What’re You Made Of?

I keep thinking to myself, “it’s probably just a matter of time before I really get it.”

Japan. Where the background music is in English, but nobody can understand it. The land of the rising sun. Where any amount of time I spend trying to get to know it feels like it’s not enough. There’s just so much to it. It’s a whole ‘nother world.

For my last post I decided to put to paper my deepest feelings about the struggles of moving here. It’s been a journey of discovery. About the world and about myself. And it’s certainly been a struggle. Some days feel like I’m in some kind of exotic theme park, while others feel like there’s an impenetrable barrier between myself and everyone else. And those other days can really break you down. But it takes some breaking down to see what you’re really made of.

The move to northern Japan went relatively smoothly, but going from a comfortable western-friendly city lifestyle to being dropped in the thick of rural Japanese culture has been a huge shock. Another bout of culture shock. I feel I’m closer to the core of Japanese culture, but there’s still so much I don’t understand. And it doesn’t help that the accent is so different here. But to be fair, I was warned about this before I came here. Japanese friends told me they couldn’t understand anyone out here, even though they’re still speaking Japanese. I feel like I’m in the Newfoundland of Japan. (Canny a word adem Newfies.)

Everyday it’s as though I’m sent down the rapids to navigate through my day. It’s a bumpy ride, and I have no idea what’s going on on a daily basis, but whatever it is, it’s happening regardless, so son-of-a-bitch, I’m in. I’ll figure it out eventually. Hopefully.
But even if I don’t, I’m at least enjoying myself. Picking up whatever responsibility I can, trying to learn and do my best.

I keep thinking to myself, “it’s probably just a matter of time before I really get it.” But how long do I have? And how long does culture shock last? Until I fully integrate with this new place I find myself in? Can I really do that? It’s all so different here, compared to back home in Canada. Part of the same world, yet somehow worlds apart.

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I feel like I’m missing something. I find myself feeling nostalgic for old Canadian things I used to use, eat, watch, experience. Maybe I’m finally homesick.

Sometimes it’s hard not to just feel like I’m some kind of spectacle out here. Allow me to paint the scene: I walk into class. Emphatic surprised noises echo amongst the students. The Japanese teacher says something along the lines of, “BEHOLD! as I attempt to communicate with this foreigner.” And there I stand, trying not to embarrass myself (too much), trying to speak in this strange balancing act of actual English and something they might understand.

But those everyday struggles, – the simple things that wouldn’t even cross your mind back home – they feel like big accomplishments when you don’t know the language or the customs or the rules. Somehow something so small begins to feel so big. Baby steps, I suppose. Even if you fall flat on your face every time, at least you’re getting somewhere. Getting through those everyday struggles, breaking down, and rebuilding yourself – that’s when you start to find out. What’re you made of? Something that sinks? Or something that can swim? Maybe you’re someone who can tread water after all.

A Warrior Dies to Learn Who He Is

We’re all warriors; fighting our own battles.

You’ve come so far. Built yourself up, atop of your ideals of how things should be and ideas of how the world works. Then something happens. Everything shudders, shakes, and when you look down, you realize. It’s as if you’ve awoken from a dream. Your eyes widen. You’re not on a solid foundation. This isn’t bedrock. It never was. You’re skating on thin ice. You’re treading water. Trying to stay afloat and keep your head from going under.

What you thought you knew is on a collision course with another world. A completely different world. At first, you only see the surface. It’s all so foreign and intriguing. It excites you, exhilarates you, as some kind of exotic theme park might. And for a time you are content with things being like this, although you sense something deeper lurking below. And it’s coming closer. When you eventually penetrate the surface, the sensation is entirely overwhelming. From your fingertips to your chest, from the crown of your head to the bottom of your feet, you’re left in a shaking anxiety. Everything falls apart. Everything you were, everything that was, everything you thought you were, everything you thought that was – everything you thought. You don’t know anymore. What did you just crash into? Where even were you before? What were you? You can finally grasp the ends of whatever lurks in the depths. Somewhere in the abyss dwells the answer. You feel you can never make it there. It’s as though, at least for the time being, it repels you. You can’t understand why. It’s a different world with a different structure. It’s all too complex to wrap your head around. You notice you’re still holding on to the driftwood of old ideas, as you attempt to tread water. You can’t help it. You’re not very good at this whole treading water thing. You fear these pieces of driftwood are actually holding you back from doing this effectively. They have great big holes in them. But you don’t know how to let go.

