"Miss, are these your boyfriends?"
What do you think of when you recall places? For example, childhood, high school, or college, what comes to mind? Maybe you think of a place, possibly your childhood home or maybe of a particular classroom in high school where you spent far more time than you would have liked (what up AP Physics room). For me, I remember the people. That AP Physics room? Can’t possibly think of it without thinking of Schnell, my wonderful physics teacher. Places and the people I knew while there are inextricably linked. Places are people in my mind.
Conversely, people are often tied to places in my mind as well. For instance, it always kind of felt like worlds were colliding when high school and college friends would meet. In my place = people view of the world, events like this made it feel like all of sudden I was in two places at once or one place had somehow morphed into two. As I’m typing I’m realizing I probably sound slightly insane or just super dramatic. Not my intent at all, just trying to explain that I am very much a person who believes things like home is all about the people who inhabit that concept, rather than the actual physical place.
Anyways . . .
Throughout the month of April I was lucky enough to get to see four familiar faces (I just accidently types places and maybe that’s a fitting way to describe them as well) from home and it was pretty much wonderful.
I had a one week school holiday in early-March and took advantage of the break to visit Landon in Tokyo. Landon was finishing up (I was there his second to last week) eight months working for Bunkyo University (one of CSB/SJU’s closest partner schools) in their International Student Programming Office. If he hadn’t been there I probably would have skipped Tokyo (it’s crazy expensive, especially when your Fulbright stipend value keeps shrinking as the ringgit does worse and worse against the dollar) and also way colder than what I have become accustomed to (anything below 60 and I now immediately start shivering), but it was one of those trips you take for the person waiting when you get off the plane rather than the place itself.
I had also flown through Narita International Airport (an airport I have an illogical hatred for and have been quite vocal about on many occasions) five times by that point but still never actually gotten a stamp for Japan so this was a great excuse for that as well. Although if you’re reading this Landon, don’t worry, you were a much bigger draw than just the passport stamp (which ironically sucks, much like their airport)
It was a really wonderful trip. Landon was a great host and did an amazing job of showing me around the city and giving me a sense of what his experience there had been like. Just three hours after arriving I was accompanying him to the wedding of one of his friends he had made there (who happened to be from Wisconsin and had a sister that lived in Richmond, MN right on Highway 23 – great rural Minnesota connection and conversation topic). I was then off to Bunkyo graduation and was lucky enough to get to see many of the girls in their traditional kimonos and meet more of the people who had become part of Landon’s place in Tokyo.
It was also nice that Landon had to work a few of the days I was there. It allowed me to explore the city on my own (Tokyo’s subway system is awesome – which I would kind of hope if I’m paying around $10-$15 a day to use it). I would leave each morning with a note from Landon about some places to check out and some of my own ideas of what I wanted to do and then just spend the day wandering the city and taking photographs. Some of my favorite moments include spending over an hour with a group of Japanese grandfathers as they played chess in Ueno Park, accidentally stumbling across the “Flame of Hiroshima and Nagasaki” Memorial which still contains a flame that’s been burning since the bomb was launched on Hiroshima, getting the freshest sashimi of my life at the Tsukiji Fish Market, watching the sunset over Tokyo at the Tokyo Municipality Government Building, and eating my lunch (Japanese tourist pro-tip: most restaurants offer way cheaper lunch options than dinner options so eat a big meal there and then just pick up something small and cheap for dinner) eah day at Nezu Temple watching the adorable Japanese toddlers wander about.
I was also lucky enough to get to meet up with Kuni, another SJU friend, who is currently working in Tokyo. Kuni grew up in Okinawa, attended SJU, worked in DC for a while and is now back in Japan. I hadn’t seen him since I was in DC last year for Truman Summer Institute (gosh I can’t believe that was almost a year ago) and it was great to catch up. He spent the day showing me some of his favorite places in DC and then we met up with Landon and had one of the best meals of the whole trip in a small, basement restaurant that probably 9 out of 10 people would have walked right past without noticing. We also convinced Landon to go on his first rollercoaster ever (conveniently located right next to the metro stop – told you their metro system was bomb). Landon’s screams and his smile at the end of the ride will probably remain one of my favorite memories of him for years to come.
Overall, it was a great trip to Japan. It’s a beautiful country with amazing food, culture, history, and things to discover (other than their airport). But what really made it one to remember was getting to see a glimpse of what Landon’s experience had been like there and what the place had come to mean to him. From getting numerous meals with friends there to many a night of karaoke (still somewhat hate it), the people who became his sense of Tokyo were wonderful and I was so happy to see the sense of place he had created there.
I was also lucky enough to have some familiar faces come visit me in wonderful Bera at the end of March and beginning of April. Andy, John, and Patrick, three of my SJU classmates, made a six day stop in Malaysia to visit. John and Patrick had just finished their 8 months of service in the Benedictine Volunteer Corps at a monastery in Katibunga, Zambia and Andy (who was on the ETL team with me) was completing a six week trip around the world.
They originally were only supposed to be here for about three, but ran into some visa issues trying to enter India (what did we learn from this experience boys? Make sure to check Visa requirements before showing up at your departure gate) and ended up in Malaysia a bit earlier than planned. It worked out pretty perfectly though and by the end of their stay the boys admitted in that it was definitely a blessing that India hadn’t worked out.
During their visit they came to school with me each day (made lesson planning for the week super easy – we worked on our question words by playing meet the foreigners), got to meet many of my favorite students, meet and talk with my wonderful mentor Fira and the rest of the English panel, and get to actually experience what my day to day teacher life is like.
(Fira and the boys)
They also were great sports and despite their hesitation agreed to play soccer with the hostel boys after school. They ended up loving it and I’m not sure who had bigger smiles at the end of the match, my students or the guys.
I was also able to show them some of my favorite places in the Bera, the restaurants Erin and I frequent, and just overall give them a sense of what my life is like here. It was so nice to have visitors and both Erin and I agreed that the house felt sadly quiet after they were gone.
Can't come to Bera and not take a picture to prove it
I had not anticipated how much having the guys visit would mean. It was an amazing feeling to get to show them around the place that has become so special to me. It’s also just nice to have people at home who when they see an Instagram post or hear a story can actually recognize the student in the photo or be able to visualize the places I am talking about. Having someone from home understand a part of this experience, no matter how small, is a really cool thing.
I don’t know if I’ll ever stop associating places with people and vice versa. But what I do know, is that I could not be more thankful that for just a short moment of time me worlds (my Fulbright and my CSB/SJU) got to combine. It was something I never expected, but something that I know I will cherish throughout the rest of my time here. It also made me even more excited for additional visitors to Bera. My parents will be here next month and my school is already talking about it with excitement (get ready Mom and Dad, they might have a welcoming ceremony for you like they did for me). So if anyone else is interested in a quick (or long, we like company) trip to Malaysia, I’ve got two spare bedrooms and running water at least a few times a week. You’re always welcome.