Wednesday, May 23, 2007

...or what?

I've written a post or two mentioning the attitude of the Japanese workers around where I work, and how their behavior, attitude, and conduct would really not fly in regular Japanese society. This has become more evident as I've had to deal with them in situating myself with married life, and because my wife routinely points out how unacceptable their behavior is by Japanese standards. The biggest problem (and maybe the culprit) leading to this behavior is the idea of someone becoming "Americanized". Apparently, if a Japanese person is "Americanized", they're allowed to be rude, because hey, Americans are such rude barbarians when compared to the gentle, oh-so-polite Japanese, right? And if they're "Americanized", it's not really their fault, it's the fault of Chimpy McBushitlerburton's imperialistic exportation of American culture, which oppresses the poor Japanese and turns them into materialistic assfaces against their will, destroying more than a millennium of tea ceremony, rock gardens, and Mt Fuji appreciation.

Well, I don't accept this, and will gladly respond to "Americanized" Japanese workers with some good ole' Americanized confrontation, which most "Americanized" Japanese people who work here do not have the stomach for. The women who work here are especially bad, because so many of the older guys here are in semper sniffus mode and would rather pet them and give them food pellets than put their foot in their ass. Not this roundeye. Not on my watch.


There are certain things we do when we speak or write or generally communicate to add additional meaning to what we're saying, i,e. pragmatics, which has always been really fascinating to me. A lot of this attached is lost online, but when we're face to face, it's usually pretty clear what people mean when they're saying something even if they're not explicitly saying it. Context is also really important. There are also certain things that we can add to the end of a sentence or certain words we can add to dramatically change the strength of the meaning of a simple statement, like:

"Are you kidding me?"
"Are you fucking kidding me?"

For native speakers of a language, these little "rudeness markers" are intuitive and almost involuntary, though people like to pretend they aren't. I'm not really interested in native speakers today, because I'm griping about some of the Japanese staff around here. For non-native speakers, these little rudeness markers are learned, making their use very intentional. As native speakers, we throw things into our spoken language almost unintentionally, depending on our mood or what we think about someone, but even for really good non-native speakers, usage is still intentional and deliberate. At some point in their language learning career, they learned what certain grammatical patterns mean and what their nuances mean. If I want to imply something or come off harsh or like a jackass in Japanese, I know how to do it because I learned it either in class or by seeing it done by native speakers. Yes, people can make mistakes, and when I was learning I made mistakes, like the time I told someone to basically "shut the fuck up" but didn't intend it to come out so harsh, but for advanced language practitioners, particularly people whose job is the language, they don't really have an excuse. They know what they're doing.

So today a Japanese person had a question about something, and she punctuated it with "...or what?"

Notice the difference between these two sentences:

"Are we leaving?"
"Are we leaving or what?"

Small difference? I think not.

I've discovered after working here for a while that the only way to deal with a so called "Americanized' Japanese person is to deal with them in "American" terms. They've come to think that being rude and excusing it as "Americanization" is acceptable, because a lot of Americans around here feel they have to be overly polite and respectful to the Japanese staff because that's the Japanese way (even if they're being rude, apparently) or, as I said before, they're on the sniff. So here's how the conversation today began:

[She enters my office]
Her: "Did you want me to do this from now on or what?"
Me [incredulous, surprised expression]: "Or what? What's that mean?"
Her: I was just wondering if you wanted me to do this from now on,
that's all.

The entire exchange was very fast. When people come at you like that, they're trying to take you off guard a little bit, so it's important not to hesitate when you respond. If you had a pair of special glasses, kind've like IR glasses, but instead of IR filters they had like a "pragmatics filter", here's how the conversation would look:

Her: I'm asking a question in a rude manner.
Me: I'm expressing my disapproval of your rudeness.
Her: I acknowledge your disapproval and that I am out of line, and
shall restate my question in a more appropriate and professional manner. Communications restored.

During these exchanges, I try to maintain pressure on whoever I'm dealing with with my tone and body language, but gradually go back to my normal relaxed self as the conversation continues, so by the time the conversation ends, we're all having a good-hearted belly laugh like at the end of an Airwolf episode. This way everyone leaves happy and no one's mad, except for me of course, even if I'm not showing it.

Americanization: No seriously, you don't have to be a jerk

While America has its share of bitches and assholes (present company not excluded), Americanization to me is more than acting like a fool in public -- it's about confidence and assertiveness born of freedom of expression, freedom of thought, and the knowledge of one's unalienable personal rights granted by none other than The Almighty Hizself (regardless of whether or not you believe in any almighty). Here in Japan where confidence and assertiveness are seen as disruptive to social harmony (i,e. rude) and personal liberties play second fiddle to group harmony, it's not a huge surprise that to them Americanized behavior generally = Rude, and therefore Rude generally = How Americans roll. My official response: Hogwash! I deal with men and women every day who somehow manage to be confident, assertive, and decidedly not rude. I could go on endless metarants about how every country has pros and cons, and how the USA and Japan have great points and bad points, but I'll simplify it and just make you a deal: If you take personal responsibility for your own rude behavior and don't attribute it to being "Americanized", I won't call it being "Japanized" the next time I see a morbidly obese 35 year old gaijin taking pictures of highschool girls' skirts and reading pornographic manga on the train. Thanks.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Safari in Japan

In keeping with my subconscious desire to be attacked by a lion, me and the missez loaded up the Cima and drove to the base of Mt Fuji to a safari park they have there. It's about an hour drive on the expressway, and the tolls cost about $20. Yeah, it's a bit much, but it takes more than twice the amount of time taking non-expressway and I didn't feel like sitting in traffic for 5 or so hours of the day. Now this is a picture heavy post, so click on the pics for larger size.

