Saturday, 28 September 2013

Gaijin Tales! Wrapping up

I accrue Gaijin Tales anecdotes gradually and throw them up on the blog when I have a bunch. I've maintained a fairly consistent schedule of doing one every 2-3 months, but that doesn't always have much to do with when a particular story took place, as I often remember and then write down things that happened long before. Keep that in mind as you read what will be the last Gaijin Tales for a while.

*

Rude Boy: three strangers in two days have treated me like a normal human being!
Jugs: Nice!

*

Insufferable Dumbass, listen to me. You're not taking on an enemy army. You're not fleeing the cops. You're not even performing a complex and sensitive science experiment. You're making dinner. Calm the fuck down.

*

On my last visit to the Pokemon Centre, during Deranged Dave's stay, I picked up a few more Pikachus. Until that point I'd actually assumed there was only a set for the respective city of each store; I was dead wrong. It may have been limited sale, but anyway, I picked up some representatives for Kyouto, Koube, and Nara. The Kyouto one was Pikachu wearing a Shinsengumi uniform! Only, this raises the question of whether or not I now have to collect every single one produced.

Um. Let's say no.

Then Mother Russia went on vacation and brought me back an Okinawa charm as a present. It's Eevee, which is different from the rest of the set...but it's from Mother Russia, so who cares. :3

*

One thing I've noticed about drilling Korean vocabulary is how useful it is to see the hanja. It seems that Korea still uses traditional characters, but obviously I can still read them for meaning even if I can't write them. This is quite helpful for remembering not only the pronunciation of many words (such as seonbae, a direct cognate from 先輩), but even the words themselves; “desk,” for example, is chaeksang, which is fine and all, but much easier to call to mind if you know that is written 册床、i.e. a “book-bed.”

This raises a question: I would assume that most beginning English-language Korean textbooks don't show the hanja, since it would be meaningless for most, so how the hell are you supposed to learn all these words? I guess it's just rote memorization, which, admittedly, I had to do to learn both the equivalent Japanese words and their kanji, but I sure am glad I don't have to start from zero again.

*

For a while there, every time I would go to 7-11, Cologne would ask where I was headed. Rather than simply answer him, like a normal human being, I would always say “Your mom's house.” This continued until finally one day he asked me: “So, do you wanna make a trip to my mom's house?”

Somehow we managed to get everybody, both English- and Japanese-speaking, to start calling it “Cologne's mom's house.” We're going to Cologne's mom's house, I wonder if they sell that at Cologne's mom's house, etc.

Yeah, it's one nonstop party in this dorm.

*

I just realised that my World of Philosophy class is a huge confluence of a bunch of otherwise unrelated spheres of my life, as I have now seen that my classmates include three girls from English Club, a guy from English Club, a guy from my Enjoyably Study Korean, and one of the girls who works at Cologne's mom's house.

*

Cologne to Tiny Chinese Girl: So on Thursday, just shower after you eat takoyaki!

*

Japanese teacher: I teach Japanese language to foreigners, of course, and I also teach Japanese students how to be Japanese language teachers. And I guess the main difference is, when I ask foreigners if they understand, they all yell “Yes!!” and scare the living daylights out of me. And when I ask the Japanese students if they understand, I get silence...and then I ask again, and if I'm lucky, I get (nods slightly).

*

Politics teacher: You treat this classroom like it's an extension of your living room!
Rude Boy: Makes sense, I treat the living room like an extension of my bedroom.
Everyone who lives with me: (laughs mirthlessly)

*

Mother Russia: i don't think i can go, i popped an inlay so i have to go to the dentist
Rude Boy: omfg are you ok???!!!
Mother Russia: thanks...yeah it's fine as long as i don't bite anything...best diet i've ever had, haha

*

I've won a lot of nice things from the periodic draws at Cologne's mom's house, but I also once won a little bottle of this absolutely vile-looking old guy energy drink that no one in the history of the world has ever wanted.

