Stepping into the unknown

Lanterns along a night street in Japan

Dear Reader,

Just next month, I’ll be leaving this sunny slice of home for another colder, larger, faraway island: Hokkaido. It still hasn’t fully sunk in that I’ll be there for just under a year, where I’ll plunge into the thick of winter and its longest nights. In ordinary (read: COVID-free holiday) circumstances, there wouldn’t be any question about how I’d be feeling—not only would it be the first time I’d be travelling since the pandemic, but it would also be those fun holiday places, like Sapporo, Niseko and Otaru, right? But I’ve been assigned to teach in the far east of Hokkaido, Shibetsu-cho to be exact, with a population of about 5,000 and a density of 8 people per kilometre squared. With Sapporo a six-hour drive away, I couldn’t be further from the rest of the country.

Don’t get me wrong, however—I asked for it. Yes, Hokkaido was one of my listed preferences, and I even wanted a rural placement for this teaching programme. In a sense, I have everything that I asked for. Even before I leave, I know that the next year or so will shape up to be an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life. So why the apprehension? It doesn’t help that this feeling is complicated by an excitement, a rush of adrenaline at approaching the unknown with open arms.

Perhaps it’s because I’ll miss the little things that have made my life in Singapore so comfortable: like watching the yellow insides of a freshly sliced sunny-side-up spill out over my nasi lemak; feeling my dog’s warm nose nuzzling my hand for a belly rub; returning home to my family brimming with stories of their daily lives. It almost feels as if I have to carefully gather all these pieces of myself for my journey, like I’d leave something behind, lost and forgotten, only to realise when I’ve reached the edge of Japan.

I don’t know what waits for me there. Having only lived in big, noisy cities my whole life, for once I will be living on the physical margins, compelled to acknowledge the privileges, conveniences and opportunities of urban life. But it is in such a space that I hope I will be open to the greatest change, as many people have done so before me. At the very least, I may have a chance to see a (disputed) part of Russia from my home—I can only thank Sarah Palin for opening my eyes to this silver lining.

Warmly (for now),

(From October 24, 2020)