What a difference a year can make

Reflecting back this time last year I was depressed, absolutely miserable and fighting many insecurities, internal conflicts and struggling at work. I hated my supervisor and English co-teacher. She was overworking me and still does to this day and even though she was ‘nice’, she could be cruel. My students don’t like her and I’m not quite sure why. When I wanted to go to my elementary school graduation, she refused because she needed me at junior high school to do 3 normal lessons. It was frustrating and useless as I wasn’t even doing anything important in those lessons. My students were teaching me a game and playing the piano with me and she said they could no longer teach me anymore. She said the other students couldn’t play piano during lunchtime, but we already asked and were granted permission from the music teacher. So in my mind at those times, she was a cruel, jealous and horrible woman. She wasn’t nice or even a good teacher in my thoughts.

Likewise, I hated my 2nd grade students and resented my 1st grade students at Junior high school last year. My 1st grade students were so shy they didn’t want to speak English with me. My 2nd grade students were so mean, they laughed at me, one girl ignored me and turned her back to me when I was talking to her. They were rude. In January, one boy said at lunch during one of my lowest points when I was trying to speak to them that he doesn’t speak English. He hates English and no-one understands. I sat there in silence not daring to speak after that, in such a foul and angry mood wondering what the hell I was doing wasting my time on some useless children who didn’t even want my help nor my teaching. Not that anything would help since their English was beyond despair, since their level was so low and they weren’t even motivated to try. After I finished eating I immediately stood up abruptly and without saying goodbye walked away. I think I shocked them. I almost gave up that day. I almost gave up a few months later after the earthquake.

One year later. 

I am happy. That same boy who told me he didn’t want to speak English began speaking English with me. He taught me a Japanese game and tried to use English to explain. He was patient and kind. That rude attitude and that distrust, suspicion and dislike melted away though I’m not sure when. He still dislikes English, but now he at least tries and has promised to do his best. He’s in 3rd year and has now graduated. I was so sad to see him and the fellow 3rd years go. I fell in love with my students (platonic off course).

I almost gave up on them, but somehow I kept eating lunch with them and I kept speaking English to them. They didn’t like it off course but eventually they opened up, eventually we started to joke and laugh. Those mean 3rd graders became kind and friendly. I don’t know why. The girl who rudely ignored me while I tried to speak to her when she turned her back to me, I was so shocked. six months later she began to thaw. She wouldn’t cover or hide her work anymore, she let me look and check. She didn’t ignore me but would say hi. When I spoke to her, she would try to speak English. She had such a strange personality transplant I wondered what happened. In all these incidents I have no idea why they changed. Maybe they got used to me. It’s hard to replace your predecessor who was so loved by them. It’s hard to fill big shoes, but I managed to change my attitude and they changed theirs. And somehow we improved and they became my favourite classes.They were still naughty sometimes, but more cheeky than bad. They certainly improved a little bit – mainly their speaking and conversational skills.

I don’t hate my teacher anymore. I just accept her, though she still pisses me off from time to time, I no longer care. She is not significant. She is just part of the job and will be leaving in two days.

During graduation, my favourite student when giving me a present told me that he was very glad he met me. He truly had fun in my classes and one day he wants to speak English with me as an adult. Earlier when I met his mother, she told me that he always spoke about me and how kind I was, how he enjoys my classes and wants to do well in English. Truly he was the kind one. He also was enthusiastic about my ideas and games, getting other students involved. He always spoke to me and asked my questions, not letting the conversation die. He always tried even though his level was very low. He always did his best speaking. I was very proud. I managed to inspire one kid out of 44. Only one, but it makes a world of difference to me because I was extremely happy to know I had succeeded with one. He wants to go to America one day. It’s not England but it is abroad at least. It’s not just about Japan. I changed that view.

My 1st years who were very shy have also improved and opened up. They are still quite shy but they are very kind and always have been. They try to speak English and even when I ask questions in Japanese, they reply in English.

