Monday, August 21, 2006

Meeting the new neighbours

This happened a number of years ago, of course I'm far too wise to do something like this now......

I had just moved into a new apartment, or rather “mansion”, as that style of building is called in Japan. The flat overlooked rice paddies and some narrow roads, none of which had street lighting. In my first week there I arrived home quite late one night. Well, late by rural Japanese standards. It was 10pm. All the outside lights were off, leaving the apartment block very dark indeed. I was having great difficulty finding my door, let alone the keyhole.

In Australia, it’s usual to find a timed light switch if the external lights are turned off at night. Being a stupid gaijin, I assumed it would be the same in Japan. Next to the elevator I saw a button and assuming it was the light switch, I pushed it.

Suddenly, a piecing sound rang out through the building. I quickly realised the button was in fact for the fire alarm.

My body froze as my mind raced. "Should I run and hide in my apartment with the lights off and pretend I'm not home?" I thought. Remembering that it was my inability to find my keyhole in the dark that got me into this position to start with, I discounted that as an option. "Should I hide in the dark corner? Should I run from the building until the alarm stops?" I resigned myself to simply standing where I was and looking bewildered. They were going to realise it was the stupid gaijin and soon it was too late anyway.

All the neighbours arrived on the third floor to see what the emergency was. I bowed my deepest bow about a million times crying "Sumimasen, gomennasai, sumimasen, gomennasai" - Excuse me, I'm sorry.

To make matters worse, I tried to explain that I was looking for the light, where was the light? They may have understood what I was babbling about in my limited language if I had been using the word for light, "denki" but instead I was ranting the word "denchi", meaning battery. They just looked at me like I was a lunatic (or a gaijin for that matter, it equates to the same thing) as I was ranting "Denchi nai, denchi doko?" (No battery, where battery?).

Eventually, I ran, blindly forced the key into the dark keyhole and left my neighbours looking baffled outside my door. I was too embarrassed to look any of my fellow residents in the eye for a month.

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