Sunday, August 07, 2005

Meeting John and another late-night stroll

(Written after the fact, from my home office in Honolulu Hawaii)

Met John today. Now this man has lived an interesting life, 20 years in the marines and then retired. For the past several years, he shuttles back and forth between Hiroshima and Hawaii, in Japan during the summer, and Hawaii during the winter. The base at Iwakuni is nearby Hiroshima, and there are many military facilities in Hawaii, so he can get free medical and dental care, and can buy goods at the PX.

Boy is he a popular person! Passers-by on the street occasionally kept waving at him, as if he were a famous celebrity. When I asked John, he said they were friends saying “Hi”. I have never met anyone this popular before! The secret? In America he would be just another old man living on his pension. But at the International Center, Japanese come up to him to practice English, and he has a whole bunch of friends. He told me it is a good feeling to have people say hi to you on the street. Indeed, he is a bigger part of a community in Japan than in America. What gives? Why do Americans treat our seniors this way?

Also, he meets so many Japanese at the Hiroshima International Center because they like to practice their English with him. This is a place established by the government for foreigners to hang out and meet Japanese. There's free newspapers to read, the TV is set to CNN, free classes in Japanese run by volunteers, and (when I was there last year), free Internet accesss! I laugh when uninformed people tell me that Japanese are so xenophobic - yes, Japan does have its share of anti-foreign sentiment, but do we treat our foreigners in America this well? Hawaii needs an International Center. We need to give seniors a way to meet other people and be involved with society. And so many international students need a place to hang out and meet other Internationals and locals. If we had an International Center, we could have senior citizens meet up with exchange students who want to meet Americans and practice their English. And Americans could practice their foreign languages. And we would have far less lonely people around.

Cartoons are everywhere. This bus advertises "Chicken Ramen." Why eat ramen made from the bodies of cute chickens, I don't know...

Once again, I went late night to an Internet cafe. I worked so late and had so much email to read, but look at how nice this place is. You have all these comics on the wall you can read, and all the soft drinks and coffee you can drink. Lots of videogame connetions for serious online gamers.
Being addicted to the Internet, I finished at around 2:00 am, and on the way home, got spooked by the total lack of people around the station area, except for a few angry looking cab drivers. Remember, this is the central train station in a major city in Japan!
So I asked a police officer who was sweeping the street (yes, that is the duty of a police officer), if it was safe to go through the station's underground pass, where you could see homeless people sleeping. He gave me a strange look and said, “of course.” I walked through the sleeping people and through the underpass. Here’s a picture and remember, this is close to 3:00 am at night in a major city, and not a soul in sight! I made it back safely. Of course, I would not recommend that other foreigners go strolling around in the dead of the night, and that I did this only because I blend into the background because I look Japanese, and of course, am physically bigger and stronger than most men here. Still, it made me wonder: are Americans that paranoid, or are Japanese that naive?

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