Why I Moved

Why I Moved

 

Five days ago, I locked the door to my apartment one last time, loaded a taxi with three giant boxes, three suitcases, and two backpacks, and sped off to the airport. As the city of my birth, my adopted city, the first city that has really felt like home since I lived in Los Angeles years ago, sped past my window and into my memory, I felt both sorrowful and free: It was time to let go of Hong Kong. For now.

In the weeks leading up to my leaving Hong Kong, I’d felt a gradual, desperate tightening of my grasp on the city. Every sight, sound, smell, experience was scrutinized; I wished and prayed for every moment to be burned into my brain. “Please don’t forget, please don’t forget, please don’t forget,” I said silently to myself about the language skills I’d learned over the past year.

Please don’t forget, please don’t forget, please don’t forget. I hope I never forget our security guard’s smile, the smell of the subway, the rumble of our elevator, the shortcuts in Yau Ma Tei or Central, the code to the bathroom of my favorite coffee shop, the spot on Jewelry Store Cat’s head that is like an automatic “purr button.”

I’d been holding on so tightly to Hong Kong, my Hong Kong, that I was exhausted. In that taxi ride, I finally let go. Hong Kong was my past, Japan was my future.

I didn’t cry, I didn’t mourn; Hong Kong just nestled into my chest as a dull ache. I miss it like you miss your best friend or your mom or your dad or your cat when you first leave home to embark on something new. You’ll go far away, but they will always be there. Unlike when I left Los Angeles and I felt like a part of my story was slamming shut, leaving Hong Kong felt like an ellipsis. To be continued…

After Mr. Louise and I missed our first flight to the city of Fukuoka (you’d think we know how international mailing works by now, but we had to repack some boxes and mail a couple extra), we got on a later flight, and I didn’t even watch Hong Kong slip under the clouds. I’d already left that morning.

By the time we landed in the city of Fukuoka, we were too late to catch the bullet train to our new home of Yamaguchi. This lateness was due in no small part to our plane not being able to land because the turbulence was so piss-in-your-pants awful.

The captain told us we were going to land, then he tried to land the plane in a storm for over an hour. Up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down we went. At one point a woman across the aisle starting yelping and screaming. I wondered if that would be the last thing I’d ever hear. I want the last thing I hear to be animals contentedly eating food — not the woman watching Captain America: Civil War going “Eee! Oooo! WHOA! Aaaah! Eeeeee!”

But we landed and couldn’t catch our train, so we stayed in a hotel overnight. The next day we got on our train, got to Yamaguchi, and began rural life.

I’ve never lived in a small town before. I’ve never lived in what feels like absolute silence before. I’ve never lived in a place where the only place to find food after 8pm is the 7-Eleven down the street (admittedly Japanese 7-Elevens are marvelous and are more like little food shops or bodegas than the gnarly, sticky-floored 7-Eleven that I used to frequent on La Brea in Hollywood).

My favourite 3 things about Japan

The Cuisine

For the clumsy-fingered foreigner, the first time you use chopsticks will be like trying to use stilts with a broken ankle. On a foundation of violently vibrating wood, the first piece will invariably shake and, Bambi-like, fall before it reaches your expectant mouth. Nonetheless, the rich taste and refreshing nature of Japanese food always succeeds in forcing the puffing, red-faced diner to try and try again until they can wield the formidable utensils like the fly-catching Mr. Miyagi.

Japanese food strongly emphasizes freshness and is thus a seasonal affair. Food is usually cooked either for a very short time or served raw. The central place of fish, fruit, rice, and noodles in the Japanese diet means that it is often mentioned in connection with a healthy lifestyle. Rivalling Van Gogh’s palette, the wealth of color found in the cuisine ensures that it is not only pleasing to the tongue but also to the eye.

Wildlife

The only thing that can rival Japan’s natural landscape are the creatures that inhabit it. Including the aforementioned snow monkey, the country hosts a rich bio-diversity, and it is not strange to see local deer sauntering through urban areas. Other animals native to Japan include martens, sables, black and brown bears, salamanders, and red-crowned cranes.

However, the most famous animal in Japan is, probably, the koi fish. As an island nation, the relationship between the Japanese and the native fish is a close one. The diet consists largely of fish, fishing is a national pastime, and houses often contain aquariums. However, nowhere is the interaction between the Japanese and marine life more profound than in their relationship with koi fish. The Japanese even had a hand in the animal’s evolution, when in the early nineteenth century rice farmers began breeding carp to exploit their natural aesthetic qualities.

The People

It is in the sphere of hospitality and general kindness that the Japanese distinguish themselves. Known as omotenashi in the industry, Japanese hospitality is one that attempts to preempt the needs of their guests or clients, as those who make direct requests are thought to be unsophisticated. It is a concept that has selflessness and going the extra mile at its very heart.

Although it is hard to define, anyone who has been to Japan will know exactly what it means and for many, it is one of the highlights of their stay. However, it is important to note that the courtesy and kindness of the Japanese extend beyond the service industry, thus making expatriate life here somewhat easier than elsewhere.