see why it would be a piteous waste to be disqualified for not putting your pencil down at the right moment. Or for going to entirely the wrong test site in the first place.

I digress.

The enforcer, being less of the shilly-shallying type than her co-worker, steamed up from the front desk and administered the dreaded red card: 6,000 yen exam fee up in smoke. The guy smiled disbelievingly; I laughed so hard I thought I was going to hyperventilate. Apparently, he didn't understand the Japanese phrase for "please leave the room immediately" any better than he understood the concept of seemly exam room conduct, but this was no problem. He sat quietly until everyone had filed out, then went to argue the toss with the proctors.

When we returned for the listening section the guy was nowhere to be seen, apparently having given up his aspirations of level 3 certification for another year. I took a quick look at the name on the answer booklet which sat on the vacant desk next to me.

Zhang Hong-Hai. The stuff of legends.

that had me laughing, dude. his boys were probably outside stealing proctors bicycles.
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