15 July 2009

The Art of Leaving

One of the more interesting things I've noticed about leaving a place where one has a strong identity is how one meets new people and makes new, sudden, strong connections at the end. At the end of high school, I started hanging out with a different group of people than I'd spent the previous 6 years with. At the end of college, I started dating a guy knowing I'd be moving to Japan in short order.

At the end of my time in Japan, new people have been popping into my life with alarming frequency.

Some of these people are foreigners. I met a fun group of people just a few weekends ago, many of whom have been in Ota for as long as I have, if not longer. It's frustrating to think we could have been hanging out all this time.

Some are Japanese. I was invited to a tea ceremony by the tea lady (/female groundskeeper) at my junior high school and met her daughter, a girl my age who speaks beautiful English. The two of us clicked instantly and we both bemoaned the fact that we only met recently. I had my last dinner with her (for now!) last week and we had a blast, though it took three hugs for us to say goodbye.

Some are completely and utterly random. I've been going to the local grocery store, Brace, regularly for the past two years. In the past two weeks, the cashiers there seem to have taken an extraordinary interest in me. The most memorable was the lady who, seeing that I was buying cat food, said, "Oh, you have a cat! How nice!" and began asking me where I live, work, and so forth.
I went to the travel agency to buy bus tickets to the airport. The lady there asked me if I was flying home, and I said, "Actually, I'm returning home..." She looked really surprised and actually seemed sad that I was leaving. Considering I've only been in that place four times, I found it to be a more emotional response than I was expecting.
There are more, but I'll not bore you.

I guess it's a lesson - no matter how long you've been in a place and how comfortable you are, there's always more to find, be it places, things, or people.

Catching Up

It's been a long time since I've written here. A combination of growing increasingly busy and the way in which I dealt with the stress of leaving (namely, with a surprisingly intense bout of depression) made writing blog entries rather low on my list.

So, let's catch up. The past month has been Japan's rainy season, which certainly didn't help with my already-depressed mood. As of this week, the rain seems to be over - we instead have constant heat and humidity.

Today is my last day of work at my elementary school. I said a short goodbye speech to the students after radio exercises in the morning (more on this later). The students sang the school song to me, and thank God it was only the school song or I would have started crying. The teachers gave me flowers before class, which really wasn't helping me with not crying. I taught four classes, in all of which the students were better behaved than usual and a lot of fun. It's been a good day. I just have to make it through the afternoon ... I've already accepted that I'll be crying for most of it.

My last day of school and work, period, is on Friday. I'll give a speech to my junior high students, rather longer than the one for the elementary school kids, and will cry, cry, cry.

Katherine arrives on Saturday and the two of us will travel Japan for a week before setting off for Vietnam. We'll spend 5 days together there before Kat goes home; I'll spend another 4 or so days in Saigon and then head to Cambodia to meet with Laurel. The two of us will visit Angkor Wat and then go to Thailand together.

I'll be home on August 15th, exactly a month from today.

In the end, though, the past month can be boiled down to one, main thought:
I still don't know how to deal with all of this.

02 July 2009

On Bullying

In the staff room, I've gained a reputation for being a bully.

Not to say I've been taking teachers out back to steal their milk money. My sense of humor, when added to a frequent use of the word "ijime" (bullying) in my banter with Saito-sensei, has earned me the title. It doesn't help that I've teased some of the more vocal teachers on this score, especially my vice-principal. He's a wonderful man who nevertheless responds to any comment I make in two ways: either I'm sucking up to/flattering someone, or I'm bullying him. Sometimes, I get accused of both; I suppose I'm just efficient.

Two conversations today highlighted this pattern with my vice-principal.

[Set-up: walking back from an observed class]

Vice-principal: *to Board of Education Supervisor* Leslie bullies me all the time!
BOE Supervisor: Really? Leslie, is that true?
Me: *super politely* I don't think that to be the case at all.
Vice-principal: Of course, that's just what a bully WOULD say!
Everyone: *laughs, somewhat at my expense*

[Set-up: I was invited to a dinner hosted by my BOE earlier this week but said I couldn't go, not because I have anything specific to do but because the timing is bad.]

Vice-principal: Leslie, I just got a call from [BOE supervisor 2]. He wants to see if it's at all possible for you to go to that dinner on the 17th.
Me: Sure, it's fine.
Vice-principal: Really? OK, I'll call him back and let him know. *calls* Hello, [Supervisor]-sensei? Yeah, I bullied Leslie into going.
[a few minutes later]
Vice-principal: *hangs up* When I told him I bullied Leslie into it, he told me to not be mean to her or I might make her cry. Ha! And she's the one that bullies me all the time! But he didn't believe me! He said, "I can see [different female staff member] bullying you, but not Leslie!"
Teacher 1: It's true, she doesn't seem the bullying type.
Teacher 2: Doesn't that just make her bullying all the scarier?
Teachers, general: Hahaha, it's so true...

A different teacher of mine, Arai-sensei, never accuses me of bullying straight out; instead, he says, "Leslie's Japanese used to be so nice and polite! NOW listen to her. *resigned sigh*"

All of these instances are, as with my "bullying," a joke, but it has become a seemingly knee-jerk reaction from the staff. As with any stereotype, I can't help but want to say to them that it isn't my full character; that I have other aspects to me, things I can't adequately express in Japanese; but in the end, I comfort myself with the fact that the staff on the whole feel comfortable with interacting with me in such a casual manner. After all, isn't it more important to focus on what one has than what one lacks?