Thursday, November 30, 2006

Gut-Punch Thursday!

I've been known to say that putting one's self in difficult or uncomfortable situations is a good way to rise to the challenge and kick some ass. Or fail. Miserably. But at least learn something. I guess it all started when I was in college and I joined the rowing team as a chubby 17 year old with minimal physical training experience. It continued when I went to Japan as an exchange student and I refused to hang out with anyone but'cept Japanese people to learn the language. I kept at it in the Marines, and part of me taking this job here in Japan was a continuation of it, because even though I didn't lie on my resume or anything to get hired, I had a lot of self doubt about my abilities to be effective at my job. For the most part I've risen to the challenge and done a good job, but today I felt like Corky Thatcher performing River Dance live at the Apollo.

One thing about learning a language is that no matter what you do, there's a lot going on in your brain that you really don't have a lot of control over. It's like a roller coaster. Some days you're on fire -- you cruise around like a ninja, there's no situation that you can't handle, you understand everything, and you feel like a native speaker. Other days, like today, you feel like an idiot and your brain simply won't kick into gear to get the job done.

I don't normally blog about work, but today was kinda comical in a few ways. Comical because, like I said, I felt like a tackling dummy. I haven't felt like I got gut-punched at work this badly since my first day of work, when, after moving my life to Japan, I found out that there was a "mistake" on my official job offer letter and that I'd be taking a $29,000 pay cut. Personnel's official response: "Whoops!" Anyway, I get a kick out of my job mainly because it involves a lot of eccentric personalities in my office, both American and Japanese. Keeps me on my toes. Or knocks me off my feet.

It started off with a meeting in the morning over a project I'm heading up that I almost lost control of, because a guy I work with wouldn't stop talking to me about his experiences working at a car dealership in the USA. I love the guy to death, but in one ear I was listening to 4 Japanese people discussing (in Japanese) one of the processes we were having a problem with as I tried to resolve it, and in the other ear I was listening to a 30 minute tale (in English) about life as a parts manager of a Honda dealership in 1978. By the end of the meeting I was a little bit hosed, so I got a sandwich, went back to my place, and zoned out for 45 minutes.

I came back and my old boss told me he was showing around a group of Japanese folks who were checking out our operation. They came through as scheduled and 20 or so Japanese people piled in the room. I was standing there on the side in my usual lean-on-the-filing-cabinet-looking-bored stance that I typically adopt when guests come through when my old boss says, "Take it away, Paully!" I said, "So, like, are you gonna do this?" and he said, "No, you can tell them about what we do." So I started stammering in Japanese. Like a fucking first year Japanese student. Like an idiot. Like a deaf Gypsy from Turkistan. Finally some dude pipes up and says, "uuuh, I'm an interpreter for these guys....." so I thought "fuggit" and just started speaking in English. Or trying. I don't know which made me look more like a fool -- stammering in Japanese or stammering in my native language. The first sentences sounded something like this:

Uhh, yeah.. Ok.. As you can see here.. Um, we do stuff... Umm.. I, uuh, well, I'm in charge of this.. And, you know.. As you can see by this stuff here. Yeah...

I looked around for a second at 20 inquisitive pairs of eyes, begging to know just what the fuck I was talking about. After an awkward 5 seconds or so looking back at them in abject confusion, I finally got my shit together and regained control of the English language, finishing off my little stammerfest.

My current boss walked in with a huge smile on his face (he was in the back). He seemed to've gotten a big kick out of my performance. All I could say was, "Did you like that? Get a nice view?" and he said, "Of what?" and I said, "Of me, showing my ass. That was awesome." He apologized, but I was too shellshocked to really care.

So after that, I was promptly told that a it was time for another meeting with some of our customers back in the states who had come to visit. Some big wigs. Four of our Japanese staff work for them, and while they are not directly employed by them, whenever the bigwigs come, the section chief tends to voice grievances that the big wigs really have no power to change, because administratively the Japanese workers are under the control of our organization. It's painful to watch, and the section chief insists on making it a complain session every time, with the same answers. The section chief will go on a 10 minute diatribe about something, which will end with the big wigs saying, "We don't control that. The organization here does." It took every ounce of restraint in my soul not to jump in and make it stop. So I drew pictures and kinda paid attention.

