Nomadic Life

I’ve just moved house for the 21st time. Yes, since leaving the comfort of my parents’ nest 18 years ago, I have moved 21 times…including five country moves. On my recent endeavour to donate blood, the nurse made the mistake of trying to write the list of countries I’ve travelled to in one small box. He caved after the first ten, when his hand started cramping, and went in search of another piece of paper. That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to my nomadic life…

As a nomad, I find myself constantly grasping for a word in conversation and claiming it from another language or culture…saying dollar instead of pound, duvet instead of doona and I still feel the urge to say itadakimasu every time I sit down to a meal. I won’t even get started on the arguments I have with hubby about vegetable names…or the great pants vs trousers debate. He practically applauded me the other day for saying flip flops instead of thongs…showing just how rarely I get the context of my vocabulary correct. These days, talking to me is like having a conversation with Google Translate on a slow internet connection.

Establishing yourself in a new place is tiring when you’re a nomad…you need to seek out a new doctor, dentist, gym and hair stylist in every location you decide to set down vague roots. The result? I cut my own hair, the Olympics come around more frequently than my dentist visits and I’m contemplating prerecording my medical history for all future doctor’s appointments.

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As a nomad, I’ve come to realise that not all clothing sizes are created equal. In Australia I am a size 10…in the UK a 10-12 (the Heathrow Injection)…and in Japan, a size 20,000. The only item of attire I managed to purchase successfully in the Land of the Rising Sun were (men’s) Converse shoes. I gave up on clothing after buying a pair of XXL stockings, only to try them on and find the crotch taking up residence somewhere around my knees.

I married a Scotsman…who I met in Japan. If that doesn’t scream nomad, then I don’t know what does. When we tied the knot, I signed up to an ongoing life of long haul flights, missed family Christmases and birthday wishes sent from afar…and a day (week?) early or late. Hubby and I have conversations about which country to raise our (distant) future children in…realising that our decisions will impact their education, their access to extended family and will even dictate their accent.

A skill my travelling life does afford me, is knowing exactly which seat to choose on a long haul flight for maximum space, minimal noise and avoidance of the ‘toilet waft’. And trust me when I say, order a special meal. It’s worth it for no other reason to see your hungry neighbour give you the evil eye while you happily munch away with all the kiddie meal recipients.

When you are a nomad, no one believes you are staying for long. Ever. I start having heart palpitations unless I have some kind of trip planned…the walls start closing in and I feel suffocated. I experience cabin fever, post holiday blues and the travel itch like other people come down with a common cold. Nomads like me are a strange breed that thrive on change and look forward to the unknown. Unless the unknown ends up being a snoring neighbour in a hostel or a missed flight home from Barcelona, that is.

As a 34 year old nomad, I don’t own a house. Or a car (the one time I briefly owned a car, it didn’t end well). Hubby and I just bought our first real piece of furniture…a bookcase to hold the mountain of books I’ve been squirrelling away in Mum and Dad’s spare room over the years (I’m starting the think a Kindle might not be such a bad idea). A while ago, I calculated that if I’d saved all the money I have spent on travel over the years, I would have had enough for a deposit on a house. That’s probably two deposits by now…

Instead of a house, I have travel journals full of concert tickets, flight itineraries and memories of adventures had. I have a collection of used passports and stashes of leftover currency from countries visited. I don’t need a house…pieces of my heart are scattered all over the globe with the people and places I love. My home is with them and I will always adore my nomadic life.

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‘Straya

Well, it has now been three months since I left the shores of Australia (once again) to return to the United Kingdom. My nomadic ways continue and after three years back in the country where I was born, it is time for the next adventure to start…with my new husband. Yes, that’s right…things have changed since I last wrote two years ago (appalling I know), but that’s a post for another day.

14 weeks have passed since I left the sunshine, bugs and sweltering humidity of a Queensland summer to launch myself into the grey, cold clutches of wintery Yorkshire. Don’t get me wrong…I love the UK and my freckle spattered skin prefers the climate here too. But with every siting of a double decker bus or snowflake, comes the reminder of how different this place is to Australia. Which got me thinking…what is it that makes ‘Straya so unique?

