Thursday, April 25, 2013

Half Way

Well folks, I've reached the midpoint of my Tokyo assignment.  There have been highs and lows, but I've stuck with it.

Things I love about Tokyo:

  • Feeling safe.  When I was living in DTLA, I never walked around in my neighborhood after dark on my own, which meant I almost never left my apartment after dark except to drive to dance classes.  Not a fun way to live.  In Tokyo, I feel much safer and it has made a noticeable difference in my quality of life.
  • Work friends.  I love having a peer group in my practice group here and I have met some particularly awesome people--I would bring them back to the home office with me in an instant if I could.  It hugely enhances my day-to-day experience in and outside of the office.  I'm so grateful to the associates that have reached out to me and invited me to dinner or drinks.
  • The subway.  Public transportation in Tokyo is timely, quiet and tidy.  Sure, it gets crowded during rush hour, but I love the convenience and freedom that the subway system has given me.  I have not missed my car for a moment.  This is helped by Tokyo's subway etiquette rules: no cell phone calls, no eating on the train, no loud music and, generally, no inconveniencing others (seriously, I read that last one off of a sign posted in a subway station).
  • The work ethic.  Doing your job to the best of your abilities is important here and, better yet, it feels like people, no matter how high or low their station, are respected for and take pride in hard work.  I suspect, culturally, there is more to this (e.g., I sometimes wonder about the sincerity of it all), but I really love the basic premise that even people in the most simple jobs should be entitled to feel pride in their work.  In the U.S., it seems we often take this sense of accomplishment away from people by looking down on certain types of employment.
  • The restaurants.  Lots of great places to eat and amazing service.  The density of awesome restaurant choices is a city-living benefit, but the amazing service is a part of Japanese hospitality (which puts American hospitality to shame, I'm afraid).
  • Good order.  People follow the rules here (to a fault, as improvisation is not a Japanese strength in my humble opinion).  The orderly nature contributes to my day-to-day sense of security and will always be something I strongly associate with Japanese culture--I was incredibly impressed by and will never forget how people behaved in the immediate aftermath of the March 11th earthquake.
  • My Japanese tutor.  My chief regret is not starting lessons with her sooner.  She brightens my day and I understand the world I'm living in better with each word that I add to my vocabulary.  (Having said that, experiencing the limitations of illiteracy during the early months of my stay made an impression.  I want to volunteer with adult literacy programs when I return home.)

Weekend trips I've taken:

  • Kyoto.  We made the trip during peak foliage season.  It would have been nice to go back during the cherry blossom season.
  • Seoul, Korea.  I had fun, but didn't feel like we saw a whole lot here.
  • Borneo, Malaysia.  Rock climbing, zip lining and passing by the water buffalo while river rafting were the highlights.  Also stayed at a beautiful hotel (check out the photos on the website!).

Things I miss about home:

  • My family, Ben, friends and pups.
  • Reasonably priced produce.  Paying $4 for one apple is not something I'll miss.  Having said that, the produce on offer is in immaculate condition.
  • Ability to communicate.
  • Dancing.  I've reached out to teachers here, but between the language limitations and the very late hours at the office it has become clear dancing will not be a part of my life while I'm here.
  • Roots.  On a materialistic level, I miss my stuff.  I moved here for a year with two suitcases (one large, one carry on) and a couple small boxes.  But while I miss all the stuff that is waiting for me in a storage unit back home, I've realized that life is simpler without all that.  Speaking of the storage unit, I miss having a home base.  Where is home?  Is it my stark corporate apartment in Tokyo?  The city where my storage unit is located?  The cities I've studied in?  The city I grew up in?  Right now, I don't have a home base and that is simultaneously scary and freeing.
Things I worry about:
  • My personal life.  I have gone from worrying about how to make things work to giving up hope.  Recently, I've been trying to prepare myself for the possibility of a future in which I neither marry nor have kids.  I know lots of people love that lifestyle and I know that if I had been married or had kids earlier in life I likely would not have experienced working in Asia.  But I find it depressing to think of never having a family of my own, which means that I still want those things.  I crave the companionship and sense of connectedness.  I feel like a tremendous failure in this area and I feel like my window of opportunity is quickly closing.  When I have a quiet night at home, this is where my thoughts turn.  How far will I go to "fix" this?  Can this be fixed?  What needs to be done?
  • The transition home.  How will the logistics work?  Where will I live?  Where will I want to work?  Is there any reason to believe the work arrangements in my home office will improve?  After years of moving from place to place, I'd like to settle down, which means that my next move will have to be a thoughtful one.
  • Staying connected to friends and family at home.
This has been one of the most exciting and challenging six-month periods of my life.  All in all, I feel incredibly fortunate to have had this experience.  Setting aside what it's done for my work, it has helped me grow on a simple, human level.  There are new layers of empathy.  A new appreciation of people or things I had taken for granted.  New ideas about how to approach life.  New ideas about the type of person I want to be.


