Friday, 1 August 2014

Kanabata

Tanabata has become a bit of a tradition for our Club. It started out as a fun thing to do in summer when half our membership had vanished into the ether for a few months; the first time we tried it, we got rained out, had to do it in the university student centre, and used me as the tree. But our planning skills have improved since then, and over the years we've managed to grow it to a respectable size. And since we have a limited financial capacity, we usually do it as a potluck.

This heralded some concerns for us this year, because we had invited a bunch of recent arrivals from Japan and having a potluck with Japanese people can be a little iffy. Basically they tend to bring either far too little, or something completely ridiculous. Sometimes both. I think a single bag of 5-cent candies, as the shared contribution of six people, was probably the topper here, but you're also likely to get single bags of chips or rare, inscrutable treats that elicit furtive gestures and mutterings amongst observers. Maybe it's that Japanese people tend to think of food and drink as the host's responsibility (if so, they probably figure that we Canadians are all incorrigible cheapskates trying to slough off the cost onto the guests), though I mostly suspect that they are just unacquainted with the concept and could be trained up with a little practise.

(If you are now wondering what exactly an appropriate potluck contribution would be, a nice fruit or veggie tray is usually a good choice. A couple 2Ls of pop or some dessert-type stuff is ok, but damn near everybody is going to bring pop or dessert-type stuff, so watch out for that. If applicable, something from your home country will usually go over pretty well. And if there's going to be alcohol involved, a flat of 24 beer is always welcome. It doesn't even have to be good beer.)

Anyway, we needn't have worried. This group arrived bearing mainly a bunch of Taiwanese snacks, which not only ranged from edible to tasty, but were present in appropriate volume, as well. What was better, everybody here was cool. You know, I hate to say it, but as much as ryuugakusei are generally good folk – it takes a certain sort of person to want to learn a foreign language and live within a foreign culture – some of them are just really shitty people. Cause that's just life, you take any large group of people, some of them are going to be shitty, you know? You can try to hang out with just the ryuugakusei you actually like, but you'll always have to deal with the hangers-on from time to time, the ones who only want to use you for your English or think that they are entitled to make you their personal assistant, or that they are somehow above you, just by virtue of being a foreigner amongstforeigners.

You can also organize ryuugakusei into three broad categories: Those who make no effort to engage the host culture or even actively avoid it; those who spend time with their countrymen but still make a substantial effort to engage the host culture; and those who go for full integration, sometimes to the level of eschewing their native language altogether. I've always thought that a Japanese person refusing to speak Japanese in a room full of exclusively Japanese speakers was, you know, kind of really fucking stupid, but who really gives a shit, I guess. I tend to avoid those who fall on either extreme of the spectrum anyway, the former because they're boring, the latter because they're annoying. People who visit another country and then try to pretend they're somewhere else are usually this way because they're reserved and quiet so they're rarely very much fun to hang out with. And anybody going for full integration tends to be so overflowing with cultural sanctimoniousness that they're completely intolerable. As in many things, a balance is best, really.

We lucked out, and these guys were all of the cool, balanced variety. We had a few good icebreakers, too, that is, people who aren't afraid to just go ahead and strike up conversations with strangers, an essential element of any event involving Japanese people.

Additionally, two of them were shakaijin, “society people,” i.e. gainfully employed, although working at A&W rather than a suit-and-tie company, but shakaijin nonetheless. Both have aspirations of Canadian citizenship (the standards for which, if you didn't know, can be a little...stringent), and we discussed the various laws therein in some detail; after becoming a citizen, one of the girls intended to enter a Canadian university for a four-year degree. All of this was immensely interesting to me as not only am I on the cusp of becoming a shakaijin myself, but of course have also been slowly working on a plan to do what they're currently doing but in reverse.

I also learned that many Japanese think that root beer tastes like medicine. So we'll know not to get any of that next time, I guess. Some blonde girl said she'd heard of that from her Korean friends as well. She brought up Korea a couple of times and wrote her name on her cup in Korean, but she left before I could ask what her deal was.

The main event at Tanabata, of course, is writing out wishes and hanging them on a bamboo tree. Despite stereotypes, bamboo trees aren't exactly something you can just go pick up at Wal-Mart in Canada, so we usually use a grate or railing instead (you are welcome to steal this trick for your own Tanabata party). I wrote down “That I may get back to Japan quickly.”

“I knew that was going to be your first wish,” President grinned.

Then I wished that my job search should go well, which admittedly is kind of the same thing, since the one is predicated on the other.

Additionally, every Tanabata I send up some kind of a prayer for my sister. Last year she'd recently gotten married, so I wrote out a wish for her happy married life (or in Japanese, that her household would be bountiful). Now she's expecting a child, so I wished for him or her to be born healthy and happy. This seemed right to me. I tried to think of what would make her happiest in the world, and I am sure her most feverish hope right now is for the health of her unborn child. Indeed, I saw on Facebook later that her own Tanabata wish was for exactly that.

Japanese guy: Please invite me to hang out again.
Rude Boy: Absolutely, you should find me on Facebook.
Japanese: Yeah, I just added your wife, so we can find each other.
Rude Boy: Oh, great.

Then he walked off somewhere before I realised what he'd said.

In hindsight I can sort of understand why they might have some confusion. President rooms in a full-on house, and if they thought it was ours, we probably seem pretty domestic. Plus, I'm 24 this year. I certainly remember how distant and established 24 seemed back when I was 19. Shit, back when I was 17 and my sister was 22, I was in awe of her. She seemed so mature and put-together. It was only when I turned 22 myself that I actually realised, Christ no, she didn't know what the fuck she was doing, nobody does. When you're a little kid, your parents present themselves as omniscient and practised, and it's usually a couple of decades before you figure out that they were making it up as they went along too. I got off-topic there, but I'm going to assume you all understood my point.


It was a fun, chill kind of a night (President's roommate: “This is a drinking party? You can have Asians over for drinks anytime.”) Mostly, I was just glad to be hanging out with Japanese people again – it's been faaaaaar too long since I've done that. I miss it. And it was good, too, to be back in the thick of things. I've always been more comfortable leading than following, and I'm certainly more comfortable on the field than in the sidelines or, fuck's sake, the audience. For at least that night, I felt like President and I really were President and Vice President again; all thoughts of guiding Club rather than commanding it, and being careful not to change the system through observing it, all that shit had fled my mind. Ah, I don't know – maybe this summer will be our victory lap?

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