Archives for category: identity

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  1. Pretty much everything you think you know for certain, you don’t.
  2. Plan pee breaks, know where the nearest toilet is…at all times.
  3. My waist is becoming a distant memory.
  4. The amount of fucks I give is rapidly declining; at the same rate my waistline is expanding.
  5. Never deny yourself pleasure. Eat. Drink. Being skinny does not feel as good as real Italian pizza tastes, or fresh sushi, bacon sandwiches, picanha with soy and wasabi. Devour everything.
  6. The internet is dangerous for bored husbands with mobile phones and penis in hand…
  7. Dick pics are rarely enticing.
  8. Don’t try and change people. Everyone tells their own tale, we craft our own narratives, become characters in our own stories. If their reality is different to your version, let them keep it.
  9. Never stop being a kid. Once in a while sing, play, build nests and forts, jump around and laugh until you cry.
  10. My teeth are divorcing, the distance between them is so great, whole sirloin steaks can be found in the crevices. Toothpicks loiter in all my handbags
  11. When you have heard all their stories, if you are not making any new ones…it’s time to move on.
  12. You are as beautiful, sexy, alluring or desirable as you want to be, this does not come from outside. Radiate you, give a giant fuck off to anyone who doesn’t get it.
  13. You can move across the world, twice, and still find kindred spirits, good hearts and wise women.
  14. An early night in your own bed is a moment of pure pleasure.
  15. ‘Just stick it anywhere’ is not a romantic phrase to hear in a tender shared moment.
  16. Never, never, Google your symptoms. Inevitably it will say cancer, then you will have to spend the next hour panicking and further couple of hours reassuring yourself you are not dying.
  17. Your friends will have children who are adults, how is this possible when we all still need to grow up?
  18. Dating is not a game, it’s a procedure.
  19. You have definitely heard it all before.
  20. People may say you are an inspiration or a role model. You remember the time you slipped over in your own vomit after too much red wine and keep quiet…
  21. Travel is wonderful exhilarating and exciting but you can afford comfort over authenticity.
  22. Do not be afraid to be seen, be judged, be stupid, fuck up, fall over, all you need to do is get up and smile.
  23. Sing. Loudly.
  24. Inhabit the body you have, not the body you think you should have. Touch the sides.
  25. No more waiting, the time is now.
  26. There are people in your life who have grown older alongside you, and these are precious gems.
  27. You will experience loss and you can survive it.
  28. The excesses of youth do catch up with you, recovery times are increased, at times I feel like my body is angry with me, I am ever grateful it never gave up on me, despite the abuses.
  29. There are some people you have to let go.
  30. And some that go but stay with you forever
  31. Manage your expectations, be content with the reality of people and not the projection of what you wish they could be.
  32. You will know the meaning of perimenopausal and start to look out for ‘changes’.
  33. Don’t blame others for the consequences of your choices, own it, overcome it and hope to choose better next time.
  34. Vigorous dancing, especially jumping, can result in a little leakage…
  35. Don’t let this stop you jumping and dancing, a life without leaping is a life half lived.
  36. Fear is fading fast, I am no longer as afraid, it is not courage, it’s survival.
  37. There is still so much wonderful music you haven’t heard.
  38. Create, create, create and surround yourself with creative people, this is the real life force.
  39. Avoid people who want to change you.
  40. Avoid people who want more than you can give.
  41. Spend time with people who know and love you exactly as you are.
  42. Birthdays matter less but always take the opportunity to celebrate.
  43. Age ain’t nothing but a number baby
lady like in my yukata...

lady like in my yukata…

Or ‘Has Japan finally made me a lady?’

The New Year for teachers occurs at a slightly different time to the usual January celebrations. August and September is our New Year, a time for reflection and anticipation, new beginnings, a time for change. A fresh pencil case, filled with resolutions to mark more regularly, to plan more effectively and to create the perfect classroom display.

I like this time of year. I like the sense of new starts, the possibilities for change.

Yesterday was my Japnaiversary, one year in Japan and also a time for reflection.

A male colleague accused me of not being a good listener and as I replied, “I do listen, but only if people have something useful to say.” I reflected on my listening skills. I know I can be a bad listener, over eager to contribute and share, I can interrupt and talk over people. Like an annoying child trying to get the grown ups attention my voice cuts in over people who are still formulating thoughts and sentences. My tolerance for listening is better with children than adults, like so many things I am far more forgiving of young people than I am of my peers.

