"Kesuke Bure bu"
- An attempt at French by a Japanese Colleague
I left for the airport early in the morning. It took about four hours to get to Narita back then, because I had to get a bus from nearby Omiya. The train didn't actually go all the way to the
terminal, because the station was underneath the location of what is now terminal two, which didn't exist back then. There was a typhoon on the morning I left, and my bags and myself were
thoroughly soaked by the time I got to the airport. I flew through Gatwick in London, and found myself in business class for the connecting flight to Dublin, which was not so great because that
was the only section of the flight that I was paying for. I landed in Dublin at about nine in the evening, and was met by my parents. As I walked from the plane to the luggage hall, there were
two ladies in front of me talking in thick Cork accents, and I knew I was home. Once we got home, it was straight back to my old ways, meeting college friends for drinks and such. Coincidentally
one of my cousins was having her 21st birthday party at the end of that week, and it was a good opportunity to see many relatives at once. A college friend of mine, John, who had suffered from
severe arthritis since childhood, was in hospital for an operation on his knee, and I managed to get to visit him too. I also bought an Aran sweater to send to Susan in the States. We had a final
family dinner on my last night there, and I flew to Belgium the next day.
Once in Brussels, I had to make it clear to the local Japanese staff that I would not be using the rental car that they had arranged for me since I did not have a license. They had put me in a hotel (more like an apartment building actually) in the middle of Brussels, just off the Avenue Louise, and it was a good thirty minute drive to work every morning. One of the first jobs we had in Brussels was to set up a data link to the computer system in Japan. This was not the easy task it is now, as the internet didn't really exist back then. Gradually connecting to the local data carrier, then the Japanese network, and finally to the Kawagoe computer system took a total of three days. Achieving two way data transfer took a further three days. Once we could transfer software between Belgium and Japan, we started working on the product itself. We were developing a car radio for BMW, and they were very fussy about their RDS operation, which is a system that among other things allows the radio to automatically retune if you move out of range of a transmitter. The testing of this operation involved driving around Bavaria in a BMW 7 series, listening to the radio, usually at a speed of 230kmh. In 8 hours of driving, only four other cars overtook us, and three of those were Ferraris. We went from Munich to Frankfurt and back on the first day, and travelled into Austria and Switzerland on the second. We spent less than an hour in Switzerland, stopping for a coffee and to take a piss in the snow. I have been to Switzerland twice in my life, and have left within two hours on both occasions.
Kamiya, the little guy I worked with, and an evaluation engineer named Kimura (more about him later) flew to Milan to do some field testing there. On the flight back to Brussels, the stewardess mistook them for a father and son, and gave Kamiya, who was about 25 years old at the time, the Kiddie Travel Pack. He was delighted! I have a great photo of the two of them on a street in Brussels, the "father" eating an ice cream while the "son" smokes a cigarette. (He said that several shops in Europe refused to sell him cigarettes while he was there, presuming him to be underage. In one shop they were kind enough to refer him to a vending machine.)
On the weekends, there was a lot of sightseeing. We went to Waterloo (It was weird to stand on top of the hill-like monument there, surveying the peaceful fields around us, and consider that one hundred and fifty years before the place had been all kinds of hell.) and to Bruges, where we took a boat ride along the canals that ended with the tour guide congratulating himself on an excellent job and pointing out that we really should tip him. We also visited an aviation and automobile museum in Brussels. After visiting Munich it was decided that we would drive, rather than fly, back to Brussels, and two days were spent doing so. Along the way we went on a boat trip down the Rhine, and drove around the SPA formula 1 racecourse in Belgium, part of which is normally used as a public road. Overall I was quite surprised at how much fun Japanese business men have on their business trips.
I arrived back in Japan on my 22nd Birthday, which was only 16 hour long as a result of the time difference. The heat of the summer had evaporated all the water in my toilet bowl, and when I first saw it my immediate reaction was to assume mistakenly that my water supply had been cut off! That week I had my last Japanese lesson at head office, and after that I joined the lessons with Ronan and Alex at Kawagoe. In October, the new bunch of foreign trainees arrived, and it turned out that Kevin, who would be based at the nearby Tokorozawa factory, was from the same university as myself and Gerry. We all went out drinking in Kawagoe, and since they missed the last train back to the dormitory, they all ended up staying in each of our apartments. I took in Grant and Jason. Jason had been warning us all night about how intolerant to drink he was, and proved it by throwing up the two beers he had in my bathroom as soon as we made it home. When we stepped in the door I told him that if he needed to throw up the bathroom was over there, and he said "Right!" and made a beeline for it!
