The Simple Life

Just as a skilled photographer helps us appreciate the startling beauty in the most simple, everyday sights, so to must we never forget the good in simplicity.

When I was working in Oakland, it was a struggle to show up to work because it was so. Damn. Hard. I’m not going to get into that too much. Now, it’s sometimes hard to show up to work because I feel so purposeless… On more days than I’m willing to admit, I show up at 8:14 (just barely on time… not that it matters), sit at my desk and do as I please (read a book, write, study Japanese, surf the web…… … … yup, that about covers it), and clock out at 4:00. I usually get bored out of my mind, sitting in silence for 7 hours and 45 minutes without any tasks or responsibilities. Assistant Language Teachers are often ridiculously under-utilized in JET.

Today, I procrastinated in showing up for work. At the last minute, my stomach felt ever-so-slightly uncomfortable, at which point I contemplated calling in sick. Despite this, I slowly marched through my routine in getting ready for work.

I headed out the door and decided that if I was too late to catch the bus—if all my procrastination had actually led me to missing my bus altogether—that I would call in sick. I sauntered up to my bus stop. My bus pulled up at the same moment: three minutes past its scheduled arrival time. ‘Looks like I’m going to work,’ I thought.

The stuffy, warm, humid, overcast weather is surprisingly soothing and comforting. The dimly lit foyer of the school had an atmosphere that I couldn’t quite name—romantic was the first word that came to mind, but not in that it was beckoning for love; more like it was beckoning for sleep… a lazy, happy, deep, catnap kind of sleep.

Kusano-san, the janitor, greeted me so welcomingly and happily at the entrance that I truly felt like someone was happy for me to be here.

The school is quiet. Students are diligently studying and test-taking in their classrooms.

The Japanese (subject) teacher walked by my desk, on his way to his office in the library. He’s always been very fatherly to me. He speaks to me in English. He teaches me about Japanese culture. He asks me about American culture. He always checks to make sure that I’m OK. Today, he caught my eye at the last second and gave me a friendly wave as he continued down the hall.

I ran into another teacher whom I shared my office space with last school year, but has since moved to another office in the school. I don’t see him as often as I used to. He used to approach my desk all the time to ask me about my studies in Japanese, to ask me about running, and—most frequently—to talk to me about Lord knows what. Not me, I don’t know what he was talking about, because I couldn’t understand him. He only speaks to me in Japanese. Either he doesn’t know that I can’t understand what he’s saying, or he doesn’t care. Regardless, I appreciate the effort. When he saw me today, stopped in his tracks in kind of an “at attention” stance (feet together, toes pointed toward me, arms to his sides) and bowed humbly.

“Konnichiwa,” he said. I smiled and attempted my usual awkward, not-quite-Japanese-enough bow. “Otsukaresamadesu,” I said back. Thank you for your hard work. “Ohisashiburi desu ne. Genki desu ka? Kotoshi, mou atsuku narimashita ja arimasen ka?” he said. Long time no see. Are you well? This year, you haven’t been too hot yet, have you?

‘Yes, I’ve been very hot already!’, I wanted to reply. Or, ‘It’s so humid lately!’ or ‘Where is this June rain that everybody has been telling me about?’

“Uh… atsui. Ha ha,” I managed. ‘I’m hot.’

“Ah, sou desu ka? something something something something…” he replied. ‘Is that so?’ was all that I understood.

I smiled back weakly. We still had a flight of stairs and half of a hallway to go before we arrived at our destination.

“Jitsuwa, kinou, marason ga sankashimashita.” I prayed that this meant that I ran a race yesterday.

“Marason? Sugoi ne. Otsukaresama desu. Nan-kiro? Doko ni?” A race? Wow, that’s great. Good job for working hard. How many kilometers was it? Where was it?

I answered. At this point, we arrived at the staff room, our destination. We walked through the threshold together, and Watanabe-sensei announces to the staffroom about my race. I’m then greeted by a chorus of congratulations.

My students also always make me feel welcomed, purposeful, and loved whenever they greet me around the school and in town. I hope that I have the same effect on them. I walked to and from the train station yesterday instead of my usual taking the bus or riding my bike (my bike is still broken). It takes 35-40 minutes to walk from my house to the station. Along the way, I ran into at least 100 of my students from various schools, all of whom were on their way to their respective schools. I waved hello, said good morning, and wished each one a good day. Well, as many of them as I could, anyway. Luckily, many of them were walking in groups of threes or fours, so this made my feat a bit easier.

On my base school days, I’m given odd jobs—small responsibilities to help individuals. I have weekly extra writing practice meetings with three seniors who are applying to top tier universities. I have weekly English club meetings with first-year students who speak a few words of English, but love English or foreign culture, or me (it’s most certainly a foreigner-philic type of love, but I’ll take it), with whom I have no idea what to do each week, but we enjoy each others’ company anyway. I help our current resident student teacher who is studying to be an English teacher. I grade papers to help out my overloaded coworkers.

This is not glitzy, fast-paced, high-stress lifestyle that I imagined (hoped, even) teaching would be. More days are slow-paced than are tiring. I’m paid to work 35 hours a week, work for 10 of those hours a week, and work hard for only 5 of those hours. You could argue (and I often agree) that what I’m doing does not count as teaching.

But this is my job and this is life. Life is about making connection with people. Life is about adjusting and adapting with the situation and environment. Life is about enjoying what you have and being intrigued/surprised/amazed/perplexed at nuances. Each day, we’re given a finite number of hours. It’s up to us to enjoy those hours. We don’t enjoy our life and the days that make up our lives because of what we have or what we do; we enjoy it when we pay attention to what’s around us, inflate good meaning in small interactions, and maintain a positive outlook.

This is life and I am a person. I am a person who teaches. Teachers are people, not just teachers. We’re allowed to have whole lives, not just really hard work lives.

If I can't "find myself" here--no matter where here is--I run the risk of  endlessly roaming the world, hoping that center-edness is out there somewhere. I didn't find peace in a noisy environment; now, I often feel uncomfortable in this too-quiet environment. But it's me that needs to stop and appreciate the good and the everyday, whatever that may be. It's OK to stay hungry for new adventures, it's OK to be ambitious and hardworking, but it’s also OK to be at peace with a simple life. Right now, it's crucial. This is where I live and how I live; I can't put off happiness for next year or the year after when I'm somewhere else doing something else. Right now and always, it's OK to be happy.