Travel Blog #16: Trial and Error

My dream of spending a year living in Asia so far hasn’t gone quite as planned. But that doesn’t mean it’s been a complete mess or waste of time. These are some of the biggest trials I’ve gone through in a while, and I’ve learned a lot from them.

Trial #1: The Job

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This digital plaza shopping spree made me realize I need a job ASAP

Since I came here knowing I wanted to teach English I did what any logical person would do – found a teaching job at a school. After a few weeks of travel and another week of depressed burnout I decided to actually be productive. (That is, after staying out until 2 a.m. eating and drinking with a then-stranger, now best friend.) In a strong burst of motivation, I applied for about 30 jobs in one sitting. That sitting lasted me from about 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. the next day.

I slept for a few hours (I think) and woke up to the nonstop buzzing of my cellphone. Now, the smart thing to do in this situation would have been to respond to the offers, go to interviews, weigh the options, ask around to get a sense of things… You’ve probably already guessed that I did none of that. Within three days I signed a contract to a school that was seemingly a perfect match. This was Ellis-Koifman-meets-first-real-job syndrome.

Trial #2: The Classroom

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Having settled into a rather luxurious place with two super friendly roommates and an adorable shiba inu I was pretty happy…. with the apartment. With the job, not so much.

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely enjoyed the teaching; it was a really rewarding experience where I got to feel like I was making a real difference in kids’ lives. But therein also lied a problem: kids…. as in… more than one kid… as in spend half (read: 80%) of the class managing behaviour. In and of itself, this wasn’t a game-breaker, but the particular school I was at had a borderline “zero consequences” policy. Kid hits another kid? No real consequences. Kid repeatedly violent in class? No worries. Kid hits teacher? Not allowed to send them out of class. You get the idea.

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None of these rules has enforceable consequences.

This was already exhausting on its own, but then you add into the mix that the school demanded quite a hefty amount of paperwork. I can type pretty quickly (around professional speed), but even then I was struggling to finish everything. Between the paperwork exhaustion and the behaviour management problems I quickly found myself counting the days until each weekend and treasuring each of the (extremely limited) days off. Then I’d get sick once in a while and feel even more exhaustion as I struggled to keep up with everything.

On December 1st, 2017, I departed from my first teaching gig of 40 hours per week and retired to the comfy day-to-day of quickly dwindling funds and figuring out what the hell to do with my life as an expat in Taiwan.

Trial #3: The Apartment

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Living room and New Year’s feast (no, I don’t eat like this everyday).

I’ll be honest, up until recently (and even now to a lesser extent) I did a piss poor job of managing my personal finances and budgeting for the long term. As part of this youth-related stupidity, I signed a one-year contract for an expensive apartment, including a rather large deposit, about a week after getting the new job.

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The kitchen and its master.

Without a job, it became (admittedly slowly) apparent that it was a terrible budgeting decision. At the start of April, I’ll be moving across the city to a cheaper neighbourhood and an apartment that costs less than half of my current one. For now, it’s just a matter of hard lessons about budgeting hitting me like bricks.

Trial #4: The Future

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My online teaching backdrop.

After about a month of nothing I started doing one-on-one tutoring with an online company (which is why I was able to stay in Taiwan at all instead of just going home). This was a really nice change of pace from teaching in the classroom. It has given me a lot of autonomy and lets me cater each lesson to the individual student. Teaching online also gives time to develop my own teaching style and “classroom” decorations.

It’s taken me a long time to realize it, but this whole slow transition has been an opportunity for me to figure out where my strengths lie and what I value in life.

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Travel Blog #7: Hopping Around

August 26: Osaka Castle was my first and only stop for the day. I wasted no time getting there since the journey by foot was about two hours.

The majority of the area that houses the castle is a huge park, filled with plum trees, peach trees, and gardens.

However, the castle itself is rather small and is on its third iteration after burning down twice over the years. The most recent construction happened in 1583, so things are looking up. Speaking of looking up…

Inside the castle was a very cramped eight floor museum wherein you aren’t allowed to eat or drink (even water as far as I’m aware). It didn’t take long until I was bored so I quickly climbed to the top floor to snag some photos before descending.

