Friday, June 03, 2005

Phoenix Goes to Tokyo Part I

Phoenix Buys a Ticket

Warning: This post is long and boring, and only of interest to me, personally, and only because I so rarely go out-and-about solely by myself that each time is an adventure.

I needed to buy my train ticket to the JET conference in Tokyo next week, but having not traveled much (yet) and possessing basically no skill in Japanese at all, I asked my supervisor for help. She said "Ask your friend in Takefu", who told me to ask the teacher at my visiting school, who told me to just go by myself.

Thank you, everyone.

My supervisor did call and reserve my bus ticket to Tokyo, but couldn't reserve my train ticket back over the phone. I could at least plan my route though (thank you Hyperdia). Japan, being largely a cash-based society, doesn't have a big demand for online-enabled purchasing. Thus I had to physically travel to the train station to pay for the ticket.

No worries, though, I've been to the station before, right?

When I got there, I remembered an important detail: There is no parking. Anywhere. That's another fun fact about Japan. There are more cars than there are public places to park them. That's fine, I parked at a nearby mall. I'll have to pay when I leave, but I shouldn't be too long.
Sidetrip: As I'm walking to the station, a bus pulls up, the door opens, and a man dashes out and runs into the station. The bus waits patiently, with its door open, bored driver just sitting there. As I'm staring at the bus, an occupant spots me and starts waving frantically. Some high-school girl, it looks like, but it's hard to see through the window, and I'm pretty far away, and I don't have my glasses on. Out of curiosity, I look around to see at whom she is waving, and...there's no one. At least, no high school kids or anyone waving back at the bus. Odd.

I look back and as soon as she spots me, she starts waving again, even more frantically. ??? She's waving at me? Who could it be? Is it a former student of mine? She doesn't look familiar, but window+distance-glasses(*poor recall)=???

She can't be waving at me. I'm not from this town. Unless she thinks I'm someone else. Unable to resist, I look again, and this time she waves and points me out to the girl seated behind her, who also starts waving at me. I don't recognize either of them, but by now I'm through the entrance to the station, and the bus is hidden from view. For a moment, I'm tempted to go back and walk up to the bus. I know if I don't, it's going to nag at me for days. Who was that?

Now, bear in mind that I have poor memory for people I don't see often. I mean, I can recognize their face, or remember their name, but rarely both at the same time. Unfortunately for me, I see the majority of my students only once a week. So I see 300+ other students before I see them again. It's difficult to remember everyone, and when I do remember, it's usually the wrong person (for example, I keep confusing two sisters with each other at one of my schools, even though they are in different grades).

I did peek back around the corner one last time. If I could see them without the waving, maybe I would remember their faces...but they saw me immediately and started waving again. Hmm. You know, they probably weren't even former students. They were probably just thinking "Hey! Look at that crazy gaijin! Why does he keep staring at us? Those crazy gaijin!":end-sidetrip.
Anyway, it turns out that no one at that station speaks English. At all. I know this, because after I purchased my bus ticket (fairly easy, after I explained [in only 5 minutes] that the ticket was already reserved and I was just here to pay for it), I tried to ask about the train ticket, and they called every employee there, until I was surrounded by a crowd of Japanese-speakers, all cheerfully trying to help me in Japanese. Not slow, simple Japanese, rapid-fire Japanese.
Sidetrip II:Today at school, we had hambagu for lunch.
Inner-sidetrip:Hambagu is closer to meatloaf than hamburger, but it is patty-shaped and made of meat, so there you go (hambaagaa is hamburger, if you're curious) Actually, hambagu started out as a hamburger without the bun, and parallel-evolutioned into something like meatloaf:end-inner-sidetrip.
There was either a shortage or a surplus, as us teachers got 1.5 hambagu each. Or, most of us did. One teacher was only going to get 1 hambagu. Now, I usually don't finish my lunch (even more so recently; it's too much food!), so the cleaning-lady (also the lunch-lady) asked me if I wanted my hambagu today. Or, she tried to ask me. She said something rapid-fire in Japanese, and I didn't understand it at all. In addition to my lack of Japanese skill, she also has a thick Fukui-ben accent, so it may have been a combination of things, but I think mainly it was the fact that she explained the situation for two minutes in Japanese, and then asked some complicated three-part question, none of which I understood. Anyway, she tried to say something else, but I still didn't understand. Eventually, she took me to the lunch-room and showed me the plates. She held up one of the 1.5 plates and the 1.0 plate, and said "which?" (and that's simple enough for me to understand).

Now, there's an OFFICE full of people, and while they all had helpful advice, not ONE of them said "Phoenix-sensei! Hambagu...suki desu ka?" (Phoenix! you like?) Simple simple simple.:end-sidetrip II
A similar thing was happening at the station: everyone was speaking in long, complicated Japanese, and I clearly didn't understand any of it.

Secretly, some of them DID know English. For some reason, in Japan, it's apparently not a popular thing to be able to speak English well, but there were at least THREE employees that understood some. How do I know? They were talking TO EACH OTHER in English, not six feet from me. So, it's safe to assume that the Japanese think us crazy gaijins are all completely deaf. Eventually, one did write the word "What?" in English on my itinerary.

I held up my bus ticket. "Itsuka, Takefu kara Tokyo made" (On the 5th, from Takefu to Tokyo). I held up my train itinerary. "Yoka, Ueno kara Takefu made" (On the eighth, from Ueno [in Tokyo] to Takefu). Simple, yes?

The "Ah"s and "Oh"s and "Naruhodo"s went out through my circle of helpers, followed shortly by chuckles. Grinning, the helpful "What?"-writer explained to me that I was at the wrong station, and I needed to go to the JR station, on the other side of the mall. "Those crazy gaijin," I'm sure they laughed after I left, "so wacky."

At the JR-station, apparently, they're used to crazy gaijin. I was in and out of there in about three minutes (and that includes standing in line). The lady behind the counter used either simple Japanese or simple English, and both were quite easy to understand. She glanced at my itinerary (written in English, by the way), matched it with the train schedules on the computer, asked me a few questions (smoking or non-smoking?), and bam. Just like that I was handing over almost the last of my food-money for the month and she was handing me my tickets. It probably took longer for you to read it just now than it did for me in person.

If I had known it would be THIS easy, I would have started traveling earlier! (That is a lie, of course. I still don't have any money with which to travel. But, I would have started resenting my lack of travel-funds sooner)

One obstacle down...

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