Japan: A Priori
My current daily life exists in anticipation of what lies ahead: teaching English in Japan.
Ideas run through my head such as why do they call it a cubicle when it is more of a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by fabric and metal. I see, however, the prison of the metaphysical box I place in the void of the fourth wall. It is there but cannot be seen, only felt. If it had four walls, I imagine, you would see men in khakis and dress shirts scaling the gray walls and the women trying not to let their skirts ride up too high or throwing both legs over at the same time attempting to minimize the possibility of flashing coworkers. I spent large portions of my day emailing journal entries improvised while I sit in front of the luminescent computer screen in my office cubicle: My work bores me and the internet provides little relief.
I have been listening and repeating the Japanese on my MP3 player during lunches spent at Barnes and Noble, reading drug induced ramblings of Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and contemplating going to the local climbing gym but struggling with the $50.00 expenditure. So, instead I do yoga in my room with the space heater on and ride my Trek road bike indoors on a trainer, trying not to be a fat-ass or the possibility of one and besides, it saves money. My perception of time is a snail’s pace until lunch which I take around 1:00 PM so the last hours of the day go by faster. Last night I opened the new Japanese CD’s box carefully from the bottom making sure after I burn them to my MP3 player to put them back in the box and close it neatly. No questions will be asked when I return it to the store for a full refund. Only a small tear at the edges of the tab give away the intrusion to the once innocent box.
This was supposed to have happened last year. I made the arrangements and had the work visa stamped in my passport. I was proud of my impending departure. Excited. Ecstatic. I could think of nothing better than the exact opposite of my current position. However, unforeseen circumstances abruptly, and it seems temporarily, ended my departure and I found myself in the same position. I work a semi-corporate job as a claims representative for an insurance company. It was not anything I had planned. It is where I woke up and found myself. I do not remember the journey bringing me to this point. There is no better time to leave than the time in which motivation points you in one specific direction and all other alternatives seem somehow incorrect.
There are usually two responses when I have told someone of my plans to quit my current long-term job (five years seems like twenty) and go to Japan to teach English: positive support and negative support.
Upon hearing the news of the impending travels positive support takes the form of comments emphatic in their complimentary adjectives or requesting one send them something from the specific place. “That’s great!” “Send me a kimono.” “It will be a great experience.” These are a few of the comments that may be projected toward you in obvious agreement with your plans to live overseas. Though a few comments requesting trinkets, souvenirs, and touristy toys seem self-serving these are usually the requests made by those who are most likely to never travel outside the continental U.S. and living vicariously is their outlet. Any souvenirs would be as if they were actually there and soon your stories will be the stories they relate to friends other than those you have in common so this plagiarism will never be discovered. However, their support and interest is genuine.
The second response has two categories: the practical negative and the experienced negative. The practical negative is exemplified in my father. He is incapable of understanding why I would quit my current job and “put my life on hold,” as if it ceases when I depart for such a long period of time. My father’s thought process: I have a fairly stable job with decent pay and that should be sufficient because it is, after all, work. The fact I feel spiritually drained by menial work that provides no metaphysically uplifting benefits is immaterial. He has looked at my photographic record of France and Central America with disinterest, unenthusiastic is to be bland in the description of the degree to which his eyelids rested heavy and his hands moved across the pages like a mail sorting machine just to get to the end. The practical negative is incapable of understanding and only ignoring or passivity will suffice this reaction. He is my father and I will not disown him. There is always hope that one day he will be able to look beyond the practical.
The experienced negative are those who have worked the job type and have little good to say about it, almost nothing. It was the job itself, the culture, or both that were absolutely unyielding and unbeneficial. I prefer to leave such judgments to the individual. Personal experience and attitude dictate the results of any experience, positive or negative. I have known people in the best situations that were absolutely miserable and those in the worst who manage to tell a lively, engaging and entertaining story about the situation. There are many varieties of the negative and positive responses to any given situation especially when it involves one exiting the current lifestyle for another job, much less another country. I have always been wary of any comment which seems too emphatically negative or positive, in most cases extremes in any context are dangerous, and in attempting to maintain a balanced approach, I will make up my mind based on my own experience.
Travel books are an abundant source of information for everything from the basics, such as climate, to the more specific activities such as good surfing, hiking and the variety of cultural events that are inclusive of the specific area. When I first started looking through these books I thought in terms of positive and negative. I quickly realized the short-sightedness in taking such a black and white approach as if whether to live in a particular place thousands of miles away involved the close proximity to a Starbuck’s. At home, that may be a valid argument but, the purpose of making a decision to live in another culture requires one to encompass an open-mindedness that guidebook recommendations cannot project. Preparing for this trip requires, first and foremost, the ability to leave most expectations behind.
Websites are also a tremendous source of information though anything written in a chat room or forum should be read with a grain of salt. Most websites focusing on teaching English in a foreign country are redundantly negative in response to any one company or topic. Browsing through these sites a variety of opinions exist, are commented on by others, and rebutted by the original writer. Attitudes range from basic good times to hate that would scathe the devil himself in the sheer bitterness one can feel from the basically brutal writing that lacks even the charm and wit of adolescent insults. In reading through these the most I understand is that people’s experiences differ to the degree that people are never the same and will always perceive and interpret things in unique and personal ways.
People blame the company, procedures and local people for everything. Though I would not be so naïve to think there can be some responsibility put onto the entities which wield a certain amount of control when living in a foreign place, how one deals with adversity generally emulates one’s attitude toward life in general. This said, I expect the best advice is make the best out of any given situation. I have known people whose lack of ability to cope with the most minute, unpleasant circumstance, say lack of an actual toilet, has led them into a deep depression until the porcelain gods once again reigned supreme three weeks later. On the other hand, I have known people stuck without food, money or clothing that smiled and wished everyone passing a good day, and meant it.
Inexperience breeds a complacency that is rivaled only by those who would be more content stagnating in their lounge chairs reading bad romance novels. Instead, we travel to create experiences that would otherwise be missed and on the road, in a foreign place, is where we are able to free ourselves from the usually inhibiting qualities life has a habit of producing when day to day becomes a repeat equivalent of a highly mediocre syndicated sitcom. To be a victim of this is regrettable, but to be a victim by choice is tragic.
So, I dream of Japanese gardens, Shinto shrines and achieving a Zen consciousness while my computer screen flickers and my fingers rest quivering over the control-alt-delete keys signifying the end of another day and the countdown decreases by one. I will have my work visa in two months and leave a month later, stepping onto an island in the Pacific Ocean for a year. Maybe more.
In the end it is we who make the experience what it is and when we remember it, telling stories to our friends and family, about the time we lived far away and could barely speak the local language, hopefully a smile creeps across our face knowing we are better in some meaningful way than if we never took the chance.