aWhat else? So besides the harrowing brush with death, something else happened that I thought could only happen once. I was late, again. For the girl who's never been late in her life, I was going to set a record by being late TWICE in the country that SHAMES tardiness. The first time was totally the fault of the person who wrote the directions...but the second time was probably my fault. On my very second day of teaching, I was supposed to have an early meeting before my classes. I totally forgot about said meeting. I woke up, made breakfast, and began to eat when I got a call from my supervisor.
She was like, "Where are you?" and I replied something to the effect of, "just finished eating?"
"What? Did you forget?"
"Forget what?" I said, baffled.
"The meeting. The meeting we're having right now."
Instant, insane, and complete panic. I must have thrown on clothes faster than a magician. I tossed everything in my bag and practically ran. I looked at the time. By the time I was going to make it to the meeting, it would be half over. I sighed and felt immediate resignation. Maybe it would be better if I just showed up early for my classes (to be fair, I had to show up at least 2 hours before as per the Peppy Kids Club policy, but I was always earlier than that). I was at the station, when I got another call.
"Where are you now?"
"At the station."
"Going to my classes..."
"You need to be here. Now."
"I don't know how to get there..."
At this point, she passes the phone off to another teacher whom I haven't met because she can't deal with me. I get specific instructions on how to take the bus to the school. I first have to find said bus, because it's on the other side of the station. I get on the bus, but don't know what to do since this bus is different. The bus driver glared down at me from his perch and practically ripped the ticket out of the machine to hand to me. I muttered the destination, and he just said, "Hai". My stop came and went, I tried to get him to stop just after but he adamantly refused and told me to sit down. I sat down and waited for the bus to reach it's final stop. When I was getting off, I put the money and ticket in just like I did in Nagoya - expecting change in return. However, buses in Utsunomiya have a separate change machine for this purpose. I did not know that. The moment it happened, it triggered the bus driver into an unquenchable rage. He told me what I did wrong in Japanese and I shyly muttered, "Wakarimasen?" meaning, "I don't understand". He then proceeded to yell at me in a mocking tone, "Wakarimasen!? Wakarimasen!!!" The next sentences that followed were slurs against gaijins, I understood that much. I had never been so humiliated and hurt in public. He yelled at me to get off the bus and I did. I then had to run back to the previous stop as I choked back tears. When I finally arrived at the school, I took the wrong entrance (despite the instructions saying the contrary), and found nothing but hostility. The supervisor and my fellow teachers were cold. She took every opportunity to either ignore me, or belittle me. In fact, she soured every opportunity I had at a friendship in that circle. And every subsequent meeting she would remark on how I was, "finally on time" and "not like that other time when I was incredibly late".
When the awful, awful meeting ended, I found out there were no buses back at that time and I had classes to teach. I practically ran. Turned out, it was about a 45 minute walk. Ugh. When I finally made it back to the station, I saw some of my fellow teachers. They actually turned their backs on me and walked away. Then I noticed the station seemed very busy. I try to pay attention to the announcements before I finally take out my phone and find out all of the trains have been delayed to Utsunomiya. Now I was screwed again. I was going to be late to check in for my classes. I called head office and informed them the trains weren't running. They said just wait in the station and keep them informed. It took about an hour before the trains were back, and the train ride to school was about 45 minutes as well. I let head office know my situation, and they resignedly asked me to "try my best to be on time" and let me know it would still be considered my fault if I was late. Circumstances were apparently irrelevant. I spent the whole train ride prepping to run out of the doors when it stopped. And that's what I did. I practically flew by the man taking tickets, although he seemed unfazed - perhaps even found it amusing. I literally made it to the school within a minute of my deadline. I raced to the phone and called in. Head office was mildly impressed, and commented that I must have ran.
The next day was the earthquake. Truly, the week from hell.
Well, thank you so much for reading! If you like, I've made a gallery of photos from Nagoya! Ciao!
