International Chat Night (which I’m going to refer to as ICN because it’s shorter to type) has become an annual event in Hyuga. In theory, ICN is a night when many people interested in international things can get together and learn about new topics while drinking international wine and eating sandwiches. In practice, it is a bunch of Japanese people interested in international things who have one non-Japanese person at their table who becomes the center of all attention. Last year I had a lot of fun presenting, but I thought this year it might be more fun to just sit back and watch everyone else without being so nervous.
As much fun as the event is (and I heard about some really interesting topics which I brought up with my adult conversation group the following Wednesday), it really felt like a work event rather than a social event. I had even invited my friend Chihiro to come with me because I know she always like meeting new foreigners. (At one point she had me introduce her to Cameron, like he was a celebrity, which was pretty funny.) At our table, I tried to start conversations that could be sustained without me, but the topic always turned back to me and my foreignness. This was, of course, okay given the type of event, but it did make the whole thing more draining than I had anticipated.
I had already been playing “the foreigner” role all day, so I was pretty exhausted by it, but kept up my social butterfly reputation. I spoke with everyone I knew, shook the appropriate hands, and smiled the whole time. However, I had to draw the line when one man I knew from the previous year approached me. He came up to me and, without saying hello or doing any of the “wow, it’s been so long! What have you been up to?” prerequisite conversation, the first word out of his mouth was, “Picture?” He then proceeded to pressure me into taking a picture with him. I agreed, smiled, and stood in front of the camera while he fiddled with the timer. When he came to join me, he poked me in the side and said, “Nice!” before putting his hand on my shoulder.
I’m normally fine with a lack of hover-hand in photos, but he had just jumped from “foreigner collector” (the kind of people who don’t actually want to get to know you but just want to be able to show off how many foreigners they know) to creepy old man. Still, I grit my teeth and smiled, but when the camera didn’t go off, I decided I was done. He went to go check on the camera and declared that the battery was dead. I should just hold on and he would go change it. I told him that was fine, he didn’t need to, but he ignored that.
Later, when he said the battery was changed and he was ready to try again, I politely told him it was not going to happen and went back to the conversation he had interrupted. After that I was even more ready to head back home, but one of my friends invited me out for yakitori (grilled chicken). She was inviting me out with a group I hadn’t hung out with before, so I decided it would be a good experience. Also, I was hungry.
The food and company were great. We were all shoved into a booth together, but I had a great time talking with everyone. I think, altogether, we probably ate a whole chicken (that’s including the liver, heart, and cartilage). The only problem with the restaurant was that they put us at a table where we had to take off our shoes because it was on the reed flooring, tatami. Normally this would be fine, but my feet swelled so much by the time I finally was ready to go home (from being on them all day, I assume) that they barely fit in my boots. I was laughing to myself the whole walk to the taxi stand because of how ridiculous I’m sure I looked, despite most of my attention devoted to walking as normally as possible.
Despite my (probably) penguin-like walking abilities, I made it to a taxi, flopped inside, and was safely on my way home.