Are you getting fatter…?

So last Friday I found myself stuck in a meeting all day from 8 to 5. Now this would be bad enough, but combine it with the fact that it is the rainy season – and hence hot, sticky and miserable – and that a typhoon happened to make landfall that day, and you pretty much get a very unhappy panda.

panda punch!

I think I have alluded to my dislike for my current job before on this blog, and one of the side effects of its soul-blighting nature is that I have started demonstrating addictive behaviour. Now I say that half in jest, because it’s not like I have taken up heavy drinking, smoking or whoring (mainly due to budgetary considerations, and at least in the latter, being too lazy to drag myself down to Kabuki-cho every week.) (oh and uhhh… whoring is kinda wrong). Rather – and don’t laugh here – my addiction of choice is gum. (yeah, like the kind you chew)

You know what’s funny? About 4 years ago I wrote a post wherein I mentioned a japanese guy I used to work with who I referred to as “gum-sensei”, because this man plowed through gum like it was going out of style. Now this man also sported a fu-manchu from time to time, so arguably he was kind of wacked from the start, but the thing about him is, I just had no idea why the frick he chewed so much damn gum all the time. Well now, 4 years later, I finally know. It’s like the only thing you can do to stave off insanity when you work for the Japanese bureaucracy. Had I only known at the time that he was like my little miner’s canary, foreshadowing the despairing depths to which I would fall after 4 soul crushing years in this country?

moar beach pictures

(…finishing up the rest of the beach pictures from before…)

Now when I say “I’m addicted to gum”, you need to understand folks, that I don’t mean “oh I chew a few pieces a day”. Rather, my gum consumption is measured in packs, as in “I’m a 2 1/2 pack a day chewer” and so forth. You may recall that this is how heavy cigarette smokers measure their habit as well, and given that a standard pack of gum in Japan contains 14 pieces, at 2 1/2 packs a day we’re talking 35 pieces of gum (give or take a couple) each day…! A significant amount in anyone’s book.

Why do I chew so much gum? Well you see, a typical hour of a Japanese meeting (at least the ones I have attended) can be broken down as follows: 10 minutes of people silently staring at a single piece of paper, 10 minutes of useless droning (usually restating everything people already know because it’s written on the piece of paper we just finished staring at), 10 minutes of people trying to work up the courage to be the first one to say something critical out loud, 10 minutes of people trying not to say aforementioned criticism directly, when really, it would take 5 seconds to say it directly (i.e. “this idea sucks and here’s why…”), 10 minutes of long winded officious nonsense from the people in charge, 5 minutes spent shuffling papers around and about 5 minutes of actual, real work.

You multiply this time 8 hours and you can see why I am ready to hang myself after the first 30 minutes…! (and we won’t say anything of the overtime we always seem to have to do because nobody wants to be the one to suggest we leave on time) So for me, each time I feel myself falling asleep or starting to entertain homicidal/suicidal fantasies (which is happening a disturbing amount these days), I pop a piece of gum in my mouth and the temporary sugar rush helps placate my brain so I can make it for another 5 minutes without spontaneously breaking down in tears in front of everyone or shaking my fist at the sky and cursing my long-lost innocence and youth, wondering how all the promise of childhood has amounted to me sitting in this hot, sweaty, stinky-ass room dying in my heavy woolen suit while people around me waste the precious moments of my life with pointless inanity. I’m fairly certain that when my 2nd grade teacher asked us to write “what we want to be in the future” I did not write “a title-less contract paper pusher in a mid-level department of a mindless, soulless bureaucracy”, yet somehow, here I sit.

Okay, so now you know why I chew gum. So Friday, I know I’ve got this meeting coming up all day, so I stop by the convenience store in the morning to buy 2 packs of gum.

“This” I figure to myself – “should hold me for most of the meeting.” 28 pieces of gum folks. TWENTY-EIGHT.

moar beach pictures

annnnnnd by 11:30 AM, they were gone. gone. all gone.


Now the fact that I have chewed through 28 pieces of gum in a little over 3 hours is disturbing enough (and proof positive that even thought it is gum, it is still addictive behaviour), but more pressingly, it means that I am now without any way to stave off soul-crushing depression for the next 5 hours. So faced with the choice between either murdering all my coworkers with my recently completed stabbing machine, or finding some alternate crutch, I settle on the latter and decide to do the next best thing to chewing gum – I walk down to a nearby drink machine and purchase a bottle of tea to drink.

