As I write this, I’m lying in bed under a blanket in my air-conditioned bedroom (set to a modest 27 degrees Celsius) with a sore throat and a slight fever. I’ve actually just awoken from a brief medication-induced nap, & I’m still feeling somewhat woozy, & my throat still hurts but I at least my stomach seems to have stopped clenching and unclenching in spasms now.
I have been in Japan for 12 days, Kobe about 9, and it has been an eventful almost-two-weeks. Many people, as a standard conversation starter, will ask, “Is this your first time in Japan?” to which I’ll answer, “No, this is actually my 6th time” and get responses ranging from mild surprise to omg srsly?!-type of responses. Japan isn’t really a new place to me right now, though I definitely remember the awe and wonderment I had when looking at everything the first time I came in January 2009, possessing absolutely zero knowledge of the language and country. It remains a good memory for me, as I find that I become less in awe of things the older I get, & I’m not sure if that’s because I’m getting more jaded or simply because I’ve seen things or at least read about them before, so they come as much less of a surprise. Part of it is also because in the trips since then, I’ve had more responsibility either in getting myself & others around or being the one who planned the trip and so on, but I knew nothing in the first trip & really just followed people or wandered on my own with no preconceptions.
Tokyo Orientation from the 4th to the 6th (we reached in the evening of the 4th; no programs on this day) was a whirlwind of talks & activities, & I know I fell asleep in more than one talk. Some I felt were highly engaging & useful, informative seminars while others were simply entertaining, & yet others made me feel like my time was being wasted. The sheer number of people & scale of the orientation made me aware of just how big the JET Programme was – it was truly an international gathering of people from various parts of the world in one location as we were inducted slowly into our jobs. The formal talks aside, it was an opportunity to mix and mingle & get to know people. I’ll have to say that lunch on the 2nd day was the most entertaining, interesting & educational part of the Tokyo Orientation for me, which culminated in the formation of a secret Facebook group (anyone up for some ichigo? ;D). From my perspective, the topics being discussed over lunch were never really topics that would have been talked about openly back home, except with close friends, so I was more than surprised when stories started coming forth & so on, but the openness & frankness was a refreshing contrast to the hush-hush attitude I was used to. Personally, having never been involved with anyone before, there were concepts & terms that were being thrown around that I was unfamiliar with but the people at the table were kind enough to explain them to me. So, yeah, lunch was a pretty eye-opening experience and I finally got to meet some people I’d only interacted with briefly online, as well as make new friends.
On the morning of the 7th, we headed to Kobe City via a chartered bus to Haneda Airport and then a short flight to the local airport, followed by another busy ride to the Kobe Education Center (KEC).
Fact 1: It’s summer in Japan, & it’d been established over orientation that Tokyo was warm.
Fact 2: I’m from a tropical country which has summer-like weather all year round.
Fact 3: Kobe was infinitely warmer with higher humidity and a higher UV index. The Sun doesn’t shine here, it blazes in full glory, like an oven lamp roasting our tender flesh.
Misconception: I may be from a country with similar weather all year round, but it definitely did not prepare me for this heat or level of sweating. Undershirts are absolutely essential here, they’re not an option you can just ponder about & consider if you want to look professional and not like a drowning rat with sweat staining your clothes most distinctly.
The schedule here has been packed, with events planned for us everyday. The first few days were mostly to introduce us to our local residential community & let us know what’s in the neighbourhood. This weekend to Wednesday was actually Obon, a festival that honours the spirits of one’s ancestors. As such, school was closed from Monday to Wednesday and I took summer leave for the 2 days I didn’t have programs on, and.. Cleaned the apartment a lot. I’ve been to a few social events & gone out to town to hang out with people, so there’s been a lot of meeting new people and small talk. I’ll just say here that I am pretty terrible at small talk. With some people you can pretty much shoot the bull & have fun, but it’s not with everyone. That said, just about everyone I’ve met have been really awesome and nice and extremely helpful (many thanks to the couple in the block opposite mine for helping me get aircon set up within a week!! It’s been a lifesaver. Also another shout out to the cute couple who’ve known each other since they were kids, for helping me with getting & building a bedframe from IKEA!) so the only problem I’ve had really, is turning down invitations to social events ’cause I want to clean or get settled in or I’m just tired. Which I should stop doing, I guess, because the beginning is a pretty crucial time period for us to figure out who will be in our social circles.
Not only are the people really nice and amazing, I’ve met some who are, beyond that, really charismatic and attractive and just beautiful people! It’s just sad that social interaction doesn’t work as simply as going up to people & declaring your intentions of wanting to be friends with them. Wouldn’t it be so much simpler?
“What about little microphones? What if everyone swallowed them, and they played the sounds of our hearts through little speakers, which could be in the pouches of our overalls? When you skateboarded down the street at night you could hear everyone’s heartbeat, and they could hear yours, sort of like sonar.”
– Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
I haven’t really been homesick, though I have definitely missed my family & friends. Talking to my siblings frequently over LINE, texting Claire & Jan helped, & talking to my parents & Jan as well. Living alone here isn’t so much of a culture shock as it is a struggle living alone, seeing as I can’t cook, & I’m terrified of insects so I’ve been cleaning & vacuuming really often.
I’m going to get more water & spray the little thing the guy at the pharmacy section in the supermarket gave me into my throat for some relief. Take some paracetamol, & sleep.
P.S. With regards to my post title, before I got aircon installed, I was basically stripping down to undies (if I felt modest) whenever I got home. Which isn’t really a problem since my curtains are drawn all the time. The freedom & liberation of being able to do that because you’re living alone is wonderful!