Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I scare small children

I can count on one hand the number of times I've met Baby Mama, mother of my future niece. While she seems lovely and is certainly concerned with getting into everyone's good graces, we know virtually nothing about her. Indeed when we do meet we don't just sit there staring at each other, but I've passed a six-hour evening with her and couldn't tell you at the end of it anything of her schooling, interests, nay even her pedigree. As a result of this, I essentially wrote her off. And then I wrote her back on recently after a sleepover. Look at me, eating my words.

We went back to Saitama despite vowing to never return. I steeled myself for the journey and promised myself an extra beer for my troubles. The Baby (I forget what I have been calling her) is still pretty fucking cute but unfortunately wouldn't let me hold her long enough to get a quick fix on her baby head smell. Conversation was much as it always is and eventually we made our way back to BD and BM's apartment. Since BD is always working when we visit, this is the first time the four of us have been able to chill and GOD (get our drink on). A couple hours passed and it began to dawn on me in an Asahi Super Dry haze that Baby Mama was actually kind of fun. Not go out dancing and laugh about a bird eating my vom the next morning fun, but more fun than the blank personality I had wrongly assigned her. Sure I still think the whole Saitama shot-gun wedding ordeal is a bit tawdry but at least we were conversing like fairly well-adjusted ladies even if it was only about the brothers that bind us (yawn on that conversation topic). By the end of the evening, I decided I quite liked her and we even exchanged mail addresses at the urging of Baby Daddy, who said we should text back and forth and talk about "uh...stuff." I've always liked BD a lot and props to him for trying to cement our sororal alliance, but way to make it awkward dad.

Through a variety of circumstances, the Baby ended up in with the beau and I, and slept right through the night (bet you didn't expect to get such exciting content on GEG!) like a small sack of warm sweet-smelling potatoes. The next morning, however, we had a most rude awakening. She awoke slowly and sleepily but as soon as she looked over and saw me started screaming bloody murder. Is it my big nose?

Baby Mama and I have since been in touch a couple times, which, yes, I am admitting in public is kind of nice, although I'm still on the fence with how I feel about her calling me G-chan instead of Older Sister (refresher: she is a year older but as partner of the eldest son, my position trumps hers). Just as I thought we were really getting somewhere, BM is feeling the need to up the competition and has gotten herself pregnant again. I don't know exactly what put her over the edge, my kimono dressin' skillz or the promise of tangible career success in the future, but she is obviously getting antsy. What does this mean for me, her younger Older Sister? Insinuations at the dinner table over the New Year's period, that's what. We may even be facing direct orders to get married. Or perhaps a reiteration that it wouldn't be so bad were I to fall accidentally on purpose pregnant myself (できちゃえ!). Either way, it's ON.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The kindness of strangers

I ran to meet Mavis outside my office today only to discover her front tire was deflated. On closer inspection, I found the black cap on the tire valve was missing and I spent a couple minutes searching the concrete to no success. I compared it to the back tire's valve and finally realized the inner valve part was also gone. The inner valve part that is secured by screw nuts (harrr) that were still intact, meaning the parts didn't pop off while I was riding but were taken.

You may ask, what kind of depraved individual takes the valve from someone's bike tire? A royal asshole of the highest fucking order, that's who. In Vancouver if you chain your bike to a post by its wheel, your bike frame and the non-chained wheel are likely to go missing. In Japan, where small acts of passive aggression are everything, I guess they just steal the valve part, which still leaves you fucked.

After practically carrying my bike to the nearest bike shop and getting new parts, I managed to eek out a couple of hot tears as I rounded the imperial palace, feeling betrayed and angry at Tokyo. Had my transgressions while seated on Mavis's brown throne amounted to being stranded with a deflated tire and was this my bike karma? I wracked my brain to think of any altercations I'd gotten into in the Kaisha's vicinity but came up blank. I tend to be particularly careful in the blocks around work and save my one-phrase admonishments for idiots closer to home...

I tried to picture what the person who messes with someone's bike in broad daylight and in a populous area looks like. I came up with an ill-fitting suited man with a mosaic where his face should be. Like footage from a cop show.

I'm tired of biking, love it though I do. I refuse to go back to the train but with the increase in bikes after the earthquake and Tokyo's generally piss poor accommodations for bikers, it's exhausting to constantly come up against pedestrians, cars and other bikes. Earlier this year as I was riding across a pedestrian crossing, a salaryman (sorry, no better word for him) came riding along in the car lane not bothering to stop and see if anyone was coming out from the curb (and, ahem, ignoring the red light he should heed if he wants to act like a car). He blindsided me and banged into the side of my bike, somehow managing to stay upright, and pedaled off without a word. I was so taken by surprise I didn't have time to shout anything at him but have since come up with a few choice phrases, naturally. I later found that he'd hit the part of my bike where my light's mechanism is and I couldn't turn off that light for months.

I'm the victim in these stories, in case I didn't make that abundantly clear, but what about my own wrongdoings? They are not nil, try as I might to be a considerate person on the road and sidewalk. Last night, in fact, coming home on my usual route I was coming up a wide one-way road that expects two-way bike traffic judging by an intersection light only bikes can see. I feel that if you are going against the car traffic by bike, you should not make bikes going in the cars' direction move for you - you are the one who can see the oncoming cars and to force an oncoming bike out into that is not very nice. On a number of occasions I have come to an almost chicken-like state with bikers who want me to move into the car traffic so they can bike down the street against it. I sometimes can't be bothered enforcing my superior biking etiquette but it's begun to fuck me right off as of late. It's very similar to the issue I've had as a pedestrian with men in particular, who want me to get out of their way and will come to a complete halt until I do so. It makes me unreasonably stabby when this happens, mostly because I want to know what the hell went wrong with these people to cause them to act with such uninvited hostility (and to a woman no less, feminism be damned) that I have yet to find elsewhere.

So last night I slowed my bike to a halt during one of these cock size competitions and told the guy it was a one-way street (admittedly weak argument but points for flawlessly remembering and executing the word for "one-way street"). As I pushed off he tried to rebut this charge by telling me my light should be on (it normally would be but had been out of order for 24 hrs). I rode off feeling very pissay.

Go on and tell me I'm a jaded foreigner who should just shut the fuck up or get out. Don't worry, I'm working on one of the two. I love you ardently, Tokyo, but these "encounters" (not to be confused with what you can arrange on Craigslist) turn me into a high blood pressured bitch on wheels who secretly says really nasty stuff about this host country's people without moving my lips. I don't like feeling this much anger.

I don't know what will lessen the stress of commuting by bike in Tokyo other than designated bike lanes. You're either in the gutter being hedged in by cars or on a crowded sidewalk feared and resented by pedestrians. I hate pedestrians when I'm biking and I hate bikers when I'm walking; we weren't meant to co-exist on the sidewalk and I will just throw it out there that places like China do it (god forbid) much better with huge bike lanes in their metropolises. I don't want to be the bad guy on a bike scaring people who think I don't see them or accidentally grazing arms when a walker suddenly changes course.

As for the lowest of the bunch, the people who steal bike valves and leave trash in bike baskets (too numerous to count), I will try to quash my anger and trust that the Karma of Mavis will work its magic.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Charming Bitches

The people of this island chain really are charming bitches. Ask any tourist or short-stay visitor and they will inevitably fall over themselves to tell you how nice everyone is in Japan. This is where I usually get tight-lipped lest I betray myself as a so-called "bitter lifer" minus the lifer.

People love to comment on your appearance here and like other countries in Asia, weight is not a taboo subject. Girls are not brought up believing that their partners should never ever comment on their weight or that they should tell others they aren't fat even if they are. I'm hesitant to even bring this up because it opens such a floodgate for me of a great number of things, so I will have to just promise you, dear readers, that I will dedicate a much longer post to this in the future.

As a butter-scented barbarian, you get used to the comments about how big you are (which in my experience tends to refer more to height but I suppose you never know) but how small your face is. And don't forget your tall (=big) nose. On a positive note, I've come to love my nose, which appendage I hadn't given much thought to before. I am totally rocking a tall nose and it's all thanks to uninvited daily commentary on my appearance.

