Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Japan Files ~ General Misconceptions

The world is rife with stereotypes. All Black women are aggressive? All slim people are healthy? All Japanese people are short…? And while I do believe that stereotypes possess a small manner of truth to them (a very small manner), I also dislike stereotypes because it’s not physically possible to generalise an entire population. So for this article, I’m going to talk about some common generalisations that people – including myself – have made about Japan and I’m going to both confirm or debunk them.

So let’s kick this thing off with the thing about Japanese people being very short. For the most part, things are much smaller her. My fridge is small; my washing machine is small – heck, my apartment is small and yes, some Japanese people are small. But some Japanese people are really tall as well. I find this to be especially the case with men. Now I’m pretty tall myself and people are often amazed at my height – granted, I’m a foreign woman – but I’ve even seen Japanese women tower over me, making me look tiny. So let’s kick this conception to the curb, shall we? Japanese people come in many different heights.

The same thing could be said about size. I’ve already had it confirmed by a Japanese friend of mine that in Japan – thin is in. Thin gives way to small, and small and cute things dominate here – especially for women. But in Hiroshima, I’ve seen many a shape – men and women alike. I’ve seen super lanky women and big and rotund men. My students are all different shapes and sizes and while I’m pretty sure I’m the only one I’ve seen with my particular shape so to speak – I’ve yet to come across someone wearing tight or revealing clothing – I don’t feel so out of place. In terms of shape and size, I could very well be walking around London.

Now, bodies aside, I reckon I’ve mentioned it in the past but Japan has a big drinking culture – very much like the UK. But unlike the UK, people are under the notion that the Japanese can’t hold their liquor. Now of my very small circle of Japanese friends, a couple have admitted that it takes all but one drink to put them under the influence – although I wonder what actually passes for drunk over here. For the most part however, the Japanese are pretty much like people anywhere else in the world. There are some people that can hold their drink and some people that really should start taking lessons. I mean, I was at a party and I had no idea that this small Japanese woman was wasted. She managed to switch from Japanese to English with perfect ease at one point and simply kept knocking them back whereas in the UK, I’ve seen what can happen when the average British punter knocks back around seven or eight pints.

And speaking of mannerisms, I’ve constantly heard it said that Japanese people are super polite. And once again, a lot of the time it is true. Starbucks here is a perfect example of this. I have never gone to a Starbucks in Japan and felt unwelcome. People welcome you into shops (most of the time), and I even had a random stranger come up to me welcoming me to Japan. But Japanese people are like any other people really. They have their good days and their bad ones; they may or may not be good at hiding how they feel. And they may get drunk and unruly. I’ve been turned away at a shop with a rather abrupt “no” when I asked for help. I’ve had people jump in front of me when going through the ticket barriers. So yes, while some people are generally quite nice here, some people just aren’t.

And speaking of politeness, let’s not forget Japanese children. Now before I arrived, I expected that most children would be pretty well behaved due to that famous Japanese notion of uniformity and not making waves. I promise you this – Japanese children are like western children who are like any other child in the world. Some will be adorable to behold and some will be little demons in disguise. Children are children are children. They will love you, laugh with you, laugh at you and they will test your patience. Don’t let this culture of politeness fool you. Kids will be kids and teenagers will definitely be teenagers.

Which brings me to my final point. Rules. In the UK, there are rules that don’t necessarily warrant a fine or are difficult to police like littering or drinking alcohol on the underground. Naturally, people will still do things if they know they might not be caught. I already mentioned the idea of uniformity being common here and it is. People will queue up to get on the train. People will wait at a road crossing for the green man to appear even when it’s quite obvious that no cars will be coming for a while. But people are people and there are some people that break these rules. Some people smoke on the street even though they’re not supposed to; some people kick and break vending machines. And I’m pretty sure that there’s a person that purposely drops a bag of rubbish every day in the middle of the street near my ward office just because. I’ve had people admit to me that they prefer to play to the beat of their own drum. So yes, while some people conform to rules here, some people just don’t want to.

So I think the message here is to consider that hearsay isn’t always guaranteed. And just because something may seem commonplace because of the associated culture, it isn't always set in stone.


Monday, 23 December 2013

Sense & Sensibility ~ Making “Sense” of Japan

Let’s face facts.

I’m a foreigner.

In every way shape and form out here.

And as a foreigner coming from halfway across the globe, there have been times where I’ve scrunched up my face and asked myself why the native inhabitants of this land do the things that they do. And it’s to be expected really. I’m an outsider looking in and the customs, characteristics and what have you are obviously going to be much different to what I’m used to. So I try to make sense of it because I’m sure that in the same way that thousands of foreigners have had to make sense of the UK and it’s primarily “British mannerisms”, I’ve simply got to stick my ore in and make sense of everything around me.


People like to look good here. Whether it’s the smart looking thirteen-year-old in school uniform, the polished salaryman on his way to work, or the aspiring fashionista prowling the streets, looking good and dressing well makes a lasting impression. And don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good. What I don’t get however is when wanting to look good crosses outside logic. In fact, I’ve had this disagreement with a good friend of mine who’s very much into fashion also, but right now it’s rather cold here in Hiroshima. I’m reminded of London every time I set foot outside my door. So I can’t understand why anyone would walk the streets without a coat or why any woman would walk the streets in a miniskirt (without tights mind you) simply at the expense of making a statement. And don’t get me wrong, people in the UK do this as well but I tend to find that this is more apparent when people have the intention of getting completely sloshed. Maybe alcohol numbs the senses; I’m not sure. In Japan however, it could be eleven o clock in the morning, raining ice cubes and someone somewhere will be “making a statement”.

The same could be said about high heels. Now Japanese women are known for being short and heels are known to elevate, making one’s legs look longer and provide women with a little elegance in their step. So I get it. Really, I do. It’s the same for women in the west. We wanna look taller, thinner, sexier, a little more lady-like…etc. Nevertheless, I also run on the side of logic and wonder why anyone would buy a pair of heels that are clearly impossible for them to walk in. Now irrespective of my height, it’s on occasionally that I wear heels and usually it’s a low heel as I feel comfortable walking in them. In Japan, it seems that the taller (and sometimes thinner) the heel the better. I’ve seen women struggling across a straight terrain or walking up stairs as if pulling themselves through mud. It does not compute to me why anyone would desire to put themselves through such aggravation.

