Mr. Wake

Are you understand?

Location: Kamakura, Kanagawa, Japan

Thursday, August 04, 2005

How to Eat Pickles

OK, I’m trying to get back on the ball here. Now that the glorious 100 Days of Guests have ended I can focus on more domestic duties. I have tales to tell -- tales of injury, induced muscle spasms and lunch– but if I wait for a chance to get it all down, it will never happen. So I’ll try to throw stuff out there peace meal.

This week I’ve been working at the place in the country. The company has two factories, one in the city near wife’s parent’s place, and one in the country near our own place. Usually I work at the city one. But Papa-san wants pictures of all the parts smashed out by the 300 ton press, which is in the country, so to the country I came.

The workers here only know me because the company president (shacho) introduced me to them as his younger brother (he loves doing that), so they treat me with more deference than those at the city factory. For example:

Tuesday: Lunchtime is noon. At about ten till the office manager motions me towards shacho’s office. A single Styrofoam lunchbox sits on the long conference table like a temple offering. The office manager tells me that I may eat (the president is at the other factory today). Ooookay. As I sit one of the office girls brings in a tray with a humongous bowl of rice, a bowl of soup, and a glass of tea with ice it in. She excuses herself, lays the goods on the table, excuses herself again, leaves, and excuses herself on the way out. The office manager pops in with a smile and turns on the air conditioner. This is the only time this room is used all day. And I enjoy a quiet lunch with an old copy of The Economist. Fried chicken chunks, slice of fish, pickles.

Wednesday: At ten till lunch the office door is closed. Someone is in there on the TV phone talking with shacho. Enter the girl with the foam lunch box. But with the office door closed, she is at a loss. There is some discussion with another office girl. I catch “…wake-san…..lunch…..wake-san….” Well. This should be good. I pretend to work, and follow the drama on the sly. The lunch is set up in the conference room, which is all windows and directly across from my desk. Two girls arrange the foam box and the tray of soup, tea, and enough rice to feed Myanmar. They are a little skittish. They know this isn’t right, but in only a few minutes it will be noon, and then, right or not, this is how it will have to go down. Suddenly, shacho’s office doors open, and the office manager comes out. The call is over. He and the girls have a quick, whispery meeting, “ ….lunch…lunch…..Wake-san…..” It is determined the conference room is not suitable. The three gather the box, tea, soup, and rice (it takes two of them to carry the rice) and move it all to the conference table in shacho’s office. It takes three of them to serve me lunch. At the other factory it takes precisely zero. Once arranged, I am invited to partake. The office manager apologizes that he has some file boxes on the other end of the table. Ginger pork with noodles, tofu and noodle salad, pickles.

Thursday: Shacho’s office is free, but the office manager is gone. At about 5 till I start getting the nervous that maybe the girls won’t be able to handle it without him. Then I’ll have to ask someone where I should eat, which will sound presumptuous no matter how I do it. Whoever I ask will be thrown into a blind panic with having to quickly set up everything without taking up too much of the 45 lunch minutes allotted. She won’t even think of the break time she’s giving up. Then I get to stand there and watch them scurry around wishing I could just go to the dining hall like everyone else. Fortunately, this did not happen, though I have a feeling the girl was slacking a little, since the office manager wasn’t there. She got everything set up and invited me to dine right on time. Curry, macaroni salad, pickles.

You’re wondering about Monday’s lunch. Did not happen. I’ll tell you why later.


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