Over the past year in Japan I have been advised variously to ‘get more results with sugar than vinegar’, been told more than once I don’t listen and also accused of being patronizing and unprofessional. In darker moments I think that my passionate emotional nature has no place in Japan. That in this space I become a large, rude, boar, trampling over delicate flowers, smashing porcelain ornaments with my oversized opinions. In Brazil I felt embraced by colleagues and friends, we were all passionate people, overflowing with love and care. We drew together as a team and we gained strength from each other. I felt Brazilian, I felt part of that community, my big bum and big voice found a home there. I felt able to contribute to Brazil, my passion carried me forward, through the project we ran with the local school, through the creation of a new department, through friendships built and through the important changes I went through in my time there. That passionate country wonderfully healed me.

Japan is different. Japan is bringing lightness in to my life. Physically I am becoming lighter and stronger and maybe my interactions could also become lighter and stronger? My main sources of communication outside the workplace at the moment are smiles and nods and I can feel myself take on a foreigner version of the Japanese female submissive persona to excuse my mistakes and confusion. From the little I have seen Japanese women are not as they first appear, underneath the geisha image of servitude hides a steely strength. Don’t underestimate Japanese women; they are not as feeble as they may first appear. Perhaps I need to embrace some of this poise and humility whilst maintaining my fiery nature?

To a certain extent I have no desire to lose my Brazilian passion, if it means I sometimes talk over people, so be it. Most of my favorite people are as speedy, passionate and sharp as I am and our conversations zoom around losing each other and then reconnecting again.

But as my world grows and my horizons expand I am also connecting with wonderful, intelligent people who run at different speeds. They are sharp, smart, thoughtful and kind. They deserve my full attention. So part of me does need to change. I need to learn to listen.

For a long time this move felt like a temporary change to my life, that I would go ‘back to normal’ once I returned to the UK. But as my sense of what my normal is changes so does the thought of going home. How can I go back? I’m not the same as I was when I left. Two things terrify me about going back. Firstly, that I am so different that I am unhappy back in England and secondly that I end up being exactly the same as before and undo all the hard work of the last three years. So I stay away until the changes become sure and solidify, until I am ready to be different in the same place.

So, I try to hold back some of my over flowing emotions, thoughts and passions, I try to run, lift and jump, I try to choose better and more wisely, I try to be different and yet the same, I am afraid to change and yet so much more terrified of staying exactly the same.

So can Japan make me a lady? I doubt it, but it might make me a better listener.

The Great Wall

The Great Wall

I am at the beginning of my first proper solo travel experience, waiting for my connection, flying to Thailand, planning to explore South East Asia for a month. I first flew to Thailand 23 years ago, a terrified 18 year old, petrified, wide eyed. It was my first real experience of the wider world. I can clearly remember the taxi arriving in Ko San Road in Bangkok and feeling like I had been transported to another world, an alien planet. It was so unlike anything I had experienced previously. I also remember the realisation  (obvious to many perhaps, not so much to small town thinker from suburban UK) that there were all these people living their lives around the world at the same time as I was eating my fish fingers and chips in Herefordshire. The more I live abroad the more I realise that those things I take for granted as ‘normal’ are not the same normal for everyone (see this previous post on kettles http://createeducatedeviate.com/2013/10/20/314/ (actually the first thing I did when arrived in my hotel room last night was get the kettle on, old habits die hard!).

I was gifted and encouraged in this opportunity by a wonderful friend. My two closest friends in my late teens were two sisters, fantastic women whom I still love dearly today. In my old age and hindsight I see more and more clearly the legacy of my friendship with these two and their family and friends. They welcomed me in to their world, and I was permanently changed by this connection.

Not only did I travel to Thailand with the elder sister, Alison, I also remember them both sharing with me many new experiences; my first taste of ‘exotic’ foods like, avocado, whole baked salmon (I don’t think I had seen a fish with a head on before) and gin and tonic. We discovered new things together like music, clubs, bands, festivals, love and heartbreak.  They encouraged me to be brave. I don’t know if they or I even realised at the time how much I needed them.

I did not always live up to their encouragement to be braver. I was in Taiwan last week and a friend organised a surprise balloon ride, instead of planning an excuse not to go up in the balloon or succumbing to the fear, I just thanked her and climbed in. The view of the rolling Taiwanese countryside was worth it and the balloon was tethered so it really wasn’t such a frightening experience anyway. Rewind 18 years, those same two sisters offered me the chance to go up in a balloon over our hometown. Back then I was not so brave. At the last minute I ducked out, giving some lame excuse. I remember feeling their irritation, and later my regret at not seizing the moment

It has taken me a long time to become brave. It is an adjective I have heard much more often in the last few years to describe my actions. Of course I never feel brave, on these worldwide adventures I am in a constant state of fear. The little girl from St Albans who had never tasted an avocado still never very far from the surface.

