Repatriating

My life coexists with 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 for experience, learning, and adventure. It’s sort of strange because 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, to 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 sugar coat 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 sell me the scenario of living and growing old there.

I guess Japan is too certain for the ever-changing me, too uncertain 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 both adapting to Japan and the natural process of growing up. 

I also learned 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 so admired. I learned what worked and what’s difficult. I did all of these while seeing more of the world.

I went on a one-year plan, stayed another year, then 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, I felt another time for a change has come. I’ve entered another phase, in which I felt disconnection with Indonesia, the distance to family and friends. I noticed my growing third-eye view on the developing world.

It wasn’t easy, but it was time to move again.

After some months of searching, 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 (and don’t) spend time or speak 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.

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 much damned mosquitoes live a bloodsucking life (sorry for the pun) in this warm country and how badly they will disturb my sleep.

My skin is suffering again from the old skin allergy to air pollution. Somehow having grown up in this city doesn’t make my skin immune. Luckily, I can now sometimes escape from the air pollution by jumping into our new public transportation (drumroll for the proud moment please!): our modern mass rapid transit train line. It’s like Tokyo’s (really!), minus, to my pleasure, human beings crammed like sardines.

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

Some people have become politically extreme or impossible. Political bipolarity was devastatingly strong, during the peak time it went as far as conversations that couldn’t pass without a question on who one supports then being judged for it. Family relationships (not mine) 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 sometimes feel unfamiliar.

Fortunately, some circles don’t change and people stay close despite their life changes and I thank them deeply for that. But I have to put more efforts to reintegrate, continuously catching up and making new connections as well. This includes having another go at trying to find love – maybe this is the time when I see there’s someone here with the same wanderlust spirit after all.

Life surprised me by sending me to Japan four years ago – I didn’t foresee that future then. Now, I can’t tell how the near 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 also still have my dream, which isn’t easy to realize in this city and country.

At some point, my new adventure will start. But I’ll enjoy this phase of repatriation: making, giving, and getting the most out of my life in my home country. 

Jakarta and Indonesia will always be home for me. Whether it’s the first, or second to movement itself, remains to be seen.

Halo, Jakarta. It’s me again.

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