Saturday, October 11, 2008

The sinking ship, part one

Yes, I'm still alive but barely.

A recent blog post by my bud, Kemek, about the coming monsoon/typhoon season got me remembering a particular incident when I was in Japan. At the time, I worked for a low-rent English school based in Tokyo but with a Yokohama branch. I liked working at the Yokohama branch because it was just a few stations down the line from where I lived, Kamioooka (yes, there are that many ooooooooo's). Frankly speaking, the building that the school was in was small, dingy, and just across the street from a plastic surgery clinic and around the corner from several love hotels and a porno theater. Technically, that's neither here nor there because a religious sermon in a shoe box shouldn't point out the fact that you're not in a church. I did, however, have to accompany many female students back to the station after class just for my own peace of mind.

Anyway, the autumn of 2003 brought one particularly blustery typhoon to the Kanto area of Japan. I don't remember the number (in Japan, typhoons are numbered rather than named as hurricanes are in the U.S.) but it ended up being bad enough to stall the operations of some major train lines for several hours. News of the storm blowing through Okinawa, Kyushu, then its swooping arc southbound in Chubu and its next target: the greater Kanto region. had already been broadcast for several days prior so it was just a matter of it actually hitting.

The morning of the storm turned out to be one of those terribly humid October days that never turn out good. I remember hoping that the school manager would just call and tell me that he had closed the school down for the day and to just hang tight in my nice, cool apartment, well-stocked with food and Tsutaya rental DVDs. "No such luck," I grumbled to myself as I put on my tie just tight enough to look passingly professional. There wasn't even a guarantee that students would come; they were asked to make class reservations but that information was unknown by teachers until the day of the lesson, thus causing situations in which you would sit for hours without a student. To make matters worse, the Yokohama branch was not particularly popular because of its suspect location as described above and also because the great majority of our students were from Tokyo, which meant a commute of up to an hour to get to the school. I snatched my wallet and keys and was then off to the brave the storm and face a possibly lonely four hours of staring at the wall and wondering how many families of cockroaches lay within. I left my apartment and cursed the dark, looming clouds overhead on my way to the station.

As I arrived to the school with my hands full of snacks and a pachinko magazine bought at a nearby convenience store, I checked the class schedule: one student for all four hours. ONE...FREAKING...STUDENT... This basically meant that I would have to be stuck in the building while the storm raged outside, all the while trying to keep a one-on-one lesson interesting. Luckily, the student was someone whom I knew to be fairly communicative and a football (American football to some of you) fan, a rarity among even Japanese men so, at the very least, if the lesson started getting boring I could teach him how to play fantasy football, something that he had asked me to do sometime.

The student (whom I will name Takashi) arrived just on time for the class and, folding up his umbrella, announced, "It's starting to rain".

(To Be Continued)