Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Honeymoon Period

When you move abroad, there is a honeymoon period, when everything is wonderful, when your adopted home's sh-- don't stink.

For the first three months or so, everything is bright and new to you. Things you would never accept in your own country become quaint, and you try to wholeheartedly embrace everything around you. You know, put on the kimono and learn ikebana (flower arrangement). Take up karate. Drink like a fish, while eating fried shrimp with the heads and legs still attached (damn legs get caught between your teeth something fierce. Makes your smile look like you're waving with your teeth!) Eat even stranger foods and say to yourself "I'm sure I'll like that, someday..." I still gag over natto (fermented soybeans - surely a food given by the gods to punish the unwary)...

During my honeymoon period, I reveled in taking the train at its most crowded, when they'd force people into the cars using padded bumpers. I didn't start work until 12, but I'd get up at 7am sometimes to catch a train, just because I could (not many trains in Colorado at that time - still not many, really)! Thank Godzilla, I'm above average height here, so it was the salaryman's head near my armpit and not the other way around (in revenge, my inner-Freud later developed train-phobia, and I couldn't ride for about 2 years without breaking into a sweat).

I ate all kinds of creepy crawlies, including freshly filleted shrimp, which would start twitching when you dipped them in the soy sauce... I went to as many festivals as I could find during those heady first months, mingled with the staring crowds (who'd often end up taking more pics of me than of the festival they'd come to see).

Now for some people, the honeymoon never ends. But for us real people there comes the 'Vegas divorce' period, when all you want to do is say ‘F--- the common property, gimme a paper to sign!’ You hate most of the stuff around you, you need other expats around you to let off steam (we used to do cruel caricatures and just bitch our hearts out). This is the time when people are most likely to hop on a plane home, then call in sick from Denver or Chicago (I just got a call from a nearby school district that’s looking for a replacement teacher, theirs took a powder).

But if you can work through the homesickness, you often begin to enjoy yourself in a much more realistic, satisfying way. Now you see the people, not moving mannequins, and begin to appreciate all the similarities, as well as understand and explore the differences (sounds like puberty, don't it?). This is when you make the deeper friendships, really invest yourself in them.

What’s surprises me, though, is that it’s often the anime, manga and cosplay* fans who are the most disappointed with real life here. Because, on the whole, it’s really not all that different than life back home (just a shitload more Spam-in-the-can crowded).

BTW, note to American self-described “Otaku”. That word is not in the slightest bit complimentary in Japan. Whenever I mention to my students how it’s used in the States, including one student who is herself a professional manga artist, they laugh in disbelief.

*anime - animation, cartoons
*manga - Japanese-style graphic novels and comic books
*cosplay - costume play, dressing up like characters of the above medium

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoy these posts Scott! I'd be curious to hear your perspective on the 'community consciousness' in Japan vs. our what's in it for me 'rugged individualism'.


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