Sunday, December 11, 2011

Dear Japan,

Dear Japan,

You and I have a love/hate relationship. I love the food, I love the sights, and there is something about you that keeps bringing me back despite all the various hates I have for you. But let me tell you, that hate list is long and it's a wonder, sometimes, that I want to continue to be here when the list of things I like is so short compared to the list of things that frustrate me, anger me, sadden me...

I am currently trying to leave you because of various things that are going on in the life I left behind in my home country. You really haven't done much to encourage me to stay. I am constantly reminded of how, really, I am not welcome here. And honestly, I often find that I ask myself, "Why do I stay? Am I nuts? Do I enjoy the heartache and punishment?" But I also realize that there must be some kind of magic here that makes me love you so much. There must be something to being here, sharing this experience with the people that I love, that somehow speaks to my mind or my soul or... my insanity. I'm leaning toward the last one. 

But I am leaving on December 25 -- and I have no plans, at least for now, to return any time soon. And gawddamn, Japan, are you making things difficult! You don't want me to be here, but you won't let me leave.

Let me go through the things that I must do in order to leave you.
  • Buy a ticket
  • Break my work contract 
  • Break my lease
  • Cancel my cellphones
  • Cancel my Internet
  • Cancel my water
  • Cancel my gas
  • Cancel my electricity
  • Find a home for Turtellini
  • Find a home for Bento
  • Get rid of my furniture, bikes, clothes, whatever.
  • Repair the damage to the apartment
  • Send my packages home
  • Pack my suitcases
  • Clean the apartment
  • Uh... And the list is longer, but I don't even know what else there is because my mind is so screwy.

I am grateful for what support I have received so far from various people for helping me out (Pam, Amy, Rafe, Jacob, Koohei and then some!), but I am very much breaking from the pressure of finishing everything with such a short timeline. I have less than 2 weeks to get my stuff together and get out of here. Granted, someone pointed out to me that even if I just up and left everything, while I would probably be fined like crazy, at least I'd be home with friends and family and loved ones (who don't fall under friends and family). 

For all the people who say that you have fantastic customer service, I would like to argue that they are either Japanese nationals who don't know any better or only visitors to this country. I don't care how honorific your language is, if you are uncompromising, cold, and unwilling to help or even try to find another way to accomplish things, that is not "good customer service". For everyone who claims that you are efficient, I would say they have never tried to cancel or change any contract or service.

Case in point: Just for me to cancel my Internet and make the final payment, I have called 5 telephone numbers, 2 companies, spent... I don't know how long on the phone, at this point, and still have accomplished next to nothing. All I have managed is to run up my cell phone bill and getting you to say that you will turn the Internet off on December 16, because for some reason, you cannot do it now. You don't know how to charge me since I am leaving the country. You, being you, half the time can't accept foreign credit cards, despite them being internationally recognized providers like Visa and Master Card. You can't send the bill to me in advance. You can't send the bill to me abroad. You can't even tell me how much I owe you, since it's not the right time for you to know that. 

I am going crazy trying to do the right thing. I want don't want to perpetuate the stereotype of the foreigners who skip town without taking responsibility and tying up the loose ends. But you know, Japan, you are pushing me to the point where perhaps I understand why these "bad foreigners" did so. Perhaps they all tried, like me, in good faith, to do what was right... to pay their bills and cancel things properly and pay their taxes and clean their places and throw away the trash per the Gomi-Matrix... and were met with so much bull**** and resistance and lack of help that they broke, they said f*** it and they went away.

Japan, I want to have a positive memory of you. Please stop now, so we can salvage our relationship. It's been 9 years since I came here the very first time, and years before that where I was enamored with your thought, but the scales are tipping from love/hate to just hate... and I would hate for us to have to give up all we've had.

Please, for us.


Saturday, November 26, 2011


There was a time that I used to love to write. Whether it be poetry or prose, of import or of nonsense, writing was my way to express every emotion I experienced. In recent years, I find that I write for my own eyes -- afraid to share my thoughts for fear of hurting others or myself. I over-edit my writing, assuming that I can even bring the words through me onto paper or digital representation. 

Pain, anger, sadness... these are now the things that fuel a lot of what I write. But I don't want this to be how it always is. I would like to be able to harness the other emotions, as I once did before, to share with you who care to read my writing.

This morning, I had a long talk with my mother, through crappy "borrowed" Internet. The talk made me reflect on all the lives lost on March 11, here in Japan, when we were shaken to our very core by a huge earthquake unlike the modern world has ever seen. The earthquake heralded in a tsunami that stole the lives and livelihood from so many people -- and I, in Saitama, so far removed from the pain and fear and suffering of everyone there, could only watch on my 1-seg television on my cell phone, as everything up north was washed away.

I have thought about the lost lives off and on, of course, since March -- it has been 8, almost 9 months now, and today is the first time I felt like writing about the lost lives. I wrote a few months ago about my own experience of the earthquake, but that didn't at all address the true losses to this world.

