Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Stranger in a Strange Land: Part 4

One of The Worst Nights of My Life, Cont'd:

So back to my favorite Japanese Businessmen. Once I calmed down, we got started with class. Both young men seemed thrilled that I liked to talk and I was thrilled that their English was quite good. They wanted to abandon the lesson plan and just converse freely. In two months they would be heading to America for business for the very first time. They were excited, yet apprehensive. They had lots of questions. On questions where I seemed to hesitate, they asked me to please research--for next time. Wow, there was going to be a next time?! They would have to request me, because the English teacher assignments were mostly random unless a teacher was requested. I was surprised that they seemed so content with me... a very casual female, but most of their questions did not relate to business at all. I don't even know what company they worked for. I spent every Thursday night for the next two months with these guys. On the last night of class they brought me gifts (of course, the Japanese way) and I wished them luck. They had asked me everything from what the public transportation system was like in Austin, TX to what American women like as a present on the first date. As if there is anything that all American women like. They were funny and I wish I could have been a fly on the wall during their time in America. I'm sure they had a blast.

English Teacher

I had a lot of fun teaching English in Japan for seven months. I loved traveling between Kyoto and Osaka and Kobe. I had a wide range of students, but mostly business men, and high school students prepping for college exams. The lessons ranged from pronunciation drills... A is for A, A, A, Apple... A is for A, A, A, Ape, to lessons where the students discussed Japanese holidays and customs using only English vocabulary. I learned a lot from my students and for a 23 year old, I got paid a lot of money. Many of my lessons, most--actually, were in the evenings and on Saturdays, naturally. I often came home on the train late at night. I was pretty exclusively the only female on the entire train and certainly the only foreign female. Being followed off the train by drunk businessmen jabbering in slurred Japanese was a regular occurrence. Many even followed me for a couple of blocks. It is true what they say though, you know, Japan is a very safe country. A quick, decisive wave good-bye would send the men staggering back to the train station to await the next train where they would sleep the rest of the way home. It always surprised me how often these men woke up just as the train arrived at their stop--but sometimes they didn't wake until a stop or two too late and they would jerk awake, look around and jump up and quickly exit at the next stop. I never dared nap on the train. I would surely have ended up miles from home.

One night on my way home from Otsu, a group of Japanese high school students got on the train. It was quite late and I was shocked to see five or six girls standing there in their uniforms looking at me. They whispered and giggled to themselves for a couple of minutes then burst into song. They serenaded me with The Sound of Music for about eight stops then they exited and I applauded them as I watched them jump off the train and stumble to the stairs. How sweet!

A Change of Scenery

As I alluded to previously, there was no way I was going to last very long at the old boarding house. It took Michael a few weeks and a lot of borrowed money, but we did, indeed, get an apartment. In hindsight, I probably should have just toughed it out and saved the money, however, I loved our little Fushimi-ku apartment. Having this apartment was the only thing that allowed Michael and I any time together. Michael no longer got to walk to work, instead he had to take two trains, but I think he would say it was worth it. Ironically, years later Kyocera would move their headquarter facility to Fushimi-ku, however, we were long gone by then.

I could walk to my Ikebana class (flower arranging) and on the way was my favorite kissaten (little cafe) with my favorite yakiniku teshoku (grilled meat lunch special). The apartment was very small, naruhodo ne (naturally) but it had everything we needed--except an oven. In the kitchen we had a little pink refrigerator, a little toaster oven and a two burner gas cookstove. Something like what my parents had in their pop-up camp trailer when I was a kid. It had a little broiler beneath the burners and I was constantly burning myself on that thing. I longed for an oven. I have this obsession with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. I was lacking two things to make my cookies... baking soda (which I never could find, at least I don't think I did) and an oven. I tried twice to make cookies in the toaster oven and failed miserably both times. The bathroom was just slightly larger than an airplane bathroom and our beds were traditional futon, on the floor of course, not on a frame. We had a little propane heater and a kotatsu (low to the ground table with an electric heater underneath). You sit on the floor and tuck your legs under the table to keep them warm. Michael loves kotatsus... I prefer chairs with my tables.

We enjoyed our neighborhood even though it was really nothing special. We were kind of out in the low cost burbs but within a couple blocks there was the train station with a pet store beneath. This pet store prompted my obsession with Himalayan Persians as they almost always had a litter in the front window. It was torture not being able to take one of those kittens home with me. When I returned to Portland, it took months for me to find a Himalayan Persian kitten. There was a good Chinese Restaurant, a meat market, a fresh fruits and vegetables stand, a Big M Ramen, an Izumiya department store (with groceries, furniture, etc... ) and a Mr. Donuts which almost made up for the lack of home baked cookies. Almost... you see my first job when I was a Freshman in high school was at Bob's Hole-in-One donuts at Lloyd Center Mall and my taste for donuts after that experience was substantially depleted. Actually even the smell of donuts can sometimes make me a little nauseous, but when in a pinch, Mr. Donuts will do.

I usually had to work on Saturday, however on Sunday Michael and I would explore Kyoto. We would pick a different Temple, or Shrine or Park or area of Kyoto or the surrounding areas and make a day of it. If the weather was bad we might go window shopping or see a movie. My first movie experience in Japan was going to see Ferris Bueller's Day Off. First, people can bring anything they want to eat into the theater. The people to the left of us were eating KFC, the people to the right, McDonald's... it was like a fast food smell-a-thon. Yuck. I prefer no fast food in the theater. It was a little weird as the movie was in English with Japanese sub-titles. This translated to Michael and I laughing just slightly before the rest of the audience OR the rest of the audience not laughing at all--jokes lost in translation. Awkward! Also, right in the middle of the movie, these men in white coats marched in, stopped about 6 rows in front of us, lifted an old guy onto a stretcher, and marched out? Hmmm. Very orderly and very strange. I think in America everyone would freak out and they would stop the movie and people would gawk and I don't know, I am just guessing as nothing like this has ever happened to me in America.

A New Friend

About a month into my stay in Japan, I had stopped into a Baskin-Robbins for a cone between classes. I always carried a book with me and sat and ate and read. It is not polite to walk around while eating in Japan. While I was reading, a high school girl approached and asked me if she could sit at my table with me. I said, of course. She asked me how long I had been in Japan, how long I was planning on staying in Japan and what I did all day. Not only was her English great, but she was also so confident... not shy at all. She never giggled and covered her mouth with her hand. She looked me straight in the eye. I liked her immediately. Her name was Meiko. She made me a proposition.

Well, I gotta run, until next time... bye bye.

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