Saturday, January 06, 2007

happy new year!

There are lots of reasons I haven't been blogging recently, but I won't get into all that boring stuff. Instead I give you a post! I went back to Washington for the holidays, spent it with family, got to see snow! and hang out with my bro. This is written in the Seattle airport, waiting for my plane.

Due to miracles of traffic, check in, and security, it is 3am Tokyo time and I'm waiting to catch my plane. I won't get home until about 7pm. But now, while my battery and the coffee lasts, time for a few reflections.

Reverse Culture Shock

One of the interesting things about leaving where you live is realizing what you tell other people about. There are so many stories in the last year, far far too many to relate in a week in a half, so the characters (friends), places (settings) and events (plot of sorts) are all things that jump to mind quickest. I was surprised at who I was mentioning over and over and always surprised at what others are surprised at. The prices of things in Tokyo don't surprise me anymore so I found it funny to see my brother exclaim with outrage over things that cost 3 dollars, when that's the cost of a 12 oz cup of coffee to me.

I was also amused, though not surprised so much, by the banker. A woman who was certainly more than an untrained teller but rather a proper banker, dressed in a fuzzy sweater, flat unpolished shoes, bland jewelry. She looked fine in the context of the Northwest, but living in Japan has given me an appreciation for someone in a fitted suit. The look for working very different than one that you might wear to bake cookies with nieces and nephews, or meet a friend for coffee, or hang out in the library. The Japanese suit says, I'm working now. This is not for comfort or fun.

New Year's Eve.

Historically I've often had mediocre to miserable New Year's Eves. Last year in Seattle was fun but in the past this holiday was the setting of one of my most painful breakups and generally was a holiday where I couldn't get back in time to be with my friends or at the type of party I wanted, blah blah. So I don't have high expectations.

This year was also odd. Out in a Bellingham brewery with my New Yorker cousin and her dad and his girlfriend, surrounded by crunchy hippies, we watched a Christmas light covered keg lowered as the clock struck midnight. I think both my cuz and I felt a bit like a fish out of water as we scanned the crowd for hot guys and found lots of unkempt facial hair, some drugged out dancing, and a plethora of fleece jackets.
I sighed disappointedly as I explained to her, "I guess I've just grown accustomed to a certain level of grooming."
As if we were both exchange students who had traveled abroad so long that we didn't know which was home and which was a cultural study opportunity, we smiled at each other knowingly.

But the lack of attractive men was refreshing in some ways. I was worried that my standards in Tokyo had slipped drastically. I was worried that I became interested in anyone just because they shared some fraction of cultural identity (and therefore sense of humor and sense of respect) who spoke English. So when I scanned the crowd, 100% English speaking whities and found no one all that attractive, I breathed a little sigh of relief. While my standards may still be giving me troubles, Tokyo attracts attractive people and it's good to know that.

My cousin's dad, who I don't remember meeting before my mom's memorial service last year, looked at me intently. I suppose he's known me since birth, at least by reputation. I suppose he sees some of my mother in my skin. He looked at me as if rather than seeing me in the present moment, I was a collage of past and future. Pictures of the little girl with chubby baby cheeks superimposed on the future me, at my mother's age. It was a warm look but oddly uncomfortable. It made me feel as if I was borrowing someone else's skin and someone else's history. As if I wasn't really me but rather a montage of stories, snapshots, and other people's faces. And I suppose that is all I am some days, it's easy not to invent yourself but rather be a character in everyone else's life, I think. I didn't have the energy to yell above the music and prove myself to be someone complete in a wholly different way. I felt bad giving unsatisfying short answers but that was all I could muster in the moment.
I wished them happy new year with a smile but without a promise to keep in touch or pretend that we are family.

Later, back at home, my cousin and I raided the house for junk food. I told her that one of my New Year's resolutions was to be more girlie. To try a new image and see if I like it. See what happens if I try and re-invent myself a little again. Funny how both of us are trying so hard to be such well put together people in such formal places, despite our beautiful down to the earth hippy mothers and upbringings full of playing in the dirt and climbing trees like monkeys.


Joseph said...

:-) Re: different clothing standards. My sister graduated from Emory (in Atlanta) last year, so my family went out for the ceremony. Later that year I went to Jen's graduation. I dressed essentially the same way at both: long shorts and a t-shirt with a buttoned-down black shirt over it. Certainly not trying to be formal, but I don't think I was being particularly slobby, either.

I remember being quite underdressed at the Atlanta graduation, and overdressed at the Eugene one. Sort of drove home some cultural differences. My sister being who she is, though, of course ignored the prevailing standards and wore a sari and sandals under her robe.

It's funny, though -- we seem to have the opposite reaction. I've always appreciated the relaxed dress style in the Northwest -- I love that it's normal for people where I live to go to work (or the Hult Center) in a t-shirt and jeans, and I hate traveling to places where it's expected to wear formal (or even semi-formal) clothing to work. Fortunately for me, that's not a huge problem in my chosen profession.

SonicLlama said...

Welcome back!
It's been excruciating having to wear a suit everyday. I keep thinking to myself "what's wrong with business casual?" and then I realize that here in Japan there's no such thing as business casual.
Your description made me miss hippies, dammit. It's weird to think "wow, I haven't seen a hippy in almost three months." Weird. Eugene definitely skews one's expectations.
And yeah. We're all super hotties out here in Nihon. (/\_/\)