A year later: Bleeding Through

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Lately, I’ve been thinking about my life.

The Short Version: from 2010 to 2013, I lived in rural Japan. I taught English in local elementary and junior high schools. It was easily the most challenging, amazing, rewarding, frustrating and life-changing thing that has happened to me yet.

For this reason, I find myself still thinking about Japan quite often. I will talk about it to whoever will listen. I’m on the board of my city’s Japan-America Society. I try to practice my Japanese whenever I can. And I still keep up with and listen to a lot of Japanese music.

Whenever I find myself talking about Japan though, I can occasionally see something in my friends’ eyes for a split-second. An eye roll or a lift of the eyebrows that seems to say ‘oh jeez here he goes again’. As if I’m a veteran grandpa recounting his time in ‘Nam or something.

It just seems that I can’t let Japan go.

But…do I have to?

レリゴーレリゴー

レリゴーレリゴー

For me, living in Japan for three years was a serious life-changing event for many reasons: It was my first time living away from home, I was in a different country doing something that I had dreamed about doing for years. I was able to travel to several different countries as well as domestically in Japan. I also formed amazing relationships with my students, coworkers and other foreigners from all over the world. I was even featured on a radio program, a TV show and on the front page of a Kyushu-wide magazine!

These are extraordinary things to do in one’s early twenties and I recognize that I am incredibly fortunate to have been able to have the experience I had.

But now that I’m back, and as I look forward to the future, I find myself still wanting to hold on to my connection to Japan. It would be great to work someplace where I can use Japanese. I would love to go back and visit sometime – specifically Kumamoto. And I still want to practice the language as much as I can because, hey, I spent a lot of time learning it. I don’t want to forget it.

It’s difficult, however. I want to embrace and cherish the special relationship I have with this island country that’s seven thousand miles away. But at the same time, I don’t want to dwell on it so much that it turns in to this sort of conceived paradise that it never was – causing me to deem what I plan to do in the future as ‘not as cool as Japan’.

Even though I’ve been back in the US for almost a year. Things like dealing with reverse culture shock (which is a very real thing), shifting dynamics in friendships old and new, and the crumbling of a long-distance relationship have all been more challenging than I anticipated they would be.

These things caused me to reflect more fondly on the good times I had when I was living in Japan. Almost like an escape back in to the Good Old Days. I was even quite resentful for a short period after coming back to the states, feeling that I had plateaued in my life. I even began looking up ways to get back to Japan.

But this wouldn’t have solved anything.

A metaphor popped into my head the other day, though, that I feel aptly describes my feelings.

Imagine you have a blank journal. You write in said journal for a good number of years with pens of varying quality. Some of the pens may be blue or black or red. Some may have been running out of ink when you used them. Maybe you even wrote in pencil on a few occasions.

Then one day you obtain a new writing utensil: a marker. You continue to write with this marker for a good long while before you eventually lose it.

The next time you go to write in the journal again, you see that the words you’ve written on the previous pages have bled through to the next dozen pages or so. You can write over the splotchy words and exclamation marks that have bled through, but you’re still able to see them clearly.

 

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Japan was, for me, the time in my life that I wrote with the boldest, darkest marker I could. I painted the shit out of my journal with it. I doodled in all the margins, I took up every line on every page. I wrote so boldly that the ink bled through for pages and pages and pages.

Now, when I write more things in the journal of my life, it’s with the constant reminder of what I have done in the recent past. Instead of blank pages to start from, I’m forced to write over the inky shadows of exciting times that seemed like just yesterday.

It feels like the new words that I write are not eye-catching or impressive – especially when compared to the huge, fun strokes of what’s left over from before. It’s like they’re having to fight for space and attention on the page. Sometimes it almost feels too fresh to even attempt to write over.

What I’ve had to learn to do is to accept that these reminders of my time in Japan will always be there in my journal. They’re going to have bled through to a good number of pages. But as time goes on, the dark smudges and blotches will begin to lighten and fade as new pages are turned.

Part of me fears that I will never be able to recapture the gusto and passion from the time in my life that I wrote with that bold marker. But another part of me sees that as a challenge. Why wouldn’t I be able to have another experience like that? It’s up to me to make it happen.

