Friday, November 28, 2008

butterfly being brash?

Remember the tale of the grrl named Butterfly?

So off she went for a little holiday just before her work contract ended. She decided way in advance that no matter what happened she would treat herself to a trip overseas for the tough year in Bokyo.

Right after Butterfly returned to Bokyo, she decided to talk to the Head about her work contract. Her first meeting before she went off for her holiday did not bear any fruits. Her meeting this time also didn't seem to have much effect whatsoever.

Seeing that nothing was still being done after working 1 month into her 2nd year without a contract, Butterfly decided to take things into her own hands.

Butterfly sent an email to the Head, gently reminding him about the contract that he owed her. It was truly strange to continue working in the company under such circumstances. Legally she could have just stopped working as there and then. However, since there was no contract, the Head was also not legally bound to pay for the work done after that 1 year on.

After a few days, the Head replied with a supposedly new contract. Nothing much changed. In fact, there was no salary increase, no bonus, no obvious benefits compared to the previous one. As she turned to the 2nd page, she saw that the number of leaves had increased from 10 to 12. As she read on, however, she also noticed that the number of sick days had decreased from 5 to 3.

Wow, Buttefly thought, the Head must have thought she lacked basic mathematical skills. Or perhaps that she just wouldn't notice such a change made in her favour. Surely if everything else remained the same from the previous contract, such a change in figure would have been immediately obvious to even a kid.

So Butterfly emailed the boss, and courteously thanked the Head for being so magnanimous with the terms of her new contract. But she added that she wanted to further discuss the changes he mentioned.

That night, Butterfly made some notes on the new contract, just enough to remind her what to talk to the Head about. She was much better writing than speaking and decided that using some written guides would help prepare her discussion with the Head the next morning. She realised she had to stand up for herself, if it meant speaking her mind, which was something she rarely did.

As soon as the Head sat down to listen to what she had to say, Butterfly started the tone by expressing how disappointed she was with the contract. In fact, it was so insulting that nothing much has changed from the previous one. Instead of improving on things, it had gotten worse. Previously she thought she had bagged herself a dream job that would allow her flexibility, but everything seemed to have gone downhill from then on.

The fact that the Head had asked her to help in some personal errands, not grant her compassionate leave when her grandmother passed away, and requested that she visited a client on her sick leave made her feel more like a slave instead. By having a new contract which did not work in her favour and was more restrictive, it was like a tight slap on Butterfly's face.

The Head was obviously taken aback by Butterfly's outspokenness. He had not seen her spoke like this before, and was a little speechless for awhile. But he quickly regained his composure and defended his reasons for the changes.

He said that since the economy was not doing well, employees should not be demanding for a raise and should be happy that they had a job. Butterfly said that they were not asking for a raise merely because they wanted more money. But rather, the Head should see it as a way to reward them for their contribution the previous year. Still, the Head said there was nothing much he could do as that was just the way it had to be.

As soon as he had finished his sentence, Butterfly would cut in with her next point and go on about how unfair she was being treated. Like how all her other colleagues were allowed to work from home while she was the only one who had to be at the office everyday at regular hours. Or the fact that they had flexihours and the freedom to run errands on working days.

As Butterfly got more into the mood of being forthright, she continued on with how unhappy she was with the situation at work. It felt rather awkward in the beginning as she was brought up not to speak back to her superiors. But as the discussion continued on, it was clear that the Head finally heard Butterfly's side of the story.

At the end of it, she felt a mixture of relief and guilt. Relieved because she has expressed what she had wanted to say all these while. Guilty because she thought perhaps she might have been a little too brash. But after talking to some friends, they encouraged her to keep being outspoken as that was the only way to deal with the Head.

Butterfly decided that she would take it as a good step forward in learning to speak up for herself and in dealing with Western Heads. She gave herself a pat on the back for doing something good for herself.

