Thursday, 10 July 2014

Canada Day

The Interview

President and I tried to go to bed at a not completely moronic time, but then we stayed up late talking because couldn't sleep and now sort of ready to die. But we're pretty stoked, too. It promises to be an interesting day.

A Japanese girl we've known for a few years gets on the bus and sits down. We wave.

“She's really grown up since she got here,” I note, by which I mean that she no longer dresses like a small child. It's a bit more than that, though. People get older, and ryuugakuing really accelerates the process. Or maybe just augments it?

We're headed for the Hilton downtown, where a delegation from our sister city in Japan will be staying for the week. They've just gotten in last night but we're hustling them out of bed bright and early for a CBC interview. President and I relax in the lobby and watch an older, lanyard-wearing Asian woman make her way from the elevators to the breakfast hall. So we're at the right place then. Shortly thereafter the CBC guy arrives and then so does the mayor, along with the man in charge of Water and Sewage and also some third individual who hangs around the periphery and whose function I never do divine. They spend a few minutes socializing as hotel staff set up an interview area for us.

The interviewer attempts some English conversation with the water guy, and with a little effort and a lot of smiling they are able to communicate some basic pleasantries. I let them struggle. In situations like this, I generally try not to jump in with the interpretation unless it seems necessary, or if somebody specifically asks. Partly this is because people like to practise, but more importantly I don't want to mess up any flow they've developed; even if they end up fully depending on me immediately after, those first few minutes can provide a crucial icebreaker. The mayor is a pleasant enough man, somewhat lacking in the flair of his predecessor, but a good guy and very mayoral.

“Who's going to do to the interpretation?” he says suddenly, looking to the others.
“I'll be interpreting,” I assure him.
“Oh, great,” he smiles, and hurries off to his place.

At no point does anyone present suggest that my speaking Japanese is anything other than the most natural thing in the world. It's weird.

The interview goes pretty well, I think. It's a fairly fluffy piece and I asked to see the questions in advance, so I was able to look up a couple of words beforehand. Though I'd thought I might fixate on the microphone and start to get tied up in the minutiae of my own speech, within seconds I forget all about that and am able to mainly focus on interpreting the mayor's sentiments as accurately as possible. Because it's in the moment, and I want him to come off well, I err on the side of a “feeling” translation rather than a “word-for-word.”

I only have one serious slip-up: one of the mayor's responses is complex, makes heavy use of technical vocabulary, and goes on so long that by the time he finishes I've forgotten what he said at the beginning, and by the time I remember and make my way through that, I've forgotten what he said at the end. Fortunately after some consultation with him and a few (painfully long and quiet) moments to collect my thoughts, I'm able to avoid mangling it too badly.

The rest is pretty smooth. The questions have mainly to do with the sister city agreement, his thoughts on its significance, and so on. The most interesting went something like this:

Question: How would you feel about shifting the sister city agreement to a more business-oriented arrangement?
Answer: Business is indeed very important to our city, and to Japan, and if the possibility is there we should definitely pursue it. However, it would be a mistake to focus on only business at the expense of other opportunities, such as cultural and educational exchange, which are themselves very valuable and would be a shame to lose.

I thought that was interesting because basically all sister city relationships, everywhere, are derided by citizens as a bunch of free vacations for mayor and council. So while the true benefits are self-evident to those of us lucky enough to be in the thick of these functions, they are intangible, and thus justifiably dubious to anyone not directly involved. This is why the financial issue comes up from time to time, often accompanied by the suggestion that the soft stuff should be abandoned in favour of a strictly economic arrangement. Obviously I myself am a huge proponent of the intercultural aspects of sister city relationships, which changed my life, but I also see the unused potential for such “business opportunities.”

A Lazy Afternoon

After the interview President and I walk over to park, which is already saturated with festival atmosphere. Later, we notice various persons of interest begin forming up in the reserved section of the audience. I see the youngest member of council, a Green, enthusiastically mingling. “Ohio,” he says to the delegates. He says this a few times.

“That's about the limit of my Japanese,” he confides to me.
“Oh, it's a start. Actually,” I remind him, “they'll be pretty stoked no matter what you say. They pretty much just appreciate the effort.”
He laughs and agrees, and heads off for more schmoozing.

The two of us spend most of the rest of the day taking things in. It's scathingly hot but at least the atmosphere hasn't liquefied, like it does in Kyouto. We walk amongst the crowds, and run into Jugs. We take in interminable speeches, and also a performance by our local taiko group. We eat some Indian food. We point out hot girls to each other, because President is bi and an awesome gf. Oh, and also President is my gf now, that's a thing.

