JapanFest is an annual event in Stone Mountain Park, just about a mile and a half from my front door (the festival, that is. The park entrance is only about 4 blocks away). Of course I never had an interest in it because who cares about Japan, right? But early in the spring I looked it up, figuring I would only get some good takoyaki (octopus fritters if you will) at a good japanese festival. Turns out they were looking for volunteers and I signed up.
Today I reported to the festival set up at 1 pm. It started out a bit weird as the volunteer coordinator could not be bothered to be on time. But soon we had our information and "assignments" and we all talked and bonded a bit as we worked hanging paper lanterns and banners and moving heavy tables and stacks of chairs. We volunteers were a funny mix - me, two college age girls who were studying Japanese in college, one guy, married to a Japanese woman, who was totally into sumo (we had a grand discussion about it and my honey sweetie sumo-babe Koto Oshu), one lady in her late 60s who had just returned from an elder hostel trip to Japan (her first), and a big, hugely obese New Yorker-type woman who did nothing but complain and talk about how she was a "planner", not a "doer." Oh yeah, and this 20-something african american guy who didn't know a step ladder from a hole in the ground! He kept trying to step up on the side opposite of where the steps were and didn't know how to brace the ladder!
The staff, mostly the Japan Chamber of Commerce people, were wonderful. They all had walkie talkies and were spewing out Japanese all day mixed with english. Language abilities varied on both sides but as always seems to happen we communicated on a level beyond language. It was a bit hot, the work was physically demanding, and we all managed to laugh all afternoon except for obese yankee complaining woman who was just a total pain in the butt. One Japanese man asked me to pick up a box and carry it to a table nearby. He told me he was old and had a bad back so the rest of the day I called him ojisan (grandfather) and he laughed and laughed.
The volunteer coordinator (American man, maybe mid sixties) really got under my skin. He sat on a table all day drinking water and watched us work. There were maybe 9 of us but he didn't bother to learn our names. In fact, in all prior correspondence with him (we all exchanged notes) he never bothered to say thank you for volunteering and all in all it seemed a poorly put together plan of how to use willing free help. About 3 pm I was working with an American guy, staff with the COC, and he thanked me for being there as a volunteer. I told him it was my pleasure and I signed up and looked forward to it for several months. He told me maybe I should be the volunteer coordinator next year. I told him I would be honored to do so. That would be pretty cool. In defense of the current volunteer coordinator I overheard him telling someone how he and his wife started doing it in 1992 when the festival was still very young and very small and he thought they asked him back this year because of that. After 14 years I would imagine one could get pretty sick of it.
On the bright side (????) I have a feeling I will spend money this weekend. Today I saw much of the set up and there will be Japanese koi at varying sizes priced from $1.00 to $2.00 to $3.00 to $5.00 to $30.00. I want at least a couple of small koi for my pond. Also bonsai. I have not yet killed mine purchased 2 months ago. I hope there are some affordable ones. And I saw the most beautiful kimono and silk scarves being set out! And of course octopus fritters!
Maybe I will take my camera and catch some photos this weekend. Certainly I will post more about it. We (the volunteers) will get a t-shirt tomorrow to wear officially but I'm thinking I will show up tomorrow in my kanji "Gaijin" ("foreigner") t-shirt before I change. Maybe I can get ojisan to laugh some more!
I do love the Japanese. I was reminded today that efficiency is not a part of the culture but laughter is. It warmed my heart. It's kind of a different perspective to have these experiences on my turf this time.
Friday, September 22, 2006