Monday, September 3, 2007

The "Fox Got Lost" Story

The evening that we arrived in Japan, Fumi Morimura and her husband came to pick us up at the bus station where we had gotten (incorrectly) off our bus. They came in a large, white minivan that Fumi uses daily and a tiny shell of a black car that looks like an infant minivan and only seats four. Bro. Morimura drove me and our luggage in the small black car, which I learned was our car to use while in Japan, while Fumi drove Amy and Cash in her minivan.

Our first stop was at Marugame International Academy, or MIA as everyone calls it. Amy and Cash stayed in Fumi's minivan while the Morimuras showed me around the school. Afterwards, Bro. Morimura got into his own car and left for work. He told me that it would be very easy to get home; just follow Fumi.

Here I think it is important to break into the story with a little information about Japanese roads. First of all, none but the biggest roads have names. The named roads are about as wide as most of the streets in America's residential areas. However, people only use these roads when they are traveling from one city to another. Secondly, the roads that are used are a little more like alleys than roads. They are very often only wide enough for one Japanese car and could certainly never fit an American car. These alley roads are two-way streets. It is entirely common to have to stop and back into a driveway or parking lot because another car is coming in your direction. Thirdly, people walk on the tiny roads whether they are big enough for one car or two cars to travel at the same time, and the people walking or riding their bikes in traffic do not care that you are coming. You either stop and putter along behind them or go around them (which is usually pretty tricky to time correctly. And Finally, the roads in our neighborhood that are wide enough for two cars to travel at the same time in opposite directions are wide enough ONLY for two cars AND there is a straight vertical two-foot drop separating the road and the rice fields on the outside of your lane, so don't stray out of your lane!!!

Now back to the story:

I followed Fumi out of the school parking lot and into an alley just big enough for a single lane of travel (even though it was two-way). She zipped down the lane and made turns suddenly and quickly. The first thing that became tricky was the fact that I had never driven on the left side of the road. It's confusing. The next tricky part was that I was trying to think about how many miles per hour I was going even though everything was in kilometers per hour. In hindsight, I shouldn't have been bothering with math while trying to follow my boss's car. I could have simply just matched my speed to the road signs (which are painted on the road and rarely posted as signs since there is no "side of the road" big enough for a signpost). Fumi kept shooting along, and I stayed behind her for a while pretty well.

When we got to the main road that our house is near, the road widened enough for a second lane of traffic to travel alongside us in the opposite direction. However, it was still uncomfortably tight for me, so I would come to a nearly-complete stop each time a car was coming at me (this is actually not all that uncommon here). I figured that I couldn't really be faulted if I was coming to a stop in my lane and got clipped by someone in the other lane. The problem with this technique is that I quickly built up a line of cars behind me. They started realizing what I was doing so they started shooting past me when I would slow down and then cut me off as they got back into the lane to avoid the other cars coming right at them in the oncoming lane. The scary/funny/I-need-new-undershorts thing about it is that they would all speed up to do this... even the oncoming traffic.

Throughout all of this, I soon realized a horrifying fact: I could no longer see Fumi.

I kept going for a few minutes before realizing that she had in fact completely disappeared. She had to have turned off of this road at some point. I decided to turn back and go back to a point in the road where I new we had been together (I won't go into how frustrating that process was). I decided to go back a ways where the road had actually widened enough for me to pull over and still allow both "lanes" of traffic to move around me at the same time. I pulled over and sat. And sat. And sat. And sang as I sat, and sat, and sat, aaaaaannnnd saaaaaaaaat.

I kept thinking, "this is what you do when you're lost. YOu sit and wait, and eventually someone will come and find you." So I pulled out a Japanese textbook and started reading while I waited. The sun started going down, so I turned on my hazard lights so that passing cars would see me and avoid me. After fifteen minutes I decided to get out of the car and stand in front of it so that I was clearly visible when Fumi and Amy would come back by.

So while I was lost, alone, hungry, and tired on my first night in a foreign country where I could sorta almost barely communicate Amy and Fumi decided to go shopping.

I ended up waiting for thirty-five minute before deciding that they weren't looking for me. After all, we had only been driving for eight minutes when I got lost. I got back into the car, turned it around again, and headed down the road in the direction we had originally been traveling. After about four minutes of navigating the narrow Japanese roads alone, I came to a T-intersection. Crap! I looked left and discovered a gas station that was brightly lit. I made for it.

