One year on

hankerchief

Abruptly losing a parent when you’re 8000 kilometres away from them for most of the year still sucks, even one year later. Continue reading

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A house in Japan



By the time R and I had to make a choice between applying for a pricey Australian spouse visa or relocating back to Japan, I already had misgivings about the latter. Still, I was 24, and I’d moved from Australia to Japan and back again with relative ease. I figured our decision to live in Japan, should we find that it had been the wrong one, was reversible.

It wasn’t. Oh, It was always theoretically possible, but not in practice. The older we got, the harder it seemed to pick up our whole lives and dump them in the other of our countries.

And now here we are, buying a house with a corresponding mortgage attached, and hopefully formally adopting our pair of monkey cats. It’s an understatement to say that a move back to Australia just slipped a bit further out of reach. I have, as I dramatically, half-jokingly declare, condemned myself to Japan.

The house itself is about as traditional and ornate as you could imagine and beyond my weirdest dreams. I didn’t imagine this would be my life even two months ago, so how could I have imagined it five, ten, fifteen years ago?But this is my life. I chose it and yet I didn’t, and it no longer really feels reversible. I can only hope the good continues to outweigh the bad.

Political shenanigans

I had a fun weekend watching the shenanigans of the latest Australian federal election. Another hung parliament, still no prime minister and no ruling party determined. It’s been very entertaining.

Does Australia have a government today? No. We do have a Lego election, though.

I haven’t been registered to vote for several years now, what with being out of the country indefinitely. As annoying as going to the embassy is and as eyeroll-inducing as much of Australian politics is, I still liked trying to get the leaders I approve of most into government with my one little voice and I kind of miss voting now. My family lives in a very safe Liberal seat (right-wing – the capital L makes quite a difference) and I tended to vote for the left-wing parties, so it didn’t seem like I made much of a difference, but the effort was there, at least.

In Australia, it’s compulsory to vote once you’ve turned 18. It’s a pain even when you can vote in relatively close proximity to your home, and maybe not much will change, but to not do so just seems irresponsible. You have to vote. It’s just one of those things you do. I guess that’s why it’s always a bit shocking when people in other countries who are fully entitled and capable of doing so choose not to do so. How is anything ever going to change if you don’t even exercise your most basic right to try to get what you want?

That being said, I do understand feeling disillusioned enough to just not bother. You don’t need to look far to be given cause to question the efficacy of the system. Look at the rise of Trump, and Brexit. My home country is headed for their fifth prime minister, one way or another, in three years, and Japan underwent a similar series of prime ministers a few years back.

I saw articles strongly countering people’s claims that democracy isn’t working all that well over the weekend, yet the tones of the articles and the headlines themselves were nasty and/or patronising enough that the core message got drowned out, and that’s a pity. Telling people that they’re too stupid or making them feel that way seems to be a huge part of the problematic state we’re in.

So yes, maybe the current system is broken. Maybe an overhaul that I can’t even really imagine is called for. But for now, this is the best we’ve managed in regards to letting people have a say, ever. It might not be much of a say, it might always seem to be the pick of a bad bunch, but it’s better than nothing.

And if nothing else, it’s amusing.

The two… umm, protagonists? Image source

No, really. Worrying, yes, but entertaining!

“But he’s too little!”

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Definitely not a pose his father let him linger in for longer than it took to take this photo

I work part-time and this means, with a couple of notable exceptions, that my seven month old is elsewhere while I’m doing so. “Elsewhere” for us means a nice childcare center less than 10 minutes from where his father works. We were lucky to get a place at all, let alone in one that’s vaguely convenient, new and modern, complete with largish, airy rooms, kids grouped by age, outside space, and a carer-to-child ratio of 1:3 for the babies.

For some people, that’s still not cool, though. Childcare at all for a baby is just. not. right. He’s too young! He should be at home with… well, me! Or a family member, at least. Or someone like that, I don’t know, you figure that part out, but still!

What are we thinking?

