Repatriating

My life consists of movements. Since I was a teenager my favorite type of place has been the airport. From the time I turned into a young adult, the wonders of travels had become my home.

I left my hometown Jakarta in 2015 for Japan in search for experience, learnings, and adventure. Living in Japan is a dream for many people but I’d never thought of living there. Looking back in search for personal connection, I saw myself in a brief Japanophilia period during junior high school when I listened to X Japan and Hamasaki Ayumi and pasted the lyric to Bonnie Pink’s “It’s Gonna Rain” on my binder. But at that time I was also getting into hip-hop – this stays as a part of me until today.

More than a decade after that period, Japan reappeared in the middle of my longing. A longing for change, for an adventure. I wanted to grow and see more of the world. There’s so much of it that I have yet understood and experienced.

Japan came back with a different face. What I saw from my work couldn’t be further from the icing sugar on top of its pop culture and the imagination induced by its animated features.

The ambitious young-adult me saw work ethics, hard work, and intelligence. She saw another side of her international cooperation and development world. Those observations were enough to make her apply for a position and decide when she got the offer:

It was time for her to go.

I knew, though, that my stay wasn’t going to be permanent. I still wanted to see more of the world. I told myself that I would stay “forever” only if someone made me, and even in that case that someone would have to work hard to sell me the scenario of living and growing old there.

I guess Japan is too certain for the dynamic me, too vague for the straightforward me, too limiting for the ambitious me. Having said that, I changed a lot for Japan, adopted new traits while living there. I wrote in other posts about those changes, that some parts of myself have evolved due to my adapting to Japan. 

I did learn a lot from my work. Being a researcher was a learning phase in my career and I sure took a lot. I could be a ‘bridge’ between a donor and recipient country other than my own. I learned immaculate details of project management. I saw conflicts of interest. I was immersed in the work style and thinking process that I admired. I learned what worked and what’s difficult. I did all of these while seeing more of the world.

My original offer was for a one-year contract. Then I stayed another year, then finally, one and a half more. Part of it was due to the challenging work and another because of the friendships I made through the years. I met talented, friendly, daring friends, with whom I spend my days discussing, gossiping, traveling and laughing.

Some of them helped me understand the complications of Japan: from how to interpret hidden meanings, how not to think about unimportant things, what signifies as seku-hara (sexual harassment), to where to sleep in case I miss the last train. We enjoyed live music, gossiped, pondered about important things, our futures and how to get there.

I learned many, many things. I  discovered so much. I made great friendships. 

I found myself more passionate about international negotiations from the rare chances I was given to be involved in it.

I’m more convinced that international development is my true love and global institutions are where I strive to be a leader to contribute to a “better world”.

But after three and a half years, another time for a change has come. I’ve entered another phase, in which I felt disconnected to Indonesia, the distance to my family and friends became prominent. I noticed a growing third-eye view on the developing world.

It wasn’t an easy decision. But it was time to move again.

After some months of searching for the next destination, life eventually took me back to Jakarta.

I was prepared for a “reverse culture shock”, but the changes that awaited me wasn’t only cultural. Returning for a few days or weeks, as I’ve been doing for the past years, is completely different from returning to stay.

While I was in Japan trying to settle in, getting and giving most of myself, my friends and family got used to not having me around. Circles shifted, new friends made, fresh ventures started, hobbies found, old habits died. I can’t spend as much time or speak withmmy friends as much as we used to, some of them now have husbands or wives to tell stories to or new partners to get their heads together with.

The pond near my house doesn’t have fish anymore – no one need to be told off for fishing now.

The sky is never blue anymore – I don’t enjoy breathing.

It’s now possible to spend a day, even a week, entirely at home. All groceries, food, and shopping delivered from orders made through the phone. If you decide to go out, you can now survive without cash.

I forgot how many mosquitoes exist in this warm country and how badly they disturb my sleep.

My skin is suffering again from the old allergy to air pollution. Somehow having grown up in this city doesn’t make my skin immune. 

I receive noticeably less wedding invitations, even less child birth announcements. Instead I hear hushed news of divorce and sometimes obituaries.

Some people have become politically extreme it’s impossible. Political bipolarity is devastating, during the peak time people couldn’t have conversations without a question on which candidate he/she supports then be judged for it. Family relationships have faltered because of this.

On this side of the world another life went on without me. There are many things I couldn’t learn through phone calls or the internet.

For the first time in my life, this home often feels unfamiliar.

I’m thankful for circles that didn’t change and people who stay close despite the fact their lives did. I have to put more efforts to reintegrate, catching up and making new connections. This includes having another go at trying to find love – maybe this is the time when I see if there’s someone here with the same wanderlust spirit after all.

Life surprised me by sending me to Japan four years ago. Now, I really can’t tell how the future will look like. But the here and now is an adventure of its own that I want to acknowledge. For the time being, I will learn and embrace new things and share what I have. 

I know I’ll find myself out there again soon for travel and exploration. I hope it will be a joint adventure with someone. I also still have my dream, which isn’t easy to realize in this city and country.

Jakarta and Indonesia will always be home for me. Whether it’s the first, or second home to movement itself, I can’t tell. But I’ll enjoy this phase of repatriation: making, giving, and getting the most out of my life in my home country.

Halo, Jakarta. It’s me again.

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