Chasing Cherry Blossoms
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Thursday, October 20, 2011

The advantages of being a gaijin.

Evening! So, it seems the last 48 hours have taken me back to my first week here in Ainan of being endlessly wined and dined for no expense.

First, yesterday, I'm casually coiled up in front of my laptop, Sex and the City ready to go, when I get a phonecall from an unknown number on my phone. Being the curious type, I answer. "JIM WE DRINKING YOU COME?" a not-exactly-sober man bellows down the receiver. From my hazy, Friday-night memories, I could just about put a face (but definitely not a name) to the voice. "COME NOW", he continued with a suspicious urgency. Not wanting to disappoint the first local friends I'd apparently made, I obliged. And upon my nameless friend's discovering that he's the same age as my Dad, he thereupon dubbed himself my "Japanese Father" and insist that he paid for the night's boozing. It was a school night, so I wasn't going to town... but free drinks are always welcome! And of course, I did my best to pay him back with some English karaoke. Figuring the time for me to ask his name had apparently come and gone, his phonebook entry on my phone simply reads "JapaneseDad". So I guess that's what I'll be calling him from now on!

Then, tonight, my adult conversation class treated me to dinner at Joyfull... the local 24 hour-diner. Full of cheap, delicious food. Magic. We somehow managed to while away two-and-a-half hours chatting broken-Japanese-English. Sure, most of them are double my age, but they're adorable!

That's the thing: I couldn't imagine going out with a group of grandparents at home and having anywhere near the good time I did with them. And it's a great opportunity for me to practise my Japanese. I'd like to say all of their interest in me is some personal reflection, and maybe it partially is, but in reality, all I think it takes is foreign status to be popular in Japan. Of course, not everyone's as welcoming - there are still those I'll pass in the street who will stare back at me silently when I attempt a polite "Konnichiwa!", but the positivity you get from everybody else more than outweighs it. It's not really an experience you can prepare yourself for - going from your hometown where you're just a nameless face in a crowd to a country where you're unavoidably going to be stared at wherever you go.

Luckily for me, I'm naturally quite an attention-seeker anyway, so I really don't mind it. Being in such a minority certainly has its advantages, and I don't mean just the free food and drink: first of all, nobody really expects you to understand the Japanese way of life, so even the most elementary mistakes you make will be put down to unfamiliarity rather than stupidity. That's really a blessing when you lack any form of common sense like I do. Nobody has to know you're actually an idiot! What's more, if you find yourself the subject of an unwelcome question ("Jim, do you have girlfrriend?", "Do you want girlfriend?", "Can I be your girlfriend?!"), you can always just pretend you didn't understand it, smile blankly and go about your business.

In short, if there's one thing that I've learnt these past two months, it's that being lost in translation can be as much a blessing as a curse... and that being a gaijin gives you the perfect licence to get yourself conveniently and unapologetically LOST.

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