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.
There’s something sad about that, I guess; looking out at those faces of people I like and knowing the moment is fleeting. But the other side of that coin is that there’s something special about that meeting. Maybe we’re just casually getting tea and dessert at some cafe one Tokyo night, but hey– it’s our night. This is the time we’re all together.
Building this sort of group of friends takes a long time. There was a while when I traveled alone and was actually alone. Not lonely, exactly, but aware that I was there by myself. I’m not that outgoing unless there’s some driving reason to be, and there often isn’t.
Eventually, though, you start running into people a lot. Last time I saw Chris and Kaori, we happened to be in Berlin at the same time, so we broke into an abandoned building together. Jimmy and Adrienne I saw last in Austin, Texas for South by Southwest.
And then, through these chance encounters, you start building real friendships and you travel together. When I plan a big trip I email a bunch of friends and I’m often surprised at who has a gap in their schedule and jumps. And then even as we travel in a group, we all seem to run into friends as we go.
I’ve been really lucky when it comes to friends. I bumbled into a group of friends my first day of high school, and many of them are still my good friends today. There’s something special about those friends you’ve had for a long time, too. You see each other age and you know the whole context firsthand.
But there’s also something special about these ephemeral friendships that grow in glimpses and moments. As we sat at that table in Tokyo, I was aware of how comfortable and normal it felt. When so many of your meetings are fleeting, you cut past pleasantries and awkwardness and just act like you’ve been hanging out every day for years. I like that feeling.
Photo is the interior of Il Duomo in Milan.
Today’s my last day in Chiang Mai with Todd and his girlfriend, Shammy. They go on to Myanmar, and I have a day in Tokyo and a day in Shanghai before heading to New York and Boston to be with my family for Christmas.
I have an accepted offer on a place in Vegas, but the inspection was really bad, so I might have to keep looking.