Chapter Four: Boot Camp

Communicat, the company I’m employed by, had booked hotel rooms for all the trainees. The training itself began with a meeting at 8.30am in the hotel lobby on Monday morning, so I made my way over to the hotel on Sunday night. I was nervous and struggled to fall asleep. I looked up at the clock embedded in the desk, saw that it was exactly midnight, picked up my notebook and began to write:

“The bastard thing about insomnia is that one begins upon the pretentious descent into philosophy, as the silence offers only a resounding echo on the nature of existence.

I asked myself what I’m afraid of. This was some time ago and I remain unsure. I began to speculate that my fear originates in the horrifying uncertainty that I will be unhappy. The courage to emigrate was made possible only because I was happy. And I was only happy because I felt loved by some of the most incredible people living on the planet. But I left them. Why would I leave?

Because I was unhappy. Every sphere of my life had faltered; my career didn’t start, my two year relationship went into protracted death-throws before quietly perishing, the family I was accustomed to disintegrated, my job was repetitive and I was on the verge of punching an entitled university student in the mouth. I was stagnating. I needed to start something new, needed to keep moving. I made a plan and I set it in motion. It was a long process, nearly a full year just getting to this stage, but it was me that made it work. I am either at the helm leading the armada, or I am below deck cutting up the map to make something decorative. Forge a path or bury your head, I guess is what that metaphor was trying to say.

Nothing will stop me from missing my friends. My heart will always feel that numb yet tepid flush of sadness in their absence, but to fail to accomplish what I have started would be to fail them, I think. Would I be as interesting if I hadn’t done this? Would I be worth knowing if I never stepped out of my zone of comfort? Of course not. I will do this and become a better friend for them. Someone definitely worth knowing.”

And with that I felt better and went to sleep.20150622_081143

Getting ready the next morning, I was still apprehensive, and felt like a fish out of water dressed in business attire. The photo sums up my general attitude before I vacated my hotel room.

The training was a little tiring, particularly as jet lag continued to make the earth sway beneath me like a raft on the open sea, but generally it was quite a pleasant experience. The trainers were competent and approachable, and they made the content seem perfectly manageable. Moreover the people on the course with me were absolutely fantastic.

Kerry and Keisha hailed from the Caribbean. Keisha seemed a touch cynical but was still lovely, and Kerry was always smiling and had the most infectious laugh. One day she gave a demonstration lesson after a trainer called Bill had given an example. She stood in front of another trainee and said, completely straight-faced, “My name is Bill. What’s your name?” It took her a good few seconds to realise what she’d done, and then literally fell to the floor in hysterics.

Jamey and Patrick were from the Philippines and were the sweetest of people. Their English was so fluent, I began to assume that it must be a first language among Filipinos. I later found out that English was Patrick’s third language, and was notably astounded.

The remaining trainees were American, although Matt had lived in Wales for a few years so understood my cultural references. Judy had worked for Communicat before, and was extremely pretty. One (when she said it I thought her name was ‘Wan’) had amazing, neat dreadlocks, a winning smile, and wore suits that looked like they were from the 80s but which she pulled off with great panache. Jordan looked barely in his twenties, and was easy to get on with. Jesse had a countenance that reminded me of a great white shark but he actually seemed very gentle. In accordance with his culture, he called me ‘ma’am’ in casual conversation without a hint of irony, which is quite strange for an English person to hear.

Unfortunately this pack of awesome people was somewhat tarnished by the presence of a trainee who I found completely insufferable. An American called Samuel got on my bad side about fifteen minutes into day one. He was sat next to me and started swaying about, touching his face and making quiet moaning noises. He looked like he was going vomit but wasn’t getting any worse or asking to leave. Before I sound completely cold, the manner in which he was doing this was needlessly melodramatic. I asked if he was alright, and he told me he had a headache. He accepted my offer of ibuprofen, although this was in no way an altruistic act. I just wanted him to shut up and sit still.

Samuel, despite being an adult now living in a foreign country, was unable to dress himself. Communicat had stressed the importance of formal attire, and this guy turned up wearing a shirt that was too big for him without a tie. One of the trainers very nicely told him he needed a tie, but it transpired he didn’t even own one. One morning I saw him borrow one from Patrick, who then also had to put it on him because Samuel couldn’t do it himself.

It seemed Samuel was moderately proficient in Japanese, and I know this because he took every opportunity to teach other people in a mildly condescending way, and became irritable if anyone corrected him. One morning I needed to get my last traveller’s cheque cashed and there was, conveniently, a post office on the ground floor of the building we were in. Just before I popped down at lunch time, I approached a couple of the trainers to ask how best to address the post office staff. Without going into the intricacies of Japanese grammar, the rule of thumb tends to be that the more you hedge, the politer you are. Just as in English, “Can you do this?” is not as polite as “Could you possibly please, if it is not too much trouble, kindly do the following?” My query was whether to put my request in positive or negative form. One said either was fine, the other said go with the negative. I did the latter. When we had finished training that day, Samuel came up to me and said, patronisingly: “In answer to your earlier question, the negative form is more polite.” I stifled the urge to bluntly remind him that my ‘earlier question’ had been answered six and a half hours ago.

On top of this, when we were playing games as part of a demonstration lesson, he genuinely quibbled with me when I beat him at one round of snap. I had told myself that I should remain professional, and not complain to anyone about him lest it should make them uncomfortable, but by day three I cracked and told Matt and Judy what an utter twat I thought he was. They weren’t as venomous as me, but they didn’t disagree.

As part of our training we watched the trainers give demonstration classes before trying them out ourselves, with all of us posing as the Japanese students. We did our bit to be ‘in character,’ with some of us calling out Japanese answers as well as English, and at times acting a bit slow on the uptake to simulate a possible classroom environment. During one trainer’s demonstration, Samuel feigned being a completely useless student, approaching the board painfully slowly and telling the trainer in Japanese that he did not understand the letter ‘A’. I can appreciate a bit of an act to see how the trainer responds to struggling students, but this only served to unnecessarily hold up the entire activity.

I was ruminating on what a fucking idiot he was being when Matt kicked my foot.

“Stop it,” Matt said.

“What?” I asked.

“I can read your mind,” he told me. Apparently I need to work on my poker face.