When I think about Alison and Sophie encouraging teenage me to new experiences, and then the people I have met over the last few years who have given me the strength to take risks and be brave, I am so grateful. Grateful, they could ignore and forgive that negative fearful voice that sometimes over powered me. The one that tells me, ‘you can’t do it’, ‘you don’t do that’ or ‘you are going to fail.’ Ultimately, what am I really afraid of? Failure? Falling? Looking foolish? I have done all these things many many times before and survived. Well, I have never fallen from a hot air balloon but I have definitely fallen over in the street a few times… but you get up, laugh, rub the graze on your knee and carry on walking to work.

As I walked/climbed/crawled along The Great Wall of China, I learned two very important lessons which I am trying to hold on to every day since. There was a moment when we had been told that the way ahead was closed, that we should turn around and go back as we wouldn’t be able to get through. Already exhausted I turned pathetically to my intrepid travel companion and asked feebly “When do you think we will turn back?”

“We are not turning back.’ He said decisively, “We go forwards until we can’t go any further.” And forwards we went until we came to a locked gate and a Chinese guard who may have brandished a gun, and finally even my fearless companions agreed to turn back.

That last section of wall, when all other wall walkers had already turned back, was a special experience. We were on our own in blazing sunshine, the magnificent views all around, on crumbling parts of this ancient wall. Thighs burning, knees feeling like they would give up, but each time I stepped out of the guard house and had managed another section of the wall, the rewards were always incredible. Don’t turn back, keep going till you can go no further. I think I had already turned back in my life too many times.

I wanted to turn back because I believed I couldn’t do it, I was momentarily distracted by that awful voice in my head, that anti cheerleader, shouting ‘you can’t do this’ at me. Thanks to the intervention of another brave friend pushing me on, I was able to silence the voice. I could ignore it because do you know what?

I could do it.

I did do it.

I made it all the way to the end,

And back.

So, I sit here waiting for my connecting flight to take me back to Thailand remembering the fears I let make decisions for me in the past. Remembering how I used these fears to create the persona I fell in to as a protection from that voice. Finally working harder to ignore the negative voice, to give up the props, bandages and self-medications I used to protect myself from its furious pessimistic tones.

I think I am ready. I think I am ready to be braver, because I am realizing that being brave just means being afraid, but doing it anyway.

I will not listen to that voice, telling me ‘You can’t do this’ because I could and I did. The voice is wrong and I need to silence it. Ever forwards, never backwards all the way along my own great wall.

 

Another year and a little bit wiser? 42 things i have learnt at 42…

  1. Go home, you won’t miss anything interesting, you will probably want to miss what happens and anything really good will be retold in better, elaborated and more exciting detail the next day.
  2. Nothing really interesting happens when you’re not there anyway.
  3. Being a drama queen is a young woman’s game. It is relief not to be arguing, crying or kissing a frog. These days I can sit back, happily sipping strong alcohol and watching it all unfold.
  4. Hangovers are much worse, the only real cure is to drink every day.
  5. Friends are beginning to get real illnesses and warn you not to be unhealthy. You try not to drink every day.
  6. Finally give up smoking, miss it like a favourite pair of shoes because I’m still convinced it makes me cool and a bit of my personality is missing without a cigarette in my hand.
  7. Change is infinitely more possible than you imagine, nothing is stuck, you are not trapped and there is a multi coloured world of wonder to explore if you just get up, walk to the edge and jump.
  8. Don’t be afraid to be alone. It really isn’t as bad as you imagine and it is infinitely preferable to being stuck with an idiot for the rest of your life.
  9. Friends matter. Old friends matter. There is no one else like the people who have known you for a long time. People who have seen you fuck up, forgiven you, held your hair when you were sick and will pretend to forget your fashion errors from the 90s.
  10. You never feel like a grown up, you just get more lines on your face and more grey in your hair.
  11. All diets work, every single one no matter how ridiculous the instructions. It’s sticking to them that`s the problem.
  12. Also a problem is that one last delicious full fat meal on a Sunday before the diet starts on a Monday.
  13. Every Sunday.
  14. Anyway being too thin makes you look older, a bit of flab keeps you young.
  15. The world is full of beautiful and wonderful things to see and experience. Find them, look at them. I wish I had invested more time and money seeing waterfalls, mountains, oceans, cities and jungles.
  16. You won’t always wash your make up off before you sleep, you won’t always go to the gym, you will sometimes eat too much, talk too much, cry too much, laugh in the wrong place and kiss the wrong people.
  17. If you are not still doing these things at least once a month, you should be.
  18. A smile is a universal language. No matter what you are able to say or understand, a smile can take you pretty far.
  19. Pear shape is an offensive term. Everyone’s shape is differently wonderful and bodies have no need for fruit based labels.
  20. Don’t be afraid of dirt and mess. Life is grubby, enjoy it.
  21. You can’t control anyone else, what they do, what they say, how they think or how they act. All you can control is your reaction to them.
  22. Equally, no one can really control you. Refuse to submit, refuse to be manipulated, take your own path, make your own map.
  23. Whenever you can, replace fear, frustration, and disappointment with love. It brings amazing results.
  24. Sleep is fantastic but you can mange with less of it than you think.
  25. Women: if he tells you he is a bastard, chances are he really is a bastard and you won’t change him.
  26. Men: telling her you are a bastard doesn’t make it ok to act like one.
  27. Wear an amazing coat, and the rest of life usually falls in to place.
  28. Banana skins are the most slippery substance in the world.
  29. I am proud to call myself a feminist. This doesn’t mean I hate men I just don’t enjoy being oppressed by them.
  30. Have a voice, don’t be afraid to use it. Be loud, be proud. If anyone doesn’t like it fuck them. Refuse to be silenced.
  31. Your past might create you but it doesn’t define you. The possibilities for reinvention are endless. You just need the right script and costume.
  32. Being yourself is a lot harder than it sounds but it really is the only way to be.
  33. Never cut your own fringe.
  34. Try to avoid regret and guilt these are empty emotions.
  35. You might regret cutting your own fringe though.
  36. Embrace imperfection. Life is not symmetry and straight lines.
  37. Don’t open the door for me because I have a vagina; open it because it’s good manners. Good manners have nothing to do with your genitals.
  38. Sometimes it is just about the journey. The destination only matters when you get there.
  39. Everyone looks good in black eyeliner.
  40. Know when to leave and get going…
  41. Some pain is good for you, if your knees hurt when you have walked The Great Wall of China, then you have still walked The Great Wall of China.
  42. Even at 42 you don’t know the answers, to life, the universe and everything.
A shamed samurai actor posing for photos in a Kyoto film studio

