Feb 18, 2009


As I write this, I am no longer an English teacher, no longer a Hired Tongue, no longer in Japan. I'm uhired now, cut loose to pursue other things, and presently in the familiar setting that is Portland, Oregon, U.S.A. My time in Japan ended with fireworks and music, a fitting ending.

I met my students in front of the school, and we went off to a local restaurant where we'd reserved a huge table. We ordered various bits of food, drank, and I proceeded to get peppered with cards and gifts. One student, I noticed, had a rather awkward and bulky looking package. She opened it up, and announced that she had fireworks. She looked quite pleased with herself.

Fireworks. Fireworks in freezing February. There was a park, she said, nearby. A suitable place to set them off, to set them all alight and aflame. All the while, one of my students was insisting that we sample different varieties of sake. Another bought me an unasked for gin and tonic. Another, a beer. We were all drunk, and I more than most, when we stumbled out of the restaurant and ambled through dark Narita to this suitable park.

The student with the fireworks laid them all out, handed out sparklers, got the rockets ready. We held the sparklers three at a time and lit fuses with their orange and green fires, causing the sky to pop and fizzle in a way that it never does in the winter. The smell of powder in the winter, I found, was odd. It's such a summer smell, but I'd never thought about it as such before. The cold and the smell juxtaposed oddly but not unpleasantly.

I said goodbye to my students and went home feeling wonderful and a little sad about it, and I hoped that they'd be nice to the new teacher. The next day, I woke up with a horrible hangover from all of the sake, but was fortunately able to shamble my way to Chiba where two of my good friends were going to be getting behind microphones at a local bar. It was, I think, a fitting last night. I was pleased to be there with my various teacher friends, though I drank only oolong, what with the previous night's activities and all.

Two of my friends saw me off at the airport, and one of my students who worked there surprised me by showing up and announcing that she'd gotten me a cushy aisle seat. I really didn't want to go. Coming to Japan was the best decision that I've ever made, and I know that it's over now, but I had a lot of internal resistance going. Sure, there will be lots of things I won't miss, and there are lots of things that I do miss about Portland. But, I fell in love with Japan. I loved the landscape and the people, I loved the weirdness of it all and life as an alien. I loved the simple pleasure of reading labels in a foreign language, and the experience of life as a perpetual puzzle, challenge, and adventure. I loved what the experience of Japan and teaching did for me regarding my own confidence and sense of self. I loved being able to express myself, even badly, in Japanese, and, above all, I loved the camaraderie of the expat community. As I was moving away from all of that on the airplane, in the cushy, front-row aisle seat that my student had gotten for me, I broke down and cried. I know I'll be back someday, in some way. The place has been too good to me to leave forever.

I'm in Portland, now, and I know already that I won't be here for long. Hopefully I passed the Foreign Service Exam, and that will pan out. If not, I may very well join the Peace Corps and get involved with international aide and politics that way. In any case, I know that I'm not settled. I'm not stationary. I've looked through my old boxes in storage and plan on selling the contents- I don't want stored objects to hold me back. I've got a bit of money saved and I know that I can save more, because I'd rather have experiences than things. Later this summer, I'm going off to Mexico just because I can.

I thought that this would just be for a year. I thought that a single stint as a hired tongue in a foreign country would get the travel bug out of my system. Just the opposite. The world is too big not to see. Japan was a wonderful beginning.


Anthony said...

when you say mexico, you mean, like, tijuana, or are you going deep?

you know, it's not that much further from mexico to... oh wait, yes it is. i mean, no it's not.

anyhoo... rock & roll?

SonicLlama said...

1: Not Tijuana. Well, maybe for a day. But there's a lot more to Mexico than that.

2: I'll get there someday, don't worry.

3: Rock & Roll!

Seph said...

It would seem worthwhile to grab lunch or something in Tijuana on our way down. The downtown area is actually kind of neat. Plus, then you get random people at parties telling you how you're absolutely crazy driving in to Tijuana. It's good fun!

Seph said...

This is a dummy post so that I can get email replies. Stupid Blogger.

Kristin said...

Aww... Joe. That sounds fabulous, and a little sad. But really, truly fabulous. And the world is exciting and big and awesome and shit. You know, sometimes I wish that I hadn't boughten a house and started a business because it is kind of committing yourself to being somewhat stationary, but in its own right it's a good adventure too. Plus, it'll be fun to continue to come and see you... wherever you happen to be in the world. Can't wait to see you Sunday! Cheers!

Eric said...

Hey Joe. Glad to know you're back safe and sound. Hope you have a good year planned ahead of you. We're still in Boston, if you ever find yourself back east one of these days.