Sunday, July 18, 2010

Being Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (a Gaijin!), pt 1

So, what's it like, being a 6' blonde gaijin in the land of the rising munchkin? When I first got here, I towered over the average Japanese (which is really kind of nice, made me feel powerful, since I'm just average height in Colorado). I could ride the trains and see all the way to the other end of the car, with maybe one or two heads rising above the black-haired waves of people.

Now, as I said in an earlier post, I was one of only 4 non-Asians in my entire city of 260,000. There were SE Asians and Filipinos, especially in the entertainment district, otherwise just me, an evangelist, and 2 proper young Mormon gents on mission. Now, now, now, before you go and roll your eyes and say "Hmmmm?", I have a'sumpin' to esplain - they were under orders to leave me alone! They're in country to convert the Japanese, heathen like me aren't in the playbook. ;-) Even my American co-worker (a smart blonde!) and her husband lived in a neighboring town and came to class by train every day.

Oh, and did I mention that all of them were dark-haired?

So, class, what's the math on that? ONE blonde head in a city of 260,000. And this isn't like Colorado, where a city of such size would be up to 20-30 miles across. Kakogawa has about double the population density of the city/county of Denver. Now imagine being the only, highly visible, one of anything in something twice the size of Denver!

I stand out! Like a frog in a snake’s ambush zone, people know I’m there. Like a steak in the piranha tank, like a banana split at a weight-watcher’s conference, like Megan Fox in front of David Duchovny. Feeling like the engine on a strange, giggling train (not that kind of train), children follow me down the street - "Haro! Haro! Haro!” (When I felt particularly grumpy or hungover, I'd smile and say "Goodbye" and watch confusion reign). I now have great sympathy for any minority in middle America, and even understand how Britney feels (didn't shave me head, though)...

As I've said before, little old ladies would cross the street to get away from me. Store staff followed me around to make sure I wasn't pocketing anything. Young ladies on the train would enter the car, look up, not see a face at the normal height, look up a bit more, then step back, their mouths open in little O’s of shock. I even got turned away from a hair salon once. My friend got turned down when applying for apartments, not once, not twice, but about 5 times, even with corporate sponsorship. One landlord even went so far as to say, “Pets OK, no Gaijin!”

Well, you've got a choice when facing this: get pissed, or make like Gandhi and calmly deal with it. I went the angry route for a litte while, just couldn’t make like Gandhi. Then, being me, I decided to do neither; I decided to have fun with it.

A lady followed me around the local supermarket one day. After about 5 minutes of her following about 20 feet behind me, sprinting around the corners to keep me in sight, I decided to give her what she expected to see. So I picked up numerous small items, then put them back. Ducking around the corner into the next aisle, I looked left and right, then looked down. When she came around the corner, I was just pulling my hand out of my pocket. I kept furtively glancing around whenever my aisle was empty. I put stuff in my cart very visibly, then later surreptitiously returned it to the original shelf. By the time she started to look panicky, I decided that I’d made my point. So I looked her in the eyes, gave her a shallow bow, then went to checkout, emptied my pockets looking for change, and calmly paid for all the things in my basket. She bowed to me and apologized.

Japanese stare. My students all admit it. If I sit out on my front stoop, or take the time to trim the ivy growing rampantly all over the flower box next to the road, little old men will walk by, staring at me the whole time, turning their heads to keep me in sight, even walking into approaching bicyclists. Feeling particularly ornery one day recently, I decided to give one old guy something to look at: I ripped a California-falling-into-the-ocean, over-the-top-like-2012, magniturd-10 fart at him. Then barely made it in the door before I collapsed laughing, my wife and kids looking at me like I was a total idiot. mea culpa

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