Sunday, June 12, 2005


For the past couple of weeks, I have been homesick. I think in the past month or two I had felt something bothersome building up inside me but I didn't understand it and couldn't name it, and even thought perhaps I wasn't getting enough sleep or not doing enough exercise or taking enough vitamins or whatever other excuse I could think of. And in the end it was homesickness brewing all along.

It's a strange feeling. When I first got here, I had bad days, but I know now they weren't homesickness. Those bad days in the first couple of months were just a feeling of general estrangement and culture shock. Getting used to my new culture. It sometimes felt like what I thought at the time homesickness must be. But I know it's different now. Of course it's different. The real homesickness, I now know, is when suddenly nothing sits right with you--food, entertainment options, conversations, work--everything and anything is cast in a sort of tainted light and there will always be something missing from the world surrounding you that you can't replace because it isn't available to you. It's thousands of miles away. It's being able to not have to think about everything you want to say at a store when you have a question about a product, or it's wishing you could strike up the same easy free flowing conversation that you could do back home with the woman running the check-out counter at the convenient store, or that tug of a specific piece of earth calling to you, that place where your heart and spirit took root and grew from its soil. There are so many things I love about living in Japan, and so many reasons that I'm glad to be here, but being glad to have this time in Japan can't combat something that goes beyond being in your own culture, living and breathing the language without thinking about it in general. I spent the last four nights finding restaurants to eat at that had any kind of food other than Japanese, just because I needed something that might vaguely remind me of home food. I've baked much of the stuff Maureen (thank you so much again) graciously sent me, brownies and cookies and such. I've been reading M.T. Anderson's Thirsty (which is wonderful so far) and have been reveling in teenaged American vernacular and insight and thought patterns. Everything seems familiar and strange at the same time. If reading a book can give me that feeling at this point, I wonder what things will feel like when I actually go home one day.

I didn't grow up moving around, like many people do. My family has lived on the same piece of land for four generations now. And although out of my family I somehow inherited a wanderlust to go to places outside the scope of a small farm town in Ohio, there's a great big piece of me that has been made from everything that exists on that piece of land, as well as the land itself. I've lived in different places at different times of my life, California for half a year, Michigan for two years, but Michigan was still close enough to home to not feel it was out of reach (and it was still the Midwest) and I wasn't in California long enough to feel what I'm feeling now, I think. It's a phase, and it will pass, but while it's here, it feels very much like a spiritual malaise of some sort. Even while I'm happy to be here and doing what I'm doing, all this "stuff" is hanging around, drawing my attention over my shoulder at various times of the day. I don't want to go back to America even so, not right now. I have time for that, and I feel that being away from the country is important for me right now. But I do wish I could just have a piece of home somehow, even for an hour, to sate this thirst for it lately.

Luckily my mom will be coming to visit at the end of next month. It'll be almost a year since I've seen her. I'm thinking her coming will help a lot. And then after she leaves, I may go to Australia for a short holiday. The flights seem particularly reasonable at the moment, and I could really use a dose of living in English again, even if it's Australian English and they use words like "jumper" and "mate". (Nudge nudge, hehe to Justine). So perhaps by the end of August I'll be back in good condition to do my next half a year to a year of being here that I plan to do.

There are a lot of difficult and strange experiences in the near future, I can foresee--coming home, trying to figure out how to live there again, to find work, to find some way to live in a place I'd like to live. New York City or Boston, or various suburbs of either, I really want to live on the coast, and in a city, but figuring out what sort of work I might be able to get in those places still confounds me. I have a Master's degree in English, have sold some short stories, have a really good agent and a novel that may sell someday, so you know, things could be worse. But I'm not what you would call someone with a lot of career options really. On top of that, there'll then be a time where I'll have to deal with not being in Japan any longer, because it's already become a part of me now, like America. It's nourished me while I've been living here. You take your soil with you no matter what. It all seems like it'll be a lot to deal with, but I'm confident I'll deal. After all, I've somehow managed to teach elementary school kids in another language, so after that, I feel like I can do just about anything. But for now, I'm homesick and will be waiting for when my mom arrives. It'll be like when a package from home comes and before I even look inside to see what's in there, I open the flap and smell. No matter what or who it's from, it always smells like home.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Chris, you are allowed to be homesick. It has been almost a year that you have been in Japan and that is a long time and big distance from little old Ohio. I posted you a comment earlier but I don't think it will come up since I didn't choose the anonymous option and left it on blogger. You know it is only 39 more days and you are going to see the one and only, me! Now what else could make your homesickness go away? Come on now start making a list of all the stuff we are going to do, go, share, eat, laugh at, cry at, complain about, argue about, etc. See now I know you feel better already. Just like always. This was a busy weekend with the Relay for Life taking place. The Barzak Agency got first place for Pack the Track for the first lap. Doesn't surprise you does it? Donnie walked 24 hours and we all took turns walking and cooking in the tent and we raised over $3,000 for cancer. We missed you. Dad said you could have helped him with the hot dogs and fries, Donnie said you could have done some laps for him. So get ready for next year Donnie said he is going to give you a workout if you are back to help him out. It was alot of work, but for a great cause. Hey get those Japanese kids writing those pen pal letters also so I can bring them back with me. I will email you later. Hang in there I'm getting excited and you better be ready for me. Take care, Love you, hugs, Mom & Dad

