March was a really crazy month. Lots and lots of stuff was going on, with barely enough time for a breather in between. Let's start at the beginning of the month. At school, it was graduation time. All of the 3rd year Junior High kids were getting ready to move on to high school. It's a big deal for them, because it marks the last time that all of them will be together as a group- everyone splits up to go to different high schools.
So the ceremony is always a big deal and quite emotional as well. There's lots of preparation and the kids even get a special lunch and farewell party. For me, these kids had been my students ever since I arrived in Oita two and a half years ago. They would be the last of my original students to graduate. That's a long time to spend around the same people and you can get pretty attached to them. But when it's time to go, it's time to go. Turns out this year the ceremony was also the same day as my birthday, but of course it was all about the kids that day.
Not much later I was off to Tokyo and Yokohama to attend a JET-sponsored jobs conference. Obviously it's not the best time to be job-searching and that theme was repeated several times by the various speakers. But I thought that I could get some good tips and advice there, and meet people from a variety of industries. If anything else, it was in the picturesque Minato Mirai area of Yokohama, one of my favorites.
After the conference, I took a few days of vacation and hung around Kanto for a couple of days. I went back to Obirin, where I did study abroad, and met some of my old professors and advisors. The place has certainly changed a lot, new buildings were up everywhere. It was good to go back there though. I also went back around my old stomping grounds of Machida and Tamagawagakuen.
Saturday night, several of the former Obirin students had a mini-reunion at a bar in Yokohama. It was great to see everybody, most of whom I hadn't seen in years. Everyone had a good time, and I even got a surprise Happy Birthday ice cream dessert. It was a lot of fun.
I was pretty spent, money-wise and energy-wise, after that, but the month's activities continued the next week with the annual Oita Charity Cycling trip around the prefecture. This year, I was roped into participating as a rider on the 300 km trip- even though I didn't have bike or hardly and experience in long-distance riding. I borrowed a bike from a teacher, tried to train for a couple of days, and then grim-faced went off to try my best.
The bad news was, the first day was almost all uphill. Oita is a very mountainous area to begin with, but on top of that, we were heading to Kuju, literally one of the highest points on the island of Kyushu. Not fun at all. And then, about an hour in, I get a flat. Or I should say, an explosion, as my back tire disintegrated in an instant. We attempt a fix, without too much luck. However, this day I'm able to borrow another rider's bike and struggle for hours on a seemingly endless uphill course.
When I limp into the first day's camp, it's almost evening and I'm exhausted. Doing this for two more days doesn't seem like a good idea at all. But after a night's rest and more encouragement I'm ready to go the next morning. Unfortunately, the course continues uphill- I can't catch a break. After about 30 minutes, mercy comes in the form of a long, long downhill section. Things are relatively easier after that, even some brush fires (!) near the road don't slow me down too much. The rest of the second day is much more pleasant, the scenery was nice and the course much more forgiving. Another big hill right before the end reminds me of who's boss, though.
Our stay that night is at an onsen hot spring and very refreshing. But the next morning we are greeted by an unwelcome sight- clouds and rain. We ahd been lucky to have good weather so far, but this adds yet another challenge to the ride. Turns out, that wouldn't matter too much. About 3 km in, I get another flat, and there's no easy fix or bike to borrow this time. So I spend the rest of the day in car, trying to track down and help other riders. A bit anticlimactic for sure.
So that was the bike ride. The rest of the month was spent finishing up the school academic year and having several farewell parties for the teachers who were retiring or moving on to other schools. It doesn't seem to end.
In the world of entertainment, things were happening too. Biohazard (Resident Evil) 5, the sequel to one of my favorite games of all time, came out. While lacking the atmostphere and creativity of 4, it's still a solid big-budget action game. In movies, The Watchmen movie came out as well. I haven't had a chance to see it yet, but I'm up for any good comic book movie. And in sports, the World Baseball Classic had the whole country's attention- they take it pretty seriously over here.
Sometimes it's good to be busy, sometimes it's good to have a break. I hope that April isn't as insanely busy, knock on wood.