'I Used to Be Terrible on Dates and Interviews. Now I Can Speak Freely. That's the Pokémon Legacy'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: A young Israeli reveals the positive side of video games, and a nomad who wants to raise his children back home in Ireland because of the 'craic'

Noa Epstein
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Yanai Stier.
Yanai Stier.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Noa Epstein

Yanai Stier, 23; lives in Modi’in, arriving from Frankfurt

Hi, why do you have Pokémon dolls on your bag?

The rabbit is Scorbunny and the pink one is Chansey. I’m returning from Japan now. Pokémon is a serious thing in Japan, in every place. You see people my father’s age buying them. The number of Pokémon stores in every place is just unbelievable. I have 10 more dolls that I sent home.

Weekend banner.

What do you like so much about Pokémon?

It’s the biggest cliché there is, but because friendship always wins. Pokémon also teaches you how to lose. There’s the main character, Ash, and he doesn’t win in the league. He keeps trying, but he never succeeds. At first he’s in 16th place, then eighth, after that fourth. You watch him fighting and losing time after time. It was only in the last season [of the TV series], which came out this year – I think it’s the 22nd season – that he won.

What are they competing over?

The main characters – Ash, Misty and Brock – are trying to hunt for Pokémons. During the series they meet people who occasionally reappear. The battles are against other people. The more battles you have, the better you get. They capture all kinds of animals with special traits, but it’s not cruel or anything. There are the adventures, there is Team Rocket, which is trying to capture Pikachu for Ash, and there are eight institutes that specialize in types of Pokémon. Only after all eight in the region are defeated can you advance in the league. The heroes that win always shake hands at the end of a battle and go their way, and they also help competitors.

Is it interesting?

These days I’m less interested in the series itself. The episodes have a real format. When I play [the video game] on a console today, I feel like I am actually entering into the characters whom I only used to watch on television. It leaves me in childhood a little and it also reminds me of how you should behave. In general, I feel that video games gave me a direction in all kinds of ways.

Explain.

Studies have shown that video games help you make careful decisions quickly. That’s also how I met my best friend, Yonatan, who was with me just now on a long trip to Cambodia and Thailand and then to Japan – he went home earlier and I stayed to go on traveling during the coronavirus.

You met him via video games?

I was playing a video game and doing very well in the character of a fencer, so I actually went to learn fencing and I met Yonatan, who was also learning fencing. We discovered that we each had an Xbox and that we both loved to play Oblivion. That was nine years ago, and we’re still good friends.

Friendship like in Pokémon.

Exactly.

In what other part of life did you need values from the program?

Mostly in what has to do with persistence. I’m a shy guy, and if I had been speaking with you two years ago, I would never have been able to conduct a conversation like this and speak freely. Likewise with dating. Until the age of 21 I didn’t meet girls, hardly spoke to them. I was busy with the army and with other things.

When I started to go out on dates, it was awful. There were horrible silences that lasted forever. But my last date lasted three hours and we never stopped talking. I also was a failure in job interviews, but kept trying until it worked. Now I can speak very freely with people. I always tried to learn from my mistakes and improve. That is the Pokémon legacy. You watch things as a small boy and they stay in your head.

What now?

I have a two-week quarantine. I’ve prepared a schedule. In part I plan to continue the series I’ve started to write.

Let me guess: a fantasy.

Absolutely not. It’s a police series. I really like crime series – “Luther,” “Criminal Minds.” And for some reason, Israeli series are always very political or have to do with the army and other countries. I want to do a good, classic police series.

Do you have a writing background?

Not at all. Worst case – if I won’t succeed I'll try again. You can change everything all the time.

Nathan Kirk.
Nathan Kirk.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Nathan Kirk, 35; lives in Newtownards, Northern Ireland; flying to London

Hi, what brought you to the airport?

I tried to stay home, but it didn’t work.

Because of the coronavirus?

No, even before. I need to travel.

Where’s home?

A small city near Belfast. I left home at 16. I finished high school and joined the British Army.

To get away?

Yes, and to experience something different. After the army, I learned house painting and moved to Australia and New Zealand. I visited the United States. And lots of India.

Why India?

I’m drawn to it. All told, I’ve spent three years in India. If I could, I’d go back now.

Even if you can’t communicate so well there?

I felt comfortable. It’s beyond language. In the first weeks, the dogs in the village kept attacking me. Afterward they calmed down. I went to weddings and that’s how I got to know everyone. I helped them with everyday chores. I painted buildings and worked in the fields, hauling bags of cabbage and cauliflower to sell in the market. Small chores, along with lots of whiskey and hashish. Now I’m going home because I have work there, and in October I’ll go to France for two months for the grape harvest, together with friends.

A true nomad.

Yes, for a long time now. Sometimes it’s exhausting. Sometimes it’s wonderful. Last year I had an inspiration: I have to go home and start my life there.

What led to that thought?

I was working in California, traveling there. I have a partner in Miami. She and I were in California for a while and then I went home, got on my bicycle and started to ride. I wanted to get to Istanbul.

Istanbul!

Yes, I wanted some time to think. I walked out the door of my parents’ house and pedaled to Dublin. It took two days. There was rain and snow and lots of cold on that trip. From Dublin, I took a ferry to Wales and then to Leicester in England and from there I went south to London, Dover and Dunkirk in France. I kept riding through Amsterdam, Cologne and Bavaria, until Passau, which is on the border of Austria and Germany. From there to Slovenia – maybe Slovakia? – and then Hungary and Romania. It took three months, but I made stops.

And from Romania?

In Bucharest, I met my parents for the holiday, and then I said, fine, enough of this. We rented an apartment together for a few days and they went back to Belfast with my bike, and I went on to Dharamshala. And then I decided to go back home.

So what are you doing here?

I returned to Belfast in order to settle down, but thoughts are one thing and reality is another. After a few months I realized that I had to get out. I decided to go to Israel.

Some would say you’re running away from something?

For many years I thought so, too. What am I running away from? What’s not good for me there? After all, I have a beautiful family and friends. But it seems to me that I just need to experience the world – the conversations, the people.

What have you learned from your wandering?

That people want to help. To be a wanderer is to be very exposed and vulnerable – economically, psychologically and in terms of security. You don’t have your connections around you and you can’t call a friend to come help. I learned to trust people’s willingness and to believe that things will work out, and they generally don’t disappoint me. Being in motion does me good, and in the good places you have craic with people.

Meaning?

It’s Irish slang for the atmosphere, the laughs and the conversations you have with people. It’s the guy you know from the sandwich place or the convenience store, with whom you have good talks. It makes you feel at home.

When you meet friends from home, who’s envious of whom?

They say how great it is for me to be traveling all over the world all the time, and I reply that it’s not easy and it’s not for everyone. I sometimes think, why can’t I just stay home and raise a family?

It’s not too late – you’re young.

We’ll see what happens. What’s certain is that I will have to raise my children in Northern Ireland.

Why?

Because of the craic! You can’t beat the atmosphere in Northern Ireland.

Comments