Silver lining

“I hate to tell you this,” started お兄ちゃん.

I braced myself. “What?”

“You were rejected for the apartment,” he said.

“Are you serious?”

He tilted his phone so I could see the message for myself.

It was the end of a very long week. I had just missed my last train and was in for a long and expensive taxi ride home. On top of that, I was already dreading the 6AM start I had the next morning for a new job in Tokyo. Bad news never has good timing but at that stage, I was a bit too tired to hold strong.

“Well,” I started, scraping the bottom for any remaining wit or positivity. “Well… that sucks.”

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Beyond the sea

Last week, one of my seven year olds stormed up to me between classes, ignored the girls I was playing with and huffed.

I bent down a little. “What’s wrong, Monkey?”

And at that, he released a rage of Japanese. Thankfully, his mother stepped in before he got to the end of his tantrum and raised her hands in apology.

“先生 (sensei: teacher)…ええ (ehh: umm)…go,” she explained, gesturing to me with one hand and continuing to soothe his shoulders with the other. “Shock.”

And suddenly, the first sentence of his rant clicked into place: “Why are you going back to Australia?”

At school last week, we started announcing to the students that I’m leaving my teaching post mid-June.

There are a few reasons, but none relating to the school community – which I openly love – and none that I care to go into today.

But, as soon as we began announcing it, everyone wanted to know: “Are you going home to Australia?” In fact, most people in Japan just seemed to assume it. So much so that I’ve overheard mothers asking each other whether they’ve heard the news that I’m going back to …America? Australia? They’d forgotten.

But for now, the question of whether I’m even going back at all isn’t guaranteed yet. It certainly is a possibility, but hopefully not the eventuality.

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Foreign concepts

When I was still in uni, my mum and I visited Japan as tourists.

“Mum, when we get to Japan,” I said on the plane, “I’ll be tempted to buy everything. I’m not allowed to buy any clothes before I imagine what they’d look like back in Australia, ok?”

“Ok,” said Mum. “Why?”

“Because I’ll think it looks cool in Japan because everyone else is dressed the same. But it might make me look like a Fob in Australia.”

“Yeah, yeah, ok,” she said.

With a response like that, I’d assumed she wasn’t really listening to me but a few days later, while shopping, she held a jacket up to her chest.

“What do you think?” she asked. “Does it make me look Fob?”

I laughed. “Mum, you’re allowed to look Fob.”

She cocked her head to the side. What do you mean?

“Mum, you got to Australia on an actual boat. You are a Fob. Literally.”

I’ve always known the phrase “Fob” (short for “Fresh Off the Boat”) to be a derogatory term that was deemed acceptable for me to use because I’m Asian. And so I did. Playfully. I used it to describe accents and dress sense and cultural references.

And, as it so happened, what went around came around.

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Life in transit

“Do you think we’d still be friends if I didn’t live in Japan anymore?”

The question had been agonising me for a while. But when I finally picked up the nerve to ask it – after work when everyone else had gone home and the shopping centre was dark and silent – I tried to keep my tone as casual as possible.

I looked up from my phone to find my manager looking slightly bewildered.

“What?” she asked sharply, and then carefully, “why?”

I shrugged. “You know…” – No, her expression told me, I don’t know – “like, not that I want to go back to Australia yet, but I don’t know how long I’ll be in Japan for… you know, in the long run. And neither of us are great at messaging so we only really talk when we see each other. And I don’t know how quickly I’ll forget Japanese if I don’t use it every day or whether you’ll still understand my accent… Yeah. I dunno. Think we’ll still be friends?”

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Speak up (Part 1)

“Ok, Priscilla, start when you’re ready.”

I was 14. At a new school. My very first English speech. Which was printed and taped onto cue cards. And highlighted. Still didn’t help.

You know what else didn’t help? The class was full of future lawyers. No, really. Now that we’re not in high school anymore, a lot of them really did study law. Even in adolescence, it showed.

My hands were sweating. That’s gross. I was shaking. That’s embarrassing. Everyone was looking at me… Am I just quoting Eminem now?

“Priscilla?” the teacher repeated, not unkindly. “You may begin.”

I nodded. Squeezed my cue cards. Took a deep breath. And, finally,… ran out the room and into the toilets where I spent half the time trying not to throw up and the other half trying not to cry.

Not everyone likes public speaking. On that note, does anyone actually? But for me, that was the tip of the iceberg.

I like spending my Friday nights in bed with tea and a book. When I go out, I’ve usually got earphones in even they aren’t plugged into anything. If I burn out at the first hour mark at parties, I’m doing well. I grew up a little jealous of my charismatic older brother who makes friends and leads groups with ease and warmth.

It’s strange to think that someone like me would become a teacher where speaking in front of a class is the basic requirement.

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Sakura tinted glasses

ヤバイ (yabai: oh no)!

These posts are starting to become monthly updates, hey?

I promise I’ll tell you my reasons for my regular tardiness in the near future. For now, let me assure you that it’s not for the lack of trying to write. It’s more to do with the lack of time.

So, a quick catchup of what’s been going on in my life:

  • I’m working on a few projects on the side. They shall be revealed in time but for now, they need to be shrouded in mystery. What I can tell you is that they’re very time consuming. Hence, time’s recent disappearing act.
  • One of my coworkers had a baby and wow, if that little ball of cheeks and hair isn’t the cutest thing alive.
  • Cherry blossoms are coming soon! Plum blossoms are already out! Everything is beautiful in Japan!
  • I went to the doctors alone for the first time in Japan. The moment I started describing my symptoms, the stern older nurses burst into laughter and the younger ones melted into puddles of “かわいい (kawaii: cute)!” From here on out, I think I’ll stick with my normal strategy of dragging someone with me.

So my life’s not that interesting on a day to day basis. Sue me. (…but don’t. I can’t defend myself on a teacher’s wage.)

But this seems to be genuinely surprising people: that life since moving to Japan isn’t constantly magical.

I’ll shoulder some blame. Whenever I write about Japan, or when I talk to friends back home, or even when I talk to the locals here, I’m inclined to focus on the quirky, positive or abnormal.

One glance at my Instagram makes my life look infinitely more indulgent and adventurous than it really is.

This begs the question: if I’m fully aware of how misleading my Internet life is, why do I keep adding to the myth?

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If I give my kids a picture of a face and ask them to colour it in – “Crayons please! Let’s colour! Colour, colour, colour” – everyone from the babies to their mothers will instinctively reach for their brown and black crayons.

Well, usually anyway. There are those who reach for something wackier like orange or purple. And sure, a lot of girls will just keep going back to their pink crayons no matter what I put in front of them.

Most of them, however, will stick to the browns and blacks.

I found this fascinating. Which is strange if you think about it. They have brown eyes and black hair, their parents have brown eyes and black hair, and their friends have brown eyes and black hair. So of course they would reach for these colours.

What I found fascinating was my own response. I have brown eyes and black hair. Why did I spend my childhood reaching for other colours?

The Internet has been a great platform for the discussion of equal representation in the media, especially during the awards season. For most people I’ve met, however, myself included, it hasn’t inspired much action. Or thought. On the occasions when we do think about it, sure, it’s important. But in the general scheme of things, it’s more of a backburner issue.

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