Better Late Than Never
It’s a well-known fact that 84% of life’s bad decisions begin and end with alcohol. And by “a well-known fact” I actually mean “fabricated data.” Still, I think the point stands. It’s incredible what a little bit of sauce can lead you to believe is a good idea. For some, it could be opening a bar, getting married, or even throwing tomato slices at the wall of a Subway (not naming names here). In this particular case, the stupid decision in question is writing a blog. And it’s hanami in Japan (cherry blossom viewing week), so I’ve had a few.
If you don’t know why writing a blog is a stupid decision, then I suppose you’ve never heard the terms “supply and demand” or “market saturation,” or that you simply aren’t aware that there are literally (I honestly have no idea if this is literally correct or just an inappropriate use of the word) millions of blogs on the internet. To put it bluntly, people have better things to do with their time than read what I have to say.
But I’m going to say it anyways, because sake.
I initially wanted to write a travel blog, imagining it would be filled with unequivocally positive and fun things. Crazy pictures of strange seafood dishes and Kit Kat flavours, sycophantic cherry blossom worship, and rambling about Japanese history. Well, that idea died pretty quick.
You see, there’s no shortage of travel blogs and articles that are constantly shared on Facebook. It’s a byproduct of a generation that stresses the pursuit of passion over financial success or stability. No judgement here. I have a history degree and want to write books for a living. I mean seriously. The problem with many of these articles is that they are so overtly positive that they don’t really prepare you for the reality of what it means to leave your old life behind – even temporarily – and start fresh.
When I decided to move to Japan, I knew that I needed a change. A monumental change. I knew that logically and objectively. But somewhere along the way reality sank in and kicked me in the teeth. The next thing I knew I was standing in line at airport security so close to breaking down that I forget how to take off my belt while surly TSA employees glared at me with big scary unibrows.
I’m ashamed to say that the first two or three days I spent in Japan were among the most stressful and anxiety-filled in recent memory. Which is saying something because recent memory hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park for me.
A year really isn’t a long time in the larger scheme of things, but when you find that the people and things you’re dependent on are suddenly all but severed, you may as well be on Mars (I watched The Martian on the plane ride over). For all of the excitement that I’d felt in the months leading up to the move, here I was, barely capable of getting out of bed let alone exploring the country that would be my home for the next year-plus. If someone had offered me a plane ticket home in those first couple of days, I honestly think I would have taken it if it weren’t for the fact that I would be letting so many people down.
That probably bothered me the most. I had this incredible opportunity which I wouldn’t have had without the support of so many people, and I wanted to quit.
"84% of life’s bad decisions begin and end with alcohol"
This is the kind of thing that you don’t hear often about a life changing experience like this. It really, really sucks at first (at least, for people with a similar personality to myself). For some people – maybe even most people – this is a no brainer already and I’m just being Captain Obvious.
I even knew it would be difficult, but I think when you find yourself at the brink of failure half of the terror you feel just comes from surprise at how truly unprepared you were for that particular challenge. Or maybe my ego is just really inflated.
But really, even though the fear of letting all those people down filled me with self-loathing for a couple of days, I’m glad that it did. It stopped me from backing out of what’s been an incredible journey so far.
Again, I’m not going to sugar-coat things. It’s not like a few months in a new country has been enough to build what I had at home. It would be overly generous to say that my Japanese level is basic; one of my closest friends is a matte black bicycle affectionately referred to as Bruce; and I want turkey so badly I would shoot and pluck one myself if they had turkeys or guns here (this from someone who thinks turkeys are terrifying). But amidst all of these day-to-day problems there’s a value to be gleaned that is even greater than the sheen of beautiful temples and scenic views.
The value comes in the small pleasures – oh, how cliché. Cutting someone off on my bicycle like a local (now that I’m a cyclist I can confirm that 100% of them are scumbags), walking by a group of hopelessly lost foreigners at the train station, or understanding a word that I didn’t understand yesterday. All tiny pleasures that remind me that I didn’t quit. That I’m still here, and even if I decide to go home after a year, I’ve done what I can to make the best of it.
It’s 1am, and I’m watching The Last Samurai for probably the hundredth time. Some things don’t change. It’s not as though picking up and leaving Canada transformed me. I still watch more Netflix than any person should – if they ever introduce a limit on the number of hours per day you can watch it will be entirely my fault. If there’s any change from who I was in January, it has taken hold too gradually for me to perceive. But the problems I’m facing have changed, and for once, I chose them myself.
Nothing ever seems to work out quite according to plan. There are too many variables to account for. Too many things that pack a bigger punch in the moment than they do in the imagining. It is a humbling feeling to open yourself up to the risk of failure and very nearly fall to that risk. In my case, it’s worked out well, and I look back at those first few weeks here and wonder how everything could possibly have felt so bleak. But things could have gone differently. I fell flat on my face, and instead of getting up, I very well could have sunk further.
If someone asked me now if they should do something similar to what I’ve done, what would I say?
Like 84% of blogs, probably nothing useful.
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