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Not There But Here

Shanghai: street scene

What is the difference in being there, and feeling there?

It’s almost a decade since I first moved to Japan and it took about 9 months to feel like I was actually there. I’m not talking about ‘feeling at home’ – that took far longer, but rather to be in a situation where the nuances of the experiences were so utterly local that I couldn’t be anywhere else. It was soon after joining Nokia- attending my first off-site meeting with a major component manufacturer that the Nokia Research Center Tokyo was partnering with on a project. Our team met early morning in the maze under Tokyo station, and took the train out to Nagano – as we climbed into the mountains the landscape became increasingly blanketed in snow.

The occasion was a kick-off meeting with the manufacturer’s R&D team, and following a meeting of introductions but little in the way of discussion (as is the norm) we moved to a bento box lunch. I clearly remember sitting in a perfectly rectangular meeting room, with a background of friendly yet polite background chatter, sashimi on my chopsticks, surrounded by the Japanese team all wearing the same faded overalls and looked out of the window to see a Shinkansen slice through the wintery countryside. Taste, sound, sight, smell – it had it all. The afternoon included a tour of the robot driven plant, followed by meetings before we retreated to hotel’s top story onsen. That evening we ate and drank, one or two passed out.

Even when you travel a lot, when hotels and names and faces all blur into one, there are moments when it sinks in that you are not there but here. This isn’t the same as feeling at home, not by a long shot. But it nudges things in that direction.

Last week, under the haze of permaphuck I caught a glimpse of China, a similar, perfectly balance moment.

In another decade I might share what it is.