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Well, it’s been awhile since my last post. Actually it’s been 2 years and 181 days, in fact. I have a lot to update you on:
I never used my other blog
I was originally going to move my blog to a new address, but daunted by the process of building a new brand from scratch, it never took off. I should have known better though. Maybe in the future this blog will have to migrate, but since it’s mostly friends and family who read it, keeping it the same is no problem.
I no longer live in Japan
Shocking I know. Japan for me was a temporary step – a “gap-year” if you will. I had an outstanding job offer from PwC in the States. They basically gave me permission to go to Japan and they’d keep my job offer open for the following year. I have a lot of awesome people to thank for that and I remember my time at PwC fondly. Which leads me to…
I quit my job at PwC
As much as I loved the people I worked with, the challenges and hours put into my work at PwC made it prohibitively hard to pass the CPA, which I would need to be promoted to Senior. Finally I had to make a decision: take time off, quit, or keep working and forgo a promotion. You already know which one I chose. However, serendipitously when I was thinking to leave I received an email from a recruiter for a job in Internal Audit with a company based in Paris. So…
I moved to Paris, France
It’s true. I went from the East to the West to the Middle-West. After living and working in Denver, Colorado for two years, I’ve packed my bags and moved to a city I’ve never had an inclination to pursue. Everyone visits France. So cliche, no? France, French people…. what am I even doing?
However, I did bring my camera and I still like to take pictures. A lot has happened over the last 2 years and 281 days, but it’s time to start again keeping family and friends updated, while also venting about some of the daily bullshit I have to put up with (it’s France, so there’s a bit). However, I’d also like to share the nice parts (it’s France, so there some of that too). Someday perhaps I’ll return to Japan, or to the US, but for now I’m focused on a few more practical things. That doesn’t mean weird stuff doesn’t still happen though, so don’t worry.
Anyway, if anyone still pays attention to this blog, get ready. Dfoxinjapan will stay the same, except Dfox is no longer in Japan. Now, he’s Dfoxinparis.
During my time in Ho Chi Minh, I decided to take a day trip to Da Lat. It’s about a 6 or 7 hour bus ride from Ho Chi Minh, and it’s up in the mountains where it’s a lot cooler. Apparently Da Lat is a prime destination for couples because whenever I told someone I was going there they would look confused and say, “By yourself?”
More Vietnamese friendliness happened on the bus ride there. The girl next to me was going home to visit her family and asked if I needed a guide. I said sure, and she called her sister to see if she would show me around for the day. Her sister was busy and couldn’t do it, but I was amazed at the thought.
I rented a scooter (yes, even after the Thailand experience) and drove around the city. Stopping at the infamous Crazy House, I met two girls who had studied at CU in Boulder. They spoke to me when they noticed my CSU tshirt. We spent the rest of the day eating awesome food and seeing some great waterfalls.
It costs $20-$50 a night to stay at the Crazy House, and it’s actually a few houses on the property with several rooms. It seems like it’s constantly under construction, so I’d be excited to go back and see it in another few years.
Unfortunately the day ended with rain, so I didn’t get to do much else, but I sat at a restaurant and watched the rain fall while eating spring rolls, so it’s hard to complain about that.
I took a plane to Ho Chi Minh city next. It’s in the South. Amazing city. Take a look.
The views from Lofi’s Inn Siagon. A bed in a dorm is about $7. Very clean place too.
On the left is Thao, and on the right is Phuong. I met them on couchsurfing and they helped me so much. They took me to some of their favorite places, let me try some avacado smoothie (yeah!) and were generally great people. They even took me to eat some dog meat, which was a little strange to think about, but it tasted like any other meat.
Overall, Saigon is a pretty amazing place. The people are really friendly. I’d be careful at night and you’ll have to learn to keep smiling even when you have to turn down your 900th offer for a motorbike taxi, but if you can find a local person who is willing to spend some time with you, I think the experience is well worth it.
When I got back to Hanoi from Ha Long Bay, I stayed in a hostel (which was $5 a night!). I met up with someone from Couchsurfing who offered to take me around the city for the day.
