Monday, 17 February 2014

This weird old guy I met

I don't blog every single story, obviously. Some just aren't that interesting, like the farewell party with my Doushisha friends, which, while fun and maybe suitable for a Tumblr mention, was too uneventful to lend itself well to a spirited Blogspot retelling. Others I feel it would be too crass to post publicly, so I excise details or hold my tongue entirely. In this case, I felt like it was kind of ongoing, and I didn't want to psych myself out about it too much, so I let it sit. Obviously it's now progressed as far as it's gonna go for the time being, so let's have at it: my last big story from last year.

It starts, in a way, the night I first met Udon. You'll recall that she was there with three other people – I didn't explain this part? I'm telling you now. One was a guy in his early 50's, with a short grey mohawk and what I remember as a Hawaiian shirt, although it probably was not, but it fits his character so let's go with that. He got my LINE and the promise to hang out again. At first I thought he was kind of a pest, as he repeatedly asked me to introduce him to some other ryuugakusei so he could expand his social network, though at least he was transparent.

But I quite quickly grew to like him, as, I believe, do most of the people who meet him. Udon says he's “like her father” and sends her LINEPOP hearts every day. And every morning, he sends the message 「今日もいい一日を」 to every single person he knows. Sometimes pictures of things he finds interesting, too, usually bridges or potted plants. He's a weird one. Anyway, within a few days he'd invited me to a party at his house. I envisioned uncomfortably sitting on a couch in a smoky, poorly lit living room, drinking tea and politely refusing endless slimy delicacies while making awkward conversation with various quintogenarians. I hummed and hawed for a few days, trying to find an elegant way to beg off, but in the end I decided to give it a chance. Maybe it would be fun. Besides, I could cite my busy schedule and duck out halfway if it sucked.

It did not suck. In the car ride over (he picked me up from downtown), Jin-san, as he liked to be called, explained that in all the world he wanted nothing more than to bring people together, and so from time to time he held parties like this one as a low-stress meeting place. This is why he wanted me to introduce him to ryuugakusei, as, unsurprisingly, those in his regular circle were all Japanese and almost exclusively shakaijin. He lived in a fairly big mansion near Karasuma Oike. The first thing I saw when I walked in was two women working in the kitchen, one of whom, I knew, would be Jin-san's fiancee/wife/girlfriend-type-deal; he had referred to her as all three on various occasions. And I really hoped she was the one stirring soup, because although both were extremely attractive, the one making salad was downright smokin'.

I was led into the attached dining room and was relieved to find that, although I was indeed the youngest there, there were two other young guys as well, one my same age and one a year our senior. Also in attendance was one of the other old guys from the night I met Udon, as well as a stranger, and, arriving later, a couple in their thirties. It turned out that, with a handful of exceptions, everyone there was only just meeting each other for the first time – Jin-san was for many the only common connection. Meanwhile, the entire apartment was sleek, professional, and clean. It was an unusual situation, but there wasn't a thing suspicious about it. Jin-san mainly sat back and let friendship happen, gently guiding conversations and providing details where need-be, and what started as hesitant, very formal discussions gradually evolved into a lively, boisterous party over the course of the night.

Of the couple, it had been organized partly in the guy's honour, as he was leaving for Australia the following week – to walk across it. For fun. He'd already done the Philippines, and he told me that he was planning to do Canada next. Which suggested to me that he might not realise how big Canada actually was, but I casually suggested that if he came near me, I could probably get him into the newspaper and if was interested maybe meet my university's Japanese Club, of which I was formerly Vice President. He frowned with gratitude.

“Ah, that would really save me!” he exclaimed. “I can collect donations for my trip!”

Um...no. Ask university students for donations for your world travels? Yeah no, that's not going to be a thing. Especially after we've graciously invited you onto our campus. Some people, I swear.

There emerged comparisons between me and the same-age guy. He was loud and spoke without thinking; I was thoughtful and chose my words carefully. He, they said, was immature; I was sophisticated. In truth, I was on my best behaviour. Surrounded by a bunch of elders, none of whom I had ever met before, and also definitely wanting to be invited back at some point, I was listening carefully, nodding along deferentially, and bringing out my very shiniest of keigo. Which is, all things considered, not especially shiny, but although I'm much more comfortable banging on like an Oosaka gutter rat, speaking politely in Japanese, as in English, has the effect of making me seem more intelligent, even when the ideas expressed are exactly the same. Certain people like me a bit better when I try to speak keigo, is what I'm trying to say. And tonight I was really turning on the charm.

