I land in Narita Airport, Japan, pull two thousand Yen out of the ATM, and get on the train for Tokyo. From memory I walk down familiar streets until I get to the New Zealand Embassy in northern Shibuya, where my friend Elliot lives. I haven't seen him in almost two years, and have only emailed a few times since then, but it's as if I never left. We joke around, walk to dinner, and make plans for the weekend.
The next day I pop my Japanese SIM card into my phone and call my friend Toby to let him know that I'm around. He tells me about a party he's throwing in Yoyogi park, so a couple other friends and I join him.
Nothing about these individual scenes is particularly noteworthy. That's the point. In various places around the world I have enough good friends that I can have a pretty normal life there while visiting.
I was reading a book called Distracted, which, ironically, was so boring that I was constantly distracted from it until I finally stopped reading because I enjoyed it so little. One of the points she made was that we have shallow friendships all over the place, rather than a few deep friendships within our local communities. And, further, she said, we're all nomads, traveling everywhere rather than setting down roots in one place. These are bad things, according to her.
I obviously don't feel the same way she does about being a nomad, but I also disagree with her that infrequent friendships are necessarily shallow.
I was talking with my friend Derek once, who I think I've actually only hung out with in person three times, each time in a different location. He made a comment about how it's assumed that the quality of a friendship is assessed by how much time the two people spend together, but how he believed that wasn't actually the case. I hadn't thought about it before, but I realized that he was right. He and I had a lot of common interests and ideas, which created a quick friendship and respect. Other people I've spent tons of time with, but our values and interests are so different that we never become very close. There are clearly other, more important ,factors at work.
The same is true with these long distance friendships. The fact that I'm not able to spend most of my days with these friends doesn't mean that they aren't great friendships. In fact, I'd say it's the opposite: they're such good friends that they don't require constant attention to maintain. The depth of conversations I have with those friends is the same as with local friends.
So the author of Distracted can complain about how friendship is changing, but the rest of us can embrace it. Traveling is a blast, but it's even better to be able to travel and have the luxury of being surrounded by good friends as you do it. That's half the fun of traveling for me-making new friends everywhere I go, so that next time I go, an exotic country feels like home.
Can't wait to see my Japan friends in 10 days or so!
I'm testing out the new Smartwool FiveFingers to see how they do for smell. One week into the test, full report coming soon enough.
I swear the RV upgrades post is coming soon. My dad's in SF right now helping me out with my last upgrade before I'm ready. Direct quote: "You seem to really thrive on these monkeyed situations, but I can't stand them. If I had a gun right now I'd probably shoot myself in the head."
So...do the smartwool fivefingers smell? :)
I have the sprint's...they are great but avoid taking them off in other people' homes!
I think it depends a lot on what type of person you are - some people are introverts and it's hard for them to feel comfortable around someone right away.
It's like the stuff you talked about in the No filter post, some people just can't drop their filters before spending a bit more time with a person.
BTW, I've been making new friends in Japan by connecting with other hackers and by visiting hackerspaces. Have you been to the Tokyo Hackerspace?
It's at Shirokanedai, near Meguro.
4nchor5 la6 is near there, too. We visited them today :)
I consider you my friend, even though we only met once, at the Hacker Dojo. I feel that I know you, though, as I read your blog regularly.
I'm in Japan too. Currently in Ikebukuro, I'll be heading to Osaka on Sunday. I have a Japanese SIM as well ;)
Love the direct quote. Sounds like your next book could be "Shit Tynan's Dad Says".
I just spent the last year traveling the country in my 21' RV. Looking forward to the RV post.
Nice post, I am travelling a lot with Couchsurfing and you meet amazing friends, people who, in the span of a few days you feel intimately familiar with and trust completely; as opposed to some people back home you just hang with out of habit, but who you wouldn´t be glad to help out if they were in some kind of trouble.
Travelling makes the befriending process a lot more intense, I think it sometimes leads to a better quality of friendship because you both are of a same mindset (sharing, travelling, explorers) and the circumstances can be trying sometimes. If you re still friends after a difficult problem, you know its for real.