We see a guy with a German flag draped about his shoulders.
“But Belgium played today,” President frowns.
“Maybe he actually is German,” I suggest. “Anyway, what do you suppose would happen if a guy showed up at the 4th of July in America wearing a German flag?”

For a moment, I feel like I've hit upon the heart of Canada Day, and, indeed, Canada itself.

Fireworks and Frustration

There is only one thing that spoils my mood, and it really does. In previous years, since I was 15, I've volunteered to help with the sister city delegation and spent a week or more trundling around with them, interpreting and just generally making myself useful. And I love doing this. I love Japanese people, I love helping out, and this event is a bit of a personal tradition of mine. But suffice it to say, a miscommunication meant they ended up going with other interpreters, presumably because they didn't realise how much better of a job I'd do. So I ended up feeling like I'd been cheated out of something very dear to me through someone else's incompetence.

But maybe all isn't lost. We have just one chance. I happen to know that they'll take dinner (where I should have been interpreting) at a certain room in the park stadium, and that afterward they'll be milling around for a while waiting for the fireworks. It would be inappropriate to crash the dinner, but surely no one will mind if we show up and socialize afterward? We won't be costing the city money, and the Canadians there will all be city hall types, so I'll know most of them anyway. It won't be the whole week, but at least I'll get one shiny hurrah.

Alas, we're quickly foiled, as there's no way into the building. I get steadily more melancholy over the next half hour. I try not to let it show but I can't hide anything from President. We settle for watching from below the balcony, on the off-chance that somebody will look down, recognize us, and invite us up. I know it's a dumb plan but it's the best I can think of. We hear people talking and laughing above us, the occasional snatch of Japanese. I can't stand it because I should be up there.

“Would it be easier if we moved away?” she asks, brow knitted.
“No,” I say miserably. “It's like trying to get laid. If you at least ask, there's a chance somebody'll say yes, even if it's very small. So if we at least hang around here there's a chance somebody might come take pity on us. Even though I know that's not actually going to happen.”

The fireworks start. I try to enjoy them. It's hard to do when all I can think of is how much better of a view I usually get. We start to move, to get a better angle around a tree.

“Hey guys, do you wanna come upstairs?”

It's the youngest member of council, standing right behind us, holding the door open. Well, I'll be fucked. The three of us rush upstairs so as not to miss anything. No way. I'm seriously actually getting my due.

“And it's open bar,” he laughs.

The fireworks go on an appropriate fireworks-y length of time, during which we touch base with various dudes and dudettes, such as the lady who failed to get us up there. We spot a young Japanese guy we'd noticed earlier in the day, and President goes to talk to him. Later she confirms that he's a new student at our university, here as an interpreter rather than as a member of the delegation, which makes sense. I'd thought at least a couple of new students would be here, and meeting them was one of my main goals for the night, so, success! I point him out to another councillor and tell her that he looked so lonely and bored, we'd been thinking of absconding him to the nearest bar.

“I really think you should,” she grins conspiratorially.

Heading Home

My spirits buoyed, we go to catch the bus back to President's, where we run into the Japanese girl from the morning bus ride. This girl is young and adorably useless. She's the kind of girl you're afraid to leave to her own devices for more than a couple of minutes, lest she get lost between the front door and the sidewalk, or accidentally lock herself inside her apartment. She knows it, too. It's hilarious.

Today her existential crisis is actually semi-legitimate. She came straight to Canada after graduating Japanese high school and is now on the cusp of getting a certificate, which she's pretty sure is going to be borderline worthless in the Japanese job market in the absence of an actual degree. So she's debating whether to spend another year here, which will incur extra cost on her parents, or to return home and just take a stab at it. I try to give her advice but she rejects it and then chases herself in mental circles for a good five minutes or so. So I tell her to do the opposite thing, and then she repeats the process in reverse. She knows she's not being reasonable or making any sense, but I get the feeling I'm helping her work through it just by standing there and listening, so I don't feel like I'm wasting my time.

Basically, she just wants to escape the situation and get married. Yup, that would be the life. In fact, she's 21 now and a bunch of her friends are married already. Her own mother waited until 23, but if you think about it, you have to know somebody for around two years before you marry them, right, so to keep to that schedule she has to meet somebody, like, tomorrow! Has she been looking? No...no, she hasn't... So what kind of a guy would be good? Rich. Oh, and also tall.

She worries, too, that people always think she's younger than she is. When she was in junior high school people thought she was in elementary school, etc. I point out that maybe when she's 50, people will think she's 30. Ooh, she likes that! But she still doesn't get why.

“Maybe because you seem so pure,” I say honestly.
“Heh! You have no idea, do you?” she smirks.
“Oh? So you've been up to a lot of impure things?”

“No,” she says sadly.