To: Newsletter
From: Peter Rivard
Subject: Enemies

Hi, all,

Greetings from the land of the Rising Yen (and it's about time the yen went up, too; I get paid in these things, and I've come to think of them almost like money). Well, I've had girls who liked me a bit too much; now, for cosmic balance, I've finally acquired my very own pint-sized enemy--and perhaps an adult one, too. Even in the animal kingdom, I've made myself unpopular lately.

The last first. On Saturday, I went to explore some ruins marked on my map; my boss had explained that they are related to a Buddhist saint who lived in Fukui and led a powerful Buddhist army and an independent republic before Japan was unified in the late sixteenth century (his castle was where Takefu City Hall is now, and the protective strategy of having streets not quite meet across intersections and take random jogs to prevent siege engines and large mounted forces from getting close to the castle walls is still a curse upon anyone trying to get around downtown--the center of town still largely sits as it was laid out 1500 years ago, even if little that's even a third of that age remains). Every year, this saint's statue is carried, on foot, from Kyoto all the way to northern Fukui prefecture, perhaps 120 miles. The site I visited is on an unpaved mountain road on the route. It turned out to be a very small cave with a statue of the fellow in it, located on a steep hillside above a cliff. I haven't deciphered the sign yet, but I think he either was born or took shelter in the cave. After very quickly checking out the cave (more quickly than planned, once I discovered that the walls were crawling with giant mutant cave-dwelling grasshoppers that looked more like spiders), I decided to follow a small trail that was returning to nature. After a few meters, I found that it had never been a trail at all and didn't lead anywhere, so I turned back, but I missed the cave and ended up on a ledge ten feet above it. I didn't miss stepping on a poisonous snake, though. Fortunately, it missed out on the chance to bite me, instead uncoiling rapidly and racing into the undergrowth (I'll never forget watching that head whip around and then the whole snake go into motion at my feet, knowing that if I jumped away or even stepped back quickly I was quite likely to slip and fall, in which case I'd almost certainly go over the cliff, and hoping that staying still would keep it from feeling even more threatened). I'd been wearing my loafers instead of my hiking boots because I'd thought I might have to take off my shoes to enter the cave, so my footing was precarious on the narrow ledge and I'd have had no protection if it had struck me. For the record, although there are reputedly only two kinds of poisonous snakes in Japan (oft-quoted but dubious fact), the one on my island, the mamushi, is quite common, even in the cities. Usually a very painful but survivable bite for an adult. Of course, I'll do whatever I have to do to avoid finding this out empirically.

My adult nemesis is still incognito. Someone decided to kick the door of my car Saturday night or Sunday, leaving a big dent and a footprint. Probably one of my drunken neighbors, as the actual residents of the area (as opposed to temporary factory workers) seem pretty sober and friendly. Since it's an old car anyway, I've decided to fix it myself and not to stay upset about it. There's no way to find the culprit, and no point in engaging in a war when my property sits alone and vulnerable outside my apartment. Frustrating, nonetheless.

And the child? Well, I did give her a reason to dislike me. Monday, as I often do, I used the name of a kid in class in a goofy example I made up for a writing assignment. I used a boy's name I had just learned, checked it on the class list with a real Japanese to be sure it was a boy, and wrote a short profile, claiming that the boy loved to do sumo but weighed only 50 kg (110 lbs.) and so was too small to be any good at it. Almost everyone laughed, even Hazuki, the boy I was thinking of, as I expected (I'd known him by face and personality for a long time). Later, I went around checking people's progress as they wrote their own goofy profiles of their friends; one girl, as many do, kept her work carefully covered, so I asked if I could see it. She snapped "NO!" very angrily. I didn't know her name, but I'd long known her personality and face--she's generally a somewhat bitter kid. Since I'd asked, I had to respect her answer, so I moved on. Every time I walked by her, I could feel waves of hostility.

At the end of class, when she turned in her paper, I saw she'd written a very good profile, and that her name was Hazuki. Ooops. Apparently not a boy. Apparently not an amateur sumo wrestler. Fortunately, she's on the thin side of the scrawny norm for Japanese 14 year-olds, so she couldn't have realistically taken my profile as a comment on her weight, and I hadn't said anything else insulting--except perhaps for repeatedly calling her "he" and "him." Her behavior was so petulant that it was amusing, but even so, I sought her out to apologize today (in Japanese--not a good time for an English lesson). I hadn't thought she'd forgive me, but I wanted to be sure she knew I hadn't humiliated her intentionally, and I thought the gesture of apologizing, especially a public show of respect, would repair a bit of the damage her ego had taken. She'd have none of it. When some other girls in the room looked a bit surprised at the way she was freezing me out--and at the look of unmitigated hatred on her face--I said, "She doesn't like me." Finally, Hazuki spoke--in English, yet (I suppose I should be glad for at least that): a sharp, cold, spat, "Yes." Now that I've done my bit and apologized, I can go back to enjoying her performance without feeling guilty (I won't show that I'm enjoying it, of course--that would be cruel). I'm curious to see how long it will go on. Her friends all like me, so it might be tough to keep the fur standing for very long. Not that I'll ever win her over, but the other girls in her club (and one of her other teachers) already seem to think her behavior's a little funny, so she'll have to tone it down eventually. I'll have to make my own changes, too, and be more careful not to do this again. I'll certainly leave Hazuki alone.

Be well--don't make any enemies of your own.



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