Back, finally

Well hello. My apologies to all the loyal panda-ites out there for my recent absence. It was just one of those weeks. To make up for my extended absence, I have for you today a story of how the forces of evil tried to run game on the House of Panda and abduct him for their evil purposes. It was an incredible struggle, to be sure, and its retelling is rather long. But I thank you if you take the time to read it all, and promise I will resume frequently updating from now on. Also, I apologize that I don’t have any pictures from my misadventure, so instead please enjoy some random pictures, the majority of which are from the local samurai district.
Big fat fish swim around unpeturbed in the murky pond.
I had to give yet another presentation on “America” in class about a week and a half ago – and of course, the teachers who were supposed to be assisting me in this little endeavor managed to do absolutely nothing – figuring that my being from America would suddenly endow me with superhuman powers to babble on nonsensically about my country for two hours. So supremely confident were they in my abilities that they chose to specify my task even more concretely – I was to talk about American high school life.
Keeping in mind that it has been well over half a decade since I was last in high school, I fell back on that time honored ALT tradition:
I showed a movie.
More specifically, I showed American Pie. I suppose that had I been born about 15 years earlier I might have gone with “Fast Times at Richmond High” but anyway, American Pie was the first thing that leapt into my mind when I started musing about “what movie clearly depicts American high school students, their school life, interactions with peers and what they do for fun?”. Thinking myself to be brilliant, I ran out the night before and rented it from the local video store. Let’s keep in mind that it has been quite few years since I last watched American Pie. For those of you who have seen it, do you remember the scenes where Stifler drinks a cup of beer filled with semen? Or when the foreign exchange student strips naked in Jim’s bedroom while being broadcast on the internet? Or when Jim is caught having sex with an apple pie in the kitchen? Or how the movie opens with a scene featuring Jim masturbating while his mom tries to figure out if he’s watching cable porn?
I didn’t.
Adding to my increasingly senile memory is the fact that so harried was I in putting together what I was going to say the next day that I forgot to actually watch the movie ahead of time…!
M and I pose charmingly for the camera. I bought her that scarf. panda points++!
All of which is to say that Friday morning, panda confidently strides into the classroom filled with 20 less-than-enthusiastic students and pops in the cassette tape of American Pie.
And instantly almost kills himself trying to hit the “fast forward button” as the first scene (featuring Jason Biggs’s sock-covered member) flashes on the screen.
“Hah hah… just a little fast forward here…!” panda tries (not so confidently) to cover. I notice that for the first time in my teaching career I have the rapt attention of every student in my classroom. I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say that I was literally fast forwarding every 4 or 5 minutes. It was an hour and a half of pure hell and sweaty palms and trembling feet as my mind desperately tried to race ahead of whatever scene was currently showing, trying to remember what (sickeningly amusing) sexual depravity was waiting just up ahead, fingers twitching, quivering, resting mere nanometers above the fast forward button like some manner of inane 21st century English-teaching VCR gunslinger in a stand off at the OK corral. I kept glancing over at the other teachers who were supposed to be presenting with me and watched as their faces went from shocked amazement (I don’t think they quite expected me to open up my presentation on American high school life with a masturbation scene) to increasingly troubled and furrowed brows (right about the time when Jim’s dad starts talking about the differences in pornography mags) to a sort of despondent surrender (“and this one time, in band camp, I stuck a flute up my…”) whereupon I could see them silently resolve to themselves never, ever, EVER to ask me to give a presentation again.
Evil plan = succeeded.
I find this garden to be far more relaxing than that other overgrown golfcourse.
As an aside, all 20 of the students seemed to suddenly be filled with a newfound enthusiasm to visit America. :) I guess it’s true what they say. Sex sells! *scurries off to go inject some sexual depravity into next week’s lesson the present participle (“feeling hungry he went into the kitchen and s3x0rd an apple pie”)*
But the story does not end here my friends. No, far from it. Exhausted and sweating profusely from my 2 hour fast-forwarding ordeal, I dragged myself back to the staff room, where I looked eagerly forward to eating my lunch and collapsing at my desk for an hour. No sooner had my stressed panda butt seated itself firmly into my chair than my cell phone rang. I pick it up.
“moshi moshi!” I chirp in an uncharacteristically cheerful manner that did little to cover up my irritation at being disturbed right before I was going to eat.
M kept eyeing these in a manner that began to make me very, very afraid…
The reply is cryptic and nearly unintelligible due to a bad connection and more importantly, my sluggish, stressed out brain failing to keep up with what was being said (a full blown case of the local dialect is a thing to marvel at. The closest approximation I can come up with is if you take a 98 year old person, have them stuff half of a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich in their mouth, then, in mid chew, ask them to stick their heads underwater and talk to you.) At any rate, I manage to gather the following facts:
1) it’s a woman
2) I don’t recognize her name but she obviously knows me
3) she wants to meet me.
