Thursday, February 10, 2011

Excerpt from “The Pilgrimage”

I'm not sure how this book escaped my hands for so long, since I've known about it for quite sometime. May be because I might have not truly understood it before my journey.  But it's finally here and I'm reading it.

Excerpt from Paulo Coelho's "The Pilgrimage".  

“When you travel, you experience, in a very practical way, the act of rebirth.  You confront completely new situations, the day passes more slowly, and on most journeys you don’t even understand the language the people speak.  So you are like a child just out of the womb.  You begin to attach much importance to the things around you because your survival depends upon them.  You begin to be more accessible to others because they may be able to help you in difficult situations.  And you accept any small favor from the gods with great delight, as if it were an episode you would remember for the rest of your life.  At the same time, since all things are new, you see only the beauty in them, and you feel happy to be alive.”

This is it. My feelings put into words. This is how I felt when I traveled.

And now that life seems more settled: steady job, new circle of friends, same restaurants for dinner; I’m realizing...

I miss it!

It’s been less than a year since I got “off” the Road.  But now, the Road is calling me again...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

After conversation with my older brother in August of 2010

I finally broke the news to my brother.  I’ve been holding out on him because .......he doesn’t accept my world. My way of seeing life.  And I was afraid of his punishment.  Not in the physical sense, of course.  His judgment on my decision.  He is the realist of the family unlike the rest of us.  He sees the world very differently.  And it so difficult, if not impossible, to open up to him because immediately, a harsh and absolute judgment is followed.

Don’t misunderstand, I don’t think he’s wrong.  Not anymore.  Although, for many years I did.  When you are in your teens and even twenties, you think you know the world.  You think your truth is infallible.  No matter what your parents or elders say, you know that your truth is the right one.  I always thought this way.  And whenever I disagreed with my brother, I was sure, he was wrong and I was right.  What’s more, I didn’t want to open my mind to listen to what he had to say. 

But I know now, in his own world, in his universe, in his way of seeing life through his experiences, his truth is the right one as well.  It doesn’t negate my truth you see.  Because in my universe, I am also right. 

I told him I’m looking for a job in Japan.  I told him I want to live there for a few years.  I didn’t tell him why.  Because he wouldn’t listen.  I couldn’t explain because...............actually I don’t know why. 

And he was as adamant as ever.  I’m making a mistake. And one day, he’ll tell me “I told you so” as he has done before.  He told me of my responsibilities to my family.  I have to worry about mom and dad.  I have to take their feelings and sufferings into consideration.  He told me I have to think of myself.  I’m soon to pass the age of having children, he said.  That my lifestyle of living alone will take away the yearning for having a family. Did I actually think I could bring a Japanese man into the family if I found one in Japan?  He said I wouldn’t be able to.  He said he knows why I want to go to Japan.  Because I like how secluded society is and I want to become as closed as Japanese people are.  He said he noticed a difference in me.  When I lived by myself in New York, I became a closed-in individual and it was impossible to live with me, to have conversations with me.  That I am more fit to be a man than a woman.  He said he can never understand me or give me his blessing.  He just wished me luck.

It hurt. 
So bad! 

Mostly it hurt because I know that he was right.  Every word was true.  I finally listened.  All these years, when I tried to talk to him, I always knew ahead that we would disagree and I closed my ears to his arguments before he even uttered them.  But this time, I listened. 

What he didn’t realize was that I brought all these arguments before myself, oh so many times.  That I’ve lived with this guilt, oh so long.  That every day is a torture when I think I have to leave my family.  That I have to leave my mom who needs me near if not for physical then for purely psychological help of having someone she loves near.  That I have to break the news to my dad and make him think I am beyond hope for creating a family.  That every day, I become more and more closed-in because no one understands why I’m doing this.  That my desire for having a family might not be realized.  That instead of allowing myself to be a woman, finding a husband and raising children, I’m choosing a path of loneliness.  I have met foreign wives in Japan.  All in unison said how incredibly difficult it was for them to live there.  They had no voice.  They were conforming to society.  Slowly but surely, they were losing their opinions and wills.  Am I sure I want to do this.

I know so much more than he thinks I do.  He thinks I only have a fanatical and foolish desire.  He thinks I haven’t thought about this. 

Over and over and over again. 

What can I do?  Listen to his words spoken from his truth.  Stay in New York.  Find a steady job.  Marry a nice man.  Have children.  Visit my relatives on weekends.  Abandon my dreams.  May be in time, I’ll forget how it feels.  May be I’ll find another brand of happiness.  No one said I have to be unhappy here.

But when I think of this alternative reality, my heart, my soul, my whole being explodes.  The pain is so acute it’s physical.  The aching seems eternal.  It has no beginning and no end.  It consumes me completely. 

But I think the real truth is this.

When I was in Japan, up in the northern parts of Honshu, I met a couple.  Although I stayed with Scott and Masako only a few days, I feel their presence in my life all the time.  Their stories and words of wisdom bring peace to my disturbed mind.  Masako said this to me, “If you were to die tomorrow. Perish.  Vanish from the face of the earth.  Would your family find the will and way to go on?”  How egoistical and selfish of me to think they wouldn’t.  “Of course they would” I said.  “Then let them go.  You don’t have to be their guardian angel all your life. You can find your own happiness, on your own terms.” 

This was a revelation.  I always thought of myself as an extension of my family.  I’ve been taking care of my family for so long, I don’t know how to live life otherwise.  Financially, psychologically, physically, spiritually, I was always there in some way, shape or form.  To think of myself as a separate individual…..that was shattering the fundamentals of my being.  But, oh how true those words were. 

