chandler collins: Japan and “The Curse of the Traveler”

Wherever I go, I’m always there. When I’m in Tokyo shut away in my dorm room, I’m still just sitting in a room. As many traveling salesman and consultants can attest, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, sitting in a room is always as interesting as just sitting in a room. If I had to condense what I’ve learned living here into one thing, this would be it – I’m always going to be wherever I go and my life is only as interesting as what I do with it, not where my body happens to travel.

Let’s unravel the first part of this. Wherever I go, of course I’ll be there, that’s a fairly obvious notion. What I mean by this is that I will never stop being me – being Chandler – with all of my quirks, insecurities, goals, accomplishments and fears. I used to hold onto the notion that if I can just get there, to some sort of baptismal pool then I would be cleansed me of all of my faults and transformed into the person that I know I’m capable of being. But change doesn’t work like that.

Change is a slow process. It’s closer to whittling and smoothing away rough edges than scrapping the design altogether and finding a new mold. And the funny thing is, I thought that just by being here in Japan instead of Virginia or Alabama that I’d arrive and poof! I’d be completely new. In that regard, I think the perception of travel lags the reality of it.

Travel still holds a certain cachet and sense of aura around it, as if the number of countries one has been to is correlated with their self-worth and aura. I think this made sense in the era before the proliferation of rapid travel, when going to another country meant a long, often risky journey, where the journey was much more of a risk than surviving in the destination. Travel isn’t like that now.

Take my current situation for example – I’m living in Tokyo, which is a ~15 hour trip from home (1 hour drive to Atlanta, 12 hour flight to Tokyo, 2 hours from Narita to my university). When I was at school in Charlottesville, I was still a 12 hour drive from home. In that respect, I feel a similar distance away from home even though physically I’m on the other side of the world. I feel that the world has shrunk massively in the last 100 years and it’s an odd sensation to feel completely at home when you arrive somewhere that you’ve been told your whole life is a world apart and entirely different than your home.

I think you can make anywhere your home… or maybe not. This is a question I’ve been struggling with. The longer I’ve been here, the more I’ve felt like at peace with where I am. I’m getting to be more comfortable in Tokyo, and am starting to feel a tug to return to my home in Kodaira whenever I venture too far into the city. My dorm room is comfortable and well stocked and I have wi-fi and therefore anything I want at my fingertips. At the same time as I long for my home in Japan, I’ve grown to long for my home in Alabama and my home in Charlottesville.

There’s a formula I’ve come up with – as the number of places you call home grows, the more you long for each of them. This reminds me of the curse of the traveller. It goes like this: “the more places you see, the more things you appeal to you, but no one place has them all…the curse is that the odds of finding a place that is ‘just right’ gets smaller, not larger, the more you experience.” As a result, the curse gets worse the more you travel, as you long for different aspects of the places you’ve been. As part of the price of travel, you deal with a certain sense of nostalgia for the places you’ve been and wishing that you could hold onto the perfect parts of each of them and mold them into one perfect place. What I’m realizing is this: that perfect place doesn’t exist. 

It’s not in Anniston, it’s not in Virginia, it’s not in the US, it’s not in Japan, it’s not even a physical entity. My ideal, my perfect idea of home is one that is an amalgamation of the many places I’ve called home, and in longing to reach this perfect home in the future, I long for the past places which have inspired its vision.

So, as I’ve learned, “I’m always going to be wherever I go” and yet I want to be in a place where my perfect mental place is realized on earth, and since I haven’t found it in Tokyo, I can’t quit searching just yet.