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.

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.