Orientation

Orientation

Written by sonicsuns

Topics: Blog, Everything

(Note: If it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m actually not. I’m still very very glad to be here)
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/This was last week, the day after I arrived in Japan:
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/I’m sitting in a room with about 80 people, most of them Asian. Up at the front there’s some administrator-types setting up a powerpoint presentation; they’ll be explaining the policies of the campus etc. etc., and they’ll probably be doing it in Japanese.
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/I’ve been studying Japanese for over 3 years, and although I’m not fluent I’m certainly not a beginner. I figure I’ll muddle my way through.
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/And then they start talking.
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/It’s going completely over my head. Like a big mess of words just bouncing around. I can feel the neurons in my brain going into overdrive trying to translate all of this. Then eventually the neurons just give up. Ug.
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/After a few minutes, the presenters realize that some of their audience might still be clueless, so they pause for a moment to ask if anyone doesn’t speak Japanese.
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/They ask this question…IN JAPANESE!!!
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/They’re all like “Dareka nihongo wakarimasen ka?”
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/Which is just dandy.
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/Fortunately, my three-and-a-half-years of study has provided me with the ability to express my own stupidity. I raise my hand and they send over a bilingual guy to translate. Actually, several other people raise their hands. They’re all white, which plays straight into the white-people-can’t-speak-Japanese stereotype. Also, I’ve noticed that all the white people are sitting together, possibly because we had hoped on forming a collective translator unit of some kind. (Ok, I’ll translate the verbs and you get the adjectives, and Bob over there will handle the body language).
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/Anyway, translator-man (he’s asian, by the way) is here to help. Except that he doesn’t actually translate everything. Once in a while I have to lean over and say “Ok, what’s this slide about?”, and he’ll say something like “Earthquakes.”
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/And then he’ll just go silent and I guess it’s up to me to extrapolate what in particular we’re supposed to be learning about earthquakes.
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/Kirsten (the only other american here) looks confused. I lean over and whisper “It says we have to watch out for earthquakes.”
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/Well, I’m just a friggin’ genius, aren’t I?
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/Then at some point translator-man has to leave, and the not-fluent-in-Japanese crowd is forced to fend for ourselves.
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/Once in a while the powerpoint slides have a couple of words in English. We pay close attention, hoarding every word we can get. Then, like archeologists reconstructing an ancient tablet, we speculate on the possible meanings of the slide. One slide says that you have to take off your shoes when you enter a room (in fact, we had to take our shoes off just to get to orientation). This is accompanied by warnings about a fine for 80,000 yen. That’s like 800 dollars.
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/Message received: shoes are really important!
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/At one point there’s a slide with no English, and a picture of a cat.
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/Suddenly, everyone is applauding.
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/And, for lack of anything better to do, I decide to join in.
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Japanese people really like cats, and/or I have no freaking clue what's going on


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/There’s a new presenter now, and a new translator-man. Translator-man 2.0 informs me that the new presenter is speaking so fast that even he can’t understand what he’s saying. (Yes, I’m aware that the usage of “he” in the preceding sentence is ambiguous. I’ve decided to leave it that way, just to mess with your heads.)
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/In the end, it was actually ok. The non-fluent people (myself included) talked to some bilingual people after the presentation, and we got the explanations we needed, more-or-less.
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/In the meantime, I presume that all the asian people actually understood all this from the get-go. And now…now I am desperately trying to pull off a pun regarding “Orientation” and “The Orient”. I’ll get back to you when I figure that out. (You can leave your suggestions in the comments)
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/Oh, and one more thing: Tomorrow, I’ve got another orientation. Let’s see how it goes.

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