Now when I say I bought a bottle of tea, I don’t even mean I bought a big bottle of tea. I mean, I bought one of the tiny 300 ml bottles of tea, which is less than the size of a standard can of soda. And this was tea, so there was like15 Kcals per 100 ml. Not exactly a chocolate milkshake, ya know?

Well anyway, I down this bottle of tea and after about an hour, I feel my brain melting and my eyelids drooping, so I go back to the drink machine and buy a can of coffee to help me stay awake as people drone on uselessly around me. A small can of coffee, maybe 200 mls. It has a few calories, but again, I’m not exactly downing corn syrup or liquid sugar here.

This carries me (including lunch) until around 2pm. At this point those deep seated feelings of despair and “what the fuck has my life come to” start welling up again and I decide I need one more drink to help me stay awake. A little bit of a sugar rush is in order, so I buy a small 300 ml bottle of apple juice. APPLE JUICE PEOPLE. apple juice.

moar beach pictures

So I go back to my place at the table and open my juice and start taking a sip whilst casting my eyes skywards and beseeching the lord in a manner more usually associated with Job, kind of a “why has thou forsaken me, abandoned me to this fate, oh lord?” tip. As I take my second sip, and feel the delicious tart and apple-y liquid start to trickle down the back of my throat, the barest hint of a smile starts tugging at my lips (I do so love apple juice), one of my co-workers decides to take this moment to open his big, stupid mouth.

“Wow Michael. That’s your third drink today huh?”

I shoot him a stare of death, a kind of “dude, don’t you even dream about stealing my sunshine today.” But to no avail. He continues, clueless, unabated.

“Don’t you think that’s a little excessive? I mean, don’t you think that’s a lot of calories for you to be taking in?”

moar beach pictures

Now I will interject before getting to the climax of this story (and by climax I mean “the part where my soul is mercilessly beaten over the head with the Japanese sledgehammer of insensitivity”) to state that I have had 3 small drinks – the total amount of calories was probably no more than 130 or so. ONE HUNDRED FRICKING THIRTY CALORIES MAN. I work that off just walking home against these torrential typhoon winds, yo.

Now on to the dramatic part.

So upon hearing this, my boss turns to me and says in a loud, so-clear-everyone-even-on-the-other-side-of-the-room-could-hear voice:

“Michael, are you getting fatter? You have gotten fatter, haven’t you?!


Now I am no stranger to Japanese people saying ridiculously inappropriate things to me (just check this blog entry if you don’t believe me.) And yes, I know, that in Japan even though it’s quite rude in general, for cultural reasons or whatever some people have no problem commenting on people’s weight directly to their faces. And yes, I realise I am not the thinnest person in the world, especially in a place like Japan (I am not, however, anywhere near Jack Black territory, no matter what they might say) where almost everyone is thin, attractive and fashionably dressed (much like the gorgeous Koda Kumi below who is the current object of my affections, having recently displaced Ono Mayumi and Alyson Hannigan)

moar beach pictures

So I guess really, I should have been ready for him to say something idiotic like that to me in front of all these people (who laughed, by the way, which only added to the awesomeness that is being called “fat” by your boss – being laughed at by a dozen random Japanese people), but I … I don’t know. I guess it just caught me off guard. I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t expecting it. It just sort of slipped in while I was vulnerable, unprepared.

I just stared at him dumbfounded and as pathetic as this sounded all I could think in my head is:

“You really, really hurt my feelings just now.”

I didn’t say it out loud though – couldn’t really, because he really did hurt my feelings and I was speechless. I just dumbly stared at him, unable to say anything and just feeling like absolute shit for what seemed like an eternity.

It’s like man, I don’t know how my life ended up so depressing as it was at that moment, in this soul less bureaucracy in this paper pushing pointless menial job in a meaningless meeting watching my youth slip away, but then, my only goddamn source of happiness in life at that moment – the only thing that gave me the strength to keep going with this empty charade, my one little pathetic bit of happiness in the world – my stupid little bottle of apple juice – you assholes had to go and take that away from me, didn’t you!?

