Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The PUWYs: On coming home, reverse culture shock, and life after Japan

It’s been almost 3 months since I posted here, and I don’t now how that quarter-year passed so quickly. I moved countries, towns and houses, twice. I started a new job. I experienced a mellow English Autumn for the first time, made a lot of changes in my life, and had some powerful highs and lows.

I’d like to finish posting some of the pictures and memories from Japan I still having kicking around, while I still remember them. After that, I doubt I’ll be using this blog much, at least until another purpose for it comes along. For the first time since being a teenager, I have the compulsion to write a lot for myself – maybe because it’s a similarly transitional time.

A friend from work, 30 and comfortingly on top of her shit, actually has a word for this stage of life: the PUWYs (pronounced pewies) or Post University Wilderness Years. She tells me that almost all her friends of her age, who are now largely settled and happy in their careers, locations, relationships and lives, had no clue what they were doing at 23. The markers of adulthood our parents enjoyed at our age – relatively easy-found and well-paid jobs, cars, mortgages, marriages – are no longer attained so soon. No one tells you this, but these may be the most challenging years of your life.

I know exactly what she means. But that said, I’m ok with these new challenges. This feels like a time for taking time, for thinking about goals, working hard and enjoying the company of friends from school, university and Japan, all making our way in the big metropolis. It’s good to finally stay in a country where I’ve never lived but that always felt like home.

Leaving Japan in August was the right thing to do, but it was such a wrench saying goodbye to friends there, and home was a shock in unexpected ways. I’d been told to expect reverse culture shock, but the brusqueness of people in public still felt jarring. I still can’t help bowing in some situations, and miss the politeness and consideration of Japanese people very much. I came back to the Edinburgh International Festival in August, and would end days in town feeling exhausted by seeing the multitudes of varied shapes, sizes, ethnicities and fashion choices jostling around me.

On my first day in London, I stood helplessly by as people pushed in front of me in the taxi rank, until a tiny old man tapped me on the shoulder and said kindly, “You have to be forceful in London!” For the first few weeks in my new town, I found myself weirdly wishing that everyone on the streets were Japanese. Two months later the shock has worn off, and I’m so happy to be back in my own country where I can interact with strangers on trains and act with a different kind of self-reliance.

I’m working in a very academic boarding school doing alumni relations and fundraising. I like having the freedom to define my own role - which is a challenging one as it amalgamates 3 people’s previous jobs - being able to boss around an intern, and the business of building a community, something which I’ve found comes kind of naturally. I get to edit and produce 4 magazines a year, some with students, and organise events from galas in the Globe Theatre to memorial lacrosse matches.

The school is a huge campus including a lake, a forest and a horse paddock, surrounded by a high brick wall and suspiciously called ‘Narnia’ by the locals. We can buy eggs from the chicken coops and honey from the bee hives. Morning cake and afternoon tea happens every day in the staffroom, and the History Department secret drinks parties not that less often. The girls are intimidatingly ambitious, confident and focused, and I find myself setting higher goals for myself as I see what they go on to do. That said, I know I don’t want to spend my life making money for the richest people in the country, even with all the scholarships they do provide. I’m learning as much as I can while I work out how exactly I want to use it.

I’m living in a huge Victorian house 5 minutes’ walk from work, with a family of modern hippies and 3 other lodgers. While my room is neat and atmospheric, with high ceilings, a big old wardrobe and a fireplace, the rest of the house is stuffed to the rafters with old newspapers, paintings, bike wheels, plants, sacks of grains, telephones that don’t work, strings of fairy lights and dairy-free products.

I was assured on viewing the house that this was a intermediary phase while some rooms were prepared for foster kids (arriving in about 5 months, at which point I will be homeless). I soon realised that this kind of clutter takes years to accumulate and probably years to get rid of. But, it’s cosy and full of good cooking smells and there’s a pianola in the hall (the only house rule is it musn’t be played after midnight). We don’t use Wifi (it goes in your brain, you know), the microwave is safely placed in the pantry for the same reason, and all our soaps come from powdery paper bags. There’s an inexplicable, faint noise at all times that sounds exactly like the house has a heartbeat.

The family is sweet and laugh a lot watching TV in the room next to mine. The matriarch, my landlady, spends mornings a lot of mornings in her dressing gown composing songs on her guitar about how much she hates traffic. She married the 2 daughters’ father on the spur of the moment in City Hall, both of them and 6 of their friends all dressed as Groucho Marx. She grows herbs and vegetables and picks apples from the tree in the garden, and likes fixing things using the spare electronics she hoards. One of the other lodgers is editing the new Star Wars movie, one is a bald Finnish man with many granola products in his cupboard, and one is almost too Italian to function. He pronounces the word biodegradable (oft-used around here) ‘bee-oh-dee-grad-ablay’, and has been known to stand hungover in the kitchen, squeezing lemon after lemon into a glass and murmuring “Santa Maria!”

I don’t have many photos to share of the time since I got back, partly because I’ve broken the iPhone addiction (a situation I intend to rectify ASAP. My Blackberry has taken to rattling randomly from time to time, like a Horcrux.) I like Instagramming and having a photo journal to look back on, but it comes with its own complications. When your life isn’t so photogenic, or you’re in transit and aren’t quite sure who you are or what you want, let alone how to present yourself, how can you communicate that authentically to such a broad group of people? Do you even want to? I think our generation has these questions to consider in a way only celebrities did in the past.

I’m coming a bit later to the PUWY party than many of my friends, and maybe I’m overthinking it. But I’m enjoying feeling alone and connected, and empty and full, and scared and brave, all at the same time. It’s pretty exciting.

In the name of posterity and nostalgia, Japan pictures to follow. In the name of not being too pretentious or rambling, I’ll shut up now. It’s good to be back.

No comments:

Post a Comment