Two days in a row.

*

Rude Boy: Why do you feel the need to write your name all over every single thing I own? Fucking look at this shit...my textbooks, my homework, my computer, my arm...what, are you fucking marking your property or something?
Mother Russia: Hahahaha, I'm like a dog!
Rude Boy: Then I go to read my fucking book one day and I find this! (Indicates bookmark, which she pulled out of the book, placed on top, and wrote “HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!” upon next to a picture of a smirking pig.)
Mother Russia: Hahaha! Did you find your page again?
Rude Boy: Yes, because I remembered the number for some reason.
Mother Russia: Oh. Damn.

*

After watching like 25 episodes of Sailor Moon in three days, my way of speaking became extremely girly for the next several.

*

President: U drunk?
President: Lol
Rude Boy: maybe
Rude Boy: but not as drunk as you're about to be

*

Rude Boy: Jesus! It wasn't raining at all when I left the house.
Clerk at Cologne's mom's house: That's right. It wasn't raining up until just a little while ago, yes?
Rude Boy: Yeah. Man, I didn't even bring an umbrella.
Clerk: (to second, older clerk) Oh, there was an umbrella, wasn't there?
Second clerk: There was! (runs to the back)
Clerk: There may be an umbrella that someone forgot at the store.

There was, and they gave it to me. This is why I love 7-11 service. Also: Bullshitting with strangers 1, shyness 0.

*

Insufferable Dumbass: (to family over Skype) Yup, I think I lost the Speech Contest because I was meant to be a soccer referee.
Anarchy in the UK: (under breath) No, you lost the Speech Contest because you're awful.

*

Mother Russia: (pauses movie, removes headphones) Is this enjoyable for you?
Drunk Rude Boy: Kinda yeah.
Mother Russia: You can't even hear!
Drunk Rude Boy: (intentionally overselling) Just being with you is fun enough!
Mother Russia: Wow. Barf.

*

Rude Boy: What's Stonehenge actually like? I imagine it being like surrounded by city now, like that thing in the middle of Mecca.
Anarchy in the UK: No, it's in the middle of a giant field...that's actually so big the army uses it to blow things up.

*

Insufferable Dumbass: A lot of the people in this house don't speak well English.

*

I saw a girl walking down the street, carrying an entire door. Couldn't even decide if that seemed strange or not.

*

Lithuania: Do you know this site? It's like, for finding pen pals.
Rude Boy: A fucking website for finding pen pals? That's...that's like teleporting to the train station!

*

Cologne: I don't know if I want to go there, I hear it's just a bunch of Germans.
Rude Boy: You should totally go. You're great at German.
Cologne: But I don't really feel the need to practise.

*

At YVR I recognized a girl I'd sat near at Incheon.


A few days later, I saw her at my university.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

A touch of typhoon

Rude Boy: You and I haven't had a class together since like spring 2011.
President: Wow. Sounds like a bad omen.
Rude Boy: Mm?
President: Spring 2011...?
Rude Boy: Oh. Shit. Well...I'll just withdraw if it looks like anything bad's about to happen.

I guess I'd better get on that.

If you're not aware, a typhoon hit large parts of Kyouto, Shiga, Hyougo, Ayamane, and also apparently Toukyo, though much less directly. Kyouto and Shiga seem to have been the worst-hit, being inundated with powerful rains and flooding. I sort of shrugged it off at first – typhoon, big deal. It happens. But then I was cruising Facebook and I saw this picture:

Yeah, I flagrantly ganked this from a stranger's FB feed. Sue me. Actually no, don't.
If you live in Kyouto, you should recognize this spot. Or maybe not; it took me a good ten seconds. That's Sanjou Oohashi in the background, Sanjo Keihan Eki further in the background, and, directly in front of us, a pedestrian footbridge. It's one of the most popular meetup and hangout spots in the city, and I was pulling through there once a week at bare minimum.