I don't know what made me write what I did below, but this is for those who were directly affected by the tsunami on March 11. #PrayforJapan


I wake up this morning, and roll over, wanting to enjoy the warmth from my blankets and from the body of the man I love, lying beside me. I pull close to my beloved and see the stillness of his breath. He is resting so peacefully, it seems as if he will be asleep forever. And so, as not to disturb him, I sit up quietly and let my eyes adjust to the day's brilliance. I gaze up at the sky and wonder why I can see it so clearly. Surely, there has never been such a sky as this, like water color come to life --  delicate and bright and beautiful. I look around me, out at the watery silence, at the skeletons of buildings and the chaos the previous day had brought. 

I find myself thinking about my life before I woke up today and I realize that perhaps this is a very poignant thought. "Am I dead?", I wonder, as I turn again toward the body of my one and only and immediately, I know the answer to my question. This morning, I did not wake up from the comfort of my dreams. Instead, I was never asleep -- I had experienced the living nightmare of Mother Nature sweeping away everything I knew. This morning, wrapped in sheets of water and debris, only my mind is awake as not only my beloved's body, but also my own, continue to rest under the ceiling of water, sunlight deflecting and rippling and sending out rays to cut through the darkness. 

As much as I try to roll over and go back to sleep, hoping that this is naught but a nightmare from which I can awaken, I know that when I open my eyes again, nothing will have changed. I know the truth. I am dead. And I will continue to sleep here, next to my love, forever. 


Friday, November 25, 2011


This year, I spent Thanksgiving with an international group of friends. 11 people, hailing from Japan, Sweden, England and the US came together for an expensive little turkey, delicious stuffing, and  great company to celebrate the American tradition. It was lucky that Japan had a national holiday in the middle of the week that we could use to celebrate -- it wasn't Thanksgiving, but we were all thankful for the reprieve from school and work and to be eating some delicious food with good people.

While dessert was being passed around, we went around the room and said what we were thankful for. As I was in the middle of frying the apple won ton desserts, I didn't put much thought into what I said (frying and addressing a room of people at the same time is hard, you know!) and I thought I would put into writing the things for which I want to give thanks.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, nor do I list names or details -- but it's a start.

I am grateful for the life that I have, despite all the downs, it has an amazing amount of ups that makes being on this world amazing. 

I am thankful for my family -- not just the ones that are related to me by blood, but also the friends that I choose to keep closest to me. They put up with my mood swings and irrationality and while not always agreeing with my decisions, are there to wipe away tears, pick up my broken pieces and try to haphazardly super glue me back together. They are there to rejoice in my successes and share in the laughs and often, laugh at me instead of with me... but I guess that is what makes them endearing.

Even beyond my core group of besties who live all over the world, I am lucky to have friends and acquaintances, both online and IRL, who might not be there for everything, but still find a way to keep me moving forward. Without all of you, I am certain that I would be a much lonelier, much more misguided person. 

And I think more than anything, I am blessed for having so much love in my life. There are so many kinds of love, but regardless, I would say that many people spend their whole life wanting to be loved and to be able to love. And right now, at this moment, I can say with certainty that I am loved and that I do love. 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. 


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Nice to See You Again.

There are times when I pride myself on my ability to speak, to express, to capture a moment or an emotion or life in words.

And other times, I wish I could cut out my tongue to punish myself for my word choices that cause eruptions of flames and torrential rains and leaves me in a post-apocalyptic, self-admonishing hell.

In recent years, I find that I have become much more self-censored. What I would have said with little sugar or tact in the past, I coat in gallons of honey or simply don't say it at all. I have grown a type of filter that seems only to work when I least need it and when I need it most, manages to malfunction.

If only this filter had come with a control panel that would allow me to choose which situations or with whom it should shut me up. If only I had the self-control to hold my tongue before explaining or expressing something that I know will only result in devastation.

But instead, I find myself standing at a precipice, looking at the fall, and deciding it's worth jumping -- if it means that there is a chance someone can understand why I jumped.

So I jump, and I fall, and by the time I see the gathering clouds of smoke in the distance, giving evidence of the eruptions to come, it is too late.

Post-apocalyptic, self-admonishing hell, nice to see you again.


Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Home: What is it?

What does it mean to be "home"?

I have been thinking about this a lot lately for a variety of reasons and haven't found an answer, yet. I thought I could put my stream-of-consciousness out there and get some opinions on the matter from all of you.

I have lived the majority of my life in Hawaii, in various places with various people. The other not-majority of my life, I have spent in Massachusetts and Japan. In each of these places, I have experienced wonders and met adversity and had my life touched by both beautiful and ugly people. All of these places carry fond memories for me, but also can evoke within me the deepest, most painful emotions one can feel. Each time I head to any of these places (although it's been years since I was in Massachusetts), I get giddy and excited to be back. Yet, I also find that the longer that I stay in these places, the more restless I become. I find reasons to leave and then wonder if leaving was, indeed, the right choice.