After a whirlwind of new experiences, it was time for some formal training. We were up at the crack of dawn ready to storm the beaches, office attire equipped and hair done up. Our first days of orientation involved introductions from different company representatives and reminding us that this would not be easy. They compared it to hell. They smiled, and we laughed, but we were mistaken - it wasn't a joke. The President of the company graced us with a brief introduction. He was an older Japanese man that didn't speak a word of English, and was accompanied by a translator, another man in the company. He asked us who we thought the top 3 private TESL schools were in the country. Interestingly, the top 2 had invited me for interviews, but I declined (it was 3,500 km away). This is when we found out PKC was the top 3 company for teaching English in Japan AND they had the same number of schools as KFC had restaurants. He was incredibly enthusiastic about this fact, and before he left we all recited in unison our new creed, "Otsukaresama desu!". It's essentially a formal way of thanking someone for their good work. We were sternly instructed to say it every time we saw a co-worker, started or ended a phone call with the office, and at meetings. It was a sign of respect. (However, it eventually became a tireless mantra that seemed to lose all meaning.) Each day we were up early, and each night we came home late - then everyone tried to relax/study in the wee hours, leaving maybe 4 hours for sleep. The first few days were learning how to deal with emergencies, and filling out incident reports. Then came the really brutal days - trying to learn the curriculum and teach it to students.
5. What do you know about Japan, Japanese culture and language?
What do you know about Japan? If your thoughts are something along the lines of, “I love anime!” or “Sushi is delicious!” but without any depth, or real knowledge, seriously reconsider. Yes, anime is fantastic and there is an innumerable amount of merchandise to find, your love for anime can be satisfied by just visiting Japan. How about sushi? Yep, also amazing. The sushi, sashimi, yakitori, tempura, and every other food is outstanding. Japanese food is probably the best food I’ve ever eaten, yet that can also be experienced by simply being a tourist. In fact, probably better experienced as a tourist since working here with minimal pay means largely cooking your own food and not eating amazing food every day. Suffice to say, if you truly want to live in Japan, your knowledge of Japanese culture and language should be exceptional. You need to be more than adequately prepared.
4. Do you like children?
Do you absolutely love being around children? Have you worked extensively with children before? If you haven’t worked with children previously or even feel somewhere in the vicinity of neutrality towards children – think again. While it’s assumed from an Anglo-Saxon point of view that Japanese children must be as polite as Japanese adults, the opposite is true. Japanese children are terrors. I’m not making this up. Why is that, you may ask. Well, the culture of raising children in Japan means believing babies are basically gods, and they can do no wrong. Hence, Japanese children are allowed to do whatever they like without being reprimanded. Yes, they are spoiled. They lack discipline. So how do they turn in to intensely polite adults? Through rampant passive aggressive shaping to invisibly force each child into eventually learning that being part of the group is the most important aspect of their lives. They acclimatize to the notion around the time they reach the age of majority.
3. What do you know about the company?
You should very carefully pick the company you’re going to work for. While it is incredibly difficult to know what the company is going to be like from purely perusing their website or visiting rambling reviews or blogs on the matter, I would make a couple of suggestions. Don’t believe all the propaganda the company sells – they can and will exaggerate for their benefit. Most companies will have you believe they are doing great things for you, but the fact of the matter is, you’re doing them a favour and not the other way around. English teaching companies are big in Japan and highly competitive, they’re all looking for fresh meat to put through the grinder. The biggest problem with private companies is that they are unmistakably profit driven. That means employees are put on the back burner, especially in Japan. Customer service is of the highest significance, and expect no reward for going the extra mile – it’s simply expected. It can be incredibly stressful when dealing with finicky parents and undisciplined children. I would suggest finding a company that teaches adults, or one that hires for the public board of education. Less pressure, more time with fellow employees and never having to deal with parents. (Want my advice? Check out Interac or JET. Avoid ECC or iTTTi.)
2. How well do you deal with isolation and being away from home?
As a Gaijin, you will always be an outsider. After having spoken with many other Gaijins from various nations, and living here for various amounts of time – they all report the same. If you appear anything other than Asian, expect to be treated like a perpetual alien. Japanese people are notoriously xenophobic. I cannot stress this enough. There will be times when people will be afraid of being near you, or you’ll receive judgemental stares. You can feel the cold aura all around you. Be prepared to feel isolated and alienated. This is even truer if you happen to be female. It takes a long time to develop friendships with Japanese people, and sometimes their intentions are only to be friends with someone non-Japanese, like a novelty. That’s not to say there aren’t Japanese people interested in having authentic friendships, but you’re more likely to find like-minded people in a metropolis. Rural areas can be unwelcoming at times.
1. What are your expectations while living in Japan?
My last point ties in with my first point again, since I believe it is once again the most important. Before I arrived in Japan, I perceived Japanese culture to be one aligned with beauty, and simplicity. While Japan is beautiful and clean, the only type of simplicity that exists is perceived simplicity. Japanese society does its very best to appear uncomplicated and consistently beautiful. It is however, the exact opposite. Honesty does not exist in Japan. I’m not trying to be callous or inconsiderate, but brutally truthful. No one in Japan will tell you the truth, and if they do, you would never know it. Everything is hidden and veiled behind thick curtains and multiple walls of civility. The only aggression that exists here is passive. If someone doesn’t like you, they’ll never reveal their true feelings or intent. Instead, they’ll continue to be dishonest and passive aggressive.
Perhaps I sound intensely cynical or jaded. You could argue that my experience is singular and I’m largely affected by my placement with this particular company, in this particular area. That might be true. I might be an irregularity. In that case, here’s my closing statement. If you do choose to go to Japan despite my warnings, please keep the following in mind. Choose the area you want to be placed in – I recommend near or in a large city. Do some research and find out what interests you the most about Japan, then aim for living near that area. If crowds are not your thing, and you would prefer a smaller area, consider that it will be infinitely more difficult to make friends and communicate (unless you’re fluent in Japanese).
Ultimately, I would suggest just being a tourist in Japan. Touring and sightseeing will satisfy all of your casual needs like delicious food, interesting cultural oddities and tonnes of awesome shopping. Living here will drain the life out of you. You slowly conform to the robotic culture of work, sleep, work, sleep, work, sleep, drink heavily, and work some more while pretending that it’s your favourite thing to do. What’s different from any other place? Trust me, the Japanese work ethic is intensely different. You’re expected to work as hard as possible without any sort of praise, (or for that matter overtime) and be grateful for it. If you even raise your voice to mention the possibility that you’re at all unsatisfied (even if you’re prompted), you will be judged extremely negatively. Expect to be reprimanded.
Japan is a fascinating nation with a truly bizarre and magnificent culture. There are many things I’ve enjoyed while living here, but the things I’ve enjoyed most about Japan have come from my brief times spent while behaving like a tourist. Time off is usually spent trying to unwind from a stressful work week, so when vacation time finally rolls around, it’s the best time in the world. I had the chance to visit Hakone, Tokyo and Nikko. Beautiful and quintessentially Japanese locations – but only appreciated off work.
That being said, living in Japan has had some truly positive outcomes. I’m more confident and self-assured than I’ve ever been. A lot of my fears have dissipated – although not entirely, I’ve experienced a noticeable difference. However, I don’t think that travelling to Japan is necessary in order to achieve these kinds of positive results. I think living in other countries would be just as satisfying, if not more. If I could recommend somewhere else that is similar to Japan but friendlier, I would say South Korea. It had been suggested to me numerous times but I was stubborn and insisted on Japan (for numerous reasons). Regardless, I can only offer my personal experiences and advice. Decide on your own if Japan is right for you – if not, please visit! It’s worth it to have an adventure – see the sights, eat the food, and enjoy the culture.
First of all, what's a "gaijin"? Well, if you have no idea, I'll let you in on the translation. It means "foreigner". To the Japanese, everyone who isn't Japanese is a foreigner. Actually, it's more like, anyone who doesn't LOOK Japanese is a foreigner. Having a few Asian friends, I can honestly say that they're mistaken for Japanese people all the time. Which can be a good, and a bad thing. It means that sometimes Japanese people will attempt to speak to them in fluent Japanese, and other times they're completely ignored as being one of the many. One of the most challenging aspects (and interesting) about living in Japan, is the fact that as a "gaijin" you constantly stand out. People will stare. It happens, a lot. They seem to have no problem just staring straight at you like you're a zoo animal. It can be unsettling, and at times annoying, and I suppose on the rare occasion it makes you feel special (in that weird sort of uncomfortable way). As a white female with curly hair, I find that most of the time I do my best to ignore the stares. If I was in my own city in Canada, I would guess that they just think I'm attractive. That's the confusing part in Japan, you lose all sense of whether you're attractive or not. People just stare. The irony is that Japanese people are commonly plagued with the fear of being stared at, yet they have no problem looking right at you with their jaw dropped. Yes, I am clearly white. Thank you for noticing.
So what happens when you so clearly stand out from the crowd? Many different things can happen (besides the staring). Sometimes people will be rude because of their ridiculous xenophobia (fear of foreigners basically). Rudeness is almost entirely unheard of in Japan. Japanese people are typically the most polite, most considerate (and most fashionably dressed) people there are. Honestly. I didn't realize that so many people could be so nice without anything to gain in return. It's just a part of their culture. That's why it's always shocking when someone is actually rude. It's like a cruel reminder that they're still human. Maybe they're not that much different than us after all. Canada is known for being a "nice" country. Canadians are definitely nice, but not at all in the same way. See, a Canadian will pretty much tolerate anything that's drastically different from what they know, because hey, that's their right to be different and we have so many foreigners that we're used to many, many cultures. The important thing to keep in mind is that not all Canadians are nice. In Japan, people are so unbelievably courteous that they would bend over backwards to help you, even if they're not used to anything different.
It is Japanese culture to conform to the group as much as possible. There are some youth that enjoy participating in some sort of counter culture where they dye their hair funky colours, but they still belong to a group. Belonging to a group is of the utmost importance, and exclusion is a death sentence. So when they see someone who's VERY different, it can be unsettling for them. Sometimes they're curious, but most of the time they try to ignore that anything is different at all. As though it's not even happening. Let's just say that Japanese people are the masters of passive aggressive behaviour. Now, I'm not putting them down in any sense. I appreciate how welcoming they are (generally speaking), and I know I've enjoyed the help and admiration of quite a few people. They just deal with people who are different in a very unique way.
Gaijin or not, expect to receive the best customer service you've ever received in your life. I'm not kidding. I don't think any country in the world can trump Japanese customer service. Example, if you walk into ANY store the first thing the clerk(s) will do is welcome you warmly and enthusiastically into the store with an "irasshaimase". Then when you're ready to pay and get to the counter, they'll often say "douzo" which is a type of "please" that denotes an offering, in this situation they're letting you know that you can come up to the counter with your items. Then they'll quickly and carefully scan all your items, and arrange them very precisely for you in a bag or basket. When you hand over your money, they'll say, "oazukari shimasu" which basically means "I will treat this as if it were my own". They make sure to count your money in front of you, and then count your return change so you can see exactly how much money was processed both ways. After all is said and done, they thank you with an "arigatou goziamasu" and smile. Holy crap, they really care. You almost never run into someone who isn't trying their damnedest to make sure you feel like the most important customer on the planet. On top of that, NO ONE expects a tip AND they'll force your money back if you try to leave a tip. They are expected to provide exceptional customer service to everyone for their regular wages. It's crazy.
A perfect example of exceptional customer service is when I visited an electronics store for a phone charger. I was carrying a heavy box and as soon as I entered the store, one of the staff rushed to my side and took the heavy box from me. He then proceeded to help me pick out the exact charger I wanted. I happened to pick the cheapest one, but it didn't matter. When we walked up to the counter, and no one was at that particular till, someone literally ran from stocking the shelves to turn on the cash register for me. He then processed my 450￥ item (about $5) and thanked me profusely for my patronage. Holy crap. Never in my entire life have I ever received such an exemplary level of customer service, particularly for an item worth $5. They make you feel like royalty every time. I don't think I can come back to Canada (or any other country) without thinking everyone is very rude and expects too much money for nothing.
Anyway, as I was saying. Being a gaijin gets you a lot of attention. Sometimes people will attempt to speak English with you, even if it's a few words. Other times it will garnish you some odd behaviour. For example, I've had some women comment on my skin. One day when I was visiting a very traditional and authentic ramen shop for the first time with some friends, the woman who managed, cooked and ran the entire shop just had to say something to me. She came up to me outside after our meal and said (in Japanese), "I couldn't stop staring at your face. Your skin is so beautiful". She then proceeded to stroke my cheek with her hand. I stared at her wide eyed, completely surprised! I blushed and thanked her for her compliment. I just couldn't believe what happened. Another notable instance was when I moved to my apartment and was having my utilities hooked up. The Japanese woman handling the hooking up asked me how old I was, I told her "25". She was shocked. She then continued to compliment me on my beautiful skin. Apparently, my skin is appealing. Generally, they can't guess white people's ages and always guess too high. I was certainly complimented.
If it's not my skin, it's my hair. Sometimes when I'm teaching the students, they will lose it over my hair. They will repeatedly say, "kuro kuro" when means "going round and round". I have curly hair and they find it so interesting. They often try to touch it, and they laugh when I shake it around. I'm sure it's not just children who find it fascinating, but it's children who have no boundaries. Speaking of no boundaries...I'm quite well endowed for a woman, and the children don't fail to notice. They might comment in Japanese, thinking I don't understand, or if they're young enough, they'll try to touch them. I've had a couple of little girls try and grab them, or pat them. I just remove their hands gently and move away, distracting them with the lesson or a game. Yes, thank you children. I do have breasts.
When it comes to adults, my curves can intimidate and bring a lot of attention. Sometimes I dress up and that's when I notice a whole new kind of stare. Sometimes it doesn't even matter if their girlfriend is right there. Sort of surprising really, I guess they just chalk up to, "I was just looking at the weird gaijin..."...and the fact women don't have a lot of say in Japan. Let's just say, I'm a feminist and I walk confidently. I hold my head high and speak knowing what I know, and not pretending otherwise. Women in Japan are like shrinking violets - they behave so passively most of the time, that it depresses me a little. I'm hoping my confidence will rub off a little.
Anyway, let me sum up the gaijin experience. There are stares. There are odd, and sometimes inappropriate comments crossing social boundaries, and there are people who are super curious about you. Then there are the people who have no problem yelling at you because you're a foreigner. All-in-all, Japan will make you feel like royalty, and an oddity. Which is saying something, because Japan is fucking odd.
Hello everyone! I know it's been ages since I've blogged, so I've decided to give you a little update.
I moved to Japan August 16 to teach English. I trained in Nagoya for two weeks, then moved to my placement the first of September. I'm now living in Utsunomiya, Tochigi and I've finished a week of teaching. It's been a week from Hell (more like WEEKS from Hell)! Luckily, it can only get better (I hope).
I will be updating the blog when I can, but for now all the time I can afford is this little post. I'm looking forward to sharing my experiences, and photos! So please look forward to many updates to come!
Thank you for reading!
In my previous post I mentioned being grilled by a Japanese company for a position as an ESL teacher. I've been in constant contact with a representative from the company and after completing a questionnaire, essay and grammar test, along with submitting two references, and a copy of my degree and passport - I finally have an answer. While it is conditional on submitting a third reference, the representative told me she is 99.99% certain she was going to hire me. She wants me to start looking for flights to Toronto for orientation day. My tentative start date is August 18. I told her I would be more comfortable with waiting until it was official. I won't have the third reference until next week, so at least it gives me some time.
Time? Time for what? Well, last Friday (April 4) I had an interview with another possible employer who hires in Quebec (technically a government job). The interview was really successful - it was comfortable, I answered the questions professionally and there was chemistry with the interviewer. He said he would give me an excellent recommendation but it was ultimately up to the employer in Quebec whether they wanted to hire me or not. It's for a position as a language assistant and it would be very similar to the Japanese job. They'll take longer to reply with an answer so I'm hoping that I hear back from them before I send in my third reference, and confirm my position with the Japanese employer. If I was offered a position in Quebec, it might change my mind. Staying in Canada and learning French has other advantages.
While that's going on, I received an e-mail yesterday from yet another employer. I applied for a media relations/communications job months ago, and finally I hear back with: "After an initial review of your application, you are currently in the group of remaining candidates being considered". I just stared at those words. Then they asked me to complete a 40+ minute questionnaire. What is with employers and questionnaires? Anyway, I thought, why not? So I completed the questionnaire, and now I'm waiting to hear back. Yeah - that's right - three potential employers all at once. I didn't see this coming.
I've spent months and months scouring around for a job. Applying to as many as I could and hearing only negative responses in return. I was beginning to think that I was un-hirable. I was actually settling in with that attitude - thinking about completely throwing myself in to my writing and forgetting about a conventional job. Which was a painful concept to accept since being broke sucks. You still need money to subsist as a writer. Now I'm suddenly in a position with at least one guaranteed job and a possibility of two others. If I do hear back from either or both, then I honestly don't know what I'll do.
Each job has its positives and negatives, and they're all in different places. One in Japan, one in Quebec and one locally. While I will be confronted with some difficult decisions, I also know that I've wanted to live in Japan ever since I was a little girl. I've been in love with Japanese culture for as long as I can remember. This is a dream opportunity that may never knock again. I could say the same about the Quebec opportunity but the reality is I may never have the chance to work in Japan again. The only thing really holding me back is the trusted words of my third reference. It's my Japanese professor from university - we met again last year at my boyfriend's work Christmas party. It was like fate. Anyway, she said her friend worked for the same company and had a really negative experience. I'm waiting to hear back why she had problems - if it was related to the employer directly in some way, I may have to reconsider.
Anyway, I clearly have some upcoming decisions. Either way, things will change in a big way. What's really exciting, is that I'll have the opportunity to share my experiences with my readers. For now, it's a wait-and-see game.
Update time! What have I been up to? Goodness gracious, these past few days have been interesting. Well, perhaps not so much interesting as they have been stressful. When it rains, it pours.
On Thursday (March 20) I received several e-mails in regards to applications I've sent out. Let's go back in time for a moment - I've been applying for teaching jobs in Japan since September. I haven't heard anything positive until recently. I spent a long time painstakingly re-writing my cover letter and even more painstakingly writing two separate essays. Essays - what for, you ask? Well, it turns out that pretty much every Japanese company hiring foreign teachers requires an essay as part of the application. So I poured my best efforts into writing two excellent essays. I sent them off along with my resume and cover letter, then prepared not to hear back. I almost immediately heard back from one company. They asked me to attend a group interview where I would present a 30 minute lesson plan - then maybe a personal interview.
I flinched. Okay, fine. I can do that. I can come up with material and what-not for a lesson plan. Then I noticed the deal breaker - they want me to attend an interview in Ontario. For the curious, that's about 3500 km away from where I presently reside (~2100 miles). That means spending almost $1000 to go for the *chance* at an interview. Not to mention the inevitable plane trip to Japan - the company doesn't pay for that either. I sighed heavily. Of course. Bad news is always disguised as good news. To my chagrin, the second Japanese company was also interested, but also required a trip 3500 km away. Apparently this is a common thing for Japanese companies hiring ESL teachers. They typically have a recruiting center in a few major cities and don't see the need to accommodate anyone outside of the area. They have the luxury of being that picky.
What does it mean for me? Well, I won't be working for either of them - that's for sure. I very politely declined their offer for an interview, then sat back and banged my head against the desk. So much for that. Despite those obstacles, I have applied to 2 more Japanese companies. Guess what? I did that Friday (March 21) and got a phone call on Friday. A very pleasant and friendly woman greeted me, letting me know she was interested in my application. I spoke to her again yesterday (24) - she confirmed that she's interested in hiring me. Then she started listing off things I need to do. I need to write a grammar test, write an essay, fill out a questionnaire, send in copies of my passport and degree, and send her 3 reference letters. Not to mention an official interview and orientation in Toronto - if I even get that far. Sigh.
Does it ever end? Jump through this hoop. Jump through that hoop. Now do it backwards. Now have someone record you doing it with commentary. Oh did I forget to mention that she wants it within the week? Well - that's clearly impossible. The best I can do is next week. Which is fine - however it will push back travel dates (if I get the job).
Besides that jumbled mess of nonsense. I've also heard back from another interested employer. I've received an e-mail and official letter giving me an interview time for a position as a language assistant. It wouldn't be in Japan, but actually across the country, in either Quebec or New Brunswick. Both of those provinces are largely francophone so they require English teachers. More specifically, T.A.'s. Despite being within the country, the distance exceeds 4000 km (~2500 miles). One thing is for sure, the culture would be vastly different from where I live now. Alberta is known as "oil country" since the "tar sands" are the biggest contributor to the economy. Whereas Quebec is known for their maple syrup.
I would love to live across the country. I've never been that far east and at least I would still be in Canada. There are a lot of positives to that. I'm really looking forward to my interview. Unfortunately, my French isn't that fantastic, but I don't think that's what matters. I'm enthusiastic, friendly and enjoy teaching. Besides, if none of these things pan out - I still have 2 other companies I'm keeping on the back burner. One in Spain and one in France. Negatives: they don't pay well, I'd live with a strange family, and I'm not Catholic.
Anyway, now you can understand why I've been super busy. I have a strong desire to update Shadow Vault however with these latest events taking precedence, it's been increasingly difficult. Besides complicated job applications, I had serious back pain last week which prevented me from writing. Not to mention with April coming up, I have 6 birthdays to prepare for. What the hell? That's almost everyone I know.
So where does that leave Shadow Vault? I will do my absolute best to update it this week, if only in fear of not knowing when I'll have the time to update next. Besides that, please wish me luck on my job search. It's fucking impossible out there.
I jumped from a plane today! That's right, out of choice.
My sister and I have been thinking about skydiving for years. We finally decided to do it about three weeks ago. We made the reservation and next thing I know, the day is today and we're in a plane.
We drive out to the place, it's almost an hour out of town. I had already went to the bathroom about 6 times but of course, I needed to go again. So my sister and I rushed off to the bathroom before checking in. After that, we filled out waivers and watched a short orientation video on jumping and landing.
Then off to get ready. We meet our instructors. My sister's? A man about her height (she's 5'11") and not only an experienced jumper but also a pilot. What's my sister? A pilot. Skydiving was the next logical step apparently.
My tandem instructor? A tall, Danish man with over 4000 jumps under his belt. I felt like I was in very safe hands. Although he didn't let on he was experienced until much later. He certainly liked to play up some very dark humour while the plane was climbing, I digress.
Sig (my instructor) picked out a jumpsuit and helped me into the harness. At one point he asked me to spread my legs so he could tighten the harness around my crotch. Then he stood and adjusted the ones around my chest. That was all very intimate but of course absolutely necessary. I want it as tight as possible - I'm pretty sure that's the point.
After a brief explanation on the harness and what to expect, we meet our videographers and head out to the field. It's not only the two videographers, instructors, my sister and I, but three professional skydivers. Each one had their own custom jumpsuit and chute. One guy had a purple jumpsuit with the golden lettering, "Curious Chris" (a Curious George reference, no doubt).
The little plane starts up. The propeller whirrs loudly. They set up a little ladder to get inside the large bay door but it's quite steep and very windy, so I require the assistance of my instructor in order to get into the plane. I get inside and sit down, straddling a sort of long bench. A clear shutter is brought down, blocking the large exit and we start going down the runway. I haven't had any time in small planes, so the take off is quite different from a large plane. Of course, my sister is used to even smaller planes than this one, so she handles it like a pro the whole way up.
The ground shrinks away. The climbing is steep and takes a long time. My sister chats up the people around her easily, talking about learning to be a pilot and her flying experience. I watch the view, I can't help but enjoy the plane ride itself. Sig points out familiar landmarks. It was like having a tour guide, I really enjoyed that. I look at my videographer's wrist and see the altimeter rising. We're getting closer to our altitude.
Finally, we reach 12, 500 feet. The giant, clear shutter is opened up and all that's left is sky. The professional solo divers go first. I watch them. Two men and a woman. I can't believe they just did that. My videographer climbs out on to the bar, waiting for me to come out. My instructor helps march me to the door. I crouch, like taught, and look out. Oh god. My instructor reminds me to cross my arms over my chest and look at the camera guy.
Scariest moment of my entire life.
I scream. Apparently my sister says she can hear me scream after I jump (she jumps after me). I want to scream more but there's so much air filling my mouth that I can't dispel any. Instead I look around me. Holy fuck. Everything is so far and beautiful. A perspective I've never had. The weather is perfect, absolutely perfect. Not a cloud in sight and it's warm, and I'm falling. Actually falling. I can feel gravity pulling me down. The view is so awe inspiring that I don't know how to feel but to be amazed. I actually flail around a bit, kicking my legs and such - only because I'm so excited that I don't know how to express myself (since I can't talk).
Then he pulls the chute. We instantly shoot up into the sky. It was at that moment that I realized how fast we were falling because I watched as the videographer fell to the Earth like a comet. I was frightened for his life!
The first thing that happens when he pulls the chute is my legs fly up like I'm sitting. The same thing happened to my sister. The force is so great that it sucks you up.
That's when you really get to enjoy the view. Wow. I've never seen anything like that. All I could say was, "Wow" mostly. My instructor was holding on to the...oh gosh, what's the word? Well, they're handles that control the parachute. He asked me, "would you like to hold them?" I said, "sure!" Next thing I know, I'm steering the parachute! We did a couple 360s for fun (with his help of course)! Wow! So fun!
Finally, it was time for the landing. He brought us in easily and we landed softly. He unhooked me and I jumped up, incredibly excited. My first words, "I want to do it again!"
Obviously, I had the time of my life. I feel like a whole new person. Would I recommend? Oh yes I fucking would.
P.S. What did I wear? I wore my green Paris, France t-shirt my father bought when he was there years ago. I thought it was the perfect symbol.
Today I'm celebrating the Blog's first anniversary! Yay! (Check out the first blog post!) I'm super happy that I've managed to dedicate enough time to this website to maintain it long enough for a year. I think now that the year is over, I've gotten over the hump and will continue to update this website for years to come. Well - one can be hopeful.
Who knows what the future holds? I'll be leaving for France soon - perhaps within the year and the Blog could change dramatically. I'll discuss my experiences teaching English and travelling in Europe. I'm looking forward to it.
So what am I doing special for today? Well, I thought a long time about this and decided it might be fun if I created one of my favourite things - an Easter egg hunt.
Oooh, are you excited now? I've hidden 12 (one for each month of the year) links around the site. Each one has an audio player with a random topic I discuss. How will you know if you've found it? You'd have to click to find out. Some of them are out in the open and some of them are hidden. Who knows? You might never find all 12. If I'm nice, I might reveal a hint or two later on.
Well, have fun!
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