Sayonara Nagoya

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After each class, I’d quickly pen the lesson plan for the following class, and I’d look at the calendar to figure out next week’s date. It was always a surprise. Wow. It’s already October. Wow. It’s gonna be Thanksgiving soon. Holy crap. It’s 2015. In Japan, time moves faster than the Shinkansen.

The last time I wrote anything here, it was around my Six Month Milestone of a life teaching English in Nagoya, Japan. I made some comments to my future self (which, at the moment, is me) about hoping to still be madly in love with Nikki, about finding my knack for teaching. I think I owe it to my past self to respond to some of that stuff.

Firstly, yes, I am still madly in love with Nikki. The official plan is to finish my contract with ABC Plus and hop on a lengthy layover-filled flight to Guanajuato, Mexico on March 2nd. We were able to spend two great solid months together at the end of 2014 when she left her Peace Corps service in the Philippines. With that newfound freedom, she steered herself toward a Masters program in Santa Cruz, California that requires fluency in Spanish, and thus the plan to spend a few months in Mexico was born. In love, I’d go anywhere in the world with her, and Mexico sounds like an ideal, warm, festive place to go next. The two months that she was here, Japan was an entirely different experience. We were able to see more of the country and ourselves. Afterward, when I had a two-week Christmas vacation, we reunited in California for a tumultuous experience where details of my past were revealed that nearly destroyed the relationship, but at this current moment we’ve found a way to talk and breathe through it all. There’s more healing to do. At the very least, this episode confirms what I’ve known all along.

Do not attempt a long distance relationship.

Don’t. Never. It’s not good. It might “work” in the end, but it’ll be torture. It’ll tear at you, it’ll change you, it’ll hurt you. It’s not realistic. It’s not a true relationship. I don’t care how much you try to convince yourself that you’re special. You’re not. Long distance is awful.

So anyway, in response to my past self, the short version is this: Nikki and I are okay. When we reunite in Mexico, we’ll be fine.

As for teaching and Nagoya and Japan… I’m only a handful of weeks away from finishing my contract with ABC Plus. This realization is sometimes startling. It takes time and energy and heart to get comfortable with your students. They look to you for guidance. They listen (sometimes). They want to perform well for you (usually). They’re adorable little creatures who constantly surprise you with what they remember, what they can communicate, and their behavior. I know that I’ll sincerely miss at least 90% of my students, and our last classes together will be heartbreaking. I really do love this job.

And that says a lot about ABC Plus. The amount of supplies and resources at the school have made it easy to teach. There are hundreds of textbooks, games, stories, flashcards, and whiteboard markers within your reach. It’s a well-oiled machine, with mandatory two-month plans, weekly game meetings, and biannual progress reports. Sometimes it feels daunting to make dozens of photocopies each day, and crafting a useful worksheet can take time, and at the end of the day there is a heavy exhaustion… But you never take it home with you. Each class is mostly a success.

It’s been interesting to watch myself grow as a teacher. There are still classes where my presence doesn’t seem to matter, where chit-chat or obnoxious behavior still reigns over whatever English lesson I planned for the day. There are still lost causes (I’m looking at you, Tuesday 4:00 PM). But whatever. They’re kids. I’m not a “real” teacher at a school, and there’s a degree of lawlessness allowed at ABC Plus because we don’t really discipline the students. Therefore, the good students are great and the bad students just waste their parents money. It’s not my fault. It took a while to realize that a bad class was (usually) not my fault. And now, at the end of my time here, I kind of enjoy the chaos of a “bad” class. Remember: they’re just kids.

Working in a small office can be challenging sometimes, but I’ve always remained level-headed and at a slight distance from the gossip. Ten teachers. Not everyone can be friends. That’s life. Over the past year, teachers have left, new teachers have come in, and the dynamic is constantly changing. But really, the job is not about your relationship with your fellow teachers (although a positive relationship certainly helps), but how you feel inside the classroom.

I never really learned Japanese. I can sort of read, slowly. I know basics. I can order food and beer and say hello and goodbye. Oh well. My heart was always set on Spanish, anyway.

I climbed Mt. Fuji. I saw Tokyo. I experienced the beauty of the cherry blossoms in Kyoto. I checked Osaka, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Nikko, and Nara off my list. Never made it to Okinawa. I had some couch surfers pass through–a German couple, a pair of Filipino friends. I rode the Shinkansen. I sang plenty of karaoke. I ate tons of sushi. Tried raw horse meat. Filled myself on Japanese beer and whiskey. I went on hikes. I went scuba diving near Echizen. Went camping. I visited dozens of shrines and temples. Got my fortune. Meditated. Went to a coworkers wedding. Watched a lot of streaming movies and shows on the internet. Rode the subway far too much. Went to two music festivals in Toyota. Saw a baseball game. Finished three 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles. Ate far too many bento meals for lunch. Relaxed at two Onsen hot springs (wish I’d done that more). Small-talked with the occasional curious local who wanted to practice their English. Went to a few fireworks festivals over the summer. Experienced the heat. Experienced the snow. Felt a couple small earthquakes. Climbed onto the roof of my building.

