Undoing all that programming

Ok, I must admit, I’m not very skilled at coming to terms with my past, especially if they are embarrassing or unpleasant, and I try to forget them by burying them deep down in my heart and never ever even touch it with a barge pole. It’s a very effective method for forgetting, but the feelings that are linked with the memories will always linger. 

That’s why these unpleasant memories never really disappear. I never talk about them or bring them up, but that doesn’t mean that they did not happen. I had thought these feelings will gradually fade away, but bottling them up just made me worse. Especially when something happens and accidentally let loose all the unpleasantness again.

That’s why I’m going to try to face all these unhappy incidents and hopefully after gathering my thoughts and coming to terms with it, I will feel better about it.

I still can’t talk to anyone that I know in real life, so I’m going to try to talk it out here. Please bear with me.

One day I might just have the courage to talk about it to my close ones, and show them this blog post (many of them do not know that I blog, haha), but that day isn’t today nor anytime soon.

After having said all that, it sounds like I had been a victim of abuse or some sort. Don’t worry, nothing of that scale happened. Nonetheless, It had been an extremely disappointing episode for me, and it has left a deep wound on my heart and soul, and most importantly, my self-esteem.

This blog is named Mirage’s Dreamy Life for a reason. I was, and am, a person full of dreams and ideals. I always feel that there is no dream too big and this has somehow led me to believe that my life had been a dream. Sometimes I do dream a little too much. Similarly, when I came to Japan, I was full of hopes and dreams too. And believed that anything can be possible in the land of the rising sun.

I have never been more led down by my own naivety and foolishness.

I may sound a bit arrogant but I have always believed that it’s a waste that only my close ones and the people around me and random people on the streets get to see me. I sometimes think it’s the world’s loss for not being able to see me on magazine covers, advertisements, movies and music videos. Ok I sound really narcissistic now. But I sincerely believe that I’m in no way inferior to any of the models on the glossy magazine pages. My ex-boyfriend had told me all the time that whenever he sees posters of models, he could totally imagine me being on those posters. I had thought I had what it takes.

Evernote Camera Roll 20131127 143026

Here’s my photo. It’s up to you to think what you like. But I truly believed I had the potential.

Ex-boyfriend aside, I guess part of those thoughts also came from kind compliments from people that I meet. People had always told me that I am beautiful, elegant, slim and tall, and that I have what it takes to be a model.  Some people have even told me that I should be a model. That I will definitely be successful. In some ways, I had been encouraged to be a model, even though that is not what I had wanted to do.

Sure, in Singapore, there are few big reputable modelling agencies, and I could’ve tried to applied for them. But I didn’t think Singapore was big enough for me, so I didn’t even bother to try. Ok, honestly, the reason I didn’t try was because I was foolishly hoping that someone will scout me and I was too proud to try. Judge me all you want.

Instead of becoming a model, I took on another profession that, in Asian culture, kind of also affirms that you are beautiful if you are able to secure that job.

I became a flight attendant.

For a period of time, I felt like it was the job for me. I was able to demonstrate my beauty and elegance and people from around the world will get to see me. I still haven’t made it to any posters or magazines or had any endorsements but it felt like the same thing anyway, so I was satisfied for a while. Or rather, pacified.

After 2 years, I felt I had somehow grew out of the job and decided to move onto the next phase of my life, and made a bold (and reckless) leap to Japan.

While the main purpose was to further my studies, unknown to my family, I had wanted to give a shot at showbiz in Japan. To be a model, or even better, a singer. I felt that only Japan was big enough for my dreams.

So I sent my resume and photos to two modelling agencies. The first one that contacted me was ridiculous. They wanted me to pay 130,000yen to make my portfolio, and even so they couldn’t gurantee any work. I was out immediately.

The second agency charged me for audition, but I went with it anyway and somehow passed it. Again, they wanted to charge me 30,000 yen for making a portfolio, but considering that it was much cheaper than the first one, I decided to take a gamble.

It had been the stupidest decision of my life.

I’ve been registered as a model (not yet signed a contract) for about a year now but I’ve not been asked to do any work yet. I’ve not even been to one casting. And I have no idea what else I can do to get more work without spending another yen at that agency to get lessons. I mean, why do I have to spend money to get lessons?! I’ve already given my share for the portfolio. The lessons should be part of training and an investment by the agency. It makes no sense to pay them and yet not guranteed any work. I felt like I had been cheated of my money.

Not only do I not get any work, because I’m still bound to this stupid agency in one way or another, every time I see a commercial on TV or models on magazines, I can’t help but feel this sense of entitlement that it should’ve been me there.

Yes, I admit that I had been naive. The modelling world doesn’t work that way. Showbiz doesn’t work that way. But it wasn’t that I wasn’t willing to work hard. I’m willing to put in all my heart and soul, and even work like a horse, IF ONLY I DON’T HAVE TO FORK OUT YET ANOTHER YEN TO EVEN GET IT STARTED.

It’s not hard work or talent anymore, it’s all about money money money. I was fed up so I gave up on that stupid agency. It just so happened that I had received endless spam mails as well so I changed my email address and I didn’t notify the agency. Honestly, I had wanted them to stop contacting me because every mail from them just raises my hopes for nothing and I knew that I don’t stand a chance because I haven’t gone to any lessons,  which I have to pay out of my own pocket.

So I thought I was free from them. Until last Wednesday. The agency had to call me again, for the first time in a long while, asking me why I haven’t been replying to their mails all this time and that there’s a job offer for me.

Finally! I naively and excitedly told the staff my new email address, and even apologised for causing them trouble, in a typical Japanese way. They were cool with it and subsequently sent me a link to confirm my attendance. I replied an ok and after that I thought all I had to do was to wait for their reply.

Turns out to be yet another big disappointment. They somehow did not get my email and I was left out of the assignment. What. The. Fuck.

Why did I put myself all through this frustration and feelings of helplessness? Why did I want to become a model in the first place, when it’s not really what I wanted to do?

I guess I was just very envious of my cousin, who seem to have everything her way after becoming a model. On top of all that, she was scouted, didn’t have to fork out a single cent, and has been given work on a regular basis. Needless, to say, I was green with envy.

I don’t think I lose out to her in any way. But I still don’t understand why I couldn’t be a model like her. Am I really not cut out to be a model after all?

Wait. Now that I think about it, I don’t have to become like her. I don’t have to become a model. Why did I think that I have to become a model? I can’t exactly put all the blame on every single person who had ever told me “You should be a model” or “You look like you can be a model”, but those words had a huge impact on me, which I did not realise had influenced my actions and decisions to this extent. I didn’t want to be a model. I had been ‘programmed’ unconsciously to think that I wanted to be a model. That’s why the scar on my self-esteem is even greater. I had been ‘programmed’ to think that I am made to be a model, and that I can be one. To not receive any work as a model is a big insult and a big blow to my self-esteem.

Comparing myself to my cousin who seem to have an exciting and privileged life as a model just made things more frustrating, and my current situation worse. But why should I compare?

I should’ve just focused on my own goals and dreams right from the start, and blocked it all out when other people impose their intentions on me.

Now I have to undo all that programming that people had done to my head and start from a clean slate.

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Bananas and Discrimination

A lot of Japanese always assume that whites = Americans and Asians = Japanese, so when they see Asians speaking English, they become a tad confused. Asians are not supposed to be fluent in English! Or so the Japanese think.

They just don’t understand the concept of bananas.

Yellow on the outside, white on the inside. Some people think it’s a derogatory term but I think it’s the only term that can describe English-speaking Asians perfectly to anyone.

I remember there was once I was hanging out with a Canadian-Chinese friend (we’ve lost contact since last December, but anyway) and while walking down the streets we got a lot of stares because we were both Asian-looking and speaking English. There were even some stupid high school guys who followed us for a while just because they were amused by our English conversation, even though I was sure they couldn’t understand a single shit (don’t worry, they were just plain curious, and we did not get hurt). My friend got quite uncomfortable and even claimed that we were being “discriminated”.

There was also another time when I was hanging out with an Australian-born Korean friend – whose first language is English – and we were chatting loudly and animatedly in a, erh-herm, English pub. Which was, ironically, full of Japanese. Again, stares upon us. There was even a gay couple next to us who were so green with envy that they told each other that they wish they could speak English fluently, loud and clear. They spoke in Japanese of course, because they probably didn’t realise that just because we were speaking in English doesn’t mean we couldn’t understand Japanese, yeah?

And here’s the most annoying incident. I was walking around town with my Swede friend and speaking in English (duh), when suddenly this old man came up to me and spoke in Japanese to me, 「いいな、外人の友達ができて、英語もペラペラだね。」 (Why, I’m so envious of you. You have a foreigner friend, and you speak such good English.)

Like, duh, it’s my first language. I speak it better than I speak Japanese.

Honestly, all these would not have happened if I had been blonde and white. All these happened PRECISELY because I am NOT blonde and white.

This foreigner/gaijin=non-Asian/white or Asian=Japanese/no English mentality is driving me crazy. Sure, I’ve been told many times that I look like a Japanese and many people are impressed by my level of command of the Japanese language (though I think I’m still not quite getting there – I still find the idea of blogging in Japanese daunting!), and I thought it meant that I am being accepted by the Japanese people as one of them. I had thought my assimilation was successful, but it seems like it had backfired on me instead. I am neither being accepted as part of Japanese society nor being regarded as a foreigner.

I see an imminent need to educate these island-mongers about bananas and discrimination.

After all, there are many foreign-born Japanese who have since become bananas, so it shouldn’t be such a distant concept to them!

Anyway, what happened today had been the last straw. The school admin staff had been working on a new school pamphlet and they wanted to photograph some students for it. At first, they had chosen my Japanese female classmate, who has a beautiful smile so no complains there. Then after that they started mumbling to themselves about putting a gaijin on their pamphlet. Well, obviously they were referring to my Swede friend.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally cool if they had wanted to use her photo because they had thought she is beautiful or perfect for the school pamphlet. But they obviously wanted her rather because she is different so as to attract attention. Which is kind of stupid. Like how many Swede students do they get every year? She’s probably the first Swede to enter this school and using her as a bait to get students to sign up for the courses is just screwed up marketing. And if they really wanted to feature foreigners, well there are 3 of us in this class, why not put all of us on the pamphlet? Why only her? The reason is obvious.

I wanna scream and shout and let it all out, like will.i.am and Britney Spears in the video below.

I wanna shout out to the whole of Japan and tell them that, foreigners come in all shapes, sizes and colours! So please don’t assume and make yourself look ignorant and stupid. There’s a bunch of us here called bananas and we speak excellent, if not better, English than most white people okay! And we are also foreigners here in Japan okay! And don’t judge us by our skin colour, that’s discrimination!

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Forever Alone in Japan

I just had a meaningful conversation with the least expected person and I felt the urge to share this with anyone who has the intention of coming to Japan, or is currently living in Japan as a foreigner.

Every Friday, our class has English lessons in the afternoon, but it’s too basic for me and my Swedish friend, so we were allowed to opt out of the class. Instead, we had to go to this chat session for Japanese students to have a chance to chat with native English speakers. Since today is Friday, I went to the session as usual.

Most of the time, people just talk casually about their plans for the weekend, how their week had been or just stuff in general. But today, not that many students came and I ended up chatting with an Australian instructor alone. Since we are both native speakers, it wasn’t exactly a conversation practice anymore but a real chat.

Then the instructor started asking me about how life in Japan is, and how my friends and families are doing. Somehow I started talking about how difficult it is to make friends in Japan, and it seemed like I had hit the nail on the head. He totally agreed with me, which took me by surprise, because I had always thought white people have it easier in terms of enlarging their social circles in Japan, given the Japanese curious obsession with white people.

I know this white girl who’s had everything her way so she loves Japan and couldn’t bear to return home at the end of this year. I’ve also seen some white people get certain privileges just because they are white. My good Swedish friend, for example, got more gifts than anyone of us when we went for a tour in a font-making company as part of our curriculum, (possibly) just because she’s blonde and white. Damn, I sound very sulky, but I’m really just stating facts.

That’s why I’m quite shocked to hear that the instructor felt the same way about socialising and making friends in Japan as me. I had thought a white guy who is a (seemingly) sociable person like him would have tons of Japanese friends, but it turns out that he has more foreigner friends than Japanese ones. Heck, the ratio is so screwed; he told me he only has 2 genuine Japanese friends. Friends that he said he could rely on during times of distress. And he has been in Japan for 4 years.

You see, the Japanese will always have an ‘inner’ circle and an ‘outer’ circle; the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ mentality is especially strong. It’s not exactly discrimination; they probably don’t even realise they have this system wired in them. A foreigner will always be a foreigner, even if you go through great lengths to change your name, change your face, change your personality, change your manners, change your language and change your identity to try to fit in, someone who is not born to a Japanese IN Japan will always be a foreigner, in the ‘outer’ circle. This means that American-born Japanese and Australian-born Japanese and Brazilian-born Japanese are not part of the Japanese identity. They have a different term for people of Japanese descent born outside of Japan (日系, nikkei). Yup, everything is clearly defined and divided.

So we had a heated discussion and came to a conclusion that Japanese people who are willing to befriend us and accept us for who we are, are generally people who have been abroad and have banished the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ circles from their system to a certain extent. And about 90% of Japanese people remain in Japan, and about a good 70% have never been abroad or even hold a passport (just making up the statistics based on my intuition; I’m merely trying illustrate my point that the majority of Japanese have very limited knowledge outside their country), so our chances of meeting and befriending the minority of Japanese who are indeed open-minded are very, very slim. That explains our limited number of true Japanese friends.

The average Japanese person might try to befriend a foreigner but for very different reasons. They usually have motives for doing so, most of time for practicing English, or if they have plans to go to the country where the foreigner is from. They won’t go out of their way to befriend someone of a different culture just because that person is interesting or because he is friendly or whatsoever. No. The foreigner’s qualities and traits as a friend doesn’t matter. As long as he/she speaks English, that’s more than enough. Which makes me wonder, what do they take foreigners as, an English-speaking robot?!

There really is an English-speaking robot!

Prior to coming to Japan, the Australian instructor had been living in Korea for about 3 years, and he told me that during his time there, 80% of his friends are Korean and his foreigner friends are really in the minority. Even though Korea and Japan share many similarities (as much as they hate it) in culture and social structure, the way Koreans approach foreigners is so different from how Japanese do it. Being shallow and narrow-minded when it comes to interacting with non-Japanese just makes the Japanese look really immature, if I may put it bluntly.

I know for sure that we are not alone when it comes to difficulty in making friends in Japan, and I imagine that there are a lot of foreigners out there who feel very, very lonely in this homogeneous country.

I love Japan, I really do. But not being able to make friends easily just drives me crazy and makes me desperate to leave Japan. And it’s not like I only speak English or refuse to assimilate with the local people. I have tried, but I’m just not accepted, or rather it takes a really long time for Japanese to open up, especially to foreigners. I so want to knock the ‘us vs them’ mentality out of them, I want to shake every Japanese and slap them awake and tell them, that we are all the same human being, we share the same humanity, we are not different at all, stop focusing on the differences and stop thinking of us as aliens!

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First time watching a Noh play

I’ve always wanted to watch some traditional Japanese plays and indulge in very deep Japanese traditions and culture, so I was pretty excited at the thought of finally being able to watch Noh (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noh), a Japanese mask play. The chance came when a teacher at Global Program (a part-time job where I was supposed to role-play and engage Japanese students in English conversations – see story here: https://miragesdreamylife.wordpress.com/2013/09/28/a-heartwarming-part-time-job/) told me and my colleagues that there was a Noh theatre right next to our school and it was having shows for the whole day FREE OF CHARGE (on that day only, of course). It’s Japanese tradition and plus it’s FREE! I can’t resist a good deal. She was willing to take us to the theatre if we were interested, and we thought to ourselves why not? We would probably never go to a Noh play if we had to pay out of our own pockets, because of the language barrier and that it would be a waste of money if we couldn’t enjoy it. But since it’s free, well… why not?

When we first arrived at the theatre, we were greeted by a shy but friendly staff and subsequently we were also offered sponge cakes! Wow! Free entry and free food! What’s there not to be happy about?

Free show and free sponge cakes! Whee!

And when I first entered the theatre hall, my breath had been taken away by the beautifully polished wooden stage and the bamboo roof over it. It’s SOOO Japanese! It feels good to indulge in some culture and tradition after spending too much time in concrete jungles. Even a city girl like me needs time away from cities and buildings! Well, it certainly felt like I had gone back in time! So even though I was technically STILL in the city, it felt like I had already escaped from this concrete mess.

A typical Noh stage looks like this. The main stage would be the huge platform on the right and the narrow walkway on the left leads to the backstage. It looks like a typical house of rich people in medieval Japan to me.

We proceeded to sit ourselves down as quietly as possible on the seats on the left and started enjoying the show. Since the theatre was open to the public for the whole day, people can come in and out as and when they want to. We came in in the middle of the show, so my colleagues and I had no idea what was going on but we kept on watching anyway and I loved the atmosphere… at first.

The play was called Yoroboushi (弱法師、よろぼうし), which translates into “weak monk”. Since we were in the theatre, the teacher couldn’t explain to us much about the show, but she did scribble down a very, very brief outline of the play for us.

Since we were not allowed to take photos (I think) and we were seated at the side of the stage, the picture above is obviously not mine but it’s the same play and plot nonetheless. The teacher only wrote that the masked guy is the main character (duh) and that he’s blind. That’s why the play is called Weak Monk, because he’s a blind, weak monk. So sad right?

The information that the teacher provided was precious little, and I couldn’t understand at all what was happening. There were no change of scenes and the actors’ movements and speeches were all very, very, VERY slow. EXTREMELY SLOW. I think even snails can be faster. And when they have dialogues… they weren’t exactly talking, they were like, singing? Not the Disney movie kinda singing but the traditional Japanese kinda singing where it sounds like somewhere in between singing and shouting at someone, you know?

As a result, due to their distorted speeches and lack of drastic movements and scene change, I couldn’t grasp the plot at all. The only thing I knew about the show at that time was that the masked guy is the main character and that he’s blind. Pretty much the information that I had received from the teacher.

So it goes without saying that I couldn’t enjoy the show at all (not out of disdain for the way the story had been expressed, but rather for the simple reason of language barrier and inability to understand the dialogues) and that I realised again that this is the reason why I didn’t attempt to go to any traditional Japanese shows, even though I had wanted to try to watch a play (any one, Noh, Kabuki etc) at least once in Japan. It’s like being in London and not going to any musicals, or being in New York without going to Broadway, you know? But I already have a hard time understanding Japanese period dramas with Japanese subtitles. Noh was way beyond my level.

But I wanted to know the plot behind Yoroboushi, so I goggled it today and found out that the plot is actually pretty damn awesome. If you can read Japanese, feel free to read about it here if you’re interested: http://www.syuneikai.net/yorobooshi.htm

But if you can’t read Japanese or too lazy to read Japanese (like me), then I’ll do you a favour and explain it for you here.

The plot

Basically, some joker told a man that his son will become a very wicked man and so advised him to get rid of him. The man gullibly believed in his words and did as he was told, and chased his own son out of his home. But after a while, he regretted doing so, as he had come to believe that he had been tricked into throwing his son out, and that his son was actually a very good boy. But what’s done cannot be undone so out of guilt, the man shut himself out of the world and withdrew into a temple to punish himself and make up for his wrongdoings.

Then one day, a young monk who was poor and blind showed up at the temple. He was travelling around the whole country in an attempt to spread the teachings of Buddhism. Despite being poor and blind, the young monk had a very kind heart. The man (who chased his son out) came into contact with him, and was very moved by his purity and innocence. However, the more he looked at the young monk, the more he came to realise how much he resembled his lost son. He couldn’t believe that he would be reunited with his son in this manner.

Of course, the young monk, being blind, wasn’t aware that he was talking to his father. The father, overwhelmed by his emotions and unable to contain himself, told the young monk that he will reveal his true identity to him when the night fell.

And then, when night time arrived, he probably told the young monk “I am your father!” (not in the Darth Vader way but in the Japanese Noh way of course).

When the young monk knew the truth, he was too embarrassed to face the man anymore and tried to run away. His father grabbed him and told him, “Let’s go home!”

Touching, isn’t it?

Sadly, none of the above had been obvious at all during the play.

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Go ask Google, don’t ask me

This has been bugging me all day so let me just get this out of my chest!

Ok in school I usually hang out with this girl whom I suspect might be a little bit socially inept or a little too individualistic for her own good.

This morning we were doing our work in class as usual. It’s lesson time but because we were given an assignment to work on, the teacher just let us do our stuff and will only come around if we encounter any problems.

So we were working on designing a flyer and my friend got stuck with something. The program wouldn’t do exactly what she wanted and she asked for my help. So I gave her a suggestion (which is something I had done when I was in a similar situation), and she was like ‘Why? Why do you do that?!’ like as if it was the most ridiculous thing ever. And I explained to her why, but she wasn’t convinced. She got agitated and went like ‘if I can’t get it right I want to know why, so that I can avoid this mistake in the future. You have to explain to me why I have to do that. I’m not gonna do what you said because it won’t help me understand why.’ Ok, I admire her passion for wanting to understand the technical stuff and basics, but I didn’t get why she had to be so agitated. We argued for a while and then she went on to Google her solution.

This is not the first time she has done that. My way of operating the software is obviously different from hers, and if she asks for my advice, I’d of course give her my ideas and suggestions. If she couldn’t accept it, fine, let her Google all she wants. I didn’t like it that she asked me for help – and I took the time to find a solution with her even though I was busy myself – and then snapped at me whenever she didn’t like what I offered.

And then she would ask me again the next time instead of Mr. Google. She never learns.

We can all agree to disagree, and attack each other’s argument, but I find it disdainful that she couldn’t even distinguish between attacking the comment/opinion/argument and attacking the person her/himself. Furthermore, it wasn’t an opinion or argument that I offered, but a suggestion. So much for trying to be helpful.

There were cases where she asked me for help on stuff other than software problems, and she wouldn’t believe me and sought answers from other sources. And then she would get different answers and be like ‘thank god I didn’t believe you.’ THEN WHY ASK ME IN THE FIRST PLACE DAMMIT. It’s one thing when you politely point out to people like ‘oh what you told me was wrong, this is what I found out, just to let you know’ so that they don’t make mistakes, but to just laugh at people like ‘HA! You’re wrong! I was right to not believe you!’ is just downright immature and socially awkward.

But above all else, what I hate most is not being able to say what I feel exactly on the spot whenever she snapped at me like that. I should’ve been able to tell her off and say firmly ‘Look, you asked me for help, and I gave you a suggestion. If you didn’t like it, you don’t have to snap at me like that. Go google or ask other people for solutions.’

I guess I was so afraid of getting too personal that I suppressed my own feelings and tried to argue logically. But it was never about logic to begin with. We were just arguing over nothing, and whatever we argued over with wasn’t even worth our time.

…but sometimes I still wonder, even though she’s quite an easy-going person, what is it about her upbringing that ‘s making her so goddamn self-centred??!!

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Why I gave up being a flight attendant

People constantly asked me why I gave up such a good-paying easy job with seemingly good perks to come to Japan to be a broke student. Well, things aren’t always as glamorous as they seem in the sky… flight attendants usually only come into contact with passengers during boarding (if they bothered to station themselves in the cabin to welcome you, that is), meal service, and landing, and also in rare cases if you get yourself into trouble (medical cases, complaints etc, which doesn’t occur very often). Given how there are so many passengers but only so many crew available to serve and baby-sit the whole plane (including the pilots), outsiders hardly see the crew at work. It’s no wonder most people think the job is easy. Even I thought it was simple before I started. But you will only really get to see them at work when you go to the galley (or the crew work area). Oh well, most of the time people are glued to their seats anyway (which I don’t recommend because your risk of getting Deep Vein Thrombosis is very much higher).

The push factor was very strong, since the airline I worked with doesn’t think of its crew as human beings who need rest and leave, and a bit of compassion as well. I won’t reveal what airline in this post, but if you read my previous posts you will know what airline I worked with anyway. Not hard to guess actually.

Here are the push factors that made me desperately wanted to get out ASAP.

Irregular sleep hours

Ok, I admit, I slept more as a flight attendant than now as a student working part-time. There was once I slept 24 hours straight; there was no one at home since everyone went to Bangkok for holiday – usually my mom will wake me up for dinner time – but yeah, when I woke up naturally nothing much has changed. Just the date.

It’s good to be able to sleep a lot, but I didn’t like sleeping irregularly. Yes, I could sleep from 8am to 8am, but I didn’t want to be awake when everyone else is asleep on a night flight. If I had night flights, I had to force myself to sleep in the day even though I wasn’t sleepy so that I could be more alert and awake at work. And if I had morning flights, then I had to force myself to sleep much earlier than I usually would. I hated having to adjust my sleep patterns for every flight. I know my already weak body would not be able to take it if I had carried on. So I got out.

Constantly on the move

Every time I reported for duty I had to pack for a short trip. It may sound fun and adventurous to some, but travelling all the time is NOT fun. Especially when I’m just going to sleep in some hotel in Jakarta for one night and then come back home the next day, all in less than 24 hours and for less than $200 (we get allowance for our flights, in case you didn’t know). It’s SERIOUSLY not fun, trust me.

Limited social gatherings

Either I constantly get left out of any plans my friends had made or I had to leave early to report for work. Or arrive late at parties after flights. And I only have this many free days on ground. I can’t possibly meet everyone or make it to all the social gatherings that I had been invited to. And I need to let my weak body rest too.

What I did regret was that I didn’t spend more time with my closest friends. I spent so much time partying with people I didn’t really know and saying yes to too many new friends made on flight but not really getting any deeper with our new-found friendship. I could have used what little free time I had to catch up with old friends or pursue my hobbies or simply give more thought to my future. I think life so far still has been good to me but I wish I had come to Osaka on an informed decision, not a rushed one.

No stable relationship because I couldn’t meet people on a regular basis 

Like I’ve said, there are only so many days when I’m back home. Realistically speaking, I couldn’t possibly maintain a relationship with anyone when I wasn’t in town 80% of every month. I couldn’t even meet all of my friends. I definitely couldn’t have a relationship with someone.

It’s so ironic because as a flight attendant, I had met so many people everyday on many different flights but I still got lonely. It feels like I was dying of thirst in the middle of an ocean. We meet so many people everyday, but it’s so difficult to meet the right one. I had come to the conclusion that it’s not the number of people you meet, but the environment you are in.

Of course, there are people who had managed to find true love in the midst of their hectic flight schedules. If both parties put in effort, it CAN be done. I guess I just didn’t have the good fortune to meet the right one who would be willing to go to great lengths just to be with me. Well, maybe there was one, but I was already planning to come to Japan at that time so it was just a twist of fate I think….

But maybe, all along, the right one was never in my home country to begin with anyway. Haha.

Public holidays and weekends become precious

…but I always forget the day of the week anyway! Because I only needed to know what time to report for duty, so I only needed to know the date and time and never bothered with the day. There was already enough information overload by remembering the date, the estimated departure time, the reporting time, the flight number, the GMT of the country we were going to, the chief purser’s name, and any other important details that would land me in trouble if I had forgotten them. Remembering the day was a chore. It was the least important on the list, since I work on any day of the week anyway.

BUT, when I do remember the day of the week, I get depressed. Because then I would know that I would be away for the whole weekend on my next flight, or I wouldn’t be able to enjoy a national public holiday when everyone was making plans, or I had just accidentally missed my Japanese class which was on either Tuesday or Saturday because I didn’t realise it was Tuesday or Saturday. Luckily, I have kind friends who noticed that I had missed classes not on purpose and from then they would always ask me if I was going to class every week.

As with every job in the service sector, you start to envy people who work from 9 to 5 from Mondays to Fridays. Because they are the ones who can really look forward to the end of the week, any public holiday, New Years, Christmas and Chinese New Years. They are the ones who can make plans and invite other people with similar work schedules to their parties. It is NOT fun being in Sydney during Christmas (dead town, everyone’s home for reunion dinner) and in Beijing during Chinese New Year (again, same thing, everyone’s home for new year). You’ll be in a dead town thinking to yourself, heck, everyone in this city is celebrating at home, and people back at home are also partying away, what the heck am I doing here?!

Passengers don’t make hell for you, colleagues do

Surprise! Despite what other people say, colleagues make or break your flight, not your passengers. I’m not sure if every airline employs the same system, but in the airline that I had worked at, every flight is a Russian Roulette. If you are an aspiring flight attendant at my previous employer, or any other airline that adopts a similar system, pray hard for good colleagues every flight. Saying that to survive in this airline, you need to have plenty of good luck is an understatement.

Needless to say, Lady Luck was hardly by my side, so I had my share of nasty colleagues and horrifying experiences. You could be going to a great destination like London or Rome but unable to fully enjoy the trip because you know the devil on your crew set might come back and haunt you on the return flight again.  I hate not knowing who I’m going to work with until I step into the briefing room where we meet our colleagues for the first time and then being stuck with them for the next few days, regardless of whether I like them or not. I don’t fancy heart attacks before getting the Russian Roulette. Yes, I’ll most probably die at that game in the first round. 

On the other hand, should you encounter nasty passengers, all you have to do is to smile and apologise and put yourself and your airline so low that even the worst vocabulary in the world cannot possibly describe you. It’s acting in its finest; mastering it is an art. But bear in mind that no matter how bad passengers treat the the crew, they will only be onboard during the flight hours. If you get a nasty crew on your set, you will be stuck with him/her until the end of the flight.

Besides, even if you get terrible passengers, as long as you have a team of supportive crew who would treat you like family, passengers like that are no big deal, really. It’s really your colleagues that matter.

If you work for Asian airlines, you have no rights, no say and no leave

If you REALLY want to be a flight attendant, take my word, don’t join an Asian airline. The hierarchy system within the crew set is ridiculous and destroys any form of communication within the team – which compromises safety and security measures and put everyone’s safety at risk. Even if you get crazy spinsters on your set, you still have to treat them like queens because they are ranked much higher than you. Even if these crazy spinsters are in the wrong, you can’t correct them because they think they rule the plane and would berate you for doubting them even for a second. I’ve not worked in any other airline before, but I have heard stories about relaxed crew environment and better communication in other airlines (usually European, Middle Eastern or American airlines) due to the lack of hierarchy or rank systems.

And like the Japanese, there is this Asian mentality that customers are king (or in the case of Japanese service sectors, customers are GOD). So the company always expect the crew to bow down to the passengers and do whatever it takes to please them, even if it means polishing their boots by licking them (no I’m just kidding, of course we don’t do that). While putting your customers first is good for your business, putting your employees last is a recipe for disaster. Ok, granted my previous employer is still going strong despite all the internal HR problems, but treating your employees as just numbers and digits and void of compassion just means your customers will be losing out. How can your customers enjoy the flight if the crew’s heart is not on the plane because he/she couldn’t get leave and was still forced to be on flight?

Some people say Asian airlines usually have better service, but I beg to differ. The crew becomes… fake. The service is professional, but certainly not personal. Friendly and personal service gives both the crew and passengers much more delight, I believe. Crew who work in a relaxed environment is a happy crew and that happiness radiates to the passengers and make them happy as well, regardless of nationality or culture. And service personnel deserve to be treated like human beings too.

Health hazards! 

Well, thankfully I only worked as an FA for two years so that means I had quit before my health could be at risk. And I wasn’t part of the team that operates the ultra long haul flights (direct flights from Singapore to New York and LA and back). Gosh, you can just spot the people from the ultra long haul team a mile away. They always look really dreary and ALL of them have dark eye circles. And ALL of them look older than they really are. The non-stop Singapore-US flights are obviously taking a toll on them, and no thanks I definitely do not want to be part of the team.

However, even just operating normal short, medium and long haul flights is too much for my weak body to take. Ok, I hardly exercised, and I didn’t watch my diet, so I was asking for it. But how do you exercise when you are tired? And how do you get rid of the fatigue without exercising and training your body? It’s a freaking vicious cycle that I couldn’t get out of and the fatigue was accumulating within me as my time as an FA dragged on. I decided I wanted out.

For me, it was just fatigue and lethargy, but for party animal aircrews, it was cancer and liver failure. Unbalanced diet combined with excessive drinking and smoking is never good news. I had left before my bad diet and irregular sleep and work hours could get to me, but for those still in the airline and not taking care of themselves, good luck.

Potential financial debts!

Shopping, shopping and shopping! How to resist shopping when you are in Paris or Milan, or in a factory outlet in US? I had shopped quite a fair bit as well, and I enjoyed being financially independent, knowing that I could buy anything without worrying too much about my bank account. But my purpose in joining the airline was to get more money, so spending away all my hard-earned pay didn’t make sense. I tightened the strings on my purse and resisted the temptation to buy a Chanel or Prada, even though I had been to France, Italy and Germany multiple times. And I didn’t have a credit card. I think I have the least branded stuff out of the 7000 plus crew in my previous airline.

But some of my ex-colleagues were not so money-savvy. They spent all their allowances on material goods that would not do them any good in the long term. I mean, it’s ok to feel good and pamper yourself once in a while, but spending your whole allowance every time you are in New York or Milan is not going to help you prepare for the rainy days that are bound to come. It’s only going to drag you deeper into financial debt. Besides, branded goods do nothing to increase your assets, even if they are status symbols and look good and make you feel good. If you must use all the money that you have too much of, spend it on property and investments instead! Or open up a business! I had wanted to do all of that but I wasn’t in the airline long enough to save up that much money 😦

Last but not least… I never really wanted to be a flight attendant anyway

I was the laziest and least ambitious FA ever. And when I’m outstation (overseas), I hardly bothered to travel around and was keen only at checking my bank account when payday arrived. I had joined the job for the money, not the perks (there weren’t much anyway). I do regret not exploring more of the world, but how was I supposed to when I was dead beat tired after a demanding flight and on a limited budget? Unlike passengers, we had to work on our way to our destinations, and it’s hardly a relaxing job. If I had planned to stay in the airline for a little longer, I might just go travelling more and even buy the Chanel No.5 bag, which I have always wanted, because I would have more money for travel and shopping if I had stayed longer. But my ex-colleagues have been complaining of allowance cuts and shorter stays in outstation. So working longer might not necessarily have turned out better. Phew, glad I was out there before it got worse.

Besides, my original plan was to go back to school anyway. This was never meant to be a long-term job and if I had stayed on longer, I might just lose sight of my goals and get stuck in a dead-end job, albeit well-paying and provides some sort of perks. I’m still glad that I had plucked up the courage and left. I had a good time, so I was able to take away tons of pleasant memories with me. I left when the times were good so that I can look back and smile at all the happy memories that I had while flying. My last flight was a long stay in Maldives, and I had totally enjoyed the resort lifestyle, albeit away from the sun. It was the best flight ever, and I’m glad it was my last flight. It was a good ending to my flying days. I didn’t want to have to leave when I was bitter and upset and had lots of bad memories from the job.

What about your story?

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変な心遣い (Strange acts of consideration in Japan)

Here is another series of ‘What else is weird in Japan’ – I think only after living in Japan for while and experiencing their culture a little can you really appreciate and understand all the weird things that they do (not that I’m applauding them nor do I want to emulate them).

By acts of consideration, I don’t mean kindness acts that people carry out for one another. In Japan, it has became like sort of a culture, so from television programs to ads and to things that you buy from a convenience store, you can just feel the hospitality seaming through every corner of Japanese lifestyle. I’m sure everyone who has been on a holiday to Japan will say that Japanese people are the most polite bunch ever. Hospitality is wired into every Japanese and in every part of Japan’s society.

