Row your boat to shore someday


Remember that scene from Forrest Gump when Jenny returns to Forrest after months and months – if not years – of the total hippie immersion life and sleeps for what the director made seem like a month straight? Complete exhaustion, right?

For the first time in my nearly 30 years on this planet, my overall energy is of a level similar to Jenny’s in this scene. I want to crawl into a bed in Mobile, Alabama, put on a soft jazz record, read a chapter of Norwegian Wood, and sleep until my mind is so relaxed that I can no longer process a dream. I have never been to Alabama.

I cannot say that I really mind this fatigue – in fact, I nearly crave it. Getting to this level has had many, many benefits. For example, on a recent late summer Sunday, my life went kind of like this:

“Kairu-san, roppun…hajimarimasu! Six minutes, we start! Kutsu ga arimasu ka!?!”

“Aaaa sumimasen! Chotto matte kudasai!

I put on my shoes as fast as my hands could process the knots and ran down the beach to find my rafting (ikada) team waiting for me. My spot on the raft was front-left. I hurdled a life preserver around my upper body and saddled in.

“Sumimasen…paddle…uh….row…uhhhhh… arimasen!”

“Ahhhhhh…. Chotto… koko….koko…. douzo!”

The next thing I recalled was a wash of white noise as 25 some-odd rafts set off to sea in a scurried frenzy.

“Biiiiiru….biiiiru….biiiiru,” we chanted in unison with each awkwardly swift row of the paddle. Rafts were funneling around us on all sides. More chanting. Rhythm was hard to come by, but the incessant pulse of the chants kept me paddling, and we eventually found a very workable and productive pace.

“Kairu-san, stop!”

“Lefto ganbare!”

“Kairu-san, go!”

“Iiiiiiko, Iiiiiiko, ganbaaaaaaaatte!”

I rowed. We rowed. They rowed. Everyone rowed some more! The six of us on that homemade raft with One-Piece as our captain were all on the exact same wave: finish the freaking race and do not stop the chants until we do. It was an unspoken goal that bridges any language in any world in any given similar situation. I have no idea if the race lasted 30 seconds or 30 minutes (likely somewhere in between), but whatever time frame it did happen to cover were some of the most vigorous moments of late.

Amidst the chaotic nature that can comes with any type of race, I can recall a moment when I was peering over the outskirts of what I now know as Shunan’s country-side counterpart. For as little as 10 seconds, and as many as 15 seconds, I was granted one of those “Man, I do not want to be doing anything else than exactly what I am doing at this very moment in the entire world right now” moments.

And then…

“Kairu-san! Go!”

Well, we finished the race – together, as a team. No idea what place, nor does it matter. It is akin to tallying up your score at the end of 18 holes – no one remembers what you shot a day later, but you still know that you accomplished something great, at least in your heart and mind.

Action Rafting Photo Credit: Wayne Yin

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On a Monday


I associate fireworks with one of four things:

A. The Fourth of July on a lake “Up North”
B. Canada Day on Rocky and Sae’s balcony
C. A few and far between homerun at Target Field
D. Jimmy Eat World and/or Sigur Ros (it is a tie)

The island of Suo Oshima can certainly now call this list home, bringing in a bit of internationalism, and plenty more emotionalism into the Top 5.

So, congratulations, Suo Oshima, you have been permanently etched in to my memory, and I will never, ever forget the epic fireworks display you put on during that warm Monday night in August of 2010.

And unless YouTube goes bankrupt or one of its servers is destroyed, I can watch your relentless grand finale over and over and over again.

Suo Oshima, you are unparalleled. Please never change.

Write about love


Last week, I took part in an English Camp on Kasado Island, which is part of Kudamatsu City Proper – representing the eastern seaboard of Yamaguchi. The island is relatively small with not a whole lot on it. There are some fisheries, a hotel (complete w/ onsen!), and maybe a few restaurants. I have not had the opportunity to explore it much, but the fact that it exists about a 30-minute bike ride from my doorstep excites me to know end – beautiful place.

The English Camp was a 2.5-day affair that had 7 of us Assistant Language Teachers helping run the show. We organized a few lessons and handed out many, many stickers to the young and eager English speakers for communicating with us in English. Their enthusiasm was inspiring and I was extremely happy for the opportunity, as it was my first time to get up in front of a class and try and sort something out. It went marvelously.

