By Kazuya Muto
It was 5 a.m. and I was bolt awake. My girlfriend Kaori and her friend Tomomi were arriving that morning from Japan. I was very excited. I'd been waiting for this ever since I came to Australia. The two would only be staying for a week — too short to enjoy all of Sydney, but long enough to show them a side of Sydney most tourists wouldn't see.
I went to the airport. No, I ran to the airport, although I was still way too early. Inside I was panicking slightly: "What happens if we've got nothing to talk about after seven months?" But I worry too much. When I saw Kaori walking out of the arrivals gate, my worries melted away. I'll always remember the surprised and pleased look on her face when she saw me. I was so happy I completely forgot my lines (I'd been preparing what to say for ages). Instead, I ended up saying something like, "Hey, how's it going? Long time no see." Well, sometimes the less words the better.
In the taxi, though, I found I couldn't stop talking: "How was the flight?" "Could you sleep?" "Anything major happen in Japan?" "How about our friends? How are they?" The flood of questions wouldn't stop. I hadn't spoken so much Japanese since I came to Australia, I hadn't felt so relaxed.
Of course, we visited the usual famous places: the Opera House (I booked concert tickets in advance), Taronga Zoo, Sydney Tower and so on. But I wanted them to experience something special. So I organized a barbeque for Kaori and Tomomi so that they could meet my Sydney friends. Shirley, Wen, Candy, Yoyo (they are all Chinese), Jip (from Thailand) and Bruno (from Peru) said they would come, and promised to talk a lot to my Japanese friends.
But I did worry about one thing (here I go again). Kaori and Tomomi weren't very good at English, so I didn't think they would be able to understand my Sydney friends. To make matters worse, they all spoke with strong foreign accents. Still I was determined not to interpret for anyone there. Cruel? Well maybe, but let me explain.
I know it's hard for people who don't speak English to be around English speakers for a prolonged period of time. In short, it's torture, and I speak from experience. But I had wanted Kaori and Tomomi to be challenged. I believe the ability to deal with difficult situations is the first step in getting to know another culture. So I never use Japanese in Australia, even though my Sydney friends ask me to interpret. I always interpret from English to English.
Kaori and Tomomi were great though. They made an effort to understand what the others were saying and to explain themselves in English, and even when that didn't go so well, they never stopped smiling, they never once complained. I admired them more than ever.
I'm very grateful too to my Sydney friends. They were so kind to Kaori and Tomomi, and always made sure they were the center of conversation. Shirley was especially considerate. She went out of her way to speak to them and she always spoke slowly and clearly, using easy words. By the end of the barbeque, the two Japanese girls were completely at ease.
Shukan ST: Oct. 20, 2006
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