8.01.2008

Bill Goes to Japanese Summer Camp



So my job gave me the option this week of a change in pace. This week is “adjustment week” so all of my kids’ and group classes have vacation and we only teach the mind-numbing pre-packaged Free Time Lessons one after another. The company also came up with the idea of chant classes in which we teach English to fucking two-year-olds through dumbass rhythmic chants while they cry in their parents’ arms because the scary foreigner is clapping at them so loudly. So naturally, I signed up for the camp.

In preparation for my time at camp, there was a special training session for the counselors. I, unfortunately, couldn’t make it due to my busy morning schedule of torrent searching on Mininova and perving around X-Tube. So, I dropped by the office one day to pick up the orientation pack with all the lesson plans, a camp schedule, list of things to bring, etc. When I arrived home, I scanned the list of required items that I ‘d need for the three-day trip. Yeah, Jkids are bitches and can’t take more than 3 days/2nights away from their mommies, futons and PSPs. They’re quite plugged in over here. So I’m looking at the list. Bathing suit, of course, some shorts, bug spray and at the bottom of the office-prepared and neatly bulleted list in non-apologetic uppercase Arial was written “BEER”. I mean, of course I was planning to bring a small flask of something but I conspired to conceal it and wait until the other counselors deemed it socially appropriate to crack one open. I didn’t want to be the guy on the first day who’s already half-tanked by s’more time. He loves himself but nobody, absolutely nobody, loves him. We’ve all been there. Anyway, this prep-pack specifically ordered me to pack beer so I wasn’t going to shy away from this opportunity. Not two days before I was to leave for camp, I received a confirmation e-mail telling me the time to meet, how many kids I’d have, the usual. At the end of the e-mail, there was a post-script which read, “And if you haven’t already, don’t forget to pack BEER.” Subtle. Looking forward to camp doesn’t even begin to describe how deeply I yearned for grass-stained knees and creamy marshmallows pouring out of my mouth. That’s what summer camp’s all about, no?

Morning of, I have to meet all the Osaka kids at the station at 8:30. I set my alarm for 6am. I’m like thirty minutes away from the station. No problem, right? Smart me likes to play snooze-a-thon in the morning. After hitting the snooze button 4 times, I awake at quarter to eight and get my shit together in a never-before-seen-on-TV 8 minutes. I’m locking my apartment door at 7:53. Fuck yeah. Meeting time’s 8:30 and we’re scheduled to leave at 9. I have a detailed English map that pinpoints the location in the station where we’re all meeting. Upon arrival at the station, I’m realizing that the map isn’t as detailed as I previously thought it to be. Turns out, it’s one of those 3D cross-section types because the station’s so big and multiple places are starred. What the fuck. I could’ve sworn I only saw one star the first time I glanced at it. Anyway, I’m lost and it’s 8:21. This situation is not new for me. So I save time trying to be an independent douchebag and go right for the stationmaster to ask for directions. Whoops! What good is that going to do? The map’s in English and completely baffles the 3 attendants to whom I show it. They all start muddling their way through the first four syllables of the map title and by that point, I’m not havin’ it. They basically just point away from themselves and give me a hopeful look. The first guy sends me directly to the McD’s. Sometimes, when foreigners ask a …どこですか question (Where is…?), they merely get sent to the nearest place with an English-sounding name. I once asked for the local tax office and was directed to Starbucks. No joke. I guess they figure we’re satisfied if we can pronounce the name of the building. Next person I ask is the Shinkansen (bullet train) attendant because I’m thinking the bullet train is crazy expensive, which should, in my theory, render its attendants better trained and more knowledgeable than lowly subway attendants with the gray uniforms. Ok, so the Shinkansen attendants wear navy blue but it’s still not lowly gray. Anyway, the attendant just looks at my map and drags the word “conference room” slowly and sloppily through the mud that is his malformed lips. He finishes with an unreasonably wide smile, proud to have pasted together consonants and vowels in front of a white person. I don’t care how many fucking “Let’s Speak” Podcasts you have on your iPod Mini, you asshole. It’s 8:45 and I’m not seeing any Jkids with camp gear yet.

Someone calls my cell. Someone named Annie. I don’t recognize the number and I sure as hell don’t know an Annie but she knows I’m late so I ask her for some more specific directions to the elusive meeting alcove. But the secret alcove is no longer of interest. She tells me they’ve gone to the dreaded bus-loading area! WHAT?! A bus loading area isn’t on the map! This is totally against protocol. At the moment, I’m definitely regretting having missed that informative orientation session. I’m all sweaty, carrying my wrinkled map, cell phone and Japanese fan in one hand and a duffel full of clothes and a 24-pack and I still don’t see any fucking Jcampers. I tell this Annie character to grab the nearest J she can find and put him/her on the phone. I get this girl named Kaori. I tell her in real slow words, “I’m Bill. I want to come to the bus. Help me. Speak Japanese. 1…2…3…GO!” As I say GO, I pass my phone to the hooked-on-phonics Shinkansen attendant and tell him to speak with the appropriate hand gesture pointing to my mouth and miming away. This actually works. As soon as he puts the phone to his ear, the demeanor immediately changes from “silly talk with American” to “serious servitude with fellow Japanese national”. When Japanese people enter a service-related field, they dedicate themselves to their post entirely. No one is ever caught slacking off because it just doesn’t happen. So apparently this girl Kaori’s got some clout in the transportation industry because the attendant just keeps saying “Hai. Hai Hai.” and doing the little head bow that comes complementary with each acknowledgement of obedience and understanding. Even on the phone, one must always show the utmost physical respect.

So he closes my phone, looks around nervously for another attendant and scurries over to him. He hands the other guy his little metallic person-counter and scurries back. With a little bow and a hand flip, we’re off down the main corridor at a jogging pace with the lackey leading me on. Remember I still have all my belongings clenched in my hand, plus the not so feathery 24-pack weighing down my right side. We hit the stairs and he’s taking them two at a time like there’s going to be a promotion waiting for him at the end of this. At this point, all I’m thinking of is which person I’m going to give the first over-shaken agitated beer to that night. Not a minute later, the bus and a sea of Jcampers come into view. Not only are the Jcampers present, but also their parents, each with their brand new FujiFilm DigiCam. Js with cameras is not a stereotype. It’s just the fucking truth.

It’s 8:57 and I’m finally on the bus. I apologized to anyone with a clipboard that looks important about my late arrival but no one seems perturbed in the least. Those Js just never want a confrontation with foreigners because they don’t want to conjugate and have social stress at the same time. It’s just too much on their little systems. Strangely enough, neither an Annie nor a Kaori are on the bus or anywhere near the meeting area. No one I introduced myself to was the owner of either name so I guess I must’ve had a run in with the infamous Kaori and Annie of local urban legend. They are said to call foreigners out of the blue in times of need when all other help is no longer a possibility. No shit. My friend said her cousin’s roommate once received a phone call from Kaori only moments before she slurped her first Ramen noodle. Apparently, Kaori warned her that there was splinter on the tip of her chopsticks and she immediately removed it for fear of a horrible accident. Kaori saved her literally 2 minutes of splinter-removal time, just enough to throw my friend’s cousin’s roommate’s lunchtime schedule off kilter. Mysterious myth or indubitable data? You come to Osaka, get into a pickle and decide for yourself!

I haven’t even gotten to camp yet but now I’m on my way to America. To be continued after the stateside adventure. Hold on to your fucking panties, Gerard.