Two scenes from the Mysterious East:
Scene One: A few of us were looking for dinner fairly late in downtown Nagano, and we came to a little restaurant. It looked open -- we could see men inside -- but there was a sign on the door saying, in English: ``CLOSED.''
We were about to walk away when one of the men came running over to the door and waved us inside. As we entered, we pointed to the ``CLOSED'' sign and looked puzzled. Frowning, the man took the sign off the door and carried it over to the counter, where he and two other men discussed it, heatedly, for at least five minutes. They got out a book, looked something up, looked at the sign again, and became even more excited. Since they were speaking Japanese, we had no idea what they were saying, but I assume it was something along the lines of, ``So THAT'S why we haven't been getting any foreigners in here!'' Then the man took the sign back over to the door and hung it up so that the ``OPEN'' side was facing out.
About a half-hour later, as we were leaving, another group of westerners started to enter; the man went running over to block the door, waving his arms to indicate that the restaurant was closed. As we left, he locked the door. The sign facing out, of course, still said: ``OPEN.''
Scene Two: I broke my reading glasses, so I took them to an optometrist's shop and showed them to the optometrist while making the international gesture for ``I have broken these reading glasses.''
He studied them for a moment. ``Trouble!'' he said. ``Five minutes! Please waiting!''
So I sat in the little waiting area and watched Japanese television, which was showing some kind of quiz show that should be called Name That Tuber! There was a genial talkative male host, a female co-host whose sole function was to smile, a plate holding some unusual rootlike vegetables, and four contestants who apparently were trying to identify them. There was much discussion as the camera showed closeups of the vegetables, and then the host would hold up a sign with a piece of paper covering it, and then he would dramatically remove the paper, and there, on the sign, would be -- Japanese writing! So I have no idea what was going on, although everybody on the show seemed to be amazed.
At one point the optometrist came running -- not walking; running -- into the waiting area to say: ``More five minutes, sorry please!''
I nodded energetically to indicate this was fine with me. I was really getting into Name That Tuber!
The next TV show was a drama featuring a man dressed as a Japanese gangster. First he killed two other gangsters on the street. Then he went into a bakery. I assumed he was going to kill, or at least rob, the woman behind the counter, but instead they started laughing, and then they started -- I swear -- making cookies. Unfortunately, I didn't see how this show came out, because the optometrist came sprinting back with my reading glasses, which were fixed.
``Sorry!'' he said, apparently feeling terrible about having taken 20 whole minutes of my time. I pulled out my wallet to pay him, and he became very agitated.
``Service!'' he said, making a zero with his thumb and forefinger to indicate how much I owed. Then, apparently feeling that I was not getting a good enough deal for the zero I was paying him, he gave me a little cloth for cleaning my glasses and (Why not?) a Coca-Cola bumper sticker.
So I gave him the only gift-type item I had, which was a cheap souvenir pin from a Japanese telephone company. This caused him to sprint to the back of the shop and come back with a much nicer pin for me. There clearly was no way I was going to win: If I gave him anything else, he might have made me take one of his kidneys. So I bowed to him, and he bowed to me, and I bowed back, and he bowed back, and gradually, backing and bowing, I got out of the store, freeing the poor man to make an actual living.
What do we learn from these stories? We learn that, in the Mysterious East, ``business'' does not always mean ``money''; and that what is closed may be open, while what is open may be closed; and that gangsters sometimes like to bake.
But we have NO idea what those vegetables were.
©1998 Dave Barry
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