(I’m sooo booorrreed! I wanna go back home…!!)
I’m laying on the ground on my side, my hands held up on both sides of my face, fingers splayed out at both corners, eyes rolled towards the sky, my tongue hanging out as my feet kick around haphazardly in tune to the plaintive bleatings coming out of my parched mouth. A few feet in front of me, looking incredibly bored and like individuals who most definitely want to go home, sit 12 dour teenagers, fingers tap-tapping on cellular phones, eyes gazing out the window, arms folded across their chest, decidely unimpressed by my best attempts at pantomiming a dying deer in order to convey what, exactly, is involved in hunting, one of the things which Wisconsin – in the USA – is famous for, and that is so different than Japan, and isn’t that so interesting?
What’s with Vodapanda? Read on to find out!
A while back, my friend Kirsten sent me a rather incomprehensible text that, to the untrained eye, might initially seem to be nothing more than a random smattering of gibberish. I’ve reproduced a small section of it below for your convenience:
hez marah/? hwsi t going/!jurt wondrig if u wr after xtr money.-sum1sbn on the fon lnking 4a tchr 2 wrk @akids sumner camp.jst ply ganes..1.thy cn pay a man.
Those of you who have ever had the dubious honor of attempting to hunt and peck out a coherent e-mail on a non-text predictive cell phone keypad will instantly recognize the hallmark symptoms of fairly advanced “cellul-itis” above – the incredibly nonsensical series of errors and random key presses that make it look like an alphabet soup factory exploded all over the screen.
The scary part of the gibberish above is that mistar panda understood it without blinking an eyelid (yet another disconcerting reminder that I am starting to lose my last grip on the english language and will soon communicate entirely by pointing and grunting). Kirstin, having previously agreed to some tutoring job bright and early on a saturday morning, had had second thoughts and decided that a friday night spent getting pissed with her mates sounded a whole lot better than going home to get a good nights sleep. It being common knowledge that mistar panda a) has no social life to speak of, and more importantly b) is dead broke and would do anything for a buck, she thought that maybe I wouldn’t mind waking up at an ungodly hour on one of my few days off this month to go off to teach “no more than a hundred (100…!!!!)” children ranging in age from “around 4 or 5 to ummm… maybe 15 or 16″ for “some summer camp program thing or other” at a location that was described as “somewhere up in the mountains”, the directions to which, I was promised, I would receive at “a later date” from one of the leaders of the mysterious summer program (“or at least that’s who I think she is…”).
While this would normally ring all sorts of alarm bells (was I being lured up there to be ritually sacrificed for my (luxuriously precious) panda pelt? Was I going to be abducted by one of the fringe radical religious cults we occasionally hear about on the tv? Were the forces of evil going to try and run game on me again…?? ), as we have established, pandas are sort of non-assuming and laid back about these sort of things (especially when the promise of $100 for 2 hours worth of work is involved), and so, figuring that I didn’t really have anything that pressing to do at 7 am on a saturday morning (save for sleeping, but did I mention it was a $100 for 2 hours worth of work…?) I readily agreed to save her sodden british bum by stepping in for her at the camp, which sort of brings us back to the exposition of this whole story:
The job, as it turned out, was pretty much as described – to this day, I still have no idea where I was, what program was employing me, the names of the people who paid me, or who exactly, the students I was teaching were. It’s almost as if I was in a spy novel, only much less exciting and markedly more humiliating.
The thing is, you reach a certain point in your life where you think to yourself – “Self, I know, there’s still a lot of stuff we have left to accomplish in life, but at least there’s a few things I don’t have to worry about anymore: wetting myself at night, being unable to buy that $3.95 GI Joe I want because I don’t get my allowance until next week, breaking out in pimples every time I look the wrong way at a chocolate bar, being forced to wear the dorkiest pair of bright blue corduroy short shorts on the first day of school by a vengeful and completely clueless parent/legal guardian, (I think I’ve just uncovered a laundry list of things that I may find myself talking to a psychiatrist about someday…) having to try and act “hip” enough to fit in with the “cool kids”….” – so on and so forth.
Well as it turns out, sometimes, even though you reach that point in life, the universe still has some surprises left for you. The particular surprise confronting me, as I lay shaking and bleating like a dying deer on the cold, unforgiving linolieum floor at 8:15 am Saturday morning, was that, despite the fact that I am reaching the quarter-century mark next month, I am not, in fact, quite done with having to suck up to popular high school kids to try and get them to think of me as “cool”.
