Made of Pixels
In this chapter Miss Gabriela is describing the experience that Ana, her best friend had when visiting Japan for work. Japan has a totally different way of life than Romania and it was a big culture shock forher friend Ana, she managed it beautifully though. The book is named Made of Pixels because it has a lot of interesting stories that when read fully will create a bigger picture of the times that passed.The story tells about the last part of the communist Romania and how everyone was totally unaware of the situation and of what they should do. Trying to make a living they had to experiment with everything they could. From visiting illegally Hungary to living in Cyprus to trying videochat in the last part of the book. This book will be a big rollercoaster of emotions.
My last offer
Ana, her sister Tatiana, and their mutual friend showed up at the agency which offered contracts in Japan. After the photoshoot, they had a talk with an agent:
‘You will be working at a bar in Japan, we will see on which island. You will need to have a short choreographic program that you will repeat every night. You will also receive appropriate costumes for that choreographic program and I expect you to learn your dances prior to your departure. Basically, you will be serving the guests of that bar, calm down, you won’t need to do anything abnormal or shameful.’
And so, they got to Japan.
It was quite a large bar, run by a lady, Mamma-san, as they called her. She was a middle-aged Japanese woman, who ran her bar with an iron hand. Her husband was almost non-existent by comparison. She made him do all the small jobs. There was also her daughter, Kanami-san, a shy girl, absolutely crushed by her mother’s personality, but wise and with a constant desire to please everyone around her.
There were other girls of different nationalities hired at the bar – three Russian and three Thai.
The Russians were nice girls, although unstoppable when vodka kicked in. The Thai girls were quiet and very mercantile. They demanded a part of the tip from every girl they helped with the translation. They learned Japanese faster, and the Japanese did not speak English. They used to say, if you come to Japan for work, you have to know the language; they don’t have to know English to collude with you.
We had a rich correspondence in all the six months of Ana’s contract in Japan; we used to write two or three letters a day and this was initiated by her, because she always found something that shocked her. The first shock came when they arrived at the bar and Mama-san informed them that they would have to dance according to their choreographic program, only that they had to do it topless. Scandalized, Ana tried invoking that wasn’t in the contract.
The discussion was left kind of vague and they were all led to their room, where they had the great pleasure of discovering three tatami on the floor, instead of the traditional beds. I forgot to tell you that the layer of snow was two meters high when they arrived and the room they had to sleep in was indescribably cold. Outraged, Ana asked to speak to Mama-san and kindly asks her to provide them with a method of heating.
‘Maybe you will get an electric radiator, if and only if, you will dance topless. Until then, I advise you to prepare for your first night of work. There is a dressing room downstairs where you can put on your make-up. Please do not forget to wear bra and tights, because here it is considered disrespectful if a woman does not wear a bra and long stockings.’
The three of them went down to the so-called dressing room. It was a small, 3/3 room, with the walls fully covered in mirrors. There were small wooden benches for the girls to sit on around the walls. Ana let the Thai and Russian girls put on their clothes and make-up and asked her sister and their other friend to go out for a bit.
She grabbed a wooden bench and started breaking the mirrors, one by one. At one point, she was holding a bench in each hand, spinning around that small room, breaking mirror after mirror. Mama-san rushed in, alerted by the sound of broken glass.
‘What the fuck are you doing, are you crazy?! Stop it right now!’
‘Yes, of course I will stop, as soon as we get an electric radiator in our room!’
‘Okay! Okay! Okay! Ana-san, I get it, tonight you will have an electric radiator waiting for you in your room.’
‘See? That’s more like it. And no topless, Mamma-san!’
‘No topless, no topless!’
Letting this incident slide, Mamma-san gave them a brief instruction.
‘You will need to overcome certain barriers that you might have, as the habits here are exactly opposite to those of your cultures. Here, you have to sit men at tables holding their chairs, light their cigars, fill their glasses and, most importantly, keep them company and encourage them to drink. I suggest you choose the most expensive drinks, because you will be paid a percentage and the tip will also be reflected in that. The drunker they are, the higher the tip. I generally advise against switching tables. I mean, if you sat at a table, do not switch tables with your colleagues.’
On the first night, Ana and Tatiana sat down at the same table with two regular customers. Luckily, they were young and they spoke English.
‘What’s your name?’
Instantly, they both burst out laughing. The girls didn’t know what to think.
‘Why are you laughing?’ Ana asked.
‘Because Ana means ‘hole’ in Japanese.’
‘How about you? What’s your name?’
Shy and a little cautious, Tatiana answered:
That was the moment they both stood up, laughing hysterically.
The girls started laughing too, and one of the guys managed to articulate:
‘Tatiana means ‘in the hole’ in Japanese.’
