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 #5: Arrival in Japan

August 24: I was originally going to leave this day blank and say it was a travel day where nothing much happened. However, after the series of unfortunate events that crept into the next morning, the lack of a complete post feels far too dishonest.

My flight landed at Haneda airport in Tokyo at 10:33 p.m. Unfortunate Event (UE) #1: Despite Japan’s alleged efficiency, the customs line took nearly an hour for a relatively small amount of people. But, I suppose that’s customs for you. Things started looking up when my baggage was waiting for me.

With my head held high I made my way to the information booth to pick up my JR Pass (unlimited bullet train travel throughout Japan – versus paying $150 one-way between cities). 

UE #2: The exchange booth closed at 6:30 p.m. and I would have to wait until at least 9 a.m. the next morning to pick it up from Shinjuku station. UE #3: Traveller SIM card pickup was also closed. 

Okay, so most of the ‘UEs’ so far have been mere inconveniences. Yes, no Internet made navigation difficult and yes, having to delay my trip to Osaka the next morning meant wasting time, but things happen.

UE #4: 86% of my transport budget was wiped out. 

By the time I got to the transit area it was already 11:30 p.m. and my AirBnB was an hour away by subway. This wouldn’t have been a problem except for the fact that public transit dies at 12 a.m. city-wide. So, taking a taxi was the only option. Little did I know taxis in Tokyo are notorious for being among the most expensive in the world. 

The total? ¥10,130 (about $120 Canadian) for a 30 minute cab ride. (side note: Uber would have been just as expensive as they only offer “Premium” cars).

UE #4: The cab dropped me at the wrong place in the middle of a residential area. After about ten minutes of panicking I started heading to the nearest convenience store (I saw one on the way, maybe 20 minutes away by foot). 

Luckily, I ran into two locals who were about to go for an evening stroll. Despite their near absolute lack of English knowledge, they managed to help me tremendously. They used their cellphones to direct me, including calling the number I had for the AirBnB (remember, I didn’t have a SIM card) and got all the necessary information. Then they walked me ten minutes to the destination and made sure I was inside before departing. Needless to say I graciously thanked them. 

I squeezed into the AirBnB, nearly hitting my head several times. Once inside, I was welcomed by the extremely friendly host and her adorable two-year-old beagle. 

After several minutes of petting the beagle, being showed around, getting settled, and petting the beagle some more, I went to sleep for the night.

August 25: I woke up at 9 a.m., got ready, pet the beagle, and headed to Shinjuku station. After 30 minutes of waiting (for two people to take forever and also being cut in line – UE #5) I got my JR Pass. Five minutes later I had a SIM card (2GB for ¥3750 – UE #6?). Finally, 30 minutes later I caught the train to Osaka with two minutes to spare.