If any of these places were my "home", would I keep wanting to walk away from them? Is it not that I am displeased with the place itself, but rather, that I am unsatisfied with myself or my life in that place? Or is it that I simply haven't found, yet, where I need to be? That I need to travel more and seek out where it is that I can finally settle, drop anchor, make myself truly at home? Are there people out there who never find this personal utopia? 

And in another train of thought, is "home" not a physical place at all? Is it a state-of-mind or sense of contentment? Or is it simply an understanding of or proximity to "things of importance"? Love, good friends, family, food, faith (for some)... 

It seems that sitting alone with my thoughts hasn't led in any real direction, unless "around in a circle" is considered a direction. 

I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on what "home" means or doesn't mean to you. Please, tell me. 

Home: What is it?


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Used and Abused - JLPT

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I will be taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) soon to prove my worth to Japanese companies. I have been studying pretty hard (for me) and was excited when I received in the mail an invitation to participate in the official JLPT Practice Test. Not only would I have the opportunity to:

1. Practice timing and test technique in a real-life situation
2. Get a good gauge for the difficulty or easiness of the test questions

I would also receive a whopping 2,000 yen for my trouble! -- if I would also be so kind as to take a survey or write an essay at the end of the practice test. It seemed too good to be true...

The Practice Test was held on Sunday, June 19 and after completing the experience, I realized it had made me feel used, abused... and worthless. How the hell, you ask? Let me explain.

The invitation to the Practice Test explained that I would helping Japan Educational Exchanges and Services refine the test and adjust it as necessary before the big day. Thinking that it could be no more painful than the test I had originally taken in December, I felt it could only benefit me to participate. How hard could it be to take a practice test and fill out a survey?

Unfortunately, I underestimated how difficult and brutal the experience would be. The practice exam was held at a university that is currently observing the nation-wide practice of 節電 or energy-saving, in an attempt to prevent national black and brown outs due to the crippled nuclear power plant in  Fukushima. While I fully support and admire the Japanese energy conservation efforts, it is my very strong opinion, that if energy-saving means that the air-conditioning must be turned off with the windows closed while hundreds of foreigners struggle with a 4-hour exam, 節電 can kiss my sweaty butt.

The conditions were torturous, at best.

And to make matters worse, the practice test was at least doubley as difficult as the actual exam I took in December. The first two hours of the exam, I was confident I had the correct answers for an overwhelming 5 questions. The second half, where I had originally been confident in 70% of my answers, I thought there was a chance I may have had 20% of the answers correct this time around.

And then, after I felt as though the JEES had had its way with me, mentally... the sheer impossibility of that test (to me) made me feel as though all the studying I had done had been in vain and that I, in fact, had been delusional this whole time about having any kind of Japanese language skills... they had me fill out a survey about my Japanese communication level.

They made me feel like nothing and then asked me if I liked it and if I thought I was any good. Then they gave me 2,000 yen for my humiliation and walked away laughing, knowing that in a few weeks, after they had adjusted the actual exam based on our collective results, that they would be laughing again when I come crawling back for another dose of torture.

I had willingly given myself to the JEES for the promise of a "good practice experience" and some change in my pocket. However, after I thought more carefully about how my talents, if I had any to begin with, were going to be used -- to adjust the exam and possibly make it more difficult -- I couldn't believe I had chosen to participate.

Having had a week to reflect on the experience, I realized that in the after-math, any confidence I had gained in my studies has now been diminished to non-existence. I feel beaten and bruised and find myself fearing July 3rd more and more. Every time my study partner mentions the number of days left until the exam, I find myself flinching like an abuse victim who fears another slap across the face.

I had been telling myself this whole time that this time, I got this. I will pass the JLPT and prove to myself (and the world?) that I have the skills needed to be considered capable of "Business Japanese." But after that beating... all I can think is, what am I doing?! Why am I going back? Do I really want to endure another experience like that and then, a few months from now, have it punctuated by another letter in the mail saying I did not pass?

Not really.

But I'm going to... in 6 days and counting. Shit.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Random Truths of the Moment

Back in the heyday of MySpace, people were constantly filling out About Me surveys. Most of the time, you didn't care what the person actually answered (or even what you answered, yourself), but it was a great time-killer and aided procrastinators the world over.

I feel like I don't see these things that often anymore, but I found one that I liked on a friend's tumblr and thought I'd steal it and post it.

