Me and the baby elephant!

Me and the baby elephant!

If, like me, you prefer to be in control of what happens in your life there are two main methods I would use to ensure I was always in control. The first method was, do nothing. If you don’t do anything different then you always know what is going to happen next. You will get up, go to work, go to the pub, sleep, see the same friends, laugh at the same jokes and memories. You can plan your life around TV schedules and opening hours. It is safe comfortable and actually very, very enjoyable. I am not knocking it; it worked for me for a long time.

The second method was do things alone, that way you can decide when to go, where to go and when to leave.

By moving abroad and becoming an expat, it becomes more difficult to stick to either method. These days I am using the second method more frequently but I am also trying to feel less control about what happens next.  I am trying to relinquish some control because what I am learning is by sometimes letting others lead you, you can discover many new and wonderful adventures.

To recap; I spent around 10 years living a relatively pleasant existence in Brighton, working, having fun, spending time with lovely friends and generally getting by. But I was sticking to method one. I didn’t really DO anything. I was in control of what happened because it followed a pattern. Three years ago I took control of the boredom that was starting to set in and applied for a job in Brazil. Three years later here I am, sitting in a coffee shop in Pai, Northern Thailand thinking about how I finally managed to open myself up to new experiences.

I started to travel when I moved to Brazil, I was a little nervous so my first trip was a three week organized tour. Life was easy I was in a small group (luckily all fantastic people who became good friends) and we were led from one place to another across Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. I didn’t have to worry about booking bus tickets or accommodation. Johan, the leader, Spanish-speaking South African, took care of everything. However, I did have to give up control, I had to give up knowing the detail of what would happen next. I am sure I drove Johan crazy, as I always wanted to know, so this bus is at what time? And it takes how long? And we arrive when? Questions, questions, questions…

I have grown to love travel but often I travel with others, with more experience (or confidence) than me, and although I am happy to let them take the lead this can be a struggle for the control freak inside me.

During the last three weeks I have been travelling again, with new friends in places they know very well. They are able to take me to locations I would never have found on my own or in The Lonely Planet. In order to fully enjoy these adventures I had to once again relinquish control but also to trust. I see now that being in control is really an issue of trust. I don’t think I trusted people when I lived in the UK. I was still learning to trust in Brazil, but Japan, sweet strange Japan, has helped me learn to trust. It’s so safe, organized and efficient. I trust that the train will arrive on time, the taxi driver will take me to my destination, the parcel will arrive on time.

So now, when I get on a minibus in Thailand and it stops, and I’m not sure why because I don’t understand the whole itinerary, now, I am not as worried. I’m not thinking someone is trying to rob me, attack me, mislead me or rip me off. They are just picking up some extra passengers.

In Chiang Mai I left some friends around 9.30pm and walked back to my hotel, a short walk 10 minutes maximum, along busy streets. Next day my friend asked, “Were you ok getting back?” I was little nervous, I answered truthfully but I knew it would be ok, “It’s so safe”.  She said, having been a Chiang Mai resident in that area for a few years. And I remembered friends in England walking back late at night telling me the same thing, but I didn’t believe them, I didn’t think it was safe then. But I trust more now, in what? The goodness of people? Trust that the world is not so dark, it shines a little brighter or I am not so afraid of not knowing everything that will happen next or preventing ignorance by never moving.

So I learn that travel requires a certain naivety. This town, full of youthful backpackers zooming around on cheap rented motorcycles with little thought of consequences. I have seen at least two people with bandaged injuries, one holding ice to her head. But they are joyful, and still having fun. I don’t advocate dangerous driving but I do have a little to learn or remember from these happy go lucky souls.

As I bounce along in these vehicles, on a road to who knows where, at the end of the journeys I have found; balloon rides, incredible scenery, delicious food and even baby elephants! I am so proud that I am learning to trust, because trusting people has given me some of the richest gifts of my life.

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.

