I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked by people back in the good ol’ USA, “Aren’t you scared to live all by yourself in a foreign country?” Usually, the last bit implies that I might as well be willingly trying to drive myself straight into hell itself. Who would want to leave the comforts of home to go off to some unknown part of the world and live there? Not to mention, it’s dangerous to go alone! The awfulness of it all, oh the horror!
A follow up to the frequently asked question is this statement, “Wow, you are so brave!” Brave? Hardly. I scream like a little girl when I feel like I’m in peril. I’m not proud of this fact, but it’s true. I don’t do stoic or composed very well. I won’t lie, on the plane ride over to Japan for the first time a year and half ago, I clutched the arm rests so hard on take off I indented the headphone plug’s shape into my palm. Also, I kept whispering to myself over and over again, “Statistics, statistics, statistics!” while praying I didn’t end up living out the opening scene from Final Destination.
Also, I moved to Japan. While it’s not a crime free country, my little sleepy town of Itako doesn’t do big time illegal activity (except for the whole Pachinko thing, but that’s not a big deal). Everybody here is kind, polite, and generally just awesome small town folk who want to just chill.
Still, a little bit of fear here and there makes the experience fun for me. I kind of like being scared, of not knowing what’s coming around the corner. It gives me a small thrill to know that there’s a small chance of danger, that I could run smack dab into a situation I’m not prepared to handle.
Oddly enough, I find it even more thrilling when I hit those moments and come out the other side winded from the experience but still intact. It’s just like the thrill of riding on a roller coaster and getting off all wobbly knees and smiles. I survived! Heck yes! Fist pump and get back in line. That’s why I got back on a stupid 14 hour plane ride to go back home for Christmas. In case you hadn’t gathered, I hate flying.
I suppose living abroad trills me for the same reason that I love horror movies. I go in knowing that there’s a distinct possibility I will end up with my heart pounding and screaming from fright. I love them so much that when I took off some time last year to go home I hit up the Scarefest Convention in Lexington, KY.
In Japan, I can get those same sort of feelings when I venture to certain cafes and nightclubs in Tokyo. I once went into a dingy hole in the ground type club thinking, “This probably isn’t a good idea. This is how horror movies start.” To be fair, I didn’t go alone, I brought my friend Candice with me. Turned out to be a pretty awesome place. I ended up having a dance off with a guy named John and spending two hours down there shaking my groove thing.
I will admit there are times where I’ve been a little in over my head. I once ran off to Tokyo without my cell phone. I needed my phone because I was meeting up with a group of friends to go to Gunma. Of course, I didn’t realize that I’d forgotten my cell until I arrived in Tokyo without it. While kicking myself for my mistake, I attempted to find the group in a vast station without them. I failed.
Luckily, I used my head to figure out a way to get ahead of the group on their train line for a later, not to mention quite lucky, rendezvous. Even though I managed to find them, I could’ve very well ended up walking through miles of snow trying to find them if I had arrived up at Gunma alone.
We totally ended up doing the whole walking through winter’s wrath thing as a group a mere two days later, but that’s beside the point.
Alternatively, there’s the more mundane issues I face, such as bus schedules I can’t read and I’ve got to get to an ALT meeting in less than freaking ten minutes so screw it I’m just going to take a taxi this time. I also encounter people who startle me with words I can’t understand but I know somehow they’re important. More than once, I’ve come face to face with a Japanese person behind a counter at some cafe or a store clerk. I may ask simple question in Japanese such as, “Do you have (insert item here)?” The response I get ranges from short and concise to so complicated I can’t even, wait, what? I can’t follow, speak slower please! Gah! It’s like playing communication roulette. I end up sticking it out and eventually figuring out what they said, more or less, but I end up getting slight headache from the strain.
Still, I’m glad I have every single one of these memories, that I got on those roller coaster rides and lived those horror movie moments. I don’t know how to explain this to people without sounding utterly insane. “Yes, it’s scary, and I like it!” just doesn’t generally give the impression of sound mind. However, it’s true, and I don’t know how to convey that rush to people who’ve never experienced it. The best equivalents I can give also probably don’t sound like much fun to people who hate roller coasters, horror movies and/or traveling.When I share my stories, home bodies usually only hear noise coming from me, not anything that sounds like fun. To me, though, it’s great, and I’m excited for the next thrill.