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.
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!
Japan is odd in many ways. Whether it's the products you find in stores (tentacles on a stick, no joke), or the cultural expectation of wearing slippers for particular types of floors (one set for indoors, and another for the bathroom). The oddest thing about Japan, in my opinion, is living here. You are transported to a reality that simultaneously places you in the past and future. Now, I am drawing a comparison between Japan and Canada (or more generally, between North America, and to some extent, Australia and the U.K. - perhaps other countries as well, but I'm drawing from personal experience). Why is Japan like simultaneously living in the past and future? Let me explain.
The Past: So if you think of bygone days, what comes to mind? What are some things that were common and are no longer but a memory? Well, let me give you some examples that are alive and well in Japan. Bicycles. Yes, I'm sure you're aware that bicycles are common in places like China, but were you aware of how common they are in Japan? They are everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. Not just bicycles, but the type of bicycles remind me of travelling back in time to the 1950s. They're the kind of bicycles with baskets in the front and a bell on the handle. I'm not kidding. If you watch a movie from that era, you'll see people happily biking along on exactly the bike I'm talking about. How about trains? Trains used to be a common method of transportation. Guess what? They're everywhere here. Trains, trains, trains! So many different lines! Some of them are older and feel like they're from the 50s, I swear. In more rural areas, the train pulls away from the station with a tug, like pulling on a slack line. You can see the movement jostle everyone in the car.
Okay, okay. So bicycles and trains are a blast from the past. What else? Laundry. Yes, everyone owns a washer, but owning a dryer isn't actually common. Most people buy laundry clips and hang their laundry to dry on a line. It's true. In fact, I just finished hanging my clothes to dry. It's an odd thing having to take your clothes from the washer, and clip them to a string hanging outside your apartment. What year is this?
Remember fax machines? Well they're plentiful here. I use one every single day at work. I can hardly believe it myself. I find it so incredibly old fashioned. What about e-mails? What about computers? What about doing things that save paper? I'm not sure I understand myself. I guess Japan just prefers having hard copies of absolutely everything. So I spend my time filling out forms and dialing numbers. You think they're old, clunky machines? Nope. They're new. Yes, new, small, efficient, fax machines. Oh Japan.
Then we come to the topic of gas stations and convenience stores. You're probably thinking, "Wait, aren't those the same things?" Nope. They most certainly aren't, not in Japan anyway. I know travelling in North America is filled with gas stations and convenience stores being one and the same. Not in Japan. Take a trip back in time when those things were clearly separated. Your local "general" store carried everything you could possibly need in a pinch, and the service was always friendly. If you wanted gas for your automobile, you had to go to a different place, where it was always full service and they offered mechanical work if you needed. Welcome to Japan. In that sense, things are very much like looking back in time. Station attendants happily take care of your every vehicle need, and definitely offer any automotive service required. In fact, because it's Japan, customer service is always taken to another level. At some gas stations, expect the attendant to stop traffic and clear the way for you to leave safely, and in style. Now that's service.
If it isn't classic bicycles, gas stations, fax machines and hanging your laundry to dry, what else is a blast from the past? Simply put, gender roles. Japan is the place where women are exquisitely feminine and all the men wear suits. In fact, they're called "salary men". They work ridiculous hours and are never home with their families. Women graduate college, work as a receptionist for a few years then marry. It's true. They marry young and they have children. Then the men continue to work themselves to the grave, while the women take care of the offspring they've birthed. What's that? Is that the phone? Who's calling? Oh yeah, it's the '50s and they want their stereotypes back.
The Future: Honestly, I'm just going to talk about technology advances. For instance, the machines located in a train station. They can take bills, coins and most of them offer services in English. Then there's the gates. It's this elongated machine which you can either scan your pass through (you can buy a card that will scan electronically through your wallet, no kidding), or you can insert your train ticket into a slot and it will shoot through the other side of the gate. It's pretty amazing. It gets me every time. The city I'm from goes by the honour system. Kind of a huge mistake. In contrast, there's New York City, where you will actually get deported if you don't swipe your metro pass.
How about ATMs? Feel free to dump your change into these machines. That's right, ATMs process change. When you want to withdraw cash, a slot opens and the cash is presented to you in an expeditious and polite manner. (Not to mention the fact that everyone deals in cash. That's right, cash. Another blast from the past.) Or what about the presence of a copy machine/printer in every convenience store? They take USB keys, SD cards...whatever you can slap you files onto and print off. It doesn't matter, these machines will do it.
Japan is also very concerned about the environment. That idea is reflected in some city bus drivers that will actually turn off the bus instead of idling (even while at a red light). Although, I must say that I don't feel like it's helping much (if at all), but the thought is there. One hotel I visited, gave me a key card, which seemed perfectly normal until I got to my room. I attempted to turn on the lights but nothing happened. Then I saw a slot on the wall that asked me to insert my card. As soon as I did, all the lights came on. It blew my mind. They actually thought of a way to conserve energy even if you've left things on, because without the card, nothing would work. So if you go out shopping, and forget to turn the radio off, the tv, the bathroom light - whatever, removing the card would immediately shut it all off. Pretty cool.
I nearly forgot to mention trains again! Yes, there are old fashioned kind of trains, but there is also the shinkansen, also known as the bullet train! Oh my god. Prepare yourself for the most luxurious and comfortable train ride of your life. You have a lot more room than a plane, and yet it feels like you're flying. The train exceeds speeds of 300 km/h and feels like a soft glide just above the ground. If you're standing on the platform and watch the train go by, it rushes by with such speed and sound, that it's sure to surprise you! I grab my heart every time and feel the whirlwind wrap itself around me, like a plane passing you on the street. It's intense!
All in all, Japan really is like living simultaneously in the past and future. All of the technology (save fax machines) are a reminder that they are always ten steps ahead of everyone else. They have the ability to invent and implement everything right here, in their own country. Simple things like talking vending machines that can produce hot and cold beverages (depending on the weather), ice cream, beer and even cigarettes. Some ramen shops have a machine where you purchase your meal ticket before handing it over to the chef. Yes, technology wise they are "streets ahead". However, some things culturally remain rooted in old beliefs and traditions. Whether you're visiting a temple or shrine and witness apprentices wearing traditional clothing, catch a whiff of cigarette smoke from the numerous smokers (some places in Japan allow you to smoke EVERYWHERE), or observe the gender dynamics of a couple - the female wearing ultra feminine, frilly clothing and following behind her well dressed, male partner. Things in Japan are quite different from the rest of the world. Nowhere have I ever seen such a strange dichotomy of the past and future. I suspect that I will never experience this type of surreal reality anywhere else.
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.
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.
Sooo...a little while ago I attended a Bikram Yoga session (otherwise known as "Hot Yoga", for good reason) with my sister. She had gone to a previous class and enjoyed it. So she wanted to share it with me. I was touched by her invitation since we don't have a lot in common, nor does she invite me out often. Although if you knew my sister, then you would also know there is ALWAYS an ulterior motive. Perhaps she believes it to be well hidden, but she doesn't often do things without considering what she's getting out of it. I knew she wanted a Yoga partner, and she's made it obvious to me that she would prefer me if I was slimmer. Don't get me wrong, I could lose a few pounds (who couldn't) but I'm not exactly in the WORST shape. Anyway...
The day started at 6 in the morning, when I woke up. Much earlier than usual - I usually wake up by 9. Why was I getting up so early? Well, it all started when my sister offered me a ride to my boyfriend's. This was a treat since it's a) freezing outside, and b) I usually take the bus. Yes, the bus. Motorcycles don't drive in snow. When my sister offered a ride, I was excited and said yes. I thanked her. She then said that she needed to renew her passport and go to Hot Yoga - since those places were not too far from my boyfriend's place...
Ugh. Yes. Exactly. Every favour comes with a price. She was very willing to drive me - as long as I woke up early, went with her to renew her passport, and attended Hot Yoga. The price was high but I felt a little pinch from my super-ego, telling me to go with my sister. So I agreed once more. You see, she had already trapped me with the first "yes". Clever girl. She knows I have a guilty conscience about everything.
Right - so I woke up at 6 a.m. and we left at 7 to get to Canada Place early (a magical, wondrous, beaurucratic place filled with government offices - mostly about taxes and what not). We arrived, parked out front (very lucky since it's downtown) and went inside. Despite being around 8 in the morning, there were people already waiting in the passport office. Seriously - days start way too early. Anyway, we got it done. It wasn't even 9 in the morning and our yoga session wasn't until noon. We had some time to kill.
What did we do? I was like, why don't we just go for a walk? Since we were downtown and there are connecting pedways between the buildings which allows pedestrians to stay warm. We wandered over to City Centre mall, then back to Canada Place before we left. We waited a bit more until we finally drove to a yoga studio located outside of China town, and beneath an attorney's office. Somehow, it seemed really funny to me - and now, it seems even funnier.
