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Mind the mental gaps

Page No.: 
Scott Gardner


The buses in my town have been taking sensitivity training. Their electronic signs over the windshield used to say “NOT IN SERVICE”, but recently they’ve added the word “SORRY.” I have noticed, however, that the Japanese version of the same message—回送中 (kaisouchuu)—has not changed at all. It seems strange to apologize to a small minority of non-Japanese commuters but not care at all about the feelings of the majority population watching helplessly as the bus speeds by their stop.

Speaking of apologetic buses, here’s a list of some dumb things I’ve done on public transportation:

• Read someone’s newspaper over his shoulder on the plane. He caught me doing it and sarcastically held the page open higher and for longer than he needed, to let me finish whatever I was reading.

• Tried out my smartphone’s music player on the Shinkansen, without learning how it worked yet. Either there was a special speaker setting I didn’t know about, or I just hadn’t plugged in the headphones all the way; turning up the volume wasn’t helping me much, and I was painfully slow in realizing how it was annoying my fellow riders.

• Waited obliviously for a flight in the San Francisco airport while an important gate change announcement was blaring over my head. For 30 minutes they were telling passengers to take a trolley to another terminal, but by the time I figured out the message applied to me, the departure time was too close and they refused even to let me get on the trolley, let alone hold the plane for me.

• Got into an argument with a guy at the opposite end of a bus. I was trying to squeeze into the crowded front end, but the driver said that for safety reasons she couldn’t start driving until everyone was behind the white line on the floor. There was plenty of space in the back, but an old guy standing back there started yelling that no one on the bus wanted to move anymore and I should just get off and wait for the next one. I “won” this argument, however, by asking the driver to hold the doors open for five more seconds. I then ran out the front and jumped in through the back door. I gave the man who had shouted at me a smug look as I brushed by him, but he seemed quite satisfied with the fact that he never had to move to accommodate me.

• Forgot to put on my shoes when using the airplane toilet. I was groggy and I didn’t realize I was only in socks until I noticed a man staring at my feet in horror when I stepped out.

• Gloated over correctly answering a difficult math problem on a train advertisement for “Tokyo University”—only to discover on further reading that the ad was actually for the Tokyo University-affiliated junior high school.

• Breached airport security for a baguette. A brochure at Incheon airport showed a French deli in a different concourse from mine, and I had time so I decided to try it out. Little did I know that heightened security at the airport forbade passengers from hopping back and forth between concourses. I went out and found the deli with no trouble, but when I tried to get back to my own gate I had to sign a form, follow an armed guard through several locked doors, and go through x-ray screening again. Even after all that a security agent kept me under surveillance until I boarded my plane. The camembert sandwich was almost worth it, though.

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