Monday mornings

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Posted 29 Aug 2006 in Only in Japan, Tokyo, Work

103828662_89ec8a2cfb_m.jpgI wake, and turn my head to face the alarm clock on top of the bookshelf. It’s 7.30am.

7.30? Bollocks. My alarm went off twenty minutes ago. I don’t even remember waking up and turning it off.

Faster than a weasel on speed, I throw myself out of bed and blindly pick out a shirt from the wardrobe. Have I even ironed this shirt? Probably not, but it will have to do. The trousers go on, and as for a tie, well I’ll just throw this blue stripey one in my bag and sort it out later. Jump into the bathroom, brush my teeth and wash my face. Now I’m ready to face the world.

Heading out of the door, I slip my shoes on in one fluid movement that can only come from months of waking up late for work. No time to bend down and put my heel in properly, I’ll do it in the lift.

The lift doors open. There’s already someone inside, it’s the small chubby fella, I think he lives on the seventh floor, probably with his parents. Crikey, he looks even worse than me. Strands of his hair reach out in all directions, as if they’re trying desparately to escape from his scalp. His suit has creases in places I’d never thought possible, and his tie is hanging round his collar like a dead snake. Possibly an adder, I’d say.
Then I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror….

Jesus Christ, I have an afro quiff!

The lift doors open again. We’re on the first floor, the afro quiff will have to remain. Snake Tie Boy snaps out of his morning trance and lunges out first. I fall out second, hopping around on one foot, trying to fit my heel inside my shoe with my left hand. I must look like a drunk flamingo. BUT, no time to worry about appearances, I have a train to catch.

Bursting through the front doors of the apartment block entrance, I spy Snake Tie Boy, already a good ten metres ahead of me. I step up a gear and begin speed walking towards the station. Snake Tie Boy gives me the slip by taking a side alley. Coward. The streets are busy, not with cars, but bicycles. As I head up the road waves of cyclists speed by every minute or so, flowing in time to the pattern of the traffic lights – High school boys carry impossibly huge sports bags full of baseball gear on one shoulder. Salarymen, their briefcases wedged into the shopping basket, weave deftly past the uni students, who have decided that cycling is a perfect time to also send text messages on their mobile phones – amazingly, every day this happens, and no-one crashes into each other.

I make it to the station. No, wait, I’m across the street from the station, waiting for the green man to let me cross. I’m surrounded by what seems like half the population of Kichijoji. We’re all waiting to cross, like one big happy family of half-asleep, pissed off office workers. Some part time workers are handing out small packs of tissues with a flyer inside to we, the waiting masses. They’re advertising yet another pachinko parlour. Great, that’s all we need. And anyway, I think to myself, why do they bother giving out tissues in the middle of summer? If I try and wipe away the sweat with those, I’ll end up with bits of tissue stuck all over my face.

That particular thought comes to an abrupt end when the green man signal lights up. My happy family and myself swarm across the street and separate out through the various station entrances, like worker ants searching for the best route home. I take the quietest route and stride up two sets of escalators. I check my watch, it’s 8am. Just in time.

The ticket barrier looms before me, I reach into my trouser pocket to take out my wallet and… shit! Where’s my wallet? I stop dead in my tracks just a couple of steps from the barrier, but the mass of people following behind me don’t notice and thump, thump, thump… a human pile up develops in seconds. I franticly fumble through my bag for my wallet, finally finding it wedged inside some awful Franz Kafka book I’ve been forcing myself to read. I pull out my train pass, and stuff it into the ticket barrier. The machine greedily accepts the pass, and spits it out on the other side for me to swipe up and slide back into my wallet.

Two trains are waiting, both bound for Shibuya, the only difference is one leaves in four minutes and the other leaves in… let me check my watch… bloody hell, right now! At the same time, the all-so-familiar “breeeeeeee” sound leaps from the tannoy system, indicating the train doors are about to close. Quicker than a cheetah in spandex I fly towards the nearest door. The train is already full to more than capacity, but this is Tokyo, where no-one’s ever heard of “full to capacity”.

Like a true salaryman, I squeeze my body into the last remaining free square inches left aboard the train. The doors begin to close, everyone holds their breath as yet another person flings himself at the rapidly shrinking opening. Who does he think he his, Indiana Jones? He manages to get his lower half inside, but the top half is still outside, and the doors slam against his shoulders. For a second the doors open again, allowing him to brace his hands on the door frame and push the rest of his body inside, I hear other passengers groan as the air is squashed out of their lungs.

I can’t breathe, I think I’m going to die soon, but the doors finally slam shut, and everyone breathes a collective sigh of relief. Indiana Jones can’t help but display a smug grin at having managed to make it on board. Personally, I’d love to smack him in the face, but am so squashed that I can no longer feel my arms.

