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    Raise the pressure

    On Saturday, I flew into Tokyo as a resident of Japan for the last time. Sometime in the next few weeks, I’ll step out onto my balcony and see this view once more, wish Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown their best, and leave the apartment to the cleaners. Then I’m moving back to New York.


    If you’re a Westerner living in Asia, you have, at any time, at least a half-dozen friends who are trying to decide whether they want to leave or stay. It’s just a topic that comes up a lot. Therefore, I was able to draw on a lot of advice, not all of it solicited. Most of the people whose opinions I valued echoed my Belgian architect friend (whose advice I did solicit, since he has a lot more experience with these things than I have): If you have experience working in Asia, you can always find a way to come back; but the longer you’re away from home, the harder it is to find a way to return.

    So I’m moving back. Taking a bit of a rest, staying with my old roommate in Murray Hill for a while, then getting a new job.

    “Aren’t you afraid it’ll be hard to adjust?” I’ve been asked (and asked and asked). Yeah, sure. I’ve been in Japan my whole adult life. (I don’t consider college and grad school adulthood–not when you’re being funded by Mom and Dad or the Japan Foundation.) But people move to new places all the time. And New York is somewhere I’ve lived before anyway.

    And yet…it’s been a long time since I’ve lived in the States. When I last lived in America, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was still nothing more than a rather bad movie with Kristy Swanson. When the television show debuted and friends started raving about it, we saw it in Japan the way you saw American shows back then: friends sent videotapes.

    I bought a few new CDs on their day of release a week or two after arriving in Japan: Bilingual by the Pet Shop Boys and Nine Objects of Desire by Suzanne Vega.

    I don’t remember which movies I first saw in the theater after coming to Tokyo. I do remember watching Alien Resurrection here when it was released. Japanese audiences are very quiet, so when the Winona Ryder character reappeared after being shot, my spontaneous cry of, “YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD AND OUT OF THE PICTURE, YOU ANNOYING B…” could be heard echoing through the theater until my then-boyfriend clapped a hand over my mouth.

    That’s how long I’ve been away. Yes, I see my friends back home at least once a year, and I’m in constant e-mail contact. And there are loads of things that make keeping in touch easier. Everyone has e-mail. (That wasn’t true even in 1996.) You can download just about anything. (When was the last time I had to leave the house without 6000 songs stored on a device the size of a deck of cards? I don’t even remember.) You can torture people with your vacation photos without even having them printed; just create and online album and e-mail the URL to friend and foe alike. But it isn’t the same as being there.

    I’m not focusing on changes in pop culture stuff because I’m unaware that there are more important things in life. It just, when you live far from home and contact friends to find out what’s going on there, they assume you’re watching the news. If someone brings up what Obama just said at a rally the other night, it’s because they want to discuss it, not because they think they’re informing you about something happening at home that you couldn’t have heard about.

    It’s the new movies and music and restaurants and things they tell you about to help you feel caught up. (Books, too, but despite being someone who reads all the time, I generally have a hard time getting into contemporary fiction, so my friends have learned to stop recommending new novels to me.) Even if you find soap-opera-ish dramas tiresome, knowing that a lot of the people you know are watching Ally McBeal or (now) Grey’s Anatomy and gabbing about it at brunch on weekends becomes meaningful. You’re not participating in one another’s daily lives, but you can at least feel secure in the knowledge that you’re not becoming strangers.

    So. Three weeks to settle things here. Then however long it takes to get settled back in at home. I’m looking forward to the culture shock in a way. It would be a bummer if America and New York and I weren’t different after twelve years. And now that Japan seems to be cool again, maybe I can parlay my experience here into a hip, cosmopolitan demeanor that gets the men flocking to me.

    Or maybe I’ll just seem out of it.

    We’ll find out soon enough.

    14 Responses to “Raise the pressure”

    1. Zak says:

      Wow. I hope you keep up the blog and let us know how the adjustment back to the States is.

      I think this is a function of living in Tokyo:

      If you’re a Westerner living in Asia, you have, at any time, at least a half-dozen friends who are trying to decide whether they want to leave or stay.

      I know four or five Westerners here in Kyoto, and it’s a given that we’re here permanently and this is where they’ll bury us. Actually, I hope they don’t bury me here because then I’ll have my progeny and their progeny coming to bug me ceaselessly every Obon. Bury me in the States where they forget the dead and let them lie in peace!

      Oh, where was I? Oh yeah. Kyoto versus Tokyo. Or maybe it’s a hetero/homo difference as well, since we’ve all married and had kids here, making the transaction costs of moving back to the States much higher.

    2. Wow. Judging by my own grasp of pop culture, despite the fact that I’ve never lived outside the US (in fact, never outside my birth state, Florida), I might as well have been living in Japan for the past twenty years. For one thing, I’ve never seen one episode of Grey’s Anatomy and in fact am not even sure what this show is about. I’m guessing it’s one of those medical shows?

