No longer the best

Friends are so important. They help you through difficult times and they are there for you. Well, if you have friendships that you feel are slipping out of your grasp, be sure to chase them if they are worthy.

I spent two days with my best friend and realised not for the first time a sea of change and a real difference between us. We’ve been friends for over 14 years which is one of my greatest accomplishments. She is my longest friend and the one I considered my best friend to be forever. We met as teens in high school and instantly became fast friends. We have lifted each other out of the darkness one time or another. We are completely different – she is a scientist and I am a philosopher; in school she was in the top set and I was in the bottom. We couldn’t be more different, but what always united us were our shared moral values.

In friendships, it is not unusual to experience a feeling of distance between friends. We are always changing. But today, I discovered as I voiced my feelings of distance, that this time I was not wrong about this uneasy feeling that had crept over me. As a philosopher I needed a question answered before we parted company: “Are we still best friends?” Because the truth was it didn’t feel like it. The previous day, I persuaded her to show me her PhD acknowledgement section and I was surprised to see how very low on the list I was carted in with her other good friends; one whom I did not know about. Don’t get me wrong, I was honoured to be in the section, but I was shocked at how small my part played compared to other friends. It was then that I realised we had somewhere along the line separated. We no longer turned to each other as the first in line to help us with whatever was ailing us. Instead we chose different people, at least she did. I can honestly say I always turned to her first and still to this day. But the struggle of writing her PhD I realised, I could never fully understand. She asked if I was disappointed and I lied and said I was not; it was lovely. But in that moment I felt horrible, like I didn’t mean much any more. Later in the day, I asked when we would be travelling together like she promised, only to be told that she was broke and would not be doing so anytime soon.

As I lay in bed the previous night pondering it all, I decided that I would quietly let go and disappear from her life. I clearly was no longer the best, I was a stranger and she was a stranger to me. The fact that I didn’t know about the struggles she went through and the fact that I had tried to share my struggles but due to all her focus going on her PhD, she had limited time for me. We somehow lost the way to communicate. As with couples, the I becomes We. She was planning to visit me in Japan. Then she invited her boyfriend. I was mad, but I accepted it. Finally she cancelled her trip to visit me in Japan because of the PhD. I wasn’t surprised. I was relieved because I didn’t have to take time off my busy schedule. We had encountered this before. So many times she would cancel on me. So many broken promises. But it didn’t matter because she was my best friend. Well, not anymore. Today I lost a best friend. Or perhaps it was months ago.

As she answered my question, I understood the truth. We were no longer best friends. We had been utterly changed from our experiences, that our lives were no longer close to the same track we had been running on. We were close friends for sure, but we were not solely exclusively best friends. It was very sad. It was the cold, hard truth. It hurt. But it’s okay.

I realised that we are now of an age when we are no longer children, we are adults soon to marry, settle down and have children. We were going in different directions and there was nothing we could do about it. Maybe people shouldn’t have best friends – one best person out of good friends, it’s not really fair. I don’t think I could have another friendship like that again. But at least I have made some lovely friends. So I won’t disappear from this friendship and quietly fade into the background, but I won’t fight no longer being the best, because this time it’s a two way street. It’s a decision and not just mine.

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The past is never too far, hidden but not forgotten.

Isn’t it an ugly thing when you realise that the past isn’t so distant. All those demons you thought you dealt with and let go, only to realise you never actually did let them go. You just painted over them and hoped they would go away and never revisit you. You fooled yourself and started to live your life again walking through it all blindly. But old ghosts do come back to life. They are timeless and they are waiting in the wings when something triggers your past while creating your present. Unfortunately, I’ve been having my fair share of shocks this past year, pretty much all of them ugly and uninvited. But who said the battle was easy or pain-free? Not for the faint-hearted indeed and certainly a few broken bones and sliced flesh. Well I feel it viscerally and it hits me deep, opening roughly papered over wounds; wounds that never had a chance to heal because I ignored it all and buried my head in the ground. It wasn’t intentional at all, it was just my immediate and only reaction at the time. It is how I deal with problems. Not a very good way indeed, but the only way my brain saw since the memories were too visual, too traumatic and too horrible to relive. But I am forcing myself to feel the pain and relive it, because it’s the only way I’ve realised to move forward and actually learn from it this time properly. You cannot prevent or control other people’s actions. You can only control how you react to something.