And, amidst all that, I revisited Nikki in the Philippines a few times while she was still there. Those were wonderful splashes into a lush, warm environment to contrast with the city life of Japan, and it was always hard to leave Nikki each time.

Here it is. The end of my time in Japan. I’m not sure when or if I’ll come back this way, but leaving with a positive view of this country, I don’t see why I wouldn’t if I had the chance. Next is Mexico. After that, a return to California.

I’m signing out once again. Who knows when I’ll stumble across this blog in the future. Feels good to leave a little piece of my history here. Thank you Japan. Sayonara.

Six Months in Japan

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When I was studying abroad, I found myself writing on a blog all the time. Retrospectively, I think this had more to do with my preferred method of immortalizing the memory, a way to fully explain and express the experiences that were shaping me at the time. A blog let me capture the memories as best as words can describe them, and to contemplate those memories and what they meant to me. These days, with easy access to photography via my cellphone, I find myself prone to capturing moments with a quick snapshot and a caption, or not capturing them at all. My urge to write about Japan has been saved for entries in a paper journal that I began when I arrived in the Philippines at the start of this year. So other than a long trail of Instagram photos, there’s been no real catalog of my experience here, save what people interpret through images I’ve shared.

And here I am, passing the six month mark, with no blog entries to show for it.

That’s simply the way things went. I have no readers to please or motives to fulfill. This was always meant to be a small blip of internet real estate preserved for an outpouring of thoughts or observations. No expectations. Out of curiosity I happened to navigate back to this lonesome blog. Seeing the personal significance of Six Months in Japan, it seemed like a good time to say hello, if only to my future self.

Future Self: I’d like to know what you’ll think about all of this in retrospection. You never anticipated coming to Japan. You only vaguely understood what you were signing up for when you joined with ABC Plus. You’ve slowly developed a wobbly knack for teaching. Your greatest struggle has been the hardships put upon the heart in maintaining a long distance relationship with Nikki. Future Self: I can only pray and wish and hope that all your current love for and wants and desires to be with Nikki for the rest of your lives are still palpable and within reach. If you survive Japan, you can survive anything. Next stop: Mexico.

But what about Japan? As much as I strive to be present, there is an ever-present resilience to immersing myself in this country. I enjoy many aspects of this country. The faults I see are obscure cultural habits of a culture I have no right to judge, and thus rarely concern myself with. This is a place of comfort, safety, and convenience, but no country is perfect. I’d rather live here than in the USA, though I know that “here” is no quite home. I’m meant for somewhere else, somewhere with Nikki. Somewhere consistently warm and relaxed.

Anyway. Six Months. I’m halfway there.

Three Months Abroad

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I’ve got to finish this bottle of Perrito cabernet sauvignon that I bought from Seiyu the other night when Nikki and I had a Skype date. It’s Chilean wine. Pretty good for 600 yen. It’s the first wine I’ve bought during my time in Japan, which is edging toward two months, having otherwise resorted to cheap local beers and the occasional rum & coke or shot of tequila.

Not to make it sound like all I’ve done in Japan is drink. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The first two weekends happened to include the Welcome Party for new teachers (three of us) and a fellow teacher’s Going Away Party. Hence, the first two Sundays of my Japan experience were spent hungover and recovering. Worth it, though. The bonding experiences were fun-filled and memorable, from all-you-can-eat feasts to karaoke.

In the meantime, I was being trained to teach English with a private after-school company, not one of the giant soulless English factories that pick up wayward native speakers looking for an easy paid vacation, but a smaller, more hands-on, passionate company with high but reasonable expectations, with a director I respect and want to perform well for. Once the two weeks of training ended, the week after the going away party, I was let loose in the classrooms to sink or swim, teach or fail, and so far things have been going well. I’ve gotten pretty skilled at the copy machine. I can make worksheets on the fly. I can improvise when lessons aren’t going so swimmingly. Kids love to write on the white board. They also love to run around and shout. Regarding the students’ ages, they range from adult students (30 – 40 years old) to small children (the youngest is 2, who also happens to be my favorite). They’re fifty minute classes. I teach each class once per week. The weeks fly by, Tuesday through Saturday, with a two-day break to explore Nagoya, with about six vacations throughout the year to venture out of the country or to other parts of Japan.

For the first break, next month, I’ll be going back to the Philippines to visit Nikki for a week. We’ll meet in Manila, then fly south to Cebu for an adventure in Dumaguete and Siguijor, possibly to get our diving licenses. I haven’t seen her since February 12.

