04 February, 2020

Looking like an idiot

I've been doing some heavy editing recently and my head is a bit heavy. I think writing a little today might be something of an antidote. Besides, I've got a good story to tell you...

I saw an article today called "Four rarely mentioned (but essential) missionary qualities". These were the qualities:

1. A sense of adventure
2. A sense of humour
3. A willingness to look like an idiot
4. A high tolerance for ambiguity
Generic photo, not from Japan...those number plates are wrong.

I'm not sure if I have all of these, but having stuck around for nearly 20 years, perhaps I do?

Let's see if I can dig out some examples, but I'm going to change the order:

A high tolerance for ambiguity
This is huge in Japan. Not just that we're in a culture where we don't understand many things, but the language and culture itself is full of ambiguity. In Japan people often learn by observation, rather than being explicitly told what to do. Living as a foreigner in this land that is multiplied many times. My observational skills are far better than they used to be, simply because that's often all I've got to make it through a situation. 

When we have visitors, they often ask many questions and we often don't have good-enough answers for them. We can't seek answers to all the questions that arise from what we don't know: we simply don't have the energy or time to do that. So instead we learn what we need to do our business and live our lives, and most of the rest has to just be left to one side.

Sense of adventure
I wouldn't characterise myself as someone particularly adventurous in the traditional sense of the work. I'm am not a big risk-taker. But from where you stand, what I do might look like an adventure, though it doesn't feel like it. However, I think probably our camping reveals our sense of adventure. Wading into the world of wrestling as we have is probably an adventure that many wouldn't care for. Travelling Tokyo trains can be an adventure...that's true!

A sense of humour
Missionary life (and life with teens) can get quite serious. But the willingness to laugh at oneself and at the odd things going on around you is pretty important. I guess one example of that is seeing interesting English or a funny meme or video. I do love to laugh and am happy to do so at myself. Most of the time I'm happy to tell the stories of when I've messed up, and have a laugh.

A willingness to look like an idiot
This is connected to the one above. I guess I often look like an idiot here, whether willingly, I'm not sure! It's common to not know what the protocol is for this or that. Or to get into trouble because you can't read something fast enough. 

This happened to me just last Friday. I drove with a friend to our "local" Costco, about an hour away. It's usually a stressful trip because it involves negotiating around a crowded shop with a large trolley, spending lots of money, and takes a good part of a day. But last Friday another layer of difficulty was added. In fact, it felt like I was in an international airport—there were so many things I needed to keep track of. 
A. My membership card: which was needed to get in, as well as to buy my groceries. 
B. My receipt for groceries: as they check this at the exit.
C. My receipt for the whole pizzas I bought at the restaurant: so I could collect them once they were made.
The above is usual, it was the fourth and fifth that threw me over the edge:
D. Car park ticket: the car park is usually free, but this time they had the gates activated and we had to take a ticket to get in. I presented it at the cashier when I bought my groceries where I got E.
E. Another car park ticket: I had no idea what this was for, but it seemed important and had an all-important stamp on it, so I put it in my purse.

After lugging the full over-sized trolley back to the van and loading everything into it, we joined the line to get out of the car park. There isn't usually a line, so it was strange and frustrating.

When we got to the boom gate there were three buttons on the machine, two yellow and one red. Plus two slots: one for the ticket, and one for money. We'd been waiting about ten minutes to get here and knew that the people behind us were also probably frustrated. So there was time pressure. 

I couldn't quickly read anything on the ticket machine. So I thrust one of the two car park tickets into the slot. It told me I owed them ¥1,000 (about AU$13.60). I wasn't about to pay that! I'd just spent hundreds of dollars buying groceries and the sign at the entry said that entitled me to three hours free parking . . . so I pushed another button and the ticket came out and I tried the other ticket. Then the display told me I owed them ¥6,000. I then pushed another button, in fact I probably pushed all of them one after the other, over and over . . . I can't remember now.

There was no obvious call button, and no staff member lurking nearby. The car behind me started to beep his horn, but didn't back up to let me unblock the single exit lane.

I am so glad my friend was there. Her presence helped calm me, but my cool was pretty much gone. Finally, two men approached our van, one on either side. They told us you had to put both tickets into the machine. Bingo: the boom gate rose and there was great relief all round. Belted into my car, I couldn't bow deeply in apology to those stuck behind us, but I wanted to.

I can't say that I was willing to look like an idiot. In fact I hate looking like one. But I find it easier to cope with that in Japan than in Australia. My white skin betrays me time and time again. But it does give me an excuse to mess up on occasion. I'm not sure the men who helped us would have been so patient with a woman who looked Japanese. 

Our foreignness got us off the hook, but in Australia it doesn't. Every time we go back we get odd looks at one time or another when we reveal our "foreignness" with a "stupid" question or lack of understanding of a situation. Our white skins don't save us there, nor do our Australian accents!

But back to those four characteristics. I don't know that I'd be known by any of them, except perhaps the humour. However, we have had to grow in each of the others. An ongoing sense of call, a strong desire to make an eternal difference, meaningful work we're gifted in doing, and a dogged stubborn streak has meant that we've stuck around.

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