7. The Party and the Purchase
There is one person here who says things to me like, “You must not make comparisons to Poland, to Ookryina, to Europe, to North America. Japan is Japan!” In itself that is a valid statement, but she doesn’t understand that my (presently much more silent) comparisons are not judgements, they’re just a way for me to sort out and make sense of things. I need to go on what I’ve already experienced in order to accommodate new information and ideas. Don’t we all? (The other participants use comparisons in a similar way to get a bead on me, saying I am in some ways like person x, but in other ways like person y. And I’m totally cool with that – they also need to accommodate.)
But getting back to comparing countries, I suppose all the people here might not understand that Poland (for example) is cool; I did not know that myself until I visited and stayed there. Not everyone would realize that I’m merely “comparing” one developed country to another. And any county would be sort of the “same” to me in the sense that I had to leave the comforts of Canada to get to it. I mean, it’s pretty simple, isn’t it?
(Still, I’m starting to understand why the first Miyuki I met long before I came to Japan was so offended when I joked, “Hey, there’s a town in Poland named after you!” Młki (pronounced “Mew-key”) is a cute little village in the Masurian Lakes district of the Northeast, but, again, I can’t and shouldn’t expect people to understand that… in any country.)
This person also says, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with you,” with a nervous laugh. It’s not a good sign of things to come. My dealings with this person will make or break the first months of my stay (working and private lives together) in Japan, and yet for some reason we are oil and water. But this person is cool. And I guess I just have to learn to keep my mouth shut, again. Yes’m. Hai, hai, sososo.
[Update: Technique of keeping my mouth shut is working wonders. Will continue doing so. Of course, there is a potential drawback that can happen when you are driving with someone and you go the wrong way, and you only suspect it, so you don’t venture to say anything… =)]
* * *
The staff party was spectacular. It was short, but it was as lavish and scrumptious as a Polish wedding (there I go again, but the comparison might be shared exclusively with the blog, because you’re the only ones who understand that it’s a huge compliment from my perspective). The food, the fun, the drink, the people – wow!
The only problem is, everyone’s telling me that the other shoe has yet to drop. People will be completely different at work than they were at that party. (And that’s fine; I’d be shocked to see such unadulterated silliness in the office, much as I do love silliness. Thankfully, I’m free to use a modicum of silliness when I teach, so I’m told, in the process of developing the most effective technique for me and the children.)
Still, the people I met? Very very very nice. Interesting. Fun. Cool. Dynamic. Great senses of humour (I was so relieved to finally meet Japanese people who actually had them). If they are as friendly as they were last evening, even if they are not as exuberant as they were, I (should) have no worries. (And I have another reason not to worry: As M. says, all one really needs to do with this job anyway is “cover your [expletive deleted] and teach your kids,” but I will be able to do so much more effectively and be happier about it too if I make friends along the way.)
After the party, which had an open bar and delicious food (even the new-to-me stuff was fine for me; the octopus just tasted like squishy ham), we went to a cozy little (and I mean little!) bar in the entertainment district. I was surprised to see that they had a "district" as such here, and it’s really something. Imagine every different thing that Halifax and Dartmouth and Bedford and Sackville has to offer put together in one small area.
At this bar, I had some Polish vodka (it wasn’t Wyborowka, the kind you can get at the NSLC liquor stores back home, but it was equally exquisite), and we sang lots and lots of karaoke. T’was good times. The bar is called Casanova, and it’s run by a fellow named Mike, and he is my hero – up there with the parking lot attendants and peace officers. The availability of Polish vodka helped take it over the top for me, although it did not improve my signing. We started drinking at the staff party at four o’clock, you see, and so by ten o’clock, my singing was atrocious. Things were okay, though, because I had a few brief bursts of tuneful exuberance that were well-received, so they might be inclined to forget my variable, imprecise crooning. When S. visits, we’ll have to go there.
We went to a convenience store where F. innocently brought some chicken skin on a stick that M. and I ended up eating, then we went to another cool bar. After that, C. and her boyfriend and I took a cab back to S.G. at around one while the others set off for food and then a third place where there was dancing. L., a cool dude in any situation, showed us to a dispatch place where the cabs were discounted. We were at S.G. before we knew it, and guess what it cost? 1100¥, or just a bit over $10. That was pretty darned sweet; I was prepared to pay more than twice that.
