It all started many years ago. The year was 1997 and I was a college freshman.
The breeze of freedom was blowing through my short, dark-brown hair, inflating my ego, and draping me in firm belief that the world is at my feet and anything is possible.
I was living in the most popular freshman dorm on campus. Its name required no explanation; everyone knew “The Jungle”. Officially it was called “North Campus” nevertheless even the most stringent professors called it by its true identity.
The first week on campus was rigidly observed therefore drinking commenced every night. Drinking games would vary from day to day but the end result was one: getting shitfaced. The games were an effective tool for nervous freshmen to relax and get to know each other because as we all know during these rituals, people are particularly susceptible to accepting others, even those who are quite different from the majority.
About a third or fourth day into our college “initiation”, during one of particular fun games, an Asian girl walked into my room. She was beautiful, drunk, funny and Japanese. Her name was M.
M and I clicked straight away and quiet soon we spent a lot of time together. I told countless stories about Russia; what it was like growing up in Soviet Union; what it felt like to watch history unfold in front of my own eyes; what it was like to see friends’ bullet wounds; what the black and red caviar tasted like; what the negative 30C temperature felt like and so many more. And of course she shared her stories. Her life in Japan, Brazil and US. Her experiences being born to parents who travel throughout the world most of their lives; being born to a Japanese family with no male heirs; being a middle sister and observing certain Japanese traditions. She was teaching me the language, the culture, the music. We took a karate class together and soon became quite good. Our sensei (teacher) would always set us against each other in sparring to teach us humility.
Slowly, Japan started to consume me. I was fascinated with everything. Language, food, music, people, facial features, culture, nature, social standards, etc. I dreamt of one day finally seeing Japan.
Throughout our college years, we stayed very close friends. I saw M go through many changes. Got to know her family through emails, letters and packages. Was there for her when she had a particular bad break-up and was there for her when she finally met her future husband. Time flew and in 2000, M graduated. We found it difficult to stay in touch while being away from each other and slowly we grew apart. My feelings towards Japan swooned away and became dormant. Soon I graduated and “real life” took over. Family, full time job, bills and steady boyfriend became priority. Life was setting a steady course for a “normal life” with sound friends, decent paycheck and weekends on a local beach.
Fast forward to 2005. I received a call from a college friend - S. He worked for a reputable investment bank in New York City, however his life plans were about to drastically change and he was looking for replacement. S was leaving US to travel throughout South America and South-East Asia. His trip was to be one year. People thought he must have acquired quiet a wealth to undertake such trip but real vagabonds know how little it actually takes to travel. I was thoroughly jealous of his adventure but realized that I am at the front gates of my own brand new adventure. I was offered the job within the bank and moved to New York City!
To be continued…