| I used to work in a nice building downtown that was shown in a Tony Hawk game which means something to some and nothing to others. One summer there, I met a woman named Yuka.
Mike: “Hey we’re gonna have a temp here for a week, a student from one of those ESL schools.”
“What’s that about?
“How bad is their English?”
“No idea. You’re the one that asked for help. Take advantage of this.”
“No good if they can’t follow directions and I waste more time explaining something two or three times and that’s just what I mean by ‘payroll.’”
“Well, just give her simple things like counting uniforms or doing follow-up calls.”
“That’s not going to fill the time.”
“Format files?” As he said that he brought his hands up in a parallel fashion to the sides of his head. It could have been a made-up dance move.
Mike: “Just see what you can do. I don’t care. Anyway, I’m in meetings for the rest of the day. Send an email if you need me.”
The next morning.
Hoda the HR Lady: “Hi Ming. How are you? Say ‘Hello.’ This is Yuka.”
Me: “Hi. Nice to meet you.”
Clearly she was new to this sort of introduction. I haven’t shaken a hand this limp since every Korean kid I tutored when I was in university, and they had an excuse – they were, like, 10, not an adult in their twenties. “Shake hands much?” I’m holding the noodle.
Yuka: “Excuse me?”
Me: “We need to work on this.” I raise the noodle. “Let’s do this again.” I grip with noticeable pressure.
Yuka: “Hmm…I see.”
“Ok. Again. Nice to meet you.” I hold out my hand. She reaches for it and uses a large portion of her body weight to squeeze.
“Was that better?”
“Well, you don’t want your whole body shaking when you do it either.”
“I think I need exercise.”
“We’ll keep at it. You’re here for how long?”
“Only this week. I leave on this Saturday.”
“Alright. At the end of the week, you’ll have a handshake that doesn’t seem like you’re on life support.”
I showed her how to take uniform inventory and that kept her out of my hair for a couple of hours. She would come back once and a while to ask what, to some people, would be stupid questions.
Around noon a call comes through from Mike’s office, which was just next door. It was her. “Umm I have a question. Do you know where can I go for lunch?”
“Hah. Am I in Japan?”
“Kind of, except here they’re run by Koreans and Chinese, mostly. The Izakayas are usually Japanese though for some reason. There’s other stuff there too like McDonald’s and falafel places up there.”
I gave her directions. I was super busy with idiots sleeping on the job or not showing up and didn’t see her till it was the end of her day, not mine.
Yuka: “Hello. I will be leaving now. Do you have anything to say before I go?”
Me: “I think we’re good. Where’d you go for lunch?”
“Actually, I got lost and just went to a café I found across the street.” Really? How do you get lost walking straight up?
“Hmm. Weird. Ok. Tomorrow, I’ll show you, I guess.”
The next morning we checked on the noodle.
Me: “Firm! You practiced, didn’t you?”
Yuka: Giggling, “A little. I asked the people in my dorm to help me.”
“They did a good job!”
“One girl is from Daegu in Korea. She said they make strong women there.”
“Hah. That could be true.”
She continued with the uniform count. Fast forward to lunch. We walked up Cardero. She was kind of a fragile woman borderline nourished, more towards nourished, though. At first glance she was somewhere between a blade of grass and a thing of straw. If you looked at her longer you’d probably say she was healthy enough to get by. I think we were about the same age, but I’m not totally sure.
We went to Robson Sushi. It’s changed hands now and called something else. Of course, it’s still a sushi restaurant. If there’s something Vancouver has, it’s sushi restaurants. I think I mentioned that.
Me: “So where are you from exactly?”
Yuka: “Do you know Saitama?”
“I think so. Is that anywhere near Shimokitazawa?”
“Kind of. Maybe one hour from Shimokitazawa. It’s a burp.”
“Umm, maybe that is not the right word. I heard people say that before. ‘Burps’ maybe?”
Burps…I sat on that for a bit. Burps, a place in a city, burps, burbs. Burbs! Oh, burbs! “The burbs! Suburbs! Hah! Ok, right. It’s more of a ‘b’ on the end, not a ‘p.’ Not a burp. Not this.” I gulped some air and did a small one. “It’s always weird to hear fobs say slang.”
“I guess because I’m expecting you to use basic words.”
“I am not basic. What is that? Fob?”
“Well, it’s slang itself, actually. It’s kind of an offensive word, some say, but it can be kind of cute to use with people you’re comfortable with. It stands for ‘fresh off the boat’ and it’s what you call a person who comes here from a foreign country, usually Asia, and often that person’s English is pretty bad and the way they dress is clearly different, maybe unusual, not necessarily weird, just different to locals, and they have certain ways of behaving that annoy people like they drag their feet a lot.”
“But I came on a plane.”
“Well, boat is used I guess to make the person seem kind of sad. It has a stronger effect that way.”
“So I’m a fob to you?”
“Well, do you drag your feet?”
She looked at the bottom of her shoes. “Not that much.”
“Hmm…I don’t know you that well, but your accent is decent and you use pretty advanced grammar and vocab. You have a good sense of fashion that isn’t Harajuku messed-up or anything. It is different but it is nice-different.” It was a clean, form-fit look. “So I guess you could be fob-like without being totally fobanese. I just wasn’t expecting you to know the term ‘burbs. That’s my fault.”
“Hah. Yes, yes. Right. This is your fault. You’re a bad man. How do you know Shimokitazawa?”
“I’m really into Japanese rock music and there’s this famous place called Club Que that I went to when I was in Tokyo. I saw a couple of gigs there.”
“Oh. I see. I like concerts too. I know Club Que also. It is famous, you’re right. Small but intimate.”
Ok, pause. So there is this guy named Steve Tanaka who puts on an event each year. He’s a doctor by trade and he puts tens of thousands of dollars not to mention countless hours of his own time into this event. I look forward to it every year. So what is it? He brings about 5 bands over from Tokyo so that he can introduce contemporary Japanese music to people here. Now why am I bringing this up? Because I could invite her to the shindig on Friday. But I hardly know this woman. But it would be a nice thing to do and a nice, memorable experience, one of those foreign yet familiar experiences that can be pleasant. I remember when I lived abroad, people treated me with a lot of kindness. Pay it forward they say. She’s nice enough, anyway, and I, as a superficial male, admittedly do find her attractive. But I would do the same if I didn’t. I would — I would.
“So there’s this guy Steve Tanaka who puts on an annual event each year…” Good job: “annual” and “each year” in the same sentence. I tell her what I told you minus the second half. Fast forward. “So what are you doing on Friday?”
“Hmm. Well, it’s the day before I leave. So, maybe pack?”
“Oh right. When is your flight?”
“In the afternoon.”
“Yeah, when though, exactly?”
“3 pm. I need to be at the airport by 1200. I think my school will drive me around 1100.”
“Those damn international flights. So much time wasted just sitting around. I was going to ask if you wanted to go to that concert.”
“Really? How would I get home?”
“Where do you live?” Her school’s downtown. How far could it be? Burnaby? I could just give her a ride.
“Surrey. Near King George Station.”
Are you serious? How does this happen? I live in Edgemont Village. Well, you’re in too deep now, dummy.
“Oh. Ok. That’s not too bad.” It was. “I can give you a ride.”
“Oh, thank you, so much. That’s so friendly. Don’t you have someone else to go with?”
“Not really. Just some maybes.”
“I see. Well, thank you. I’ll buy you lunch!”
We talked bands a bit more and headed back. It’s a bit of a blur now, but I think she photocopied a bunch of stuff and filed for the rest of the day. I interviewed a woman with brown fingernails and dealt with a guy who didn’t show up for work because he lost his cat.
On both Wednesday and Thursday, she sent me these cryptic emails that I think were indirectly asking me to lunch. Who can forget those.
The first one:
“Are you hungry? I’m not sure if I am, but if you are, I might be. – Yuka”
The second one:
“Are you hungry? You should eat. But I am not your mother. I am hungry. I’m going to eat. But I didn’t bring lunch. So I’m going to eat outside. You might also want to eat outside if you are hungry. – Yuka.”
So we ended up having lunch together on both days. On Thursday:
Me: “Don’t they have their own words for ‘I want to be with you’”?
Yuka: “Yes, we do.”
“Then they should use them in the song.”
“To be fair, many languages borrow from others and use non-native words in their culture. It’s just for fun. It’s not that there’s something missing in the local language or something better in the lender language. How many times have you heard ‘Bonjour’ in songs or in casual meeting? What’s that movie song? ‘Voolay vooka-shake a mwah.’ I think that is globalization. And you said ‘ohayo’ to me this morning.”
“I did do that. Well, it seems like they borrow English for their songs more over there than we borrow any other language over here for our music. My other issue is that so many times they use English and it’s all wrong. If you’re going to do something, you should do it right.”
“Yes. Well, that is a different issue. And I agree it should be done correctly.”
“I just don’t think there’s anything particularly special about English anyway. It just exists and we happen to use it.”
“In Canada, you have a different view. It is a different perspective there. History has done a lot to shape the way we think and see the world and that includes how we see English and what English means to culture. Canada’s history is not Japan’s history. I am not saying that I like the way that English is used there. I do not. But I do understand why it is used.”