It’s a losing prospect, of course – I realized this somewhere along the way a few years ago when a younger sibling inadvertantly let it slip that far from thinking me to be the all mighty idol of hip-ness from which the very paradigm of awesomeness issued forth (as I used to be oh-so-long-ago when he was still too young to know better), that he now regarded me as barely a step above “fuddy-duddy” (an unfair classification, I’ll submit, since it is in large part due to the fact that I was not up-to-date on what animal-skin by-product the mask worn by the lead singer/head satanist of “morbid death kitty angel” or whatever was currently made of) (the answer, by the way, was evidently apparent to anyone who had ever wandered near the periphery of a “Hot Topic“in the mall, which, admittedly, I had not done in a while, since black T-shirts bearing such insightful and angst-ridden phrases as “death is my only solace from the pain of existence” had lost some of their previous appeal.)
2 pandas and two lovely Vodafone employees
Anyway, on to the title story.
So I’ve just finished up tutoring one of my private students – an extremely talented glass artist who makes me wish I had found the time to fit “glass blowing 346″ into my schedule back in the univerisity – on a friday night and am on my way home, when I get a phone call on my keitai. Having long since perfected my “bike messenger” hipstahr stylee, I reach down and pull out my mobile without skipping a beat as I dash and dart in and out of traffic.
“Moshi moshi” I chirp, swerving to narrowly avoid an impossibly tiny and impossibly cute lime green pickup truck festooned with Hello Kitties on the dashboard.
“Hello! This is *static crackle static* … from Vodafone calling…! I was wondering if you… *crackle static crackle* come down sometime if you’re not too busy as we can *static crackle swervetoavoidgettingrunoverbywhitevan static*…. picture… customer… Boooooooppp….”
As I jump the curb to get back to the relative safety of the sidewalk, the line goes dead as the signal cuts out. Not really sure of what was going on, but having become quite accustomed to receiving calls from Vodafone everytime one of their english-speaking customers has a problem or question with their cell phone service (I’ve apparently become the de-facto liason between Vodafone and foreigners in the downtown area), I figure “what the hell” and decide to stop by on my way home.
Screeching to a stop in front of the store, I hop off my bike and pop in (whereupon the two female clerks look up without batting an eyelid and chirp out “oh, hi michael!”), walking over to where one of the male clerks is waving me over to the counter.
“Hey Aoyama. What’s up?” I ask.
“Hey Michael. Thanks for coming! How are you?” he asks, motioning me to sit down in the bright, Vodafone-red upholstered chair.
“Pretty good. Sorry about before, I lost the signal. What can I do for you?” I reply, slightly perplexed since there is no confused-looking foreign customer in sight (as there usually is when I get the late-night Vodafone-bat-panda-signal).
“Well, as you may know, Vodafone and some of their stores publishes a monthly newsletter. Every once in a while, they choose a certain customer to feature as their “customer of the month”, and since you have been so helpful and brought us so many new customers, we were wondering if you would mind if we wrote up a profile about you and sent it in?”
“uhhh….” I reply, sort of feeling like I had reached a new depth of Voda-whoredom.
“There’s not that much involved” he continued “- we’ll just write up a little profile about you, take some pictures (…!!!??) and maybe you can just write a small essay…?”
Sitting back in the chair, I contemplated, where, exactly, along the way since coming to Japan, I had taken a wrong turn on the road to my dreams of becoming a proffessor and world-famous expert on US-Japanese relations (and possibly pandas), and had instead, ended up pimping out my fellow foreigners to a cell phone company to such an extent that they were plausibly considering publishing my picture in a national newsletter, along with, apparently, a so-called “profile” that would invariably involve a discussion of my “likes”, “dislikes”, “why I love Vodafone” and most likely my blood-type and quite possibly bust-size. Then, the surrealness of it all slowly receding, my brain came back into the forefront -
“… wait. I have to write an essay…?”
“Oh yes, it’s nothing too big” Aoyama replied, flashing a re-assuring smile. “Maybe just a few pages… you know, telling us why you love Vodafone, how Vodafone fits your lifestyle (….my lifestyle…!!? It’s a cell-phone…! It fits my lifestyle by allowing my lazy ass to make calls without having to walk 5 feet to find a pay phone…), the best features of Vodafone phones… that sort of thing!”
I think she was trying to steal my Vodapanda from me!!
“So…. in other words, you want me to get kneel down and essentially fellate Vodafone for the entire nation to see…?” truly, I thought, I had become the ultimate Vodawhore.
“huh?” replied a perplexed Aoyama, as I had (perhaps fortuitiously) chosen to utter my last sentence in English.
“umm, nevermind. Okay, what the hell, I guess I’ll do it.”
“Great! So, umm, can you have your essay done by Monday?”
“Oh yeah, and one more thing – can you write it in Japanese…?”