A shamed samurai actor posing for photos in a Kyoto film studio

My good friend Vicky and I often suffered from, ‘Booze Guilt’. We would wake drenched in shame the morning after a night out on the drink. After a few hours of throwing dirty doubles down our necks, ranting about work and men, cackling with laughter at ridiculous jokes, we would fall home to troubled sleep. Texting each other in the morning filled with fear of broken friendships or foolish behavior; “Sorry if I was a twat last night”, “No I was a twat I was so annoying”. Self-loathing messages zooming back and forth between our mobile phones. The demon drink getting in to our brains and distorting the night’s events. Unnecessary fear and shame making us doubt ourselves.

Shame and fear. Empty emotions.

But fear and shame allowed me to make that final journey to leave the UK. Shame allowed me to leave. Not bravery, not courage, simply shame.

I sat on the shuttle bus at Charles de Gaulle airport waiting for my connection to Sao Paulo and it finally hit me, The Fear. What was I doing? Why was I leaving? I couldn’t do this. I needed to go home. I didn’t want to live in Brazil. The only thing that stopped me from getting a flight directly back to Brighton was shame. I would be ashamed to have not even made it to Brazil, this great adventure I had boasted about for months. I couldn’t scuttle back home, tail between my legs, failed, the adventure a failure. So rather than face the shame I got on the plane.

Absolutely the right decision. The two years in Brazil were life changing.

And now I am here in the land of incomprehensible shame, Japan. This place with shame ingrained in the culture. Haji (shame) is said to form the core of Japanese culture. Japanese culture is described as “shame culture ” in contrast to Western “guilt culture”. A place where shame can lead to suicide, where you must not stand out, must not make mistakes and must be ashamed if you do. They trace this back to the samurai era, and the concept of seppuku or hara-kiri, to cut one’s own belly with a sword, to suffer for shame. In this era, it was better to die than bring shame on oneself. Killing yourself for shame was an honorable act.

Even now the Japanese students I have taught struggle with being wrong, preferring to be silent than make an error in their spoken English. I am told that Japanese people won’t speak their mind that “… no doesn’t always mean no and yes doesn’t always mean yes”. There is a shame in being definite and a fear in being wrong.

I have had my own struggles with shame recently. I am planning a trip to The Great Wall of China and determined to stride powerfully up the steps and along the wall I am trying to exercise. I am overweight and unfit but the biggest hurdle I had to cross to start the journey to getting stronger was my own shame. The real pain didn’t come from the lunges or squats I was doing but the burning, searing pain of feeling so inadequate and judged and useless and embarrassed. It took extreme willpower to stay in the gym and continue for the first few days.