‘Straya is a place where we love to leave couches on our footpath, even when Kerbside Collection isn’t coming around for another year…

‘Straya is a place where people fall into one of two camps…those that get Southern Cross Tattoos…and those that hate them…

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‘Straya is a place full of people with a keen and sophisticated sense of humour…

‘Straya is where we abbreviate everything

And you have to listen hard to catch what we actually mean…

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‘Straya is a place where we try to put a ‘z’ in every name possible…from Dazza (Darren) to Lozza (Lauren) and Kezza (Kerryn).

‘Straya, where shoes are optional…

Here in ‘Straya, we tell it how it is…

Everything can kill you in ‘Straya…

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In ‘Straya, we like…err…

This could be your neighbour in ‘Straya…

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We’ll try Vegemite with anything in ‘Straya…

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You can judge a person by their number plate in ‘Straya…

In ‘Straya, our bins are bird proof, not bomb proof…

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‘Straya is full of excellent drivers…

In ‘Straya, comfortable clothing is encouraged…

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And lastly…you can take the girl out of Australia, but you can’t take ‘Straya out of the girl…

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Picture This…

Yes, I know…long time no post. I’ve been home in Australia for three and a half months now and paperdoll has taken a backseat to the adventures of resettling back into life here. I admit it…and I apologise. What can I say? I love being home and every time I sit down to write paperdoll I get distracted by…well…everything.

Having said that, lately the first signs I may be missing Japan have crept in (natsukashi)…it started with a craving for ramen…then there was an emotional reaction to a letter from one of my past students…and let’s not forget that living with my parents again has me pining for my 42m² Japanese apartment. Every. Single. Day.

Yes, I have begun to miss Japan and all of it’s crazy, quirky ways. But much like A Picture Says a Thousand Kanji, when I am missing Japan and need a fix, I can just picture this

Sleeping in Japan

Japanese student letter

English signage in Japan

Japanese dessert

Stretching

Dashboard

Takeout menu

Japanese antenna

Japanese fashion

Japanese Kit KatsEnglish sign in Japan

Japanese laundry

English in Japan

Japanese Hello Kitty Mask

Japanese shredder

Japanese Aquarium sign

Japanese glitter suits

Japanese Pepsi flavour

Japaese toilet paper

Japanese Clothing Engrish

Japanese fashion

Funny English in Japan

Japanese Architecture Osaka

Japanese Beauty Products

Japanese giant vegetables

Japanese sign

Train etiquette in Japan

Japanese gift explanation

Japanese fashion

Japanese trinkets

Japanese fashion

English textbook Japan

Japanese ice cream

Japanese toilet slippers

English in Japan

Japanese fashion

Japanese signage

Japanese cars

English in Japan

English in Japan

English in Japan

Japanese fashion

Japanese beauty products

Japanese toilets

The Good, The Bad and The Aussie…

In case you didn’t hear me shouting the news from the rooftops, I finally got off that island (Japan). I escaped from the bubble. I jumped ship. I got the truck out of dodge. After three years of life as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher), I hitched a flight home to Australia and those people who had begun to forget they’re my family. Some of you might be wondering what will happen to paperdoll now that I’m back? Surely without 400+ junior high school kids and the perils of culture shock to contend with every day, I mustn’t have much to write about now? I beg to differ…

I’ve only been back in Australia a month, but I’m already experiencing reverse culture shock after living abroad for six years (yes, there were another three years in the UK too…my addition skills aren’t that bad). So you see I’m home…but I feel like a foreigner in my own country. Even my family can’t believe I’m back for good and I swear my mother keeps pinching herself every time she sees me (which is a lot…since I’m living with my parents again…but that’ll be a whole other blog entry).

Right now, Japan and the UK are my most recent reference points for home and Australia is this strange land I am getting reacquainted with. As I get resettled, I will continue to write about my aventures in Japan (I still have so much to say about it all) and these new experiences of reverse culture shock…or as I’m now calling it…the good, the bad and the Aussie

The Good…

My family.

It’s the end of April…mid Autumn, with winter coming…and it’s around 25°C every day. Forget hellish Japanese winters!

NO MORE SQUAT TOILETS.

Squat_toilet_Japan_culture_shock

The Bad…

Green tea in Australia sucks. Period.

Red lights actually mean stop, not three-more-people-can-make-it-through-the-intersection-still.

