Last Minute Notes from Japan

Tomorrow I will be getting on a plane and flying back to Canada. I’m coming home! It’s been a whirlwind last few months here and yet, the day before departure has finally arrived. I am feeling more excited than anything, although as the days wind down I’m am becoming increasingly aware of the fact that there are people, places, and aspects to life here that I will indeed miss terribly.

It has been a good 4 years. I have learned a lot about myself, people, and most importantly, God. I have had a lot of exciting opportunities through work and been given the chance to really get involved in life here. I have joined a hardcore bible study and gotten to know some incredible women outside of work. I learned to run. I learned to coach. I learned to be a Head of Department (let’s never let that happen again!), and I learned what it means to trust God with every detail of my life.

With this as my third “international post”, I feel that I have some experience with goodbyes. This one feels a little bit different because this goodbye involves me handing in my Foreigner Card. I’ve been holding onto that baby for 10 years and now, it’s time to hand it in.  I feel like I’m not only saying goodbye to Japan, but also in a sense to the expat life. There is some sadness there but at the same time, I am really looking forward to being done with emotional airport goodbyes, massive Wal-Mart shops for 6 months worth of tampons, toothpaste and deodorant, and long long flights. I’m looking forward to understanding what’s going on around me, being able to easily make dinner reservations, and being able to buy shoes any time of year! So true, I am saying a major sort of goodbye, but I’m also saying a really happy hello!

I feel very blessed for the way the past 10 years of my life have played out and I am really excited about relocating and living the next 10 in my home and native land!

Home.

“You can never go home again”

They say that once you have left a place, you can never return. Once you’ve left home, nothing will be the same… that includes you. Social media is littered with posts about the things you learn living abroad, why you’ve changed once you’ve been overseas, how your life is so different, your perspectives so altered, how you will NEVER fit back into your pre-experience life. I am guilty of posting such articles too and I have found comfort in knowing that I’m not alone on this expat adventure. It’s fun to be part of a semi-if-not-entirely-self-proclaimed special group of people but… I’m tired now.

Because in all of my travels, all of my overseas experiences, all of my attempts to make and create a “sense” of home miles and oceans away from my original one, I have come to see that for me, my first home is where I want to be.

I have been blessed to meet people who were my temporary “family”. I have lived in nice places that I have called “home”. I have worked on blending into a new country that I can call my “land” but… I miss the original.

Because you see– through all my travels I think I’ve realized the other cliche truth that you can go around the world and realize that the thing you want most was there all along.

Because I want to feel like I belong somewhere. Being a foreigner is fun and exciting and makes you automatically quite interesting. You can get away with things by playing the “Dumb foreigner card” and you can get extra perks because “you’re new here”. But I’m tired of standing out, I’m tired of not being entirely sure what is going on around me and I’m tired of feeling like I don’t belong. I’m looking forward to being in a place where I do belong and am accepted.

Because I want to be close to MY people. There is something thrilling about meeting people and realizing that they only know the you that you have been since you moved to that country. You can reinvent yourself, you can change as much about yourself as you want, you can choose to leave out huge chunks of your life when you’re telling stories BUT there is something so wonderful to be around people who have always known you. People who know your family and where you came from. People who “get” you and love you no matter what. People who remember your mid-nineties obsession with all things denim and still talk to you. I have been fortunate enough to find myself in some wonderful communities and I have made some incredible friends but it’s time to go back to my roots because I really miss the people who really know me.

Because I want to be part of “every day” life with my family. I am really close with my family and I have enjoyed our intense bursts of time together during the summers and Christmas time but I want to be able to spend random Thursday nights with them or Sunday lunches. I want to be able to just go for coffee with my sister or walks with my parents during crazy times like… October or April. I’m tired of missing out on the every day stuff. I think I’m kind of homesick for the mundane.

I feel truly blessed for the last 10 years, for the amazing relationships/friendships I’ve had, for the experiences I’ve been part of, for the things I’ve seen and the places I’ve been. I am quite aware that most of the memories I take with me will be rose-coloured and I know that once I’m settled into life back home, I’ll miss these places like crazy. But I also have an ache for all things Canada and for now, that’s where I want to be.

I know I have changed a lot during the past 10 years. I know that people and circumstances at home have changed too. That’s life. I know that things will not be exactly the same as when I lived there 10 years ago but that’s okay.. and actually for the better. I’m excited to “start over again” in a familiar place.

So maybe it’s true that you can never go home again– but I’m going to try.

On Singapore

Singapore and I have had a bit of a rocky relationship. A little over 3,000 days ago,  I first landed in Singapore. I was 24 years old, had never been on a plane and was en route to a completely new life in Indonesia. I had a lot going on.

I remember landing in the middle of the night, somehow being taken to a fancy hotel near Orchard Road and handing over my passport to some man named Abdul. I was then taken to my room, my bags were dropped off and the door closed, leaving me in a very high tech hotel room. I went to use the bathroom and found that I couldn’t figure out how to turn the bathroom light on.

And that’s when it happened: I totally freaked out.

We are talking complete breakdown, hysterical sobs. I tend to refrain from using the word epic as a descriptor but in my life, this was one of the few epic breakdowns I have ever had. I am pretty sure I wasn’t actually all that upset about the hotel bathroom, rather the fact that I was aware of that I was suddenly so very far away from everything and everyone familiar.

Somehow I figured out the bathroom light and I’m guessing I had a shower and went to bed but I still remember talking to myself in the dark hotel room that smelled faintly like foreign spices, muttering something about how I should have signed up for a two week mission trip, not a two year international teaching experience.

After that Singapore remained under a bit of a dark cloud in my mind. Hated the place. Bad associations. It was too sterile. It was boring. It was whatever I felt like accusing it of being. It stayed that way for quite a long time. For the rest of the time I lived in Indonesia, for my time in Germany and into my time in Japan, Singapore was not my happy place.

When I moved to Japan I got involved with directing a club that had a yearly conference in Singapore. I had to return at some point. And so reluctantly I packed my bags and headed back to that equatoresque-complicated-to-define-city/country. When I landed I was shocked. Everything I missed about living in South East Asia hit me, reminding me what I had given up in leaving yet the tricky thing is that the cleanliness and order I had learned to appreciate from life in Germany and Japan, was also somewhat present. It was safe Asia.. or as other people have referred to it: Asia Light. And I loved it.

I have returned three times with work and once for a holiday and I must admit that this city has changed in my mind. I appreciate the things I didn’t before and am at a place where I can appreciate the quirkiness and some of the irritating things about South East Asia all the while enjoying the food and the shopping and the friendly people and the English speaking and the palm trees and cool buildings and the water and the cleanliness and the wearing of flip flops and the access to western food and the very best asian cuisine. It’s all very good.

I do like it here. Could I picture living and working here? Maybe. Do I want to return? Definitely. Should I stop asking myself questions in this irritating manner? Yes! Yes! Yes!

So there you have it. Singapore. I like it. It hasn’t changed but I sure did!