Thursday, March 03, 2005


Cheryl has almost blog-interviewed me, and I'm trapped. I have to almost answer these five questions. I didn't exactly volunteer, you understand. She made me do it. If you do not enjoy this post it is ALL HER FAULT.

The rules go that the first five people to comment will be interviewed by me. Come on! If I could do it (and go on and on and on and on in the process), so can you.

Here are the questions.

1. Moving from New Zealand to Japan must have been quite a culture shock, what were your first impressions?

Stepping outside: Oh. It is. (It was July.)

Second impression: On the bus from the airport to the city I wondered why nobody had told me there were slums in Japan. We passed through HECTARES of slums. I could not believe people were living in those places.

Later I was told that they were not slums, and also that almost all Japanese people consider themselves middle-class. Those were the homes of middle-class people.


(I remembered our teachers telling us we were very lucky in NZ, that we lived well, like rich people, and thinking they were mad. They were not mad.)

Third impression: I'm tall! I've never been tall before! Yay! LOOK AT ME! I'M TALL! (And then, later, Can you stop looking at me now, please?)

2. What was your first experience of being away from home, and how old were you?

You mean after leaving home? Living by myself? Ooooooh... (This is where I go on and on and on.)

I left home relatively late (for a NZer), at 19 going on 20. I was determined to become a normal person (a lifelong dream of mine), so I watched people very carefully, in order to learn how to be normal. In the first week I got to know two normal people, and they made a huge impression on me.

The first person was a single mother living in the flat below mine with her four-year-old daughter and a huge white fluffy dog. She was English, and great fun. We became friends very quickly. In the first week, she:

- called the landlord, twice, about imaginary problems she was having with her apartment. Then - both times - came upstairs to tell me about it in steamy and amusing detail, adding that she thought orgasms were fictional but sex was fun. I was sure she was wrong about the fictional part, but didn't mind. I am having a normal life! I thought. I've made a friend already! The landlord was married with six children, and lived with his mistress and had four children with her, but wouldn't get a divorce because he was Catholic. Later my friend became pregnant with twins. I had the most fertile landlord in Wellington.

- drove me to the launderette, a trip I will never forget. Going down a not-very-steep hill in her beat-up old Mini towards a five-road intersection she told me casually that this was where the brakes failed last week, but luckily she hadn't been going very fast. She'd had to go up on the footpath and had wound down the window and stopped the car by leaning out the window and grabbing a passing power pole. She had bruises all up her right side, she said, but it worked, dinnit?

I listened to this story and asked if she'd had the brakes fixed. She said, "Well, the landlord looked at them for me..." and as we were slowing for the intersection added disgustedly, "Oh sod it, it's happening again."

She changed down, drove up on the footpath to avoid the car we were just about to rear-end, ducked between power poles, narrowly avoided a couple of pedestrians, cruised towards the intersection, turned sharply up another street and went gently uphill, turned into someone's driveway, and we were heading towards a closed garage door when I unfroze and pulled on the handbrake. All the time the dog was barking furiously and her daughter was screaming from the back seat, "ARE WE GOING TO DIE, MUMMY? ARE WE GOING TO DIE?" and she was shouting back, "NO WE'RE NOT GOING TO DIE AND JUST SHUT UP, OK? MUMMY'S CONCENTRATING!"

The second person I became friends with was also downstairs from me, in the front apartment. She was in her 30s, had two insane Siamese cats, was nuts about opera and sang in the local amateur opera society. She worked in the hospital as a receptionist, and had hair like this. Her other hobby (besides opera and cats) was pinching doctors' bottoms, and she told me numerous stories of the great lengths she'd go to in pursuit of this hobby, which kept her endlessly entertained. She invited me to home-cooked gourmet dinner twice in the first week, which we ate with cats bouncing off the walls and opera blasting from the stereo. And I thought, I am becoming normal! It's great, only one week and I already have two normal friends, like a normal person!

