I’m going to get real here for a second, because, as much as I love people supporting me in my life abroad (and I do), it’s more than roses and sparkles over here. Only those who have been a traveller themselves, will understand half of the joys that I’ve talked about in my blog. However, on the same level, only those who have been abroad for any period of time will understand the stresses and frustrations that come with it as well. Before I continue sharing my unicorns and rainbows with you, I want to be honest. Every single day I wake up alone, in a bed made for a small child, in a room the size of a closet, but doesn’t have a closet, that I pay way too much for. I get up, eat the same thing, put on the same boring pantsuit and head to the train for my 1-2 hour commute. I eat the same foods everyday because I don’t actually like Japanese food, and my grocery budget isn’t exactly something to brag about. I’ve lived here almost 9 months now and I still sometimes go home at the end of the day and cry because I can’t understand anything. I’m an extremely independent person and having to ask people for help everyday really wears down on your self confidence. You will never realize your pet peeves faster than when you’re in another country and suddenly they’re all around you. Get your damn bicycle off the sidewalk. If I’m walking and you narrowly miss me with you bike, and then ring your bell at me, I’m going to give you the deathiest death stare there ever was (yes I just made death an adjective). And at the end of the day, I take the same commute home, with a couple hundred other people, who all wish there were more seats on the train so we didn’t have to stand for an hour. I go back to my closet house and binge watch Netflix until I fall asleep, alone, and do it all again the next day. (Can anyone tell me how to turn on the heating in my house?)
So then, why do I do it? You must be thinking that, right? I do it because that one time that I go to the grocery store, the coffee shop, or the train station, and I actually understand what they say to me, or they understand my question, makes it all worth it. I literally said “can I have a bag please?” at the store the other day in Japanese, and they gave me a bag without any hassle or confusion, and I felt like I just won an Olympic gold medal. Recently, I ordered an egg mcmuffin and asked for it without meat. She asked if cheese was still okay and I said yes, with the biggest smile on my face, because I actually had a useful conversation (she probably just thought I was really stoked about cheese or something).
I want nothing more than for people to choose to travel and experience this for themselves. For me, the days I feel like an absolute piece of garbage, are all part of the journey. The boulder of anxiety that hits me when I lay in bed at night and realize I’m going home in a month, reminds me that I’m going to feel the same kind of shock and frustrations when I return back to Canada. I’m going to get angry and frustrated when people talk to non-English speakers like they are stupid and incapable, because I know EXACTLY how that feels. I’m going to be upset when I realize the grocery store doesn’t carry okra and that the 7-11 is not a gem like it is here. Selfishly, I’m going to put up a stink when Starbucks tells me they don’t serve matcha frappes, and that I can’t use my Tokyo card there. But, again, its all part of the journey.
You might be sitting at home thinking ‘wow, her life is so cool, I’m so jealous.’ Thanks, but no thanks. For one, it’s a hella lot of ups and downs. It’s missing out on the most important people in my life and not being there for people when they need me most. And second, to say you’re jealous is an insult. Don’t you dare be jealous. First of all, realize that I didn’t have this opportunity handed to me. I worked my butt off to get where I am, I gave up all of the comforts of my Canadian life, and I continue to work hard every single day. Nothing was easy. Also, if you feel ‘jealous’ because you’re bored with where you are in life right now, then YOU need to make a change. And if I can help in any way, I’d be more than happy to, but being jealous isn’t healthy for anyone and it’s not going to change anything for you. Let your feet take you wherever makes you happy.
That all being said, I simply can’t wait to see you all at home so soon (anxiety attacks aside). Please be patient with me as I adjust to life in Canada again. I can’t wait to hear about all your lives, see your wedding pictures and your babies that I haven’t met yet. Take a tour of your new houses and chug back Bear Flag with you (you know who you are). I’m so excited!
So, rant over, and back to the last month! Whirlwind of adventures and emotions (clearly. Reference to above rant). It’s become like a game. Crossing things off my Japan bucket list. You know that feeling where you finally get to cross something off a to-do list that you’ve been staring at for months; or rather it’s been staring at you (shout out to all my list people, you know what I mean). I have to face the facts at this point, I won’t be able to cross everything off, but I think I did some serious damage to the list in these last two months. To be completely honest, at this point my body and my brain are a mix of complete exhaustion and a child who just drank their first red bull. It’s a weird combination, but so far it’s working for me.
