Sunday, July 9, 2017

You Don't Need to be Fluent to be an Interpreter

Sometimes you don't even have to talk.


A camera-shy Igarashi-san.
I paced back and forth through the clutter of my living room, calendar in one hand, cell phone in the other. On the other end of the line was Mr. Sato, a programming director for NHK, Japan’s national television broadcasting station.

“Have you ever done any interpreting?” he asked. He sounded about my age.

Ten years prior I’d gotten on as a temporary interpreter for ESPN, at the World Figure Skating Championships in Tokyo. No matter that I spent most of the week taping down loose wires and restocking the fridge in the staff area. It was, at least in name, an interpreting gig.

“Sure, I’ve done a little interpreting,” I said, ending the qualification section of this phone interview for a job I knew virtually nothing about except that it would involve either interpreting or stocking a fridge.

Miura-san, my friend from the inter-cultural community resource center here in town, was the one who initially put me in touch with NHK. “They need someone to go to Hakuba for three days,” she’d said. “Starting this Thursday.”

“Sure, I can do it,” I told her, which was a lie. I had three classes to teach on Thursday. “No problem. Please give them my phone number.”

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Why Shouldn't You Go Hiking with a Strained Oblique?

I'll give you one reason.

I’d been itching to get out and climb Mt. Hachibuse for weeks. Then suddenly the day came. The sun was rising bright in the sparkling sky; immediate responsibilities, both parental and professional, were nil; the car keys were just sitting there.

My wife yelled in my general direction as I was pulling out of the driveway; something about one of the kids and a piano lesson. “One of my kids takes piano lessons?” I mused as I sped along Route 63, winding along the foot of the mountain range that culminates in this curious, non-descript peak I was rushing toward.

Honestly, I don’t know why I wanted to climb Hachibuse-yama. Of all the countless mountains around here it is nowhere near the highest. It is nothing you could call dramatic. There’s a road that takes you within a half mile of the top. Hachibuse means ‘prostrating bowl’ for Pete’s sake.

If I'm careful what could possibly go wrong?
If you decide to hike the short trail (built for those of us with a wife who needs the car later) you'll find it meanders through the woods until, halfway up the mountain, it spits you out onto the road. As if suddenly aware that it wasn’t supposed to be playing in the street, the trail quickly dips back into the woods. Then as if it were one of my kids it forgets it isn’t supposed to be playing in the street and runs out onto the pavement once again. At this point the trail turns into a squirrel in a panic, running into and out of and into and out of traffic’s way until it finally dies like road kill at the blacktop’s edge.

From there it’s a twenty-minute walk along the rocky shoulder, up to the parking lot where the smart people start walking.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Flipping Backward, Flipping Forward...Flipping Forget It


Last seen in Hamburg...
Let’s be real here. How much crazy, zany fun can actually be had flying from Japan to New Jersey and back? Enough for one blog post? Two, maybe, if the kids or the wife or the person in the next seat really goes off the deep end? Three if everyone goes long?

Besides one record-setting vomit exhibition there was little on either of our flights that would strike the passive passenger. BUT… to the ultra-observant there was enough for five blog posts. Yes, I am that perceptive.

I would have stopped at four, but United Airlines had to, on December 29th, put a copy of the January issue of Hemispheres, their in-flight magazine, in the seat pocket in front of me for my thirteen-hour journey back to Japan. Why can’t they just quit it with the fodder? Don’t they understand I can’t keep my derisive mouth shut?

In other words, this is all United’s fault.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Buds, Socks & Violence

In-Flight Sensorial Entertainment

The best thing to ever happen to an overseas flight.
I like flying. I always have. Despite the occasional and inevitable stresses, the idea-come-to-life of getting into a metal tube, taking off into the air and landing somewhere usually far away and sometimes worlds apart has never failed to stir something visceral and pleasing in me.

This morning, however, has been something else altogether. (If you read my last post you know what I’m talking about.) So as I sit restlessly in my seat in the waiting area outside Dulles Airport’s Gate 29, waiting for United Flight 803 to Tokyo to begin boarding, I look over at my family with the kind of pride that can only come from the fact that I haven’t strangled anyone today.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

How NOT to Plan Your Flight Overseas

Yet Another Air Travel Tragicomedy 

 ACT ONE 

December 29, 2016 – 3:30am  I’ve been curled up on the floor since quarter to two, in the makeshift futon my mom always puts out for my family when we visit. It’s comfortable. It’s warm. It’s not helping my pre-flight insomnia.

I can never sleep the night before flying overseas. It used to be excitement that kept me awake – a single guy, off to explore yet another foreign land, no responsibilities except for himself and even that was debatable. It’s different now. Now I fly with four other people, meaning five airplane tickets, meaning boo-koo bucks meaning I have to find the cheapest flight out there. Which leads the to unenviable prospect of another low-priced, high-tension Chinese airline experience.
 
The Plan: Limo from home (A) to Newark Airport (B). Fly to Raleigh-Durham (C). Fly to Washington Dulles (D). Fly to Tokyo-Narita. Total flight time: 17 hours. Total layover time: About 4 seconds. This should be interesting.

I’m excited to get back to Japan. I always am. But tonight it’s that unenviable potential for disaster that’s keeping me awake.

And this time I can’t even blame China.