Sunday, October 2, 2016

Apps to Help You Save Time

With a new job in a new country that has a lot of expectations on my 'free' time outside of work (ie. it's not really that free...) I'm all about anything that can save me a few minutes here or there. Those add up quickly! I've been working freelance for so long that I forgot about having to stick to regular office hours, and in a country like Japan that assumes every household has a wife available to go run all the daily errands between 9am and 3pm on weekdays (those are legitimately the bank hours here), I need every extra second I can get.

In the digital age, what better way to do just that than with the help of a number of apps? You can rely on a number of apps downloaded right on your smartphone to keep yourself in check and to save you time. Here are the most notable of these apps:

  • Timeful is a free productivity app that is available for Android. It is unique in the sense that it is a time management app that is based on roleplaying games. With it, you can create your own tasks and to-do lists. Each item on your list has experience and skill points tied to it. When you successfully complete a task, you will receive points. However, if you fail to finish a task on time or delete it, you will lose experience points.

  • Evernote is one of the most valuable apps you can have at your disposal. It is a note taking app that is free as long as you limit your usage of it to two devices. It is compatible with iOS, Android, Windows Phone and the desktop and allows you to take notes, create to-do lists, snap a photo and more. One of the best uses of Evernote is that you have information you need handy at any given moment, such as Wi-Fi logins for multiple places. You can easily create a note of all the passwords for said Wi-Fi logins and quickly and conveniently access them whenever you need them.

  • Handy is a great app for anyone who ever needs cleaning services in places like New York, Chicago, Boston and more for their home when they are too busy to do them on their own. It includes a full database of home cleaners, electricians, plumbers, movers and other professionals who can perform home services. All pros included within the app get background checks so that you know they are legitimate. You can find a pro and book them for services right from your device. Handy is available on iOS and Android.

  • GasBuddy will prove to be an essential app for anyone who drives on a regular basis. With it, you can find the cheapest gas prices at gas stations based on your current location. You can also help others who use the app by reporting the best prices you come across in any given area so that they too can save money. You even earn points when you report cheap gas prices and can enter daily contests that result in $100 worth of free gas going to the winner. Use this app with your iOS or Android device. 

I hope this list will help you get a few extra seconds in your day too!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Stop Calling it a Jamaican Accent (Dear Islanders: I'm Sorry)

My diver is yelling at me.

"Rika! Rika! He has such a strong Jamaican accent, I can't understand what he's saying! Rika, what did he say to me?"

I instantly cringe and throw profuse apologies with my eyes at my boat captain, who lets out a weary sigh, rolls his eyes, giggles, and continues helping my diver with his gear. This is his daily life on an island full of people who just don't understand.

it was not any of these divers :)
I heard things like this every day on Roatan.

Gringos insisting on speaking terrible, broken Spanish to islanders who assure them that their first language is in fact, an English-based creole, that they prefer to speak English, and that their Spanish isn't too bueno either.

Tourists who talk behind islanders' backs about their 'bad English' and laugh at the way they write English.

Visitors who think it's hilarious to say "yeah, mon" and talk about Bob Marley in every sentence when talking to the islanders.

Y'all need to fucking STOP. Stop it.

Here is your short and sweet lesson. Roatan is home to a mix of races and languages. The majority of born and bred islanders are people of color and people of mixed descent who speak Bay Island Creole (an English-based creole) as a FIRST LANGUAGE. They learn Spanish in school.  It's not a fucking "Jamaican accent". Bay Island Creole is a real, separate, valid language with it's own vocabulary and grammar. It's not English, though since it's an English-based creole it is easier for English speakers to understand them, and for them to understand English speakers. Due to the tourist nature of their island, islanders can speak English, though they speak with an accent - it's a Bay Island Creole accent, same as when French people speak English they speak it with a French accent. And in creole or English, no one says "yeah, mon"....since Roatan isn't Jamaica and Roataneans don't speak Jamaican Patois. They are two completely different, separate languages.

funny roatanean island english memes from oceane
When someone says they speak English, please honor their preference. Unless Spanish is your first language, you don't need to talk to English-speakers in it. If you want to practice your Spanish, Roatan is home to many people of Spanish-speaking descent and upbringing due to the influx of mainlanders coming to the island looking for work. You can easily find someone who speaks Spanish as a first language and they'll probably be happy to practice with you. If you want to learn some island English, ASK! Islanders are happy to share their language. If you need a conversation starter, ask them what 'enah' or "ya done know" means, or get them to teach you the right accent and cadence for saying the ubiquitous 'wa going on'!