In the UK, when you join a mobile phone company, most companies will have tariffs which allow you to contact other people who might happen to be with different networks. This is of course as long as you don’t exceed the minutes within your allowance (note: this doesn’t usually apply to premium rate numbers; I was caught out before). In Japan, they have a thing about loyalty. Take me for example. My mobile provider, Softbank, will allow me to call any other Softbank user free of charge (between 1am and 9pm only) but will charge me ridiculous amounts if I even think about contacting their competition e.g. Docomo, AU….etc and other premium numbers. What makes this kind of redundant is that most people in Japan use this handy like app called LINE which not only allows you to send free texts but also, allows you to make free calls (video calls as well). So all I can think of really is why one of the “big three” doesn’t offer a loophole for network-to-network communication because I’m pretty sure they’d have customers flocking in their general direction.

Got a runny nose? Feel that line of mucus creeping along your nasal cavity? No hanky available? Well it’s perfectly acceptable to sniff that booger back in. Perfectly acceptable in the UK too. But people don’t just sniff here; they snort. And sometimes very loudly as well. I’ve yet to find a woman that snorts (although I’m sure there’s one somewhere) so I’m dubbing this is a male-only thing. Nevertheless, I’m already aware that blowing your nose out in public is a little bit taboo here and I think it’s because it’s considered bad manners – maybe because of the sound it makes. But what I don’t get is that if it’s the noise that’s genuinely the issue, why is snorting – which makes an equally loud noise – seemingly acceptable here? Or maybe it isn’t and people turn a blind eye to it which is also, common here. But it gets me thinking to myself…what?

It’s pretty universal that when you’re standing at a zebra crossing and the green man appears, as a pedestrian, you have right of way. Japan is no different in that respect (compete with bird noises). What I’ve found however, is that if you’re standing at a junction and you have right of way, a car can turn into the road that you’re walking across even though…you know, you have right of way. Oh certainly, they’ll wait for you to cross (although I have nearly been ran into once already), but being from the UK, I’m not so used to having to deal with this unless I’m purposely crossing the road when I’m not supposed to. Because fundamentally, back home, if a car is allowed to turn into the street, the red man will remain as a warning whereas the green man signifies that cars are barred, at least for a little while.


Now I can’t generalise. I’m sure there are plenty of people that don’t snort, or that full out refuse to wear seven inch heels, but it’s difficult not to make connections and associations when you see things occur time and time again. I guess this is how stereotypes come about but that’s another topic for another day. I simply can’t help but go “huh?” from time to time however, and I suspect they’ll be other instances that make me cock an eyebrow in surprise and/or curiosity. All I can do however, is deal with it. I’m on new terrain now and as they say:

When in Rome….


Monday, 2 December 2013

Japan ~ The Land of....

So in roughly six days, I will have spent one month Japan and I must say that I’ve had myself a handful of experiences and in such a short amount of time no less. There have been highs and lows – typical things that come with being a foreigner in a strange place. And I’ve had to navigate my way about quite a lot in these last few weeks. I wonder what I would have done had it not been for my maps and the wonderful Hyperdia. But while Japan does have a lot to offer in terms of splendour, beauty and other opposites from London town, some things just seem a little “standard procedure” even though for a foreigner like me, it’s a little different. But it wasn’t like I wasn’t expecting a complete overhaul. After all, I’ve heard from Japanese people in my own country that they could not believe how unclean it was. Culture shock for the win. But in the same way that my life back home had these typical characteristics, Japan has its very own version as well.

Train Lines


I can’t speak for the rest of England but in London, we utilise two systems – the underground (or the tube) and the overhead trains which frequently lead outside of the city and all over the UK. For someone coming in, it seems rather complicated. There are many lines on the underground and various service providers for the overhead crawlers. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in three cities already – Nagoya, Osaka and of course, Hiroshima – and it seems like every city has its own subway and overhead trains which lead into other cities with their own subways and overhead trains. Osaka was particularly chaotic for me (although I’ve heard Tokyo is worse). I’ve been very fortunate however in that most train lines and their stations provide information in English (I can’t fathom how people navigated the systems all those decades ago). But when a subway station has a Hankyu line and a Kintetsu line counterpart, both of which are called different names and you need to take this train to get on this line to get to Nara and then another line to get to Kyoto, it starts getting a bit hazy. And then of course, there are the famous JR lines which are not for the faint of heart.

In London, when a train is going to split and terminate at separate locations, the destinations of both stations will appear on the screen as well as an explanation both on screen and over tannoy. On the JR line, this was not the case for me. It only specified the furthest station so while all the signs were pointing at a specific platform, I was supremely baffled for a good twenty minutes, trying to figure out why platform 9 had seemingly no trains heading back to Osaka. It was only by chance that I heard “Osaka” (amongst other Japanese being spoken) over the tannoy that I hesitated a guess that the train was going to split (I’d nearly been caught out once before). So with limited Japanese, I asked someone if I was in the right place and low and behold, the first three coaches of a sixteen coach train would be travelling to my destination. Imagine that – I had a 13 in 16 chance of heading somewhere completely different.

That said, if I had to go back, I’m pretty sure that I’d be able to navigate the train lines a little better but for a first timer, it was a bit overwhelming.

But speaking of trains…

Sounds


In London, when a train is going to arrive, you can hear it approaching whether it’s meandering alone the tracks or zooming out of a tunnel. In Japan, when a train is about to arrive, you hear a sweet little jingle. And I think these jingles are different dependant on the station or area. I found these to be quite endearing.

What I also, found was that whenever you stand at a zebra crossing and the ‘green man’ appears indicating for you to cross, it also, plays a sound and more often than not, it sounds like some sort of bird or generic beeping noise. In London, the ‘green man’ is a silent emblem of safety. In Japan, it’s a mini fanfare singing your presence across the street.

Pachinko

His Highness lives about fifteen minutes from my apartment
When I first arrived in Japan, I adopted the ‘fly mentality’. What this means is that I reckoned that anything with bright lights must be interesting. And the bigger and bolder the lights, the more I was drawn to it as Japan has drummed up some interesting buildings. But what I’ve also, come to realise is that most buildings with fancy lights and extravagant structures usually only mean one thing, and this thing is called pachinko. Now in Japan, gambling is illegal. However, as a means of sort of undercutting the rule, pachinko was born and sort of represents what we westerners would call a slot machine. I’m not a gambler in my own country so I don’t understand the game well but from what I can understand, players have the chance to win balls. These balls can then be exchanged for prizes, which can then be taken offsite to be exchanged for money. I tend to find more men in there than women but I have seen to odd old-aged pensioner giving it a whirl. What’s more, they’re allowed to smoke inside and often when I walk passed one, I can smell the fumes five metres away. As I despise smoke with a passion, I think I’ve been giving pachinko a miss. Still makes for some interesting photos nonetheless.

