A random post on Facebook tonight reminded me that I’m due to celebrate a very special 10 year anniversary. July 28, 2002.
Only a week before, I had sold nearly all of my possessions and prepared two and a half suitcases for a move to a country I had never stepped foot in. The yard sale was one of the most liberating experiences of my life. And it set the tone for a more simplistic life. One where the layers of complexity were peeled away with each new cultural experience and every moment I settled into a completely new way of life.
My first year was a whirlwind of memories. There were a seas of new faces in not only my students and co-workers, but in all the other foreign teachers who came to the tiny country seeking new adventures, work experience, fun, perhaps even a delay of reality. I easily adapted to my new surroundings and loved my little apartment with the fabulous view of a very handsome mountain. Teaching high school students was often more challenging than any job I had ever held. But warm friendships were formed and I remain in touch with a good handful of the, then seniors who are now 28… some married, some with children.
I was apprehensive to transfer to my new job, but it turned out to be the best decision. It required some effort to get settled in all over again, but the pay off was a new office full of supportive co-workers and the chance to teach the tiniest and cutest kids imaginable. For four years, I danced, sang and gestured to get the English meaning across. I played dodgeball almost every day at lunch. Lunchtime with teachers helped me better understand their language. I made so many new friends, big and small, old and young. I traveled. I listened. I absorbed. I laughed, cried, ate, drank and embraced that amazing culture. Along the way, I shared all the highlights with you.
When the time came for me to leave, I wasn’t ready for the journey to end. But it was clear that this was a chapter in my life and that turning the page would begin a different, yet also exciting adventure. A new story was ready for me. The goodbyes were bitter sweet, the sentiments genuine and special. The friendships were real and celebrated.
There are countless moments that are so easily recalled with great fondness and affection. A word might pop into my head, a photo will catch my eye as the cover of a digital album, or a craving for any number of specialty foods creeps into my belly. In those moments, I pause to honor the memory, remember a face, hear a voice or a laugh. I miss it. I miss that life, that work, those people, that version of me.
Ten years ago on July 28, 2002, I packed my bags and boarded a one-way flight to Japan. And it changed me forever. Surely, that’s something worth celebrating.
While on the phone today, I was speaking with my friend about utility bills and the process for payment. I was reminded that in Japan, you could take all of your utility bills to the local convenience store and pay them at the store.
In fact, on more than one occasion, I went on a vacation and came back to no house phone or no electricity. I simply took my bill over the the Family Mart near my house, paid the bill, and by the time I walked back to the house, my electricity would be on again. That’s true convenience!
I don’t know why we can’t do something similar here in the U.S. I realize we can pay bills online, but if you are late, normally your services are not turned back on again immediately after payment. Just a little something I loved from my Japanese life. Woo hoo for paying bills at the “konbini!”
I posted this quote on the On The Bright Side Facebook Page earlier today. Since it received lots of likes and comments, I thought I would share this here too.
— USE YOUR EXPERIENCE – In a world obsessed with youth, experience is often undervalued. But your unique experiences are priceless. They give you many advantages. Cherish them. Use them wisely: at work, with your family, in relationships, in planning ahead.
What’s been interesting for me is that since I have returned from an 8 year stint abroad, I find it increasingly difficult to actually talk about the experiences I cherish, the moments that have changed my life forever and made me the person I am today. All that international travel experience is unique and it is priceless… to me. Very few people in the US can relate to living overseas, and in such places like Japan and Vietnam. It’s a shame, really. It’s those experiences I value the most and have made my life full of value.
A bit of free time, a little make-up and some adjustments on the effects and such and…whoa-la! I made an Andy Warhol version of myself! What I can’t believe is that I actually changed the main picture to my website. Since I first compiled this website in February 2007, the picture of me with Kiyomizudera behind me has been the photo for my header. I was a bit sad to change it today, but did so because:
- If you haven’t noticed, I don’t live in Japan anymore.
- My hair is much shorter and I am growing my bangs out (a very painful process, might I state for the record).
- I feel like a website named “On The Bright Side” needed a much more pop-out main photo thingy going on.
The only reason I remain sad for changing that photo is because:
- There are still days when I miss Japan and Kiyomizudera is one of my favorite places.
- When you have a favorite photo of yourself which makes you happy, you should look at it often!
- I really don’t think anyone other than me is going to notice or even remember what that photo looked like! Oh well!
Ha! Anyway – hope you like the new artsy version. Comments welcome!
On the Bright Side,
Today is a day when I am missing Japan. Perhaps it’s the lingering heat here in San Diego. I know in J-land right now, the mornings are getting chillier, the days are pleasant before the night cools off again. Autumn foods are starting to appear on plates. The rice is being harvested. Sometime around the 20th of this month, Fuji-san will get his first snow. Soon after, the trees will be “on fire” as the leaves turn. I’m missing the tiny little signs of nature that are ever present in Japan.
So, to fill my void, I browsed the online newspapers, The Japan Times and the Daily Yomiuri. Always a good way to see what’s happening in the land of sushi. As I read some of the articles, I memories flash before me, faces of my students, a party at a restaurant, my bike ride in the morning, kind gestures from my coworkers, my cozy little apartment. I can stand on a street corner where I take in all the sights and sounds and smells. If I close my eyes for just a moment, I am there again. No matter how short, I love the visit. I do miss Japan something fierce!