This one is called Random Truths of the Moment. And it's just that. Whatever is true right now. And even better, all I had to do was bold what was true. No needing to think of clever or unexpected answers. Just bold.
Random Truths of the Moment.
Bold What’s True:

It’s night right now.     
There’s something else you should be doing at the moment.     
You ate chicken today.
You are lactose intolerant.
There’s a nearby TV on.
You get along with your neighbors.
Twilight is a horrible series.
You’re hungry right now.
You have worked out today.   
Running a mile sounds awful. (I’d love to be able to run a mile right now..)You have a job.
You love to bake Christmas cookies.   
Your parents are still together.
You woke up before 11 this morning.
Baths are better than showers. 
You are 5’5” or shorter.
You hate British accents.
Victoria’s Secret is a good store.
Cats are better than dogs.
The 90’s sucked.   
Your favorite color is either blue or purple.
Your hair is short.
You are by yourself right now.
The last thing you drank was water.
You’re in your PJ’s right now.
Your hair color is natural. (some of it is)
Fred from Youtube is annoying.
You don’t drink soda. (I rarely drink soda)
There’s at least 20$ in your wallet.
It’s cold out.
Orange juice is better than apple juice.
You love someone right now.
Video games are awesome.
Your sheets are white.
You have read works by Shakespeare before.
You’ve been professionally diagnosed with a psychological disorder.   
You know someone in the hospital right now.
You know someone who has beaten cancer.
Sneakers are your favorite shoes to wear.
Chocolate is better than vanilla.
You’re allergic to peanuts. 
You’ve never been to New York City.
You’ve never been on a varsity sports team.
You want to go to Europe. (back to Europe)You’re using a laptop right now.
Plastic surgery is a good idea. (in some cases)
Vanilla is the best scent a girl can wear.
You’ve made yourself throw up.
Your friends do drugs.
School is too early. 
Your nails have nail polish on them right now. 
You’re Italian.   
You have a tan right now.
You’ve been on a diet before.
You shop in plus sized clothing stores.  (I do sometimes in Japan)
Hot Topic is scary.
There are socks on your feet right now.
I’ve used a hair straightener.
Shopping online is easier than shopping in an actual store.
You’re in Verizon’s network.
Cheesecake is delicious.
Your BMI falls into the overweight category.
You have gotten your hair cut in the past month. 
Your birthday is within the next 2 months.
Comedies are better than action films.
Math is the best subject.   
You are fluent in more than one language.
You love Greek food. 
You consider yourself a picky eater.
You have more than 3 pillows on your bed.
You live with at least one parent.
You’re happy right now. (but not satisfied)You are a high school graduate.
You have a pet cat.
You were born before April 5th, 1991.
You have brown hair. (maybe? or black? not sure.)
You have blue eyes.
You are in a relationship. 
You can count to 20 in another language.
You have studied a foreign language.
You voted in the 2008 presidential election.
You own a vehicle that is older than a 2004.
You have worked 3rd shift.
You have worked in a fast food restaurant. (Does TCBY count as fast food?)
You drove somewhere that was further than a half hour away today.
You live in New Jersey.
You live in Montana
You live in Pennsylvania.
Your last name begins with an ‘M’.
Your middle name begins with a ‘C’.
Your first name begins with an ‘S’.
You are older than 19.
You are an only child.
Your parents are divorced.
You have more than one sibling.
You are a vegetarian.
You have a gym membership.
You are in the military.
You have a relative in the military.
You have been to Canada.
You have been to Mexico.
You have been to Europe.
You are currently enrolled in college/university. (Just on Saturdays for their Continuing Education Program)
You have done something you told yourself you wouldn’t.
You have/had braces. 
You wear contact lenses.
You have a tattoo on your ankle.
You have a tattoo on your wrist.
You have a tattoo on your lower back.
You have a tattoo on your upper arm.   
You have a lip piercing.
You have a tongue piercing.
You have your cartilage pierced.
You have curly hairYou have received flowers from someone in the last 2 months.   
You are engaged.   
You are married. 
You have children.  
You are an aunt or uncle. (to dogs)
Your bedroom walls are blue.
Your bedspread is red.
Your bedroom carpet is beige.
You have been drunk in the past 24 hours.  
You watch Scrubs.
You watch Jon & Kate Plus 8.
You watch American Idol.
You have been to the movies within the last month.
You have cursed in front of your grandparents.
You had a lunch box with a cartoon character on it when you were little.
You actually pay attention to politics.
You have kissed someone within the last week.
You were told you looked cute today.
You were hugged today.
Your best friend is the opposite sex. (some of them?)You have paid more than $100 on one item of clothing.
You had a date to prom.
You are a good speller.
You are always on time.
You have done something illegal within the last 24 hours.
You have ridden an elevator within the last 3 days.
You have spent the night at someone else’s house within the last 2 weeks.
You have been out of the country within the last year.   
You love Chinese food.  
You love Italian food. 
You love Mexican food.
You love country music.
You love rap.
You love hip hop.
You love punk rock.
You love hard rock.
You love metal.
You love classic rock.
You love bluegrass.  
You love oldies.
You love techno.
You love instrumental music.
You knew someone younger than 10 who passed away.
You have taken pictures of yourself just because you were bored.
You have been in a car wreck.   
You have had stitches.
You have a parent who is a teacher.  
You have a savings account.
You currently have a $2 bill in your possession.
You have dated someone who was 2 years younger than you. (went ON a date)
You have dated someone who was 2 years older than you.
You have broken up with someone for someone else.
You have been cheated on.
You are Mormon.
You are Buddhist. 
You are Agnostic.
You wish at 11:11. (sometimes)
You have had your current job for more than 3 months.
You have had your heart broken.
You broke someone else’s heart.
You felt bad about it.
You have an Aunt Karen. 
You have an Uncle Bill.
You have a cousin Sarah.
You have a cousin Adam.   
You have worked with a Danielle. 
You have ridden in a car with a Stephen.
You have hugged a Tiffany. 
You have kissed a Blake. (on the cheek, maybe)
You have had class with a David.
You have had a crush on an Emily.
You have dated a Derek.  
You have been neighbors with a Hannah.
You have done something just for the fact that you were old enough to.
You have been to a cemetery at midnight.  
You have been a vampire for Halloween.   
You have been a witch for Halloween.
You have been a pumpkin for Halloween. 
You have stayed up for 48 hours straight.
You have been to Walmart in the past 3 days.
You own a pair of scrubs.   
You own a cowboy hat.  
You own a leather coat.
You are missing someone right now.
You have been let down recently.
You have had someone you thought you could trust betray you.
You would rather have a one-night stand than a relationship.
You would rather win $500 from the lottery, than be a guest on a game show.
You have met someone famous.

