It’s rather difficult to believe, but it’s been almost exactly one year since I left Japan and became an itinerant in Asia. That number, you may recall, has special significance for me.
It was 11 and a half months ago that the congenitally polite officials of Japan’s Immigration Office took offense at the length of my undocumented stay in their country (“incorrectly documented” is really more accurate) and invited me to take a one-year holiday somewhere – anywhere in the world, really, as long as it was outside the bit of squiggly lines on the map within which lies the word “Japan.” It was an invitation there was no declining. And so on June 5 of last year, I left my first Asian home with slightly less luggage than I’d arrived with, no plan to speak of, even less of an employment strategy, a well-worn-in pair of relatively new hiking boots, and a global recession to welcome me.
It’s been an interesting year. If you’d suggested at that time that in June 2009 I’d be living in Saigon and teaching communications theory at an Australian university to rich Vietnamese kids, I may not have laughed directly at you, but I’d have probably wondered why you were drunk at 8:15 in the morning.
My second semester as a slightly surprised university lecturer ends Friday. My third begins in roughly two and a half weeks. In-between lies the date on which my temporary banishment from the wealthiest, most industrialized, most stylishly eccentric and necessarily vain nation in all Asia ends. My persona non grata status will lose two Latinate suffixes. I will instantly transform from a prodigal son to a where-have-you-been-all-this-time one. The thuggish brutes at the entrance will lift the red velvet rope for me, intone to one another, “He’s on the list,” and usher me into the bright lights and blinking neon fantasy world of modern Japan.
If all goes as planned, I’ll arrive in Osaka International Airport via Malaysia Airlines on Saturday morning at 7:15am – exactly 365 days after leaving. To say I’m looking forward to returning is an understatement on the order of “Sex with that girl from Slumdog Millionaire might not be too bad.” Osaka’s not the prettiest city on earth, but compared to Saigon it’s Shangri La, Xanadu, Neverland and Utopia all rolled into one mouth-watering makizushi. And Kyoto is in point of fact the prettiest city on earth, or at least one of them. Plus, unlike Vietnam, Japan has the benefit of being home to a civilization that’s actually advanced beyond the Iron Age. That’s not necessarily a crack on the Vietnamese people (after all, men pee on the side of the road in both places). But it’ll be nice to spend a little time in a place where the tap water won’t poison you.