One of my fondest moments of the weekend (that took place in the middle of the week) – besides the awesome students – happened during the second night of the camp. Roughly 10 of us – ALTs and Japanese Teachers of English – were sitting around in the large tatami room having a few choice beverages and some snacks. The mood was jovial – lots of joking around, kiwi-throwing, and some picture drawing on the whiteboard.

At about 10pm, my friend Steph started to get super excited about this photo contest Belle & Sebastian are currently having for their forthcoming record. Being a B&S fan, I took to her excitement and listened as she unabashedly spoke about the contest.

“You just have to take a photo with ‘Write About Love’ written somewhere in the photograph, but it CANNOT be permanent. For example, using chalk,” she beamed in her British accent.

I was confused, probably a little tipsy, but the entire concept sounded awesome! After about a 10-minute debate, it was decided that we would somehow use the light of a cell phone coupled with a 30-second shutter speed (?) to capture ‘Write About Love’ in the photo. I really have zero idea how any of this works, but thanks to Steph and Mike (the man behind the photograph), it was explained in a way that made sense, at least at the time.

So, here is how it went down:

All of us had to hold a pose for 30 seconds in the completely dark room while Mike took the light of the cell phone and scrawled ‘Write About Love’ backwards in mid-air (keep it mind he only had 30 seconds to complete this, not to mention writing it backwards). After three or four takes, Steph confirmed that “Oh my god, this is it!” And it was it! Just look at how artsy that photo is!

It was a special time – the entire room was buzzing with this creative energy and the result is a magical photo that captured a moment. Really captured a moment.

You can view the photo contest over at Flickr.

Photo taken by Michael Leung

Let’s skip stones and figure out the future later


Over my first three weeks in 山口 (Yamaguchi), there have been moments when I have completely forgotten I am here. Completely. They have all been quite brilliant moments because every time you snap out of them, you get this little tingle and realization that screams: “Yes, I am still in Japan!” Wait, really… am I, though?

In these interconnected modern times, is it possible for someone to live in a devastatingly foreign country and not actually exist there? My vote is yes. And I am pretty sure it is happening all over the world, which is a bizarre phenomenon and further proves how connected this already small world has the potential to be.

If I was so inclined, I could wake up every morning in Japan to the sounds of the familiar voices of the CBC or MPR (thank you Internet!), make a pot of Tim Horton’s coffee, grease up on some eggs and bacon, catch the Twins highlights, Skype my mom, and then mosey on out the door to work. At work, I could mumble a few “Ohayou Gozaimasu’s” before knocking out a few English lesson plans, followed by a few “Otsukare sama deshita’s” and… the day is over. I could proceed straight back to my apartment, make pasta (with Kraft Parmesan Cheese!), and catch up on all the latest news from home. Anyway, you get the point: besides the humidity and smaller river crossing, I am straight back in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

A few friends of mine and I have been discussing this in great length lately. What is this foreign bubble and how do we deal with it? Is it okay to hide inside the bubble? Is it even a bubble? Pop! There, the bubble is gone. No, no… bring it back! Man, it is a comfortable place to be. A quite lovely place to be — similar to being wrapped up in a brand new duvet on an equally new tatami — cozy and warm…secure.

Everyone has a different reason for being in Japan, albeit, I believe them to be of a similar variety. It is inspiring to hear the stories I have heard thus far and the connectedness that comes with each story is literally fascinating. I have not figured out exactly what my reason is yet, but I do know I need to find a balance. I need to watch Japanese television as I fall asleep. I need hang out with my friends from all over mankind. I need to bathe at an onsen near Hiroshima. I need to create something. I need to struggle through conversations in Japanese. I need to let loose and spend entire weekends wrapped up in intense conversations with friends. I need to keep in contact with home. I need to drink Pocari Sweat. However, most importantly, I need to become myself.

I am not here so much as to discover myself as I am to become myself, if that makes any sense at all. Japan does something to me. There is no way to explain it, but it does something to me. The entire environment, the struggles, the laughter, the people, the politeness, the loneliness, the randomness, the questions you cannot have answered — it all affects me and allows me the opportunity to become real. It allows me the opportunity to realize that there are these little pockets of reality all over the world, and we are all somehow just trying to sort it all out.

There are so many beautiful people here that it undoubtably makes my heart and head burst with emotions I did not know existed.

My eyes, ears, and heart are wide open for the first time in my life. I can run. I can skip. I can jump. I can cry. I can laugh.

I feel closer to the world.

This is where I need to be.

Things are just getting good.