Vietnam’s traffic is crazy. There are scooters EVERYWHERE. Cars are definitely the minority, and most of those cars are taxis. Everything else is a scooter. Watching traffic is like watching a large-scale model of a circulatory system as bikes slip and slide past each other, somehow managing not to hit each other. Let’s just say I’m glad I wasn’t driving.
She took me to the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, and a few other places. Overall, I didn’t find the city so amazing. The food, however, was incredibly delicious.
We drove basically all over the city. It was a really great day.
At night, the central city lake lights up. It’s definitely not historic-looking, but it is pretty and colorful.
Vietnam is famous for its coffee. It’s mixed with condensed milk and it’s sweet and creamy. It’s really, really good:)
I came to Japan somewhat on a whim. After I finished 5 years at University studying business, I had done plenty of talking about manufacturing in Asia and how many companies were outsourcing. I’d done case studies on companies that did it and I recommended other companies do it. But I had a lot of questions. Why did I do that? Because it was cheaper? Why was it cheaper? Is this a good idea? What is Asia? Why haven’t I been there? Is it different from the US? How?
I asked myself all these questions, I googled it, I did some research. Then I decided I should go there before I specialize my career. Before I zero in on something specific I’d like to start with the widest possible lens.
I guess this is where my friend Brad comes in, who was teaching English in Japan through the JET program at the time. He was posting pictures of his time in Japan and he was having fun! Things were new and strange and I liked that. I asked him some questions and heard about a few options. I looked into the JET program and then I looked into a private education company called AEON.
I flew out to Los Angeles during my last year in University, interviewed, and spent my birthday with my friend Craig. I got an offer in January, had two weeks to clear it with my US employer to go, and 5 months later I was on a plane here. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Japanese People Work Hard
Possibly harder than any country I’ve ever been to. In Japan, everyone works hard, men and women. The only exception is maybe high school kids, but even a lot of them have part-time jobs. Now when I say work hard, I mean they put in time, if not always effort. Most of my students work 12 to 13 hours a day and can have 60 hour weeks for several weeks in a row. This is normal; no one is surprised, no one complains, it’s just the way it is.
I think this is why Japan’s credibility is so high. Just look at the JPY/USD exchange rate over the past 10 years. Japan works hard and gets things done and the world is recognizing it. I’m glad to get paid in yen because it seems like each day my savings is worth more in dollars.
People listen to their bosses; they respect their teachers; and they are genuinely afraid of shame, which motivates them to perform. Young, unmarried people live with their parents without shame and spend their money on whatever they want. Healthcare and pensions are government-managed so most of people’s take-home pay is disposable and able to be saved.
Japan Is Surprisingly Western-friendly
Japan is like a gateway to Asia for any Westerner. Signs are in English, clear and easy to follow, and people will bend over backwards to help you.
When I had been in Japan for only a month, I took a corporate contract in a city about an hour away. One week, I was 300 yen ($3.50) short to take my train home. At that time I didn’t have a bank card or bank book or anything except a credit card. I explained all of this to the station attendant. He barely spoke English, but when he realized that I was actually pretty screwed, he took me to the ticket machine and paid the difference on my ticket! I literally wouldn’t have been able to get home if that didn’t happen. I brought him and the other workers bottles of tea the next week and paid him back, but for all they knew, they’d never see me again.
There’s Something For You Here
I remember thinking in high school that people who were overly obsessed with Japan were just a little weird. Now, to be fair, some of them were super weird, but in retrospect, I’ve done some “weird” stuff since I got here. Nothing too crazy, but just things I never thought I’d have the opportunity or interest to try. I ate dinner at a prison-themed restaurant and posed in an anime poster which now seems all-too-normal to me.
The Work You Do Is A Reflection of Your Character
Every place I’ve ever been in Japan I am always treated well. I’ve been here for a year and I can’t recall an experience where I wasn’t treated professionally by someone who was working. For Japan, this spans ALL jobs. If you work at a convenience store or a law firm you treat people well, you do your job well, and you take pride in what you do. When I walk into a convenience store, I’m greeted and bowed to, my things are packaged up, and they say goodbye and thank you as I walk out the door. They do all of this in Japanese, as if I knew exactly what they were saying. I’ve honestly never seen anyone give anything but the best service while they’re working.