Nothing deep, but it was fun.

This has been random truths of the moment.


Thursday, June 09, 2011

Japanese Language Proficiency Test

In America, most of us speak English -- albeit, some of us speak bad English -- but for the most part, we are considered "native speakers." Immigrants and foreign nationals who live in America, however, do not always speak our language and unless we are having some kind of communication issue with these non-English speaking individuals, I think many of us don't care that they can't speak the language.

I think this includes employers, as well. They don't care if an employee can speak English if the job doesn't really require English-based interaction with clients or customers. And in some cases, even when the job does require one to speak the language, it is often amazing how often you go through some fast food drive through and realize that you can't understand your order-taker and they have no idea what you're ordering! It's even more amusing when you, yourself, don't speak English all that well and are trying to place your order. (Case in point: Us kids used to make my mother, originally from Thailand, order our McFlurrys at McDonald's. Our mother can't say McFlurry at all. And in Ewa Beach, the Filipino employees never understood us, even when those of in the car who CAN say McFlurry tried to order. Funniest stuff in the world.)

In work places that have higher standards when hiring -- it's usually okay if you're not a native English speaker, as long as you can speak well enough and understand most of what's written. Many employers do not require documentation proving that you speak English -- they simply interview you and know that you do, based on the way you handle your interview. If you can communicate and are qualified for the job, "Congratulations, you're hired!"

Unfortunately, this is not how it works in Japan. For Japanese citizens to be hired for a job that requires the English language, they have to take a test called TOEIC and your score tells employers whether or not you have the English skills needed for the job.

And if you're a foreigner trying to find decent work in Japan, forget going into your interview and trying to razzle-dazzle your potential employer with your best keigo (honorific language) and pimp kanji skills. You can sound like a Japanese national and maybe even read better than one, but that's not enough to qualify you for the job of your dreams. No, no. You need to have pass the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test)

This spiffy test comes in five great levels (as of 2010) and if you want to be considered awesome, Levels 1 and 2 certifications are what you need to get your hands on. Twice a year (in Japan) and once a year (elsewhere), you get your chance to prove to the world -- or at least to Japanese companies -- that you have a handle on their language. And with these certifications, the seas part, and the world of decent paying positions become available to you and employers actually will take the time to listen to your plea of "Please hire me."

However, this is a Japanese-made test, which means that while this tests for reading and listening comprehension, the makers of this exam could give a flying monkey butt about whether or not you can speak the language. Here enter the Chinese nationals who can use their awesome reading abilities to pass the test, but can't say hello in Japanese. And here enter people like me who can talk and talk and talk and talk, but who suffers when it comes to kanji.

I had been to quite a number of job interviews and had gotten tired of hearing the same things over and over: You have the experience we are looking for. Your Japanese is very good. You don't have JLPT certification. Sorry, please contact again if you get this.

I studied my booty off and took the stupid JLPT in December 2010. And I.... FAILED by 2 points which is 1 question! Your actual percentage of correct answers does not determine whether or not you passed. If it did, I would have passed. Instead, they weight the questions -- awarding the most points to questions that most test-takers missed. And this, my friends, was my downfall.

So, my next chance at greatness is on July 3, 2011. I have enrolled in a weekly 2-hour prep course at Temple University Japan and am trying to study daily. Trying, of course, is the operative word. I really hope that I do well this time and ideally, pass. What this will mean for me? I don't yet know. But certainly, it'll give me some kind of personal validation -- and maybe some professional validation, too. That is, after all, why I began studying in the first place.