The girls were really laughing now too. When they calmed down for a bit, Ana declared emphatically, thinking that she had found a way to solve the problem:
‘Alright then, from now on, my name will be Diana.’
Both Japanese started laughing hysterically again, barely holding on to their chairs.
‘What’s wrong now?’ Ana asked.
One of them answered, barely holding back his tears of laughter:
‘Diana means ‘large hole’ in Japanese.’
Needless to say, their names weren’t any better either. The girls renamed each one of them, either by the car they were driving or by their appearance. So, one of them became Lamborghini, the other one Terminator. Only Mitsukaiu Fukaiu remained the same, probably because his two names rhymed and that was already lame enough.
It was shocking for them to see well-off Japanese people, way past their early youth, who totally unleashed themselves after a few hours spent at the bar. She wrote in one of her first letters: My dear, I have seen old people striptease nonchalantly, acting childishly or like they suffered from severe mental disabilities. These people do striptease and karaoke with the same ease we walk through Cișmigiu park back home.
All the girls had their own artistic program, but when our Romanians saw what the Russians were doing, they refused to present theirs.
After polishing off a bottle of vodka, the Russians did the splits vertically on the dance pole. On heels and, obviously, topless.
‘Mamma-san, we’d rather help you clean the bar after closing than dance. We’ll embarrass ourselves; we’re coming up after the Russians, really?!’
‘Okay, okay, fine. But you still have to do karaoke.’
Karaoke was one of Mama-san’s favorite things. After she got drunk (basically every night), she delighted the audience with her karaoke number. She chose American music every time; she liked it a lot.
The first time Ana heard her and paid attention to the lyrics, she turned to Kanami-san and asked:
‘She’s singing in Japanese, isn’t she?’
On the stage, Mamma-san was screaming her lungs out:
‘No, she’s singing in English.’
‘What? Is that English? What is she saying?’
‘Love is over.’
At the second song, however, Ana turned again to Kanami-san and said:
‘Well, now this must be in Japanese’
On the stage, Mamma-san was singing, drunk as a boiled owl:
Kanami-san told her:
‘No, it’s also English.’
‘What the fuck?! What is she saying?’
‘Hotel on the riverside.’
Life in Japan was pretty dull. They worked every night and slept during the day. When they had a day off, Mamma-san’s husband drove them to the supermarket, which was 50 meters away from the house. He waited for them to do their shopping and drove them back. They did not have the liberty to go anywhere, because the Japanese police were really serious about the work visas. Keep in mind they arrived in a world where supermarkets were a normal thing, having left a world where there were still corner shops and kiosks pompously called boutiques, where all the products were at sixes and sevens.
Mamma-san’s husband showed them where the personal care products and other cleaning products were in the supermarket. But they didn’t know the language and not once they washed their heads with dishwashing detergent, after mistaking the isles. They bowed every time they entered the supermarket, until they finally figured out, they were in fact greeted by a robot.
Naturally, some of the clients had the possibility of enjoying the company of a girl on her day off, but only after bribing Mamma-san first, to the best of their possibilities. Needless to say, the fees varied depending on the client’s wallet.
The clients who took the girls out did it simply out of the kindness of their hearts. They knew from the girls that they weren’t allowed to go sightseeing and ate the same sandwiches made by Kanami-san or what they managed to cook in their free time in the tiny kitchen of the bar.
Of course, there were also customers who came to Mamma-san, trying to take a girl out to more than just dinner. Mamma-san took full advantage of this and, after ripping them off, tried to convince the respective girl with a small amount of what she had taken, that it would be good for her to go out. Some girls accepted, some didn’t, but Mamma-san never forced anyone.
After three or four months, almost every girl in the bar had someone to take her out to a decent lunch or to visit the shops, which were technological wonders for them.
One evening, at the beginning of the shift, a (surprisingly) tall and extremely thin Japanese came in. From Mamma-san’s bows and from the fact that she greeted him personally, the girls understood that he was a rich client and it wasn’t his first time at the bar. Mamma-san turned to Ana and told her she had a client at table 5. Ana went to the table; she noticed from the start that he was different from all the other clients. He had probably spent some time in Europe as well, because he instinctively stood up when he saw her coming and offered her the chair. He obviously spoke English and Ana found their entire conversation surprisingly pleasant. He was a discreet, cultured man, quite careful not to give away too much personal information, and as ugly as he was (because he was ugly, and so thin you could see his veins through his unhealthy, transparent yellow skin), as he was generous, because he left a $400 tip at the end of the evening. They approached varied topics. She talked about Romania and Romanian literature and he tried to familiarize her with the Japanese literature. Anyway, leaving aside that he was an ugly man, he made a very good impression and Ana never regretted sitting at his table.