Bow, Don’t Shake Hands
It kind of makes sense when you live in a dense city with 2 million people. People pick their noses on the train, sneeze, cough, rub there noses and eyes, and then they reach out to shake your hand. That’s kind of gross. Bowing stops common colds – and epidemics too.
Mind Your Own Business
People here are very tolerant of others. Moreso than America. I see people dressed in the weirdest clothes and fashions and nobody says anything. Young girl wear clothes that would be innappropriate in America, but most people don’t see it that way. Old women have purple hair, or pink, or blue and that’s all ok.
Overall I think the most important thing I’ve learned is to respect others. Not that I didn’t know this before, but I think Japan is one of the most amazing countries at doing this. It’s unselfish, and it’s really generous. I’m excited to incorporate these into my life and I’m glad I’ve gotten to experience it.
If You Want To Do It, Do It
During my trip, I read The Alchemist. I’ve never read the book before but since I spend a lot of time on trains and planes I’ve been devouring books. There’s a quote in there I especially liked between the main character, the boy, and an old, wise man:
They were both silent for a time, observing the plaza and the townspeople.
It was the old man who spoke first.
“Why do you tend a flock of sheep?”
“Because I like to travel.”
The old man pointed to a baker standing in his shop window at one corner of the plaza. “When he was a child, that man wanted to travel, too. But he decided first to buy his bakery and put some money aside. When he’s an old man, he’s going ot spend a month in Africa. He never realized that people are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”
“He should have decided to become a shepherd,” the boy said.
I loved this, because the old man will one day realize that instead of opening his bakery to “put some money aside”, he could have been doing that, or something much better, in Africa.
Never be afraid to ask simply because the answer might be ‘no’. And certainly don’t think that you’re the only one who has taken a step or two into the unknown. The fact is, of every country I’ve visited that’s been rumored to be “dangerous” or “unsafe”, there’s a group of people there – including mothers, children, and young women – who have been surviving there for generations. You are simply becoming one of them.
As I wrap up this extremely long and reflective post I’m happy to say that I’m learning the answers to a lot of these questions. I’ll carry them with me for the rest of my life.
The day after my last day at work, I caught a plane to Hanoi, Vietnam. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do there, but I had the first two days planned. I booked a tour through Vega Travel after seeing it recommended on another person’s blog. It was actually really great. The weather was hot, but the water was cool. Meals were included, but drinks weren’t, which was kind of a bummer. They picked me up from my hotel in Hanoi and we started the ~3 hour drive to Ha Long Bay.
There were about ten other people on the tour. There was a Vietnamese family who was living in Germany, who came back to visit family, then there was a group of 3 Irish sisters and one of the sister’s fiance. We ended up getting along really well and I didn’t feel awkward at all being the only one. It was a great tour.
We came up to a cave. The cave’s name was “surprising cave”, which was almost as comical as the dolphin-shaped trash cans that lined the pathway inside. The cave was bigger than I thought and they had it all lit up for tourists.
A big benefit of the two-day trip is you get to spend a night on the junk boat. They anchor it in the bay (which is huge) and you can hang out for the night, eat dinner, and listen to music. It was amazing.
We watched the junk boats light up as the sun went down.
I should preface the next few pictures by saying that the Irish had a thing for drinking. And drink they did. I might have joined them. We were supposed to wake up at 5 in the morning to see the sunrise, but I never made it to bed, let alone watched the sunrise. There was a German girl on our boat who was traveling with the Vietnamese family. Her name is Joyce. Joyce was really sweet because she woke up at 5am while I was sleeping, took my camera, and took a bunch of pictures.
We spent some time on the beach and got some sun before getting back on the boat and heading back into the dock. I highly recommend Vega for the tour. I heard some horror stories from other people who just showed up at Ha Long to catch a boat. They paid the same as I did, had to transport themselves there, and the crew took everyone’s passport until they got off the boat. It sounded super sketchy. I highly recommend the tour, and Ha Long Bay:)
Last day of work.
Thanks so much everyone:)