Mr. Wake

Are you understand?

Location: Kamakura, Kanagawa, Japan

Saturday, November 19, 2005


The man most of you knew as wife's 104-year-old uncle passed away about a month ago. We called him Oji-san, which means uncle, but his name was Kakutaro Shibayama. I always spoke Japanese to him, and he always spoke English to me.

Friday, November 18, 2005


Last week I worked at the Other Factory, the one with the fancy lunches. On Friday one of the guys came back from a trip to China, and along with me and I presume the company president, he is one of the few allowed to eat in the President's Office. So we ate together. He's a talker. At the Main Factory near Kamakura the officers dine in one of the meeting rooms, and there is little conversation. Most of us are done eating within 15 minutes, and then everyone disappears. I go back to my desk before I start to twitch from internet withdrawal, and there are maybe one or two other guys in the office. I have no idea where the rest of the people go or what they do, but I bet in involves smoking. But this guy talks. He's old school. My nickname for him is The Hard Case. He's the only person in Japan who will not let me get away with the nodnsmile. When I don't understand what someone is saying I give 'em the ol' nodnsmile. If the Hard Case detects the slightest bit of misunderstanding he will quiz me, so I have to keep my linguistic toes. He talks about two things: company spirit and China. The Chinese, by the way, are eating the Japanese's lunch because of their superior company spirit. Also, they say and eat different things. Huh, you don't say. Let me see if I can envision the sheer lunacy of being somewhere where they say and eat different things.

After lunch we notice the blood truck parked outside the door, engine humming away to run the fridge to keep the vats cool. Hard Case asks me if I will give blood as if I had just insulted his honor. I accepted. I give blood almost every chance I get, so any hesitation on my part is due to the anticipation of wading through the Japanesery of filling out the forms. We went outside together to face the blooders. There were two or three others out there, and they looked at me and chuckled. This is the basic reaction when I do anything besides eat and sleep. Okay, besides sleep.

Hard Case asked the blood guy if I could donate. "Is he English?" "He's American." "No problem." They have a little folding table set up with a privacy divider. Hard Case looked over Pretty Girls' shoulder to read off the form she was filling out, and explain it to me. He speaks more Chinese than English, so basically all the questions were, "Are you sick?" Eventually, we got our own forms, and Hard Case recruited Nice Girl to help us fill them out even though she doesn't speak any more English than he does. But she thought it was funny that she was filling out forms for me, and everyone had a good chuckle. I know how to say my address, and usually places let you get away with writing it in English, but the blood guys would have none of that. So Nice Girl asked Hard Case to ask me my address, I told her, but she couldn't write it. Like us having a hard time spelling things, Japanese have a tough time with rare kanji. Hard Case didn't know it either, so another girl looked it up on the internet, and they thought this was pretty funny. Then Nice Girl asked Hard Case about, and then duly noted, my phone number, even though I could have written this myself.

With the address form out of the way -- the easier of the two forms -- we had to fill out the questionnaire. The first roughly five questions were about various diseases. Whatever. No. Piercings or tattoos? I said, "It's a secret." Hard Case thought this was hi-larious and had Nice Girl check no. Then some kind of question about AIDS. I thought it was about getting my blood tested for AIDS, which seems like a good idea. But blindly answering yes to a question, the only word of which one understands is AIDS, could land someone in pretty hot sake with the Hard Case. Upon clarification I got the words "AIDS" and "test" so I went for it and said yes. Hard Case scowled a bit and had Nice Girl check no. This does not mean that I was not asked if I wanted an AIDS test. The last question was what foreign countries have you been to recently. Uhhh, Japan? After some discussion they wrote in America. How long were you there? 34 years.

So we went to the blood guy with my completed forms. The country question jumped out at him, so he asked if I'd been to England. I said, "England?" "England, France, Germany, Italy, etc." Either Haiti has been doing some serious developing since I've been away, or Europe has really taken a dive. Thank goodness that while I have been doused with Thai moatwater (with an open cut on my finger), enjoyed streetmarket mystery meat washed down with homemade moonshine in Laos, and sat in a Chinese doctors office next to a red-faced, sweaty, bed-ridden woman plugged into an IV, I have never changed planes in Heathrow. Blood guy was satisfied with my answers, so he started with the explanation of stuff that he apparently has to do whether the donor understands or not. Charts and diagrams. Sure.

I stepped onto the bloodbus with my paperwork, and the nurses had a good chuckle. They stuck me in one arm to take a sample, swirled a drop around on a little card with a drop of something else one it, and wrote "O" on my form. They swirled another drop with something else, and wrote something else. For some reason, I think this meant I am free of hepatitis. Then I moved to the bloodseat, which is a nice easychair that one enjoys shoeless. The nurse had one of those masks on we saw a lot of when SARS was all the rage. They wear when they are sick, not to keep stuff out, but to keep stuff in. She jabs me with the big jab, sets the bag in a machine that rocks it around, and asks me the usual. What country? Where in the US? Is your family OK? (this is a post-Katrina addition to the usual. The previous lineup would often move to the topic of Japanese cuisine and my surprising ability to consume any of it).

Once drained I got to move to the back of the bus and sit for a spell to make sure I wasn't going to go all fainty on them. I got a little lecture, and a glossy page with a bloodmascot about what I should and shouldn't do in my weakened anemic state. At this point I wondered if there was the "heavy machinery" clause, because we have some pretty freaking heavy machines in there, and they may have just taken the operator of the 800 ton Komatsu servo transfer press and vamped him into an incoherent stupor. After the little lecture about resting and fluids I got a small yogurt drink, a space age squeeze drink tube of Aquarius* (J-gatrorade), a bloodcard, a bloodpin with an "O" on it, and a little gift bloodbag. The gift was a wrapped package of liquid soap that is disappointingly not red. The bloodguys thanked me, and I thanked them --for what I am not sure.

*This article is only tangentially about Aquarius. But the girl in the picture is cute.

I know I strained the limits of the spellchecker, but come on.
Japanesery. Suggestion: Sponsored
England Suggestion: none