I remember a roadside, very clearly I remember a roadside. It was narrow and empty, stretching out on either side were rice fields, they ran on for miles, crisscrossed with smaller roads that lead to little neighbourhoods, to shops, to a preschool. I remember sitting, clutching at my rainbow tights watching the blood soak through them. That is the first memory I have of being hurt. My leg had gotten stuck in the spokes of my dad’s bicycle and my ankle had been effectively been skinned to the bone. After painful and stilted conversations with Japanese medical services, I was soon put into a tiny half cast and sent back to school. Preschool in Japan comes to me in flashes of crystalline memory as well as vague images of places and people that I’m sure to have been twisted and diluted as time does what it will do to things we think we will remember forever. I remember fishing for tadpoles in the shallow waters of the rice fields with the rest of my classmates. I remember sleeping on Tatami mats in a tiny apartment with my parents and me all in one room. I remember playing with the girl who lived below us, I remember grazing my knee in a parking lot in Tokyo. I remember going to Disneyland with my father. I remember being looked at a lot, a Caucasian child being a rare sight in the rural Akita prefecture of Northern Japan. My fourth birthday was on top of a cliff, I had strawberry cake and wore a fairy dress. I had no friends. Except for an older Ukranian girl whose parents worked with mine. Soon my mother was pregnant, and it was exciting, a sibling was coming. We would be going home. I hoped for a sister. But a few weeks later we were driving the road to the cemetery and burying a tiny bundle under a Sakura tree. All I remember was cherry blossoms. My mother only told me later what had happened. Soon though, she was pregnant again, we returned home, moved from Wellington and my sister was born in the summer of 2006. She was named Mai, which means dance in Japanese.
I remember a pond. The days were long, hot and lonely in rizhou and then short and freezing and lonely, I spent much of my time melancholy, itching to go home, counting down the 5 months with, anticipation. Wondering all the time if my friends thought about me or cared that I was gone. My weeks were made up of sitting quietly in a preschool classroom with children half my age writing the letter A over and over or sitting at the back of a primary classroom where the toilets were holes in the ground behind the buildings with no doors or walls. No one spoke my language and my 10-year-old attempts to learn mandarin weren’t overly successful I lived a lot in my own head. There was some solace, however, in the pond that sat in the middle of the university campus my parents taught at. It was rectangular and simple, quite large in the middle of a small garden park. In the summer it was full of lotus flowers and lilypads. The humid evenings were languid and drawn out, the sounds of hundreds upon hundreds of frogs perpetrated the warm air. My family and I would walk most evenings to the tiny campus shop. I remember a crowded, dark little convenience store, crammed with random assortments of essentials, snacks and produce. Candy packets hung from the ceiling and the clerk always offered a toothy grin when we walked in, the only foreigners for miles we offered some surprise and entertainment for the locals. I always hated being looked at. The pond has become a memory that I associate closely with my family. My father especially, he must have liked the frogs because he would always agree to walk us to it just to while away the evening until the light had all but faded. We would eat watermelon ice blocks and there would be brief familiarity in such an unfamiliar place. I did have one friend, her name was Lili, she was Russian Chinese and although her English was a far cry from fluent, I didn’t have many options at this point. She lived in a small apartment across the city. Some days after school I would go to hers and we would drink goat’s milk from little green cartons and in the autumn her mother would wash persimmons for us to eat. In hindsight, there were so many pretty moments, precious memories nestled amongst the isolation and gloom. I wish I had stopped to appreciate them then. Because they slip like sand down the passage of time.
One of the most significant parts of my journey was
So yes, live in the moment, strive for the future, think about the big picture. But I implore you, do not overlook the small things. The tiny and delicate details. They flutter so gently and sparkle so brightly but are often lost in the sea of big plans and great expectations. And although they are Seemingly mundane in nature they will, in reality, be the most precious symbols of your life. A pond, a persimmon, a pair of tights, may all represent individual moments, feelings, thoughts and fleeting states of being that have woven together to create the finer details of the tapestry of your life. So remember them, cradle them for they are fleeting, they will fade and be forgotten if you don’t allow them to settle in you. To influence you, to shape you. Because they are like art, art may look mundane, may appear to many as boring or insignificant but to the person who sees it in some certain way, it is a masterpiece, full of emotions, of complexity, layers of thought and meaning. Your memories are art. So live your life in a way that creates beautiful art. And I’m sure there will come a day when I no longer remember without reading it or looking at pictures how the rice fields sounded in the evening, or how a persimmon from Lili’s mother tasted or how the rec centre on our compound smelt or even how the train station in Hokkaido looked at 7 am on a Friday morning. However, I believe I will always know how to be alone, how to accept the unordinary, how to see people for who they are rather than where they are from or what language they speak, how to take pleasure from the smaller things and how to look at the world for what it is, a strange and fantastic place, full of intricate brush strokes and subtle colour blends.