Part of my job is to edit the information given to the big wigs by the Japanese staff, which is why I was there. The meeting was held in Japanese with an interpreter sitting there, because I don't like doing simultaneous interpretation. I was sitting there, again, half listening and half doodling on a piece of paper. The Japanese section chief was going on about his many grievances which the folks from the states have no power over, when I looked up and thought to myself, "Did he just say what I think he said?"

It's great, hearing something that you wish you didn't hear in Japanese, then hearing it said in English. It's like getting manslapped and during the shock-phase where you're attempting to comprehend what just happened, your adversary kicks you in the throat. Sometimes you're not quite sure what they said, so you ask them to say it again. Since I wasn't directly part of the conversation I didn't have that option. Here's what I thought he said, in Japanese:

As you can see, our production is considerably lower than last year. This is for a few reasons, partly because the American staff is undermanned. The other reason is because Paully over there has been putting your products on a much lower priority than his other work, so we are suffering.

That was the manslap. That's when I stopped drawing a picture of a stick figure getting killed by a falcon. That's when I looked up and said to myself, "...he just say that?" That's when I felt a wakizashi sliding between my shoulder blades.

As I felt the blood rushing to my stomach, I heard the interpreter say the following:

As you can see, our production is considerably lower than last year. This is for a few reasons, partly because the American staff is undermanned. The other reason is because Paully over there has been putting your products on a much lower priority than his other work, so we are suffering.

I didn't really know what to say, because it's not true. Yes, I have had a lot on my plate, but I've been getting their shit done as fast as I've been doing anything else. Another good reason production isn't as high this year is because, well, the fiscal year began last month. So yeah. There probably isn't going to be as much done in the past month as there was in the past year. And in the 1 month represented in their little statistics? Around 1/12th of last year's total production. Hm..

So thanks buddy. I thought we were cool. I thought we were homies, because you come into my office and yap at me whenever you wanna talk about WWII airplanes or whatever weird shit you have on your mind. I pretend not to notice the awkwardness when I tell you I need to get back to work, which you ignore, and entertain your conversations about any and all aircraft since 1941. When you go on about things which I have no control over, I make sympathetic faces and curse the man. Roger that.

But I have news for you. Tomorrow I'm going to purchase a car. A pimp car. It looks like this.

You, sir, will never ride in my car*. Oh, and just so you know? Consider yourself photoshopped.

But that's as far as my revenge will go. I suppose I'll sit there, in the name of harmony, and continue to listen to your ridiculous senile babblings. You are a nice man, I think, but in the dozen or so years of working with roundeye you never learned our customs or etiquette. And why should you? We are your guests. We are simple barbarians after all, unable to comprehend your nepotistic subtleties and roundabout buddy fucking. I won't even tell our boss about what you said at the meeting that he luckily missed, because he will go completely apeshit and hire a 19 year old Filipina drinky-girl to fill the current opening just to spite you.

...and that, my friends, is what we call Cultural Sensitivity.

* yeah im seriously getting that car


Anonymous cory said...

Yeah, that's a bad flippin' day. Sometimes I feel like I suck at my job, but at least I don't have to sit through my coworkers backstabbing me in two languages.

That's pretty funny that you heard it in Japanese and then heard it interpreted in English. That's like a coworker insulting you under their breath, and when you go "I'm sorry, what did you say?" instead of them saying "nuthin'" they repeat it by yelling it right in your face.

11:23 PM  
Blogger brando said...

The shitty part is if you explain the 1/12th thing, it just comes off as though you're making excuses.

That sucks.

1:42 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

Yep. That's why I haven't said that to anyone around here. It makes it seem like I really give a shit. Then again, so does writing a post about it. Oh well.

7:36 AM  
Blogger Jinxy said...

He actually said that? I thought you were kidding.

You should have put him in a headlock and choked the life out of him.

11:34 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

well, he didn't say "paully". he said my last name with -san on the end. otherwise, yeah, that's what he sed.

i couldnt decide whether to sweep him into a triangle choke or do a flying arm bar, so i just continued doodling.

5:13 PM  
Anonymous Cory said...

Your name basically already has a -san at the end. It must sound pretty stupid when they say it. What does -san mean anyway? I just thought it sprang from racial stereotypes and the Karate Kid. I didn't know anyone actually put -san at the end of names over there.

11:39 PM  
Anonymous brando said...

I call Cullen's mom "Mama-san".

