When I traveled around Africa a couple of months ago, I met a Japanese backpacker in a bed & breakfast in Windhoek, capital of Namibia. Watching his behavious and talking with him gave me some insight about why we behave like the way “Japanese tourists” are.
He was sitting alone in the chair, reading a Japanese book in a shared bedroom when we arrived to grab the other beds. An Aum-Shinrikyo lookalike dressed in white shirts and white pants with long hair, his physical appearance made me think of a monk or a lone wolf who just cannot help being himself. He could have been 35 or 40 years old, and his mental age seemed much younger than that. It doesn’t mean he showed childlike curiosity or liveliness – he seemed ignorant. He was, I guess, avoiding the other backpackers. Not because he didn’t want to communicate with them but because he didn’t know how. The other backpackers were playing billiyards or kept drinking or chatting or whatever but outside the room and spoke English.
Next morning I woke up at 4:00 AM and couldn’t continue sleeping, so I kept watching the ceiling thinking what woke me up. Something clicked in me, something that I had been thinking for a long time. The image of that guy, who was alone reading a book and is now sound asleep somewhere in that room, came back to my mind. It was just like one of the playback in the variety show in which the supposedly funny scene was shown repeatedly (three times in average) to make the blunder joke funnier or to save something out of that misery. I tried to let the image flow and capture the feeling in my words. Put out some specific keywords and say it in a very little voice – and see how much it resonates in my body. This time, I came up with this sentence.
He is still in Japan
He is in a place far, far away from the home country and why on earth should I think in that way? I tried some more.
He is still in the Japanese context
This might be closer. I continued searching in my gut, trying to compose an explanation and let the gut judge if it is correct or not. (This is the first time I became aware of my thinking process – to me it’s the gut that does the critical judgement, not the brain. The brain is there to compose a sentence as a translator, thus I wrote in one of the blog entries). Something tells me that that guy belongs to the same world as that of Japanese office workers. What is it?
They don’t want to deal with strangers
Ah, yes. This makes sense. They as well as he are trying to avoid being involved with strangers. According to this idea, his English skill is not the biggest obstacle, although he can make a good excuse out of it. His unwillingness to communicate with strangers made him behave like that.
Later on that day I had a chance to chat with him. He had never been to the place where we traveled, so I started sharing some information, half from my willingness to share information and make sure he doesn’t miss the show, half trying to see if I can see more of him – the inner him that is hidden under that white and loose dress. Soon a flash of delightment and an innocent smile came up on his face. He looked like a puppy found out by his master in a rainy day. If he had any tail, perhaps I could see it moving like a fan. He might have been looking for somebody who speak Japanese.
His behaviour reminded me of myself. When people are chatting in crowd and everybody else but I is with some partner or friends and everybody know each other…. The easiest way to escape from this isolated feeling is to retreat into my room and stay there alone, but of course that made me feel worse. I not only felt like a loser but also, my remorseful feeling turned into a sense of hate and anger and it started to roar around in my body, digging up every bit of my memory pitfall and dragging out those little goblins who also started to run like rats and it also digs up my even older memories….. the vicious cycle. Reading books doesn’t help. Watching TV help me feel better for a short period of time, only give me a harder moments later. The next morning I will wake up with a battered sense. The only way I could rest those goblins at peace is, that I become closer to the very crowd I ran away from. And when I find someone with whom I can talk easily, I would show the same delightment as he did.
I heard and read about a lot of Japanese youngsters who were trying to get away from their harsh reality, at least for a short time. But by taking the above mentioned attitude, I guess some of them might still be involved in the old way of living, thinking, and acting and they are not sure what they are doing. Some of them might get frustrated or even worse, desperate because they find nothing is changed after all. I followed this step when I traveled around South East Asia just after graduating from my university.
What is needed is the determination that we are getting out of the old habit. That determination doesn’t has to be solid. Fragile and soft decision is also OK as long as it really hurts when we think of going back. That attitude makes us try new things, talk to new people, see things in a new way. We don’t have to go anywhere, though going somewhere makes it easier. Some of those Japanese backpackers, including myself, even they themselves are trying to get out of their old world, actually lost the default purpose and unconsiously went back to their old habit: to be surrounded by things that are familiar to them. They cannot feel proud of themselves because they are repeating the same thing over and over again. Nothing is going to change, and they don’t even realize it’s their fault, not others such as teachers or society or parents.
Maybe the reason I woke up in the morning was that I realized they looked alike me, or I resembled them. I also read lots of books, not famous at socializing and tend to sit quietly. But from that moment, I became aware of why I shouldn’t retreat into the cozy room alone unless I want to sleep right then. I know sometimes I do need to read and don’t want to talk with anybody but even in that case, I decided to be somewhere there, within reach. It’s not pretty, but who cares.