A simple answer that, actually, childcare seems to suit Mr. K reasonably well and I don’t think it’s so bad for him to be looked after qualified individuals who, so far, seem to be taking exceptionally good care of him when he is with them may be the best solution for my own peace of my mind. It doesn’t really give my life-commentators the explanation they’re seeking, though, and even though they’re not really entitled to such, I still find myself wanting to provide one. A defense, a justification, an explanation, something.

 

The only socially acceptable answer really seems to be a sudden admission of abject poverty. That raises a whole new problem, though, in that we are suddenly talking about money and that is a bit of a taboo. Do they really want a breakdown of our household income? Or  the details of the financial mess caused by my father’s unexpected death (another taboo!) and how I would like to help my mother? Do they want an in-depth discussion about university debt, rent prices, the coat of fresh food? Perhaps I can explain, in depth, what starting unpaid maternity leave early cost, or the expenses that a baby generally accrues.

I’m doing part-time work, so things can’t be too bad. I must only want money, not really need it. Maintaining a certain quality of life, pfft. Perhaps if I cut out some of those expensive extras… my idea of an expensive extra is a 500 coffee set? No, that can’t be it. Those expensive overseas holidays… visits to my family? Huh.

Do I need to I explain that no, my husband doesn’t make enough money to cover this? Shall I explain why it works that way? And that I also prefer him having a job where I actually see him as opposed to a more financially-lucrative job where he’s absent for six days, sometimes 7 days a week? Perhaps I need to stick to more general comments on money? But then, I doubt they really want to hear my extensive and largely negative commentary on the full-time wage, Japan’s “Abenomics” version of neoliberalism, Japanese work culture, gender roles, men generally working themselves into the ground?

Talking about politics and criticising the esteemed Japanese culture, yes. That’s going to go so well, don’t you think?

Should I tell them that I actually enjoy my work and, on the days I don’t, that I still get satisfaction from doing it? That’s just selfish, though, isn’t it?  It doesn’t matter how I might feel about work or staying at home, or how well I know my mental state. Nothing is as important as being a mother and being a mother means being there all the time, duh.

If I need help, I could ask my mother… oh, right, Australia. Well, my mother-in-law, surely? She must be so excited about her grandson! Should I then explain how strained that relationship is, the now non-existent support on that front, and how non-interested she is in Mr. K at all, especially compared to her daughter’s baby girl? Hell, perhaps we need to discuss the weirdness of my husband’s family generally, and exactly why my sister-in-law is getting a divorce too.

Or, you know, we could discuss where the fathers fit into all of this and we could branch into my thoughts on your somewhat outdated notions about gender roles to boot. That sounds like a bit of fun too, doesn’t it?

In short, the more I try to think of appropriate responses and explanations, the more I realise that just about every line of conversation these supposedly innocent remarks about childcare could take us on touches on something taboo. All of the explanations that are expected of me lead to topics  that have the potential to be scandalous, interesting… and absolutely uncomfortable. It’s generally accepted that these are things people might not want to talk about, and we’re generally not expected to do so.

Since these people are fairly often well-meaning students, my inner troll sometimes sticks its head out and I find myself fighting the urge to tell them that my God, they have shown me the light! I see the rightness of their words! I’ll quit my job right now and hurry home to resume childcare duties at once!

Oh, what? That leaves you without an English teacher? Well then.

Since trolling is definitely out, the only acceptable response to an unsolicited comment on what was not an easy decision about raising my baby is… no response. I am supposed to simply take this throwaway criticism in my stride, maybe act appropriately ashamed and sad to top it off.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I don’t entirely want to do that. What I wish instead is that we could all add another taboo to the list of those I’ve outlined above, that being the offering of unsolicited criticism, however throwaway the comments might be, on people’s parenting decisions.

The simple fact is that, unless the child is obviously being neglected, it’s fair to assume that no small amount of thought went into the decisions about his or her care. It’s also reasonable to assume that the decision isn’t up for review right now and that the parents don’t need to add a little dose of pointless negativity to their days… so try not to offer it.

8147 kilometres

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My phone tells me that it was 5:33am on April 7th when it started vibrating urgently. I woke, dazed, not realising it was a missed call from Mum until I looked at the screen and saw it, accompanied by a message from my sister, telling me to call them as soon as I could.