When I spent a few months in China right after high school, I endured a comment from a nosy student who was twice my age in which she told me how perplexing it was that I was so "this" (as she spread her hands wide) and my boyfriend was so "this" (close up that gap). I told her I was sorry to have perplexed her so. She also asked me how much money I was making teaching English in the stix. At the time I wrote it off as an amusing cultural moment to be shared later with Westerners who would act appalled on hearing of it.

On the same trip, I ran out of a family dinner after my best friend, a gorgeous girl of Chinese heritage and with the biggest natural breasts you've ever seen on an Asian woman, fled from the table in tears upon an aunt's disparaging remarks about how fat she was getting in Canada (if slim is the new fat, then yes, I suppose she was right).

Despite often feeling like a big clumsy elephant when navigating certain Tokyo spaces, no one has called me an elephant. While remarks about my appearance coupled with unwarranted petting of my hair can wear thin at times, people are remarkably nice and I've allowed myself to feel vainly flattered even when the words received probably fall in the "empty compliment" category of stuff that comes out of Japanese people's mouths. When people praise the beau for finding such a pretty whitie, I am secretly pleased. Why am copping to all this? I'm starting to regret it. For starters, none of you lovely people know me and so questions of whether my compliments are deserved or whether I am an elephant will have to wait. For now.

It came to my attention several weeks ago that the beau's boss and one of his customers thought they should make comments to him on my weight. In short, they told him I had gained. I spent a painful week after that crying and trying to let it roll off my back. Full disclosure: I have recently gained 5 pounds give or take (possibly more give) and was already painfully aware of it. That they felt it was their duty to comment on this to the beau makes me incredibly spiteful. And yet, their conversation was perfectly normal in their eyes and I find myself not faulting them for it (his boss has also commented directly to me when I've lost weight). By way of reference to the actual conversation, they had been discussing the customer's wife's weight and I guess felt it would only be right to include me in the topic of conversation. For further reference, the wife and I are the same age while the customer is probably 15-20 years older, she hasn't worked since they married, has no children and stays at home all day playing some Internet computer game and polishing off two bottles of champagne by herself. Now there's a charming bitch.

So I've snuffled over Skype (hi mom!) and cried to friends in the middle of a fucking club, which for one of them must have been a flashback to our Waseda days except I was crying over a guy, not a piece of shit Japanese woman. I don't make it a habit to cry in night clubs but with some people you can't help but let your guard come all the way down. I also knew this particular girlfriend would have some snappy things to say (when I was crying over that boy, she told me I was a poodle during an elaborate analogy of dog pedigrees).

The hurt has now been replaced with mostly anger and resentment. I practice in my head what I want to say to the boss the next time I see her and she hopefully asks me if I've lost weight. I'm going to calmly and with light notes of shittiness tell her that I could hardly not lose weight after she had so kindly brought it to my attention that I had been overeating. I may then grow some real balls and let her know, sweetly of course, that it's considered rude and inappropriate in some circles to tell someone that their partner has gained weight, especially when one has so many flaws of their own.

I feel like I've run out of steam on this and no longer know why I even began penning it. I have so much more I want to confide in you but I can't just yet. In the meantime, chin up and eyes watchful for all the charming bitches up in here.

I take it back

I eat my words. The check-out lady who frazzles my patience has been temporarily removed from my shit list. The other morning I was in there early buying my beverages for the day and as she handed me my change she pointedly chirped out, kyou mo ganbatte kudasai (try your best again today!). I had taken to wearing sunglasses in the store like some affected teenager or simply avoiding eye contact with her so as to help block out the constant barrage of commentary, but this was so unexpected it broke my steely concentration and I had to smile and thank her. And I meant it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Break Up

The longer you live here, the more of these you will experience. Rather than count my years using their assigned calendar numbers, I look back at my time here in eras marked by the friends who helped to make them what they were...in addition to those not mentioned here, there was the Tokyo Cowgirl Era, the Other Whitie Era. As of late, another era has passed and let me tell you, redheads are hard to get over. My work husband also recently terminated his relationship with me and the Kaisha, so things are now a little bit lonelier even for me, the perpetually Lonely Whitie.

One of the first questions I will inevitably ask when sizing up a new friend is how long they will be in Japan for. It's not that I won't pursue a friendship with them if the answer is shorter than one visa renewal, but I like to know around how long I've got with them before the inevitable Break Up. Once the Break Up comes, it can be crushing. Long distance relationships are fine but when you are suddenly physically bereft of a friend, it's akin to standing alone in an empty room that's been packed up for a move. What used to be lived in is now just a space that remembers nothing.

Some might call the Break Up "relocating", "returning home" or "leaving Japan" but I call it as I see it: neither Japan nor I was good enough, so we've been dumped. What is particularly tragic is the friend who promised to be with you until the end (=your own BU with Japan) who breaks up with you way ahead of schedule. To put the bleakness in perspective: by the time I get off this island there is going to be no one left to break up with. I sometimes fantasize about farewell parties for myself where the only guest is, yes, myself (cheers!). Like I said, bleak.

Each time a friend leaves, I cast my mind back to the time before her era and I can't help but wonder how the hell did I get by without her? My most recent ex came along on the cusp of a year that was shaping up to be a bit shittay and turned it into a golden era. It's hard enough to meet people you can have a decent conversation with and harder still to find someone who shares your humor and affinity for taking trips to far flung places for monkey waiters, getting your hair did in a bouffant just because, and finding dank retro cafes from one of Tokyo's bygone eras.

I still don't know the magic formula for meeting friends here but have been remarkably lucky in meeting a few fantastic friends through my public rantings on here (why that didn't scare them away, I'll never know). Now that another blossoming relationship has been cut short, however, I may have to start going out alone and hitting on people.** I'll be sure to let them know up front that I'm not looking for any one-night stands. Or perhaps I'll install myself on a street corner with a sign that says "friends wanted."

In the meantime, I'm feeling desperately sorry for myself and enjoying some pillow biting, hoping that before too long, I will maybe again have someone who will say yes more often than no and who can muster enthusiasm for tiny dive bars in Golden Gai where discussion revolves around the bartender's protruding chest hair.

**or publishing a personal ad: LWF (lonely white female, natch) seeks funny female companion for possible long-term relationship. Must love bikes, vodka rickeys, cinema both lofty and trashy, eating things off sticks and the fine balance to be maintained between being classy and slumming it. Must not be adverse to restaurants from the early Showa period or leopard print.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Blow Me

Gentle readers, meet summer's hottest must-have accessory for every distinguishing young lady who deigns the thought of a little upper-lip perspiration. Personally, nothing beats the feeling of a small trickle of sweat slowly creeping its way down my ass crack as I try not to let the sheer delight of it all show on my face. Nonetheless, following on from last year's efforts to go native, so to speak, I give you this, the neck fan.

In short, I have taken to wearing a plastic rectangular fan around my neck. Werk.

It started with a ladies-who-lunch lunch with some Semi-professionals, one of whom showed me her, uh, neck fan. Every summer we Tokyoites love to talk about how damn hot it is and this year, thanks to the motherfuckers at TEPCO, we have even more to talk about with people we have nothing to talk about with: electricity saving measures! I could give a 10-minute soliloquy about these measures that would make Hamlet weep. To give you an example, I like to tell anyone who will listen how embarrassed and hesitant I am to use a recently inherited standing fan to rid me of the sweat beading at my hairline. None of the Secretaries have fans but by some strange twist of fortune/misfortune, I am with fan this year (not to be confused with "with child," something that would send me running for the hills). Do I even need to say it? Altogether now: I CAN'T TURN IT ON.

For all that I do to play down my whiteness (including but not limited to hiding the sound of my pee, taking care to rustle my plastic bags quietly, and greeting people with "sorrythankyou"), this would blow (ha) my cover. It would be a huge red flag reminding people that yes, I am still here, and yes, still a lonely whitie. This is not to say I don't use it on the sly. Some mornings I arrive extra early and when no one is around, bask in its cool winds. As soon as I hear footsteps, that puppy goes off. Now that we are deep into super cool biz, I have stopped sneaking around with the fan and have unplugged it and left it in a conspicuous place so my colleagues can see I am in the same hellishly hot boat as them. Yes to conforming!