Visitors to Roatan (and actually, any tourist-based destination) need to keep in mind that the locals are not stupid. They know their salary is coming from you. They will often hide their displeasure or uncomfortable feelings because they are at work and feeding their kids depends on their customer service to you. But that doesn't give tourists a free reign to be ignorant jerks.

Please be a responsible visitor and educate yourself before, during and after your trip. That makes you a traveler and not a tourist. Tourist is a dirty word in these locations. Be a traveler!

Aaaaaaaaaaaaand that's your Roatan public service announcement for the day!

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me try to post more than once a month. So there's that.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The JET Programme: From Arrival to Tokyo Orientation

Ok, this is the last one in this trilogy series - see The JET Programme: From Application to Acceptance and The JET Programme: From Pre-departure to Departure for parts one and two. Please keep in mind while reading that I'm a Canadian from the Vancouver consulate - until you leave your home country, things vary by consulate. Once you get to Tokyo though, everyone's in the same boat until departure day to your prefecture.

This one is all about the most exciting part - getting here!

We left Vancouver at 1pm and the 40-ish of us from the Vancouver consulate were thrilled to find out all of us were seated together in our own section of the plane - I'm sure the other passengers were thrilled too as not many of us slept during the 9.5hr flight. Everyone chatted excitedly and many partook in the free booze that is a perk of international Air Canada flights. One of the flight attendants was a former JET himself so he watched us with a bemused smile for most of the flight. The other people on the plane trying to sleep were not as happy. SAKE SAKE SAKE!!!!!!!!

We landed the next afternoon in Narita around 3-ish local time. The immigration lineup is no joke. We arrived right after two planes of JETs from the San Francisco, Los Angeles and Denver consulates had arrived. They had some immigration windows cordoned off just for JETs but honestly the other lines were moving faster! So we waited and waited. We were luckier than the Toronto consulate who arrived a few hours later - their immigration photos for their residence cards got lost and they were at the airport forever. One of the consulates had a delayed flight and didn't even get there until partway through the first day of sessions. (You arrive sometime Sunday, sessions are Monday and Tuesday, and you leave for your prefecture on Wednesday morning.)

When they tell you, "don't worry - there will be people at the airport showing you where to go" it's no fucking joke. I saw TONS of volunteers in JET shirts at the airport, all strategically placed to look for us with our goofy JET stickers on our shirts and point us to the next volunteer who pointed us to the next one. It was a hot and sticky blur but I eventually sent both my suitcases ahead to my placement (don't worry about this, they give you tags at the farewell reception and you just put them on your bags - they know where to send them with the info on the tag, you don't need anything else) and got on a (blessedly) air conditioned bus. Once the bus was full, we were off to Tokyo. The bus ride to the hotel in Shinjuku took about an hour. We landed at 3:20pm and didn't step into our hotel room until nearly 7pm. Don't make plans the first night unless your arrival time is in the morning! You have to wait for everyone from your flight (plus maybe JETs on a couple other flights near the same time), send luggage, get on the bus, etc. and it takes fucking forever with hundreds of people.

Every year the Tokyo Orientation is at the exact same place, the Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku. You'll sleep 3 to a room with the same gender with people from your consulate. You don't get to choose your roommates. Bring earplugs in case you get a snorer in your room. It's TIGHT quarters with three people. Don't be the dick with huge suitcases that everyone is tripping on. You're in Tokyo for THREE DAYS, you don't need anything except your suit/shoes, something to sleep in, something to wear in the evenings if you want to leave the hotel, and something to wear to  your placement on the third day. The hotel has soap, shampoo, conditioner, razors, toothbrushes, a hair dryer, etc. in the bathroom. If you have a family or spouse you're on your own for a room if you want to stay with them. FYI, the room we stayed in normally runs around $500-800CAD/night for two people, so you'll probably want to look into a different hotel close by if you're in that boat.

