i42vol on Flickr.
I’ve probably mentioned this before. I’m getting older and obviously I’m going to forget that I’m repeating myself, but I’ve probably mentioned this before. The only people who really grok your experience as an expatriate are other expatriates.
For example, the time
I went to Shelbyville the volcano erupted on me. It’s not the peak in the photo above. I believe that’s one of the extinct cones of the Kirishima volcano group. At least I hope it is since it’s right next to the expressway. Shinmoedake was the volcano that messed up my February. You can’t really describe the experience because “Sucking in volcanic ash” isn’t really like other things. You could describe how it falls like snow. But snow doesn’t stick to your skin and leave black residue on the bottom of your shower.
Well, maybe it does in Fort McMurray.
Essentially, unless you’re talking to the kid in The Road, you can’t get across how extraordinary a life event it was. Same with explaining earthquakes to people who have never experienced one. Yeah, if you grow up in a seismic zone it ain’t no thang to you. But for the non jaded they’re terrifying simply because you have no idea how big it’s going to be. You are suddenly very aware of the fact that you are a small thing in the grip of power beyond your comprehension. Tornadoes, volcanoes, hurricanes, blizzards. Given enough prep time you can either ride those out or get out of their way. Earthquakes are only escapable if you learn to flap your arms hard enough to get off the ground.
But it’s not just this dramatic stuff that you can’t fully share makes you feel lonely. It’s a lot of the cultural stuff and the day-to-day experiences that get lost. A few weeks ago another long-term expat friend and I were together at a weekend thing at another friend’s house. We got talking about our shared experiences dealing with the typical weirdos that come with living in Seoul. While I don’t think we were talking beyond the ken of the others, in fact I think we were both mindful that we had an audience, everyone sat there without anything to contribute. It’s not as if none of our other friends have no experience in other nations. But none of them had our experiences.
I figure that it’s like listening to people discussing their trip up the Amazon. You can appreciate it intellectually, or emotionally if they’re a great story-teller. But unless you’ve lived it, someone exclaiming, “And the piranhas! Don’t get me started on what a pain they were.” is just going to leave you going, “Oh yeah? I see.” and wondering what’s on TV.