Jamie and Karin (our Australian friends), Brandie, about 13 Japanese spectators, and I had dinner inside an authentic Mongolian tent last night. The food was good. No puppies. There was wine, beer and song. One Japanese fellow played the South African bongos for us, a adeptness he picked up in West Virginia…It was there where he was at Solemn-Tokei University teaching Japanese for two years. Most Japanese never leave their town, some go to West Virginia and learn the bongos!
He was thrilled that Brandie and I were from Virginia and named a bunch of families from West Virginia to see if we knew any of them. I didn’t want to lie to him, I claimed to know about seven-eighths of the people in Virginia and a bit less in West Virginia due in part to a huge feud in my hamlet between the Hatfields and the McCoys. The Waltens, who he must know from their TV show, were good folk and straightened most of it out. Because my grandfather had once rode in the same buggy with a Hatfield, I wasn’t allowed in West Virginia…He nodded in deep understanding. I guess he had heard all about it at Solemn-Tokei University in West by-God Virginia… Jamie, who’s fluent in Japanese, told him I was joking about the buggy thing. Bongo-san eventually caught on enough to laugh himself to tears…I’m a riot…or at least I’ll cause one if I’m bored.
Basically it works like this. Being a foreigner, especially an American one, carries with it a certain social responsibility in a small burgh like this. Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka? That’s different, they have outsiders, outlanders, evil-pale ones, or gaijin all the time. Here, people expect you to come over and be on display for them and their friends. I don’t mean this in a mean or cynical way; they just don’t get many outsiders here in the valley and we’re a spectacle that’s all. We are Disney characters to be approached and have a picture taken with.
The Japanese give us a certain celebrity statues in this small town. They talk about who has helped us the most with what, who we talk to about and what, who bought us or brought us what and what we did with it, they know what Brandie wears, how she wears it, and how we’re “built.” Like, he stands so straight, he weighs this much, he’s this tall and has arms this big. In the states we’d call it “obsession,” here it’s called “something different to talk about.” Jamie is actually tall in real life and very strong looking; he must be a hoot to talk about. I am short by American standards (5’10”) and Karim Abdul Jabar over here.
At last night’s dinner we were the living Manger Scene with animals, sans baby Jesus. There were two beautiful gaijin women for the Virgin Mary, and only two towering wise men. Of course, they are Atheist, Humanist, Buddhist, Hindi or Shinto here, who cares about the proper stats on Manger Scenes. Karin has long shinny black/brown hair and a great smile. Brandie is bubbly and adorable in every way imaginable. Jamie is a towering hulk of kindness and friendly manor. I’m Jim. It’s been 18 hours and I still see spots from a hundred flash-photos. My hair is falling out from atomic flash-like bombardment delivered by Kodak and Nikon weapons.
The lady proprietor of the tent, who spoke no English, kept introducing us to all her friends as her “good gaijin friends.” We met her only seconds before. Her friends nodded approval and told her how worldly she was. Jamie and I didn’t let on that we understood that much Japanese. I didn’t want to embarrass her. Later Jamie got caught in a full-contact fluent Japanese conversation with Bongo-san and she might have figured it out, but probably not. It has been my experience so far that for the most part they are so mesmerized by your big eyes, pale skin and dashing good looks (ha ha) that when you speak, English, Japanese, Pig Latin or Spanish you might as well be Charlie Brown’s teacher. They see your lips moving but nothing registers. “Wah wah wah wah wahhh…”
They have a large round tent decorated beautifully in Mongolian art and real photos from China. It was really great; we’ll have to go someday (China that is). We sat on the floor eating and pouring each other beers from huge bottles. I could imagine myself five hundred years ago passing around the pipe talking about the herd, weather, or the local gossip with other men of the village. In all, an incredible experience.
We signed the gaijin guest book on the way out and read some entries. She had been “collecting gaijin” since 1995, she said. There was French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Chinese, Korean and other Anglo entries. That tent must hold some exciting stories from all over the world.
Today is Sunday and Brandie and I have resolved to cocoon ourselves inside and read, sleep and basically promise not to do anything.
The problem with not doing anything is knowing when you’re done, so at 1500 I thought it was at least 1900 and asked if it was time for dinner. Brandie said we didn’t do anything so how can it be dinnertime? I told her that sometimes in the Navy at sea we didn’t do anything and it became suppertime anyway. She said I wasn’t in the Navy and to get back to my book or type a letter. And that’s where you come in…
OK, it’s 1515 now and I’m going to bug her for dinner again.