I’m not really sure why I agreed to do it – I guess more than anything, it’s because I have a hard time saying “no” to anyone. Or maybe it’s because I really am a Vodawhore and was secretly hoping they would give me more super awesome Vodafone prizes I have come to so desperately crave, an addiction, I suppose, which would sort of make me kind of a Voda-crackwhore. Whatever the reason, I found myself sitting in my room over the weekend hunched over my keyboard banging out one of the most sickeningly disgusting corporate blow-jobs in written form ever put to paper. I can honestly say that I’ve never ever felt like such a sell-out before in my life – not that I dislike Vodafone – on the contrary, they (Vodafone Japan, at least) are one of the nicest companies I’ve ever done business with – but still, no one ever wants to go in front of a nation or their peers singing the praises of what, in the end, is a disembodied, unfeeling, unthinking, commerical enterprise incorporated for the sole purpose of making money from the hard work of the common people. Sort of like that one chick extolling the wonderous miracles worked upon her previously-compacted-and-insoluble stools by new cherry-flavored Ex-lax in that one commerical back in America a few years ago – I’m willing to bet she never lived that one down, no matter what she went on to do in the future. Not to mention the incredible amounts of street cred I’d give up if I “sold out”. I might never get to be an O-G in this rap game yo. Word.
I’m too deeply ashamed to actually post my little tribute to the massiveness of the Vodafone phallus in the blog proper, but if you are so inclined, you can view the depths of whoredom to which I’ve sunk [here] (japanese) – the version I’d rather you read, as hopefully it sounds a little less prostitute-like in my non-mother tongue, or, if you must, [here] (english) – wherein you can see what it might look like if someone was to throw away 5 years of university to sell their body for cheap corporate advertising trinkets.
I guess the theme for this entry is debasement, and how Japan has brought me face to face with the natural human inhibition against humiliating oneself in public – face to face with, and then crashingly past. I guess that humiliation is all part and parcel of the gaijin experience here in Japan – we all whore ourselves out in one way or another, whether it’s doing the dance as the eikaiwa (english teaching) monkey, having to smile and play along with the various stereotypes of your fellow co-workers, or even selling out and sucking corporate cock for a stupid stuffed Vodafone panda doll, because one of the unspoken reasons they want to write a profile on you is because you can be their token pet gaijin to enhance their “cool” standing in the eyes of young Japanese everywhere, and you figure what the fuck, as long as they’re going to use you, you might as well get something out of it as well.
You learn to live with humiliation in this country, no longer minding when you’re eyed suspciously in a store because of your skin color, or when people smile and promptly ignore you like you’re a mentally retarded 7 year old wombat every time you speak, or having to look in the mirror every morning and think “good to see all that expensive college education is being put to good use” before you go somewhere way up in the mountains to roll around, convulse, shake and bleat on the floor in order to communicate the concept of “hunting” to a group of sullen and moody high school students more interested in fixing the hiliariously voluminous mullets (“wolf cuts” as they’re called here) or garish pallet of makeup adoring their faces than in actually learning whatever it is someone apparently thought important enough to pay me $50/hour to teach.
Some of these humiliations are the result of direct action by others – the racism, discrimination, xenophobia – others are an inadvertant result of the culture – dour, mute teenagers socially conditioned to be unable to respond to your best attempts at engaging them in some interesting subject – while yet others we have no one to blame but ourselves – being unable to speak the local language fluently, for example.
It’s scary when the Vodafone clerks start talking to you on the street by name!
I don’t really know what it means, either for myself, for other foreigners in Japan, or for my future, that I have sort of reached the point where I’ve given up most of my dignity and have started publically humiliating myself – for a buck, or sometimes just as a matter of course. There are times when I definitely feel like I’ve become a whore of sorts, and that generally isn’t the kind of feeling you want to feel this early on in life (or ever..?). Then again, as some people have noted before, whores have a certain unique type of freedom which perhaps only they can understand – when you have shattered that pre-set barrier deliniating what is “socially acceptable” or not and come to embrace debasement as an omnipresent companion, then that word – that concept – loses much of its potency – the fear of being publically humiliated, it turns out, is a lot scarier than the actual humiliation.
And yes, it’s true, I, at age 25, had to discard all sense of dignity and refinement to roll around on the ground for 2 hours pretending to be a mortally wounded sheep for the amusement of 15 year old kids, and yes, it’s true, I, at age 25, had to throw away years of higher education spent honing my writing skills to scribe an utterly repulsive bit of corporate **** sucking.
On the other hand, I am now $100 and a gigantic cute stuffed panda doll richer, and whatever humiliation I may have felt is now quickly receding into the background.
Sometimes, I think, this is how we have to meter the passing of every day spent in this strange, strange land.