I’m going to start with a short story. Six years ago, I was sexually assaulted by my uncle. I wasn’t raped, but I was assaulted and touched inappropriately. It happened on two separate occasions and the only thing I could do at the time was freeze in disbelief. When someone you have trusted for your whole life does something so unspeakable, in my mind I could do nothing. I had no power despite my brain screaming, because the truth is, I didn’t understand how this could be happening. Only the second time was I really sure that the first time actually happened. I hadn’t just conjured it up in my mind. This probably doesn’t make sense, but I have realised that we live in a world where not all women have a voice. We have been taught subconsciously perhaps to smile, to look pretty and to stay silent. The latter is what I did. I stood still and silent, my body on fire and my mind in a state of pure confusion and naivety. He said to me that I am a loving and kind child. I didn’t know if he still thought I was a child. I didn’t have counselling, but I did tell my family and friends. My mother was furious at what her brother had done, so she turned him out. No-one wanted him not because of what happened since that remained a secret, but just because he was old and a burden. He died 2 years later. I remember the last time I saw him a year before he passed away. I held him at arms length and I kissed his cheek tentatively memories of the past still on my mind yet knowing it wouldn’t be long till he would die. In that moment, the hate subsided and all I felt was pure pity. Later, news of his death did not affect me. I was not sad, nor was I happy. I felt nothing but anger.

After that event though, I subconsciously isolated myself. I wanted a boyfriend and yet I didn’t. I didn’t want to be touched. Not by anyone and not by any man. Not long after I was assaulted again on a night bus on the way home after a night out. I was drunk, trying my best not to sleep so I wouldn’t miss the stop, I was simply sprawled on the seats. I was touched inappropriately again. I was drunk, but I still knew what was going on. I just couldn’t scream no or react this time because I was too drunk. I tried to slap his hand away but it was so weak. My mind was completely rational, but my body was paralysed by alcohol and extreme exhaustion.

Bad choices, bad decisions, young, inexperience, naivety and self-blame. I took responsibility for my actions. But again, my skin crawled. No amount of washing that day could clean me. I felt violated and completely out of control yet again. Many women have this experience and people blame them saying it’s your own fault. But that’s simply not fair. There are always two sides to a coin.

I am not sure when it began but from a moment in time, I closed myself off completely. My trust for all men went out the window. I am always weary of men. Especially the ones who tell me how beautiful and kind I am. Some people take advanatge of kindness, but does it mean I should stop being kind? I don’t think so. But I also know that being kind and saying no is equally important. Some men don’t understand no. They can’t believe no. How many times do I have to say no? Why won’t a firm no suffice?

So what triggered my thoughts?

I went on a solo trip and at the end of my trip when I travelled with one of the host members back to the main city as he was going the same place, he started to confess his ‘feelings’. He’s married with a child. He was meant to visit his child. It got awkward. It got strange and he used the words ‘special’, ‘kind’ and countless other crap I’ve heard. I don’t say that to boast, as if I’ve had many experiences. I have many negative ones so I am weary of the words. I say it because it is bullshit. The lines “Why don’t you have a boyfriend, you’re so kind and fun.” are said too many times that I know when it is not genuine or when alarm bells ring warning of interest. He insisted then that he wanted to drive me home which was a 3 hour drive. I politely refused. Said it was too kind but no thank you. He persisted and I firmly insisted I was fine. I didn’t need a lift, I was happy with the coach. It became uncomfortable. Still he insisted and still I declined. It was too far, and he admitted it wasn’t kind, it was only for me this special attention. How many times must I say no? I said it 5 times. Still before I left he said, “If you change your mind, tell me.” I ended up running as soon as I got out the car. It sounds dramatic, I was late meeting a friend and still he tried to stall for time. I was fearful because I thought he might follow me. He was so persistent, it was almost scary. So I fled as soon as I could. As soon as I got out, that was my first instinct. I think it’s important to follow instincts. I felt shit afterwards. I felt dirty. I felt like there was something wrong with me. I don’t believe there is, but I couldn’t help the feelings of disgust.

I don’t believe he would have hurt me. I think he was trying to be kind. I think things got out of control because he became inappropriate. But this time I was firm. I was clear. I spoke up and still he didn’t listen. People only hear what they want to hear, but they don’t really listen. I don’t trust men. I don’t trust persistent people when I refuse an offer. I have a few male friends and off course I can’t blame all men and wouldn’t want to. I do believe there are some good guys out there. But I don’t always trust the good ones either. I have a big problem with trust. I have a lot of open wounds. But I am trying to learn and fight back.

No means no. It never means yes.

