For Nippon

They say bad things happen in threes. I can't imagine what would be worse than an 8.8 earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear power plant explosion. The phrase "poor Japan" doesn't quite cut it, does it?

The images of tidal waves pushing debris through the streets of Japan are overwhelming, to say nothing of the reported 1,500+ dead. When I think of Japan, though, I think of Hidetaka, Itaru, Ayano, Atsushi, Ryuji, Tomohiro, Takeru, Megumi, Shota, Yuriko, Keiichiro, Tomomi: the Japanese exchange students who studied in San Francisco at the school where I used to work. The year I worked as an International Student Advisor, I started a soccer club for students of all nationalities and abilities. Once a week, we'd gather in Kaplan's fifth-floor office suite, walk to the Powell BART stop, and hop MUNI to Golden Gate Park.

Many of the students I met had never played soccer casually before - the die-hard players were on club teams back home. Every now and then I'd convince a girl to play, but usually I was the only one, and I was terrible at that. Terrible but persistent. We'd get students from all over the world: Turkey, Brazil, Spain, France, Germany, Korea, Russia, Colombia, Kazakhstan, China, Belgium, Italy. And we'd always, always, have at least one or two amazing players from Japan.

There was never really a "sports" budget at my job, and so when we did venture out to the city parks, it was with a borrowed ball and a set of orange cones that our Activities Manager had sprung for. One of our year-long students, Itaru, came nearly every week, even on the weeks when there were just three of us kicking the ball aimlessly around Washington Square Park. The week he left, he stopped by my desk and presented me with a brand new soccer ball.

I'll never forget that.

I try to think of countries in terms of the people who live there. So for my friends in Japan: I hope that you and your families are safe.