 

My interview with Tweeter’s Tales

http://www.tweeterstales.co.uk/2014/05/episode-3-nostalgiavokova/

Lots of people dream of escaping the UK and building a life in sun. They chase the adventure, the culture, a fantasy of ‘living on holiday’ and taking some time out when they’re young.

But what if you aren’t young? What if you’ve got a life, career and friends here and don’t tend to go much outside of your comfort zone? What if you rarely even leave the town where you live? Would you give it all up for a new life in Brazil where you know no-one and don’t speak the language? Would you do it you were a single woman in your late 30s?

That’s exactly what Luci Willis did. She’s already spent two years in Sao Paulo and spoke to us from the even bigger culture shock of Japan about the rollercoaster she boarded when life in Brighton seemed to have got stuck in a rut…

Another year and a little bit wiser? 41 things i have learnt at 41….

  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.
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.

 

If rage were a drink...

If rage were a drink…

I could map my journey through life as the distance between an angry young woman to a seething old lady. Along the way I have moments of intense rage giddy euphoria, frustration, elation, confusion, bleak black dogs, searing highs and piercing lows. You can chart some of these mood swings with the changing of the tides and passage of the moon but in general, I think, they are manifestations of a soul on fire.

I am proud to be a passionate person. I intend to remain passionate for a long as I can, embracing my raging fist shaking nature, continuing to fight and battle and believe that I can make a difference because, who wouldn’t?

Why wouldn’t you want to try and make the world even just a tiny bit better, to make things a little more fair, just, smooth, happy beautiful, funny or loving.  I want to always be enthusiastic about people, places, ideas, music, art, stories, words, creation, EDUCATION.

I feel so lucky to be part of education, but I wasn’t always this way. In those early days of teaching sometimes it just seemed such a thankless task. Every morning as I travelled nearer to the school I would start to feel a little sick, and the nerves and stress and fear and frustration would grow. And I would count down the days until I could have a week away from the classroom and the constant falling short, of never quite being good enough. Because if you didn’t know, most teachers exist in a fog of guilt, always thinking that they could do more, that they don’t do enough, that they did it wrong. Almost without fail when I have worked in colleague’s classrooms they would stop me on the way out to tell me what went wrong, what they missed, what they could have done better. Because we know, we really do know that we have been entrusted with a precious gift and that we owe those young people and their parents the best, but after a while the pressure of that gift weighs heavy on them, weighs them down and you see them droop or drift, survive or fall.

I was lucky. I am brave/foolhardy and in my moments of falter I would CHANGE, move to another speciality, move to another country, move to another school and I believe this has kept me strong. Plus I had my rage, my passionate burning rage and belief that I could be a voice for those without one, that I could use this loud abrasive, assertive, big voice, big body and big personality for good rather than evil.

My rage has propelled me across the world to Brazil and now Japan and here in this quiet country of bows and nods and formalities of language I can’t even begin to understand my rage continues to energise me. The more that silence is expected the louder I get, the more they think I will shut up the more I want to shout.

My now beloved Americans, with their eccentricities of language were tying me in loops when I arrived. I didn’t understand the smiles and compliments delivered with dead eyes. This along with the Japanese habit of having meetings to discuss decisions already made, being agreed as if they were being made in that exact moment. I didn’t know where to place my British pragmatism.

Now I am literally translated by my American colleague, I send him my emails scribbled in fiery fury, metaphorically scratched out in my own blood and he gently changes a few words and points out passages that will alienate and antagonise. He prepares me for meetings, acting as my language coach, I rewrite my questions and answers in advance following advice trying to make sure I get it right.

I am afraid of losing my passion and fire. I am enjoying my ‘American Language’ training, I like learning new skills. BUT I must never forget that sometimes I might choose to antagonise and challenge. Sometimes I don’t want to get more with sweetness and sugar, sometimes I want to squeeze lemon in their eyes, rub salt in their wounds, drink tequila and dance with the devil.

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.

Saved by the City

Saved by the City

Buy from Amazon

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?

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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.

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