The first question out of my mouth when my lunching lady showed me her fan was , Do you use it while typing at your desk? I figured if it was inconspicuous enough, I could keep cool guilt-free. She switched it on and let its sweet, cool rays blow gently across my cheeks. Sold.

Bonus points: I didn't even have to go out of my way to get it. While buying something at 7-11 later that evening I happened to glance down at a table near the register laden with all manner of keeping cool apparatuses and there it was. Begging to blow away my sweat. Sold.

The next morning at work I arrive at the same time as most of the Secretaries and am super excited to sit down and cool off on the DL. When no one's looking I slip the fan around my neck and press "on."

Gentle readers, it sounded like there was a helicopter overhead (abort! abort!). I immediately switched it off and thought back to our lunch. I couldn't recall my companion's fan being loud or making any noise at all. I switched mine on again. No, it was definitely conspicuous and if fans could talk, this one would be shouting, whitie over here! whitie over here! It's taken me a few weeks to get used to it, but I now feel comfortable using my neck fan with fairly reckless abandon, even when the office is dead silent. I do still get a little jumpy when people come by and are in earshot of my tiny wonder, but I banish the embarrassment by telling myself they must think the noises are emanating from my computer vents.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Don't stuff my box

After years of fairly flawless, if not zombie-like service here, I am always taken by surprise when there is a blip in the system. I think this also increases my reaction to said event disproportionately, causing me to lash out rather than take it in stride as I would in a less service-oriented country like Canada or the US. Yesterday I arrived home to see that two packages containing a shirt and pants had been unceremoniously squeezed through the narrow slot on my mail box. I almost fainted with shock.

I live in the city where the post is a perfect system of pick-ups and deliveries, where you can even specify the time you want something to be redelivered. I could send you ice cream or cheese through the mail it's that good. When a package looks like it won't slide easily through my mail slot, the postman either buzzes me or leaves in it an automated lock box that I can access with a swipe card.

Those packages were not made to be shoved through my slot. I pulled them out and inspected their crumpled messes, turning them over and over for clues as to how they even made it through. Why the postman decided to shove them through, I do not know, but I was seized by a feeling of extreme pissed-offness and I wondered aloud to whom I could address my complaint. Could I call the post office? Leave a nasty passive aggressive note taped to my slot? I was studying this problem with the intensity of a laser and I was dearly disappointed when I realized there was no one to complain to that would make it worth it.

The beau was some kind of horrified when the nice shirts he'd bought in Canada were thrown, unfolded into a paper shopper. The ceremony of service that you get here can drive you a little crazy sometimes (see: woman at the grocery store who has a polite phrase for every step of the purchasing process that she has to cheerfully SHOUT at me when I am buying a bottle of water--> Over here please! Sorry to have kept you waiting so long! I'll take that for you! This is 126 yen! I'm receiving exactly 150 yen from you! 24 yen is your change! And here is your receipt! Oh you don't need a bag?! Thank you so much for your troubles! Thank you! Please come again! Thaaaaank you!!!!!! Next!). I started to tune out when I realized long ago that while some service people are genuinely nice, most of the lovely things that are said to you are part of a grand act, where the actors play ass-kissing shopkeepers while they silently don't give a flying fuck about you or your purchases or your problems kthxbye. So when I am all tuned out and grooving along and I come across some incredibly shitty service person, I put on my bitch gloves and really feel like letting them have it, even though I often don't. Nonetheless, I would kiss the toes of postal workers, who are always so careful with my packages and who have written, "This package got wet en route so we dried it at our office. We sincerely apologize for the delay this has caused," on my deliverables before. As a result of all this, I have concluded that the postal worker that day, the one that stuffed my slot full with nary a thought of the crushed, broken packages inside, must have been a foreigner.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

They let you do that?!

It's the small, silly things that make my day. Like someone talking to me at work, or finishing up my business within one "push" of the Sound Princess.

This morning on my bike, I was stopped at an intersection when a bus of school kids turned the corner right in front of me. As the bus approached I could see the children were all pressed up against the windows, chattering and hoping for a glimpse of something interesting on the way to a fieldtrip. I wondered whether they would bother to wave to me - lone figure on the corner - like children would likely do in other countries, and I scanned their excited faces. Just as the bus turned, two boys started waving at me and, receiving a wave and smile in return, began to wave their hands furiously until the bus was out of sight. I wonder if they were from Saitama or some other far-flung prefecture. They probably thought, They let foreigners ride bikes in Tokyo now?! I smiled the rest of the way to my destination and didn't swear at a salaryman or office lady once! Anyone else smiling over happenings of mundanity?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Konnichiwa bitches redux

I wanted to insert a clip of the scene where they sing happy birthday in Ikiru but alas I could not find one. You'll just have to rent it.

I'm a few days late but yours truly with the green eyes has been assaulting your thoughts now for three years. Three years! I used to look at bloggers with archives going back three years and think, WOW! what beacons of the blogging community! I'm afraid I am no such beacon.

I do want to take this opportunity (god, don't I sound self-important), however, to thank you for reading and sticking with me, whether it has been for a year, months, or even the past week. To be honest, after my most recent extended absence, I felt like I was returning to a bit of a ghost town and explained it away by telling myself that most of you had either been raptured or were fervent animal lovers fleeing the scene of a violent crime. I can't sing for comments but know that I appreciate them all and usually go back and read them over several times like a big fat dork. I know you don't have to comment but you do. Through your comments, I feel like I've gotten to know little snippets about your lives and even commenters who don't link to blogs but comment often, I feel like I know them and will wonder whether they have stopped reading if I don't see anything from them in a while. Lurkers, I got love for you, too.

As I mentioned in my recent post on Loco's blog, never in a million years did I expect people to read this let alone comment and email and encourage! I don't say that with false modesty either: I had never had a blog, didn't comment on others, and basically had no idea what the fuck I was doing. In fact, I think my heart was actually doing what they call "pounding" when I clicked "publish" on my first post (which is terrifyingly embarrassing but I leave it up so you can read it and yell super awk! in your head). It has turned out more speshal than I could have ever hoped for. Tissue please.

So have a piece of cake, or a green eyed cocktail, tell me what I can do better or what you'd like to hear about, and be glad I am going to end this here before I delve into more uncomfortable touchy-feely territory. It's all hating on salarymen and Sound Princesses from here on out!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Please don't do it anymore

I guess the good times had to come to an end, but I expected more from Tokyo Metro - a wedding, blow out fight, or even double suicide by Creepy and his on-again-off-again wife. Instead, I was greeted with this when I made the mistake of taking a train back in April:

It freaked me out, too. I immediately checked Tokyo Metro's site and it confirmed my worst fears: our favourite creepster is no more and we can now look forward to at least a year of animals being anthropomorphized. Dear readers, I'm sorry, but I'm just not an animal person. This doesn't mean I kick puppies, but I don't have pictures of animals on my computer and I find it a strain to get overly excited about cute animals (although sometimes they get the better of me). I did recently buy a top with a sweet zebra print...does that count?

Maybe it's not a permanent flaw. After all, as a teenager I told my mother that I wasn't a feminist and look at my feministy 'tude now. I wouldn't hold my breath though...

This is kind of an endearing picture, if only because the dog looks so ridiculous flying through the air at us like a furry missile. Nonetheless, I will probably discontinue my dwindling commentary on the Metro's monthly manner posters, unless I find other ones that are a bit more stimulating. So there you have it - I am GEG, evil eyer of salarymen and not quite lover of animals.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Getting Loco

I am over at Loco in Yokohama's blog today where he has kindly asked me to participate in his Back to Life Blog Party. You can check out the post here and don't forget to also check out the other ladies and gentleman who have also, um, joined the party.

If you haven't visited Loco's blog before, be sure to go back through his archives and have a look at some of his gems. There aren't a lot of guy bloggers in Japan getting into the honest nitty gritty of living here and Loco brings a fresh perspective through his passionate writing.