I am lucky there is a space at work where I can exercise easily and I have supportive new friends who eased me in to exercise, gently encouraged and motivated me. I feel humbled that once again I have travelled across the globe to find strength and care in a new group of people. So, once again my shame has given me the most amazing gifts.

And as I struggle home on the train, limbs aching, barely able to place one foot in front of the other, so tired I have forgotten my own name, I hear a beep and the messages came in on my phone from these new friends, encouraging and kind. Being the DQ (Drama Queen) that I am, I start to well up, crying in public, shaming the Japanese commuters with my overflow of foreign emotions.

Shame keeps pushing me to new experiences and in each one I find a wealth of new connections which continue to fill me with joy. The further I travel the more I realize that the world is filled with good people and I am so grateful to be able to fill my life with such wonderful people. So to my beloved Brightonion, Brazilian and now Japanese connections, thank you from the bottom of my heart, you help more than you know.

 

My First Thanksgiving Dinner, benefits of American friends

My First Thanksgiving Dinner, benefits of American friends

I am in a whirlwind of confusion, I don’t understand. I am constantly coming up against words I don’t know, gestures that confuse me and actions I find alien.

Japan? That’s fine, I expected to find that confusing. No, this is my fellow English speakers, my American compatriots.  I had no idea I would be this difficult to comprehend!

Despite my expectations of a shared language, interchanging of popular culture, shared history, we constantly misunderstand each other. My Japanese vocabulary is limited but my American glossary grows by the day.

Lets start with some simple examples;

  • To me a cup of tea and a biscuit means Yorkshires finest black (I never realised tea came in other colours till I moved) tea with cold milk and a hobnob. My colleagues would expect a kind of scone or bread roll along with some herbal concoction or no milk and lemon.
  • Bombed means something failed not that it cost a lot of money (a bomb).
  • Soccer? No. Football.
  • A jelly sandwich? A jam sandwich.
  • They don’t offer me a lift, they offer me a ride. In English a ride could be a shag (a sexual encounter). If you gave me a lift in America you would pick me up and carry me (pick up and chat up might also mean the same thing in American English and this could lead to more problems in misuse). I just tend to get the bus, less potential for misunderstandings…
  • Oh and a lift is also an elevator.
  • A rubber is only used for erasing in the UK in the US it protects you from much, much more…
  • Then there is favour, favor, color, colour, zed and zee…

So gradually my timetable has become my schedule, my lessons morph in to periods. I request my students to ‘turn in homework’ instead of handing it in and I slowly begin to understand.

But I am fascinated by my American colleagues. They’re actually real? America is real? I had seen it so many times in movies (movies, not films) and TV shows (not programmes) that I started to think of it as a fantasyland like Narnia or Hogwarts. But here they are right in front of me with accents I had heard all my life but never really experienced and as I listened more carefully they started to become my friends.

I was wary at first, struggling to connect. Working under the (mis) assumption that our shared language and similar cultural references would bind us closer. I assumed it would be easier to connect with Americans than to Columbians or Brazilians, and these Latin American nationalities had previously become my good friends. Perhaps it was here that the disconnect occurred? At first, we were not bound together by these things but almost pushed father apart. My assumptions around understanding ‘American culture’ confounded me. We thought so very differently about things, especially education, and where I expected to find links I often found conflict.

But as my language has modified so have I. Travelling and working abroad gives you an insight in to the world and sticks a rocket into your assumptions and explodes preconceptions. What am I learning the longer I stay away from the UK? That nothing is as I expect, nothing is what I think, that I must be open and ready to embrace every single different kind of person I meet.

Not literally, although I have bought some Brazilian exuberance and hugs to Japan.

So, despite me using being British as an excuse for bad behaviour, happily invoking shallow cultural stereotypes as alibis (Brits like to drink therefore I will order another beer, Brits are unfriendly that’s why I’m not happy today, Brits are intelligent so I must be too.) I am aware that my own expectations of others are getting in the way of reality.

I am going to try to be more open, to have less expectations, to enjoy my new American friends. To work at saying allowance instead of pocket money, to celebrate thanksgiving, to embrace every single different person I meet (thanks to tactile Brazil). Because this experience, this opportunity to get to know so many different types of people, it’s a privilege I don’t want to squander.

armhotoI am not fond of rules. Ironic, as my job entails a constant enforcement of, sometimes, arbitrary rules designed to control large groups of young people. Rules designed to stop school children rebelling and saying, “I will go to the bathroom when ever I like, I don’t need your permission to URINATE”. When I became a teacher I had to reconcile the rebellious part of my nature with the enforcement of rules at school. I justified it to myself in that I tried to be fair and honest and enforce only those rules which kept my students safe and happy in my classroom. No pleasures for me in making someone take their hooded top off because it wasn’t school uniform or telling people when to stand up or sit down. Given the choice, I didn’t care what they wore, but I had bought in to being part of a community so I had to support the people that did care and thought it was important. I don’t need to inflate my ego by demonstrating my power over teenagers. I don’t, some teachers do. For them the rules are a stick to beat young people with to give themselves higher status in a world where they feel reduced or diminished by their life choices.

