I Know Where I Am

It happened without any warning. I was scheduled to meet a Boisean on Hondori Street. I got off the Astram and took the stairs to the street. I made the immediate left and then it hit me. I know where I am!! I am not where I thought I was, but I know where I am. There was not the “white noise” of panic in my ears. My heart wasn’t racing. I could see things without the usual emotional interference I had come to know as normal. Like a compass finding north, I just turned around and easily spotted the golden arches. {This is not to imply that we eat at McDonald’s. It just happens to be the marker for me because it is on the part of Hondori that we usually enter.) Crossing with the crowd to the other side, down past the golden arches and the kimono shop, I spot my friend Dot.

On the street downtown

On the street downtown

The underground astram station

The underground astram station

For the next several days I show Dot around My Little Hiroshima (the little territory familiar to me). There were many instances where I wasn’t quite sure if I was where I thought I was but Dot is a very calm, everything is an adventure type of person. She has a great sense of direction and together we could figure anything out. This was the beginning of my new normal.

I know where I am! I am looking for the International House.  A lecture in English on how Hiroshima is viewed in the US is being held there. My friend Amy has sent a pin through an email to help me get there. (A pin is when you can send a map with your location marked on it. When you open it, it shows you as a throbbing red dot and a pin on it is where you are headed.) Straddling my bike, at Hiroshima Station, looking at the map, looking around I realize that I am thinking clearly. I recognize buildings and structures. Sights and sounds are familiar and not distracting. I had intended on walking but due to time had to ride my bike. I am using my energy navigating because this is a familiar path; I go this way to get my hair cut. Red lights are long and this gives me time to look around.   There it is! I see a blue sign in Japanese and English saying “International House”. I have been passing this building every week going to Costco.

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And that is how it has been. Pure joy to be out and about in Hiroshima. We will turn a corner and I will say, “I know where I am!” It feels so good. Each time it happens I am so surprised I have to exclaim. Rich chuckles. I am sure I sound like a child. I remember my sons exclaiming their new found discoveries. I know I have the same proudness in my voice. It is a mixture of joy, amazement and relief that this new knowledge has finally happened. The utterance escapes like a burp. I am a little self-conscious but it’s unrestrainable. It is as if my inner self demands recognition for what it has learned.

So going out and about has a new dimension. I am testing my new knowledge. We get on our bikes looking for better routes to our favorite or daily places. With this new purpose old spots have become interesting again. I am noticing more nuances about places. I am reading the Hiragana, Katakana, and now even basic Kanji on signs and billboards. My mind seems to be more absorbent of physical details and the spatial relationships of my surroundings.

The characters in the little red box says da-n-su (dance)

The characters in the little red box says da-n-su (dance)

The route to my hairdresser is not fun. I have to walk my bike through Hiroshima station, which is always busy with foot traffic, travelers, student groups and shoppers. There is a lot of construction so the sidewalk has additional obstacles along with the elderly walkers, bicycles and strollers. So one Saturday, we get on our bikes and follow our noses. There is a positive tension between Rich and I when we are out and about. He is good with direction; I am good with language. We stick to the river and its beautiful path. There are new obstacles and challenges on this route. I get to ride down and up the smooth ramps that make stairs accessible to bikers. Unlike the schoolgirl who did it gracefully without a sound, I am hooping and hollering just like when I happen upon moguls when skiing. We end up in the middle of the city we have not been before. No hair salon in sight. I knew we had strayed too far from the river. If I could find the bridge at the corner of the Zoom Zoom stadium, I can find the salon. We turn and ride toward the river, it feels familiar but I don’t recognize anything. Frustration buds. And then… I know where I am! A small path lined with little red leaf bushes. Yes, we ARE on the right street. So we turn around and although I did not recognize the 7-11 when I passed it before, now I do, going the other direction. In Japan when they work on a building they cover it. That one little difference, one is covered now, really threw me off. In the course of discussing it, we realize that I notice natural landmarks-plants, river, landscaping. Rich notices the buildings and their details.

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My new path along the river through the city.

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See the smooth concrete on the sides of the stairs, that is the bike path.

We recently realized that we do twice as much in a day as we used to. The recuperation time we need from excursions has withered. When we first got here, after an outing we would come home and collapse. Now, we put two or three activities in a day and aren’t collapsing on the couch afterward. For the first time, I am late getting to places. I don’t factor in extra time like I used to. And that is how I got lost.

I am not the only one learning new things. To my surprise my computer starts ringing the morning of cooking class. My mom is calling! I don’t get many phone calls and even fewer unscheduled video calls. It’s always good to talk to home. Rie-san and I had found a short cut walking home from last class, so I take the call knowing I can get there in time. Time flies on skype. I am late but confidently scurry out and up the hill, turning at the playground. I proudly share on Facebook that I am taking a shortcut. Up the stairs I go. I notice two housewives chatting at the garbage collection spot, eyeing me as I stride by. Right into a cul-de-sac. Oops. I turn around, passing the ladies, bowing as I do and go back to the top of the stairs and take the next street. It leads right into the hill. I have two choices, go back and take the path I know or try to find my new route. I am not panicked. I recognize things. Although I am in a maze, I am not claustrophobic. Determinedly I turn down a narrow path that in America would be the edge of a ditch, but here is a footpath. Still no cooking school. I take a moment to confirm on Facebook that I am lost, and then head toward the stairs again. Still trying to find the street to take me directly to the Tomonokai-cooking school. I head down another path and end up on the corner of a garden. I can see the daikon are growing up out of the dirt just like their tiny cousin, the radish, does. Then I see the hill. I know where I am!

The wrong path

The wrong path

The garden along the way

The garden along the way

I was terribly late for cooking class. I predicted that the teachers would fuss all over me for being late. Quite the contrary, I slip in without missing a beat, class continues on. I even have Rie-san show me how to say, “Pardon my lateness, I was lost.” It did not faze them. On the way home I think about this. From the time they are first graders, Japanese children go to school alone. They walk busy streets or ride public transportation alone. You see small children riding alone on streetcars, trams, buses and trains. I see students of all ages independently come out and out of Hiroshima train station. Maybe the Japanese know that people always get found.

Finding the right path

Finding the right path

The astram

The astram

My path home

My path home

I am recognizing similarities with my experience and what I would see in my fourth graders. Around this time of year my students would just take off. They get right to work. They have stories to write about and books to share. We are very efficient with our routine. They are flexible. I think I have a better understanding of why this is. Like me now on my bike, I don’t use all of my energy staying on and avoiding obstacles. The bike doesn’t govern me; it’s a tool of efficiency. For my students reading and writing become tools for expressing and accessing their interests and ideas. I now realize their independence and engagement as their way of saying “I know where I am!”

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Rie san was texting me and at that moment I looked up and we were in the same department store. I don’t know who was more surprised I wasn’t lost.

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This corner is very interesting. I will be asking my friend if it is a place for me.

One thought on “I Know Where I Am

  1. Enjoyed! ‘I know where I am’
    Hiroshima, a City with side streets of a history lesson.
    We are front row students in your classroom Angela, lest any of us forgets that lesson.
    Thanks!

    Like

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