While I am on a roll here, I also want to urge you to buy Quakebook if you haven't already done so (if you have, how about sending some copies as presents?). Regrettably, I was literally unplugged from the internets when the esteemed Our Man started putting this project together so I wasn't able to (try to) participate, but this is such an incredible project I have to urge you to support it.

Japan Standard Time

People sometimes talk about island time and select cultures even have self-deprecating jokes about their inability to keep time. While Japan doesn't have the chillaxed attitude of other countries when it comes to time-keeping - trains are reliable to the minute and people routinely show up before the appointed time - there is a mysterious lack of regard for the timing of certain activities. Namely activities that disrupt my precious sleep. I hope you will forgive me for skipping over those charming white-gloved (literally) politicians who drive around with loud speakers blaring around election time, because while I despise them and their queenly waves, they don't drive around at 2 o'clock in the morning. Construction work, however, is not so courteous.

A short while ago we received a notice that there was going to be some construction work on the water pipes under our street lasting a week between the hours of 8 and 11 p.m. I understand that evening hours were chosen to minimize imposition on residents but isn't 11 at night a tad late to be doing construction work in a semi-residential area? The answer is yes, yes it is. I really wasn't too bothered about the whole thing other than having to remember to shower outside these hours, but if I was a good child-bearing whitie (in the eyes of the beau's mother and family), you can rest assured there would have been some severe raining down of the fiery rage if I had small children that could be woken up. But I'm not and I don't so let's press on.

Although our apartment faces the street, on the first night of construction when I pulled back the curtain, I was shocked to find myself blinded by lights turned up to eleven, almost reminiscent of a filming location. I could have tricked myself into believing it was daytime outside it was so bright. And the noise. Those unforgiving jack hammers sounded as if they were going to come through the window; being on a high enough floor was the only thing to convince me they wouldn't. The construction was so up in my building's face that Mavis was practically held hostage and extricating her from our bike garage involved a rearrangement of part of the construction site. And yet, this I can abide.

All of this pales in comparison to the sheer hell I experienced several weeknights later when even god doesn't know why, the construction did not stop at what I thought was the appointed time. I was hoping to crawl into bed by around midnight but the jackhammering was still going on at five past. I pulled back the curtains. Blinded. They can't be much longer I thought, they must be putting the finishing touches on those pipes. I read for a while as the clock crept towards 1 and those electric tools were still going strong. I began to second guess my clock, thinking that perhaps it was ticking forward at warp speed, contriving to make me believe it was later than it actually was.

I am pretty exhausted by 1 and knowing I have to be up early the next morning doesn't improve my mood. I figure I am so tired I should be able to fall asleep despite the light and noise fiesta extravaganza going on directly below my window. I'm in bed now and it sounds like things are quieting down. I'm starting to drift off when some sadistic motherfucker decides he missed a spot with the jackhammer. I am starting to freak out now. It's between 2 and 3 o'clock in the morning and I have a raging construction site on the other side of a sheet of glass. How is this happening? Why are no other residents complaining? I understand the hesitation to complain of some Japanese people, but surely loud construction work (jackhammers people!) is enough to push someone's buttons. It was sure pushing mine. And yet I did nothing. There I was kicking up a mess with my sheets and so tired I was wide awake, plotting the demise of the construction workers below (yes, I realize it's not their fault).

I texted the beau because he was the only person I knew who would be awake at that hour and frankly, I needed some reassurance that I was awake and not nightmaring this hellish situation. He assured me it was real. I resisted the urge to tell him to hurry home so he could not only witness the situation with his own eyes but tear into the construction workers for me. It got to the point where I had four hours until I had to be up (3 a.m. now) and I was so fucked off and in disbelief that I had heavy duty machinery clanging in my ears that I started talking to myself. Yelling really. There was also some muttering and furious shaking of the head. I spewed about what kind of fucking derelict place is this where construction can happen at 3 in the morning and why the fuck are there no neighbors complaining about it and how in hell did I end up living somewhere that the law allows your ears to be assaulted at all hours AND on weekends and no one does anything about it. Damn you Tokyo!!!

Things spiraled quickly out of control. And yet I did nothing. Instead I crouched on the corner of my bed like a mad woman, wiping the sweat from my lip and panting as I glared out the window at the improbable scene below. Around 3:30 the noise stopped and the lights were flipped out, the only evidence of the crime was newly packed asphalt.

I wanted to go outside so badly, I did, but having to put on a bra and some vaguely sensible clothes topped my desire to unleash the rage. Plus, it's not as if they would have immediately shut down the site at the sight of my crazy ass. I'm justifying not going down really, because I regret that I didn't, effective or not. At least if I had gone down I could have confirmed that what I was seeing was not what I now think may have been a figment of my imagination.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Postcard from the Kaisha: nuclear apocalypse edition

I found myself staring at the form requesting days off retroactively - what to put in the blank under "reason for leave request"? Cramp-inducing fear? Possibility of nuclear destruction?

In addition to these concerns, my secretary has been using her beauty mister per usual. I can't help wondering whether she is using bottled water for it and feeling indignant at the waste, or using tap water, thus making me feel resentful that she is pumping out her own little radioactive cloud over the partition.

She also has the earthquake alarm on her phone set to scare-the-shit-out-of-me loud, and I have been treated to its screams every now and then when an aftershock has rolled in during the work day. On a related note, I have mine set to 5 (Japanese scale) and over - I do not need to know about anything lower than that.

On the day we found out the nuclear reactor broke, people looked at each other with wide eyes as they reached for their coats and tried to quickly tidy things up before taking off. One Professional had the gall to try and get some of us to do work after receiving the notice. He preempted his request with an acknowledgement that we were all to leave the office shortly, but could we not possibly get this one thing done first? I politely brushed off the request. I believed I would be coming back to the office eventually and so resisted the urge to tell him where to stick it.

Throughout that afternoon and evening, a stream of automated "disaster safety" emails came in, not saying much at all except to await further instructions. At long last, a longer explanation came through: the Kaisha had not received any special information prompting the call to leave the office but as a result of careful consideration of several factors (among them the nuke situation and the messed up public transportation), it had been deemed best to empty the office for the rest of the day. Barring any negative developments, we would receive word to come to the office as usual the following morning at 6am. For the next few days until my scheduled trip, I received an email in the morning telling me to come in, to which I replied that I simply could not. In case you are wondering, I had already booked and had approved a week off for my trip, but for those extra days I was at home with the curtains drawn and my hair getting knotty, I had to use some of my precious paid holidays (an umbrella term for days to be used for both vacation and sickness - there is no differentiation). The Kaisha has also taken a hard line when it comes to asking for unpaid vacation in the event I run out of days. Fear of nuclear meltdown is not a plausible appeal to this rule.

I understand where this stems from (blind stoicism), and I don't really blame the Kaisha. On the other hand, expecting the few foreign nationals you employ who do not speak Japanese to be able to soldier on with little information to go on (those disaster safety emails only started being translated into almost passable English about ten emails in) is an unforgiving stance. If similar shit had gone down overseas, you can bet the Japanese living there would be on the first plane out. Again though, this is not really about whether you should stay or not, but the level of tolerance surrounding what a person decides to do in order to feel safe. There was no precedence here and no contingency plan for how to carry on with business after something like this happens. I'm lucky I had planned and announced my trip for the sole reason that to the Kaisha it didn't look as if I was running away.

In the Kaisha bathroom it is also business as usual. I got Sound Princessed several times, which is when you are peeing for all to hear and someone in a neighboring stall turns on the old SP to silence you. I was pretty fucked off. Here we are in a crisis and these women are still concerned about another woman hearing them pee. Not to mention the power that could be saved if we all forwent the SP. One of these days I am going to unplug all the toilets. I can't wait.

I am used to the relative dimness around the Kaisha now. With the exception of signs telling us to buy our own bottled water and tea, it all looks quite normal. Until, of course, a big after shock comes, prompting a piercing overhead speaker to announce several moments prior that a fair amount of shaking is expected so please ready yourselves. Then during the shaking, the speaker keeps telling you to remain inside the building. Eventually the swaying stops and the speaker tells you to await information on any fires and then that the elevators have been stopped. I can appreciate the knowledge of an earthquake before it happens, but that alarm has got to go before I end up doing more damage than letting out a drop of pee.

