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.

 

 

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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.

Flight Plan Complete

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The timing of purchasing my flight to Japan was peculiar, considering the historical context of this date which will live in infamy, but it also reminded me of how our global society continues to evolve and adapt, sometimes slowly, oftentimes painfully. I will be in Japan as a representative of not only the United States, but the progress and development of the human species.

And with that, all my flights are bought and the itinerary is complete.

Itinerary

 

 

You Get What You Need

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Driving the Cherokee down the mountain, the Rolling Stones “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” came through the static-ridden radio waves somewhere between Colfax and Auburn, the lyrics of which echoed poignantly in my mind. I had just spent most of the last 36 hours retaking a portion of the TESOL comprehensive exam, not only learning the value of a good lesson plan, but the value of being able to explain¬†why¬†the lesson plan was good. I wanted to pass the first time, I needed a smack in the face.

Four days later I received confirmation that I had passed the test and had officially completed the MA in TESOL at CSUS.

Anyway, the song got me thinking.

I wanted to backpack Southeast Asia for an indefinite amount of time. Instead, I got what I needed: a job teaching English with ABC Plus in Nagoya, Japan.

I wanted to not worry about paying off my financial loans for a while. I owe $65,000 dollars to the loan companies that funded my education. Sure I could defer that for as long as I have economic hardship, but that’s like staying in prison because I’m too nervous to talk to the parole board. I want to put it off. I need to pay it off.

In the meantime, the contracts with ABC Plus have been submitted. The beard was shaved for the photos I sent them for Visa purposes. Today I got myself an International Driver’s Permit, told my bank about my travel plans, and even found time to get started on a project for my last remaining grad school class. Comcast was cancelled. SMUD, cancelled. I moved out of the studio and will be staying at Nikki’s old place, and not in the basement like I expected but rather in Denato’s room, as he leaves for Argentina this week. My mother convinced me to pay off the credit card debt, reducing my monthly bills by about 75 dollars, drastically lowering my account balance (not what I wanted, but what I needed) to an amount I can still stretch through February. I got to see the beach last weekend at Bodega Bay. I was worried I’d leave California without one last visit to its sandy shore. Hopefully there will be another visit, but I said my goodbyes already, just in case. The next time I touch the Pacific Ocean, it’ll be from Asia’s point of view.

I’m awake at 3:00 AM because I have a funny feeling December is going to be a relatively sleepless month, at least when it comes to a standard sleeping schedule. Every passing second is another second closer to leaving the country, which is fantastic, but at the same time I’ve garnered a handful of immensely valuable friendships here that I’m not looking forward to leaving behind. Especially now that I’m all but certainly not returning for quite some time. Not only will I miss the people, but I’ll miss the city. Damn you Sacramento for being so simultaneously bland and brilliant. I never would’ve thought I’d consider this place my home.

I’m 23 days away from departure and there are only a few things left to do: One, get arrival plans straightened with Nikki. Two, figure out how I’m getting to the airport. Three, visit my Dad and that side of the family. Four, finish this final project for my 215A class. Five, hug everyone often.

What I’ve learned is that in the pursuit of what you want, you do get what you need.

All you have to do is try sometimes.

fresh shave

The State of Now

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On Wednesday, I need to be fully moved out of my apartment.

Tomorrow I have a second telephone interview with a private English academy in Nagoya, Japan called ABC Plus at 7:00 PM. The head teacher’s name is Blair Morrow. The first interview took place last night, lasted 40 minutes, and seemed to end positively. The start date would be early February. Note to self: improve knowledge of grammar.

Yesterday the TESOL committee met to discuss the results of my comprehensive exam.

I recently had an actual conversation with Nikki over Skype, the first in quite some time, and it was reassuring to find her in good spirits, finally teaching, and as beautiful as ever.

Last weekend I didn’t sleep, watching two sunrises in pursuit of finishing the exam materials, knowing each penned paragraph could potentially alter the course of my life.