This one’s about love.

Xavier: What’s all this sh_t about love? How do we get so nuts? The time we waste! When you’re alone, you cry, “Will I find her?” When you’re not- “Does she love me as much as I love her?” “Can we love more than one person in a lifetime?” Why do we split up? All these f_cking questions! You can’t say we’re uninformed. We read love stories, fairy tales, novels. We watch movies. Love, love, love…!
Isabelle: You could just call her back.

I just watched a film called Les poupées russes and while it didn’t really teach me anything in particular, it did have some great views of London, Paris, and St. Petersburg. That was the main reason I rented it. I liked the internationalism of it and the cinematic effects made it fun and modern. As for the main story line, the main character was a jerk, in my opinion. But then again, I’ve done a lot of the same things he has in a restless search for love and comfort, whether it be momentary or eternal. I, too, can be a jerk. It’s only because I want to find happiness as much as the next person.
I guess I’ve always felt that pure happiness could be found through true love. My two favorite movies when I was little were Pretty Woman and Father of the Bride. The idea of being rescued by the perfect guy (no matter who you were) and then having the perfect wedding always fascinated me. I want that to happen to me. I’m very well aware of the fact that these ideas have been ground into my subconscious and they’re not going away anytime soon. To be honest, that bothers me. I see other people in the world whose obsessions have nothing to do with l’amour but with their art, their livelihood, their religion or something else. Sometimes I wish one of these things were my pursuit in life. Maybe I’d feel a lot less like one of the proverbial lemmings. But since I was 4 years old, I’ve always known two things about myself to be completely and utterly true: I want to be a mom and I want to be a wife.
As of late, I’ve been reading a lot of books and spending more time at home. I’ve had no major interest in dating for a while and I haven’t felt like I’ve had a real connection to anyone in quite a long time. Years, it seems. I know it hasn’t been years, but sometimes I wonder if even my last two serious relationships, both involving many a serious discussion on marriage and even an engagement, were truly full connections. I understood these partners inside and out. I understood what they wanted and needed. I thought I could give them that. I cared enough about and loved each one enough that I thought the kind of dreamy relationships we had could stay like that forever. That I could fill those roles of everything they wanted forever. Something was missing for me though, and as much as I wanted to say “No! I love this person and I can make it work!” I knew I wouldn’t stay happy forever. Only about a minute ago did I realize that the first of these relationships was far too wild. It pushed all the boundaries I knew. The second of the two was much too comfortable. It was well within the boundaries I had known. I had a pleasant spark with both of these individuals when I first met them and it grew into love very quickly. But I was never 120% sure. 98% sure, yes. Which is fine for a school exam. But not when it comes to love. The reason why 98% sure isn’t good enough for me is that a couple times while I was growing up, I asked my mom how she knew my dad was the one. She told me she “just knew.” I couldn’t believe her at first. Of course that’s not the answer you want to hear as a kid. I don’t really know what else I was hoping she’d say, but what else could she say? “Well, kid, I just walked down to the perfect husband store and picked him in aisle 5. Right height, right price, nice eyes. When you’re 18, I’ll take you down there and we’ll see what we can find for you.” I guess that could have been easier to accept. But we all know, that’s not how it works and there’s no perfect partner store.
You see, when referring to my future partner, I hesitate to use the word husband. It seems likely, but given my past and my philosophies and especially my wonderings about love, I feel as though I would be ruling out a possibility if I just stuck to a husband. Who knows if I’ll find a husband, or just a boyfriend, or a girlfriend, or just a good friend who I hang around with a lot? I know some people find their soul mate in a best friend, and they never marry. Who says we have to marry anyway? Maybe I will find a partner, but we won’t marry. Maybe we can’t marry. Remember, my obsession with marriage (thanks, Steve Martin and Kimberly Williams). That and my parents have a perfect marriage—seems like it anyway. It’s been the model in my life. So, yeah, I want one too. And I want it to last forever. It’s an instinct for me: I want to find my one and only.
Here’s the thing, though: I’m scared that once I meet the “one” I won’t appreciate it. Or I won’t be happy forever and things will go awry. Worse yet, what if I already met the one and I threw it all away? So many times I’ve had that feeling I thought was the same as my mom’s when she met my dad and “just knew.” I thought I “knew” this was it several times. But I don’t trust myself to “know” anymore. I don’t know if I can love a spouse for the rest of my life. Or even for 50 years. I do know that when I have children, I will always love them, no matter what. I know that down to the blood and marrow in my bones. I’m far more sure about having kids than I am about getting married.
So what am I getting at here? I suppose I’m just expressing my confusion and bewilderment about love. I think most of us have, at one point or another, been frustrated by love. I want to know why it’s so necessary. Why am I obsessed with finding (or being found by) my one and only? I mean, at least lately, I haven’t felt as much of a rush to find love, but I still find this sentiment inside so annoying that I feel the need to rebel against it, kicking and screaming, saying “I don’t need you!” I feel the need to write a long, ridiculous post like this one. That’s how I feel about love. How do you feel?