1:40 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

naw, they use it. they like putting titles on stuff, so they slap -san at the end of your name in most situations. there are other titles too, like -chan is a diminuative form of -san, and -kun is like a title used for boys. so cory-chan would be like calling you cowy. cory-kun might be like Cor'. or something. that kinda nuance. -sama is way more respectful. so if i use it with someone im familiar with or not "below" in status, its insulting, cuz im kinda making fun of them. like if i insisted on calling you "Lord Cory" and using flowery language, id be making shit out of you even tho im using honorifics. its complicated at first i guess. but u figure it out eventually.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

ps: since im reading the comments on a japanese computer right now, at the top of your comment it sez, "cory-san no comento".

no = possessive marker ['s]
comento = comment

so you get a -san too!

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"id be making shit out of you"????
I'm going to start introducing you as my friend who does the direct translation of Japanese title movies into English. Like the one's in the foreign films section that are titled "Rising Sun Cucumber". Sorry Paul, i'm just making shit out of you.


7:25 AM  
Anonymous nedric said...

We are simple barbarians after all, unable to comprehend your nepotistic subtleties and roundabout buddy fucking.

May I get your permission to use that one?

Ignoring the particular situation, you have got to at least be proud of the fact that you have enough facility with the language that you can hear echoes through different spoken languages. But overhearing yourself getting backhanded in two languages - that's the part that had to suck.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Hammer said...

That car is beyond pimpalicious - outstanding purchase, good sir! Life is entirely too short to sock it all away in a 401K.

1:25 AM  
Anonymous Tony said...

It doesn't matter what language you're speaking, when someone tells you to describe what your job is you're going to stammer and stumble with it. Do you know why? Because most people realize that they don't actually do jack shit in their jobs and they don't have a bullshit answer prepared.

I have a prepared bullshit answer. I say I'm a scientist. When they ask me what I do I say,"It's really complicated, I don't think you'd be interested." It works sometimes but then some asshole always acts insulted and says,"oh yeah, don't bother explaining it to me, I'm probably too stupid to understand anyway right?"

Feeling bad I then go into a watered-down, over-generalized explanation of what I work on. Then they give me the obviously bored stare and say something brilliant like,"Wow, that was way over my head". It annoys the hell out of me everytime. I have a Ph.D. That means that I have devoted an unreasonable amount of time to studying something so specific that almost no one in the world cares about it and I will never be able to use in any practical way, like say making money. So just take my word for it when I say you wouldn't be interested.

Next time go for the Ryo Chonan flying heel hook. It's the best submission for getting your point across.
In case you've never seen it:

3:30 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

travis -- thanks -- she rides like a dream. i love her!

tony -- heel hooks are bad mmkaaay? i dont think you can do em in jiujitsu competitions until you're a brownbelt. same with knee bars. sometimes we get new white belts in who do nothing but attack your feet and we gotta tell em to knock it off 'cuz they dont know what they're doing. as you prolly already know, the bad thing bout heel hooks is you usually don't feel them until it's too late, so by the time you tap you're actually seriously injured. all i need is for some asshole who watches too much UFC to come in and injure me. and i like the whole "WELL IF THIS WERE A REAL FIGHT..." argument. the best defense i heard to that was "if this were a real fight id be hitting you in the face with that fire extinguisher over there."

i like how everyone can kick anyone else's ass. and if the person theyre fighting is ryo chonan, they'll "shoot them" or someting.

7:44 AM  
Anonymous Tony said...

Yeah, I don't like to train heel hooks because you never know when jerk is going to get overly aggressive. I don't really want to tear and ACL or MCL. I usually elect the technique of saying "Stop! Ok, now slowly transition to the heel hook so you can see how to get there from here."

When training jijitsu my favorite defense of the "well if this were a real fight" arguement is: If this were a real fight this guy's buddies would be stomping your teeth out while you tried to set up the triangle.

That's the unfortunate reality of jijitsu as self-defense. No one ever gets attacked by just one guy.

Also in jiujitsu the turtle position=potentially effective defensive position, whereas in a street attack the turtle position=spinal injury. Ouch.

