fall
life

Thank You Tokyo, Thank You Tomodachi

asasasa

Tokyo is like a dream. In the early morning, on the quiet streets, when no one is stirring, and the river is calm, Tokyo slowly flutters her eyes. It’s breathtaking, and for a city of over 13 million people, very quiet. Before seven o’clock, there are faint tremblings, and one can follow one’s thoughts undisturbed on waves of energy from Toyosu to Nihonbashi.

It’s not an original idea that it’s the people, not the place, that make a moment in time special. There’s no denying that Tokyo is special– how often have I spoken about its magical sunlight; its streets strung with lights; its charming citizens; its efficiency; its proximity to rivers, mountains, hot springs and seas; its festivals; its culinary delights; its deep, lingering sunsets? There will never be another Tokyo, but my dear friends, more importantly, without you, there never would’ve been the Tokyo I enjoyed and will cherish. How can I say thank you?

It’s true that three years ago I came here with no expectations, so it was almost impossible to foretell what the future would hold. Here we are– I’m sorry that I didn’t give more; listen more; try harder; be better, in all the ways I could have and should have been. It’s not an excuse, but I’ll tell you that this was all a new experience, and hindsight is always 20/20. Going forward, I’ll change more nos to yeses; give as well as you’ve allowed me to receive; take the time to be more patient and kind. I’ll also take the time to sit by rivers and reflect on how many times we sat side by side– on the beach, on a tatami mat floor, in the izakaya, in the restaurant, in the park, in the coffee-shop, in the school, in my apartment, in the shared house, in the deep dark night in the playground. Let’s remember how we looked at our present moment, and wondered over our future, and here we are– in the future we discussed.

You never know how much you love a person or a place until you’re ready to say goodbye, do you? Know that I was always appreciative. Recently, I listened to a talk given by Osho at one of his retreats where he said the reason couples are in so much anguish after a break-up is because they were “strangers, then friends, then strangers again. That’s what hurts.” Though time and distance will separate us, my dear friend, (and my dear Tokyo), let’s never be strangers to each other.

Love,

Val

….it was a very good year for city girls who lived up the stairs with all that perfumed hair…and it came undone

beachphoto (54)photo (36)anfycherrybikekomtokyo, etc 079

tkyotokyo, etc 249tokyo, etc 021tokyo, etc 407tokyo, etc 507gratitude 08 002crm 013new 029nikko 053yoheitokyo, etc 446monjstudentsnkkofrjbsbyukiaasljohnphoto (56)photo (39)ginzaphoto (44)photo (45)

Standard
fl
life, travel

Kyushu: What A Difference A Year Makes!

Dear Friends,

This morning I woke up to a lovely email from my dear friend Nigel which closed with the words, “Do you know what you were doing this day, last year? Yes, it was the start of our Kyushu trip!”

jet

 When Nige proposed that we take a plane to Kyushu, and do a roadtrip from Fukuoka to Kagoshima, with stops in Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Oita and Miyazaki, I jumped at the suggestion. Last October, I had been in Japan for two years, and hadn’t strayed very far from Tokyo. Life at that point was work, eating and drinking in izakayas with friends, occasional onsen vacations to nearby Gunma, Hakone, Atami, and Izu, and way too much shopping. In essence, Tokyo life. It had fleetingly passed my mind that I should take trips to Hokkaido, Okinawa, or elsewhere, but it never happened. Unfortunately, Nige’s imminent departure from Japan, and his desire to tour Kyushu, made “someday,” that day.

photo (45)

photo (48)

 To tell you the truth, I was nervous about spending a week, 24/7, in a car, in hotel rooms, all around town, with a close friend. In the past, there were trips, that changed relationships from “friends” to “former” friends. Turns out, there was nothing to be nervous about– it was amazing. We left for the airport at 5:00am, didn’t part for seven whole days, and had nothing but good times– ate fantastic bowls of tonkotsu ramen, shabu shabu, sushi and sashimi…even KFC, upon my request; soaked for long periods in various hot springs, some with ash, some at night, some in caves; viewed erupting and non-erupting volcanos; accepted candy from strangers on mountaintops; hiked gorgeous mountains and saw deers hiding; drove through a town called Obama; visited temples, shrines, and lakes; drank hot sake and ate meals in rooms where only we were served; had our feet nibbled on by fish of all sizes in fish pools; dropped all inhibitions, and talked about adventures.
Nagasaki

Nagasaki

It’s wonderful how a friend can allow you to do and see things, you’d never thought of before. It’s amazing how your life opens up, when you embrace the world, others– when you step out of your comfort zone. And, Japan– what a breathtaking, spectacular country filled with kind, ever courteous, gracious people. Last year at this time, Nigel and I were in a fish market in Fukuoka sampling fried fish cakes, and now it’s almost the end of my stint in this country. What a difference a year makes.
cakes
photo (29)
23

photo (25)photo (27)photo (41)

private onsen in Beppu

private onsen in Beppu

enjoying tonkotsu by the roadside in Tenjin

enjoying tonkotsu by the roadside in Tenjin

volcanic lakes in Miyazaki

volcanic lakes in Miyazaki

Yufuin, peace and light

Yufuin, peace and light

Sakurajima

Sakurajima

Ciao,
Val
Standard
life

There Are More Seas

Living in a foreign country can enable one, if they’re not careful, to become very solitary. It’s easy to withdraw into oneself when the primary language spoken is not one’s own, is incomprehensible, and sounds like nothing more than Charlie Brown’s teacher– “Wah wah wah wah wah.”