Count down to JLPT: 23 days. Wish me luck.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Mask

I'm sick. I feel like some of my closer friends reading this are saying, "Yeah, yeah, tell us something we don't know," but really, I think I have a cold.

I'm sneezing, sniffling, shivering, coughing, aching, but @fobkoa told me last night that I'm not feverish, so I'm leaning more toward cold, than flu.

Yesterday, I woke up knowing I was sick, took some American Dayquil, then figured that sleeping 16+ hours would be enough to have me wake up bright and chipper this morning. Alas, I was mistaken.

I spent a miserable hour commuting to work. Pants wet from the rain, sweating from the overheated train, trying my best not to go into a coughing or sneezing fit, for fear of not having fast enough access to the huge wad of tissue I stole from home and shoved into my bag. As the day has dragged on, I realized that man, I don't sound so good. My voice sounds strained, my breathing is rumbly, and I'm popping Honey Lemon Vitamin C Throat Lozenges like Dr. House pops Vicodin for his leg pains.

I debated about coming in today. Another 16 hours of rest and some overdosing of Vitamin C wouldn't hurt in helping me recover, but having just started a week ago, made me hesitate. That and Japan's obvious lack of sick-days. Perhaps it is because I have only ever been a contracted worker in Japan, but it seems as though Japan does not have sick-days. (For those that don't know, sick days are a set number of days per year that you can use to call in to work absent because you are sick, but still receive full pay for.) As a contracted worker, it seems there are two option: call in sick and not get paid or come in sick and get paid.

Japanese Face Mask
If you, like me, choose to come in sick, then it is Japanese custom to wear the obligatory face mask.

They are made of paper, with two lengths of elastic banding to be hooked behind your ears, and a thin metal wire along the upper length of the mask so that it can be molded around the bridge of your nose. The more expensive models have some other bells and whistles, like cushioned nose pads and easy-breathe medicated strips.

It is believed that wearing these masks helps to prevent the spread of whatever disease you're carrying. You see, unlike us selfish American types, who don't mind getting others sick if we can get well sooner, in Japan, they keep their sick germies to themselves so as not to infect the masses.

Upon coming to work and telling them that I was under the weather, I was directed to get one of these snazzy masks immediately, as well as pick up some medicine from the health room. Apparently, it's also believed that Japanese colds are best combatted with Japanese meds, and since I was already there, I got some meds along with my mask.

I don't know if these crazy masks really work. I know it makes it harder to breathe, makes my glasses fog up, and it gets really sweaty in there. Labored breathing and sweaty face are not exactly ideal working conditions, but if this is what I have to do to get paid for today, well... I'm trying my best to assimilate.

Maybe if I just tell myself that I'm pretending to be a ninja or cosplaying as a Japanese person, it'll be easier for me to "be in character."


Friday, May 20, 2011

No Mini-Skirts = No Suits

Today I started my new job.

I'm working on a contract basis via a placement agency for DeNA, Inc. They are the parent company for Mobage, Japan's currently most popular social network and mobile gaming company. Unfortunately, I'm not involved in game development or anything of the sort. Instead, although I'm currently title-less, I'm helping to develop the in-house English education program for their employees.

As DeNA, Inc. expands and works toward reaching the global, rather than the local market, they're finding that English is becoming more and more a necessity. This is where I come in -- to tailor the program to meet the individual needs of the bajillion employees who need to speak English. Yes, bajillion. That is a real number.

While Japanese companies are typically all navy-black suits, neckties, and 45-degree angled bowing, this company seems to want to move beyond that. Ok, maybe there are still opportunities where 45-degree angled bowing is appropriate -- I know I did a number of those bows today. They try to foster a creative, non-inhibiting environment by allowing their employees to dress more casually. They don't have to wear a button-down collared shirt, slacks and shiny shoes. Nice t-shirts and jeans or capri style pants and a not-so-fancy blouse seemed to be the norm. I even saw a few slippers!

You have no idea how exciting I find this to be!

Originally, I was told that I'd be working in a suit every day. I kept thinking, I don't have that many suits! And they'll notice if I wear the same 2 suits over and over! But since I was told today by a co-worker that they think it's weird that I was wearing a suit in the first place, my worries about dress code are over. Well, they did advise against wearing mini-skirts and camisoles to work (ugh, they read my MIND!), but I can compromise. If no mini-skirts means no suits, I'm down.

I will be commuting to work each weekday, for over an hour each way, and I'm still trying to figure out the best route. This means I have to head out early and come home late. But you know what? Who cares... at least I'm EMPLOYED!


Monday, May 09, 2011


For the last year, I have worked in various elementary schools as an English teacher. I worked with grades 1 - 6, as well as a mixed-age, mixed-level special needs group. For the most part, I enjoyed my time as a teacher. I found that I often was able to establish a good rapport with the students and homeroom teachers and it was rewarding to especially hear at the end of the year that the students have learned to love and look forward to their English classes.

