Fall is here in this “Paris of the Prairies” and another summer has more than wrapped up, with already one below 0c night that I can think of. My garden is all pulled up and it’s definitely around this time of year that my mind starts turning Westward. Or Eastward. Or anywhere that isn’t this bloody cold! I am usually lamenting the end of the summer here and all the beautiful hot, dry weather that comes with it. But let’s face it, this summer has been shit. I am so glad it’s over and I am able to MOVE ON.
As I’ve touched on before, this summer has been completely dominated by my health problems/health scare. Doctor appointments, neurologists and trips to the University, blood tests, and finally an MRI all to determine what happened in my head back in April where I had “sort of” symptoms of Trigeminal Neuralgia, but not really. The more the tests and time wore on, the more I started to get really freaked out that I had MS or something else. My symptoms were quite bad at some times and I was usually crippled with a near debilitating exhaustion. Numbness and tingling in my face and fingers and arm, dizziness. It’s all been very annoying, but mostly just blindingly stressful. For both of us. And my family. What would happen if I had some disease that was going to be here for the long haul? What about our long term career options? My husband is an artist. What about him? What about travel? Would he have to eventually take care of me? What was going on in my brain RIGHT NOW?
Fortunately, to make a long story short, my MRI turned out okay and there are no signs of any lesions or tumors. I do have some small, minor birth defect whereby a blood vessel didn’t form properly but it’s completely unrelated and won’t cause any problems down the road. So while I don’t know why I had the initial nerve pain and the fallout from all of that, I am obviously elated that it’s nothing too serious. I have one more neurologist appointment in November so maybe he can shed some light on what I should do if I am abroad and this happens again.
Sooooo…..Now that all THAT is over, for the first time, I’m and WE are actually able to start looking forward at what is next for us and what our next travel plans shall be! This has all put a huge new level of excitement on travel for me. I mean, for a while there, I didn’t know when and if I’d be able to be away for a longer trip again or if I’d need to hang around here for more tests or what. Nothing had flavour or interest to me during those months and the prospect of travel didn’t really interest me because I wouldn’t allow myself to think of anything that far in advance.
We have all sorts of ideas of what we want to do and where we want to go and because of the above mentioned sidetracking, it looks like we will probably be leaving about a month later than we normally do, which is okay because we get a chance to save a bit more. We’ve started getting some ideas together and budgeting out what would be viable. Ultimately, as much as we could keep on going and doing this every summer, we feel that this could be our last “big” trip for a while. We are playing around with the idea of going away until next summer again, coming back here and working another summer and using the money to move to Toronto. It’s not something we are super pumped about, but opportunity wise, it might be best for us. But that is a ways away, so who knows yet! It would be kind of nice to unpack some boxes that have been in storage since 2011 and to have my own kitchen again. But once I start travelling, I don’t worry too much about that so I wouldn’t be surprised if we change our mind again. At any rate, as far as locales and dates we don’t have anything set in stone yet. I am trying to swing a flight through Vancouver so I can see my family and friends, which would be so great.
We are also hoping to do some house sitting to cut costs. Not having to pay for accommodation is a huge deal while travelling and we are looking at joining a particular house sitting website that has great reviews. This could open up some potential places to use that would otherwise have to be pretty short visits. I would really love to go back to London and to be able to spend more time there than last time.
So really, one of the only other positive highlights of the otherwise “heavy” summer has been my creative ventures. I’ve managed to fill quite a few personal orders for my handmade items as well as sell a few things a local store. I’m not sure if I will leave my stuff in there while I am away or take it out. It has been really fulfilling making things for people and making people happy with things that I can create. Working on these things has been a great way to take my mind off of stuff when I was so worried about my health. Apart from this I have been working here and there for a few local businesses with friends either in the local homemade ice cream stand, which I always love, and more recently for a catering gig through the Co-operative Cafe I worked for last year when I was here. I love being able to use any creativity, through work and get paid for it too. Now I am trying to finish up some stuff that people have requested I make for Xmas gifts, so that has been keeping me quite busy. I am always up for more orders though, which I can do up until I leave, of course…more soon, maybe?
