Published: July 20th 2011July 20th 2011
Ali breaks it down at Joule
Here I am in the teachers' room at my commercial high school with a beautiful bouquet of pink lilies propped up on my desk. School's officially out for summer, but the copier is still humming and people are shuffling around busy with I'm not sure what, tying up loose ends I suppose. In exactly one week, someone else will be sitting at this desk, living in my apartment and introducing herself to my coworkers, many of whom I can now call friends.
Life is a constant series of goodbyes (although I'm not very good at them), but goodbye feels especially unsettling without at least the possibility of running into people at the grocery store. This is goodbye to not only the school and the town, but the country, the continent and the hemisphere. Forever.
Surprisingly, I made it through my farewell ceremony this morning with no tears, which is probably a good thing because who knows what people would have done in their discomfort and horror if I was blubbering up there on the stage. I was too concerned with bowing in all the right places - first to the school principals after standing up at my seat, then
At Ingrid's (the owner of a bar/our second home) birthday
to the Japanese flag at the top of the stairs to the stage, and then to the students upon reaching the podium (when leaving the stage I would follow the same procedure in reverse) - and getting through my goodbye speech in Japanese.
I don't think I've described school ceremonies before, but they are precise affairs with long speeches interrupted by periodic standing and bowing, and you don't want to be the one who messes it up.
Of course I did mess it up, though. After my speech (which went well considering I don't speak the language), I made to leave the stage in victory. I got through two out of three bows before I heard "Susan, stop!!!" from the MC, who doesn't speak English. I was supposed to have stayed there to receive flowers from the student council. Oops! My student's speech to me in English at this point, though, did almost make me cry. Almost.
This ceremony was just one of the many goodbyes I've said and will say this month. Last week I visited my technical school for the last time, which involved another speech and applause from the staff, and went to lunch
and dinner with the English teachers of both schools. I took pictures with each of my classes and made my students do the hula and stand on chairs in the very last game I played with them as a teacher.
This weekend I bade farewell to my nightlife and shopping mecca: Osaka. And more specifically I said goodbye to club Joule, where poofed, blonde Japanese 20-somethings dance in rows (rows!!) to techno, J-pop and American music, and give high fives to the few foreigners who find their way there. This is one of the places that's dizzied me with the realization that I'm really living in Japan, and where more recently I've found myself wondering what it will be like when I go out and everyone isn't Japanese.
Tonight I'll give yet another speech to all of the teachers at my farewell enkai
, or "drinking party." Then it's perhaps the most difficult goodbye of all: to my friends. This year, in the absence of family, I've celebrated every holiday with them - Halloween at Ingrid's, our local foreigners' bar, preceded by sake bombs and karaoke with three of the best friends I've made in Japan; a Thanksgiving feast in the west of the prefecture; Christmas on the beach in Thailand; Easter at our favorite Mexican restaurant in Osaka; and the fourth of July with a potluck dinner and mac and cheese. They've all seen me laugh, some have seen me cry, and some I hope will see me again after we go off to our respective countries to start our real lives.
Finally, I'll say goodbye to the teachers, teachers' family and a student who will see me off from Tokushima, the last stage of the process. Through all of this, I'll try to follow my school principal's advice and adopt a Buddhist mentality: staying present in each moment, and not allowing anxiety for the future to take away from my experiences.