Still, it was not easy doing what she did. She took quite some time to get into that mode, and even though she would lapse into her old self now and then, she had to remind herself that being honest was not wrong. In fact, at the right situation, to tell the truth without fear or favour would only help solve the problem at hand. Even if it hurts.

A week after that discussion, Butterfly got a renewed contract. Her number of leaves remained at 12, while the sick days was kept at 5. That was probably the only change the Head made, but the Head seemed more considerate and was more appreciative of her work.

*Any resemblance to real-life characters is purely coincidental. Excerpts from this story may be reproduced by acknowledging the writer.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

momiji at tsukuba

Located at 36° 13' 0 N, 140° 5' 60 E Tsukuba-yama at Ibaraki prefecture was chosen as the mountain for our autumn hike this year. I've been wanting to catch the fall leaves before it got colder. Striking out Takao-san, Nikko and Hakone because they would be packed with people at this time of the year, we decided that going further from Tokyo would be a better choice.

So happened there were some special events happening at the mountain shrine. Apparently that weekend was the "Shichi-go-san" (七五三 : seven-five-three) festival which was a traditional rite of passage for grrls aged three and seven, and boys aged five.

Accompanied by their family members, the kids were all dressed up in their best traditional costumes. Being so accustomed to having their pictures taken, some of them even gladly posed for me as I asked their parents' permission to take some pictures.

At the same time, there was a wedding ceremony as well. Tsukuba-yama Shrine is one of the oldest in the country, and is known as the god of business thriving, talismans and matchmaking.

We took the cable car up almost to the top. It was a relaxing ride since we would be hiking up the rest of the trail up to the 2 peaks that make up Tsukuba-yama, Nyotai-san and Jotai-san.

As the cable car slowly dragged its way up the tracks, I was glad I made it for the trip. I had almost wanted to just sleep in that Saturday and not make the 1hr+ journey. The air was clearly fresher and just seeing the greens (and reds) was soothing for the eyes.

There was already quite a crowd up there, but not as bad as I had expected. The Japanese elderly are a robust lot. Most of them put us to shame as they go for regular hikes up mountains. No wonder they are known for having the longest life-span in the world.

We took up the challenge of climbing up the peaks as well.

On the way up, we saw this frog-shaped boulder at which the Japanese were tossing coins at. Must be to wish for luck & fortune, like the Western wishing well? Later I found out that the frog had some significance at this mountain.

After about half an hour or so, we finally reached the top.

We had an almost clear view of the Kanto Plains from where we stood. This was quite worth it, and just being there made me felt all refreshed already. Seeing that the mountains make up most of the country, and are a big part of the people here, I have learnt to appreciate them and the views that come together. But still, I would give anything for a splash on the beach!

The year before, I started to appreciate autumn when Shokwan initiated the idea of a picnic and momiji at Yoyogi Park. As much of a mountain person as I am not, this year's momiji was way up in the peaks of Tsukuba. I got to see flora which I otherwise would not have elsewhere.

I wonder how autumn's like at the beach...

Monday, November 24, 2008

teal, my fav at the mo!

I don't remember the last time I bought myself a purse. Probably for my 21st birthday? Anyways, the current one was a gift, but it was bursting at its seams and was in absolute tatters. It had looked quite pitiful that I cringed whenever I had to take it out at the cashiers.

It has been like that for several months already. I didn't want to rush into getting a replacement just because I needed one. Plus, I haven't been able to find one that caught my fancy. So after a few fruitless attempts, I finally saw one this afternoon while hosting Esther & Jo at Aoyama.

A lot of my stuff had been in very safe colours of black, brown and grey. But after living in Japan, I've started to buy stuff in colours and textures that I would have been hesitant to try before. Like my creamy white winter coat, deep magenta down jacket with faux fur lining, suede tasseled boots and, definitely, this glossy teal and matte black purse.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

when the japanese and german wed

I had my first wedding invitation last month at a Presbyterian church. The bride was German, the bridegroom being Japanese. I addressed them by their nationality because I did not know them before the wedding.