Pulling into the gas station, a young boy around fifteen came out to pump my gas, but since I wasn't getting gas I steered for the office rather than the pump. He frantically started dancing around waving his arms in the direction of the pumps and trying to slap the car towards them as though it were a wayward hefer. "Sorry, I'm a stupid American." I stopped the car, got out, and explained to him in broken Japanese that I had gotten lost and needed a phone to call my boss. "Juusyo wa nan desu ka," he asked. What is the address. I explained that I didn't have the address. This was my first night in Marugame; all I had was the phone number. He stared at me trying not to smile. Then he went over to two middle-aged men and spoke quickly to them. I picked out that he was telling them that I was lost and didn't have a phone. They all laughed. A lot. Then one of the middle-aged men went inside the office (holding his arms straight out at me and not breaking eye contact "Stay there stupid. Don't spread your idiocy around our gas station"). He brought out a very old man in the same uniforms they were all wearing. The very old man asked for the address again. I again explained that all I had was the phone number. I asked if I could use a cell phone or the station phone. He shook his head. But he took the paper that the number was written on and went inside. He picked up the phone, punched in some numbers, and then hung up. When he came out again, the very old man explained that the phone number didn't work. I asked if I could try using his phone. He told me "no." Then in very slow polite Japanese, he explained that I should get back in my car and go back to where I had be waiting. Then he said, "Komarimasu ne?" It's a problem isn't it? I repeated, "Komarimasu." He couldn't help. It was time to leave.

So I drove back to the place where I had waited before and pulled over again, narrowly missing being hit by a metallic pink four-seater. I flipped on the hazards and turned off the car. This time I got right out of the car. I paced back and forth along the road in front of the car, being careful to avoid the continuing traffic in the dark. I said a quick prayer, explaining to my Father in Heaven that I had done everything that I could and needed his help if I was going to get back to my family before the next morning when the police came along to see why a car was parked on the side of the road all night. Immediately after the short prayer, I got a feeling that I hadn't really done everything that I could. I was turning to my Father in Heaven and expecting him to solve my problem before I had exhausted every possibility. I hadn't tried to stop any cars and ask them to help.

I wondered what would be the best way. Jump out and try to scare them into stopping? No, they might swerve off the road and make a bigger mess. Lie down in the street when no one was coming and hope that they see me and think something is really wrong and they have to stop? No, they might not stop. THUMP-THUMP. I decided to just start yelling as they drove by. Yes, that is exactly what every Ugly American should do. Yell at the locals as they speed by you.

My best bet was to yell something nice so that I didn't seem like a complete jerk. I decided on "Taskute Kudasai!!" Please give me helping!!!(yes this is correct grammar). I yelled this at several cars as they passed. They didn't even slow down. I called it out to one man as he passed on foot. He pretended not to hear. I started yelling it to cars only if they had their windows open, that way they would certainly hear me. No response. I called out to a teenage girl on a bicycle. She stopped. She Stopped!!! She approached nervously. "Ketai Denwa ga arimasu ka?" I asked. Do you have a cell phone? "Arimasen." She didn't. I apologized for disturbing her, and she went on her way.

This went on for about twenty more minutes. Finally I called out to another teenage girl on a bicycle. She stopped. She had a cell phone! SHE WOULD LET ME USE IT!!!! HOOORAAAAY!! She actually decided that she should use it to call my boss. I showed her the piece of paper with Fumi's number on it. Then something curious happened. "Fumi?" she asked. "Hai, Fumiyo Morimura San." I replied. "Sirimasu!" she said. She knew Fumi. Fumi had been her teacher. I couldn't believe the coincidence. No literally, I couldn't. I had prayed for help. I was prompted to start flagging down people. And I found a person that was friends with my only contact in Japan.

She talked with Fumi over the phone. They laughed and she smiled. I could tell that Fumi asked if the girl had been talking to me in English because the girl responded "Iye Nihongo de" No Japanese. She laughed and gave Fumi directions to where we were. Fumi started out.

This teenage girl in the customary Japanese High School uniform hung up and explained that Fumi was on her way. I thanked her heartily and told her that she could go ifshe had better things to do. Then she told me that she would wait with me until Fumi arrived. WE made chit chat for about ten minutes. I tried unsuccessfully to tell her that she was very brave to approach a strange giant white man. She didn't understand, and I couldn't think of the right words. I settled for telling her that she was a very kind person. Fumi finally arrived and clapped me on the back. She was apparently very impressed that I could get myself out of such a pinch. I immediately knew that it was not me that got me out of the pinch.

The young girl rode off. Fumi explained that we were very near home. She had just turned off a little way down the road from where I was. We got back into the cars and she drove very slowly to our house where Amy was waiting patiently in the kitchen.


PinkPanda said...

Fox, I'm glad you made it home okay! I'm glad you knew enough Japanese to communicate with the people there! What a learning experience! Wow! I'm impressed!


jesse said...

Wow thats crazy well ur safe now!!
tee hee