Dear Friend and Friend and Friend and…,

Living in a foreign country has been wonderful, but there are times, when silence can overwhelm. I no longer have you within reach, even by telephone; you, who I could rely on at any time. Truthfully, needs are ever-evolving, and what I needed then, I don’t now; however, a true friend fills a space that one’s not aware is empty until there are hollow reverberations. When stitches start to unravel, a shirt can still be saved. Yet, it’s not the same.

Living in a foreign country allows one time to think undisturbed. Time to process and understand, out of necessity, oneself. Time to think questions like, “What is home? Where is home?” (Question two can’t be answered without an answer for question one.) Living in silence forces one’s spirit to grow.

Living in a foreign country proves to me that as much as there is, there is so much more, and in this life it’s impossible to touch it all. The universe can’t be grasped, only reveled in. There are more bottomless seas, more blue mountains than we knew, more loving words, more waves slowly coming in, more sunrises, more moons, more orchids and roses and hibiscuses, more stars crumbling, more of us turning to dust, more boat rides, more starts, and full stops.

Dear Friend and Friend and Friend….,

Our wells never run dry; there’s more ink, more tears, more fountains of hope. When we see each other again, will it be with the memory of who we were? Will we see each other as the girls we were or the teens we were or the young women we were or who we are now?

Every year, there are more people who join this voyage, but none have had more of an impact on my soul than you and you and you.

2008-01-01 21.30.01

Much love,

Val

Standard
life, People (Unreal life)

“Friendship is Earned”

Dear Friends,

On Monday, I missed the biggest event of 2012, my best friend’s wedding. Scrolling through the past months of this blog, it’s obvious to see why I was unable to make it: a monumental move that sucked me dry, traveling in Europe, and an overall inability to save; however, it wasn’t easy looking for signs of life via photos on Facebook while she (Val), her groom DB, and other friends and family partied under coconut-scented breezes in the Dominican Republic. (I imagine it was warm, sultry, starry, balmy).

Val  and I met on the first day of high school, it pleased me to see another black person and one that shared the same name. As aforementioned, my junior high school was color-less, so transferring to another school district for high school was a happy day (despite, the all-girls, Catholic high school thing). Her first question to me was “Where are you from?” which made me a bit wary. I thought it was a strange first question and didn’t want to answer, because I thought I’d be judged on my nationality. She thought I was strange (and I was/am).

Val and I were good friends in high school, but didn’t spend much time together outside of school. She was more interested in boys, clothes and dances than I was (I could count the dances I went to on one hand), and she was less interested in cutting school and going to the city. (The best thing about Long Island is its proximity to Manhattan, and another friend and I would miss school once a week, or every other, and check it out. My absence report in my junior year was stupendous). It’s funny that in high school, no one knew my real age, because I was a year and a half younger than everyone and I didn’t want them to know, and now I’m not discussing my age, because I don’t want anyone here to know. (Why must this life always involve some sort of denial?).

We kept in touch in college (pre My Space, pre Facebook, pre everyone having their own cellphone). We spent a summer in London when we were twenty, a truly memorable experience.  We lived with two other Americans in one room in Belsize Park, four single beds side by side, a tiny toilet and shower, and a tv on the wall over our heads; all that luxury, for one thousand pounds a month. We both really wanted to travel, she suggested London, and I jumped on it. In the first week, we blew through half of our money, cabbing it and eating at restaurants and pubs. After working for an entire summer, she at a pub, me at a restaurant, we left London with zero pounds.

We lived together on Grand Street in New York in the early millennium, where we and three other friends did nothing but go to bars on the Lower East Side (Guernica, Bobs, Ludlow Bar, Luanns), listen to music, have dinner parties on mismatched plates and plastic cups, play Scattergories, talk and talk and talk, then argue, eat cupcakes/hot wings/sushi/pizza, and think about how we were young, free and in NYC. Eventually, our group drifted physically and emotionally; NY wasn’t doing it for any of us anymore. However, we’d lived so many days in and out with each other that it was impossible not to reconnect.

