By Kazuya Muto
"Please vacate your room by Friday," said Kris one Sunday evening. I wasn't particularly surprised. I had seen this coming and had already decided to move.
I spent the next day looking for a new plaace to stay. I found some ads at the university library and I called them right away. Unlike before, I knew what to ask: How many students are living there? Do the owners live in the same house? I called eight places and made appointments with two.
The first was a very big house owned by a Chinese couple who couldn't speak English very well. It was very messy, but each room had a lock, and there were three bathrooms and a huge kitchen. The other eight students were all from China. At first I thought they would all speak in Chinese. But I met some of them while I was there, and they were polite and careful to speak English in front of me. I felt that I could get along with them.
The other house was also very big, but it was cleaner than the first. It was owned by a young Chinese man and his very talkative girlfriend, and it housed five students, all of them female. Unlike the other place, they just said, "Hello," and kept talking in Chinese with one another.
So I decided to move into the first place. I had a better impression of the people living there.
A friend of mine helped me to pack my stuff, and on Tuesday night I moved out. I stayed at my friend's house that night. I couldn't sleep. I lay there in bed and thought over how difficult it was to understand other cultures and form good relationships with people from different cultural backgrounds. I had tried, but it seemed like my efforts hadn't paid off. I felt sad.
The next day, I went to my new home. The owners welcomed me with a cup of tea, some cookies and some oranges. We quickly got the business of rent and bond out of the way, and moved onto other things. Soon we were joined by my new housemates. We chatted about Japan and my majors. At least, we tried to. They couldn't understand my English all that well, so we ended up communicating through Chinese characters.
For example, I wrote my name in Chinese and they said it was beautiful. They taught me how to pronounce it in Chinese, which was hilarious. Then they wrote their names in Chinese and I told them how to pronounce them in Japanese. Soon we were using Chinese characters to talk about where we came from and, of all things, "yellow sand," which is the sand carried by the wind from Chinese and Mongolian deserts.
On Saturday, there was a party to welcome me into the house. That afternoon, we all went shopping for food together. We had decided we were going to have a traditional Chinese hot pot, and it turned out to be delicious. I talked and talked my way through the meal, especially to the guy sitting next to me, Jack. He was funny. His favorite word seemed to be "Really?!" which he'd say with wide-eyed surprise. His English was also very easy to understand.
Time flew. Before we knew it, it was well past midnight. We started cleaning up without a moment's break in conversation. By this time, all my sadness about relating to other people had been banished. This time things looked promising.
Shukan ST: July 14, 2006
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