Japan, honestly, I can’t say much about. I’ve only seen Nagoya so far, though tomorrow I’ve got plans to go visit Kyoto with Derek, friend and fellow teacher. So regarding Nagoya, I’ve only got good things to say. It’s bustling without being smothering. It’s mellow with flashes of excitement, never dull but never unwilling to give space to breathe. There are parks. Tall buildings. Museums. Quiet neighborhoods. Beaches. Ports. Shrines. Shrines. Malls. Shrines. This is a city of conveniences, with delicious restaurants in walking distance, 24-hour supermarkets, phenomenal public transportation, and, in my case, a fully-furnished apartment included in my teaching contract. I have a three-room apartment on the fourth floor with a hot shower, a big refrigerator, a gas stove, a washing machine, internet, and a five-minute walk to work. It’s an ideal home base for balancing my life at work and my life exploring the country. It’s the nicest place I’ve ever lived, both the apartment and the country. There is everything and anything you want or need. However, it’s not cheap. Yen vanishes quickly. Only the purely frugal will be able to save much money here.

Today when Derek and I stepped out of the Kamimaezu station, we saw eight different musicians set up in the plaza playing music to different crowds of onlookers. We ate at Jerry Uno’s, the best Mexican food I’ve had since leaving California, then bought backpacks for 1000 yen to assist in our future plans for traveling about, slipped into an arcade to play two rounds of Taiko Drummer, hopped back on the subway, found our way to a British pub, and mingled with two locals who’d just returned from a Dragons baseball game. It’s a city where you can make your own adventure.

I felt like writing because this is the end of March. Already. I left the country at the end of 2013, arrived in the Philippines on New Year’s Eve, and haven’t been back to the States since. The next time I step foot on American soil will be around Christmas. So I’m about to begin my fourth month abroad, which isn’t the most I’ve been abroad (and pales in comparison to Nikki, going on her tenth), but it’s the first time I’ve been abroad with the specific intention to stay abroad for an entire year (the teaching contract ends in March, 2015). There’s really nothing dramatic or enlightening to share about the feeling. It just feels normal. I certainly miss aspects of life in California and I definitely miss my friends, but I’ve been planning on this lifestyle for a long time. Here it is. It just feels right.

This is the weekend when the cherry blossoms come into full bloom.

I am basically healthy. I am happy. I miss Nikki but we communicate regularly. I am enjoying my job and the challenge and charming moments it supplies, from witnessing students’ progress to making a kid laugh. The pay is good. The food here is delicious. The weather is decent, a bit rainy and cold tonight, but the summer will be hot and humid and sticky, so I appreciate it all. My coworkers are fantastic and helpful. This life is a lot like life back in Sacramento, only I’m surrounded by a new language and culture. I am just now starting my weekly Japanese lessons.

There’s more wine to drink and surely there’s more to say, but I’m set for bed.

All told, the first month flew by and this second one is moving rapidly, as well. I don’t regret my decision to come here at all (other than leaving my heart in Calatrava). My time in the Philippines before this was immensely enjoyable, not only because I spent it with Nikki but because Tablas Island and the people were so welcoming. I’m stoked to go back next month and say hello again.

 

 

Tablas Island Map

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This is the map of Tablas Island that I drew after my six weeks living there. It is not entirely to scale, nor does it contain every town on the island (the road loops all the way along the coast), but it contains all the places and routes that I encountered during my time staying in Calatrava.

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Getting to Tablas Island

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From Northern California, you’ll probably head to SFO (San Francisco) and will probably begin your lengthy overseas journey with a stopover in Singapore or Japan. I’d aim for Singapore because the airport there is obnoxiously welcoming for weary travelers, especially after 12 to 16 hours cramped on an airplane, and you can find a cheap hotel room with shower access that will feel like an oasis in the desert. Rinse off. Take a nap.

Find your connecting flight to Manila, sit around, read a book, then board. You’ll land in Manila about two hours later. Things are going to start to feel a lot more foreign, especially if you’ve purchased your following flight to Kalibo separately (as I did). Get your passport stamped. Head outside. Feel that sticky humidity. You need to get to Terminal 3, so either take advantage of the free shuttle service downstairs or hail a taxi. Barter for a low fare (100 pesos might work), but expect to be overcharged. Once at the proper Terminal, find your gate, sit down, take a breath, and wait. Pay attention to what everyone else is doing. Listen for your flight number. You’ll hop into a bus that will shuttle you to the plane. Get to your seat. Buckle up.

