When I first arrived in Kyoto on 26 Mar 2012, I wanted to start a blog as soon as possible to share my adventures and observations. But I didn't.
It was because it took me longer than expected to set my life in order in this foreign land.
I didn't speak much Japanese; I had to look for an apartment; I had to furnish my apartment; I didn't have internet; I didn't have a mobile phone and I knew no one. It was winter then. I remember feeling rather gloomy because of the cold and loneliness.
The semester started on 2 Apr. A flurry of orientation activities followed. There were the Japanese class placement tests to grapple with at that time, amidst questions on whether and how to get myself a bed, internet and maybe some friends, for a start. I was kept busy.
By the end of the first month, I was plagued by a different set of concerns. I couldn't articulate my thoughts in class. My proficiency level was too low. I thought the class placement was a mistake but I was not allowed to rectify it. I couldn't keep up with everyone's pace. My classmates are young, in their early 20s. I was too slow for my age. By trying to keep up, I spent most of my time in my apartment studying.
It was fortunate that the sakura trees were in bloom at that time. The transience of the beautiful flowers reminded me of my mortality. I felt blessed to be able to undertake this journey on my own, and in good health. More importantly, I found strength and optimism.
With the passing of the sakura, the Golden Week - a series of public holidays in the first week of May - brought me my parents and my friends from Singapore. Their short stays with me dispelled my loneliness for a while.
But by the end of May, I started to feel disconnected from society. Every day, when I went to class, it felt unreal. It didn't help that I live somewhere else while most of the people I would have loved to hang out with stay in the school dorm. I was hardly included in the social activities of people I know in school.
I felt a desperate need to fill the emptiness that surrounded me after class. I needed to interact with people. I wanted to contribute to society again. I started job hunting but couldn't make any headway with my low Japanese proficiency. I thought of getting a television but it didn't seem right to replace people with a box.
And so, I started to look beyond the school campus for activities targeted at working adults. I was afterall a shakai-jin (社会人).
Life becomes meaningful knowing you are able to help others. I eventually found a non-profit organisation with a mission I could identify with, where I volunteer my skills.
It is an organisation that promotes international exchange between Japanese children and children in other parts of the world. The founders of the organisation escaped death because of a postponed meeting that made them cancel the ill-fated flight on 11 Sep 2001. They felt that they had to do something for the chaotic world and set up the NPO. These are people who dared to make the difference. I was deeply inspired.
I also started searching for cultural activities that I am interested in. For two Saturdays per month, I am now learning Japanese traditional dance. At the class, I met people who share my interests, understand my difficulties, and are willing to listen and advise.
Not too long ago, a classmate who is returning to America generously gave me her bicycle. The bicycle, in its orange splendour, seems to have a message for me. Every time I look at it, I hear the words, Do More, Feel Better, Live Longer!