Monday, July 02, 2007

What's my job again?

So I constantly get asked what my job is and what exactly it is I do... even my one friend that works in the same facility (not my office though) had no clue what my job entails without further explanation. All he knew was that he'd walk in my office and see me pecking away at a keyboard all the time - if I'm busy I'm all over the place, but there's definitely a bunch of down time or prep time in this job depending on the time of year which sees me in front of a computer. Of course then there's my job title itself - Coordinator of International Relations. Could it be more vague? I mean sure it's accurate, in the sense that statements like "I eat food" or "on weekends I like to do stuff" are accurate, but knowing my job title doesn't really clear things up regarding what I do from 9-5, or sometimes 1-9 on the daily. It really is a rather random job though that has me all over the place at times.... coordinating international relations. Among CIRs across the country that I've spoken to however, it sounds like my office is definitely an exception as I don't hear stories of hula cowboys or cosplay photoshoots or salsa on the water from many others.

So I thought I'd share a story about one of the more bizarre functions that I perform. You see, in my time here I've found that if someone comes to my office and wants to speak English, that's actually part of my job. I thought it was sort of weird at first, but they've told me to just go and talk to people - sort of like a rent-a-friend one on one English club of my very own. Woo. I get random guests coming to visit every now and then, ranging from foreign residents, to students that want to study abroad or already have, to an old guy that retired and moved to the Philippines, to some goofy tall guy that came in wearing a cowboy hat and boots to go with his Johnny Cash bolo tie and all black suit, and most recently to a group of middle-aged women, which in Japanese I refer to as baachans, that have their own little baachan English club where they talk about baachan things. They have commissioned me to give a speech for them on Maryland next week actually, but that's not the interesting part.

The interesting part is the head baachan. Her English really isn't that bad actually - she's a tour guide out in Matsushima, a tourist attraction not too far from here, and does tours in English and translates tourist info sometimes. The funny thing about talking to baachans in English though is that they are totally Japanese about it, which among other things means acting all super-impressed at everything you say or do while showering you in meaningless compliments and asking me if it's ok before doing anything. She has complimented me on not only my Japanese, but also mysteriously on my English... because I have a spectacular American accent. Baachans are like the social equivalents to the guy on acid that's amused by fast moving objects with bright shiny colors - doesn't take much to impress them. If they see me use chopsticks to eat sushi while drinking green tea their heads might explode.

So this particular baachan, the baachan boss if you will, called me up one day. I thought she wanted to confirm some things as I had just sent her the title for my speech, but she just starts going on and on about totally unrelated stuff which I had no clue about. She went on for about a good half hour about this guy she knew and the missionaries in my town and some other random stuff which I've probably just mentally blocked at this point. Basically, she just wanted someone to talk to in English. Then for whatever reason I agree to help her with some translation with Buddhas and shiny scepters and stuff - fax it off and sure enough, her comes the phonecall.

The last call I got from her though was totally out of the blue and absolutely puts all the rest to shame. So she calls up last week for apparently no reason whatsoever, and recounts a harrowing tale of her struggles at a local middle school. She prefaces this story with the disclaimer that she hurt her shoulder and was at first too embarrased to share it with her physician why, but apparently felt perfectly fine telling me, a complete stranger whom she just met a whole month prior. I've found that some Japanese will share stuff with you before other Japanese people since they figure there's less of a chance of you telling people they know or something. It seriously sounded like she had scripted this speech out - sounded way too rehearsed but hilarious nonetheless.

First she tells me that she teaches some Canadian exchange students Japanese at the middle school - ok, fine. And apparently the principal of said school told her to use the handicapped bathroom when she needs to since it's the cleanest. This particular day however, she used the girls bathroom on the 2nd floor since she was up there for her class. Sounds normal enough. So all the stalls are full since they're between classes, so she waits. A stall opens up, but the door to said stall is looking a little iffy. It's a little crooked and she has trouble getting it closed. Uh-oh. After a slight struggle, she gets the door closed and goes about her business. Upon completion, she has a little trouble getting the door open again. Oh no, what to do? She yells for help, but everyone's now in class and can't hear her calls. I'm biting my lip at this point as she verbally acts out the scene through the receiver. Now next, she said she attempted to climb over the door but got stuck, then whacked her shoulder but finally got over. I was trying soooo hard not to laugh at this point - I mean, first of all who does this happen to, and more importantly WHY WOULD SHE CALL ME TO TALK ABOUT IT??? In exscrutiating detail, in English no less!!

But hey, that's my job right? Sure. I have other functions, but this has to be one of the more bizarre ones - English speaker, extraordinaire. I seriously do get the impression that they just pay me to be the white guy sometimes. Meh, it's a living.

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