Sunday, 15 May 2011

Me, the sentimental old man (plus some pics)

Clark Kent retires to his favorite swingy chair after a long day of good-doing. (Is it narcissism if the portrait is almost as old as you are?) 

I observed the passing of my 23rd year on planet Earth Thursday. Before I forget, sincere thanks for all the birthday wishes via various physical and electronic pathways. Some of the more Scrooge-like among us hold that a "happy birthday!" sent via Facebook somehow means less than a card or verbal congratulations because Facebook both reminds us of the birthday and provides a way to fulfill greeting obligations in approx. 10 seconds. I think that's bulls**t - there is something humbling and wonderful about the cascade of well-wishers that appears on one's wall. 

I've neglected this blog for over a month now, the longest of several unintentional hiatuses since starting my chronicles. I wish I had a decent excuse beyond simple forgetfulness or the usual cliches about how time flies on by. I don't, though. But (to paraphrase David Foster Wallace), it's often the case that the more banal the cliche seems, the sharper the canines of the truth behind it. Time flies so very fast when you're 22 in a foreign land, simultaneously learning how to be a grown-up and a foreigner in one of the planet's more self-consciously insular countries. This is mostly because it's so much fun. Every smoothly executed Japanese conversation with a co-worker seems like a grand accomplishment, every meal out promises new smells and flavors, every evening of moonlight and cicadas seems a living, breathing haiku.

Sense of wonder is another one of those cliches that will sneak up and kick your a** when you least expect it. This happened to me on the car ride back from the island of Kyushu last week after a week of sightseeing, eating, and generally good-natured debauchery. I dozed off in the passenger's seat, rousing an hour later to that pleasant, if disorientating, place between sleep and wakefulness as the Japanese countryside passed by at 80 km/hr. For what seemed like several minutes I groped in vain for something familiar to orient my sleepy brain: Highway signs in Japanese, the hum of my friend's ipod, the low green hills outside of Hiroshima - all contributed to a sense of profound disassociation. "Where am I? Who am I?"

Like the proverbial ton of bricks, it hit me. "I am in a country called Japan, with good friends I did not know 9 months ago. I am an English teacher. I speak Japanese. I graduated from Amherst College almost a year ago. My little sister is at this moment in Buenos Aires, my parents sound asleep in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.... Life is good." I felt for a moment like Cinderella, terrified that midnight would come and I would wake up a tired, pimple and angst-ridden 15-year-old to find that the past eight years had been but a dream, that the wonders of first love, Japan, and college would vanish. poof

But nothing happened. Chris, the driver, tells me we're close to Hiroshima, making good time. I smile. 

I don't know how I got to this place, healthy, college-graduated, employed, with a so many people I actually consider friends wishing me well on my Facebook wall.  And still occasionally wonder how this could be really, truly be my life and not some sort of somnambular wish-fulfillment. But I never seem to wake up, no matter how hard I pinch myself... 

Ah, to be so drippingly sentimental at 23. I can only speculate what my friends and family will have to put up with when I'm a nostalgic old man....

Selected scenic pics from my golden week trip (4/29-5/7) to Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's four main islands: 
Purported to be the most beautiful bridge in all of Japan (Iwakuni)

Also Iwakuni

Takachiho gorge, Miyazaki prefecture

This one's for you, Allan (and any other geologists out there fond of ancient lava flows)

800 year old cedar

Shrine to Ameterasu, sun-goddess (still Takachiho). Apparently she spent many dark years in a cave not far from this site after ill-treatment from her brother and other gods. That cave, alas, is off-limits to sightseers, its location a tightly guarded secret.

Aforementioned sun goddess

A stone pagoda we erected on the beach of Aoashima,  Miyazaki


1 comment:

  1. That picture looks very asian. Are you sure you weren't raised as a ninja and swam to the US from Japan as a toddler?