Those ends you could grasp – those tendrils of truth – they’ve finally led you to what you think is the core of this world. The secret lies within. The answer you seek. Could you really be almost there? You peel back layer after layer trying to get to it. With each one you pull on, your aching body increases in desperation, and the prospect of this endeavour bearing fruit seems more and more futile. You grow weary. There’s no end to the layers. It’s a puzzle on a scale you’ve never even witnessed, let alone imagined before.

Whether you were to wake up and realize it or not, life always was and always will be this way. Ideas are nothing solid, after all. You can only pretend to stand on them. The whole universe is maddeningly complex, and it’s under no obligation to make any sense to us. It’s best to learn to tread water, lest you drown trying to stand, or drown holding onto something that will pull you under.

The water begins moving. Quicker and quicker, it pulls you along with it. You’re sent down the rapids in a big yellow raft. As much as you think to yourself, “I don’t want to go down here,” it doesn’t matter: That’s where you’re headed. You can try to paddle back or close your eyes and make believe, but you’re powerless within the forces of nature. Maybe the whole situation scares you so much that you panic and flip your raft, and get helplessly sucked down into the bottomless depths. Yet another sure way to drown. Alternatively, you can brace yourself, and learn to navigate the rapids, steering yourself toward better waters. Maybe it turns out to be fun. Or at least enjoyable. You can’t stop life. But you can make it better.

This all comes with the realization that there are a seemingly infinite number of ways one can live out their life. And they can be so bafflingly vast in their differences. All of them are valid. Life can truly be whatever we want it to be. Why do we settle for this?

Back Into the Great Unknown

When everything slows down to a grinding halt – when every day feels the same – when everything feels comfortable in such a way that it’s become stale, you know. It’s time for a change.

When I was thinking of where I was at that time, I felt depressed. Doing the same thing day in and day out became so wearisome. Did I really come all the way to Japan just to be dealing with the same tiring shit over and over again? Ah, but that question reveals my answer. I was focusing on the wrong thing. I forgot there was a reason I came here. At moments like these, it’s time to go back to drawing board. To plan what’s next. To recalculate where your aim is. I got caught up in the routine of my day to day life and lost track of that aim. And what’s most important is to have that aim in mind. I came here to experience new things, visit new places, meet new people.

Thus, I once again decided to move somewhere completely different. Somewhere I had never been before. I decided to move to a small town in Tohoku region. Where even less people will know English. Where many people I’ve talked to say the dialect is difficult to understand. I have a feeling this will once again be a similar experience to moving to Japan for the first time. Back when I understood virtually no Japanese. Back when I basically started my life over in Kagawa. But this time, I’m starting over in Iwate.

Is it scary? Of course it is. But that’s precisely why I’m doing it. Sometimes I think back to how easy life would have been if I didn’t break out of my comfort zone and make the trip here to Japan. How easy it is to do nothing. But then, I wouldn’t have visited such incredibly beautiful places, or met such wonderful people. I wouldn’t have been able to challenge myself and grow as a person in nearly the same way. I wouldn’t have had all these amazing experiences. The easy option isn’t worth it. The scary option has the reward.

And so here I go again, into the great unknown. Wish me luck.

Frustrations and Realizations

The path starts here.

It’s a little overwhelming, suddenly not understanding anything. At first it’s okay; you’re in a new and exciting place, and it’s to be expected. But then time goes by, things aren’t all that new anymore, and finally, it sets in: you really don’t know anything.

Before I left Canada, I tried to learn some Japanese. I thought I knew enough to get by; if I was only traveling through here, that may have been the case. Being here to stay has hit me with the stark realization that I know nothing; and the language barrier can be very frustrating. Direct translations are terrible and nonsensical. Why does this chicken say south pole?! Only one of many unsolved mysteries. I pick up unknown things in the supermarket and try to Google Translate, but it just leaves me demanding, “what are you?!”

