Friday, October 21, 2005


Yesterday at work there was a very old wheelchair sitting outside the toilets in the corridor outside my classroom on the third floor. I had never seen a wheelchair on campus before, and I don't think I've ever seen such an old one before anywhere. I wondered whose it was. It didn't look like a wheelchair a permanently disabled person would use. It didn't look like a wheelchair a semi-permanently disabled person would use, either. The third or fourth time I passed it I looked more closely and thought it wasn't even a wheelchair a temporarily disabled person would use. For one thing, one of the footrests was missing. For another, it had small wheels, which meant that you could not wheel yourself around. You would have to depend on someone else pushing you.

I tried to think what it would be used for, and failed.

It was still there in the afternoon, and I guessed that whoever was supposed to using it was finding it just as unhelpful as it looked.

I was right. I bumped into the German teacher just before fifth period. He was drooped over crutches and book-laden bags were hanging from both his shoulders. I've only met him a couple of times before, because he's not in our language department. He has been hired separately by another department. He speaks English well, and seems a nice, somewhat bewildered sort of bloke. I imagine it must be bewildering, being the only native German speaker on campus and having to deal with a Japanese university bureaucracy all by yourself. I also happen to know that at least one of the Japanese German language teachers doesn't speak German AT ALL, which must make things rather awkward.

I stopped and chatted with him for a moment, and he told me he had broken his foot in a bicycle accident. He was looking more bewildered than usual, as anybody would while trying to negotiate those old buildings on crutches while carrying a load of teaching materials. I sympathised, and asked him if the wheelchair was his.

"The university lent it to me," he said. "But I'm afraid I'm not finding it very helpful."

He sounded somewhat apologetic, as if he thought he was sounding ungrateful. We both gazed at the wheelchair.

"Didn't they at least offer you a ground floor classroom?" I asked. "Or tell you to take time off?"

"Er, noooo ..." he said.

"And is that all they had?" I asked, pointing at the wheelchair.

"Er, no, actually," he said, and looked puzzled. "They had two. The other one is new, with big wheels. I mean, with this one I can't push myself and there's nobody to push me so it just gets in the way, especially because I need to carry the crutches as well. I asked for the other one, but they wouldn't lend it to me." He paused. "They wouldn't let me not take this one though," he added. "They seemed to want to be helpful."

I stared at the ancient wheelchair, and wondered how anybody could possibly imagine it was helpful.

"So why wouldn't they lend you the other one?" I asked. "Was someone else using it?"

"Nooooo," he said. "But they said they couldn't let me use it because they said they might need it in an emergency."

It is not very often that I am left speechless, but this was one of those times.


lisa said...

comforting to know that thoughtless and foolish bosses span the globe.

kenju said...

That is a wonderful example of idiocy. I guess we in the US are not the only ones who act that way.

Ms Vile File said...

The poor man. He sounds so helplessly nice. Perhaps he needs to down a bottle of vodka, and go in there and bust some ass.

jayne d'Arcy said...

Even though you were speechless, were you at all able to help him? It's just ridiculous that this sort of thing happens... everywhere. btw - I came in via BE and have blogmarked you.

Badaunt said...

Lisa: We're all mad here!

Kenju: Idiots are EVERYWHERE.

Ms. Vile File: Exactly. He is a very, very nice man. Far too nice for his own good. I get the feeling that he is trying to be culturally correct, and fit in, or something. He hasn't yet realized that idiocy doesn't have a culture. It just is, and you have to fight it whenever you can.

jayne d'arcy: I offered a push, and also offered a student pusher (I would have happily spared one) but he refused. He was being nice and accommodating.

He'll learn!