No road cones to feed my weird addiction…

The Aussie…

People wave acknowledgements of kindness from their cars instead of bowing or flashing their hazard lights.

I can say spesh, noice, netty, chook, suss, arvo, sanga, Maccas, cuppa and all other manner of Aussie slang and be understood.

Meat pies.

The Good…

The earth doesn’t shake every day…or…well…ever.

I don’t have to eat rice.

I now work for myself and I love it (WARNING: imminent, shameless self promotion: threefold.com.au)

The Bad…

Australia stinks…literally. After living in Japan I can’t handle strong fragrances anymore.

The speed limit is actually the speed limit.

NO ORIGAMI PAPER.

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The Aussie…

Everyone is up for a chat…the postman, the checkout chick and the pizza guy…

Men. With the ability to grow facial hair. With muscles. With height. With masculinity. Enough said.

Tim Tams, Vegemite, Caramello Koalas…nomnomnom…

The Good…

Anonymity. Sweet anonymity.

One word…organic.

I keep reaching for XL size clothing in stores…only to remember I’m not a giant in this country.

The Bad…

I can feel my Japanese ability leaching out of my brain with every English conversation I have.

Small showers.

No fan club of adoring teenage kids to stroke my ego every day.

The Aussie…

Competitive sport.

Fresh, un(less?)polluted air.

Thongs are things people wear on their feet and there aren’t many Kiwis, Americans or Brits around to refute the point.

The Good…

I can enjoy a restaurant meal without having cigarette smoke billowing in my face.

I don’t have to carry a wad of cash around in my wallet (though the card charges from my first night out in Australia might make this a moot point…).

I sleep on a bed…not the ground.

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The Bad…

No rainbow of KitKat flavours…though this might in fact be a good thing…

My Converse addiction will cost me double than what it did in Japan.

No amusing Engrish.

kinkakuji toilet sign

The Aussie…

Triple J music.

The Hills Hoist in the back yard…which virtually snap dries my clothing immediately.

This…

Still, Only in Japan…

…are VPL (Visible Panty Lines) acceptable in public…or at all.

…are Lilo & Stitch actually popular.

…are snowmen made of only two parts and not three.

Japanese Snowman

…are people only considered sick if they have a fever.

…are you expected to fully wash yourself before getting into a bath.

…are aprons a fashion statement for housewives.

Still, only in Japan…

…does sock glue need to exist.

Girl's gotta have sock glue...

…do shop assistants yell ‘irashaimase’ (welcome) at you repeatedly throughout the duration of your time in their store.

…do elementary school children raise their hand in the air to cross the road.

…does using your hazard lights give you the ability to break any traffic law without penalty.

The hazards of driving in Japan

…do most houses not have an oven.

…do construction workers warm up before starting work with a stretching routine that resembles the YMCA.

…do people’s car dashboards look like a Disney Store shopfront.

Shoe horn?

Still, only in Japan…

…is playing the pokies/slot machines deemed an enjoyable pastime for people under retirement age.

…is it considered rude not to slurp your noodles/soup/tea/any edible substance.

…is Christmas celebrated with KFC and sponge cake.

KFC Christmas

is dancing illegal.

…is there an irrational fear of bugs.

…is a 2.4km race referred to as a ‘marathon’.

Still, only in Japan…

…can peanuts appear on the school lunch menu at least once a month without a student going into anaphylactic shock or their parents suing the school.

…can a person face jail time if a stranger drinking in the same bar as them gets behind the wheel of his car and breaks the law.

…can you make a sport out of sumo and geisha spotting.

Sumo spotting

Geisha stalking

…can I step out of my front door, walk 100 metres in any direction and find a vending machine.

…can trying to heat your apartment become a game of Russian roulette.

…can you find cleaning products sold in gift sets.

Cleaning gift pack? Oh, yes please!

Still, only in Japan…

…will people send New Years cards, as opposed to Christmas cards.

…will you find people own cars bigger than their apartments.

Giant car

…will the movie title ‘This Means War’ be changed to ‘Black & White’.

…will a cars be given names like ‘moco’…which means ‘booger’ in Spanish.

…will you see teenage boys being more openly affectionate with each other than dating couples.

