Friday, July 23, 2010

It's not getting any easier

It seems I can’t leave the house without completing another 3 errands or so, from saying goodbye to people, to buying presents, to sending large and heavy boxes home. Let’s just say I’ve spent over $250 at the post office this month, but atleast there is progress. I know this update is late, but that’s to be expected; pandemonium. Let me backtrack and try to put the chaos into words, as I post this blog late on a Friday night before going to another party.

On the 13th, I made a special trip to Matsumoto to drop off 3 more heaters for that cool guy, Trevor. Since I was in town, I was able to meet up with Neal for some Indian food. We went there before with my mom and Ann, and it was delicious again.

As it usually is, the conversation was interesting. We reflected on the last 3 years together, from the first time I met Neal, to other crazy adventures. He hit me with some blunt truth: “You were looking for a reason to stay”. It’s true though, my reasons for coming to Japan changed into different reasons for why I stayed over time. This last year was mostly “because I’m having the time of my life” and moving to Ina was seen largely as a fresh start.

Alas, I feel like it’s time to move on, and discovered my feelings that if I came back to teach English in Japan, it would be a like step backwards for myself personally; the same way that working in Regina again would be 2 steps back. I want to move on to something new, and need to make the choice for myself.

More insights were made, and more fun was had, before going back to Neal’s house for video games. We played for hours, and it brought back many good memories from when I used to play games like this with friends; I was pretty rusty.

Neal told me he was busy Wednesday night for my farewell party with my adult students, but he said that to see the look of shock on my face when I saw him driving into the parking lot. 30 people or so had gathered at the local Chinese restaurant to see me off, and wish me well. Unfortunately I forgot my camera at Ike's the week before, and am missing many potential pictures, but you get the idea.

The food was amazing, and naturally the people were great. I was surprised they asked me to give a speech straight away before I had any drinks, and was surprised even more when I started to choke up after the first sentence. I mentioned how the last 3 years were summed up as a “Poof! And then they were gone” with a lump in my throat. There I was, surrounded by such good friends, for so many years, and it was uncertain if I would see them again. I ended my speech early before breaking down, but not before giving them heartfelt thanks.

We ate, we drank, and we had fun. I got presents from some people, and photos with others. Emails went around, memories were fondly recalled, and I gave them my last English lesson: “Take Care”, because goodbye is forever, and too sad. I felt it was appropriate.

I got home ok thanks to Richard, but when I woke up in the morning the room was spinning like crazy. I didn’t get very drunk the night before because I was so busy talking, and was reminded of a similar incident about 5 years ago when I had an ear infection, and the excess fluids made me dizzy. Atleast this time I didn’t wake up puking like I did then.

I somehow drove to work in Tatsuno thinking it would pass, but that was pretty dangerous. After fighting it for a while at school, I went to the hospital not far away. I spent the next 5 hours lying on a bed, trying not to get sick. They did some simple tests, I didn’t really understand, and then they told me this is apparently common, and they were going to give me medicine that “may or may not work”. Oh and there was no one to check my ears; I’d have to come back another day.

It sounded like a placebo, but the huge syringe they brought out was not. They put was seemed like ½ a liter or something inside me, so much it took almost 5 minutes to inject, then waited a while for the effects. I could atleast sit up in the bed now, and was reassured it would get better, and got a prescription for something.

Sure enough I did get better over the next 5 days, though I’m not sure what I had or what medicine I was taking. I wondered if it was from stress or poor diet, though my mom thinks it was from a lack of water with this sweltering heat. Atleast I’m ok again, but my time in the hospital not only made me reflect on my mom’s worst fears: of me being in that old hospital.

Also, I missed my last class with my 3rd years. They still got some stuff done for the festival, and I was a bit relieved, as I was afraid my last talk to them would quickly decompose into a lecture. I really hope they start acting better, as it’s hard to make a class interesting or fun if there is absolutely zero interest to listen or be quiet from the kids. As I’ve said before, they’re the worst class I’ve ever had to deal with, and I just hope they calm down enough to show a little bit of respect for my colleague teaching with me.

Anyways, I was glad I was feeling good enough to give my farewell speech on Friday. I had it prepared as I mentioned last time, and practiced it a couple times (it would take about 10 minutes). After a brief introduction from the principal, I gave my speech. I started with a “good morning”, to which about 5 students replied out of hundreds.

This set me back a bit, and is a big reason why I’ve grown tired of that school lately. Regardless, they are still my kids, and I still had 3 amazing years with them. I started my speech with a little joke to get them laughing, and then it got serious. I could hear sniffles echoing in the gym, and when I came near the end, I broke down completely.

I have never wept so openly before, especially in such a huge crowd. I truly believed in my words, and what I was telling them, and am truly grateful to be here. Here is a transcript of my speech (roughly translated into English):

Good Morning!

Yes, I’ll be going home soon. You’re probably thinking: “Hey Tony! Whatcha’ talkin’ about?!?!” (In Osaka slang). The last 3 years sure have gone fast, and I have been blessed with your kindness in that time.

My feelings upon leaving are complicated. I’m full of anticipation for things to come, and am excited to see my friends and family again. At the same time, I’m hesitant.

I remember when I first came here well. I stood in this same spot, and said “nice to meet you”. My Japanese was terrible then, but I studied and tried hard. I took the Japanese proficiency test 2 years ago, and failed. It was a shock, and I became depressed. As I though, new languages are really hard, aren’t they?

But, a new year is a new start, and I never give up. I worked extremely hard, wrote the test again last year, and this time, I passed.