Hello my blogging lovelies! I am not going to be one of those people that constantly apologizes for their absence and then does the same thing over again (or maybe I’m already that person, I don’t know!) but it’s been quite the emotional journey to get me to the point where I feel like writing anything here, again. Actually, I had been thinking of it for a while, and I was so touched by a fellow blogger and followers question, asking me if I was okay because I haven’t posted for a few months! It’s true-I haven’t and I guess I felt like I just needed a bit of a hiatus. Coming back to Canada for me this time, has been quite a challenge and I finally feel like I’m at a point where I feel a bit more settled, emotionally speaking. (I know, I know #firstworldproblems, right?) And I guess that’s another reason why I felt it so difficult to write anything. Sometimes, I have a problem with this blog because I feel like talking about myself and what is going on with me can sound so trite and petty, or self-congratulatory and, well, just plain lame. Like, really, who cares, right? But I do have to admit there is a certain catharsis to getting it all down on digital paper and sharing it with the people who do follow me. Sometimes it just helps me organize my thoughts, and stay positive and present.
So, why was coming back such a problem? I don’t know. I guess it was because it was rather sudden and unexpected. We were just starting to get settled in Tokyo, meet new friends at our guesthouse and I was just getting used to my job. We didn’t really want to come back to Canada for a long while and we certainly didn’t want to come back and work for the parents’ biz again. We, quite admittedly, are too old to be staying with them for such extended periods of time, and as sweet and kind as they are, it always presents a series of challenges. We love our independence and become quite used to it, since we spend a great portion of our year, out in the big wide world, far away from anyone familiar, other than each other. We get quite used to it just being the two of us and we get into the routines that are associated with that. For me, sharing a kitchen and any sort of creative space is quite difficult here. Coming back here, this time was different. Gone was all the previous excitement and anticipation I had for all the spare time I would have to work on creative ventures. In a sense, I had lost all ambition for writing anything here, or designing or making anything for my Etsy shop or anything like that. Everything felt futile and I felt like I really couldn’t be bothered to drag it all out and pack it all up each time I wanted to do something. I really didn’t feel like doing anything. After a while of feeling quite depressed about this, I decided just to accept it, and relax with it a bit and not put any further pressure on myself. I resolved not to do anything creative for the summer if I didn’t feel like it. This included taking photos. I really didn’t feel like doing any of this stuff. Even cooking lost it’s flavour. I guess it sounds like I was actually quite depressed. I started worrying about the indeterminable future. About why we were doing what we were doing and if we were screwing up our lives and if we were making big mistakes. This was all coupled with a lot of stress surrounding some health issues I’ve been having…
Finally, after about two months after arriving, I started feeling a bit better. And then a lot better. Things started happening for me creatively. A local shop wanted to carry some of my items on consignment, so I pulled my stuff from Etsy and decided to go exclusive with them. This eliminated the annoyance I had around selling my stuff online, which was, mainly, that I had no way to promote my stuff and it was very difficult to get new viewers with something as massive at Etsy. Now my things are on consignment, in a small, beautiful, local store filled with my more amazing and talented artists than myself and this has been humbling and inspiring. It has given me some ambition to make more.
I am practicing learning how to relax and be present and not worry about the future or what we will do in the fall, this time. We have lots of ideas but it will depend on our savings and what they will allow. We are also considering what our plans are AFTER this next winter, which has added some extra pressure, since before, we just assumed we would come back here if all else fails. I’d really rather not do that, like REALLY, although I am grateful, always, for the option. I now don’t feel as worried about our choices and options, particularly when I look at other people around me that are doing things more traditional and more “organized” with their lives and I always feel these things are not necessarily for us, or attractive. Kids, mortgage, etc. Unconventional, yes, but I’ve never regretted the choices we have made regarding these issues, even though I am happy for my friends and family that are following these paths. I do not know too many people that have financial stability or overwhelming blissful levels of happiness, so I think we are doing okay.
