Sunday, July 6, 2014

Home again

When we flew to Seoul two weeks ago, I realized with a twinge of regret that we were spending the longest day of the year in an airplane.  Not only that, but because we were flying west, we were essentially losing most of the following day, too.  No summer barbecues or other celebration of the extra hours of midsummer daylight; when we got back we'd already be on the downhill slide toward winter darkness.

But here's a great quirk of trans-Pacific travel:  When you come back, you win all that lost time back. We flew out of Tokyo at 5:10pm on Saturday, July 5, and landed in Seattle at 2:30pm that same day -- which is totally crazy.  It's as if the intervening flights (about 10 hours to Vancouver, then 35 minutes to Seattle) never happened and we got two bonus hours.  As far as I'm concerned, that's time travel!

Not that we're throwing any belated midsummer celebrations.  Although Amanda will stay here on my couch for another couple of days, the vacation (for me) is over.  So I've spent the afternoon unpacking and doing laundry.  At some point, I'll sit down and go through my email inboxes and figure out which start-of-the-month bills need to be paid.

There's my now-empty suitcase,
stowed in the storage unit until next time.

This is my first time returning from a big trip to a city other than Washington, DC, and I admit it feels, well, odd.  It doesn't feel at all like coming home.  I miss the familiarity of the DC airports and the prettiness of northern Virginia.  I miss feeling excited about seeing my friends again.  And (perhaps most of all right now), I miss the summer heat -- I loved walking out of the plane into the warm, humid heat of the mid-Atlantic summer; today I stepped off the plane and had to pull on a sweatshirt because it was so cold.  I'm sure I'll get used to Seattle weather eventually, but for now, I miss that other version of summer.

I'm also noticing the differences between the things I loved in Tokyo and the things that Seattle could improve on.  The three things that jumped out at me between landing at the airport and entering my apartment:
  • The Tokyo restrooms are spotless, private (floor to ceiling stalls), and convenient (heated seats, amenities for hanging up things you might be carrying, such as your umbrella, a bag, or a baby).  American restrooms are dirty, non-private and have no convenient amenities.
  • The Tokyoites were almost universally well-dressed and look relatively fit; it's as though the entire city got the memo on how to take care of themselves.  (Moreover, it's as if I were the one who had written the memo: The color palette and styles were exactly what I would -- and did! -- wear.)  Here in Seattle, the number of people one sees who are ill-kempt, poorly dressed and/or overweight is depressing.  (For example, it is depressing to me to be able to walk through a public space -- such as the Seattle airport -- counting the number of plus-sized teenagers wearing their baggy sweatshirts or tee-shirts with expressly anti-exercise, pro-laziness slogans.  Seriously, why do so many American's think that's okay?)
  • In Tokyo we didn't see many signs of poverty or mental illness.  Here, the parks are filled with vagrants and each busy street corner comes with its own sign-toting beggar.  
But I have good things to say, too!  As much as I loved Japan, there are great things here that I'm excited to get back to.  The first two things that come to mind are (1) the total absence here of knobby yellow tiles in public floors and sidewalks (glory be!), and (2) the enormous variety of food flavors in the US.  Japanese food is delicious and I love it, but after two weeks I began to feel a certain monotony in the overall flavor palate -- I wanted something that didn't have seaweed, fish, rice or soy in it.  So it was with great delight that, as we got further from Tokyo, we were able to order other types of food:

Thai basil chicken with rice noodles
Hamburger with bacon and Monterey Jack cheese and side salad
Chicken shawarma with grilled tomatoes, notions and peppers

This trip was a good one, and I'd love to go back and spend more time in Japan.  But for now I'm really happy to be back in the place that I'm trying to call home.  With this trip finished, I now have a long, uninterrupted stretch of Seattle-time in front of me.  I'm hoping to use that time to continue to settle in, buy a house, make more friends, etc., so that the next time I return from a long trip, it really will feel like coming home.

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