Thousands of Miles from Home


Loose Ends

Even making mistakes in Japan usually ends in hilarity. Last week Tomoya informed me that I would be eating dinner at his grandmother's house because my host mother wouldn't be home until late. I had no problem with this because my host grandmother makes the most delicious food in Japan. Tomoya had already eaten before going to juku (cram school), so I made the short walk to my host grandmother's house alone. That would be my ultimate undoing.

While living in Tama, I could find my way around easily because every street looked different. I say "looked" because japanese streets either don't have names, or a lot of energy is spent in keeping them a secret from me. Signs are also kept to an absolute minimum so directions become landmark based, something along the lines of "Go straight after the noodle shop" or "Turn left at the stone statue of a pelican." (No joke, I was given this direction once) Tai, to make matters worse, is a network of crossroads and sidestreets between similar looking japanese-style houses. And I was walking at night. But, being the person I am I told Tomoya, "I can find it."

Within a few minutes I was pretty lost. Actually, I knew exactly where I was but my grandmother's house was nowhere in sight. Luckilly, cell phone always at the ready, I gave Tomoya a call. He had already left for juku. I called my host mother, but couldn't quite explain where I was over her laughing (she laughs very easily). So I finally went to Saeki-san's house where music lessons were being given. I met a third year Konan high school student and had to do my best to refuse dinner with the Saekis. Takurou said he would show me where Tomoya's grandmother lived, so we set out on foot. After a minute walk, Takurou was looking pretty lost as well. By pure chance we ran into my host grandmother who was biking home from the grocery store. She didn't recognize me at first, and even I had to do a double-take. By the time we all stopped laughing I was at my grandmother's house, a mere 3 minute walk from where I started. I had actually walked right by the house twice! But the dinner was delicious, and now I know my way around Tai.

At school unexpected situations are always happening. I am usually the last to be informed about school events, but that doesn't really bother me. It's like a crazy game where I can't read the directions. Last week in gym class I was informed in the morning that we would be running a marathon, something along the lines of the Presidential Fitness Test in America that all middle and high school students come to hate. I'm not a runner, but I'm not a complete lard ass either. I was a little worried about the temperature because we were running outside, but I didn't think it would be that much of a problem. When it came time for the class to begin I got with the first group of runners. It was only 2.1 Km but by the fourth lap my lungs were burning. Combined with the cold, the japanese air is very dry. When I finished the run I noticed that everyone was hacking their lungs out, even the guys who said they run all the time. I was breathing kind of funny for the rest of the day but I could do a great Humphrey Bogart impression.

That day after school, my homeroom teacher stopped me before leaving and said something I didn't catch in japanese. I was about to ask him to repeat himself when he said "lets arm wrestle." I was pretty shocked because he is a BIG guy. But recently my class has been sort of obsessed with arm wrestling, staging matches at lunch and between classes. My teacher gave me a big handicap with his right arm, so I beat him easily. He wanted a rematch with his left, saying he was left handed. "Me too," I replied. I beat him again. Next we tried an even match with the right. He started to put my arm down, then I fought back to the center. It seemed like a 5 minute stalemate, each of us with hilarious strained and laughing faces. I was surprised with how strong he was, much better than any of the kids in my class. We eventually called it a draw before our arms dropped off. I said he could have a rematch anytime.


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