Many writers attempt the Expat Abroad memoir or travelogue, but few do it with such humor and, well, humor. Stuck in the post-graduate world with a seemingly worthless English degree, Tim Anderson decided to ditch his native North Carolina and head out on an adventure. That journey, turns out, ended up with the author teaching English at a language school in Tokyo, an experience he's documented in Tune in Tokyo.
Read another great travel memoir with Jennifer Wilson's 'Running Away to Home.'
In the book, Anderson riffs on everything Japan. It sounds like it could easily fall into the cliché category, but he manages to keep things light and funny: “Anderson reliably mines the rich comic potential inherent in simple, innocent miscommunications and misunderstandings, but most impressive is the author’s ability to sustain his hyperactive comedic voice throughout most of the book without losing his edge. A laugh-out-loud look at the East/West culture clash.”
Here, a brief excerpt:
The giant Tower Records television screen just outside the south end of Shinjuku station plays a pop video featuring a gaggle of preteen girls dressed in shiny frilly outfits so bright and cutesy they make American child beauty pageant contestants look like Dickensian street urchins. They dance in formation—not particularly well—and stare at the camera, doe-eyed and hollow. I stand at the bottom of a massive escalator looking up at the dangerous display of chiffon and taffeta and excitedly contemplate the pastel-tinted nightmares I will have about all this later.
I’m wandering around the city for the first time, enjoying my first day off. I interviewed with a popular language school called MOBA before coming, and they assured me they could place me in Tokyo. An empty promise, it turns out, since I’ve ended up with an apartment in a town called Fujisawa an hour south of Tokyo and a job at a school in nearby Yokohama. A disappointment, yes, like a young small-town Russian with stars in his eyes must feel when he has his heart set on living in the Big Apple and instead is forced to rent a studio in New Brunswick, New Jersey. But I’ll make it to Tokyo, no problem. All I need is thousands and thousands of dollars so I can afford to put a deposit and key money down on a fashionable closet or cubbyhole in, say, trendy Shibuya or, perhaps, the East Village-like districts of Kichijyoji or Koenji. It’ll happen. I’ll just need to teach a few hundred more English lessons, sell my used diabetes syringes and Pia Zadora records on eBay, and limber up for those lapdances. I’ll be there in no time.
In the meanwhile, I’ll continue my job in Yokohama, where I’m honing my communication skills and preparing myself for a career in front of the camera in ways I never anticipated. I have taught so many lessons that I’ve begun dropping all articles, prepositions, and sometimes the verb “to be” from my speech just to be more easily understood. (“On weekend went to movie and ate nice restaurant. Food so delicious.”) I’ve also started pointing to my ears when I talk about listening to music, behind me when talking about the past, and in front of me and over a little hill when talking about the future. Even when talking to my two Australian roommates, Ewan and Sean.
MOBA is a popular language school with branches all across Japan. I’d had to fly to Boston for the interview, and though I usually choke during interviews, this one ended, amazingly, with an immediate job offer.
Admittedly, it’s satisfying to know that simply by virtue of being born in the right place I have a skill very much in demand in another part of the world. I never really considered my English degree very marketable, and neither has anyone else. College papers touting Jane Austen as England’s best Harlequin romance novelist or exploring the homoeroticism in Bleak House won’t get you very far in the real world, let’s face it. But when I decided to travel to a faraway land of people who want to know how to speak like me, I automatically had a highly marketable skill: I speak great English.
Excerpt used with permission from AmazonEncore. Tune in Tokyo is out this week.