I want to share all these thoughts, memories and experiences with you, but the days are too short.
I want to tell you about chest bumping with my students and being hurled halfway down the hall when one of them, with the build of a junior sumo wrestler, bumped me and sent me flying. His low centre of gravity and pudgy frame makes him into an immovable object and me into an off-balance, stumbling clown. He is the chest bump champion.
I want to tell you about how I utter miniature prayers for deliverance every time I walk to Yasakae Junior High. There is a stretch of road where the sidewalk ends and I have to walk on the street while 18-wheelers carrying crushed cars, agricultural equipment, or toxic waste scream past. Their unstoppable frames push me aside with their currents and each time I hear them approaching from behind, my brain whispers, “Please don’t kill me.”
I want to tell you about the low-flying clouds and the light and shadow they cast over these rural hills. I want to stop and set up a tripod, but instead I have to continue on from the bus stop to the school to do my job. But these clouds, you would just have to climb a low hill and you would be able to jump up and touch them. I had never understood how enormous Calgary’s skies were until I left them.
I want to tell you about teaching my students to call me “handsome sensei” and hearing them giggle endlessly through class.
I want to tell you about the girl at in grade four Ichinoseki elementary who speaks better English than any of my other students at any level. When I told her that her English was great, she matter-of-factly told me, “I’m half.” I later learned she has lived in America. But every time I see her, I am so thrilled because I get to interact with one of my students in a more meaningful way. We can actually understand each other. The language barrier doesn’t exist and it is so freeing.
The other day, I was playing basketball with her and some other students when one of my shots bounced off the back of the rim, over the backboard and got stuck between the backboard and railing above it. Already giddy from playing with the kids, I laughed, “I don’t think I could do that again if I tried!” She understood perfectly and said, “I don’t think you could either!”
Now, I don’t know if I can communicate to you just how significant this is. As I have often said, my Japanese is terrible. And I must now say the awful truth here: these kids, their English is terrible. It’s an unfortunate fact that I am trying to change, but for now, it’s a fact. Yes, we can communicate with each other, but it’s only through considerable effort on everyone’s part and the messages are always simple.
But with this girl, I can actually converse with her. In the middle of English class with me, while learning such simple phrases as, “I like baseball,” she occasionally turns to me and blurts out, “This is too easy!” I think I might make her teach the class next time.
I want to tell you about every moment of my recent tour of Japan and how I felt so alive behind the camera. My feet ached after 15 hours of walking in a day, but the only reason I went to bed was so that I wouldn’t get sick and prevent myself from seeing more. If I could have, I would have shot and explored all night.
I want to tell you about every soccer goal I’ve scored and every basket I’ve made. And I want to tell you about every shot scored against me and every basket scored by the opposing teams. I’m competitive enough with myself that I still get excited when I score a basket – even if it’s against a bunch of 12 year olds. But, I love these kids enough that when their efforts against me yield success, I am just as happy.
Sometimes, I actually impress myself. At one of my schools, the basketball games sometimes resemble rugby more than basketball. The gym often gets full way past capacity and a hundred kids crowd a single court. At any given time, there may be three or four basketball games going on one court and dozens of other kids playing tag or twirling hula hoops or just running over to say hello. This turns the gym into a living obstacle course. When I impress myself is when I am capable of running the length of the floor without toppling over a tyke. Occasionally, I’m able to finish a play with some Jordan-esque reverse lay-up or a dunk on their less-than-regulation height baskets. At those moments, I truly am the best basketball player in Iwate.
But then, they come back at me. They get near the basket and start their passing. I’ll get in front of one determined to take a shot and he or she will pump fake. I’ll jump into the air and while soaring above a body I already dwarfed, the young star will step around me and deftly flip the ball in for two points. And I yell in mock frustration at my defeat, then in praise and celebration of their skill. We all smile together, then run the other way so I can try to get a pass to a teammate to score.
I want to tell you about the caretaker at Yasakae Junior High and how, if I were staying in Japan for longer, would probably turn into a very good friend. He’s my age and likes video games, snowboarding and punk rock. He’s a kid like me and that’s hard to find in Japan. Something seems to happen to people here when they go to university and enter the workforce. They each emerge from that cocoon as a worker any and only let loose at the occasional enkai.
But not Sato-san. He chest bumps the students with me. He plays soccer and basketball with the kids and me. He takes every chance he can get to ask me about the Rocky Mountains because he would love nothing more than to carve trails through endless powder on his snowboard.
I want to tell you all these things. I want to empty the contents of my brain into a bucket from which you could drink. I want to let you see through my eyes and hear with my ears – hear not only the world around me, but also the din in my head.
But I can’t tell you all these things. There is no time to express everything I feel and think. I am greedy. I want more of these experiences. And I don’t want to miss anything because I was taking too much time to write about yesterday.