Regarding my health issues-this is something that continues to worry me, and I suppose I am just going to have to keep telling myself that worrying isn’t going to change anything. In fact, it will probably just make things worse. To make a long story short, I had a neurological attack of sorts in April, while in Tokyo, that has symptoms which are now pointing towards Trigeminal Neuralgia. Known to be one of the most painful conditions a human can experience, I am not particularly excited about this (potential) diagnosis and I am further distressed by the fact that this condition can be a warning sign of Multiple Sclerosis. Other symptoms I have been experiencing lately, have only served to deepen this concern, although my doctor assured me that it is not necessarily a link to MS and can be it’s own condition on it’s own, with no other problems associated. I have a neurologist appointment next week and then I’m assuming, an MRI would be the next course of action. Again, I realize stress and worry does nothing to help this issue and I don’t know how much of these symptoms I’m experiencing are just things I’m noticing because they are on the list of MS symptoms and I’m over associating, or what. Trying hard not to be neurotic and annoying.
Lack of personal space here means my spiritual practice is currently virtually non existent. This has been a great contribution for me, I feel, for the levels of angst and depression I’ve had over the past few months. I’m still working on how to manage this problem as best I can given the tools I am currently working with, while also lowering my expectations on myself, which I am always, in any regard, struggling to meet. I am my worst enemy and my greatest critic.
So, spending a lot of time trying to relax with myself, accept things as they are now, and enjoy the present. I am always excited about our unconventional and indeterminable future and there is always a lot of potential there. In so many ways, the world is always our oyster and things always have a way of working out, to sound cliche. I am going to spend more time now, taking photos, enjoying the little things, taking time for myself to relax and taking each day as it comes, since that’s truly the only true thing I have right now, is just today.
Believe it or not, despite the long-windedness of this post, it’s actually quite the summary of a bunch of other little sub-topics that I’ve tried to wrap up as best as possible into something resembling a few clear thoughts. There have been other struggles and other good things and a lot of ups and downs that have made up the past few months but what I’ve taken from it all is what I always am working on which is to be present and RELAX! Oh, and any advice is always appreciated in this regard. I am, after all, a work in progress. Thank you all for sticking with me.
The other day we went to Enoshima: a trip I was planning on taking during Golden Week before I knew we were leaving. We have been here many times and have also taken visiting friends and family here, but it’s been about six years. I wanted to make sure I got a chance to see it before we left. Enoshima is an island connected by a bridge to the mainland about 90-120 minutes outside central Tokyo.
It was kind of a crazy idea to come here during Golden Week, but what choice did we have? The crowds were insane and at one point the people were crammed to a stop…
The nice thing is, people in Japan do not push or get angry (usually!) so everyone just patiently waited to get through…
The crazy crowds from above…
There are so many steps at Enoshima. If you want you can buy a ticket which allows you to take a series of escalators all the way to the top. I’ve never done this, though. The climb is part of the fun and makes the rewarding views all the better…
Corn on the cob: charcoal grilled wtih soya sauce….
Wouldn’t want to live here during a big earthquake…it’s already crumbling…
Heading back to beautiful Haarlem again, on our way home…
May 5th is Children’s Day in Japan. This holiday is part of Golden Week, a week long smattering of holidays which have been kind of connected together so that a few, very fortunate Japanese people get more time off work in succession. Many people have to work off and on during this holiday but most people do get today (Friday) and Monday off. Children’s Day used to be called Boy’s Day. Girls’ Day is another holiday (not within Golden Week) called Hina Matsuri, but the government changed the name of the holiday to celebrate the personalities and futures of all children, regardless of gender. The main symbol of this holiday is the koi or carp, who, struggling upstream can be thought of all children in their perseverance as they make their way up the challenging upstream of life and growing up.
Hardly comparable, my life as a foreigner in Japan is quite easy. Japanese people don’t expect as much from me. I am not expected to understand formal customs and rules (despite the sometimes raised eyebrows if we sometimes cannot meet those expectations), but I can’t help but feel that we have been swimming upstream the past couple months with this past week having it all come to a dramatic head.
Minding my own business and enjoying my Golden Week, I decided to head to immigration to find out what the hold up is on our Certificate of Eligibility. This is the piece of ridiculously redundant paperwork we require in order to change from a Temporary Visitor Visa to a working visa, (and a dependent visa for my self employed artist husband). We need this piece of paper to apply for the change of status which allows us to stay here.
The whole process of application was predictably horrible. Immigration authorities in any country are less than pleasant, usually and while the Japanese staff here are quite friendly if you get the right person, they are unable to think outside the box and our situation threw them for quite the loop. Not a lot of people change from a tourist visa to a work visa within the country. They weren’t sure what paperwork we needed and it required about four visits before they stopped contradicting themselves and we had everything they asked for both from ourselves and my company.
