Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Good, the Bad, and the Good Again

I have a new car now, and I also have a new medium sized electric oven that came in the hatchback of the car, left by the Australian teacher who returned home last week. I can bake if I wanted, if only I knew how to bake. And I have the new car too, which delights me. It's purplish/blue. Someone is looking out for me. It doesn't stall on cold mornings or when I'm taking a turn. But one thing I do not have is a Japanese driver's license. Apparently I am an unfit driver. I took my driving test today, which is actually the most sadistic version of an obstacle course one might imagine, and failed. Supposedly I make my left turns too wide. I agreed with the instructor. It's hard to go from driving one of the normal Japanese buggies and then go to take the driving test and be forced into a boat the size of a cadillac that you have to maneuver through S shaped and tight L shaped curves that are--and I'm being serious here now--the width of bike lanes in America. Now I have to go back and take the test in May, on Friday the 13th. I told the man who assigned me my retake date that Friday the 13th was a bad luck day in America, his response was the Japanese version of "Yeah, in Japan it is too, next." Bastard.

Living in a culture different from the one you were born and raised in is actually amazing. It's the best decision I ever made, for sure, to do this. But one of the things that is difficult about doing this is that there is this very subtle accumulation of stress that suddenly bursts on you like biggest black cloud of rain you can imagine. It's the accumulation of small defeats, not being able to buy a suit on your own very easily, or one of those days where you're using your second language and suddenly it disappears on you and you grasp at words like straws but no matter how hard you try whatever you've learned and have had no problems with previously is just not going to roll over and bark that day. Or it's one of those days when you see a group of Japanese people around your age in a big group chattering back and forth like crazy and you think about how that was just about any day if you wanted back in your own country and how now it's like this really precious thing that doesn't come often enough. It's a bad day in the classroom, or those moments when you understand something very keenly because you're sensitive and observant but your host culture seems to think you would never be able to possibly get it because you're just not one of "us" when it comes down to it. It's those small defeats that gather over a period of time, so seemingly insignifant on their own but so heavy suddenly, that get you down.

The magic and wonder of living this way is the amazement that comes from saying something right, having a conversation with someone in their own language instead of your own, being showered with affection for being a caring respectful teacher or community member, accomplishing minor tasks like learning how to use your washing machine (because it's in kanji, you know, all the instructions) or your new electric oven, or what day of the week you put the plastic bottles out and what day the articles of clothing you're getting rid of, etc. It's overhearing a conversation in another language and understanding. That's the really cool stuff that you can't put a price on. But it has a twin whose power is much more of a slow burn, and luckily it doesn't affect you as long as the good stuff does, but it eventually will.

This is one of those days.

I have been driving a car since I was sixteen years old, damnit, and I understood everything you told me to do in your damned Cadillac on a Disney car-rail ride of a course. I do not make wide left turns. And who stops halfway up a hill, puts their parking break on and honks their horn, then takes the parking break off and goes down the other side? And yet I did it, damn it, and I did it right. Wide lefthand turns, no, not really.

We will meet again on Friday the 13th, So and So san, and I will not be so eagerly polite this time. I *will* have my driver's license.

I actually have an International license to drive on now, but it's only good till August, and so I have to have the Japanese license by then if I want to stay and work in the country, to get back and forth to work and to even get to the grocery store, etc. Apparently most people fail the first time, and from the looks of the people in my group, I believe it. 12 people went in, 1 came out with a license.

I thought it was strange that they put all the foreigners into a group to take the test, too. I mean, the examiner couldn't speak or understand English. If he could have, I would have seen a reason to have foreigners lumped together, but since we were all speaking Japanese to him, why all the sorting based on where you came from? Oh I'm sure there's some reason, but I have not been able to think of one that is very satisfying just yet.

I will not let this get me too riled for long, because on top of the new car and new electric oven, I just got a new suit, and I must say, I look very dashing. Tomorrow is the first day of the new school year here, and we're supposed to dress up really really like a whole lot for the first few days, so I'll be sporting my new threads.
Overly excited about this suit, as is probably obvious, but damn if I wouldn't stop and date me if I saw me walking about in this get up.

And also the purplish/blue car is pretty sweet too.


Blogger chance said...

but damn if I wouldn't stop and date me if I saw me walking about in this get up.

yeah, but you are kinda slutty ...


Glad you like your new car and oven and suit. You only failed your test because you forgot to bribe the instructor.

7:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"yeah, but you are kinda slutty ..."

And too concerned with surface things like suits and cars while ignoring the deeper aspects of a relationship like who gets to keep the condo and the little yappy dogs when it's all over.


10:22 AM  
Blogger sdn said...

i like "So and So San."

hooray for new suit/car/oven.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Elad said...

I think it's cool, despite the humbling experience of being a foreigner in a fast-paced and complicated culure, Chris hasn't lost the self-confidence we all know and love.

I mean, look at that big anime grin on his picture up there? If I was a Jewish grandmother, I'd want to pinch those cheeks and go, "aw, aren't you adorable?"

12:42 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

I'm one generation away from being a Jewish grandmother and I want to pinch his adorable anime cheeks too. But I'd do it mostly because he's kinda slutty.

2:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

closer to manga than anime, I think.

3:30 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Apparently I have some sorting of friends to do. Sharyn and Elad get to stay, and Karen is hanging on by a thread because her comment was positive with that back-handed compliment sort of tone about the sluttiness, but Bowes and Chance are scratched out of the will.

4:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've clearly been hanging around with Swedes too much, because I've completely lost all sense of the USA post-jr-high-school negative vibe around the term "slutty". I just think it's sweet.

Last night as we fell asleep Pär was referring to his little sister as slutty. (She isn't actually at all, but he was sort of fondly and proudly postulating that she could be.)


6:51 AM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Haha, don't take me seriously. I just like to mess with people in turn. Actually a little slutty is good for people, I think. A little sass and flirtatiousness and all that. Gives one a good sense of...I don't know really. It's just fun to flirt, I guess. :-) In fact I was flirting and thinking kinda slutty today in fact!

6:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not taking you too seriously :) Dish away. BRING IT ON, SLUTTY MAN.


8:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gosh, what were you going to leave me?


8:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait, your mom is reading this. I meant "SWEET BOY".

8:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, MOM is reading this, and I can honestly say he gets it from his dad, Slutty, that is, which isn't all bad :) Miss you Chris, hugs,love ya, mom

9:12 PM  
Blogger sdn said...

wait, is that poster really your mom, chris? ROCK ON MOM

9:22 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Yep, that's my mom. Preeetty incredible. You should have seen her when I was in high school.

10:13 AM  

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