Saturday, April 02, 2005

Adventures in Oita

Well, like I said, back in Oita for the week. But you know how these trips go. It's kind of like being home. There's always too many people to catch up with, and not enough time.

I'm staying with Shoko, who is treating me well, to put it mildly. She has been cooking meals for me, cleaning up after me, giving me personal hygiene tips, and even cycling to work so I can borrow her car and go out and meet other friends.

This Thursday I headed out to Ajimu to visit the old place. The previous two times I had been back, it had been on long weekends, so I never got a chance to visit the old town. So this was the first time I was back in Ajimu since I left in September.

I decided to visit the board of education and the town hall where I used to work. I was a bit nervous about it. After all they had made such a big deal when I left, I was worried they would make too big of a deal about the fact that I was back.

I couldn't have been more wrong. I walked in and said hello. Most of the people at the BOE looked up briefly from their work, and then went right back to what they were doing.

Part of the problem was my timing was a bit bad. I didn't know this before, but it turns out this past Thursday was the first day of the gappei.

Anyone who has been following Japanese news may be familiar with this. To save money, all across Japan smaller towns are merging into bigger ones. The Japan Times has an article on the town mergers here. Also my successor Josh has a bit about it on his blog as well. Ajimu and the neighboring town of Innai have both been absorbed into Usa city. So, as of Thursday, the town of Ajimu, where I lived for 3 years, officially no longer exists.

So everyone in the Board of ed and the town hall were very busy, and it was a bad time to visit. But the office lady talked to me for a while. "You're Japanese is so bad," she said. "I'd forgotten how bad it was." She then backed off slightly and said, "Actually your listening is pretty good. You understand most of what I say to you, but your speaking is really terrible."

They say that Japanese people very rarely voice their true opinions, but I guess this is just more proof that you can only put so much faith in stereo-types.

I ran into a few groups of students around the town as well. It was a bit weird because my students always seemed so excited to see me when I lived in Ajimu, but now they more or less ignored me, or brushed me off when I came to talk to them. I think that's partly just because I ran into the wrong students. (At least that's what I tell myself.) Maybe if I had met another group, they would have been overjoyed to see me.

But there is something weird about what distance does to relationships. When I saw my students every week I was a familiar presence and someone they felt comfortable with. Now I think they just didn't know how to react to me.

I ran into one group of girls. They walked quickly to try and get away from me, but I did manage to get in a quick conversation. "What grade are you going into now?" I asked. They answered they were high school students now. They had been elementary students when I first came to Japan. I've been here way to long.

Of course I visited the Lawson convenience store. When I lived in Ajimu, I had a rather unhealthy diet and got most of my food out of the convenience store. The old joke was that I kept that place in business, and after I moved away they would have to shut it down. The place hasn't shut down yet, but the girl behind the counter seemed very happy to see me again. "Wow, it's been a long time," she said. "Are you back now?"

"Just visiting for Spring Break," I answered. In all the time I had been going into that store, I think that's the longest conversation I ever had with the girl behind the counter. I then got into the car, looked in the rear view mirror, and realized I had a huge booger hanging out of my nose.

I went into Usa in the afternoon to meet some more friends. I was trying to call everyone at once, and having a hard time organizing anything because I didn't know what my schedule is. "I'm busy tonight," someone told me. "What about tomorrow?"

"I can't guarantee anything," I said. "I'll need to see if Shoko will let me borrow the car again."

"I see this is another one of your well organized trips down south," he answered.

I said the transportation issues couldn't be helped, but he was right, it was another one of my disorganized trips.

Some of us met up in Usa and were hanging out. "What time do you have to be back Joel?" I was asked.

"Well, I told Shoko I'd be back by 7, and it's 7:30 now..." This prompted some laughing, so I sheepishly explained, "well, I guess I've never been the most reliable boyfriend."

"Or employee," someone pointed out.

"No, that's true. Or employee. Or friend, or much of anything for that matter."

Shoko telephoned shortly after, wondering where I was. When I said I was still in Usa, she said I could stay out with her car if I wanted, and spend the night in Usa, and she could bike into work for another day. Is she a great girl or what?


Morris Mathews said...

Joel, I have been kind of out of the loop. Where do you live now? You're on vacation and seemingly having a good time somewhere else other than where you live in Japan. Lovely. But I don't know where you live. Just wondering. ~ Hannah

Morris Mathews said...

Also, I have found the same thing. You go back to see the kids who you were seemingly the center of the world for and they can't remember your name, or they laugh at you, or they rduely ask "What is she doing here?" Been there. Done that. ~ Hannah