Still, only in Japan are there so many cultural quirks that I could write this threequel to ‘Only in Japan’ and ‘Again, Only in Japan’

A Hard Pill to Swallow

Here in Japan, I avoid going to the doctor like I avoid dating J guys. Aside from my yearly compulsory medical check, I’ve only been twice since my arrival (my last experience during The Cold War is still fresh in my mind). I don’t think anyone likes going to the doctor, but with the additional cultural and language differences, the encounter can become a complete nightmare.

So you can imagine my delight when I realised my contraceptive pill was running low. Trying to avoid a visit to a J doctor, I tried (and failed at) all other possible methods of pill acquisition (save a flight back home, that is). Alas, since my doctor in Australia wouldn’t write a prescription for my sister to mail me (something about it being illegal to send prescription drugs overseas? Pfft), I knew I had to face the unwanted challenge of seeing a doctor here yet again.

I had been warned that getting the pill in Japan would not be as easy as back home (a once a year visit to my GP for a blood pressure check and the $20 repeat prescription) and sure enough, Japan did not disappoint. In fact, the whole experience was a hard pill to swallow

Pill 1. 8:35am, arrive at clinic full of people…forgot that 8:30am opening time in Japan means queuing from 7am.

Pill 2. Make self known to reception, where five staff members (and aforementioned full waiting room of people) stare at me. Whisper discreetly the need to see gynecologist (can’t just see GP for the pill in Japan).

Pill 3. Reception lady asks something in incomprehensible Japanese. Look at her with confused expression. Nicer lady comes to the rescue and am asked in easy Japanese if this is first visit to the clinic.

Pill 4. When answer yes (surely obvious as am quite distinct), am given complicated form to fill out asking kanji, kanji, kanji. Fill out the few questions possible: name, gender, smoke?, drink? (realise the 600+ kanji learned to be Tried and Tested are of absolutely no use).

Pill 5. Return form to five sets of beady eyes at reception, apologising for inability to read form. Nice Lady proceeds to ask loudly, in front of entire waiting room, as to the reason for need to see gynecologist (am teaching 434 kids in a town with a population of 48,000…at least one student’s uncle’s cousin’s father’s daughter was listening to exchange).  Am utterly mortified and no longer think of her as ‘Nice Lady’.

Pill 6. Told to wait for name to be called. Wait. Waiting room of people stare at me (glad others are entertained).

Pill 7. Hour later, name is called. Am ushered into doctor’s office by Short Nurse.

Pill 8. Dr.G (as he will be referred to…due to lack of self introduction) points to chair, proceeds to ask questions about medical history without eye contact or remote hint of friendliness.

Pill 9. Dr.G asks many personal questions. Married? Have kids? Want kids? Want the pill so don’t have kids? All the while scribbling notes. No actual medical examination carried out…not even blood pressure check. Find this mildly concerning.

Pill 10. Dr.G asks if one sheet of the pill is sufficient (month’s worth). Heard from Dr.Japanese Friend this is standard, but if pushed, three month prescription might be issued. Stare Dr.G down, not relishing thought of  repeating torture (and expense) every month for remaining time in Japan. He offers two sheets. Continue to stare him down. He relinquishes and offers three sheet prescription.

Pill 11. Manage to communicate to Dr.G that regular Japanese pill is not acceptable (have heard stories of side effects and lack of effectiveness). Request equivalent to current Australian pill. Dr.G approves of challenge…possibly only one in his week. He takes Australian pill packet and am told to wait in reception while investigation carried out.

Pill 12. Am approached by Short Nurse in the waiting area…assume to provide an escort back in to see Dr.G. No such luck. Short Nurse returns Australian pill packet in front of entire waiting room. Die a little inside.

Pill 13. Am then informed (loudly, in front of everyone) that equivalent pill was found, Dr.G had called pharmacy and is not in stock. Am directed by Short Nurse to pay for doctor’s visit and see pharmacy next door to resolve delivery.

Pill 14. Pay ¥3,500 for humiliating affliction (am not charged by doctor at home) and breath sigh of relief when leave clinic.

Pill 15. Am braced for more humiliation as enter pharmacy. Am surprised when greeted by lovely pharmacist who sits and (discretely) reads the a form of kanji, kanji, kanji questions to ascertain allergies etc. Decide to like pharmacy better than clinic.