You see, I was invited to play at their wedding. It was through a mutual friend who was the groom's English teacher. Better still, Pamela had only met the bride a few times before, but because the couple did not know many Christian friends but wanted a church wedding nevertheless, they approached the only Christian they knew - my friend who teaches English at this church.

Apparently Japanese pastors (some of them, not the AOG ones, as far as I know!) allow wedding ceremonies to be held at their churches as a way to evangelise to the Japanese. Knowing how trendy it is to have a Western-style, whatmore with a REAL church setting, wedding, the Japanese have erected buildings which look very much like churches from the outside, but is only a facade for the occasion.

I remember when I first arrived in Niigata, I was surprised to see some church buildings near where I stayed. They looked really beautiful, with a cross at the roof and Romanesque architecture all around. They were so ornately decorated, with gardens at the side and even chapels in the interior that they looked better than normal churches!

I even found out that even at hotels and probably at more upscale weddings, they actually hire Caucasians to dress up the part of the "pastor" to "bless" them at the "ceremony". Such is their fascination for the white fairytale wedding that everything is replicated right down to the gestures and rituals involved, but alas, I wonder if they understood the sanctity and meaning of a Christian wedding.

Nevertheless, I was not there to judge, but to be part of the union of this couple whom I've only had the opportunity to meet just minutes before the ceremony. I must say, it was rather solemn and I wondered if I had attended a funeral instead this was truly a wedding. Then I remembered, both the Japanese and the German are not known for being the most boisterous of nationalities. Maybe that's why these 2 countries made good partners for the Axis Alliance in World War 2.

The only people smiling were the other foreigners, namely Pamela and her American friend. I wanted to flash a smile too, but everyone just looked so serious! Right from when the bride walked in with her father to when the couple were at the altar being blessed by the (real) pastor, from the songs to the message, from the time they walked out of the church and even during the photography session. I wished I had brought my camera to capture the moment.

I was delighted they enjoyed my playing. Not surprising, because the other pianist who played the hymns did it so sombre. I'm no expert in saying how hymns should be played, but I've heard hymns played so beautifully that people just want to sing it over and over again.

Still, it was a good first experience, albeit a rather unusual church wedding. It didn't last very long, sticking to the order of things as stated in the programme book. Immediately after the photography session, they couple was whisked off together with their family members and friends to the reception somewhere near the church.

Few weeks later, I got this from Pamela, a little token of appreciation from the couple. How sweet, literally! I was really delighted as I've never really tasted German candy before, and besides, it even had a Ferrero Raffaelo in it that I've not eaten in years. I'm gonna try to indulge in them slowly so that I can make it last till the new year!

lust auf genuss = desire on enjoyment

*Pictures of the building were taken in Nagaoka 2 years ago at a fireworks festival, as an illustration of how a typical "church wedding building" looks like.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

maybe i should have been a dentist instead

I have a bone to pick...

...with dentists in Japan.

I feel cheated and erm, violated!

Early this year in January (I know, I have lots of belated news to share!), I had a nagging pain in my lower gums. As usual, I tried to brush very diligently, but carefully so as not to aggravate the pain. Flossed more, gargled with Listerine every night and made sure I didn't chew so much on the left side.

Still the pain didn't go away. My other solution to increase my vitamin C intake didn't help either. In the past, I took it as a sign of deficiency in vitamin C, since that might mean a potential of scurvy.

Still the pain persisted. It was getting annoying. And scary. Nothing seemed to work. I was taking lots of fruits too.

31 Jan 2008
In desperation I went to the nearest dentist I could find in my neighbourhood. Speaking little Japanese that would help in explaining my pain, I brought along my trusty electronic dictionary.

