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August 19, 2002 continued: The Parties

Speaking of ABBA. Last night was my welcome party. To explain—in Japan the teaching staff at schools (as well as business groups) get together periodically to kick back and relax (at parties called enkai). It's not really optional. The first part of the party is dinner. There are several speeches made (I understood perhaps every 10 words), and since it was my welcome party, most of them were about me. I was seated next to the principal (who fancies himself my Japanese Papa) and the vice-principal (a very nice man, but I think I make him nervous).

All of the sudden, the speeches end and everyone looks at me. My first friend here, Shobayashi-sensei motions to me. It's time for me to make an impromptu speech. In Japanese. yeah. So I stumble through a few sentences, everyone nods and bows, and the formal toast is about to be made. Huge bottles of beer are brought to the table and everyone scrambles to open the bottles and pour for each other (it is impolite to pour for yourself) and we begin to eat. Every so often more speeches are made, I nod politely and we go back to eating and drinking.

Then the games start. Well—one game—and I am the only player. It is my job to line up all of the male teaching staff by age. In front of everyone—trying my best not to offend. Great fun. Then it was my job to point to each and say whether I thought they were married or single. My, what fun—not at all awkward.

Shobayashi-sensei and me at my welcome party.

Following the first party, there is the second party. Usually it involves karaoke. They did not disappoint. Not knowing fully what I was committing myself to, I was very much game—so we walked across town to the karaoke den. It was 9:30 p.m.

9:30 p.m. Karaoke gets a slow start. People get settled on the couches and shyly begin making selections. I sing "La Isla Bonita" (I was told it was very appropriate for my little Island paradise). A bottle of vodka is set on the table. They make drinks called Salty Dogs with a mixer that's like Fresca and a salted glass. The vodka is gone within 20 minutes.

10:30 p.m Everyone is getting warmed up. Many songs are sung. They asked me to sing "Time after Time". I indulge and then sit and appreciate the eclectic mix of Japanese music that has been chosen.

11:30 p.m I am really tired (as I had gone to a birthday party the night before) and think things might be winding down. Oh no—my Japanese colleagues begin jumping on the couches. I relent and attempt to sing the one JPop song I know "Darling Darling" (Andrew, that's for you!). It went over big with the crowd. The President of the Board of Education requests me to sing "Like a Virgin."

12:30 p.m. Surely we must be leaving soon—we have work in the morning. Oh no—the music does not stop. More very bad Japanese syntesized music, more jumping, me singing "Dancing Queen".

1:30 a.m. Exhausted and delirious—the music continues. My supervisor has stumbled home, there are coordinated dance routines happening, and one teacher has woken up from a two-hour nap in the corner. Out of hope that I will placate the gods by singing along in Japanese, I do my best. The room goes wild. I can see we may be nearing the end and my futon is just out of reach when the teachers demand i sing one last song. Celine Dion. Cringing, I accept the challenge. It worked—one more bad Japanese pop ballad and we pack up.

2:30 a.m. Walking the dark streets of Naru with my colleagues—them drunk and red in the face, throwing pebbles at the windows of teachers who have retired early. Me—exhausted, and imagining the comfort of my futon.

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2002 North Country Public Radio, St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York 13617-1475