Our Life Track. (Part II)

(…continued from before)

Well I was going to continue my previous post with what consoling and self-inspiring thoughts I had come up with before publishing, but it seems that the friends who read Part I took care of that for me with their comments. So thank you all for the kind words.

I was, in fact, already thinking I was doing okay. More than okay, actually. As it turned out, the very day after I wrote Part I, I received an unconditional offer of placement at the school I applied to–I’m going to England!!! I’m still a bit stressed out with having a cough, having to file US taxes while abroad, and now having to apply for a visa to study in the UK as well as figure out how I’m going to pay for grad school. But that’s okay. I can make this work. If I could leave a fiancé and two low-pay, no-future part-time jobs to come to Japan where I would effectively become illiterate and find my career only to apply to graduate school in the UK and get in, then I can do anything. Right? I know that was a terribly written sentence–I run out of breath just reading it–but that’s what the last year has felt like for me.

My cinzano-drinking friend knows we’re doing well. “We’re ahead of the game,” she said to me. I agreed with the sincere, if a tad clichéd, statement. Then I thought about it and retracted my agreement. We’re ahead, for sure, but there is no game. We shouldn’t think of it in terms of a game that everyone is playing, because then we would only compare ourselves to all the other players, would we not? We’re ahead for ourselves. I am doing alright for myself.

If I had stayed in California and gotten married, my life would have stopped there. I am certain of it. It would have taken a total overhaul 20 years down the pike to get myself happy and inspired again. Don’t get me wrong. He was a good guy, but that’s not the life I was meant to live and I gradually knew that. Now, I am where I’m supposed to be: going somewhere. I got here by listening to my gut. It was my gut that told me to go to Japan, even though I was engaged. It was my gut that told me I’d found my profession. It was my gut that told me to go to school in the UK. Like I said, I only applied to one school: the one I wanted more than any other school. And I got it. So for now, all I can do is keep listening and keep going. When my gut tells me I’ve found the right job or the right person or the right location, I’ll know I can rely on that. It hasn’t failed me yet.

To those lost, confused, or uninspired, I say listen to your gut. Even if it’s not saying anything now, it will at some point. Just keep going and your gut will help you figure things out.

Our Life Track. (Part I)

A little over a month ago, I submitted an application to a graduate program in England to get my Masters in education. I only applied to one school because this is really the only program I want to go to. And I suppose it’s not the end of the world if I don’t get into grad school right. this. second. It did feel that way the first time I applied to college, what with my parents not giving me much of a choice and all. But this time around, it’s my choice to go to grad school if I want and when I want. Anyway, since I applied to just the one school, I’ve been feeling a lot of pressure and anxiety about whether I’ll get in or not. And I know I’m doing this to myself. No one else seems to be as concerned about this as I am. Not even my parents.

