Nova Scotia is grey and cold. And I don’t just mean the people. Hiyoooo!
Familiarity does breed contempt. Or at least disinterest. Or even just the awareness of the limited options you have. Or maybe I just mean that I’ve gotten very bored of sitting around waiting for my turn on the doctor’s slab* and going through my daily depressing look at the job boards. Anyway, I find it hard to find something to photograph around here in the forest because, ehn. Every five steps bringing you through a bramble of skin-tearing thorns doesn’t help.
I sometimes think about learning to drive a car since I’m living in the ass-end of nowhere and for some reason government organizations seem to think a driver’s license makes you trust-worthy. Then I think about the costs of driving a car. I also think of how much anxiety simply being a passenger gives me. Then I think about how much better it is to live somewhere with great public transportation. I stop thinking about learning to drive at this point.
We know why governments want to you have a driver’s license. It’s another way for them to keep track of you. There’s nothing a government hates more than someone they can’t keep tabs on. And their corporate sponsors sort of set up a consumerist society that hinges on oil. Public transportation means that’s one less car bought, one less home in the suburbs mortgaged, one fewer person going to a box store out in the low-to-no-rent industrial parks, hundreds of dollars less being given to insurance companies, and thousands of liters of gasoline not being bought.
If I wasn’t so fond of regular meals, and showers I’d go off the grid just to spite them.
Being an expat means you put yourself under even more direct government scrutiny. Politicians are a lazy, cowardly lot and that means they tend to cater to the ill-informed, selfish aspects of the people they represent. That’s why you need to take an AIDS test when you apply for a work visa in some countries. Anti-foreigner bigotry always comes with the assumption they’re bringing disease with them. That’s as true overseas as it is here. Yet, for some reason, the common-as-karaoke business trips a.k.a. sex tours of developing countries/ meetings a.k.a. lack of regular condom use when visiting the whore house with the boss, is never looked at as a possible disease vector.
Despite the number of indignities that come from expat life, the benefits are also numerous. In a way, you are living off the grid. Few people know you beyond “That foreigner”. You have the freedom to reinvent yourself, and if you get fed up with the situation you’re in, you can simply up and leave. Honour demands you tell the people and organizations that depend upon you before you do so. It sucks when you have to work extra hours to cover for a missing co-worker. It also sucks that, for each unpaid bill someone leaves in their wake, companies make it even harder for an expatriate to use their services. But if you do decide to walk away, no one is going to cross the ocean to track you down for last month’s internet bill or a few hundred in unpaid taxes.
I paid all of my bills and taxes before leaving Japan. It’s unlikely I’ll ever be able to live and work there again given my lack of connections, youth, and good-looks. But just in case I did get back there, I wanted to be able to afford ramen until the first paycheque came in fifty or more days later instead of having my owed money being seized.
The endless Korea vs Japan debate? Your boss in Korea is far more likely to front you some cash until the first payday.
* Update: I think they read this post. The hospital called for my turn on their slab an hour after I put it up. No improvement on the job board as of yet.
I may have mentioned that the first thing I do when I find myself in a new location is walk around trying to get lost. Obviously I don’t try too hard. I’m always trying to keep landmarks or the position of the sun in mind. There’s a big difference between getting lost and getting lost, if you get my meaning. Regardless, wandering around is the first thing on my agenda.
Small cities are similar unless they host a university or military base: Near silence after nine p.m.. Even the bars take a nap. If there is a university nearby you can extend the social hour to about two a.m.. Large cities like Seoul and Tokyo are obviously 24/7. Keep this in mind should you decide to embark upon The Path of the Expat. Consider what sort of social life you want to have before accepting job offers.
Doing research on the places you’re going is a pretty good idea in general. But if you’re addicted to the frat life you just graduated from, aim for the big cities.
The shot above was taken a little after nine in Miyakonojo. A kilometer away from here would be the downtown district. And while even in a small city like Miyakonojo, the bars do some decent business, that scene is still out of the reach of most teens. They just hang out wherever they can find a place to hang out.
I’ve probably mentioned this before. I’m getting older and obviously I’m going to forget that I’m repeating myself, but I’ve probably mentioned this before. The only people who really grok your experience as an expatriate are other expatriates.
For example, the time I went to Shelbyville the volcano erupted on me. It’s not the peak in the photo above. I believe that’s one of the extinct cones of the Kirishima volcano group. At least I hope it is since it’s right next to the expressway. Shinmoedake was the volcano that messed up my February. You can’t really describe the experience because “Sucking in volcanic ash” isn’t really like other things. You could describe how it falls like snow. But snow doesn’t stick to your skin and leave black residue on the bottom of your shower.
Essentially, unless you’re talking to the kid in The Road, you can’t get across how extraordinary a life event it was. Same with explaining earthquakes to people who have never experienced one. Yeah, if you grow up in a seismic zone it ain’t no thang to you. But for the non jaded they’re terrifying simply because you have no idea how big it’s going to be. You are suddenly very aware of the fact that you are a small thing in the grip of power beyond your comprehension. Tornadoes, volcanoes, hurricanes, blizzards. Given enough prep time you can either ride those out or get out of their way. Earthquakes are only escapable if you learn to flap your arms hard enough to get off the ground.
