Sumimasen! Part Ni
Everything shook, the tea in my mug rippled, Nads hit the deck. She was saying it was an earthquake but the words just weren’t registering with me. My jet lag had kicked in hardcore and I was in a daze. It wasn’t a very strong one and was over in about 30 seconds, but the whole thing was very strange.
I had about 4 days before I had to start my job training, so I threw myself, full force, into exploration. I’d spend my days getting lost, finding all these amazing stores completely by accident and getting used to being stared at everywhere I went.
I even went clubbing with my Japanese friend, Ruru, who’d come to England as an exchange student when we were about 16 and I’d kept in touch with. I couldn’t get over how the clubs in Tokyo played all the same hip hop as the clubs in the States and how everyone in there could mouth the words to every song, but when I tried to talk to them, they’d look at me like I had three heads.
I was having a blast.
The only downside at this point was my jetlag was a mother bitch. I’d be awake all night, sleep from 5am-9am and that was it. That was my sleep pattern for the next three weeks. Not very practical when your new job is to teach English and some days you’re so tired you can barely string two words together yourself.
My job training started Monday morning and I had to teach people that afternoon. Talk about throwing you in at the deep end.
With all the information that had been thrown at me, by the end of the day, I was dead on my feet. I couldn’t wait to get home and crawl into bed.
It was dark when I left work to catch the three trains home. The first train was no problem, but when I got to the second station, I couldn’t find one sign written with the English alphabet. I didn’t have a phrase book and had no idea how to ask for directions (not that I’d understand the response if I could). I stared at the signs in Japanese kanji all around me, hoping they’d somehow magically make sense. The station got busier, I got swept along in crowds, pushed and had my feet trampled on to the point where I just wanted to sit down in the middle of the station and cry.
I tried to pull myself together. I got my huge subway map out of my pocket and approached any and everyone, pointing at the station I was trying to get to, making random, indecipherable noises.
Eventually, I was pointed in the right direction and managed to make it back to my home station.
At least there, the streets were quieter and I could breathe a little easier.
As always, I thought a cup of tea would make me feel a whole lot better. On the walk home, I stopped at the grocery store to get some milk.
As I stood in the dairy section, catching a chill from the refrigerators, I felt like I was three years old. I couldn’t read any of the labels. I just wanted to buy skim milk. Why was this so hard?!
I’d been so carried away with my four days of fun that the practicalities of life in Japan (like work, travel and groceries) hadn’t really occurred to me. But now, reality (in the form of coming between me and a cup of tea) was biting me on my ass.
Four hours of sleep, a full day of flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants teaching, that hideous journey home and goddamn it, I just wanted a cup of tea!
I stood there, looking at the 76 varieties of milk on offer to me, having no clue which one to get, and cried.
I had reached a new low: crying in the supermarket. As the only white girl in there, I was attracting enough attention as it was; the crying wasn’t helping. I fumbled around in my bag for a tissue while Japanese people looked at me like I was a psycho.
I grabbed whichever carton was closest to me, paid and went home.
After making the tea, I called my parents.
“I can’t even buy milk in this country!” I sobbed.
“Oh come on,” says Mama. “Stop crying over spilt milk – literally.”
I bitched about my day for a while and then Mama chimed in with her always profound words of wisdom: “Suck it up and deal with it bitch!” If I’d have been there, she would have slapped me across the face for added dramatic effect.
“Fair point Mama,” I said. Give the woman credit – she always knows the right thing to say.
In time, I sussed out the milk situation, mastered the trains and even became a mediocre teacher.