This has made it extremely difficult for me to balance my diet. In Canada I would look at different foods and think, “am I able to eat this?” before I came to a decision. Now, in addition to that, I first have to ask, “what in the world is this?” which usually leaves me guessing for long periods of time, and often to no avail.

So to compound my frustrations with the language barrier, I have also often felt sick for eating questionable things. There’s nothing more disappointing and frustrating than cooking a meal that seems healthy, only to have your body destroy itself over it. At times it’s left me wondering: am I doing the right thing? Am I in the right place? Am I where I’m supposed to be?

There have been countless times when I didn’t know where I went wrong. But not understanding is the first step to understanding. Maybe you don’t want to admit it, but things could always be better – and they could always be worse. Which are you going to focus on? To aim for? The path starts here. Focus on where you want your path to go, and walk it. And don’t be distracted by other paths; that’s how you lose your way.

I question myself. I have my doubts. But then I leave work, and suddenly it hits me. Holy shit. I’m in Japan. I made it. Goal accomplished. Dream fulfilled. Time to live it. What’s funny is that of all the different things here, the strangest feeling I get is when I’m leaving work. I step out of English immersion, and cross the threshold into a world overflowing with an entirely foreign language. It’s like being hit by a brick wall of Japanese. And so, every once in a while, I get this feeling: “whoa, I’m really here.” And it all seeps in that I’ve been taking steps in the right direction. I’m out here carving this path for myself, and I’m right where I’m supposed to be. I’ve been accomplishing my goals all along. How strange that I never noticed before.

At the beginning of my blog I asked a few questions: “What am I doing here? Should I be here? Is this what’s right for me?” And here I still find myself asking the same sorts of things today. Everyone seems to ask these questions at some point or another. When we do, it’s easy to be stricken with anxiety over all of the different options we’ve faced in life. What if we chose differently? Could our lives have been better? There are infinite possibilities we could mull over, but let’s be real here. Do any of them really matter? Not at all. Even if life may have been better otherwise, it ultimately doesn’t matter in the slightest. We can’t live in the past. And if we try, we will surely miss out on what’s most important: living here and now. We have to start from here, because here is where we are. Make the best of your situation from here on out. Especially if that’s what you’ve been griping about not doing before. Take the path towards something better. Time to trailblaze.

Why Are You Where You Are?

Why did I come to Japan? What a difficult question. And I get asked it every day. How often do you get asked, “why are you where you are?” Strange to actually think about, isn’t it? In one sense, I made a decision to come here, so here I am. But in another, there was so much that went into this. First, I needed a simple answer to satisfy my students that barely spoke english, but I also wanted to contemplate my honest answer.

The short answer: this place is different. The long answer: that’s what I wanted. I wanted to throw myself alone into a foreign world and see how I fared. Am I someone who sinks or swims? Jump into the deep end and figure it out. There was a part of me back home that was unfulfilled. And so I left to start looking. Not for something out there, but within myself. Looking for my dreams, passions, love, happiness, excitement and wonder. Looking for something to challenge everything that I know. Looking for myself. I know I’m around here somewhere…

I went all the way to the other side of the planet to explore myself. And, undoubtedly, the experience has been nothing short of extraordinary. My job teaching has been great so far. Many days I come home knowing that I helped students learn English, yet feeling like I somehow didn’t do any work. Where I’m living now is also breathtakingly beautiful. Surrounded by mountains and the inland sea, this port town is famous for udon. Not only have I been able to take in amazing views, but the food has been absolutely delicious. I ride my bike around the city, seeing new things, hearing foreign sounds, and smelling mouthwatering food. It’s like nowhere I’ve been before, yet it has some things that are reminiscent of my hometown. Though they call this the country, to me this is the suburbs – with fields of crops here and giant buildings there. I remember when Brampton was full of open fields. Now it’s all housing. It makes me wonder if and when a similar fate will overtake this place.