This is the client who took her to a Japanese restaurant where she said that she ate the best fish of her life, although she was not at all fond of fish. They were some orange, very expensive fish, about 15-20 cm long. That was also the time when he tried to make her eat some kind of soup, which he claimed tasted very good and it was very healthy. It was a hot, brown broth, with a pestilential odor. She couldn’t get past the smell, although he said:
‘Don’t think about the smell, just try to eat it.’
‘How could I not think about the smell?!’ she told me when she got back home. ‘Girl, that soup smelled of elastic socks worn by a construction worker for at least a day’s work. No way I could have tasted that!’
He also took her shopping and gave her an underwater camera, and another timer camera, that took photos after you programmed it. We couldn’t even think something like that even existed back then!
He had made a habit of taking Ana out for lunch whenever he was in town and free, because he was an extremely busy man. He never behaved inappropriately, nor made any indecent proposals. Until one evening. It was New Year’s Eve, all the girls were free and were, obviously, out. Ana was in the kitchen by herself, frying two eggs. With a thick hat, pulled over her eyes, some old, thick sweatpants and knitted bootees, she was freezing by the stove, waiting for the eggs to fry. Mamma-san rushed through the kitchen door and, surprisingly…she wasn’t drunk yet! Out of emotion and surprise, she couldn’t even speak in the little English she knew:
‘Ana-san, Ana-san, you have to come with me!’
‘At the bar, that client is here! Your client!’
‘Wait, I have to go change! Look at me, I can’t come dressed like this!’
‘It doesn’t matter, don’t keep him waiting!’
‘For God’s sake, woman, let me go change my clothes! Look at my hats and shoes!’
‘No, come with me, now! Don’t leave him waiting!’
She followed the mad woman and saw the client’s car, a Bentley, parked in front of the bar.
Ana turned to Mamma-san, who beckoned her to get in the car. When he saw her coming, he got out of the car, opened the door and invited her to sit next to him.
‘First of all, I came here tonight to wish you a Happy New Year, because I know that for you, Europeans, it has an important meaning, but I also have a proposal. I would like you to see it as a business opportunity.’
Ana could barely concentrate, embarrassed by her appearance.
‘What? What proposal? Business? With me?’
‘Yes. In case you’re worried, you should know I’ve already talked to Mamma-san and she agreed. Now it’s up to you, whether you accept it or not.’
Ana could pretty much figure out where that was going. She looked at him and said:
‘I get what it is, my answer is no.’
He started laughing and said:
‘You didn’t even let me finish.’
She wanted to say she wasn’t interested at first, but out of common sense and out of the respect she had from him, she said:
‘Oh. Okay, sorry. What’s the offer?’
‘You spend this night with me at the hotel and you name the price. But I have to be honest with you, this night also includes that thing you’re thinking about. The basic intimacy. Sex, that is. But you must also know that I have a fetish.’
‘A fetish. Something that excites me in a special and personal way.’
Ana looked at him, trying to understand what could possibly bring this terribly thin and smart man to the brink of ecstasy.
‘I have a rather…unusual fetish. I’d like to nibble on your nose. With my teeth.’
There were a lot of thoughts chasing each other inside Ana’s head. She thought her nose wasn’t exactly pretty. In fact, she thought it was her ugliest feature. She laughed when she thought about it. What did it matter that her nose was ugly, if the man standing next to her was willing to pay just to get his teeth on it?
Then, some more questions came to mind.
How long? How strong? All night? Will it leave marks? Will he stop if she tells him to?
She looked at him and said:
‘I’m sorry, but my answer is still no.’
‘You haven’t heard the entire deal. Tell me how much, I won’t even negotiate.’
‘My answer is no!’
‘Five thousand dollars.’
‘Eight thousand dollars. Think about it, Ana, it’s only one night, and you told me your salary is one thousand dollars per month. Your contract is for only six months. You can go home with an extra eight thousand, just by spending this night with me.’
‘My answer is no.’
‘Ten thousand dollars!’
Ana turned to him and looked him deeply in the eyes, as if she was trying to find something pleasant about his appearance, about his entire being, so that she could cling to it.
Her glance fell on his hands, which seemed unnaturally long, thin, with somewhat emaciated fingers, just like a fragile spider. She looked at his wooden eyes, and when she got to that bruised, thin slit that was supposed to be his mouth and thought that he would nibble on his nose with it, she came back to reality and said:
‘I’m sorry, my answer is no.’
‘Okay, my last offer: ten thousand dollars and my car…’
He made a short break, and then continued:
He could have raised the steak as high as he wanted, Ana had made up her mind. She got out of the car and, leaning in through the open window, told him:
‘I hope this doesn’t affect our friendship, but my answer is no.’
He laid back in his seat, a bit offended, and answered:
‘Alright. Happy New Year, Ana-san.’
Made of Pixels will be available on Amazon May 1, 2021 as an ebook. A paperback will be available shortly.