Sometimes it’s definitely easier said than done, but I’m finding a nice balance now between my life that was and where I am currently. The wonderful thing about having a journal like this (or, life, as I call it) is that at any time, I can go back and relive all of these adventures. I can flip back a few years and lose myself in rumination about how great (or not so great) certain aspects were.

These moments are nostalgic and fun to look back on – especially with friends who were there too. But the truth is, there’s no hope of recreating them. And that is a painfully bittersweet thing to realize.

(noun) A homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.

Hiraeth: (noun) A homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.

 

I’ve seen discussions and articles from former JETs on ‘Breaking up with Japan’. I think this is a good way to put it, but it seems a bit…final. I guess for me, ’Archiving Japan’, is a better description of what I’m doing — writing about it, experiencing it again and storing it away in my memory.

And I know that every time I take it out and revisit it, I’ll see those bold-ass marker strokes and smile at what a great experience it was.

 

 For those ‘ex-expats’ who have left Japan (or anywhere) and have readjusted to their home countries, have you found you’ve gone through the same kind of challenge? Have you managed to strike a balance that’s put you at peace? Do you have any advice for others who are struggling? 

 

Tackling the JET Program (Part 7): Placements!

 

Hey new JETs, it’s that time of year again! After what feels like months of agonizing silence, you’ve finally gotten your placement!

I love this time because the internet explodes with curiosity, excitement and uncertainty. New friendships are formed as leaving JETs get in contact with their successors and vice-versa. The staying JET community is flooded with excited gossip about who’s coming next, where they’re from and what they look like (Yes, I’m serious. I dare anyone to argue with me about this).

This is a super exciting time as it means that you’re one step closer to moving to Japan! Having an assigned prefecture/city/town/island makes it all the more real. Ahhh!

Here are some tips that I found helped me when I first got my placement in the wonderful Kumamoto prefecture.

 

 

  •  Reserve your judgmenet about how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ your placement is

When I googled Yatsushiro City, the only thing that came up was the depressingly barren Wikipedia page. I actually don’t think it’s changed at all since I last checked it three years ago. I learned about a giant pommelo fruit (banpeiyu) that is grown there, a festival in November…and the main shopping area that is ‘in decline’.

To be honest, I was a bit bummed. Where was this strange place that I was going to? All my other friends who had been accepted to JET were rejoicing in their placements that were only a couple of hours from Tokyo or Osaka. I felt as if I had kind of been exiled to Kyushu – far away from my friends and the big cities that I associated with being ‘REAL JAPAN’.

When I actually arrived in my city, however, I found it to be so much more than I ever expected. There were two giant malls, a gorgeous mountain range to the east and a port to the west. There were ample hiking opportunities, I was super close to a train station and they were actually building a shinkansen (bullet train) stop that was to be completed within the next year.

My point is: don’t put full faith in whatever you happen to scrape together about your placement on the internet. There’s really no way to know how much you’re going to like or hate it until you are actually there. Don’t be discouraged! It’s far too early!! 

 

  • Don’t compare yourself to other JETs and their placements.

I touched on this briefly in the last bullet point, but it’s important. Don’t compare yourself to other people. Especially those who think they know all about their placement. I had people at Tokyo Orientation practically bragging to me about being placed in X Y Z prefecture and how they were going to be so close to A B C and how they were going to do D E F every weekend.

Coming to Japan is exciting, it really is. I think that some people get so caught up in the excitement of it, though, that they start to fantasize they’re already living the life they’re dreaming about. It might sound great to be located only three hours from Tokyo. The reality, though, might be having to drive/take a bus 50 minutes through the mountains to get to the nearest train station in order to hop one of two daily trains that head that direction. Not quite as glamorous as it sounds.

If you compare yourself to other new JETs who are bragging about their placements before even getting there, you might start to feel unnecessarily bad about your own awesome placement. Pay them no mind. Just nod politely, maybe give them the ‘wow, cool!’ that they so desire…and then forget about it.

 

  • Start connecting with people ASAP!

