It’s so windy today
Luckily, I’ve got you
So, I’ll be quite warm
It’s so windy today
Luckily, I’ve got you
So, I’ll be quite warm
Potheads often overlook Asian destinations under the assumption that only Western countries can act as hotbeds of stoner culture. Singapore, a rich city-state in Southeast Asia, dishes out notoriously harsh punishments for holding even the smallest amounts of bud. Japan denies visas to those convicted of drug-related crimes in their home countries. Even celebrities, such as Paris Hilton, have been denied entry into the land of the rising sun. With such strict penalties in place, it’s fair to assume that Asia’s not the place to toke up. However, nestled within certain cities lies a thriving sub-culture of young Asian locals and foreigners determined to shake things up.
The capital of the Southwestern province of Sichuan, Chengdu is famous for its tea culture, lively daytime games of mahjong, pandas, and spicy hot pot. Its also known as the best party city in Asia. Hidden away behind a shopping mall in a residential block, several apartments-turned-cafes sell beer, coffee, whip-its, and unofficially, weed. Less than three blocks away, a small shop sells a variety of smoking accessories from glass bongs to wooden pipes to rolling papers, all at an incredibly affordable price. The dealers come to chill in the evening and accept payment via cash, WeChat, or Alipay. The spot sits across the street from the infamous Jellyfish bar. Ask any foreigner where to go and they’ll happily guide you.
Despite Japan’s reputation for long working hours, an excessive drinking culture, and a strict aversion to illegal substances, the city of Osaka stands in stark contrast to the rest of the nation. Similar to Chengdu, a bustling underground Hip Hop scene, relaxed vibe, and chill foreigners allow one to find anything their heart desires. Several smoke shops and a bar referencing Bob Marley point to the tolerance of local culture. However, the stuff itself has recently become harder to find, with most smoking foreigners opting for monthly trips to Roppongi to stock up. It’s possible that as Japan gears up for the 2020 Olympics, tolerance of Nigerian dealers in Roppongi and smoke shops in Osaka will wear thin.
Thailand is famous for trashy Western and Chinese tourists alike. Though not every pothead partakes in the shenanigans associated with rowdy travelers, the high prevalence of them makes finding weed easy. Ask any wasted British tourist in any hostel in Phuket, and they’ll all have leads. If that fails, ask the transgender Thai receptionist if you can pay a little extra for “information”.
Vietnam has begun allowing foreigners to purchase property in recent years, inevitably leading to a housing boom and more Westerners settling down in the country. Additionally, some investors in Asia are claiming that Vietnam is the new China. As labor costs in the mainland have risen, many factories have moved their operations south. Vietnam, as a developing country, has strict laws on paper but even low-level officials can be cheaply bribed. The majority of sellers hail from the African continent and prices should remain on par with China.
North Korea might suffer under the heavy-handed dictatorship of Kim Jung Un, but life for locals isn’t always a total nightmare. Western media tells us that famines plague the land as a tyrannical government monitors and controls every small human interaction. However, The Hermit Kingdom seems to have no problem with weed. In fact, it’s technically legal. If you aren’t American and don’t mind paying thousands of dollars for a guided tour while leaving your valuable assets behind in China, give it a shot.
As I enter into my fifth month in Japan and my 27th birthday looms just one week away, I can’t help but feel a sense of existential dread on a level I’ve never experienced before. I wonder if my guardian angel is still out there or if she’s given up on me the same way I’m at the edge of throwing in the towel. I’m thankful for the people who gave me a chance, but unfortunately, their efforts still might not be enough.
After weeks of searching, I finally found a small adult training center offering part-time work and cheap housing near a station. That’s a relief because they can simply deduct rent from my salary and what’s left will cover food, my cell phone bill, and train fare. However, the hours still wouldn’t be enough to properly live on. As I type this, I have just over 30,000 yen in the bank and one-third of that is gonna pay my train fare for the rest of the month. There is no room in the budget to even touch up my relaxer so my hair will once again become a big, frizzy, fluffy pile of frustration sitting atop my head.
I’ve been applying to eikawas like mad. I tried big companies like GABA and mid-sized schools as well. I was rejected by all of them. If I could guess, it probably has something to do with the fact that most teachers here are white men. I’m a brown Western female in Asia and as soon as I see a young female interviewer, my confidence sinks even further. I knew I wasn’t getting into that school in Ginza this past Friday as soon as I walked in the door.
