Saturday, June 24, 2006

Surreal Life

I can't describe how it feels to be back. Not like I expected. In some ways, better. In some ways, worse. My friends who are missionaries here say this is how they feel sometimes after coming back to Japan from a year's furlough in the U.S. I remember this feeling from before -- it's home, but it's not. Where is home anyway?
I just spent the day with several gaijin (foreigners) at my old friend's house on the other side of Okayama prefecture. I really needed this day and to forget, for a while, that I'm in Japan. It has been harder than I expected -- coming back. I often want to cry.
Who am I?
Why am I here?

Osaka, Japan

I feel like a coin -- one side American.
The other side Japanese.
Toss the coin.
See where it lands.
In America it landed too often with the Japanese side up.
In Japan, the American side -- always visable.

There is so much stuff to report. I hardly know where to begin.

  • Lining up for passport control in Osaka's Kansai airport and seeing the same guy behind the counter who had stamped my passport so many times before. His hair is gray now, but his face hasn't changed. Of course, he doesn't remember me. Thousands of gaijin pass through this gate every day. "Are you here for business or pleasure?" "How long will you stay?" Stamp. Face expressionless. Next.
  • Finding dried squid in the airport sundries shop. Gotta buy some of that. It's like sweet, fishy jerky. The flavor transports me back.
  • First morning. Bonnie wakes up at 3 a.m. I make her go back to sleep. She wakes again at 5. I let her watch a DVD. At 7 a.m. I am starving. We venture out to the awakening hotel and find a small shop open. They serve sandwiches (Sandwich Heaven, it's called). Bonnie wants a hot dog for breakfast. She never eats hot dogs at home. But she likes it-- after we remove the lettuce. I get a ham and cheese sandwich and a cup of coffee. Have to pay full price for a refill. I am shocked at the $14 bill. Bonnie is happy. She can run and play near the water fountain and I don't have to watch her. "There are not many bad strangers in Japan," I tell her.
  • We catch a shinkansen (bullet train) to the heart of Osaka. Bonnie is excited. She wants to sit by the window, but doesn't care about the scenery. She wants to play with her new game boy! In Osaka we meet my best friend, Kaori. Although I haven't talked to her for five years (barring the occasionaly clipped e-mail), we take up where we left off. "You haven't changed a bit," she lies. "Neither have you," I say truthfully. I don't want to leave her and go to Kurashiki. I have missed her so much. Bonnie takes to her naturally. I make her promise to come visit me as soon as possible.
  • Bonnie spends her allowance on her first Japanese souvenir -- a new sparkly blue purse. I teach Kaori a new phrase in English -- "bling bling."
  • On the way to Kurashiki, we pass my old train station. I can't orient myself. My last 5 years in Japan, I drove everywhere and I am not familiar with the train route. It's like waking from a dream that plays elusively on the edges of consciousness. If I could just concentrate, I could get it back. But it's gone.
  • We get to Kurashiki and Yumiko (manager of the school) meets us at the train platform. She valiantly pulls my suitcases the 5 blocks to our apartment. It is tiny. Like a dollhouse. I had forgotten how small. The whole apartment could fit into my master bedroom at home! I am hit by a tsunami wave of culture shock. How can I live in this tiny space? But I lived here before and I should know what to expect. Only I don't. I feel guilty that I am surprised. I smile and nod. "Very cute," I say. Bonnie is delighted. "It's just my size," she exclaims. Everything is her size -- like a dollhouse. The milk is in a tiny carton that she can pour herself. She can reach the back of the freezer. She doesn't need a stool for the sink. Bonnie is so happy. Why aren't I?
  • There's a 24 hour grocery store across the street. Yumiko walks there with us. I see all the food I haven't been able to eat for 5 years. I want to try it all again. Bonnie loves the fried chicken on a stick. She eats it for lunch and dinner for two days. She can have rice whenever she wants. She tells me she loves Japan. "I never want to leave here," she breathes. She refers to our apartment as "home."

So, it has been surreal.



But I'm starting to get used to it.