Oh, and if it isn’t a pachinko parlour, it’s probably a karaoke joint. More often than not however, it’s pachinko.


But speaking of karaoke


These places are just about everywhere too. There’s one not fifteen minutes from my front door but I’ve been discouraged from going there due to its limited music selection. I have been to a karaoke bar at least three times however and I’ve had a very good time. I believe they’re regularly used by young people and salarymen trying to blow off some steam. A lot of the karaoke places I went to offered an all-you-can-drink option for a select amount of time (also, known as a nomihodai) so you have the option of wetting your whistle, singing your lungs out, becoming roaringly drunk and drunkenly singing the night away. Unfortunately, however, not all karaoke bars cater to the incompetent-with-Japanese-English-foreigner so the first time I went, we spent twenty minutes of our allotted hour slot trying to figure out how to use the machine. Generally, however, it is true that you get what you pay for so the bigger the establishment, the wider the selection of songs, drinks, options and what have you. The most I’ve spent on karaoke is 1000 yen however for a couple of hours which I don’t think is all that bad…but then I’m not much of a drinker.

So would I go back?

In a heartbeat.

Recycling

In London, most if not all households will own one bin. They’ll layer it with bin liner, fill it to the brim with all their waste and then toss it into another bin outside which the bin men come and collect once or twice a week. In Japan, the waste system is a bit more intricate. You have to separate your plastics from your burnables and your burnables from your cardboard. If you don’t do it correctly, you can be fined which is a bit much for the foreigner who’s used to chucking things all together at once. So far so good for me however. If I’m unsure about something, I’ll put it on its owned or I’ll head to the local convenience store and chuck it there. What I also, find interesting about Japan is that despite being a relatively clean country, there are no bins on the street so I frequently have to wait to find a convenience store or a train station if I’m out and about, just to drop my trash off there. People don’t litter so much here either which is a good thing but I find the lack of bins a little annoying as who really likes walking with rubbish really? But I understand that the reason bins are few and far between is because they consider them an eyesore here. Understandable because in London, bins regularly become over-flown and someone else’s leavings spilling out onto the street is not attractive in the slightest.

Bikes

In London, I can comfortably say that more people own a car than a bike. In Japan, I can’t say for sure but I believe that a lot of people own bikes and if they own a car, they probably own a bike too…or at least they know someone who does. In my family, my mother is the only one who owns a bike and actively uses it. In Japan, bikes are everywhere. And instead of riding them in the road like they do back home, they ride them on the pavement - something which is frowned upon in London unless you’re a child. Over here, a bike is looked upon like a car. In the same way that people can be caught out for drink-driving, you can be caught out for drink-riding and the limit for alcohol consumption is much lower here than in the west so just a little food for thought. People are also  encouraged to register their bikes here as it’s not uncommon for bikes to get stolen. You are also, encouraged not to ride and chat on a phone but what you can do is hook an umbrella to your bike if it’s raining. In the UK, I think it would be considered a little odd but it actually makes a lot of sense. Who really likes riding home in the rain anyway?

~

So yes, just a few things that have stood out to me in particular since I arrived here. I'm sure I'll find a few more regular occurrences, especially in my own city that mightn't be typical of the rest of Japan. 


Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Capsule Hotel ~ Japan’s Answer to the Hostel

Well, it wasn’t on my to-do list but it was certainly something that I desired to experience and not even a month in, I’ve managed to have the opportunity to stay in a Capsule Hotel. Now for those in the cheap seats, a capsule hotel is a hotel designed to house those who don’t require the luxuries of a typical hotel. So all in all, there is no eating area, no en suite bathroom and no bar, lounge, night club or swimming pool. Fundamentally, the capsule hotel is exactly what is says on the tin. Your bedroom is a capsule – a small compartment in the wall amongst many other small compartments in the wall. The only thing you do in there is sleep…or watch television. I stayed at the Capsule Hotel Asahi Plaza in Shinsaibashi, Osaka and my capsule was thus below:

Capsule 430 at the Asahi Plaza
So I suspect you’re wondering why I would find such a tiny compartment rather exciting. After all, it’s nothing compared to the five star options that some of us westerners are used to. Nevertheless, while it may simply be nothing more than a hole in the wall, the fact that it’s not something that exists where I’m from makes it even more interesting to me. I’ve lived in my tiny little London bubble all my life so now that I have the opportunity to try new things, I’m taking them as they come. And as yet another Japanese invention, it was only right that I opted for a capsule hotel – even if it ends up only being once.

I wasn’t alone for the experience but upon arrival, we had to remove our shoes at the entrance and put them in lockers. After completing some paperwork, we were issued with keys and a quick run through for where everything was. First impressions were that it was quite cool. I was in ‘foreigner-fantasy’ mode where everything and anything new looks amazing. The women’s’ capsules were separate from the men’s and the first thing that hit me when stepping into the lift heading down was the heat. Now I’m a fan of heat so this was nice for me but I reckon that the high temperature was coming from the bath and shower rooms as inside them was a sauna as well. Get in. We were issued a key that permitted us entry into the women’s area and which also, served as a means for us to put away our belongings inside a locker.

Now in true Japan style, these lockers were quite narrow and I had a small suitcase, a laptop bag and a large coat with me. I managed to shove my stuff in the locker however and in return, I found a couple of towels, a sponge and a pyjama set waiting inside. Unfortunately, said pyjamas were not westerner friendly. The bottoms were like shorts on me whereas they pretty much fit to the floor on one particularly small Japanese woman. There were laundry bins all over the place however so when you were done with yours, all you had to do was toss them inside.

Now I wish I had taken a picture, but also, in the women’s’ area was a powder room. This came complete with multiple sinks, stools, face wash and moisturiser, sterilised brushes and hair dryers. I thought this was a nice touch as the day I stayed in the hotel, myself and my collective were off on a night on the town so it was nice to have a room-length mirror to get ready in.

We had to return our keys to the front desk when we left. I suspect this is quite common in Japan as I’ve stayed in a couple of hotels now and upon re-entry, we simply had to quote the number and we were issued with our keys again. I wasn’t sure initially where people got dressed so opted to get dressed in my capsule. This was a bit uncomfortable and I’d often knock the sides of the capsule because I’m obviously not a small person. I was more concerned with disturbing the prominent quiet that seemed so prevalent about the capsules. It was really warm inside however and there was a small curtain that you could pull down if you wanted to shut out light or desired your own privacy.

