Wednesday, December 26, 2007


We had a small toy drive for Christmas, and I was surprised to be asked to go along to the orphanage to help with the distribution. After making a presentation of the toys (in which I was alternately addressed as the GSO's "friend" and "wife," I don't think they ever grasped that I was working at the consulate), we stayed to play.

Japanese children are rather brutally honest. Or at least, brutally inquisitive. I patiently explained to one six year old boy with a very well developed mustache that, yes, one could travel from the United States to Japan without stopping anywhere, but not by train. "Say this is the Earth..." I picked up a soccer ball and pointed to a black pentagon. "This is Japan." And to a pentagon on the opposite side. "This is the United States. So you can fly from here to here, direct flight. But you have to fly, because trains don't go across the ocean." "Yeah, but don't you have to change somewhere?" This was clearly of high concern to him; he furrowed his brow in an impressive display of youthful pensiveness. "No, you don't have to change, but it takes a long time. I've done it lots." "Show me again." I picked up the ball again and got closer to him. "See, this is Japan..."

"Older Sister, why do you have blue eyes?" I actually hadn't been expecting this question; the orphanage is run by foreign nuns, and they have regular visits by US soldiers. This couldn't have been the first time he'd seen blue eyes. I started to say that my father also had blue eyes, but then thought that maybe parents weren't a good topic to bring up at an orphanage. So I settled with, "I was born like this." He didn't seem very satisfied. "Why do you have brown eyes?" I asked. He leveled the same at me and shrugged. "Because I'm a normal person."

This sounded so reasonable, yet somehow so damning. It certainly didn't leave much room for argument. I was struggling to formulate a diplomatic response ("I might not be 'normal', but I am a person."..?), when he broke into a huge grin. "Wanna play 'ogre-up-high'? You're it!" Every child within earshot shrieked and raced for the 'up-high' safe zone of the playground slide while he danced away, just out of arm's reach. As the ogre, I chased him about until it was time to go.

I couldn't stop thinking about this interaction for the longest time. I still haven't come up with a good reply.


Ellen said...

save going into a punnett square demonstration, this one's got me stumped too!

Heather said...

Don't worry, Katie. We blue-eyed freaks bring a little variety into the world.

jonmatthew said...

Weird. Sounds like a riddle or something. I'm glad you got to go.

What does your post title say?

Lee said...

Everyman, right?

Katie said...

'futsuu no ningen' translates as 'normal/standard person'. It's what he called himself.

I was thinking about it, and now I wish I'd told him he was a normal japanese person. You do actually see some with blue eyes and sandy blonde or kinky hair, but I suppose they wouldn't be considered standard.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I'm a student at Amherst who's really interested in the foreign service. I was trying to find something that would give me an idea of what it's actually is like and your blog ROCKS! It's well-written and fascinating! Though your post about dating scared me.