I know I’m not alone in my struggle to better my future, though, because a good friend and coworker of mine here in Japan is feeling the same urge I feel to get a move on. We’re both in our mid-twenties, we’re both pretty smart kids, and we have open minds and a taste for adventure. We’ve also both discussed how we feel envious of our friends back in the States who are already working jobs with great pay, or they’re married with kids, or they’re living in New York like she and I both want to someday…. Did I miss something? Did I get off track? How come they already get to be where I want to be right now? Why am I not there?

Is this what they call the quarter life crisis?

I’m nearing 25, I have no money, I work at a company with hardly any in-house mobility, and I get easily frustrated and many times feel like an idiot because I live in a country where I can barely speak the language and most definitely can’t read anything. I also know I won’t meet my future life partner while I’m here. My parents had already been married for 4 years and were supporting each other by the time they were my age. My brothers were supporting themselves too by 25. What’s my problem?

Is it really fair to compare myself to them? Or to anyone?

I told my friend, a few evenings ago while drinking cinzanos and sharing her balcony, that even though it seems like those other people we know are so much further ahead than us, it’s not really the case. I tried to justify it by the fact that we are in Japan. Not many of them would be willing to come here and live like this. Because let me tell you: it ain’t easy. I mean, yes, we can afford to go out and have fun and experience a million new things, but gaining experience like this takes its toll on you. Frustration, illiteracy, confusion, translation, isolation, cabin fever, body size. Heaven forbid you get sick in Japan. Which is what I am right now. Again. I’ve never learned so much about home remedies on the internet in my life. I digress.

(to be continued…)

Sick and alone in Japan.

It’s not often that I have an entire day to myself to do whatever I want without anyone bugging me or anyone to bug. It seems this kind of day only happens when you have to stay home sick. And guess what: I’m sick. The funny thing is that even though I’ve been out of school for over two years now, I still feel like I’m supposed to be doing some homework I’d rather avoid.

Being sick in in Japan is not the easiest thing to be. When you can’t read or speak the language, it makes it difficult to find the right medication for yourself at the drug store. I have to rely on pictures on the box, if I’m even lucky enough to get pictures. Then, I have to figure out how many pills to take, however many times a day. Finding the lone numbers on the box with a single kanji character next to them is hard enough, but then I have to type in a possible English translation, turn it into Japanese kanji using my trusty Google Language Tools and see if I get a match. It certainly is a process.

Or I give up and turn to the internet for home remedies. The problem here is that sometimes these home remedies include things I could only find back home, like cod liver oil or lavender oil or some other oil or herbal by-product. Perhaps these things are indeed available in Japan, but that would require me to know Japanese. Here you might say, “Why doesn’t she just get a Japanese person to help her out?” but my dear friend, let me ask you, how do you ask a Japanese person about cod liver oil? That’s not a common thing they would have learned in their conversational English lessons. Sure, I could just explain my symptoms and hope they know enough health-related English terminology to lead me to the right medical help. But that’s something I like to wait on till it’s absolutely necessary. The only Japanese people I know who speak English and can help me with these problems are already busy enough with their own lives. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt like a helpless kid who needs a mommy in this country.

For the most part, I really have been lucky, not getting sick too often. And when I do, it’s usually just a cold and I know how to take care of that at home with plenty of rest, vitamin C, and liquids. A good box of lotion-infused Kleenex always helps too. No official medication required. But what’s keeping me home from work today is… well, I still don’t know what it is, even though I went to the doctor… but I’d had a sore throat for four days (a long time) and on the fourth day, white spots appeared on my tonsils. That’s when I decided I better see a doctor. Now this is always a hassle at school because they can’t just cancel my classes and everyone else’s schedules get changed around because of me. That always makes me feel bad, but everyone keeps a smile on their face and no one complains, so I guess it’s not the end of the world. Anyway, my poor manager had to take me to the hospital on her day off to translate for me and the doctor prescribed me some antibiotic and ..other stuff.. to take for five days. This is what I came home with:

Japanese medicine for a sore throat.


All for a sore throat! So the gold pills are the antibiotic. The powder stuff is for my fever and my nose, so I was told. The blue pills are for nasal discharge, and the pink pills are to protect my stomach from all the other pills. The bottle is a concentrated Listerine-smelling mouthwash I have to mix with water and gargle but not swallow. And the Lifesaver-looking things are throat lozenges I can only take a maximum 5 of per day. Everything else is to be taken three times a day after meals. Yeesh. They never even said exactly what it was I have. Oh well.

I started this medication yesterday and already I feel a bit better. That’s good because I have to be back at work tomorrow. I swear, going to work sick is bad but it’s even worse when you’re a teacher. You have to teach a class for 50 minutes like nothing’s wrong and all eyes are on you. Blowing your nose in public in Japan is rude too and I’m sure my students wouldn’t want to be that close to me (those rooms are small) even if they did understand I was sick. If I’m lucky, I get a 5-10 minute break between classes to try to freshen myself up and get all my materials for the next class. Tomorrow’s going to be a busy day too. Saturdays always are.

Anyway, I guess that’s what I had to write about today. Next, I think I’ll try to write something more creative. With all this time to myself, forcing myself to relax and get some rest, I’ve started reading a lot more. I finally finished a book I was supposed to read for a class back in college but never did. I held onto it though, because I had heard from everyone else that it was a good book. And it was. (Nervous Conditions, if you’re curious). It made me feel good to finish a book. I’m notorious for never finishing a book I start, but since I’ve been in Japan for nearly nine months now, I’ve started and finished four books. FOUR BOOKS. In nine months. That’s a record for me. I’m usually doing well if I finish one book in two years. I’ve since started another book and this is my biggest book to date. It’s a whopping 816 pages long. But I’m excited about it. I used to not fathom how people could read a book that long. But it’s a personal goal I’ve set for myself and it makes me feel like I’m accomplishing a lot more than I could by sitting on my computer all day or watching movies. Reading also inspires me to think, imagine, and create. It’s strange in a way, because these are all the things I should have been doing and feeling when I was getting my Bachelor’s in English Literature over two years ago. It’s like my subconscious finally caught up.

Okay, new personal goal: Read, think, imagine, and create. Even if you’re not sick at home.

Gaijin Geisha

Well… I just read an interesting article. Fiona Graham, from Australia, is the first foreigner geisha in the history of Japan. Being in Japan as a foreigner myself, I found this to be somewhat intriguing. I’m sure if I had read this article a year ago, I wouldn’t have understood exactly why she would put herself through the rigorous training and, I would think, potentially ostracizing position of trying to become a geisha. My first thought probably would have been, “Okay.. well, to each, their own.” But I’ve been in Japan for half a year now and I see the beauty of the Japanese as a distinctive and remarkable culture. I’m sure Sayuki (Graham’s geisha name), feels the same way a hundred fold since, after all, she’s lived in Japan for a good chunk of her life and is a doctor of anthropology as well.

Apparently, Sayuki’s original intent going into geisha training was to produce an academic and anthropological documentary. However, it seems now that she is happy being a geisha and intends to continue as one indefinitely. I say bravo! Good for her. She may not be paving the way for tons of gaikokujin females to enter the ranks of the elite geisha, but she is doing something amazing and she’s doing it her own way.

Ganbatte, Sayuki, and rock on!

<<>>

I was just informed that Fiona Graham was not the FIRST gaijin geisha, but rather, Liza Dalby was. That’s what I get for not researching thoroughly. Hah. Either way, whoever the first foreign geisha was, my opinion still stands. Good for you, ladies!

Settled In.

