Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Saying Sayonara

I find that sayonaras are difficult in Japan, and I’m not talking about the etiquette of bowing or the tongue-twisting nature of polite Japanese. The sayonaras I have seen have always been rather formal, especially ceremonies like graduation where even the tears appear to be on cue. Formalizing the sayonara process has its benefits: there’s no room for gaffes or awkward displays of affection and such a ceremony can be impromptu if needed because everyone knows how it should go.

Such an impromptu ceremony was held for a part-time teacher who left shortly after winter break. She had been at my junior high school for two years, filling in for a teacher who was taking care of her dying father. The father passed away and the day after the funeral the part-time teacher was out, farewell ceremony and all, and the next day the grieving daughter was back at work. The transition was seamless. And utterly jarring. It felt strange and even a little wrong that death can be so meticulously organized and seem so natural.

The third years need a PE teacher but it seemed of little matter who the PE teacher was from one day to the next. In itself this experience is noteworthy given its stark contrasts to similar transitions of personnel back home. But as a JET who’s not re-contracting, seeing this transition made my heart drop a little. In the hierarchy of teachers, I am the most forgettable, my role the most ornamental. How much less fanfare am I to expect in my transition out?

My time in Japan was been amazing and amazingly frustrating, invigorating and exhausting. Certainly impacting. And as my time draws quickly to an end I am a bit disturbed to think how little my leaving will be noticed. I have fostered relationships that are bound to last well after I say my last sayonara but just as many or more that surely will not.

For my own sanity I thought I’d compose a list of my sayonaras, things I will miss and ones I will not. Of moments great and small. I will create my own fanfare, damnit! But mostly because I know these last weeks will be rushed and it’s not just Japan’s fault that my good-byes may be incomplete.

So without further pontification, I say sayonara:

to the Docomo man who would not sell me a phone charger without calling my supervisor beforehand to make sure I knew what I was doing. I will NOT miss you.

to the Dalmatian next door whose constant barking I rarely notice these days and who has replaced his policy of growling with one of tail-wagging. I will miss you.

to school lunch, with your fish heads, unidentifiable vegetables and obscene proportions. I will NOT miss you (though I will miss curry and pumpkin doughnut days).

to playing cricket in winter on the bank of a river. I will miss you, Australia Day Cricket!

to the Kyoto-Sensei at my junior high school who cleans the staffroom with me and laughs with his shoulders. I will miss you.

to face masks during cold/flu season. I will NOT miss you. You are ridiculous.

to speaking tests when students exhibit moon-walking skills, tell Japanese folk tales in English, and ask about my love life. I will miss you and the opportunity you always provide for laughter.

to simultaneous road construction on all the roads leading to my house. I will NOT miss you.

to maps from road construction crews delivered to all the mailboxes in the neighborhood, displaying alternate routes and asking for our patience during construction. I will miss you.

to extremely helpful and enthusiastic sales people. I will miss you!

to the teeth-sucking textbook salesman that visits school three or four times a month. I will NOT miss you. You seem good at your job but, for the love, you are obnoxious!

to my granny bicycle with its glorious front basket and cheery bell. I will miss you.

to riding to and from school in pouring rain. I will NOT miss you and your day-ruining properties.

to my kotatsu. I will miss you more than words can say.

to my unheated shower room in the winter. I will NOT miss you.

to the yakitori stand couple who ask me about my country and always remember I prefer salt to sauce. I will miss you and your husky irrashaimase.

to Mt. Misen in Miyajima. I will NOT miss your fiasco-causing capabilities.

to Mt. Misen in Miyajima. I will miss your monkeys and the view from the ropeway.

to Kobe, with your Chinatown and Harborland attractions and glorious night view from Mt. Rokko and general grooviness. You rock and I will miss you.

to the rugby, soccer, and baseball fans I’ve seen at games. I will miss your impressively coordinated and dedicated cheering sections.

to crutching around a school without ramps let alone elevators. I will NOT miss you.

to Sanfrecce Hiroshima FC. You changed my mind about soccer. I will miss you.

to being packed like sardines on the second-to-last train home. I will NOT miss you.

to the amazingly efficient and user-friendly public transportation. In two years, I can recall only three times that my train was so late that it was inconvenient. I will miss you!

to the Shinkansen. I will miss you!

to paying 6 sen ($60) for a Shinkansen ticket from Osaka and standing the whole way back. I will NOT miss you.

to getting a hearty “Good morning!” from the PE teacher who’s English skills more or less start and end with that greeting. I will miss you.

