Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tania: My Japanese Brazilian Penpal

I am about to embark on an 18-day adventure to South America with my traveling companion. It is both our first time to discover this continent. Though an experienced traveler, I am very excited about this particular trip.

I first developed a wanderlust spirit back in the early 1990s when I was attending Intermediate School 131 in New York’s Chinatown. The teen magazines at that time had these penpal services and I started writing to dozens of teenagers my age around the globe. Young and too poor to travel, summer vacations were spent behind the desk memorizing Tang poetry in Chinese School on Mott Street. And every few years my family would take the summer months to be in our village in China where I was born. But travels of far away places were vast in the mind, and a seed of adventure was planted in me.

One of the penpals I wrote to that year of 1994 was Tania. She was a Japanese Brazilian from Sao Paulo. A second generation Japanese born in Sao Paulo, I learned not in Geography class but through correspondence with her that the largest Japanese population outside of Japan is in Brazil. It was incredible to find people my age, from all over the world who shared a passion for learning about different cultures, for writing. I was so content writing letters to these penpals, I never thought one day I would have the opportunity to visit them.

Snailmail became out of fashion as electronic mail entered the scene in the late 1990s but our friendship survived. We continued to keep in touch, and eventually met in person in January 2002 in Montreal where Tania was studying abroad. After university I moved to Europe and Tania came to visit me in Paris in summer 2006 while on her Europe backpack tour. We met again in New York City in September 2008. And finally this New Year Eve, after fifteen years of correspondence, I get to visit Tania in her home country! Young adolescents that we were, we built a friendship connection so strong, so enduring that it has transcended time and place.

I believe 2010 is going to be an amazing New Year and decade. It already is - by starting with something significant – reconnection of old friendships.