Vertical Cities With Happy Garbage Trucks (Japan, 2007-2009)

  • There is a succinct Japanese phrase (which now escapes me) for “working-extra-hard-the-day-after-vomiting-in-front-of-your-boss-from-too-much-alcohol”. Draw your own conclusions from the fact that they have a protocol for this type of thing.
  • If you ever hear an ice cream truck in Japan, don’t bother chasing it down. In order to make garbage vans more polite, the Japanese decided that they should play children’s melodies while driving through residential neighborhoods. No tasty treats. Just mounds and mounds of super-sorted trash.
  • I’d been complimented countless times on my superlative chopstick form. At my welcome party, 40 pairs of eyes watched me eat, all with mouths agape; they uttered hushed asides to one another like concerned parents viewing their child taking her first steps. It wasn’t meant to be insulting, but I couldn’t help feeling like the damaged foreigner who miraculously could eat with knitting needles. I half expected them to break out in applause.
  • I made my share of linguistic faux pas, not unlike the adorable, elderly woman in my class who, pointing to a chair, asked, “Can I shit here?” For instance, I was giving a lesson to three young professionals on words for body parts. I pointed to my chin and declared, “Chin… chin.” They erupted in laughter. Apparently “chin chin” means “testicles” in Japanese. Can I add that my cleft (thankfully) isn’t deep enough to support the comparison. Interestingly, I made a similar mistake while living in Brazil when learning Portuguese. I was talking about my flight, and I’d wanted to say it was “sacolejando”, or shaky/turbulent; instead I said “sacohelado” which translates as cold ball-sack (again, testicles). Good times. My other huge mistake in Japanese came during a kids’ class. They were a little rowdy and not understanding a word of English, so I decided to switch gears and play a game. I exclaimed, “Okie dokie, do you want to play?” Much to my chagrin, the little monsters started laughing and pointing at my chest. They heard “doki doki”, and therefore, to them, I’d said, “Tits BLAH BLAH BLAH blah BLAH?” Meh.


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