I’ve been constantly trying many different things, but I’ve found a few restaurants that I really like, especially a certain western-style one. Amongst the excitement of everything new, I found myself in want of something comfortable. I think I now fully understand why China Towns always pop up everywhere in the West. In a world suddenly so unfamiliar, it’s nice to have a place that feels like home.

Not knowing Japanese in the smaller parts of Japan is difficult, but the experience is very rewarding. When I’m actually able to speak to and connect with people, I feel like I’ve somehow made a breakthrough. But there’s still so much to learn. And that keeps driving me forward. It’s a constant challenge that I’m here to overcome. It’s the challenge of discovering more about myself the hard way. Will I sink or will I swim?

When Everything Changed

There was a certain point during all of this that I will always remember…

A major turning point in my life happened in my early 20s. I was suddenly having abdominal pains and feeling sick to my stomach. And it kept happening more and more frequently. Doctors were no help. I was pushed through their revolving doors as fast as possible, while they brushed off my complaints. I was told it was just this or just that, which always conflicted with what other doctors had said. I didn’t know what to eat anymore. It always made me sick. Even sleeping was a hassle. Any sort of pressure near my abdomen was either uncomfortable or downright painful. It was a confusing time, to say the least. I stopped going to class at university. And I lost about 20 lbs.

At a culminating point of frustration, my sister took me to the hospital in hopes of getting to the bottom of this. By the end of a long wait and a few tests I was referred to a specialist. It was at this specialist that I was finally able to begin to make sense of things. More tests led him to believe that this was 99% Crohn’s disease. From this information, I was able to develop a plan. I began eating again on a very limited diet, though the specialist advised me that diet would not help. But I started to feel better and put on a bit of weight again. I was able to go back to class again. My aunt, who was a nutritionist, helped me along. Diet definitely played a key role.

After a couple of months, someone told me I could broaden my diet. It was true, that I could probably eat a bigger variety than I was currently eating, though I was hesitant to try. But after a bit of coaxing, I was convinced. I went to their place, where they had a number of things they wanted me to try. A word of advice to anyone with Crohn’s, or something similar: never try introducing multiple things at the same time. If you are going to try something new, try some of it (not too much) and see how you feel over the course of the next day or two. I learned this the hard way. I believe it was chocolate that did me in (which also happens to be my favourite – and which I still cannot eat). By the end of the day I felt absolutely terrible. My insides churned and moaned painfully. When I finally made it home and got it out of my system, I thought that would be the end of it. I just had to be wary of chocolate from here on out.

It was nearing the end of the term at school and I still had a couple of final projects to do. I spent the next three days in my room working relentlessly. But over those three days, I gradually became more and more sick. This wasn’t the regular Crohn’s kind of sickness, either. No flare up was ever like this. I had a worsening fever, coupled with headaches. By the end of the third day, there were even more alarming symptoms. Although it was more difficult than it should have been, I finished all of my final projects and was thankful. I turned my focus to my health and scoured the internet for what could possibly be happening to me. I came to the conclusion that what I had ingested punched a hole through my intestine, and was now causing an infection. The solution was surgery. It was worrying, but I made the trip to the emergency room at the hospital.

I knew things would suck after surgery, but I also knew it was something I had to get through. I hadn’t come this far just to come this far. I thought there would probably be some pain, and a small amount of recovery time before everything was back to normal and I never made this stupid mistake again. Nothing could have been further from the truth; and it devastated me. The next month was excruciating. And it seemed like it would never end.

I wasn’t given anything to help with the pain. No painkillers; nothing. On top of that, a visiting nurse poked around my wound every day for the next few weeks to ensure that there was no infection. Moving around was difficult and painful. Sitting up was the same. I was essentially bedridden for that first month, which is Hell in itself.