I am a very social person. As such, I immediately began to scour Facebook and other social media when I received my placement. I discovered the AJET page for Kumamoto, joined it and announced myself. I was met with an incredibly warm welcome and instantly found myself put in contact with other JETs in my city or nearby. I then got to ask them all of my noob questions and, in the process, became even more excited about going.

I found in my time in Japan that, as a whole, the JET community is amazingly supportive and welcoming. Take advantage of this social network. In my experience, JETs in your prefecture are just as excited to meet you as you are them. Trust me 🙂

 

  • Reevaluate your expectations.

Surely, if you’re moving to Japan, you’re prepared for things to be different. But knowing your placement can solidify things you had been wondering about. Maybe you’re going to have to get a car and you didn’t think you would need one. Maybe you’re going to be a high school ALT and you really really wanted junior high/elementary. Maybe you’re going to be the only person in a village of 3,000.

I think that, applying to JET, many of us have expectations about what it could be like. When you get your placement, however, these expectations could shift slightly or be totally obliterated. If you were planning on being super close to Hiroshima because you studied there once…only to be found out that you were placed in Northern Hokkaido, you might have to reevaluate your expectations.

Like I said before, don’t get discouraged because things turned out different than you had expected/wanted. It’s important to keep an open mind and roll with the punches. Not only is it required almost every day as a JET, it’s quite possible that you will grow to love your placement more than you ever thought you could.

 

And that’s about all the advice I can think of at the moment! As I said, this is an exciting time and it’s a step closer to the reality of moving to Japan! Enjoy the time you have left while you prepare for your adventure!

If you’re a JET, where are you headed? If there’s anything else that I could maybe help with, feel free to leave a comment! And, if you’re headed to Kumamoto, congratulations!! 😀 

Sick Days

I’ve come down with some sort of cold-like ailment. My nose is filled to capacity with unpleasant gunk while my throat seems to be accommodating the extra like overflow parking. I’m tired and listless – which, for me, is incredibly rare and unpleasant. I’ve skipped the gym all week which makes me feel lazy, terrible and fat.

I’m generally pretty healthy and ‘genki’ so when stuff like this happens, it feels like it hits me a lot harder than it should.

I’m sure that I could expedite this recovery process but…I don’t currently have insurance. I tried to wade through the Affordable Care Act website but eventually it led me to a dead end. ‘Your state has chosen NOT to expand Medicare’, it told me in cheerful font.

In Japan, I was covered under the national healthcare plan. As such, I was granted access to doctors when I was feeling under the weather. There was a place in my city called the ‘Mizuno’ clinic that all of the ALTs were ‘suggested’ to go when they were sick. Going to the doctor in Japan was definitely an…interesting experience.

One cold winter morning, I awoke to a throat that felt like snakeskin. My head was throbbing and my extremities were like icicles. I slowly made my way down my dangerously steep staircase, wrapping my blanket tighter around myself. Descending into my main living room during the winter was always a mental struggle. The lack of central heating combined with the paper-thin walls of my apartment meant that it was not uncommon for my first floor to range from 30 to 40 degrees (-1 to 4 Celsius) in the mornings.

Within minutes, I was holding a steaming cup of coffee in my hands – extracting the warmth through my fingertips. I crinkled my nose a bit at the kerosene fumes that my heater had belched out when it turned on. After a few sips, my throat burned in angry protest and I decided that I would not be able to go to work today.

In Japan, or at least in Kumamoto, the concept of a 病休 (Sick Day) did not seem to be something that is really understood. I’m not even sure if Japanese teachers have a set amount of sick leave that they can use like ALTs do. Instead, they will normally just use their 年休 (paid vacation) but only if the situation is so dire that are near death. If it’s not, they are expected to gaman (suck it up), slip on a mask and teach anyway.

Without getting too off-topic, let me just say that Flu Season in Japan is often simultaneously amusing and horrifying to experience. Individual cases of the flu are listed by city on the news as if it were the Bubonic Plague. Teachers keep a running tally of how many students are out with influenza, but do nothing to encourage those who exhibit signs of it to stay home. Between classes, the windows and doors are open to ‘air out’ the classrooms from the lingering germs. Somehow the logic of letting freezing cold air circulate through the school does not seem super effective to me. Unsurprisingly, every year there are multiple classes, classes, of students who are infected with the flu and made to stay home for days.

