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Boku no Gaijin

July 22, 2009

(Originally Published 04/09/2007)

I am about to become someone’s pet foreigner.  Yesterday was a crazy and overwhelming day.  I’m not that excited by my Pop Media and Culture class even though it should have been totally awesome.  I don’t know, I just think the teacher seems kind of boring and that we could be doing a whole lot more with this class.  We’re basically just studying the history of manga, anime, and television dorama and not really delving into the anthropological effects of each of these mediums.  Well, at least I get to read a lot of ground-breaking manga.  After that I went to ceramics and spent two hours struggling to wedge the clay.  The teacher is this really cool older Japanese guy with a scraggly salt-and-pepper beard and mustache and wild hair.  He wears big, round Harry Potter glasses and smells strongly of garlic.  His strong, rough hands firmly yet gently guided mine as he tried to show me again and again how to do the spiral wedging.  It looks completely effortless for him and even when he’s showing you the “wrong” way to do it his clay still looks marvelous.  After two hours of sweating over the table my back hurt like crazy and I was ready to call it a day.  I went down the four flights of stairs to the drinking fountain and that’s when the trouble began.More...

“Sumimasen…” (Excuse me.)
I stood up from slaking my thirst and realized there was an older Japanese lady standing behind me trying to get my attention.  Quickly, I brushed some stray droplets from beard and responded.
“Hai?” (Yes?)
“Eigo ga hanasemasu ka.” (Do you speak English?)
“Un.” (Yes.)
“Nihongo mo hanasemasu ka.” (Do you also speak Japanese?)
“Ee.” (Yes.)
And with that I was whisked off into a tragic spiral of a comedy of errors.  She launched herself voraciously into a flight-of-the-bumblebee speech in machine gun Japanese.  Stunned, I attempted to get her to slow down.
“Sumimasen.  Motto yukkuri itte kudasai.”
She nodded her assent and continued right on without any discernible slowing.  I ended up just nodding and saying “Hai.” every here and there and before I realized what I was doing I found myself coming to her house once a week to teach her and her husband English for an hour and a half!  It took me even longer to realize that she was going to pay me for this!  Whee, I’ve got a job!  I start tonight.  I’m supposed to meet her at the train station (about four stops away from where I live in the direction of Kyoto) and she’ll take me to her house where I will spend an hour and a half talking with them in English.  I guess they’re just looking for an English conversation partner.  Anyway, it’s a little scary but I think it should be a pretty interesting experience.

It really is an international, intercultural experience here for me.  I keep finding myself in situations I wouldn’t experience back home.  Last night my roommate wanted to show me some pictures from his time in the police force.  In South Korea, men are expected to complete two years of police or military service before they go to college.  Lee was in charge of a squadron of combat police!  He was just casually showing me pictures of riots that he’d helped suppress.  Buses were blowing up, molotov cocktails were exploding, workers were shouting and marching and demonstrating and getting sprayed down by foam from hoses by the police, workers and police were scuffling, one policeman was lying on the ground getting beaten up by angry workers, some policemen were charging into the fray with their batons and clubs and CHAINS.  I don’t think Lee realized that I was kind of shocked by all of this.  These pictures don’t mean the same thing for me that they mean for me.  He’s got them on his page on the Korean version of Facebook.  They’re just a part of his life.

Another new experience: I befriended a girl from Mexico yesterday when I helped her get to campus.  She had just arrived from Mexico City and didn’t know the way from the Seminar House to campus so I offered to take her there since I wouldn’t mind the walk and I didn’t have anything to do for a couple of hours.  Anyway, this morning she came into the kitchen and kissed me on the cheek.  It was very interesting for me because I don’t think I know anyone in the States who would thank you by kissing you.  Hmm, seems like a nice custom to me.

Last night Willy and I went to downtown Hirakata for supper.  We were going to go to the crepe place but it was closed so we went down a nearby alley and found an interesting semi-western restaurant.  The interesting part about their menu was that every item had the number of calories clearly marked.  I got a plate of green asparagus with butter (SOOOO delicious) and some cheese wontons (karikari chiizu).  I also ordered shochu for the first time!  Wow, shochu’s really good!  It has a really pleasant taste and it’s really strong stuff.  There were three ways of serving it: in water, in tea, or on the rocks.  Before I really realized what I was doing, I ordered it in water.  This seems to have been a good choice.  Even watered down it was very strong.  I also got a drink with Creme de Cassis and apple juice.  It was really good!  Dave had told me about cassis and I’d never heard of it before but I think it’s kind of a big deal here in Japan.  There was a whole section of the drink menu devoted to cassis.  (Cassis is a kind of black currant.)  Anyway, we’re getting pretty comfortable eating in restaurants and ordering things but it’s hard to feel so illiterate because there is almost never furigana above the kanji.  We’re very limited in what we can order because we can’t decipher the kanji.  This is why it is imperative that we learn kanji NOW!  Well, it was dumping rain when we left and I had my laptop in my backpack so I carefully wrapped my laptop in my raincoat and then we headed over to the 100-yen store to buy umbrellas.  The 100-yen store is much different from dollar stores in America.  Yes, the stuff you buy here is cheap but it’s pretty good quality!  I got a really cool pink kid’s umbrella and Willy got a normal umbrella.  My umbrella has a name tag on it so I should never have any trouble finding it (if I can’t remember it’s the only small pink one in the rack).

Cool product of the day: Snoopy Mango – it’s a drink that tastes like mango soda and has pictures of Snoopy and Woodstock on the bottle.

I’m getting disturbingly low on money already and I’ve still got some books to buy.  It’s going to be hard to make what I’ve got left last for three weeks until my meal allowance kicks in.  This new job will certainly help!  I’m going to have to eat pretty cheap stuff for the next few weeks but I am going to go out to the izakaya with Ryosuke on Thursday night.  Apparently there are two options at the izakaya – you can go for the “all-you-can-eat-and-drink-in-two-hours” option or the “by-the-plate-and-glass” option.  I think it’s something like 4000yen a person for unlimited food and drinks or maybe about 280yen per person per plate or glass.

Well, I’m off to my first Japanese classes this morning!

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