So what's a Safari Park like? It's just like Jurassic Park, only instead of Dinosaurs, you have all kinds of animals that are not extinct, and instead of fully automated cars that get thrown off cliffs by Tyrannasaurii, you can drive your own car and nothing attacks you. Or at least nothing attacked me. I really wanted to peal out or lay on the horn to get the wretched animals to look at the camera, but my desire not to get kicked out kept me from doing so. They also politely ask that you remain in your car and leave your windows closed, as seen with this sign:

They have it broken down by areas, which a double gate to keep animals from mixing and creating ligers or otherwise killing each other in front of impressionable children. Here are the categories:

  • Bear area
  • Lion area
  • Tiger area
  • Cheetah area
  • Elephant area
  • Herbivore area
  • Mountain herbivore area

    I have to say that the Safari park seems like a much better alternative to Zoos. I'm not a huge fan of either I guess, but at least in the Safari park they have more room to run around in, not to mention a good view of Mt Fuji. We started off in the bear area, with one bear strolling down the middle of the street and another one languishing in a pool.

    After the bear area we went into the lion area. Near the front was a group of little lion cubs frollicking with their mommies.

    I wondered why they were kind've cordoned off behind electrical wire, but it made sense after I saw all the male lions humping the female lions. Spring was definitely in the air.

    Does this guy look happy? He should, cuz he just finished gettin' his freak on.

    Anyone who has watched big cat diaries knows that adult male lions like to roll up gangstah style on other lion prides and kill all the previous males' youngsters to reduce gene pool competition. Hopefully this wasn't a "trial and error" process of discovery by the Safari Park... We all know how the Japanese love their cameras, and I'm sure footage of a couple male lions killing a bunch of cubs would have been a black eye for the park.

    All the tigers were hiding, so we blew through that area and into the Cheetah area. We didn't see any open-savannah style running of course -- the Cheetahs were in full-on Chester Cheetah mode, as seen here.

    The elephants were busy being big and awe inspiring, and I thought that it might be a good story if an elephant shat on my car. Bird shit is one thing. But Elephant shit? That's something you never hear about.

    I actually enjoyed the herbivore area. They had lots of different types of animals there, cuz, you know, herbivores annihilate the herb, not each other. Killing is the last thing on your mind after annihilating some herb. They had zebras, giraffes, bison, antelope, goats, yaks, camels, and even some flamingos and ostriches. Picture time.

    I tried getting this giraffe in with Mt Fuji, but neither party wanted to cooperate. Almost though.

    I spent a lot of time checking out this bison. Weird to think that the US used to be covered with these fellers, until the White Man came through and exterminated them all. Who can blame them though? They're tasty.

    If you pay a little extra, you can look at the animals in one of these ridiculous busses. The advantage is that you can feed some of the animals I guess. The disadvantage would be that you can't get good pictures because of the bars on the side, and a lion can bite your hand off. It also wasn't that warm ouside, so I was happy we decided to drive ourselves. The camels were the first ones over to get some chow.

    There were some Rhinos hanging out, and the Zebras were walkin' down the street like they owned the place. Let's see how smug they act when we accidentally leave the lion gate ajar. I wonder if anyone has ever hit an animal with their car there? Maybe just given it a nudge? It's tempting, but I didn't want a zebra to mule-kick my windshield, so I let them act like they were in charge.

    In the mountain herbivore area they had some elk. I think they were elk. Maybe caribou. I'm not sure. There were some mountain goats too. All in all, the animals seemed fat 'n' lazy, which is no doubt a biproduct of having a non-competetive food supply and that no creatures are trying eat them.

    After the drive safari part (or before, depending on your preference), there is a little area where you can go up and get a close look at some of God's wonderful creatures, including, but not limited to:

  • Merekats
  • Kangaroos
  • Two huge dogs that look like Barkley from Sesame Street and are probably 2 or 3 tail-pullings from ripping out a Japanese child's throat
  • Tony's favorite animal
  • A couple seals
  • A miniature pony race, which was really funny

    I loves me some Merekats, so we snapped off a shot.

    Since it is Fuji Safari Park, it's right at the foot of Mt Fuji, so me and the missez took some obligatory shots. Here's the missez, lookin perdy as ever.

    Here's me, looking not-so-perdy as ever, sportin' my jits t-shirt.