It’s like, the second after he said that, the apple juice in my mouth started to taste like bile. I didn’t want to see it anymore, my cheeks flushed red with shame as I saw this stupid bottle of fucking apple juice sitting in front of me on the desk for all to see just after one guy said I’m drinking too many calories and my boss called me fat to my face – and I just felt so fucking shitty and low and embarrassed and ashamed. Thank you for taking away the one pathetic thing that made me happy you bastard. Thank you for making me feel worse about myself than I already do. Thank you for zeroing in on my insecurities and laying them bare – nay, screaming them out loud in the middle of a meeting for all to hear. Thank you for not settling until you have taken every last little thing that could possibly bring me joy in this world and just smashed it to fucking bits with your callous insensitivity.

Fuck him. He really hurt my feelings. And I couldn’t bring myself to tell him – what am I going to do? Start crying? Tell him “hey you hurt my feelings?” only to have him stare at me quizzically, unable to comprehend why calling your employee fat to his face is a terribly shitty, inappropriate thing to say? So instead, I do what I always do in this country – just bottled it up inside, said nothing, sucked it up, soldiered on, gaman‘d, ganbaru‘d, shikata-ga-nai‘d it up, swept it under the rug of cultural differences, chalked it up to the bumps in the rocky path of internationalisation, all that jazz.

But you know what? It really hurt. And it has ruined my weekend. It’s stupid, I know, that a 27 year old boy could be hurt by what is, in effect, a throw away comment by an insensitive jackass. I have thick skin – but every once in a while something like this gets through and it’s like what the fuck man. Why does this country have to hurt me every chance it gets?


Whatever. I am going to start a blog – an anonymous blog, written in Japanese and English. And in it, I’m going to put how I really feel about this country sometimes – all the pain, hurt, aches, depression and just flat out disillusionment I keep bundled up hidden and bottled inside – all the things I am too ashamed to put on this blog, and I’m going to just put it out there in both languages so hopefully someday, someone can read it and realise that you know, I may be a foreigner but I have fucking feelings too.

And because I don’t want to end this post on a completely depressing note, here is a small Koda Kumi gallery for your enjoyment. Of course, I will apparently never date a girl nearly this gorgeous because according to my boss I am “too fat” but whatever. A panda can dream, can’t he?

Koda Kumi Gallery


koda kumi gallery 2007

koda kumi gallery 2007

koda kumi gallery 2007

koda kumi gallery 2007

koda kumi gallery 2007

koda kumi gallery 2007

koda kumi gallery 2007

koda kumi gallery 2007

koda kumi gallery 2007

koda kumi gallery 2007

koda kumi gallery 2007

koda kumi gallery 2007

koda kumi gallery 2007

koda kumi gallery 2007

koda kumi gallery 2007

in progress!More Information!

Mmm… Now I feel better. (^_^)v

Now listening to: “Kanye West – Stronger”

17 Reactions

  1. Paracetamol

    Haha, If I were you I’d track the gum-sensei down and find out how he’s doing. If he’s in a mental institute somewhere hiding behind a fort made out of his own bodily waste, I’d suggest getting the hell out of japan

  2. kittah

    1. ewwwwwww gum is disgusting!!! (i have an extreme hatred for gum and wish to live in some gum free country one..just not the one that is currently available to me)
    2. Your essay has TOTALLY convinced me why you should stay in Japan and that I’m crazy for deciding to throw in the towel and return to USA.
    3. i don’t follow u on this kumi koda thing. seriously? she looks like a man in that yellow dress. the hair is AWFUL (she looks like she stole Nicole Richies bad hair in some of those pics).. maaaaybe she’s okay with the dark hair… but otherwise.. no way. you a crazy pandar. i think the gum has affected your brain.

  3. Anonymous

    You should have said something back! The Japanese culture has made you soft and indirect, hasn’t it? I know it is difficult to counter when you are off guard and unprepared. Don’t lower your guard! *punch*

  4. melissa

    mmm gum. i can’t have it too often – although i really hate mint gum and since that’s all there is it’s a good thing, i suppose – because it makes my jaw go all out of whack.
    ugh, what is with asian people? hk is really obsessed with being thin as well. it’s terrible. you should say something rude like, “why do you have so many wrinkles on your face?” or “i drink a lot of juice because i can’t drink alcohol at work” or “i drink a lot because it relieves all the stress your incompetence bestows upon me.”