Japan thrives on rules, I currently understand, at best, about 2% of the rules here. I have been doing a little bit of travelling during this winter holiday. Mini excursions up in to the mountains, the lone female traveller I always wanted to be, finally a reality. This was made so much easier by the rules. In Japan there are rules and they are followed. It feels safe. Things arrive on time, get to where they are going and no one bothers you. Perhaps, I need rules? Perhaps rules keep us safe and help us make sense of the world?

I stayed in a Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, with incredibly solicitous staff tending to my every need. It made me completely nervous and confused. I was never quite sure what I should be doing. In the end I had to just accept that I was a foreigner and I would get it wrong, probably no one would care that much, and what could I do about it anyway? So I mis-tied my yukata, stomped my way to the dining room and enjoyed a delicious dinner.

I have a tattoo on my wrist; it is the Triforce from a Nintendo game called ‘The Legend of Zelda.’ It represents many things to me; family, friendship, home but also rebellion. I worried about having the tattoo in such a prominent place. Thought maybe I should have it somewhere more easily hidden. If it was hidden I could pretend to comply, but be a secret rebel. In the end I chose the inside of my wrist, to display my rebellion, the less complicit location. My darling mother’s immediate reaction on seeing it was “Oh no, do you think that was a good idea?” which cemented the decision for me. It was definitely a bloody good idea.

I was working in Brazil at the time and watched the leaders of the school struggle to manage two boys, two non-compliant boys. Unusual for an International school, not so unusual for a UK comprehensive school, in fact pretty typical behaviour, but unfamiliar to this private school selective world. Not my usual world, but one I was temporarily inhabiting. I was uncomfortable with the way the situation with these boys was being handled but was unable to have much influence. One of them was an incredibly talented writer, I hope to read more from him one day. The boys were quietly removed from the school. Mainly because they wouldn’t back down and comply with how the school wanted them to behave. I have always liked the rebels best, the students who fought the system. I chose to work with these kinds of students as a career. There are not so many of them in my new life and I miss them. These people can change the world given the right opportunities. These boys reminded me that I want to be non-compliant too so I got the tattoo on my wrist and not on the safer, more hidden spot on my ankle, I had also contemplated. A small gesture as a constant reminder.

I struggle to comply with expectations of me. I will not get married, I will not have a family, I intend to stay fat and not diet. I will wear my flab as a badge of honour and every time I feel pressure that I might be more socially acceptable if my arse was 3 sizes smaller I will look at the triforce on my wrist and remember not to be afraid. So I buy a massive fur coat and take up two seats on the Japanese subway, become bigger and bolder and brighter. I turn up my Britishness and my foreign status, exaggerating my rolling vowel accent. I celebrate my single life freedom by travelling alone and sleeping diagonally across a double bed.

I like and understand the rules but I will not let them impede my happiness. Every time I look at the tattoo on my wrist it is there to remind me not to worry. The rules are there to help us feel safe. If I am not endangering anyone and I am safe and happy I will continue to rebel and ignore the rules even here in Japan.

You can read all the posts about Brazil in one place. I have edited them in to a small book. Available on Amazon.

http://www.amazon.com/Saved-City-Lucinda-Willis/dp/149433495X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1386657746&sr=8-2&keywords=saved+by+the+city

Or what I have learnt about Japan in 4 months..

4photo1.    Vending Machines

If you asked me what I knew about Japan before I arrived unfortunately I might have said, .”..don’t they have vending machines selling schoolgirls’ used knickers?”  Within in this one misconception lie many layers of ignorance and assumption about Japan, technology and sexuality. It‘s a complex county and I have been here only for a short time but I’m already undoing many of my misconceptions.

There are many vending machines in Japan. They’re everywhere, but the majority of them sell drinks, plastic toys or ice cream. Some of them sell beer. A friend was telling me she questioned why the Japanese teenagers didn’t buy beer from the vending machines, they have no locks or ID checks, on them, “because they are not allowed to drink alcohol until they are 20” was the simple answer. They are not allowed to, so they don’t. This may have been a Japanese adult misconception too. I would imagine Japanese teens are sneaking beers out of the vending machines but I’m not sure.