But since our Temporary Visitor Visa (Tourist Visa) would be running out on May 13th and since we had a return flight booked back to Europe for May 7th because when we first came here you needed to have a return ticket to enter as a tourist, we were starting to get a bit nervous, particularly since Golden Week was coming and we knew the office would be closed for many of the days and there would be no mail as well.
To make an even longer more convoluted story short, I finally talked to someone who could find my application, still on a desk somewhere, who told me that there was only a 50/50 chance it would be completed on time, before our Visitor Visa expired. With incredulous disbelief, I asked them what I was supposed to do. I had completed all their many trips to immigration and requests, I had photocopied and got official stamps and been there many times-in effect: I had done my job, why can’t they do theirs? They just told me it wasn’t completed yet and they had received many applications in February and March and there was no guarantee it would be done in time. If it wasn’t done before May 13th, and our Change of Status applications weren’t in before then, we would have to leave the country.
Despite my arguing (I have no idea why I always ask questions and argue my point at Japanese immigration-I always know at the time that it’s totally pointless), despite the fact that they have my application sitting there, there was nothing they could do. They recommended I go back to my own country, wait for the document to be sent to my employer who could then send it to me in my country, which I then take to the Canadian Embassy and apply for the visa before reentering. They recommended that I get my ticket in order to return home. I sort of had a feeling that there was something else going on here, like they knew I would be rejected or that something was wrong with my application, but maybe that’s just my paranoia. It is likely just under a stack of other applications, in an unalterable order and that’s just the way it is.
However, upon returning home, it started to become clearer and clearer to me that we had to make some very quick decisions and in saying that, we sort of realized we didn’t have many options. We phoned the airline to see if we could bump back our ticket another week with the hopes that the paperwork might arrive. There was nothing available in our class during the dates we needed and an upgrade would cost about $1500-$1600. Even if we did that, we’d still only have a 50/50 chance it would come on time.
We started to realize that we were leaving Japan. A huge wave of shock and sick to my stomach-ness came over me. What the hell, man? We were just getting settled. I was meeting up with friends, buying furniture, getting comfortable. Admittedly, there was always a small niggling feeling in the back of my head that the documents wouldn’t come in time, a part of me was kinda like, “Nah, they’ll see on our applications we are running out of time and they’ll just hurry up and do it!” There was also a part of me that thought we might get our applications rejected for some reason, but until the prospect of having to leave was right here in my face, it was a lot easier to put it out of my mind. Before Golden Week, my boss asked me about the application, as did one of my coworkers and I told them that I still haven’t heard anything, despite it being a month and I was getting really nervous and stressed out about it. That is when we agreed that the best thing to do was to go to immigration and find out.
(my garden which I won’t be here to see grow…)
So in a day or two, our lives have been turned upside down. With no alternative but to head back to Canada for another summer, we have to take that return ticket. We are now scrambling to ship things home, cancel housing (for which we just paid a months rent), tell my boss, say goodbye to friends and buy some last minute omiyage (souvenirs for friends). It has been emotional and shocking. As most of you all know, I hold no particular allegiance to Canada and I was really looking forward to coming here in a lot of ways. Far from perfect, I prefer it to my own country in many ways. I was happy with the break from it and didn’t have any plans to return for a while. Teaching English has never been my passion but it afforded us the luxury of being abroad.
We try to tell ourselves all the cliches: everything happens for a reason, it’s not permanent, we can come back etc. But it’s still really hard. I feel so grateful for the time I’m able to spend abroad. I am so fortunate. I said to M the other day: “I just leave my home country because I feel like it. I have that luxury. There are people going through various immigration processes everywhere that are trying to escape terrible, horrible situations or people that have no legal recourse or escape. My country isn’t under attack, my people are not being persecuted (unless you count the fascist regime of our current government who is doing their damnedest to destroy our country-but that’s another story-Ahem). I get to spend a lot of my time travelling and visiting other countries for fun because of the lifestyle we have chosen and the choices we have made. That doesn’t mean things always go smoothly. We’ve had similar situations travelling in SE Asia where visas can’t be extended and we’ve had to leave unexpectedly. It just feels a bit different because we were hoping to settle here for at least a year.