But it’s not just this dramatic stuff that you can’t fully share makes you feel lonely. It’s a lot of the cultural stuff and the day-to-day experiences that get lost. A few weeks ago another long-term expat friend and I were together at a weekend thing at another friend’s house. We got talking about our shared experiences dealing with the typical weirdos that come with living in Seoul. While I don’t think we were talking beyond the ken of the others, in fact I think we were both mindful that we had an audience, everyone sat there without anything to contribute. It’s not as if none of our other friends have no experience in other nations. But none of them had our experiences.
I figure that it’s like listening to people discussing their trip up the Amazon. You can appreciate it intellectually, or emotionally if they’re a great story-teller. But unless you’ve lived it, someone exclaiming, “And the piranhas! Don’t get me started on what a pain they were.” is just going to leave you going, “Oh yeah? I see.” and wondering what’s on TV.
A surviving Korea picture. This would be one of the first photos I took with the new-to-me Canon 30D. 2006 or 2007. Can’t remember. Yeah, the boys are using the fountains as a bidet. Korean kids were all shit and anus obsessed.
Every summer at Seoul City Hall, the government would turn on the sprinklers in the public space out front and let the public have a splash around. It was pretty much all kids in there getting soaked as their parents watched from the dry pavement. And by “watched” I mean, “Chatting on their phones and not paying attention.” I don’t know how much this has changed either, but Helicopter Parent wasn’t a thing in Korea. More like 9p.m. Bus Parents.
I had gotten the Canon 30D because I wanted to take better pictures for the blog I was writing. Like most people, I used to think the better the camera, the better the photos. Now I know better. Since the 30D was far more affordable than the 5D or 1DmkII I got that, and away I went.
Every expatriate in Korea wrote a blog. Mostly they were to vent off anger and frustration. Those rarely lasted long. You can only vent so long before you either crash or move on. A lot of others were written as a sort of journal for the folks back home to read. Those sometimes had the best insights yet only lasted until the authors went home. And there were a handful designed to show off how the author was the smartest expat in Korea. Oddly enough, it’s the “expert” blogs that lasted the longest and I think a lot of them are still running. I’ll let you make your own decisions about what that means.
I still do it due to habit and a childish desire to prove to the world that I exist. Also I’m not going to waste Tumblr’s incredible sharing power by posting animated advertising. Fuck that.
There’s a concept called “reverse culture shock” when people return to the land of their birth after being in parts foreign for a while.
You do pick up local habits even if you don’t mean to. Bowing while shaking hands. Pauses as you look for the best words to use. Pushing into the bus as other people are leaving and then the driver yelling at you to wait and everyone looks at you like you’re an asshole.
I did that after returning from Korea. No one waits there.
I’ve been back and forward enough now that I can flip my mental switches relatively quickly. And while I still bitch about the constant chill in the Canadian air, I don’t try to pay for bus after I ride it like they do in Japan. I also look both ways before crossing the street correctly. Left, then right, in Canada. Right, then left, in Japan.
To be honest, I’m a bit embarrassed by how quickly I slipped into my Canadian comfort zone. Like my Japanese comfort zone was nothing. And to be honest, it really was nothing. I’ve pointed out before: Take your boring life in North America* and translate it to Japanese. There isn’t much adjusting to be done. That’s part of the reason I have an urge to return to Korea. I’m never comfortable there due to the first world comforts going hand in hand with the third world personality.
Or maybe I felt that way about my time in Japan due to my having been an expat for seven years by the time I got there. YMMV.
I tell you this, though… I’d get a full body Brazilian wax in exchange for Japanese style bath tubs in every house here.
I think this was shot with the Camerabag App. But since I got rid of my iPhone, I have no way to confirm that.
*Living in Tokyo/ Toronto/ Taipei/ Seoul/ Dubai/ NYC/ Rio/ etc… don’t count. Big cities are different planets entirely and don’t really represent the nation they’re in.
When in Rome, do as the Romans. You’ll doubtlessly hear this if you decide to embark on The Path of the Expat.
You may come across some expats who take this to heart. They’ll be the ones you’ll hate because they will both be more successful than you, as well as being the first one to throw you to the wolves if a conflict arises between you and your boss. You’ll also come across expats who will reply, “Fuck that. And Fuck you for suggesting it. I’m American/ Canadian/ English/ Australian/ South African/ Irish/ Kiwi, by fuck! We don’t adapt. You adapt to us. “
If you’re in a nation like Korea where the economy (and to be honest: their national security as well) depends upon keeping foreigners happy and spending their money, you can easily get away with the second attitude. I knew folks who had been in Korea for near two decades who never learned a thing in the language beyond ordering beer. But they always threw a lot of money around in seeking their pleasures and that was good enough to allow them to get away with it.