I never used the television as I was so tired when I got in but I noticed that inside the capsule was a built-in alarm clock which I also, thought was cool.

Be aware that you are sleeping next to other people so if they start snoring, you’ll most definitely hear it. I had to deal with this for roughly twenty minutes in addition to people shuffling around but I was so tired that I flaked out soon afterward.

I woke up before the alarm I’d set and proceeded to do my morning ritual. During this time, I discovered that most people just got changed wherever they liked. Some got changed in the locker rooms but the most common location was obviously the bathhouse. I got the Japanese bathhouse experience only the water was a little bit too hot for me. There were a lot of people about but I suspect this was because check out times were fixed at 10am and any time later would incur a fine.

It was also, indicated that people had to vacate the premises between twelve and two in the afternoon to allow time for cleaning. This didn’t affect me so much as I only stayed one night but I can understand why this might be annoying for people who want the option of sleeping in.

Overall I had a pretty positive experience. I can’t speak for all Capsule Hotels but I figure that it’s probably not the best option for couples and definitely not something you should go to if you’re claustrophobic.

Asahi Plaza was located right in the middle of a night-life hotspot so it was a good location for what we needed it for. I would therefore give this Capsule Hotel, three and a half stars out of five.

Advice? It’s better to experience it for yourself.


Friday, 8 November 2013

Stupid Foreigner Moments ~ The Other Side

So, it’s been roughly two days since my arrival in Japan. I’ve become somewhat acquainted with my fellow staff members as we rough it through together. However, having spent the vast majority of life in a country where almost everybody speaks my language, finding myself now flipped to the bottom of the food chain, as it were, has become something of a rude awakening. Now, I mentioned earlier that one of my concerns with regards to coming to Japan was the language barrier that I was due to experience. I know basic Japanese from my poor attempts at self-learning and the ten week course I took upon arrival, but while some of it has been useful, my weaknesses with Japanese are as clear as day. I can say basic sentences and my pronunciation is pretty good – I’ve been told – but my listening ability sucks horrendously which makes having a small conversation extremely difficult. What’s more, I can’t help but think that from the native language speaker perspective, I must look like that annoyingly stupid foreigner that natives roll their eyes at.

Now that I’m on the other side, I find that I get embarrassed a lot more and that’s it’s difficult to get my personality across, even with the most simplest of requests. Take this rather embarrassing encounter. (I’m really fortunate that I wasn’t alone when it happened). In an attempt to gain access to the internet, we were instructed to head to an internet café a station ride away. I’m pretty sure this “internet café” fits the description of what is known as a “mangakisa”, a place where comic book and anime fans come together to chill out, surf the internet, read manga…etc. In the UK, an internet café is just that – a place to surf the internet. There are no restrictions and no ties. You walk in; ask to use a computer; the staff member will point you in the direction of said computer; you may or may not need to log in; you surf the internet; you finish; you get up and pay and that’s it! Bob’s your uncle. At this internet café, we had to join. So this included filling out a form which was of course entirely in Japanese.

I still feel sorry for the staff members at this point – one had basic English and one had none whatsoever but we were instructed to fill out the form nonetheless. It was probably a really simple form but it look rather intricate, and as such we only filled out our names, dates of birth and the address section which I could barely remember off the top of my head. After a little more faffing around – their rates of pay were in English – we were lead to a non-smoking area (even though I could smell the smoke from the smoking area nearby). We had the option of using their computers or bringing our own and hooking it up to their ethernet cables so we did the latter. Only, I couldn’t find a plug socket and my laptop can only span roughly forty-five minutes to one hour; it also, wasn’t fully charged so I was panicking. What’s more, I didn’t know the Japanese word for ‘plug socket’. I tried to show the staff member with no English what I needed but obviously he didn’t understand and ended up merely untangling the charger wire from my laptop. So before my computer died, I loaded up Facebook and located two of my Japanese friends asking them for the word in question. Neither of them answered particularly quickly so I loaded up a picture of a plug socket and decided to find one of the members of staff. I beckoned him to follow – with my hand turned down and not up – pointed at the image and blurted out “kore wa arimasu ka?” while pointing at the image. At first, he said “no” and I had a WTF moment and then after realising that I had a travel adapter attached to my plug, he pointed to underside of the table next to me and I wondered how the hell I managed to miss it completely. I thanked him and felt stupid. Japan – 1, Melissa – 0.

I now understand why people smile a lot more when they’re put in situations where there is a language barrier. People smile because they feel awkward. They can’t quite feel themselves because they know that they’re not able to communicate to the extent that they would if they were with someone who spoke the same language. So they smile. Smiling is universal; everybody the world over understands a smile and for the most part, won’t find it offensive. But it can also, act as a barrier in itself to dissuade the “what the hell am doing” or “I have no idea what you’re saying” vibe that one feels when they’re no longer in a position of familiarity. I’ve had plenty of these moments in the last couple of days and for someone like me, who’s used to being able to put myself forward correctly, it feels like it won’t get any easier.

Another shocker for me was how prevalent katakana is. For those not in the know, the Japanese language has three alphabets, for lack of a better term. Hiragana: used for Japanese words; Kanji: derived from Chinese characters; and Katakana: used for foreign words. For example, my name would be written in katakana because of course, it’s a foreign word. Katakana is virtually everywhere – at least in Nagoya anyway. I see it more than I see Hiragana which is often at times mind-boggling. I had actually promised myself that I would learn Katakana before I arrived in Japan but didn’t do so. My back’s against the wall now.

On a lighter note, one of my customer’s at my previous company recommended a book called “Japan – The Original Point-and-Speak Phrasebook”. This book has images with words in English, Romaji and Japanese characters and came in handy when I went to a couple of Japanese restaurants. I was able to ask a waitress what she would recommend as I wanted something with chicken in it; I was also, able to ask if the food was spicy and all I had to do was point at the word/image and put it into question form. In the second restaurant, I’m pretty sure the waitress commented positively on using the book so I intend to carry it around with me until I become a bit more competent with my language abilities. I would recommend it to anyone with as limited Japanese ability as I have. It includes sections on being at the airport, taking a train, food, sports, emergencies and my personal favourite – being at a pharmacy/clinic/hospital. I expect I’ll catch a cold at some point so that section will serve as an absolute gem when I need to describe my symptoms.