The smokin' girl turned out to be Not Jin-san's Wife, as I had hoped, and, I'm not exactly sure how this happened, but somehow me and the older young guy got moved to the seats beside her, competing for her affections. And...well, what can I say? It was a blowout.

For me, I mean.

I sort of wish I knew what I said, but I at least remember that I was complimentary, politely confident, and genuine, which sounds like an obvious strategy but I guess I was doing it in a particular way that I can't often pull off. She asked for my LINE and everyone cheered, because somehow this had become the main event of the night and the entire rest of the table was spectating. “Appeal Time” was over; the other guy hadn't even gotten to try. Ha!

It wasn't long before I was asked to guess her age, and I thought, well, isn't that always a fun question. She looked about 25, but what if she turned out to be younger? That would certainly be points against me. So, thinking quickly, I said that she had the cuteness of a 20-year-old, but the prettiness of a 25-year-old. Nice one, Rude Boy!

Her actual age? 31.

Holy...wut.

To be completely honest, for about five seconds, this really threw me, and everyone saw it. I mean, I can go a few years older, but I don't know if I can surmount a gap that wide! But then I recovered and just kept laying it on. 31? Sure! With everyone around us prodding, we jokingly declared that we were now dating.

Rude Boy: You know, the sooner we get married, the sooner I can get my citizenship.
Nuna: Oh, great, I can have mixed kids!

Oh, I named her Nuna because we were discussing the Korean language and I taught her a couple of words. You tired of nicknames yet? I'm not.

By the time I left, it was four in the morning and I'd been there for over eight hours, just chatting with Other Old Guy, Jin-san, and his shy, beautiful, feminine woman. As for Nuna, joking aside, I'm pretty sure there was some mutual attraction in there, but I didn't actually expect to ever see her again. I was therefore quite surprised and rather pleased to hear from Jin-san that she would, in fact, very much like to see me again. Unfortunately, her work schedule transpired to be quite rigorous, but she did offer that although she would not be attending the bowling tournament the following week, she could at least drop by the nijikai. Well, ok then! I'll take it!

The bowling “tournament,” such as it was, was pretty fun, except for the huge delay at the end. I'm not comfortable saying this is an entirely Japanese thing, but, well, every big bowling event I've ever been to in Japan has had this problem. There seems to be this inexplicable belief that there must be prizes, and that the doling out of them must be undertaken with great solemnity and thorough scrutineering. When this collides with poor organization, you get excruciating results. I know some people don't have a lot of experience in event planning, but come on.

First the scores of over a hundred people were tallied by a team of only three, while the organizers desperately attempted to keep us entertained with increasingly boring and nonsensical monologues about not really anything. Then they finally announced the results – of every single team. All of them. One by one. The number of the team, their members, the scores they got in each game, their total score for all three games, and finally, where they placed. And then all members had to come up, take a commemorative photograph, and then individually high-five the captains of all other teams. My fingers brushed my chin and I realised I'd grown a beard – and it was white! Then a Morlok wandered in and a man flew by on a jetpack and killed it with a laser gun.

Luckily we were off to eat, drink and be merry, and, in my case, hopefully meet Nuna again. The restaurant was Vox, which I'd always assumed was a girls' bar or maybe a skeezy but legitimate club, but which turned out to actually be a fairly nice spot to sit down and dine. I was a little distracted, of course, and couldn't keep myself from constantly looking at the door, as if she might walk in just as I craned my head around, or that my staring might somehow hasten her arrival. No dice; she couldn't get away from work, and I never saw her before leaving Japan.

In a way, this did at least simplify things for me somewhat. See, this is right where I was really starting to talk with Udon, and to be perfectly honest with you I had (and still kind of have) every intention of pursuing them both, since both seemed open to persuasion. Which is an excellent problem, but at the time it was a source of great distress for me, like, really? Why NOW, right as I was set to leave, and not in, say, November? I seriously felt like I was being trolled by life. So once I knew that Nuna was at least temporarily out of the equation, I was able to focus on Udon, whom I still message from time to time, trying to keep the oven warm in the hopes that I'll be able to make it home relatively quickly. Though, assuming she even remembers me, I won't entirely discount Nuna just yet...is that lame? Oh, let me have my fun.


I guess the takeaway here is, the next time you meet some weird old guy in a shady dive bar at 3 am and he invites you back to his place, you should totally go.

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