New revelations

My life right now seems to be like one of those soap dramas that many people watch. Every day is a new drama whether it’s politically; division and consequences of the EU referendum result and post-Brexit, the US political campaign drama, social and online drama with regards to racial abuse on twitter or just general life drama in Japan. The whole universe seems to be in a massive kerfuffle and mess. My life recently has been very busy and exciting, but the drama has peaked and doesn’t look to be receding anytime soon.

A brief summary of events in the past month. My best friend in Japan, in my town is leaving and returning back home. I am utterly devastated. She has been my rock, my amazing senpai and she is absolutely lovely, smart, fun and talented. When you find special people, treasure them for life – they are worth the effort. I am going home for a holiday next week and I will have to say goodbye. I am crap at goodbyes and I really don’t want to say goodbye. I could say see you soon I suppose, but life won’t be the same in Japan with out my biggest supporter. I will miss Ju-san so much! Every time I see her, I just want to shout out: “Don’t go!!” But life is such, we all move on. It’s time for Ju-san to leave so there it is, the cold, hard fact.

Anyway, onto another dramatic topic, since my birthday, I thought there was a guy interested in me. We had a few intimate moments of hand holding, flirting and great discussions. He is my friend. He is one of the good guys, a lovely, sweet guy. ‘This is it!’ I thought, I can see myself with this lovely, kind guy. He’s a great match. This weekend I found out the startling revelation that he is in fact a player. My new lesson learned? Don’t trust nice guys. Sometimes it’s a mask or a trick. I won’t go into too much detail but I found out from my friend that this guy had been on a few dates and had told her that he knew exactly “how” to attract the girls and “what” to say. It seems that he’s not used to such high levels on attention which isn’t surprising since Japan is a washed up shore with limited choice. When I found all this information out, I wanted to do the opposite. I felt confusion and annoyance that he used my attention and compliments to flatter his ego, but his intentions towards me were narcissistic and in vain.

During another one of his moments when he tried to get me to tell him how great and talented he is by putting himself down and self-deprecatingly telling me how useless he was, instead of saying the usual; “Aww no you’re amazing! You’re so talented, you can play the piano, violin and the fiddle! Don’t be so hard on yourself!” I instead resorted to agreeing with him. “Yeah, you’re shit.”, “Yeah you’re talentless and useless.” He looked at me like a wounded dog stunned into silence and disbelief. I didn’t feel one ounce of pity, I felt pleasure. That sounds horrible, but let me justify it – he needed someone to disagree with him and shut this bullshit down. I don’t like being taken advantage of and I especially don’t like attention-seekers. I have had enough of telling other people how great they are when they are being absolutely annoying.

I later realised that he is very insecure and his negativity rubbed off onto me, but as soon as I realised it, I shut it down. This happened because he kept complaining and blowing his own sad trumpet. It started to manifest in my dreams where my old insecurities and pain rose to the fore. I was shocked into awareness and consciousness with a bitter taste in my mouth but also a strong resolution that I would not get tangled in them again. I dealt with my issues years ago, I healed those wounds and nothing would make me want to cut them open again and revisit the pain and the past. I already have enough baggage. This is not the kind of boyfriend I would want. I don’t want to have to keep affirming that someone is great. I don’t want to have to sort out someone else’s life. Mine has enough shit in it. I am trying to sort out my life. I am trying to teach children to the best of my ability and I am trying to do that with confidence. I can’t be part of a pity party. So that part of the drama in my life has simmered down. I’ve made it clear I’m no longer interested and I’ve walked away. End of chapter.

Onto the next drama,  since Ju-san is leaving, her new successor is a young woman with a 4 year old child. This is problematic for my small, rural town which has rejected her. But she doesn’t know yet that they don’t want her and she is still coming because the rejection wasn’t accepted by the organisation because it’s too late. I feel for this woman who will have to settle into a new life in an unwelcome town because I know how it feels to be isolated and cut off. Believe me, the indifference and silence is just as damning as the quiet, simmering hatred. I have a huge task on my hands to help her. Coming alone is hard enough, but coming with a kid is even worse. This town has never had an English teacher with a family so it will be revealing and interesting to see how this develops. I only hope it works out in the end. But I’m not so sure.

When will the drama end?

