Riding the half-empty midnight train home in the dark is the perfect time to reflect. I look back on the past five years of my life; much in the same way that Asian countries have historically centered their dynasties around the imperial family in control, these past five years centered around Japan have created somewhat of a dynasty in my life as well. Memories, people, ideologies and so much more have passed in and out—memories, people and ideologies that have influenced everything, from the way I dress and carry myself to the way that I defend my beliefs.
Indeed, I’ve been molded from the experience in an interesting way, different than my friends; although many of the people I know have lived in handfuls of different places around the world, I’ve only lived in two. They were fairly contrasting cultures, and they’re stacked against each other even more by the fact that they’re the only two ways of life I’ve ever experienced for a long-term period of time.
This manifests itself in a strange way: I’m completely a foreigner in either place that I consider home. Although in the United States I visually blend in perfectly, I feel out of place socially and find myself lost culturally. I don’t see eye-to-eye with the students at my university, and I find the list of things I have to talk about with them is very short. But simultaneously, when I’m in the much more homogeneous country of Japan, I stand out like a sore thumb even though I adhere to Japanese customs more strictly than some of my Japanese friends, eat just as much traditional food as them, and put some of them to shame in the chopsticks department.
But, no matter where I am, perhaps because of my early years on the farm, I always find myself at home in the quiet parts of the big city: places like a half-empty midnight train, riding home in the dark.
Hard to believe the Japan dynasty has come to a close.
The first summer of college has almost rolled around, which means I’ve been in the US, no longer living the expat life, for nearly a year now. I flip through my passport for the first time in five months. It’s a strange feeling, not having to use it as much as I used to. I look at the visas. Sometimes, they’re layered; stamps in dark, vintage colors, printed densely about the pages. Other times, they’re enormous stickers that take up an entire page and costed a fortune to get put inside. Every time I open my passport, I see the KANSAI stamps first. They’re the most frequent; they’re hard to miss. July. December. August. December. January. June. October. March. May. Stretching all the way back to 2008.
The ones in summer conjure images of the large-scale water balloon fights we used to have, running through the town square, on overhead bridges, crisscrossing through shortcuts, flower pots, and the McDonald’s in the center of the island. The ones from fall of the trips we would take, on the company’s dime, to blue beaches with white sand, dark people, and amazing, obscure foods that now seem to exist only in a book I read a long time ago. Winter reminds me of Christmas lights, staying warm in a coffee shop with friends, and relationships that came and passed like the holidays I went home to celebrate. Spring of rejuvenation, orphanage trips, new relationships, and a shedding of my skin, both figuratively (thanks Philippines) and literally (thanks again, Philippines).
Each year has a different identity. New people that I met, new obstacles I came across, the nature of previously formed relationships. Foods tasted, girls fallen for, homes stayed at, parents met, and karaoke booths rented.
Each country has a memory. The currencies I exchanged. The cars I rode in. The words I learned. The souvenirs I brought back for the people I was close to at the time.
Each visa has a significance. But they’re fading. And someday, both far away and yet much too soon, I’ll have to turn in my old passport for a new one. And while I have no doubt that it will get filled up with stamps, visas, and memories just the same, they won’t be my high school memories.
Thanks lit major.
I’m a business/accounting double major, so writing is probably not in my professional future.
PS - if the whole world ever does stop for a day and you find yourself in Nashville, send me a message and I’d be glad to go to coffee with you.
Dear long time reader,
First off, you’re right. Things are changing a lot at college. I’ve been growing mentally in ways that I thought I’d finished growing; I’m becoming so much bigger on the inside, chipping away at the meaning of life, and it’s a really weird feeling. I take 19 credit hours of class a week, which is an overloaded schedule as it is, and work somewhere near 20 more hours with my job. Between those, whenever I get free time, I do my best to read new books, plays, see movies, try new things around town, and go to Nashville art crawls—things I think will ultimately help me flesh out the person I want to be. College has introduced me to a handful of really important people, people who unwittingly challenge my way of life, make me come to terms with a new reality, and then tear that reality apart and make me start from scratch again. It’s really liberating, and I constantly feel like I’m being molded and shaped and sculpted into a far superior version of myself than I ever could have been in high school. To indulge the six year-old in me, I’m like Charmeleon. High school me was just Charmander. But the best thing is that Charizard is still to come. And it’s hard to believe sometimes, but I genuinely do think that things will get better.
On the other hand, a lot of things are the same. If you were to meet me and see me around my friends, I’m the same person. I still like doing the same things, and I’ve been working out three to four times a week (I’m in the best shape of my life right now). I have been writing (or trying to; see ‘39 hours of college’ in the previous paragraph) at a blog I started called The Nashvillian, although I would like to eventually make a sweeping return to writing philosophically inclined bits of thought here at This Old Blog. And, what may be the best news to you, I’ve decided I’m not quite done with music yet; I think I still have a few more songs in me. Fun fact of the day: by the end of April, I’ll have a playable song on the classic iPhone app Tap Tap Revenge, which I know hasn’t been culturally relevant since my 9th grade year (2009…wow), but it’s cool nonetheless.
Dear long time reader, don’t be sad for me. In the past 9 months, I’ve been stripped of all that made me Lake Markham. But if it was really integral to my being Lake Markham, it will grow back (and slowly is). If it wasn’t, think of it something like the shedding of a snake’s skin. If you were to be on the streets of Kōbe, Japan in 2010, walking past the noodle shop or surf bar that my friends and I frequented; past the convenience store where we sat every Friday night, the four short years of high school seeming like an eternal spiral of heartache, loss, and uncertainty; past the pub where I played my first gig; the Lake Markham you would see would certainly be a different one. He would be recognizable; you would know him as me, and me as him. But he would be a product of the past. When the Universe tries to close its hand around me, it will always open it up to find that I’ve eluded it once again—I’m not there.
Thanks for the concern and compliments. Next time, come off Anon.
As I run my fingers through where my hair used to be, along the bumps of my scalp and the scratchy patches I missed on the upstrokes, an involuntary rush of memories comes flooding. During this particularly snowy springtime, I recall a particularly snowy springtime of my own: ninth grade.
Suddenly I see myself in an eighth-floor Hyatt room on the island of Guam, staring into the enormous bathroom mirror, golden hair hanging down to my shoulders. I’m thin but doughy and ever-pale, dreaming of the girl who would later shatter my heart into a million pieces—repairable this first time, but never again. Jason Mraz’ incredible Live & Acoustic album is downloading to my new iPod Touch, and as I prepare to step outside into the heat, I take a bite of the mango I picked off the tree moments before. La-la-la-life is wonderful.
Dear Tumblr, since we last met, things have taken unpredictable turns. I don’t make music anymore. I don’t believe in God or a meaning of life. More than anything, I see money as a pathway to getting to do the things I want to do with my life: write, eat, travel, experience high culture.
College has changed me, and I feel almost hollowed by it. I have much less character and much more of a hole inside me, a hole that needs to be filled with academia and books, philosophy and answers.
Who am I? If someone can enter your life, leave a mark, and disappear four years later without a trace—who is anybody really? My life’s journey is not to find out, but to exploit the question.
In ten years, people will ask: Who is Lake Markham?
I done did tho sun.
Yeah but seriously it’s a 6/8 waltz. Pumped to record it this summer back in the Basement.