But I am sure that if you put a beer vending machine in the middle of Lancing (where I used to work) the beer and quite possibly the entire machine would be gone within minutes, and the teens of Lancing would be partying hard.

2.   Neon

I blame Bladrunner. Not once since I arrived have I been in a flying car zooming past huge neon billboards with beautiful women advertising exotic products. Instead if you can, imagine my shock at arriving and being given an apartment here:

I expected Gotham City and I got Jane Austen.

My need for neon led me to traipse around Tokyo seeking out ‘Japan’ and missing out the fact that I was right in the middle of the capital city. I was in Japan it just didn’t look like the 1980s  vision of the future I had expected.

I have moved away from the countryside now and have a city view with a couple of neon signs visible in the distance. Please remember I had been living for two years in Sao Paulo where billboard advertising was mainly banned in the city.

http://www.amusingplanet.com/2013/07/sao-paulo-city-with-no-outdoor.html

Now I was in Japan I wanted NEON.

3.   Efficiency

Not only does Sao Paulo have no outdoor advertising, Brazil also has a love of confusing and protracted bureaucracy, from the simplest task to complex visa requirements. My Brazilian Visa took 6 months to obtain, my Japanese one less than 6 weeks.

One night in SP I went out to see a band. To get a drink you had to queue 3 times, first to look at the drinks menu, then a new queue to order a drink, then the 3rd queue to pick up your drink order. Although Japan is thought of as  super efficient sometimes Japan and Brazil are not so different. In the Japanese supermarket you put your shopping in your basket and take it to the till. They get a new basket and put your shopping very neatly and carefully in to a new basket as they ring each item through. You then pay and take this new basket to the special bagging area (supplied with additional packing materials) and unpack the shopping again to repack it in to your shopping bags.

In contrast to Brazil however, Japanese efficiency tends to work (Brazilian bureaucracy seems to drift round making you dance but is always presented with a smile). In Japan my train has arrived on time, every day, to the minute, without fail. No leaves on the line or excessive heat on the tracks causing cancellations like good old British Rail (RIP). When I arrived in the country they took my photo at customs (thanks, I looked great after almost 24 hours travelling) and created my resident card on the spot. My Brazilian card arrived just in time, at the end of my two-year visa. Japan is efficient? Yes. Over efficient? Possibly.

4.   Technology

Ok, so my first Japanese apartment had a talking bath. It would fill the tub with exactly the right amount of water to the perfect temperature. I miss her voice reminding me to put the plug in. My new apartment has an ordinary tap and the only voices I hear are the ones in my head (you are dirty, you will never be clean…).

I  had one Bladerunner moment. I was in an huge electronics shop in Kyoto over excited and overwhelmed by the displays of gadgetry, fingers itching to spend spend send spend. I had that too hot shop feeling when you have six layers on and your coat is too heavy. I couldn’t see the exit and I was starting to get panicked that I was going to spend two months salary on a pair of headphones. There was a female voice with a slow computerised British accent explaining the deals of the day. If the Terminator had blasted the Bose display in search of Replicants I wouldn’t have been shocked.

But I digress; the technology on sale here is fantastic. I’m sure my Epsom printer is capable of world domination once I work out what the hell the instructions are saying. Or maybe the kanji are just another reminder to put the plug in the bath.

But it’s just not quite as high tech as I expected. I noticed a pay phone on the train platform. Low-tech yes, but practical. It was the paper copy of the phone book underneath that disappointed me. Paper? This was not the technology I was expecting. Where were the robot butlers?

photo

Japan has a love for paper. Not just beautiful handmade pages but cold hard cash.  I have rarely seen people pay by card. This is a society that generally pays in cash. It’s so safe you can carry your wealth in paper form.  Every note is pristine. This is could due to the Japanese government printing extra money to boost the economy or anther example of Japanese efficiency. Either way I have always had two purses. In Brazil it was one real purse, one purse to give to the robbers. Here it is one coin purse and one hermetically sealed note storage device. No more crumpled fivers shoved in a pocket, and Sellotaped and snot stained.

5.   Kawaii

Those who know me well, know among the myriad of ways there are to annoy me, a good one is to call me cute. I am not cute I am a large loud mouthed woman who stomps around arguing unnecessarily. I’m still not entirely sure why I came to the land of cute characters. They are everywhere. I saw a Police van, presumably designed for rounding up rioters or drunks? Cute little police mascot stuck on the side.

