What are you doing in Japan?
This is one of the most common questions I hear when I’m talking to people back home or when I run into foreigners here in Japan. I often answer by telling them that I’m an English teacher in Japan, which is true. But to be honest, there’s a lot more to it than that. Frankly, it’s pretty long story. But if you have time to listen, I’ll start from the beginning…the very beginning:
I was born July 22nd, 1980 in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of a military Captain (Donald Ash) and a math teacher (Diann Ash). I would say that I had a pretty normal childhood. I grew up with three other siblings, my two elder sisters and my younger brother (I’m crazy about them). We were your typical kids who loved to play, break things around the house, and occasionally scuffle with each other.
The major difference between our family and others was that we were “Army Brats”. My father was a U.S. Army Chaplain/Captain, which meant we were always in church services and that we had a pretty strict upbringing. But the values they instilled in us have proven to be incredibly useful.
Being a military family also meant moving from place to place. I remember spending time in New Jersey, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida (where most of my family is from), and the last place (before my father left the Army) was Germany. I think living in Germany effected my life in so many ways.
I vaguely remember being a six-year-old kid taking that rather long flight to Germany. The thing I remember most about the flight was that my ears felt really uncomfortable. You know when you ears pop when you’re flying?
We lived in an apartment complex in a town called Butzbach and later in a two-story home in a city called Dorfgull (a beautiful neighborhood). There were quite a few other American military families living in the same area, which is why we never quite picked up the language; I know my numbers and colors, though 😉 . We attended an Butzbach Elementary School, an American elementary school, which consisted primarily of children from military families. It was a good school, with teachers who really cared. It was the kind of school where everybody knew everybody. Sadly, I learned that Butzbach Elementary closed its doors in 2007.
For my sisters, my brother and I, Germany was bliss. School wasn’t all that difficult. But then again I don’t really know too many first graders who struggle because of academic pressure. There was plenty of fresh air and open space to play around in. We got our very first video game console in 1986, the ever-popular Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Because there were so many other military families around it meant there was rarely a shortage of kids to play with or invite over for a video game fest. Mario Brothers, Duck Hunt, and Excitebike, those were the only games that anyone in the neighborhood had for quite some time (we got a hold of the latest games pretty late). I remember when my mother went to visit her mother for a short time and came back with Nerds (a candy we couldn’t get in Germany) and Super Mario Brothers 2. It felt like every kid on the block wanted to come over to play Mario Brothers 2. For just a brief moment, my brother and I were kings of the block…THANKS MOMMY!
These were your classic neighborhood. Nothing was more fun than walking to your friend’s house, having his mother come to the door and asking that classic question “Can insert name come out to play?” You’d hop on your bikes and ride off into the summer sun…the joyful echos of children’s laugher permeating the air…
Germany was a place where you’d be hard-pressed find better candy: Haribo, the best, chewiest gummies in the whole wide world. The Smurf gummies were hands down the best gummy to ever see the light of day, but Germany is the only place I could find them. Kinder eggs were these delectable milk chocolate eggs with a toy that you usually had to construct. So it was a great excuse to get candy. “Mom, Dad, it’s not just the chocolate I’m after, it’s the educational experience, the development of fine motor skills…I need this!” I’m sure that’s what most six-year olds would say to their parents. Germany candy was pretty innovative, too. For example, I had that popping candy (exactly the same thing as Pop Rocks) many years before it became a small craze in the U.S.. There was candy paper, lollipop slide whistles (a candy whistle that had a blue-and-white plastic slide that allowed you to change tone and pitch when you blow into the lollipop). Sigh…what more could a child ask for?
Despite classes being pretty easy to manage, my parents would always tell us to “Do something constructive with your time.” I was always the type of kid who did what his parents told him to do. So constructive it was. Rather it was using Reader Rabbit on the Apple II e that we had back then, reading books, playing math games, or having Bible study with Mom, I tried my best to respect my parents’ wishes. My parents were big proponents of balance, too. So if we were spending to much time on academics (or on that infernally addictive NES), they would tell us to go outside and play.
The Germany years were the times where my siblings and I would squabble/get in trouble from time to time. I was 6, Derrick was 4-and-a-half, Erica was 9, and Adrienne was 11, so I’m sure you can imagine. My favorite story, it sucked at the time though, was when my brother and I overflowed the tub and were running and sliding in the water that spilled into the hallway. That wasn’t fun, was it Derrick? 😉
Germany was a wonderful experience far more ups than downs…it was truly the best of times.
Donald Ash is an Atlanta, Georgia-born, American expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last eleven years. While in that time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator of thejapanguy.com blog. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
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