There's another month or so of classes left, but with exams and other obligations bearing down on us, it's not really practical to continue English Club activities any longer. Instead, we're gathering for one last “normal” katsudou before we (mostly) break until after summer, though I'll be gone by then. We've already undergone a fairly intensive discussion about how to continue improving the section, so now we're going to congratulate ourselves on a semester well done with some snacks, drinks, and wistful conversation. Everyone has crowded around the table, itching for the OK to dig in, because we've pretty much been waiting for this moment all night.
“Oh, but before we eat, I have some Information,” says Super Junior, Information being the standard note on which to end daily katsudou. My heart jumps. “The first is that the deadline for the last nomikai is tomorrow, so contact me by then if you want to participate. The second is the thing that I posted on LINE earlier, so everybody please look at that.
“And the third is that...Rude Boy is leaving in August, so we have a present to give him!!”
“There it is,” I say, shielding my eyes. “How embarassing.” But I'm smiling.
I'm called to the front while most of the rest of the section gathers in a semi-circle, and I'm presented with a couple of gift-wrapped items. Everybody pitched in. I'm too shy to open them right there, but one is a jinbei, and the other is a small album filled with pictures and handwritten messages. I have a couple of jinbei already (you eventually just start to accrue this stuff, somehow), but this one is much nicer. And it's wonderful, but it's the album that really gets to me. I've had to write these notes any number of times myself, so I appreciate the difficulty in coming up with something to say, and I don't begrudge anybody who only scratches out a few words and their name. But something like this really lets you know who really liked you, and who you touched. When I read through it tonight, I'll hear the voice of each author in my head, as scenes from the past year drift across my mind, like the overly sentimental denouement of an overly sentimental movie.
They ask me to say a few words. I have some prepared. I'd suspected this might happen.
“Before I came to this university,” I tell them, “I checked it out on Google Maps. And I thought, What the heck? There's nothing here! But, no. Surely if you actually walk around, you'll see, oh, there's this shop here, and this restaurant here, it can't be that bad. But then I got here, and...there really is nothing around, is there?”
“So to tell the truth, for the first few days after I arrived, I was very depressed. I wondered if I'd made a mistake, if I should have gone somewhere else. I thought, Can I really enjoy a year in a place like this? Am I really going to be able to meet anyone? It was a little bit painful. But then I came to this English Club, and this section, and everyone was so kind to me...”
My voice falters and I have to close my eyes and look away just to keep it together. I smile sadly. It's a deflection.
“...was so kind to me, and taught me so m...any things, and uh...I was, uh, very happy about that. So uh, yes. To tell the truth, this week, I've been confused. I uh, I've been thinking...you know...right? Like...I had some goals for this year...and some I've accomplished, but, some I haven't. And that was good, and I had some good experiences, and I improved myself, and I hope I improved my Japanese, but I've kind of been wondering if it was worth it. If the world, I guess, even in some small way, is at all different because I came here. And actually, just now, in this moment, standing here, I felt...that...it was worth it. So tha...