Yes, there's AC in the hotel. Yes, there's wifi...imagine 978 JETs on it at the exact same times though, plus all the other people in the hotel. It's slow! Yes, there's a pool. JETs have to pay 2000Y to use it though, I guess to try to keep out the yahoos who apparently were rowdy in there a few years ago.

Pro tip: there's a convenience store on 2F in the hotel. Nylons, beer, onigiri, chips, notebooks, fans, Gatsby wipes can all be found there. You're welcome.

Pro tip #2: yes, you need to wear a fucking suit. Who are these people every year asking this question??? It's formal business attire. That means a goddamned suit boys. Nice blouse or collared dress shirt for ladies, with full length trousers and a jacket. Yes you need a fucking jacket. No you don't need heels but you need dress shoes. What is unclear about the instructions? Don't be the person wearing neon or crazy patterns, generally in Japan these are frowned upon. You will be photographed and on video during this event. You need to look "Japan professional". The second day you can lose the jacket but you should still be in a dress shirt and dress pants. I saw some ridiculously low-cut shirts on ladies as well as sleeveless blouses and capri pants... all I can say is good luck in Japan if you can't follow basic clothing rules. Look, this isn't the only time you'll need a formal outfit during your time in Japan (you'll have to to get back into this getup for welcome ceremonies, graduation ceremonies, meeting the mayor, etc.) so just suck it up and get yourself these items if you don't have them.

Side protip: gentlemen, in Japan you only wear a black suit with a white shirt and black tie for funerals. Don't do it unless you're at a funeral. Tie color matters in Japan. This is not the time for your Spongebob tie either, save it for your ES days.

You will eat at the hotel for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast is a western-style buffet with eggs, cereal, toast, 'bacon', 'sausages', (notice the quotation marks people), breads and rolls, yogurt, fried potatoes, fruit salad and then some random shit like salad and soup. You can really fill up here and I advise you to because lunch is a travesty. Lunch is served family-style at each table and is vegetarian to 'accommodate everyone'. One day we had pasta and tomato sauce with a veggie soup. The other day we had some sort of seaweed soup and I can't remember what else. I was STARVING afterward. If I could do it again, I would just go downstairs and make a lunch out of combini stuff. You won't have enough time to go out to a restaurant. Don't even go to the lunch unless you're vegetarian and are having trouble finding other food.

For dinner you're on your own, or your embassy might have a dinner for you. I skipped the Canadian embassy reception because we had to figure out how to get there on the train and also it said 'refreshments' not dinner so those who went ended up being served snacks. I went out for udon instead. There are tons of restaurants around the hotel and if you don't speak Japanese and you're worried just look for the ones that say WE HAVE ENGLISH MENU or if you're feeling adventurous just go somewhere and point at what you want. The second night there is a buffet dinner where you're supposed to go to the table that is for your prefecture and meet all the other people going to your area but a lot of people skipped this and went out with people they knew from their consulate instead. I went to it but they ran out of food so I ended up still going out for ramen in Shinjuku afterward. But you all know I never say no to ramen.

No one is joking about orientation days being super long, and being jetlagged on top of it. You have to get up early (protip: shower at night so you can just get up and get dressed and not have to wait for the other two people in your room to shower and get the hell out of the bathroom) and you are scheduled in sessions all day long. The sessions are usually from about 9 until 6... the breaks are too short to do anything (even to go to the bathroom - the ladies room had a line so long I was late for sessions afterward) and the elevators are packed. People had wait up to 45 minutes to get an elevator! We are on higher floors (14-30) so you'd be crazy to walk the stairs in your suit.

