Day 24 of 180: What I Have Learned So Far

5 days spread between Kobe, Osaka, and Nara.
Nara to feed the wild deer roaming the city.
Osaka because of Capcom headquarters, the castle, and the great atmosphere.
Kobe because of a friendship and its name shared with a famous basketball player.
1 day in Takeo–a small town in a rural province.
New Year’s Eve at Huis Ten Bosch–a Dutch theme park in the middle of nowhere where a live game of Space Invaders in a booth was projected onto the side of a building.
1 day in Nagasaki.
2 days in Hiroshima.
1 day in Miyojima Island to see the “Floating” Shrine.
3 days in Kyoto because of culture and Nintendo–Japanese culture runs so deep that American forces forbid it from being bombed during WWII.
3 days in Kanazawa where I had to tutor students online to help pay for this trip while checking out authentic samurai districts and checking out buildings used as geisha tea houses during peak summer season.
1 day in Snow Monkey Park. The park lived up to its name. I swear some of the monkeys casually rubbed against my shoe as they hopped by.
1 day in Matsumoto to see a very cool castle and meet up with a cousin I had never met before in my life.
36 hours in Hakone where I thought I was in Kamakura until 12 hours into my stay–and realized I was going to Hakone first THEN Kamakura, but completely forgot this itinerary. The same day I saw an active volcanic crater as well as a view of Mt. Fuji that looked more like a painting rather than something real I was witnessing with my own eyes.
And now I am halfway into my stay in Kamakura where my airbnb host panicked because I couldn’t follow a clear set of instructions, and walked around aimlessly for nearly two hours rather than the expected twenty minutes to get to her place.

I. Am. Exhausted. But. I. Want. To. Keep. Moving.

So many trains. I bought a 21 day JR Pass prior to my arrival in Japan–it costs roughly 750 bucks but is told to be very worth it if you are going to cover any sort of distance in Japan. Within eight days of using my 21 day pass, I did the math and found out I was nearly breaking even. Japan is much cheaper than what everyone envisions back home, but I can tell you one thing about Japan that isn’t cheap–transportation costs.

You can find bars where you can get the equivalent of Long Island Iced Teas for about four bucks Canadian, and pre-made dinners at convenience stores for five bucks or less as well, but taking trains or shinkansen (the famous bullet trains)? Nearly every airbnb host and friend I have stayed with has said I have seen more of Japan than they have. That includes some of the hosts who are approximately sixty years old and lived in the country their whole life.

I have done in fifteen days what locals take SIXTY YEARS to do. And boy oh boy does my body feel like a sixty year old right now. Maybe eighty if you include one of the steepest driveways I have ever seen to make it up to my place in Hakone at ten o’ clock at night after a 14 hour day of a whistlestop visit of Matsumoto and a total of eight hours of transit.

Somehow I have found the time to see all of the relevant sites, take in local cultural events by pure accident, make friends, sleep, tutor 12 hours per week, and keep up with what is going on back in Canada.

****

Many of the people I met in the guesthouses/airbnbs/hostels up until Kyoto were extremely introverted–or they weren’t fond of hearing my tutoring lessons each morning and couldn’t quite piece together why I was talking in my room.

However, the first person who wanted to have a conversation was a Dutch fellow in Kyoto. The first thing he did was give me his business card for his travel blogs and Instagram. He then went on about how he had done working holiday visas back-to-back: One in New Zealand for a full year, and now was in the final month for his visa in Japan.

I don’t think he asked me a single question. It was clear he wanted somebody to listen. He frequently threw in Japanese phrases. Whether it was to show off his knowledge or to get me to learn some local lingo, I have yet to figure out–but he had a story to tell. A story where he spent a full year in two countries far away from him.

Is it much different from me posting daily updates on social media about everywhere I am going? Am I constantly finding an outlet to tell my story? It is what I did when I left the country for the first time two years ago to backpack through Western Europe–I told everyone about how I was in pain and on the road to becoming the person I wanted to be.

This trip I am staying in more airbnbs rather than hostels; I don’t have the same audience as I did before. I thought I would be eager to talk to the Dutch fellow in Kyoto but instead I listened. I traded in my mouth for a pair of ears (one of them being bent over thanks to lovely genetics). It was like he was standing behind an invisible podium like Martin Luther King Jr.

I logged onto his Instagram after our conversation. He didn’t talk like a regular person. He was socially awkward. His greeting was a business card. This is a guy who wants to be heard. So I looked up his Instagram and. . .
.
.
.
Four followers. He has four followers. At least two of them appear to be those corporate accounts that temporarily follow you to get your attention, unfollow you, then refollow, then unfollow, then refollow. I know them all too well.

