Friday, 1 March 2013

Inter-semester Period


Rude Boy: So what's going on?
Kojak: Nothing. Just “oh I love you, I'll miss you so much,” and then in two weeks nobody cares.
Rude Boy: Sounds like a metaphor for life. You're here for a while, and then one day you're not.
Kojak: And things carry on.

With the semester formally ending in just a few short days, most would be off gallivanting about Japan, Korea, and whatever other spots they'd blocked in before their ultimate repatriation. Tutors and other friends were scattered around, there was (predictably insufficient) food and drink, general chatter, and the walls lit up with constant camera flash. All very expected.

One table had been set aside with some posterboards set out, that we might submit a message to the outgoing owner. Over the years I've gotten pretty good at dredging up some suitably inane scribblings. But as I stood there, I came to a somewhat dispiriting realisation: I don't know these people.

There are some that I like. Kojak, Little Italy, Hecate, Philosophy, the Koreans. But even for them, what the hell could I write? Kojak and I shared little more than the occasional conversation and a love of Boss cafe au lait. The rest of them? We talked, sometimes. We never went anywhere together. We didn't study or even hang out.

I don't really try to be friends with anyone in this house because I've reserved that energy for Japanese people. They've cottoned on to this, and I think some of them resent it a little. Maybe they think I think I'm better than them. I don't know; I don't even care.

There was a casual ceremony in which people were given certificates of completion and, afterwards, asked to make a speech. People said the kinds of corny things you can only say out loud when you really, really mean them. There were hugs. There were tears. I was hit with a slight rush of concern, like when your car's suspension falls out from under you. I was hit with the urge to cement my place among the remainders. I worked the room, chatting up the handful of people that I like who will still be here next semester. Like maybe we can be actual friends, you know?

After a while I got bored. When I'm not the centre of attention I tend to get tired and moody. It's why I hate not being in charge of anything. Which, incidentally, is why I decided to get everybody to write some messages for the outgoing head teacher, as well, partly because she deserves to know how grateful we are, but also to give myself a project to manage.

I sat by myself for three hours, as the rest of the party whorled around me. Nobody sat down to talk with me. I contemplated a lot of things, but mainly what I should do in relation to the new students next semester. Should I be taking more of a leadership role in this house? Maybe I owe it to them. Maybe I really do need to just get off my high horse.

It's inspired a lot of self-reflection regarding my own position and how best to move forward. Lately I've been feeling pretty isolated, not because of anything that's happening over here so much as I've started feeling a quiet anxiety over what's going to happen between me and my Canadian friends as the years go on. I've made it clear that I'm making Japan my home; everybody knows that. And I also know that afer throwing out all the “casual acquaintances” and “people whose existence I am aware of,” the people I truly love and trust are friends for life. Next time we share a continent, we'll be sure to meet up, and in the meantime we'll chat electronically. That was the case even when I could stand on my balcony and look through President's living room window. Inevitably, I'm going to lose contact with some people, but that's just a consequence of the choice I've made. Priorities. Everything has an opportunity cost.

More immediately, I'm realising that I've undergone a huge social transformation since I landed. In Canada, I was like goddamn Edmond Dantes, except I helped people instead of destroying their lives. I had a strong core of people rallied around me. When I needed something to get done, I knew I had the influence and the authority to make it happen.

Logically, I should be able to move in much the same manner here. I've spoken before about what a lone wolf I've been lately, looking after pretty much just myself. Next semester, the new students will look to us for help. I have no doubt that Anarchy in the UK will be a social rallying point, but I'm beginning to wonder if my hands-off approach might be a bit of an injustice. I have no real desire to participate in dormitory life, and I'm quite happy being ancillary to all of its goings-on. But the thing is, maybe I should, because maybe my capacity to help also confers an obligation. I don't know what I'll actually end up doing, but I'm pretty sure that for once, both Kant and Mill think that I should.

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