Several years ago, I read David Chang’s Unified Theory of Deliciousness in Wired, which gave me a new perspective on the duality of life. You can read his in-depth observations on the topic above but the summary of it is that a dish that is perfectly seasoned will create two simultaneous sensations, that it is too salty but also not salty enough. He challenges the common notion of a balanced dish and argues that “balance” is only achieved when something is fully committed to being both at the same time.
A piece that I wrote about Japan last year echoed my own similar sentiments, though through a different lens. From a two-day trail running expedition, I retrospectively discovered more about the forks that I had faced and continue to encounter in life, often times where both roads would be so disparagingly polarising. It helped me understand my own decision-making abilities better, realise my penchant for doing things the hard way and ultimately solidified my resolve to finally move my everything to Tokyo.
One of the greatest loves of my life, Muay Thai, is another perfect example. The heat of the sport, of Thai Liniment Oil, is a stark contrast to the tropical Southeast Asian rains in Malaysian and Thailand, to the water festival of Songkran. The deafening roar of any gym I’ve been to, fuelled by the crack of the pads being hit, juxtaposes itself against the quiet calm that you develop within yourself. The practice of having to be light on your feet, but still rooted to the ground, to move fluidly but also be still at just the right time. Most profoundly of all, its humble and traditional roots in Thailand versus its gross popularisation here in Japan, South East Asia and throughout parts of Europe and America.
I’m now one year (or slightly more) into my life here in Tokyo, and these lessons reverberate on. The stereotypes of Tokyo are true. In a city with a population of over 14 million people, it is very, very possible to feel like you are the only person here. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t spend part of my birthday this year crying because I had felt lonely. I’ve yet to find any semblance of good Cantonese cuisine or any form of Chinese food that is rooted in my heritage. And I’m often reminded both actively and passively, that while I might be same same, I am also different. Yet, the inverse is also true. I’ve had my fair share of sober and inebriated conversations with Japanese and foreigners across the stools of a local izakaya. Tokyo is also a city where you can find the best sushi (naturally) but also the best pizza in the world. It’s a place where the conformity of salarymen and office ladies is celebrated until you take two steps into Harajuku and the teen dressed in full bondage regalia gestures you with a free packet of tissues.
Tokyo is a city of extremities and opposites, in a way that many things in life prepared me for but has left me still trying to figure it all out. Like a coursing river or a great typhoon, it’s all too easy to get swept away which is why anchors have been very important for me here. The work I do continues to be filled with challenges that I enjoy unpacking and piecing together like wire puzzles. It’s a much bigger box than the ones I came from in Australia, but after a year of maneuvering, I’m starting to find a comfortable equilibrium within my team that gives me both support as well as room to grow. In my personal relationships, I feel surrounded by a good community of people, with shared interests in art, dance, fitness, video games and also nothing at all other than a positive attitude and an open heart. My Muay Thai gym deserves an accolade of its own, for keeping me sane through the peaks and troughs of Tokyo life. Time and time again, Muay Thai has proven to transcend language, culture, gender, and age, to bring out the best in the best people, and I’m truly so glad to have found it (Thanks again Iwa-chan!). Last but certainly not least in the slightest, modern technology and its ability to keep my best friends, parents, and wider family, a mere WhatsApp message away.
‘One year here, how has it been?’ is the question played on a persistent loop on a Spotify playlist called ‘Sam in Tokyo’. My response on repeat is that it’s been wonderful. I’m so humbled to be here and so thankful for the opportunities, the fortunes and my own brand of stubbornness which opened this path for me. It took and still takes a lot of effort, but at the same time, it’s also effortless to be here.