Doors Slamming Closed

Welcome to my random musings about the world, on a weekly-to-occasional basis.

Where we are: Tokyo, Japan

Doors Slamming Closed

Suddenly, with no warning, Lee and I have (by necessity) gone from being nomads to being expats.

Much is made of these distinctions, within their respective communities. On the surface, the differences probably seem trivial. But they don’t feel trivial. Out of the blue, we find ourselves having to drill down and figure out how to get medications and new contact lenses and food delivery—tasks that we don’t usually have to navigate because we’re generally gone before we have time to really get settled. Besides, we can usually just wait until we get back to the US. But at this point, we have no idea when that will be.

We’re shifting gears in the middle of a pandemic, when nothing around us is normal. Here in Japan, pretty much everyone is wearing a mask in public. We already don’t know the culture; with the masks, a lot of the visual cues are gone. We’re usually pretty quick to drop into a community, explore, figure it out, but that feels both risky and tone-deaf right now.

We’re not exactly flailing—we’re actually kind of reveling in the convenience of UberEats and Amazon deliveries and the luxury of a fancy Japanese toilet—but we’re definitely feeling a little discombobulated.

It has been slow to sink in, but we’re finally processing the reality: travel is off the table for the foreseeable future. It’s not that we feel stuck, per se, because we definitely chose to be here—it’s not as if we have somewhere else we need to go—it’s just that travel, for us, is a mindset. It’s the structure around which we’ve organized our lives.

It’s a hard habit to break. Lee keeps looking at flights—just out of curiosity, he says. I keep thinking, well, next month. In June. This summer.

Where to next?

But then we read about countries closing their borders. Banning foreigners. Cancelling flights and trains. Halting all movement, even internally. Doors have slammed shut, all over the world. Japan will no longer allow visitors from seventy countries—and just like that, there are no more flights from here to the US.

It’s a weird, limbo-ish moment in which to be a digital nomad. A lot (not all, but a lot) of people who live like we do are younger than we are. A lot of those folks packed up and went back to their home country; many have moved back in with their parents. That’s not really an option for us, even if we wanted to—our parents are the last people we’d want to expose.

I feel particularly awful for all the bloggers who were actually making a living on travel, all those little solo operators, just getting by. It feels as if the entire industry just dried up overnight. I know it wasn’t really overnight—it was weeks—but I’ve been so focused on my own logistics that I didn’t really process the bigger picture implications. It’s too easy to do that: to get so caught up in the minutiae that we never realize how the details fit into the whole.

I couldn’t possibly complain—I’m safe and comfortable and perfectly happy to be in Japan—but I do find myself wondering what in the world to write about in these emails. Do I just carry on with my regular content? I keep going back and reading the essays I’ve already written, and they all seem sort of hollow, under the circumstances. How could anyone possibly give a hoot about my rambling observations about bowls, or some random village in Morocco/Ecuador/Vietnam? I’m not even sure I can get myself excited about those things.

From where I’m currently perched, it feels like the world is on pause. So I guess we’ll just wait. I’ll sit quietly, and look inward and gather energy. Maybe I’ll even try to use this time creatively. It’s not as if any of us have a choice.

Let me know how you’re using this pause. And of course, stay healthy.

From my writer’s notebook:

If you’re looking for an interesting diversion during the lock-down, or you want to expose the kids to something vaguely cultural, lots of museums around the world are making virtual tours of their collections available for free right now. There’s a list in this article to get you started:

Take care,


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