    3. Internet Ronin says:

      My first thought when I saw this was “Wow.” but I see that Zak and Andrea had the same reaction, so here’s a “What a surprise!” and a “Didn’t expect this.” Like Zak, I hope you’ll keep blogging. Like Andrea, I’m culturally deprived although I’ve been in the US (unlike you, Ive never seen a single episode of Buffy). All the best to you, Sean, as you prepare to move.

    4. Sean Kinsell says:

      Zak, the O-Bon comment made me laugh out loud. On the plus side, though, you get to feared and revered and propitiated, don’t you? You’re probably right that there are differences where Tokyo and Kyoto are concerned. I do have foreign friends who are married to Japanese women and have children here who talk about moving back to the West every so often, though. They don’t do it because, as you say, they’re dug in, but they think and talk about it fairly often.

      Andrea, I saw one episode of Grey’s Anatomy in Taipei with a friend. “It’s so BAD!” she announced just as it was starting, which I took to mean “It’s so bad it’s GOOD!” No such luck. Dysfunctional relationships, lots of whining about same, the occasional life-threatening illness thrown in to pump up the drama and make use of the hospital setting. And the lead character is like a wispier Renee Zellweger: whispery voice, that scrunchy thing with her eyes to show she’s Feeling something Deeply. No thanks.

      Internet Ronin, when I got back here from Taipei, I started e-mailing acquaintances that I was leaving for good. Four or five of my gay-mafia-type friends, independently of each other, replied with the subject line “OMG.” Four or five! It was way too Borg for me. Thanks for holding the line for individuality, and thanks for the good wishes.

    5. Mark Alger says:

      Wow! Sure didn’t see THAT one coming.

      AAMOF, I heard it first from Andrea, since (just the luck of the draw), I read her blog before I came here.

      Many mixed feelings. Will miss your take on the Orient. Can’t wait to hear your take on NYC. ::heh:: Hoping this enhances the chances of meeting you IRL.

      Have a safe flight.


    6. Maria says:

      Wow. (Oh, I know, everyone is saying it…) But, it’s a good word. 😉 It’ll be interesting to have you back in the States being snarky about everything. :-)

    7. caltechgirl says:

      good luck with the move, and like Maria, I can’t wait to hear your take on life here :-)

    8. And the lead character is like a wispier Renee Zellweger: whispery voice, that scrunchy thing with her eyes to show she’s Feeling something Deeply.

      Gah! I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who can’t stand Renee Zellweger. I mean, I think I’ve only seen her in Meet Joe Black (a movie I must insist I saw only because it was my then fiancé’s father’s favorite and they insisted on me watching it with them), and at first she was okay, but then as the film progressed I realized that that hurt/pissed-off purse-mouthed expression never left her face, for any reason. She’s sad, she’s mad, she’s having an orgasm — her lips never unpurse. Gack!

    9. Sean Kinsell says:

      Thanks, everyone. Mark, I have friends in Chicago whom I’m sure I’ll be visiting eventually, and Ohio is on the way. :) I’d be interested to see the results of the DIY projects you post about. Some of my best memories of childhood are from playing arounnd with wood and tools (and some surprisingly sharp objects, now that I think about it) in my father’s workshop while, like, Spirit or Led Zeppelin was blaring. You can’t really do that sort of thing in Japan–too much noise (even without the music), and no room for a table saw, unless they’re making them collapsible now.

      Maria, I can be nice, too! I mean, I was nice sometimes when we knew each other, right?

      Caltechgirl, good to see you’re still around. Last time I checked your blog, you were in a posting lull, I guess. It seems to be active now.

      Andrea, I SO DON’T GET the Renee Zellweger thing. She has very good taste in dresses–not a given among actresses and their stylists and handlers these days–and she carries herself well. But her range is really limited, and I tend to find her hard to warm to unless she’s in a role that fits that natural exasperated look of hers.

    10. Maria says:

      If you’re willing to travel as far west as Chicago, then surely you could handle going north to Minnesota! 😉 You mean you really will go west of the Appalachians?! You had to move to Japan to make friends with midwesterners that you’d be willing to visit?

      I couldn’t resist, Sean. 😉 I love being snarky with you. And, yes, Sean, you can be, and have been, nice. Don’t forget you were my best friend at one point in time. :-) (Ok, all together now, everyone–awwww!)

    11. Alice says:

      I was going to say WOW in caps to try and be different, but it seems a bit too big. Anyway- please do keep blogging and good luck with everything, have a great time, it’s always good to keep moving if you ask me (until you get to Texas, obviously).

    12. Sean Kinsell says:

      Maria, yes, of course, I can make it up to Minnesota. And who says the people I know in Chicago are Japan people?

      Alice, I have a habit of visiting Connie and Kim every few years. I know going to Austin from Dallas involves more than crossing a bridge, but it would be great to meet up in real life if things worked out. And I’m sure I’ll be blogging about the anthropology of America when I get back.

    13. Janis Gore says:

      You’re an interesting man, Sean, and an asset wherever you go.

      I’m a little glad that the US will be able to claim you for awhile.

    14. Sean Kinsell says:

      Well, thank you, Miss Janis. I consider it high praise to be considered interesting by someone as confidently idiosyncratic as you are. Let’s hope employers think I’m an asset wherever I go, too!

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