Ten minutes and three stations pass by. A few passengers get off and I claim a space near the doorway. There’s a middle-aged executive type stood next to me. Despite it being the middle of summer he continues to wear a heavy looking navy suit, and has to frequently wipe the sweat from his brow using a cute little light blue hankerchief from his top pocket. Of course, this does nothing to alleviate the huge sweat mark covering half his back, but he doesn’t seem too bothered about that. All of the passengers who managed to get a seat are sleeping, or at least pretending to sleep. There’s a teenage boy – probably a university student – who is out like a light, his head lolling back and forth like one of those plastic dog ornaments. The woman next to him is clearly pissed off by this, gives him the occasional elbow to the ribs and quickly closes her eyes and pretends to be asleep.

Twenty minutes after leaving Kichijoji we arrive at my stop. After a little bit of pushing, pulling and sumimasen’s (“excuse me”), I manage to extract myself onto the platform. I walk towards the stairs, going against the tide of people trying to get on board the train I just left. At this point on the train line, they have to employ station attendants with white gloves to push people inside the train, which is such an amusing sight to behold I could spend hours just watching them. But there’s a connecting train to catch, so I continue walking.

My connecting train is delayed. Again. This seems to happen every Monday, and probably means some poor, down-trodden office worker couldn’t take it any longer and decided the best way to end it all was by chucking himself in front of a train. My train turns up ten minutes late, with a couple of bloodied fingers wedged under the windscreen wipers (probably). I step on board and finally manage to sit down for the final ten minutes of my journey. As per usual, I end up sat next to a teenager listening to some God-awful Japanese punk rock band on his iPod. I know he’s listening to this because he’s got the volume turned up so loud that kids in far side of the carriage are nodding their head to the beat. I decide to fight fire with fire and listen to “Run to You” by Bryan Adams at full volume. That’ll teach him.

The battle of the iPods ends when we both get off at the same stop, he catches sight of some of his friends and goes to say “Osu..” (“Hey..”). Everyone getting off here seems to belong to the university I work at, meaning I spend much of my walk to campus either saying “hello!” to various students, or trying my best to avoid the ones I don’t like by pretending not to see them, which is quite hard considering we all follow the same narrow street.

The campus gates are guarded by The Protectors in Blue, a set of mean-looking 60 year-old security guards in uniform, faces carved out of solid granite, bodies carved from rapidly melting ice cream. I greet them with “ohayo gozaimasu”, they reply with “uhyogzamass”, which means they’re double-hard bastards and not to be messed with.

I leg it up four flights of stairs and sign in to work. 8.55am. Phew! So far I’m the only one in the office but I haven’t prepared a damned thing for lessons today, so quickly check today’s lesson schedule. I find the lesson plan, it reads:

“Lesson 25 – Teachers Choice”

Teachers Choice? Oh bollocks, that means I have to knock something together entirely from scratch and I only have… forty minutes left to do it. Aaargh!

Chaos ensues, bits of paper fly everywhere, resource books lie strewn open across desks like they’ve been recently slaughtered in some kind of Zulu War for Books Recreation Society meeting. I don’t even notice the other teacher enter the office until I accidentally stab him in the arm with a pair of scissors while cutting out a photo of Lara Croft (I need it for, erm… teaching purposes. Obviously). He hasn’t prepared anything either, so the panic level moves from amber to red. I furiously try to find the correct CD for a listening activity… I look at the big clock on the wall… five minutes late for class already. I abandon my seach, grab everything I’ve prepared thus far and shoot off down the corridoor in the direction of my classroom.

I open the clasroom door. Only four students, two of whom are sleeping, seem to be present. “How are you?” says I. “Sleepy” they reply. Every day they say this, without fail. If only their parents laced their breakfasts with cocaine, we might get a little bit of variety in the greetings that way… Anyway, the lesson flies by, and I only need to utter the phrase “now, what I want you to do is…” twice. Any time I say this, you can be absolutely sure I have no idea what I want them to do, I’m just making it up on the spot.

The students leave, leaving me with an hour to sort out my lesson. Properly, this time. I go to the bathroom and splash cold water on my face, in a vain attempt to restore some life into my brain.

I look up from the basin and catch sight of myself in the mirror. I forgot to put my tie on, I still have an afro quiff and, best of all, I notice my flies have been un-zipped for the entire morning.

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2 Comments

  1. Linda

    Good stuff I look forward to the next instalment. Is this where the saying flying by the seat of your pants originated?

  2. Oh very good, very good indeed!



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