Pill 16. Am told prescription will arrive in a week. Leave pharmacy completely drained from morning of exposure and repeated humiliation.

Pill 17. Return to pharmacy week later to pick up pill. Greeted by different pharmacist who thinks Japanese is easier to understand when yelled. Abhor being talked to like deaf person (have perfect hearing…last medical check proved it).

Pill 18. Deaf Talker pulls out pill packets in front of waiting room of people and proceeds to give five minute lecture on how to use the pill (feel like stupid teenager when in fact have been using the pill for ten years). Reevaluate previous estimation of pharmacy being happy place.

Pill 19. Pay ¥6,500 for three month pill prescription. Leave.

Pill 20. Weigh up stress and emotional pain of repeating procedure in three months versus a pill-less life.

Pill 21. Take a look at pill packet when arrive home. Contemplate hysterectomy.

Backchat…

Last week was the first week back at school after summer break…and a lengthy six weeks off. After the freedom of such a leisurely lifestyle, the start of school was probably more dreaded by ALTs than students (who pretty much still have to go to school every day  in that time). When school went back, Facebook became the soapbox from which ALTs could moan about the misery of hot classrooms, hours of sports day practice and early starts once again.

I on the other hand (surprisingly), was pretty excited about my first week back at school. I had actually missed the kids (well…not all of them) and was looking forward to catching up with my teachers after my ‘Soba Up‘ experience. With all this anticipation I must have been exuding some good vibes, because in my first week back, I have been rewarded with some interesting and amusing back chat both in and out of school…

First day, first lesson back…

Me: ‘How was your summer vacation?’

Student: ‘It was great!’

Me: ‘What did you do?’

Student: ‘I did sex!’

In the teachers’ room…

Me (in Japanese): ‘Excuse me, T Sensei? (who I haven’t spoken to since my bike had a puncture two months ago) I have a favour to ask you…’

T Sensei: ‘Yes, what is it?’

Me: ‘Well, umm, it seems as though my bike has a puncture again…and well…you look really busy…but I was just wondering…if you could…maybe…?’

T Sensei: Shaking his head and laughing, ‘You want me to fix it again?’

Me: ‘Yes, I’m really sorry! You don’t have to do it now, just whenever you have time is ok.’

K Sensei (who was listening in to the entire exchange decides to offer his two sents worth in English): ‘Carla Sensei, no problem!’ Pointing to T Sensei, ‘Professional!!!’ Laughing.

T Sensei: Gives K Sensei a death stare and immediately goes and fixes the puncture on my bike.

I felt so bad about T Sensei that I left this ‘thank you’ present on his desk the next day…

At the grocery store after school, a little old man sidles up next to me as I’m bagging my groceries…

LOM: ‘Konnichiwa!‘ Smiling broadly at me.

Me: ‘Konnichiwa’ Smiling back.

LOM: ‘Chikaku (Do you live nearby)?’

Me: ‘Hai, chikaku ni sunde imasu (Yes, I live nearby).’

LOM: ‘Aparto (In an apartment)?’

Me: ‘Hai, aparto desu (Yes, in an apartment).’

LOM: ‘Sayonara!’ Walks away smiling.

In class with my third year students…

O Sensei: ‘Ms.Carla, what did you do during summer vacation?’

Me: ‘I went to Morioka and did the Wanko Soba Challenge. I ate 60 bowls of soba.’

36 students simultaneously move their eyes from my face to my stomach.

At the teachers’ drinking party with the second year social science teacher (who may have a slight thing for me)…

SS Sensei: ‘If I could take you on a date, first we’d go for a walk in the park. Then we’d go and eat spaghetti. Then I’d take you to karaoke and sing ‘Karma, karma, karma, karma, karma, c’mooooooon Caaaaaarlaaaa.’

Lunch with Class 3-1…sitting next to Ayumi…

Ayumi: ‘Summer vacation. Australia.’

Me: ‘You went to Australia in summer vacation?’

Ayumi: ‘Yes, yes!’ Screwing up her face, ‘Hamburger, on, red vegetable…NO LIKE!!!’

Me: Giggling, ‘Ahh, you don’t like beetroot?!’

Ayumi: ‘Yes, yes! NO LIKE!!!’

