Three Months Abroad


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.