I don’t remember standing up, but I remember R stirring as I climbed over him. “It’s my family,” I told him calmly, in a voice that didn’t feel like my own. “Something’s wrong.”

Then I was in R’s room and the phone was ringing. Mum answered. It was Dad. Mum had found him breathing strangely in his sleep.

Then he had stopped.

They had tried CPR. Then there was the ambulance. I mhm-ed, to let them know I was there even as my brain struggled to process what she was saying. It was early, so early.

They worked on him for ages, she told me, but he never regained consciousness.

Probably his heart.

Passed away.

There was  a dreadful pause as her words travelled across the distance and sunk in. Then I screamed. Dad.

 

One of the realities of living so far from home is the fear of something like this happening. It’s always a possibility, it’s undeniable. Yet even in my grimmest ponderings, what I had always imagined was an 11th hour flight home and a hospital. I never imagined it this way. I never allowed myself to imagine that, suddenly, there would be nothing.

I remember the rain outside and sitting around in stunned shock punctuated by new waves of grief and tiny sparks of activity. The cats got fed. I started a load of washing that I promptly forgot about for 12 hours. I made lists in my notebook of things I needed to do as I thought of them, scattered thoughts that flitted away as randomly as they appeared. I cried, cried, cried.

I was going home, that I knew at once. R and I locked horns regarding Mr. K and whether he was going with me. I said hell yes, he was. He was never going to meet his grandfather now, a fact that tore and tears at my heart. It was the least I could do. R was adamant that I wasn’t thinking straight, that a long-haul international flight and a family in mourning was no place for a baby, that it was too late anyway. Part of me recognises that he had a good point. Still, I won.

And so a lot of technical, important things followed. I discovered that Japan will issue passports on the day citizens apply for them if an urgent situation is adequately conveyed to them. In my case, it was an e-mail from my sister requesting that Mr. K attend my father’s funeral, translated by R because an official translator isn’t necessary. There was not one but two photo stores near our local passport office and the one we stumbled into had a special chair and multiple squeaky toys to be brandished at Mr. K, resulting in a slightly stunned-looking photo.

Calling Qantas and Jetstar in English will get you redirected to a call centre, the location of which I can only speculate on but which definitely isn’t in Australia. Asking for a flight for bereavement reasons yields little response. Asking for a flight from Tokyo to Melbourne ASAP yields a suggestion that you try Osaka or Okinawa instead, that they don’t do flights from Tokyo to Melbourne… even though the latter does direct ones and both offer transfers in various other Australian east coast cities.

Inquiries in Japanese yield better results, but we still found it easiest, in the end, to just book a Jetstar flight online; unlike a lot of international flights, they let you book it only a day in advance.

Even if I look and am about to burst into tears, a jerk of a salesman will still try out his English in an effort to get me to apply for a credit card that I, as a foreigner, am probably not eligible for. There are plenty of men’s handkerchiefs in red, black and white this year, I discovered as we waited in a local department store for the passport to be processed. Red, black and white are the colours of my father’s favourite football team, he loves hankies, and his birthday is in early June. I no longer need to purchase one.

 

Packing. What was the weather even like in April in Melbourne? (Answer: Warm, getting progressively cooler but in an unpredictable sort of way.) Half our wardrobe, it seemed, was wet from the rain, including most of R’s pants. What did I wear to a funeral? What did I wear to my father’s funeral?

Time seemed to move in fits and starts, and we missed one of the trains to the airport  the next morning because my brain couldn’t quite manage the task of accurately calculating how long it would take us to get to the station. We caught another one, luckily, and meandered quietly out to Narita, where we found out just how irritating Terminal 3 is and got given a free canvas bag marking its first anniversary by a giant chicken.

Feeding rooms, customs, a free airport pram after we had to check ours in. Riceballs, because R wouldn’t be R without onigiri.

And then the flight. The airline allows ten and a half hours, though it typically takes a little less. Ten and a half hours on a budget airline sucks at the best of times. Add a five month old baby without a bassinet and a nicotine-addicted husband, both of whom resist my futile attempts to entertain them and the latter of whom is more than a little unwilling to be there at all, and you have a very, very long trip.

