Japan Memory 3, 2004

by rolandotolentino

Two Years In Retrospect

On April 1, 2004, I am leaving Osaka University of Foreign Studies to resume my teaching post at the University of the Philippines. I would have completed my two year visiting professorship at Osaka Gaidai by then. It has been an overwhelming experience. And trite as it may seem, I will be forever changed by my experience in Osaka Gaidai in particular and Japan in general.

I came here about two years ago to work. I am part of the more recent migration phenomenon in the Philippines, overseas contract work. There are seven million Filipino overseas contract workers all over the world.

What distinguishes me a bit from some 150,000 mostly Filipinas in Japan is that I do intellectual work. Overseas contract work has become a new social stratum in the Philippines, creating an intermittent middle class who can transpose, to some extent, markers of middle-class life. Backed by an intellectual background, I joined this rank.

I am no different from the Filipinas who mad dash to electronic stores to purchase portable appliances not just for use in Japan but also to bring back to the homeland. I also hoard Japanese potteries and crafts to showcase, as gold jewelry is to Middle East male workers or stuffed toys and fancy clothes to East Asian female workers, our diasporic working experience.

But I have not only worked in Japan. I have not only labored mentally and physically against the new academic environment. I have also labored psychically—why I am here instead of there, why I have learned to tolerate my position and placement in the larger schema of things.

As an intellectual overseas contract worker in Japan, I have learned to appreciate the virtues of patience, inner strength and self control. Japan is truly a land of rules and systems, so stark a contrast to the kind of seemingly chaotic environment of the Philippines I am more familiar with. It means continuous adjustments to the conditions socially intrinsic in the hostland.

And just when familiarity is about to breed a form of contempt, it is perfect timing, as it was when I accepted this post two years ago, that I move on. I will return to the familiar post in the familiar building of the familiar college of the most familiar university to me. Initially, I thought that I was just doing a full circle, a completion of a cycle, having to return to a familiar point of origin.

But in retrospect, I am not returning to the same point of origin. I have learned recently that it is not the same originary point. It has changed and so have I. And when we meet again, it will be a different form of engagement. I am more committed to my work, my teaching and research. I have learned that learning does not stop, in life outside and inside the university.

In retrospect, I moved on and will continuously do so. On and on.

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