After calling the Board of Education and confirming that it was not the dreaded influenza virus, I was told to go to the hospital and see a doctor. A short and miserable bike ride later, I walked through the doors of the Mizuno Clinic and was greeted to a pop-up slipper dispenser. Let me say, you have not lived until you’ve plucked a pair of hospital slippers from an automated machine.

The nervous receptionist gave me some papers to fill out and then marveled at how I was able to write my name and address in Japanese. I joined a gaggle of coughing, sneezing, sniffling old people in the lobby and awaited my turn to be called.

Every time I swallowed, it felt like my saliva was made of glass. I determined that I had Tonsilitis. I fiddled with my Japanese-English dictionary and learned that it’s called ‘Hentousen’ (扁桃腺) in Japanese. I committed this to memory and was eventually called back by another nervous-looking nurse who called my name with hesitation.

‘EE-AN San?’

I was led to a small room that seemed to be a middleway between the actual clinic and the waiting room. The doctor was sitting at a desk in front of a computer and stood up to greet me. I bowed politely and sat in the chair while the nurse began to check my diagnostics.

“What seems to be the problem?” he asked me in slow, but difficult medical jargon.

“My throat hurts,” I responded back in broken, child-Japanese. “and it’s swollen and red.”

“I see.”

“Yes,” I said. “I think I have ‘Hentousen’.”

“Hmmm sou desu neeee,” he murmured as he examined my throat with his light. His nurse kept watch the entire time, eyeing me warily.

He sat back in his chair, turned around and consulted a large, official-looking book. After a few minutes, of poring over it, he closed it and turned back to me. He took out a paper and a pen and drew a rudimentary picture of a mouth and throat.

“Here,” he said as he clicked his multicolored pen. “Your throat is red and it is swollen.” He began shading in my tonsils with red lines.

“…I know,” I said. “I just told you that.”

“Sou desu neeeee,” he repeated, making certain that he had finished his coloring. “I am going to put you on a drip.” he added.

“I’m sorry…a drip?”

“Yes, IV.”

“But how will that help my throat?”

He chuckled condescendingly at my lack of knowledge and motioned to his nurse.

I was led out of the room and in to another that was stocked with comfortable armchairs. The nurse sat me down, complimented my Japanese and then stuck a needle in my arm. It was connected to a bag of, what appeared to be, C.C. Lemon soda.

After about an hour of sitting in an armchair, my throat felt no better than it did at the beginning of my appointment. I was led to the reception area again and paid my copay. I was then given a prescription and told to go next door to the pharmacy.

A short time later, I exited the pharmacy with about a dozen small baggies filled halfway with various powders. I was to take two every day (morning and night) for about five days and then go back to the pharmacy in order to get another dose of them. They tasted like dehydrated goblin piss.

Experiencing the doctor in Japan was a less-than-stellar experience for me. The next time I felt under the weather, rather than try to find another clinic and stumble my way through it, I opted to just stay home and drink massive amounts of green tea. This combined with not doing anything for the entire day seemed all that my body needed to recover from whatever was ailing it.

And so, as I continue to live here in the US without insurance (for the time being), I am still content with sitting in my bed and drinking copious amounts of tea and other warm beverages. Here, I take pleasure in knowing that I won’t be staring at my breath billowing out from my mouth while doing so.

TACKLING THE JET PROGRAM APPLICATION (Part Four: the Statement of Purpose)

G’day Blokes and Sheilas! It’s a cold day here in San Antonio (where we don’t use words like ‘bloke’ or ‘sheila’, wtf?). My life has been pretty busy lately, but I figured that I’d write another post for those who are looking to apply to the JET Program for the 2014 intake! 

 First, let me start by saying that the deadline for the JET Application has been extended to DECEMBER 3rd, 2013! This is unprecedented and awesome for those applicants who want to make sure that their application is airtight and perfect! 

