William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

Leaving Japan, Never Easy (Part 1)

Written on Christmas Eve in Osaka

I stepped out wearing my indoor shoes. I’d be pitching my old beat-up shoes, and I wouldn’t need a separate pair of indoor shoes anymore. I wasn’t coming back. Alone, I walked out of the genkan and out onto the driveway.

I saw S. and spoke to him. “You’re done? That’s it? Must feel good!”

“Yeah, but I feel like there’s more I could have done, but I guess I have to blow the whistle somewhere.”

I got back to the apartments to find the ball players washing and scrubbing the steps. I guiltily picked my way through them and into my apartment.

K. hadn’t returned my bicycle key and wasn’t home, so … I had to go back to the school again to get the other key from F. I hiked up the steps in my sock feet.

More teachers were in the staff room now than when I’d “left” - this was a good thing, because I’d said goodbye but as it turned out most of the Japanese teachers didn’t realize it was the final goodbye.

My first cooperating homeroom teacher was solemn and stoic. The vice-principal thanked me for putting in so much extra time lately (but it still wasn’t enough – my desk looks acceptable at first glance but it is quite messy on the inside; I wrote a brief apologia for this at the beginning of the 14 pages of notes I’d prepared for my successor). The other teachers said simple goodbyes with varying degrees of warmth and sincerity. I know that some of the teachers weren’t quite satisfied with the job I’d been doing, so it was an awkward experience all around.

I went outside again. I saw my third-grade homeroom class playing on the driveway by the gymnasium. I said goodbye and was prepared to walk away – I didn’t want to drag it out – but three or four of the girls came running to where I was and surrounded me. One nuzzled my mitt with her cheek and said “I am Canada!” (meaning that she intends to come and visit me if she gets her druthers).

I was overwhelmed. First there was the book the kids prepared on Saturday (when I naturally wasn’t there, so it was the perfect opportunity), and now this show of affection – it felt like love. Maybe it was. I certainly loved them. I’m not a professional, but if I were I’d hope that they forget about me, because I won’t be back except to visit.

Going home is a melancholy experience at best. Even finishing up at S.G. is like “winning” a war. I can’t complain, but that’s because I no longer have the energy to do so. That was the better part of the real reason I stopped writing – I couldn’t sustain the pace. I also felt guilty, as if Japan didn’t want to be exposed to my scrutiny and was punishing me for it. Now I realize that Japan wasn’t the problem – it was my job. To put it candidly, my former employer is spiritually bankrupt and can’t afford the slightest candor. (My new favourite anecdote is how the boss’ daughter and our translator were tearing the ¥700 price tags off of some junior high English books so that they could turn around and charge the parents ¥1500 for them.)

So I said goodbye again – I wished for a moment that I could stay… I doubt that very many of their many future teachers will be as obsessed about writing as I am, and the students felt that they had gotten a lot from me (I was even complimented about the science classes, which surprised me). I was giving more than I could sustain, though. As I write this, my right wrist is still kind of wonky because of the thousands of hours of corrections and suggestions and responses written in their journal books. Teaching demands sacrifice – sometimes unsustainable sacrifice.

I said goodbye again and got on my bike and drove to Awa Bank in the drizzle, whistling “Why Don’t You Write Me”.

I got to the bank and was thoroughly nonplussed by the service procedure – I expected there to be a machine to take numbers from but what was really happening was this: you’d give your passbook to the teller at kiosk #1 and tell her what you were there for, and the teller at kiosk #2 would call you back up to collect your passbook and your paperwork, money, or whatever. It’s not really analogous to a Canadian bank. Furthermore, the hours are ridiculous – the branch closes at 3pm, and ATMs have limited hours as well. Awa is not the worst - JPBank is now advertising that their ATMs will be closed entirely on the first, second, and third of January. (“Why?!” I exclaim incredulously at the TV. “Why do you hold your customers in such contempt? You should be advertising that you’re opening (certain?) ATMs 24/7!”)

So yes, you have to take time off work to get your in-person banking done. In this case, I had to transfer my hard-saved yen via furikomi to GoLloyds, who would then remit the funds to my Canadian bank account minus a handling fee. The rate is quite favourable right now, and in any case the direct remittance rate is always better than the cash rate.

