Monday, January 18, 2010

A Stranger in a Strange Land: Part 3

Arashiyama Japan, May 1987

Stood up in Yamashina-cont'd
Hmmm, yes, so I had waited for an hour at the Yamashina train station for Michael. The snow was really coming down. At first I was annoyed, then worried. Perhaps he just had to work late? But surely he would let his boss know that he had a date with me, his language-challenged fiancé who had been in the country only about a week and a half? I had no idea the actual location of the company or how far it was from the train station. I tried using the public pay phone and asking for information. Gee, what was the word for address? How was it again that I was supposed to ask if a person spoke English? The phone didn't work. There were no other Gaijin (foreigners) around. I went to the information booth and just blurted out... "Kyocera, doko desu ka?" Where is Kyocera? Amazingly enough this seemed to work. Unfortunately the map he brought out to show me where to proceed was all in kanji and hiragana so I could barely read any of it, but I am pretty good with directions so I set out figuring if I got lost I would just use the same sentence that had worked before. Kyocera was a big presence in Yamashina back then, so surely I would be able to find it.

By now, it was two hours past the meeting time, dark and still snowing. After a 15 minute walk, I found the company. I went in to reception and asked for Michael. There were three girls about my age behind the desk that started conversing in Japanese and then finally they asked me to be seated and they would get him. It was not common, I'm sure, for a female Gaijin to walk in the door of their company. I guess I don't really even know how to describe what it feels like to be a foreigner in a relatively remote area of a city like Kyoto. EVERYONE stares at you. Some people, especially young people, have never seen a foreigner in person before. If you walked into a convenience store, it was not uncommon for children to stop, stare and talk about you while you are standing right there. They assume you do not speak any Japanese. So, sitting there in the reception area of Kyocera, being a foreigner and waiting for the only American that worked at that office and knowing that those girls probably knew a lot more about me than I knew about them, was a little disconcerting. Frankly, I just wanted to bolt and be free, back outside under that universal sky. Where I could let the snow melt on my face and it would not question the fact that my face looked very different from every single other face around me. This feeling of being so different and never ever blending in, never went away the entire seven months I spent in Japan that year.

Michael finally emerged. I was relieved and angry all at the same time. He introduced me to his boss and a few other fellows, then said good-bye to his fan club at the front desk and we headed out to dinner. He explained that he got pulled into a meeting and during the meeting he had had an unfortunate medical situation requiring he return to the dorms. Knowing Michael, there was nothing to do but understand and move on. He knew I would be able to find my way from the train station to the company and I did. This section, of Michael's reasons behind not showing up at the train station and me finding my way to the company, may seem a little abbreviated, but anyone who knows Michael knows that there is no point in elaborating because this situation pretty much defines Michael--and me--and our relationship for the past 26 years. So, we headed to his favorite little restaurant where there were maybe six tables. Very typical old place, dark with rich wood walls and polished mahogany wood floors, and warm with the smiles of the owners, a happy old couple so willing to please the cold, wet Gaijin couple emerging from the dark street. We ate pure comfort food of Japanese style beef stew with a side of white rice and fresh baked rolls. I have tried many times to duplicate this dish, however, it always falls just a little short because it is impossible to duplicate the atmosphere of this little restaurant just down a tiny little side street from the Yamashina train station on a cold snowy winter January night.

One of the worst nights of my life
Speaking of cold snowy winter nights, I was called in for my first night of work the next day. What I did not realize when I took the job with the English School was that my schedule would not coordinate well with Michael's and also that I would be sent all over Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe. With me at the boarding house and Michael at the dorm, this was not such a big deal as I relished the thought of being away from the boarding house for very long periods of time, but the dorm/boarding house situation was one I had planned to rectify, and quickly. But for now, back to that fateful night.

My first official class was scheduled for 7:00pm in Otsu. Otsu was on the same train line as Yamashina, but a few stops past it. I did not want to be late to my first class, so I asked for specific directions from Michael's friend, Bruce, the guy who had helped get me the job in the first place. He had worked for the English School for a while and had been to every location. He gave me very specific directions regarding timing of the trains, which platforms to be on (by number) and how long it would take what with walking to my train station, making the transfers and then walking from Otsu station to the school. It was snowing even harder this night than the last. I left my self some extra time due to the snow. I had not had the money to purchase new clothes so I wore one of my dreaded casual outfits, but picked the dressiest of the casual. I actually could not imagine wearing a dress on a night like this anyway. The first part of the trip went smoothly. Unfortunately, Bruce had made a little teeny mistake in giving me the wrong platform for the train to Otsu, so even though Otsu was definitely one of the stops on the line I was on, Bruce had given me the track number for the express train which did NOT stop at Otsu. I realized this just about the time that the train went speeding by Otsu station. The train just kept going and going and going. Eh, I freaked. By the time the express train stopped, it was about 10 stops past Otsu. I hurried off the train and in VERY broken Japanese asked the nearest guy I saw what track number for Otsu. I had to wait a good 15 minutes for the train. Once the train left the station I had 20 minutes to get back to Otsu and then walk the 10-15 minutes to the school. I was NEVER going to make it. When I exited the train at Otsu, I ran smack into Michael's boss, Kitamura-San. Ugh! He was so sweet and as I looked out at the half foot of snow on the ground and my lightweight shoes, I just wanted to collapse, but I knew I couldn't. Kitamura-San offered to walk me, quickly, to the school... which helped a lot. Unfortunately, when I walked into the school looking like a drowned rat and wearing my inappropriate attire and 10 minutes late, the ladies behind the desk just started yelling at me in Japanese, but I got the jest of what they were saying. I was late and I was dressed completely inappropriately and both were unacceptable. But knowing I had students waiting, there was nothing they could really do but rush me into the classroom and there sitting so prim and proper were two well dressed young Japanese business men--just sitting there, staring at me!

Until next time... bye bye.

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