It is not often that the guru and I go out of an evening, trying to save money and all that, and it is even rarer that we get invited out. But on Saturday night last weekend we did get an invitation to... a function.
Well, I say we but in actual fact it was I, and the good guru wasn't interested upon finding out what it was. Nor was I, really, to tell the truth, but I thought I had better go along as it might have been one of those occasions where I could 'meet' some people and possibly 'network', which apparently is a jolly important thing one must do. Especially important, if books are to believed, if one is an expat and therefore opportunities are limited by the small number of other expats in Tokyo. But 'meeting' some people and 'networking' is not that easy as it involves a lot of what is commonly known as 'small talk' but which is more correctly named 'talking bollocks to people you don't (want to) know for two hours'.
So this is how I found myself walking to the Agnes Hotel (cracking name, if you ask me) in the heart of Iidabashi on Saturday evening. I was off, I'm sure you're dying to know, to the Warwick University Graduates Alumni Function (I really can't think of another word to describe it) Tokyo 2004. Considering I only know one other warwick graduate in Tokyo (Brian, and he wasn't even invited! Well, he does return-to-sender anything that comes through his door from them) who wasn't going, you can maybe see why i wasn't filled with unbounded joy about going along. But there were two reasons for attending. One, curiosity, just who would be there? and two, it was only 1,500yen with a bar and free food. Well, 1,500 for as many glasses of red wine as I can get away with and some nosh besides, well, it has to be worth a couple of hours of anyone's time.
So, arriving at the lobby it was quite clear who would be attending, lots of Japanese people. Not surprising, I suppose, what with this being Japan, but I though perhaps one or two foreigners might be there, but on arriving, no. And not only were all of the attendees at this point Japanese, 90% of them were female - things suddenly looking up. Then I got 'small talking' to a lady by the name of Rena and realised that these females were a) really rather clever, they seemed to have gone to warwick for MAs and PhDs, but they were also b) loaded, as a further degree, especially at money grabbing warwick, does not come cheap for a native student, let alone an overseas one.
Uh oh, thought I, I can see where this evening is going to go, better start on the booze, which seemed very passable. So at this stage there was plenty of milling and not much else. The head mc chap, Jon Somethingorother, was nowhere to be found and on one seemed to be stepping into his shoes. So Rena and I continued to make 'small talk' - she is from Kanagawa prefecture, did her MA in Literature focussing on a bunch of Irish poets I've never heard of, graduating in '98. She did not live in Leamington or consider her top priorities whilst at warwick to drink too much, find a dealer, devise a new pub crawl route/drinking game/forfeit or get up to other student high jinks, so you can see our topics of conversation were pretty limited. Still, we managed to smile and chat and I managed not to anything wildly inappropriate, of which I am justifiably proud.
Just then, as if to save me from foot-in-mouth disease, a Japanese chap did the decent thing and stepped at last into Jon Somethingorother's shoes and do a welcome speech about half an hour after the function started. Then we had the curiously Japanese customs of the toast. Now I am all for toasts at weddings and birthdays and the like, but functions, hmmm. Also, if you are going to go to the bother of having a toast, well, then it is champagne, surely, or at least a drop of decent sparkling wine to get everyone in the mood? But in Japan, it seems, toasts are often made with lager...
So, put down your glass of quite pleasant plonk, fill a smallish glass with Kirin's best and shout "kampai" at everyone. Chink, chink etc [that is meant to be the sound of glasses touching lightly, not a derogatory remark about Chinese people]. All very odd, if you ask me, as beer at the same time as wine? No, I don't think so either (unless it's much later in the evening).
Then came the food, which was in the style of a buffet. Here we came up against the perennial problem of carrying the plate, holding the glass, eating the food and talking all at the same time. Luckily the hotel had cut the food into bite sized pieces that were only just too big to eat comfortably in one mouthfull, but only provided forks so you couldn't actually cut anything smaller. So, 'small talk', pop a piece of (very pleasant) roast pork in the mouth and chew, realise you have to answer a question so try to swallow, end up with tears in your eyes as a semi-masticted lump of meat forces it way down your throat, cough, splutter, look up and realise your conversation has walked off with a worried look in his eye.
Suave? That's me.
After that I 'small talked' with a chap who graduated 27 yrs ago after blagging his way into the university and basically cheating whilst he was there. Nice work. He was quite an interesting bloke, but had a tendency to spit Roy Hattersley style when he got excited. And then when he realised I wasn't a scientist, lost interest in chatting to me - or maybe that was another piece of pork...
Then I at last noticed a couple of foreigners at the function. So, wanting a decent conversation (thought the Japanese people I spoke to spoke excellent English, far better than my Japanese, but then again, thay had been to uni in the UK so it should be good). Anyway we were soon back into the 'people with deep pockets' syndrome as this couple, and a married couple they were, were on the real expat deal, shipped out by their companies. So he was a managing director of something to do with the Japanese/asian arm of one of the big accountancy firms, whilst she had recently departed from her position in an international law office. Clever people, obviously, who have done jolly well for themselves. The real expat deal means astronomical salaries, a large pad in Azabu Juban (where we went to the matsuri in August), nannies to look after their two kids, etc and associated wad. Me jealous? not really, though chip on shoulder did develop just a teensy bit. But they were nice people who really like being in Japan and who, like me, weren't really sure about going along to the function but did out of a sense of curiosity (I don't think they needed to worry about the whole open bar/1,500 yen thing - oh how the other half live). And interestingly he graduated at the same time as me, but I never knew him for two very good reasons. One, he lived in Coventry in years 2 and 3, very odd, and two, he did maths. Oh well. So we chatted and 'small talked' and it wasn't too bad as at least we could try and remember pub crawl routes, bands we saw in the union (radiohead and the manics before they were famous), all whilst desperately trying to think of people that might be a common link. It was not to be.
And with that, I buggered off home. There was one other Brit there, but he was a bit weird, so the less said about him the better, don't know why, just slighty creepy and sinister in an Alistair Sims kind of way.
Am I glad I went? I suppose so, it was interesting in its own way. Will I go again if the Warwick Graduates TokyoAlumni Steering Committee organise anything ? Well now, that depends on the toasts.