It was a long, hard road, but the feeling of victory was enormous. I wanted to try and give that feeling to you when I was teaching English. I tried to make my classes fun for everyone. Sometimes I may seem like a crazy foreigner from a crazy country, but the truth is I’m just a person, the same as all of you. I hope all of you can go out, and try to live a life of joy and adventure, just like I am trying to.

Although I came here to teach English, I found myself learning everyday. The Japanese studies I mentioned were just one example, I learnt about the culture and many other things too. I have many memories from my time here. Because of these experiences, I have been able to grow.

You all live in a truly beautiful place. Everyday I would look at the mountains, breath the air, and enjoy the nature. I have been to many places before, and I’ve grown to love Nagano and the people here. I cannot believe my time in Japan is coming to an end.

Please don’t be sad that I’m going, but be happy that I came. I will never forget your kindness, and I wish for your happiness from the bottom of my heart. I am so grateful to you all, and I will miss you more than words can express.

Thank you for the best 3 years of my life.

Tears pouring down my face, and to a thunderous applause in the gym, I took a deep bow. With shaking hands, I folded my speech up, and tried to dry my eyes. I hoped to make a quick exit, but soon a student representative came up, and gave an English speech to me, as I roughly remember it:

“Thank you for teaching here, we will miss you. You always said hello to all students, making us happy. Your classes were always fun. Please remember Tatsuno High School, and come to visit again someday.”

He spoke with such good English too, I couldn’t be more proud. After another bout of tears and applause, I tried to run off stage again to hide my tears, but was told to stay up, warranting a chuckle. There, the principal joined me, and gave a short speech, like how my last day was next Thursday.

Soon, he parted the gym up the middle like Noah, and together we walked through the rows of applauding, weeping kids. I was a blubbering shaky mess now, but I tried to keep my head high as we walked through the procession, saying thank you to the students and teachers surrounding me, tears in their eyes, clapping their hands, and waving goodbye.

I had to stop typing several times to keep from crying again, it was simply emotionally overwhelming. I somehow drove back to Yayoi to finish classes for the day. It was my last school festival in Tatsuno that weekend, and after the speech, I felt like I really wanted to go. Alas, it was also my last long weekend in Japan, and I have been to 5 school festivals already, so I went on my last Japanese road trip.

Before going to Thi's place to spend the night, Richard and I went to a french restaurant in Matsumoto with Neal and Michelle. At Thi’s place, we planned our trip. Because it was a long weekend, everything seemed busy. We didn’t have camping equipment, so we looked for hotels, and the pickings were very slim. I went to sleep early, still feeling dizzy and sick, and Saturday morning we drove 6 hours north to Niigata, the only place we could find a place to stay, and it was only for 2 people, so we had to sneak me in; there was simply no where else to stay.

We had the chance to drive along the coast, and immediately we understood Neal’s deep-seated hate for tetra pods. Scattered for many kilometers along the coast, around 5 meters from the shore, were what must have been thousands of tons of very ugly concrete.

I enjoyed the ride regardless though, as I found a book at Thi’s place: “1984”. I never really knew much about it before, but am so glad I got to read it. The whole thing was so amazing, so frightening, and so engrossing, that I started to turn anti-social half way through the trip. I apologized for being rude with my nose in a book, but it really was a great way to unwind. I highly recommend it to everyone.

We didn’t really do much in Niigata, as we knew nothing about the city and it was dark when we arrived. We got some food, checked out some sights, and went to bed. In the morning we took a 2-hour ferry to Sado Island, where we spent the next 2 days.

On the ferry I tried Pachinko for the first time, and it really is a waste of money like people say. You spin a knob, dictating how hard it will throw out balls, and they fall and slide into slots for prizes. I was baffled at how such a boring mess could be so prevalent in Japan. Though, they did have a cool Nintendo station set up, where you could choose from a number of games to play.

Once on the Island, we drove around for a while at first, and were always disappointed with any beaches we came across due to the unwieldy piles of concrete making the small patch of sand look ugly. I was surprised with the Island though; it seemed rather empty. We drove for hours trying to find restaurants sometimes.

I found it peaceful though, and I like I said, I was wrapped up in a book for most of it. We made our way to Sado’s goldmine, and the tour was really neat. We saw how they excavated the thing, and how they burrowed around looking for new gold veins among other things.

We stayed at a Ryokan that night, a Japanese style hotel. I unfortunately haven’t stayed at them as much as I should have in the past, as not only do you stay with a wonderful family, but also they cook you amazing food made from local specialties. We had a huge feast, and loved it all; weird cone shells, BBQ fish, sashimi and more. It was interesting too; that we were eating for almost 2 hours and hardly noticed how the time had passed because we were enjoying it so much.

That night, we snuck out to the nearby harbor, where we lit off some fireworks Richard bought for a couple hours. There was a wide variety, and it really was a lot of fun. Some would spin in circles, while others propelled themselves in the air like helicopters before exploding.

The Ryokan made breakfast for us that Monday morning, and we went to the nearby tourist trap: “tarai-bune”, that looked like barrel boats. Apparently they were invented around the time of the gold boom, and are very hard to navigate around with the wood paddle on the front. Regardless we gave it a try and had lots of fun.

We spend the rest of the day at a local beach, having surrendered to the tetra pods for a chance to jump in the ocean. I greased myself up heavily with sunscreen, but still got a bit burnt. We had fun, relaxed as we splashed around, and started making the trip home.

On the ferry, over the ocean, we were treated to one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. Like Richard said, it was a perfect way to end the trip.

"Most of today's worries are like puddles: tomorrow they will have evaporated." -Author Unknown


No comments: