Three years ago I flew from Asia to California on the evening of an August full moon. My flight departed Bangkok early in the morning and I had left the islands the day before in order to be ready for it. Down in the Gulf of Thailand, preparations were in swing for the Full Moon Party on Ko Phan Gan and the anticipation was mounting for this monthly explosion of dancing and drugs, energy and excitement. The beach at Had Rin would be packed with travelers from all corners of the globe, their inhibitions left behind as they swam in a sea of tie-dye and batik, deeply tanned bodies and hair bleached by the sun of Southeast Asia. By noon the next day, there would still be people dancing on the beach; others would have slept where they fell on the soft sands of Had Rin Beach.

I had been to the Full Moon Party when I first traveled through Thailand several years before. I had spent the night dancing on the roof of what I was later told was the local police station. It was a surreal experience that ended only when the sun rose majestically out of the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Thailand.

But this full moon I was going home, after five years in Asia. I left Had Rin and the Full Moon Party and the islands to other travelers who would be changed, as I had been, by their time here and by the challenges. I knew my challenges lay in other directions.

My flight from Bangkok landed in Tokyo and I scurried through immigration and into the airport to pick up the luggage I had left in checked baggage while I whiled my time away in the Gulf of Thailand. Japan had been home base for me in Asia—my job, apartment, and friends had all been here—and I sadly realized that this would be the last time I could casually flash my Japanese ID card (issued to all foreign residents) and sail through immigration. Every time I landed in Japan, that card had made me feel as if I were coming home.

It was sunset by the time my Tokyo-San Francisco flight left, on a rare summer day with good visibility. As the plane soared upwards, over ordered rice fields of verdant green, I saw Mt. Fuji cloaked in deepening shadows of purple and blue. For the first time in five years I wondered when (if?) I would see the mountain again.

But as Japan fell behind me, the full moon rose—an orange, August moon—and hung, as if suspended, outside my airplane window. I felt as if I could reach out and touch this amazing, glowing orb.

The moon reminded me of an evening five years before when, lonely and homesick, I had dinner with friends, also foreign residents of the small, Japanese town where I was working. Sitting outside we watched the full moon rise—this wondrous, Japanese moon—and I thought back to the mountains of California where I spend my summers. There, the moonrise stops all activity when it peers out over granite peeks and sails forth into a glowing, pink sky. That first summer in Japan I missed the moonrise in the mountains; missed my friends and family; missed a life that was continuing on without me.

As I thought of home, a realization dawned on me—one so simple, but at the same time, utterly profound: it is the same moon. The moon I was watching had shone down on my mountains in California only hours before. That same moon shone down on everyone I loved and cared for, wherever they were. It was a simple fact I had always known, but that evening it touched me like never before and gave me comfort.

In the years that followed, I often thought about the moon and the connection it provides. When I became lonely I reminded myself that my friends and family were only a moonrise away. When my grandfather grew ill, I sent him my hopes of health and recovery on the moon, knowing it would be shining down on him soon. And later, the moon comforted me, though it shone down on a world without him.

The moon made me feel connected not only to my friends and family far away, but to people around the world. Regardless of our different languages, cultures, and religions, and despite our struggles and conflicts, we all look up at the same moon. It reminded me of an ancient Chinese poem I had once read.

I look up at the moon,
and my heart feels you,
although a million miles away,
watching this same moon.
That night, on my Tokyo-San Francisco flight, I felt that the moon now connected all the places I loved, the places that had touched me, everywhere I had left my heart. It shone down on the beaches of Thailand, the islands of Indonesia, and on the teeming cities of Asia where I had gotten lost a million times, and had found myself in a million ways. The moon was reflected in the rice paddies of the village in Japan where I had lived, in the seas of the South Pacific, and in the waters of the Mekong River as it flowed southwards. It illuminated the shrines and temples where I had whispered my hopes and prayers and had come with my tears to be consoled. And the very same moon shone down on the mountains and towns of California, and on the San Francisco Bay, where my future lay, though what future that might be, I knew not.

I was full of questions that night, of blank spaces waiting to be filled in. I was returning to San Francisco after nearly 10 years away, though I had little drawing me back besides the feeling that somehow this was home. Job, friends, a house of my own, these were all to be decided, and that uncertainty weighed heavily upon me. Asia had become my reality, my touchstone, and to leave it was frightening. I had been told I was brave when I moved to Japan, but coming home to a completely clean slate took much more courage.

The moon hung outside my window the entire flight home, until we approached dawn off the California coast. Every time I peered out, expecting it to be gone, there it was, accompanying me on my way home, comforting me as I hung in the night air, suspended between two lives.

Now, tonight, I am again on an airplane. It is the first international flight I have taken since that August trip home, three years ago. In the time that has passed I have constructed a life in San Francisco. I have a job I love, friends, a home of my own. In fact, in recent months it has seemed like I have too much life to fit into the time available and I think wistfully of those frightening first days of uncertainty and possibility. I wonder if this life I have built hasn’t begun to control me, rather than the other way around, and I long to step back for a while, to put myself again in a position where every day is a clean slate waiting to be written upon.

So I travel. Leaving a fog shrouded San Francisco behind me, my airplane is again headed eastward into the night, and outside my window, as if by plan, is an August full moon hanging in the indigo blue. I see its reflection skipping along the lakes and rivers of Northern Canada as we fly over and every time I look away, I expect it to disappear, expect that we will pass it by as we are passing so many small towns and cities flung out like luminous formations of lace on the dark ground below. But the moon stays with us, hanging just outside my window, accompanying me on my journey.

Next: Cycling the Beara Peninsula



About Tara Austen Weaver:
Born to traveler parents, Tara Austen Weaver crossed her first international border at five weeks of age and has been hooked on travel ever since. To date, she has lived in five countries on three continents, including four and a half years spent in the mountains of Japan. She now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where she works, plays, and commutes by bicycle across the Golden Gate Bridge.