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Another Semester of Work Begins

9 Jan

It was back to work on the 4th of January.

After making sure Denys boarded the bus that would take him to Fukuoka International Airport safely, I had to start on my own journey home.

The train ride marked another of the firsts of this year.

My first thick fog.

Fog

the ‘view’ from my window

The fog caused the kamome (a fast intercity train) that I was on to be delayed by an hour. At which point, I could feel myself beginning to stress out about whether I would get to work in time, whether I would have to take more leave (which I’m desperately trying to save to give myself ample time for wedding preparation), or on a more dramatic note, whether I would ever make it ‘home’.

However, I chose instead to try to get as much sleep as I could afford because I knew the day ahead at work would be a long and draggy one. After all, classes were not in session and would not be for me, for at least another week.

Long story short, I made it to work about 10 mins late, and 8 dollars poorer after making the decision to cab it from the station to the top of the hill where my school is situated.

The next 5 days of work were indeed long and draggy. Thankfully the much awaited 3-day weekend is here, of which I’ve already spent half sleeping away, letting my mind and body relax after the crazily fun month of hosting 3 different guests. The other half is hopefully going to be spent productively; cleaning and crafting.

Let the resting continue and may I be recharged for the next 7 months I have left here. And may the pain of saying goodbye to students, colleagues, and friends not stop me from continuing to give my best to this job that I’ve been blessed with.

Looks can be deceiving – On being Asian in Japan

14 Nov

(This was originally written a while back for an editorial piece. However it did not really fit into the requirements, due to the general style and structure of the writing. Hence, it’s up here instead – for friends and family!)

“Is that your water bottle?” My JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) asked, gesturing towards the turquoise David’s Tea tumbler on the table.

“Yes,” I responded.

“It’s… very nice.”

The exchange seemed normal enough till I found out that it is not customary for teachers to drink water during their classes. I guess it’s another one of those things to add to the “Only in Japan” list; a list that all foreigners start when they come to Japan.

Call it whatever you may, it exists.

Some lists bear striking resemblances, others differ greatly.

For example, I am a Canadian of Chinese ethnicity who grew up in Singapore and I’ve had conversations with my non-Asian friends who speak of experiences foreign to me.

I have never had someone stare at me as I walked down the street. I don’t feel like I’m an unidentified alien when I walk to the grocery store. Nor do I get surprised looks when I greet people with simple Japanese phrases.

In that respect, some might be tempted to think that Asians have it easy in Japan. However, like any issue that has to do with identity and appearances, that is only one side of the coin. When I first applied for a position on the JET programme to teach in Japan, I did so with initial trepidations due to my Asian heritage.

Would I be what the teachers and students in Japan were looking for?

See, I lived in Vancouver where there’s a diverse community of Caucausians, Aboriginals, and Asians who proudly proclaim themselves Canadian. Before arriving in Japan, my work in the University of British Columbia involved interaction with international students on a daily basis. There, I was exposed to students with varied backgrounds and was conditioned to think without having preconceived notions of individuals. Yet, with all that training, in addition to my background growing up in a culturally-diverse society, I am not spared from judging others by their appearances.

Thus, it comes as no surprise to me that in the eyes of the Japanese public, I must be Japanese since I look it.

When I first started teaching, students greeted me in Japanese and continued to do so even after I had been introduced to the school as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher). Teachers at my school told me they first thought I was a new Japanese Teacher. In fact, every single person I’ve met in Japan has immediately assumed that I am Japanese.

Yet, without a doubt, I betray my ‘gaijin-ness’ with more than just my broken and sorely-lacking Japanese.

There’s a Uniqlo right in my neighborhood that I frequent. The first time I tried on a dress, I did what any Canadian would do, step into the changing room. On a whim, I peeped out of the changing room before closing the curtains. My eyes went from the horrified look on the sales representative’s face to the pairs of shoes that were outside the various cubicles.

Who would’ve guessed that the Japanese do not wear their shoes into fitting rooms???


Another time, a student came to me after having received her journal.

“What is wrong with this sentence?” she asked as she pointed at an underlined portion of her journal.

“Absolutely nothing, it’s great!” I said.

As I recounted this exchange to my supervisor, I learnt that in Japan, correct answers are marked with circles and wrong ones with checks.

What a great thing to find out, after already marking 280 of their journals.

Yes, I may look like one of them, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel like the foreigner that I am.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully embrace looking Asian. I appreciate the chameleon-like ability it gives me to blend in. However, there is a danger that lurks when you start to believe the perceived reality that others have of who you are.

Take my situation for example: I look Japanese. People believe I am Japanese. I believe I am Japanese. (Sounds something like Descartes’ ‘I think, therefore I am’, maybe?)

So, maybe it’s not that simple.

There are other factors at play; the desire to embrace a culture and reflect one’s adaptability, for one.

If you have chosen to be in Japan for long-time work or studies, you likely relish the opportunity to immerse yourself in a culture foreign to your own. Ideally, you would interact with it on your own terms. Realistically, you will be faced with situations you’d have never dreamed you’d encounter. Amongst difficult things like homesickness, fatigue, and stress, you may find yourself looking to be part of the community that you are so seemingly submerged in. Things that you’ve added to the ‘Only in Japan’ list start to become a commonality, possibly even a habitual trait of your own; an attempt to adapt and fit in, maybe? Or a genuine identification with culture?

Either way, for some this shapes and strengthens you. For others, this splits you in half. To the latter half of you, I say, “be wary.”

Take heed to find the balance between the fine line of adaptability and losing yourself.

The countless encounters I’ve had with the surprised looks and remarks about my not being Japanese did eventually take its toll on me. At one point, not being able to speak nor understand Japanese well made me feel highly inadequate as a person. Only when a friend remarked, “but, you speak English…” did I realize the need to consciously remind myself to put things into perspective…

So, whether you decide to add or delete things off your personalized ‘Only in Japan’ list, never, ever, let it diminish who you are.

The Waiting is Over…

7 Apr

Image

😀

This came in my inbox at 4.25pm this afternoon. Of course, I only see it at 11pm…

Fellow Canadian JET-to-be’s, look out for that email.

I’m so thankful that I’m finding this out on a Friday and need not fret over it on the weekend.

OKAY. OMGOSH. I KNOW THAT THIS IS SUCH A USELESS POST. BUT i’m like, really excited and happy and I can’t write properly. Gosh.

OKAY I’ll STOP HERE, for fear that I will bore all of you. AHHHHHHHHHHH

 

edit —

the above post was written on Friday, but I put off posting it for a few days 😉 Now I’m in a slightly better frame of mind to write more comprehensibly…

Before you ask me where exactly in Japan I’m to go.. as of now, I’m still unsure of the precise location. As mentioned in an earlier post, the JET Programme is a large organization, and as such I will have to wait till the end of May to find out.

Whats next? More exciting paperwork, of course!

I’m looking forward to making future posts on the adventures of a Vancouver JET newbie ❤