It's difficult to describe, now, what I felt in the moment I saw that photo, and over the following day. Of course at that time I was a little more uncertain of the situation. Last I read, only eight people have died, several of them rather elderly, and the news reporting all seemed to focus on evacuation efforts and property damage rather than loss of human life. But without being there, I had no way of knowing what things were actually like on the ground. I couldn't read the mood, and know whether Kyoutoites were bonding and powering through or despondent over the destruction. Most of all, I felt like I should be there. Not even that I should be doing something to help, just like I should be in the thick of with everybody. I didn't have any information, I couldn't do anything to help, maybe there wasn't even anything to do, and I felt thoroughly cut down to size.

I thought: Can forces of nature stop destroying my adopted homeland now.

And also: Please God, don't let this be a day that we remember for years.

Because I still recall with great clarity exactly what I was doing when I found out about the Touhoku Earthquake. Hell, I remember every detail that came for the next month, because of everything we were all doing. I didn't want this time to be like that. Let it wash away like so much water, a non-lethal non-event.

Of course I feel a little silly saying this now, knowing as I do that everything was pretty much ok. Udon is fine. Shiga is fine, English Club people are fine. But there was about a 48-hour period there where I was checking in and nobody was responding, which, rationality aside (they're busy, they might not have power, some people suck at texting), had me concerned.

It's weird that this typhoon could be even a fraction as affecting as Touhoku was, despite being a grain of sand in comparison to a beach, just because it's a place that I know well, and have developed a certain affection for (even though I still maintain that Kyouto is kind of shitty). I wondered if this is what it feels like to live in New York, and be watching a movie, and have it depicting scenes in places you could walk to from where you're currently sitting watching the movie. Actually, you probably get used to it.


So I tried to imagine my Canadian hometown undergoing a similar crisis. Try as I might, I couldn't make it real. Because these things could never happen to you, right?

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Lonesome Road

As soon as Udon sees me off, I'm alone. From here on out, it's all strangers and solitude. I'm riding to Umeda, but instead of the excitement I would normally feel at a day or night of fun ahead, I just feel drained. Fuck it. Here we go. I really am leaving Japan. Well. Fuck.

I get hung up at Umeda because I fail to realise that I need to make my transfer at Oosaka, and spend over an hour wandering around like an idiot, but it's so hot and I am so goddamn tired, I just kind of go with it. Important point is, at no time do I feel nervous. Concerned, yes, but it's all purely intellectual. I've grown.

I'm riding the express but do not realise that there's an additional cost associated with this until a guy comes around to check my ticket. He addresses me in Japanese and does not bat an eye when I speak it back to him, I pay the difference and he gives me a ticket, and I slump back against the wall, not at all embarrassed about having made a mistake. The train pauses for a while for seemingly no reason; the old ladies near me speculate that it's either regular maintenance or a suicide. One of the two. I reach my station and disembark. I have to say, it has been my experience that carting luggage around the major transit centres is no big thing, but as you wind away into the local stations it becomes increasingly burdensome, in this case requiring a series of confused elevator rides just to reach the opposite platform.

Easily locating my hotel, I have a lengthy and detailed conversation with the guy at the front, and not once does he remark on the unprecedented multitasking of my speaking Japanese while being foreign. I appreciate the compliments, I really do – but from time to time it's nice to have my ability to communicate in the language of the country I live in not be pointed out like it's a fucking UFO sighting. I head to 7-11 to print off my electronic ticket, which seems to contradict the whole “electronic” idea, but I accomplish the deed while barely paying attention. I am so in control.

It's late and the train ride took hours. But I've arrived! At least now I can relax. Well, I've misplaced my fucking cell phone charger, but nothing I can do for the moment. Fortunately, Jugs is online, so my final sad, lonely evening doesn't devolve into a totally self-congratulatory emo wankfest. But then...