All of this has led me to the conclusion that I’d like a second part-time job that isn’t a school or eikawa. I’d prefer doing some sort of digital marketing or translation work, but those jobs are also pretty tough to get here. I need to get properly integrated into Japanese society and that means doing something where I have a chance to speak Japanese every day. This probably limits me to bar work for the time being. During my free time, I study, scour the Internet looking for gigs, sell whatever I have that I think might have some value, and work on my newest book, KTV Girl.
I don’t want to be the kind of person who begs my followers for money, but I’m a bit desperate at the moment. If any of you have it in you to donate so that I can get through another month as I wait on my salary, I’d really appreciate it. Thanks for sticking by me.
Last month while I was still toiling away at the daycare, I applied for a plethora of jobs in Tokyo. I went to interviews for all of them and got rejected for each one, with the exception of a Girls Bar in Ginza which pays a cash salary every week. The customers — Japanese salarymen and businessmen — were the most polite out of any I’d ever encountered during my whole eight years in the nightlife industry. However, the two managers — one girl from Lithuania and a blackanese chick — were horrible. They did nothing but talk shit about every employee working there. They began sending me home after one or two hours. Of course, transportation wasn’t provided so it seemed as though I had went to work for free. Finally, I’d had enough and quit. Thinking that I had a real shot at working for GABA, I decided to go on a trip to Osaka to clear my head while I still had time.
While in Osaka, I got diagnosed with an incurable disease and received a rejection email from GABA after a month-long application process. Though I felt I had no reason to return to Tokyo, I had to go back to get my stuff and continue the job search. The doctor in Tokyo decided to put me on injections to make my body heal up faster than taking tablets alone. Altogether, I got stuck spending about $300 on medical bills and of course, I spent way too much on the Osaka trip between the Shinkansen and the Grey Goose shots at the bar.
I came in on Monday evening to get my salary and the bitch from Lithuania said they didn’t have it and told me to come back on Friday. When I went back yesterday, they tried to say they forgot to bring it. Pissed as hell, I told those cunts if they didn’t cough up my money I would call the police. That got them moving for the bills right quick. It was only a hundred dollars but that means a lot when you’re unemployed and dealing with medical expenses, immigration, and other issues. I felt proud for standing up for myself. I’m not a naturally aggressive person. I come off as shy and unthreatening so people often underestimate me. I’m not proud of calling them bitches and cunts and threatening them but honestly, I’m tired of being cheated out here and I don’t play when it comes to my money.
On the advice of a friend, I found a smaller website than GaijinPot and started mass-applying for adult eikawas. I have to keep the faith, even though times are dark. I’m gonna need a miracle because like everyone else in Tokyo, I’m just trying to make it. Ganbarimasu!
I’ve gone to several interviews during the past two weeks. The old dusty suit, my faithful companion, and a pair of painfully uncomfortable knock off stilettos from Amazon.jp accompanied me to each glass-walled corporate office, where I sat, patiently, trying to fake a smile and an upbeat attitude.
The first interview, for a large restaurant company, only took ten minutes. However, a second interview for the specific location in Ginza that I’ve requested takes place tomorrow afternoon. The second interview from last week, with a bar in Ginza, was a success merely because I got lucky enough to be hired on the spot due to the absence of another staff member.
There were five girls in the bar that day. I was surprised and happy to see another half-black girl, or maybe a quarter black, working behind the bar. She couldn’t speak a lick of English and her blue eyes and bright white smile lit up the place from the inside-out. There are many foreign-looking people in Tokyo just like her. They look black or white on the outside, but culturally, they are Japanese. They must’ve been born in or raised in Japan. She covered her mouth as she giggled and poured champagne. Images of Rihanna flashed across the TV screen behind her. I couldn’t help but feel incredibly jealous, that my mix of black didn’t turn out quite like hers and that I had no opportunity to come to Japan until I was already twenty-six years old.
The second day, I was placed outside on promotion with an Iranian girl. We stood there with our umbrellas, holding a sign for the bar and greeting passing strangers with a friendly “konbanwa”. Later, we realized that our marketing was more effective if we spoke English to potential customers. So, we made the switch about half-way through, and pulled some into the bar.
The manager, a young woman from Lithuania, runs a tight shift. She doesn’t like the Iranian girl and is always watching her. I think I get along with her so well because unlike other people here, she’s refreshingly honest and hasn’t lost her sense of self. She can appreciate Japan without trying to pretend to be Japanese; a very rare thing for long-term foreigners. We laughed about American depictions of Iran as this super conservative country. She showed the customer pictures of her blonde-haired, blue-eyed, hijab-less friends from back home. Her Instagram boasted pictures of boats sailing on sunny horizons, bottomless cocktails, and girls dancing in the wilderness.