I was really starting to feel something for this woman. She said some interesting things.
End of Friday rolled around. She finally finished counting uniforms. Usually the count takes a day, not 5. Oh well. If I cared, I’d have cared.
Mike: “Whatchoo doing this weekend? Any plans?”
Me: “Umm. Just dropping a friend off at the airport.”
What was that elongated “right”? He knew. No he doesn’t. How could he know? Whatever. I’m not going there.
Me: “How about you?”
Mike: “Zoe’s got another soccer game I’m going to watch them lose, but dads gotta be dads.”
“Hah. Yes. Dad no fad.”
“Are you making that a thing? You’ve said that before.”
“It could be a thing.”
“Cannot. I’m leaving. Have a good weekend.”
The concert wasn’t too far off from now. It was at the Biltmore again and we got in early. We looked around for some seats.
There were a few stools around a heavy set, middle-aged father of 3 from Belgium who thought it was the night of the Beyonce tribute. He really liked Beyoncé and missed his family. We talked at lengths about nothing special and I could understand nothing he was saying about the printing company he either works for or owned and then sold.
Eventually, it was showtime. The night opened with Shiina Ringo’s cover of Spitz’s 8823. She had a weird two-part set. Next was – yes, this was really their name – Mass of the Fermenting Dregs. They rocked the place. After that came Scandal. They did their thing. Then Radwimps blew up the place because that’s what they do. Shiina Ringo came again to do a bit more and then it came time for Kinoku Teikoku [PLAY] to close things out.
There was a girl in the front row playing with her hair. What was she doing? Was she braiding? Who does that? Stop that! As the night went on, people were able to carve out spaces that offered better views of the stage. There were the people who pulled back the curtains more. There were some people sitting under the large speakers hanging above the stage which was obviously dangerous but those were some damn prime seats. Totally worth totally dying. There were the people who angled their way into spots and appeared to only need to take a picture but then overstayed their welcome and didn’t care to move back. The Belgian dude left ages ago. To him, when it came to tunes, you were either with Beyonce or you were against Beyonce. A guy that got into a fight earlier because he was just too into things had calmed down. The big dude at the front of the stage was doing his thing making sure idiots didn’t rush the stage. At the same time, he bobbed, and I think he was having a good time.
We’d moved away from the stools and were standing to the right of centre, away from crowd-surfing territory.
As I listened I spaced out for a bit and started thinking. Did she really get lost that day? Was this all some kind of plan? A plan for what exactly, you idiot? Did she see something in me? I mean I think I have some positive traits. I know cream, chicken bouillon cube, and tarrragon make for a mean sauce. But could I be one of those “From the moment I saw you” stories? And if this is one of those, what could possibly come out of this? She leaves tomorrow. Long distance relationships are always doomed to fail. Or was that for older generations? They didn’t have Internet. It’s different today. Anyway, how can I be this vain? She’s not interested. There’s nothing happening here. It’s just two people sharing a common interest in music. Done.
As I reminded myself to stop thinking, it happened. It! I felt this hand. And I flinched! I did because I’m dumb like that! She reached for my hand! She did that. She was doing it. It was happening. It was so.
So what did I do? I brought her to be in front of me. Her height was perfect and I could just rest my chin on her head. We stood, swaying, eyes gazing at the performers on stage. At 4:10, she turned around, wrapped her arms around me, and rested her head against my chest. This song, the name to which I still don’t know because my Japanese is as good as most people’s outside of that country, instantly became the best thing to ever happen to me after her.
We said “eff it” to the school’s bus and I drove her to the airport on Saturday. On the way we did sad but fun two-people “Chinese fire drills” but made a point to just call them “fire drills” and she waited in the airport for several hours because that’s what people do at the airport. They wait around. And it sucks.
That was 3 months ago. And after nights of Skyping and Google chatting about randomness from why anime characters keep looking younger and younger relative to their purported age, to how so many anime casts don’t look like the people making the shows, to Fukushima cover-ups and what to do about our food, one morning I peaced out from that office and booked a flight.
I don’t know what I’m getting myself into, but radiation or not, here I come Abenomics.
–END for Now–
Here’s the complete playlist to my made up concert put together for just this story. I recommend playing the songs in order. Note that Next Music from Toyko is an actual event, however, and Kinoko Teikoku and Mass of Fermenting Dregs have both performed. This story is dedicated to Steve Tanaka for inspiring this sort-of made-up story!
Shiina Ringo’s cover of Spitz’s 8823 [PLAY]
Mass of the Fermenting Dregs [PLAY]
Shiina Ringo – Gibs [PLAY]
Kinoku Teikoku [PLAY]
Questions or comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
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