There was a certain point during all of this that I think I will always remember. One day, getting dressed, I found myself feeling particularly cheerful. Since I had not felt happy in some time, it came as a bit of a shock. My immediate reaction was to stop this, to get rid of this feeling. I felt I didn’t deserve it because this was not over yet. But then I had a thought. Why should I ever stop myself from feeling happy? If I were to apply that mindset to life, I would be forever miserable. Life always involves suffering, and if I only allow myself to be happy when the suffering is over, when am I ever happy? At the end of my life? Would I even be able to feel it then? It makes no sense. I could sit around wishing for the day of liberation from this pain, or I could actively make today better than yesterday. This phrase became my maxim: You can wish away forever, but you’ll never find a day like today.

As soon as I could walk, I was outside. I walked every day until I could run. And then every day I ran. It was a new freedom, and I owed it to myself. My health improved. I had a better grasp on my diet. I was finally in control of the situation, and this is critical for anyone with Crohn’s. If you are not on top of things, you will easily be overwhelmed. It is extremely easy to fall into poor health, and a lot of work to stay in control.

After this whole ordeal, my specialist hit me with an ultimatum. Either I took whatever drugs he was selling, or he couldn’t help me. He then got angry with me for asking for information on the drugs. I did a good amount of research before coming to the conclusion that these were not necessary for me. Not only did they increase my chances of cancer by a lot, but I would have to go to a facility to get them injected through an IV every week for a month or two, and then every two weeks for the rest of my life. I refuse to live like that. And this isn’t even to mention that approximately half of the people that were vocal online about their experience with these drugs got much worse as a result of taking them. It seemed like such an extreme solution for something I finally had a grasp on. I’ve never been back to that specialist since, and though I’ve had my ups and downs, I’ve never regretted my choice.

Every day life can make you bitter or better, so they say. Choose the better gamble. Every single day is a choice. Life is difficult, and sometimes it can seem like there’s no way out of your situation. But it’s always worth it to try again. It’s always worth it to start over. Always. You can wish away forever, but you’ll never find a day like today.

It’s Been a While

Anything worth doing is worth doing now.

Life happens. Everyone seems to only get busier with it. Time flies by faster and faster. Suddenly you look back and another couple of years just went by. What even happened?

I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like to. I’ve been telling myself that I’ll eventually find the time, but I only discover more and more that I have to make the time. And to be honest, there are a lot of things in my life I have taken this viewpoint on. Procrastination sure is a big problem, isn’t it? Being a perfectionist doesn’t help. I feel the need to wait until I have gathered all information I possibly can and taken everything into consideration. On the surface this seems rational, but if we actually look at it rationally, you just can’t possibly have all of the information, let alone have taken everything into consideration. What usually happens is that you wait, and wait, until you have no other choice but to act (and you generally just make a split-second decision, anyway). Deadlines used to help me do this, but with my own blog I can make my own deadlines (which, in the past, has meant I don’t have any deadlines – oops). So where does that leave us? It seems to me a good solution to act when you have a good grasp of the situation. Identifying that point may be its own problem, but taking this all into consideration should help. There comes a time in life when you have to just act. I’ve come to realize my life is something I have to actively mold into what I want. Every day is a choice. And the only place to begin is now; because here is where we are. So I’d like to start up my blog again. I’d like to share more of what I’ve worked on over the years. Maybe I’ll even end up sharing some poetry.

This year will be the beginning of a whole new adventure – a brand new chapter in my life. I’m moving to Asia. Will I be able to keep up with my blog? I hope so. I suspect part of it will get a lot more personal as I experience new places, people, and cultures; and wish to share those experiences. I still intend to finish the posts I was preparing previously, but the initial purpose of this whole project was for me to write about whatever I wanted to write about; and I will stay true to that.

On that note, I have also been researching a few other topics that interest me and I will be rearranging the list of things I want to cover on this blog. Why are mental health issues rising at an alarming rate in our society? Why do we seem so divided? What, if anything, can we do to fix this mess we find ourselves in? These are a few of the questions I’ve been asking, and I’ve come across some very compelling answers.

New technologies have given us access to a plethora of information – so much, in fact, that it would be impossible for a single person to ever take it all in within their lifetime. I don’t claim to have all of the answers. Anyone who does should not be trusted. But I would like to do my part by focusing on and making sense of what interests me.