Tell 'em what I took, man!

Reflections of a repatriated ex-patriot

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Here's a Japan flashback:

I just want to say that I devoted myself wholeheartedly to trying to teach the Japanese good English the entire time I was there. Of course there were a lot of setbacks and frustrations-- a lot of the time the students would continue making the same mistakes, or they wouldn't talk at all, be it out of shyness, neverousness or not wanting to make a mistake. But despite all the coyness and cultural taboos, I worked really hard with them and it wasn't long before I felt them improving just a little bit more each time I saw them.

So taking a break from it all, I went to Kawaguchi-ko (one of the five scenic lakes near Mt. Fuji), with my brother who was on vacation with me at the time, to see the sights. I was feeling really good about myself-- feeling like I was really making a difference and was helping to promote English in Japan to a level on a par with her Asian rivals. I was walking on air that day.

But at the funicular station at the base of a mountain slope jutting up from the lakeshore I was crestfallen to witness the following:

This is no doctored image. This is an actual sign posted up at the entrance of the Kawaguchi-ko funicular station. Yes, you're reading it right. It says "End time is last time of downhill FECES from mountaintop station."

How do such things happen I wondered. What could they have been really trying to say here? What was the original Japanese word they were looking up when they came up with 'feces'? Who the hell are the greatest ride staff? Is this some kind of joke?

These thoughts perplexed me as I went up to the top of the mountain. And all the elation I had felt just moments before was dashed to pieces. I brooded for a long time about my role in the world. I had some depressing thoughts that despite all my good intentions no amount of teaching conversation, grammar, TOEIC prep., or business courses would or could ever stop the Japanese from posting weird English signs all over the place.

But just when I had reached the nadir of feeling sorry for myself, I heard a whistle followed by a great rumbling . . .

And then I heard a man shouting at me rapidly in Japanese. I couldn't understand well what he said, but it was something like:


It's time. We've got to get to the bottom of the mountain! Hurry!

I got my brother and I rushed to the funicular along with a couple of other tourists who were from mainland China. We raced at top speed down the mountain. The driver was calmly heroic in his handling of the carriage. He seemed to live for such moments--had the aura of pride about him. That's when I looked at his T-shirt. It read, "Greatest ride staff."

I looked away again wondering if we were going to make it to the bottom of the mountain before the force of the earthquake knocked us off the rails. And then I looked over my shoulder. . .

There was a rumbling, kind of squishy sound, and then an awful stench that wafted up my nose. I almost puked. It was surreal when it happened, but if my eyes did not mistake me I had just seen a gigantic ball of shit rolling down the mountain. Needless to say I was completely shocked. I got off of the funicular panting for breath, coming down from the rush of adrenaline that had only moments before been pumping through my veins. I looked at my watch. The ride that felt like an eternity had in fact only lasted three minutes. Then I looked over at the furnicular. I noticed it was car no. 36.

After that, I went back to the sign that had made me feel so badly about everything earlier that afternoon. I read it again and a smile crossed my face. I felt reassured that I really had been making a difference in the world teaching English, and my prior joy returned to me.

Here's a picture of the downhill feces that nearly did us in that day.

I dedicate this posting to the greatest ride staff, whose guidance saved my brother and I from being run over by a giant ball of shit.