I am soon coming up on my six month mark of being in Japan. I’ve done a lot of things since I’ve been here: traveled across half the country, been in a major earthquake, been in a major typhoon, moved apartments, had a bike/car accident, ended my engagement, met someone else, broke up with them, got harassed by them, went to Tokyo Disneyland, went to a hot spring, rode the bullet train, stayed in a capsule hotel, ate raw chicken (as sashimi), got my first gray hair… it’s been a whirlwind experience. Sometimes I get lost on trains and can’t get back on track–no pun intended–for at least another 2 hours. That can be extremely frustrating when you can’t read or speak the language. Sometimes I buy a pastry at the bakery thinking it would make a nice dessert and it turns out to be savory. Sometimes I buy a shirt that’s a size L and it turns out to fit like a size S. These instances usually make me smirk a little because that’s the experience of a gaijin living in Japan. These are the things that will make me strut though life not letting the petty stuff bother me.

I just got my ticket yesterday to go back home to California and I’m looking forward to going home. I don’t necessarily feel homesick, per se, but I do welcome the opportunity to see my family (and what a great family it is), and maybe eat some real Mexican food. I also welcome the break from all things unfamiliar. Like driving on the other side of the road, or sleeping on an actual mattress as opposed to a futon. Baking something in an oven will be amazing because, quite frankly, who doesn’t like to bake cookies around the holidays? Most homes (apartments) in Japan don’t even have an oven. It will also be nice to fall into a pile of warm clothes that have just come out of the dryer. I don’t think anyone in Japan has a dryer. (I’m sure someone does, but that’s not the point). The thing is, home is home. It will always be that. I feel lucky as hell that I have a home too… I know some don’t. So I like to keep myself feeling lucky and grateful. I know a lot of people who love the town they grew up in and they’d never want to leave. Those people might say I’m ungrateful for wanting to leave my hometown. But I say leaving my hometown makes me even more grateful.

I’ve lived in three different cities around the world since leaving my hometown and now that I’m in a foreign country, I feel more at home than ever. I’m certainly not Japanese and in no way do I fit in around here. I was never really a Japan-o-phile but I always had an interest in the exotic and the world outside America, and Japan falls into those categories. It’s been a struggle to adjust to life here and there are a lot of things I wouldn’t be able to do without relying on someone who can speak Japanese and English. Strangely, though, I feel more independent and at home–with myself– than ever before. I do not feel that I have reached the pinnacle of self-discovery or self-realization by any means, but I do feel like I’m heading in the right direction. My future plans include living in one or two more foreign countries, possibly for an extended period of time. Depends on the country.

There is so much you can learn about yourself, your hometown, your home country just by learning about other people and their towns and their countries. My passion for communication and bridging the gaps between people and cultures has only been cemented by my experience living and working in Japan. As a teacher, I get to have some of the most amazing 50-minute conversations with my students. These stimulating talks are the mere tip of the cultural exchange iceberg. It’s times like these that make me want to stay in Japan another year. But I also feel the pull toward other countries. Like I said, I’m no Japan-o-phile. I find value in all kinds of cultures. The more experiences I can have, the better. There is so much I want to do, you have no idea. The best part about it all, though, is that I feel like there’s no rush. I certainly don’t feel as though I’m wasting any time, either. I’m going at exactly the pace I should be going.

I can only hope that others get to experience or have experienced what I’m experiencing now. I’m not talking about living and working in another country, specifically, but more the metaphysical and transcendental experience of realizing one’s own and the world’s potential. For me, it’s an overall satisfying experience. I wish I could share it with you, but this blog just won’t do it justice. I’ll still give it a shot, though.

Osaka Bang!

This is such an excellent example of what I like to call the study of people. Sure, you could say that’s sociology or anthropology, but I just think “the study of people” sounds much less academic and just more fun and appropriate when applied in small doses like this. Heheh.