[5:56:13 AM] Rude Boy: OH WOULD YOU FUCK RIGHT OFF. the documents i printed at 7-11 i now cant fucking find
[5:56:46 AM] Rude Boy: WHAT
[5:56:47 AM] Rude Boy: THE FUCK
[5:57:57 AM] Jugs: :c
[5:58:29 AM] Rude Boy: im leaving japan
[5:58:34 AM] Rude Boy: im leaving a lot of things
[5:58:47 AM] Jugs: bb, i can' even imagine how hard this is for you
[5:58:53 AM] Rude Boy: i am so. incredibly. fucking. tired.
[5:59:07 AM] Jugs: but i can promise you lots of hugs in canada
[5:59:27 AM] Rude Boy: it is SO MOTHERUFCKING HOT JUST FUCK RIGHT THE FUCK OFF THREE MONTHS LAREADY SERIOUSLY FUCK. OFF. JUST FUCK. OFF. no more plz. no more of this fucking heat. i am so fucking tired
[5:59:46 AM] Rude Boy: i cant even
[5:59:48 AM] Rude Boy: i cant do this.
[5:59:57 AM] Rude Boy: i am actually just
[6:00:02 AM] Rude Boy: WHJERE THE FUCK ARE MY DOCUMENTs
[6:00:47 AM] Jugs: you totally can do this
[6:01:18 AM] Rude Boy: i actually am almost breaking down right now
[6:01:33 AM] Jugs: you not being able to do it isn't even an option in anyway
[6:02:05 AM] Rude Boy: it is so fucking hot
[6:02:07 AM] Rude Boy: where are my documents?
[6:02:11 AM] Rude Boy: where?
[6:02:13 AM] Rude Boy: where? :(
[6:02:17 AM] Rude Boy: where are my fucking documents? :(

So far I've concealed my emotions, but that one little thing has made me snap. Thankfully, Jugs is an awesome person and stays online to talk me through it even though it's already morning in Canada. And I do eventually find the fucking things, thank fuck. Unfortunately, I can't reply to the message that Udon has almost certainly sent. I feel pretty bad about that.

In the morning, I catch the shuttle to Kankuu. From this point forward, the idea that I might speak anything other than English does not occur to anyone for the rest of my life. At Immigration, an old man punches a hole through my gaijin card, but then he gives it back, an unexpected souvenir.

I'm staring down the barrel of 25 hours of continuous travel; a duo of pointlessly long stopovers have conspired to try and make me kill myself. More than anything else right now, I wish for a companion. Not even to help me work out my complicated transfers and baggage dickings-around; it's cool, I will do all of the thinking, I will make all of the decisions. I will be the grizzled world traveller. It's only that it's going to be fucking boring. I want someone to bullshit with. Seriously, I'll take almost anybody. I'd even take a particularly calm and astute child at this point. Well, maybe not Insufferable Dumbass. I'd leave him at home. It defeats the purpose to bring someone who will make the trip feel even longer.

At Incheon, I find that I'm actually remembering many of the areas I passed through the first time around. Is this what it's like to be a capable, experienced international plane person? I'm sorely tempted by the “Experience Korea” souvenirs, but decide that it's a little tacky to buy something from an airport gift shop without ever having actually seen the country. Maybe if Korea still sparkled...
An Indian guy about to begin studying in Canada gets cornered by one of the dumbest people I have ever heard words slough out of. He asks how long he's lived in Korea (five hours), and why he didn't go visit the ocean if he had so much time between flights (are you...really?). He then inquires as to why he didn't just take a flight directly from Mumbai to Vancouver, all at once demonstrating that he knows absolutely nothing about international travel, or geography, or humanity, or the laws of physics. I try to bury myself in the book that I started reading at YVR a year ago – The Sun Also Rises, turns out it's pretty great – but his exuberance bores itself straight into my brain. Oh hey! Looks like I did bring Insufferable Dumbass with me! I am finally saved when he convinces the Indian guy to go line up for the plane shortly after it arrives at the airport. Eventually I follow in their wake. Some guy has tried to take my window seat. Haha, no.