When my parents were going through divorce, they found me to be a perfect middleman.  They poured out their pain and heartache to me.  They made me go between one and the other to deliver messages of suffering.  When my brothers needed large sums of money, it was me to whom they turned.  I was seven when my younger sister was born.  I felt she was my baby.  Not my mom’s. Mine.  I went through life making sure no harm ever came to her.  How silly!  I bought her material things she wanted, I made sure she knew I was there for her no matter what.  When my older brother needed a place to crash for a few weeks, adamantly I agreed to let him move in.  I knew he wouldn’t leave.  I told him that, when he stepped through the doorway.  He stayed.  I realized, everything I’ve done in my life, when I thought I was helping my family, all of this was to satisfy my ego.  To feel that I was a good daughter, a good sister.  But because I always took care of everyone, my family members weren’t able to open their own wings.  Through my care, I kept them grounded.  And through that care, I tied myself to them so strong, we became one. 

And now, when I’m trying to pry free, my brother and my parents are feeling this pain.  I feel it too. 

But this time, I won’t stop.  Whether Japan is a fanatical desire with no substance, I don’t know.  And I may still hear my brother say “I told you so.”  But I won’t let my ego keep me here anymore.  I’m leaving.  

I’m letting my family and myself grow up.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

More tales of travel: Okinawa

It’s been too long since my last entry.  I’ve traveled rest of Japan, came back to US, lived in Canada for a month, returned to Connecticut, and now back in Japan…… all since my last entry back in February.  Why did I stop writing?

Somewhere along the way, I lost my inspiration.  Don’t get me wrong, I still loved the road; Japan still made my head spin; I still smiled whenever I met strangers and still held my breath whenever I saw something beautiful.  But I was no longer traveling alone.  I was blessed with road companions who are among my closest friends.  Traveling with them made the roads shorter and the nights full of laughter.  However, traveling with others took away the time of self-reflection which was essential to my writing.  Traveling with my friends took away the loneliness, which was my inspiration in the first place.  Before, I could sit anywhere: park, train station, host’s house, restaurant or street bench and write; but with friends, the time of self-refection shortened to a few minutes at night right before falling asleep.  

Nevertheless, I would like to share with you the rest of my original journey. 

I left you hanging back in February with the last story of Thailand.  January 21st I flew back to Tokyo, where after spending the night at a domestic airport and sleeping on the benches, I took a flight to Ryukyu Islands aka Okinawa. 

The Ryukyu Islands were once an independent state called the Ryukyu Kingdom.  It was populated by indigenous people who spoke their own distinct language and followed their own customs and traditions.  At one point, China claimed the islands for their own.  Then came Japan with an equal claim.  Finally, less than 150 years ago, The United States allowed Japan to “plant its stake” and declared the islands Japanese. 

The Ryukyuan people suffered a great loss during WWII when the Americans overtook the main island in order to use it as a base to get to the main island of Japan.  After the end of WWII, the United States took over the island to maintain its presence at the Pacific. 
Finally they returned it to Japan 40 years ago. 

Although, there are still many American bases on Okinawa Island, the locals have long gotten used to them.  Okinawa and its many surrounding smaller islands are popular vacation destinations for main-island Japanese.  The locals do not consider themselves Japanese and many still speak the original language. 

The largest population of centennials live on Okinawa.  They say it is the combination of lifestyle and diet that keeps them going for so long.  They eat fish, rice, seaweed and goya.  They live in close communities where families take care of each other.  There are many grandmas to one child, and many grandchildren to one grandparent.  Everyone is a family.  Sustaining close relationships keeps them going way past 100 years old. 

The island is stunningly beautiful.  It’s long south to north and very narrow west to east.  The drive north along the shore is magnificent.  The color of the water is purest greenish-blue.  The small towns feel quaint and cozy.  The people are smily are friendly.  No one is in a rush.  Busses are late (which is unheard of on the main island).  It’s an island life.

I stayed in Naha, the capital of Okinawa for two weeks before finally setting out around the island.  Through my sister, I found an American girl who was teaching English in a town nearby, and quickly we became friends.  I stayed with her for almost a week while touring the island.  We went out with her students at night, explored the gardens of Naha in the south, cooked home food for each other and spend lots of time talking.  NiQui was very happy on Okinawa.  She found a job she cherished, she acquired close friends with whom she felt happy, and there was a prospect of a relationship in the works.  Her smile was unobtrusive, contagious and sincere.  When she laughed, people around her burst in fits of giggles.  She had a feel of a person who knew what happiness was.  And that was immensely attractive.

When the day to say good bye came, I was sad to part but having these new memories felt good and I was happy to have met her.

I was going back to Naha to meet a friend.  He was flying from New York to spend a week in Japan.  To check-up on me and to learn about a new culture. 

The first couple of days, we spent exploring the southern part of the island.  We found ourselves strolling through the streets of Naha talking about our lives and fulfillment.  We explored the famous Gyokusendo Cave, which is one of the longest natural caves in Japan.  And eventually, our feet led us to a pier where we took a boat to a remote Tokashiki Island. 

Tokashiki Island is very small. There are only four towns, two on each coast and they are separated by mountains.  Strolling through empty streets, hiking up in the mountains, swimming in crystal blue waters, we were always alone.  There was not a soul in sight.  Every once in a while, we’d run into a local, they’d share a big smile with us and we parted ways.  We came to Tokashiki off-season and that was our luck.  Complete serenity, peace and silence were in abundance. 
On the way to our town
 Our beach

After exploring most of the island’s hiking paths and swimming in the ocean to our content, we finally left.  My friend was going back to US and I was bound for Kyushu.  The plan was to visit my friend Sumire, whom I met during my last days in Japan back in November and then move forward to the main island.