This summer I got myself a Hanshin Tigers hat (the Japanese major league beloved baseball team in Osaka/Kobe area) and I finally got to show it off. My friend Andy and I pretty much went for the beer (they walk around the stands with a keg backpack filling people’s cups… unreal) as we don’t really follow baseball. By the last inning, we were so into it (the beer helped, I won’t lie) and our team ended up winning. The crowd had a different cheer for each athlete.. and I mean like a full song, that everyone knew and sang together as they went up to bat. Crazy fans. It was like being at a Saskatchewan Roughriders game, but on an even bigger scale. I would have loved to go again, but time did not allow for that, and we lost out of the playoffs pretty quickly.
My 2 minutes of fame finally aired on Japanese TV, and my students all found it incredibly quickly. I felt like a big deal for about 3 days and then it all blew over. I have the DVD copy to prove it really happened though. If anyone wants to watch some ridiculous Japanese TV when I come home we can easily make a comedy movie night out of it. Crack open the さけ (sake- Japanese rice wine). After writing this the first time, I had to come back and edit it. I went to the university yesterday and a student came in, looked at my name tag and said, “are you Jody?” I said yes, obviously… “Did you wear a kimono on TV for a Japanese show?” Wow.. five minutes of fame continues. “Yes, yes I did”. He ended by saying he knew I looked familiar from somewhere and then fan boyed for a bit before leaving . I felt like Joey from friends when people recognized him from Days of Our Lives. #winning.
Taking Saturdays off this month proved to be the best idea, as me and my friend have the same days off now. We made a point of doing something new every weekend. He is Japanese and a low level English, so it was also great practice for both of us culturally and language wise. We went hiking to the famous Minō waterfall, saw a wild monkey, hiked the trail marked “じごく だに” (jigoku dani) which literally translates to Hell Valley. He told me this translation AFTER we hiked it. We made a day of it and headed to Kobe city to enjoy the cooler weather at the port and watch all the city lights come on. It was so beautiful.
Our next day off we headed to Katano city to hike to ほし の ブランコ (hoshi no buranco- kind of translates to star swing). It was a really long walking bridge hanging over a valley. The momiji trees were starting to change colours and it was beautiful. After that we went to a famous shrine (which apparently no foreigners know about!) To be completely honest, I didn’t want to go, but I didn’t want to say that. Well, man, am I glad I went! We couldn’t take our bags or cameras and I wondered why. We also had to fill out some sort of safety form before going in, I was confused. Then we stepped inside and I understood.
A bunch of massive boulders had fallen onto each other and we had to squeeze between, under, over, and around them in almost complete darkness. At one point we actually had to lay down flat on our backs and use the rocks like a slide to get to the underground part. I barely fit! Clearly, this is why no foreigners go there. The crawl spaces were so incredibly tiny and you had to really trust yourself (and the arrows) when we got to the end it was like getting off a roller coaster and he looked at me and said “I want to do that again!”
Another friend and I headed to Hiroshima (finally!). We took the night bus there and arrived around 6am. I, surprisingly, slept the whole way there, and he did not. Also surprising, because I now have a stereotype that Japanese people can sleep anywhere at anytime. We started on the island of Miyajima, famous for いつくしま (itsukushima) which is a giant red tori gate that, when the tide comes in, looks to be floating in the ocean. We climbed Mt. Misen and he fell asleep on top of the mountain (There. Like I said, typical Japanese, can fall asleep anywhere). We enjoyed a few different flavours of もみじまんじゅう (momijimanju – like pancake batter shaped like maple leaves with red bean paste inside) and some Hiroshima Carp chu-hi (Carp = Hiroshima baseball team. Chu-hi = like an alcoholic cooler) before heading back to Hiroshima city.
The next day, we went to the Hiroshima Peace museum and saw the Peace Park. This was a big ol’ check off the life bucket list, not just the Japan bucket list. I have been looking forward to this for so long, and it didn’t disappoint. If you EVER have the opportunity to go, GO! It’s an absolute must if you visit Japan. I was really overwhelmed and full of emotions, but I felt like I learned so much. After that we visited a traditional Japanese garden before eating はろしまやき (Hiroshimayaki – noodles, cabbage and egg fried together) and some more あげまんじゆう (agemanju – deep friend momijimanju). Hiroshima did not disappoint, and I’m so satisfied with Japan now.
