Dispatch № 65: I Am a Visitor Here

A view of the sprawling city from the 45th floor of a building in Tokyo

It looks like I’m having lunch with a friend, there on the 45th floor, at a table by the window with a sweeping view of the Tokyo sprawl that stretches out until the haze marries the ground to the sky. And though I am enjoying myself, I am not here for fun. I am working. This is an English lesson.

In my bag, the clothes I wore when I came into the city. In the muggy August heat, the only way to arrive at the restaurant not totally drenched in sweat is to bring extra clothes and change after I am safely in the dry chill of the hotel’s air conditioning.

The most challenging part of this work is keeping under wraps how out of place I sometimes feel in these settings. It’s fun, sure, and the food is good, but if I weren’t with a client, I doubt I would ever find myself in such places.

Places like a teppanyaki steak restaurant frequented by famous actors. An elite private dining club with a hidden entrance. Hostess bars with achingly beautiful women who smile and are nice to me because it’s their job. And in each case, I’m there working, too, though the only real clue that’s visible to others is the small notepad always at hand, filled with new vocabulary, expressions, and grammar notes.

These situations make me feel slightly on edge. And it’s not quite that I feel like an imposter. No, I can make pleasant enough conversation with the people I meet, and I can appreciate the food and wine as much as anyone else. Even the hostess bars can be fun, once it’s established that I’d rather hear about their Pomeranians or how grad school is going than have them feign amusement at my forced, nervous jokes.

It’s something else. The sense of being an interloper, briefly transiting through a sphere that is not my own. Not a fish out of water, but a fish temporarily in the wrong body of water. I’m a trout in a tide pool.

And while it’s fun to be immersed in these other worlds, these places are not for me. It is mentally exhausting, and it is always a relief to return home to my ridiculous cat, to my humble apartment, and to the beautiful woman there who smiles and is nice to me because she loves me.