Yesterday, my wife and I took a drive around Guam’s southern half. We drove down the west coast and returned back north via the east coast. While stopping off at an overlook to take a few photos, there was a vehicle stopped in a “Y” intersection at the stop sign, impeding local traffic. I kept hearing horns honking before I noticed the car just sitting there at road junction. Cars were going around this car on both sides as they honked their horns. We were just across the road and I could make out that they were Japanese tourists, paying no attention to the cars stacking up behind them. They just sat there, giving their undivided attention to their rental car’s dashboard GPS monitor than the traffic at hand. Finally, they drove off and I continued taking some pictures. Japanese honeymooners and tourists have been coming here since the early ’70s and, next to the U.S. military complex, is what drives Guam’s economy.
Minutes later, those same Japanese Honeymooners pulled up next to our car where we were parked at the Talofofo Bay overlook. The man got out and I could tell he was somewhat disoriented and confused. He approached me with every Japanese courtesy I’ve ever witnessed… bowing, with hands pressed together and all that. By the time he reached me, I had already surmised that his vocabulary of English consisted of fewer words than all the fingers on my two hands (maybe one hand). Nor, did he seem to understand it much better. But I gathered, from all his vocalized dribble coupled with his many theatrical hand gestures, that they were looking for the popular tourist attraction “Talofofo Falls.” The word “Talofofo” was actually the only word I could understand him vocalize through his heavy linguistic drawl. “Falls” he had trouble pronouncing and used the motion of water falling to further describe what it was they were looking for.
Once I realised that they were lost, I was ready and willing to offer any assistance that could help them get to their destination. I tried to ask him if he understood “Miles” or “kilometers.” (After all, they were driving an American rental car.) I’m know that Japan uses the metric system for measuring distance, but all he offered me was a blank stare when I tried to describe “kilometers.” My attempts to give him directions were almost in vain.
After a minute or two, all I could do was to point in the direction of the falls and say “you go 2 kilometers… you see sign with arrow…. Talofofo Falls. You see sign, you go this way” as I motioned with my hands to take a right hand turn. I realized that while I was pointing with my finger, I was also subconsciously pointing with my lips… Filipino style! “I’ve lived too long in the Philippines” I quietly thought to myself.
When he finally realized that he was closer to his destination than ever, he proceeded to thank me… incessantly! You just gotta love some things about the Japanese culture – the honor, respect, and the abundance of thankfulness. And they bow a lot! If there was a bottle of Sake available, he would have tossed back a few with me, I’m sure.
Paying it Backward!
It all reminded me of the time I was on a Japanese train platform just outside Yokosuka in the Kanagawa Prefecture looking to catch a train to Tokyo. It was in 1978 and I was hopping around the Western Pacific via space available air transportation, courtesy of the U.S. military airlift community. Once I found myself in Japan, I quickly learned that there was very little English printed on signs anywhere in Japan, even in the train stations. One day while looking for the train that would take me to Tokyo,I was having trouble understanding the signage as everything was written in Kanji. There were color coded train routes, but I was still struggling to locate the train that would take me to Tokyo. I must have looked like a lost and scared puppy on that train platform, just standing there all bewildered and confused. Then I noticed this man hurriedly making his way down the platform in my direction, weaving through crowds of people also waiting or looking to catch their train. He was dressed in typical Japanese business attire – darkish vested suit and tie, overcoat, and briefcase. When he noticed me standing there, he abruptly stopped just in front of me, bowed slightly, and offered me his help. This nice gentleman was obviously in a hurry to catch his train (it was early morning after all and everyone was headed to work) but he took the time to offer up his assistance to a complete stranger, me – the foreigner. In the 5 minutes or so that we spent in our not-so-perfect language exchange exercise, I do think he missed his train. Because when he left me, he hurriedly went to the next platform where the train had just left from and just stood there waiting for the next train to come along (Japanese trains are the most punctual in the world and they do not wait for anyone!) Because he missed his train, he would likely be late for work. Me, I eventually found the color train I was looking for (thanks to that kind stranger) that got me headed in the direction of Tokyo. I can still picture that businessman standing on the train platform, staring at his watch. And to this day, I can only hope that he still had a job to go to the next day.
And just as I successfully navigated my way to the famous Ginza District in Tokyo that day in 1978 (with some help), the young Japanese couple here in Guam (likely on their honeymoon) found their way to young romance at Talofofo Falls. What Comes Around Goes Around, like they say… and in this case it only took 39 years, approximately!