to delicious restaurants and friendly staff: Manao (Thai) in Hiroshima and Pizza King in Wake. Oh how I will miss you!

to vacations to Arima Onsen, Kyoto and Nara, Nagasaki, and the Philippines. I will miss you.

to the confusion and awkwardness of taking leave to go on vacation. I will NOT miss you at all.

to Henry, the mangy stray that lives in the stairwell of Stephen’s place that we give food to. I will miss you. Take care of yourself old girl!

to my drafty and impossible to heat/cool house that is prone to dust bunnies the size of my head. I will NOT miss you.

to the first place that lived in by myself; you’ve kept me safe as I cried and never complained when I cursed you and you’ve kept me alert by having lots of creaks in the night and you’ve kept me busy by not cleaning yourself up and you’ve been great to my company since you’re so roomy. I may actually miss you in the end.

to Okamoto Sensei who is the perfect teacher, encouraging participation and excitement by her own insatiable enthusiasm. I will miss you.

to another Sensei who told me my hair isn’t blonde because blonde hair is more brilliant than mine and who looks disapprovingly at me anytime I don’t finish my lunch. I can’t express how much I will NOT miss you, at all. I may throw a party.

to the students that break teachers’ fingers and noses and classroom windows and the ones that say mean things to me in Japanese that they think I can’t understand and the ones that deliberately move far away from me when I am seated next to them at lunch. I will not miss you, mostly because I wish I could have done more to reach you.

to the students that smile brightly as they greet me in the morning and the ones who tell sex jokes and the ones who draw me pictures and the ones who tell me they miss me and the ones that dare to ask questions and the ones that talk to me outside of class. I will miss you!

All the things I will miss I might forget and the things I will not miss I may remember forever. Either way, how wonderful and sugoi (great/terrible depending on context) it is to have lived and taught in Oku, Okayama for two years.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Blessing Spoken Too Early in the Morning

This is from my running blog but it's mostly about things other than running. About being foreign, and being too friendly for my own good. But mostly just about life happening, simple things.

This is the end of week four, 1/4 of the way through my 16-week training program. Wow. Time is a funny thing. Hours drag as I'm sweltering in this heat with no A/C at work and yet weeks just fly by.

I wanted to run 8 miles today.But at 92% humidity and 80 degrees out frankly I am happy with how far I made it. I walked the last two miles and completed the 5-mile outing in about an hour.

I had a really weird start to the run. I will preface it with this verse from Proverbs 27:14 "A loud and cheerful greeting early in the morning will be taken as a curse!"

At 5:15am I was later than I should have been but still thought I might be able to finish the run. I saw an old lady trying to make eye-contact with me and also checking her watch. As I got closer I realized I'd run into her before and it was unpleasant so I kept my eyes glued to the ground and barely replied as she said good morning to me. That was enough encouragement for her and 30 minutes and a bewildering conversation later I was finally starting my run.

The first time I had a run in with this woman was as I was trying to hurry along to work. She stopped at my house as I was packing up my bike and commented that my tree needed cutting. I was in no mood to be reprimanded by a stranger who apparently had nothing else better to do than make her neighbors late for work.

I do cut my tree, but I can't reach up to the power lines, obviously, and so there are some very long branches up there. I replied with the Japanese equivalent of, "Yeah, but it's not like I can do it!" I don't normally start conversations off rudely, especially in a language I have a minimal command of. But for the love! Monday mornings are not the time to be told you're not doing a good job. She, however, was undeterred and continued chatting with me as I mumbled responses and slowly peddled my bike and checked my watch. She got the hint and I made it to work just in time for the morning meeting, sweating profusely.

This time she asked me if I knew what Tanabata is. It's the Star Festival. You tie wishes to a bamboo shoot and the next day, July 8th, you burn the whole thing sending your wishes to the other world. I have been living in Japan for two years; I know the major holidays.

She then took me to her house to see her bamboo shoot. I took a photo of it on my phone after she leadingly noted that I had my phone with me. And then she said, "Tanabata isn't a holiday in other countries, is it?" Like many people throughout the world, this woman has a misunderstanding of what unique means in a global context. As Stephen has frequently remarked when we run into comments like this, "Yes, Japan is a unique country. In world of unique countries." No, we don't celebrate Tanabata, with it's bamboo wish shoot. Much like you don't celebrate Easter, with it's egg hunts and chaotic iconography, Ms. Meddler.

Was she trying to be friendly, if simultaneously patronizing? Of course, sweet thing. But even a cheerful greeting spoken too early in the morning will be taken as a curse. I just wanted to run.