I can’t believe the transformations. I have met some wonderful and lovely children. I am so very happy now. I am also sad because my students are leaving and graduating. I am sad because soon I will be leaving and the harsh truth has hit me. I’ll never see them again. But I’ll always love them. I am so so glad I stayed. I am so glad I stuck it out and never gave up because in the end, the benefits reaped were far greater than the losses I’ve experienced here. I am stronger emotionally, internally and as a person. I am more confident.

What a world of difference a year makes. I don’t know what changed and why. I only know that I am now happy.

 

In times of stress

This post was written in November 2016. I just forgot to publish it so here it is.

It’s been a while, but I’ve been very busy. That’s always my excuse I know. Today was a good day but a very tiring one. It was culture festival at school and it was very funny when the children performed their drama shows. I may understand very little Japanese, but the actions and gestures I could at least follow.

At the end, the children posed for photos and asked all the teachers to pose with them except me. I took the photos instead, but you know what? I know my kids like me. I know they don’t mind me and I know some hate me. I don’t mind. This time last year, I would have cried unnecessarily and wondered what was wrong with me, why I wasn’t popular. But now it’s such a small thing and although it hurt at first, I realised that it really doesn’t matter because what’s important is that I don’t let the small things get to me. Don’t sweat the small things as they say. It’s one of the reasons I realised that I love my other elementary school so much. The children are so different, so inclusive in everything they do, so much more welcoming, friendly and happy. I enjoy their company so much and I feel appreciated. At my other schools, I don’t feel appreciated so much, but I’ve learnt to accept that this is just the way things are going to be until I finish. And you know what? It’s okay. It’s okay that I’m not fully accepted or liked, it’s okay that I make mistakes, it’s okay that things don’t work the way I want them to. It’s okay because life is a journey and this is just a fact of life. There is no such thing as perfection or being universally liked. What are the burdens with being universally liked? Well for one thing, it’s like living a lie, in an expectation and not being able to break free. It’s so much nicer when you can be yourself and not care what others think. Truly it is. It’s something I am learning and discovering and it feels difficult but great. As a person who has always pandered to requests and tried to be the ‘nice person’, I often got sick of it. It was too demanding and it feels way better to have an opinion, to be nice and respectful but not walked upon. It’s nice to say no sometimes.

I’ve thought many times of just throwing in the towel and walking away, but somehow I can’t seem to do it. It would be so easy to just walk away, book a flight and leave. It would be so easy to up and leave, but everything has consequences and I’m not about just giving up when the getting gets tough. It’s taken a lot of effort to stay and it has been worth it. Things have improved exceptionally and although I face many internal challenges as well as other challenges, it serves to teach me something. I always try to better myself, take risks, learn how to overcome challenges and pressure. I realised another thing today. I don’t do well under pressure.

The past is never too far, hidden but not forgotten.

Isn’t it an ugly thing when you realise that the past isn’t so distant. All those demons you thought you dealt with and let go, only to realise you never actually did let them go. You just painted over them and hoped they would go away and never revisit you. You fooled yourself and started to live your life again walking through it all blindly. But old ghosts do come back to life. They are timeless and they are waiting in the wings when something triggers your past while creating your present. Unfortunately, I’ve been having my fair share of shocks this past year, pretty much all of them ugly and uninvited. But who said the battle was easy or pain-free? Not for the faint-hearted indeed and certainly a few broken bones and sliced flesh. Well I feel it viscerally and it hits me deep, opening roughly papered over wounds; wounds that never had a chance to heal because I ignored it all and buried my head in the ground. It wasn’t intentional at all, it was just my immediate and only reaction at the time. It is how I deal with problems. Not a very good way indeed, but the only way my brain saw since the memories were too visual, too traumatic and too horrible to relive. But I am forcing myself to feel the pain and relive it, because it’s the only way I’ve realised to move forward and actually learn from it this time properly. You cannot prevent or control other people’s actions. You can only control how you react to something.