I will admit to googling information about my office building, its age, and how up to date its earthquake architecture is. This is not stuff I want to know and it is not going to aid in any decision. I am here to stay. It is scary but what are the alternatives? Go somewhere and get hit by a car? No, I will stay. I think I am finally starting to think like a Tokyo resident, or at least a stellar Kaisha-ite.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Dark days

It was my five year anniversary with Japan the week of 3/11, and what a show she put on for the occasion. I wonder what all the Iwasherefirst-gaijin think of the mass exodus of "flyjin." I suspect they are tickled pink, feeling as if this disaster has really separated the worthy from the unworthy. Because of course the gaijin community here needs yet another line along which to divide itself. (And it goes without saying that you only deserve to be here as a foreigner if you can carry on per usual with your chin up while the country is embroiled in a large-scale disaster.)

I have been trying to reconcile my guilt for leaving my home in its hour of need to go ahead with rather timely travel plans booked months ago. Yes, home. Tokyo will not be my home forever and while I may not appear to be her most likely resident, I am one. I have a healthcare plan here, an employer, shitloads of taxes to pay, an apartment lease, a vehicle (albeit small, two-wheeled, and pink), bank accounts and credit cards, a very expensive kimono, a secretary who drives me crazy and of course, what for all intents and purposes is family. It was not exactly a viable option for me to just up and leave, although I certainly can't begrudge those who have. I did, however, have a ticket out for a few days, which I decided to use after much pillow biting, if only to restore a measure of my sanity that had seemed to evaporate all at once when I was sent home early from work one day with no assurance that it wasn't because they thought we were destined for a major nuclear disaster.

You never think it will happen to you, but you should. (Morbidly enough, this sentiment put me in mind of a self-defense class in high school where the instructors told us to assume we would be raped at some point.) The sheer number of people who have contacted my family, from mildly estranged relatives to the woman who runs the Italian grocer we always shop at, was so humbling it physically hurt, causing my throat to squeeze up and tears to quiver in place, threatening to spill over as I read another email from my mom telling me who had called that day. Would I have done the same? I always tell myself that I am so disconnected from everything and everyone when in fact, there are a lot of people looking out for me. I will try to be better, but I still can't promise much improvement from the shockingly rude inner dialogue that seems to flow of its own accord when I am here at home in Tokyo. I haven't verbally assaulted anyone recently, so maybe my temper has been tempered.

I count myself extremely lucky to have had very few brushes with real fear in my years until now. Vastly different from millions of others on this earth, if I were to pinpoint the times when I've feared for anything close to my life, it would have to be a couple adventurous family vacations in New Zealand involving a lake and later, a volcanic mountain (when I mention this to my family, they are surprised that I felt so "strongly" about the whole thing, so maybe memories change).

Sometime around midday some days into the tragedy, the Kaisha suddenly sent out an email ordering us all home within the next hour, citing vague reasons. When they finally got it together to send out an English translation, some poor soul had thought to translate this vagueness into "one of the reactors has broken." Well then. The secretaries started tittering and one particularly panic-stricken co-worker informed me that his wife had already spotted the radioactive cloud creeping over Chiba from one of the plant explosions. Well then.

Up until this point, it had been a bleak few days, with the news on during all waking hours, reports of friends leaving just beginning to filter in, and the overwhelming sense that I no longer had any interest in a trip I had so looked forward to only days before. The initial days of work after the earthquake went by, with my concentration at an all time low and one eye on news websites and a couple tweeters who seemed to have overwhelmingly good sense. I felt like if I went on my trip, I wouldn't be able to keep an eye on things at home, as if my watching it unfold would somehow make it better. As a co-worker and I walked to the station together that day, my until-then calm began to swell into a thick panic. He stopped to buy a face mask and insisted we take the closest underground passage, thus limiting our exposure outside. Was this really happening? Across the globe and 24 years ago when I was little, my parents staged demonstrations against nuclear energy and now here I was in Japan of all places on the edge of a nuclear crisis.

Parting ways at the station was horrible. Co-worker indicated that he would be moving his family out of the Kanto area and implored me to do the same. We shook hands and he held on too long in that this-is-goodbye-too-much-eye-contact way and I started to get choked up. What the fuck, I know. I was there. The dark edges of panic started to creep to my peripheral when I got home and saw the beau. Nevertheless, I thought, even though there is no immediate reason for us to leave Tokyo, let's just head south for a couple days to put some distance between us and the situation. I would much rather leave and feel like an over reactive idiot on the way home than stay and realize we should have left and now ohmygod we can't. I couldn't even get over the roadblock in my imagination where we would actually have to leave Tokyo - for that would mean everyone else would have to leave Tokyo - and how exactly do you propose we evacuate 13 million people? That's what I thought. It's so unthinkable it almost makes me giggle, except I wasn't laughing, I was fucking petrified.

After a little half-hearted begging on my part, I realized the beau was not to be convinced that we should leave Tokyo, and in case there was any question, by god, I'm going to work tonight. I considered working myself into a hysterical fit and throwing myself in his path on his way out the door, but inherently understood that that would be a futile endeavour as well. Besides, I had to save some of the ugly crying for later. Which I did. That afternoon I began a Skype marathon so that it felt like for the next 72 hours I was always on with someone. First order of business: break down in front of my parents and wail and snuffle about how the beau wouldn't budge. Never one to care whether I marry or not, my dad gave me permission to relate to the beau that going somewhere with me would be looked upon as a personal favour to him and would weigh heavily in the scales when it came time to give our official union his blessing. Nice sentiment but I knew the beau would see through it. Friends called asking for advice I was not qualified to give, and I knew not what to tell them. My brother who is busy getting through school and his own life even seemed worried, and made sure to keep more in touch than he had as of late.

I was told work would continue on as normal bar any further developments and I stopped going in. I couldn't. How could I possibly give my all to work when there was news to be closely watched and hands to be wrung. Evenings were spent alone keeping vigilent watch over the TV and trying to intersperse that with some mind-numbing shows from the States. There were none of those variety shows or close-ups of steaming food on TV, it was news 24 hours across the channels (as an aside, I would recommend turning off the TV before starting to have sexy times). I began to watch Twitter for the first time ever, finding a few people to act as my guiding lights. Personal hygiene went down the tubes and I tried to drum up an appetite (this was a personal first).

I appealed to the beau's mom, thinking she might hear my desire to leave Tokyo for a few days and command the beau into action. No such luck - she basically intoned that if there was a large-scale meltdown, we would all be fucked anyway. I know my parents were worried but they did a pretty good job of not telling me to come home, only that they would take care of us if we did need to leave. At one point my dad suggested I at least get stuff packed up and ready in the event we did need to leave but as I looked around the apartment, the possibility of trying to tie up our life here in 24 hours was was the cool kids call "ridic". I also realized that if we did really have to leave, I would be able to simply take off with a passport and the clothes on my back. All those possessions amassed over the last few years suddenly didn't seem very worth it at all.

The beau would come home in the middle of the night and I would still be up. Sometimes there would be crying and others very calm and practical conversations. He told me to go ahead with the trip because even if it did come to leaving, he would be able to get out faster on his own. We talked contingency plans and meeting in places like Hokkaido and Korea. I slowly came to understand that me leaving for Osaka for a few days would do nothing if it got really bad and furthermore, it was much cheaper to go on the planned trip. I finally decided 24 hours before we were scheduled to leave that I would in fact, leave. I was devastated to be departing without the beau but there was no moving him, not even further south. Rather than remain in Tokyo with fear giving me the trots daily and a never ending haggard appearance on Skype, it seemed best to get some distance, if only for a small piece of mind.

As soon as I set the ball in motion, I started to get all my affairs in order, as they say. Halted preparation for the trip aside, I set up an email and Skype account for the beau and wrote out a page-long information sheet with passwords, addresses, and numbers, and laid his passport on top. A small suitcase was placed nearby. On my last night here, I was up as usual when the beau got home and we sat around with some wine until it got light. I was seeing it get light a lot those days and even after only three hours sleep I would be upright ready to take in more bad news.

