Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books were, quite frankly, my favorite books EVER. I love them so much that I read them to my boys over and over again while they were young, and I have even recently begun listening to them on my iPod.
The first one in the series is Little House in the Big Woods, and I just finished listening to it yesterday.
Growing up, I always daydreamed of living a pioneer's life just like Laura. I'm sure my desire for indoor plumbing and running water in the kitchen would trump that were I to try this sort of thing in real life now as a grownup, but still. And, listening to these books again now, I have to compare this Foreign Service lifestyle to just that sort of pioneering life. No, really.
We leave our home, wherever it is, because it's time to move. We go to a new place where we, more than likely, know not a single soul. Our family - the folks who travel with us over and over again - are our core sphere of those we care about. We will intermingle with the new place where we are, but still. We know, deep down inside, it's our family that's the important piece and the rest of it will come and go as we do.
Take our family. We moved to Tokyo. Sure, it's not the deserted fields of the midwest like where Laura moved (where you don't see a person for miles), but it might as well be. No, really. I don't speak the language - I cannot even say hello or goodbye in Japanese, so I pass folks outside but, really, it is as though I am alone but for my family. The four of us.
When I arrived in Tokyo, I had no clue what the hell I was going to feed my family, how I was going to get it, or how I was going to get it back to my house once I'd acquired it. Isn't that something like Ma Ingalls?
In the evenings, I stand in my kitchen and make whatever I can think of using whatever familiar-to-me raw materials I've gathered from around my environment. One place has chicken I recognize. Another place has fruit I recognize. I walk from place to place during the day, gathering the makings of meals, and walk home with them in order to fix them for the other people who matter so much to me. I will do what I can to make this temporary place a home. We will move on someday, though. Isn't that something like Ma Ingalls?
A girlfriend of mine asked if it was hard to be an expat in Tokyo because she'd heard the rumor that it is. Are you kidding me?! Whoever thinks it's hard to be an expat in Tokyo didn't start their overseas experience in Chengdu, China, is all I'm saying. NOTHING in Asia - NOTHING - could ever be a challenge after serving in mainland China. Tokyo is a cakewalk. You don't know a single word of Japanese? Doesn't matter. I have gotten along just fine without it.
Tokyo reminds me of a cross between Germany and Seattle. Germany because everything here in Tokyo is pristinely clean and very efficient and organized. And also, during evenings and weekends things close (like restaurants and stores). And there's a place for everything and everything is in its place. The cars are teensy tiny, the roads are teensy tiny, the living spaces are teensy tiny - to me, those parts feel like Germany. Well, and also we have nothing but German appliances in our apartment, so I'm sure that contributes to the Germany feeling. Oh, and they drive on the opposite side of the road here and have opposite-side-driver cars. And it's so expensive here you think you're going to go broke if you go out to eat or take a taxi anywhere. Or buy anything.
Seattle because downtown Tokyo is pretty much entirely on an incline. You walk uphill both ways, panting, no matter where you are headed. And also because there's so much foliage, even though it's downtown. And also because there is a sort of a coast-y kind of smell, even though you cannot see the water from where we live and work. And because there's seafood everywhere. See? Seattle. Except it's much, much, MUCH sunnier than Seattle here. Thank goodness. We never saw the sky or sun in Chengdu, so this is a nice change.
I don't even notice that Tokyo is Asian. Scoff if you like, but I'm dead serious. China is Asian in your face, up your nose, and down your throat. Tokyo is so polite. I almost apologizes for itself if you notice anything about it other than its peacefulness and cleanliness.
The two above pictures came from the same building, which is right smack in the middle of modern-looking buildings (office buildings and such) in downtown Tokyo. I think this is a religious worship center of some sort. Buddhist? Not sure - I can't read the signs. Since I don't speak a single word of Japanese.
The food here is to die for and the topic of another blog post.
But just in case you're in the mood for a hilarious comparison of China (Chengdu, in fact!) and Tokyo, written by none other than David Sedaris, an incredibly funny writer, you can read it here. It is SO right on!