Mr. Wake

Are you understand?

Location: Kamakura, Kanagawa, Japan

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Working man

I have about a week of work under my belt now. Except for five other people I think I had the wierdest first day of work ever. Wife and papa-san picked me up at the Y after my Japanese class to have lunch and go to the factory. The factory is in two main parts: The Factory and The Office, which I like to think of as The Bridge. My work day started at 2:00 with everyone on the bridge stopping work and standing for a speech by the company president. He introduced his sister (my wife) and me. I made a speech in which I apologized for interrupting their day and taking up their time, apologized in Japanese for not being able to speak Japanese (I`m going to be one of those guys), and told everyone that I would work hard. They applauded to a degree that indicated polite acceptance without indicating a level of understanding. I was issued a grey desk, uniform, and a blue company ball cap. One can remove the cap on the bridge, but off the bridge everyone pretty much wears it. Women who work on the bridge wear jackets and skirts a few shades off of Century 21. And blue caps.
Factory tour. I`ve had these before, but they are always awesome. If you had told me when I was 14 that I would be working with gigantic Japanese robots that shoot lasers I would have blown a gasket.
The tour included an office where Chan-san was lecturing five Chinese guys. When me, wife, and president entered they all jumped to their feet. Judging from their reaction at the time, their less than subtle glances afterward, and what I would hear about their history, I was probably the first white person they`d ever met. I shook their hands, which is an action I reserve for when I want to lather on an extra dose of America. I even threw in a round of nice-to-meet-yous. The responses ranged from soft mumbles to drill instructor .
What I would later learn about these guys is that they all come from families of poor farmers. Their houses in China lack running water among other things. Of 30 people the company interviewed in China, these guys were chosen to come to Japan and work for three years. Their three year tour stared three days ago.
After the tour wife left, president went off to do stuff, and I was left at my desk. My desk is one of four in a little cluster on the bridge. The guy next to me and the woman across filled their day with flipping, stamping, and filing onion skin paper forms and invoices. The woman has a shoe box full of little stamps. The other guy next to me has a cash box he must have obtained by robbing the 5:15 bound for El Paso. It says "Cash Box" on the side. He`s got a label maker that stamps out checks, and he does his math on a freakin abacus.

I studied Japanese for about an hour until the day was over. When ever anyone got up to leave the bridge they put their hat on. President wears a suit instead of a grey uniform, but he does not leave his hat behind.

That night was cause for celebration. 6 new employees and all of them foreigners. So President, Wife, 5 Chinese guys, their Chinese boss and interpreter, and myself went to Sun Mario to tie one on. Later on another company worker joined us who Wife says has been working for the company for as long as she can remember and has not changed at all. In semi formal situations Chinese will not take a sip of alcohol unless everyone else does at the same time. For about an hour these guys aged 20-23 sat with open beer cans in front of them and only touched them when President would make a short speech, stand up, and yell "kampai!" Then each one downed about half a can. Food arrived which was a Sun Mario greatest hits list. Chicken wings, tuna sashimi salad, fried rice, garlic fries, and pizza. The 5 Chinese Brothers had never had pizza before and they ate their slices with chopsticks. Every particle of meat, grizzle, and skin was devoured from the chicken wings, reducing them to white bone. We moved on to vodka shots. After one does a shot in China (which is does after a short speech and at the same time as everyone else) one shows the bottom of the empty glass to one`s fellow revellers. The guys were asked what countries they wanted to live in eventually. Singapore, Japan (smartest answer of the bunch), America, Australia, and Las Vegas. Johnny was the one who voted for Las Vegas (every Chinese person I`ve met has had a western name they use with us). Johnny had a funky hairstyle and I think for this reason alone was made to drink more than the rest of us. We moved on to tequila. Enough empty glasses had been shown before the tray of salt and limes arrived, and an explanation as to their purpose seemed moot. Before long the other company guy explained that one salts the lime, then sucks the juice, and it has nothing to do with drinking tequila.

I`m glad the Chinese guys are there. Selfishly, I`m not the lowest guy on the totem pole. Also, 10 years ago I came to Japan without knowing a hambaga from a borupen, and I envy the experience they have in front of them.

The night was all that late and the following morning wasn`t all that bad. I got up and continued my new daily routine.


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