 In my last entries, I’ve talked about the application itself. This time, I want to focus on that two-page essay to end all essays: The Statement of Purpose. 

 Now, for me, the SoP was the hardest part of the whole application. As far as your total score goes, the SoP counts for quite a bit of it. It’s the only chance that you’ll have to really sell yourself as a worthwhile candidate. No pressure, right? Don’t worry, as long as you’re succint and eloquent in what you want to get across, you’ll have no problem. 

 What’s that? You aren’t? Don’t worry, I’m not either. Anyone who has read my rambly-ass blog posts knows that I, too, am far from succint and eloquent. My main problem was that the SoP can only be two pages double-spaced. That’s nothing. After many many many drafts, I finally came up with one that I was happy with and sent it off to DC. 

 Here are some tips that helped my verbose self write an effective (or so I assume) Statement of Purpose: 

 – Don’t ramble. Don’t try to take the reader on a journey and paint a story for them. The people reading these essays read dozens of them every day. Cut the flowery language, metaphors and whatever else takes up too many words. Be straightforward and to the point. 

– Don’t be cliché. If you’re mentioning why and how you ‘fell in love with Japan and its culture’, make sure you avoid being cheesy or trite. ‘My grandma had a vase from Japan in her house and I loved it since the day I set eyes on it…’ makes for a pretty weak-ass reason to have become interested in an entire culture and country. You can’t expect the people reading these essays to buy fluff and bullshit, they do this for a living and are ruthless

– Don’t use any Japanese writing in your essay. Not only do the instructions say ‘in English‘ in bold letters, but it can also really screw up your formatting and cost you valuable space. It won’t ‘prove you can speak 日本語 really 上手’ and it will just make your essay look strange. Trust me, this is one gimmick that will not go over well. 

– Don’t make it all about your wants. ‘I would love to learn Taiko’, ‘I would love to climb Mt. Fuji’, ‘I would love to see the cherry blossoms in the spring’, ‘I would love to visit the Peace Museum in Hiroshima’. This is all well and good, but it’s a bit selfish, don’t you think? JET doesn’t want to hear about what you want to do IN the country they’re sending you to, they want to hear about what you can do FOR the country they’re sending you to. Although it is an essay about you, I would recommend highlighting the skills and qualifications you have that would benefit those around you. Not just what you hope to accomplish and check off of your bucket list while there. 

– Do explain yourself. ‘I want to teach kids English!’ Well, that’s great. So do 5000 other people who are also applying this year. Why do you want to do so? Make sure you explain yourself and answer the question of why you want to do this program. Be thoughtful and honest in your answer. 

– Do be interesting. If you have an interesting tie to Japan, mention it! As long as it’s not about your grandma’s vase. 

– Do highlight any relevant experience you have and make yourself sound awesome! Can you play the guitar or another instrument? Awesome! Are you trained in a martial art or have you played a certain sport for a long time? Boom! Were you in acting for several years? Nice! Can you speak five languages and Pig Latin on top of it? Great!

– Do ask for feedback from other people. I found this was very helpful for me – especially asking former/current JETs. Just keep in mind that after everything, it is ultimately YOUR essay, so do what you think feels comfortable and right. Also, read it out loud to make sure it flows well. 

Those are all the tips that I can think of right now! I hope that I’m able to help at least one person! Let me just throw out a disclaimer that these are all just my opinions and I’m not associated with JET nor do I have *~*~*~iNSiDe KnOwLeDgE~*~*~* about the secret workings of the program. 

 Until next time! Happy applying! And happy Thanksgiving to those in the states celebrating it this week! 🙂 

Fall/Autumn/Otoño/秋

*This is an entry from my other blog http://curlyqshoo.blogspot.com and was written way back in 2011. With fall having come to Texas, I’m finding myself very 懐かしい (nostalgic) about Kumamoto and Japan as of late.*

As summer comes to a close and the bitingly cold winter prepares to descend on the Moto, I’m left to enjoy the brief autumn that happens here in Kyushu.