Birthday surprises

In two days it will be my birthday. I’ll be a quarter of a century old and I’m hoping that in two days I won’t have grown white hair or torn my hair out from stress and frustration. Planning a birthday party in a foreign country is like constantly smashing your head against a brick wall. First, there’s the language and trying to understand and communicate. Second you’ve made a big mistake and invited over 17 friends but didn’t expect everyone to actually attend. So now you’re stuck trying to find a place big enough to accommodate us all. Don’t get me wrong there are places, but in Japan not so many. We’ll probably be split up which is fine, if only I could understand if that was what they were saying. I have no idea to be honest. This was a very bad idea. Japan doesn’t really cater for big foreign groups and I can’t say that I blame them. Not many restaurants where I live are very big. Not to mention that my level of Japanese is limited and quite frankly terrible. I’m trying, but it’s one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do. I’ve faced rejections from more than 5 restaurants already and I’m already in despair as I’ve just spent the last few hours hoping and failing namely falling flat on my face while my dreams of a smooth party do not exactly pan out.

But for now that’s not what’s important. It’s important to recognise all the people who want to celebrate with me. I never thought so many people would turn up or even want to come. I am lucky to have such good friends and so many too. They’re not all perfect, we do have some differences, but they are there. I’m not normally so lucky with friends, so this is pretty amazing. So I will just persevere and hope everything will work out, even though everything has not been in my favour. So does anyone want to actually plan my birthday while I take off on a jet plane to somewhere relaxing, namely one of my nice fantasies since a last minute holiday is out of the picture these days. Anyone? Any takers? Yeah I don’t blame you, I wouldn’t either.

Anyway here’s to nothing going right in life, to the unplanned, the spontaneous, the exciting, the unexpected, the good, the bad and the love.

Difficult lessons learned from travelling with friends

So here it is lessons learned from travelling with friends:

  1. Make sure you are actually on the same page.
  2. If they don’t know what travel insurance or a visa is, be worried. When I asked my friend the night before we were due to travel whether she had bought her travel insurance, her answer couldn’t have shocked me more. “What’s that?” Cue *blank face* “Are you s****ing me?”
  3. Push for what you want especially if you planned the whole thing.
  4. Be worried if they suddenly panic the night before asking if you’re taking them to a really dangerous country with terrorists. Every country has terrorists. But NO in case it wasn’t obvious, do I look like I’m going on holiday to be kidnapped, tortured and then potentially murdered?
  5. If they can’t tell you where we’re going, you’re screwed. It means they’ve done ZERO research and looked at NONE of the material you sent over.
  6. Don’t let them get away with doing jack s**t unless you’re the kind of person who likes to plan everything cough *controlfreak* cough – which is fine if it’s your holiday they’ve invited themselves to. Not that I didn’t ask for suggestions but I was given carte blanche. I did ask where she would like to stay etc. but she said she trusts me!
  7.  Turns out she didn’t actually trust me after our first hostel. Where is our 5* hotel? I can’t live among the poor! They are so different! I’m scared. No, I’m being melodramatic she’s not into 5* hotels and she’s not demanding, but she was very scared and felt the disparity between the rich and poor as well as being a tourist.
  8. Don’t trust them when they say – “You fit in more because you look more like them.” Me: “Wtf!? I’m Asian and I’m brown. I look like a tourist just like you.” Friend: “Yes, but I’m paler and noticeably more touristy.” Me: *mutters under breath* Yeah because you act so unnatural.
  9. Frankly just don’t listen to them. They are irrational and pass on their own anxieties.
  10. If they mention that they’ve only been to two other countries outside of their own, be worried. They’re not seasoned travellers, they’re newbies which is fine if you’re a newbie too.
  11. If you try to take them to historical sites, but they keep diverting you, just know you will never reach those historical sites.
  12. If you want to go on daytrips, but they don’t set an alarm and the only one you set went off but you couldn’t hear it (due to being hard of hearing), but they could and didn’t wake you up, you can be sure they’re not into going on that trip.
  13. If you want to go anywhere, but they don’t want to book anything nor do they want to just go – you can be sure nothing will materialise except wasted time and effort.
  14. Finally – my last and most important piece of advice: just go by yourself – solo travel seems so much easier unless you have amazing friends who you’ve travelled with before.

Be careful who you travel with

Let’s start at the beginning. Be careful when choosing who to go on holiday with. This is no joke and I would know since I am writing from experience – a whole lot of experiences and repeated mistakes. Unfortunately I never learn!! This time I think I will. This time it was the worst holiday I’ve ever had the unfortunate pleasure of experiencing, and although it’s over, it was an important lesson. So two weeks ago, I went on holiday to the Philippines which was originally meant to be a solo trip, but my friend asked where I was going for Golden Week and I told her. She was immediately excited by the destination and asked to come along. Initially I was going to say no, but then thought company might be nice. What I didn’t count on was planning the whole trip and booking everything. My friend wanted me to book her plane tickets too but since I haven’t known her long I asked her to book those herself. We were meant to go to one of the beautiful islands containing several beautiful beaches! What we got was the city Manila and nothing else. Trust me you don’t want to be trapped in Manila for 8 days. I was meant to have the beach but instead got a fancy hotel. I’ll take the beach any day.

