Letter from Tokyo: Sukiyaki with an Arctic Tern

Dear Friends,

For the last two days, I’ve been reading back issues of National Geographic. There are about fifty National Geographics lying around the breakroom at my school, and I’ve resisted them until this week. My relationship with each and every one of the National Geographic magazines has been tumultous; I’m ambivalent towards the magazine. The photos repulse me; if I see one more kid with an intentionally scarred face, bats, rats, or snakes with their heads chopped off, I don’t know what I’ll do. However, I can’t stop reading, because the writers are phenomenal. No matter their subject matter, the writers manage to make the captions sound like poetry, and the longer articles read like narrative fiction (if only I could skip the photos!).

Excerpts from David Quammen’s article “Great Migrations” in relation to my life:

Migrations tend to be linear, not zigzaggy; they involve special behaviors of preparation (such as overfeeding) and arrival; they demand special allocations of energy.

Every three years since 2003, I’ve made a great migration: South America, North America, the Caribbean, now Asia. It seems the only logical choice after Tokyo would be Africa, Europe or Australia; as long as I have energy, I’ll get up and go.

In December 2003, while visiting my friend NR in Capetown, I decided to move to South Africa. I fell in love with the breathtaking views in Capetown, the mountains, the ocean, the wine and NR‘s circle of fantastic friends. In my three-week stay, I decided to stay for a few months (legally or illegally); I  found a place to stay for less than US$300 a month, a part-time waitressing job, and even met a cute guy. My godmother promised to send me US$1200 to stay, which could have really taken me far back then (she thought my idea was a great one). I wonder if NR remembers my hectic plan to move to Capetown.

The apartment fell through, and two brothers offered to let me live with them, but they weren’t centrally located and I didn’t know how to drive (still don’t– but it’s on my list of resolutions for 2017). Unfortunately and fortunately, I had a teaching commitment in Sao Paulo and decided that it’d be irresponsible not to return for the second half of the school year. Looking back I see that I overanalyzed the whole situation and maybe should’ve stayed (how long does it take to learn to drive?). I’d already done six months in Brazil and could’ve done six months in South Africa too. Lesson learned: Don’t overthink.

Migrating animals maintain a fervid attentiveness to the greater mission, which keeps them undistracted by temptations and undeterred by challenges.

The plan, as I’ve told you all before in another post, is to stay in Tokyo for two to three years, then move on. There’s too much to see and experience, and if I remain in Tokyo how’ll I get a chance to do it? So, it’s absolutely necessary to keep “undistracted by temptations and undeterred by challenges,” like shopping for beyond fabulous clothes and handbags, eating out too much and drinking more, getting paid and thinking that “I’m in the money,” and traveling too much while here, though the yen is strong and airfare (especially within Japan) is a steal. A friend here just suggested a trip to Paris in February for less than US$350, and it breaks my heart to say no, but I’m like Jesus in the wilderness right now– a master of resistance.

The arctic tern senses that it can eat later. It can rest later. It can mate later. Right now its implacable focus is the journey.

We all want different things out of life, don’t we? Some women my age want marriage and children; if they’re already married, they want babies. I’ve had people ask me when I’m going to “settle down,” a question that annoys me. Really, it does. At the moment, my thoughts are on having  “romantic relations” with my younger crushes (who’re very mature– is that what all older women say?).  I’ve never felt a maternal urge, unless of course it feels like indigestion. The quest is the journey.

Why is it impossible to believe that a woman may not want a child, a life-long commitment, someone else’s joy? Why is that selfish? Another National Geographic informed me that the world is already incredibly overpopulated at 7 billion people; water and food resources are low. Maybe, we’re all selfish. Diversity of behaviors, and processes are important too, contributing richness and beauty, robustness and flexibility and interconnectedness to the living communities on earth.

Nothing alive is perpetual.

These are living, breathing words that are liable to change at anytime. Even my memories are impermanent and unreliable. 2003 is covered in haze; maybe I didn’t stay in South Africa for many other reasons that I can’t now recall (my memories are extremely selective). At the moment, I’d rather remove a lung with a soup spoon than have a child, but who knows how I’ll feel years from now. Maybe, like not moving to Capetown, I’ll be regretful. Who knows? What I do know is that even sadness and regret don’t last; ah, the joy of continuing to live.