 On my bike rides to school, I’ve noticed that people have started wearing jackets. The school kids have begun to wear their fall and winter uniforms – jackets that remind me of Star Trek uniforms for boys and long-sleeved shirts and skirts for the girls.
 Whereas summer in Kyushu is full of vibrant colors that assault your eyes throughout the day, fall has somewhat of a different attitude.
 During the summer, the rice fields wave dramatically in the wind – a shade of vibrant green that I had never seen before coming here. The two blue rivers that I crossed on my way to school every day would sparkle brilliantly in the blazing sun. The mountains stood tall and stoic, glowing in their majestic earthy colors as the sun bounced off them, illuminating them so that they could be marveled at.
From this...

From this…

...to this :(

…to this 😦

However in fall, it seems that the HD!nature switch is suddenly turned off. The colors begin to fade as the rice is harvested, transforming the area into dull brown empty fields. The sun seems to get lazier and lazier as it reluctantly rises into the sky every morning, only parting through the clouds when it really has to.

There are still splashes of color, though. The persimmon trees are dotted with vibrant orange fruits that look very dramatic against their stickly backgrounds. Various flowers bloom dramatically, but they’re too late to the party. Summer is gone and the cold winter will soon settle in.

Along with the fading colors, I’ve noticed the decrease in the amount of insects. The mosquitoes die off pretty quickly and I don’t see many dragonflies. The flying insects in my apartment haven’t seemed to die yet, but I’m hopeful they will soon. However the spiders are another story.

The spiders seem to increase dramatically in size around this time of year.  What were once small, hungry-looking spiders on lampposts are now horrifically big and gnarly. Like…jaw-droppingly awful. As I ride by them, I have to contain the shudders that they elicit from me for fear that I’ll fall off my bike.

 Their webs are gigantic elaborate webs that hang about the lamppost in such a way that any unlucky flying insect will eventually be snared if it comes within a foot or two of the pole. Some even resemble spider web globes that envelope the empty space between the post and the actual light. Others still stretch from the light pole to a nearby bush or shrub some five feet away. This boggles my mind because the spiders would have to either work in tandem from either side or have some incredible acrobatic moves.

 I find myself unconsciously ducking whenever I see these incredibly feats of arachnid engineering for fear of being clotheslined. In reality, they’re pretty high up and I’m most likely  not in any danger, but I don’t want to take the chance of being snared by a low-hanging trap!

 I’m sure that the high school students that I pass on the morning think that I’m the most polite foreigner ever – bowing to them all the time. In reality, I’m trying not to get a face full of spider butt-floss and insect carcasses.

  Lately, the mornings have been cold but the afternoons have been nice and warm. I know that this is just nature playing a dirty trick on everyone. Last year, it was a lot colder around this time. I think it’s waiting for the right moment to spring winter on us (no pun intended).

 I’m enjoying the nice weather in the afternoon, but I’m constantly paranoid about the sudden drop in temperature. I know it’s coming soon. Out of nowhere, it’ll hit and the temperature will dip ten degrees! It’ll most likely happen at the most inconvenient time for me – like on a run to the conbini without my jacket.

 At least for now, it’s mikan season. And that always makes me happy!

Mikan!

Mikan!

 

**Also, I can’t fix the format of the first few paragraphs! It’s so frustrating! Can anyone give me any tips on coding/how to make separate paragraphs?! WP isn’t doing what I ask it to X__x **

Adventures in Dialysis: Talkative Texans

First a bit of backstory:

In January, my grandmother suffered a massive heart attack.

I’m sure most expats can probably agree that a situation like this is something that we all dread above everything else. An emergency of some kind that happens back home while we’re stuck thousands of miles away powerless, wanting to know everything that’s happening and frantic to help in any way we can.

After a voicemail and a text from my mother that I should come home (at the doctor’s suggestion), I immediately purchased a plane ticket home and left the next day. My supervisor and Board of Education were all extremely understanding and did not give me any hassle. Thankfully, during my five-days in the states, my grandma’s condition improved dramatically.

IMG_7644  As I boarded the plane back to Japan, a niggling fear that something would happen again settled in my heart. The stress and uncertainty of being 7000 miles away from my family in a time of crisis like that was pretty rough and it definitely shook me up. It really put into perspective just how far away I lived.

