Saturday, November 8, 2014

You say goodbye, and I say hello

I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye. - Pi Patel, Life of Pi (2012)

I am painfully aware of moment. Sometimes it enhances the moment and other times it doesn't let me just live in it instead of observing it. Leaving Japan and not knowing when I'd come back wasn't just a moment though. It was a process. In another post I mention how moving from another country takes weeks, well so does saying goodbye properly. Every place and every person that seems worthy of your goodbye should get an un- rushed, heartfelt goodbye. Do this and you'll have no regrets.

Japan already has goodbyes built into their culture with farewell ceremonies, enkais, and phrases like  お世話になりました (osewa ni narimashita) which is used to thank someone over a considerable amount of time. This was my life in Japan, the one I had wanted for so long, and now it was coming to a close. I said goodbye to every thing.

I said goodbye to my favorite bistro place with the awesome salmon calzone and their kind staff. To the bakery ladies who would laugh at the silly foreigner girl who asked for her sandwich to be toasted To my friend at the salon who diligently made every effort (and succeeded in kick-ass fashion) to dye my hair in 'gradiation' aka ombre. To the kind couple whom I rented my car from who would never let me leave without some token of their appreciation in the form of snacks, tea, pocket warmers, etc. To the mountain I climbed after school with my hiking buddies where we'd runaway screaming from giant Japanese hornets. To the kind Indian staff at our favorite restaurant who without fail, would give us free lassi each visit. To the rare Japanese gas station attendant with the beautiful blue eyes who would put in gas for me. To the older Japanese ladies we would have English speaking parties with. To apartment I hated at first and came to love after I'd made it homey. To the students who would smile and wave at me, To the teachers who had taken me in. The friends I never imagined myself lucky enough to meet. To the bunny I'd bought for month and was frantically finding a way to ship back home to me (spoiler alert: I did it). And the love of my life who I had met in the place of my dreams. He was staying and I was leaving. That's all I'll say.

Actual events included farewell dinners with these friends, but you know how those go, so I'll elaborate on the farewell enkai and ending ceremony at school.

That day would be the end-of-summer term concluding ceremony and since this is done essentially in the middle of the Japanese school year, many of the students were shocked to hear that I would be giving a farewell speech. It later had to be explained to them that nothing was wrong with me, it was just the end of my contract. I did the whole thing in Japanese and received a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a certificate from my school. Afterwards, I took pictures with several students and teachers, packed my desk, bowed to the principal and vice-principle, and then went back to my apartment where I proceeded to jump up and down because I DID IT! I'd taught for two years in Japan when at first the task seemed impossible in terms of being a teacher and through some of the harder days when nothing seemed to go right. Later that night, I had an enkai held just for me with not all of the teachers, but certainly my favorite ones. They wouldn't hear of letting me pay, and gave me way too many cards and little cute gifts. We took pictures and they gave speeches. I gave an informal speech that even surprised me with the emotion I suddenly realized I had. So with tears in my eyes as I said in Japanese, "thank you so much for everything", I looked around and saw people looking back at me with fondness and friendship. However, nothing struck me more than when the agricultural teacher, a young Japanese guy who had befriended me early on came up to me laughing as he tripped over his words in English trying to tell me something. I told him to tell me in Japanese and I'd help him. What he said left me so stunned that I couldn't fulfill my promise. He said,

"When the earthquake and tsunami struck, Japan was labeled as a dangerous place. Many people were worried about many things and even our ALT left even though we were all the way in Tamba, far from the affected area. I really didn't think we'd have an ALT that year, but you came and said you'd loved Japan so much you had to come especially when they needed you to...Thank you. Thank you for coming to Japan."

No, thank you Japan, for making a dream come for me by just being you.
Goodbye (for now)

The Process of Letting Go

These are my last few months living in Japan. A two year journey that was ten years in the making is going to be over soon, so some time to sit back and reflect over the course my life has taken since making this decision is in due order.
PSSSH YEAH RIGHT! Do you know how much goes into moving?? To another country?!? I'll just say right now that I have no idea how people who aren't as OCD as me about organizing can do it. They either have way less stress than I do about throwing stuff in a bag and hoping for the best when you get there, or get a lot more help than I do.

My to-do list included things like going ways presents for my co-workers and shopkeepers who'd come to know me as a regular. Things to sell, pack, throw away, give away, and donate. Things I could shuck off on my visitors to take home for me (you guys saved me so much in shipping charges and now forever part of my exclusive mule club!), things I could do without until my bf could bring it home to me when he visited, things I needed until the last minute, things I was taking to Europe (more on that later), tax-representative stuff, how to stop all my utilities in a timely manner, returning my rental car, cleaning the apartment for inspection, figuring out how to ship my bunny home (this deserves a post on its own), getting in those last trips to my favorite places, getting in those last trips to places I'd always wanted to go, seeing friends before they left - are you as tired as I am yet?

To further explain that Europe blurb, I knew from the get-go that I would be treating myself to a Europe getaway at the end of my JET contract. I wasn't sure if I was going to backpack over three months or something crazy like that, but as it had happened in the past, my two moms and best friend jumped on board. This meant some serious readjusting of what I had envisioned, but it didn't bother me in the least. This post (coming soon!) details that incredible trip, but needless to say, that kind of adventure isn't one you want to be planning while moving.

Some tips for those departing moving from country to country would be the following (in no particular order) Some of these are more for leaving and some are more for going:

  • It's never too early to start planning - make lists, read up on the experiences of others who have come before you (ahem), and plan way ahead.
  • Make a list that counts down by weeks so you know what has to be done by that week. This will help you remember the time-sensitive stuff like if you need to order something online or cancel a service before you're charged for the next month, etc. 
  • Take advantage of off-season sales for things that you will need on your trip and are difficult to acquire wherever you may be going. 
  • Make one-on-one time for everyone in your life weeks before you go so you're not feeling rushed at the end to see everyone in big groups or whenever you can cram them in - trust me, they'll appreciate you thought of them.
  • Set up a blog, vlog, instagram, facebook page, etc before you go. Some people document the departure process as well as the arrival one, but some leave it for when they get there and lose some of those first impressions in the initial haze of settling in.
  • Think about bringing some gifts for the people you'll meet in your new life abroad and giving some to the people who did make your trip memorable. Things that are from your country are best. Sure this isn't the custom in all countries like it was for me in Japan, but it's good etiquette and appreciated no matter where you go. #Stayclassy
  • Take pictures of everything!! That front yard that is never mowed like you've asked a million times for you school to do - do it. That side angle view of your students walking to school as you have your tea in the morning. Yup. You'll probably never show them to anyone else and think you don't want to remember them, but one day you'll be going over  your pics and see them and get a wonderful rush of nostalgia. 
  • Stop to appreciate the last time you'll probably hang out with all the friends you made in your time abroad being in the same place at the same time. Just a moment. It goes well with the Japanese proverb I live my life by which is  一期一会 (ichi go ichi e) meaning one chance, one opportunity, because that moment will never happen again. 
I think that's a good poignant place to end this post. Let me know of any other tips you have from your experiences in the comments!