I was expecting cute and crazy fashion everywhere. I was expecting kawaii girls. What I see in reality is endless streams of school children dressed in hideous nylon sailor dresses or navy synthetic round collared jackets. Japanese school uniforms look incredibly unconformable, impractical cheap itchy fabrics. But no pink haired crazy girls in cosplay. As I sit on the train in the morning most people look the same there is uniformity in everyday Japanese fashion that you don’t find in the UK. As I travel I realise my beloved Brighton is a place where anything goes and although this is sometimes carte blanche for middle class wankers to live out hippy fantasies it also makes for a more interesting train carriage.

As I attempt to assimilate in to another new culture I realise once again, that what I think I know I don’t know and what I didn’t know is probably a lot more useful.

Japan is fascinating and I am prepared to be surprised.

Japanese food, a different texture to my 'normal' experience!

Japanese food, a different texture to my ‘normal’ experience!

Not everyone owns a kettle. (Yes, Mother, there are some households where the electric kettle is not the first item unpacked in a move.) This may be obvious to you, it was not to me.

The owning of a kettle and the serving of tea runs though my English identity like blood or HP sauce. I have moved many times and each time the first thing I would do was get the kettle out. I have woken up groggy in unfamiliar homes and negotiated the kitchen, where are the tea bags? Which cupboard are the cups in, have they got milk? And usually managed to make myself a cup of tea. You arrive at my house, in tears, broken hearted, celebrating, confused, inconsolable, joyful, I will make you a cup of tea.

But this is not what happens in Brazil. When I left, I gave my colleagues gifts; Tetley teabags, teapots, cups and saucers, to make English tea. They asked me ‘what is the best way to make tea?’ and I told them, the water has to be boiling, the milk has to be cold. I had been given weak Brazilian chai preto in warm water with hot milk and this is not a good introduction to the healing wonders of a good cup of tea. Maybe I’ll buy a kettle, one of them said. Buy a kettle? You don’t have one? I was shocked, and this was after 2 years in Brazil, I still hadn’t got it, I still didn’t see.

Even, after two years in a new place I had still forgotten that what I experienced as commonplace, in my home, my friends homes, at work, with family, in England, this was not always replicated. Even when we seem so similar, even something as mundane as boiling water. Again, maybe obvious to you. Not to me. The big changes like language, food, customs were obvious, but we seemed to be generally the same. We lived in homes with running water and kitchens and bathrooms, we worked hard, we laughed, shared jokes,  drank beer together. It was the smaller things I took for granted, that I thought most people would do the same way. But we don’t always, some things we do differently. Like boil water.

Now I am a foreigner again. In a new place and I am different to the norm. This is even more pronounced in Japan where my physicality sets me apart from most other women. I worried about this before I came and I still worry, sometimes. I worry that being too ‘big’ in almost every possible way is going to start to make me feel small and inadequate. My body is too big for most of the clothes sold here, my feet are too big for most of the shoes, my voice is too loud, my personality is too combative, I’m too abrasive, I’m not cute, I’m not married and I’m not a mother.

But I am a show off and this is what I hope will keep me safe. When I was a teenager I dyed my hair bright fire engine red. I clearly remember complaining to my mum that everyone was making comments about it at school. They are all going on about my hair Mum! That’s the point though isn’t it? She said in that infuriating -knows you too well and cuts through your crap- way, that mothers do so well sometimes.

That was the point and although my hair is now brown, that is still the point. I can manage being the foreigner and being different, because I am generally comfortable being different. I try to fight the fears coercing me to conform. It is inescapable that my passage to ‘otherness’ is eased by the fact that I am white and British. I am in a position of privilege, I recognise that too. Despite our astounding record for attacking other nations (we have attempted to invade all but 22 countries in the world, that’s a 90% record) The British are generally, welcomed and valued by the places I have been. So although I don’t usually believe in luck, I recognise, and am grateful, that the luck of my birth has provided me with a safer passage in to the world.

In Japan, I am aware that I am different but at the moment, I don’t feel too strange. Japanese people seem to ignore me for the most part, but that might be politeness. This studied nonchalance might start to grate after a while. I might want to be noticed, to be seen. I might want my separation to be openly acknowledged rather than silently observed. I might want to increase my volume, enhance my ‘Britishness’ to try and provoke a reaction. I might start writing with a quill, wearing a ruff, adding ‘forsooth’ to my speech. Maybe I’ll invade Luxemburg…

I am not afraid of being different but at times the weight of not conforming can feel heavy. I dislike the thought of being pitied or patronised. I dislike the idea that I could be looked upon as falling short or failing. The lines between what I want and what I think I want can become blurred by the expectations of others. To wake up a foreigner at 40 has helped. To be in a place where I am innately different makes it easier. My identity is already distinct from the norm.

In the end what I have really learnt is, some of us have kettles and some of us don’t but for the most part, we can still get hot water.

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