On the long flight back, I had a lot of time to think about the future and my next steps. On the JET Program, ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers who don’t know) have the option to extend their contract for up to five years. We’re given the recontracting paperwork in October and we have to deliver our formal decision in February. While I was already leaning in the direction of not recontracting, this incident pushed me to make my decision to return home for good in August.  I decided that while I loved Japan, my area, my friends and students, shit back home was a bit too crazy for my liking and it was for the best to be back with my family.

As my final months in Japan passed, I kept in close contact with my mom and demanded constant updates on my grandparents. The news I heard was rather unsettling: my grandma had fallen down the stairs of her house multiple times and had to have her toe amputated due to an infection caused by her diabetes. My grandpa was having a lot of trouble walking and was beginning to forget things.

The closer it got to my departure from Japan, the worse my grandparents’ health seemed to be getting. My grandma’s attitude was worsening and my grandpa’s kidney function was extremely low — low enough for him to be put on dialysis.

All of this was stressful and disheartening to hear however it reaffirmed that I had made the right decision by returning home.

When I got back last week, I saw that my grandparents were indeed in pretty rough shape – worse than they had been just eight months previous. However, they were overjoyed to see me (and I, them) and I think that my being back has picked up their spirits considerably.

The day after I returned, I began taking my grandpa to dialysis. I don’t profess to know too much about dialysis, but it’s basically a way to cleanse the blood from my grandpa’s body since his kidneys aren’t functioning well enough to do it effectively on their own. He’s hooked up to a machine that takes his blood, filters it and then returns it to his body.

This whole process takes about three to four hours and is done three times a week. As I currently have no job and an abundance of free time, I take my grandpa to and from the dialysis clinic.

In the waiting room, patients and their friends or family often sit and wait – sometimes for the entire day. There are a group of Hispanic ladies who seem to stay at the clinic for the entire duration of their person’s dialysis. Coolers of drinks and food resting by their legs, they chatter away at each other in Spanglish and watch the horrendous daytime TV that the waiting room is subjected to.

“You know my son likes when I make enchiladas in the microwave. Pero sabes que he calls them ‘lazy enchiladas’! Como que son lazy?! Si las ponga en el oven, sometimes they get all duro!”

“Ay, I do that too! Y mi hijo le gustan these tacos that I make when I shake the tortillas còmo este y they get all puffy. Èl los llama ‘tacos wangos’! He says ‘mama, make me the tacos wangos! Ha ha ha”

Everyone in the waiting room seems to be going through the same long, drawn-out ordeal that dialysis is. When someone comes into the waiting room, usually the Club de First Esposas will greet them with a cheerful ‘Good morning!’ and a round of smiles. I find this to be incredibly sweet and it’s something about the USA that I’ve missed.

Another thing that I had forgotten Americans – especially Texans – do…is talk. Jesus Christ do they talk.

Recently I was picking up my grandpa and waiting for him when a woman who I had seen once before leaned over and struck up a conversation with me. She was a small woman who looked to be in her sixties with horn-rimmed glass and a short hairdo that said ‘I’m a hip woman, aren’t I?’.

“So when are you back to school?” she said with a knowing smile.

I explained to her that I was no longer attending school and that I had just recently returned from teaching English in Japan.

“Oh, that is so nice!” she gushed. “You know, I work at a hotel chain and we just recently got some Japanese people in who are doing work experience down in housekeeping – well they’re in housekeeping now. Before they were in the kitchens learning how to do all that but they’re just so CUTE!” Her face pursed as she were talking about a litter of newborn kittens.

“And you know, I feel so bad for them because they’re just so LITTLE!” she went on. “You know how these Japanese – well you know, orientals – are just so TINY and I just feel so bad for them you know because those women who work there are so mean!”

I blinked, gave a slight nod and said something to the effect of “Oh.” and not ‘Did you just say the word ‘Oriental?’’ like I wanted to say.

