Saturday, February 26, 2005

To bite or not to bite...

Sea bream w/yours truly (C) Lrong Lim

It was snowing quite heavily outside yesterday and the scene actually looked quite beautiful from my office window.

The snow should stop by the time I head for home, I thought.

The snow did stop, except that it turned into sleet; frozen rain, that is.

As I mounted my bicycle, I cursed myself for not taking the car in the morning.

Within minutes of riding, my palms and fingers turned numb at the wet and cold weather.

A day before, an acquaintance had invited me to lunch at a restaurant specializing in crab delicacies.

I am not particularly fond of prying crab shells for the meat.

'Too much effort, too little meat', a friend used to say.

But I went anyway.

He is working for the immigration department and his current assignment is to research on Islamic terrorists.

A former student of mine, a retired banker, introduced him to me.

This was the third time we were having lunch together and he had footed the bill on both the previous occasions.

I insisted on paying this time but was flatly refused.

How kind, I thought to myself, struggling with that stubborn claw.

Halfway through the terrorist conversation, he abruptly changed the topic and invited me to accompany him to patronize a nightclub specializing in Russian girls.

And I had thought that the only imports from Russia to Takamatsu are the crabs we were gnawing at.

Topless dancing, he proudly announced.

The top club in town!

And, the most expensive!

I was surprised at my disgust.

Under 'normal' circumstances, I would have jumped at the opportunity.

But circumstances these days are anything but 'normal'.

My workmate just got the axe two weeks ago for molesting a student over a miserable ten minutes.

To top it off, his (ex-)wife promptly kicked him out of her house.

Prior to that, a senior administrative official got his head chopped off for pocketing official funds.

And currently, a psychology professor is being charged in court for caressing the private parts of a woman whom he claimed to be counseling.

And would I accept an invitation to a topless club?

Tantalizing as it was, but no cigar!

Just imagine, what if a dancer girl at the club lunged forward to grab me, hug me, or even, god forbid, kiss me right on the mouth?

She'd probably be a smoker, and I can't stand the smell of nicotine.

And immediately a yakuza pounced on me, accusing me of stealing his girlfriend?

Now that would be quite some news.

Yes, appalled I was.

How can this man, a senior immigration official, forehead apparently receding at a faster pace than yours truly, be patronizing such a nightclub, I asked my puzzled self.

I flatly said, no sir!

He insisted.

I persisted.

It seems that he had gotten to know a Russian dancer there who speaks broken Japanese.

On some days, the girl would call him on his hand phone, nudging him to come to the club.

Sometimes, she would call up to ten times a day, persisting.

He took pity on her.

He was sure her boss was coercing her to make the calls.

Business must be bad at the club, and I would like to contribute to their sales, he mumbled.

Hey, what a kind man, I thought.

Last weekend, we went to check out a new 'mansion' near the university.

'Mansion', as in a 'glorified' apartment.

The size is tiny, this being land-deprived Japan.

We were looking for a small mansion, a so-called 3LKD.

A 'standard' three-roomed, living, dining, and kitchen set-up.

The interior was impressive, what I would call 'modern living'.

The cost was a little over 20,000,000 yen, or US 200,000 dollars.

We considered the purchase, but hesitated.

Our preference is still to find a small plot of land and build our own house.

The following day, the salesman called.

I had made the mistake of giving him our house contact.

On the few prior occasions that we asked for information on new houses or 'mansions', we were in turn always requested to fill in a questionnaire.

This questionnaire has items that ask your preferences, your family structure, your job, your income, etc., on top of your contacts.

We had always rejected this request for the fear of salesmen turning up at our doorstep.

But that particular salesman seemed like a polite, nice guy.

He was very good at bowing.

His shoulders curved, probably from years of doing it.

In our conversations as he showed us the mansion, he referred to me as 'Lrong sama'.

'San' would have been a sufficiently polite salutation, but 'sama' was a bit too much.

It is normally used as a salutation for 'royalty', or some big shots.

My missus politely said, 'next time' and we forgot about it.

However, on the early afternoon of the third day, the salesman came knocking at our door.

Surprised, should I say?

He wanted to talk to us directly, and show us why we should make the purchase.

My missus, who was alone at home, was exasperated.

She called me at the office, whispering, and I was equally exasperated.

She told him to go away.

When I cycled home at almost seven in the evening, I immediately found him sitting inside his car.

He approached me, urging.

That just about killed off any remaining enthusiasm we had in the purchase.

Back in the house, I looked at the handwritten note he gave me.

'We will give you the air condition unit, the dining table and chairs, the sofa set, the curtains, the big flat TV, the digital recorder, the beds...'

Enticing as it was, but no sir!

My thoughts returned to that of my acquaintance, sipping on his whisky and water...

and his Russian dancer friend... her soft hands attentively placed on his lap...