In the third year hallway between classes…

Female Student: Pointing to male student, ‘Up, up!’

Me: ‘What? He got taller over summer?’

Female Student: Looking disgusted, ‘Noooooooo! Dick up!’

On the sports field practicing for sports day with Kazuki…

Kazuki: Grinning upon seeing me, ‘Ms.Carla, Ms.Carla!!!’

Me: ‘Hi, Kazuki!’

Kazuki: Looking very excited and gesturing a lasso above his head, ‘Ms.Carla. Cowboy game, c’mon!’ Dragging me out to the middle of the sports field.

Me: ‘Ok, Kazuki…teach me. What do I do?’

Kazuki: ‘Ball, guruguru’ Repeating his lasso gesture with a rope and ball in hand, ‘Hit!’ Pointing to a road cone sitting on a desk about four metres away.

I complete the task, knocking the cone off the desk on my first attempt. I turn around to be greeted to applause from the entire second grade…they had been watching the whole time.

At the teachers’ drinking party…schmoozing with the big guys…

Sports Sensei: ‘Carla, you’re drinking red wine tonight?’

Me: ‘Well, I was drinking beer, but now I’m drinking red wine. I prefer red wine.’

Vice Principal: ‘Yes, Carla is a strong drinker!’

During English class with 3-4…

Me: ‘Yudai, you have to write your name in English on your worksheet.’

Yudai: Gives me a blank look (Yudai is a jock and a low level student who is notorious for distracting the whole class).

Me: ‘Kengo, can you please show Yudai how to write his name in English?’

Kengo: ‘Sure!’ Writes ‘Youdie’ and grins at me proudly.

It’s now the second week back at school and as the heat continues I hope this back chat does too…

You Know You’ve Been in Japan Too Long When…

…your body suffers withdrawal symptoms after a day without rice.

…you accidentally write ‘r’ instead of ‘l’.

…you’ve become obsessed with ridding your home of ninja insects.

…you own more chopsticks than cutlery.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

…you have permanent RSI from filling out forms.

…you choose green tea over black.

…you get excited about curry rice for school lunch.

…you deem a trip to Starbucks or McDonald’s a ‘Western fix’.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

…you’ve taught three kids…from the same family.

…you know the names of any Arashi members.

…you fold your rubbish.

…you’ve collected so many key rings you prefer to use your spare key instead.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

…’Oh, Japan’ has become common vernacular.

…you forget that aprons should not be worn in public.

…you’ve begun to curse Ibaraki drivers.

…your list of hobbies include purikura, origami and misanga.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

…sleeping on a bed has become a novelty.

…studying for the next JLPT is a way of life.

…you have in your possession an umbrella (or many) of unknown origin.

…you contemplate climbing Mt.Fuji for a second time. Or worse, a third time.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

…eating Chinese food feels like a variation in diet.

…you’ve tried at least some of the buttons on the NASA toilets.

…your Japanese speaking ability begins to surpass your English one.

…you feel the compulsion to produce bunny ears in every photo.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

natto and/or umeboshi become palatable.

…you can read katakana easily.

…you’ve contemplated buying (or have bought) a matching Adidas tracksuit.

…you lock your bike, but leave your wallet/phone/valuables in the basket.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when most of your conversations end in ‘I need off this island’.

Asian Fever

I have fallen victim to a very serious condition. Much like my Instagram addiction, I’ve been denying it for quite a while now…but I can’t hide it any longer. After two years of living in Japan, I believe I have finally been struck down with Asian Fever.

The Urban Dictionary describes Asian Fever (or the more politically incorrect, Yellow Fever) as an affliction where a westerner finds themselves inextricably attracted to those of Asian descent. It is shocking to learn then, that I have become a casualty of this fate…given my vehement claims that I had absolutely no attraction to Asian men…well, until this revelation.

So why am I only now, after 30 years without Asian Fever, suddenly a sufferer?! Is it all the flattery and attention I receive from the men I meet here (no, not just from Yuji)…the claims that I am ‘charming’, ‘endearing’ and ‘beautiful’ finally going to my head? Has it just been that long since I’ve had any action, things are getting desperate?! Or maybe it’s a case of Stockholm Syndrome…I’ve been a captive of Japan for so long it’s started to skew my view of the world…and men? Whatever the reason, I am definitely showing all the symptoms of a raging Asian Fever

Symptoms

It’s no coincidence that my symptoms started to present during Ms. French Black Belt’s visit during spring break.  I have no hesitation in blaming her for triggering what was clearly a latent strain of the fever in my bloodstream. In her two short weeks here she had me changed…feeding me subtle comments like ‘Oh, look at him, he’s cute!’, until I was brainwashed and was checking out J boys at every turn.

