Thursday, January 9, 2014

An emotional journey...

I haven't written as much as I planned this week as besides being jet lagged, (a 13 hour time change cannot be ignored!) I've caught a cold. To try and overcome both, I've been taking NyQuil for the past 3 nights, which has allowed me to sleep but when I awake my brain feels like it's swaddled in layers of cotton. I think tonight I'll go it alone with the medicine and see what happens.

There is so much I want to recap about our trip from the emotional, experiential and practical perspectives. I plan to add a page on the tabbed section of this blog on trip planning to address some of the practicalities in planning a big vacation. 

On the emotional side, this trip meant so much to me. Firstly, it was wonderful to see Billy after saying goodbye to him in Florence back in June. As I mentioned in my earlier post, to get the concentrated time with both he and Bobby on this trip was truly a gift. I love observing my boys as we travel...seeing how competently they adapt to new is second nature now for Bobby to immediately decode a subway system, which is an amazing skill for a kid who has grown up in the suburbs of Philly. Billy was an awesome interpreter and tour guide through China. His enthusiasm and love of his experience there shone through his interactions with the people and his intensity in ordering food for us! I've come to realize that Dave and I will probably spend many of our vacations following Billy around the world, as he has an incredible thirst for new languages and cultures. Besides China, we went to Budapest a few years ago to see him when he spent a semester abroad there. I see Germany and who knows where else in our future and I love the thought of it!

It's hard to describe how much it meant to return to Japan. Most people, if they choose, can relatively easily "go home" or return to the place where you've grown up. Having spent all of my elementary school years in Tokyo, this was my first opportunity to do so. Of course the city has changed significantly, but I felt immediately comfortable. Memories of the little details flooded back: how the taxis have clean white covers on the seat tops that are changed daily and the drivers wear clean white gloves! Pieces of Japanese vocabulary floated to the surface of my mind: sitting in the subway and realizing that they just announced the doors will open on the right (in Japanese!). I realized that the reason I love traveling to cities is because that is how I grew the world's largest city! One of my favorite parts of the trip was the first morning, when we went out to Asakusa, a section of Tokyo where there is a shrine and an area that retains some of the feel of "old" Tokyo.
 We came out of the subway and didn't know which way to go to reach the shrine. There were young men trying to sell rickshaw rides and we obviously looked a bit confused and like tourists so they approached us.

We said what we were  looking for and instead of pushing their services on us, kindly showed us where to go! We came around the corner and were met by such a sight...this incredible street filled with stalls selling all sorts of souvenirs, leading up to the shrine. But the funny thing was that the people there weren't foreigners but Japanese enjoying the stalls of souvenirs. The crowd was crazy but in the way only a Japanese crowd can be.
 There were stalls making and selling special rice crackers, hot drinks, and sweet red bean treats.
As we approached the shrine, I saw a line of school children in their uniforms traipsing in front of us and my heart melted. Their uniforms looked as they did 40 years ago when I was a school girl. Then I smelled the incense from the shrine and saw the people washing their hands from the wooden scoops and that triggered more memories of weekends spent visiting various Shinto shrines  and sites like Nikko and Kamakura. 

The next emotional experience was when we went to KiddyLand, a toy store that was across the street from one of our apartments (we lived in 3 different apartments over the years). I spent many hours in KiddyLand, collecting Little Kiddles, stuffed animals and all sorts of cute erasers, which smelled yummy. For some reason, when Cathy and Bill had me stand outside the store to have my picture taken, my eyes filled with tears. How could a store bring me to tears? They were great stuffed animals, but I have grown up since then! I suppose it was the rush of memories, having Cathy and Bill there, and being able to share it all with my kids as well.

Another special part of the trip was experiencing it with my siblings, Cathy & Bill. Having lost my mom and uncle this year was a rough experience for us and traveling during the holidays was, in a way, the ultimate in avoidance. We didn't really celebrate Christmas so we didn't wallow in who was not there. But we felt my parents presence throughout the trip. Obviously when we were in Japan, all the memories flooded back: "Here was where Dad worked! Here was Mom's favorite shop for tchotchkes! There's our first apartment, where the maid started a rumor that I was the love child of my mom and a Japanese man from Yokahama (that's a whole other story!)". It rained the whole time we were in Tokyo, but it was if our memories sheltered and warmed us throughout our time there. My sister brought a small pouch with some of my parents ashes on the trip. We were going to drop them in various places along the way. But something weird happened. Consistently, we would forget to bring them. As if we weren't quite ready to let them go. 

So as I said before, it was the trip of a lifetime....

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