A Little Rant

The good news is I’m back in Japan. The bad news is I’m back in Japan. Been having that kind of relationship lately.

After the absolute chaos of a city like Ho Chi Minh City, it is quite nice to step off the plane and see men with tongs scouring the parking lot for trash and short-shorts (not on the trash guys) in January as opposed to half-naked children and stumbling into pockets of urine odors.

I honestly, though, can’t figure out why Japan is so bad at English. From my experience, only in France did I encounter near the kind of problems only speaking English, and that was because they didn’t want to speak it, not because they couldn’t.

I don’t mean to say every country has impeccable English. Certainly many places are void of it, like rural China and the American South. But I’m not sure any country that devotes so many resources, time, and money to the English education falters to greatly. Half of my high school freshman students, with at least 3 years under the belt, usually can only manage, “I’mu fiftee years old-o” [sic] or “Mai favorito (look at friend and whisper, pause) food-o (pause, possibly more consultation with friend) rice!” That is not hyperbole either.

Even customs officials, immigration officers, and the help attendants in the airport have extremely poor English skills. I can answer most of the questions in Japanese, but invariably something comes up and they pause, stumble, and ask in English. The customs declaration has basic grammatical mistakes. It’s like they make these mistakes on purpose. It’s who they are.

While in line for immigration to get our newly mandated foreigner photographs and fingerprints to prevent terrorism even though to my knowledge the only terrorism attacks such as the Tokyo gas attacks in Japan have come from the Japanese themselves, Korean youths (I saw their passports) happily directed English comments at me. In SEA, children as young as ten have held English conversations/sales pitches with me demonstrating better English than some teachers I have met in Japan.

But, it is nice how polite everyone is. Things are on time. Clean. Orderly.

In Cambodia, it’s nice how friendly everyone is. Big difference. On the bus from the airport, the politeness extended so far that everyone in the full capacity bus (heads down, eyes shut- just like the plane, train, etc) generally ignored the overflow of bags in the aisle, allowing them to slide up and down and bang the ends of the bus. The politeness extended so far that the owner of the bags did not speak up as to not bother anyone.

Well, I’m probably just frustrated because I managed to get sick on the plane within 4 hours of being around Japanese people again, not that the two are related. Since September I have had some recurring dizziness, dehydration, and stomach nausea. It seems I brought the Mekong River with me running out my backside. I can’t understand it this time because I took great pains to drink lots of water. One theory is I have some vitamin deficiencies because the diet in Japan is either still-moving raw or fried beyond recognition with little to no fruits and vegetables, but its probably migraines or something.

In a related story, on my way out of the country the usually fast and speedy Fukuoka airport security and immigration was at a standstill. Nearly an hour wait to the front, I found no less than four employees holding small bottles of water and explaining in Japanese you can’t take this on a plane. Like the big sign says. Women lost bottles of this and that left and right from their bags.

Through the check point, sluggish young security workers placed bags and coats in bins and sent through the x-ray. The one and only observer of the monitor on my side was sleeping. Bullshit. I pointed and loudly and firmly (but not yelling) asked what’s the point of an hour wait if she is sleeping. It was a massive mistake.

The shocked security guy stammered and stumbled asking ‘what’ in Japanese. I told him again. Because the burden of comprehension is upon the listener in Japan (as opposed to the speaker in the West) he nodded in confirmation, clearly not understanding. Another toy-cop woman wandered over, put two and two together and probably explained, but I was gone.

Because of the delay, I couldn’t use my voucher for the first-class lounge. I was forced to go that route on the Seoul leg due to availability. It actually worked out in the end because I was able to use in during my whopping 5 hour layover once in Korea.
At least upon returning it was a full 2 hours before I heard anyone exclaim, “Samui!” (Cold!). That phenomenon is another story though.


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