So what now? We are scrambling to buy connecting tickets (outrageously expensive on such short notice) and we currently only have a ticket from here back to Amsterdam. M, joyously, gets to spend his birthday in Amsterdam and we’ll do our best to celebrate our crazy lives before we head back to his hometown for another summer of saving money and then we shall see what adventures are next for us. There are many reasons why it probably isn’t going to work to come back here right away but they are too boring and extensive to get into for you, my already far too patient audience. For now, we are trying our best not to be sad and mope (though I have the odd meltdown here and there) and celebrate our last few days here with gratitude and happiness. We don’t know what is next for us, but we will embrace it head on, with curiosity.
Thanks for reading.
Oh wow, I have been incredibly absent. I apologize. I haven’t really had too many spare moments to sit down and write on here, for one thing and secondly it’s been very difficult to express all the thoughts, feelings, emotions and events of the last month for people that have never been here. So I will try a basic sort of summary and we can go from there. I have a lot of photos to share and now it is Hanami (cherry blossom season), which I have been waiting so long to see again, so I have a lot of flower photos which you may or may not appreciate 🙂
Again, in inadequate summary, I will start by saying the first couple of weeks here were very tough. There was culture shock (again! which surprised me given that we have lived here before), jetlag and confusion and major doubts about our decision to come here. The first guesthouse that I reserved, that seemed like such a good idea at the time, ended up being, basically, a dump. I chose it because it was small, with only 7 guests, including us, and for its proximity to Shimokitazawa, one of our favourite neighbourhoods, but when we arrived it was freezing cold, dark and rather grim. We had no natural light in our room, our window looking out to the neighbouring wall, and the surrounding area was completely concrete and urban, even by Tokyo standards. No park or green space to be found anywhere.
So we decided to move to another guesthouse. This one is in a neighbourhood well familiar to us and next to a huge beautiful park that I get to walk through every day on my way to work (more on that, later). We are in a residential area, but it’s green, our house is bigger, which means more guests and more noise, but also a whole host of new friendly people to interact with and ask for advice etc. Our room is better and warmer, we have better beds and no limitations on our utilities (unlike the other house which had a very low cap on electricity, making it very difficult to keep warm). All in all, this vastly improved our mood. While we still had and still have some major adjustments to do to feel “comfortable”, we feel much better.
After a few more days I had two interviews and I was offered both positions, luckily! I chose the job that was closets to home and had the most paid vacation, which means I teach small children as opposed to adults, but I walk to work (through aforementioned park) which means all the world to me, particularly in Tokyo where a 90 minute commute (one way) is completely normal. We are now going through the harrowing project of tackling Visas and Immigration, a truly horrible, spirit crushing experience, usually. We’ve already made several visits and I’m going back on Thursday, this time, hopefully, with all the appropriate documents.
We’ve had some fantastic weather already, with the warmest day around 26c. It’s back to 9c again this morning but Spring is definitely here. I am so glad to say goodbye to that last winter. I am so tired of being cold all the time, particularly in Japan where they do not use insulation in their homes, making staying warm an even bigger challenge. We have already been through multiple earthquakes and a huge dust storm (a first for me) which was utterly horrible, and for which, naturally, China was blamed 😛
We are still needing to get many things for our room to make it more cozy. Shelving, lamps and rugs etc. But it’s getting there. M is doing well with new writing jobs, dealing with irritating editors and rekindling relationships with older ones. His start here has been very difficult but he’s coping and getting better all the time, although still struggling with living in a guesthouse (since he works from home) and just being here in general as opposed to living and working in Europe (his dream). It’s hard and the life of a writer is a solitary one, so you have plenty of time for negative thinking, should you allow it to get a stronghold. It still remains to be seen whether or not we can make a go of it here. We have visas to apply for and we are still catching up financially speaking, so it will take a few months yet before that is all settled.
Anyway, I shall leave you with some more photos and my next post will be entirely hanami photo related. A lot of these photos are from the park “next door” and the surrounding area where we are living. Thanks for reading!
Feel free to check out more of my photos at http://www.flickr.com/jennpeters
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