Saturday, April 3, 2010

Keep it clean, ladies!

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This Far out Friday post is a little late, but it's not entirely accidental.

I've got a little story to tell you guys. I think I'll tell it impartially first, and then include my feelings. Or maybe not.

On Thursday, there was a knock on the office door. We can count the number of people who come ot our office.

1. Miyuki, a friend in the town hall, who hangs out with the foreigners in our area and sometimes helps up with stuff we can't figure out.

2. Tanaka. We jokingly call him the Loan Shark, because he collects the lunch money for the school lunches.

3. Sugosawa. Our supervisor, who (as far as I recall) has actually been to our office only twice in the two years I've been here. Once because the lock wasn't working and once to bring something over for Stephanie.

4/5/6. The cleaning ladies.

"Hai," I shout.

One of the cleaning ladies opens the door. Caleb (my neighbour and coworker) and I let out the breath we'd been holding. The lady walks around, sweeps and leaves. A while later, there is another knock.


All 3 cleaning ladies come in. Caleb and I exchange a glance.
1. This has never happened.
2. Evil Cleaning Lady has arrived.

We call her Evil Cleaning Lady because she's just awful. Every single time she comes to clean she complains about every single thing. The weirdest part of this is that she never says anything TO us. She just mutters loudly in Japanese to herself.

Evil Cleaning Lady (hereafter referred to as ECL) points to a heater we have in the corner. This is my personal heater, and has been in our office since we used it as a prop for a play. We were picked up by car, from home, the first day we did the play, and we were not taken back by car on the last day. So some of the props are still in the office.

"Stobu," she points and looks at us. (Stobu is Japanese for heater)
We nod. "Hai."

"Stobu," she says again.

She and her two minions - she seems to be some kind of supervisor, because she wears something different from the other two, and acts supervisor-y - head over to our sink. There are some used teabags in it.

"It stinks," ECL says to noone in particular. She grumbles for awhile, but I stop listening and go back to what I was doing. If she's hellbent on talking to noone, I'm hellbent on noone listening.

Caleb gets up and explains the teabags are draining. She says something about them stinking and that we should put them in the garbage. She tries to turn on the sink. Caleb explains that it's off and it has always been off because it leaks.

She then picks up two cans on my desk, that I drank out of during lunch and says I should throw them away. She walks around the room picking up random things- like a plastic frog- and shaking them at us.

She heads back to the door and points at the heater again.

I nodd.

She picks up something off the desk by the door and waves it as again. Then, she pretty much throws up her hands in disgust, and says something like, "What's the use, they don't speak Japanese. Argh! They're just like children." Then she says somethin about the Board of Education, that neither Caleb or I catch, (they're our actual employers) so we wonder if she's going to tell our boss our something.

Caleb and I are staring at one another like, did she just say that?

"Stobu" she points one last time

Then she and her minions leave.

Caleb and I were fairly pissed for the rest of the afternoon. We were in shock about the level she'd escalated to. Japanese have a very strict honour system. Noone ever says anything bad of anyone to their face. In fact they compliment you on everything. You say "konnichiwa" (hello) and they ooze on and on about how fantastic your Japanese is. Only when you do something terribly wrong does anyone say anything and even then, that person has to be miles above you on the food chain. On YOUR food chain. For example, if a bunch of kids behave badly in the supermarket, the owner will call the school and the teachers will go off on the kids. The owner will not take it upon himself to say a word to the kids. That's just how it goes.

After I got over the shock, I got mad. I felt like finding them and shrieking:

1. You are the CLEANING LADIES and you don't clean. You only ever sweep- once a week if we're lucky.

2. We have no access to any cleaning materials, so it's not like we can do it ourselves.

3. You don't give us garbage bags, we bring our own from home. Do not presume to tell me what the hell to put in the garbage bag that I brought in here from home. Who has to bring garbage bags to work?

4. Every other Japanese office dries their tea in the sink. The only differnce is that they are provided with a little strainer to put them in. So don't complain to me for doing the same thing every other person is doing, in the 3 buildings YOU clean.

5. This room has 20 years of crap in it. Japan has 16 years of trash categories. People who don't read Japanese and who didn't grow up with it, have trouble figuring it out, which means, a lot of the time, stuff gets stashed, instead of thrown away. So, no ECL, I don't know why there's a taxidermied squirrel in here. I found it here and I'm going to leave it here.

6. Lastly, I don't really care! Maybe I might care if my office was an actual office, not a closet inside a closet. (I kid you not, we walk through a storage room to get to our office). Maybe I might care if my school didn't do emergency drills and declare everyone accounted for, when I'm sitting in the staff room none the wiser. (I figure that If there was an earthquake at my Friday shcool, I could be dead til Monday, before anyone even knew I was missing.)

There's a pink elephant in the room and I've been tiptoe-ing all around it, bloggy buddies. Here's the startling truth.

Japan does not like foreigners.

Sure, Tokyo and Osaka are full of them and they deal with them. But the system purposely makes life hard for foreigners. Harder than it is for legal immigrants/ foreign workers in most of the world. (My friend who has one Japanese parent, wou;d have to go back to school, take a test and live here for about 10 years to gain citizenship- and he's HALF-JAPANESE!)

Often, the best foreigners can hope for is indifference. But some people are just downright mean.

Some days, it's hard to be here. Even at the best of times, you're that person that everybody loves to say they know, but nobody actually wants to be friends with. Like a crazy celebrity or something.

We're really lucky, when it comes to our town. We don't generally have to deal with people being mean- even though noone wants to sit next to us on the train. Still, sometimes, Japan must be Japan.

On a brighter not, here's Iwate Swan 8.


靜宸姿英 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Marsha Sigman said...

That's just mean and she wayyy overstepped. Can you report her for not doing her job? There are people that have to be mean to others in order to feel good about themselves and she sounds like one of them. Or you could just be rude right back. Point to the trash and then to her, I'm sure she would understand.

If ECL were here she would freak out over our offices. Remember you have a lot of friends over here and if you want we can all gather our trash and send it to her home address.

ElbieNy25 said...

She's a bully. Bullies are insecure and unhappy people who only find comfort in making others around them feel bad.

I don't know much about Japanese culture, but I am sure ECL doesn't have a highly valued and well respected position in society. This means she had to really search to find someone beneath her to pick on. Unfortunately that was you.

Postman said...

I know just what you're talking about. I never had to deal with an ECL but trust me, I found plenty of evidence that foreigners in Korea, rather than being welcomed were in fact viewed as "necessary evil."

'Course, me diving across the trunk of that parked car (with the driver still inside) at 8:00 p.m. on a Saturday night in Busan, stone-drunk, probably didn't do much for international relations.

Seriously, a taxidermied squirrel?

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