I would like to give a sincere thanks to everyone who commented on my blog last week. It was very encouraging to hear so many nice things from so many nice people. Please don’t be a stranger. You’re welcome to drop a line anytime!
This week we started a summer dress code for the office, known as “cool-biz.” Cool-biz is very popular throughout Japanese businesses during the summer months. Because the heat and humidity are so intense people are allowed to dress a little more casually. And because we’re still in the midst of an energy crisis, the summer fashion started early to keep our air cons off.
In short, for men, jackets and ties are optional. Furthermore, we’re allowed to wear short sleeve dress shirts. Now you know what my next paycheck will be spent on. The top button of our shirts may also remain undone. However business trousers, shirts and shoes are still required.
All week I sported the cool-biz look and loved it. I was especially fond of leaving my jacket at home. It’s amazing how hot one can get with a wool jacket on. However I did feel naked without a necktie. I even felt a bit strange as a tuft of chest hair was on display for the students. I noticed many of them staring at my golden curls.
While I do enjoy wearing neckties, I think I’ll be leaving them off for the duration of cool-biz, now through the end of September. It’s just a real treat. And I will be even more excited to put a tie back on come this fall.
Saturday morning I taught our most advanced lesson. The students divided in half and were to present a proposal to the class. I listened closely as two of the students stood in the front of the class and presented. However midway through their speech I became aware of the sounds I was making. I sounded Japanese. In Japanese culture it is expected that you give verbal confirmation that you’re listening. Generally this comes in the form of, “hmm” “mmm-hmm” or “uh-huh.”
I have long made these sounds when listening to a Japanese person speak. Today though was different as I was perfectly synced with the man sitting next to me. For several minutes he and I both made the “mmm-hmm” sound in perfect unison. Over and over we again nodded our heads and said, “mmm-hmm.” “Mmm-hmm, mmm-hmm, mmm-hmm,”. Eventually I couldn’t hold back and I broke out in laughter. I tried to explain to my students why this was funny, but it was lost on them. I collected myself and asked them to continue. “Hmm.”
In another, brief bit of news, I was again reminded I’m living in a non-English speaking country. I called an American bank today to ask some questions. Midway through the call, as I was being transferred for the twelfth time, I thought to myself, “you’re a pretty articulate fella, Alex.” “…in English,” was my next natural thought. In Japan I am lucky if I can walk to the counter in McDonald’s, point at the menu, and say the equivalent of, “I want this, please.” Yet in my own native language I can make even the most arrogant call representative humbled. If only I could translate this skill…
Saturday after work we had a farewell party for one of our Japanese teachers, Sara-Sensei. It was a touching departure for a really good teacher and a wonderful person. Sara and I clicked very well, she was unusual for a Japanese person as she really enjoyed friendly teasing. She also has one of the best sarcastic senses of humor I’ve ever come across, a real rarity, especially in Japan. She’s leaving to do missionary work in Peru. Best of luck, Sara!
On Sunday I played futsal with Moto and our team. We had a rematch against a friend and his really good team. Unfortunately they still beat us almost every game, but the games were much closer than our previous meeting. Here’s hoping round three turns out right.
I was very excited to play on Sunday because I had just picked up some cleats. It was amazing running up and down the field and being able to cut on a dime. I was even more thrilled when I began to outrun the other team towards the end of the day. I may not have the best footwork, but my stamina is tough to match.
Monday I ran my usual errands. I spent more time than usual at the supermarket. I have recently taken an interest in eating vegetables. I’m making an effort to eat fresh veggies every day now. I walked up and down the aisles feeling the products looking for the freshest and most ripe foods. When I got home with my loot I set to blanching vegetables. Blanching, as I learned that morning, is a way to cook vegetables. You briefly boil the veggies and then move them to a bowl of ice water. I meant to cook enough food for lunch the next day but ended up eating most everything as I pulled it from the ice water. Delicious.
I have been able to survive and occasionally flourish in Japan. This is despite not being able to speak the local language. I have found success through being observant. While I have no clue what the clerk at the store literally asked me, I have figured out which answer he wants to hear. The clerk, like so many other things, exhibit patterns.
Noticing patterns can be indefinitely useful. I’ve been able to function well in Japan by finding patterns. Sometimes it only takes a moment to notice a pattern. Other times it’s taken months. Regardless, when you’re expecting a repeated action you can adjust well. For example, the clerk at the grocery store is first going to greet me, which I return to her. She will then ask if I have a member’s card, which I don’t. Next she’ll read out the subtotal so fast that it sounds like one long word. I’ll save time by looking at the register and pulling out the appropriate cash. Finally I can mumble a certain sentence under my breath if I don’t require a plastic bag. I’ll leave the store none the wiser to what the clerk said, but I’ll have accomplished my mission.
Patterns can apply to every part of daily life. I know how the stop lights will alternate. I can purchase a meal from the store with my headphones in the entire time. I’ll board, ride and exit a train with no problem. I even know which body language to use with which kind of person. These learned patterns allow me to look elsewhere and observe other new patterns, adding to my repertoire. Yes it’s enough to make a fella feel pretty proud, until suddenly the unexpected happens and I’m caught off guard. ”すみません。。。”