I'd not thought about this before but you're right. My job is in SF and my wife works in the UK - we're lucky enough to work on short contracts and so spend about half the year in each location and have sets of friends in both. As you say the sign of a good friend is not how much time you spend with them but how quickly you can get back in the friendship groove.
I think some of this has to do with the rise of social media sites meaning that friendships are less likely to wane over time.
Good post Tynan - this site is so much better since it's become a .com ;)
i agree that it is fun having friends all over the place... but at the same time, i feel like people in general end up hanging out with the people they live with (or near) the most... so i would think it would be best to live near or with your friends.
Having cool, fun, awesome neighbors and a community definitely makes me enjoy a location much more.
What about a family? Raising kids? Granted, if you do not want either than it is irrelevant. But if you do...
This subject is on my mind a lot and I totally agree. In an increasingly smaller world, maintaining distance friendships in spurts and increasing serendipity along the way is an attractive alternative.
A common argument is that it's selfish to abandon friendship for mobility. In my case, I forego a lot of 'luxuries' in life specifically so I can spend more time and money traveling to visit friends. This is a convincing way to show someone they are special to you. Mobility is about being able to see who you want, not just be where you want.
A month ago four travelers including myself met up for a reunion in Sweden. We met and traveled together in Thailand 10 years ago. Since then meetings were sporadic or non-existent. The effort involved, plus the good times, made us better friends.
I would like to have some plot of land somewhere where land is cheap close to where I'd really like to live, build an airstrip, have a self sustaining earthship type structure and fly everywhere with a two seater ultralight that could land in fields. Kind of like that vagabonding writer. He travels everywhere but still has some sort of home base in a ranch in middle america, If I want to fly far, I'll just fly to the nearest large airport, land there and then catch my flight to where ever. Maybe have an RV when I want to live in a more urban area. It seems like with the RV though you just live in two places: San Francisco, and your home town of Austin.
Glasses clinked and spoons rattled against porcelain as we sat in a backstreet cafe in Tokyo. Our table was three chairs one one side and a low couch on the other.
Across from me was Jimmy. We met a couple years ago because a mutual friend moved to Jimmy's town in New Zealand. He introduced us over email and we became fast friends. Right of him was John, who I met a few days ago through Jimmy and had already bonded with over standup sushi and plans to buy a cruise ship. To my right were Adrienne, a 21 year old who keeps a fascinating journal of plans. We met briefly at Karaoke six months ago, and then got to know each other on the cruise. And at the end of the table were Chris and his girlfriend Kaori. I met Chris by random chance, having shared an apartment with a mutual friend seven years ago. It just so happens he's also friends with Jimmy.
That's about half of my social circle in Japan, at least right now. Only Chris and Kaori actually live here.
It's strange, having this ephemeral group of friends. Most will be my friends forever probably, but maybe that's the only time we'll convene in that particular group. It's not like Friends on TV where it's the same gang every episode.
Share a foxhole, survive on a deserted island, traveling through a war zone, being swept out to see. These are all perfect ways to build a friendship, right? Wrong? Maybe only for some people?
Lets explore this.
Shared experiences can create an intensely strong bond between people. That bond can become more hardened when you involve life threatening or extreme situations. Many people have said that they can rely on a person who has been through a difficult or trying time with them. The bond created is undeniable.
However, how do these relationships stack up with those made in peaceful times? Is there even anything that can correlate?
Most of my of my friends are from school or work. I don't always get together with them or hang out as often as I'd like. But there is something that makes some relationships stronger than others. After talking with a friend, he offered me to stay at his house if ever I needed to. If ever I did, it would definitely strengthen our friendship. This may seem obvious, but was surprising to me was the actual offer. Putting your self out there is not an easy task and dedicating your time or resources to someone else shows commitment and trust. Another friend has offered to help me in promoting a project of mine, and another to help edit a story, or another to come and visit and help out.