The sessions at orientation were VERY hit and miss for me. I find it extremely disappointing that AJET is no longer allowed to be a part of orientation. Many of the presenters had no idea what it was like being a foreign ALT in Japan and were not in a position to be telling us what to do (I'm looking at you, manners lady). The presentations that involved former JETs talking about their experiences were extremely helpful. I went to the elementary school sessions so I got to have a lot of fun making crafts, listening to storybooks, and learning how to make things fun for little kids. The senior high school ALTs got sessions on how to teach grammar - they said they left scared and bored. I felt really bad for them. The manners and etiquette classes were a nightmare. They were run by Japanese business etiquette trainers and these ladies were so mean and never smiled at us! We got drilled on how to bow (don't do it to the wrong degree or everyone will be offended), went on and on and on about how to give and receive business cards (this happens maybe twice in the lifespan of an ALT), and told not to sneeze because it's rude. Um, what? Don't sneeze? Honestly, these sessions just felt like a huge list of "don't do this don't do that" and made us all feel like giant gaijin oafs who were going to offend the delicate Japanese people just by being alive. It was really disheartening and a lot of people left that session deflated. This is a great example of a session that would be better run by a JET. When I got to my placement and we told our supervisor about the things the manners lady told us, he just laughed and said even Japanese people don't follow those rules. Guys, people here KNOW we are foreigners. It's not a secret. We are here as cultural ambassadors as well and it's not up to us to somehow become a Japanese person. That's literally not going to happen no matter how hard you try. You're going to make mistakes and it's okay. Do your best to follow the local customs, but they'll give you some leeway.

After two full days of sessions, the third morning you'll be separated by prefecture and head off to your placements. My meeting time was at 7am, some were even earlier. You'll very likely be stepping off your plane, train or automobile straight into your supervisor or CO's waiting arms, so keep that in mind when you're heading out for beers on the last night. I actually didn't go out drinking at all in Tokyo. I struggled through orientation as it was and I can't imagine doing it hungover. However, I realize I am about 10 years older than the majority of new JETs so I guess there's that too.

We Tokushima JETs boarded a bus to Haneda airport and flew two hours to Tokushima City airport. Normally a CIR or someone will travel with your prefectural group to help everyone at the airport and make sure you're in the right place at the right time, but our group's CIR had just left her position to move to Tokyo so we had our new CIRs with us going through orientation with us. They sent a different lady from the same office to travel with us, and the new CIRs helped.

It was so exciting finally landing at the airport - there were three of us new JETs coming to my town and we wondered on the airplane what everything and everyone would be like. The others going to different cities were excited and anxious as well. When we finally got off the plane, we saw all the JETs and COs from different towns around the prefecture waiting in the arrival area with signs. Once we got our bags, the three of us got together, said, "well, here we go!" and walked out, sweating and excited, to see this greeting us:

Best welcome home ever.

Arigato to my fellow Vancouver JETs whose photos I borrowed for this post! I was too tired to take pics.

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me try to post more than once a month. So there's that.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Month 49 Roundup

Well hi! This post is coming to you live from steamy, humid, scorching Japan. Seriously, this country should be illegal in the summer. And I'm trying to be real respectful of local customs, but it's getting a bit much to not be allowed to wear tank tops or anything above the bottom of my knees when AC seems to be 'optional' (ie. NONE) in so many places, including schools. I have retreated to the air-conditioned cave that is my house, and while I wish I didn't have to come out until October.... there's work to do! The kids are back in school and I'm finally at work and teaching. (Should probably be "teaching" because I don't really know what I'm doing yet.) So far it's going really well and the kids are super enthusiastic. I am a veritable celebrity in the elementary schools - when I walk down the hallway I have a gaggle of tiny groupies begging "high five please Rika-sensei" and screaming "HERRRROOOOOOOOOO" every single time they see me. I love it. The junior high kids pretty much couldn't give two fucks, but there's a few kids who are super into English who are eager to chat with me outside of class. In class, it's like trying to get blood from a stone to get the kids to talk. Hopefully they'll warm up a bit but from the sounds of the senior ALTs, I shouldn't hold my breath.

I need a few more weeks to settle into the rhythm of all my schools that I visit, but for now here's a roundup of the last whirlwind month. I can't believe I've only been here since August 1st - we've done SO much stuff and it feels like a lot longer!

Let's get on to the roundup...

1. My most popular photo on Instagram:

This one of me and my car, Pandora (cause she's  box...get it?) was pretty popular. These tiny cars are hilarious. Also, this photo is a great example of the attire I'm expected to wear in +37C/98F weather with 100% humidity. I. Have. Been. Dying.

With all my new and exciting Japan photos, my Instagram was full of 'likes' this month! Thanks for the love everyone and for sharing in my excitement about this weird and wonderful place.