7:57 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

yeah.. sometimes i will practice getting a knee bar or a heel hook but i wont finish it. ill also ask the person if they think i would have been able to finish it if i cranked on it, just kinda of a personal FYI (FMI?) thing. but im apretty laid back grappler, and it gets on my nerves when some guys come at me like they want to kill me. its funny when they weigh 120 lbs cuz u can just get em in a tight pinch mount or sit on their head, but its not so funny when they weigh 200 and are enormously strong. "loss by submission, tearing arm out of socket."

jiujitsu is touted as a "Self defense" means because i guess down in brazil they engage in traditional manly fights where it's 1 on 1 on the beach and everyone stands to the side. that doesnt happen in the states. or anywhere else. or whenever a group of 5 guys is drunk and relies on numbers rather than training to beat the shit out of one person. if two people are being dumb and one guy says, "ok, you and me. just us tho. not your friends," he's probably confident in his skills, and ive seen first hand that the other guy will say something groovy like, "NAW, WHAT I DO MY DAWGS DO. YOU FIGHT ME, YOU FIGHT ALL OF US." wow, that's admirable, you and your dogs. 5 guys talking shit to one guy who is with his girlfriend is the epitome of manliness.

i guess if you get jumped and u want to break everyone's arm individually, it'd work. but in that situation, the best thing from jiujitsu to use is your good cardio conditioning, so u can just run away. that's what id do anyway.

i never turtle btw. i dont feel comfortable doing it like judo guys do. i spend most of my time on my back in spider guard or open guard. i need to work on my sweeps, tho my submissions from the bottom are getting a little better.

8:15 AM  
Blogger brando said...

Is this how it's done?

I guess a shot to the jaw ain't a bad idea.

2:27 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

yeah.. the biggest mistake that guy made was thinking he could bum rush Alexsander (the tall russian that looks like cullen). that's fedor emelianenko's brother for chrissakes, he's not gonna be a patsy.

Pride FC is big boy leagues. at that level of fighting it's a thinking man's game, not a highschool football game.

3:14 PM  
Anonymous Tony said...

Brando, that's one of my favorite fight clips for demonstrating how much of a role size/physique actually plays in a fight. I think anyone who doesn't know Aleks is going to think, "This Thompson guy is going to tear this fat Russians arms off and shove them up his ass". Uhmm... not really. I have to admit very few fighters look as apathetic as Aleks did before that fight. He really looks like he's man that they pulled him off his barstool.

Paul, the 5 on 1 thing always makes me laugh. It seems like there are a lot of guys out there that really like to talk tough when they know that the only fighting they'll have to do is the sucker punch on a guys who's getting up off the ground. That is the mark of a tough man.

My friend Ian used to be a bouncer at a Chicago club that became a gang-banger favorite hangout by the time it shut down. Needless to say it was getting a little roudy toward the end so one night Ian asked one of the other bouncers there about what to do when a group of guys starts shit with you. The bouncer he was asking had been working in places like this for something like 15 years and he had a reputation for diffusing (or fighting his way through) some pretty dangerous situations. Anyway, here was his advice.

If 5 guys start to jump you, you're not going to kick all five of their asses at once so don't even worry about trying. You are afforded the benefit that most of the 5 probably don't want to risk getting in an actual fight at all so they're not going to jump in until there buddy starts to get the upper hand on you. This gives you some valuable 1 on 1 with the first guy, who is likely the aggresser of the group anyway. Beat the first guy's ass bad as fast as you can and the other guys will decide it's not worth it. He suggested the headbutt, eye gouge, head slam on the pavement combination. It's quick and it let's the others know that this isn't some game that you get to brag about later, you're going to get f'ed up.

Of course, I tend to agree with your strategy... run. Although it was that guys job not to run so I guess he had to adopt a different strategy.

Since I've heard that story I've always told people that in order to get a reputation as a tough guy you don't have to kick everybody's ass. You just have to kick one guy's ass, really badly, in front of everybody.

5:57 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

tony -- even fedor looks like a confused child when he's just standing there, and he's absolutely terrifying. i was reading an article by bas rutten, and he was talking about how lame staredowns were, and that he just looks down at the guy's stomach before a fight. he also told everyone to lay off the tattoos, cuz they dont make you tough.

again, at that level, playground intimidation tactics arent gonna work. being 6'5 with 250lbs of solid muscle and running around like a crazed lunatic is definitely gonna freak me out, but it's probably not gonna bother someone like fedor (or his brother, apparently).

7:51 AM  
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11:23 AM  

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