I’m a loner and I know it. I’ve come to accept and appreciate it.
To me, it is a synonym of liberty and independence. I don’t depend on anyone to make choices and decisions, it is all up to me to do or not do something. No unpredictable element in the equation, I do the math as I go along.
I have never really thought of what it must seem like from the outside and today I got a taste of it. I didn’t think I seemed as unapproachable (more in like, ‘she doesn’t seem like she wants anyone to hang out with her’) as I was but I have to face it. I understand that this is what it seems like.
I’m coming onto this exchange with a suitcase of experience and a year of « do and don’t » firmly pressed onto my brain. I know my way around things and unfortunately, I did become this bitter person that does not get as excited as newcomers since I’ve « already seen it. » So I’ve built this nice image of this French loner that can speak Japanese and does things on her own, and y’a know, we better let her because she seems like she has no interests in hanging there.
Which I did not interpret like that. I was more eager to do things on the next level. I’m looking forward travelling in East Asia and do not put as much importance on Japan as I used to. I’ve seen most of the big cities (even though, there is much left to discover) and I kind of shrug maybe a bit heartlessly the idea of seeing other Japanese cities. It doesn’t coordinate well with the ideas of other exchange students and I guess I found it easier to distance myself rather than be that person « Tokyo? Yeah, not a big fan, not sure it’s worth going there » when it could be someone’s else dream.
I don’t know, I feel like I’d be the perfect party pooper because I cannot seem to get excited for what I used to get excited about 3 years ago.
I guess I need to let it go? But at the same time, I cannot put away the fact that I want to speak Japanese and use what I learned. After all, came all the way through here to be immersed in Japan, not in an international expat settings… I guess I came with a different set of expectations.
I was thinking about that lately. What do I like about Japan? There is a lot I criticize and university gives me a hard time to free my mind and let some positive things come through my mood filter.
I guess the atmosphere, in general, has something special. This way of living (even though a lot of what I loved in this ‘harmonious society’ hides ugly, ugly personal sacrifices) where everything seems to flow perfectly together, where service is smooth and smiles are thrown to customers.
Maybe what touches me the most is how people are ready to get out of their way for others. I was walking around and walked up some mountains to visit a temple. A working monk who was gathering some wood sticks stopped to take the time to show me around the temple, ensuring I would see the best view, understand the history of the place and so on. He went to pick up a picture that recently came out in the newspapers. An old picture found from WW2 of one of the statues of the temple before the bomb exploded in Nagasaki. He also gave me some of the nuts he gathered and put outside to dry. He told me to wait a few weeks for them to dry and then eat them.
He could have just said hello and go on with his work. But he stopped, took the courage to see if I was speaking Japanese and went totally out of his way to share his time.
Same thing happened to a further temple. A lady saw me, surprised to find someone in this remote area (in one of the valleys of the numerous hills of Nagasaki) and she brought me to a little cave where a shrine was erected. Water was coming out of the rock and she told me that the temple had completely burned down because of the atomic bomb, and the damage done to the rock made the water came out. Since there was water shortage after the bomb, the city was dying of thirst and many people walked up the mountain to look for water. Most of them died along the way or before reaching the remaining of the temple. The bones were gathered and the temple was rebuilt, with many more souls to remember.
Nagasaki is full of history, may it be from hundreds of years ago or decades. It never stops.
These people went out of their way for a stranger, sharing a smile and a few words to a totally different culture.
This is what I love and this is a concept that always surprises me. It is common to be treated as a rarity here, and be different just for not being Asian*. May it be through positive discrimination (where your Japanese is the most wonderful thing ever heard just by the sound of your skewed « konnichiha ») or negative one (if you thought people didn’t sit next to you in the train because they’re nice, think again)(or if they just stare and refuse to talk to you/acknowledge you can speak Japanese), it is sometimes rare to experience an interaction that feels genuine.
I think that now that I can speak Japanese better day by day, I am craving these kinds of experience even more. I want to talk to people about their stories, the surroundings, without mentioning my « non-Asianness » or where I’m from* or how well I’m holding chopsticks.
I want to get past that stage and have real interactions. Even though courses in Japanese are harsh, I am trying to soak up the vocabulary learned and it’s a giant satisfaction to remember the words and use them. (and sound very smart when you’re talking about the ‘policy of that government’ or even the ‘influence of national language on minor ethnic groups’)(not that I talk about it often but y’a know, in case of!)
So it does feel like I am here with different expectations and it is weighing me down in regards to the other exchange students. I’m not the fun French to hang out with and I look very distant.
You can’t satisfy everyone but I guess I could work a bit on my social side because having friends won’t hurt uh? And Japanese friends are great, but they won’t relate 100% to what it is to live in Japan as a foreigner, and some compassion might not hurt.
Now I just need to be a bit more open and maybe also more forgiving. I cannot hold people to expectations I myself do not fill, and I need to remember that people are people.
No one is perfect, and you gotta embrace what works and what doesn’t.
Without pushing away the world when it doesn’t work.
*how nice is it to have the tables turned uh? When we put people apart for not being white? When we blame it on people not ‘integrating’ in Western society and we hold them to expectations that they do not meet to easily point the finger?