Outside on promotion for the last time, we met two Japanese gentlemen passing through. They chatted us up a bit and didn’t come across as weird or creepy at all. I gave them my Line and we made a group chat for an eventual double-date night. I gave up looking for anything serious at the moment but I’m keeping my eyes open and I’m grateful for any small opportunities that come my way.
I’ve been in Japan for three months and it’s certainly been one hell of a ride. Gone are my China visa run days and the ever-present uncertainty of where I would live or what I would do next. The dirty looks, “laowai” comments from old peasants, and cheap, yet delicious street food have almost faded from recent memory.
The company I work for got me a three-year work visa. However, I knew I wouldn’t last long teaching little kids in a training center. I had done this work before in China but I found it so exhausting, depressing, and awful that I ended up in a KTV. I kept telling myself that Japan would be different, but ultimately I find this line of work completely unsuitable for me. Thankfully, unlike China, once a company sponsors your work visa, you aren’t stuck with that company if you don’t like your job. The visa is yours and you are free to pursue any job that falls under the rules of whatever they gave you. This is probably why many Japanese companies are reluctant to sponsor visas or hire foreigners outside of Japan. Every foreigner starts with the “visa job” which is usually awful and motivates you to hit the pavement in search of greener pastures.
As is the usual practice of fake language schools in Asia, they accept children who are just way too fucking young and should be in a nursery. Why? Because of the money. I absolutely cannot stand being around toddlers for a long time. It was only after I started working here that I realized we were more daycare than English school.
On the first day of work, I met Yui face-to-face, the lovely middle-aged Japanese woman who hired me. When we returned to the office, a super macho, dude-bro-looking guy greeted me near the front desk. He positioned himself in the chair like a pit bull, leaning over the table as if to sniff out any of my potential weaknesses.
“So how are you at teaching kids?” He asked, “Do you suck at it?”
I was a bit taken aback by the rudeness, but brushed it off and simply didn’t reply with anything but a nervous laugh.
“Don’t worry,” He said in a tone reminiscent of the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket. “We’re gonna train you to not suck.”
“Where are you from, by the way?” He asked.
“I’m from Chicago,” I replied.
“Cool. My name’s Jake. I’m from the UK.”
“What?” I said, my mouth hanging wide open. “Why do you have an American accent?”
This question, regrettably, spurred him into a long, tedious monologue about how it’s better to teach American English to kids in Japan, that he trained himself super hard to walk around with a fake accent, and how sometimes his Britishness slips out.
From that moment, it became abundantly clear to me that I needed to be careful of this guy because he would make my time even more miserable if I got on his bad side. I’ve never been fond of macho guys. My entire life I’ve avoided them. Jake was literally, a walking, talking caricature of everything I disliked about American frat boys.
During training, I was placed next to a girl from Peru who’d spent a long time living in Australia and came to Japan because her mom is a permanent resident here. She wouldn’t be the first non-native speaker in the company, which led me to believe that they were incredibly desperate for workers. Native speakers can easily find better jobs in Tokyo.
The girl reminded me of a pastor’s daughter I’d went to school with in Upstate New York; pure, a bit shy, and sensitive. She explained that she had no teaching experience but that she was tired of doing cosmetic sales. She talked about how she cried every day in her old job, how she learned Japanese through her work, and her willingness to try something new. She was living far, far in the countryside and lamented her two-and-a-half-hour commute.
When they showed us the uniform, I almost fainted. The ugliest orange shirt I’d ever seen sat on the table before us.
“Change your clothes,” He said. “The bathroom is over there.”
Throughout the following days, we were bombarded with lots of company information and told to observe classes. I stood in the back on the first observation day with a notebook. After five minutes, a girl from the front desk ran up to me with a phone in her hand.
“Hello?” I said, throat closing up from anxiety.
“Hey! It’s me, Jake!”
“I’m watching you on the cameras. Don’t just stand in the back of the class. You need to interact with the kids.” He barked.
“But they’re in class. I don’t wanna be distracting.”
“Just go sit by them at least.” I heard before the hang-up click echoed in my ears.
I sat by the kids, said hello to them, and furiously took notes in the reading class. This was my process every day for the first week. After the training, I was placed in the school branch nearest to my house. Everyone had warned me about how that branch was the most miserable, the busiest, and the hardest to work at. It also happened to house all the bosses who would watch us non-stop so they could criticize us later for not knowing everything from day one.
The senior teacher at that school definitely had some form of a mental deficiency. When he asked me how the first day was, and I answered honestly that it was exhausting, he just said: “Why?”