However, I am no longer an elementary school teacher. At the moment, I am unemployed. Here's why:

When the large earthquake happened on March 11, 2011, it affected the TEPCO Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima. There was very real danger of a nuclear meltdown occurring. It was not going to be of Chernobyl proportions, but concerns about radioactivity affecting the food and water supply (and worse!) caused quite a stir in Japan, especially amongst the ex-pat community. Several embassies, in an excess of caution, had called for the immediate evacuation of their citizens from Japan. America did not ask for their countrymen to leave, but did offer voluntary evacuation options, going so far as to sponsor flights out to other Asian countries for Americans looking for immediate departure.

It was scary. No one knew exactly how imminent or ominous the dangers were. No one knew whether the damaged plant or the area around it could be saved. There were scares regarding the safety of drinking water for infants in the Tokyo area and bottled water, canned foods, rice and instant noodles disappeared off the shelves or jumped up significantly in price in some areas.

And of course, there was the lack of information and the overabundance of misinformation.

My family was understandably worried about my safety. They wanted me to leave immediately and were trying to find every possible way to get me the hell out of here. Unfortunately, I didn't feel that I could leave for a number of reasons. I was still on contract. My company, at the time, had my passport with them for visa renewal. @fobkoa's passport was lost and we were waiting for a new one. My having my passport reissued or leaving before the visa renewal process was finished would have tagged me as an illegal alien in Japan, resulting in my inability to re-enter the country for 10 years. Kekoa's family members were here, visiting. I have pets. Blah, blah, blah. And really, by most scientific (non-news media) source available, we were going to be okay.

I'm still not really sure if all of my family members understand why I stayed or forgave me for not obeying their wishes, but anyway, I stayed.

During this time, I was in the middle of negotiating my new contract with my old company. I honestly wasn't sure whether or not I would be staying in Japan. I mean, I wanted to -- and that's what I had told my family members -- but at the same time, I wasn't sure that I wouldn't succumb to the pressures of my family. I wanted to let them know I was okay and still, as sure as I said I was that I was safe, I wasn't really sure since no one was certain about the developing situation at the power plant.

So, I told my company that I was hesitant in re-contracting for another year. I feared that things would take a turn for the worst and that I would have to break contract. To me, it seemed better NOT to sign than to sign and then break contract. In the end, the deadline passed and the Board of Education for my area said that if I could not commit on that day, they would have to find someone to fill my position immediately, so the position would no longer be available to me. With some regret, I said that I could not commit 100%. With that, I became unemployed in a foreign country where, mind you, I am supporting not just myself, but another person, too!

A week after that, it seemed obvious that I would not be returning to Hawaii any time soon and that I needed to find a new job. That's when the search began. I applied to many places -- most of them, media related.

It's been about a month and a half since I've had a full-time position, although I do currently work part-time. I do have a job offer pending, about which I'll write when I have a signed contract in hand. Until then, it's about trying to make what I have in the bank last as long as possible -- but still enjoy my time here. And that's exactly what I'm trying to do.

As fun as it can be not to work and as stressful as it can be to work, I must say I would rather work and not have to worry about finances, than not work and always stress about whether or not it's okay that I'm going to spend $8 for 10 hours of karaoke when I could just stay home and save.

Ah well. Hopefully, things will work themselves out soon and I'll no longer be UNEMPLOYED. I'll keep you updated.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Poem: Impulsive

I was cleaning through my emails today and found a poem I wrote a few years ago, buried among the SPAM and miscellaneous unread emails. I don't really remember what inspired me to write it, but I remember I did so late at night, while walking around Manoa town to get my head straight and typing it on my Blackberry Storm. Very much after the fact, I am calling this poem, Impulsive.

It was written in December 2009.

Walking down a path, I come to a fork
And never stop to ponder why I turn left instead of right
I handle the trek, rough or smooth,
Obstacles or not, with little foresight
And when I find myself overwhelmed
At impasse or wide ravine
I focus on my journey
What I've done and what I've  seen
And realize I've done and seen almost nothing
And comprehended even less
And floored I am to understand that rarely have I tried "my best"
I think about the paths I've crossed and those I've met along the way
And can't understand how they saw my path as destination-bound. My path's astray
I'm wandering forward, no goals, no dreams, no destination planned
Quick, emotional decisions rule me
To my detriment, as I am stranded
Prisoner of my unreasoned turn and lack of plotting my next step
Shit, I'm not moving forward
Just because I change the surroundings doesn't mean there's movement yet
I look around and scream for help and find no answers in this place
Instead I find a mirror, reflecting my pathetic, tear-streaked face


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

March11, 2011: Tohoku Earthquake - 24 hours

Now that I finally got Blogger to properly point to my website, since they discontinued FTP publishing ages ago and I never got around to fixing it, I have decided that I will start blogging again. Granted, every time I say I'm going to blog regularly, that "regularly" ends up being every few months. Short term goal: Once a month. Long term goal: Once a week. We'll see how that goes.