I recently read a quote on some wall that said “Real friendship is earned.” We joke that my months in Tokyo have been a re-creation of Grand Street, and it’s true. Everything that’s happening now was done in NY, but something’s missing. As much as I love it here, it would be nice to have someone who really knows me nearby; someone who sent me Entemanns cupcakes over two thousand miles; someone I’m not in some form of denial around; someone who knows when I’m bs’ing; someone who doesn’t need me to finish every sentence; someone who knows my favorite everything and doesn’t need to ask questions. I know real friendships take time, but in terms of having a “true,” irreplaceable friend, I’ve already found my “someone.” (Now, a divine force needs to send me “somebody to love” in the biblical sense).

Love,

Val

Standard
life, People (Unreal life)

I Am Not An Island (Though I Imagined Myself To Be)

Dear Friends,

The last few posts have been about island life, and this post is anti-island life. Let me explain. For years, I’ve been a woman unto myself. Don’t get me wrong, the best people have made their way into my life and given me the gift of friendship, but I’ve also always had it simmering in my consciousness that at any time I may lose one of them. It was always necessary for me to be self-reliant and never get too attached to anyone. It was my habit to disconnect or detach myself from anyone who started to get too close… it couldn’t be helped.

When I was nine years old, my parents left Jamaica and moved to New York state to set up a house and a new life for us in Long Island (yet another island in the list of islands that have been home). My story is like that of millions of other immigrants across the globe, and it’s prevalent in Caribbean society. (I don’t pretend to be unique). One or both parents will leave children behind while moving to the “Land of Plenty” to build a new life for their family; they’ll work fourteen-hour days, buy a house in a “nice suburb” or a nice enough neighborhood and then send for their children to join them. I lived with my best friend and her family for a year (it’s called “Boarding”). Her family, naturally, became mine. My best friend’s mother, Aunt S, was a second mother to me and treated me like her very own. She introduced me to everyone as her daughter; however, I knew, as much as we loved each other, I wasn’t her very own and I was essentially alone. My parents were gone; it was my first disconnect. When my friends at school would ask me where my parents were, for the longest time I never told them.

In the year that my parents were setting up life in New York, they visited Kingston often. They would bring gifts, things that were unavailable or extremely expensive in Jamaica at that time: Reeboks, American apples, chocolates, clothes. God, I was so happy to see them… I remember when my father would come how I’d run and jump on him and hang on, and when my mother would visit I’d marvel at her clothes, high boots and thick red sweaters. (How often would we see women in boots in Jamaica? Never, unless they were visiting from “farin”). The moments of joy replaced all the sadness I felt at their absence.

My life was happy in school; like any other child, I’d run at recess, until I was sweaty;  jump hopscotch, play Dandy Shandy and eat Chippies banana chips and suck on Kisko pops and red-syrup suck sucks and drink Kola Champagnes and Tings and laugh with my friends, but at night, I was alone. I shared a room with Tan and we’d talk half the night about dancehall songs we loved and shows and the boys that liked her and the one I secretly liked. Even then I was a night owl, and I’d stay up hours after she slept. I remember being afraid to go to sleep, because I feared going blind in the night. Sometimes, education is a bad thing (it was shortly after learning Beethoven went blind that I began to fear losing my sight). I’d face the wall, trying my hardest not to sleep, listening to the dogs outside howl at each other, the moon, the tamarind tree.

It’s funny, but when my parents, my brother and I reunited, we never once spoke of our year’s separation. (This is how my family works anyway, we pretend things never happened). Somehow, I think my parent’s migration to the States made me a stronger person. Stronger, but infinitely more pathetic. It became second nature to cut people out of my life, even people I loved. I refused to form strong attachments. I wouldn’t ask anyone for help. Once when moving, instead of asking for assistance, I moved a couch from the sixteenth floor to the ground floor by myself. I lifted it on one side, shoved it into the hallway, into an elevator and into the garbage room of my building. I thought I was strong, but I see now, that I was pathetic. Why not ask for help? My parents leaving then, meant that I could leave at anytime. It was never hard for me to be thousands of miles away or on any continent, because I knew what it was to face a wall in the dark.

I’m writing this post at 4am, because I see that as much as I tried to deny it, I need people. Last night, I thought I’d had the last straw with my roommate: the noises, the sniffling, the loudness, the temperature controls. I decided that it was time to move out and even sent my rental agency a move-out notice for March. Enough was enough I thought; despite the cheap rent, it was time to get out of a shared space. When I came home tonight, I told my housemates of my plan to leave in a month, and the genuine care, support and suggestions made me see that with a little help from them, I’d be able to continue for a while longer. We’ve been here for just a short time, but there’s an inexplicable feeling of camaraderie in Borderless House Oshiage. Plus, my rent’s crazy cheap, so I’ll continue to take each day as it comes, and when it gets to be too much, there are rooms I’ll sneak into and sleep in. As much as I love and adore Simon and Garfunkel’s “I Am a Rock,” and thought for years that it pertained to me, I’m so grateful to realize that it doesn’t.

* T sharing natto with me, because he wanted to “share his favorite.”

I appreciate that this isn’t me…but love it all the same:

Love,

Val

Standard