November 27, 2012

Teacher's Pet

The highlight of the day, by far, was the soundtrack playing at the local grocery store where I waited to be picked up after exploring Takachiho. The music can best be described as a hybrid of cell-phone ring tones, muzak, and someone experimenting with various sounds on a synthesizer. The tunes, which included "Living La Vida Loca" by Ricky Martin, "Without Love" by The Doobie Brothers, "September" by Earth, Wind and Fire, and "I Saw the Sign" by Ace of Base appeared to use the original backing tracks, but the vocals had been replaced with bizarre synths. Often times the pad would switch in the middle of a line, as if someone were playing whilst another person clicked forward in the library selection panel of a Korg Triton.

And if you're thinking that I must have had a shitty day if that was the highlight, than you do not understand how unbelievably wonderful this music was, because the rest of my day was great.

Rika suggested I head an hour away to Takachiho, which as I'm sure you're aware, is home to a pretty famous gorge here in the Miyazaki prefecture. She said I could take the bus, but informed me that there was only one road from Nobeoka (where I'm staying) to Takachiho, so it would be easy to hitchhike. "I'm in!" I replied and she proceeded to make me a sign with the kanji for Takachiho. This will undoubtedly become a collector's item in years to come.

Her estimate was that it would take me ten-twenty minutes to get picked up, but she underestimated how charmingly blond I can be. Two minutes after she left, a small Toyota hybrid pulled over and the cutest old man motioned for me to join him.

We did not speak much as he didn't seem to know a word of English. When I asked "How are you" in Japanese, he replied by laughing and saying "arigato", so maybe he also didn't know Japanese...? I did manage to understand that he is 75 years old, lives in Takachiho, and drove a hybrid car (which he was very eager to show off). When he told me his age, I asked "retired?" He thought a moment before replying "retired!" It was the first English he had spoken in the 30 minutes we had spent together, and it was followed by a long pause...

Then, in perfect English, he added "Every day is Sunday."

This gave me a huge laugh. First of all, where the Hell did he learn English, yet alone clever English? My only guess is that when he retired, someone bought him a shirt or a card which read "Every day is Sunday" and he's been studying it ever since. That's the only thing that makes sense.

As we were pulling into Takachiho, he offered to drive me directly to the gorge. After I graciously accepted, he used the car phone to dial a woman whom I assumed was his wife. They only spoke Japanese, but I'm pretty sure this is the conversation they had:

Hi honey it's me.
Ah hello! Are you almost home?
(At this point his voice grew meek and trailed a bit)
Well, yes, but I picked up a hitchhiker so...
You WHAT?!?!
Yes well...
I am sorry, I will be home shortly

He didn't give any acknowledgement to the conversation, but adorable 75 year old man, if you're reading this and using Google translate to understand: Sorry wife mean, generosity of yourself appreciate I have.
Takachiho gorge
Needless to say, it was goreous

In Cod We Trust
This is the most poorly told origins story ever!
 I returned to Rika's and we then set out for the community center where she teaches English to a group of about 15 adults. I had met a few of them the night earlier at our pot luck party, but there were apparently "many more who are eager to meet you." Rika had them all prepare presentations about Japan and Nobeoka, and much to my surprise, many of them brought me gifts!

As I mentioned before, this is a small town that rarely sees a tourist and definitely not American tourists. When I had decided to come to Miyazaki, I was unaware that Miyazaki was the name of the prefecture, so where I ended up staying was not the downtown which is adjacent to all the famous surfing spots. It would be the equivalent to thinking one was going to Portland and then ending up in Canby. But, of course, the mistake was serendipitous as I got to spend another night in the company of truly kind and curious people. The presentations ranged from local expressions to the art of the Japanese tea ceremony, and my gifts included some sake with a Japanese shot glass, a traditional fan, rice and sugar sweets, and a whole collection of face masks, hand warmers, and wet naps. Why these last gifts? Because one of the students was a pharmacist (and a very funny one too!) who completely hammed up his presentation by pulling out the most random assortment of gifts.

I told the class about how my first trip to Japan was in search of roller coasters and how I had ridden over 450 of them around the world. They were speechless. Not because they were amazed, but because they didn't understand. Even when I tried to explain in Japanese, they did not get it. So Rika took a stab at explaining that I had ridden nearly every single roller coaster in the world, and I guess her Japanese is better than mine because the class gasped and then immediately had a thousand questions.

Adult classes are great because they all really want to be there and to learn. Their age does not stop them from being goofy and I really appreciated how warm and jovial the people of Nobeoka are as compared to Tokyoites.

Later in the night Rika told me that many of her students at texted her saying what a "thrill" it was to speak English to a native speaker and that they were so happy they were able to shake my hand. I guess since America is such a melting pot of cultures that we just don't have this affinity to foreigners, so it's been fun to experience the sheer excitement of the locals.

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