Note: my personal policy is that Instagram is a give and take platform. My profile is private and if you don't have any photos on yours, I won't accept your request, sorry! There's just too many scam/spam profiles out there, so I don't accept anyone who doesn't look like a legit user.

2. In case you missed it:

I did squeak out a few while I was settling in! I'm going to give myself a little pat on the back as I feel like this was quite the accomplishment between setting up my life here, finishing my TESOL program, preparing my first self-introduction lesson for schools, and oh, not having any fucking internet at home for the two weeks. There were a couple full of musings, and a fun one about festivals.
Not bad!

I also had another post published in my collaboration with AirTransat. It's about The Best Diving and Snorkeling Spots Around the World. Made me miss being in the water!

3. My favorite thing on the internet right now:

Well Zao Fox Village in Miyagi here in Japan is a thing. I can't tell if a village of foxes is the most adorable thing ever or the most terrifying. Either way, I'm going.

That's it - month 49 is in the books!

You can see all the previous roundups here. Cheers!

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me try to post more than once a month. So there's that.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Where Does Wanderlust Start?

When I was seven, I was enamored with a book series in my school library. There was a whole shelf of tiny yellow-bound books that detailed an adventure, and every book was a different destination. They were old - maybe from the 60s or 70s? - but I loved them. I was just a little kid living in Nova Scotia, and I had already moved three times from the west coast of Canada to the prairies and then out to the east coast. When you're a military brat, you get used to having a new home in a new city every couple years. The people in these books were doing the same thing, except they were doing way cooler stuff and living in cooler places than a military base in Nova Scotia. They went to Hawaii and Peru and China and other places I had never heard of. I devoured those books. I read every book in the series in two weeks. No small feat when you're seven!

I'm often asked where my wanderlust came from. In my adult life, I seem to throw everything out the window and start over about every four or five years. After I finished high school, I moved away to the "big" city in my province to go to university. After five years and graduating, I moved across Canada to Vancouver. After a few years building my life and career in Vancouver, my boyfriend at the time and I decided to move to Vancouver Island and start a new life there. That didn't work out, and I found myself in Vancouver again. After a few more years, I decided to move to Roatan and become a dive instructor. I did that for four years, then I decided to move to Japan and teach English. I can stay here for three years, or an absolute max of five if I somehow end up being spectacular at my job. Then I have to go somewhere else. I'm already scheming about what's next. I've got a serious case of expat wanderlust. (I'm not much for the constant-travel type of wanderlust...props to you guys!)

Can I take the easy way out and just blame it on being in a military family and being forced to uproot my (albeit tiny) life every few years to a new place as a child? Probably not. My brother moved around with me the same amount, and he couldn't be more different than me in that department. He rarely travels outside of the province, he went to college while still living at home, and his big 'grown-up' move was to a town 45 minutes from my parents' place and he frequently comes back for the weekend. And you know what? That dude is happier than a clam. He has a house, he has a good job that he likes, he's got everything he needs there. He's laid-back, super easygoing and has a way better constitution and temperament to travel or live an expat life than I do, yet he stays home and here I am flailing my way through countless locations over the years.

I don't know why some people are born with itchy feet. All I know is that I have them, and when I think about it I can't picture myself living in Canada with an office job again and paying too much rent on a shitty 1960s walk-up studio apartment again. If I'm going to live in a shitty apartment it's gonna have to be somewhere new in the world for me to explore and learn and grow. I have learned new languages, nuances, cultures and customs. I have networks of connections I've made that spread to every single corner of the world now.

I think it's an insatiable curiosity about the world that sparks wanderlust in people. I wanted to learn how to scuba dive (and be really good at it) and I wanted to learn Spanish and creole so I moved to Roatan. I wanted to keep teaching but in a different way and use skills that I had from taking Linguistics at university, and I wanted to revive my Japanese so I moved to Japan. I am not picking places on a map with my eyes closed. I think to truly understand a place you need to live there, and live like a local (not like a tourist). When you can move easily in that place, knowing the language, customs, and locations. That's when that curiosity gets satisfied.

Do you have wanderlust that just can't be cured? Where did it come from?

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me try to post more than once a month. So there's that.