I feel odd and sometimes, I want to hide away, but I know that I have to keep throwing myself in the deep end. I have to attempt things on my own as well if I intend to get anywhere. And above all, I have to study. Right now, I have the support of my colleagues who are pretty much in the same predicament as me, but it won’t be like that forever – especially when I head over to Hiroshima. So I will push, because even though it feels like a mountain to climb, it’s something that I must overcome.

I’m sure there will be more “stupid foreigner moments” to come however.




Thursday, 7 November 2013

Cathay Pacific ~ The Good, The Not Bad and The Ugly

I’ve been very fortunate to have holidayed a few times throughout my life, but it’s a very rare occasion that I’ve flown somewhere alone. The only other time I flew to another country by myself was when I travelled to Spain. It was my first time and I picked a budget airline called EasyJet which flies predominantly around Europe. I was quite impressed with the flight and at the time, I had a VISA Electron card which meant I got the flight discounted but the real challenge for me would be to fly alone on a long haul flight. I don’t think I was nervous about it nonetheless, but it was really important for me to find a decent airline as I knew I would be up in the air for quite some time. So the first thing I did was set my criteria.

I wanted an airline that was reasonably priced, that had in-flight entertainment, that would allow me a lot of luggage, that would ensure a short stopover – there were no direct flights to Nagoya - and that held decent reviews. The first airline I came across was China Eastern Airlines. They were cheap and they permitted two huge suitcases in addition to hand luggage. I would have gone with them had it not been for the monster reviews I’d seen online for their long haul flights. Therefore, I opted for Cathay Pacific instead. I sacrificed luggage as they only permit you a 20kg suitcase (yet hand luggage and laptop) but I liked their reviews; there was a stopover in Hong Kong which would only entail a three hour wait and I had confirmation from a colleague that they were decent. They also, had on-flight entertainment including a lot of movies that I wanted to watch. So with my airline chosen, I made my way to the airport and waited with baited breath to see if I’d made the right choice.

My biggest concern initially, was my suitcase. It was overweight and Cathay Pacific indicates that if you are one kilo over, you will have to pay $60 which amounts to roughly £40. I spent a couple of days taking things out and putting things in, in order to get it to weigh correctly. In the end, my big suitcase was over by a kilo and my hand luggage was over by half a kilo, but the lovely man behind the counter didn’t mention it at all and so I had no problems there. I think it might have had something to do with the fact that I was early and I had checked in online already. Or maybe the guy was in a good mood because I’m sure some of the other airline staff might actually impose the rules. All I can say is I was very fortunate there.

Getting onto the plane was easy enough. I arrived in the waiting lounge just as they were asking people to board. I located my seat with ease (aisle seat for the win) but was annoyed that some selfish idiot had decided to place his hand luggage, laptop and coat in such a way that it took up the entire compartment above me. In the end, both my hand luggage and laptop were separated from each other but I settled in my seat and realised that nobody in my row (there were four) knew each other. We were all in the same boat.

Take-off took thirty minutes as there was a queue at the runway (we still arrived in Hong Kong early however) but we took off and when the plane stabilised, I launched into my entertainment. I watched three movies and an episode of The Big Bang Theory. I realised a little too late that I could have plugged in my laptop and played some games. I slept for roughly an hour as they provided a towel and pillow (the pillow was warm but uncomfortable when placed behind my head). We were fed and watered throughout the entire flight – two big meals, a couple of rounds of snacks and a couple additional rounds of drinks – these could also, be requested nonetheless. When I needed to access my hand luggage, the air stewards made an effort to help me without me even asking.

As Cathay Pacific is a Chinese airline, there were more Chinese passengers than anyone else. One was sitting next to me and had a bad habit of getting up constantly and disappearing for long periods of time and then coming back – especially when I was tucking into a movie. I found it interesting however that he did not use his on-flight entertainment once but found it just as interesting to peer at my screen from time to time and see what I was getting into. He wasn’t a bad guy however. He was very helpful and polite to me (especially when we were due to get off the plane and I had nowhere to put my hand luggage. We even spoke briefly).

On my connecting flight at Hong Kong (Hong Kong have free internet at its airport by the way, which is awesome), I found my chair a little more cramped than in the long haul flight (not an aisle seat this time). I felt incredibly uncomfortable and even moreso when they served yet another meal. Had I known this, I probably wouldn’t have filled up on water and sweets beforehand so I promise you that as soon as I rolled off this flight, I felt like I was gonna explode. This was a perk however – good for people with big appetites and the food across both flights was okay. (I would not recommend the Congee  however. What’s more, during my first meal on the previous flight, the piece of bread they gave me was tough as nails). Once more, there was entertainment on this flight also, which I found shocking for a short haul flight (it was a little over 3 hours) but also, a perk. I was too tired to engage however so slept for most of it and then watched what I could of Happy Feat while I ate.

What I found quite interesting about both these flights however was that a lot of the passengers had no regard for the rules. Sometimes the seatbelt sign would still be on or would switch on and passengers would be up and about getting their hand luggage or popping to the bathroom. Even after the air stewards would ask them to sit down, they would continue to queue. Both English and Chinese were used on both flights (and even Japanese on the second one) so it wasn’t the fault of a language issue or anything. Simply put, people just didn’t want to comprehend that when it’s time to switch off your phone because it could affect the mechanisms on the flight, that one should switch off their phone and not put it on silent. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have an issue with flying but I do have an issue with people playing with fire – especially when there’s a chance that it could affect me.

Overall, it was a pretty smooth experience. There were no major issues on the flight; no delays and as promised, my luggage went straight through from air craft to air craft so I didn’t have to check in more than once. In fact, my suitcase came out pretty much as soon as I set foot in the collection area in Japan and I had to run to catch it before it disappeared. Staff were relatively friendly and I never went hungry. I would definitely consider flying with them again, only this time, I got a discount as I went through an agent. If you go through their website and I suspect, going through some agents as well, it’ll be a little on the steep side if you’re flying from the UK.

To conclude, however, I would give Cathay Pacific 4 out of 5 stars.


Monday, 4 November 2013

Japan Prep ~ The Countdown

As I write this, there are less than 48 hours to go before I get on my planes to Japan. I’ve seen all of my family and most of my friends; I’ve eaten copious amounts of food; I received gifts from both here and overseas; I’ve been given kind words and wise words; I’ve shed tears – who would have thought it? But right now, more than anything, I’m hoping that by the end of today, I will be virtually good to go.

