February 18, 2016

Rising Sun


I didn't think I would fly over the length of Asia once more before the end of this year, but now I'm on a plane to Shanghai and I feel just as giggly and lost as the day I flew to Cambodia. On the way to the airport my mind is filled with an endless chatter of « What the fuck are you doing » and « This is completely insane », but as soon as the plane takes off it doesn't matter anymore. I relax in my seat and watch strange lands pass by under the wing, and I know I've made the right choice.

If I wanted to frame this story properly, I'd probably have to explain that it began two years ago, with a heartbreak and a house with a pea green door. It began with a slow train to the west coast of Ireland, and a pair of frosty blue eyes. But it doesn't really matter anymore, so I'll skip that part.

I'll be with him in a few hours. I just have to transfer through Shanghai, get the right plane, cross one of the biggest cities on the planet on my own, take a bus and find him. He's not making it very easy for me. I land in Osaka and find my way through the train network where nothing is written in an alphabet I can read. I take a night bus to Hiroshima and everytime the bus makes a stop on the motorway I run to the bathroom to drink and my exhausted reflection stares at me in the mirror. Dark circles and weary skin. I am her and I am in Japan, and I have no idea what time it is, but I know how much time is left before I see him. It used to be six weeks and then it was one day and now it's thirty minutes, now twenty minutes, now ten.

I get off the bus and suddenly he is there, and I’m immediately struck by the fact that he is real. Not a thought in my head. Not a series of texts. He is golden hair and thin smile and that old blue coat and he is home. We walk through Hiroshima's streets, and from my exhaustion and the odd silence that place feels haunted. Hotels were booked out so we resort to find a love hotel (yes, you read that right) -and we giggle at the tackiness of the dodgy elevator and the flashing number above the door. On the bed, he takes me in his arms and bursts out laughing. « What the fuck are you doing here », he says. And truth is I really don't know, but I know that I am where I should be.

From the very beginning we were always running in and out of each other's lives but now we have three weeks together. It's a whole different thing, to wake up and not feel the urgency, to know he'll still be around tomorrow. Hiroshima is so sunny and warm it feels like spring. Compared to the other places I've been to in Asia, Japan is not as different as I expected it to be. People smile at us and stare at his blond hair and blue eyes. It takes me a while to adapt to the familiarity of what is supposed to be the edge of the world, but he is there to comment on every little quirk and detail that makes him smile. He finds everything interesting, and when we walk around I can't stop watching his face. He reminds me of me, when I first started exploring Angkor on my own. When we meet other travelers, whenever he speaks, everybody stops to listen to him. An american girl sitting next to me tells me : « He's really something else » and I smile. I know that.

We move towards the south first. He travels just like me : nothing is planned, everything is an adventure, whether we run in the station to find our next train, or browse through a market to find the weirdest food. Nothing is ever problematic, it's just funny when plans fall through and we get lost. Mostly we just walk around. On my second day we climb a mountain overlooking a bay, and we sit on a boulder drenched in sunlight. As night falls we climb down the mountain and watch the tide rise, huge boats covered in fairy lights gliding across the water.

Three days after I arrived, we leave Hiroshima, and as I am standing in the station watching passengers flow in and out of buses I realize that this hasn't been strange for a single second. Not carrying my bag full of wrinkled clothes and snacks wrappers ; not sleeping on futons and deciphering another alphabet ; not deciding to visit cities we can't remember the name of. This is all known and natural to me. I had forgotten, but this is the only state of being where I don't question what I'm doing. The movement allows us to just be. Through the bus window we watch buildings turn into mountains and it feels like we've been living like this for a long, long time.

In Nichihara, we get on a red train that seems to have no driver or passengers, and we joke that maybe this is a ghost train out of a Ghibli film. We get to Tsuwano at twilight and the streets are filled with strange music and ribbons of mist that look like spirits. The house we stay in is so cold I can see my breath. In the morning the garden is covered in fresh snow, and he runs upstairs to wake me up, excited like a kid.

We move to a town on the seaside. We find an onsen (a communal hot spring pool) overlooking the waves and we spend a whole evening there, the water lit by the street lamps and the moon. Steam dancing on the surface. I trace the water droplets on his skin, connecting them like a dot-to-dot.

Then it's a long ride to Aso-san, the volcano god of Kyushu. We walk around the caldera as the volcano cough up big clouds of white smoke. At the end of the day the light turns gold and I watch the sun disappear at the end of the road, setting fire to his hair. Sometimes I have to remind myself of where I am. All the while I am trying to understand Japan and document the trip but sometimes I have troubles achieving that, because he takes my attention away from the landscape. Like the focus of my camera lens is always drawn to him, leaving the rest blurry.

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