Here’s my speech, first in English, then in Japanese. An embarrassing but I think, necessary addition to the blog. Now only ten days left…
I went to the burger place today. The burger place that is 5 minutes ride from my house and directly opposite the 24 hour internet cafe I used a few times a week for the first month I was here. The burger place that my (and Ashley’s) students rave about constantly. The burger place that I didn’t even know existed until last week. For a while now I’ve considered my neighbourhood to be somewhat lacking in good food options. When I first got here it was far too hot to keep any of my clothes on, let alone cook, so I spent most of my time eating at establishments in the nearby vicinity. This more-or-less meant some ok ramen, some awful ramen or some sushi or deep-fried-you-name-it-because-I-don’t-know-what-it-is from the local supermarket. But then, I didn’t know about the burger place did I? Or the yakitori (meat kebabs, basically) place at the end of my road which is always full and apparently, rather amazing. Or indeed, the Korean-style grill house a couple of blocks over which I visited on Saturday night and ate my body weight in delicious marbled beef steak.
Now I could get annoyed about this. Why do I keep missing out on the things that are important to me, I could think to myself, and it would be true in my case; relationships torn apart, friendships put on hold, funerals, weddings and birthdays missed, finding burger and yakitori places too late. My own answer to this was just an argument to support the reason I’m out here – for a challenge – but a rather brilliant and inspiring article I read recently seemed to acknowledge the above question:
To reach your goals, you must move forward, which necessitates leaving some things behind. But the man who believes he can get whatever he desires without sacrifice tries to hold onto everything in an attempt to have it all. Instead of moving forward, he is stretched out horizontally and sitting on the fence.
You cannot do something huge or become great at something if you do not sacrifice something important to you in some other area of your life; in my case, time with my friends and family in the UK, a friend’s funeral, another friend’s wedding and a whole bunch of birthday celebrations. When I leave here, I do so because my life must continue to move forward rather than stagnate; this is the greater goal.
Anyway, believe it or not I didn’t come on here today to get all deep (how does it always happen?) but rather, to tell you a humorous little anecdote about what happened on the way back from the aforementioned burger place.
You know how sometimes your mind drifts to things that are funny, and you smile, or even burst out laughing to yourself like a crazy person? I think about funny things that have happened of course, but I often make up stuff that has never, and probably will never happen. Yes, life inside my head is a riot.
I was riding my granny bicycle back home and I began to remember when I was 14, and went on a trip to Germany with the church choir. The boys among us would walk around and talk very loudly in English, boasting about how we could say anything and no-one would no what the hell we were saying! Oh the freedom! The boyish mischief! Just think of all the bold and naughty things we could say! That was of course, until a German gentleman approached us with a grin and told us that actually, most of them understood at least 50% of what we were saying. Cue red cheeks and sheepish side-glances. I then started to imagine a situation where I was back in London and walking around the tourist areas stalking Japanese people and trying to hear what they were saying. I thought about how they probably do the same thing as we did when we were 14, and about how so few people speak Japanese in London so they could probably get away with much more. To cut a long story short I heard a bunch of girls taking the piss out of me and joined in (something that I like to do frequently to the kids in my school who think I can’t hear), at which point they all start going “HAZUKASHII!” which basically means “EMBARRASSING! WE’VE BEEN CAUGHT OUT!”
Back in real life, I found this hilarious. I started to grin like a mentalist, and then even had a little chuckle completely failing to realise that, at the same time, I was staring directly into the face of a 70 year old lady on a bike coming towards me from the other direction. Rather than pedal slightly faster and stare straight ahead like any sane person would do though, she creased up her entire face and shot me a grin twice as big, threw her head back and cackled joyously. Obviously, this only served to make me laugh even more, and the result was a picture; a young gaijin and an old lady bent over their granny bikes, riding past each other at a snail’s pace and pissing themselves laughing for no apparent reason whatsoever. Passers-by looked sincerely puzzled at this little display, some visibly quickening their step; doubtless wondering what was happening to their beloved neighbourhood.
As he struggled to think of the word ‘sky’ and then scribbled an incomprehensible version of said word on the board, the student next to him thrust up his hand, straining on his tiptoes as he proudly displayed the word ‘sea’, gaining the first point for the other team.
“No! Sea is green!” the first boy protested.
“Sometimes blue,” I replied, and at that he stalked off to his desk muttering the word “green” under his breath before staring at everything as if he wanted to murder it all with a blunt spoon.
Such is the emotion you can generate from a game of Scattegories apparently, where I summon a student from each of the 7 makeshift groups to the board, tell them a letter and a category, and have them write a word beginning with that letter and related to that category. Cue the noisiest lesson I have ever supervised. I’m actually amazed none of the other teachers came to protest.