I realised the fever had taken a firm hold when I almost fainted at the sight of around a hundred sumo wrestlers on the platform of Shin-Osaka Station towards the end of my spring travels. Not only was I attracted to Asian men, apparently I also found the notion of dating a sumo wrestler appealing too. What the…?!

The symptoms only worsened from there and I was at the point of needing hospitalisation when I gave my number to a J boy for the very first time a week or so after the sumo sighting (at the encouragement of Ms. French Black Belt, of course). It didn’t help that later text messaging with said J boy revealed that he is in fact a semi-famous soccer player…Asian Fever plus a strand of Starstruck could not result in a good prognosis…

Prognosis

Logically, one might think that catching Asian Fever would be a good thing for me (if you disregard all those rumors about Asian men…you know the ones). For starters, it should widen my pool of datable men in Japan considerably. Secondly, as a side effect of dating J boys, surely it might be an opportunity to improve my Japanese language skills? Lastly, what better way to get the full experience of Japanese culture then to date one of Japan’s native inhabitants?!

Well, logic does not apply here (it is Japan after all) and the prognosis is not good. You see, I may now be attracted to Japanese men, but that hasn’t changed the type of man I am attracted to. Since contracting Asian Fever I have been drawn to precisely four Japanese men. All tall, all heavily into sport and of muscular/athletic build. What I have just described rules out about 98% of the Japanese male population as my type of guy.

It’s not only the fact that I am twice the size of most Japanese men that is a problem with having Asian Fever (there’s good reason why Asian Fever usually applies to western men being attracted to Asian women). There are other factors that cause complications with this disease too…

Complications

Japanese people are workaholics. They work crazy hours, often working weekends and very rarely take vacations. This is complication number one of having Asian Fever…Japanese men do not have time for me in their lives. And that’s just those with normal jobs, like teachers. Imagine the grueling schedule of the aforementioned soccer player? Professional sportsmen (I have learned) come with their own set of unique complications…unscheduled training sessions, away games, injuries, public appearances…the list goes on.

One of the most disturbing complications of having Asian Fever is that…let me be very clear…in my experience, Japanese men can be very dishonest. A good portion of the male teachers at my school have declared their undying love for me…telling me they would happily cheat on their wives with me. Yeah…that’s what I thought too…even through the haze of alcohol. The majority of Japanese men I meet are married, betrothed or have long term girlfriends. Not that this is considered a complication for them…did I mention that the soccer player has a girlfriend of seven years who he intends to marry someday?!

So with these complications, the chances of me surviving Asian Fever has dropped to about 0.03%. With this dire statistic, what are my treatment options?

Treatment

I’m fairly sure a doctor would say at this point ‘there’s nothing more we can do, it’s time for you to go home‘. Which I will be doing…in a little over nine months. But what are my treatment options until then?

Option 1: Believe in the impossible. This option calls for me to forget the odds, get out there and attempt to date J boys regardless of my chances of making it through Asian Fever alive.

Option 2: Look, but don’t touch (or even talk to). This is of course the recommended form of treatment to see out my last nine months in Japan. Even if I could somehow meet a nice, age appropriate, tall, athletic single J boy with time on his hands, I’m leaving the country next year. Hardly an ideal platform in which to start a relationship with someone.

Neither option seems entirely appealing right now, so I haven’t decided on which treatment I am going to explore as yet. For now I am still getting a handle on the fact that I have Asian Fever at all…

The Daily Grind

It has been one of those weeks, where Japanese life kicked my butt and every day felt like Groundhog Day. I’ve been living here for over two years now and sometimes daily life gets the better of me. It’s not the job…I really enjoy my job (once I learned to ignore the testing ways of the Japanese education system). In fact, my job as an ALT is probably my favourite thing about living in Japan. Well…that and the stationery.

