Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Cutest

This is a Japanese TV ad campaign for beans that is running right now. It seems to be a national phenomenon. Fuzzy plush bean dog toys, bean dog mugs, notebooks, pencils, are being sold in gift shops all over. And I love it! In fact, I've had an image of one of these things as my blog picture for like over a year and I never knew what it was.

The idea is someone's about to sit down and eat their meal when a bean starts talking to them. Th e bean is super cute and has ears, so it kinda looks like a litte dog. Hence the name, bean dog. The bean dog tells them some random disturbing bit of trivia, such as "a kangaroo's pouch is really stinky," or "a flamingo's mother's milk is red." The person is so disgusted they can't finish their food. I'm not sure how this makes someone want to eat more beans, but I find these bean dogs cute and hilarious.

And now, please watch for yourself. There are about 14 versions. Most are in Japanese with English subtitles, one is in English, and one is in Spanish. I personally recommend watching them all.

Thank Heaven for 7-11

So one day I decide to go running in my neighborhood. I know it's Winter but it's a particularly sunny day and it can feel quite warm in the middle of the afternoon.

I start running along a dirt path that runs beside one of the many canal/stream whatever things that run across the city. I run for about 20 minutes, I realize I need to pee. No problem, the dirt path intersects with many streets. All I have to do is find a convenience store. Sure enough, there's a 7-11.

I pass a young, female employee mopping the floor. When I get to the restroom, there's a little handwritten note taped to the door. It's mostly in Kanji characters which I can't make out the meaning of. The only word I know is "Key," or "lock." Okay, I think, one school I work at has a handwritten note on the bathroom door that tells you how to work the lock properly. Unconcerned, I go in and lock the door.

When it's time to leave, I try to open door. The lock won't turn. Still calm, I alternate between wriggling the knob and knocking on the door.

Someone comes to the door and cries, "Ehhh?! Okyakusama!?!" (Ehhh is a typical Japanese noise of surprise. Okyakusama means customer or guest.) I hear a sigh of resignation. She knows I'm stuck in here. She's also probably wondering why I stupidly didn't read the note on the door. The young employee frantically tries to open the door. She goes to get some keys. She tries every one. None of them work. She asks me to try unlocking the door from the inside. I tell her I can't. She asks me another question, but she's obviously panicking and it's causing her to speak so quickly I can't understand her. I try to answer, but it soon becomes apparent to her that I'm not Japanese. This is where she really freaks out.

She goes to get the manager, crying something about a foreigner stuck in the bathroom. He also tries the keys. He tries telling me to unlock it from the inside. Well, duh.. don't you guys think I 've already tried that? I don't immediately respond because I'm trying to work out what to say in my head.

This is when he panics. He asks me questions in ridiculously fast Japanese. I start to panic, too, because I just can't understand him. I want to tell him that I can speak Japanese, but he needs to speak slowly and use simpler words. However, I can't seem to remember any of the tons of vocabulary I've studied over the past 2 years.

This continues for about a half hour: shaking the door, yelling in unintelligible Japanese, and trying different keys. Finally, I understand something they say: they are going to call a locksmith. I try to tell them I understand. However, it usually seems to be the case that once a Japanese person realizes you are foreign, their mind becomes literally unable to comprehend that you might understand Japanese.

They come back and tell me, in Japanese, that the locksmith can't come for another hour and a half. I tell them, in perfect Japanese, that I understand. But they don't hear it. I can hear them trying to figure out how to say it in English. They're panicking again. I tell them it's fine, I understand. I'll wait. Don't worry. Of course, I'm pretty upset that I have to be in here another hour and a half, but I'll do it. I'll wait. What choice do I have?

They abandon me to contemplate my imprisoned state in solitude. I close the lid on the toilet and sit down. I'm sweaty and red-faced from my run. I survey the items on the shelf above my head. Toilet paper rolls, spray bottles of cleaner. I remember it kind of smelled when I first came in, but now I seem to have gotten used to it.

Just as I've rested my head against the cold, tile wall, I hear in very broken English:

"heh-ro? ..... ehhh... shouldo...ehhh...wait? ehhh, wait one...ehhh...ando....thirty."

Um.. I'm guessing she's trying to tell me to wait for an hour and a half. I try to reconfirm this in Japanese, since her English is obviously not too awesome.

"Hai. Ichi jikan han. Wakarimashita. Arigatou gozaimasu." (Yes. One hour and a half. I understand, thank you.)

She's so surprised that I've answered in Japanese. She half asks, half wonders aloud to herself , "Wait, you can't speak English?"

