On Marriage and Weddings

I have asked many married men why they decided they want to get married in the first place. The answers always range from ‘Well, she became someone I got used to having around’ which isn’t so bad compared to ‘she gave me the ultimatum – to marry her or leave her’ or ‘Well, she was the one who proposed and rushed me into it’ and the ‘I will let her down if I don’t marry her after being together with her for so long’.

When I hear such answers, my heart dies a little inside and I imagine in my head of them saying sweet nothings to their to-be wives, going on a knee and proposing but deep inside they don’t even believe half the words they are saying to their to-be wives. They are just doing it as an obligation, a duty, a responsibility of a man.

And every time I hear such an answer from these married men, I don’t know why but I get so filled with fear because I don’t want to be that girl.

I don’t want to be just another duty to be filled. I don’t want to be an obligation just because he is at that age and everyone is telling him he should settle down or he won’t be seen as reliable or as promotable at work. I don’t want to be that girl whom he has no other choice but to marry just because there aren’t other better options or other better girls that like him. I don’t want to be that girl he becomes comfortable with having around just because it is convenient and nice. I don’t want to be the second best girl he just settles with.

Whenever I think about the possibility I may end up in a situation like that, I just resist the urge to break down and cry. Because as much of a cynic as I am, I still believe in marriage. I still believe that the official union of two people wanting to become a much bigger part of each other’s lives is a sacred one. And it should be made by two individuals who is willing to choose each other everyday for the rest of their lives despite the odds and no matter how batshit crazy one of them is going to get at one point of time in their lives.

Can anyone tell me all hope is not lost yet?




On Starting Fresh

2015 was a blast.

There were many ups and downs. But for the most part of it, I enjoyed it a lot. I learned so much in a year. It was definitely a lot better than 2014, so I am hoping 2016 will keep up the record.

I guess when they say “Relax. Slow down. It can only get better.” they really do mean it. This coming year, I will learn to slow down. I will stop comparing. I will just focus on taking care of myself and what I really want in life. I will start acknowledging the fact that everyone is running at different speeds in life and it is ok to run at my own speed even if it doesn’t match with the rest of them.

There is a lot to learn when you are living abroad the first time. I guess I am still not done yet.

I’m looking forward to 2016. For the coming year, I won’t pray for everlasting peace or happiness or whatever. I just hope I have the strength and will to take on whatever challenges the new year will bring my way.

On being disengaged

After having been here for about two years,  I think I am starting to recognize the patterns of a disengaged worker. You can see the signs really easily. There is a certain kind of gait that they all have – they drag their feet a little, their shoulders hunched as if carting an imaginary heavy burden. You hardly see them ever smile – even if they did it seems forced and obliging. Their eyes dead and losing their color, looking like their minds are already some place else. 

When I spot someone like that, I feel incredibly sad. At times I am overwhelmed by a sense of fear. I ask myself: will I become like that in a few years’ time? Is this just a normal transition phase? 

I ask myself if the problem is with the individual or if it is the environment that causes the individual to sink in that way. Maybe it’s both. I don’t know. What I do know is that I do not want to end up being on that side of the fence where everyone is simply clocking in the hours and going through the motions. I don’t want to be that person with the lonely heavy gait, trapped and waiting for someone to throw in a lifesaving jacket in the midst of me drowning. 

I think I am becoming that person. 

I want to be stronger. I can’t and won’t just sit here and wait for someone to save me. I will fight for me now. 

On Finally Settling Down

You’re no longer skyping your family every other week.

Messages with old time friends have trickled to an all-time low.

Long silences and awkward pauses with old friends have become the norm on the phone.

Birthdays are no longer celebrated together in person.

Moments are no longer shared.

You witness your nephew’s first crawl via group whatsapp and your nephew will probably grow up never knowing how much you want to be in his life.

You laugh but not together. You hear their laughter through a voice note 7 seconds after.

You get to know how your friends have been through blogs, instagrams, facebook photos, moments long past stored in their histories that you’re struggling to catch up with.

And the difference between then and now is that you’re finally okay with it. You have come to terms with it. You have your own life and people lead theirs. You understand you are no longer in control of who is in your life and who isn’t. And you’re okay with it for once. You’re probably even happy for them if they seem happy enough.

At first, you struggle. You cry almost every other week. You keep it to yourself. Maybe, maybe this choice was wrong afterall. Maybe you would have been so much happier back home where you will be privileged with a well-paying job and a roof above your head. Then you start understanding the country’s language, the culture, most importantly yourself. You start coming to terms with reality – no more rose-tinted glasses, you are seeing the world as it is. You start forming your own social community – and suddenly you realise, you will be okay.

Every now and then, you suffer a setback here and there. But every time you get caught in the middle of a tiny black cloud again, you can think of the distance you have come so far. You can at least repeat those words and believe them now –

You will be okay.

A Strange Culture of Isolation

When the rest of the world was being exposed to cultural imperialism of the West, Japan seemed like the social outcast that was a little off who went the other way and closed itself off from the world. It went on to invent such a whacky unique culture on its own that later fascinated the world when it finally decided to open its windows to the world. 

After being here for a year, I have witnessed and felt first-hand how different in terms of their way of thinking and doing things compared to the culture I was more used to experiencing. There was one thing that really struck out to me – and that was its culture of avoiding, as much as possible, troubling someone with one’s problems. This came in several forms – e.g not using mobile phones in trains, or making sure to minimize body odor during summer so your body odors do not make others want to puke in trains by putting armpit anti-sweat padding and other deodorant sprays, or carrying your garbage home and disposing it yourself. 

