They’re Never Above Your Station

, , , , , | Hopeless | July 24, 2017

(This happens a week or two after I have just arrived to Japan for a student exchange program. I have yet to have my phone connected to the Internet at this point, so I have to rely on memory to get around. This, coupled with my liking to walk rather than go by transport, results in me getting lost a lot. This time I’m trying to walk home from university, but end up in a different part of the town altogether, and it’s getting late so I decide to just find the nearest subway station. Luckily, I at least speak some Japanese.)

Me: *walks into a convenience shop* “Excuse me, could you tell me what the nearest train station is and how to get there?”

Clerk: “Well, it’s a 20-minute walk from here and it’s a little complicated… Hey, [Coworker #1], there is a foreign customer asking how to get to the train station. Can you explain to her?”

(Coworker #1, an extremely nice middle-aged lady, calls Coworker #2, a young man, and together they try to explain the way to me in half-English, half-Japanese. Unfortunately, I am not yet familiar with local landmarks and find my Japanese vocabulary significantly lacking for words such as “highway” and “T-crossing”. Eventually they draw me crude map and, having thanked them, I walk out with it. They had even offered to walk part of the way with me, but that seemed like an obnoxious thing to accept, so I refused. As I am trying to follow the hand-drawn map, I hear footsteps behind me, and see a young man dressed like a typical office worker trying to catch up.)

Young Man: “Excuse me! I heard you talking to the clerk in that convenience store, and was wondering if I could help you find the way? Where do you want to get?”

Me: “[Neighbourhood where my dorm is], but I’m fine with just finding the train station.”

Young Man: “Well, if you keep walking like this, you’ll end up in Nara!” *a town over 20 miles away in the opposite direction from where I need to get*

(He then walks with me to the train station, making polite conversation as we go. I assume he just needs to go in the same direction anyway. As we get to the station:)

Young Man: “Do you know which station you have to get off at? I can look up on my phone.”

Me: “Oh, thank you, but I know. It’s [Station].”

Young Man: “Than you just need to board the next train from [Platform]. Here, use my train pass.”

Me: “Oh, no, thank you. I have the money.”

Young Man: “Are you sure? It’s [fare]. My pass is unlimited, so it’s okay if you use it. My company pays for it anyway.”

Me: “No, no, but thank you. Thank you very much.”

(As I head to the ticket gate, I see him waving and turning to walk off.)

Me: “Aren’t you going?”

Young Man: “Me? Oh, no. I actually live in an opposite direction; this isn’t even the station I have to board from. I just wanted to make sure you were all right!”

(Young man, thank you so much for helping me get home that night! This encounter meant so much to me back then, especially since I was in the middle of adapting to the new country!)

ATMs Are Not Always Working

, , , , , , | Working | July 1, 2017

(There are only a few businesses open 24 hours in Japan, but there is one thing that really surprised me my first year there and still boggles my mind. It came up in my second year when I and some other teachers were answering some questions to some of the local residents in our area.)

Question: “What surprised you most when you came to Japan?”

Me: “Oh, that’s easy: ATMs close.”

(I proceeded to explain that ATMs in the States operate 24 hours a day, which they found strange. When I first got here, most ATMs closed at six pm; three pm on Sundays. Now they mostly stay open to nine pm except at the post office where they close at seven pm or so. On New Year’s the ATMs and banks are closed for about three days so you have be ready for it. Still confuses me as to why.)

The Taxing Nature Of Geography

, , , , , | Right | June 29, 2017

(I work at a rather well known mall in my city. A woman comes up to the counter with an item. She’s very pleasant while I ring up her one lone item. I tell her the price and she stares at me confused.)

Customer: “No, the price is [price].”

(This happens a lot at our mall because in many foreign countries the tax is included on the price tag so I explain.)

Me: “Yes, ma’am. But there’s tax on this item. So it’s actually [price].”

Customer: “But I’m from Nigeria!”

Me: “Yes, ma’am. And I hope you’re having a lovely visit . But it’s still [price]”

Customer: “No. How much is it because I’m from Nigeria?”

Me: “In this store, it’s the same price wherever a person is from. Will you paying with cash or credit today?”

(The customer grumpily hands me her credit card. The card is unsigned and company policy dictates I request photo ID. I confirm her identity, return her license, and swipe the card.)

Customer: “But I’m from Nigeria!”

Me: “Yes, ma’am. Please sign here. Thank you very much. Enjoy the rest of your evening.”

(According to her driver’s license, Ms. Nigeria lived closer to the building than I did.)

Feeding You Gingerly

, , , , , | Hopeless | June 18, 2017

(I am 18 and a frequent traveler, mostly by flight. Since a very young age, I avoid eating on flights, as I get nausea in the air and the food just increases it. There have been incidents of me vomiting, so normally I eat before I board the flight. I am on a five-hour flight and I skipped having my lunch due to late boarding. The time comes when they distribute food.)

Flight Attendant: “Hello there, how’s it going? Would you like our vegetarian or non-vegetarian option?”

Me: “No, thank you; I don’t eat on flights.”

Flight Attendant: “Oh… well, why is that? Is there something else you would like to eat or anything that I can help you out with?”

Me: “No, it’s not that; I feel nauseous with flight food and I’d probably puke if I ate food on flight. I didn’t even eat before coming to the flight, and my nauseousness is just increasing.”

Flight Attendant: “Oh, well, I’m sorry to hear that but I can’t leave you without you eating something. It’s a five-hour flight! Oh wait… I have a solution!”

Me: “What is it?”

Flight Attendant: “Since you mentioned you feel nauseous, here’s some ginger ale; sip on it and it will help you feel better. Here’s a snack mix. Have this whilst sipping on the ale. I’ll get you something small once you’re done with that.”

(She then kept checking on me EVERY 30 minutes and kept giving me small snack mixes and two more ginger ales and I couldn’t have thanked her more. These air hostesses work for long hours yet they manage to keep their chirpiness alive!)

A Long Way To Go To Return A Book

, , , | Friendly | June 15, 2017

I work at a library in a small-ish city, about 15,000 people, and since our library also functions as a community center of sorts, I see a lot of people every day. Since I’ve worked there over ten years, by now a lot of people in town recognize me, to the point where at least once a week I’ll be at the grocery store or church and have a stranger come up to me and go “I know you! You work at the library!”

This isn’t exactly limited to our town, either — quite a few people in neighboring cities have library cards at our library, so I could be shopping or doing my business in one of the nearby cities and have someone I don’t even know recognize me. It’s usually a good experience, but it can be strange at times.

Last summer, I traveled across the country with a friend to attend a festival in another state. So naturally, during the entire trip work is the last thing on my mind. On the flight home, I’m sitting on the plane watching the rest of the passengers board when a woman makes eye contact with me and bursts out:

“Hey, I know you! You work at the library in [City]! Fancy meeting you here!”

I knew that since I WAS flying home, odds were higher than usual that I’d run into someone who lived close to me. But seeing as I was on a plane thousands of miles from home when it happened, the whole experience was more than a little surreal.

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