Sports Day Triumph (in drag)
As a kid in elementary school I always looked forward to Track and Field day. For one whole day classes were cancelled and all the students were allowed to display their athletic talent (or lack thereof) in a series of olympic-like events of their choosing. While some kids(usually the same fatties that hated P.E. class) pissed and moaned about having to spend the entire day pitted against their peers in physical competition for nothing more than the chance to earn a shitty ribbon, I took it quite seriously and wanted nothing more than to dominate and bring home as many shiny blue first place ribbons as possible.
At the risk of seeming like a complete rube, I must admit that I was almost just as excited for “Sports Day” (Korea’s equivalence to Track and Field day) at my school. Clearly this is not because I would be competing in any events nor receiving any ribbons, but I was mainly excited because I knew–if nothing else–that I would be spared from teaching classes and would be able to spend the whole day outside.
As preparations were being made the week before, I began to wonder what my assigned roll for the day would be. Up until this point the only thing that was certain was that I would need to wear athletic clothes.
When I’m finally told by one of the other teachers (with my co-teacher translating) how I will factor into the day’s events, I’m a bit surprised as to what I’m tasked with doing. First I’m told I will need to pull a cart around a giant circle in the middle of the field.
Then I’m told that the object of the event will be for the students (in this case, sixth graders) to stand around said circle and hurl as many small beanbags as they can into cart before the time runs out.
It sounds odd and a little painful, but I’m still game.
Lastly, I’m told that I will need to wear woman’s clothing, preferably a dress.
At this point I look up and repeat what was just said to me to make sure I understand correctly.
“Wait, you want me to dress up like a woman?”
I ask for clarification but in all actuality I understand quite well what they are asking of me. For my part in Sports Day, they want me to go drag.
I was still wrapping my head around having to dress up as a woman when I’m asked if I owned or could get a hold of any cosmetics. I start to laugh fully thinking they’re joking, but apparently my involvement was not going to be a half-ass production. They wanted me to go all in.
Lucky for me I have some experience with cross-dressing. In the seventh grade school play I was “lucky” enough to land the lead role in a comedic spoof of Sleeping Beauty. Not really the tyoe of role that launches one’s acting career, but at least it was enough to prepare me for my upcoming Sports Day debut.
After agreeing to do my part, I return to my desk and contemplate on how to secure some woman’s clothing within 24 hours, without having to spend any money. I put out a quick message on Facebook and before the afternoon is out I have arrangements to go pick up not one, but two dresses from nearby friend. That’s right, bitches. I had options. Oddly enough some friends had just thrown a transgender party (don’t ask)not too long ago and a couple of my buddies still had their drag wear laying around. In other words, my cry for woman attire was answered by men. Because I figure I couldn’t possibly be lucky twice in one day I decide not to look for make-up.
That night I try on both the dresses and make my final decision: a black tube dress that shows off my shoulders. No sense in going drag if you can’t look good, right?
The next day I show up ready to go, not sure of when the event I’m in will be held. As my official Sports Day day uniform, I am given a neon yellow athletic polo. It looks like something you might wear if you were planning to hike up a mountain and then play 18 holes of golf once you reached the peak. I’m not fond of the color but realize I it’s a lot better then the black dress that is neatly folded in my backpack that I will soon be wearing.
As it nears time for me to take the field for my event, I’m greeted with good news and bad news. The good news: I won’t have to wear the dress. The bad news: They’ve managed to find some bright pink lipstick for me to put on.
Instead of the dress, I’m handed a white blouse, a beige bucket hat, and a plaid pair of what looks like the Korean equivalence of bloomers. I keep telling myself that I’m doing this for the kids, but it hardly helps. The lipstick is quickly smeared on my lips and cheeks and I take the field looking like a transgender ajumma circus clown.
At least I wasn’t alone. One of the other male teachers, a guy around the same age as myself, had to dress up and wear lipstick as well. Only his attire resembles that of an ajossi pimp. He would be pulling a cart in the giant circle opposite from mine that the opposing team of sixth graders would be tossing beanbags into.
As we entered our respective circles, I imagine we were thinking the same thing: please let this whole ordeal be quick and painless and may no photographic evidence ever surface on the internet.
A strike of the gong signals the start and almost immediately I’m pelted in the face with a bean bag. Then and only then do I realize the shear rediculousness of having an event like this for Sports Day. This was in no way the display of athletic grace and finesse that I took part in as a kid on Track and Field Day. This wasn’t an exercise to foster healthy competition amongst the students. This was something that probably should’ve taken place at a school carnival, where professionals could have been hired to take beanbags to their face and nether regions. I don’t remember any mentioning of this in the EPIK brochure when I was first applying to teach in Korea. But maybe that’s just my bruised ego talking.
After the spectacle came to a close I retreat into the building to wash the make-up of off my face and change back into my neon yellow referee shirt. Before the day is over I witness several other questionable Sports Day events and help out as much as I can and generally enjoy being outside whilst cheering my students on.
Would I agree to do something similar if it took place back in the states?
Probably, but as I alluded to above, most Track and Field days in the U.S. wouldn’t involve foreign cross-dressing circus clowns. Looks this will be another experience I throw in the “cultural differences” category.