Hopping onto the Omotenashi(おもてなし – hospitality) trend that was sparked off by TV newscaster Crystal Takigawa  in her Tokyo Olympics 2020 speech, I’m going to highlight some aspects of  Japanese hospitality that goes overboard and becomes at best, bizarre, instead.

  • Dark-coloured plastic bags when you buy erm stuff for private use like erhm condoms and sanitary pads

Yes if you buy stuff like that the counter staff will put your items into these kinda bags. You know like reverse psychology, I suspect by using this bag you will have the exact opposite effect by having all eyes turned on you when you carry it onto the train. You’ll get stares like ‘ooohhh so this guy is gonna get lucky tonight!’ or ‘oh this woman is on her period, better avoid triggering her PMS!’ Duh. The black bag just makes it more obvious instead.

But yeah this is a typical act of consideration (心遣い – kokorozukai in Japanese), because items such as condoms and tampons are considered private stuff, so people generally assumed that nobody wants to be seen carrying one of those in public. You know, if people are that embarrassed by purchasing stuff like that, they would bring their own bag to put them in. I don’t think there is any need to draw even more attention by using that kind of plastic bags. It becomes more like ‘Look at me look at me! I’ve bought a condom! Yay!!!’.

  • Flushing sound function in public toilets

Anyone who’s been to Japan before would have noticed this. I’ve mentioned this before in one of my previous posts, and yes I don’t get why peeing is embarrassing.  It’s a very natural human need, and we all do it, so what’s so embarrassing about it? It achieves the same effect as the black plastic bags; ‘I’m peeing, so don’t listen to my peeing!’ Yes the world knows you are peeing because you’ve turned up the flushing sound to the maximum volume.

  • Women-friendly restaurants and cafes

Look at the bar above. What kind of bar do you think it is? I would think it’s just a regular bar. But to the Japanese, women are such differing species from another universe that they have to design restaurants and cafes in such a way that will allow women to enter with ease (女性でも入りやすいお店 – Even women can enter this store with ease). Wow, I didn’t know that women are so stressed to the point that they can’t even enter any restaurant they like!

It’s not quite the same as having restaurants and cafes that target just women. That I’m fine with, since men and women ARE wired to like different things after all. But if a store were to say, target both men and women, it is assumed that men can enter any store with no problems at all but special arrangements have to be made to appeal to women as well. Or to let them ‘enter with ease’.

And it’s not just restaurants and cafes. Food and products in the market are advertised like that as well. ‘Even women will be able to eat this with ease (女性でも食べやすいもの)’, ‘Even women will be able to use this with ease (女性でも使いやすいもの).’ (What the hell do they mean by ‘even’?! Like are women that weak that they need like extra small bites to eat or extra light stuff in order to carry something?!) Phrases like this are everywhere on ads and stores.

Wow, I don’t know if women are being celebrated or being discriminated against. I guess you can look at it one way and say that it’s good that they put in a lot of thought into appealing to female consumers as they are seen as a good potential targets. That’s why companies go to great lengths to put women on pedestals in an attempt to tap into their spending power.

On the other hand, you can also look at it from another angle and assume that society is putting women down as weak, fragile beings that need to be protected at all times, and that’s why special arrangements have to made just for women. This is society putting expectations on women, unwritten social rules that dictate things from what kind of decisions women can make to what kind of stores they can enter. It’s like society saying ‘Oh you are woman, so you shouldn’t go into this store or eat this kind of food! Here, we have something else made just for you…’

I think this is a rather grey area as to whether it is really an act of consideration or not, but I’m sure it is no news to you and me that gender equality is almost non-existent in Japan. Yes, it’s slowly changing, but how long will it take before women fill up almost half of all the executive positions and in the parliament? I think the glaring gap between men and women is one of the main causes for this, erm, kind of ‘hospitality’ towards women.

  • Too much packaging

This has got to be the ultimate form of consideration that Japanese have towards their customers. Even if the producers understand that the packaging is ultimately going to be thrown away and never see the day of the light again, they are still going to put their snack in a pretty plastic bag and then inside a pretty box. And I suspect that box is going into yet another bigger box with all the other little boxes.

Why do they do that? Because it’s pretty. Because it’s hygienic. BUT most importantly, because people can *wait for it* take it with ease. Yes, that’s possibly the main point of it all. Not only does it look pretty, but it’s easier to be handled in a box rather than on its own, because the snack itself looks pretty soft and fragile.

But what are the repercussion of having so much packaging? Too much waste produced. According to studies done by The Economist (http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2012/06/daily-chart-3), Japan doesn’t fare too badly. But it is only because Japan spends a lot of extra resources on recycling and reusing waste (see here – http://www.waste-management-world.com/articles/print/volume-12/issue-2/regulars/iswa-comments/japans-waste-management-situation.html). Nothing is done on the reducing part. If waste is not produced unnecessarily in the first place, Japan wouldn’t need to use excess resources to recycle. And it’s A LOT of waste to recycle.

Ok for now this is all I can come up with. My brain cells need a break haha. But if you’ve got more to share or you don’t agree with any of the above (‘hey, black plastic bags are actually a freaking good idea, you know!’), feel free to comment!

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