While browsing through the Daily Yomiuri, I came across the column, Troubleshooter. Aaaah, yes. I forgot how much I LOVE these! It’s the “Dear Abby” of Japan. Except that the same person does not respond to all the questions. They have celebrities, lawyers, writers, doctors and such who respond. It’s brilliant. They get away with some terrific answers! Here’s one:
The Yomiuri Shimbun
Troubleshooter/Husband used as chauffeur
I’m a housewife in my 40s. My husband takes some lessons on weekends and goes to class by car since it is far from home.
But two of his friends in the same class ride with him. One of them makes her husband drive to our place before changing to my husband’s car.
The other person can drive and has a car of his own, but he also shares my husband’s car.
Although my husband drives them all the time, these two people have never paid for gas. Am I wrong to think they should drive their own cars or pay for gas sometimes?
I feel angry when I see these people, who take it for granted that they can use my husband’s car. My husband says he can’t and won’t ask them to pay for gas. I have been putting up with this, but I can’t take too much more.
Dear Ms. I:
I can understand your feelings in a way. But as for your husband, I think doing nice things for his hobby friends gives him a pleasant feeling that money cannot buy.
You are not shouldering any additional financial burden, since your husband drives the car to go to the class anyway.
Having a generous wife who isn’t seen to complain about every little thing might even increase his esteem in his friends’ eyes. So that may be why he will not ask his friends to pay for gas.
Why don’t you let it pass and allow your husband continue to be viewed as a kind, dependable, good man?
You will be annoyed if he changes into someone who is grumpy, never goes out and always hangs around at home on weekends.
Don’t you think you also are enjoying invisible benefits thanks to his kindness or his attitude of trying to be a good man? You might be envied for having such a kind husband. We tend not to be able to see what we really have, although we can see very well what we don’t have.
Please have your own enjoyable time, just like your husband does.
Megumi Hisada, writer
Please have your own enjoyable time. I love my J-people!
On the Bright Side,
Every once in awhile I get these terrible pangs of homesickness – for Japan. They come in strong bouts when I receive letters from my students or e-mails from my friends.
I heard from Mayu that she had her little boy, Leo. This is her and Joel’s second child. Little Hannah is going to be a great big sister!
I heard from Noriko, who is a friend and fabulous teacher I worked with. She tells me that English will be taught in all Elementary schools come 2011. This is terrific news, considering many Japanese feel that students need to focus on learning Japanese in elementary school, not English. This means that the three-year pilot program I worked on with the Board of Education, was greatly convincing! I worked with my colleagues to create the elementary school curriculum.
To further prove that English is best taught in elementary school, I received letter from my students. My sweet angels. Oh, how I miss them. Cute Kaito is now in sixth grade. He gave me his address on my last visit to the school and said, “My address. Please, letter.” And so we’ve exchanged letters, and I sent him a postcard from Vietnam. This has all been in Japanese…until now. His letter said in part,
I like new English class but I want to take your English lesson soon.
Oh how my hear bursts with pride! Many of my students are now in junior high. One of the teachers I worked with, Sugimoto Sensei, transfered to the junior high from the elementary school and so she does letter-writing projects with the students to help them practice their grammar. Guess who gets their letters? Meeeee!!!! ;p
The second graders (like 8th grade) are working on past tense. So I was pleased to see things like,
I played table tennis.
I enjoyed my class.
I practiced basketball.
Nice, huh? I also learned that a few of my students “have a boyfriend” or “have a girlfriend.” They’re fourteen! I feel so protective!
Sugimoto Sensei must have also taught them the word “hard” because the students were all too eager to tack it on to the end of most of their sentences..
I played track and field very hard.
I read many books very hard.
I studied English very hard.
I studied math very hard, too.
Um. Yeah. Need to send some notes back to Sugimoto Sensei to correct the usage. Bless their hearts – they’re making complete sentences! My favorite letter came from Daichi. In it, he explains,
I drank eleven milk. It is new record. Next day, I was sick.
That one had me rolling when I first read it. I can just picture the class at lunch, giving their milk cartons to Daichi to drink and laughing after he finished each one. Clearly, if this is a new record, he must do this often.
The first graders (like 7th grade) also wrote to me. This is the last group of kids, and my favorite group of kids that I taught. This is the first time for me to receive letters from them. My most darling student Hideto, who I also corresponded with wrote,
I’ve missed you. Many letter, thank you. I’m so happy!
With my buddy, Hideto – This was my last visit at one of two elementary schools. I made sure to take a photo with my favorite student, Hideto. What a cutie!
I just want to squeeze the little angel! I really enjoyed the letters from this group of students. They did so well in English, and were always so much fun to teach. Some other funny sentences included,
He likes pooh. (Referring to Winne the Pooh which the Japanese call Pooh-san.)
He loves chocolete, cake, ice cream, pudding, many many many sweets.
I want a dog and two tortoises.
I eat cheeseburgers. Shanna eats cheeseburgers, too. (This was the running joke with my kids.)
She likes cake, but she doesn’t like onions.
I don’t like green piece. (She meant peas!)
I like English because you taught me English.
Can I just tell you how much my heart bursts with pride when I read this? These kids could only say “hello” when I met them. We studied English twice a week for two years, only listening and speaking. And after just two terms in junior high, they can write so much of the English we practiced together in elementary school! I am so insanely proud of them!
And so, this is what makes me want to jump on the next plane to Narita and go and see my J-friends and students. I hope they understand how much of an impact they have made on my life and how often I think of them and how committed I am to visiting those kids before they graduate from junior high. Did I mention how proud I am? :p
On the Bright Side,