Tuesday, August 30, 2011

the lady at the store

Last week, we had a moving day at work. We were moving our office one station away, and a few coworkers and I sort of went back and forth to carry things to the new office. The new office is pretty rad. It's a tiny, cozy space surrounded by cool temples and nature and right across from a preschool so you can enjoy hearing little kids happily chirp and shriek through the window glass as you work. We all liked it the moment we saw it.

Excited as I was, there was also a bit of sentiment. Moving is sentimental because you are usually leaving something, somebody, somewhere you've come to know pretty well behind. I knew I would miss our old office, an aged Japanese-style house. I would miss hiking up the hill every morning. I would miss sitting down on the tatami mattresses and even the spiders and moths who quite peacefully shared the space with us. 

There was another thing I would miss: that convenience store down the hill. It was basically the only store where we could buy lunch unless we wanted to eat at an ancient-looking Chinese restaurant nearby every day. Though I would usually bring my own lunch, it was pretty much my habit and rare chance of exercise to go down to the store to get something--tea, juice, ice cream, sweets, chips, anything.

There was this lady who was always there around lunchtime, a skinny woman with long, dark hair, with a charming smile, probably around ten years older than me. She was already a pleasant cashier the first time I saw her, but in the weeks and months that followed, we had slowly warmed up to each other. Now when she saw me coming in, she smiled a bit more widely than usual. I could hear a bit extra friendliness in her hello. I'm sure I did the same; I smiled bigger and said thank you more enthusiastically when I received the change and left. On every visit, I would glance around to see if she was working and was a bit disappointed if she wasn't.

On the moving day, before I stopped by for the last time at our now-former office to fetch some things, I went into the store to get coffee. I was hoping the lady was there, but at the one open cashier was an elderly lady who was also pleasant but not to the point of the friendliness I shared with the younger lady. Disappointed, I stood behind the guy who was paying; then, my favorite lady came out from the staff room like a blast of wind (well, not really, she just trotted out happily) and called out to me from the other cashier, "Next, please!"

We grinned and she scanned my coffee. "One fifty," she said. I paid. As she gave me back the change, I blurted out, "We're moving the office to the next station, so I won't be able to come here anymore." The truth is that I could still come here, but somehow, it felt as if it was truly the last time to see her.

She looked a bit surprised, but then the smile returned and she said, "Oh, really? Where did you work?"
"Up the hill. You know, you go straight by the bakery and make a left at the temple, then up the long stairs."
"Oh yeah, I know what you're talking about."
"Yeah, but we're moving a station away. Guess I have to find another convenience store."
"Will you be closer to the beach?"
"Kind of. We are near the temple."
"Oh, I see."
We were smiling at each other. A customer was waiting behind me.
"Well," she said. "Goodbye, then. Good luck with your work."
"Thank you. I'll see you around."

As I walked out the door, I realized it was the first real conversation we had ever had. Until then our interaction had been strictly limited to business without a single case of small talk. We still knew we recognized and maybe even slightly looked forward to seeing each other. It's funny how things happen just like that, being there simply felt and sensed but maybe never acknowledged. It's that girl you met in your second grade homeroom who would always smile at you when your eyes met even though you would never really talk because she belonged to another group of friends. It's that favorite hair stylist who would take your hair seriously and actually enjoy conversing with you, who you would one day remember realizing you had stopped going to that salon. Later you wonder if it was only you or you both felt the same--happy to see each other--though there's no way to confirm. That's fine. That's whatever you believe.

But I'm glad I got to confirm something with the lady at the store before I stopped going there. Even that confirmation might be something only I imagined, but that's the meaning that little small talk will hold in me, which after all is all that matters.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

japanese love

Last month, on my mom's birthday, I posted the following as my Facebook status:

Happy Birthday, Mom, once the biggest enemy but always the biggest support and inspiration. I love you.

I had already wished her a happy birthday in the morning before I left for work, but a hint of sentiment that crept into my mind on my lunch break made me post this. There also was an urge to express my feeling in English, for, strange as it is, I sometimes feel it easier to express my feelings in this second language than my own.

People "liked" it, and it made me happy; but then, I realized there was no point in writing something like this on a semi-public place without sharing it with the person it was addressed to. So I forwarded this to her, saying, "This is the message I put on Facebook."

When I came home, she told me she didn't understand it, reasonably, for she hardly speaks or reads English. I translated it for her.

"Uh-huh," she said.
"Yeah, I just thought it would be only fair to share it with you because it's to you."
"You're right. There's no point just showing it to strangers."

We laughed and the talk ended there.

The thing is that I didn't include the "I love you" part in my translation. I assumed she would know, which she most likely did, but I also didn't know how to translate it. Sure, I could have translated it literally or chosen a phrase with similar meaning that is more commonly used in Japanese, but that wouldn't have conveyed what I meant in the English "I love you," the casual yet meaningful expression of affection.