Today will be the day that I finally get to an electronics store; on our way to the party yesterday, L. and M. told me where I could get to where they have two big outlets practically across the street from each other. It’s more walkable than the one across the bridge would have been, and I did not have time to go to that one anyway because unpacking took me all morning and preparing for the party (ironing, showering, etc..) took me most of the early afternoon, so I had to go on the train with the others, which I’m really happy I did. Also, I hope to have a chance to vacuum; I’ll do that after I bring the cables home and hook everything up, which will stir up a lot of dust.
Tomorrow is our first day of work!
Several hours later…
I still didn’t get out to an electronics store! But that’s okay. Maybe I will go tomorrow, with… well, read on…
Today J. took F. and I out for a drive to shop, and we first decided to make a stop for me at…
The bicycle store!
Now, this wasn’t like Bicycles Plus or Ideal Bikes in Halifax. This was more like going to a car dealership. There was a showroom and everything; it was sweet!
We looked over the various bikes, and we found a nice dark green single-speed with a dynamo-powered light, a functional basket (WAY better than the junky plastic ones you sometimes see clipped onto the handles of children’s bikes), integrated lock (complete with keys, as if it were a car!), hand brakes (you can backpedal with this one, making short downhill spurts that much less hazardous) and a stylish metal guard on the chain. And instead of a kickstand, there’s a whole thing that comes down in the back that balances the whole bike. It’s elegant, it’s got nice flowing lines, and it’s just… man, it’s perfect. I haven’t ridden it yet, but I will tomorrow after work while the sun is still up. You can ride it at night – it has the necessary light and reflectors, but that’s no fun. (I could have spent another $50 to get one with a very fancy light rig, but I don’t want to be riding at night anyway, and more of my riding will be in the summer when I have more leisure time and the days are longer.)
Now, if all that sounds good to you already, there’s more.
After selecting the bike, the mechanic took it inside the showroom and started making all the little finishing touches. He attached the pedals, and adjusted the height of the seat. He topped up the air in the tires, and checked the locking mechanism. He probably did a few more things, too.
And then he registered the bike (a legal requirement), which means that if it’s stolen, there’s at least a small chance of getting it back. Seriously, the police here actually investigate bike theft. You first think it’s quaint, but here bikes aren’t just toys – they’re a serious mode of transportation.
And, he also offered to deliver the bike to the apartments, so we wouldn’t have to put it in J.’s mom’s car, or have me ride myself back through the cooling city at sunset. This was a one-time thing because they happened to be making a trip out here for another client. But still! So it’s down there right now, in the bicycle shelter behind the building. It’s so great that they have that, too. In fact, the bicycle infrastructure here is not bad in general. In North America, bikes are either toys or the tools of an enthusiast. Here, they’re part of the lifestyle of most – especially people of my age and income.
I had a thought for my Aunt, who had bought a bicycle in the 1970s for $100, and it was her first purchase of $100 or greater. In the end, I didn’t do too much worse than she did; the grand total for my new wheels, including registration, taxes, and delivery is:
11800¥ (or about $110 or so)
Nice. F. was even wondering how much it would cost to ship it back to Canada, but I suspect it would be somewhat more than the cost of the bike. Plus you could make or buy a bike like that in Canada, but the price would be somewhat greater, and the selection limited. Ironically, entry-level mountain bikes are cheaper in Canada than they are here. It probably reflects the market; back home, most people buy mountain bikes – I don’t know why, really – they’re not nearly as fast on flat road or going downhill as virtually any sort of road bike, although I guess that depends on how they’re geared and the dimensions of the wheels and some other technicalities.
Anyway, please let me know if you can go to Canadian Tire and get a bike like this for around $100 and have them set it up and deliver it too. Well, maybe that will be coming to our larger cities as the economies of not having cars start to kick in.
After the bike dealership, we went to the Uniqlo clothing store. It was probably one of the most chic places I’ve been in a while. Everything and everybody in the store reflected the latest in fashion. F. got a lot of things; after talking to J. when they were finished I suddenly realized that I needed another pair of nice slacks for work. They don’t mind me wearing my black jeans to work, but the blue ones are another matter. So I bought a nice pair of beige slacks (~ $30) and I got a facecloth for about $3 (towels, which I could use more of too, were $15 and kind of small, so I decided to go elsewhere).
Tomorrow: Stories from our first few days at work.