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Ibaraki English Teacher: Chapter 7

Author:Joseph Robbie, Issue: April 2001, Topic: Commentary

Yamada Junior, the chairman's son, took it upon himself to guide Keri Canyon through the plethora of dishes laid out on the izakaya table: gyoza, octopus, soy beans, natto, sushi, yakitori, yakisoba, yakiniku, pickled veggies, tempura, curry, rice, and miso soup. With her fork, Keri tried some of each dish, loved some and liked the rest, except for the natto, which she vowed to avoid. Her beer glass was never less than half full, and she soon found herself pouring beer for others. Then the curious questions started.

"How was your flight?"
"What do you think of Japan?"
"Can you use chopsticks?"
"Do you have a boyfriend in Canada?"
"How old are you?"
"Is your hair really blonde?"
"How about Japanese food?"

When Kubota sensei received instant service by pushing a green button on the table, Keri was impressed and wondered why they didn't have such a convenient system for calling waitresses back in Moose Jaw, or even Toronto. Yamada Senior ordered a bottle of sake and insisted that everyone try some, except the kids of course. Keri found the taste peculiar, not her cup of tea. By now, it was 9:30. Asuka and Hiromi, the office ladies, sneaked peeks at watches. Usually they were off by this time on Saturdays, but when invited to join the welcome dinner for Keri, they understood that it was more than just an invitation. It was part of their job, and nobody would leave until the chairman proclaimed the evening over.

Keri was getting understandably tired from the combined effects of her long, turbulent flight, the bottomless beer glass, and the overactive thrill/stress continuum at play on her nerves. She was only half listening as Yamada Senior droned on in his broken, and now slurred, English about the start of a new term at Nogo. Monday was to be the launch of their TOEFL/TOEIC classes, designed to help students score higher on those difficult academic and business English exams. As the new full-time teacher, Keri was expected to prepare a presentation, or sales pitch, for Monday promoting these courses, and then teach them starting on Tuesday.

Finally, after the children present started whining about going home, Senior picked up the tab. Outside, with much bowing and well-wishing, the party broke up. Kubota's wife, Rieko, took the wheel, as she was sober, and drove the exhausted Canadian back home. With promises of stopping by the next afternoon to take Keri shopping, Rieko then took her leave. Keri brushed her teeth, popped out her contacts, and was gone to the world.

The next morning was humid and sunny. Keri was awakened by blaring loudspeakers playing some kind of military music. Disoriented here in the Orient, she moped, then groped, then saw out the window a battleship grey sound van boasting numerous Japanese flags. It made its way slowly down the street, disturbing many, though none let it show.

So, she arose. Wanting to call Rieko, she looked around for the phone, which was not to be found. Funny. Her recruiter had told her that the apartment included a Telephone. Shoganai, for now anyway. Hungry, she searched the fridge and cupboards for nourishment. Nai. Nothing to be had. A restaurant, and then shopping were in order, but she was too timid to try alone. Donning her jeans and a t-shirt, Keri let herself out of the apartment. Down one flight of stairs and out to the busy street she padded, turning left towards where she had spotted a 7-11. The payphone was her target. Arriving there, she searched her bag for coin and number. Her coins were Canadian and the phone didn't take bills. The shop was, as always, open. She entered.

"Welcome to our shop!!!" The clerks peppy chant rang overused and insincere. Keri approached the counter. "I'm sorry, but can you break a bill for me? I need change for the phone."

The young clerks stared at her and then at each other. One asked her "#%~)#!*+>=&~?", but she couldn't understand a word. Putting her thumb in her ear and pinky in her mouth, Keri tried to pantomime making a call, while with her other hand she waved a 1000 yen note about. The help was aghast. Other customers were patiently waiting to check out as the Canadian explained, "Look, I just want you to give me some coins for this paper money."

Is that so difficult to comprehend? Apparently it was for speakers of their own language living in their own country. And really, why should they be expected to know Keri's native language? Isolation and national ego had long dictated the attitude of "Why should I have to speak English in Japan? Let the gaijin learn our tongue."

The wisdom of this attitude remains debatable, yet Keri felt that if the whole world spoke the same language, it would be great, wouldn't it? But that certainly wasn't the case in her present situation, as the quiet queue behind her lengthened. She felt acute frustration. She felt helpless.

Then, an older gentleman attired in a three-piece suit stepped out of line and neared the scene. "May I be of service?" he inquired. Keri almost kissed him. The stranger obtained the change then helped Keri make the call. Rather than using coins, he slipped a "Hello Kitty" phone card into the slot. Rieko was reached. They planned their rendezvous for one hour hence. Keri turned to her white knight and thanked him profusely.

"It was my pleasure," he answered, while handing her an elegant business card. "Please call me if I might be of further assistance, or if you are interested in making extra money." An inscrutable smile, and he was gone. Keri glanced at the bilingual card:

Toru Yamazaki Manager Super Snack 0298-21-9372

"Probably some kind of restaurant," she assumed, putting the meishi in her wallet. She couldn't imagine ever wanting to work for him, however a sixth sense suggested that they would meet again. As for now, having survived the ordeal of making her first phone call, Keri was looking forward to brunch and shopping.

To be continued...

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