Friday, March 27, 2009

Time To Spare

Context: Yes, it's true: before getting into computers and software, before working at some big multinational software company, before becoming wired, I used to teach English conversation in Japan. I lived in a small city called Yonago, in Tottori Prefecture, which is about 3 hours northwest of Osaka by bus, situated along the Sea of Japan. I worked at a small English Conversation school called "Nicenglish" ... that's not a spelling mistake. Nicenglish. The following is an email that I sent to a friend of mine who was depressed about teaching. The email was written a few years after working in Japan so I had hindsight to help flesh out the details of my time there. Take it for what it's worth (which isn't that much).

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When I was a teacher in Japan, there were days in which I was sick and tired of teaching to children who would not listen, high school student who did not seem to care and even adults who were not that interested. It’s draining to stand in front of people and sell yourself and your knowledge to people who seem to not find value in you. It drained the life out of me, the fun I had, the motivation to wake up and go to work. By this point, even small things that were often trivial were often perceived as major crises in my life. And because it was winter and because it rained a lot in Yonago didn’t help that much either.

But, believe it or not, I found solace in bowling. You may laugh and find it strange but I was able to relax by going to the neighborhood bowling center. My walk from my apartment to the bowling center took about 15 minutes. As I walked through downtown Yonago, I would pass by a small bakery and buy myself a “cheese and sausage roll”. Upon reaching the bowling center, I would rent a single lane and bowl about two games. Although I was by myself, it was a lot of fun. In my mind, I knew that my body was moving. I knew that I was thinking about how I should throw the ball. Best of all, I knew that no matter how badly I threw the ball, no one was watching so I could do whatever I wanted to do. After two games, I would go into the little game center and try the UFO Catcher. Most of the time, I would not get anything. But sometimes, on very rare occasions, I would get a Miffy or Doraemon doll.

Next to the bowling center was a small park. I would go outside and there at the park, I would find an empty bench, sit down and start eating my cheese and sausage roll and start drinking Afternoon Tea. I would see older grandfather and grandmother types, walking slowly with baby carriages that didn’t have babies in them. I would see mothers and children playing nearby a slide and swing set. Later in the afternoon, I would see students in uniforms, giggling and gossiping. By the time I was done with my roll and Afternoon Tea, it was time to go back to work. But instead of feeling down and feeling blue, I felt warm because of the just eaten roll. I felt, in many ways, satisfied.

Someone once said that “if you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.” If you had the time, how would you spend the afternoon?

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So, how would you spend a spare afternoon?


Brian said...

Nice! I think your bowling and park escape speaks to a great survival tool. Where is that place? Where is that activity? Where is that thing that makes me appreciate my life today? I think for folks like us, we probably discovered that while sitting in some distant corner of the globe.
One of the things that strikes me when I return to the States now is how poorly equipped most Americans are at having such a "thing." Oh they are aces at bitching and complaining; and they have their multiple forms of entertainment that seem to dull the brain more than actually help one appreciate their life and what makes its special, worthwhile and worth living.

cafejay said...

Blast from the emailed past. When I get a lazy weekend day I garden. I like it because it gets me into the fresh air, but also because whatever I do has no repercussions on anyone or any animal. If a plant dies, I drive back to Swanson's or Home Depot and buy another. I move them around and sometimes, I weed. I've spent hours outside after which I couldn't recall a single well-formed thought that passed through my mind. Just blank space.