So I spent a long weekend in New York. Hubby currently has a job there so it was a quick visit to see him. Of course we have been married forever and in typical unromantic form, he failed to take any days off. So I had a couple of days on my own to fill and somehow that was not a problem. The weather was just beautiful and it was great to walk around in flip flops and complain of being hot.
I did some serious damage at my two favourite shops and saw lots of friends old and new. Saturday night, one of my friends from college organised a dinner and a bunch of us got together. We all went to school together and some I’ve known for 35 years. My that makes me feel old. But the upside to all this ageing is having history with people. We don’t keep up on a regular basis although thanks to Facebook, I keep up with some better than others but every time we see each other, we just fall into a very easy dialogue. It’s just great that I have these friends and great that we still get together after all these years. The funny thing is, there have been gaps of years with some of them, I guess these things happen when you know each other over 30 years but then we just pick up again.
So on the one hand, there was much catching up and on the other, I met someone I was introduced to on Facebook through a mutual friend. It really didn’t feel like we had never met, we sat and chatted for 2 hours in Starbucks and didn’t run out of things to say. The truly astounding thing is, her best friend lived on my floor freshman year. How is that for a coincidence? We did not go to the same school and are no where near each other in age and yet… This year has been filled with so many people coincidences that I am no longer surprised. The world seems vast but in fact it is one global village.
I kept meaning to take photos of all the delicious food I had but I’d forget and eat it. I could never be a food blogger. I would say the highlights of my food trip were the two meals I had at Candle Cafe, a vegan restaurant around the corner from where hubby lives. I’m not vegan but I am dairy free and he is veggie so it was a good compromise. I had a wheat free brownie sundae with coconut ice cream. How great does that sound? On the opposite end of the spectrum, I had a 1 pound lobster for lunch at Chelsea Market. That and a couple of American size martinis made my weekend.
Now I’m back home and dealing with the mountains of things I have to do. But the sun is shining and I can’t complain. Life is good.
I am writing this in the midst of jet lag. In the last week, we have flown from Honolulu to Providence and have come home to London. It’s a lot of flying and frankly, airports are pretty much the same everywhere so we tend to identify them by what we ate there. It was a 5 week holiday and the theme was family.
For many years now, we have made the trip to Honolulu every summer. My sister and her family live there and my parents come in from Tokyo so it’s a family vacation for my side of the family. This means that while I am in a gorgeous setting with people I love, there is always drama. As my parents have grown older and less independent, the amount of arranging and negotiating that happens every year has increased. This year, with my dad still recuperating from heart surgery coupled with my mom’s fear of doing anything on her own meant that they needed constant attention. I tried to be philosophical about it but I must admit, there were times when I regretted going. My sister works full time and they aren’t on vacation while we are there so the burden fell on me to keep my parents entertained. Add to that two young adult children who are used to living their own lives thrust into a situation where they had to be with each other for long periods – more drama. I know I could have been far more gracious about it, but you can only do what you can do. I hope my parents went home thinking they had a nice holiday.
I also realized that in addition to a generation gap, my mom and I also have a major culture gap. I was raised mostly in the States and haven’t lived in Japan all that much. So while I consider myself Japanese, apparently my thinking is not typical. This led me to being frustrated with my mom’s inability to just come out and say what she wants whereas she thought she was being totally forthright. As far as I was concerned, she was being forthright at all the wrong times and not where it mattered. We were able to have some chats about this which is a first in our relationship. Maybe I’m finally growing up.
But I do realize that every year we get together we come away with shared experiences and memories. The joys and frustrations of being with family are what keep me connected. When you move as much as we have, home is not a location, it is wherever your family happens to be. Mine is messy, crazy and wonderful. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Well here it is, almost the next weekend so I’d better talk about last weekend before it’s too late to bother. I went to NY for 5 days last week to attend my 30th college reunion. It is the first time I have gone to a reunion on campus, the last one was my 5th and we didn’t go to the official one, just a party held off campus which pretty much put me off going to any future ones.
I am still friends with my freshman year room mate and together with another friend we signed up for the same events so we were guaranteed to know people. The first event was a joint cocktail party with our counterparts across the street. They have since gone co-ed but back in the day, our college was all women, theirs, all male. I recognized some people but in a vague, “oh you look familiar” kind of way. Then I saw someone that I genuinely liked but hadn’t seen in 30 years. It was great catching up with her and seeing that she was still the very nice person I remembered. And that’s the thing about reunions. People are still fundamentally who they are 30 years later. So chances are, if you didn’t like them in college, you’re not going to all of a sudden find you have so much in common that you’ll become besties.