4) I swear to god she asked me if I want to become a minister.
Dismissing the last one as a hallucination due to my stressed state, I agree to meet her (I have a hard time saying no to people). She instructs me to go to the local train station at 6pm and then call her when I arrive.
So right around 6pm, panda arrives in the train station after work and whips out his cell phone.
*boop boop beep beep boop boop*
“I’m here!”
“Okay, good. Now do you see the rear exit to the station? Go out the double doors at the back, then call me back”.
At this point, panda’s survival instincts probably should have kicked in. But they don’t. So he dutifully exits out the rear double doors and emerges onto a rather dark and poorly lit bus lot.
*boop boop beep beep boop boop*
“I’m here”
“Great. Now do you see the Toyota rent-a-car in the distance? Go over there and call me when you arrive.”
“uhh, wait -” *click*
So off I go.
A dark, atmospherically moody night in the samurai district.
*boop boop beep beep boop boop*
“Okay, now what?”
“Fantastic. Now do you see the dark, shady looking abandoned construction yard across the street next to a dilapidated shack? Go there, and call me when you get there.”
Well, I had come this far…
*boop boop beep beep boop boop*
“Okay I’m here -” I am cut off in mid-sentence as a shadowy figure emerges from around the corner of the aforementioned dilapidated shack. It’s a woman, dressed all in black and wrapped in a long black trench coat, with her hands stuffed in the pockets. I suddenly feel like I’m in a scene out of the X-files. The woman extends her hand.
“I’m Nakagawa. Please follow me.”
A frightening suit of Samurai armor, enhanced by my camera flash.
Not really sure what to do, but afraid that the soul-less minions of orthodoxy might descend upon us at any moment and trap me in a shadowy conspiracy plot, I decide to follow her. She starts making idle conversation as we wind our way through dark streets and narrow alleyways, finally ending up at a rather old-looking building with a single flickering fluorescent light outside.
“We’re here!” she announces as she steps into an elevator near the entrance.
“Uhhh… where is here?” I inquire hesitantly.
“This is our business office. ” she replies non-descriptly.
“And umm… what kind of business are you in again?”
“Well, you can think of us as something like a human resources and staffing industry.”
For those of you who knew panda several years ago, you probably remember the story of how I was almost abducted into a Korean cult by cookie-plying Japanese obasans who had set up shop back in Wisconsin. (Incidentally, their shop is now a crepery last time I checked, which serves delicious, non-potentially-drugged crepes). I began to have flashbacks, but nevertheless, against my better judgment, I step into the elevator.
We emerge into a run-down office filled with all sorts of shady-looking characters running around. Everyone is dressed all in black and several people are talking hushedly into telephones in the far corner. No one bats an eye as I enter the room trailing the woman I know only as Nakagawa. She points to a folding card-table jammed into the corner and motions for me to have a seat. As I do, we are joined by another woman, again dressed all in black. Let’s call her co-conspirator #2. Co-conspirator #2 looks very severe – like a matron at a boarding school or something. I notice that her face is very sharp – I’m talking Maria Shriver sharp. I wonder to myself if she has to have her cheekbones periodically sharpened to maintain such a striking bone structure.
Nakagawa begins to talk. She is remarkably blunt.
This crepe place rules, most of all because they have crepes WITHOUT bananas in them! I hate bananas! YUCK!
“Would you like to become a minister?” she inquires.
I blink rapidly several times to clear the confusion. “kekkonshiki no obousan?” I hesitantly repeat to reconfirm.
“That’s correct”.
“Uhh, no thanks. I’m afraid I don’t want to become a minister. I already have a job.” I marvel at the fact that I never though I’d be saying that particular sentence to someone.
“Well, of course! We can work around your schedule! You can just be a minister on the weekends!” she cheerfully announces. Co-conspirator #2 shifts slightly in her seat.
After some discussion, details begin to emerge. The job being offered is for a “fake” minister to marry Japanese couples in faux-Christian wedding ceremonies all over the prefecture. Now this is not as far out as it sounds – I had a friend who did the same thing back in Tokyo a few years ago. Slightly curious, I decide to stay a little bit longer. But no sooner had Nakagawa finished her explanation than co-conspirator #2 shoves a piece of paper in front of me.
“Fill this out” she states. I look over the paper – name, address, phone number… then stuff like bank routing information, account number, passport number…! etc. I begin to fill out just my name and address, leaving the other parts blank. Meanwhile, Nakagawa keeps babbling on. Suddenly co-conspirator #2 inquires:
“Do you have your passport with you?”
“Of course not” I instinctively reply.
Okay, last shot of the garden, I promise. It really is beautiful though.
