Tuesday, February 14, 2012

How I Met Ren

In honor of Valentine's Day, a little story...

When I moved off to Japan to teach English the summer after college graduation, friends jokingly reminded me not to "find [myself] a man" there lest I end up "staying forever." I thought the chance of finding a boyfriend, much less a life mate, in Japan was pretty slim. First of all, I didn't really believe in dating. Second, I had no burning desire to marry. And third, I couldn't imagine any Japanese man being "my type" (Whatever that means. After all, I had no idea what my type was since I had essentially sworn off dating). Okay, let me stop here to point out that my complete and utter pessimism about dating and marriage had nothing to do with any negative experiences related to dating and marriage. I wasn't the child of divorce, and I had never been dumped, lied to or cheated on. I was just insanely independent and probably too much of a realist for my own good. Marriage was the last thing on my mind.

Fast-forward eighteen months, or approximately half-way through my second year in Japan. By this time, I had traveled through most of Japan and been to China, South Korea, and Thailand on my own. Somewhere in Thailand, it occurred to me that it might be fun to share some of these experiences with someone. It also occurred to me that, at 24, I was tired and maybe ready to settle down a bit. It was a completely unexpected and somewhat unwelcome set of realizations. But, for the first time, I was willing to concede that it might be nice to be married some day. I still wasn't ready to go through the rigmarole of trying to attract a guy and date him, though, so I decided that the only way I would get married is if the whole thing happened so quickly that I didn't know what hit me.

And so it was, one cold February night, up in the mountains of rural Kyushu, that I got a severe stomachache and had to go to the emergency room in the city 45 miles below. After a rough ride down the mountain in the back of a farmer's K-truck, and some fervent banging on the ER room door to awaken the doctor on duty, I was deposited at Miyajima Hospital, where it was determined that I was not dying but would need to stay the night. With no car and no good idea of where I was, and with very rudimentary Japanese, I was at least stuck until someone from my town came to get me the following day. But by then, I had been in Japan long enough to know that no one was coming to get me unless Dr. Miyajima agreed that I could leave. What I didn't know is that unlike the United States, Japanese health insurance enables people to stay in the hospital long enough to recover from whatever ails them. In the end, I was at Miyajima Hospital for two weeks. Two weeks! (It turns out I had an ulcer). And, even then, I basically had to promise my firstborn child to get them to let me out early.

Once I got over the shock of what I perceived to be my unwarranted incarceration, I found hospital life to be pretty enjoyable. As the only non-Japanese person there, I was an instant celebrity, and once I got my electronic dictionary, the mind-numbing string of medical terminology didn't seem so bad. To be honest, I rather enjoyed the lazy afternoons spent chatting with my three roommates (once I got over the fact that I was sleeping in a room, a hospital room, no less, with three complete strangers). The best part was when my parents would call from the US (though I am 100% sure they did not think this was fun at all). Since I didn't have a cell phone, they would call the registration desk at the hospital and ask for me. No one at the desk spoke English, so my parents learned to just call and repeatedly say my name (and I'm sure they said it really loudly because that's what Midwesterners do when they think people don't understand them. They talk louder.) By the time the call was transferred through several nurses stations to me, my parents had spent quite a bit of money in international calling fees (pre-Skype, y'all) and were totally flustered. (Tee hee).

To be continued...

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

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