Preparing to travel overseas for a long period of time can be stressful – especially for someone like me who is a keen organiser and who likes things to run smoothly. I can pretty much say that I’ve been preparing to go to Japan since I found out I got the job but there were a few obstacles in my way that prevented me from carrying out specific tasks at specific times. Therefore, my biggest piece of advice to anyone would be to have patience. Sometimes, certain things – especially to do with official documents – take a little longer than others. So in the meantime, do other things that will contribute later to your departure; go to work – make some money; you’re seriously gonna need it because moving abroad can be a big feat. Spend time with family and friends because you’re not gonna see them for a while: anything that’s gonna help you in the long run to make your transition smoother.

As for me and my preparations. This is my story.

~

Important Documents

Work Pemit? Visa? Passport, if you need one? Get this sorted as early as possible. I can’t speak for other visas such as the Working Holiday visa, Spousal visa…etc but I was pretty fortunate as my company virtually walked me through all the steps. I can’t say for certain but I believe that when you have a company backing you, it becomes a much smoother process which is why I was determined to find work overseas before travelling. I’m not saying that others have had a harder time by simply travelling to Japan to find work on Japanese soil because I’ve come across people who have done exactly this. But I’m nowhere near brave enough to pack up my life and cross into unfamiliar territory with a handful of cash, a pocket full of optimism and limited direction. I would crumble but I admire those who’ve had the courage to do this. All I can say is that I already had my passport and the process of acquiring my visa and associated documents was extremely smooth; it took no more than a few weeks collectively.

Flight

After you’ve acquired your documents, I would suggest you book your flight. Now I’ve known people who have travelled to Japan and I reckon that even by checking out the time difference alone, anyone could guess that it’s one hellova flight. As for me, I already had a budget in mind. Instead of Tokyo however, I will be flying to Nagoya so I searched across the internet for a deal. One of the cheapest airlines I came across was China Eastern Airlines. They were particularly attractive to me because they permitted you two checked-in 23kg suitcases, plus hand luggage. But I decided against them because of some of the reviews I’d read. I think that when selecting an airline, you have to decide what’s more important to you, whether it’s luggage allowance, comfort…etc. For me, I knew I would be in the air for a while so I wanted an airline that would keep me entertained so that I forgot about the duration of the flight. In the end, I went through an agent called STA Travel who offer discounts to students and those under 26-years-old. Currently, I’m 25 and they had a deal going (within my budget range no less) with the airline Cathay Pacific which had pretty decent reviews (including confirmation from someone I knew).  It’s a stopover flight but my stopover is very short (this was also, important to me) so I get to stretch my legs after a while, but they’re luggage allowance is only 20kg. They do however, allow a laptop in addition to hand luggage.

Money

I spent the longest time racking my brains and trying to figure out how I could get a rather large sum of money overseas without actually having to carry a large sum of money. I think I may have mentioned earlier that I dislike carrying a lot of money on me in my day to day life. Therefore, the solution seems simple enough. Bring a credit/debit card. Only, I’m quite a stingy person. I’ve never liked credit cards and I’m well aware that my bank will charge me through the roof if I even considered using my debit card abroad. Thus, I would lose a lot of my hard-earned cash this way and I didn’t like it. Nevertheless, I knew I would need some cash to use as it would be a while before I got to set up a bank account so I searched high and low and came across a site called Travelex which had one of the best exchange rates going. (Right now, the pound is stronger than the yen). I also, spoke to a relative, who recommended a company called Caxton FX. They provide a currency card free of charge which can be used internationally and which will provide me with the best exchange rate of the day no matter where I withdraw from. And more importantly, there’d be no extra charge when withdrawing or using said card abroad. All I’d need to do was load it with money from a bank account. Result. Lastly, I then emailed a friend in Japan about traveller’s cheques as it’s quite well-known that this method of exchange isn’t very prominent in Japan anymore. Fortunately, the city I’ll be moving to possesses a few establishments that will change the cheques for me. Double result. My money issue was resolved and this brings me to my next point…
  
Networking

I kid you not. Facebook has been my friend these last few weeks. My company put me in touch with some of my fellow teachers. I joined their Facebook group. For women of colour, I joined another group called Women of Color Living Abroad and this too has been a big help as it helped me get in touch with women like myself who had done it all before. Previously, I joined a website called Interpals in order to meet some Japanese people or people working in Japan. I also, joined a site called Japan Guide and posted an ad in the Classifieds section seeking friends and through all this I’ve had some pretty positive results. I’ve therefore, come to the conclusion that by moving abroad, the buffer you have that are your friends and family will not be there anymore. And even though you can still communicate with them – we have Skype, WhatsApp…etc - it’s not the same as having them there in person. What’s more, you’re gonna be walking into unfamiliar territory as living in another country is not quite the same as going on holiday. So get out there and find out as much information as possible. I’ve asked so many questions to so many people. I’ve asked their opinions on certain matters and about their experiences as a whole, and I am grateful to every single one of them. What’s more – who’s to say you mightn’t make a lifelong friend or two on the way. Social networking is the way forward.

Shipping

Cathay Pacific only allow 20kg but I knew that considering that we’re rolling into winter, I would only need winter garb for the time being. That being said, I have a lot of summer items and the like that I would like to send over to myself. So another concern for me was finding a reasonably priced shipping company in the UK. Remember when I mentioned networking? It really does help to know people. A friend of mine recommended a Japanese shipping company called Nippon Express. They’re rates were pretty good so I contacted them and they sent me out the documentation free of charge. When I sat down to look through it all, it all seemed very confusing nonetheless and their head office was based quite far away from me. Instead, I am opting for a company called CourierPoint which a girl I met on Facebook had her items shipped with successfully. They seem a lot more straight-forward as everything is done online. They’re prices are also, reasonable. Based on the quote I got, I can send a 30kg box for £150 (size and other restrictions apply).

Packing

I’ve heard of people spending ridiculous money on suitcases but I bought a large one and a small one for a grand total of £36, both of which sit within Cathay’ Pacific’s baggage allowance. My advice; shop around or use an old one if it’s still good. Unknowing as to where I was going as Peppy Kids have branches all over the place, I blew a lot of money on winter clothing but realised that I was probably going to need some lighter clothing as well considering I’m going to be jumping around with children. I packed the clothing anyway nonetheless because Japanese sizes simply won’t accommodate me; the same goes for shoes as I’m a UK size 8. I’ve put enough cosmetic items in there to last me a month which should be enough time for me to receive my box containing the bulk of the cosmetics I bought.  I’ve packed a load of entertainment from Japanese language books and the fifth volume of the A Song of Ice and Fire series to games on my laptop. I bought some travel adapters even though I know that I could have bought some upon arrival. I’ve also, packed some Paracetamol, and Ear Planes – I get that air pressure pain something fierce. I bought a luggage scale to weigh all of this as well and I’ve pretty much maxed everything out.