I won’t go into too much detail, but we missed our connecting flight so we ended up in Manila. It’s fine – I booked us a hostel for one night to decide where to go instead and move on. Instead, my friend hated the area the hostel was in – she was terrified. That was when I realised she was naive. It wasn’t a bad neighbourhood – sure it was a poor one, but at no point did I feel threatened. We all feel things differently so fair enough. But my friend was fascinated by their lives and was deeply sad about the difference between the rich and poor. It was like she had just popped her head out of a Disney film only to visit the real world mistakenly like the film Enchanted. If she thought what she saw was poverty – well she sure had a lot left in life to see. I’ve visited more countries and I’ve seen extreme poverty like in Sri Lanka, India, Turkey etc. But I’ve also seen poverty in every country – it’s not uncommon. I just couldn’t believe how bubble wrapped she’d been. Immediately we swapped the hostel for fancy hotel and I begrudgingly went for it hoping it would just be for one more night. Instead we stayed there the whole 8 days and spent 4 days of that in a shopping mall. I do not go on holiday to go to a mall 4 days in a row. By the 4th day I was going insane. Where’s my f***ing beach?!? It’s fair to say I never saw it.

The only good thing was nothing was stolen, but it was still officially the worst holiday. So I can only say – be wise, stay strong and if things don’t go your way – it’s okay. But don’t make the same mistake twice because then you really are a fool. Don’t travel with a friend who you think you know, but don’t know well enough until you go on holiday with!

It was never meant to be a goodbye

The hardest thing for me was not leaving. That was the easy part. Goodbyes aren’t easy, but packing the bags, walking through the gate towards a new adventure, now that’s exciting. I didn’t dwell on the goodbyes. But I have realised 9.5 months down the line that the hardest part was deciding to stay. For those who need some context, I live in Japan and have been here since August, last year. It didn’t faze me quitting my well paid job for one with a much lower salary and more of a ‘risk’ some would say. But this was my dream which had come true. This is no longer my dream now that I have achieved my goal to come and live here. It is a beautiful country with kind people, but now the dream has been realised.

Five months down the line, we had to make the difficult decision to re-contract for another year. At this point it would mean 1.5 years left in this country. I wasn’t sure I had achieved all that I wanted so I decided to stay because I felt there was more to discover and a year was too short. But reflecting over my life since being here, I have experienced some wonderful things, but also my fair share of crap. I have been at my lowest and it has been a very painful journey, yet it’s not the end. I wonder when the pain will subside. I feel like I live in a bubble. I feel like I’ve lost my way. I feel like this isn’t reality. Since coming to Japan, I’ve lost sight of my dreams and goals because the cold, hard truth is that I don’t have any. I don’t know where I am going in my life and I don’t know what I’ll do, but that’s okay for now. It’s okay to be lost, I just hope I won’t stay in Purgatory forever.

I don’t regret my decision, but I do wonder what if. Being so far away from home has made me realise and appreciate what I have at home; my family, my friends and an exciting life in London. I miss them all – I’ve never felt so alone as I have here, or maybe I have and I’ve forgotten. It’s in the daily routines and simple things that I remember the beautiful and the memories come swarming back. I miss my family very much. I miss hugs. I miss the smiles. I miss the internet sometimes when I don’t have it. I miss water when I don’t have that. In times like this I think about the people I love and how I left them behind without so much a second thought, but now I am constantly thinking of them; constantly reminded.

The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. I made the difficult decision to continue to stay here even though I am deeply unhappy. I’ve made my bed and now it’s time to lie in it. But I’m not scared. I love my children at school and I am hoping I will be able to heal and rebuild myself. “Always stay calm in any situation” – that is the lesson I am fast learning.

I hope this isn’t where we say goodbye, because to me it was never a goodbye. It was a see you soon. I just didn’t realise a see you soon wouldn’t actually be soon, but what feels like a lifetime. I’ll be home for a holiday soon; it’ll be short-lived but refreshing. I think I’ve lost those rose-tinted glasses now. I think it’ll be time to go back soon and find a new dream. Soon I’ll be saying goodbye to myself – goodbye to the past and the present. Goodbye for now.