In the newspaper biz when your editors say jump, you jump.
So when one of them asked me if I spoke Japanese, I asked, "How high?" and proceeded to rattle off words like, Toyota and sushi, or others of that type.At the time, of course, I envisioned that I was being sent to open our Tokyo Bureau - not that I was supposed to do a story about 25 Japanese students visiting Sandy's Crescent Elementary School Friday.
The kids were from the International Pre-School Institute in Sapporo, and this was their first visit to an American elementary school. Crescent was chosen because the Jordan School District started its school year July 26.
While they're in Utah, the students will stay with host families in West Valley City and will also visit Bear Lake, Dinosaur National Monument, Raging Waters, Lagoon and Timpanogos Cave.
Once the shock wore off, it quickly sank in that my Japanese was about as rusty as the '64 Ford Falcon sitting in the neighbor's driveway.
You can imagine the apprehension I was feeling as I drove with a photographer to the assignment.
Having lived in Japan for two years nearly a decade ago, I'd often been approached on the streets by "English Bandits" who would try - and I emphasize try - to strike up a conversation with you in English. Except it always sounded like Swahili. Every third word was usually unintelligible, and they turned to their dictionaries a lot.
Now the shoe was on the other ashi - and it wasn't a very good fit, either.
We caught up with them as they were giving an "origami" demonstration. For the uninitiated, origami is the Japanese art of folding squares of paper into little animals and other useless shapes that kids then leave lying around the classroom or house for the teacher or Mom and Dad to pick up.
I honestly don't know who was more nervous - the kids who thought they were going to have to talk with me in English, or me, who thought I was going to have to converse with them in Japanese.
Fortunately speaking a foreign tongue is a lot like riding a bicycle - you never really forget. Although, to be honest, if I'd been riding a bicycle Friday, it would have been a good day to buy a couple of hundred shares in Ace bandages.
But even in my fractured Japanese, I was able to glean from Emi, age 10, that she and her buddies were having a great time in Utah. They like Utah's wide
roads; they really enjoy the food (tacos top the list). They laughed a lot when I reminded them that taco, in Japanese, means octopus, which is a popular food item in their homeland.
Boys like Masato, 10, and Junichiro, also 10, wasted no time engaging in a game of soccer - earning the admiration of their newly made American friends.
"One kid kicked the ball as far as the sixth-graders," said Chris Anderson and Trish Peterson, both obviously impressed with the talent of their Far East guests.
As for me, I was impressed with myself for having survived another assignment. It is comforting to know that whenever the paper does get around to sending me to open a bureau in Tokyo, I'll be able to order a side of octopus to go.