The White Man and the Pachinko Girl
by Vann Chow
Copyright © 2015 by Vann Chow
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“Hell and heaven are the hearts of men.”
“You know what, Sumisu-san, you're the first Sumisu I've ever met.” Mr. Uchida slid his food tray next to Smith's. “Welcome to our company. Welcome to Japan!” He gave Smith a hearty slap on the back as encouragement.
“Thank you.” Smith replied with a smile. He held up his knife to cut into the Tonkatsu on his plate, but he decided that this was as good an opportunity as any to raise a question that he had in the back of his mind since that morning, the first day of his external business assignment in Japan, so he lowered his knife again. “I can't help noticing that you're all calling me Sumisu.” Smith replied. “I''m a regular Smith. Sh-mith. It came from the German word, Schmidt, so technically, it would be fine to end it with the 't' sound. But to add a 'Sue' to it, is really a misnomer.”
“I know your name. Sumisu is one of the most popular Western names in Japan. If there's a Gaijin in an movie, or a play, or a dialogue in a language textbooks, he would be a Sumisu. ” Mr. Uchida explained as he sat himself down on the plastic chair. His eyes fixated on the whipped cream on Smith's apple strudel. “You're of German descent? Many Japanese are fascinated about German cultures. Your colleagues would be thrilled to know that.” He mused.
“Well, uh, ya. I didn't know any of that.” Smith contemplated the historical implications of the Japanese admiration for the Germans. He sliced into the Tonkatsu. Steam raised from the deep-fried pork cutlet sliced open in front of him and fogged his glasses. In the time that had elaspsed before his glasses regained its clarity, Smith had decided that the Tonkatsu looked uncannily like a Viennese Schnitzel.
“It might sound a little bit strange, Sumisu-san, but I have to tell you this: meeting a real Sumisu for the first time in my life excites me.” Mr. Uchida had bunched the paper napkin in his hand as he spoke. “It's almost like meeting your pen pal from childhood for the first time.”
“Really?” Smith squinted his eyes as he listened to his colleague's unfounded admiration for him. He decided that it was best to focus his mind on the challenging task of leaving as little crumbles on the plate as possible.
“I have always imagine how Sumisu look like. I think most Japanese do, because we hear so much about him, everywhere.” Mr. Uchida explained his overt interest in the simple subject of Smith's last name. “Sumisu could really be anyone's imagination. I'm glad mine doesn't deviate too far from the real thing.” Mr. Uchida said. He had now turned his head towards Smith and was appraising him as if he was a priceless antique.
Albeit his will to fight it, the exchange had made Smith uncomfortable. The fact that Smith was such a commonly known Western last name in Japan that any foreigner was essentially a Smith to them did not seat well with him.
“God, what strange ways you lead us to question our existence.” Smith thought.