I believe this is a problem with many long-term foreigners in Asian countries. They lose touch with what it’s like to first arrive at a new destination, doing an unfamiliar job. They expect you to know everything right away, are unwilling to help, and generally, you get the feeling that they just don’t care; especially, English teachers. They’re usually teachers because they can’t do anything else. I mean, who on earth would wanna be a preschool teacher? I have never had a job so demanding, low-paying, and stressful. Anyone who actually likes this job is bound to have a few screws loose.
The day was structured in three-and-a-half hour blocks. The first hour is essentially just babysitting. You have to chat with the kids, play with them, blah, blah, blah. The second part was something called “phonics fun” which lasts for about a half hour. Then there’s snack time, exercise time, reading time, English class, and this thing where we have to look up pictures on Google for a half hour. Of course, after the official program is over, some kids will stay until 7 or 8 o clock. More babysitting. Those long periods of watching the kids started wearing down on me after a couple of weeks. I never even had to do that in China and I certainly never taught kids so young that they couldn’t eat or go to the bathroom by themselves. Some were even still in diapers and required being fed by hand. The managers of the school don’t care if these kids learn English or not. They only wanna line their own pockets. Hence, why some kids who have been there for several months still can’t even form a single English sentence.
Of course, after the official program is over, some kids will stay until 7 or 8 o clock. More babysitting. When I complained about a lack of a bilingual assistant to help me teach certain content to the older kids that couldn’t be explained with gestures and funny faces, they made me feel like a pariah. All this, despite the fact that by their own rules, a bilingual staff member should always be present in the room. The foreign manager yelled at me multiple times for saying “I don’t know what to do”.
“Just pretend! Stop complaining!” Shouted Jake.
The environment became more and more hostile as time went on. I was only two weeks into OJT when they threw me in preschool by myself. I couldn’t deal with kids crying, wetting themselves, and saying “mommy” every five seconds. I’d never gotten headaches in my entire life but I started developing debilitating migraines from the constant loud noise and stress.
On the first day of summer school, a nightmare where kids are there the entire day so things like basic cleaning can’t get done, I was in charge of this ninja-themed event. I decided to ask the kids to make paper shurikens. The older kids could do it with instruction. The preschoolers, of course, couldn’t. Ten minutes before the end of my activity, Jake comes in to interrupt. He’s the type that likes to have you and the kids running around all day. God forbid, we ever do arts and crafts or anything even remotely calm. He asked them to throw paper shurikens at me and then took them to lunch.
Later in the day, he took me aside for a meeting.
“There’s some things you need to change about yourself, quickly.” He said. “You complain a lot. I need you to stop doing that.”
“Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t realize every off-hand comment I made was gonna be analyzed to death. I’m new here and I don’t have anyone available to help me because one of the bilingual staff was sent to another school. We don’t have enough time to finish our tasks because kids are here all day and I always have to watch them.”
“Shin,” He asked my coworker. “Do you think complaining is a problem?”
I couldn’t believe this meathead was trying to turn my only comrade against me. She was always saying the same things as me and yet, I was the only one being talked to about it. I sure as hell was not getting paid enough to deal with the enormous mountain of shit that had been placed on me.
A few days later, I went home, tears welled up in my eyes, and flipped through my desk drawer to find my contract. I would have to give the company 30 days notice, but there was indeed a way out. I emailed my boss the next day.
The following week a interviewed for a language school in Chiba that was teaching in English, Chinese, and Japanese. Unfortunately, the school hadn’t yet opened and the owner wasn’t sure about how many hours he could give me. Also, the pay was low but he was offering free Japanese classes which I desperately needed. In the end, I told him to contact me again in September.
I did another interview yesterday at a large company in central Tokyo. They’d just opened a bar downstairs and needed foreigners. Japanese language was not a requirement. The shacho (boss), was a lovely woman who worked her way up from a simple flower shop owner to the leader of an international company in the heart of Tokyo. She smiled at me and told me I could also teach English in their adult lounge for employees. I was thrilled. I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel. No more toddlers, no more macho Jake, and a chance to do something besides teaching English for a change.
It’s a busy week up ahead! For those following my journey:
Tuesday 4/25 – Shenzhen, China
Wednesday 4/26 – Guangzhou, China
4/27 – Tattoo cover up consultation with Tattoo Stani$lav
4/28 – Box braids at African Beauty Coiffure Esthetique in Xiaobei
4/29 – Tea with Victor, the eccentric GZ philanthropist with a taste for foreign culture
Stay tuned! Don’t forget to check me out on Instagram @angelic_warrior