Then - still in my first week living away from home - a woman I'd worked with back home called and asked if her older sister could stay for the night, because she was visiting Wellington to see a friend who was living with her mother and there wasn't space at her friend's mother's place. I said yes. These two women ended up both staying the night and telling me stories of the mother, who was about 70 and epileptic but insisted on going to some charismatic or Pentecostal church where they spoke in tongues and did a lot of shouting and fainting, and the daughter always had to go too in case her mother had a fit, which she always did. All evening (after they'd come back from church, picking up a few bottles of wine on the way) they did demonstrations for me of people speaking in tongues and rolling their eyes and fainting, and of the epileptic mother having fits ("HALLELUJAH!" CRASH!), and it was hilarious and also really mean, and I kept thinking, I am normal! I have friends staying at my own place, like a normal person! PRAISE THE LORD! We laughed until it hurt.

(The next morning three different people from the block of flats asked me curiously which church I belonged to.)

In the second week a Greek woman I'd worked with visited Wellington with her four enormous and extremely handsome rugby-playing brothers and their friend, who was a very small bus-driver with a monstrous tic. She called me out of the blue. They didn't stay with me, but they took me out to dinner and then to my first ever nightclub. But you wanted first impressions, and that was the second week.

I had a lot of first impressions, for the first year or so, really. You have to remember that I had not come from a normal background. I had never been to a coffee shop or a pub before, let alone a nightclub. I had never been out to dinner in a restaurant. We didn't have TV or radio. I had never had normal friendships as an adult, except with workmates, and never took them home or went out with them. I didn't visit other people's homes until I was 18 (and that was the home of a very sweet slightly mentally challenged midget I worked with, and I couldn't say no because she begged me and even the most frightened-of-the-world cult victim cannot say no to a mentally challenged midget), and the first couple of times I was so terrified I threw up. EVERYTHING was a first impression. It was the scariest, most exhilarating time in my life. I LOVED living away from home.

3. If you went for a fry-up at a new cafe, which part of the meal would you most expect to be cooked/served badly, and why?

I don't understand this question. A fry-up at a new cafe? In Japan? ARE YOU KIDDING? Japanese coffee shops sell coffee, tea, and other drinks, and the food menu is blanded-down Western food. (Egg sandwiches. Ham sandwiches. 'Mixed' - ham and egg - sandwiches. Cake.)

But if they did do fry-ups, then I would expect the chips (fries) to be crap. Why does everybody think that you'll prefer those stupid McDonald-type skinny fries that are all oil and salt? I want my potato! Great big hunks of potato, with the skin on (the best and tastiest part). How come nobody GETS this?

4. When you were little, where did the monsters hide?

Under the bed, which just proves that I was, indeed, normal. (It was just my family that wasn't.) My monsters had very long arms and I had to sleep with my own arms on the bed. If my hands dangled over the edge of the bed they'd get eaten. The monsters could not come out from under the bed (they were governed by very strict rules), so when I went to the toilet in the night I had to jump out of reach of their very long arms, and do a similar leap into bed when I came back. I heard them muttering sometimes but they were never quick enough to catch me.

5. Sapporo or sake?

Do I have to? Sake is dangerous! You drink it in tiny little cups that people keep filling when you're not looking, and since it's such a small cup you drink it anyway even though you've had enough really, and the next thing you know you're tripping over steps that aren't there. And I don't like beer much.

Can I have wine?


Mel said...

I can't remember how I found your blog, but I am sure enjoying it. I have a sister who's lived in Osaka for over 10 years. She teaches English (and we're not speaking, but that's another story). I guess I have to read your archives to find out more about your abnormal family! Sounds like you have an interesting story.

tinyhands said...

Wow, I think that's the most you've ever written about NZ.

Kimberly said...

I've been here a couple of times from Melinama's place.

Your stories about being away from home for the first time are wonderful; like Mel, I will be taking a browse through your archives to learn more.

I agree that sake is dangerous stuff, but I would choose it over beer any day. There are some sake-soaked nights from which I have only vague - though wonderful - memories.

Badaunt said...

Mel, Tinyhands, Kimberly -
I'm posting your interview questions to your blogs. I've tried to keep them fairly vague, but feel free to change them to fit. (Or pinch some of the ones Cheryl gave me, if you prefer.)

I'm looking forward to reading your answers...

Megan said...

I want to hear more about NZ. I find this all fascinating. Interesting read.

librariangush said...

I think I make five!!!! See me now with my hands over my eyes afraid to look at your questions to me....