A few weeks ago, I decided to tag along with my partner on his business trip to Tokyo. It had been nearly a year and a half since we left that godforsa…I mean glorious place for Hong Kong. We spent four long, life-challenging, mind-breaking years there, and I was nervous about the possibility of experiencing a second panic attack in Shinagawa Station.

Instead of rocking myself in the fetal position in the middle of a busy subway platform, I spent the week catching up with old friends, revisiting favorite restaurants, pubs and hotel bars. My partner and I even had time for a quick hanami in Ueno Park. Crouched under a ratty cherry tree, a Sapporo in his hand, an Asahi in mine, we reminisced about life in Japan.

The day we returned to Hong Kong, I found myself waiting for a taxi at the hotel wondering where the week had gone. And for that matter, where those four years had gone. Was it all a dream? A lie? That’s when the taxi pulled up. I knew we were in for a ride when I saw our driver’s shit-eating grin as we entered his cab.

“Good morning! Good morning! Good morning to you!!!” he shouted. “How are you!? I speak English! Good morning!!!”

In Latin America and Singapore, it’s common to get chatty drivers. In Mexico City, they want to steal your money. In Panama City, they’re proud of their burgeoning Miami. In Buenos Aires, they’re Italian. And in Singapore, they want to introduce you to girls. But in Tokyo? These guys drive around town in their little white gloves and blue hats, their eyes glazed over with thoughts of just making it through yet another tedious day.

“Where you from!? You like Tokyo!? I speak good English!!!” he shouted as he smiled at us through the rear view mirror.

My partner shifted in his seat. For all his fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants travel mentality, the truth is he hates talking to locals in any country. He gets uncomfortable and starts to play with any facial hair he can find. He gave me that “Please get rid of this situation” look and went back to work on his blackberry. But I was happy and in no mood to be a bitch.

“Ohio Gozimasu. Watashi wa blankdes. Tenki desne.” I said in Japanese (Good morning…My name is…And nice weather).

He lit up like a Christmas tree.

He and I chatted in Japanese and English for the next several minutes, and when I couldn’t remember the verb for lived, as in “We lived in Tokyo for four years”, I turned to my partner who had mysteriously turned genki (Japanese for happy) for help. The three of us spent the remainder of the taxi ride discussing beer, gambling and the driver’s ex-wife–his favorite topics–in English and Japanese.

When we arrived at Tokyo Station, the driver asked me if he spoke English well.

“Yes!!!” I lied. “Very well.”

He lied too. “You Japanese is very good. Very good.”

We waved goodbye and walked towards the Narita Express, the train back to the airport. My partner said that he thought the guy took the long way because he was having so much fun talking to me.

“I know.” I said.

My partner knows I hate being taken for a ride, both literally and figuratively. “But he was fun.” I said. “And what a great way to leave Tokyo. Hey! Let’s get a beer on the train!”

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