I haven’t adequately been able to convey to anyone so far how torturous it is, to find myself suddenly out of my little white-noise-filled Japanese world and into one filled with Australian accents and English I can understand, where half the plane seems to hold middle-aged men with loud voices in the sort of neat-casual clothes that bring to mind my father. I doubt I’m adequately conveying it now. It’s shocking. It hurts.

 

I am going home. I caught myself thinking it over and over again, a tide of bitter despair accompanying it. Melbourne, finally. I am taking Mr. K home and R is coming with us. I’m getting what I wanted so very much.

Not. like. this.

 

There was a problem with the airbridge at Melbourne airport and we got stuck on the plane for a further 30 minutes while they tried to sort it out. Then there was a trek through the duty free store and the odd experience of going through the non-residents line at passport control, getting to the baggage carousel and sending R and Mr. K through while I waited for my suitcase.

Not so many minutes later, I followed. My mother and my sister were waiting on the other side of the customs doors for me.

Dad wasn’t.

And just like that, the 8147 kilometre trip became the easy part.

A Day in My Life: Thursday 14th January 2016

Last time I did one of these, a week before Mr. K was born, I inadvertantly chose an especially dull day to write about. This time, I inadvertantly chose a slightly more stressful day than usual.

A quick note on the layout of the house: it’s what gets called a 3K here, which means three decent-sized “bedrooms”, a bathroom/laundry, a toilet, and a kitchen. We use one of the “bedrooms” as the bedroom, and the other two rooms are living areas. The bedroom and one of the living areas have reverse cycle air conditioning, and we can warm up the other with a kotatsu and a room heater well enough. The rest of the house, and any of those rooms without the heating on, are icy cold. Factor in how much electricity costs, and the end result is we all tend to gather in one room.

Also, a warning: there are references to baby poop and vomit. No pictures, though!

Finally,  please try not to judge my parenting? R and I are doing our best. Thanks.

Weather: 11 degrees Celsius, sunny
Daylight hours: 6:50am – 4:49pm
Mr. K: about 2.5 months old

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Our “house”, looking suitably small and cold

12:52am Wake up. Mr. K is squirming on his futon and making noise, but it hasn’t been especially long since he fed. R and I blearily conclude it is gas.

2:50am Wake up again. This time, Mr. K is definitely hungry. I haul him onto my futon and onto his feeding cushion, and begin to feed him. He is still squirming.

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No, we don’t sleep with the lights on full, this is just to illustrate the whole arrangement. R and I have our futons pushed together and Mr. K sleeps between/on them on his own island-like baby futon.

3:20am Mr. K finishes on one side, spits up, and then we switch sides. His ultimate goal for feeding aggressively at this time becomes clear when an explosive sound and telltale smell emerge. This done, he falls abruptly into a deep sleep and I consider, briefly, just leaving his nappy even though we will all come to regret it. Then he wakes and poops again.

3:30am Change horrifyingly full nappy. Luckily, he hasn’t leaked. It’s cold. It’s 3:30am. Why oh why have I decided to write about this day, of all days?

3:40am Put Mr. K back into his futon, head out to kitchen and put the nipple shield in the sterilising liquid. Go back to bed. Sleep and have a weird dream featuring the midwife who delivered Mr. K and, in the dream, can now speak stunningly good English, an unfamiliar clinic, and driving our out-of-control to R’s parents’ house.

5:50am Mr. K is awake again for another feed. Sigh. Tired.

6:30am Wrapping up feeding of Mr. K  when my alarm goes off to wake R.

6:45am Mr. K and I are trying to get back to sleep now, but R is deeply resistant to alarms and stays asleep even when his own keeps going off.

7:15am Sleepily prod R and tell him the time. He has a minor freakout and rushes off. Minutes later, I hear his motorbike roaring off, bound for another day at the post office.

7:20am I believe I sleep.

8:30am Begin to wake up again, this time for the day, but doze for a bit. It’s hard to wake up. Recently, Mr. K has typically only been waking once in the night, so last night was unusually rough.

8:50am Make self get up, albeit slowly. Mr. K is still dozing so I plunge into shower – there’s so much saliva, vomit and poop lately that I feel like I need a couple of showers a day. Get dressed.

