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Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Little Piece of Hesstory: The RUDEST American EVER!

The newest group of missionaries bound for Olongapo is in the air as I write this. How exciting!

As I think about this fact, it reminds me of my own arrival in the mission field. We were in the mission home in Sendai, Japan, for three days and then, at breakfast, if I'm recalling right, we were given our individual assignments. I was sent almost as far north as someone could go--to the city of Aomori. I had three different trains to travel on by myself. That, of course, meant two transfers.

image: commons.wikimedia.org
I remember over that breakfast, asking the mission president to write the kanji characters for the stations I would transfer at. When it came down to it, I didn't really need them because things were also written in English letters under the kanji.

I took it as a personal challenge to speak with anyone that sat near me. I also learned quickly that the Japanese nod when someone speaks to them to show encouragement and that they do a little "uh" kind of sound, sometimes referred to as the "affirmative grunt" when they're listening to someone else speak.

image: uts.edu.au
I remember watching a woman in a phone booth. As she spoke, she bowed over and over again as if the person on the other end of the phone was present.

These are all things I remember from sitting on the trains that day all those years ago. I believe the date would have been around July 20, 1989.

image: panoramio.com
When I arrived in Aomori, I was AMAZED. Everyone had told me that I was going to the "inaka," the countryside. So, I believed I would find rice paddies everywhere. I pictured the textbook Japanese countrysides from my social studies classes in middle and high school. That was SO not the case.

image: tripadvisor.com
As we pulled into the station, I was sure I'd made a wrong transfer, but I kept hearing what I swore was "Aomori" over the loud speakers. This HAD to be it. But there were tall buildings with neon lights. There were people everywhere. This was the Japanese inaka?

I pulled my three suitcases off the train and looked around for someone to come to retrieve me. There had to be a white face somewhere, but no. There was not.

Oh, my goodness! I had made a wrong transfer. I was SURE of it.

image: 123rf.com
Ahead of me was a very tall staircase. If I climbed those stairs, what would be on the other side? Could it be that my companion was waiting there? Every other station we had passed had easy access to waiting friends. Was this one different? I decided that not venturing would be foolish, and I wasn't sure I had the Japanese necessary to figure out how to board the next train back to Sendai, so venture, I did.

The next quandary....what to do with the three suitcases. There was no way I was going to be able to haul all three at the same time. It was then that I remembered that I was now in a much safer country than the one I left. I would take one at a time, leave it at the top and go down for the next. In all of this, I would hope and pray that what I'd heard about Japan was true--my things would be safe and untouched.

I began by hauling my smallest bag up. The stairs were SO narrow and there were so many of them. I left it at the top and went back for the middle-sized suitcase. As I neared the bottom step, a porter rounded the corner and asked if he could help me; at least, that's what I deduced.

He grabbed my biggest suitcase. It was HUGE. I felt bad that he had chosen that one and tried to trade him for the one I was carrying. No go.

As we hauled them up the stairs, he started to fall behind just a bit. I wanted to come across as polite and grateful, so I decided that I'd better say something. I picked my brain for just the right thing. It was decided. I was going to say, "It's heavy, isn't it?"

The words came out: "Osoi desu ne?"

I was so proud of myself, but the look on his face told me that something was wrong. What could it be?

I thanked him the best I knew how with "Arigatou gozaimasu" and worked my way around the corner. There, at the bottom of another flight of stairs, was my companion and a couple of Elders. I was SO glad to see them. I hadn't taken the wrong train after all. PHEW!

image: pinterest.com
Two days later, I sat down at my desk to study Japanese. I decided to review some adjectives. I came across the word for "heavy," "omoi." Wait....."OMOI?" That's not what I'd said that evening on the stairs of the train station. Oh, no! What had I said? I remembered; I said, "Osoi."

I quickly looked up "osoi." It's meaning: "slow."
image: pinterest.com

Instead of saying "It's heavy, isn't it?" I'd said, "You're slow, aren't you?"


Such an auspicious beginning....STILL kicking myself.

It's a wonder I survived, isn't it? So glad that Japan is such a safe country.

1 comment:

Alyson said...

LOL LOL LOL that's hilarious! Almost like telling people two ninjin were standing in a pillar of light!

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