Breathing in, the first light of the day breaks through the mist of the hills; I feel a nostalgic reminiscence of Japan. I feel warmed by the glow of mystique and disciplined peace humming through the landscape. This feeling, interrupted, only 10 meters down the hill, the local English-speakers complaining about how shit the weather is, how boring this neighbourhood is.
A standardized age-old, time-killing bonding-strategy: complaining.
It was an intentional decision to move to a country where I could not read the signs, ads, anything. I find my eyes drawn to the letters and words, my mind reading the words, making connections and understanding. Eventually, I did learn some of the local kana, begin to read some signs and ads, retaining the feeling of discovery and achievement.
On the train, a pair discusses something in an unidentifiable language. I have always loved listening to conversations’ mysterious sounds, patterns, pitch changes, intonations. What are they talking about?
What does anyone ever talk about? What is really worth talking about?
In English I have noticed that people talk about experiences, people, things that change, things that stay the same. Why do we talk?
Moving back to an English-speaking country on the opposite side of the world has been a more culturally shocking experience than in moving to a non-English-speaking, non-Latin-alphabet-using country.
Once again living in a country whose primary language is English, I am bombarded by segments of conversations, signs and ads reaching into my brain, planting seeds of messages that offer temporary surface-level judgments or satisfactions, but leaving my inner world distracted and exhausted.
Not to mention navigating a whole new set of slang, spelling and even grammar conventions. Through the often mumbly accent, I hear the words and language, it’s all English, but understanding it can be “tough as.” Not even tough as… something… because on this side of the planet, that’s the end of the thought. “Pants” are something you wear under your “trousers.” “Pissed” means drunk, not angry. “You alright?” / “Are you ok?” does not imply that I think something isn’t alright, just asking to be polite.
Even nourishing the body requires investigative translation of meaning.
The grocery store, oh grocery store. Where is the food in these packages of “ingredients”? Once again I am able to read the labels and ingredients on the “food products” on offer. But the code that has been developed for labeling food is to reveal the use of the ingredient, but conceal its chemical composition. Ingredients such as “emulsifier (322),” “stabilizers (339, 407)” and “firming agent (509)” really creep me out. I feel it is a trust issue. I don’t like the atmosphere of secrecy around food ingredients.
Atmosphere of place and time is subjective connection to ideas. These ideas about atmosphere come from stories. The stories come from experiences and intentions. Consistency is attempted and if we are not distracted by abusive overuse of communication abilities, we can enjoy the atmosphere of a place and time as a human on planet earth.
We choose our words and subjects and we can choose to communicate with care. It won’t save us from the communications of others, whether auditory or visual, but it will acknowledge that we are not having a private conversation in a public space. We are having a conversation with all who are in sensory proximity and those who it echoes further to from there. Even secondhand exposure to our communications reveal or conceal meaning and relate to or alienate our audience; contributing to the atmosphere of all space and time. This is how powerful it is To Be A Human On Planet Earth.