If somebody told me before I arrived in Japan that I would not travel outside the country during my first year, I would've clocked em right in the puss. Yet that is how the situation seems to be shaping up.
James is now teaching in Bangkok, through an English-education scheme somewhat like my own. As a good friend from college and a well known party-monkey, he tops my list of people to visit abroad while in Asia.
I first attempted to visit him Thailand during Golden Week, an week-long holiday in early May that is chock-full of national holidays. Naturally everyone wants to travel during that time. Naturally the airfares are hiked higher than a schoolgirls skirt at an agricultural HS. Travelling to Thailand for JUST the holiday was about $800, double the normal rate. No problem, I thought, I will move my classes around and take a few days of nenkyuu (paid vacation) around Golden Week so that I can snag the regular price. Nope. I received a "chotto" speech from my boss that went a little bit like "Moving classes around is extremely hard on the other teachers. We need you here to teach when classes are scheduled, you're an important part of our team."
I could understand and agree what that. My job is to be here and teach. It's not really fair for me to just take off when there are classes scheduled, asking everyone else to change the school's schedule. Besides, I can easily take time off during final exams and school holidays. My vacation time won't be wasted!
Nope. Now that final exams are upon us, my second attempt to flee Japan was crumbled. This time by Swine Flu. When the time came for me to apply again for nenkyuu, my boss gravely informed me of the the outbreak of H1N1 in Osaka, which was old news to me. We had a conversation about how statististically speaking, Japan had 80 times more cases of swine flu than Thailand's "3 suspected." Furthermore, the disease, pandemic though it is, has entirely mild effects. Doesn't hold a candle to regular flu, truth be told. No problem. My boss agreed with me and said he'd check with the board of education.
Nope. As of the Japanese outbreak's outset, the BoE drafted a policy which states: "Any teacher or employee of the Board of Education who travels to any of the countries below [list of all countries affected AT ALL by H1N1] must be quarantined for 1 week upon re-entry to Japan. He/She must not come into contact with other employees or students. This time will be designated special need and will not deplete the employee's nenkyuu." Which is to say basically free vacation time. No problem. I'll go and be quarantined for a week after I get back.
Nope. Obviously being kept from teaching for a week after coming back defeats the whole purpose of waiting until final exams to take a vacation. My boss vetoe'd the whole thing. He asked me to wait until I can travel without interfering with classes. Understandable? Yes. Infuriating? Yes.
I can understand that I am a public official and a teacher. I can understand that even though H1N1 is extremely mild, the government's job is to minimize exposure and risk to the general public. But the fact is that I actually have a highly REDUCED chance of catching H1N1 while in Thailand vs. staying here. I jokingly (half jokingly) told my boss that i thought Japan was getting too dangerous and I had better flee the country to a safer country like Thailand.
Now, months later, the policy shows no sign of budging, so the next time I'll be able to travel will be during summer vacation, a bit after the one year mark in Japan. A fact that is as saddening as it is an indicator that time is really flying by.
Dear Japan, please relax.