Another of the new recruits to arrive that October was Damian, an Englishman, who by way of his blond hair and very effervescent personality stood out at the factory. He claimed that when he first arrived at the Kawagoe factory, he was warned by the administration department to stay away from the women working there. I don't know if they presumed he was some kind of sexual predator (he did in fact get through his fair share and more of girlfriends!) or if they thought that the young lassies of the production line would be unable to restrain themselves when presented with the temptation of a "kinpatsu gaijin" or blond foreigner.
I was soon told I would be going back to Germany at the end of November. During the preparations for the return trip, I got my first taste of "Kyuujitsu Shukkin", or working on a holiday (which is what they call Saturday and Sunday). On the morning of our departure, I went to Omiya again to get the bus to the airport. I met up with Kamiya on the train, but when we got to Omiya we got out at the wrong side of the station, and by the time we had got around to where the bus left from, it was already gone. In a panic, we took the train instead, and got to Narita about twenty minutes before the bus did. I never used the bus again. When we got to Munich it was snowing. The airport somehow reminded me of some old war movie I had seen years before, and that gave me some strange little thrill. We had changed flights at Frankfurt, and when we went through the gate that said "Domestic Flights" in Munich, we found ourselves in the arrivals lobby without any passport or customs checks. Another entry in my criminal record!
The first part of our job was setting up the data link again, this time from the Munich office. Since we were accessing the Belgian network over a normal phone line, the quality was bad and we had a lot of problems. It was not until the very last day that we got it working stably, and then I had to explain to the locally stationed Japanese engineer how to use it. As I was explaining to him that a particular password had to be input in capital letters, he asked what capital letters were, and this confirmed the suspicion that had been growing in my mind the whole week that this was probably the most stupid person I had ever met. We ran out of time and had to go to the airport, and in the end it took a seven hour phone call from Japan to walk him through the procedure for logging in and accessing data.
One of the less trying moments on that trip was the dinner we had with the BMW engineers. We drove some seventy kilometres outside Munich to an apparently well known restaurant, which remains one of the best meals I have ever had. They had their own farm where they raised the animals for their meat, and as we pulled into the car park a cow in the field in front of me looked at us as if to say "Please order something without beef in it, I'm not ready to die yet!" I imagined him giving a surreptitious nod in the direction of the pig behind him and saying; ”The pork here is highly recommended!”
Less than two weeks after returning from that trip, I set off for home again, this time for Christmas. Eamon had arranged travel for us through Moscow, and this was to be literally one of the longest journeys of my life. It took seventy two hours to get from door to door. We left Narita at about 1PM, and arrived in Moscow in the evening. The flight was unusual, in as much as the stewardesses didn't seem to know, or even care, what was going on. I was surprised to see that the seatbacks folded forward to allow the seat in front of you to be used as a footrest if it wasn't occupied, and people walked freely around the cabin, smoking. I was reminded of the Hollywood stereotype of buses in Central American countries, and would not have been surprised if there had been an old woman with a live chicken down the back of the plane.
As we went through the passport check at Moscow, there were two young men, almost boys, in the booth. One took my passport and examined it, the other one asked me surreptitiously if I had any cigarettes. The airport was huge, and the steel pipes that decorated the roof resonated to the engines of each departing plane, giving off a low moan that made the place seem haunted. At the transfer desk we were loaded into buses and taken to a hotel to stay the night. We bought tickets to a bus tour of Moscow that would start at 8 o'clock. The hotel was more like a dormitory, located very far away from the airport. We went to our rooms to freshen up, and I was amazed at the water pressure in the building. It was probably the best shower I have ever had.
At 8 o'clock the bus showed up, but apparently not all of the passengers, so after waiting a while the guide decided we should go looking for them. It was getting close to nine o' clock when we finally set off, but nobody really cared by then thanks to the bottle of vodka we had been passing around to keep warm. (It was eight degrees below zero.) We went to the Kremlin, Red square, the Bolshoi Ballet, the headquarters of the KGB, and other famous sights in the city. They allowed us off the bus at the Kremlin, and we were immediately besieged by young boys selling postcards and dolls for souvenirs. It amused me that the only currency they would accept was American dollars or American cigarettes. I gave a pack I had to a boy, and he insisted on giving me a pack of postcards in return. I was surprised at the high quality of them. We were then taken to Red Square, and Eamon and I were cautioned by two policemen for jaywalking, or smoking, or drinking in public. We were not sure which, because all they would say was "NO!" The story goes that the Tsar told Russia's finest architects to build the most magnificent building the world would ever know, so they did, and that was St. Peter's Basilica. When they had finished, the Tsar called for them again and asked if they hade more time and money, could they build an even grander structure. Always eager to please, the architects said "Of course we can!" The Tsar then ordered his troops to gouge their eyes out, in order that his basilica would never be bettered.