So I just opted out not to include it in my Japanese translation, and my mom, clearly aware of the fact I did, also left it unmentioned. "I love you" floated around for a little while in the somehow comfortably awkward air between us and dissipated as my mom went back to folding clean laundry and I turned to go up to my room to put my backpack down, first feeling a bit sad we seemingly couldn't exchange words of love directly but then realizing that it was how love always had worked between us most of the time; unsaid and sometimes hidden, but constantly floating around us like the sweet scent of orange osmanthus in autumn so we notice only if we pay attention.

True, a part of me still prefers straightforward exchanges of "I love you"s and hugs, but now I can say, no, the Japanese way of love isn't bad, either. Not at all. Because it's there, if you're willing to breathe it in.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

so i begin traveling

So it's decided. Finally. I'm going to Taiwan.

It was August, too, when I saw my friend off at the LAX. We had spent most of the previous two years together in the same program and grown really close--so close that it was sometimes hard for us to be tender with each other. We fought and argued. We made up. We ate together and laughed and talked for hours and hours until I had to finally get in my car and drive back home in empty early-morn streets. We were pretty much an essential part of each other's life at that time, and the idea of us getting on separate paths felt simply absurd.

But we did, and neither of us cried at the airport. Well, I did as I waved and watched her walk to the security check turning around over and over, but I don't think she could see it from the distance. When we said goodbye, we didn't know what to say, so we said, "See you."

No, I absolutely did not expect that we would have to wait for two years for that. Then, yes, I did expect this would happen.

It was almost on a whim that I booked my flights. We've kept in touch through a handful phone calls, IMing, emails and Facebook messages, and there certainly was an increasing sense of anticipation for our reunion ever since I came back to Japan this January. We are closer now, we should definitely meet up! The issue, though, was the lack of initiation on both parties due to ever-changing work schedule. Or it was the reason on my part. I say I will visit her in Taiwan once this project is settled, and always something comes up and prolongs the end of the project. So I finally decided to just make time and go.

There's always been a part of me that yearns to travel and see the world; then, there's another part of me that worries saying things like What about language? and I won't be able to see everything in such a short time! I've been fortunate to have more opportunities to go on short trips and meet more travelers in the past few years, and that changed my mindset. The truth is that there are ways to communicate without language if you are only willing to try, and it is simply impossible to see everything. Sites won't go away, though, so you can just hop on the plane, into the car, and go again and again as long as there's an urge to see more. The important thing is to go there first. At least once.

One thing about traveling is that it seems easier to do so when you have a stable ground to come back to. I didn't have that for long while I was moving around in the US, looking for a job and working to get a work visa. Yes, I had a place to live, eventually a job to feed me, and friends and roommates to greet if I went away for a bit and come back, but the uncertainty in my foreign status gave me nothing but a sense of instability. Now, back in my own country and not having to worry about the legal right to be here, I feel I can finally start flying out to see more of the world (which is metaphorical, for "the world" includes many sites in Japan that I've regrettably missed so far).

So this trip to Taiwan will be great not only as the long-awaited chance for me to see my friend again but also as my very first step into the world I have yet to see. The trip is two weeks away and I am already thrilled.

The only issue for now is that most Chinese phrases I know are the ones I learned from the Chinese pop songs my friend introduced to me, so I can say "Don't leave me," "I want you to know you are the most beautiful person," and "Do you want to kiss me?" when I can't even ask to get the bill at a restaurant.

Time to study!

Friday, August 5, 2011

on creativity

Today, I was talking to a friend who likes to draw, take photography, write, and all that jazz.

Him: "But I never have time to really do any of these."
Me: "True, it's tough when you work...but you should try if you like doing these."
Him: "Well, yeah, I guess when it comes to creativity, I tend to refrain from really getting into it because, I guess, I'm afraid of being a failure or something." 
Me: "Well, there's no..."
(I pause and think.)
Me: "Well, actually, there is...but you gotta try anyway!"

Much as I wanted to say there's no failure in creativity, my instinct told me there is. I couldn't ignore that voice in my head. But now I think about it a few hours later, and I guess there actually is no failure in creativity if that is for our own personal use. But when it is for someone to see--that's where all the bad books, bad drawing and badly taken photography come in, and I understand why my friend gets cold feet, as it is probably in our instinct to share our creativity. The fear of sharing something not good enough has stopped me many times from posting here even though I know this blog gets only a handful of readers.

The fact is, though, it's still better to share, because creativity often evolves when it's shared. Comments from my writing peers, both positive and negative, have empowered me a lot in such constructive ways. Being creative is often accompanied by wanting to be good, and to be good, you have to accept the possibility of you being "a failure" and still create the best you can. 

I'm telling this to myself as I ramble, and wishing that I had given this as my piece of advice to my friend. That would've sounded a bit better than "You gotta try anyway."