Saturday, June 12, 2010

Japan is a Lonely Place

Looking back, some of my best memories were made when hanging out with the Computing Science Student Society crew at SFU, and chilling with my co-workers at Google, Santa Monica. There's just something about enjoying life with people who are like you. That is, you laugh at the same things, you speak the same way, make clever word play and jabs, and mix it up with inside jokes and nerdy references. You watch a movie and laugh at the same places, get enthusiastic about eating at a particular place, oooh and ahh at interesting news. You feel connected. You feel like you belong. And it's just... fun.

Japan is lonely.

There is no word play, because communicating means using simple, easy-to-understand English. Cultural references need to be explained. Explaining jokes sucks. People ask where you're going to work after you graduate, because of course, you're not going to stay in Japan. You feel like you don't belong, and you'll never belong.

In no way am I disparaging my school and my lab. They're the only things that are making this bearable.

But I do miss laughing. The hearty, American laugh and enjoyment of life, silliness and camaraderie. The smile when I say "Holy smokes, Batman!" instead of a confused glance away. My own uncontrollable guffaws when someone imitates Darth Vader, instead of my ignorant and clumsy questioning about Japanese subculture.

I'm about as multicultural as anyone I know, but the longer I'm away from North America, the more I realize that I am Canadian. I am American. And as cool as the pastures are overseas, the grass is definitely very green back home.


Kate said...

Aw! :) Try not to let it get you down...once you're gone you'll really miss it, even without the jokes and laughter, and even though it doesn't seem that way now. That said, anytime you want to skype with me, I'd be happy to! Sometimes it's nice to talk in person more rather than just chatting. And of course I miss you guys! :(

Ari Wilson said...

Don't worry, I'm coming to visit you soon! I hope you feel better :). And I'll be completely terrified when I get there, so you're going to be the cool person who has to show me everything!

Mr Lonely said...
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Michaeljh said...

Linked to your post from a comment Ari posted on Facebook...

I know how you feel, yet at the same time I think that maybe every culture has its own way of expressing humor and whimsicality and of laughing at things. Even if it's not as overt, or even if it doesn't involve wordplay, or at least, not wordplay the way we treat it here, there has to be some outlet, even if it's more private or hidden, because we all experience the same human emotions, more or less. Except the expression is different... so it's hard to connect to that, or even to see it. Or it's not celebrated in public the way we do here. Or it takes a long time to "get". Maybe. I'm not saying it's equal, or better or worse, and I'm just speculating about most of this. I guess the only experience I have to draw from is in having dated people from different cultures who had no appreciation for the puns and wordplay I grew up with (actually most Americans don't either, for the most part), yet somehow we found our own way of sharing humor and laughing together. Sometimes there were things that I'd never have found funny from my own perspective, yet were clearly funny from the other perspective. I guess that's the sort of experience I'd look for, in your shoes, 'though I know it's hard or even impossible as an outsider, and I might end up just as lonely. Still, I like understand why people find things funny or clever, even though I don't understand those things myself and wouldn't laugh at them directly.

I've wondered about this sort of cultural thing a lot, actually. For example, I love a good crossword puzzle, but it doesn't seem like it would make sense to have crosswords in many languages, because that just wouldn't work. I doubt there are crosswords in Israel or China, for example... If I were to spend lots of time in one of these places and try to become immersed in the culture, I might miss out on crosswords. Yet do they have something else that's sort of equivalent, to fill that "gap"? To play the same role? Maybe, maybe not. And everything's a reflection of something, and all ties together, culturally, linguistically, etc.

It's nice to have a place to call home, though. Being away from its comforts and familiarities definitely does make you appreciate it more.

Angelica said...

Yay Ari! So glad you'll be coming to visit :) I've already lined up the octopus ball shops and created a ramen-ya listing sortable by soup density, noodle thickness, quantity-to-price ratio, and store name awesomeness. We might also go see some ducks.

Thanks Kate :) Yes, my aversion to telephones is not quite being compensated by my chatting habits (esp. when I'm always on "Busy" :P) Timezones also suck.

Michael - thanks for the thoughts. I agree there's certain humor that spans many cultures. Acting like a bumbling girl from an anime usually gets people laughing. Also: over-acting, and suggesting outrageous actions that we'd never act on in real life --> universally hilarious.

Another thing that's funny is referring to something from the past in the current context. For example, I think when someone dressed like a former rollerblading co-worker at Google Halloween a couple years ago, that was funny. For people that didn't have that past context, it wasn't as funny, but one could appreciate.

Scale that up to the national level, and we have a group of people with the same kind of common knowledge base. And it's really subtle. For example, I watched Iron Man 2 the other day, and found the American self-deprecation to be quite hilarious. Tony Stark: "Well, you can forget it. We're safe. America is secure. You want my property - you can't have it! But I did you a big favor. I have successfully privatized world peace." Haha! I found that hilarious. My movie-watching buddies did not. Chalk it up to years of watching overtly self-deprecating satires. Only the people with that past context would get it.

Anyway, all this to say that, as much as we can enjoy our time with people from different cultures, there is still a small percentage of things that only people with the same upbringing will understand. Whether that percentage of stuff is important to living a happy life is up to the individual.

Also, Big Bang Theory's off-season now and I think I'm in withdrawal. I'm open to suggestions :)

LoneGamer said...

Aww. I hope I was able to brighten things a bit in November. Japan was definitely awesome in that three week period, I'll probably try to come back after Space Marine ships.

You're more than welcome to poke me on Gtalk, or finally download Xchat Aqua and reappear on IRC, I'm sure the guys there would be happy to hear from you.

After all, it's the Internet. It's easy to keep in touch, just have to do it. I'm horrible in that regard.