“Oh. Okay. In that case, can I please see your gaikokujin torokusho (foreigner registration card)? I need to check to make sure you’re a foreigner.”
Trying to divide my attention between discerning what is safe to fill out on the form, trying to decipher what Nakagawa’s talking on about, and figuring out whether or not to leave, I hardly pay attention the lameness of co-conspirator #2′s excuse. I hand her my card without thinking and she suddenly gets up and walks over to the copy machine and to my amazement, makes five copies of it, then walks back and hands the card to me as if nothing had happened. She stuffs the five copies in a black portfolio sitting on the table in front of her. I was about to say something when suddenly Nakagawa’s babbling becomes very interesting.
“… so of course you’ll need to be properly trained. Generally the training takes 2-3 months and is not paid. Furthermore since you will be requiring the time of a teacher, you will need to pay a small fee, around 4~5 man ($400~$500 US!). This training is mandatory, since you’ll need to get a license which will cost you around 1 man – without this license there is chance you could be arrested for working illegally. Furthermore, you’ll need to buy your uniform – you can order one from our supplier at a cost of approximately 2~3 man. After all those things are taken care of, then you can start working!!”
I forget about the photocopies of my foreigner card sitting in co-conspirator #2′s portfolio as I quickly do the mental calculations – $800~$900 before I can even start working in this so-called “job”!? The shadiness of it all suddenly strikes me like a ton of bricks and panda decides the time is very very ripe for him to get ghost, as it were.
“I’m sorry, actually, I don’t know if I can do this or not. I mean, I’m very busy with my current job, so I don’t know if my schedule will permit this. So tell you what, why don’t I go home, think about it, then call you at a later time to let you know?” I start to stand up.
As I’m speaking, co-conspirator #2, raising an eyebrow, almost imperceptibly clears her throat, summoning a rather large man to the table (co-conspirator #3). He sort of hovers off to the side behind me, pretending to shuffle some papers. The dodginess factor shoots through the roof.
Catherine gets extra bonus points for this fine omiyage from Osaka!!!
All of a sudden, it’s like a page ripped out of good-cop, bad-cop. Nakagawa starts sweet talking, asking what the problem is, and if there’s anything they can do to help me accept this job, since it’s such a wonderful opportunity they desperately want me to have, since they feel I am the person for the job (despite the fact “they” just met me 10 minutes ago). Meanwhile co-conspirator #2 begins to not-so-subtly inquire if I don’t think that I’m “man enough” (for lack of a better term) for the job. (Who knew that you had to be manly to be a fake minister…!?). Co-conspirator #3 meanwhile, continues to hang out shadily behind me. I decide I’ve had enough, and stand up.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t help. I apologize for wasting your time. Now if you’ll just give me the copies of my foreigner registration card, I’ll be on my way.” I extend my hand expectantly. Co-conspirator #2 balks.
“Actually, I’ll just hold on to these for safe keeping. This way we’ll know how to contact you.” she replies.
“No, you won’t. I’ll contact you…! Now give them back to me, now!” I don’t know why, but suddenly her attitude infuriates me. I glower at her, doing my best imitation of a very very dangerous American … from Wisconsin.
And it like a showdown at high noon, a scene out of “The Quick and the Dead” – I stood waiting for the whistling anthem to accompany tumbleweed through the scene as we both waited for the clock to strike high-noon. Our eyes locked onto each other and we stare deeply, trying to probe and discern who will give in first. From the periphery of my vision, I can see Nakagawa and co-conspirator #3 move off to the side.
Finally, after what seems like an eternity, she breaks.
“Here you go” she says, handing me four copies of my registration card. I take them, but keep my hand extended.
“And the other one you still have hidden in your portfolio” I spit, sternly. She stares at me for one more moment, perhaps wondering if there was any way she could feign innocence. Then, without a word, she hands it to me, and I step outside, giving co-conspirator #3 a menacing glower as I exit the door. He folds like a deck of cards. Hey, I might be from Wisconsin, but I’m from the ghettos of Wisconsin yo.
Back home, safe and sound, to my messy room.
As an epilogue to this story, it turns out that the way Nakagawa got my information was from the local international center, where I had previously gone to sign up for Japanese classes. One of her friends, a receptionist at the school, passed on my personal information to her. I was absolutely furious! While I debated storming the place and throwing a hissy fit to shame all hissy fits, in the end, more rational thought prevailed and I refrained from doing so, since so far Nakagawa et al. have left me be.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the forces of evil tried to run game on the House of Panda, but failed.
Long live the House of Panda.
Now listening to: “Boa – Double”
(Sorry Catherine, but I’m just not feeling this song…)
P.S. Thank you for reading all of that. As a reward, please enjoy this link: Strange Stories from Police and Court Files
6:18 am

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