Because variety is the spice of life, and I miss the spice of Indian food, I decided to do something different with my blog for a change. Something a bit more intimate, and something which hopefully might give you a new kind of insight into travelling. I dunno, but fuck it. Instead of the usual gig, here I have copied word for word (complete with all the terrible grammar and overuse of the word ‘wonderful’) the latest entry in my journal. Sometimes in my journal I just cellotape in a train ticket and write “long. shite. boring.” Sometimes though, I really go for it, get it all out. I find writing these kind of entries helps me reflect and relish memories of the trip usually too personal to share on the blog. Remembering an oath I swore to a friend to be as honest in my writing as possible though, and without further ado, here it is. I hope you enjoy.
Bus to Ica from Arequipa
Monday 4th July
Just re-read fully the list of names I’ve been keeping of all the people I’ve shared my time with over the last six months, recollecting memories and, where possible, faces. My tiny scrawled hand-writing fills up an entire two pages of my journal. To think of hanging with Marcus and Auguste and Isabell way back in Amritsar, right through all those wonderful, wonderful people in China and Korea and Japan and South America, I feel I might have been travelling for years already. At least this is my impression of time as seen through the endlessly layered lenses of shared and happy experiences.
Re-reading though, I found I felt sudden pangs of nostalgia and desire for the names of those met in East Asia and, in particular, Japan. This does not surprise me. Over the last few weeks, and especially this last couple days, my heart has ached for Asia; for Japan.
Not, I must admit, that South America is not fulfilling me, or that I’m unhappy here. Far from it. I cycled down Death Road in La Paz; I went (accidentally) to a bare-knuckle boxing match in Peru; I had the nicest four days of relaxation in the mountainous sun of Arequipa. No. I love it here.
It’s hard to describe just exactly what it is causing these ‘pangs of longing’ (or indeed what these ‘pangs’ exactly are) therefore. True, a greater proportion of the people we’ve met in South America have been aresholes than those I met in the East. But I’ve also met some wonderful people here, so my nostalgia can’t be entirely comparative. Maybe coincidence then, that the people I met in Asia were simply of an insurmountable quality. The names stir up in me such a roar of immense emotion, it’s hard not to, admittedly, look at countries like Korea and Japan through particularly rosey shades.
I see the names of girls I spent sometimes days, sometimes just an evening falling in (and once or twice out of) a sort of love with. Girls I wish I’d had the chance to spend more time with; girls like Keisha in Osaka who I shared two nights of cigarettes and microwave 7Eleven meals and conversation about anime with before I left for Tokyo.
I see the names of kind and gentle and profound hearts; of people like Matan in Busan, whose settled head and warm words were the only thing that helped me after near-drowning during that drunken skinny-dip in the sea. Who taught me a great deal about respect and happiness. Who I have no contact information for and will thus probably never meet again. I see names like Oren and Piet from Matsumoto, Japan, and I am reminded of my undying love for that city, with its distinctive charm, best ramen ever (chicken!), and of Oren’s mantra: “this too shall pass” which I’ve had to adopt more than once along the way, and of hiking in the rain with Piet, draining our boots in a rest house as he played his harmonica. Piet was a kindred spirit. One of the best. I see Paula’s name there in Matsumoto too and my mind’s transported to beer-fuelled Sanja Matsuri festival in Tokyo, and to Nagano.
I think of Nagano and its morning shrine rituals, of its matcha, of hikes in the Alps, of Nao-san and his sake. I think of walking from up-town back down, down staircases winding down the hillside and through quaint, quiet neighbourhoods, and I remember thinking with absolute certainty that there – not even just Japan, but Nagano – was where I was supposed to live. Strong as an ordinance from a God I don’t even believe in. And re-tracing these names, with these memories all attached, I’ve never been so sure: Japan is to be a large part of my future. I will fight for it tooth & nail.
And this is the thing about Asia and all these names: that despite the rose-tints, despite the language barrier, despite the low points in Korea, despite as ever missing deep-down my true home, my blood & my friends, Asia just felt right to me. I was comfortable there, and for whatever reasons, the further East I got, the more comfortable I became. Such an initially alien and unusal set of cultures fast became cultures I miss sorely, with all the nostalgia I feel for pints and crisps with my boys back at the Cross-Keys.
I miss the respect for nature, for wildlife, and for others. I miss the intrigue & the politeness. I miss the obsession with art in all its forms and the richness of the history. I miss the peace, the security & intense safety. I miss the variety, & crickets in the grass at night. I miss the people (local and travellers), the food (holy shit: Japanese food). I miss the care taken over beauty. I miss the resilience of Japan. I miss the sense of belonging, or of potential belonging I got so used to in Korea and Japan. “I could see myself living here quite easily, regardless of company”, I said of Seoul, Korea. How true that would prove for Busan and then, afterwards, for almost every city or town I visited in Japan.
Still I can’t put my finger on exactly why I have this intense longing to return. Not that I think reasoning is always necessary. A feeling is a feeling and more than often that is quite enough as it is to the beholder. Still, I have to take into account my distance (Time linear & georgraphically) from both home-home and then from Asia; maybe I’ve just transferred a sort of homesickness onto a place I adjusted to which is much fresher in my mind. This, I’m sure, has erased from my mind many of the bad days and sad moments from, say, Japan (one of the more favourable aspects to the passing of time). And yet I re-read my journal entries from these countries, and I am reminded just how happy, how comfortable I was travelling around and through them.
It’s a very strange feeling this. And one that, as a virtual newbie – even still – to the whole travelling game, I’ve never experienced before. And that is the feeling of travelling through one continent, whilst pining for another, both of which are exactly the opposite sides and ends of the world from auld Caledonia.
It’s nice though, I’m not sat here wishing it was different. I want nothing else than to keep travelling along the route I am. I’ve found something to love or enjoy almost every day in this past one and a half Latina months. So I’m not sad and I don’t want to leave. It just so happens that occasionally I might check Instagram and Nao’s uploaded a new photo from somewhere in Nagano prefecture and I’m punched in the chest with this recurring idea of having a wee flat there, or better still, a small house of tatami and paper doors. It just so happens that occasionally I see trash on the street and I think of how Japan’s public bins are recycling-organised; or something stupid like that. Or occasionally, like tonight, I go back through the names and faces in this journal or my head, and I remember, say, PJ & Emily in Korea – discussing literature over rainy coffees, or okonomiyaki & anime with Rodrigo the Mexican in Osaka, or talking Stephen King with Lorrell over cigarettes in the best hostel this side of Hiroshima.
And when those feelings hit, I am spared a moment to pause; to find myself quite incredibly, incredibly lucky – not only for having met some of the most intensely wonderful people ever to have graced our wretched rock, but for the opportunity to have travelled to places which have left me feeling like this: so lovesick and worked-up and gut-wrenchingly brain-tangled. For the opportunity to find some sort of a calling. Because for a long while now I’ve known my, for lack of a better phrase, “professional” calling, which is to say, to write, and to write IT. But I’ve lacked somewhat the calling of place (bar for the time being the strong pull of dear auld Glesga). Now though, I have it: Japan.
I know not what the future holds for me. But I firmly know what I hope it does.
P.S. M & D & R & M, home will always be home for me.
P.P.S. Header image by Luke Gram