Jet Lag 2013

… [Cayce’s] mortal soul is leagues behind her, being reeled in on some ghostly umbilical down the vanished wake of the plane that brought her here, hundreds of thousands of feet above the Atlantic. Souls can’t move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage.

– William Gibson, Pattern Recognition

I know how Cayce feels. After crossing thirteen time zones west to east, from Tokyo to Toronto, part of me still wings its way across the Pacific, still out there somewhere, coming in low and slow across the empty water.

According to Wikipedia, it takes one day for each time zone crossed for the body’s circadian rhythms to adjust.

By that standard, I should be back to my usual self two weeks into this three-week trip.

Meantime, I find myself falling asleep in cafes and libraries during the day, then lying wide-awake at awkward hours in a strange room, when only the over-chilled 24 hour Tim Horton’s is still open on the dark, pre-dawn streets.

This city, where I grew up, is an alien landscape, the familiar made strange not just by time and distance but this strange new land where shadowy figures resolve themselves into lamp-posts, and police cars do u-turns in the empty street to cruise by for another look.

I feel just as removed from myself. Like a traveler with lost luggage, I have arrived without the usual baggage.

So I sit in a basement apartment in a foreign part of my hometown, laptop in lap, and catch up on bookmarked articles I didn’t have time to read during the school year. I fret that I can’t reach my wife by phone or Skype. Watch the 24 hours news channel, and wait for the severe thunderstorms that may flood this city as it did just before I arrived: at least it will break the heat wave.

Family, friends, and favourite haunts go unvisited. The list of activities I assembled back in Tokyo – the gallery and museum exhibitions, the sailing adventures from the city’s harbourfront, go unvisited.

I’m just killing time. Waiting for the rain. Waiting for my soul to catch up with my body.


In his 2001 book of travel essays The Global Soul, the 2004 NYTimes essay “In the Realm of Jet Lag”, and most recently in a 2007 NYTimes blog post “The Uninvited Guest“, Iyer considers variously how jet lag is a foreign country, “a Sebaldian night wanderer”, “one of the great unmentionables of long-distance travel,” and the key to the heart of travel.


Canada Summer 2013: Pre-Departure

In a couple of hours I’ll leave my home in suburban Tokyo for Narita Int’l Airport to start my epic, biennial trip to my old hometown of Toronto. I look forward to putting some (air) miles between me and this sweat-inducing, bug-proliferating heat wave…

Still, I’ll be arriving in a city which has just experienced a record-breaking flood (basements swamped; blackouts ongoing), and under a Severe Thunderstorm Watch for today: Wednesday, July 10th Toronto time. So, while I’m winging it over the Pacific, ye gods will be adding insult to injury to Toronto the Good by dumping still more water on a town which is still trying to dry out after Monday’s freak storm.

As for the trip itself, well, I have to admit that I still enjoy flying even after all these years of travel and commuting intercontinentally: hanging at 35000 feet, staring out the window for hours on end at clouds or hazy blue ocean… it’s a kind of non-time, a suspension of routine and the little habits that make up a day.

Besides, there’s always movies to watch. And I’m bringing a Kindle loaded with new books (a psychogeographer’s tour guide of Toronto; a treatise on cities by PD Smith; a memoir of the Therafields experience; anthologies of travel writing and essays on walking). Plus an iPod stuffed with audiobooks (lectures on storytelling; big history; mindfulness; Achebe’s Things Fall Apart) and good music (an extensive library of Sigur Ros; selections from the last two albums of my newest discovery, The National).

And when I do arrive, it’ll be the start of a new adventure. For the first time since leaving T.O. some 20 (!) years ago, I won’t be staying in Little Italy. Instead, I’ve rented a place (if it’s not flooded) in Cabbagetown, a part of the city I still think of as T.O.’s notorious Tracks neighbourhood, but after controversial gentrification in the 1980’s (I still remember the anti-gentrification polemics of articles in NOW Magazine, views which I shared at the time) has now been designated one of Toronto’s “hipster hot spots” by the rather unhip Toronto Star newspaper.

… but that’s all to come. For now, I still have a few hours at home before I start the epic, 24-hour trip from Tokyo to Toronto. Next stop: a bus ride to Kichijoji, then the airport limousine to Narita airport. Twelve hours on Air Canada Flight 002 to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. Then a commute on the TTC (if it isn’t flooded…) into Cabbagetown in the heart of T.O….

Canada Summer 2013: T.O.; Kingston; Banff

It feels kinda odd adding an entry to, my travel blog, for Toronto (I just created a new Category for Toronto…). After all, I called T.O. home for almost thirty years, and I still think of it as my second home. After 18 years away, however, — first Montreal, then Korea, now Japan — it might be time to finally admit that I don’t really live there any more. I do, however, still have family and friends in and near the city, and I have to admit I haven’t given up completely on the idea of living there again, perhaps when/if I retire (though recent record housing prices have kinda put a damper on that idea…).

Still, if I’m honest with myself about it, I notice that, outside of a couple of weeks every year or so, T.O. exists only in the past and future for me. Tokyo is the present.

That hasn’t always been clear to me. But I am finally starting to wise up.

At the same time, I did grow up there, and whenever I do visit those past memories exist alongside present experience. So, for example, when I walk around certain parts of the city such as the University of Toronto campus, the Annex, or Little Italy, I re-visit different versions of myself much like re-reading a book I loved once as a child: I recognize it as an important part of who I am now, but I don’t always empathize with the main character any more. Intellectually, I see it as part of the larger narrative of my life; emotionally, there’s a disconnect. “That was then, this is now”, to invoke one of my favourite young adult novels from childhood.

At least, these are my thoughts as I sit in my study in Tokyo, speculating about what this trip will be like.

Can’t wait to actually get back to T.O. for the first time in two years. To see what I make of my old home town, and what it makes of me…