I found out that my gums were exposed (or something like that la). They took my x-ray and pointed to that little space between the gums and the tooth and it looked like the gums were raw. So the dentist gave me some treatment and asked me to return the week after. Even with that half-baked treatment I still managed to go back for IUJ's Ski Day!

7 Feb 2008
When I went back to the dentist, he told me he had to do something. After checking with my dictionary, I found out that he was going to 神経を取る (take out the nerves). Not knowing what the heck it meant, I thought maybe he was just going to do some scaling and clean up my teeth, who knows maybe I didn't manage to brush the hidden corners and nooks and crannies in my little mouth.

Then I suspected something amiss when he injected some anesthesia into my gums. Surely cleaning the teeth didn't require my gums to be numbed!

The next half hour was him doing something. I thought maybe the Japanese were so careful they didn't want to hurt you while cleaning your teeth. Then I heard some drilling, some other scary sound that I can't describe here.

In my mind, I was thinking, what did I just get myself into this time?!

By the time it was over, my left cheek felt puffed up and I felt no senses at all. In fact, it felt as if someone had punched me on the left side of my face. But in reality, when I looked at myself in the mirror, I looked very normal on the outside.

After the anesthesia had wore off, I was left with a pounding pain, so painful I couldn't even sleep that night. The dentist didn't even give me anything to take away the pain, I had to ask my housemate for his Ibuprofen.

The next few days, as I was wondering what the dentist did to me, I don't know why, but the phrase "root canal" came to mind. So I looked up the internet and just couldn't believe my eyes when I realised what he had actually done was a root canal. It wasn't any procedure that I've gone through before, and it certainly wasn't what I was expecting. And I most certainly did not ask for it!

What the !@#$%^&*()?)(*&^%$#@!

14 Feb 2008
My follow up visit was met with more shocks. I thought that was it. The 3rd visit should be the end of it.

But no, after more treatment, I decided to enquire if it would be the last visit. The nurse told me that I had to return 6 more times to finish up the procedure.

What the !@#$%^&*()?)(*&^%$#@!

So the dentist could make more money out of me??

I had already spent Y10,000 yen for my first visit, and another Y5,000 and Y2,000 subsequently.
6 more visits = Y???

After chatting with friends, I found out that it was normal of Japanese dentists to require patients to make frequent visits for something such as this. A Malaysian here told me he had to go back to the dentist 13 times for his root canal.


What the !@#$%^&*()?)(*&^%$#@!

I was already taking time out of work for this, and my boss was not very happy. I told him it wasn't my fault. The dentist was making me go back so many times, and my private insurance didn't cover the treatment.

So he recommended me to pay a visit to his dentist instead. The most important thing was because he had been trained overseas, Dr Goke spoke English.

21 Feb 2008
Since it was a new dentist, I had to do my x-rays all over again. It was assuring to have a dentist that explained what was wrong, what needed to be done, and what I had to watch out for. He himself was astonished when I told him about my experience with the previous dentist. The most a root canal should take is 3 visits, depending on the complexity, especially with molars.

Damage for the day : Y7,570

26 Feb 2008
I got the shock of my life when Dr Goke removed the temporary filling to reveal an ugly hole in my left molar.

So this was what the previous dentist did - Make a big hole in my molar, dig out everything that was probably healthy in the first place, and then make me pay for it not knowing what it actually was.

To think that I may not even have needed a root canal in the first place, now I had a useless (almost...) tooth with a gaping hole that reached to the bottom which cost me a bomb. Of course, I would have had to pay Dr Goke a similar amount to finish up the job, but at least he spoke in a language I could understand!

So he carefully cleaned up the rest of holes where the nerves were. It was a good thing I had read up about it and talked to friends who've had similar experiences. Imagine having someone do something to your body (nevermind that it's a small organ such as the tooth!), and you not knowing anything about what's going on. That's really scary!

Damage for the day : Y21,000

29 Feb 2008
While getting my temporary filling done, I consulted with Dr Goke about the option of doing the crown back home. I found out that it would cost me Y100-150,000 just to have it done in his clinic. Apparently that was the normal rate in Tokyo.

