March 10, 2015 - Atsushi

March 10, 2015 - Atsushi (1st person I approached)
I had gone downtown to meet a friend for a coffee and a good catch-up. I hadn’t seen my friend in quite sometime, and as happens with good friends, it was like yesterday. The only awkwardness was both of us trying to fit in what we both wanted to talk about!


After coffee, I decided to walk home along the False Creek waterfront, via English Bay. I spotted Atsushi sitting on a bench, looking at his phone. I sat down next to him, as I explained what I was doing. He smiled and told me that his English wasn't very good. I said we could give it a try, if he was willing to chat and let me take his photograph. He smiled again, and agreed to chat, putting his phone down.


“Do you know what ‘sushi' is?” he asked.

“My name is like sushi with an A-T in front.” It made me smile, and also made me think he has used that example before.

“I am from Kobe, Japan.” Atsushi is the youngest of three children.

“My brother is five year older, and sister is seven year older,” he told me. As children they all got along, and even though his sister was seven years older than Atsushi, she didn’t boss him around or want to be in charge.


“Making friend was my favourite thing about school. Nothing else. I liked school and my friends,” he said.

“I go to university right after high-school. My parents make me go, it is what happens in Japan. But brother and sister do nothing. They did not go to university. I had to,” he laughed. I joked that he had to carry the pressure of being the youngest, which made him laugh.

“I studied nutrition. When I go first to university, I do not know what I want to do. My mother told me ‘nutrition’ and I do that,” he said. Atsushi spent four years in university.

“I liked high-school better. More about my friends, and social. University is, about work,” he said. 


After graduating university, Atsushi started working.

“Do you know the Donkey Hotel,” he asked me, or that’s what I heard. Hours later when I started to write this story, I couldn’t find anything online called The Donkey Hotel (not as a department store anyway). I reached out to a friend of mine, Peter. He’s a Canadian born, Australian raised, lived in Japan traveller, and when I asked about what had now become ‘The Doggy Hotel’… we went back and forth until he told me of Don Quixote, a trendy department store! So, back to Atsushi, who had worked in the cosmetics department of Don Quixote.

“I sold shampoo and conditioner, cosmetics and things,” Atsushi told me.


As we spoke, the story timeline jumped around a bit, and at one point, Atsushi pulled his toque back and briefly showed me the top of his head. He had a patch of hair missing, telling me he had what I understood to be surgery. I asked why he had surgery and Atsushi tried to come up with the word in English, but we weren’t landing on anything. He grabbed his phone and used a translation app, and showed me the word ‘depression’ translated from Japanese. Things got very muddy then. I tried to find out why Atsushi had undergone surgery for depression.

“I worked for three years in the donkey hotel (that’s what I heard), and my boss stressed me. He cause many peoples to be stressed. My doctor tell me this is because of stress,” he says, pointing to his head. I asked how long he had been in hospital for.

“Five times I’ve been in hospital. I take how do you say,” as he made a gesture that looked like eating food with his hand. I asked if he meant he taking medication.

“Yes, I do that,” he says, repeating the gesture with his hand. 

Living with depression myself, I really wanted to know why he had undergone surgery.

“I don’t know," he told me. We both knew that we were having an issue with communication, and we were both smiling. I continued asking him questions.

I said ‘So you went for surgery, but you don’t know why you were being operated on?’ to which he replied innocently,

“No, I don’t know. The doctor said it to me.” 


I asked again how long he had been in hospital for the surgery.

“It will be four or five years,” he replied. Now I was really confused. Then it occurred to me to ask him to remove his toque completely. Turns out he hadn’t had surgery at all. He had a few small, circular bald patches on his scalp (a form of Alopecia areata, or ‘spot baldness').  I had a friend who also experienced this before. It is related to, or a symptom of, stress. 


Atsushi had undergone treatments to replace the hair. Hence the five times and the process taking four or five years! I laughed and told him what I had figured out, he nodded in agreement. I explained that I thought he had told me he was cut open and made a knife and cutting gesture. Atsushi burst out laughing,

“No, no cutting. Hair.” While our conversation was somewhat stumbling and broken, we had managed to make a connection. Through perseverance, and his patience, we had connected and communicated.


Atsushi had a friend of his come to Vancouver a couple of years ago. She wrote and told him that Vancouver was wonderful and that it would be good for him to travel here.

“I plan to work at (donkey hotel) for three years and then come to Vancouver,” he told me. He has been here for four months.

“I’m working in a restaurant. I am a chef,” he tells me. It’s a popular restaurant in Yaletown, a trendy neighbourhood for shopping and restaurants, in downtown Vancouver. Atsushi had learned to cook while he was in university.

“I worked in a Chinese restaurant for four years while I go to university in Japan,” he explains.

“And now I cook here too.”


I asked Atsushi if today was his day off. He looked a little perplexed.

“I have a band,” is what I heard. Clearly that’s not what he was trying to tell me. He makes a gesture that looks like he might be using a foot-bath and pouring water in a basin. He grabs his phone again. This time he shows me a picture he found on the internet. It is a shocking image of what looks to be a painful burn on someone’s foot.

“Yes, I have accident at work. Band my foot,” he says. I correct him and say b-u-r-n-e-d slowly. He repeats it.

“I b-u-r-n my foot.”


Atsushi has been given a few days off work, to rest and hopefully, his foot will get better soon. I ask if he likes being in Vancouver.

“Yes I do. I stay for maybe one year. It is good here.” I take Atsushi’s photo. He thanks me for doing so. Then he hands me his phone.

“Can you please?” He has opened Facebook and wants me to search for The Stranger Project page. I type it in and then show him, and he wants me to ‘Like’ the page for him. I am happy to oblige. He looks at the pictures of some of the other stories I’ve written.

“Ahh, my picture will be here, like this?” he says, looking at Vania’s picture from yesterday. I say yes and ask if that’s still ok.

“Yes, that’s ok. Thank you. Have a nice day.” #notastranger