1. My host family
My Japanese host family parents live in a modest house in a suburb area. When they first picked me up, took the bus together and walked me home from the bus stop, we passed by many other houses that were grand, pretty, and have a nice garden in front. “Okaasan (Japanese for mom)’s house is very small!” – she said with a slight smile when she saw that I was mesmerized by the beauty of other houses as we were walking by. Of course, I did not have any expectation, and coming from a working class family myself, I thought anything was fine, really.
My host dad has retired, and works only twice a week. Mom works 5 days a week, taking care of old people, some of them were born in the Meiji era. Mom and dad are 61 and 66 years old, respectively. I like them for being very caring parents to me, preparing food, doing my laundry, cleaning my room, taking me to places during weekends, eating yakiniku (fried meats) and drinking beer with me, talking and laughing at dinner table every day; all kind of things that make a happy household in my opinions. And of course, they even do things such as helping me organize my activities, asking me if any friend rides the bus to school with me everyday, making sure I study for tests as well as asking how well I did afterwards. It’s these very daily life things that make me very comfortably think that I’m a part of their family, not just an exchange student who stays in a local’s house.
However, over the past three weeks, I just slowly discovered more and more things about them, which made me even more surprised about this seemingly normal household. Mom, though healthy looking, is a relatively short and skinny lady. Yet, when I asked, “What do you do in your free time?”, she answers “I lead a taiko club.” She has been practicing taiko (Japanese traditional drum) for 12 years, and currently manages a taiko club (schedules practices, manages performances requests, etc.). Last Tuesday, she took me to her club’s venue, a small house in the mountainside so that no one can hear when they practice. The small lady just picked up the bachi (taiko sticks) and banged into the big drum, then the small drums very skillfully, and dancing with her bachi along the beats. My only thought was, “Wow”, and I could utter into sound a single word: “Wow”. Who could have told? Who could have known? The experience totally destroyed any kind of pre-concepts that I had of a kind housewife lady who works to take care of old people.
Then comes my host dad. Mom has explained to me what he does for work at the beginning, but due to my limited Japanese, I didn’t really understand what his job was. So for two weeks long, my image of him was only a kind old man who walks his dog twice a day. Then last week I just got to know that he paints many of the beautiful paintings in the house himself, and plays bowling once a week (honestly though, who in their 66 years of age still plays such a young person’s sport like bowling?). Then last night, when we went to a restaurant in a hotel after onsen (Japanese public bath), I noticed that the panel with the name of the restaurant at the entrance was really beautiful. As I told my host mom that, I found out that the designer was my host dad, and he single-handedly designed all of the beautiful logos, doors, and panels of this hotel.
At that very moment, I suddenly realized that, to everyone who was eating in the hotel at that time, when they look at him, they only see an old man who walk into the restaurant, still in his post-onsen clothings. Again, who could have known?
2. The people on the street
I just realize that in general, when I look at anyone on the street, I only see their face, their clothes, their hairstyles, their actions, etc. all those superficial things. But it never really occurs to me that beneath those superficiality of each and every one of us in society lies a story, a character, and a soul. Do we know what they can and what they cannot do? Do we know how they feel? Do we know their past, present, and future? No.
This morning on the bus, as I went past the people walking on the street, never before did I become so curious about each of them. “What are their stories?” – I asked myself. I didn’t and will never have an answer. But the question itself was very intriguing, I thought.
Lately, someone told me that I appeared very “goofy” when he first met me, and that bothered me a little. I am aware that I have been a jokester my whole life in public, and only my good friends know me past that level. This fact doesn’t bother me so much when I look at it from my perspective. However, now, with the context of everything I just wrote above about what is shown and what lies beneath the superficiality of a person, I start to look at this again from a second party’s perspective, and it kind of bothers me. “Then I respect you a lot more when I realize how smart you are when you got into Harvard.” – said the same person.
This made me, for the past 2 days, keep asking myself, that is there really nothing else interesting of me besides the two words “smart” and “Harvard”? I actually don’t know the answer myself. Of course it is a compliment, but if “goofy”, “smart” and “Harvard” are the only things one can see when they look at me, then I must be a damn boring person.
Am I a damn boring person? Maybe not, maybe.