Lost in Translation

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A night at the opera. Chengdu, China



26 May-11 June 2018. Nearly seven weeks travelling solo in Japan and China. Non-stop sightseeing, long days, walking walking walking. Climbing hills and mountains and stairs, absorbing new sights sounds smells colours energies day after day. Only one full day of rest in that entire time.

Back home in Canada. Exhausted. Drained. Sleeping. Back to all that is normal, safe, known, peaceful, quiet.

On reflection it feels as if the Universe, LIFE, picked me up, loaded me into a giant slingshot and catapulted me into a seven-week dream that was way outside my comfort zone. For all my experience travelling, Japan and China felt so foreign. Foreign in a way I’ve never felt before in any other country.

I felt lost, but still fascinated and excited. I felt bereaved, but kept going because what else was there to do? I was not about to return home. I was on a mission. I didn’t know what it was exactly, still don’t, but I knew I wasn’t about to abandon it no matter how unsettled I felt. I missed Don in a way I would not have thought possible. It felt like a prelude to his death, to what I’d experience if he died before me. I cried a lot. Each time the tears were a refreshing shower that washed away the pain, but in the entire seven weeks I never really did get settled, centred, aligned with the flow. There was too much to absorb both internally and externally.

There was so much to see, so much to appreciate, so much to achieve. I wasn’t conscious of dreaming the dream except occasionally when I’d awaken within it and get the love if not the meaning. There were only the day-to-day activities of the traveller, the tourist, the sightseer: what’s wanted today?

I often felt homesick. I’ve never before in my life been homesick. I realised that I was not yearning for home, I was yearning for Don. For all that I travelled with a group of kind, generous, friendly people in China none of them was Don. I think this yearning, this gaping hole in my life, kept me off centre.

Unconsciously I walked in fear. Not fear of external circumstances, but fear of doing too much so that my body would not be capable of what I was asking of it.

Before I was catapulted into the dream of being alone in strange lands I’d been working with a doctor who was also an exercise specialist. Her goal, and mine, was to get me fit enough for the trip, which I knew would include a three-hour mostly up-hill hike, and a 14km bike ride. Her last words to me were that we hadn’t reached the goals I’d set, and that if I did too much I’d have to take a day off. And what does the unconscious mind do with this? It logically turns it into two beliefs: I’m not healed enough yet for this trip (i.e. we didn’t reach the goals), and it’s possible to do too much. Talk about creating a self-fulfilling prophecy!

I’d been seeing another doctor at the same clinic for trigger-point injections. I had an appointment with him shortly before I was leaving. He asked me how I was and I replied that I’d just done a two-hour hike so I was feeling a little stiff. The first words out of his mouth were “You shouldn’t have done that!” What? Why? So I have one doctor trying to help me get fit, another telling me I shouldn’t be walking for so long, and I’m left angry, and confused, and with no clear idea of how much it’s safe to do.

There were at least three occasions that I hadn’t anticipated when I walked hard and fast for several kilometres, feeling all the while as if I was walking more than I “should”. And I lost my bearings three times in one day and ended up walking more than I needed to. And all of this walking was done with the underlying unconscious fear that I must be making things worse, that I was doing too much, whatever that was exactly. It was as if I was walking myself into the necessity of a day off because I was told that would be needed if I did too much; “needed” meaning my hip was almost as painful as it had ever been. And of course that’s what happened. I walked in fear for much of the first two weeks until I got clear about what was happening internally. Things improved after that, and many days I walked ten or twelve kilometres, and one day eighteen.

So there I was, a stranger alone in very strange lands. Japan and China bamboozled me. I was off kilter and there was little to grasp on to that felt familiar. It’s not that people were not friendly, and kind, they were, but I was looking through eyes of singularity, of bewilderment, of shyness. None of this was conscious. It’s only in retrospect that I begin to understand how out of place I felt, how adrift, how lost, but determined anyway to take it all in. One thing I’m left with is that I’d like to go back to both countries, with Don, and see them through new eyes.

Jadi Campbell said in a comment on a previous post: Uwe and I were startled at how opaque Japan felt. Like a secret within a secret within a secret. It’s such a perfect way to put it. I kept having the feeling, for no rational reason, that Japan feels foreign. Not in a bad way, but in an unfathomable way. And in a different way China had a similar feeling for me. There are huge differences between the two cultures, but there are similarities too: this opaqueness, foreignness, something impenetrable.

So here I am back home in Vancouver trying to piece it all together, trying to make sense of it. What was it really about? Apart from the obvious love of exploring other cultures, even if they are hard to understand, the one thing that stands out is that Don and I have come to understand in a way we didn’t before how attached we are, how deep our devotion is. Neither of us ever expected in this life to experience such devotion, and yet here it is, revealed to us both by the appearance of having been torn apart.

I questioned, more than once, how much I want to travel again. I feel content being at home. At the same time I still get excited about exploring countries I’ve not been to yet. Portugal appeals, as does Eastern Europe. And Africa. We’ll see what evolves. One thing I know for sure is that I won’t do seven weeks of non-stop travel again. Don and I found out long ago that three weeks of travelling from place to place and sightseeing is enough and then a break, of at least two weeks, is needed to absorb it all. When I planned this trip I’d forgotten about that. I thought seven weeks would be doable. It was. Just. But it has left me drained, and full, and I think it will take quite a while to process and understand it and have it come to rest. I wasn’t catapulted back home. One day the journey was done, and I dribbled back home, bit by bit, as if my legs were melting like Dali’s clock . . . . . .

It’s been three weeks now since I arrived back in Vancouver. I’ve found my footing again, but I’m still trying to piece it all together.

Kenrokuen Garden. Kanazawa, Japan



Next post: Japans gardens and flower festivals – like nothing else. And Mt Fuji!





All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2018.