Between the Frames of a Postcard, or Not

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I’m on a beach at the edge of the world.

The sun eases into the far mountains, makes impressions of fire against those horizon hills, those boulders across from them just sinking into the Ocean. The cascade of colors the waters make stretching across the sand—purple red and blue. The clouds turning pink as they move out across the endless water, growing full in brilliant color, before disappearing into the night sky.

It’s been one week since Tokyo, since the most rip-roaring seat-of-your-pants weekend of my life. And here I am on the other side, just melting into the sand.

And it was only Vancouver two months ago. Could be a different sun out here, could be a different texture in the sand, strange smells in the air… but it’s not: beyond the narrow highway water clogged with buses and trucks and fam vans, it could be Vancouver it could be Ireland. The sliver of the new crescent moon begins to rise, begins to drain the light from the sky around it.

A Vancouver sunset,
A Vancouver sunset

Vancouver knew how to do great sunsets. Go down to Wreck and watch the sun, directly in front of you, melt across the ocean and set everything ablaze. When I watched those, I thought about Asia and how they’d be getting that sun soon enough. I longed to be there too. Horizons are easy symbols of longing: when you look out upon them, you can believe in a different world more exciting than your own. Even at the time, I realized that this dream of Asia out across the sea had little to do with any kind of ‘real Asia’—it was all just flashes of Pagodas, red and gold imperial robes, and gilded dragons to the beat of a drum. But when I watched those sunsets, I was always reminded of where I had to go next, how much I couldn’t ever just stop at the west coast.

And now I’m here; here, and I’m not so fascinated by the far horizon. Tottori edges more towards the north, and so when the sun sets it does so into the far hills and not the Ocean. This makes sense now: I’m not looking for whatever’s on the other side. I’m following the sun across Japan, exploring anywhere and everywhere, because I’m increasingly beginning to recognize just how saturated these lands really are. There’s so much to discover.

Two years ago this Sunday, I set off with my bike in Paris. It was already getting late in the day—damn those Sundays, hungover and tousle-haired, when moving an inch takes an hour—and so I didn’t think I’d see much. But I chose a random direction and just started going, and man, the things I saw: Cathedrals taking up intersections, glove shops with seven figures dogging them, streets of gold and windows of diamonds, till finally watching the Arc de Triomphe grow from the streets around it just as it was being lit.

I was flabbergasted, amazed at how endless Paris really was, how you could go any direction and find whatever you didn’t know you were looking for. I sat down on a park bench along the Champs Elysee, freezing my fingers off as I typed into my keyboard, and wrote a blog post that probably ended up being the best one I wrote on that trip. It was the day I really began to fall in love with the city, the day I stopped reminding myself that all these good feelings were gonna end, and started believing things could always be like this.

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Today in Tottori I woke up with a similar hangover and left about as late as that time in Paris. And once again I just picked a random direction, not believing I’d find anything—this is Tottori, not Paris, after all. But in a town approximately 1/50th the size of Paris, I had a similar day: I biked by farmlands golden with rice in every direction, with persimmons ripe enough to grab and eat right there. I had a snake lunge at me on a stone gully that almost bit my leg. While writing on the riverside, I met an old man who’d travelled all around the world—seen weddings in Mumbai, the Rocky Mountains, caught waves in New Zealand, had been to every European capital (and I heard all this in Japanese, which for me meant mostly responding with outburst of ‘Segoi!’ (amazing) and ‘chigau des ne’ (that’s very different!)). I found a Shinto shrine on an island in the middle of a lake, guarded by a Tori shrine and an empty outpost, the shrine’s paint chipping like an amusement park.

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Everything I’ve seen could be between the frames of a postcard you put above the family on thanksgiving. But it’s living, and I’m seeing it every day when I actually keep my eyes open.

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And so I’m reaching that point again (I think) when I’m not questioning these moments so much—these sudden bursts of amazement, this sudden impression that nothing like this has ever happened to me before. It’s so completely different from exchange: it’s not so much a fairytale anymore where everything was just handed to me on a silver plate, I’ve got a job now, a tough one that wrings me dry and makes me feel like used laundry by the end of most weeks. On the other hand, I’ve got a whole country to explore now, and one—maybe two years—to explore it. I’m still scared and still prone to sudden mood swings—still suddenly enraged by all the things about this culture that infatuated me the day before. But days like these remind me how far I’ve come since 2013, and how much farther I’ve still got to go.

Because at the end of it all, I know this: there’s a helluva lot more left to discover.

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(As a side note, I’ll admit that this post proves the mood swings I still go through here, and that posting this blog when I’m less ecstatic than I was when I wrote it is really hard.)

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