Japan almost requires the first attitude. You can get away with being an outsider who won’t integrate to a degree, but only if you’re sufficiently entertaining while you do it. Weird because you’re suffering from depression? Fuck you. Suck it up, whitey. Weird because you like dressing up like Hello Kitty? You’ll be on TV within a week and have a vast internet following. If you don’t see being a weirdo as an option, you’ll be forced to do what you can to adopt Japanese ways or be an outcast. They don’t need to keep your foreign ass happy and they aren’t going to let you get away with not speaking Japanese.
My advice? Adopt the local culture until your comfort zone gets invaded. Let the drunken old fuck cut ahead of you in line. But when he tries to force you to go splits on the local whorehouse, put that shit in it’s place.
This overly dramatic shot is a small portion of the disarray that is my apartment right now. I’m still going through my belongings and mentally weighing their sentimentality against their shipping and/or trashing costs.
Today is also my last day of employment. It’s been a decent run. Longest I’ve had a job, to be honest. Few regrets. And this time I’ll be leaving sad instead of angry and filled with the desire to set the building on fire. That’s really something as well.
Tomorrow will mark the start of the next phase of my life. One month in Japan. Back to Canada for what I hope will be called the “Not so serious. Just take your meds and watch your diet.” phase and not the “Might as well blow your money on hookers and booze in your final few months.” phase.
Ever since I was a child I’ve been fascinated by paths, alleys, trails and so on through the urban jungle. As a depressed teen I was a fan if the Xanth series. (Back in those early books.) The idea that you could take a walk down a path and find a magical world really sang to me. Find somewhere where puberty wasn’t such a fucking drag.
As an adult I still hunt out the strange paths wherever I find myself in East Asia. I feel comfortable doing it here because the odds are low that some bored young men are going to kick the shit out of me just because I’m there. To explore the odd paths of back home, I’m reduced to hoping Streetview has me covered.
Assuming there’s nothing seriously wrong with me, I’ll be leaving home as soon as. The paths call to me. They promise a safe trip.
Tomorrow I go “dark” since I’m closing down my account with SoftBank and won’t have 3G anymore. Thankfully I have Final Fantasy 1 though 4, plus The Secret of Mana and those angry avians to keep me amused.
I put dark in the scare quotes since wifi access is available to me in a number of places. I’ll have to get used to Starbucks’ mildly coffee-flavored sugar milk. But I do like their chai lattes…
This mess is currently my apartment. I’m trying to get everything packed and mailed off ASAP so I can get to what is looking like an epic cleaning. The big problem is the small and medium sized stuff. Paper is pretty heavy and thus expensive to mail off, but I’d hate to drop these Love & Rockets New Stories books into the recycling. And what can I stick in the box full of film so everything doesn’t fly around while shipping? A sweater is a bit too big. A washcloth?
I’m also surprised at the two dozen batteries I’ve uncovered so far. Ah well. One more month left to enjoy it.
The app is Infinicam. I find its filters a bit more convincing than the filters of the more popular apps. But that might just be because I don’t see them all over the Internet.
This was shot on the levee of the Oyodo River in Miyazaki City. It was taken with my short-lived Moskva-5. If medium format film wasn’t virtually dead, I’d hunt down another one.
Earlier today I made a list of pros and cons about living in Japan. I’ve been thinking about these sorts of things now that I’m on my way out.
It was a pretty long list covering everything important: Sex, money, job. I had been thinking of posting it up here, but I was aware of how subjective the list was as well as how much of it was in comparison to Korea and Canada. Also, it was a long list and I couldn’t be bothered.
Should you be deciding between Japan or Korea as your starting point for your expat career, let me tell you something about Japan: You’re going to have to put on the big kid pants. Japan is very much a place for people who really have to be here for some reason and are willing to sacrifice for it.
Things might have changed since I’ve last been employed in South Korea… I doubt it, but crazier things have happened… but pretty much everything but your utilities is covered by your employer. The hardest thing you need to do is not do a midnight run after the fiftieth screwing over you’ve gotten from your boss. You’ll have piles of disposable income and life will be a non-stop party for you.
Unless you’re getting screwed over. Then it’ll be a stressful shit pile. And let me warn you: The question isn’t “Will I get screwed over?” The question is, “When will I get screwed over?”
Here in Japan, you’re paying your own way. Rent, taxes, national health, utilities, travel costs, car, insurance. If you’re working a typical eikaiwa job, your savings won’t be much. You’ll have more compared to a similar paycheck in Canada since Japan outside of the big cities is a pretty affordable place. But you won’t be throwing cash around left right and center* like you will be in Korea.
Basically, you’re going to be a working schlub like you are back home. You’ll just be doing it in a different language.The main benefit it has over Korea is that it’s a hell of a lot more stable than working in Korea. Since you own your visa you’re not the prisoner of the whims of your boss and they have to be nicer to you than they are to the Japanese employees. Immigration still has final say over your status, but you have a lot more security here than in Korea.
Now, I’m keeping South Korea open as a future option since the job situation seems to be as shitty as always back home and I’d be stupid not to. But if I had the same work visa ownership there as I do here, I wouldn’t think twice abut it.
I’m tired of wearing big boy pants. They’re snug in horrible spots.
*Unless you’re part of the JET Programme. Then you’re going to spend your time in a money-shaped bubble until you go home on a chariot made of gold. Yay for government programs!