Loose Ends

Got a job? Got a mobile phone? Students Loans to repay maybe? Be sure to alert those that need to be told that you’re jumping ship. I don’t know about other countries but in the UK, if you fail to declare that you’re travelling overseas to work, they will deduct a penalty fee of £250. As for my mobile, I had set myself a new year’s resolution to find work overseas within the year so when my two year contract finished back in February, I downgraded to a 30-day SIM-only plan which could be cancelled at any time as long as I gave 30 days notice. I gave my workplace two and a half weeks notice and cancelled every one of my direct debits. I want minimal drama while I’m abroad. So reduce your stress. Tie up all your loose ends.

 ~

There were a few other things that I did in order to prepare for Japan that aren’t on this list, for example, the classes I went to, or the time I took off work in the final countdown but these are the ones that seem to most important to me. I even created an excel document to keep track of my progress. (Mind you, I’m not suggesting anyone should do this as it’s a little extra but this is just my preference). It doesn’t have to be the headache that it might feel like. And don’t feel like you have to do it on your own either. The amount of time it takes to prepare is probably different for everyone. As for me, I feel like I’m ready to go now.

First stop: Hong Kong

Second Stop: Nagoya


Final Stop: Hiroshima

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Retail Detail ~ Food, "Fun" and Final Impressions...

So today marks yet another ‘end of an era’ as I worked my – hopefully – final day in the food retail industry. I’ve had quite something of a rollercoaster in the last eight months. I’ve seen people come and people go. I’ve ascended through some ranks – albeit unofficially. I’ve made friends. I’ve made coffee. But above all, I’ve made memories.

Earlier in the year, I pretty much ripped a hole into my situation. I was miserable. I didn’t like my circumstances. I didn’t care for a couple of my colleagues. I felt the entire shop was run like a military operation and I really couldn’t be myself. Despite this, however, I needed the job as I needed the income. And I will admit it’s been nice having a full month’s pay all over again as I was actually able to do things, pay bills, buy things and have money left over by the next pay day. But pay aside, I feel like I should reassess my job, as while some things stayed the same, a lot of things changed over time.

If you recall, I stated that in any job, two things are important to me. The first one concerned my team. I stated that they must be awesome and I think anyone would agree. Getting on with your teammates makes things run a lot more smoothly.

Now I don’t like to make waves. In the past, I’ve often been quiet when I’m upset or annoyed with someone, but as I became more familiar with my role and my colleagues, I think I learnt to be a bit more honest with my feelings. It was very rare but when I had issues with other members of staff, I learnt to take the opportunity to talk out my issues and even though this was quite uncomfortable at times, I realised that it really did take a weight off my shoulders. Making peace is the way forward and I feel like I’ve grown up a bit during this time.

The second thing I mentioned was that management must be tolerable. Now I went through two new managers, plus an extra addition, and I must say that this got a much better over time. I don’t know if it was down to my growing experience, level of confidence or just general trust placed in me, but I felt like the military hold receded and my shop became a much more enjoyable place to work. I wasn’t restricted anymore. I was given more responsibility and through this I was able to let more of my personality shine through. My managers were still my managers but I could also talk to them on a more personable level. This made working there a lot easier.

I also mentioned the customers.

Now this pretty much stayed the same. I had customers that would come in for a quick chat with their coffee and I had customers that I really didn’t give a toss about. I had some particular difficult and anal individuals who felt that their role as an “educated professional” meant that they were entitled to some form of sovereign treatment. I had customers make awkward and sometimes even ridiculous demands. I’ve had customers bold-facedly ask for freebies. Heck, there were roughly the same amount of customer complaints as there were compliments. But at the same time, I’ve had customers put a smile on my face. I’ve had customers that would talk to me and ask after my well-being without me initiating the conversation first. I’ve had customers express extreme gratitude for something I’ve done for them and I’ve had customers compliment me on my ability to cope during rush hour – and boy, were those some intense rushes. A customer even bought me a gift to commemorate my departure and it wasn’t until I started telling people that I was leaving that I realised just how much some of these people actually liked me. I had always been under the impression that they just didn’t give a damn. How wrong I was.

I actually ended up going down the barista route again so in contrast to my earlier remark, I guess they did want me to be a barista, or at least some people, more than others, were prepared to put it into motion. I still don’t drink coffee mind you. (Matcha Latte for the win!) I certainly got a lot faster. I maintained some of those bad habits however, but I still make a good cup of coffee. Mocha, anyone?

I saw a uniform update. I ate some good food. I met some good people and made some great friends.

Retail was never where I wanted to end up. Granted, I’m still of the impression that considering the amount of people to join and leave my company, it can’t be where most people see themselves either. But I still think that as a ground employee, it’s a good place to start. And it's a good place to work too (although it really is the luck of the draw). It was an adventure. I had good days and bad days. I had easier days and hard days. 

Do I regret not taking that other job? 

No, not really.

After all, I gained some more life experience but now it’s time to move on to the next chapter.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

The London Files ~ The Will Miss List

The general question / assumption that I get from people as I draw closer to Japan is that I must be excited. But for the longest time, I felt the most ominous sense of calm and neutrality that would make anyone question whether I genuinely want to go to Japan. And believe me, I do. I’ve been wanting to go for many years and to finally have a shot at both going there and starting on a potential career path is simply awesome. In fact, exactly one month from today, I will be getting on that plane but the excitement still hasn’t fully set it yet. And further still, there will be a lot of things that won’t be easily accessible to me and a lot of things that I will have to get used to – whether I find them easy to adjust to or not. And of course, sometimes there will be those moments when I’m sitting alone and that sense of aloneness will make me consider what I’ve actually left behind.

Conveniences

The fact that I was born in London and that I grew up here means that I am very much aware of how to get by. Simple things such as buying something at the supermarket, travelling to another part of the UK or sending mail via the post office are extremely easy for me to do but doing such things in Japan where I’m not fully aware of the practises, nor do I have a common language, are going to seem ten times harder for me. Other typical things such as navigating my way around or ordering take away over the phone are going to be extremely trying and probably frustrating as well. It was only by chance, when I was drinking a bottle of Lucozade while queuing up to pay for it with a Japanese friend of mine, that I found out that opening any item of food or drink before actually paying for it in Japan would get me in serious trouble, whereas in the UK, as long as one has the intention to pay for it, this isn’t the case. I’m going to have to adapt to a completely new set of rules and methods for doing things. My little conveniences will be next to no more.

