20 January, 2013

Stepping into America for a day

Yesterday we left home at 6.30am, not too long after the sun rose, to go to another international school middle school wrestling meet. This one was held at Yokota airforce base, which is an American base that houses about 14,000 personnel according to Wikipedia. It is large! This is the first time I've been on a proper military base and it really is a bit of a different world, one that you enter into after being cleared through security (but thankfully no body or vehicle searches). But more about that presently.

The wrestling was good. Our son competed well, winning two of his three bouts and losing the other by points, not a pin. It is great to see him improving week-by-week, learning from his mistakes and thinking intently about how he could do better next time.

My son pinning his first opponent on Saturday.
Even though yesterday was a long, tiring day, it was worth it in terms of our relationship with him. We have the shared experience of his bouts and can talk about them with him. He didn't want to stop talking last night when we forced him into bed. Not just about wrestling, either, he was talking about a variety of things. I've heard too much about parent's who struggle with communication with their teenagers to take communication and a good relationship with him for granted.

After the meet was over we made a stop at a place I've only ever heard of before: the base commissary. Layman speak = base shopping centre. Inside it contained a variety of stores, most of which we'd never seen before. Taco Bell, I've heard of; but Cinnabon (sell cinnamon rolls among other things) and a number of other fast food places were new to us.

Though, conspicuously absent were the more well known McDonalds and Burger King. Baskin and Robins had some pretty cool ice cream flavours that their Japanese counterparts don't have, like Snickers-flavour!

My big cross-cultural experience came while ordering at Subway. It's been ages since I did that for myself, so that was a challenge to start with. But the bigger challenge was the language. I had Japanese employees trying to speak to me in American English and me, trying to speak back, but getting messed up over capsicum vs. green peppers, tomato sauce vs. ketchup, and "heat this up" vs. "toast this". Arggh.

Not to mention that they and I were about the same height—our mouths lower than the top of the glass barrier over the food, and our voices just weren't sneaking over the top of that barrier really well. I was lucky to make it out of there with not too many mishaps. I just felt like I'd stepped into another culture.

I wasn't game to step into the coffee shop. I wondered if they served decaf coffee there, as I assume most American coffee shops would. But I was a bit scared to ask. I look like I could be American and like I should know what's going on. There was no "I'm an Australian visitor to the base, please be kind to me" badge on my chest. I guess that is how Asian looking visitors to Japan feel when people assume they are Japanese.

This is where someone placed my water
bottle after they found it lying on the road.
I would have stayed longer and enjoyed exploring the grocery store, but we needed to head home with our tired younger boys. Maybe next week, when we return for another meet I'll try the grocery store and the coffee shop.

A small story-within-the-story involves my water bottle.  I drink a lot of water and I take the bottle almost everywhere with me. I love it, especially its green cap. It isn't that special—it is just a PET bottle I bought at the airport in Hong Kong, but it isn't easily replaced — I've never seen any like it in Japan or Australia. So, when I discovered on the way to Yokota that it had probably fallen out of my backpack as I hopped into the car, I was disappointed. However, when we got home after 4pm I looked down to where I thought I'd lost it and there it was, sitting upright on the curb.

This is a peculiarly Japanese thing. If they see something small someone has dropped—like a glove or hat, or, in this case a water bottle—they pick it up and put it somewhere safe, often
somewhere higher. When I expressed my amazement as, "Only in Japan," my boys asked, "So what would Australians do?" Hmmm, hard question. "Probably just have ignored it, left it where it was and it might have even been smashed by a passing vehicle."

What do you think? What would an Australia, or American, or South African might have done had they found this dropped water bottle?


Ken Rolph said...

In Australia we would just assume you had tossed it away and curse you for littering.

Janet Camilleri said...

I remember we dropped my daughter's toy rabbit once when we were out. When we returned at the end of the day, Miss Rebecca Rabbit was propped up neatly on a fence waiting for us. Sopping wet, because it had rained - but still there. I had one VERY happy little girl that day and asked God to bless the thoughtful person who'd left Becky where she would be easily found!

Shirley Corder said...

In South Africa I am sad to say you almost certainly wouldn't have found it there. It is likely that some "helpful" person would have decided it looked useful and taken it for themselves!