I don't remember this, but apparently a guy I met through English Club actually met me in Canada a year or so earlier. At that time I was very involved on campus doing stuff like interpretation for groups of students on month-long programmes, and I guess he was among one of those groups. Flash forward, and unbeknownst to me, he's spent the last several months living near Seattle, attending an ESL finishing school type deal. He has a month off, so he's swinging through for old times' sake.
“I don't think you went to America to eat Japanese food,” I tell him, “but there's a Japanese restaurant here I think you might find a little interesting.”
Like everybody, he likes my new ancient sports car, which will be getting its own post in due course (it's Japanese; don't worry, this blog hasn't entirely lost all focus). I take him to a Japanese-style burger joint. So like, there's teriyaki burgers, but then there's like burgers with yakisoba on them, shit like that. He's hand-rolling a cigarette with Turkish tobacco before we've even paid.
He wants to take a spin through the downtown area, after which I direct us through a green, sedate park on the river. All the way I'm monitoring his fatigue and levels of interest, mentally planning alternate routes and trying to get the timing right, and yeah now we're basically on a date. As we walk he remembers snatches of places he's been, intersections, storefronts. Phaedrus Moments, you might call them.
I ask him about his school, whose student body he says is predominantly Asian. We start to speak, as you do, of the future. His plan is to go back to Japan when he's done his Seattle thing and finally enter working life.
For me it's a little more up in the air, as we know. I've basically been working at securing Japanese employment for two years with no actual progress. President has long since departed for Koube, where she is teaching English. The distance, in the end, has only confirmed that I really, truly, want to be with this woman. He prods me, so, you think you'll marry her? Well, nobody knows the future. I mean I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought about it.
He's startled and even a little angry to learn that there are Japanese people who tell me that, as a foreigner, I will never understand Japan, or learn to speak Japanese. (I wrote a post about this, but can't find it.)
“But you already speak Japanese!” he fumes. “You practically are Japanese!”
When President jettisoned nearly all her physical belongings in preparation for Koube, I ended up with some items of clothing. When I accidentally moved in with her, I didn't really bring much, so I frequently wound up picking through her laundry for T-shirts and jeans to wear. (Lockup thinks this is hilarious.) I developed some favourites, including a pink Sailor Moon T-shirt, a not-pink Sailor Moon t-shirt, and a black one that simply says 「日本」 (“JAPAN”).
I'm wearing the 日本 t-shirt today, and when my friend saw me sitting there, wearing that shirt, in a Japanese restaurant, drinking a bottle of Oi Ocha, the sight struck him as so absurdly Japanese he burst out laughing and couldn't help but snap a photo.
Three weeks later, I'm strolling past the burger joint when I see my friend who works there, and stop in to say hi. She's a bit of an interesting story. She's going to my Canadian university, now, and her long-term plan is Canada. And of course, if you graduate from a Canadian university, that's a quick ticket to permanent residency. Her problem right now is money, because tuition for international students is exorbitant. I know another guy, a tourism student, whose dream is to do tourism stuff in Hawaii. It makes a lot of sense, if you know a bit about Japan and Hawaii. There's a lot of parallels between our respective dreams, a lot of commiseration – and mutual support – to be had.
Talking with the girl from the burger joint, it turns out a Japanese girl who lived here back in fall 2011 is in town for a visit. She was with a group all from the same university who were here for a semester each. Kinda weird how that worked out, but it was nice. I had them, I had Japanese Club, I had President – we were still just friends back then – and I was taking six classes (the standard being four), so I never wanted for companionship, entertainment, or purpose. And all the while of course, I was prepping for my ryuugaku the following year, so everything I did, every hour of laying groundwork or studying Japanese, took on added weight in my own mind.
My friend told me our guest wanted to see me if she could. I told her it probably made more sense for her to tell me so rather than wait for a random encounter, she promised she'd tell her so, I looked forward to hearing from her, and then completely forgot about it until two days later, when we actually did meet in a random encounter. She's doing well. Since I last saw her, she's graduated university and become a systems engineer at a decent company in central Toukyou. But, she wonders, will she be able to keep working there when she gets married and has children?
Lately it's hard not to feel like everyone I know is both younger and more successful than me. It's discouraging. Even most of the people from English Club are now getting job offers from desirable companies. Anyone my age who is still in school has moved on to graduate studies and will be well-positioned indeed once they wrap that up. Meanwhile I've spent approximately nine decades working on a degree that will be mostly worthless when I finally complete it, at which point I will have virtually no marketable skills or experience. Painfully, President is at this very moment living the life I've always wanted, without me. I'm not jealous – really. We're a team, we share in our successes. But I want so badly to be there doing it with her.
But I have tangible, achievable goals. For the first time in a while, I can almost see things coming together. And it was invigorating to see my old friends. You take whatever victories you can seize.