Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Settling In - Tokyo 6.13.07

4 pm in the afternoon, Tokyo time. I’m starting this entry while waiting for the Keisei Express line to pull out of Narita Airport and take me into Tokyo city. It’s been over 24 hours since I last dragged myself up from the bed to embark this long trans-Pacific journey; except the 3-hour naptime in DC-Dallas airport lying semi-comfortably on the airport lounge chairs, I haven’t been horizontal for 16 hours. It’s going to take another 2 hours if not more to get into the dorm, and another number of hours will pass before my suitcases get delivered to my door.

Two movies plus Ishiguro’s novel along with sporadic falling-asleep accompanied much of the journey this time. The food wasn’t all that bad this time, and a personal TV set just made the trip slightly more enjoyable (except that I kept missing the beginning part of Breach twice, argh). After all these years of flying around and traveling back and forth between Japan and other places, I still can’t get over the initial moment of doubt and fear. Am I going to make it this time? Is United going to lose my luggage again (my 2 suitcases literally came out last on the baggage carousal)? Am I going to trip myself over and fall and break a leg while moving my luggage strenuously across various train platforms? Is my Japanese still smooth enough to make myself understood? Is the lady at the receptionist desk going to think that I’m way out of my mind coming to Japan with now such rustic Japanese skills?

Or perhaps the most important question – without a TV, how am I going to go through the very first night?

It’s the first-night question that is often the most dreadful.

(I still remember the first night when I get into Cambridge last year, my landlady Clara graciously left the radio on so that the moment I switched on the lights while walking in, there was classical music welcoming in, in the midst of mid-night silence and after the fiasco of United indeed losing a piece of my luggage.)

Questions after questions after questions – years after years I still haven’t learned to stop doubting myself. “See, everything turned out fine – you got your prepaid phone charged, suitcases delivered within a few hours, money withdrawn, and express train tickets bought. Soon you’ll be happily shopping in a neighborhood 100-yen shop or convenient store really beginning a new stage in life here. Everything turned out fine.” -- that, unfortunately, is usually a message realized only in retrospect, post-journey.

Tokyo is 28 C, much hotter than east coast USA yet perhaps slightly less humid than Taipei. My eyes are wide open to the pristinely clean train compartment that I’m currently sitting in, and the conversations across a few high school girls next to me are rather amusing.

From June 1st – June 20th, there is a iris festival in one of the water park somewhere in the Metropolitan area, one of the ad’s informs me. Another ad flashes out pictures of the newly renovated hot spring baths and post-hot-spring meal set and advocating the discounted price for the summer season. A young salariman is waving his fan while chit-chatting with his colleague across from me, numerous OL’s and housewives are engrossed in sending text-messages on their cell phones.

Is it true that iPhone will never truly take off in Japan? Why would they need it when years ago they already have full Internet capability on their cell phones? Even on a crappy, toy-like, orange/pink prepaid cell phone of mine that can at least send regular e-mail messages to friends abroad?

Distant mountain ranges and rice paddies are fast passing by, and I again am smelling the mix of a discreet soapy scent and the metallic odor that is so pervasive in almost all Japanese trains. Last summer was the first time when I noticed the soapy scent; now I realize that it could simply be some kind of cleaning detergent?

New discoveries, every single day.

Am I out of my mind to pack myself up and bring myself to another *foreign* country and even attempt to live here * as if I am a local * everyday? What’s wrong with the place left behind and what’s really promised of in the new place I’ve brought myself to?

The truth of the matter is, no matter where I go – I am no longer a local. Not here, not back in Cambridge (even though strangely, last time when I went to a Yankee vs. Red Sox game I still cheered fervently for the latter … an action that baffled myself), not even in Taipei. Still, in just a few weeks I’m going to name a few beer houses as my favorite izakaya in town, consistently go back to that one particular bakery that makes that yummy cream-cheese bun never tasted before, and start marking a few trails as my familiar walking paths home, in late-afternoon, or during moments when contemplation is needed. Very soon – I’ll forget that I’m not so much of a foreigner, even though I will never be able to completely fool myself by calling myself a local.

Local or not, this is the beginning of a great adventure as all stages of life all are. The past 3-year adventure in the land of America has just ended; despite the unfulfilled expectations or ailing turn of events throughout the past 3 years, the end of that journey has leaped me forward.

Welcome, to this new adventure with me, for better or for worse.

梅ちゃん at 11:40:00 PM



at 6/14/07, 7:53 AM Blogger John said...

Good luck Umechan! I'll be following your exploits on your blog!


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