The “friend request” came in on Saturday. I was stunned.
Our Japanese exchange student from so long ago?
I accepted the request, racking my brain to estimate how long ago it had been since Chiho had lived with us for a few months when our three kids were still in middle school and grade school.
The next day I spotted some photos on Chiho’s Facebook wall. There was picture of an airport sign with the words “boarding” and “Portland.” And another one showing a group of five women gathered in front of a sign that read “Portland State University.”
“Are you in Portland, Chiho?” I wrote.
Indeed, she was.
Through an intermediary, we quickly learned she was in town for just a few days for an unofficial reunion with friends who’d also been exchange students in Portland. She was eager to see us. Could we meet?
And, so, roughly 24 hours ago, Lori and I had a hastily arranged but much appreciated reunion with our long-ago guest.
We met at an Italian restaurant in the neighborhood, exchanged hugs and tried to catch up over a gap that spanned 24 years. Amazing.
Chiho was just 20 when she came to live with us. She and other peers from Osaka attended classes at Portland State during the week and engaged in group activities. But we made the most of our time with her evenings and weekends.
Turns out our kids were just babies back then. Nathan was just 13. (Coincidentally, he turned 37 today. 37?? Yeah, I can’t believe it, either.) Simone was 10 and Jordan just 5.
At 44, Chiho could pass for the young adult she was when she arrived in Portland, full of smiles and halting English. She’s single and still lives in Osaka. Works the front counter at a pharmacy, owns a Pug named Kiki, travels widely (China, Myanmar, Thailand, Italy, just to name a few) and speaks pretty darn good English.
She told us she almost never speaks English anymore, but she did just fine at dinner. Gotta admit there were times I didn’t catch the details because of the background noise at the restaurant, but we powered through with the help of a few iPhone photos.
Going back in the time capsule…
In 1993, Bill Clinton succeeded George W. Bush as president. The Chicago Bulls, with Michael Jordan leading the way, won their third consecutive NBA title while the Buffalo Bills lost their third consecutive Super Bowl — this time to the Dallas Cowboys. The Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series and Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” won Song of the Year at the Grammys. Best Picture at the Oscars? “Unforgiven,” directed by Clint Eastwood.
Before Chiho arrived in the spring of ’93, we’d had just one experience with an exchange student. A Japanese girl of about 10 or 12 years old, stayed with us for not enough a full week. Chiho spent six months with us.
It was such a good experience for all of us, especially as a way to open our kids up to other cultures, that we did it again. And again. And again. And again.
In succeeding years, we had boys from France, Costa Rica, Taiwan and Spain. Each one brought a personality all his own — and maybe a quirk or two. I have no doubt that if things had gone badly somehow with Chiho, we never would have been repeat hosts.
Instead, she was a low-maintenance member of the household, happy to try different things, and we all her missed her very much when she left.
We wondered why she hadn’t given us advance notice of her visit. She had. Chiho told us she wrote a letter and mailed it in early March and was surprised we hadn’t received it.
It dawned on us that she wrote to us at our previous address. Of course, the letter hadn’t been delivered, considering we’ve been in our new place for more than seven years. D’oh.
This week’s weather turned from rainy to sunny-and-warm today, just in time for Chiho and friends to explore the Columbia River Gorge.
I’m glad they had great weather and I’m grateful we had the chance to see our dear Chiho again. Fond memories.