I’m going to start with a short story. Six years ago, I was sexually assaulted by my uncle. I wasn’t raped, but I was assaulted and touched inappropriately. It happened on two separate occasions and the only thing I could do at the time was freeze in disbelief. When someone you have trusted for your whole life does something so unspeakable, in my mind I could do nothing. I had no power despite my brain screaming, because the truth is, I didn’t understand how this could be happening. Only the second time was I really sure that the first time actually happened. I hadn’t just conjured it up in my mind. This probably doesn’t make sense, but I have realised that we live in a world where not all women have a voice. We have been taught subconsciously perhaps to smile, to look pretty and to stay silent. The latter is what I did. I stood still and silent, my body on fire and my mind in a state of pure confusion and naivety. He said to me that I am a loving and kind child. I didn’t know if he still thought I was a child. I didn’t have counselling, but I did tell my family and friends. My mother was furious at what her brother had done, so she turned him out. No-one wanted him not because of what happened since that remained a secret, but just because he was old and a burden. He died 2 years later. I remember the last time I saw him a year before he passed away. I held him at arms length and I kissed his cheek tentatively memories of the past still on my mind yet knowing it wouldn’t be long till he would die. In that moment, the hate subsided and all I felt was pure pity. Later, news of his death did not affect me. I was not sad, nor was I happy. I felt nothing but anger.

After that event though, I subconsciously isolated myself. I wanted a boyfriend and yet I didn’t. I didn’t want to be touched. Not by anyone and not by any man. Not long after I was assaulted again on a night bus on the way home after a night out. I was drunk, trying my best not to sleep so I wouldn’t miss the stop, I was simply sprawled on the seats. I was touched inappropriately again. I was drunk, but I still knew what was going on. I just couldn’t scream no or react this time because I was too drunk. I tried to slap his hand away but it was so weak. My mind was completely rational, but my body was paralysed by alcohol and extreme exhaustion.

Bad choices, bad decisions, young, inexperience, naivety and self-blame. I took responsibility for my actions. But again, my skin crawled. No amount of washing that day could clean me. I felt violated and completely out of control yet again. Many women have this experience and people blame them saying it’s your own fault. But that’s simply not fair. There are always two sides to a coin.

I am not sure when it began but from a moment in time, I closed myself off completely. My trust for all men went out the window. I am always weary of men. Especially the ones who tell me how beautiful and kind I am. Some people take advanatge of kindness, but does it mean I should stop being kind? I don’t think so. But I also know that being kind and saying no is equally important. Some men don’t understand no. They can’t believe no. How many times do I have to say no? Why won’t a firm no suffice?

So what triggered my thoughts?

I went on a solo trip and at the end of my trip when I travelled with one of the host members back to the main city as he was going the same place, he started to confess his ‘feelings’. He’s married with a child. He was meant to visit his child. It got awkward. It got strange and he used the words ‘special’, ‘kind’ and countless other crap I’ve heard. I don’t say that to boast, as if I’ve had many experiences. I have many negative ones so I am weary of the words. I say it because it is bullshit. The lines “Why don’t you have a boyfriend, you’re so kind and fun.” are said too many times that I know when it is not genuine or when alarm bells ring warning of interest. He insisted then that he wanted to drive me home which was a 3 hour drive. I politely refused. Said it was too kind but no thank you. He persisted and I firmly insisted I was fine. I didn’t need a lift, I was happy with the coach. It became uncomfortable. Still he insisted and still I declined. It was too far, and he admitted it wasn’t kind, it was only for me this special attention. How many times must I say no? I said it 5 times. Still before I left he said, “If you change your mind, tell me.” I ended up running as soon as I got out the car. It sounds dramatic, I was late meeting a friend and still he tried to stall for time. I was fearful because I thought he might follow me. He was so persistent, it was almost scary. So I fled as soon as I could. As soon as I got out, that was my first instinct. I think it’s important to follow instincts. I felt shit afterwards. I felt dirty. I felt like there was something wrong with me. I don’t believe there is, but I couldn’t help the feelings of disgust.

