Monday, March 10, 2008

Part 2: Gaijin Adventure

If you're a foreigner in Japan, you will have these things I like to call "Gaijin adventures." This is a trip predicated on your exotic whiteness. You are somewhat of a strange beast to the Japanese; more akin to a griffin or a unicorn than a human being. They might wonder what special powers you have. They will want to show you off to their friends. You will be lead around from activity to activity, never really knowing what you're doing or what's in store down the road. My last Gaijin adventure took me on a domestic flight to the Sapporo Snow Festival, where I was fed shrimp brains, cod sperm, and lamb fried in lard. That's a whole other story though. For now, let's continue the sad tale I started with the last post.

When we left off, I was sitting in front of my computer at 5am waiting for the sun to come up so I could go to rowing practice. I hadn't gone to sleep.

I dutifully changed into spandex and practiced with the team at 7. We docked, and I had just enough time to jump on my bike, sprint home, shower, get some yen from the ATM, and catch my train into Sendai. I had 3 minutes to spare.

I met the Japanese rowing coach/stomach surgeon under the huge clock in the station. Soon, an eccentric inventor of auto parts joined us, and we drove a half hour into the countryside. The boathouse sat next to the Teizan canal, an Edo period marvel of engineering designed to ferry millions of kilos of rice from the fields to the cities.

We walked into the boathouse, up two flights of stairs, and into a big room filled with about 70 people. Everyone stopped eating and looked at me when I came into the room. I felt like the out-of-towner who just walked into the old West saloon. The honky-tonk player had stopped, poker players were staring at me from over their cards, and the swinging doors were creaking back and forth from my entry.

The coach broke the silence. "Please give a speech!"

I stared at him.

"Yes, please give a talk. These are all of our rowers. They have been looking forward to meeting you, so please give them a short speech."

So there I stood, unshaven, red-eyed and bleary, still holding my bag, and gave a completely forgettable speech to a huge group of people WHO DIDN'T SPEAK ENGLISH.

"Uh, hi. My name's Nate. And I'm....from....Oregon. That's in the US." I followed with several other hard-hitting quips from my well-oiled rhetorical six-shooter. "Thanks for letting me visit your boathouse. It seems Uhhhh...."

I wasn't making much sense, but I didn't really care. After a few more inane sputterings, I stopped, and sat down, making the executive decision that my "speech" was over.

Everyone seemed happy enough.

My host walked over to me. "Are you hungry?" I knew this was not actually a question, but a decision had been made that I would eat, and it was my job to ferret this out and make it seem like my idea. Unfortunately for them, I was not in any sort of mental state to play along with the cat-and-mouse of Japanese conversation.

"Nah, not really."

"Ah ate before you came?"

"Yeah, I ate lunch."

"Ah...well, wouldn't you like something to eat?"

"No, I'm actually pretty full. Thanks though!"

My host eventually decided he wasn't breaking through to my foreign brain and dropped the subtlety.

"Can you just eat the food we made you?"

Now, ironically, this was not some special meal made just for me--it was lunch from the same huge bucket of rice and veggies that the rowers ate from, so I wasn't totally clear on why I was absolutely required to eat lunch again. But I did.

Soon after lunch, the eccentric inventor rejoined us, and I was summoned to the third floor, and things began to get weirder.

More to come...


Tom said...

We used to call them "Pet Gaijin" moments.

"See my new Pet Gaijin? He can eat anything! He can use chopsticks too! Say something, say something my Pet Gaijin!

So, what happens next? Arm wrestling? Erg racing? Communal bathing? You didn't mention alchohol so probably no karaoke...

On the one hand I always felt humiliated and on the other hand unworthy of the attention.

Nate said...

Hm, I have done both erg racing and communal bathing with my team, but no arm wrestling.

That is a damn fine idea though.