For Halloween, I agreed to go out with my American friend who is crazy about Halloween. I personally, am not a fan of all the Halloween chaos, I’m more of Christmas person. However, I thought it was probably something I should experience here. After putting off costume making for a solid month, I whipped together something the night before the party. I decided to be a Pokeball (Monsterball). I didn’t feel the costume was very impressive, but at least it had relevance in Japan. So I made a sign, which, on one side, said ポケモン ゲット だぜ！(which is the Japanese equivalent of Gotta Catch ’em All). On the other side I wrote 黙ってポケバール に 入れ (dammate pokeball ni haire. Which translates to ‘shut up and get in the ball’). The sign is definitely what made me popular. Nobody expected this blonde girl to be yelling Japanese Pokemon phrases at them all night. Not many people celebrate Halloween here, but those who do go all out. I was so impressed with the costumes, and it was nice to be in a country where October isn’t freezing and we could enjoy being outside. Also, drinking in the street is legal, so that’s a plus. (Costumes I didn’t get a picture of: guy dressed as a person at an Onsen, wearing only a towel and walking around washing himself with bubble bath; mom dressed her 4 year old child as Chuckie and he would scream at you and chase you with a knife; guy in full Chubaka get up and committed to character; two guys dressed in female 80s workout attire including blonde wigs. Nobody does Halloween half assed here, except me.)
Finally, it seems, all the ridiculous weather has subsided. And by this, I mean no more +50 days, no more spur of the moment downpours, no more cicadas, and no more typhoons. You know how at home when there’s a storm coming, animals get a little crazy? Well it’s the same here with insects. The last typhoon that hit my area made the cockroaches fly for no apparent reason (oh yeah, that’s right, cockroaches fly here). When I got home from work, there was a big ol roach walking across the head of my bed. I (of course) freaked out and attempted to kill it, but it ran somewhere and I couldn’t find it. As mentioned before, my house is closet sized, and so I felt I had nowhere “safe” to sleep. I considered going to a 24 hour McDonalds, a Karaoke place, or back to my office in Osaka to stay the night, but that wouldn’t have worked. So, I poisoned the crap out of my house and proceeded to make myself a tiny bed…. in my bathtub. I didn’t want to use the pillows or blankets that the cockroach had been walking on, so I took all my sweaters and lined the tub with them. Fast forward to the next day at work, I had bruises on my knees and elbows and a sore back from trying to fit in the tub all night, and was running on 3 hours of sleep. Learn from me, not worth it. Thank God no more typhoons are being predicted, and its getting too cold for cockroaches now.
That being said, earthquakes still strike in any season. I felt my first earthquake in April, but it was at night and only registered a level 1. This time, I was at work at the university. I was talking with a student and a coworker when suddenly this ringing sound started echoing around the whole building. We had about 60 students in for an activity, so I thought it was part of that, until my coworker loudly stated “earthquake!”. I just had enough time to say “how do we know when it hits?” When everything started moving under my feet. I started freaking out a bit, as I really don’t know what to do in a quake. My coworkers assured me we were safe where we were. I said I was feeling really dizzy, but they told me I wasn’t dizzy and that it was actually everything moving around me. After about 30 seconds, everything was stable again. This was the 6.6 quake that hit Tottori, for those who saw it on the news, and it was about a 3 when it hit us. For the rest of the day I felt a bit sick and had a really bad headache. They told me lots of people experience motion sickness and that that is probably what it was. Turns out, the ringing was a emergency disaster warning sent out to all Japanese cell phones as soon as they know a quake is going to hit. The ringing I heard was about 60 phones all buzzing at the same time. Efficiency is Japans middle name. Glad I got to experience it, but I don’t want anything stronger to hit while I’m still here.
In terms of everyday life funnies, I’ve seen some characters on the train recently, including Asian George Bush, an elderly man who kept track of every person getting on the train (clearly his hobby), and I myself got the be the interesting character too. Morning after Halloween, with no change of clothes, I had to take the 6am train from Osaka to Kyoto wearing my Pokeball costume, sitting next to the salarymen on their way to work. I then had to walk home from the train station wearing it. Everyone dressed in winter coats and scarves… me in a t-shirt and a tutu. Also, when October hit, Japan exploded with pumpkin everything, including ice cream. And, to round off the randomness of this paragraph, I was finally instructed on how to wear a face bag while trying clothing on. It’s a real thing.
To wrap this one up, I’ve started saying my goodbyes to students and friends, as I only have a few more days of work left. I’ve started selling my belongings, and packing things up in my place. As I’ll get home around Christmas, I’ve started a very real wish list (you’ve got to know by now how much I love lists). This list includes: a job, a home, underwear, a cat, and Tims coffee. It’s very serious. I’ve put a lot of thought into it so far. If you can help out with anything, that’d be great.
Keep the countdown going. 20 days left in Japan and 34 until I’m home.
Your Armstrong Abroad