When I was eleven years old, my father’s close friend from college went to the US to live there for two years on his sabbatical with his family. Several months into the stay, he contacted my father by email saying that one of his daughters wanted to try an online chat with me. It was a time when the Internet had just come out, and there was no such thing as skype or zoom back then. The online chat system was one of the cutting edge real-time communication tools.
“But how do we do it? What is a ‘chat’ anyway?”
I asked my father as he set up his computer in his room. I really had no idea what this chat thing was all about. I also didn’t know much about the time difference between the East Coast US and Japan. It was late evening where I lived in Japan. My father said that at my friend’s place, it was morning.
“But how is that possible?”
While I stood there in my pajamas, feeling totally confused, my father finished setting up the computer and told me to sit in front of the screen. I saw a box in the middle of the screen.
“Now, type something in the box!” said my father.
I wasn’t skilled at typing back then. With a considerable amount of effort, I wrote a greeting sentence in Japanese. Immediately, a reply came on the screen.
“I’m good! How are you?”
I hurriedly turned back to my keyboard to type in my reply.
“Wow,” said my father. “It really feels like a real conversation!”
That was true, except that my friend typed a lot faster than I did, and I didn’t manage to write everything I wanted to say. Still, it was fun to chat with my friend like that after a long time of not seeing each other. We started chatting about our daily lives and the time flew by quickly. About half an hour later, my father came back and said that maybe I should go to sleep because it was getting really late.
I wrote to my friend that I would go to sleep now. At the time, in Japan, there was a popular green tea brand called “Oi Ocha (English translation: Hello Tea!)”. So, instead of writing “good night,” I wrote “Oi Ocha!” as my farewell message of the night. My friend replied with “Hai Ocha! (Yes, Tea!)” I thought that concluded our chat, and I went to bed, leaving my father to take care of the rest.
The next morning, my father told me what happened after I slept.
“She didn’t realize that you had gone to bed. Later, my friend told me that after the chat finished, she came to him crying and saying ‘She’s gone!’ But they didn’t know how late it was here, you had to sleep!”
I pictured my friend sitting in front of the screen, expecting the chat to continue then suddenly receiving no reply from me. That was a sad scene, and I wished I had explained to her better before I left the night before. That was my first ever international chat experience.