May 6, 2013 by travelinggrits
My mother says she still remembers that day: I was bouncing with so much excitement, I could hardly speak.
“Mom, there’s a new student in our band class. She plays the saxophone. And she’s from JAPAN!”
In hindsight, my curiosity may have been overwhelming to this shy eighth-grade schoolgirl who had been thrust into a completely English-speaking environment as a result of her father’s job transfer. But I guess my enthusiasm got the better of her, because before long we were passing notes between classes.
I marveled at her neat printing and her pastel stationary, her sleek mechanical pencils and the contents of her lunchbox. I was in awe of her Japanese Saturday school textbooks. I was astonished by how fast and furiously she conversed with her parents on her cellphone, a sharp contrast to her gentle English-speaking speed.
Unfortunately, I failed to pick up more than a few words in Japanese. And I never even went to her house, although she came to mine a few times. But I still name her as one of my best friends from high school.
By the end of our music career, we tallied our concert schedules and determined that we had performed 30 some-odd times together over the five years we were friends. We had traveled to All-State Band clinics and special music shows in Orlando. We even played backup together to Bob from Sesame Street.
At our high school graduation, tears streamed down our faces as we bade each other farewell. A few days later, she flew back to Japan, where she began studies to become a pharmacist.
Who would have thought that five years later, we would meet again at the foot of an escalator in front of the train station in Busan, South Korea. After scanning the crowd, I recognized her immediately and flew into her arms – the scene was meant for a movie.
She and her older sister were on a weekend vacation to this coastal city, and I joined them for a golden afternoon. It was simple: we wandered in search of a restaurant recommendation, ambled through the fish market, strolled along the beach boardwalk. We compared Korean and Japanese food and fashion. We reminisced on pillow fights and roller coaster rides from our band trips together. We discussed the paths our lives had taken and where we expected to go.
Her flight departed early the next morning, so we parted ways that evening at the subway station. The doors of the subway car slid shut and her smiling face became a blur – both from the car’s acceleration and my brimming eyes.
She was a connection to the global community, an eye on a new culture. She sparked a dream of taking steps beyond the safety of my sleepy Southern hometown to unfamiliar, challenging, wonderful places.
One day, I hope my own daughter makes such a friend.