Words by GU YUE
Illustration by YASHA LAI
What do you feel at the age of 20?
I feel pain. To be exact, I first felt a silence... And then, when I came to terms with it, an endless pain and anxiety. The reality of turning 20 drowns me and scares me, even more than the pain of death, though I haven’t experienced that.
Things that once seemed far-reaching have suddenly come close, and the issue of “distance”, both physical and psychological, looms large.
Sometimes, distance stops you from reaching the things that you want. It could be something as near as a snack on the other side of the table, or as far as the distance between two countries. When I was young, I used to think that everything would be attainable, if difficult to reach sometimes; I thought that nothing would really be out of my reach.
However, faced with the reality of being an adult, this seems more like an illusion. I recently realized that “distance” may be a determinant for many things, both physical and psychological. Distance has been further reinforced in the current coronavirus pandemic, as people are stopped from seeing the ones they love. There are always borders that you can’t cross, no matter how hard you try.
Voices rise in my mind as I behold the reality I am faced with. What if it is too late to achieve my dreams?
What if life in Corona lasts forever?
What if my reality disappears?
These things puzzle me, and I am so anxious as I become an adult in these times. Things like work, marriage, and aging once seemed far away, but have now been placed right in front of us. The reality of these things is suddenly within the reach of our hands. Each of these important chapters of life requires us to make decisions and live with them from now on.
What if the University of Tokyo disappears?
Due to the pandemic, a physical distance between me and Japan appeared. An entry ban stopped me from entering Japan and having a normal university life, and since then, I have been thinking about what The University of Tokyo means to me. Unfortunately, I had to spend the entire four years at home, and in the blink of an eye, I have already become a job seeker.
“University of Tokyo? I have never heard of it.”
“No internship experience?”
“Sorry, our company only accepts applicants from standard colleges.”
I paused. What a strange thing. It is the third time that an interviewer has claimed that The University of Tokyo does not exist. The University of Tokyo is certainly a top university; that goes without saying. But how can I prove the existence of a place I have never physically been to, a 4-year experience I haven’t experienced in reality, the online friendships between me and my classmates, whom I have never seen in real life?
Undeniably, all my knowledge about Japan comes from digital sources, such as films, televisions, and online classes. However, these things are so intangible that I could even mistake them for my dream from last night. These representations in my head are so unreliable, especially without tangible, physical forms. If someday digitalization or The University of Tokyo disappears, will my reality disappear?
What if I learn to drive a car?
When we become adults, we are allowed to do more things than before – driving is one of them. Depending on your background and surroundings, you might learn to drive and own a car sooner or later. Driving is one milestone in life – a marker of being an adult.
However, what I’ve realized is that despite the convenience and freedom to go wherever you like, there are even more responsibilities that come with driving. Maintenance of the car is one, and driving itself is a huge responsibility – in your hands rest the lives of pedestrians and yourself. Like other forms of technology, driving also allows us to do more than we could do bare-handed. However, it creates an illusion that we are superior; we may fail to realize how dependent on technology we now are. On the other hand, technology also excludes those who fail to follow the trends – like the use of smartphones – and this may be reinforced as technology proliferates.
What if I don’t get it right?
I find it too late to attempt anything, to “challenge” myself. As I grow old, it’s increasingly difficult to move away from my current position. I have my wife and child at home, and there’s a house loan to repay... It is too late to spend time and learn something new. My work and life seem repetitive and tedious, but there’s no time or energy for trial and error; there’s no way to get out... I can only spend my spare time on fragmented sources of entertainment like TikTok; perhaps meaningless, but at least they are not distant from me.
“What do you think is the purpose of your life?”
I was once asked this by my child. I didn’t answer. I don’t think about it these days. It is a question that cannot be answered, even by philosophers. Am I going to be confined here forever?
What if I took up the other job offer?
What if I did not get married?
The questions run through my head. If I had chosen a different path, would I live a different life? But it was impossible for me to know what the best choice was then; it still is impossible now. And so, my life moves on.
What if I lose my teeth?
Now, this story might be a bit distant for those of us in our twenties, but it is something that we all will face from now on: aging. In the wild, losing one’s teeth is a death sentence for animals; it was the same for our human predecessors. In our current age, technologies may help to fix some of these deficits, but there are still things out of reach. One day, I noticed that a few of my dog’s front teeth were already missing, which really worried me. But there was nothing I could do about it. There’s no way for me to go back in time to find out the reason and save her from losing her teeth. My dog came to my house when I was 10, and now she’s already 10. That’s almost a dog’s entire life, yet just a twinkle for us.
Someday, there will finally come the issue of life and death, which we can neither predict nor stop. The effects of age will also be soon reflected on our parents, and we will find out how helpless we really are, in face of the ever-progressing time.
What if I fail to love someone?
I once thought that friendship would last forever. But alienation occurs so easily when you move into different environments – not everyone is aiming for the same goals, and so friends eventually move in different directions.
This increasing distance can alienate friendship. I once thought that friends could be made throughout different stages of life. Anyone could be a friend, as long as I learned enough about them. However, it can sometimes be difficult for people from different backgrounds to learn enough about each other due to the mental “distance” of different habits and mindsets. It becomes harder and harder to know each other, to shorten the distance between us. Instead, we keep a safe distance from each other using so-called manners and rules; we become less likely to choose reckless paths out of our comfort zones.
Love becomes such a precious thing in the adult world, in this fast-paced world, in the pandemic... We are afraid to love, we consume love, and we are prevented from loving. Will I still be able to love someone recklessly? Will I give up on the one I love and choose to marry someone assigned by my parents, someone close to me, with a similar origin, family structure, and appearance? Will I fail to know and love a person sincerely, and embrace their past and future?
Love itself is an untouchable and unseeable thing, so how can we know if marriage will be a compulsion, a responsibility, or a sincere love?
Turning 20 marks the end of our teenage years; we are faced with the reality of being adults. From time to time, you might find that the distances in life become increasingly apparent and crucial; they might stand in your way. You may find that it becomes more and more difficult to challenge ourselves and pursue things we love, to move to a “distant” place as we grow old. But do not lose yourself; do not be afraid of changing.
Gu Yue is an undergraduate student in the Programs in English at Komaba (PEAK).
THE KOMABA TIMES ISSUE 11, APRIL 2022