Now, before I get too far along — before I board the plane, even — let me provide some background. Sometime early last December, I received an offer from The Washington Post to cover East Asia as a foreign correspondent. Acceptance of this proposal required a three-second lag time only because my new boss first offered his congratulations in Japanese, meaning I didn’t understand a word of what he was saying. This, in retrospect, was probably the first good practice for my new life. Tuesday, I fly to Tokyo, my new home. Within a week, after finding an apartment, I’ll be responsible for The Post’s coverage of Japan, North and South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, etc. (‘Etc.’ doesn’t include China.) Though I’ve taken full responsibility for preparation — memorizing a fair portion of Kim Jong Il’s family tree… meeting with D.C.-based East Asia experts… honing and developing the Japanese vocabulary of a 3-year-old — nothing quite erases the fact that this is a remarkable job, and I am a wholly unremarkable person, and I am now very excited and very scared.
When people hear about this job, they ask, invariably, if I’ve ever been to Japan. (And the answer, invariably — until now! — is no.) But they also ask, almost reflexively, if I plan to establish a personal blog. It is by now, I suppose, an accepted part of the modern human condition, a predictable sequence whose steps I list below, having dutifully submitted to each of them.
Step 1.) Person X obtains new job, requiring a move overseas.
Step 2.) A small number of people in Person X’s life suggest, even if they don’t really mean it, that, Hey, you should really start a blog, and Yeah, you’ll have to send me the link.
Step 3.) Person X starts to realize that, Hey, it’s true; everybody has a voice; everybody has a story to tell, and maybe it’s not such a bad idea. Maybe, in fact, it’s a good idea. Person X tours the blogosphere, trolling for possibilities. He realizes that there’s a good chance no American citizen since 2005 has relocated to East Asia without establishing a blog. Generally, as subsequent research reveals, these blogs begin with the photo of a frenzied Tokyo intersection, the only thing motionless and in focus being, in the foreground, a white and somewhat flustered face, possibly framed by the display of a double-thumbs-up sign. The rest of the picture is a hallucination of warp speed life — lights and pyrotechnics and indecipherable signs and anime billboards, all the confusion and untamed beauty of the world’s most populous vortex. Ahhh, Tokyo! Here I am, “Big in Japan!”
Step 4.) Person X joins the blogosphere.
Step 5.) The world becomes a better place.
So, here I am. I’m in. I was at least 93.4-percent committed to the frequent upkeep of this blog and then my parents bought me a flip-cam, which pretty much sealed the deal. Since then I’ve applied for and received Blogspot.com’s official Waiver To Write With Unapologetic Immodesty, which is really just a formality around these parts.
I am going to miss America, and in particular Washington, D.C. I am going to miss my parents and my friends. I am going to miss a world that makes sense. As a writer — or rather, as somebody who loves to observe eloquence — I will miss the way people talk. A few weeks ago, I heard author Tim O’Brien speak at a local bookstore, and with words — only words, and just the right words — he told stories for 60 minutes, and many in the crowd who probably didn’t expect to cry were crying. Strange, I know, but that’s the moment when I got really sad about leaving America.
Leaving is not easy. But it’s right. I know this intuitively like I’ve known nothing else. A few weeks ago, foreign editor Kevin Sullivan, who himself has spent years in Japan, termed it like this, and I paraphrase: “Look at it this way. Right now your life is too easy. Nothing is a challenge. Soon everything will be a challenge, but it will be fun. You just have to go in with the right attitude.” And that, to me, made sense.
Now all the goodbyes are mostly over. My apartment is empty, but for the techie gadgets and clothing. Last Wednesday, I had my final Japanese class with my fantastic tutor, Kohriki-sensei. Last Thursday, in the latest sign that I no longer cover the National League East, I went out to lunch with my boss, who suggested I buy a Kevlar vest. Then, Friday, I took a 24-hour trip to New Orleans for a buddy’s bachelor party. It was a debauched, terrific, poignant time, and in tribute we all conducted small-scale “top kill” missions — calling for a violent clash of unsavory substances — within our own stomachs. Saturday, I came home. Sunday morning, I wrote this, and now there’s basically nothing else standing between my old life and my new one.
(*) And even those four will be tested by future blog entries dedicated entirely to yearnings for American breakfast cereal.