24 June 2007

A stranger in a stranger land

Not being able to read Japanese, I am as good as illiterate. Never did this hit me so badly as this last week when the little one called for her health checkup.

First time I heard anything about it was when I was told by the translators' pool to show up at X place at Y time with Z things. Then I get a postcard from City Hall telling me to be in A place at Y time with Z things. Well, how am I to be in place A and X at the same time, pray? So its back to the translators' pool who said to get to X.

Clear as mud, what? Well, it's still just that. So I took the little one, and after a daunting search, found the right building. The search was daunting because I had the name of the building written down for me in Japanese script, and I was doing a case of character matching using my written instructions. Then once I decided that I was in the right place, I went in, found the right floor, room etc, and registered the little one who was probably equally bewildered. Then came the flood of important sounding of words.

Apparently this was where the 4-month-olds were having their health screening. Wasn't my kid 6-months old? Er, yes, but this is where I was told to come. More muttering between the staff there. But why didn't you get the 4th month screening done?? Hmm... let me see.. no one told me about it, could that possibly be the reason?? More agitated muttering... Alright, please come this way, and follow these instructions.

So far so good. My little one was pronounced all OK. That was wonderful. Then the health officer asks me, why haven't you given her these shots?

And there I was totally stumped. The last anyone explained to me, City Hall would tell me where and when to go for shots. So, no one told me anything about these shots. Apparently certain shots would be administered by City Hall and I had to arrange for the others. And the person-in-charge tells me, 'oh, here it is on this little book. See, here it clearly states all that.'

That was true. But I pulled out another instruction booklet given to me by City Hall. And I go, 'person-san, this one says (in English) that City Hall will inform me about the vaccinations.' And she looks at the other book (which is totally in Japanese) and goes, 'Ah, that one is outdated. See it clearly stated here (in Japanese) that you need to arrange for that yourself.'

Somehow I managed to drive back home without venting my frustration on any assorted automobiles, telephone or electric poles, got home and totally lost it. Poor A then called his office, asked them to sort out the mess, and ask that we be given updated information, and please be told what we need to do for the next 6 months.

Again, chaos. But City Hall sent you a card to be in place A, why were you at X?

Aaaaarghhhhhh... welcome to the bureaucratically induced insanity.

So the appointment is rescheduled, and I go to place A. And the doctor there helps me fill out a form all in Japanese, giving consent for my daughter to be vaccinated. I signed where I was told to, and sat back and relaxed.

Just before vaccination, forms were being scanned again. Then the person in charge goes, "Sumimasen, inkan arimasen ka?" (Excuse me, but don't you have a seal/chop?) "Arimasen, kochira wa sign shimashita." (No I don't, but I have signed here).

Then muttered discussions again. How I despise those!

Now this is a matter of security. Apparently signatures can be copied.

Well, that's true, but... hmm.. you know, seals can be stolen, replicated?

At the end of the day I had to have a seal to consent, and then some head honcho decided that my thumbprint would be a safer option than a signature. So I was helped to fill out another form. And as I put my thumb impression on that, I could remember scenes from banks back home, when the bank personnel would help illiterate clients write out forms etc, and they would put a thumb impression wherever a signature was needed.

I looked at the bunch of incomprehensible squiggles on the form that I had just signed, and thought: "My parents spend a healthy sum on my education, so I could put my thmub print on a form I don't understand that someone had to fill out for me?"

I finished the vaccination, strapped a totally annoyed baby into her carseat, and turned on some music. And then I suddenly heard "Ei dil, hai mushkil jeena yahan." That made my day. I relaxed, and sang along "zara hat ke, zara bach ke, yeh hai Japan meri jaan."


Preethy said...

Tokyo seems like an English speaking land virtually, compared to this! Hats off to you for surviving it all!

Twisted DNA said...

Darn! That's not an easy experience to go through! I can imagine how frustrating it is not to be able to communicate. I was in this situation when I got lost in a remote place in Italy. But at least I didn't have an infant in my hands... you handled it well. I would've gone completely nuts!