Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Halfway Point

I'm beginning this entry at a café in Kyoto. It’s drizzling outside. Not so much as to drench someone, but steady enough to be noticed after a twenty minute walk.  Even now, I'm seeing out of my glasses frames through the tiny drops of rain that remain on them.

This week was my 6 month anniversary in Japan. That means I'm exactly halfway into my one-year adventure. Halfway done with my one-year work contract, and halfway home.

I have mixed feelings about reaching this stage.

So much has occurred in the last six months, and I just can’t imagine spending the equivalent amount of time here and having just as many experiences, good and bad. It’s almost depressing that I’ve come this far and I am still only halfway finished.

The neighbor's house in winter
Just when I thought I had overcome the most difficult phase in culture shock I regressed almost as soon as I returned from Taiwan this January.
I’ve realized that process of changing myself is not linear. There are periods of regression, and plateaus. The hard moments seem to last forever, and the good times are all too fleeting.

I expected to be further along and better off by now. But I'm still wresting with many unmet goals and unfinished developments, emotional and professional.

I came to Japan with specific goals and an inflexible deadline, and I don’t feel that I have halfway met my expectations. I'm afraid that soon I’ll be sitting on the plane back home to America this August and writing about how I didn’t accomplish the things I needed to in Japan. 

These past six months have been filled with experiences, both profound and mundane, that I never expected to have. I butchered and cooked a wild boar (coming from someone who get grossed out in the meat aisle at a grocery store), I ran a 10K (coming from someone who was totally sedentary in the states), I drove (um, drive) on the opposite side of the road (coming from someone who was so afraid to drive, her parents had to force her to go to driving school and get a license at 16), and I made an ATM wire transfer in Japanese (coming from someone with only rudimentary language skills).

More profound experiences happened at a slower rate, taking days and months to manifest. 

I managed to find joy in my job (I never write about work because 1. I'm not allowed to, and 2. I generally despise my job).  However, in recent times the 40 hours a week I am spending at my office are becoming more bearable, which has greatly improved the other 128 hours I have for myself each week. 

I learned to live with, and love, the odd quirks of my strange home. I have learned how to live alone, a process that has taken six months to learn, and one that I am still learning.

I  managed to meet and make new friends in ever changing situations. I learned how to step outside my comfort zone and into theirs, so that I can accommodate and cultivate relationships with an even wider range of people in my life.

I learned, and am continuing to learn, how to  successfully navigate a long-distance relationship, how to share my joys and struggles with somebody halfway across the world.

A black cat watches from a balcony in Kobe

Something else I have come to realize:

I didn’t do any of this alone.

Whether I was receiving support  from my friends and family across the globe, or my neighbors right next door, everything takes teamwork.

Nothing good in my life exists solely because I created it.

I owe words of gratitude to those people who helped me. From the foreign friends who graciously taught me how to use my household appliances and pay my bills, to my Japanese friends who translated everything from cleaning bottles to hospital forms, and helped me through awkward cultural situations.

ありがとうございますand thank you.  Thank you. Thank you.

I also owe some words of gratitude to complete strangers, sometimes for what they do, but also for what they don’t do. They don’t stare, they don’t ask rude questions, and they don’t steal my belongings if I leave them at my seat while using the restroom in a café.  This is great. Strangers, keep not doing those things. Thank you.

In the next six months I will be discovering new places, (Kyoto, Sapporo, Wakkanai), and revisiting old ones (Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima).  I will be doing a lot more writing, a lot more running, and a lot more living.

I will probably  also be doing a lot more driving, and ATM transactions. But no more boar-slaughtering. 
Once was enough, thank you. 

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