    After we finished with the Safari, we cruised to an outlet mall and bought household acoutrements (I demand you pronounce it "ah-koo-twuh-muuuh"), headed back to our neck of the woods, and consumed an inappropriate amount of sushi. I had 16 plates, in addition to some other goodies.

    My only complaints about the Safari park was that there were no wildebeest. I have a really good idea for a "Trials of Life" section of the park, where you could have a mile long race-track filled with Wildebeest. They'd just run around in circles, not unlike their migratory life cycle in Africa, eating, pooping, humping, and getting brutally killed by all manner of predatory animals. People could pay a fee to watch a feeding session, where a lion chases after the herd and tries to kill one of them. If the lion fails, it gets the crap shocked out of it by an electrified collar, because if we can't get some pleasure out of watching a lion disembowel a gnu, at least we can watch a lion flail around on the ground getting electrishocked. Everyone's a winner.

    Either way, Fuji Safari Park is a good way to spend the day.
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    Monday, May 07, 2007

    Is something burning? part deux...

    Someone's pants are on fire, and I think it's really funny.

    Yeah, I'm a civilian, but I work on a base, and the base provides me housing. They have to. It's in something called a "transportation agreement", that says "We moved you out here, and we must provide you housing." It's pretty nice, except when you start running into bureaucrats who think they can pull a fast one on you or strong arm folks into doing what they want you to do. Anytime you deal with people like that, they forget that people like me are the customer and they are responsible for serving me, not the other way around. I don't exist to provide a body to fill in their housing unit, no no. They exist to provide me with "adequate" housing. Notice the TUOQ there to emphasise the subjectivity of "adequate".

    Don't Strong Arm me, Mmkay?

    I don't like it when people put the proverbial screws on me, especially when it's an organization like the aforementioned housing department. Just the notion that they would put the screws on me for whatever reason is pretty offensive, and I will do everything within reason not to bend. Unfortunately for them, I married someone born and raised in Japan, who likes being strong armed even less, and who has higher standards for quality of living than I do. The result? Let's find out.

    "We're doing you a favor"

    On Friday the housing department extended an olive branch. "Here's an apartment," they said. "Do you want it or not?" "Well," I answered, "I'm not going to say yay or nay until my wife sees it." This should be obvious to anyone who's married. They seemed a little confused, so I innocently asked them, "Don't you think it's important to involve your spouse in the decision making process?" to which they were like "OH YES of course it is," at which point they started to apply the screws.

    My wife's apartment lease ended last Saturday, so we had to move her whole life down here then. I was faced with a dilemma -- where to put it? It won't fit in my place now, so I headed to the housing department and asked if there was somewhere to put it. "No problem," said the lady. "We should be able to find somewhere."

    So fast forward to when they're offering the new apartment. I say, "I don't want to say yes or no until my wife sees it," and the lady responds with, "Well, if you accept it, you can put her stuff in there and wait until you move in. If you don't accept it, well, we don't have anywhere to put her things. Not only that," she continued, "but if you decline it, you'll be put to the bottom of the housing list." "Are there a lot of people on the list now?" I asked, "Oh yeah," she chortled, making it clear that it would be a very long wait (she did the "laugh while saying 'oh yeah' for emphasis" thing). In other words, I don't have to accept what they offer, that is, if I don't mind living with all my wife's stuff and being moved to the bottom of the housing priority list.

    I was in the Marines for 5 years. I know when I'm gettin' strong armed.

    So on Saturday, the wife and I move all her stuff down, and we go check out the housing unit. She didn't like it (I knew she wouldn't), and I encouraged her to turn it down if she didn't like it. I want her to be happy with the place, and I didn't like the feeling of being railroaded into accepting it. Hated it, in fact. So when she said "No," I skipped down to housing and reported it.

    Since it was Saturday, the normal lady wasn't there. The guy who was there (we'll call him "M") was super cool and had no vested interest in the married housing thing. When he heard about my situation, he made a phone call (on a Saturday, remember), and within 5 minutes we had a place to put her stuff. M told me to stop by on Monday and we'd talk some more. So much for the "no where to put your stuff thing" eh?

    So today I went to housing with the new guy in my office, and I found out that there is no one after me on the housing list. The lady had some wiggle room on the "there's no where to put your stuff" thing, because maybe there wasn't anywhere to put it here (we had to drive it to a different housing area), so she could maybe claim that's what she meant. But the other one is pretty cut and dry.

    Me: Are there other people on the list?
    Her: Oh yeah.

    I asked a question, she answered in the affirmative, when the answer was actually the negative.

    I think she grossly underestimated my Strongarmdar (that's a radar for being strongarmed), my aversion to it, and my insatiable hunger to find out everything I can about whatever situation I am in. She also should have, I dunno, either let everyone in on her lie, or maybe lied to everyone in the office, just in case I wasn't as stupid as she thought I was. Part of me gets a kick out of this, because in a way I think I called her bluff. Had I accepted the unit, I wouldn't have found out that there were areas to put my wife's stuff, and I wouldn't have found out about no one else being on the list. The dynamic has changed, and if I feel the screws being applied once more, well, I have a blatant lie in my back pocket, ready for use. Hopefully I don't have to bust it out.