Monday, 27 September 2010

PostHeaderIcon French Strangers and Japanese Doctors


I signed myself up to the couchsurfing website a few months ago.  If you don't know what that is then it's a global network of freeloaders.  Well, you let people crash at your house and then they can return the favour... or you build up a good profile so strangers will let you stay at their house.  I don't know if I have any desire to sleep on a stranger's floor myself but I thought I would make my spare room available for anyone passing through my town.  I didn't think there would be many takers since Kochi is isolated and my town is an insignificant blip along the coastal road.  I anticipated I would get the occasional foreigner who decided they would do the 88 temple pilgrimage before really planning the massive journey and expense of going through this prefecture.  I had seen some occasional foreigners walking along the road looking miserable and exhausted so I thought it would be nice to let them use my house as a resting point between Muroto and the city.

I had to turn down my first request because I was going away for the weekend they were due to arrive.  My second request was due to come one day but I never got a phone call and they replied a week later saying they just got the bus straight to the city.  I was getting a bit bored of the process before I got an email from a French couple who were touring the world for a year.  They decided to cycle around Japan for a month and were heading down to Shikoku.  I was surprised when I actually got a call from them and so I went to meet them at the train station near my house.  The initial conversation was as awkward as you might imagine and I embarrassed myself with my awful attempt at speaking French.  I showed them around my house and left them alone for an hour or two so they could shower and relax.  It was nice to be nice as they were both exhausted and I could tell they were getting a bit weary of Japanese hotels and valiant attempts of communication.  The language barrier between ourselves was non-existent as they both spoke excellent English.  I think it's a result of being surrounded by completely appalling English ability (even by those with degrees in English) but I was shocked by how fluent they were.  Indeed, when I started talking to them I continued my use of simple, slow and pronunciated English.  I dropped that after the first few minutes and just talked to them like a native speaker.  I took them to a great restaurant that serves fried pork that evening and we drank a few cans and had a good old talk about various things.  They walked into a funeral home by mistake one day as they thought they were statues.  The staff were so excited by them that they gave them lunch and the manager talked away to them in English. They took a photograph of them and put it on the front of their website.  Ah... being a foreigner in Japan is great.

Anyway, I guess they were enjoying my apartment and the rest as they ended up staying for about 3 nights.  I liked them so they were more than welcome and I told them to make themselves at home.  Another reason they were taking a break was because Elise had damaged her knee/thigh the day before they came to Tano.  She wanted to go to a doctor to see if she should continue cycling or not.  I think it was about this point that I realised they significantly overestimated my Japanese ability.  I looked up a few body parts in my dictionary and we all headed off to the hospital in my town.  I knew the experience was going to be a massive pain in the arse but I was slightly motivated by this new found degree of responsibility I had over my European cousins.  Therefore, we continued the 700 year Auld Alliance as a united front against the Japanese and headed off on the two minute journey to 田野病院.  I approached the receptionist and before I could even begin to speak about five members of staff turned towards us and started to laugh... some nervously and some just laughing at us.  The older lady at the counter muttered "I don't understand English" to which I replied saying I knew some Japanese.  I replied with a sarcastic "don't worry" but my meaning was lost.  As I anticipated.... we were asked their name (it was excruciating trying to translate French names into Japanese) and then their address and phone number.  I told them they didn't live in Japan and they were friends visiting me.  This caused a lot of panic.  I knew they were going to continue this unrealistic demand so I offered them their French address and number.  This caused a look of shock.  I asked if they were needed and I was told they were because they had to make a card for them.  In the end I just wrote down my details and didn't tell them.  They were just satisfied that it had been filled in.

We were then directed to the waiting corridor where I had spent every Friday afternoon when I broke my leg two years ago.  A nurse came up with a clipboard with a buzzing nervousness.  She asked Guillaume if he spoke any Japanese and his glance towards meant that she leapt into my face.  She handed over the clipboard and asked if I could understand.  She gave me about twenty seconds to glance over an entire A4 sheet of Japanese before she decided I couldn't.  She then attempted to ask the first question in terribly broken English before I asked her to show me it again. Eventually, I managed to leap over these hurdles by just telling them what had happened.  We were then told to come in and see the doctor almost straight away.  

I was slightly nervous because I knew I was going to be in the middle of this international exchange.  It was certainly an unusual experience to begin with.  I kept wondering how it came to be that I was acting as a translator with French strangers in a rural, Japanese hospital.  However, things were about to take a far more absurd turn than I could ever have imagined. The doctor was sitting down and looked all three of us up and down.  I began by explaining about her painful leg and asked if she should stop cycling.  Personally, I would not have gone to a foreign doctor and would probably have decided myself if I could carry on or not.  Nevertheless, I only expected the doctor to perhaps roll his eyes and reluctantly take a look at her leg.  What was to follow can only be described as ludicrous.  His attention turned away from myself and he began to stare intensively at Elise.  However, his expression was not one of concern or even curiosity.  Indeed, his eyes soon collapsed and his gaze was replaced  by a stare more vacant than a glass eye.   He continued to do this in a silence which was only broken by the ever increasing sense of confusion and fear in my French comrades.  I gave them a glance that suggested I was just as shocked as them before I repeated a question in order to get some kind of response out of him. He continued to stare at me in the same way as the mood in the room turned to... well, I don't know.  I looked at the nurse who was also present in the room.  She looked even more concerned than Elise and so I asked her what was wrong with the doctor.  I did this in some vain attempt to shame him into getting his act together but it never worked.  Instead, he turned towards the French, filled his lungs and proclaimed "Paaarrrddddooonn".  I was aghast and stunned into silence.  They asked if he could speak French before I called him an idiot in Japanese and told them that we were leaving.  A nurse followed us outside and tried to mention something about paying the bill when I called her an idiot as well.  I then went on a small rant calling the doctor rude and the like.  I think she was making some excuse about him before she panicked and ran off inside again.  The French were in shock and I was livid.  I struggle to remember an incident whilst living in Japan that has made me so angry.  I can forgive xeonophobic old farmers and the like but to go to a hospital and have a doctor act in such a manner is totally absurd.  I was going to tell my work or someone and demand that action be taken but my temper calmed down in the following hour.  Also, I remembered that this is Japan and I'm just rude foreigner who doesn't respect the oracle that is a Japanese sensei.  In the end, I had to drive them to Aki hospital the next day and repeat the whole experience.  Luckily, the doctor this time wasn't an escaped mental patient and gave Elise some medicine.  We enjoyed the rest of our time together drinking lots of beer and eating some Frenchy cuisine.  Also, I got exceptionally ill and had a terrible fever the next day from something I caught at one of the hospitals.  Hurrah.  A middle-aged German woman is due to stay tomorrow.

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About Me

I am a 24 year old Scotsman currently teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. I live in a small town on the east coast of Kochi prefecture.

Shashins