All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.

I woke up in a panic this morning, having had the full weight of the realisation of my move to Japan hit me in my sleep, along with the vestiges of my nightmare. In it, one of the people dearest to me had been injured and seemed to be gone; I recall the anxiety and disbelief even as I tried to figure out what I should do, who I should call, how I could turn back time somehow. I awoke with the smell of perfume in the air; disoriented, I didn’t recognise it. I saw the dark figure of my sister standing by the table-side, then walking out into the living room. Cold, near tears, I stumbled out of bed and followed her, barely awake, just to be sure that she was still there, still alive. “Why are you awake?” she asked, as she prepared breakfast – a Nutella and peanut butter sandwich. “Are you going to work?” “Yes..?” Placated, more awake, well aware by now that it was but a terrible nightmare, I stumbled back under the blankets and fell into a dreamless slumber.

I remember a nightmare like this happening once before when I was but a small child, waking up from my sleep crying for my father whom I thought I’d lost. He was on his way out to work, but he comforted me and reassured me that he was there, and put me back to sleep.

“And the danger is that in this move toward new horizons and far directions, that I may lose what I have now, and not find anything except loneliness”
– Sylvia Plath

Before today, my flight on Sunday and the reality of Japan felt like something I was going to do, but it was something far away, something unreal. Yesterday, I received my e-ticket, a one-way trip to Japan that promised nothing of return, said nothing about what would happen, an open door into change. It finally registered in me that I really was leaving, leaving everything and everyone that I’ve known, the years of history I’ve had with the people and places I know. Even when I was packing, it felt like packing for a really long holiday, but now I am clear that this is not a vacation, but a huge leap for me from being a child, a student, somebody who’s always had people around to fall back on and look out for her, to being a responsible, independent adult (hopefully) capable of looking after herself, a pillar of support for others.

Japan isn’t a strange, new place for me. I’ve studied the language for 3 years, been there at least 5 times in the last 4 years, and read so much about the culture, society and people there – though it’d still be too much of a stretch to say that I know anything more than a tiny fraction of what the country and its people have to offer. The last trip in May didn’t feel like travelling to a foreign country, more like re-visiting an old place familiar to me. It’s still a country that I’ve barely discovered, having been mostly to the big cities and touristy attractions, but I know that I can make my way through daily life there without too much difficulty.

Perhaps it’s a lack of maturity and experience on my part, perhaps insecurity as I question the importance of my existence in people’s lives, in society and in the grander scheme of things. I think- I know, that this move is probably something I need to break out of the rut I’ve been so used to occupying for the last 20+ years of my life. The rut was comfortable, it was familiar, it was safe, but what is life without dynamicism and adventure and unpredictability? I don’t want to settle for less than what I know I deserve, whether it’s people or the things I do in life. I have standards set for myself, and though I admit I have let go of myself considerably, I don’t want to continue down that path into what I consider as mediocre (for myself). Even if others don’t judge me, I judge myself, because I know I am capable of more, and I will achieve more.

There’s a cold hand twisting inside my chest and wrenching the muscle pumping life through me, and I will admit I have cried plenty when I’m alone at home, when nobody’s around to see. The last time I cried so hard was on my birthday when I was on exchange in America – my homestay parents had come by to pass me little bits of furniture like a lamp for my room, and a cake we’d baked together, and I don’t know what came over me but tears just started streaming down my face even as I fought to regain control and stop. I hate to cry, and even more so when there are people around to witness it. I try to be a master of my emotions, but I couldn’t then, and I’m afraid I won’t be able to at the airport when my friends and family send me off. I hope I don’t cry.

I’m not afraid of going forward, of what will come, because I know from experience that I am adaptable. What I am afraid of is that the relationships I have with people will change, possibly into something I don’t like or desire. I am afraid that I won’t be able to be there for people I want to be there for, that I won’t be able to pick up bodily cues that say “No, I’m not okay” when they say they are, that they won’t tell me things because I’m far away and may not be able to influence or change anything immediately. I’m afraid of missing events in their lives, both big and small, and that the distance will become permanent. This isn’t something new that I struggle with, but distance will only compound these fears.

Technology has made connecting with family and friends much easier, with Facebook, Whatsapp, Skype, Google Hangouts, and all other assorted forms of communication. The first time I travelled abroad on my own at the age of 15, I had to climb into the loft of a lodge in New Zealand to make staticky phone calls back home on a dinky little Sony Ericsson phone because that was the only place where we could get reasonable cell signal strength. I wasn’t the only one in the lodge either, so all 8-10 of us had to take turns climbing up the ladder in the cold mornings before the camp schedule started, or late at night after it’d ended and we had a little free time before lights out. Technology helps, but it’s still not the same as the richness of seeing someone in real life, how their hair gets played by stray streams of wind in the air, how the light falls on them and turns their eyelashes a golden brown, how you may accidentally step on their toes under the table, how they may spill a little drink on themselves and fret over whether it will leave a stain, how annoyed you get when they leave puddles of water in their wake as they step out of a shower, how they like to cover your phone with a thin layer of powder as they powder themselves, how you can take photos of them in their sleep as they lie sprawled across chairs or on the floor.. So many things.

My bags are almost all packed, but I still have a couple of days to go. I’m not yet gone, and I never will be gone completely (my sister will glare in agreement as she starts to clean up our room after I leave), but I miss everyone already.

Placement Information

My graduation trip in Japan ended yesterday, as I took a 7-hour flight overnight to touch down home at approximately 7AM. I have many feelings about the trip, but they’re not particularly relevant to this post.

I was checking my phone on the train to Roppongi from Shimokitazawa in the afternoon when I received news of my placement come August 4th.

Congratulations. I am writing to confirm that you have been selected as an ALT participant for this year’s JET Programme. You are assigned to Kobe-shi. Please be informed that the assigned placement cannot be changed.

Mixed feelings of relief and trepidation followed those few words – relief that I will be placed in a city, in one of the best placement positions possibly available, actually, but also trepidation because while my impression of Kobe included things like the ever-famous Kobe beef, castles, and it being Ueno Juri’s hometown (shoot me, I’m a fan), what loomed even bigger was the fact that it was where the main devastation occurred in the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake. Such feelings of uncertainty rumbled in my mind and collided with those about other matters closer to the heart, and it was with great relief that I collapsed asleep on a garden in Roppongi.

I have since made contact and done more research about Kobe, and it is now clear to me how incredibly lucky I am to have been placed there, with a huge network of fellow JETs to fall back on for support even as I leave the friends I’ve known for a decade, and family members I’ve had all my life. The excitement hasn’t really hit – I’m not the kind to be excited easily, I think. More of a worrywart and wet blanket as I mull over the difficulties I’ll face there and the challenges I may encounter, but this is tempered with a confidence I have in myself of being adaptable to new surroundings, and of being capable of taking care of myself. Taking care of myself well is a different matter altogether. Someone reminded me today that just because you’re in a new place with new friends doesn’t mean that you’ll become, or be able to become, a completely different person, and that it is important to understand the effects of what you do on the people around you.

This trial by fire into adulthood (dramatic, I know) is a good chance for me to change and grow up, to understand and push my limits, and perhaps to usher new people into my life who can show me things both wonderful and different to what I’ve known up to now.

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”
– 
Mahatma Gandhi

Watch over me, support me, and see how I’m going to change.