This flight to Kalibo will probably have a decent amount of foreigners on it heading for Boracay (which, when I went, was where I was headed, too). You’ll land at a tiny airport on Panay Island. Get your bags inside. After this, you’ll have no trouble finding a van taking people to Caticlan (the port town), and it costs somewhere around 100 pesos. Welcome to the Philippines. Here you’ll finally feel like you can sit still and look around. Soak in the winding, thin roads; the plethora of palm trees; the motorcycles (called singles) weaving through traffic; the lack of sidewalks; the buildings half-finished, made of local trees and cement foundations; the American pop music on the radio.

You’ll end up in Caticlan outside of the port, and probably everyone else in the van will lead you to the payment booth to the left of the entrance, where you’ll pay your Terminal Fee, Environmental Fee, and Ticket Fee (200 pesos, all told). Now, if you’re going to Boracay, there will be plenty of boats taking people across to the other smaller island to the north. I’ll write something else on Boracay later. However, if you’re going straight to Tablas Island, you’ll want to aim to catch the 9:00 AM bangka (boat) to Looc. This won’t be accessed through the main entrance, but rather you purchase your ticket from the folks sitting out front near the payment booths. I think it was about 300 pesos. Wait with them, then follow them around to the left of the terminal building to where they’ll guide you onto the proper bangka. Take a seat. Get comfortable. This is about a two hour ride over sometimes rough water, so take your seasickness meds if you need to.

So this is how you get to Tablas Island. If you’re aiming to get to Calatrava, or perhaps to San Agustin to continue onward to Romblon Island, follow these steps:

When the boat docks in Looc, disembark and either take a walk into town or hitch a ride with a trike (the motorcycles with passenger sidecars) to the jeepney waiting station. You can ask around if you’re confused, but someone will probably want to offer you a ride to wherever you’re going (which is to Odiongan) for 300 pesos. You can get it down to 150. Or get to the jeepney (which leaves around 1:00 PM) and pay only 60. Either way, you’ll want to end up in Odiongan in time to catch the 2:30 jeepney to Calatrava. The jeepney station is a prominent part of this port town and the jeepney should take you right there, but make sure to make your destination known (“sa jeepney station”) to the guy collecting money at the back, who will knock on the ceiling to tell the driver to stop when it’s time for you to go. The jeepney ride to Calatrava takes about an hour and a half.

If you’re continuing on to San Agustin or Romblon, my helpfulness fades, but I know there are jeepneys and trikes heading that direction from Calatrava. There, you’ll pay your 10 peso terminal fee and hop onto a bangka for Romblon Island. Nice place. I’ll write about that later, too.

In Summary: Have at least 1000 pesos for various transportation fees and snacks. There is only one boat from Caticlan to Looc and it leaves daily at 9:00 AM. Don’t forget to barter (“make tawad”) with trike and single drivers. The last jeepney to Calatrava leaves Odiongan at 2:30 PM. Don’t be worried about feeling too lost because the Filipinos are a helpful and curious people that will guide you in the right way and probably know a decent amount of English, just say “Sa Looc” or “Sa Caticlan” or “Sa [wherever you’re going]” and they’ll know the way.

Change of Plans

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I suppose I should have seen it coming, but the original plan to spend 30 days with Nikki in the Philippines followed by 12 days in Singapore was rewritten to remove Singapore and extend my visit with Nikki to 6 weeks. Love is a powerful thing.

Plus, the Philippines deserves more time. And to think, at this point, I’ve still only seen one small part of the archipelago (specifically Tablas Island, with a stopover in Boracay, Carabao Island, and Romblon, Romblon. Last weekend we ventured south of Looc to stay the night at a really nice resort owned by a sweet Italian couple, celebrating our upcoming birthdays. I’ll rave about that place later.

There’s too much to say, really. It’ll take time to write something that adequately captures the feeling of my experience here, and even that won’t be enough.

I’ve got my new flight booked out of Manila to Nagoya, arriving on the 12th, meaning that my birthday on the 13th will be the first full day I spend in Japan. Training at ABC Plus begins on the 14th.

And as I’m devoted to spending every moment present in this place with Nikki while I’m here, I will cut this short. In summary, the Philippines is a remarkable and fascinating country. I’ll miss it dearly.

Check In

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I’m at the Changi Airport Singapore waiting for the flight to Manila.

Was able to rent a room to sleep in for a couple hours in the airport, complete with access to a shower. A glorious, glorious shower.

Also rediscovered the fact that I can send text messages over WiFi to other iPhone users, which is great because I just suspended my phone plan. So, friends, text away.

So far, so good. Spirits are high.

I only spilled coffee on myself once. The stain adds character to my pants.

Been jotting down useful Tagalog phrases on a napkin for when I arrive in Kalibo, which is where I’ll be transitioning from airplane to bus and boat. This, roughly, around 5:20 PM. I’ve given myself about six hours to get to Nikki before midnight.

The New Year’s Eve countdown has begun.