Reflection of life

It has been just over a year since I have been back from the lifetime adventure that is Japan. I didn’t expect to spend 2 years of my life living in a rural countryside, but it was the best two years of my life even if it was the most difficult. No-one warns you how hard it is living alone abroad, but my friends, the community and my students made my life out there. I stayed for my students, my kids. I love them so much. But now I am back and I adjusted pretty well back into life in London. But my time in Japan felt like a distant memory, like a dream that never really existed. I feel so disconnected from it, but it was real. I hold on to that. I miss that life; I miss my students the most, I miss the scenery, I miss the beauty of it, I miss the language. I miss it.

I am back in London with a contract in a job I don’t truly care for. I have been dating, but gave up with the fruitlessness of it. I have been enjoying my time in London despite it all, but I am aware, I need a new adventure. Because once you’ve experienced Japan, there is no going back, you have to move forward and experience more, richer, fuller things. So I am waiting. I am 27 and I am getting older. I do not fit in this world anymore that is London. It is easy to get lost in, but I don’t fit in the corporate lifestyle. I don’t think I fit anywhere. I’ve never had a boyfriend and never risked the courage or dared to try. In that sense, I am naive. I feel like I’ve experienced it all except this other world that I refuse to let my heart open to because  fear the worst. I don’t want to get hurt. I don’t want to be betrayed. I don’t want to trust someone who will eventually let me down. I don’t want to be vulnerable. I don’t want to lose my independence. I don’t want to lose me. I don’t want to change. But most of all, I just don’t want someone to crush me, because I know I could give them that power and they could do it. They could crush me into nothing and then I would have to rebuild myself all over again.

It was hard to survive once, but I am sure I could survive it again if it came to it again. So I guess that’s why I don’t mind or I am trying really hard to open myself up to possibilities; to life.

Before I move on, I think it’s time to go back to Japan to say goodbye; to move on and to turn the next page of the chapter. I desperately want to see my students again. I love them so much, it pains me. I think the only way to let go off them is to say goodbye and see the change. So here’s my pact – I am coming back to close this chapter of my life and start the next one. Here’s to my next journey.

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Dare to live, lose the fear

Last year, before I went to New Zealand, I was feeling apprehensive and worried. I had returned home with no job and to take another 2 month vacation meant I would be fully out of a job for 6 months. But that wasn’t what I was worried about. I was worried about travelling with a friend I met in Japan. We weren’t that close in Japan, but we got on, despite the lack of many common interests. Travelling for me is a thrilling adventure and I am usually always excited for it. But since Japan, I feel like I have become a strange creature of habit. I don’t feel fully comfortable and I think that is my problem. It is what fuels my fear and my hesitance. What made it harder going on this road trip was not being sure I could maintain conversation for 3 weeks without either of us getting bored.  I’ve always felt like we didn’t have a real friendship. He’s very private and even though we hang out in groups, I haven’t always been completely comfortable with him. I’m not sure why. So I did’t know how this trip was going to be as it would simply be the two of us.

Well having now finished that trip and my 2 month holiday, I have realised how petty my worries were. I’ve said it a hundred times before to myself but it honestly is true:

Don’t let the little things get you down or sweat the small stuff. Don’t let fear rule your life and ruin your chances.

If I didn’t take this chance to travel, I wouldn’t have made such incredible memories and explored so many places. I don’t know when or if I’d be able to have done the amazing road trip around NZ to ultimately discover a new country and the beauties it has to offer. What I was also really afraid of was not being physically fit to do all the hikes and tramping that I knew we would be doing. But there is nothing wrong with going slow and taking it easy. I’m not in the best of health, but I am striving to achieve that goal and get fitter.

I have no regrets going on that trip. It was so much fun. I learnt to let go a bit. I discovered more about my friend. It was all in my head, we got on perfectly well despite the lack of common interests! It went much better than I expected and we had amazing weather. NZ is a truly beautiful place especially if you love the outdoors, hiking, lakes and mountains!

Those memories of Japan still continue to haunt me (in a good way – I just miss my students!), it was nice to reminisce, challenge myself physically and mentally. For the latter, I went bungee jumping. I feel like as I get older, sadly I become less fearless! I had no qualms going skydiving when I was 21. Though admittedly that is a completely different ballgame and not as terrifying in an odd kind of way. But the point I am making is that I notice that I am starting to take less risks as I get older. It’s not always a bad thing, however, I don’t want that to stick. I want to take risks, to challenge myself. I don’t want to be controlled by fear. So here’s to daring to live fully. Take chances and don’t look back.

 

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.

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.

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.