Sunday, September 05, 2010

From the Dept. of Good Deeds

Anyone who goes back far enough through this blog's archives can probably get a sense of how my general attitude about living in Japan has evolved. These days I don't find Japan to be a particularly strange or weird place. Nor do I find the Japanese to be particularly strange or weird people. In fact, what I find to be strange/weird these days is what I read about Japan/the Japanese from foreign sources. Don't get me wrong, it's not like there isn't anything at all strange or weird about Japan and its people; it's just that there's strangeness and weirdness to be found on any street in any town or city in the world. Like the song says, "People are strange." Not very deep maybe, but...

Anyway, several years ago, when I was a swashbuckling "free-lance" English teacher (heh), I met a family that wanted me to give English lessons to their two young boys. The boys' mother spoke (speaks) pretty good English. Their father didn't (doesn't). They run a car repair shop. I think I gave their boys lessons for about a year and a half. They paid good money, and I did my honest best, but I seriously doubt that those kids learned much English from me. I probably learned more Japanese from them than they did English from me. A good gig, for sure, but I was secretly relieved when they ended the lessons. I say "secretly" because at that time my own family was somewhat on the edge financially.

A couple of years after that I needed to get the safety check done on my car. In Japan this is a rather expensive process (and complaints about this kind of thing should not be seen as anti-Japan; if the locals complain about it too, then you're just a regular Joe). I decided to take my car to the family who's kids I'd taught. They were very happy to see me, and very happy to serve me. From my wife's appraisal of the bill, they neither cheated me nor did me any favors. Fair enough, I thought. I'm not a "guest" anymore.

A few months later I pulled a pretty bone-headed move and left my 4-way flashers on overnight. (My parking space faces the street and pretty much requires me to back in if I'm to have any hope of getting out in the morning. There's usually traffic, so the 4-ways alert anyone behind me that I'm going to stop in a weird place. I've done it thousands of times, but...) The next day, of course, my battery was dead. Shit.

You really have to live in a foreign country to understand how the simplest things can suddenly become gigantic, especially if you're not comfortable with the language. I got lucky. I walked down the street to the home/shop of the people whose kids I'd taught and to whom I'd taken my business before. It took about ten minutes. About ten minutes after that I was driving to work, having received a boost. They refused my money.

They've had my business since, and today at the supermarket my battery died again (although not from any stupidity of mine). Again, I walked to the shop and explained the problem. Again, they drove me to my car and fixed the problem. This time they brought a used battery from the shop (because it sounded like my battery was history). They put it in, and I started my car. I say "they." It was the father of the kids I'd taught. As he was leaving he said that I should drive on this battery until there was some problem. Again, there was no talk of money.

These are good people. That's all I want to say.


  1. Hi Rick, That's a great story! When you say: "You really have to live in a foreign country to understand how the simplest things can suddenly become gigantic", I want to comment that I live in the country of my birth, but that is precisely how we felt in New Orleans after Katrina. I suppose it was kind of a foreign country at that point. thanks, sp

  2. Susanna,
    Yes, I can imagine that a post-disaster landscape/society would be like being in a foreign country.