The procedure was straightforward, and I could even sort of follow along with what was going on as the teller keyed her way through it on the ATM, but it would have been hopeless trying to do it myself, as the interface was unilingual Japanese. (Awa Bank is local to Tokushima Prefecture.) At the end of it, the machine spit out a new card that I could use for future transfers to the same account.

I transferred the entire contents of my account, minus a ¥420 transfer fee. You get nickeled and dimed everywhere; CIBC also extracts a $10 fee as they handle the inbound remittances. Still, with large amounts, it’s far safer and somewhat cheaper than exchanging cash (though that was my original plan – just what I’d need: even more things to worry about while travelling!).

And lastly, I hope GoLloyds isn’t taking me for a ride.

Downtown, I treated myself to lunch at my favourite place in the whole world – CoCoICHI curry! I took the pork cutlets, an extra 100g of rice, and ate at level 2. They give you a personal pitcher of ice water. At level 3, I’ve had to drink the entire pitcher and then some.

I went to the Awa Odori kaikan for gifts for Mom and Masae, then I went home. I still had to clean. I didn’t get much done before we left for the secret party we primary school foreign teachers had in lieu of the one we would have had (as the primary school teachers entire) were it not for Mr. O’s passing. I’ll write more about this later; suffice it to say that Japanese custom has it that social gatherings and observances shut down completely for a month after someone dies. Of course, in Western culture, going out for a few drinks in someone’s honour is a good thing. My homeroom cooperating teacher understood this perspective, but here such an outing is too necessarily celebratory and would therefore be inappropriate.

I also had to speak to Mk. again that afternoon, as I wasn’t able to contact NTT through their English help line. I’m not the only one having problems with it; it’s almost always busy. Anyway, Mk. called the Japanese line and at one point I was required to say, “William Matheson,” and “Yes, I would.” in reply to “What is your name?” and “Would you like to cancel your NTT phone line?” The call took fifteen minutes, but that wasn’t as bad as the Yahoo!BB internet cancellation call that took the better part of thirty. Japan: Life in the Fast Lane!

Another awkward goodbye: “Thank you for doing good job!” Meanwhile, I’d spotted contract extension papers in her arms that two of my co-workers presumably signed minutes earlier.

We went to an Italian restaurant – I ordered a terrific calzone; it took more than thirty minutes to get it, but it was worth it! The only down side is that most of the others were finished their meals by the time I dug into mine. They don’t follow our practice of holding all the dishes in the kitchen until they’re all ready, and then bringing them all out at once.

Singing at Casanova, F. discovered that the karaoke remote had a tone adjustment control. I’d been trying to sing the songs the way I thought they should be while the backing was flat – I sing by ear, so it was a disaster. But once we figured out the tone adjustment, it was like getting a new lease on life! It was then that I also realized the karaoke music here is entirely synthesized. Back home, most karaoke is CD+G based, meaning that the backing track is regular CD audio and is probably recorded in a studio – even though it’s almost never by the original artist, it still means a better and truer karaoke experience. It’s the one Japanese thing that I think we’ve improved upon. (There are hundreds of our things that they’ve improved on… =) The downside is that our system usually requires a karaoke operator to handle the discs. In Japan, you key in the songs on your own, and there are wireless remotes with which to do this – some even have a touch-screen on them so you can pick a song without looking through a book. Still, I prefer our system.

Anyway, I can’t explain how happy I was to find that there was a tone adjustment. Sometimes I’d sing and I’d be completely out of whack and I had to pause and think, “Gee, maybe I just suck.” Blaming the machine just sounded like a childlike, narcissistic way to avoid reality. But in these cases the machine may really have been to blame! Even though C1 said that I was the “Karaoke King,” I’ve had as many misses here as hits, and I’m chagrined to be discovering a possible reason why just as I’m leaving.

After we went our separate ways, I went to Komputa Taxi to catch a discounted cab. The cabbie didn’t know where S.G. was! We got into Ojin-cho and took a roundabout way to get there – I directed him, and I think I learned the Japanese word for “straight” – since he knew of “left” in English, we were OK. Even as we approached the school the incredulity in his voice was saying that he didn’t believe S.G. was where it was!

He may also have wondered why I was going there, so I volunteered: “Watashi wa ego no kyoshi deshta. Suiobi wa Canada e dekakemas.” (I think I was saying, “I was an English teacher. I’m going to Canada on Wednesday.”)

