Monday, November 10, 2008

Better Never than Late

It’s November 10th; Happy Halloween! At least, that’s what I said all day as I was ‘loaned’ to the Wakaba Nursery School to take part in their Halloween celebration. An eventful day? Nah…not really. An interesting day? Yes!

It’s 11:37am, and I’m five minutes early to ride for the very first time the Japanese metro bus. I’m stoked! My supervisor thought it was a good idea for me to get my public transportation feet wet. Instead they drowned. To clarify, at 11:42am, the precise time I am to board my precious vessel, I realize that I’m at the wrong stop. I need to be across the street. But, I don’t notice this until my bus drives past me.

Though as luck would have it, there is a bus following the same route at 11:49am. I know this only because all of the Kanji written for the 11:42am bus are the same for this time. Also, it helps when your supervisor makes you giant flash cards with the names of all the necessary stops. I just pull a simple “Sumimasen (excuse me)” out of my pocket, point to the card, and see whether or not the lovely Japanese person decides to shake their head in approval, or just stand there gazing into the abyss of my eyes.

Well I got on this bus. But, this bus decides to pull an ‘American’ move and shows up five minutes late. ‘I don't think I’m going to make my connecting bus’ is jumping around my head like a crack baby in a bounce house. I look to my professionally prepared ‘Bus Survivor Guide’ packet, of course prepared by my supervisor. I must say it was a nice gesture. I think I’ve found a 12:14pm bus to take, and seeing as it’s a 10 minute ride and I need to promptly arrive at 12:30pm….I am GOOD TO GO!

Riding the bus is not too bad actually. If you are ever rockin’ the bus tour in Japan, be sure to board from the middle, and promptly grab your little ticket. Then find a seat, but if you sit in a different colored seat, you will be provided with complimentary dirty looks. I kind of knew I was sitting in ‘Priority Seating’ for the nearly dead, handicap, pregnant, and nursing mothers, but I didn’t see anybody coming, and I wasn’t absolutely sure. But when I finally found an open seat, of course I’m even more embarrassed to see that the nature of this ‘special’ seating is written in English too. Oh well, ‘gomenosai (sorry)?’

I sort of hear my bus stop called and I press that magic button. I rarely rode the bus in America, but I do like how EVERYONE receives their own special stop indicator. When ready to get off, you take your ticket and dump it along with the correct change into the vaginal slot of the bus adjacent to the driver. Thinking the driver doesn’t ‘trust’ me, I show him the ticket to ensure I’m paying the right amount.

The stop I need to move to is across the street, so I trek up the pedestrian overpass bridge and make myself noticed at the stop. I’m quite confident that this 12:15pm bus will get me to Wakaba, but I decided to ask two old biddies to make sure. But I have to wait a few minutes because this 60+ year olds are practicing their dance moves dangerously close to the street. When they take a break, I do my trick, but this time they don’t nod in agreement. Instead, they sort of murmur back and forth looking at the various times and descriptions to the scrutiny as if we were at an art gallery. After I ask a clarifying questions, it’s decided, the next bus that I need won’t be cruising through until 12:30pm. Damn!

But once again, due to the obsessively organized nature of my said boss, I got maps! I know the route, it’s 12:03pm and it shouldn’t be more than a 15 minute down this major street. But boy was I wrong. Not only were my feet ‘wet,’ but my entire back was drenched in sweat as I ‘came prepared’ and wore a heavy winter jacket on what turned to be a nice day. Having a heavy back pack doesn’t aide the process either.

But we got a problem folks. It’s 12:36pm, and I’m still not there. I actually don’t end up rolling until about 12:45pm. Being late is not in my portfolio. I’m so embarrassed, and you know you’re late when they are standing at the entrance waiting you're your foreign ass. I do my trademark greeting about 5 times before I am moved to what is referred to as ‘my room.’ My room? Yes, it’s too late the power has seeped to my head. I feel like a little celebrity, kind of like a visiting author. And judging from the progress of my childrens’ writing, that reality may soon materialize.

Though my itinerary reads ‘meeting’ at 12:50pm, this ‘meeting’ is more of the Japanese Teacher of English, my guide/host/interpreter running back and forth from the room to the gym.

For a hospital school that specializes in educating sick children, 28 children, they spared no expense when it came to the costumes. I brought my trump card in my Kappa costume. A Kappa is an ancient Japanese water demon. But the costume is a toe to head fully green spandex body suit. Like those Winnie the pooh from your childhood, but this is tight spandex and one size may fit all Japanese, but me it does not. I’ve rocked the costume a few times, and I think as it began to rip down my chest, it was trying to say “give it up.” But I couldn’t. It’s the only costume I had, and I’m in this cubby hole of a locker room with Mickey Mouse from Fantasia and some creepy lion.

I try to walk into the gym to join the party, but I’m quickly shoved back into my ‘room.’ Apparently, I am to receive a grand entrance. Now I know I’m a star in the making, but I’d like to think it has nothing to do with my skin color and where I’m from. But today, that’s all that matters. You have no clue how ‘in demand’ Americans are to ‘guest spot’ Halloween parties. Honestly though all we do is just stand around and smile.

So the curtain…yes they installed a curtain is opened and into the gym I strut. I just kind of stand there for a minute providing a pathetic round of waves. I’m quite impressed with the costumes. We’ve got a lion with a golden mask, Darth Vader, an orange ghost, a girl with cardboard over her face, and just a plethora of shit I don’t understand, but it does look neat!

Keep in mind that I have NO CLUE what I’m supposed to do. Luckily I’m a prepared bastard and brought visuals, a cd of music, a powerpoint presentation, and some ideas for games. I’m shocked that everything I had asked for it setup and ready to go, namely a projector and a cd player. The Japanese are freaks about details and it shows. Now if I could only understand their language.

Apparently I was supposed to prepare a 30 minute introducton and when my slideshow ends after 5 minutes the JTE says, “that’s it?” So luckily, I’m an ace at filling in the cracks. We just extend the Q&A session (damn do sick kids have a lot of questions, and honestly good ones at that), and a show and tell of popular American Halloween costumes.

The pressure is off as I realize my duties are now lessoning. Another hour goes by with games, odd quizzes. Apparently, according to the Japanese the Irish used to carve into a vegetable that appears to only grow in Japan before they used pumpkins. I tried to explain that it was a potato, but it was useless. I know I’m write because of youtube and wikipedia. Hell yes!

Then it’s time to trick or treat. I’ve done this a couple of times already at my various Halloween Party visits, and I crack up every time. Trick or Treating is all about innocent fun. Gallivanting about the neighborhood and being surprised at what wonderful treats you can acquire. Not at the Japanese party though. It’s too damn organized. Basically, you and a few other adults stand in strategically placed points in the room with their bag of candy. Then the students need to stand in a line, and one by one they approach and must say their name, a favorite of theirs, ‘trick or treat,’ and thank you. They actually had the students rehearse this. Oh well.

But then there’s the grand finale. “Memory making,” at least that's what they called it. After about 30 takes from 5 angles, and 8 different poses, the cameras have captured the memories and I’m done!

Luckily, I tell my host how I must catch a quickly arriving bus and I am spared coffee time with the Principal. I’m thanked way too many times as I’m walked to the entrance. I put my outdoor shoes, and the entire staff bows to me, and I’m out of there.

It’s a shame I had to be in such a pissy mood. It was a wonderful little school, and I give it up to them, they have a tough task ahead. It tore me up to see some of the kids leave the party only to return to their hospital bed as two nurses attended to them. The kids were adorable! They were just so innocent and happy to learn whatever they could get their hands on. A pure treat!

But this Halloween, so of course there’s a trick yet to come. It’s bus time folks!

Talking to the locals I actually get on the right bus. Now I must say, the flashcards: PURE GENIUS! Because, my dumb ass thought I had a lot of time and accidentally doze off for a minute when a polite good samaritan said “Tsutami Bashi,” the name of my stop. I shook my head and he said in decent English, “next stop.” I thanked him thoroughly and was able to get off in time. I love that man! Then I exited the bus and I thought, how did he know that was my stop? Then I looked down and saw the flashcard in both English and Kanji. Fun!

It was smooth sailing as I walked across the bridge to the next stop. The bus arrived a few minutes late but all was good. Until I realize this bus is not going in the direction my map shows. Shit! But I stay on board longer for needed as there is a HOTTIE a few rows back. Normally I would say a “goddess,” but this is not a woman I’d marry. Instead, she’s the type I would prefer to sleep with every night for the rest of my life. She exits the bus sporting her shorty shorts and long pale but ripe Japanese legs and there’s a puddle on the floor. It’s my body having melted from gawking at her. But perhaps she was a gift from above, as the bus starts to turn, and we’re headed back towards home! Sure, it’s not all good news, and I still have a 30 minute walk to endure, but oh well.

I arrive home angry, but sadly there’s no one to blame but myself. It’s not like I was dragged here. I chose to be a guest of Japan, and I couldn’t ask for a better host. But maybe I should learn a few more kanji characters if I’m ever going to try that bus thing again. To close this up, it gives me great pleasure to say, “Happy Halloween!”

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