Looked up his blog with extremely detailed blogs about his travels each week. . .Zero likes. Zero comments.

There’s a Patreon page. A Facebook page with 46 followers.

This is why he was so eager to tell his story–I was a rare opportunity to be his audience and have my full attention.

After I left Kyoto I thought about him: “Why is he so eager to have an audience? Why can’t he -get- that audience? Why do other people get huge audiences but not others? Is it just bad luck and he can’t get any traction, and his eagerness to talk to me is because of years of frustration? He can tell you far more about Japan than I have. If I have traveled Japan more than most Japanese adults, then this guy has traveled more of Japan than three extended local families.

***

I suck at drawing. I am terrible at drawing. But I couldn’t fit any props into my 40 L carry-on bag for tutoring my students. After a couple of weeks, I had no choice–in the middle of my small room in Hakone, it was time to draw for the first time since I was in elementary school.

Like many things I refused to learn, the combination of initial frustration, everyone else either making comments about my poor abilities, and the fact everyone was naturally better at it than me, I didn’t bother to return to it.

It was the same with trying to ride a bike when I was seven. I didn’t try it again until I was 25 and had an 80 year old man walk by me asking my co-worker if I had a brain disease because of my inability to ride. “He’ll never learn.”

I tried a few more times and did see the progress. It wasn’t instantaneous, but I can get halfway down a path before losing balance. That was enough of a victory for me. I am not afraid to become fluent with riding a bike in the future.

I didn’t learn how to shuffle a deck of cards until I was 19. Sure, I had a cousin who said “that was the worst shuffle I have ever seen,” but hey, it was better than making everyone else shuffle the deck for me as a teenager because I sucked at it. Now at least I am decent at it as long as you aren’t upset with slightly bent cards after a few nights.

So why can’t I learn to draw? There was a student who frequently mixed up sunshine and sunflowers. Sunshine was easy. But the sunflower? That took a solid three or four attempts and about 20-25 minutes before I could draw a successful sunflower. There wasn’t anybody sitting around me to jump in and say “oh, that sucked” or have somebody next to me also drawing a sunflower and compare it to mine.

It’s like that dude who created Megadeath after being removed from Metallica vowing to be better than Metallica–his band did very very well on their own, but he was depressed because Metallica was more successful in terms of business and popularity.

Here I am the only sunflower. There is no competition. I don’t post it on Instagram to see how many followers I get. I don’t post it on Facebook to see how many likes I get because of it. I don’t post it on Twitter to see if it gets Re-Tweeted by a D-List celebrity who follows me.

I draw it. I use it in the lesson. The student laughs at my sunflower.

I also draw a pear and a bear because I know it will be confusing for her. Again, she laughs at my drawing of a bear, but guess what? At the end of the lesson, she could distinguish between the two items correctly.

I can remember names, places, events, and stories with ease. Always have. Always will. When I was younger I would laugh at somebody who couldn’t grasp any of that.

One of my former co-workers? When I made fun of him for not knowing who Jennifer Aniston was, he said “why would anyone know that?” An A-List celebrity who 85 percent of the population could identify. And he can’t grasp why anyone should have that knowledge. He just knows her as “that woman from Friends.” Or that the championship in baseball is called the World Series. Again, “ummmm I guess that’s what it is called?”

But guess what? He naturally knows how to play music and do a lot of mechanical things. He can do anything with a mountain bike. Why can’t other people -not- do that is I am certain the idea that goes through his mind too. People can name three movies by John Hughes but they can’t paddle a canoe? What’s wrong with y’all?

***

And maybe I have identified one of the roots of why people such as myself used to retreat from severe anxiety. Who cares if the Dutch man wants to speak more than Lorelai and Rory Gilmore to a group of people willing to listen as much as Marlee Matlin? Who cares if students and teachers can draw better sunflowers than me instantly while I need hours of practice to match their abilities? I bet they didn’t memorize every capital city in the world when I was seven years old like I did, or recall the names of everyone in the 180 person high school graduating class with relative ease.

The Dutch man finds happiness in talking to a temporary and forced audience.
My student was able to improve her English because I chose to put in the extra effort to draw a sunflower. 0 likes. 0 followers. 0 RTs. 0 harassment.

If we remove the eyes of others as we decide to take a risk or try something new, and pretend they are as blind as Richard Pryor in a movie with Gene Wilder, we can be so much more successful.

That is what travel taught me this week. #AroundTheWorldIn180Days

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