Lying in bed, a memory from school days came back to me. It's something I haven't thought about for a long time. It is quite a notable event from my formative years.
I attended St Mary's International School in Tokyo, Japan from 1970 to '78. It was run on the US system by Canadian Brothers. It was a high academic performance oriented, success driven school with 99% of it's students continuing on to university education. The boys there were the sons of diplomats and heads of foreign corporations as well as rich Japanese bilingual kids who's parents had returned from overseas postings or who were from mixed marriages.
There are plenty of stories from those days, but the one that I remembered this morning is to do with a lesson, well a few lesson I learnt about how the world works.
Every year the school would have a carnival and as part of a fundraiser would get the students to sell raffle tickets. I was in year eight, about thirteen years old. Our class held a competition to see who could sell the most tickets, with a prize at the end of the month for the biggest seller.
During school years I was never really competitive or one to strive to win things. But for some reason I decided that I was going to try and sell more raffle tickets than any of my classmates. I liked the raffle books themselves: quality printing, a well crafted detachable serrated ticket printed on a sturdy stock. Each book had either twenty five or fifty tickets - I can't quite recall. One ticket sold for two hundred yen - which in those days, the mid seventies, was something like the equivalent of six or seven dollars I suppose.
Not many of the other kids really took it on. Most just sold five or ten to family members. A few tried selling them on the streets to Japanese but it was not an easy task as it involved a lot of explaining about where the school was, what it was, what the prizes were, when the draw would be, etc. And also, convincing - about how it was worth it, how good the prizes were, how they could be picked up easily, etc
The average Sho was not that interested. I knew this because I took it to task and every afternoon, after getting home from school, I went up the road from our house in Nishi Azabu, positioned myself on the footpath outside the Azabu Zemusho (Tax Office) and attempted to sell as many as I could for the month leading up to final day.
It was hard going. "Sumimasen. Kujibiki o kaimasen ka?" was my opening line. "Excuse me, would you be interested in buying a raffle ticket?" Most people would not even stop. Japanese - at least back then - do not like their routines disturbed. They were on their way to the next meeting or heading home from work or whatever. Who was this gaijin kid who spoke Japanese?
A few were curious. I had a whole speech, a self-devised, soft-sell sales pitch. But getting money off people isn't easy. Even if it was for a good cause. (Education of rich foreign kids!)
I learnt a lot about human behaviour in that month of arvos. The nice people, the generous ones, the kind ones, were truly magnificent. They saw things for what they were. A kid busting his ass trying to sell some tickets. They didn't care about the chance of the prizes. They cared about me. It was touching. The majority, though: indifferent, detached, uninterested.
I remember thinking at the time - I will never forget what it means to be kind to someone who is trying hard and needs a hand.
Anyway, day in - day out, I slowly climbed and maintained top position on the ladder. A few other kids were impressed. How do you do it? I can't sell any!
On the morning of the last day, I handed in my final book of stubs. It was over. My fifty or sixty hours of effort would be soon paying off - with the imminent announcement of the winner and the accolades and prize (I forget what it was exactly but something desirable). I was a shoe in. Nobody was even close. It felt good to have achieved something with hard work and dedication.
The final tally was done and the announcement was made.
"And the winner is... "
I almost stood up and began walking towards the front, confident and proud as I was.
Everyone cheered and clapped. Andreas, a likeable half Swiss/half Japanese boy rushed to the front and collected his reward.
Meanwhile I was gobsmacked, sitting up the back, silent and confused. What? What happened?
It turns out that Andreas, not even a blip on the sales efforts radar, had waited till the day before the end, then just got his very wealthy father to purchase 5,000 yen more worth of tickets, so that he could win.
There was nothing I could do. It was a harsh and completely unexpected reality. All that work.... All that energy and effort... for nil.
And yet, as the days went by and the sting subsided, I began to realise that my time had not been wasted. I really learnt a lot out there on the streets during those afternoons. I came into contact with many, many people. Some bought just one - a few bought five, maybe one guy bought ten, even. Those interactions, those connections I had with those strangers had an effect on me that went beyond the value of winning the prize. I learnt about people, about humanity. I learnt subtle lessons from my wide sampling of behaviours and responses that would help shape me as a person.
Since those days, I almost always give to the homeless, to buskers, to people in need trying to sell small wares on the street. Something, however small, something given invites a human exchange and warm connection that is worth more than money. It says, I'm listening, I see you, I care.
Mwaahhh... right? A happy ending! Worthwhile time spent not-sleeping-in. Having said that, I think I'll have a wee lie down right now. >wink<