There’s a reason for this madness of course; I am doing my last lesson with all my 1st years. This, as it turns out, is proving to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Usually, trying to get anything out of the students in two of my classes is like trying to draw blood from a particularly dead stone, yet both of them have woken up a bit in my last two lessons. People often say that you should have no favourites, but classes are so inconsistent anyway that it’s almost impossible for one to be on top the whole time, and others are always moving around the rankings. How well a class goes depends on so many factors, only a few of which you can control. You can only make your lessons so enjoyable (or try, anyway), but in the end you’re dealing with 42 independent personalities who might be tired, run-down, happy, genki, clinically depressed or a mixture of them all. One week you’ll have a lesson filled with joy, hard work, chatter and playful banter, and the next it’ll be like a tramp just climbed into the window, crapped on all their desks and told them to f**k off.
So the usually quiet classes have livened up. What else? Well the great classes have got better. And I mean “better” in the most self-indulgent of senses in that they were visibly and audibly upset when I said that this was my last lesson with them, oohed when I left them my email address, said “thank you Bobby!” in unison, and clapped before I left the classroom. My head swelled up so much I could barely fit through the door.
Outside of school things are moving very, very swiftly towards my departure. The plane ticket is (nearly) booked for the 1st of August, all the furniture in my house needs to be got rid of, I have to fill in a billion forms, send boxes back, practice a Japanese speech for next week, look for a new job, make sure I say goodbye to everyone, etc, etc. Fortunately I have received a replacement passport for the one I lost in January so I’ll at least be able to leave the country.
It’s the life outside work that I’ve enjoyed the most, and if I didn’t need to save money to set up back home I would certainly be staying until the end of August doing some travelling, sightseeing and “famous for” meal-eating. I didn’t get to see Osaka or Hiroshima, and I would have liked to go to Hokkaido again on account of how much I enjoyed it the first time around. One of my goals for the future is to take the train from London to Japan, and on that trip I’ll be sure to visit everywhere I meant to this time around. But that is a long way off. In the meantime I’ll keep as many connections with Japan open as possible. I have many friends here of course, and I’ll be sure to keep in touch with them, but I will have to make efforts while I’m in the UK too.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it will be like to surrounded by “foreigners” again. The Office for National Statistics estimated that in 2009 there were 34,000 Japanese people living in the UK, which is approximately 0.05% of the entire population. 0.05%! I knew it was going to be hard to stay in touch with the culture but seriously; needle in a haystack. I may have to rely on hanging around major tourist attractions accosting people who, because they are Japanese and hence some of the most efficient people on earth, don’t really need directions, but forcing them to listen to my migis and hidaris like an excitable geographer fresh out of a month of solitary confinement. There are meetup groups in London too, so I’ll try and get to a couple of those.
I really have no idea what to expect when I get home, but I’ll be sure to post my thoughts and ramblings here as and when they come to me.
As humans, we like to talk about ourselves a lot. It’s natural. To us, we are the most important people in our lives and everyone else’s interests are but a mere speck of insignificance compared to what we’re doing and how we look and what our plans are. Any time we’re not talking about ourselves we write about ourselves, either on Facebook or Twitter, or a completely separate website devoted entirely to themselves… Ahem. Yes I am, as you may have gathered, more guilty than others in this respect but I’ve had an strange realisation about this recently.
Learning Japanese has, as I have already explained, been an incredibly wonderful and rewarding experience. I’m at the point now where I can have a simple conversation without thinking too much (“simple” being the operative word here. Anything with more than 1 or 2 clauses and there’s some serious internal translation going on). One of the first things you learn about Japanese is that you can often omit a whole load of things from a sentence because much of it can be gleaned from context. If you want to ask you friend “Are you going to the pub?” for example, the full, polite version would be:
“Anata wa pabu ni ikimasu ka?” (“You, to pub, go?”)
…but you’re talking to your friend so you don’t need to be polite, and it’s obvious you’re not asking “am I going to the pub?” so you would probably just say:
“Pabu ni iku?” (“To pub, go?”), and if you say it quickly it just becomes “pabniiku.”
This saves a lot of time as I’m sure you can imagine, but you also become very used to omitting pronouns from all your sentences. This has had a really bizarre effect in that I have become acutely aware of how often people say “I” when talking in English. Suddenly the word “I” seems uncouth and unnecessary and the more people say it, the more self-obsessed they sound. If this is how I feel after 1 year of study, imagine how self-obsessed we must sound to the Japanese.
Just a thought.