The next night was our class dinner, kind of the same deal, we each stuck with the friends we knew from college and it was lovely to see people whom I genuinely liked. But it was going to an event the next day which made me realize why I love my old school. The talk was on the school’s ongoing effort to be more global and while listening to current students present, I reconfirmed that I went to a great school that continues to do great things. The young women were so articulate and passionate about their experiences, that I was proud to be associated with them and happy to be involved with the school.
This weekend was also my reunion with NYC. I can’t remember the last time I was alone in the city. I saw many friends outside of the reunion but I stayed in a hotel by myself. It was the world’s smallest hotel room so there wasn’t a huge incentive to stay in the room itself when I wasn’t sleeping. So I spent the time I wasn’t seeing friends walking around the city. Well specifically the Upper West Side since I only made it downtown once. It is remarkable how little the demographic has changed since I last lived there in the 80′s. It continues to be multi generational with a heavy emphasis on families. Although I don’t remember quite as many strollers in my day but I do remember hordes of toddlers.
Okay this is turning into a rambling account so I’ll stop here. But since I’m in the midst of so much change and newness, this weekend gave me the perfect opportunity to stop and look back on the person I used to be 30 years ago. I don’t know that myself 30 years ago would recognize the me today. I think even back then, I thought things would happen, it just took 30 years for the time to be right. Hey some of us are slower than others. But then, it’s all about the journey, isn’t it?
I get this question a lot. It was a question that was never asked until I moved to London. I grew up partly in Japan and the States so my English is very American. So when I lived in the States, people just assumed my parents were immigrants and in Japan, of course I sound native so no one ever questioned it.
But when people first meet me here, they try to place the accent, the body language; all cultural cues to figure out where I belong. And that’s where the problem begins. Because although my English is American, I am not, nor do I consider myself to be American. But from having lived so long in the States, my body language is very western, so I do not come across as a Japanese woman of a certain age either. So people ask me where in the States I am from or whether I am Canadian. I tell them I am Japanese from Tokyo and doubt is just written all over their face. Now really, why would I lie about a thing like that? I’ve managed to condense my life experience into, “I was born in Japan and spent a lot of time in the US”. That seems to satisfy most casual inquiries. If I am getting to know you as a friend, then the story would get fleshed out in further conversations.
The thing is, while we were living in the States, I pretty much identified with America as that’s where I had spent most of my schooling. But as I am now 13 years out of the States, I identify more and more with Japan, a country that is my spiritual home regardless of how much or how little time I have spent there. And now with my crusade to bring Japanese cooking into the homes of London, I’ve started thinking a lot about things I’ve taken for granted and comparing and contrasting my experiences with Japanese and western food.
But that’s another post.
What is home? When you’re an expat, I think home is more of a concept than a location. In my case, that location tends to change with some regularity. When I was growing up, every 5 years, my dad would get transferred, from Japan to the States and then back. The last time was when I was 16 and I stayed, going onto university, meeting and marrying my husband and having two kids. My parents did another posting during that time but I had a family of my own by then, so as far as I was concerned, my home was in America with my husband and two kids.
Just when I was thinking I should apply for citizenship, my husband gets transferred to Japan. Go figure. So off we go for what was supposed to be a 2 year posting which turned into 4 years. It was great exposing the kids to the other half of their culture. It made me appreciate the country that was my heritage. I had the unique experience of being able to see my country both from the inside and the outside. I met expats who had lived in Japan longer than I had, a little disconcerting for both of us.
We would go home to the States every summer, see friends and family, renew our ties with our community, go visit the house we were renting out in our absence and generally feel that our status overseas was temporary. We would soon come “home”.
Then, we added a third country to the mix. My husband took a job in London and we moved to a country that was unfamiliar to both of us. At least we spoke the language, but just barely as everything else was as different as can be. It’s been 9 years now, and we have no plans of leaving.
Of course, my husband has added yet another country to the ever expanding list of places we live, he took a job in Prague and we now have a commuting lifestyle. The kids have rolled with the punches and they appreciate the upbringing they have had. When I was younger, I wanted for my kids, exactly what I didn’t have, a house that was home for as long as they could remember. It didn’t quite work out that way, but on Sunday, as I was approaching Heathrow after a weekend in Prague, I had the distinct feeling of coming home. So maybe this is it, this is home for me.