What the !@#$%^&*()?)(*&^%$#@!

If my guess was right, I think I could get it cheaper in Malaysia, but I had just gone back for Christmas the year before. In fact, the reason why I'm thinking the root canal was not justified was because I had just done my routine check up with my dentist back then and everything seemed to be fine. In fact, I've for the most part had healthy teeth, bar the irregular cavity but then again, regular visits to the dentist always took care of that. Ever since I lost 4 molars to make way for my orthodontic treatment, I've vowed to be really careful not to lose anymore teeth.

To top it off, Japanese toothpaste lack flouride and probably the water is not conducive for promoting healthy teeth. It's no wonder the Japanese have such bad teeth. A lot of them need to go for orthondontic treatment. While I understand it's expensive to do it here in Japan, I just cannot fathom how they can spend so much money on their hair, face, clothes, dresses, accessories, shoes, handbags and whatnot, but not on their teeth!

Mindboggling indeed. @.@

This whole painful experience cost me Y50,820! No insurance to cover it made it even more painful.

Lesson 1 : Stock up on Good Malaysian Flouride-filled Toothpaste.
Lesson 2 : When visiting a doctor or dentist or anyone who would attempt to do anything to any part of the body, go to one that speaks English, or go with a friend who speaks the language.
Lesson 3 : Watch out for money-making Japanese dentists.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

speaking of underwear

This came into my mailbox some time back, to be more specific on Halloween's Day. Then I remembered I was supposed to post some pictures about that get-together at Iqbal's place. But then again, I thought I would share this, another one from my fav Calvin & Hobbes.

It came with this :

"Humility is like underwear, essential but indecent if it shows"
- Helen Nielsen.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

here's your chance to be famous too!

So I'd like to come clean about my fame.

I wish I was modelling clothes. Accessories. Cosmetics. Handbags. Have my pwetty photogenic face plastered outside boutiques and branded stores.

Or grace billboards in cities across the world. Where pedestrians waiting to cross the road will look up at me coz they wanna kill some time. Or people working in the offices nearby will be envious when they see me so cheerful and wish they were out enjoying the golden autumn leaves.

Nah, I'm not cut out to be that famous. Just to be remembered is nice enough.

And I'd like to be remembered in a good way. So I'd like to share with you this neat little trick I found on the Internet. Somewhere in the images above is the name of the website that can help you be as famous as me!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

to be or not to be

It's ironic that I made her feel like being herself after such a long while. Especially when I have never really been able to be myself here in Japan. Or the fact that as an American, she should be more brazen than I of Asian origin. So much societal and cultural etiquette to adhere to.

Coming from someone I barely knew, and this was probably our 2nd time going out as friends. I was rather taken aback when she mentioned it so casually while we were stopping for rest while shopping this evening.

It's true what she said about certain people bringing out the best in us. Or have the gift of drawing a person out of his/her shell.

It's not uncommon to hear that foreigners, in their desire to adapt to Japan, have somehow had to suppress their natural characteristics in order to not ruffle feathers and cause unnecessary attention. But I also have friends who, in the same objective, just let themselves be so that while making sense of the unexplainable could survive in a country such as this.

For example, it's almost impossible to be sarcastic. The typical Japanese would actually take it seriously and accept what you say as the truth and nothing but the gospel truth. So American friends and those from similar Western-style countries are surprised when I display my witty side and am able to play along with them. For the first time, I'm thankful we were brought up with American TV!

Side note to Malaysians : I miss being sampat! Please pardon when you see me next and I lose that characteristic of mine!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

look ma, i'm famous!

Oops, forgot one more picture from the last post.

I know, it's hard to believe eh? I kept staring and staring and just couldn't believe my eyes. Even after pinching myself on the arm and slapping myself a few times, the sight in front of me still did not change. Unbelievable.