7:15 PM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

Homesickness. At times in China I felt as if I were serving out a prison sentence. It's so hard to be an expatriate. I think of all of the people who come to the States and stay and I am just amazed at what they gave up.

I'm glad you got the cookies and brownie stuff and I thinking reading comfort books is so smart. When I was in China it was impossible for me to get a decent haircut because I have curly hair and they just didn't know how to deal with that. After I'd been in country for several months, I went to Beijing, went to an Australian-Japanese joint venture hotel that just felt Western. I was wearing a Chinese army coat (all the rage among hip Chinese types AND warm and cheap.) I stalked into the lobby in my boots and coat with my wild hair, just off the train. I sat in the very Western lobby where none of the chairs had anitmacassars (for some reason, antimacassars were big in Chinese decor at the time) and ordered a six dollar scotch. I knew people at the university who made $27 a month, and I made $300 a month, so a $6 scotch wa a serious investment.

But I sat there in the Western style lobby surrounded by tourists and businessmen, many of whom were either Australian or American and drank my scotch, feeling a little like some wild animal who had crawled in. And I shook off some of the constant otherness of my life, where I was always not-Chinese in a Chinese place.

I did that a couple of more times before my time in China was up, and I always thought it was money well spent.

11:06 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

hehe, you are a trip, Mom.

And Maureen, your stories from China always resonate with me now in a way that I doubt they did before I came here (I mean, they always did, but now they're much more immediate). I had trouble for the first three months getting my haircut too. Curly hair also. And I couldn't speak Japanese then, and even when I'd point at pictures of white curly haired people's hairstyles in magazines they'd still just cut it so short it just came out as the sort of bowl cut a lot of the little kids wear here, only my hair didn't lay down all floppy like theirs. Then I finally learned a bit of Japanese and also a woman started working at the salon that had a little English under her belt, so between the two of us, we started to figure things out a bit more. And she had worked in Australia as a stylist for several months and knew how curly hair works.

Thankfully I've lost enough weight to fit into Japanese clothes now without too much of a problem. I'm a medium back in the states now, but still a large here, which feels unfair somehow, but at least I can buy clothes now!

I imagine I'll be looking to shake off the constant otherness often from here on out. And recently, it has begun to feel, on certain days, like a bit of a prison term. Counting months, etc.

It'll all be good in the end, I know. But for now, nine months can seem daunting.

7:48 AM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Haha Justine. You get asked about your accent, I get complimented on my eyes. STILL. I've sort of come to a point where when the kids point at me and say oh you have blue eyes, I just nod. Well, yeah, of course I do. (If they'd say it in English, I'd respond more. I'll talk about things that I find tedious but they don't if they're trying to use the English I'm trying to teach them). And yeah, Australia, if I can go, will be different, but I will be just happy to have English around everywhere for a few days. And it's good to know that, when I return, even though I'll miss Japan, it won't be as bad as missing home.

Lisa, yay! I hope you do come. But we just got a Lush store here two months ago and I now have easier access to Lush prods than I did back in Ohio. Go figure. But thanks for asking anyway. It'll be so cool if we can hang out some in a few months. Let me know when you know!

4:49 AM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

You bring up a good point, Haddayr. I felt other back home too, in that I felt completely of the place where my family is from, and also completely like I didn't belong because, well, I don't really fit into any of the categories of people who belong to that place. It's still a form of otherness. This is just a really different and keenly felt way of being different. I can't escape my physical difference, my language difference, my accent in Japanese (even if I do well at the accent and have really good grammatical skills and don't mess up a lot of the tenses and prepositions I'm supposed to use). In the end, I'm still this white guy with blue eyes from another country. I do my best to fit in, but I can only get so far. Back home, I could pass. Here, no matter what, I just can't.

12:50 PM  

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