Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Posttraumatic Reverse Culture Shock

I can't imagine what it would be like if were able to transport instantaneously from place to place.

For me, travel time is naturally inconvenient, but a necessity. You leave one world, you enter another. In the interim, you exist in a place that is neither here nor there, a world without culture, without substance - I don't believe I can give the inside of a 777 any higher praise.

While I was leaving Chicago, I truly was in a different reality - Chili's restaurants, English bookstores, faces from every nationality staring me down.

In the limbo, there is nothing - bland food, plotless films, the grey exterior of the seat in front of you. Little interaction. Windows that reveal only clouds or total darkness. No fixed points. Transient, indeterminable, unreachable.

And Japan. How would one suddenly cope if we could just press a button and have everything change, feeling like we're still grasping at the residual images from a dream: the Dr. Pepper machine, the overweight woman prattling on about Britney Spears, the wide open spaces between buildings... all of these things have vanished. In their stead, we find a Japan Railways ticket dispenser laden with Japanese characters, a dignified obasan clutching her parasol, and mountains bearing down every corner. Too much, too fast.

From the moment I first walked off that plane at DFW airport, two things immediately stood out:

1. I saw more fat people within 15 minutes of landing than I had in two years in Japan.

2. For less than a minute, I couldn't distinguish the faces of Caucasians as easily as I could those of Asians. It was rather eerie.

Other differences cropped up over time:

- wide, open spaces
- crosswalks turn to red immediately rather than giving ample warning
- recycling isn't as common
- the food is heavy, heavy, heavy; one breakfast was enough to sustain me for a day after being accustomed to Japanese cuisine
- Coca Cola is sweeter in Japan
- the air is dryer; I've noticed that there is something in the air in Japan that reacts badly with the skin; many of the Japanese people I've known have had splitting cracks bordering on bleeding
- land can be flat
- there's an overwhelming sense of belonging, of being where I'm supposed to be

No one understands what it's like over in Nippon; I'm a novelty, an abnormality, the details of my life unbelievable and incapable of being processed. I wish I could convince others to visit.

No comments: