I've finally returned to Canada!
One of the oddest feelings after returning from Japan has been finding a few little things that I had left behind but intended to take with me. Nothing too significant, but for some reason I immediately believe that if I had brought the thing with me – perhaps it would have rendered my entire experience more positively, and with that I feel a gripping sadness. An emotion of such proportions that in order for my ego to deal with moving, my mind imagines that it’s nothing but a faded dream. I have literally sat in silence, wondering if I had ever lived in Japan at all. A ridiculous thought that simply bewilders me to no end, but it also feels the most true.
If one day I “wake up” to find that I have been living in an asylum, and somehow had been convinced of my delusions, well I wouldn’t exactly be surprised. I might be mildly startled. “Oh? All a figment of my imagination? Some sort of strange fantasy? You think I would have imagined something better…” That’s when the psychiatrist or what-have-you would explain that when my parents visited, I pretended to be skyping them. “They went along with everything – for your sake,” the psychiatrist might say. I’d simply nod – maybe yawn, “Makes sense”.
I suppose part of the reason I could believe it’s all just a fantastical and mundane story, is that no one acknowledges that it happened. Yes, upon my return they told me I was missed, but when I tried to share some of my experiences – I found an odd thing happen. People would avert their attention and talk about something else. At first it made sense to me – if I was the other person, I might be annoyed or bored by stories of some far off land I’ve never been to – it’s a possibility. Then it just started to feel weirder. I realized that no one really wanted to hear about it. So I’ve kept to myself largely, only casually bringing up a comparison now and then. That’s when people make the obligatory “Hm!” sound, like they just heard something interesting.
Now I know that by confessing these feelings I might appear vain or self centered. One might be inclined to roll their eyes, but from my perspective I travelled to another planet and completely transformed myself. I want to share my traumas, my heartache, my discoveries, and moments of absolute delight! I want to share with the people I love and care about. Yet, I sense a wall every time I broach the topic. I generally try and avoid it altogether for that reason. All of this affirms my odd belief that it was all make believe.
Then I remembered something else. Their lives have changed too. They lived their lives while I was gone. They weren’t put on hold – stuff happened. They saw movies, celebrated events, suffered tragedies…these things happened without me. There was a literal distance between me and everyone back in Canada. In a sense, I asked for a break. “Look, it’s not you, it’s me. I know we’ve had some fun times. And I haven’t stopped loving you…but, I need some time and space. I need to grow as a person. I just think this would be better – for both of us.” Canada then nodded and swallowed hard, wanting to believe it was for the better when all it could taste was the salty tears of abandonment.
I apologize. I let myself get carried away with theatrics.
After a long time of mulling things over, I remembered that there is one place where I may vent inexhaustibly and some people might even listen. A beautiful, wonderful place – you may have heard of it before. The internet. That’s right, “the”. As in, the one and only.
From now on, I'll be updating my website daily with one story or another from my time in Japan! (Maybe other stuff too...) Look forward to it!
We were immediately blown away by the simple beauty of the room. Wonderful tatami floors, accompanied by a traditional kneeling table and chairs, and adorned with a beautiful tea set. We were given a quick tour before we had a moment alone to admire our room. A set of chairs looked out onto the outdoor patio, right next to the stocked bar. Outside our glass sliding doors was an outdoor shower, and an open air hot springs bath. Our own, private hot spring! Lucky for us, there was a tall fence and walls surrounding the private patio, but still a noticeable view of the mountains and trees. Soon enough, the attendant returned and asked us to sit down. She served us green tea and gave us a delicious mochi snack. She left us alone and we delighted in our situation.
I finally removed my shoes and slipped on the provided ones, where we were then ushered into a little dining area with a fantastic, panoramic view. A woman, obviously proficient in English, asked when we would like to schedule dinner, and breakfast in our room before whisking us away down the hall. She gave us a little tour of the facilities, pointing out the bathrooms and accompanying segregated male, and female hot spring baths. There were delightful copper sinks in the hall, which gleamed invitingly. I squealed with delight at every turn in the corridor. Every inch of this place felt authentic, and warm. Soon she showed us to the elevator and informed us which floor the room was located. My partner and I squeezed into the little elevator, while the woman in her tabi and sandals, took the stairs and met us on the same floor. Again, the customer service and enthusiasm impressed me to no end. She quickly escorted us to our room and as soon as we entered the little foyer and genkan, I removed the slippers and stepped up onto raised platform. She thanked me, almost profusely, making it obvious that many foreigners didn’t recognize the faux pas.
When we finally reached the Hakone-Yumoto station, we were starting to get really excited. We found the bus heading in the right direction by asking at information – and felt really fortunate when they spoke English – then prepared for our final leg of the journey. Our stop was approximately 20 minutes away, but it took a little longer since there were delays. The road to the ryokan was a long, twisty road up a mountain. The further we travelled, the more we wondered where we were headed. I started to panic a little (as I do) and hoped that we actually caught the right bus. I wanted to make sure we made our check-in time. I would hate to be late. It would be absolutely unseemly.
We crossed the road and as we were admiring the brilliant visage ahead of us, a man in traditional work garb was bouncing down the stairs with a clipboard. My partner and I looked at one another before the man eagerly greeted us, then said the name the reservation was under. We nodded, impressed with the immediate and enthusiastic service. We hadn’t even gotten to the bottom of the stairs leading to the impressive ryokan. We followed him as he led us through the antique sliding doors, and were instantly set upon by a whole team of women in kimonos. They smiled warmly and encouraged us to remove our shoes in the genkan and replace them with slippers. When they saw the size of my partner’s feet, they quickly and quietly switched them out with larger ones. I was struggling to remove my shoes and was leveraging myself on my partner’s shoulder, when one of the women scurried away to bring me a special bamboo stand especially designed for that purpose. I couldn’t believe the already outstanding service.
During my Christmas break, I had the luck and fortune to visit a few great places in the Kanto region. I visited Hakone (world renown for their hot springs), Tokyo, and Nikko (home of many famous temples and shrines). In Tokyo, I had the opportunity to see a few of the major tourist attractions, including: Shibuya, Shinjuku, Asakusa, Roppongi Hills, the Tokyo Skytree, and just outside of Tokyo – Mitaka, where the Studio Ghibli Museum is located. In order to see all of Tokyo, you would honestly need at least a full week. There is so much to see and do. Many things require reservations in advance and can only be done with enough forethought. My significant other and I had been thinking about what sort of things we’d like to do together, since he was going to visiting me during my break. We came up with ideas and made the appropriate arrangements.
The first place we visited was Hakone! We reserved our room weeks in advance (although it would be better to do it even earlier if you want more time). I spent a long time researching different ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) in the area and found out a number of them offer rooms with a private, outdoor hot spring bath. This really appealed to both of us – and it wasn’t long after that we sorted through our top choices and settled on one. A place called, “Mikawaya Ryokan”. It was established in 1883 and is one of the most popular ryokans in Hakone. After our visit, I completely understand why.
I currently reside in Utsunomiya, Tochigi and that’s where our journey first started. We took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Omiya, which is about a 30 minute ride, and then another 30 minute train ride to Shinjuku. From there we wandered around the station for a bit and enjoyed some time at a café while we waited for our Romancecar train to Hakone. We had booked the tickets in advance and discovered that the train name was slightly misleading. While it was a scenic route, I wouldn’t necessarily call it romantic since it carried passengers of every description between Shinjuku and Hakone. Although we did enjoy the 100 minute ride with a few drinks bought from the cart.
What happened next? Well, it didn’t take long to finish a cup of tea and run outside into the brisk air. One hot shower later, we braved the even hotter waters of the hot spring. We quickly discerned that we needed to turn on the cold water faucet positioned above the hot spring. We had been warned prior to using it that it would be necessary to use cold water – boy, she wasn’t kidding. I thought maybe she was just being cautious. No, that was a real hot spring with insanely hot, natural water pouring in to the bath. Thank goodness for the cold water as a method to temper the heat. When we finally reached the ideal temperature, we sat back and enjoyed the chill mountain air, and natural, Earthly heat.
After a brief hiccup paying for bus fare, since my partner had never experienced getting change from the machine up front nor recognized all of the currency – we were finally at our stop. The bus pulled away and across the road was our beautiful, Japanese inn. We looked around and saw gorgeous views of the valley below us, since we had climbed the mountain and we were now towering over the little town. We arrived just 5 minutes before check-in, and this made me a little anxious. I was eager to get settled in our room.
When morning finally came, we woke up a bit early to take our final dip in the hot springs. A startling wake-up call from the cold air, followed by an immediate hot shower (and a couple of traditional buckets of water), and we were in the bath enjoying the startling heat and rising steam. We had closed the paper doors between the main room, and the bar room so that if they came early with breakfast, we would be fine. Sure enough, they arrived earlier than anticipated. We could hear the rattling of dishes and movement as we sat in the glory of the morning light. I suddenly realized I wasn’t sure I could get out of the bath, so I sent my partner in to put on his robe and check. The attendant had left but in her absence, sat breakfast – ready and waiting. I scrambled for my yukata, and sat down, eager and hungry for another spectacular meal. I was not disappointed. Rice, miso soup, fried fish, and a couple of dishes I can’t name, but enjoyed.
Their timing was always perfect, it wasn’t long after we finished dessert and were contemplating another session in the hot spring when two men came in and quickly cleaned up the room in the most orderly and efficient fashion. They pushed the table aside and set up the futons as easily, and professionally as a pit crew. Night had finally spilled over the horizon, when we sat in the hot springs sharing sweet plum wine and admiring the night sky.
Hours slipped by, we eventually got out of the bath and put on our yukatas. They were comforting. My partner turned on some Japanese TV while we waited for dinner time. As per Japanese culture, dinner arrived early. Our attendant laid out a few dishes – sushi, sashimi, pickled vegetables, and two burners topped with a metallic bowl of sea inspired soup. We sat in awe of our bubbling soup, and made agreeable sounds when eating the sashimi. There was quite a bit of food, but it didn’t take long for more food to be brought out. Beautiful cuts of fish and steak, more interesting food atop the burner, and of course an assortment of unrecognizable Japanese cuisine. We ate up the delicious food, and was served with yet another dinner course. We continued to marvel at the wonderful dinner and did our best to finish. When she brought the final dinner course, she let us know to call the front desk and ask for dessert. They served a mixture of sweet and unusual dishes, before we finally felt absolutely full.
When we finally finished eating, we realized that we’d have to get ready to leave our dream destination. We prepared for our departure and finally said our goodbyes to the room. My loving and incredibly generous partner took care of the bill while he sent me to the gift shop to check it out. The staff called us a taxi back to the station, and we lamented our leaving. Our trip back down the mountain in the morning light was quiet and unwinding. The views were breathtaking and wondrous. We finally arrived back in town, and bought a few things in a little shop before buying another ticket back to Shinjuku.
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.
March 5, 2013
Information session on teaching English abroad (conveniently located at my alma mater).
September 2, 2013
I officially complete my 100 hour course on teaching English as a second language, and receive my TESOL/TESL/TEFL certification.
September 18, 2013
I attain a federal criminal record check (with photo and fingerprints) in order to apply to a range of companies.
September 17, 2013 - March 20, 2014 (185 Days*)
Struggling job hunt rages war on my time, and emotions.
March 21, 2014
I'm contacted by numerous Japanese companies, including one long phone call discussing my goals and intentions. I'm asked to consider the position thoroughly, then contact them after I've made a decision.
March 24, 2014
I officially register with the company's website and await a reply. I immediately receive a call back and continue with an interview over the phone before proceeding further. I'm informed that I will need to send a scanned passport photo/signature page along with my university degree, a professional looking photo, and a minimum of 3 reference letters (2 work and 1 character). On top of that, I must complete a grammar quiz, and fill out a questionnaire consisting of various work related questions and an essay.
April 10, 2014
I discuss my upcoming decisions about deciding between jobs in a blog post.
April 24, 2014
I receive my final reference letter from my university Japanese professor. I immediately send it to DJ and finish that part of the hiring process.
July 10, 2014
My father drives me to Calgary, Alberta to visit the Japanese Consulate. They approve my work visa and instruct me on the immigration process after entering Japan.
July 16, 2014
As part of the final, official step for moving to Japan - I visit my doctor for a note declaring a clean bill of health.
July 21, 2014
I receive my work visa in the mail.
August 14 - 16, 2014
My plane leaves for Japan. There are stops in Vancouver, Canada and Taipei, Taiwan before landing in Nagoya, Japan.
August 18, 2014
A two week orientation begins, instructing new employees on curriculum and method.
May 7, a Wednesday afternoon, I arrived at the Toronto Airport (Pearson). Then I took a $60 cab ride to my hotel in the Church-Wellesley Village - a celebrated gay neighbourhood. I was wondering what I should do for my brief time in the city. I only had one night and I would be gone the very next day. I don't know anyone in Toronto, although I do have some relatives - we're not close. It would have been awkward to contact them after so many years.
So I called up the front desk after checking in, and asked about nearby restaurants. A nice one over here, a decent burger place over there, but his first mention piqued my interest the most - a restaurant where you dine in the dark. I had heard about the Montreal location before, on tv and in magazines, but I never thought I'd have the opportunity to visit one. Well, one night in Toronto with the likelihood of never returning, pushed my decision to a clear one. I would make a reservation at this unusual restaurant and take in a whole new experience.
What is this restaurant I speak of? A place called O.Noir. You sit completely in pitch black while blind servers bring you your meal. When I called the restaurant to make the reservation, they asked me for how many. I said, "Just me," to which he replied, "Just you? Are you sure? Are you afraid of the dark? Will you be alright?" I laughed easily at his response and reassured him that I would be just fine. So he tentatively made the reservation. I thought this restaurant was the perfect idea - not only is it a truly unique experience, but I also spent all day on a plane and didn't care to dress up. No one would see me! It doesn't get any better!
The time came around and I headed down to the restaurant, literally - it's underground. Which makes sense if they wish to create a completely pitch black experience. They would need absolutely no chance of natural light. The restaurant entrance features a long, dimly lit corridor that opens into a dead end with a bar and a few tall tables and a couple of low benches against the wall. It's quiet, a bit dark, and the ornate carvings around the bar along with the library wall make the place feel classier. On another wall there are large painted circles representing the alphabet in Braille. A nod to what the restaurant really features - a blind experience.
Upon entry, a hostess checked my reservation by memory and handed me a menu. You can choose either 2 courses (appetizer/entree, entree/dessert) or all 3 (appetizer, entree, and dessert). There were just a few selections for each course. I ignored them altogether. I noticed you could pick a surprise item instead, so when I ordered, I inquired about having all 3 courses be a surprise. I made one important note: I'm allergic to shrimp. Then I ordered a glass of Malbec and waited for my table.
I didn't wait very long before my table was ready. I was escorted to a door by the hostess where she released the name of my server and told me to wait. A small, brown man appeared from behind the door and stood erect before me. He repeated his name and made friendly banter. He asked if I was staying in the nearby hotel, I said "yes". He then said, "I thought I saw you in the lobby". I was dumbstruck for a moment, not really getting the joke until I realized that he was indeed blind and made it impossible for him to see me. I laughed and he smiled. I could tell he was a good server.
He asked me to put my left hand on his left shoulder and he would walk me inside. He knocked, then opened the first door. We entered a little alcove of complete darkness. Then he mentioned another door, knocked again and opened it. A waft of laughter and smells hit my senses as my sense of sight was completely cut off. He carefully navigated me through the dark maze and put my hand on the back of a chair. At first I attempted to sit down, but noticed I tried to sit on the wrong side. Then I tried again, but realized it wasn't pulled out. If it wasn't so dark, I might have been embarrassed. Finally, I pulled out the chair and sat down successfully. He asked, "safe landing?" I replied with a happy "yes".
That's when he introduced me to my close surroundings. There was a place mat, a fork, a spoon and a napkin. He told me to align my place mat with my chair. I then noticed the place mat was off center and quickly fixed that. The server disappeared and returned with my glass of wine which I carefully placed near the wall. I sat and waited in the dark. I could hear the chatter and hum of nearby conversations but struggled to make out the words. I noticed that the tables were separated by large gaps - so there would be a enough room to maneuver. I also noted that there must have been only 7 or 8 tables in the section. How could I tell? I listened to the different areas conversation emanated, I paid attention to noteworthy outbursts, and who left.
I know a few things about perception and sensation (due to my time in university). One of them is that it takes 8 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark. After 8 minutes, there was no difference. I waved a hand in front of my face, I blinked, and saw nothing - no difference. I have never been swallowed by that amount of darkness before. I've never known what it's like to sit in true pitch black. I didn't feel afraid - and I think it was in large part due to the fact there were so many happy voices. Although, I must admit, if I had to spend an eternity living in a place with darkness and muffled voices, it might be a little too much like hell. I suddenly have a new understanding and empathy for the visually impaired.
Now for the meals - as I mentioned earlier, I ordered all surprises. The first course was set in front of my plate and my server commented, "I hope you like it alive and kicking". I laughed and heard him shuffle away. I stabbed my fork in to the plate and brought it to my mouth - I took the bite and discovered it was leafy. I kept eating and put my palate to the test. What did I think I was eating, exactly? Since I have quite a lot of experience with flavours, I thought I was up to the challenge. My best guess is that it was a spinach, arugula salad with kale sprouts, dried cranberries and a drizzle of lemon/raspberry vinaigrette. I had a difficult time getting all of the salad on to my fork, so there were a few times I assisted with my fingers. Thank goodness there was a napkin and no one could see.
Whenever I felt the need to quench my thirst, I would have to reach blindly in front of me, carefully feeling for the wine glass. I would sip just a little at a time, and take time to consider the weight sloshing around in the chalice. The next meal was the entree. I once again blindly stabbed at my plate in the dark before bringing the fork to my curious lips. My tongue greeted the bite with new found excitement. My teeth chewed the seared animal flesh with delight. The texture, the savoury taste, the warmth tickled my senses. Each bite brought me closer to knowledge. I finally decided that it was braised pork tenderloin medallions with wild rice, roasted potatoes, and tomatoes. The tomatoes were probably the most frightening aspect. I'm not a fan of any kind of cooked tomatoes. The texture is unappealing. I pierced my fork into one and brought it to my mouth. Much to my chagrin, the thing burst inside of my mouth like a polyp. I immediately spat it out. Something I've literally never done before in my life. Eating in the dark caused me to behave with a little less discrimination. After my unfortunate bite, I avoided the tomatoes altogether. Then I heard a shrill scream, and an exclamation about an eyeball. I knew immediately that the girl meant the tomatoes. It was like an eyeball. I reiterate, cooked tomatoes are unpleasant.
I was quite satisfied with the meat choice, however the potatoes were boring, the tomatoes were frightening, and the rice was very difficult to eat with a fork. I felt like it was a poor choice for eating blindly. I certainly used my fingers a little. I would have used a knife to push food on to my fork, however they only provided a fork and spoon. Probably a wise decision in the vast scheme of things.
I sat in the dark for long stretches of time between meals and sips. I tried to eavesdrop, however most of the talking was muffled by space and other conversations. There was a couple who sat behind me, I met them briefly in the foyer before entering the dining space. They were my closest conversation, and from the pieces I could hear, they were there for their anniversary. What made me a little frustrated was the lack of attention from my server. Not his fault, I understand his priorities, but I felt neglected. The mix of muffled conversations, doors closing, and shuffling feet, left my with a fuzzy silence. I sat in contemplation, letting my mind wander over every topic. Mostly, eating alone in the dark is not ideal.
Before dessert even arrived, it was brought to the couple behind me - they eagerly proclaimed that was it cheesecake. I waited until they had finished their dessert and were escorted out of the dining room, before I received my dessert. It was cheesecake. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy cheesecake. It just wasn't a surprise after all. Despite that, I dug into the cake indiscriminately. I savoured each thick, squishy bite. It was a little heavy, but it was still good. It was covered in a berry and chocolate drizzle, which I licked greedily from my fork.
After I finished, I sat there and listened. There were all sorts of people coming and going. Each time I would want to leave, someone else would ask the server's help. Eventually, I was able to ask the server for his assistance. He escorted me out of the restaurant and I thanked him for his help. He was a sweet, short man with a nice smile. He departed with a little head nod before slipping back in to the darkness beyond the door. I squinted, suddenly grateful for the dim lighting. After a brief, friendly chat with the hostesses and clearing up my bill, I headed back to my hotel room.
O.Noir is probably the most memorable, strangest dining experiences I've ever had. The food was honestly a tad mediocre. There wasn't any real flavour, and the meals were too simple. I was desperately hoping for food that made my senses jump for joy. Although I wasn't blown away by the dessert or salad, the pork tenderloin in the entree was delicious. Out of all the meals, it was the one saving grace. Despite the food being average, the experience is so unique and mind bending, that nothing can compare. You're forced to rely on everything but your eyes. I've never experienced darkness like that before, and I doubt I will again. I'm grateful for that experience, I'm glad that I had the opportunity to step in someone's shoes. I would definitely recommend dining at O.Noir (or any similarly themed restaurant) for the chance to share some true privacy. It's a world unexplored by most.
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.
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