I watch Iron Man 3. It's bad.

Setting right my mistake of nearly a year ago, I order the bibimbap. The flight attendant asks if I've ever “tried” it before, which seems a little condescending, but how is she to know that I'm not a moron. Good luck I didn't pick JAL. I'd Kansai-ben their ears off and then we'd ALL feel awkward. Still though, you take everything they give you and mix it together, it's not fucking hard. The meal is quite tasty. In my experience, Asian food survives the transition to “airplane food” most intact out of any cuisine.

I watch a Chinese movie called “Finding Mr. Right.” It's surprisingly good! It's about a young Chinese woman who goes to America to have her sugar daddy's baby so that the government doesn't force her to abort it, but then she meets people there and plot ensues. You should watch it. Also the main girl is gorgeous.

All the Korean movies are action movies and supernatural thrillers. Why can't I just watch a silly romanticomedy? I want to learn “You had me at hello,” not “Make him an offer he can't refuse.” The only Japanese movie heavily involves dogs, so that's out, too. Luckily I'm tired. My strategy was to stay awake as long as possible in order to sleep as deeply as possible, because I know that once I fully wake I'll pretty much stay that way. Time to make out with the cabin!

I stir from my slumber and crack the window. Still dark outside the plane. The moon is reflected against the wing, and I crane my neck to peer up at it. This high in the atmosphere, there's little between us but space. Crazy.

When I wake again, the people beside me are eating breakfast. A small sign has been attached to the seat in front of me: “While you were resting, we were unable to serve you. Please let our service staff know your preference.” It earns points for saying “resting” rather than sleeping, but then immediately loses them all by making it sound like I'm causing problems for them. How about “It is our policy not to disturb passengers while they are resting. Our staff would be happy to serve you at your convenience.” See, I could totally be in marketing. A guy comes by and asks me for my choice, with an attitude suggesting that his job would be so much easier if it weren't for all these fucking people trying to fly to places. His pronunciation is frankly terrible and the only option I understand is “omelette” so I take that even though I know it will be an abomination. I can't finish it.

Then I'm in Canada again, somehow. White people everywhere. Negotiating yet another labyrinth of signage, and then Immigration – I don't like the bullpen style of YVR. Kansai and Incheon are a little clearer and more streamlined. They've installed a new “electronic border guard” system since I was last here. Did you guys know about this? You scan your passport and then your paperwork, greatly speeding up the process and, presumably, lowering the airport's overhead (no pun intended). An automated female voice even warns me that border services will have some questions for me.

A young, blonde woman frowns at my customs paperwork and, not unkindly, asks, “You have unaccompanied baggage with you?”

Well, no, ma'am. If I had it with me, it would be accompanied baggage.

Anyway, I end up getting a customs receipt so that I won't have to pay tax at the post office (as what I'm importing is within my exemption), so it turns out that it pays not to lie to the government. Very, very occasionally.


At Tim Horton's, I fumble with the coins, barely recognizing them.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Final 10 seconds

I feel low. Empty. In a few short hours I will leave the dorm, and this time tomorrow I'll be on a plane. I wonder if this is what a person feels on the morning of their execution: Resolute in my hopelessness, resigned to the fact that one way or another, it's all over now. I've done everything I can. I've spent a year of my life, incurred massive debt, and I'll probably never know for certain if there was any meaning or value to any of it.

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Chinese hookers off the streets of Koube. I watched drunk gyaaru glittering in the morning light near Kiyamachi. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

I never got to see Udon. We were going to meet one more time, but she got called into work at the last minute. I was crushed. Can't be helped though. We'll see where we're both at next time I'm in town. Whenever that is...

Jesus, it's been a whole year already? Christ, it's only been a year?