No, it’s not the job…it’s those daily cultural differences that used to amuse me in my first twelve months here. Those things that I used to say ‘wow‘ to…the food, the customs and the people.  Everything that was so different to my home in Australia, and my second home in the UK. In my second year those differences weren’t quite so amusing…and now, in my third and final year, my tolerance for these things has decreased even further. I desire the comforts and familiarity of home a little more these days as I struggle with the daily grind of Japan…

7:00 – Wake up from a night of disrupted sleep with neck and shoulder pain from sleeping on a futon three inches thick.

7:05 – Have breakfast of oats shipped in from America (as oats are rare and expensive in Japan) with full fat, sweetened soy milk (because non-fat/sugar free anything is virtually non existent here).

7:20 – Shower using organic body wash shipped in from Australia (see reason for having oats shipped in).

7:30 – Dress in clothing deemed too tight/short/revealing by Japanese society (the exception being high school girls). Note: The same outfit would be called conservative in Western culture.

7:40 – Brush teeth using toothpaste shipped in from Australia (because Japanese toothpaste doesn’t contain fluoride…and well, if you saw the state of peoples’ teeth here, you wouldn’t use their toothpaste either…).

7:45 – Check Facebook, Hotmail, Twitter and Instagram for signs of life outside of the bubble I live in.

8:05 – Cycle to school, receiving no less than five stares from locals. Stares usually result in some kind of near miss traffic accident…for me and the perpetrator.

8:15 – Arrive at school, to hear no less than three comments from teachers about either my hair, my clothing, how tired I look or asking why I’m not cold (because I am wearing a short sleeved shirt which is too revealing).

8:40 – 12:30 – Have two or three classes with students. Die a little inside every time a student says ‘I’m fine thank you, and you?’. Teach students awkward English from textbooks written by Japanese people.

12:40 – Have lunch with students. Despair at whatever horrible mixture of deep fried mystery meat/seafood salad/bamboo soup combination appears on the lunch tray. Reminisce of the days when I used to eat rice once every six or so months. Receive the usual questions from students: ‘Do you dye your hair?’, ‘Why aren’t you married?’, ‘Do you perm your hair?’, ‘Can you use chopsticks?’, ‘Why are your eyes blue?’.

1:30 – Cleaning time in the teachers’ room…where the tea lady watches and disapproves of my cleaning methods and follows me around, redoing everything after me.

1:50 – 4:00 – No afternoon classes, so Japanese study ensues. Have at least four teachers make comments about my kanji writing ability (despite it looking like chicken scrawl) and compliment me (falsely) on my speaking ability.

4:00 – Cycle home to the same barrage of stares as the morning commute.

4:15 – Go running wearing shorts, polo shirt (with collar popped so locals don’t see my tattoo and assume I am part of the Yakuza), sunglasses and headphones. Get even more stares than the daily commute and will hear from students/teachers tomorrow that I was spotted running, and that I wear shorts when running (because despite the fact I haven’t had any action for a long time, if I wear shorts, I must be promiscuous…).

5:30 – Cycle to the supermarket for dinner supplies. Despair yet again at the depressingly ridiculous cost of fruit and vegetables in this country. ¥128 (AU$1.70) for a single kiwi fruit and ¥597 (AU$7.90) for two apples. Curse Japan’s awful food for my weight gain over the last two years.

6:30 – Attempt to make a meal (without an oven…Japan doesn’t do ovens) using entirely freshish (though not organic) vegetables without a grain of rice in sight.

7:30 – 10:30 – Decompress from the day of Japanese culture with western world TV, talking with friends or family on Skype, writing Paperdoll or reading. All carried out from the discomfort of my apartment floor…given the lack of proper furniture in this country.

With this daily pattern of repeated tediums, I’m surprised it took this long for my Japanese life to feel like Groundhog Day. I crave the simple pleasures of every day Western life all the time now…the ability to buy and eat organic, free range produce…the freedom to wear what I want, when I want without feeling guilty…to live in an apartment with proper furniture which won’t leave me in constant pain…and more than anything else, to have anonymity. Sweet, blissful anonymity.

Less than a year, and all these wondrous things will be mine. Until then, it’s the weekend…so two days’ break from the daily grind to enjoy all the things I do love about my life in Japan…