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accidental meetings - 17 05 2003 - 13:32 - katatonik


We went on a trip to Okunojima island, the associate professor, the assistant, the other PhD student, younger students, and me. We took a train to Takehara and then boarded a ferry. We walked past the poison gas museum, amused ourselves with the freely roaming rabbits, all descendants of laboratory animals that had been set free when the Americans came to the island in 1945. We checked into the hotel, and then decided to take a walk around the island.

How it began, I can’t remember. But suddenly the other PhD student attacked one of the younger guys, shouting, screaming, trying to hit him. The professor and the assistant held him back. The younger students jumped in and protected their friend from the assault. People were calmed down. The associate professor scolded the younger student. He put his arm around the shoulder of the assailant, and both of them walked off, into the poison gas museum that we were about to visit.

Later we went to the beach. It was a warm day in early summer. People got into their bathing costumes, played volleyball, built castles in the sand, dug each other into the sand, swam a bit. abunai, abunai. Always that cry of the associate professor when the students swam, for his taste, too far out into the sea – meaning, too close to the chain that marked safe terrain, about 20 metres from the shore. Always warning students that the world is a very dangerous place, all the time, and everywhere. abunai, abunai, as soon as they step outside the safe haven of university.

We went back and had dinner. Great food, beers, and other drinks. People then dispersed. The associate professor, the assistant and the other PhD student assembled in the associate professor’s room and had more beers. The door was open, everyone was free to come in and join them.

But the younger students gathered out in the hall, near the room with the vending machines for coffee, cold drinks, snacks, and beer. They discussed what had happened in the afternoon. Nothing to be done, one of the MA students said, it’s life. When you are younger they scold you and hit you, when you get older you do the same to the younger ones.

A few months earlier, I had seen how the older PhD student started to hit the MA student with a club, at a small gathering at the institute where lots of beer had been involved.

The younger students wouldn’t have any of this worldview. One in particular, B., was very vocal. Why should we let anyone treat us like that? It was unfair. The PhD student attacked our friend, and the associate professor protected him instead of scolding him, at least telling him that he was way over the line. This is not fair, and we should go to the professor and tell him. The discussion went on, and quickly turned into one about Japanese society and its education system. You have to accept teachers’ authority. – I accept teachers’ authority, but authority is not arbitrary exercise of power. There must be fairness involved. And so on, and so on.

This may be hard to understand, but I was deeply impressed by B. I had never heard a Japanese of his age, a high-school graduate in his first year at university, talk with such gravity and reason. Come to think of it, I had never heard a Japanese of his age talk, at least not at university. I, a PhD student and a foreigner, occasionally joined in, supporting B.’s position or even extending it beyond its still timid scope. I’m not sure whether this was arrogant on my behalf, but I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.

Twenty minutes later, a delegation of three younger students marched into the associate professor’s room. They told the professor that the other PhD student had attacked their friend, that this was unfair, and that he should apologise to his victim. I’m not sure, but I believe no apology was ever uttered. A lengthy discussion was had which, given that most participants were considerably intoxicated, didn’t really lead anywhere.

At some point I recall advising the PhD student to apologise. We were sitting in the associate professor’s room, just the two of us, as the professor and the assistant had gone off to get more beer. Why can you not admit you did something wrong? What are you giving away if you apologise?, I seem to remember asking him. I don’t remember his answer, and most probably there was none.

The next day we went to play some more volleyball near the beach. Everyone was friendly and nice, and just watching the group play, you would never have guessed any of the events that had shaken this microcosmos the evening before. It soon began to rain, and we headed back to the ferry, the train, the town.

All this happened about four years ago, maybe five, I lose track. I haven’t been in touch with any of the students since I left Japan, and I don’t really know why. Perhaps because ours was a kind of relationship that has no long distance glue; it only works from proximity.

Yesterday I had dinner with the professor of the institute – not the associate professor, but the head of the institute who had not been with us on that trip. 2001 was the saddest year in his life, he said. Two of his students had died. One went up the stairs to his appartment after a small party at the institute. Being drunk, he stumbled and fell on the staircase. He started to throw up. About an hour later he was found there, dead. The other committed suicide, a few months later.

The one who stumbled and fell was B. An extremely talented student, the professor sighed.

I have a boyfriend that suffers from Catatonia. I feel really bad because I see him suffring and I can't do a damn thing to take his pain away. Thank you fror having put up this site because it gave me a liitle more insight as to what he's going throw.

Elle (Mar 12, 10:13 pm) #

I must admit that it surprises me if anyone clinically suffering from Catatonia (or catatonia) gets help from this particular site whose connection with either is metaphorically at best. But anyway, best wishes, and all the rest. Cheers.

katatonik (Mar 13, 04:39 am) #

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