The beau kept reassuring me that by the time I got back from "vacation," the reactor situation would be under control. I made him promise to bolt at the smallest sign of something bigger. As the elevator opened I managed to hold it together as we said goodbye and only after the doors had closed on the brown door to our life together, did my face get hot and my eyes wet.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

In the aftermath

Embarassingly enough, I was going to write about my day yesterday after Tokyo tried to shake us from her like the pesky residents we are, but that feels too trite right now, even for me, in light of how devastating the last 24 hours have been. And continue to be...

I'm safe, as is the beau and our family and friends in Aomori. I'm not sure what to do with myself at the moment, other than stay glued to the news while the aftershocks roll in and out. I've often lamented how lonely and isolating it can be here at times, but the number of people who have contacted me from overseas and have contacted my parents to make sure we are all right makes me weak with gratitude. Clutching onto a fence on the sidewalk yesterday to ground myself to the pavement so desperate to buck me as the surrounding buildings visibly swayed and shuttered as if a quick breeze was blowing through, I wasn't convinced it would ever end.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Please do it like a schoolgirl

How can you not like this month's edition of Tokyo Manners, there are schoolgirls featured! Why these lovely lasses haven't made it onto the posters earlier, I cannot imagine. The schoolgirl image here is like the popular girl at school - girls want to be her, boys want to fuck her (or should that be infantile women/pervy men?! I'm not judging). It also looks like Family Creepy is still together, despite his philandering and her brushes with hot young men with impeccable manners. I think even Creepy Baby is growing and before long will be sporting hair and glasses just like his daddy, and creepin' on strangers.

Anything to add gentle readers? I'm out.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dear Dude on a Bike,

I got home last night and felt both shaken and ashamed for my words. I don't know why you decided to bike on the right side instead of the left, which even pedestrians seem to understand, or why you stubbornly insisted on staying on the inside of the sidewalk so that we played a game of bicycle chicken, our headlights coming within inches of each other. You looked a little surprised when I didn't yield to you, but you should know I have been dealing with this move by salarymen as a pedestrian for several years now. I'm not sure why I seem to attract your type - refusing to budge, determined to make me go around - maybe it's because I have it out for rude salarymen. I wish you would tell me why, in all my years as a pedestrian, what could have ended in collision usually ends in a smile and maybe a "sorry" as we both try to zig zag out of each other's way, but here in Tokyo, it ends in a standstill and maybe a rough elbow.

I probably sound entitled to you, Dude on a Bike, and I think I am to the extent that I should be able to get down the street most of the time without being forced to bend to the will of an ornery salaryman or a Vuitton-toting bitch. Tell your friends to cut me some slack and let's try to cooperate as we coexist on Tokyo's streets. That said, I'm sorry I told you that you should be on the other side of the sidewalk and that you're an idiot, most people don't deserve that. This is my second verbal confrontation with a stranger in Japan and while after the first, I felt smug for responding so appropriately, this time I wasn't provoked by your words, but by your actions, and I am shocked at how quickly those nasty words came shooting out of my mouth. You may be an asshole, but I should have refrained from calling you an idiot.

The other thing I wanted to tell you, was that I hope you don't make the mistake of thinking all foreigners are barbarians after your encounter with me, for there are gaijin much gentler than I. I'm also not that bad in the scheme of barbaric foreigners: I don't look at all-you-can-drink plans as a way to get my money's worth, or ride the train while exclaiming loudly as I make sweeping generalizations about Japanese people, or try to school other foreigners on the proper way to "navigate the intricacies of Japanese culture". I probably act meaner than I look, but I never claimed to be perfect. I know it's hard not to equate one irate foreigner with all of the others, I mean we all look alike, but just as I won't write off every Japanese guy as a bull-headed asshole, I hope you'll realize that my frustration and anger come not from being a foreigner, but from being a girl constantly shoved around. Deciding to say those nasty words to you probably does come from being a foreigner, though.

With any luck, you will have written me off as a slightly crazy whitie who has maybe reached the end of her rope. That's certainly what it feels like sometimes. So again, Dude on a Bike, I'm sorry for my words said in anger. Next time, maybe you can consider biking on what is generally considered the correct side and not threatening to collide with others.

The one where I put my hand in the toilet

Commuting by bike is hardcore stuff - at any given time I am travelling around the city with at least one extra outfit in my bag - and don't even ask about the shoe colony breeding under my desk at work. If only I wasn't such a schvitzer, I could be one of those fabulous women wearing heels and a skirt on her bike, barely breaking a sweat as she glides through the streets. I tried her out for a couple months, and although I felt infinitely hotter (in both senses of the word), she is strictly a weekend friend for me. So I wear scrubs on my bike now and get changed in a bathroom stall every morning, which of course comes with its own set of neuroses in a place where you should not hear anything that goes on behind the stall door. Fuck, save me from myself.

Every morning I place my bag on a shelf in the stall and almost every morning when I pull earrings out of my bag the thought crosses my mind that one day I am going to drop them in the toilet. I then make a little promise to myself to start my accessorizing when I am safely away from the toilet's beckoning depths from the following day. That promise? It gets made every day. It's also not without good reason.

When the beau and I first shacked up together, we lived in one of those charming "one room" bachelor pads, which was probably around 20m². The "one room" (or wan roomu) is not named as such because it is a one bedroom apartment, but rather because the entire thing is literally one big (actually not so much) room. It is one of my greatest regrets that I didn't document that time in our lives with photographs of the apartment at the height of our residence there, maybe throwing in a couple weird bed shots like John and Yoko, for it was truly stacked from the floor up. The bathroom was a "unit bath" (yunitto basu), which I loosely define as my ass will hit the wall if I bend over. Those of you not in Japan may have encountered one of these beauties before, favourite that they are of the ubiquitous Japanese business hotel. So imagine that, if you will, and then shrink it a little more, and you have our cream-coloured, seamless all-in-one bathroom. Not surprisingly, the toilet had a nasty habit of tempting my cosmetics to leap from the narrow shelf above it to a watery grave below. I almost shed real tears the first time my face cream ended up in there, bobbing around and daring me to pull it out and pretend like nothing had happened. So I guess you could say I have experience with this kind of thing and I've come out of it with the knowledge that unless you close the lid while literally powdering your nose in the mirror, that shit is going to wind up soaked.

One thing our unit bath toilet didn't have, was a flushing sensor, which adds a whole other element to the fishing game. I've toyed with fate too long, made too many broken promises, so of course last week my bag falls over, puking into the toilet, if you will, a hair clip and an antique locket (and my pride, if you must know). The hair clip I can do without but the locket? It was given to me by a close family friend for my Bat Mitzvah and while it spent about ten years being too grown up for me, my style has now come around. There was no time to think, really, I knew I had about 20 seconds tops before the ever-efficient toilet would sense my panicked body in front of it and whisk the locket away to, I don't know, somewhere off Odaiba. In my hand plunged, out came the locket, and stall peace was restored. Except now you can add sticking my hand in the toilet to the growing list of things I've done behind the stall door at work.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A lesson in communication

or was it compassion? I get the two so mixed up these days.

It's a well known fact that I am a territorial ho and have been feeling a little put out recently to hear Baby Mama talking to the beau's parents using informal language, even going so far as to call them mama and papa. If you held a truth gun to my head, I would tell you hearing her address them in that way makes me throw up a little in my mouth. Despite my interpreting duties at our recent international conference, I tried to keep one ear on BM to gather more evidence in my favour. I haven't yet worked out how exactly this is in my favour.

