Saturday, April 26, 2008

Don't deny me my sweet moment....

Last night we had one of our work Beginning of the (School) Year/Welcome parties. I say one as there are actually three I'll be attending. Last night's was for our "dispatch" company (they hire us and then contract us out to the schools), a total of eight native English speakers and my husband as an honorary guest. The second party will be for the English teachers at the school and the final, for all the staff at the school.

This was not the best time of year to give up alcohol.

I really enjoyed last night for the company. It was great to catch up with the four teachers that work at the other school our company supplies teachers for. All the boys (there were seven guys and only two of us girls) really enjoyed the food. It was an all-you-can-eat meat (yaki-niku) and all-you-can-drink beer night. After living in Japan for a couple of years and eating little meat, my body can only process small quantities. It was also, however all-you-can-eat vegetables night. Mmm.. maybe they should have said all-you-can-eat beansprouts. Our plate of raw meat arrived with the vegetables - a huge pile of bean sprouts with a couple of pieces of carrot, pumpkin, cabbage, onion (cut too thickly so when you cook it on the flaming BBQ plate it's burnt on the outside and raw on the inside), capsicum and eggplant. We finished those and while the boys were ordering more meat and beer, us girls wanted some more vegetables. Our platter came with, I kid you not, another huge pile of beansprouts, a single small piece of pumpkin, a single small piece of eggplant, some more inedible onion and two small pieces of cabbage. I was hungry so I filled up on beansprouts (something I'm regretting today - that's a lot of fibre!) while sipping my green tea.

Don't get me wrong, the boys, and especially my husband, were in heaven. Our boss also very generously paid for it all.

After our two hours at the restaurant, we were off to a second venue. We made it into a cute little bar. There was a guitar and a couple of the guys took turns playing it. The drinks were flowing and again, despite really wanting a drink, I was very controlled and sipped my ginger ale instead. I got a chance to really talk to a couple of the guys that I only see at events like this and it was really great to catch up.

Before long it was time to go to the subway to make sure we didn't miss the last train home. I stopped at the convenience store on the way. After watching everyone else enjoy food and drink all night, I really just wanted something a little special to enjoy myself. As I've also given up chocolate, a small Haagen Daaz caramel ice cream sandwich seemed like the perfect choice.

On the platform, I took the first delicious bite. Ahh... heavenly sweetness filled my mouth. It was like a drink of cool, clear water after walking in the desert. The train came, we sat down and Adrianne and my husband started chatting away. I sat in the middle to busy savouring the flavour of my treat to talk. A Japanese man sat across from us. He watched us. Then in very well-pronounced English he interrupted, "Excuse me."

We thought he was going to ask us something, thought he wanted to know where we were from or to practice his English. It happens sometimes.

But no, instead, he looked at me directly and said "I'm very sorry, but in Japan, you can't eat on the train. You can't eat that. I'm sorry, but you can't do that in Japan."

I looked at my ice cream, the first thing I was enjoying the consumption of all evening and wanted to cry. Instead, I meekly folded it into its little plastic bag, placed it into it's paper box and let it start to melt, uneaten.

Luckily, at the next stop, he jumped out. As Adrianne said, it's most unlikely that he would have been so confronting if he wasn't about to escape the situation. I quickly got out my ice cream and enjoyed the rest of it even more for its added guilty pleasure status. It is so rare that a Japanese person will have enough confidence in their English to speak up like that, and even rarer for them to tell you you're doing something wrong. Why, of all nights, of all trains, of all carriages, did he have to sit across from me?

Last night, as I slept, I had a nightmare. We were in medieval times. Wayne was a knight and for some reason, we were in hiding for a few months. We were in a lovely little forest, very Robin Hood like. There was only one place to eat, and it was the only place to get food of any sort. We went up to find out the menu for dinner that evening. It was beansprouts. Beansprouts only. I decided we wouldn't eat that night.


Shari said...

I don't believe that fellow was confronting you about the ice cream. He was bullying you because you were a foreigner. (Japanese) people eat on the trains all the time (at least in Tokyo) and no one says a word to them.

It's considered bad manners, of course, but there is no law or rule that prohibits doing so (which is why Japanese people don't confront other Japanese people about doing it as they'd react by saying nothing and continuing to eat or by arguing that there was no rule against it).

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

I agree! They eat, they drink beer, they fall asleep and drool on my shoulder!

I usually wouldn't eat on the train, but last night, I just really needed something. I had found it hard being around everyone drinking all night, while I was being so "good". I just needed that little treat for myself.

I probably would have said something to him about it, but I was just so shocked!

billywest said...

Melanie and Shari,
I totally understand where you guys are coming from, and those people that feel they have to preserve every aspect of social etiquette can be annoying sometimes, but with all the gutless people around that just let everything slide because they're scared of their own shadows, it's nice to hear that someone spoke up. If he was just bullying you because you're a foreigner, here's to hoping he'll keel over on the toilet soon enough, but if he really was sincere and would behave the same way toward Japanese people as well, he deserves some respect, IMO.
Yes, you'll often see Japanese people eating on the train, but those are Japanese people who are pissing on societal values that are held in high regard by so many here.
If I sound preachy, I'm sorry Melanie. I don't think you committed any kind of social crime or anything. Just my thoughts.

Contamination said...

I would have ignored him and kept on eating it, pretending you hadn't heard a word he said.

I drink beer on the train quite often and no one bats an eyelid. Then again I see plenty of people also drinking on the train.

If they aren't causing trouble, there's no problem.

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

Hi Billy - no you're right, it is rude and not something that I normally do. That night though I just really wanted something, broke social rules and immediately got called on it. After I'd been "good" all night.... You didn't sound preachy ;)

Hi Cont. - yep felt like doing it but felt so naughty at the same time. I don't like to be rude and felt that it would have been really rude to just ignore him. Not that a part of me didn't consider it ;)

CurlyPops said...

That's're going to have nightmares about bean sprouts now!

Ruth said...

Ha ha ha... that is so funny. What a great post... so well written.

You could have answered in Japanese and said, "Sorry I don't understand" Hee hee... of course he would have said it again in Japanese, but at least you could have snuck in another big bite before he said it... maybe even two.

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

Hi Ruth! Yep, I was tempted... very tempted...