"No. I mean, Yes. I can speak English," I correct her, in English. But she has already run away to break this devastating news to her superiors. Now how they are supposed to communicate with me?

Eventually she comes back with another girl and they continue trying to open the door. They keep lamenting in Japanese, "An hour and a half? What should we do?"

The new girl asks the first girl if I'm alright. The first girl replies a little too casually and disdainfully for my liking, "I dunno. She's a foreigner. She can't speak English OR Japanese."

The other girl asks, "Really? Where is she from?"

"I dunno. Probably Europe or something."

I attempt to say in Japanese that actually, "I'm American," thank you very much. But they have completely given up on trying to communicate with me.

"Oh, too bad." They walk away.

What the hell am I going to do for an hour and a half, in a 7-11 bathroom? I don't have anything on me, but a key. No cell phone, nothing. I think about asking if they would slide me a pen and some paper, or maybe a magazine, through a little hole in the door, but no one comes back. I wait. I try sleeping with my head propped against the wall.

When the locksmith comes, he can't get the door open. He's banging on it, using some metal tools to try to force it open, fumbling with more keys. Finally, he brings out something so noisy and terrifying that it makes me cower in the corner, as far away from the door as possible. I cover my ears. Fire-y orange spastic sparks shoot everywhere. The door swings open and I peek out. Wearing a gray jumpsuit uniform, the locksmith looks at me, stifling a chuckle as he motions for me to come out. I hop over his mountain of tools and escape like a scared little animal.

Mid-escape, I run into the manager. He awkwardly asks me in Japanese if I'm ok. Yeah, I say, sorry for not speaking Japanese so well, and not being able to read kanji. He gives a simple apology and leaves me standing there, wondering where my free stuff is. Shouldn't I at least get a complimentary bottle of water? Geez. I slink past the register on my way out, avoiding the smirking faces of the young employees behind the counter.

2 hours and 20 minutes after I left my house for a run, I slowly crawl back home, defeated. I feel somehow this is a definitive low point.

The groping hands return...

The next time it happens, I am looking for my children who have magically disappeared. The mothers are all happily chatting away on the plastic orange sofa in the lobby. I begin my search through the myriad of classrooms. Eventually I hear the telltale sound of giggles. I enter to find five little girls hiding under a table. Cute.

"Ok, kids. Let's go! Time to start!"

They crawl out, one by one. I say hello to the first sweet little girl, who always behaves impeccably:

"Hello, Sehwa! How are you?"
"Good! High five!"

One missed high five and a little hand lands on my pillowy chest. A wide mischievous grin spreads across her face. She reaches out again.

"No, Sehwa. Don't touch!"

Her frown turns upside down:

"No ja nai!" (Ja nai is Japanese, basically equivalent to "not," so having a negative meaning)

She reaches out again and attempts to pat and prod. More giggles ensue. The other girls have extracted themselves from their hiding place and now see what's going on out here. They want in.

10 little hands are groping and grabbing and chasing me around the classroom. And they won't stop that giggling!

"No! No! No! Stop!" I run out of the room. The mothers look at me, startled.

"Uhhh." I can't think how to tell them in simple English that their children are sex fiends. Didn't these mothers ever tell their children NOT to touch people in naughty places?

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace.

I do apologize for my almost year long absence from this blog.

And now, I would like to announce that I've been sexually harassed at work.. by little girls.

It all starts one innocent Friday afternoon. I'm in the school lobby, about ten minutes before my class starts. A group of young children around age 4 or 5 are all gathered with their mothers, eagerly anticipating another 50 minutes of:

"What's this?"
"What do Chicken's say?"
"Cluck cluck!"

You know, the usual stuff.

A girl named Nana, enters the school with her mother. She shyly hands me her attendance booklet and suddenly bursts out with:

"Why, thank you, Nana."
"Good job, Nana, high five!"

Smug with the knowledge that I have taught my kids well enough to say "here you are" and "you're welcome," I start to walk away from the lobby back into the office area. Suddenly, I feel a little hand grab my rear end and give it a good couple of satisfying squeezes.

bonk bonk. One, two.

It reminds me of the way one grabs a little fluffy round bunny tail. All innocent and oh, it just looks so soft and plush, I want to grab it.

"Oh!" the mothers cry.
"Oh!" I cry out.

Mortified, I spin around.

giggle giggle.

giggle giggle.

gigglegigglegigglegiggle. the mother's have joined in. Nana's looking real proud of herself.

I sigh and walk back into the office area. I drink my juice. No one speaks English, not even the mothers, so what the heck can I say anyway? I let it go.