I don't usually give names for specific vendors for numerous reasons - mainly that I want to remain objective and I don't feel like I should influence people to frequent a place if I don't feel convinced. Well in this instance, I will mention the name of the place for many, very good reasons. The yoga studio is called "Bē". I have decided to mention it by name because it was incredibly professional, clean, and overall had a terrific atmosphere and ambiance. If Bikram Yoga is something you're interested in (and you live in the area), I'd look in to it. The prices are reasonable, and the schedule is filled with classes at different times. It's a perfect place for beginners since the first time is free. Very handy for a quick try.
The place was immaculate. There was handy shoe rack at the front door (along with a bench to sit on - it's the little things). Participants sign in with an account, using a tablet at the front desk. This makes it easy to track who attends what, since most of the pricing deals in numbers of classes you want to take. That sort of thing. There are enormous change rooms with hooks for jackets, cubbies for items, and of course attached bathrooms and showers. Everything was painted, tiled and designed to bring a sense of zen.
The yoga instructor informed my sister and I that she was starting to warm up the room, and we could wait inside - acclimatize so-to-speak. I nodded, agreeing that it was probably a good idea. It was warm and moist, but not quite there yet. I immediately noticed the interesting floor, it was so bizarre - like rubber coated string glued together. It's a special type of non-porous, water-proof, non-slip yoga flooring - ideal for use in Bikram Yoga where there is A LOT of "moisture".
Now, I'm no stranger to Yoga. In fact, my mother has been doing Yoga for something like 40 years. So she's definitely an expert. Of course, that means that I've also done some Yoga here and there. I've even done Yoga using Wii Fit. I'm fairly familiar with stances and what-not. However, I was not prepared for the inconceivable heat and humidity involved in Bikram Yoga. Let it be known that I've never been a lover of heat. I like warm sunshine, don't get me wrong, but there is a limit before I completely break down as a human being.
What is this all leading up to? What is all this preamble for? Well, I'll tell you. Hot Yoga is basically Hell. Not the fun kind of "just-suffering", almost acquiescent Hell - the kind where you're forced to work past your limit in stifling, choking heat. I have NEVER experienced anything like that before. I felt like I was dying.
In fact, I was so convinced that I was going to pass out from heat exhaustion or water intoxication, or something worse, that I felt suddenly grateful for my sister being present. If something happened, at least she was there, and even better, I had given the yoga studio my emergency contact information. Suddenly, it made sense why such information was vital.
I thought, if these are my last moments before death, I can at least be rest assured that wherever I'm going will be better. At least it'll be cooler. It would have to be.
The class dragged on and on and on. I was beginning to wonder why it hadn't ended yet. Even by my internal clock it was past an hour. What was going on? How was I going to be able to stay in there any longer? I had to - despite every inch of my body desperately clawing to get out of the room, I had to stay in there. It's a sibling thing largely. If my sister wasn't there, it would have been much easier for my ego to allow me to leave. Instead, I suffered while I performed slippery, strenuous yoga moves.
Finally, the instructor told us to lie down while she turned on the de-humidifier (whoever knew that could be a good thing, I live in a dry climate). Then she turned off the lights and said that we could remain relaxed and quiet for as long we liked. I was like - "fuck this shit" and immediately informed my sister that we needed to leave. I rolled up the rented mat so quickly there was a cooling breeze and waited in anguish while my sister dawdled. Eventually we got out and I breathed the biggest, most grateful breath I've ever breathed. That's when my dear, loving sister informed me that we took part in an 85 minute class (although I think she meant either 75 or 90 minutes). I was exhausted. She asked if I felt "refreshed". I was like, who feels refreshed after working out in the smelliest, sweatiest place ever?
To summarize, Bikram Yoga or "Hot" Yoga should actually be referred to as HELL Yoga - in all caps just as I've written. That name more aptly portrays the true torturous nature of performing difficult moves in an even more arduous climate. If you dislike the heat - stay the HELL away from this type of yoga. You will die. I'm sorry to be so blunt, but I do it to save your life. However, if you enjoy the heat and like being stretched like taffy - please feel free to enjoy the many...pungent wonders of HELL Yoga. If the heat doesn't kill you, the smell will.
I am considering Korea as a possible destination for teaching ESL. The main reason I've thought about travelling there are the many invitations I've received from Korean women to visit their country. The girls I've known were so eager to share their culture with me. It was their warmth and compassion that instantly made me add Korea to my list of places to go.
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