In our post-conference debriefing, I lamented for the annoyingth time that BM was all up in their informal grill and woe is me the left behind whitie who will never truly be part of the family. Why the beau decided to finally set me straight on the subject, I will never know, but I have a strong inkling it's because I am so persistent, if not an annoying motherfucker, on the subject. I won't lie and say that I don't know why I feel so done wrong by - I am an accomplished young lady, docile when I want to be - because it's pretty obvious and fairly pathetic. I've been trumped by a baby. The wedding was one thing, the official signing of papers does nothing to one-up my history with the beau, particularly since I haven't given anyone the impression that I am gagging to get my kokkon (read cock-on). So why this feeling when I don't even want children of my own at the moment? Because I can't beat a granddaughter at this stage without producing one myself. The beau sits at the top of a line of boys, each one expected to be a girl. The beau's parents were dying for a daughter and while I am an OK substitute, a granddaughter (and her mother) is some tough competition.

So there we were, me whining like a door coming off its hinges and the beau setting me straight. According to him, BM's casual form of speaking and address is her strategy for getting in with the family. I've had years to do so, but as someone suddenly married and producing offspring with no prior contact, she uses informality to try and get closer, faster. And to show that she is a kind and easy-going person. Does this mean I should have been employing informal language all along? No. It was then pointed out to me that the beau's parents get that I take pains to speak politely to them and realize what a challenge that is, which now that I have heard it, I wonder why I would have ever thought otherwise. Of course they understand the implications of the way I address them, they are Japanese of a certain generation. Just because they aren't giving me a running commentary on what they are taking note of while we are all together, they do see what's going on.

Now, should I continue on in the same way when I speak with them? Not necessarily. The beau thinks they would be thrilled to be addressed by me as mama and papa, because it denotes a certain closeness. While okaasan and otoosan is fine and perfectly appropriate, I can get away with the more informal versions. How to do this without feeling weird? If they were so attuned to my utterances before, would this not seem like a sudden move? I do not know. But I have made a point to start addressing them this way when I email them, and when we are in person, I am going to start making an effort to use informal language, even if it feels wrong at first.

I had always wondered at what point it would be appropriate for me to speak casually with the beau's parents, mostly because they are so laid back with me and it feels utterly awkward to be the only person in a group using polite forms of Japanese. We'll see how it goes. I have to say that at the end of our conversation, I felt a little bad for BM, she's just trying to make it through what is a pretty fucking awkward situation - god knows what's going through her head - and her communication style speaks to the pains she is going to to ingratiate herself with everyone (granted, I prefer to be called "princess" rather than "G-chan"). The beau's parents brought an amazeballs gift for my parents, which I will talk about another time, but suffice to say, neither BM or her family is getting anything similar. This, the beau told me, speaks to his parents' affection for me - that they would offer such a gift on meeting my parents for the first time (and no ring on it). This could not have failed to make an impression on BM, so I think it's time to cut her some slack. I certainly won't be dialing down the snark, but I will try to be a little more thoughtful when it comes to viewing her as someone to admonish.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

It's a family affair

In last week's Last Word from Metropolis, Tokyo's purveyor of all things cultural and hip to today's generation of expat taste makers, the author in his post-apocalyptic vision of Japan predicted: "The number of international marriages will explode, leading the mass media to coin a cute word for them." How can there not already be a cute word for international marriages? They are the hot new way of the future, aren't they? I put forward to you "kokkon," which is an interbreeding of the words "kokusai" (international) and "kekkon" (marriage), pronounced cock-on. Feel free to pepper your speech with it, dear readers. I don't expect it to garner the widespread use that Dan Savage's "Santorum" has, but we can still try to fertilize the shit out of our conversations with it. Alternatively, if you have a better idea (which won't be super hard), holler at me in the comments.

And speaking of kokkon, families beau and geisha did sit down as planned and try to hammer out a deal for the transfer of one white disobedient office ho'. Me, in other words. It wasn't half as barbaric as I expected and they didn't even look at the size of my ankles when deciding on a fair price. Weddings and concrete plans were hardly touched on at all in fact(thanks for attending BM and BD!!), and the conversation remained fairly close to the surface most of the time. I can barely remember what we talked about, which is the occupational hazard of the sole interpreter in the room ("yes dad, let me just explain to them that you were only joking about going to a sento together"). Instead of thinking about lulls in the conversation as awkward, I simply took the opportunity to suck down some more alcohol, which the beau was sure to ply me with as well as securing a steady supply of food to my plate. I'm surprised he didn't just start feeding me from his chopsticks quite frankly. The one time I snuck off to the bathroom, I came back to the whole table trying to look up "Saitama" in my old crusty electronic dictionary (definition: don't go!) and debating the finer points of whether a yakiniku joint should be called a restaurant or a yakunikuya-san ("yakiniku joint"). As you can see, there wasn't much time for emotional chow-chow about the future.

A few notes my addled brain managed to take:

-Do not sit at the end of the table when you are the centre of attention

-DO sit between your parents so that one doesn't miss out on entire chunks of conversation

-DO eat at a restaurant where dishes are shared

-DO drink alcohol

-Do not allow babies, unless you want to provide a cute focus for conversational dead air

-Do not not discuss seating arrangements beforehand

-Do not worry about what the fuck you are saying in Japanese, trust that whatever mangled shit you've pooped out will have to suffice

-Do not plan to bring a photo album of snaps of you and your lover from the past few years (both as conversational fodder and an old "fuck you" to those in the family who may have had a shotgun coupling) and then run out of time to make one

-Do explain to your parents beforehand that any comments not satisfactory to the interpreter will be censored out (see: comments about naked communal bathing)

-Do think of a few conversational topics to interject with if the need arises

-Do not beat yourself up about it when those topics fly out the window as soon as you start translating for everyone

-Do come to peace with the fact that some stuff once processed through your dirty and perfunctory mind and mouth will simply not sound as interesting as it did in its original language

I really wish the beau and I could have attended the much more sombre and official Meeting of the Parents 2010 for BM and BD, just so I would have some frame of reference for what one of these affairs might look like for a 100% Yamato Coupling (trademark pending), minus the oven bun and plus way more time getting to know each other. I entered into this wondering whether it would be easier or harder being a mixed couple with no language crossover. It seemed like it could go either way: harder because of those language and cultural barriers that bring people who share them together, or easier because of the same differences and freedom from having to act according to the dictates of Japanese manners and decorum. I now see, and probably could have foreseen then, that none of that really matters, much of it depends on how naturally people gel with each other. Still, I find myself fervently wishing that there was a magic language potion. My family is incredibly dear to me and it's deflating knowing that in the future, new members of my family will not be able to communicate with the original members. I suppose though, that I could just as easily have ended up with someone from a family of royal assholes, in which case speaking different languages would seem like a blessing.

I came away from the evening with about a thousand feelings all nattering away inside my head deconstructing what could have been said, what wasn't, and the meaning behind what was. I'm not really in a fair position to judge the evening, it wasn't for me after all, and if I were to go by the glowing reports from each side received later, I would say it went very well. There's nothing specific I would have changed (the inclusion of BM and BD maybe, and that's a very big maybe), except maybe my great expectations. I didn't think we would all go riding off into the sunset together in a stretch limo but I did have some private inarticulated expectations about the evening. If I can try to look at it with some distance, it did go well and I'm not sure what kind of amazing experience and conversation I thought would take place by putting these two caring families together with no common language for one night (one night only!), not to meet again for the foreseeable future. It can't all be accomplished in the space of three hours and you are a fool to think it can.

The only true fail part of evening was at the very end when the beau and I were seeing everyone off before we could run back inside to drink away the stress and dissect the evening in detail. My dad had taken it upon himself as we were getting up from the table to issue some kind parting remarks (with no prior approval) to the beau's dad, which I tried to approximate. Maybe this would have been the time to say "official goodbyes" before we went outside for photos and cabs. All I know is that the photos were done, I was having a word with BD and BM, and I turn around to see the beau's parents running into the middle of the street for a cab without a word. I think the beau had told them to hurry up because taxis were scarce that night but it was a little disconcerting to then have to explain to my parents that "I guess we had said our goodbyes."

In the days following, I passed along my parents' regards to the beau's mom and she in turn said how well it had all gone. When I mentioned that it would have been nice to have more time together, she suggested that next time, we all go to an onsen for a few days, which I couldn't help but laugh about as it would mean my dad realizing his ongoing joke about both families visiting a public bath together (yes, I come from one of those families).