I don’t believe he would have hurt me. I think he was trying to be kind. I think things got out of control because he became inappropriate. But this time I was firm. I was clear. I spoke up and still he didn’t listen. People only hear what they want to hear, but they don’t really listen. I don’t trust men. I don’t trust persistent people when I refuse an offer. I have a few male friends and off course I can’t blame all men and wouldn’t want to. I do believe there are some good guys out there. But I don’t always trust the good ones either. I have a big problem with trust. I have a lot of open wounds. But I am trying to learn and fight back.

No means no. It never means yes.

New revelations

My life right now seems to be like one of those soap dramas that many people watch. Every day is a new drama whether it’s politically; division and consequences of the EU referendum result and post-Brexit, the US political campaign drama, social and online drama with regards to racial abuse on twitter or just general life drama in Japan. The whole universe seems to be in a massive kerfuffle and mess. My life recently has been very busy and exciting, but the drama has peaked and doesn’t look to be receding anytime soon.

A brief summary of events in the past month. My best friend in Japan, in my town is leaving and returning back home. I am utterly devastated. She has been my rock, my amazing senpai and she is absolutely lovely, smart, fun and talented. When you find special people, treasure them for life – they are worth the effort. I am going home for a holiday next week and I will have to say goodbye. I am crap at goodbyes and I really don’t want to say goodbye. I could say see you soon I suppose, but life won’t be the same in Japan with out my biggest supporter. I will miss Ju-san so much! Every time I see her, I just want to shout out: “Don’t go!!” But life is such, we all move on. It’s time for Ju-san to leave so there it is, the cold, hard fact.

Anyway, onto another dramatic topic, since my birthday, I thought there was a guy interested in me. We had a few intimate moments of hand holding, flirting and great discussions. He is my friend. He is one of the good guys, a lovely, sweet guy. ‘This is it!’ I thought, I can see myself with this lovely, kind guy. He’s a great match. This weekend I found out the startling revelation that he is in fact a player. My new lesson learned? Don’t trust nice guys. Sometimes it’s a mask or a trick. I won’t go into too much detail but I found out from my friend that this guy had been on a few dates and had told her that he knew exactly “how” to attract the girls and “what” to say. It seems that he’s not used to such high levels on attention which isn’t surprising since Japan is a washed up shore with limited choice. When I found all this information out, I wanted to do the opposite. I felt confusion and annoyance that he used my attention and compliments to flatter his ego, but his intentions towards me were narcissistic and in vain.

During another one of his moments when he tried to get me to tell him how great and talented he is by putting himself down and self-deprecatingly telling me how useless he was, instead of saying the usual; “Aww no you’re amazing! You’re so talented, you can play the piano, violin and the fiddle! Don’t be so hard on yourself!” I instead resorted to agreeing with him. “Yeah, you’re shit.”, “Yeah you’re talentless and useless.” He looked at me like a wounded dog stunned into silence and disbelief. I didn’t feel one ounce of pity, I felt pleasure. That sounds horrible, but let me justify it – he needed someone to disagree with him and shut this bullshit down. I don’t like being taken advantage of and I especially don’t like attention-seekers. I have had enough of telling other people how great they are when they are being absolutely annoying.

I later realised that he is very insecure and his negativity rubbed off onto me, but as soon as I realised it, I shut it down. This happened because he kept complaining and blowing his own sad trumpet. It started to manifest in my dreams where my old insecurities and pain rose to the fore. I was shocked into awareness and consciousness with a bitter taste in my mouth but also a strong resolution that I would not get tangled in them again. I dealt with my issues years ago, I healed those wounds and nothing would make me want to cut them open again and revisit the pain and the past. I already have enough baggage. This is not the kind of boyfriend I would want. I don’t want to have to keep affirming that someone is great. I don’t want to have to sort out someone else’s life. Mine has enough shit in it. I am trying to sort out my life. I am trying to teach children to the best of my ability and I am trying to do that with confidence. I can’t be part of a pity party. So that part of the drama in my life has simmered down. I’ve made it clear I’m no longer interested and I’ve walked away. End of chapter.