This one aspect of the culture extends even to social interactions among its people. If there is even the least bit of uncertainty that they will cause any trouble to the other party, they would always say before anything else: “I’m sorry”. I have noticed that this happens more often with women than men and it makes women look like they owe everyone a big debt for something they did that is really minor. Of course they don’t necessarily feel that they are sorry each time they say it, but it seems like the whole culture demands this as a kind of social rule of sorts.  To be honest, if I speak in Japanese, I realize my behaviors immediately become more submissive and apologetic to others. I find myself detesting that side of me, and I started picking up male speech patterns instead because of how expressive they are. This resulted in me being told off that I shouldn’t be learning those patterns because it is not fitting of a lady but I digress. 

Consequently, I feel that this “I don’t want to trouble others” mentality is one of the biggest factors why intimacy is extremely difficult to establish in Japan. I have found very few locals who will readily share their pain and fears and sorrow with others (even their best friends and lovers) because as a general rule, doing so might put the other party in a possibly socially awkward spot. The word “我慢(がまん)” here is often used by the locals. Saying out your frustrations and worries and fears may put the other party in a tight spot so they rather hold it in and endure it on their own. 

As someone who grew up being open with my feelings with people I grew comfortable enough with sharing with, I find this very difficult to reconcile. I have found myself in moments of extreme loneliness and isolation, having no one who seems to bother to listen. If someone showed even the least bit of interest to listen, I let loose the feelings I have kept boiling inside me and the person ends up saying they’re sorry for stirring up such emotions in me before running far far away. All the things I thought was “normal” to do before becomes “abnormal” here. Without knowing it, I had become this noisy foreigner who wouldn’t stop ranting and who wouldn’t stop asking difficult questions – “Why do you do things in this way? What are your fears?! What makes you tick? What do you want to do in the future?! What are your worries for the future? What if you could live another life what would you do differently? TELL ME EVERYTHING!”

I have learned to shut up now and go about my ways. Even if someone asks me earnestly if I am okay and they are there to listen, I always end up asking myself “how much is too much?” 

I have become quieter in recent months. I have stopped believing that people really care about other people anymore. Maybe it’s not the culture that is the problem but the age we are in – Nobody listens. Not anymore. 

There are days when things pile up and I feel like I am about to explode and there is absolutely no one there to sit down and listen. There are days I just wish for someone to sit right by me and tell me that what I’m feeling is okay and it is okay to stew in that pot of loneliness and all things will pass in time.

How do people deal with these feelings though? How do people stop asking questions about other people’s lives and be content about it? I don’t know but I want to know because it is only then that I think I can finally be able to live in peace with myself and the world around me. 

God this is driving me crazy. Maybe I should just get out more often instead. 

On Psyching Yourself Out

“Hey, since Yuta is here for the weekend, we’re going to a cafe to meet him later,” the boy said punching letters into his iPhone.

“Oh! Haven’t met the guy since he got posted to Sendai. Yeah, let’s go meet him,” I readily agreed.

“Oh, by the way, the other Yuta is coming too,” he said.

I paused and looked up at him. “Wait, what? If three boys are going, then I should excuse myself, right?”

“Huh? Why? Does it matter?” He asked.

“I don’t know. You guys can have boys’ talk and all,” I said, suddenly conscious that the ratio of boys to girl has increased. Have I been too Japanized, I wonder. In Japan, it is uncommon to find girls and guys mixing together unless it is a large gathering. I was suddenly filled with worry, that maybe the guys would think I am that clingy girl who doesn’t get it when the boys just want a simple day out.

“What?!” He looked at me incredulously, “Don’t be silly. There’s no such thing as guys talk.”

I was worried the entire time we were in the car, “Are you sure? Are you really sure I’m not bothering you guys?” I asked. He looked at me and was like, ” Gina, the only time you are being a bother is if you continue saying such things. Saying such things are forbidden from now on,” he said. I looked at him and thought for a moment before letting things rest.

The night went better than I expected and I enjoyed myself more than I had imagined. When we were on our way back, he turned to me and asked, “See? Didn’t it turn out to be a good thing in that you joined the boys’ night out in the end?” I smiled and nodded. I would have been equally fine staying at home and doing my own stuff, but if I did, I wouldn’t have discovered a new ramen restaurant, nor would I have learned that if you are not careful in parking your car, you can receive a “迷惑駐車” note pasted on your car for parking at a location that you are not supposed to be parking at.

On hindsight, it is a habit of mine to overthink situations and psych myself out way before I let anything happen at all. I don’t think my life would have changed at all had I not receive countless of encouragement and nudges to take those risks from friends in the beginning. It is extremely discomforting every time I have to force myself to step outside my comfort zone to do something I never thought I would end up doing. To be honest, even till now, I still shun myself from things I think I will not be good at. I imagine the worst of outcomes before anything even happens at all.

Although it’s too late for a New Year Resolution, I want to make it a point from now on to try to take a step back and consider seeing things as opportunities and challenges instead of potential failures and risks. I came here to learn, to continually peel myself raw and let myself be renewed again like ouroboros – so I shouldn’t be afraid to do things that I perceive as difficult. The main idealogy of ‘meritocracy’ – in which you should never fail and never put yourself at risk of failure – which were ingrained into me since young still remains a large portion of my life, that which I am hoping to shed away during my time here in Japan. I want to be able to stop listening to my inner voices and just go for it every time I am presented a task. I want to become someone unafraid of failures. I want to stop psyching myself out of an experience just because I think I am going to fail or screw up or become the shit that hits the fan when shit goes down. I want to be that person who tries even if she is unsure, who can think positively no matter the outcome, to be that person with strength to fall and get up again every time. That means I need to continually test myself and challenge myself to step out of my comfort zone.

Growth is a painful process but I am sure that when I am old and wrinkly, I can look back on my life and say, “Hey, I lived a fucking awesome life”, take my last happy breath goodbye and really be known as “Gina-sama” by then.