Posted by: Megan | August 2, 2007

“All by myself …”

Independence, abandon, unrestricted, opportunity, free rein, liberty, parole, break loose, escape, autonomy, unconstrained, free, play, parting, relinquish – frantically I would leaf through my English-Japanese Dictionary hoping to find the correct translation in an attempt to slip free of feeling couped up in a Japanese home where no-one understood me …


Afraid, apprehensive, concerned, fearful, fretful, frightened, nervous, petrified, worried, uncertain, panicky, anxious, uneasy, cautious, terrified, reluctant – frantically my Japanese Host Family would leaf through their Japanese-English Dictionary hoping to find the correct translation in an attempt to protect me and avoid any potential consequences by setting me free …

The presentation of menu offerings with plastic imitations was one of the few things that initially saved me as a 17 year old exchange student in Japan with no command of the language otherwise – at that stage. Combating loneliness was hard in the early stages of my 3 month exchange program back in 1987 – living with a family that had as little command on the English language as I did of theirs.

With just the host mother, as the rest of the family went to school and work, I remember long solitary moments of sitting in their home – otherwise alone. From the tatami mat floor, I would stare into the alcove which boasted an Ikebana flower arrangement and a scroll as I desperately tried to work out ways I could break through the shoji screen doors as a measure to enable me with experiences of Japanese customary traditions beyond the realms of their home – and possibly meet someone – someone who would understand me. At the very least, it was for their dog’s benefit that I be set free as I fed him the majority of food that I was unable to stomach – that being all 99.99% of it! Slimy eel and seaweed was never going be conducive to a good morning start …

I’m not sure exactly which word it was that hailed me with the freedom I yearned – “independence“, “relinquish” or possibly “escape“? Perhaps. Whichever term, I finally became “free” – which in the mind-set of my Japanese family – peril to the unknown.

I am sure that they continued to use every concern related term from “apprehensive” to “anxious” as I freely explored from the narrow streets that surrounded their home to the outer expanse of the shopping malls – several subway stops away. Yet, it was my time in a park back near their home that finally subsided my feeling of isolation and loneliness. “Do you speak English?” I asked the first foreigner I had laid eyes on since the airport, who was playing with his little son on the swings. And, that is when one man and his little son brought solace to my foreign existence. An American University Professor over with his family who lived just around the corner from my host family. A whole new appreciation of my time in Japan thus evolved – and in the process the family dog slipped back to its’ normal weight!

Have you ever experienced moments of loneliness when travelling?

Bruce Foreman (foreign correspondent in Hong Kong) remembers when he was in Nepal all by himself …

“I put my wrist watch in my pocket and then I would go up to strangers … other travellers … and ask them the time, hoping to make contact with another traveller, who would lift me out of the loneliness that descends upon you from time to time ,when you are out there doing the long overseas haul. Some of the strange characters that I met were – well – you gotta be choosey! One of the techniques that I would use to lift me out of the dumps was to imagine that I was Frodo from Lord of the Rings on a mission, and that loneliness was an all important part of the quest.”

And you?

If you need some inspiration …

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