I have been absent from this place for a good long while, and some of you may have thought I’ve dropped of the face of the earth, which wouldn’t be strictly false. I’ve gone on a journey of sorts, one I can never return from.
A journey to the afterlife.
The life after Japan, that is, but sometimes it feels like an afterlife of sorts: dreamlike and bewildering, wistful yet wonderful. Where am I now? What am I doing here? Who can really say?
Physically speaking, I’ve fallen off the face of the earth and landed on its opposite face: Ottawa, Canada’s capital city (Surprise! Toronto is not our capital). I have a place to live but not yet furniture, a handful of friends but not yet a husband (he’s coming soon don’t worry). I have a job, too, thank the Lord I’m not a NEET.
Mentally, or emotionally, I’m firmly rooted in the Honeymoon Stage: everything is awesome. My apartment is awesome (it’s in a 100-year-old European-style house and my bedroom’s a loft!), my neighbourhood is awesome (and delicious beyond words!), my job is awesome (I have my own office in a heritage mansion!), all of the food I have eaten thus far is awesome (where do I even start!), and my commute to work is less than a 20 minute bike ride along the gorgeous Rideau Canal (and in winter I can ice skate to work!). See all those exclamation marks? Honeymoon Stage…
Cultural transition, or culture shock to use the more graphic term, is never seamless, however. Honeymoon Stage, aka stage one, comes to an end at some point and the infamous stage two sets in. If stage one is “everything is awesome!!!!!” stage two is definitely “everything sucks, why does everything have to suck?!?!?”
I’m hoping to float happily along in stage one for as long as possible, but I expect stage two will come for me at some point when I least expect it. Maybe halfway through winter when I realize 40 below is no longer a magical snowy adventure like in Calvin and Hobbes, and as my eyeballs well up they turn to icicles, causing permanent blindness. Or maybe tomorrow when I inevitably pass yet another person carrying a yoga mat and sporting a bad kanji tattoo, which triggers an emotional meltdown, and I collapse into a puddle of tears with a side of kale.
I have a few things going for me, though, that I think will make the transition to life after Japan (and to the stability of stages three and four) easier:
First, I had a lot of closure during my last months in Japan. To be honest, I felt for the longest time that I had no real friends in Japan – but somehow, without me noticing, all of these amazing people snuck into my life and became incredibly important to me (and I to them, apparently). There were lots of “lasts,” lots of happy goodbyes; happy because I got presents did my best to focus on the good times we’ve had rather than the fact that we wouldn’t have them again. I left Japan feeling very blessed for my overweight luggage and overflowing heart.
Second, when my husband does eventually get here (Saturday!), I’ll have someone to share the joys and burdens of transition with. Just as in adjusting to Japan we were one another’s best ally, in Ottawa we will be one another’s best link to the past *ahem* as we move into the future. Just as we tried to keep each others’ English sharp in Japan (though it was a losing battle from year three onwards), now we can use Japanese as a secret language of sorts (oh, the freedom we’ll have!)
Finally, rather than going back to an old place – such as my parents’ basement, as so many post-Japan people do, for weeks or even months of “Funemployment” – I’ve gone forward to a new one. There are new adventures to have, new places to discover, new things to do, new people to love and a new person to become.
And what a newness it is! Serendipity has certainly been on my side since I arrived. I spent my first night at a friend’s house, in the “sun room,” and woke up (unsurprisingly) with the sun, which helped beat any possible jet lag out of me. I moved into my new apartment and fell in love with it (this place has character in mostly the right ways). A coworker heard I was sleeping on the floor (not that I didn’t do that already for four years in Japan) and lent me a wonderful, glorious mattress until my furniture arrives. I got a new (to me) bike for $20 and have already almost seen more of the city on it in 4 days than I did in the 4 months I lived in Ottawa during university. Despite eating out for almost every meal, I’ve managed to spend less in a day on food on average than in a single meal out in a city in Japan.
And yet, Ottawa has its quirks. It is certainly not lacking in multiculturalism, although it’s not the Asian-centric multiculturalism I’m used to from Vancouver (and Japan, for that matter), which is an adjustment. The only “Bilingual” that counts here is French-English, even though half the people in this city seem to have a first language other than both of those. I’ve already seen restaurants serving Lebanese shwarma, Afghan kebabs, Satay burritos (New York?), Ethiopian pancakes, Greek souvlaki, and loads more. But despite my Japanese, I didn’t qualify for 95% of the job openings that otherwise interested me during my job search phase because I’m not the right kind of bilingual: when I reach for my middle school French, Japanese comes out.
Speaking of Japanese, today I witnessed a Chinese guy posing as a Japanese tutor to an eager but oblivious caucasian guy in a coffee shop. Seriously, the “tutor” didn’t speak a word of Japanese the whole time I was next to them and he was just BS-ing his way through the other guy’s questions (and scribbling in his notebook in Chinese.) I was more Japanese than that guy, especially wearing almost entirely Uniqlo and sporting a cute-accessory-laden bag. Maybe I can make something of my language skills after all! Like embarrassing fraudulent tutors in public (and stealing their clients)!
Despite my joy at starting a new life in Ottawa, it’s little experiences like this coffee shop moment that remind me I’m not leaving my old life in Japan behind: it’s a part of me forever.
“Where did you come from?” people ask when they hear I’ve just moved to Ottawa.
“Well, I’m from BC originally,” I begin, then smirk at their surprise when I finish: “but I came from Japan.”