Cecilia said...

What a beautiful post. I'm so glad you're at a happy place and love the window to Japanese culture you're giving. Great work, P2P.

CM said...

I agree, great post. I'm so impressed with how you've managed to live in a different country with such a different culture, and an extremely demanding work schedule to boot.

For what it's worth, I don't think your window of opportunity is that near closing. Several of my friends (mid to late 30s) have recently gotten married, all to people they've met in the past couple of years. You may be disappointed, but you're not a failure.

Metal said...

What an awesome post! Thoroughly enjoyed reading it...I cracked at "Improvisation is not a Japanese strength..."....your post reminded me of the time when I had first moved out of India in a completely foreign environment. Glad you're doing well and having a good time. Cheers!

Cecilia said...

adding that we're the same age but i'm on the other path (kids early), and i sometimes pine for having taken your path and had your adventures. the kids will be there. i agree with CM that marrying and having kids mid-late 30's in totally doable and in some ways preferable.

Loveablestef said...

So great to read this! What a journey you are on! What kind of law so you specialize in? I am excited to see where you decide to plant roots and to see you stateside at Emerald Ball. You are doing great work and I agree with other commenters...I don't believe your window of opportunity to be closing. My aunt got married to the love of her life in her late fourties. It may not look like you want it to right now but try and be open to possibilities you hadn't thought can start by going speed dating! Ha! That ought to get the ball rolling, tell your subconsciouse and the world you are ready and open to connecting. You are a vibrant, courageous, bold, smart, feminine, artistic, and wonderful woman and you deserve someone just as awesome as you to partner with. Perhaps he is "marinating" in life experiences, just as you are, getting ready and becoming the person you are meant to meet . You never know what might be just around the corner in this crazy thing called life!

TP said...

I've no idea if you ever read any of Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker novels (wonderful, silly, slightly juvenile pseudo-sci-fi), but in one of the later ones, the protagonist discovered that it was possible to fly by hurling oneself at the ground and missing--initially by being distracted at the critical moment prior to impact.

A related concept that comes to mind is that the fovea of the human eye is constructed such that dim stars are better seen not by looking at them directly, but by looking a bit askance.

You might not see a direct path to what you think will make you happy, but you may well run into happiness where you least expect it.

(Apologies for being abstruse; I'm a couple drinks in at 38k between DCA and AUS. These Southwest gals mix 'em strong, or else the altitude is making me a lightweight.)

Unknown said...

It sounds like Japan has really made an impression on you! I'm so glad you've gained so much insight into your own life through this experience.

I've actually met several lawyers recently who are single women in their mid 30's. Our windows feel tight, but they really aren't. Women ARE having kids in their late 30's. I know it's not what you (or I) have wanted or planned, but it will be so much sweeter when the time comes for you. And your family will benefit greatly from the lesson's you've learned in Japan.

Also, that hotel looks gorgeous!

Paragon2Pieces said...

belated thanks for the kind comments on this post :)