I have a hard time following rules that I don't see as making any sort of logical sense. For example - I'm required to be at work when I have zero work to do while the kids are on break. And I don't mean they give me busy work to do. They actually ignore me the whole day while I do what I want (as long as I'm at work). I know this from plenty of break experiences by now. If I wanted to take the day off I'd have to use PTO (nenkyuu), but I don't have any of those days left. Thus with spring break coming up for the kiddies, I hatched a plan and set it in motion spurred by the Mark Twain quote,
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do [...] Explore. Dream. Discover."
And no, I wouldn't use that as justification for whatever I please or to blanket past regrets. But for taking advantage of opportunities I might not ever get again at no cost to those around me? It wasn't even a question.!
The plan: eight day vacation exploring ancient ruins and relaxing in paradise.
The cover: bad case of food poisoning that normally incapacitates someone for at least a week.
Simple enough I thought. The key to all of this was one simple piece of paper; a doctor's note to excuse my absence from work in the official records (quite a big deal in Japan).
Phase 1: The day before I left on my trip I planned to go to the doctor's office to plant the seed. Between my Japanese and the doctor's English, we established my 'symptoms' (basically every food poisoning symptom I could find online), but then he wanted to check my stomach for sensitivity. My boyfriend was in the room at the time and as the doctor gently pressed down on my abdomen for signs of agitation or discomfort, I inconsistently gave him grimaces of pain. At that I could feel my boyfriend face-palming behind me, but what can I say! I'm a terrible actress! Unfazed, the doctor just prescribed some powdery medicines and sent me on my way. Sort of success.
Phase 2: While away on my trip, I needed to call my school every weekday morning to let them know I wouldn't be coming in. In the past, for reasons out of my control, I knew that if I didn't call, they would show up at my apartment and would go as far to enter my apartment without my permission just to check on me (another story altogether). This meant that I had to buy Skype credit to make calls internationally, make note of the difference in time zones to know when to call, and have crystal clear wifi. I could handle the first two, but the last bit had me worried since that was out of my control and lo and behold, I had reason to worry. At our last hotel, the wifi was shiiiite. I can't really blame the hotel though.. wifi and paradise should really be incongruous things anyway. So the best reception for the wifi was out by the courtyard where we were having breakfast every morning. I have one picture of my face while making these calls, but a recording would have been much more entertaining. Between kids crying, roosters crowing, plates clinking and other sounds that have no place in my apartment where I'm supposedly on my death bed, my JTE must have been rolling his eyes as hard as I was scowling at the source of the noises. By the third day in a row that I called he was definitely on to me, but blessedly too Japanese to call me out on it. Success enough in my book.
But to add insult to injury (from me to them), I had been given the news just the week before that some remodeling would be done to my kitchen. This was most certainly welcome news (since I think my apartment should technically be labeled as dilapidated), but what terrible timing! They were expecting me to be there to open my apartment and let the workmen in every day as well as to answer any questions they might have. Fortunately, my boyfriend wasn't going on the trip and so he was there to at least open the door, but of course the builders would be asking for me. I had to avert this dilemma (quite brilliantly I thought) by saying that a lack of kitchen and sink in my (food poisoned) state required me to stay with a friend so I could have full amenities available to help me get better. They understood and left the matter alone. Further complicating things, even my boyfriend couldn't be there as he suddenly had to be in Osaka for two days! Not able to do much, this delayed the kitchen remodeling process until even I had to deal with it when I got back from my trip. Oh well.
Phase 3: Once back, I had to return to the doctor to let him know that I had missed work and required a doctor's note. One problem - I got back on a Saturday. In Japan, -no- form of medical clinic, hospital, or outpatient center is open. It's often joked about here that you should only plan on getting sick or having some other severe injury on a weekday or else suck it up until Monday morning. It sounds ludicrous but it isn't far from the truth. You can call an ambulance on the weekends to receive first aid treatment and certain tiny emergency centers are open to receive such patients, but you better be on your death bed to expect treatment. Me? I just wanted a note. A note that if I didn't get could incur serious repercussions, but they would not be amused for me to show up wanting a note. If need be, the repercussions route it was then. I would deal with them without complaint of course since, after all, it had been my choice to choose adventure over a desk sentence. But despite accepting my potential fate beforehand, it was still an uneasy thing to go into work Monday morning to face my boss empty handed.
To my utter surprise, my boss cheekily said (while actually pointing to his cheek), "nice color" (referring to my tan), and asked for the note. I gaped for half a second at his knowing remark and then confidently said, "I'll have it tomorrow." He smiled, nodded, and kept on walking back to his desk. What in the what just happened?? After all the phone calls and excuses I made, I was expecting a full interrogation! (and was prepared for one too). Instead, I simply went back to the doctor's after work to get the note. On my way I felt a little bad because I thought that telling the doctor that he had sent me away for my condition to only worsen over the week might feel like a failure on his part. But a second cheeky surprise of the day came when he heard of my continued illness and told me I had misdiagnosed myself as having food poisoning instead of what obviously must have been a virus (this in spite the symptoms I listed and the medicine he prescribed?) So for the second time that day I gaped at someone, but recovered my composure and said that he must be right, silly me. NOW GIVE ME THAT DOCTOR'S NOTE.
Success!! Doctor's note in hand I handed it over to my boss the next day and without further incident, I had managed to have a trip of a lifetime instead of keeping my seat warm at my desk without jeopardizing my standing at work.
I've never thought my school to be the cruel aggressors who make the rules for prefectural JETs, only the ones that enforce them. Remember when I said my JTE was on to me? I like to think that the cheeky admission that was made to me afterwards was an acknowledgement of sorts that said as long as I work within the rules of system (getting a doctor's note to excuse my absence), they didn't mind that I took the break into my own hands. Besides, it fits with the known paradigm of Japanese people to turn their faces away from things that are unpleasant to deal with or discuss. An ambiguous policy of theirs, but in my case it read, no harm, no foul!
The moral of the story I want to highlight is that this is your life and it shouldn't be dictated by anyone's set of rules. You might miss out on something that can change your life. As long as you don't affect other lives negatively, go after the things you want and don't take no for answer. Where there is a will there really is a way.