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The outfit

9:30am Took longer than expected in shower, so breakfast is rushed – a banana, toast and, yes, coffee. Noises from the bedroom indicate my baby is not planning on sleeping much longer…

9:45am Mr. K is definitely awake, and reasonably happy about it this time. We “chat” and then a nappy and outfit change ensue.

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Getting kind of big for the original change mat now.

10:05am We commence another feeding. Mr. K has been smiling at me while feeding a bit lately, but this time, for the first time, he tries “talking” while feeding too and it’s adorable. He settles down, though, and that leaves me with too much time to think. Work, and returning to it. Life. It’s my cousin’s birthday and I can’t decide whether to bother e-mailing his father (cousin himself either doesn’t have an e-mail address, or won’t divulge it) to pass on happy birthday.

10:55am Feeding is finally done and Mr. K is asleep. Dart out, do hair, and brush teeth.

11:05am I have decided that we are going out today and we will do so ASAP.  Ha. Anyway, there’s a home centre I like that I’ve been meaning to visit for awhile so I can look for some plastic shelves/drawers for the bathroom. They also sell good cat food, which I will almost certainly buy if nothing else. I rush around measuring space in preparation for the search for the former.

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The tape measure, because his body is actually the end of the tape and it’s fun

11:10am Tidy up bedroom for a bit, as Mr. K has dozed off again. I change him into his Cookie Monster suit ahead of going out, yet he still wants to sleep.

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Very, very sleepy

11:30am Things continue to go a bit askew when I get a text message from Mum on Viber and the cats arrive wanting food. We don’t have much (hence me wanting to go out and get it as soon as I can) and they only get dry food.

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Nom nom nom

11:35am While waiting for the cats to finish their early lunch and shoo, I hear the postman – R’s friend and coworker – arrive. I go out and the check the mail to discover he has born goodies for us in the form of a gift from an old friend in Australia and some mail order catalogues I especially like.

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11:40am Ignore cats now and begin organizing the pram, bag, etc. Mark Two leaves, but Neko Neko waits, unimpressed.

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Keeping an eye on things

11:45am Pick up the drowsy Mr. K to go to car and get vomitted on. Feel dismay. Clean self and him up.

11:50am Evict Neko Neko, continue with carrying things to the cars, including Mr. K.

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12:05pm We finally depart. Driving is relatively easy and happy gurgling comes from the back seat. The latter is interrupted by a vomiting sound. I sigh.

12:25pm We arrive at Day 2. The sign reads D2 but the Japanese katakana says day 2, for reasons I can’t even begin to figure out.

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The car – you get used to things and kind of forget that Japanese cars are actually a bit different

12:30pm After unloading the car, cleaning up Mr. K and getting him settled in the pram, I realise I’m actually hungry. Very hungry. I head over to the takeaway van and get a cream taiyaki, sweet batter shaped like a fish and filled with custard.

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12:40pm We head in to the shop. I browse the plastic tubs, but worry about Mr. K getting them open and resolve to check out baby-proof clasps before making any purchases on a later date. Find cat food and, surprisingly enough, hair conditioner. I browse the plants on the way out, unsure what will survive the extremes of Japan’s seasons and my neglect, and decide to focus my energies on saving my dying jacaranda before investing in more.

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Tubs!

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The very important cat food

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I don’t even know what I’d do with this, but the Tetris lover in me adores it.

1pm I pack Mr. K, who has fallen asleep again, and his stuff back into the car and we depart.

1:25pm We arrive back at our local supermarket and I buy my lunch, things for dinner, etc.

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Many, many bentos

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The contents of my shopping basket, plus my boots and the green tea aisle

1:45pm Return to car via elevator.

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US!

1:50pm Depart.

1:55pm Arrive home. Except for when I was very pregnant and when I buy particularly big things, we seldom drive only to the supermarket; like today, it’s usually a stop on the way home. I unload. It’s quite a procedure. I set Mr. K up in one of the other rooms, the one that’s “mine”.

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The room. God, my table’s a mess.

2:05pm Eat my lunch while Mr. K continues his latest nap and worry about his endless vomiting for what feels like the millionth time.