On the way home I stopped at Shinseki – an area renowned for its food – and got an okonomiyaki (japanese style pancake) for dinner. In addition, I discovered a 24-hour grocery store called Super Tamade where the selection is fantastic and you can buy delicious ready-made food for ¥100.

I chose to end the day early and spent the evening watching Netflix and writing.
August 27: Five hours is how long it took me to finally arrive at my destination; on paper, it was two and a half. I’ll spare the details, but let’s just say everything is slow and infrequent in rural Japan.

Where was I headed that made this journey worth it? Rabbit Island.

Rabbit Island (AKA Okunomashima) is located about an hour outside of Hiroshima and, much like the name suggests, is an island filled with thousands of bunnies.

That’s a big pile of rabbit food

While no one knows for sure how the bunnies got there, two prevailing theories do exist:
1) During WWII the Japanese were using the island to develop poisonous gas. They used bunnies as test subjects. After the war, locals set the survivors free. Today’s population is the result of the remaining rabbits’ breeding over the years.

2) In 1971 a group of school children were taken on a trip to the island. With them, they brought a bunch of rabbits which were left there to be free in a safe haven. Again, today’s population came from years of breeding.

No matter which theory is the correct one, something is for certain: the rabbits LOVE the island. It has been set up as a sanctuary for them, with plenty of tourists and locals feeding them every day (with fresh veggies and rabbit food) and water set out every ten metres or so.


Travel Blog #6: Osaka Nightlife

August 25: Aided by the air conditioner I had set to 18°C (to remind me of Canada), I finished my nap and made a beeline for some dinner.

It should come as no surprise that my first proper meal in Japan was sushi. I opted for a conveyer belt restaurant since they’re plenty of fun. The meal came with free matcha green tea, which I was absolutely stoked about.

If the sushi in Taipei was 10x better than back home in Toronto, then the sushi here was 10x better than Taipei. Best sushi of my life at the best prices of my life.

Exhibit A: Otoro (fatty tuna)

– The highest quality tuna, revered for it’s ability to melt in your mouth (and in my case, appear in dreams).
Canada Price: $16-20
Local Price: ¥291 ($3.43)

While I won’t break down their costs, the other pieces were just as amazing.

The plan for after dinner was to head to Dotonbori for shopping, but I stopped in my tracks after spotting something that I couldn’t pass up: an owl café.

Sunset Owl Café charged ¥1,500 for 50 minutes with the owls and a can of good beer (or juice, milk, or tea).

I ordered my drink, paid, and stepped into the owl room. The entire 50 minutes was spent in that room (apart from leaving briefly to down my drink). Between talking to the owl caretaker, petting the owls’ beaks (anywhere else usually makes them anxious or sad), and taking a ton of pictures, time just flew by.

I also got to hold an owl.

Then take more pictures.

When my time was up, the staff thanked me and I went on my way to Dotonbori

Only a few minutes later I hooked myself into another stop that would last from about 9 p.m. to 12:50 a.m. It was a multi-floor arcade called Round 1.

The first floor was all claw machines (and it was here where I spent the majority of my evening). I won two large plushies and a big box of cookies. By the end of the night, I was going around helping the occasional Japanese person win and save several hundred yen in the process.

The other floors had coin pusher games (like an entire floor was just that game x200), rhythm games, fighting games, and more (plus three floors of bowling).

By the end of spending a perfectly reasonable amount of time and money at the arcade, I desperately needed some sleep. Instead, I went to a 24-hour restaurant for some sukiyaki.

From there, I set out on the very long walk to the AirBnB (transit was closed and there was no way I was going to take another taxi anytime soon). An hour went by and I stopped into another place for some more food (and honestly some rest since my legs were killing me). This time I got a japanese omelette, beer, and roast beef (for under $10 by the way).

At 3:30 a.m. I was home. Tired and exhausted I laid down and went to sleep.