I suppose my easy contentment is due in part to a monkish tendency toward self-denial and an avoidance of overindulging. For example, I don't shop much, so when I do buy even the simplest things, I can become unnaturally gleeful over, say, new underwear with multicolored frolicking whale print--oh, come on, don't tell me that doesn't sound wonderful. Indeed, before I got married, my most sophisticated argument against the institution of matrimony was: would you really want to eat chocolate cake every day, at every meal, for the rest of your life?--my fair choice of chocolate cake indicating that it was possible to have too much of even this ultimate treat. Incidentally, I don't see my husband that often because he's always working (he's a "salaryman"), so in my case, marriage is more like chocolate cake every weekend for the rest of my life, which sounds pretty good to me.
This doesn't mean I don't know how to go all out when a fleeting opportunity presents itself. So while I was in Canada last week--mostly Vancouver and a little Whistler--it was Nostalgia Fest 2005 and I did my best to savor all the things one wouldn't find in Japan, and in the process found myself thrilled anew by things I'd forgotten and would have missed, were I the missing type.
What did I enjoy? Uh oh, I feel an unordered list coming up.
- cars stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks -- that's right, they stopped for me. Every time. The first time this happened, I was torn between awe and an arrogant realization of my own pedestrian power. In Japan, this sort of thing just doesn't happen. If you're thinking of coming to this country or you're new here, please do NOT attempt a zebra crossing if there are any approaching vehicles. I think the Ministry of Public Works just had extra cash to burn at the end of the fiscal year and thought some road fresco would look pretty because that cute stripy pattern holds no meaning for Japanese motorists.
- hanging out with old friends, watching videos but not really watching because you're too busy laughing and talking at an annoyingly loud volume (having lived in Japan about four years now, I'd forgotten just how loud and annoying I can be).
- whole wheat bread -- I *love* whole wheat bread, the denser and heartier the better, but unfortunately it is a rare commodity in Japan owing to the Asian palate's preference for light, white, fluffy stuff. I completely stunned my friend's mom and later overheard her relaying my plight to a flock of Canadian ladies--"[collective gasp] No whole wheat bread?" And, violins.
- the tap water -- at the risk of gushing, I need to shout out: Canadian tap is the best water I've ever had! I'm one of those stingy types who refuses to pay for bottled water, so I guess I have no right to complain, but frankly, the tap water in Japan is pretty well chlorinated (the first few times I leaned into my water glass, I was instantly transported to the rec center swimming pool of my childhood). In contrast, the water in Vancouver is so good it actually tastes sweet.
Well, those were the big mentions. I know, you're probably blinking and saying to yourself, "Friends, bread, water... that's it? What kind of sad person is this?" What can I say? I'm a simple woman with simle tastes. Just call me Brother Rachel.
If you're still not convinced, I should explain that Vancouver used to be home, from the time I was nine until I left at seventeen. I didn't really need to do the whole tourist circuit this time round. I wanted merely to see the plain, everyday things I'd left behind. I remember when some friends and I stepped into a Safeway supermarket my first day back, I shouted out ecstatically, "Oh, this smell!" and earned us a look from a nearby lady. It wasn't good or bad, just a smell that once used to mean supermarket to me. There were so many basic things I'd completely forgotten about Vancouver: how high the trees loomed, the sight of the mountains encircling the city, skies so overcast you could believe you'd never see the sun ever again, the old lady statue seated on a bench in Stanley Park, Burnaby, Lonsdale Market, Mmmuffins, Caramilk bars--a mix of the extraordinary and ordinary, but nothing that had entered my thoughts in over a decade.
I'm afraid I wasn't born with the roomiest cerebrum and I simply don't have the shelf space for mental knick-knacks that clutter up the place. Things that can't be immediately used are ruthlessly gathered up and buried in some hole, unlikely to ever see light again. I was trying to explain to a friend, who was shocked at how much I'd forgotten, that because I've moved around a lot, I simply can't afford to cling to what I leave behind or I'd never be able to deal with the present. She accused me of being uncaring, but I think I'm just pragmatic.
For example, seeing my friend, whose marriage I had gone to Canada to attend, was for me, a bittersweet experience. We hadn't met in years, and I was glad that despite all the time that had passed, she still considered me a good enough friend that she wanted me to be her matron of honor. But having to eventually say good-bye to her reminded me that we live in separate worlds. We might email and even meet again, but we'll never be a part of each other's lives the way we were when we used to live in the same town.
In Japan, I know Japanese people my age but they're my husband's friends, they will never be mine. I don't know if it's the language or something else, but no matter how many times we meet, there is a gap that seems unbreachable. The people I do consider my friends are foreigners and I've yet to meet one who intends to live here forever. Eventually, everyone wants to go home. I could be disturbed by this. I could miss every friend I have ever said good-bye to and think, I'll never have friends like that again. But what would be the point?
Maybe I come across as hard-hearted but I learned a long time ago the value of letting go and not looking back. So maybe I don't care as much as I used to about anyone or anything, but unfortunately I'm more at peace for it.