Onto the next drama,  since Ju-san is leaving, her new successor is a young woman with a 4 year old child. This is problematic for my small, rural town which has rejected her. But she doesn’t know yet that they don’t want her and she is still coming because the rejection wasn’t accepted by the organisation because it’s too late. I feel for this woman who will have to settle into a new life in an unwelcome town because I know how it feels to be isolated and cut off. Believe me, the indifference and silence is just as damning as the quiet, simmering hatred. I have a huge task on my hands to help her. Coming alone is hard enough, but coming with a kid is even worse. This town has never had an English teacher with a family so it will be revealing and interesting to see how this develops. I only hope it works out in the end. But I’m not so sure.

When will the drama end?

Birthday surprises

In two days it will be my birthday. I’ll be a quarter of a century old and I’m hoping that in two days I won’t have grown white hair or torn my hair out from stress and frustration. Planning a birthday party in a foreign country is like constantly smashing your head against a brick wall. First, there’s the language and trying to understand and communicate. Second you’ve made a big mistake and invited over 17 friends but didn’t expect everyone to actually attend. So now you’re stuck trying to find a place big enough to accommodate us all. Don’t get me wrong there are places, but in Japan not so many. We’ll probably be split up which is fine, if only I could understand if that was what they were saying. I have no idea to be honest. This was a very bad idea. Japan doesn’t really cater for big foreign groups and I can’t say that I blame them. Not many restaurants where I live are very big. Not to mention that my level of Japanese is limited and quite frankly terrible. I’m trying, but it’s one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do. I’ve faced rejections from more than 5 restaurants already and I’m already in despair as I’ve just spent the last few hours hoping and failing namely falling flat on my face while my dreams of a smooth party do not exactly pan out.

But for now that’s not what’s important. It’s important to recognise all the people who want to celebrate with me. I never thought so many people would turn up or even want to come. I am lucky to have such good friends and so many too. They’re not all perfect, we do have some differences, but they are there. I’m not normally so lucky with friends, so this is pretty amazing. So I will just persevere and hope everything will work out, even though everything has not been in my favour. So does anyone want to actually plan my birthday while I take off on a jet plane to somewhere relaxing, namely one of my nice fantasies since a last minute holiday is out of the picture these days. Anyone? Any takers? Yeah I don’t blame you, I wouldn’t either.

Anyway here’s to nothing going right in life, to the unplanned, the spontaneous, the exciting, the unexpected, the good, the bad and the love.

Difficult lessons learned from travelling with friends

So here it is lessons learned from travelling with friends:

  1. Make sure you are actually on the same page.
  2. If they don’t know what travel insurance or a visa is, be worried. When I asked my friend the night before we were due to travel whether she had bought her travel insurance, her answer couldn’t have shocked me more. “What’s that?” Cue *blank face* “Are you s****ing me?”
  3. Push for what you want especially if you planned the whole thing.
  4. Be worried if they suddenly panic the night before asking if you’re taking them to a really dangerous country with terrorists. Every country has terrorists. But NO in case it wasn’t obvious, do I look like I’m going on holiday to be kidnapped, tortured and then potentially murdered?
  5. If they can’t tell you where we’re going, you’re screwed. It means they’ve done ZERO research and looked at NONE of the material you sent over.
  6. Don’t let them get away with doing jack s**t unless you’re the kind of person who likes to plan everything cough *controlfreak* cough – which is fine if it’s your holiday they’ve invited themselves to. Not that I didn’t ask for suggestions but I was given carte blanche. I did ask where she would like to stay etc. but she said she trusts me!
  7.  Turns out she didn’t actually trust me after our first hostel. Where is our 5* hotel? I can’t live among the poor! They are so different! I’m scared. No, I’m being melodramatic she’s not into 5* hotels and she’s not demanding, but she was very scared and felt the disparity between the rich and poor as well as being a tourist.
  8. Don’t trust them when they say – “You fit in more because you look more like them.” Me: “Wtf!? I’m Asian and I’m brown. I look like a tourist just like you.” Friend: “Yes, but I’m paler and noticeably more touristy.” Me: *mutters under breath* Yeah because you act so unnatural.
  9. Frankly just don’t listen to them. They are irrational and pass on their own anxieties.
  10. If they mention that they’ve only been to two other countries outside of their own, be worried. They’re not seasoned travellers, they’re newbies which is fine if you’re a newbie too.
  11. If you try to take them to historical sites, but they keep diverting you, just know you will never reach those historical sites.
  12. If you want to go on daytrips, but they don’t set an alarm and the only one you set went off but you couldn’t hear it (due to being hard of hearing), but they could and didn’t wake you up, you can be sure they’re not into going on that trip.
  13. If you want to go anywhere, but they don’t want to book anything nor do they want to just go – you can be sure nothing will materialise except wasted time and effort.
  14. Finally – my last and most important piece of advice: just go by yourself – solo travel seems so much easier unless you have amazing friends who you’ve travelled with before.

Be careful who you travel with

Let’s start at the beginning. Be careful when choosing who to go on holiday with. This is no joke and I would know since I am writing from experience – a whole lot of experiences and repeated mistakes. Unfortunately I never learn!! This time I think I will. This time it was the worst holiday I’ve ever had the unfortunate pleasure of experiencing, and although it’s over, it was an important lesson. So two weeks ago, I went on holiday to the Philippines which was originally meant to be a solo trip, but my friend asked where I was going for Golden Week and I told her. She was immediately excited by the destination and asked to come along. Initially I was going to say no, but then thought company might be nice. What I didn’t count on was planning the whole trip and booking everything. My friend wanted me to book her plane tickets too but since I haven’t known her long I asked her to book those herself. We were meant to go to one of the beautiful islands containing several beautiful beaches! What we got was the city Manila and nothing else. Trust me you don’t want to be trapped in Manila for 8 days. I was meant to have the beach but instead got a fancy hotel. I’ll take the beach any day.

I won’t go into too much detail, but we missed our connecting flight so we ended up in Manila. It’s fine – I booked us a hostel for one night to decide where to go instead and move on. Instead, my friend hated the area the hostel was in – she was terrified. That was when I realised she was naive. It wasn’t a bad neighbourhood – sure it was a poor one, but at no point did I feel threatened. We all feel things differently so fair enough. But my friend was fascinated by their lives and was deeply sad about the difference between the rich and poor. It was like she had just popped her head out of a Disney film only to visit the real world mistakenly like the film Enchanted. If she thought what she saw was poverty – well she sure had a lot left in life to see. I’ve visited more countries and I’ve seen extreme poverty like in Sri Lanka, India, Turkey etc. But I’ve also seen poverty in every country – it’s not uncommon. I just couldn’t believe how bubble wrapped she’d been. Immediately we swapped the hostel for fancy hotel and I begrudgingly went for it hoping it would just be for one more night. Instead we stayed there the whole 8 days and spent 4 days of that in a shopping mall. I do not go on holiday to go to a mall 4 days in a row. By the 4th day I was going insane. Where’s my f***ing beach?!? It’s fair to say I never saw it.

The only good thing was nothing was stolen, but it was still officially the worst holiday. So I can only say – be wise, stay strong and if things don’t go your way – it’s okay. But don’t make the same mistake twice because then you really are a fool. Don’t travel with a friend who you think you know, but don’t know well enough until you go on holiday with!