Chris Goes to Japan ... the Second Time

Maybe this is forever,
Forever fades away,
Like a rocket ascending into space,
Could you not be sad,
Could you not break down,
After all I won’t let go,
Until you’re safe and sound.
— “Safe and Sound”, Sheryl Crow

Today, a dream came true. Today, Chris left on his jet plane; destination: Narita International Airport, Japan. For the next 365 days, he’ll live in a different country, a different culture, and experience something that many of us never will.

Last Thursday (9 May 2002) was Chris’ first attempt. This was a bit of a false start, which we could only owe to a fair amount of miscommunication.

Chris, Kaz, and I arrived at the airport just after 9:30 that morning, and wheeled Chris’ copious amount of heavy luggage to the check-in counter. The clerk took Chris’ ticket, and started the process to get him all set to go. However, part-way through checking him in, she noted something odd. Chris only had a one-way ticket. This prompted the following discussion:

Clerk: Going to Japan?

Chris: (Excitedly) Yes.

Clerk: Are you going to work in Japan?

Chris: Yes, I’m going to teach English.

Clerk: Where’s your visa?

At this point, my heart sank. I think Chris’ started to, but he quickly started telling the clerk about the arrangement he had with the company. As far as Chris understood it, there was a visa with his name on it, just waiting for him in Japan. However, as the clerk knew it, Chris would not be allowed into Japan without a visa, and without a round-trip ticket he would be viewed as an immigrant, rather than a tourist. Without a work visa, Chris would be denied entry … and Air Canada would be fined $10,000 for sending someone without proper papers.

Chris started making (somewhat frantic) phone calls to the Canadian branch of his company, based in Montreal. I’ve known Chris for half my life. But I have never seen him look as despondent as he did when the truth slowly started to form. It was becoming quite clear that Chris would not be going to Japan that day.

Now here’s where I was really impressed. Air Canada is notorious for being the worst airline in Canada when it comes to service. Well, not only did the clerk retrieve Chris’ bags (she had sent two down before realizing that there was going to be trouble), but she also managed to convert Chris’ non-changeable/non-refundable ticket into a changeable ticket, where the issuing agent would “refund” the price and immediately roll it over into a round-trip open ticket.

Here’s what’s supposed to happen: Chris is to travel to Japan with an open ticket. He can enter the country as a tourist for 90 days on a “tourist visa”. (Doesn’t actually exist, but that’s what it’s referred to as.) Once he’s in the door, he can convert his “tourist visa” into a work visa. This is the way his company operates, mostly because they get teachers on short notice, and don’t have three months to wait to clear visas from the originating country.

So Chris got to spend nearly an extra week in Calgary, with his fiancée, and with his friends. After he got his new ticket, it suddenly seemed more real than it had the first time. It was almost like I knew that he wouldn’t actually leave the first time — that something would keep him here. Today, it was real. Today, I knew I would see him walk through security, and not come back.

Chris, Kaz, and I arrived at the airport shortly after 9:00 (his flight to Vancouver left a half-hour earlier than the previous one). This time, checking Chris in took about 15 minutes — less than three of which were at the counter. Boarding pass in hand, all we had to do was wait.

Just after 10:00, we proceeded to the gate to show Chris off. It was just the three of us. I had always imagined this giant throng of friends who would be wishing him off, causing a massive traffic jam of people. But it was just us. I think I actually preferred it that way.

It was a lot easier seeing Chris off than I thought it would be. It’s probably because Chris and I know each other so well now that it really doesn’t matter where we are — halfway around the world is a short distance for people so close to each other.

Chris and Kaz, on the other hand, weren’t quite as easy. I can’t blame them — deeply in love, recently engaged, and the single largest test of distance just beginning. But they’ll have others for support, and the knowledge that Chris will be coming back.

I suppose the whole thing hasn’t fully hit me yet, though. I’m going to go home to what’s now just my apartment. No roommate. (Not counting the cat, that is.) No-one to talk to. No-one to laugh with. No-one to watch bad movies and rhyme off childish one-liners with.

A little over two years to the day that Chris arrived here, Chris left. The day he arrived, I felt an intense anger that I was cohabitating again (I hadn’t gotten over the ex-girlfriend issues at the time). Now I can’t imagine not living with him. But I know that while he may be gone, he’s still there. And he always will be.

God speed, dear friend.

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