After we got back to the hotel, it was well past midnight, but it was clear from the noise that there was a party going on in one room. We met with Australians, Brazilians, and half a dozen other nationalities, and drank and talked till the wee hours. As we sat down to breakfast the following morning, one middle aged man walked in to the breakfast room wearing an Ireland T-shirt, so we invited him to join us. He told us he was on his way to Thailand, but when his flight from Ireland arrived late in Moscow, his connecting flight had already left, and the next flight wasn't for three days. This meant that he would have to spend half his holiday, for which he had only packed t-shirts and shorts, in freezing cold Moscow, which was why he was dressed in the unusual way he was. He told us he had met a Danish man who was flying to South Africa, and had similar problems with connections, except in his case the flight was on time, the connecting flight had left EARLY, and the next flight was on the day he was supposed to be coming back.
We did the same bus tour again in the morning, and when the bus stopped at Red square, the guide warned us to be back on time for departure. When Eamon and I came back to the spot, the bus was not there. I remember wondering what the Russian Police would do to us as illegal aliens. We spotted it on the far side of the square, and presumed we had become disoriented and gone to the wrong place. As we ran across the square, the bus moved off again! It eventually stopped in the original place and we got on board. The guide started complaining about people not coming back on time, and Eamon laid into her about the bus not being there. Apparently, they did not have permission to park in Red Square, and so had to keep moving. In the afternoon we flew on to Shannon, where our luggage appeared to have disappeared. After waiting close to an hour for it to come out on the rack, we and several others who had flown from Moscow went to report our luggage missing, as the old man was describing the contents of his luggage, (in complete detail, listing the number of socks and underwear.) One of the ground staff looked at our ticket stubs and realised that our luggage had come in on a previous flight. We stayed the night with a mutual friend from college, Steve. He was driving up to Dublin the following morning, so we hitched a ride with him. We got to Dublin by evening, and that was the end of our three day journey.
There was a gathering of the Irish in Japan at a pub called O'Dwyer's every year on the last Saturday of December, and that year it turned out that my class from college was having a reunion there the same night. Travelling back required we be at Shannon at 6AM, so Eamon's parents drove us down. The airport was deserted, and we helped ourselves to a couple of Soviet flags that were lying around, on the grounds that they would no longer be needed by anybody because the Soviet Union had collapsed into the Russian and other Republics only days before. There was a sole security guard operating the metal detector at the boarding gate, and he was not pleased when it took Eamon four attempts to get through it without beeping, as it turned out the offending metal object was a can of beer in his coat pocket.
The day after I got back to Japan I was scheduled to work, but slept in. This fuelled my resolve to buy a bicycle. I went to a bicycle shop in town, and was being shown a mountain bike that was cheap because it was an old model, when by chance a Canadian friend, Doug, came into the shop. He turned out to know the owner, a former professional cyclist, (whom Doug assured me was legitimate by telling me that “people used to bet on this guy!”) Doug was also a keen cyclist, and recommended the bike "as long as the colour doesn't make you puke!"
I was to travel through Moscow the following Christmas also, but this time to London. That time I flew alone, and found myself seated next to a good looking Danish girl. When we were disembarking, she asked the stewardess to return the souvenir Japanese sword she had handed in, and was offered a small handheld sword of about 30cm in length, but she claimed her sword was larger than that. I saw her again later at the Transfer desk, holding a box that was more than two meters long. She wasn't joking about it being bigger! At the transfer desk I was told my flight would be leaving sooner than expected, so I had to dash around the airport looking for the right gate. I ran past an Irish bar that was newly opened in the airport, and stopped in mid stride to peek inside. I decided to check it out on the way back. When I did, the bartender, who turned out to be Irish, was involved in a heated discussion with a German lady about the services his establishment offered, stating repeatedly; "YOU GIVE ME MONEY, I GIVE YOU DRINK!" I think the lady was looking for change.
If you dropped in by accident, the story starts here;
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