“I just see them sometimes and they look so SCARED and I just want to go up and give them a hug and say ‘Ohh honey it’s okay!’ but I do think now that they’ve become a bit more acclimated to the job and they’re doing much better! But I still, those women down there can be downright MEAN, I feel so bad!”

Mind you this is the first time I had ever talked to this woman. I had forgotten how at ease Texans (Texan women in particular) are at talking with complete strangers.

“I just take Bob here to dialysis.” she said with a point at the closed door that led to the facility inside. “He’s my sister-in-law’s brother. And you know they were doing it for some time but it just got to be too much and I said ‘sure I don’t mind taking him’. And I’m glad I did because with Chris and Janet’s schedules boy it would be impossible, I tell you.’

I had no idea who Chris or Janet were.

“And you remind me of their son, you know.” the woman went on. “Billy used to wear his hair just like that, is yours natural?”

I told her that it was, in fact naturally curly.

“Gosh that’s nice,” she sighed. “You know Billy doesn’t wear his like yours much anymore. His job won’t let him, you see.” She shifted in her chair and leaned forward a bit. “He’s in the FBI.”

“Oh,” I said feigning all the interest I could at the abstract person who this woman was biographying.

“Yes and it’s so hard on Chris and Janet sometimes because they’ll say ‘oh, how’s work?’ and he’ll say ‘I can’t tell you’ you know? And boy it just drives them crazy. He’ll sometimes tell Scott something but even if he does, you know it’s nothing much! The other day, Debra said to me ‘it’s so frustrating isn’t it? I wish I knew SOMETHING.’ I said ‘I knoww’-.”

It was then that the door opened and my grandpa came through with the nurse. I leapt up (probably faster than I should have) and bid the woman farewell. I realized that I now knew the name of her brother-in-law, someone’s son and three other names of her family members but she had never told me hers.

Being around extremely friendly people like this is a definite shock to my system. I remember now how Texas is a place where people will talk to you for whatever reason. Is it hot outside? Did the Spurs/Cowboys/Mavericks/Rockets win/lose? Is Obama ruining the country?

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know who the people in their life are. It doesn’t matter if you don’t agree with what they’re saying. It doesn’t matter if you couldn’t care less about the price of onions at HEB compared to last year. Texans will find a reason to strike up a conversation and, when they do, you had better be prepared to listen.

By the way, I still have no idea who Scott and Debra are.

In my old country…

 I’ve not yet been back a full week but already, the comparisons to my former life are coming hard and fast. 

 “Wow. In Japan, there’s no tipping and the portion sizes are SO much smaller.”

 “It’s so much more humid in Japan! It’s still hot here, but I find I’m not sweating as much.” 

 “Yay, American toothpaste! A lot of Japanese toothpastes don’t have fluoride.”

 

 At the moment, my family and friends are dealing well with me constantly linking everything I come across back to Japan. However I know that the responses will soon turn from expressions of interest to eye rolls. “Yes, Ian. You’ve told us about how they eat horse meat in Japan.” 

“But but…” I’ll say, desperate to enlighten them about an aspect of Japan that they didn’t previously know. “Did you know that when it comes to grapes, a lot of Japanese people-“

“-don’t eat the skins? Yes, you’ve told me that as well.” 

This is sure to be disheartening, but I think it’s just part of the decompression process of living as an expat. I’m now back in a very familiar environment that is now very different. However at the same time, I’m continuing to draw on my experiences from a very different environment that grew to be very familiar. 

If that makes sense? 

At this point in my re-entry phase, I still can’t stop comparing everything to my life in Japan. I feel like I’m Phoebe from the Magic School Bus (nostalgia trip, anyone?) 

Image

At my old school…nobody spoke English…and people weren’t this fucking fat! 

In the Magic School Bus, Phoebe is quotable as saying ‘At my old school…’ followed up by some incredibly obvious statement i.e. ‘At my old school…we never rode on bees’. And, much like my family and friends, the class just collectively rolls their eyes at her and nod. 

 Yes, Phoebe. We know that your life before coming to this racially diverse class of characters was different. No need to keep saying it. 

However, just like this unfortunately-clothed third grader, I’ll need to keep this in mind as I continue to adjust to Texas.