Monday, April 14, 2008

I’m Leaving On a Jet Plane

Well, I’m sitting on Flight 176 right now somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. The in flight map has us approaching the Canadian coast, and another 5000 or so kilometers to get there.

It has been an emotional week to say the least. Most of the time at work was spent getting all the last minute kinks out of the preparations to leave, but there was a considerable amount of time spent trying to catch up one last time with good friends.

On Wednesday, I finally joined the Family Time Karaoke Club that has developed, taking advantage of the early let out from work to go to Shidax or another karaoke box place for some supper, beer, and songs. As a karaoke connoisseur, it was probably the best songfests I’ve been to yet. We initially signed up for the room for 3 hours, but extended for another two since we were having so much fun. Five hours of belting out tunes in varying degrees of proficiency was such a good time that I went back again on Friday night by myself. It wasn’t quite as much fun, but a good experience nonetheless.

On Saturday, Toshi set up an outing to Tokyo, and Ed, Kersten, Mike and I hopped on the train up to Tokyo Station to link up with him. After finding him, we headed first for the Tsukiji market area for some fresh sushi. After the best maguro don I’d had since being here, we spent a little while walking around the market before driving over to LaLaPort, a big mall constructed around an old ship berth. As I was looking at the map of the mall, I noticed that the main part of the mall was formed like a boat slip, with flanking sections shaped like ships containing more stores. Quite an interesting and unique design.

We took one of the tourist boats for a 45 minute ride around Tokyo Bay, passing several Maritime Self Defense Force ships including the main icebreaker used when the ships head toward Antarctica as part of the cetacean research program. That’s the one where they research whales by harvesting them. Interestingly enough, whale is still served in some places, usually farther north, and was at one time a staple of the school lunch program. I regret that I never had the chance to try it, but that’s a good reason to come back sometime.

Following the boat ride, we headed down to Kawasaki to Toshi’s house for supper. Toshi and his daughter Akane surprised me with two incredibly thoughtful gifts. Both of them are artists. We learned this at lunch one day when Akane was drawing cute anime type figures. She drew a portrait of Melody and me that is incredibly realistic. I don’t know if she did it freehand or had a photo to work from, but it was so sweet that it literally brought tears to my eyes.

Then Toshi brought out another small box. Opening it, I looked at a framed oil painting of the railway crossing down the street from our home in Kamakura. He captured the moment that the Enoden Line train crosses the street, framed by hanami or cherry blossoms. Several of the tears that had drifted up while looking at the previous drawing made their way down my cheeks at this point. It was one of the most special gifts we’ve ever received.

We enjoyed a great supper of meatballs, fried shrimp, onigiri, potato salad, and after a brief respite, Toshi ducked into the kitchen and sizzled up some Kobe beef and lamb chops. It was a great meal, topped off with some fine sake and wine. We eventually had to catch a train, so headed out about 10:00 PM. Toshi walked us to the train station, and it was an emotional parting. He’s been a great friend and professional colleague, and took such good care of Melody and me during our time in Japan. It gave us a glimpse of life in a typical Japanese family that we never would have gotten otherwise. Toshi, if you’re reading this, from the bottom of my and Melody’s heart, thank you. You, Masai, Akane, Yutaro, and Miri will be in our thoughts and prayers until we meet again (hopefully soon).

Sunday came and I spent the day organizing things and getting ready for the final packup. That evening, I took the train down to Fujisawa to meet Ginny and David at Jammin’ for one last meal together. We sat at the bar in the “new” Jammin’ (the one in our old neighborhood closed back in Janurary, we were there for the party), and ate a leisurely meal together while catching up on the latest news and gossip. They’ve been a great couple to hang out with, and fortunately have some ties to San Antonio, so we’ll get to see them somewhat regularly.

I got back at about 10:30 or so, puttered around a little bit and then went to bed to get some rest for my last full day in Japan.

Monday was my last day and was the busiest of the week. I spent the day cleaning out my email (Select all. Delete.), running around doing the final paperwork, and had lunch with my former co-workers Mike, Hiroko, and Ria. We went over to the Golf Course for a mediocre meal, and a fun last time to all hang out together. That afternoon, I took a couple of boxes down to the post office, and had to run out to cancel our mobile phones. That turned out to be the easiest part of the day, with filling out a couple of forms, and plugging in the phones to the computer to kill the numbers. After that and a quick trip to the mall to pick up a couple of things for Melody, I met up with Ed and Kersten, and Dennis, Hozumi and their daughters for ramen and gyoza. It was a great meal, and a fitting one to end my time here in Japan.

I woke up about 4 AM to finalize my packing and get ready for my 6 O’clock pickup. As it turns out, I went up to the airport with our friends the Felicianos who unfortunately are heading back to Puerto Rico due to a death in the family. We breezed through check-in pretty quickly and headed up to a café for some breakfast. After some coffee and a pastrami sandwich, we headed through security and immigration.

I’ve now been on the plane for about seven hours. Looks like we have about three or so more before we get to Dallas, and we should be getting there slightly early. Good thing as I’ve got to catch a connection with only an hour or so to get through the reception formalities.

I’ve spent the past few hours ruminating on some of the experiences of the past four years. I’ve met lots of interesting people, and have had the chance to catch up with friends from long ago in far off places. I had the chance to travel from Saudi Arabia to Japan, hitting Bahrain, Oman, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Guam and Korea in between. It’s been an incredible experience, one that won’t ever be forgotten, and one that has affected my life forever.

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been away for that long. It’s almost like time in the states has stood still, at least from my perspective. It will be an adjustment getting back into life in the US. But we’re up to it. After so long away, spending so much time in countries not our own, the United States will now be the place that feels foreign.

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