After reading everyone's supportive comments on the BM/BD debacle, I started to feel pretty bad. Granted, I'm glad I didn't get any "bitch, you cray cray" comments, but it did give me pause on the whole thing. In the end, it wasn't ideal having them there, but with such a small window of time, I did want my parents to meet everyone. I will say though, that having less people and no baby may have encouraged a different conversation, simply because there are less faces around the table. We had planned a dinner the following week with my just parents and BM/BD, but ultimately had to cancel it. I found out later that when the beau had cancelled, BD had said that BM's parents had been slated to join the dinner! THANKS FOR THE NOTICE BUDDY BOY!!! And thank fuck we had to cancel anyway, because obviously I would have been tha-rilled to interpret through a dinner with a set of parents I don't even know. The beau admonished me for saying as much, as did my mom, because wasn't it just obvious that BM/BD were trying to pull out all the family stops? Yes, yes I do have a black heart. So there you have it, no major international incidents were caused or treaties terminated. I have a slightly new perspective on things now thanks to a later conversation with the beau and although I am still a jealous biatch who wants to be number one at everything, I am working on being OK with there not always being a number one (more on this later).

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Untitled 2/12

I was kind of hoping there would be a poster this month specifically targeting the Secretary next to me, the quiet one, who has developed the unfortunate habit of letting out single coughs throughout the day without covering her mouth. It brings to mind the brilliant character in Little Britain who does the "computer says no" routine. It would be funny if it wasn't so tragic.

I'm not too much of a priss when it comes to germs, but really? Not covering your mouth during a cough? Just bad manners. I even cover my mouth when I am coughing whilst enjoying Mavis's leather saddle. I keep semi-glancing over at the Secretary when she coughs hoping this will instill some fear or shame, but to no avail. This is the Secretary who tries not to make even the smallest amount of noise when hanging up the phone or opening an envelope. How is it that we have ladies gargling (presumably to fend off colds) at the sink at work in the morning, really getting into it and making all sorts of disgusting sphincter-tightening sounds, and then we have people walking down the street coughing and hacking openly at unsuspecting passersby? This is definitely one of those "Japan is an enigma" moments.*

Thoughts on the poster? It actually looks like Creepy was getting ready to play grab ass and this poor woman who works for Subway corporate HQ is just putting some physical distance between them utilizing the objects at hand, like any good salarywoman would. We all know if it was me, I would be actively ramming the suitcase against his shins without a second thought.

*If the sarcasm was not apparent, you should probably get out while you can.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Down, hand!

So this year, for whatever reason (shinenkai are the new bonenkai?!), the Kaisha decided to pour its alleged heart into a shinenkai (new year party) instead of the usual whorey Christmas mash-up. I hope you didn't think I had forgotten to regale you with tales of out-and-out drunkenness punctuated by awkward conversations and feigned enthusiasm on my part.

Scene: last week some time. Enter: me, stage right. Or whatevs. This year we are seated instead of standing (except for a cocktail reception) and gathering in January rather than December, but I have nothing new to report that hasn't already been said. I am so used to the performances put on by junior members of the Kaisha and the faux sluttery displayed by the females of this group for thier validation as contributing members of society, that it almost doesn't register any more other than as a time-keeper. The secretaries are doing some kind of para para meets Beyonce dancing on stage in hot pants and midriff-baring tee-shirts? Time for me to make an exit.

The one thing that did occur to me this year, however, is that I have a naughty hand. Not naughty as in I-can't-stop-copping-a-feel-with-every-Professional-who-ignores-me but as in doesn't listen to instructions and tends to go rogue when I am not devoting full attention to its exact location.

Japan is a lesson in minimal physical contact. Regardless of the compulsory touching and crotch-pressing that gets done on trains (if it can't be avoided, it doesn't count), there is very little casual touching that goes on between people. I continue to feel like an awkward gaijin lump when, after almost a year apart, we see the beau's parents and nothing more than a "welcome home" passes between them/us. Or when I see a Japanese-Japanese friend (not to be confused with a Japanese friend who was educated overseas or is some kind of hippie) after a span of two years and we stop short with half a metre between us. Exceptions between families and friends aside that I'm sure you could give me, nowhere is this no-contact culture more prevalent than at work. Tell that to my right hand.

As we know, at work the good people of the Kaisha are safe from me in my small white ghetto (population: 1), but let me loose during a schmoozey cocktail hour before dinner and there's no telling what my hand will get up to. I tried to implement my personal one-woman PR tactics and unconciously stepped it up a notch with some good old-fashioned arm petting. I don't know where I learned this behaviour from (Mad Men perhaps) but give me a drink in one hand and my other hand will get lonely and start travelling sans visa to the arm of any male to my right with whom I am engaged in conversation. Now it's not like I put these guys into a death grip or anything, I do have my nails to think about after all, but I can't help myself from an occasional pat or short-spanned laying of the hand on the shoulder when talking to someone. What can I say? It's my thang and in some places may even be considered personable or charming. Not at the Kaisha, however.

My hand was given the side stink-eye, looks of surprise, shock, and horror, and unmistakable eyebrow twitches akin to having something uncomfortable on your face (a fly? sweat?) during a job interview but not being able to do anything about it. Picture me straining to act sociable, friendly, and normal, and believing myself to be exactly those things with the help of my wine, and then, oh! There goes that creepy hand, creepin up some poor Professional's arm. I don't know what my hand was thinking! There I was talking to men I have worked for for a decent amount of time and my hand thinks it's appropriate to lightly touch their upper arm while trying to emphasize some point about the weather. If it wouldn't have looked completely cuckoo I would have used my left hand to restrain my right. There I am, talking, smiling, nodding, and there goes my arm, Oh! No you don't. No, I didn't.

By the end of the evening, if any Professionals I knew made eye contact with me from across the way, I would immediately scoot over to them and try to make small talk. This includes the guy who wants me to set him up with my non-existent lady friends and the guy who thinks I am dating down. When facing permanent ostracization, it is not the time to be picky. Funny how none of them have anything to say to me and are looking kind of surprised that I singled them out. Last time they ever make eye contact with me! The night was a smashing success really. You know how I know? On the way to powder my tall nose, a group of Secretaries in my department were all posed for a group photo and as I passed by, a couple of them shrieked for me to jump in "because you're so cute." These are women who will barely say a thing to me when we pass in the hall and with whom I haven't exchanged more than perfunctory greetings. At least me and possibly my cleavage will be forever remembered as "that Whitie" when the Secretaries are showing the photos to their new husbands and babies a few years from now. Success at last!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Please do it again in 2011

Did the guy who designs these posters send this one to the printers after a bonenkai party? The angle on that poor foreign woman is all wrong in the first picture: what happened to her armpit? Did that giant spotted muu muu gobble it up? And what's with that huge beaver tail mound of hair overwhelming her left side? A rendering of what her hair looks like when she turns her head?

This is all wrong. I would say that it looks like a white male eikawa teacher designed this portrayal of the Evil White Woman in Japan but I can't even bring myself to resort to what is one of the oldest and most tired shots in the book - gaijin girl vs. gaijin guy: let's take out all our misery and insecurities on each other!!!

Who knows, maybe she is a member of Japan's national volleyball team. Or maybe a Russian sumo wrestler on his way to the hairdresser. I'm all out of ideas...

Saturday, January 1, 2011

My tampon overfloweth

Happy New Year gentle readers! May your 2011 be filled with all that you desire. And welcome to anyone clicking over from the CNNGo article. I've been deep in hiding with a visit from my parents but I had to come out briefly when I received an email notifying me of this humble blog's inclusion in the CNNGo list (I am truly flattered). I also came out of hiding long enough to discover (shock, horror) that GEG has been categorized as a "tampon overflow" blog on a forum, which really tickles me pink. What does that mean anyway, do I talk about feminine hygiene products too much? Maybe it was my unhealthy obsession with the Sound Princess?! Either way, thank you, sweet readers, for your patronage in 2010- really, my tampon overfloweth, and I appreciate your support. I'm not sure how I made it onto the list but if you'd like to recommend a Japan blog that isn't on my (by no means comprehensive) list to the right, please do so in the comments and let's share the rub.