Ten years ago, my life as I knew it ended. I lost almost everyone I cared about. I lost the place that had been my second home for five years. I lost work, play, and society. I no longer had the right to free education; getting a job became an expectation rather than a suggestion; and learning became a means rather than an end.
Ten years ago, I graduated high school.
In the years since, I’ve gotten a university degree. I’ve worked at a dozen different jobs, travelled abroad, and learned how to live on my own. I’ve made acquaintances from all over the world and even a couple of friends. In the last year or so I’ve even begun to think of myself as an adult. I can look back at my teenaged self and see how limited my understanding was, and how many mistakes I made. Yet, in many ways, I’m not that far removed from the the depressed, lonely, Hamlet-reading, Marvin-quoting kid I used to be. I’m still not sure what to do with my life. All I’ve ever wanted was a nice home, a loving family, and some form of employment that was both gainful and meaningful; yet somehow I find myself perennially hopping from country to country, like an inverse George Bailey. I never learned to do things that most people take for granted, like drink, date, or dress stylishly; nor did I pick up the knack all adults seem to have of forming relationships easily and dropping them just as blithely. And if I had to go back to grade thirteen and do it all over again, I’m not sure I wouldn’t make all the same mistakes. It’s ten years later…
Okay, maybe I have a few clues, but it’s still not easy.
I got to see more of this spring’s sports competitions than any of the previous events. On Saturday I was lucky enough that the volleyball was being held at my school. I watched my team beat another in a nail-biting match, and cheered my lungs out as they faced their next competitor. Sadly, it was not to be, and despite putting on a really good game, they were squarely defeated. On Sunday I attended the baseball semi-finals. This was a lot less exciting, but my team did manage to win the game, meaning that they got to play the finals the next day. I turned up on Monday prepared to show as much enthusiasm for my baseball boys as I had for my volleyball girls, but the game ended up being incredibly dull. Neither team scored a single run until the end of the last inning, and when they finally did I was so relieved that I barely cared that it was the other team! At least they cancelled class for the rest of the day, so I had an excuse to go home early.
To make up for our weekend of sport we got a holiday on Thursday and Friday, which allowed me one more short trip: a weekend in Yokohama with my tea lady! We took the bus down to Tokyo on Friday, and spent the afternoon seeing the sights. We went to the Skytree first, Tokyo’s new tallest building. It had been under construction for a while, and visible on all of my previous visits to the city. It was finally open, but tickets to go up it were already sold out for weeks to come, so we only got to see it from the bottom. We also paid a visit to the Tokyo Tower (now dwarfed by the Skytree, at only half its height), Shinjuku, and Kappabashi-dori. The latter is famed for its plastic food stores. No, I don’t mean food that tastes like plastic, like those cheap waxy Easter eggs, tasteless hot dog wieners, or gosh-awful processed cheese slices. I mean food made of plastic, usually displayed in restaurant windows. I’ve been a fan of plastic food ever since I first encountered it in Hong Kong and spent months believing it was the real thing! I would have loved to buy some as a souvenir of my time in Asia, but even something as simple as an ice-cream would have cost me around $40, so in the end I settled for a miniature okonomiyaki fridge magnet.
When you think about it, Yokohama is probably the first Japanese city I ever heard of, and the Great Buddha of Kamakura one of the first Japanese icons. So I was quite chuffed to be making the city the location of my last Japanese holiday, and the statue the destination of my first excursion in that city. My tea lady and I went out to see it on Saturday, and in spite of the rain we visited many of the surrounding temples, window shopped the souvenir stores, and got some decent pictures of the Buddha itself. In the evening we went out to Yokohama’s Chinatown, famous for being the largest in Japan. It was nice to be surrounded by Chinese things again, and the place really did remind me of Hong Kong, but I was still woefully disappointed by the barbecued pork bun I tried. Why do the Japanese have to fail at making Chinese-style barbecued pork buns??!!
Other than that this month’s been mostly about routines and leaving preparations. I’ve finally booked my flight, which means I now know when I’ll be leaving Japan and when arriving in Australia. I’ve started to sort through my stuff, deciding which things to take, which to leave, which to send home, and which to put in the bin. Meanwhile, I still have singing practice one night a week, and Dungeons & Dragons another night. I’m paying weekly visits to all the first- and third-year classes and to my elementary schools, and eating lunch with my students five days a week. It’s busy and stressful, and as I enter my final month, it’s only going to get more so.
In the news this month, an especially gruesome story has been added to Canada’s surprisingly long list of grisly murders. It started back in May, when the Conservative Party of Canada received a package containing a human foot. Yes, that’s right, a foot! This was followed by three more packages (addressed to the Liberal Party and two schools in Vancouver), a human torso in a suitcase, an apartment full of blood, an internet snuff video, and an international manhunt that ended with the arrest of the killer in Germany. This is a level of disturbing that I don’t really think the words “WTF???” are adequate to deal with, so I’ll just say that I’m glad I’m not the person who opened any of those packages. Or, obviously, the victim.
In other news, science fiction writer Ray Bradbury has died. I know him as the author of Fahrenheit 451 and numerous short stories, and though far from an expert on him, I enjoyed and respected his work. In Japan, the last fugitive members of Aum Shrinrikyo have finally been captured. Aum (which is actually the Sanskrit word “om”, pronounced “ōmu” in Japanese) was the organisation that released Sarin gas in the Tokyo subway system in 1995; the arrests mean the end of a seventeen-year manhunt. And in Australia, an inquest has definitively ruled that the 1980 death of Lindy Chamberlain’s baby was the result of a dingo attack, and not because of her or any other human’s interference. I know nothing about this case other than what was in the movie A Cry in the Dark, but I gather it’s a big deal in Australia and that people there are glad to have this issue resolved.
Movies I’ve seen this month:
Rajio no Jikan – Clever Japanese comedy about the production of a radio drama and the impromptu revisions that get made in the process of airing it. Full of bright humour and sharp satire, this is one movie that any fan of films about the media has to watch! (Three and a half stars)
Books I’ve read this month:
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin – My first time re-reading this book since I was a child. I had mixed feelings about it back then, and I’m still not sure what I think of it. I respect the ways in which it deviates from standard fantasy motifs, but, while I enjoy some of the more horrifying elements, it seemed unnecessarily dark. Oddly, I thought I understood the story, but now I’m not so sure, and I came away from my second reading even more confused than I went into it. Might be a good idea to re-read the rest of the trilogy and check out the other Earthsea books too.
Stardust by Neil Gaiman – My first Neil Gaiman book, a kind of modern fairy tale about the intersection of Faerie and Victorian-era England. Not an outstanding work of fantasy, but entertaining and good enough to make me consider reading more of Gaiman.
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle – That’s right, I read it again! It’s that good! And it’s going on my list of favourite books of all time!