Forrest Oliphant

[ofo] big email number one


Hey everybody! This is the first "My Life in Taneichi" semi-monthly email update of stories and adventures. If you are not on the list, just tell me and I'll add you in a jiffy (or two). I tend to be long-winded in these, but hey, you can handle it, especially if you don't eat it all in one bite. The list is post-only, and you won't/can't reply to it, so don't be afraid of bad listserv qualities. If you don't want to be on it, tell me and I'll take you off, right after I bawl like a baby, pull my hair, and gnash my teeth. I won't jump in front of the Shinkansen, however, as that would cause my family financial burden. That is the main argument against suicide, according to a new book out in Japan on the subject.

I left the states last Thursday morning, after many (finally real) goodbyes. If you have been in contact with me in the past couple of months, you know that I have been saying lots of fake goodbyes, thinking that I was about to leave. I would get some tentative date, set my heart on it, tell everybody, and then find out that some piece of the puzzle was going to be missing. First it was the contract, then the Certificate of Eligibility, visa, and ticket. I even bought a ticket for the end of May, assuming everything else was going to fall into place, but was sadly mistaken... I wasn't bitter about the situation, however, as it gave me the chance to dance and dance, not to mention time to actually get mentally prepared for this whole new life / change of pace thing.

I learned the day before that I still have the ability to cry like a child. I said what absolutely had to be the last goodbye for awhile to a dear friend, and pulled away in my parent's car. Nothing was there to see me but the trees; nothing but the hummingbirds could hear me over the bluegrass... I was in a completely safe from outside judgment. And it all came out all over the place; it was wonderful. I surprised myself, and was able to laugh a little bit through the sobs... If you get the chance to do this don't hold back, it truly felt life-affirming. The only other activity that stands out in my mind that fits the whole "life-affirming" cliché is sky-diving, so if your life needs some affirmation, take your pick.

I pulled it together and drove home, and started to help my mom make sushi for my sushi/sake/sayonara get-together. Without thinking I put in Sarah Brightman's "Time to Say Goodbye," which set me off again, quietly this time. I took care to not leak into the sushi rice, but thought that that could be a good premise to some tragic/romantic story set in the Meiji period.

The family friends came over and we ate most of the 9 or 10 avocado, carrot, cucumber, and tuna makki. Some of the little kids that used to be super picky surprised me by giving the kappa makki a try. Everybody of age tried the sake, some more than others; all in all it was a good time had by most, as far as I could tell.

I stayed up till three packing with the help of a friend, then crashed for two hours before it was time to go to the airport. When I checked my bags in Asheville they asked me to unlock my suitcase, as my bags had been selected to be molested before my very eyes, right there behind the counter. They could have at least taken them to a back room to molest them. I wanted to tell them that they really didn't want to open my bags if they were then obligated to close them, but figured that would do no good. The masochistically trusting side of me decided to refrain from presiding over the inspection... "It's up to fate now," I thought as I walked away. When I went to board the plane the same guy that checked me in was taking tickets, and condescendingly told me that I hadn't checked in early enough and that my bag might or might not make it on to the plane. Whatever that means, I didn't let it phase me. I was on my way.

I think they put an extra row of seats in the space where my legs should have gone. I spent most of the trip studying the terrain or clouds below, and talking to Josie, a non-shy rising third grader in the seat in front of me. We talked about Japan, Japanese language (she was quite good at the phrases she had learned), the terrain, how long we had left in the flight, mathematics, and my girlfriend (when she saw me leaking over my journal). Josie is definitely one of my favorite (and one of my only) airplane friends. Fourteen hours after take off, we landed safely in Narita at one-thirty local time Friday afternoon.

As I looked at the kanji in the airport it started to dawn on me... that the next chapter of my life was really starting. They told us to look at the camera because they were taking our temperature as we filed through the line. Impressive. All of the airport workers were wearing funny orange respiratory masks that looked like duck bills. Maybe it was my extreme lack of sleep for the past however long, but it was all I could do to keep from laughing in their faces as they pointed me from desk to desk. The last bureaucrat to consult was the customs guy, who was the first one to be personable with me... From the info on my visa he saw that I am going to be a teacher for up to three years. We talked about my plans, and he gave me a hearty "ganbatte, ne" as we parted ways. That felt really good to hear.

The fates of trust were on my side, as my luggage came through unscathed; only one buckle was undone. I changed money, got a ticket to Hachinohe, and caught the next express to Tokyo. Mistaking the local Tohoku line for the Tohoku Shink, I dragged all my crap up the stairs to that platform, but figured out my mistake pretty quickly. I made it to the correct platform with a couple of minutes to spare. It takes about three hours to get to Hachinohe, which is a short drive to Taneichi. I had been traveling for twenty-two hours, and awake for a day before that, more or less. But hey, it was time to party. Luckily they let me take a shower first, I was starting to stank.

That's enough for now. Jaa,
PS: The last thing I worked on in the states was an informational documentary supporting the proposed moratorium on executions in North Carolina, which has passed in the Senate. Watch the whole thing on the web (beautiful streaming video for both broadband and dial-up), then contact your representatives in support of the moratorium...

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