My family had just moved there from the newly developed suburb of Wahroonga, Sydney. My father was setting up his business in Japan. It was winter. We saw snow for the first time. My brothers and I were enrolled in St. Mary's International School - an American system school, run by Canadian Christian brothers, located in Isarago, Tokyo. Half the kids were Japanese, the other half ambassador's sons.
On the first day there, halfway through the school year - for me - 5th grade - there was a special showing of a movie on a special big screen that had been set up in the gymnasium for the entire school. It was packed with over 1,000 people I had never met before. The movie was Patton. I had only ever seen two movies before in my life. One was 'Oliver Twist', the other was 'The Sound of Music' - G rated stuff. I didn't know why we were watching this adult film or what it was about. It opens with a massive US flag and actor George C. Scott - a powerhouse actor of his day - in four star general regalia, giving a passionate, didactic speech about combat and courage. It was mesmerising and somewhat overwhelming.
Later on, Patton bullies soldiers into action and slaps a gentle hearted grunt in the face because he is afraid. In my young mind, I was that timid soldier and this, my first interaction with my new school was a sharp and shocking awakening. Weeks earlier, I had been at the tiny Bush School in Wahroonga, less than twenty in my class, a pencil and a small notebook in hand, a tuck shop with Vegemite sandwiches and small packs of Twisties, games with sticks and rocks and tennis ballls. Now I was here, dressed in uniform - including grey pants, white shirt, neck tie and jacket with insignia. I was inducted into a new system of regimented learning and ordered behaviour.
I never really fit in in that school. I often felt silenced and stifled. Bullied by students and teachers. Starting at around the age of 13 or 14, I began to rebel. I smoked cigarettes, cut classes, got suspended. At 16 I got a motorcycle and distanced myself even more. I did no sports (too competitive) or extra curricular activities (clique-y,). My report card showed C's and D's. The only areas in which I showed promise were Art, English, Drama and Geometry. Everything else seemed inane and a waste of my time. I caused disruptions with joking and sabotage. I spent many hours in my favourite place of refuge - the library. I read constantly. I had long hair and was unkempt in appearance.
One good thing was that I was able to connect with a make friends with a lot of good kids. Because I was no threat to anyone, with a casual attitude and I liked to joke and laugh, I found that I naturally got along with almost everybody. Without my knowing, I was excelling at something. Connecting with other humans on a warm, personal level. Sharing stories, adventures and having fun on the outer perimeters of the system. My class in grade 10 had kids from 32 different countries. I was mates with Jin Sa Bum, Yodnapa Chabunsai, Raghu Rao - and even an Aussie kid - David Smith. Weird name, I know!
My sense of humour got me into trouble with older kids with attitude, especially on the school bus. I liked making quips and would not back down when an upperclassman tried to supress or dominate. Often two or three of them would grab me and pummel me. I wasn't looking for trouble. It found me. In later years, I started lifting weights and confronted one of them when he mindlessly hurt me at the water bubbler. Lifting him up and pushing his horizontal body into a wall, I dropped him to the ground and walked away, angry and shaking. He didn't come back to class that day. I thought he might be dead. He wasnt'. But there was a positive effect - after that, the bullying ceased.
My class, '78, just had their 35th reunion in Tokyo. It's a long time ago now. But since that first day, big Patton booming, it has loomed loudly in my memory and psyche. Much diminished now, of course. Integrated, accepted. It was a grand old time. I was a deserter. I didn't believe in their cause: ambition, success, winning, aggression. For even then, although I didn't know it. I was a poet, and artist, a lover and a peace maker. I'm free now - have been for quite a while. Free to be me.