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My lunch

2:25pm Mr. K wakes up from his nap and changes his nappy and his suit.

2:35pm It’s another feeding time. We start watching “Life at 7” on my laptop at the same time.

3:20pm Mr. K is done with his milk and so, nearly, is “Life”. I put Mr. K in his futon, which I have also brought into my room, and go and do laundry.

3:30pm A messy hour follows. Mr. K cries, we watch TV again, Mr. K cheers up and I set him up on his play mat. He is happy there for awhile but then he becomes grumpy. The cats return again, I try to hang up laundry and get a snack, and Mr. K eventually sleeps at 4:30pm after I hold him for a bit.

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During one of his cheerful moments

4:30pm Yesterday, my mother-in-law came over and brought a sweet potato that neither R nor I ate for dinner last night. I decide to consume it now with some peppermint tea in it. I find a suspicious hair in the potato and wonder if she’s plotting to kill me.

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Okaasan’s sweet potato

5pm Mr. K wakes with a loud fart and then another messy hour follows in which I manage to juggle a crying baby, e-mailing a thank you to my friend who sent us the parcel, and replying to an e-mail from one of my English students regarding a lesson maybe tomorrow. I like her a lot and she’s very generous with my pay. If she agrees, it will be the first lesson I’ve done since having Mr. K, but I’m not expecting her to say yes. I check on the cats and discover Neko Neko is still hanging around, wanting more food. A battle of wills ensues. He wins. I feed him.

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FEED ME.

6:02pm R calls and tells me he is on his way home. This is surprisingly early. I haven’t started dinner and I have to feed Mr. K. Shit.

6:10pm Change Mr. K’s nappy, start R’s bath (it’s a Japanese thing, the must-have bath). Neko Neko has finally left the building. Commence feeding Mr. K.

6:25pm We are halfway through and, between breasts, I pause to go and stop R’s bath. Mr. K is enraged by this, but settles down when we resume feeding.

6:40pm R returns, bearing a donut for me. Mr. K is still feeding and dinner is still definitely not yet happening. R is surprisingly fine with this, admits he got very hungry a little while ago and ate on the way home. He suggests I take a break and go out for dinner.

7pm After dithering about how best to get to a restaurant, I decide to go by car because it’s very cold.

7:10pm I arrive at Coco’s. An adorable young waiter serves me and he is a bit gaijinstruck (i.e. stunned by the fact I’m not Japanese). It’s cute.

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Coco’s

7:20pm Eat dinner, feel relieved. Coco’s is another thing I haven’t done since pre-Mr. K.

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Dinner – more than I’d usually order but hey, who knows when this outing is going to happen again?

7:52pm After eating, I sit and make notes about today (and I’ve needed them, believe me, to remember what happened) until I notice the time. Damn, I told R I would return by 8. I rush off, pay the adorable waiter, and drive home.

8:02pm R isn’t fussed about me being two minutes late – and yes, he does get that obsessed with time sometimes – but I am promptly handed an unhappy Mr. K. I don’t get much accomplished over the following hour beyond juggling Mr. K and, with my spare hand, playing with my phone.

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My view of the evening

9:15pm It’s R’s job to give Mr. K a bath and he has decided that he is going to do so tonight, even though it’s getting later now. Because my room is one of the ones with heating and it really is cold tonight, things are cleared and the bath is dragged in. Mr. K is not terribly impressed by any of this, though he does enjoy his time actually in the water.

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The baby bath, post-use

9:45pm We give Mr. K formula in the evenings, both so I can take a break from the feeding and so R can feed him as well. Tonight, however, it’s up to me to feed Mr. K and given I got to go out earlier, I don’t comment. Mr. K is happy enough with his bottle while he is feeding but not happy when he discovers he has finished. Burping and vomiting happens.

10:10pm R takes Mr. K off to settle him for the night. I am going to take another shower, what with being covered in baby vomit and all, but before I do, I check my e-mail… and discover my student actually does want a lesson tomorrow. I am a bit freaked out by this, given the afternoon/evening we’ve just had. Can Mr. K really handle sitting in a cafe that long…?