Anyway, as you all know, on March 11, 2011, Japan was hit by a huge earthquake, a magnitude of 9.0 on the Richter Scale. I was sitting in the staff room at Tsuragaoka Elementary School when the earthquake occurred. It was about 2:45 pm, I had finished classes for the day and the students were packing up their things and preparing to leave in their groups to go back home.

Then the world started swinging and swaying and my coffee cup (full of tea) started to dance across my desk. Those of us in the staff room, including the Principal and Vice Principal of the school, stood there -- mentally assessing the situation. Is it just a regular earthquake? No, this one is rocking us hard. Hard enough for me to decide to tweet:

monchalee steiger
EARTHQUAKE!!! 地震!!! 
11 Mar via web Favorite Reply 

Hard enough for the Principal to call for an immediate emergency evacuation of all 700+ students and 50+ teachers. And those kids evacuated in record time -- faster than any of the fire drills we'd had before. They ran out with their 防災頭巾 (their emergency evacuation hoods) and nothing else.
Japanese Evacuation Hood
700 children, looking like 700 silver-hooded Martians, streamed out into the open field. No bags, no outdoor shoes -- Japanese students have a different pairs of shoes for indoors and outdoors -- and more importantly and most tragically, no winter coats. The weather that day was frigid, gray and windy. And those poor children sat there, some of them in just their P.E. uniforms, which consist of just a cotton T-shirt and shorts, as the world shook around them. For hours.

After about 30 minutes of being outside in the cold, with seemingly no aftershocks, those in charge decided to have 4th graders and 6th graders (whose classrooms are situated on the ground level) enter the building to retrieve their coats and house keys. However, as they entered the building, a strong aftershock occurred and the students re-evacuated in a panic. 

I spent most of the time in our evacuated state, talking with the 2nd graders. I had taught their classes that day -- a mix of vehicles and The Beatles song Hello, Goodbye. I was proud of them. Most of them stayed calm and I enjoyed their take on the situation: ねぇ、先生?これは先のオーノーのことだよね!Or: Hey teacher? This is that "Oh no!" situation you told us about earlier, isn't it? In The Beatles song we'd learned that day, there is a line that says "Oh no!," which when sung with appropriate hand movements and facial expressions, quickly becomes the best part of the song to children. I guess it's nice to know they learned something?

After a few hours and a number of false starts, children were eventually made to return home in large groups or with their parents. Students whose parents would not be home were not allowed to leave -- or were made to leave with neighborhood adults. And still, most of them had no winter coats or jackets.

I stayed to help clean up the office a bit and then headed home, to find an empty apartment, seemingly still intact. I hadn't heard from my boyfriend, @fobkoa, or from my friends in the area. Cell phone lines were busy or shut down, except for emergency calls. Messages by phone could be sent, but not received. Thankfully, electricity and Internet in my area were unaffected. I flipped on the television to watch, in horror, as footage of a tsunami that resulted from the huge earthquake, engulfed towns and distinguished lives. I had no idea that any of this was happening -- I had been on the field with the children up until this point, with no access to news. I logged on to Skype and to gMail/Google Talk and called my Mommy and good friend, @titusofalltime, in Hawaii and waited for contact from @fobkoa. Poor @fobkoa's mother and sister were visiting us, at the time, and I later found out that they were stuck in Akihabara. Trains weren't running, so there was no way home, and they spent the night huddled together for warmth on the floor of some building with a nice bathroom. They arrived safely in our area the next afternoon.

At some point, @mekorin, a friend who lives in the area, and his mother, showed up at my doorstep. They had walked from the city of Kawagoe. The earthquake had interrupted his graduation ceremony -- he was graduating from Honda Technical College -- and on top of that, had forgotten his house key, so could not return home. He and his mother ended up spending the night. His girlfriend, @momochidango, was MIA for hours -- we didn't hear from her until the wee hours of the morning. We found out that she had been trapped in an elevator at Lakeland College and that the elevator had fallen 1.5 floors when the emergency stop didn't work. She walked from the school to Ikebukuro, after receiving medical attention, and made it home on the first train back to our area. She was apparently unscathed and not shaken by the event -- she still rides elevators, so I guess it wasn't that traumatic for her?

Thankfully, those close to me escaped with no real injuries, although I heard from a friend who lives closer to the epicenter, that he got hit in the head with a coffee mug. Obviously, the effects of the earthquake are still being felt and as things got sorted out, new emergencies surfaced: namely the TEPCO Nuclear Power Plant Crisis in Fukushima

I will continue this blog later... with more about my experiences since March 11, 2011, but this covers the first 24 hours from the moment the earthquake hit. 

Just wanted to catalog it.