I wonder what they'll say about me, when I get back. I barely recognize the person I was when I got here. I've always felt I was a confident person, and a patient one, but that's only gotten stronger. I've gained new skills, of course, and – well, I hope my Japanese has improved, anyway. My curiosity has in no way lessened, but I no longer feel anxious when I don't understand every little detail. I've gotten better at asking for help.

There's nothing left now. I slowly finish the last of my packing. Begin to tidy mine and Cologne's room, taking my time about it. I am so very sad. I--

Holy shit a message from Udon.

“Well, I'm free this afternoon (lol)”

Holy shit holy shit holy shit holy shit holy shit.

I kick into high gear. Oh god. Room check, we have to get ready for it right fucking now. Udon confirms that she is available until 4. It's goddamn 1:30. Ok. Ok ok ok. Toss that shit right the fuck into the suitcase. Shove it in good. It's all crumpled and fucked up! Never mind. Vacuum. Jesus Christ fuck cocks gotta run up and down the fucking hallways and oh god damn it there are no vacuum bags have to run to the first floor and borrow their vacuum. Vacuum vacuum vacuum when did our room get so many corners. Cologne woke up obviously and now he's showering, please oh god oh please for once in your life don't take an eternity in there. Ok ok shove the rest of my clothes in. Um, backpack! Electronics! Ok hopefully that's everything. What if it's not?? Fuck it. Gotta take a chance every once in a while. Can't live your life cloistered in your fucking library. Check all the drawers oh fuck right off I forgot some stuff oh fuck it don't even look just throw the whole pile into the garbage. Oh good he's out of the bathroom ok vacuum the bathroom ok is that good enough? Yeah I'm saying that's good enough. Ask to do my room check two hours early; luck out and get the go-ahead. Dormitory lady pronounces room is spotless. Please god faster. Need to surrender keycard and room keys. It is so fucking hot out and I'm so tired my hands are shaking so bad I can't even slip the key off the ring oh fucking finally there we go.

And...we're done?

I skitter back upstairs. Mother Russia isn't in; I will probably never see her again. Goodbye Lithuania! Goodbye French! Goodbye Tiny Korean Girl! Goodbye Korean guy! Goodbye Cologne! Goodbye assistants! Oh fuck that's right – I hurriedly entrust a bag of coffee, one final parting gift for Mother Russia, to one of the assistants. A few people, startled and confused by my leaving ahead of schedule, rush downstairs to see me off, wondering what could have precipitated my haste.

“Take care of Mother Russia,” I request of the dorm staff.

And I'm off and running down the driveway, suitcase rumbling ridiculously in my wake.

I'd envisioned this moment a hundred times, but it never looked like this. Sometimes it included one pensive, final walkabout of the dormitory; perhaps a ceremonial final usage of the keycard that had made so many midnight 7-11 runs possible; and most definitely an overly long, possibly wailed set of goodbyes. Not so here. In a way, it's actually better. I'm afforded a clean break. At the train station, the tears claw at my throat and beg to be released. I ignore them.

I've rushed like fucking nobody's business. And at 3:20, I finally meet up with Udon.

I'm exhausted and incoherent and I look like shit but she doesn't even mind. We sit in Starbucks and we talk until 4:30, when she finally admits that she really does have to get to work. Of course I wish we could have spent more time together, but it's just about the perfect length of time for a goodbye. We have a lot of fun. We have a fairly frank conversation about what might happen between us when I come back to Japan, and although a million things can happen in even six months (the absolute minimum time I'll be away), we leave the door open.

I do realise that I'm kind of fixating on a girl that I've only actually met three times, but there is something there. There is definitely something there. If we'd met in, say, March, I'm positive we'd be dating by now. But then, even such a short time ago, I was a completely different person, so – although I don't believe in any conspiracy of God or “the Universe” meddling in human relationships – in a way perhaps it had to happen now.


As we're walking to Hankyuu Kawaramachi so she can see me off, I realise that she is the last person I'll see this year. How fitting, I remark. She laughs. It's really just about the best sendoff I could have hoped for.