10:30pm I exit the shower, brush my teeth, and head into the bedroom. The lights are off and Mr. K is asleep. R is playing quietly with his phone. Everyone is tired. I’m fairly sure sleep happens very quickly.

“12 months” in Japan

Ten years ago yesterday, I boarded a plane in Melbourne and flew away.

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The plane in question. Please take a moment to appreciate that I dug that out of my old Xanga site for you.

I wasn’t quite 22 and I was running, even if it was in a sensible, somewhat organized way. The year before, 2005, was not a good one. My grandfather died of cancer, my car was written off by a high school student who seemed to have more life experience than I did, I continued to fall disastrously hard for boys on the internet and get hurt, my 21st birthday was a non-event and, most humiliatingly of all, my orthodontist had temporarily put braces back on my teeth because he screwed up and I didn’t alert him to that as quickly as I should have. I had completed an honours thesis that had given me a badly needed purpose for the year, but it hadn’t earned the grade I’d been trying for and I didn’t know what to do with it.

I was unhappy, and I decided I had to do something about it.

While I was supposed to be working on the final draft of my thesis in September and October, I had started scouring job sites and finding my attention drifting to jobs overseas. Positions teaching English as a second language where minimal qualifications were required were littered throughout Asia. I was drawn to the ones in South Korea and Singapore, both developed countries were the money might be decent. I wanted to go somewhere interesting, yet not in the over-the-top, overdone way that Japan was (I don’t think I’ve ever informed any Japanese person, except maybe R, that I once thought their country was a bit over-the-top and overdone!) and safer than China.

I dithered over submitting my resume, though, and when I finally did, the only jobs available that I seemed qualified for were in Japan after all, so I just went with those.  I figured Japan was safe, developed and still interesting. I didn’t have to go all sushi-loving anime freak, surely, and if Tokyo didn’t really grab me, numerous other places did. Kyoto! Osaka! Hiroshima!

A matter of weeks later, I had a job lined up as an ESL teacher… in the suburbs of Tokyo. I sighed, accepted it, and figured I could always visit the other places anyway or transfer.

So, it wasn’t quite throwing my life’s savings away and departing with a plane ticket and a backpack. I was required to have money, I had a job lined up and the company arranged housing for me. It was also supposed to only be for one year, after which I would presumably go back and pick up the life in Australia I had left behind. As dramatic life changes go, it was a relatively organized one.

I was still jumping in the deep end, though, even if I could expect to be physically and financially safe at the other end. It was the second time I had even been on a plane, and the first time I had travelled overseas. The seatbelt confused me terribly, I was in a middle seat because it never occurred to me to ask the belligerent young guy at the check-in counter for something else and I got painfully bad stomach cramps on the second leg of the journey. My ignorance went far beyond the flight, though – I was going to try living in Tokyo for 12 months (I stayed just shy of that, the first time) without any idea how to use chopsticks and knowing little more Japanese than how to count to ten and ask where the toilet was.

Yet, thinking back, I wouldn’t change that much about it. I was naive, and I could be obnoxious (hell, I probably still am), but time took care of at least some of it and I was doing my best to get an experience that might take care of the rest. All the major elements of that trip are still things I would happily leave as they are.

There are smaller things, though, that I would go back and tell myself if I could. Keep going to Japanese classes, even when you have painfully little time for them. Don’t lose your house key. Write down your new PIN somewhere because, although you won’t need to access your new bank account straight away, you will eventually and taking money out of your credit card isn’t fun. Be nice to your housemates. I won’t tell you what happened to them because I don’t think that will help you – just be nice to them, a couple of them will be friends you’ll still cherish 10 years later and remember, they didn’t choose you either. Be kind and patient with your family back home, get over MUDs for now and even if the company you’re going to work for doesn’t reward or even facilitate effort, do your best anyway.

To anyone who is reading this and might consider doing something like this, whether you’re as young as I was or much older? It is worth it, especially if you’re looking to shake up your life for some reason. All those annoying cliches are true – it will get you out of your comfort zone, give you new experiences, and broaden your mind. You can find yourself so many new memories and stories. Even if you hate it, it will make you appreciate home a lot more and who knows? You might end up there a lot longer than you could ever have imagined.