Home

In London, I live in a pretty good place. I have a large park about two minutes from my front door and this place is great for those keen on exercise as well as the odd festival or fun fair. Five minutes from my house, I have shops and take away establishments for my every day (or once in a while essentials). There is a bus stop not a minute away and I have easy access to both the underground and the overhead trains. If I travel into Central London for a night out on the town, I find it incredibly easy to get home at four o clock in the morning. In fact, I can travel just about anywhere from my location and Google Maps has been so good to me. As I’m still not aware of where I will be living for the next year or so, I have no idea whether my living space will be as good as the house I grew up in. I will certainly miss it and all the benefits that come with it.

Food

Everybody has a favourite food and while I’ve gone through my share of weaknesses (which might still actually be weaknesses) e.g. chocolate, there are quite a few things that I know that the Japanese simply won’t have. In fact, I’m going to have to find new goodies when I’m over there and say goodbye to all my luxuries. For example, I’m actually a great lover of cheese – especially when melted – but I know that it’s very difficult to find in Japan so I’m pretty much getting my cheese fix in the next month so that I can prepare myself to give it up. Other goodies like Ribena – my childhood fixation – and Crunchy Nut Cornflakes – which are truly truly addictive – will have to go on the scrap heap, because I doubt I’ll come across them in Japan and as with other food that I’m used to, I’m sure it’s not gonna taste exactly like home (unless it’s imported that is). This is not that big of a deal however - it’s not like I’m saying goodbye to food in general - but I don’t doubt that I won’t miss a great steaming heap of Mexican chicken in a brioche bun once in a while.

Blending In

As I’ve mentioned previously, London is a multi-cultural hot pot. There isn’t a race or culture or type of person that doesn’t exist here and even if they don’t, if they were to enter into the UK ad introduce their culture to the city, I doubt people would bat an eyelid much as it’s all been done before. I’m a third generation West Indian. Both my parents were born in the UK while my grandparents immigrated here in the sixties. I’m no one special. People don’t pay me any mind, but in Japan, I’m going to stand out ridiculously. I’m a woman and by British standards, I’m average but by Japanese standards, I’m huge. I’m also black and we make up around 5% of the population in the UK but have had enough presence to warrant a sense of normality. In Japan, the amount of black people or non-Japanese is very small meaning that I won’t be able to blend in at all. I’ll be a constant abnormal presence in Japan and I know I’ll be stared at to the point of irritation. I’ll miss not be able to fade into the background.

Essentials

In the same way that all my favourite foods will be left behind, so will all the products I’m accustomed to using. As a woman, I have my regime. I’m not overly feminine but I’m aware of what works for me and I like to stick to what I know. It’s therefore unfortunate for me that Japan doesn’t have any of the products that I use or that are necessities to me. I’ve heard a rumour that Japanese deodorant is weaker than the western variants and that a lot of Japanese toothpastes don’t contain fluoride (please feel free to confirm or dispute this as I’m not in the know). The fact that I won’t be able to access such products with ease any more did have me concerned for a while until I found a website from the UK that does actually deliver every single one of my items overseas. Naturally however, this will probably cost a fortune and so while I hope I’ll be able to find some products in Japan that might agree with me, I’m still leaning towards what I already know.

English

It’s no secret that the Japanese are on the English flex in a similar fashion to most non-English speaking countries around the world. I have heard that if a Japanese person can speak English (and if they’re confident enough), they will use the opportunity to converse with English natives which is pretty useful for us foreigners. However, just because there are some that can speak English, it doesn’t mean that this is the case for everyone or everywhere. The news will be in Japanese, newspapers will be in Japanese, signs will be in Japanese…etc, because low and behold, I will be living in Japan. This means that I’m not going to be understood all the time and that even speaking to Japanese people who can speak English will be, on occasion, fraught with difficulties. And while I know that I shouldn’t expect English speaking to be an everyday occurrence and nor should I simply give up in my conquest to learn Japanese, there will be times when I’ll simply desire to switch off my brain and have a typical conversation in English with no problems or misunderstandings whatsoever.

Friends

I’m not the kind of person that seeks to have many friends. In fact, I’ve brushed shoulders with a lot of people in my life but there are very few that I consider my friend and fewer people still who I trust with myself. In all honesty, as bad as it might be to say, I find it incredibly easy to cut people off if I feel like there’d be no benefit to keeping in contact with them. Additionally, however, I can often go long periods of time without contact with others – even my closest friends – but despite this I still value their friendship. I have odd relationships with people and choose what I share with people and what I don’t share with others but I will miss the relationships I’ve struck up with them. I will miss going out to dance the night away or rolling on the floor laughing until my sides split. I will miss sharing a meal at TGI Fridays or having a diplomatic conversation with those of my friends who are likeminded. And even though I know that some of my friendships will transcend time, I will miss the measured proximity I’ll have had with them when I’m halfway across the world

Family

I’ve talked about my family on my blog before and how I don’t generally feel that close to them and while in some cases, this does still stand, I think it’s only recently that I’ve realised that despite our differences, I’m going to miss my family most of all. I’ve stated up to this point that I haven’t actually felt any other emotion about my moving abroad besides neutrality, but I was actually met with a  bout of sadness not too long ago and it didn’t actually hit me until my mother’s birthday party. All my family were around me. When I unveiled my flight date, there was a still sense of (what I now believe might have been) sadness from them that I initially mistook for coldness but then as everybody began to enjoy themselves and I started mingling, I realised that I was getting homesick and I hadn’t actually left my living room. As a gift to my mother, I got a professional photo of us done together and even looking at it hanging up on the wall makes me relive those feelings even more. But fortunate, I’ve been told by others who have upped and left that this is normal so I don’t feel completely bad for it. But I will miss them because despite our lack of togetherness and the occasions when they’ve driven me insane, because they’ve always been there for me. And even though I won’t be able to physically reach out and touch them, they will continue to be there for me still.

~


So yes, I have slandered London and there are quite a few things that are ugly about this place, but it’s my city and it’s in this city that I’ve lived my life up until this moment. And even though I know it’s not forever, I’ve never taken quite as big a step as I will be taking next month. So I will miss it terribly. But I’ll definitely be back some day. And hopefully with a string of adventures, teaching experience and life experience under my belt.