  5. felix

    how…inappropriate! sigh.
    i’ll bet you if you tell them that you are going to mongolia for vacation, they will be totally bewildered. “why? can’t you just go to a nice onsen like NORMAL people?”

  6. moritheil

    Oh my gosh. It’s turning you Singaporean! :P
    Seriously, it may be bad for your jaw.
    Your beach pics juxtaposed with this topic make me recall a line from somewhere: a man tells his kid, “When I was young, I used to sneak off to go to the beach and shout at the ocean.”

  7. Alexis

    Doesn’t 28 pieces of gum start to hurt your jaw? Be careful, Pandar, you do not want to have to add jaw surgery to your list of woahs.
    I read yesterday that 86% of Japanese women think that a woman should not be more than 50 kilos…. regardless of height or build. 86%!!! I empathize with you.
    And over the weekend I went to Starbucks with a friend and her teacher (who I knew). My friend was dressed up having just come from a nice lunch and I was in jeans and a casual shirt (this being a Saturday …. but I did not look like a slob. In fact, I was quite fashionable by Boston standards, I think.) Teacher says, “Oh Friend, you look so wonderful! And Alexis, you look so…. casual… comfortable…. I am envious. You must be doing laundry right now.”
    I love Japan.
    /rant over

  8. Sabine

    Hi Michael
    THank you for your post. YES I have an iPhone. I tried to resist, but couldn’t resist for too long. And the iPhone is fabulous! ;-)
    Yesterday I was a the beach and wish I had taken my Digital SLR with a good lens as the seals and dolphins gave us quite a show and all I had was my point and shoot.
    I love your photos! I just added you to my blog roll
    Don’t you get JAW aches from all the chewing?
    Where in Japan are you? I hear about the EQ and the problems with the power plants. YIKES! I live in Southern CAl so we know all too well about EQ’s.
    Keep ‘shooting’
    Your fellow Lens Envy blog friend ;-)

  9. Pia

    Ha ha, I love your panda collection. As a matter of fact, right now all I want is to roll around on your panda collection and listen to N*sync.
    I realize that might come off as a bit disturbed.

  10. Pia

    Ugh, I posted right before I read the rest of your story. What an awful thing to say. In Korea my coworkers would get an earful about their weight all the time and they felt terrible, but what could they do? This was work.
    My relatives pick on my heavier cousins a lot, and I’d like to stick up for them, but I feel like it would be inappropriate, given these are their kids and I have little say over how they’re raised.
    Anyway, you are too handsome for words, Panda. Don’t let The Man wear you down.

  11. Johnny B

    ** Now when I say “I’m addicted to gum”, you need to understand folks, that I don’t mean “oh I chew a few pieces a day”. Rather, my gum consumption is measured in packs, as in “I’m a 2 1/2 pack a day chewer” **
    Hehe, I probably chew a pack a day too. Sadly, mines to keep me from snacking on other things.

  12. Johnny B

    Oh… btw…
    According to certain French people, (sugar-free)Gum makes you fat. Much disagreeing, laughing, some Google searching finds out that the French don’t mean ‘fat’ but mean ‘bloated’ which appears to be true.
    Apparently, chewing gum makes you take in more air, which in turn makes you bloated. Like some kind of Kirby.
    So, according to the French, that’s why she doesn’t chew gum and MAYBE a good excuse you can use for ‘getting fat’. hehe

  13. Shay

    I’ll remember that usefulness of gum ;) what flavor? And that’s a fair excuse, Johnny B :) . Hang in there Mr. Panda, I know I’m a tryin’ to

  14. Swiftblade

    Cheer up dude.
    You do realize that the American workplace is far more volatile, right? If you can’t handle a crack about your physical appearance (especially one that’s not true) how on earth…
    Subtle comebacks should always be prepared!

  15. Marty

    I don’t know man… From what I remember and the pictures that I see on the site now, you’ve lost weight I think. Of course, i haven’t seen you for like 7 years or something..