At Home in Two Worldsby kenneth ( )
COLOMBO - Looking back now, while I sip a cup of sweet milk tea in my kitchen, the rather long summer vacation I had in July in Japan has been an exhilarating 'break'. How so, you might wonder. Well, it's mostly due to the warm attention I got from friends waiting for me in Tokyo, where I had lived for 22 years with my husband and daughter before taking up a job here in my native Sri Lanka. Dates began to dot my diary no sooner had I arrived, which took me happily back into my favourite haunts in the Big Mikan ・the bakeries, sushi joints and cozy Japanese eateries ・where the chefs and waiters welcomed me like a wayward child returning home.
"How was it?" enquired my friends about my return to Sri Lanka several months back, as we chatted over cold beer and broiled summer eel.
"Good, but [I] missed you guys," was my typical answer.
The next, inevitable question would then be, "When are you coming back?", to which I would respond, "Soon. Really want to."
It was a very sincere answer for it was great to see them again after eight long months. The return to a life I had known for long until I decided to wrench myself away for a new discovery was amazingly easy.
Intuitively, though, I had expected an initial mental discomfort, something similar to a bout of amnesia following a long period of absence. This is supposedly a common reaction when people find it necessary to plunge back into a lifestyle that resembles not a trace of the daily happenings in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. The two cities ・Tokyo and Colombo ・like my different living patterns are as far apart as elephants are to geishas. Thus, I had expected there would be an interesting adjustment period during the summer symbolising some sort of personal development process. I thought it would be something that I could mull over later and put down as a landmark in the growing globalisation of lifestyles.
But funnily enough, that did not happen.
Rather, after the plane touched down at Tokyo's Narita airport and I got through the health check, past the deadpan faces of Japanese immigration officials, collected my bags, bought the limousine bus ticket for home and settled myself on the luxurious cushioned seats of the bus, I slipped back into my old pattern as easily as a fish glides back into the waters of a stream it had inhabited for a long time.
Indeed, my month-long vacation in my Japanese home continued just as smoothly and comfortably. There were times when the utter lack of uneasiness and even a twinge of missing the life I had got used to in Sri Lanka this time around, would amaze me.
Surely, as I walk through the usual crowds to get into subways, down the aisles of Tokyo's glistening supermarkets selecting my favorite food such as bean paste buns and juicy summer peaches, I began to think, "This is how it has always been, isn't it? So why the fuss at all?"
Naturally, it didn't take me long to understand that my life in Tokyo has become not only deeply ingrained in me but was very much a part of me, something that will never be erased or weakened into a distant memory. Then it dawned on me ・a person born and raised in a different culture can develop a strong identity within another culture, so much so that the person realises there are two distinct cultures in his/her life and not one of them is more important than the other.
Indeed, there is nothing special about such a phenomenon. It turns against the argument that identity belongs to a single culture or border, a narrow perception that can cause conflict and discrimination.
Thus, I thought, as I paid a hefty 5 U.S. dollars for a pack of lemons ・this would cost less than 50 cents back in Sri Lanka ・there is actually no such thing as finding your roots in tradition. Such a perception can only lead a person to move forward and stop looking back. I can say now with a bit of confidence that I have stumbled upon a minor revelation ・the straddling of two worlds, societies, cultures or simply, of two homes, sums up my personal self-identity. I have, in other words, created for myself a country that was not restricted to the one I was born in or a passport or birth certificate. Rather, my world is my very own ・nurtured by birth and choice of living, a tryst with fate, if you will.
And the best part of all this? Three weeks later, when I began packing again to return to Sri Lanka, I did it with such an ease it was as if I was taking a trip to my other life where familiar people and things awaited me again. There was none of the feeling of loss or wariness that I had felt when I went through the same thing last October to start a new job in Sri Lanka. Packed inside my suitcase was a large package containing a variety of Japanese delicacies for friends back home so I could share with them the things that are important to me.
Next week, there will be a reunion with friends in my flat in Colombo and I know that we will talk just like what my friends and I just did in Tokyo.