Things about Japan that Surprise me

I guess that I expected a completely foreign world when I got to Japan. And, granted, I was right to expect things I’d never seen before. I can honestly say that my world has been turned upside down, coming here. For instance, they drive on the other side of the road here, and all the cars are SMALL. (Total opposite of America). There are no preservatives in the food here and they eat most everything raw. Even eggs. Also, everyone here smokes cigarettes, and it’s illegal to smoke outside. They prefer you smoke inside or in designated smoking areas so as to make sure you don’t leave any cigarette butts littered in the street. I wonder if the Japanese have ever heard of second-hand smoke. But what surprises me more than the differences I’ve found here are the similarities. For example..

Mayonnaise – I can’t even begin to tell you how much the Japanese love mayonnaise. It’s like an addiction. They put it on everything. Salads, pork, french fries, noodles… the list goes on.

Convenience Stores – 7-11, Circle K, Family Mart, Lawson, Sunkus, etc… These handy little marts are like the Starbucks of America. There’s one on EVERY corner. They are certainly convenient. You even pay your utilities bills at the convenience store.

Shopping – While I admit I knew the Japanese liked to shop, I don’t think I understood just how much they like to shop. Some of the big department stores in Nagoya or Sakae are like the 5th Avenue designer stores you would expect in New York. Or Monte Carlo. They have uniformed concierges and everything.

I was wandering through my neighborhood today (which I was told was all housing) when I came across a Seiyu. This giant building slightly resembled a tiny shopping mall and I figured it was public since it had a McDonald’s on the first floor. So I curiously ventured in to find what must have been the biggest grocery store I’ve ever seen, besides the Navy Commissary. I actually uttered the word “woah” under my breath. Plus, there were two more floors. On the second floor, I found a small photo studio with costume kimonos for the whole family to wear, bedding, furniture, household items, cookware, and fake plants (the real plants were on the first floor). I bought some wooden spoons to use in my “kitchen.” Then (dare I?) I went to the third floor where I found clothes, more bedding and household items, bicycles for sale, electronics, appliances, and toys. And for a Sunday in Japan where the economy is on the rocks, the place was hoppin’. Families, couples, little old ladies inspecting dishware like it was a fine red wine. You’d think this place was the local pub in an Irish village, but on a grander scale. As I walked around not only perusing the aisles but the customers as well, I felt for a small moment as if it was 1984 and I was back in America. The words “materialistic” and “yuppie” came to mind. For another small moment, I wondered if I should immediately leave, go home, and take a shower to rid myself of the commercialism.. but naaaaah.. I needed clothes, bedding, and groceries. So I stayed and enjoyed every minute of it. :)

I’m not sure if I’ll ever completely understand this strange land and its people, but I’m not sure I want to. I like the mystical, ‘time warp’ feeling I get while I’m here. For now, anyway….

Ah, Japan…

I’ve been here for little more than three weeks. I’m finally beginning to feel like I live here. I must admit, I didn’t really think about the fact that as soon as I got here, I’d basically be illiterate. Trying to get used to the kanji, hirigana, and katakana is a lot more difficult than I was expecting. I figured if I just memorized each katakana and hirigana symbol (and their sounds) then I’d be able to easily decode most Japanese words.

Yeah. No.

I spent an hour searching for just one symbol on the internet and in my books when I was trying to read the directions on a packet of “drano”-like powder I bought for my flooding bathroom. I gave up and just dumped the powder in the drain. It hasn’t worked.

While this can get very frustrating at times, I must commend the Japanese for being such fans of kawaii anime that they have cartoon directions on a large majority of their products. Also, everyone here is very polite and understanding of the fact that you probably will never master Japanese. So, they do their best to help you out whenever they see you have that pained/panicked look on your face while holding a plastic package of some kind. I’ve managed to get by in Japan just knowing the words for “please,” “thank you,” and “yes.” Nobody ever directly says “no” in Japan, so knowing the hand signals for “no” (crossing your arms like an ‘x’) and giving a simple smile works too. Maybe when I get enough money, I’ll buy one of those electronic devices that lets you draw the kanji and then it tells you what that symbol is. But in the meantime, I’m stuck with my books and the internet. Oh well.