Anyway, it was a very comical end to the cab ride – “I’m sorry!” he stated and bowed repeatedly. Under the influence of good-humoured laughter I was in my apartment just ten minutes after midnight.

The next day: cleaning.

Drain cleaning was ick. And after I’d finished cleaning out the kitchen and the fridge, I discovered that I still had to clean the fan, the A/C filters, and wash the windows! My string of panicked exclamations is best left to your imagination. S. was coming to get us at 4 – it’s a good thing he was late, as I was still scrubbing under my fridge at 4 when I discovered that vacuuming just wouldn’t do.

S. was mercifully about fifteen minutes late and wasn’t in a hurry – he had a dryer and was willing to dry a few of my wet clothes, so I threw them in a trash bag and ran out the door. We all piled into the car and set off. He was hosting K. and I and other interested parties for a farewell, and K. and I would be crashing there as he lives near the Matsushige bus stop.

At S.’s we drank, ate, bitched, watched funny YouTube videos, the whole shebang. He’s got a great place; his washer is also a dryer, and it even weighed my clothes and estimated how long they would take to dry and acted accordingly. I am getting one of those. His fridge door also opens on both sides – you kind of have to see it to believe it; there are latches to hold it up on both ends, and they come out seamlessly when you tug on their particular end. You can close the door with the left handle and as soon as it clicks you can open it again with the right. I may have to get one of these too when the time comes. He and his wife were justly proud of their appliances and had brought them down from their previous house in Sapporo!

I was feeling a little bit sickly later on in the evening, and I was starting to wonder when the children would take themselves to bed. (answer: never =) I enjoyed playing with them, or rather, they enjoyed playing with me – they seemed to latch onto me for some reason. I was coughing, too – perhaps I’m coming down with something, and in any case I was definitely reacting to all the dust I’d stirred up cleaning. Mostly because of this and my fatigue / exhaustion, I didn’t have as much patience for them as I would have liked, but I tried my best to humour them with the energy that I had.

Oh, I should mention that S.’s older son had seen my Idol appearance! S. warned me that he might be singing “I Am A Rock,” and sure enough, he was. Gracious. I can’t go anywhere… =)

In the end, S.’s and his wife’s hospitality did a lot to ease my worries – I wanted to be home, but I didn’t want to go home, if you gather me. Now that I’m underway I’m feeling fine. (Although I wonder what will happen when Mk. discovers I didn’t clean my microwave… since the bulb in it is out it’s not really an aesthetic concern and I barely used it anyway. K. and I also put all our garbage out for collection even though this morning was only for non-burnables.)

S. took K. and later me to the bus stop – good thing, too, because he was able to look at my ticket and tell me that I had to get off at my bus’ penultimate stop. Itami Airport is north of Osaka, so going all the way down to Namba station would eat up time and yen unnecessarily.

In Umeda, I had a nasty bout with Osaka signage and got quite turned around and lost. Fortunately, there was an English-friendly information desk inside Osaka Station to put me back in the right general direction. I was very glad that I was only carrying handbaggage (my suitcases left Sunday by courier), and even that was onerously heavy. I would have been spitting blood had I been wandering around with my suitcases.

And now I’m on the departures concourse at Itami! It seems like a small airport – I don’t think it’s any bigger than Stanfield. Sadly there is no free internet (although there are coin-operated kiosks and non-free wifi), but I do have the chance to plug myself in electrically and type. In my search for a power outlet, I pushed on a button by the window marked “PUSH” and suddenly there’s this clicking and grinding and I’m wondering if an alarm is going to go off and I’ll be hauled to security and sent to a Japanese jail (etc..) but then I look up and discover that all I did was open a window.

Speaking of security, if you bring something sharp through security here (especially knives, even the Swiss-army kind), you could very well be fined, to the tune of half a million yen. Ouch. I guess they figure that the time for simple confiscation is over and it’s time to put in a serious deterrent! So, as always, pack carefully.

OK, time for a bathroom break and a snack and then it’ll be time to board! It’s still a long trip yet – there’ll be another bus trip between the Haneda and Narita airports in Greater Tokyo, and I will be staying overnight at a seedy motel in Queens. See you soon!
Tags: japan, parties, school, students, teaching, travel, work, writing

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