Archive for August, 2012

Missed Flight

August 29th, 2012 No comments

Today was the day I was supposed to fly back to Japan. If all had gone according to plan, I would have been sitting in the airport terminal right now. Instead, I’m getting ready to go work the closing shift at Domino’s pizza tonight.

At least I don’t have to feel too cut off from my job. T-sensei sent me an e-mail a couple of days ago with her rough-draft translation of Y-’s speech for the Speech Contest, and I just spent the last three hours re-writing it and making a voice recording for her to practice. That felt good to do, but I’m still hoping against hope to be back in time for the contest.

I also got a reply to an e-mail I sent Heath, the guy who’ll be subbing for me, two days ago. I sent him a three paragraph explanation of why I wanted to contact him, and he wrote me back with a one sentence “good luck” e-mail that wasn’t too encouraging. He’s apparently been teaching for 17 years, so he clearly doesn’t feel the need to ask me any questions about the assignment. I’m still debating whether to open up to him about my concern that he’ll be such a rock-star at the school the students and teachers will be disappointed when I get back. I doubt it’ll make any actual difference—he’ll just do whatever he was going to do with as much or as little effort as he was going to put into it anyway. I just have to wait and see what kind of reaction I get when I finally do return.

But assuming they like me enough to genuinely miss me, there’s a decent chance my welcome upon returning will be even warmer than if the situation never happened. I know I’ll appreciate them more, so maybe it’ll go both ways.

And that’s the main silver lining I’m trying to focus on. If I’d have gone back to Japan as scheduled, I would have had to deal with the incredible hassle of a 14-hour flight, 14-hour stopover in Beijing, 4-hour flight to an airport I’ve never been to, and whatever kind of frustrating train-navigation adventure back to Togane. Now, no matter what the hassle is, I’ll just feel grateful to be going back to Japan at all. Every step of the way will just be bringing me closer back to a life I thought for a moment I might have lost. My return won’t just be the completion of a scheduled event, but a significantly meaningful experience.

Working for Domino’s again is already proving to be an eye-opener. Doing the same job I used to do as a kid, but now I have an infinitely more fulfilling job to go back to. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it—the job still has its charms—but the whole thing now just feels like a purgatory I’ve got to get through before returning to heaven. This fresh reminder of what “work” used to mean will only serve to greatly enhance my appreciation of what “work” is now.

So maybe I’ll look back on this in a month or two and be glad it happened. I’m definitely learning more valuable life lessons than I would have otherwise. I’ll get more specific about those once it becomes clearer what they are exactly.

Stranded at Home

August 24th, 2012 No comments

Last year I came home from Germany thinking I’d have a nice long month or two at home before Interac would call me up to come to Japan, but it turned out that I got called in far quicker than I’d anticipated, making for only about one month of time back home. This year I came home expecting a month, but it’ll wind up being longer.

It turns out the information Interac gave me about not needing to leave Japan to get a work visa if the Certificate of Eligibility is issued while you’re in the country was false, or at least not applicable to me. Thanks to my dad for looking it up himself and reading that to get a 90-day tourist visa in Japan you have to show a return ticket out of the country within 90 days, something I didn’t have. We looked into it closer and discovered that not only do you need a return ticket, but the tourist visa can’t be converted to a work visa so you have to leave the country anyway. I called Interac on Wednesday night (Thursday morning there) and asked them about it, but they weren’t sure and only said my information contradicted theirs. So I called the Japanese embassy the following morning and got the facts as they pertain specifically to my case—I would not be able to get a work visa inside Japan no matter what.

So considering my two options—stay here and wait for the Certificate of Eligibility and apply for a work visa here, or go to Japan on a tourist visa (by fabricating a return ticket) then fly to Korea to get the work visa once the CoE is issued—it became clear that the most straightforward and financially wise decision was to stay here for the time being. Tickets to Japan in September are generally about $1000 but some were as low as $650. Round-trip tickets between Japan and Korea are about $500. The fact that I can work while I’m here while in Japan I’d just have to sit idly by and lose money just seals the deal.

Yesterday I made contact with Ted, the manager of Domino’s, and found out he’s in need of drivers and can definitely use me for as long as I’m around. I’ll be going in today to work out the details with the new store manager, and it’s likely I’ll be driving again by Sunday.

So yes, I’ll be time-warping back to those good old college days of pizza delivery, quite the major juxtaposition to my current life of respectable work as a public schoolteacher in Japan. It won’t be too bizarre because I’ve done a little driving for Domino’s nearly every time I’ve been back, but this time it’ll just feel a bit more strange because of how different my actual job is from the one I’ll be doing temporarily. It should be fun though—I always enjoyed delivering pizza around here—and I’ll have my own little private inside joke to think that when I hand people pizza and they think they’re just paying some loser schmuck who can’t get a real job, they’re actually paying a respected English teacher of a Japanese public school.

Depending on how much I actually end up working, I should at least help to mitigate the financial damage the extra plane ticket and missed teaching work will do to me. My only real concerns now are what to do about my utility bills for the apartment where I live, and how the school will react to me when I finally make it back. I don’t know how long it’s going to be—it could be as little as a week or as much as a month and a half—but while I’m gone there’ll be a replacement at my school, supposedly some older guy with loads of experience. I’d like to get in touch with him and ask him kindly not to do too great a job, because the last thing I want is to go back and have the teachers now comparing me to someone better, and all the students dejected and disappointed that Mr. Replacement is gone and now they’ve got to deal with boring old Kyle-sensei again. I just remember going on vacation in Germany and losing three of my lesson groups because they liked the substitute better. Being gone for too long worries me.

Hopefully Interac will put me in touch with him, and I can’t think of any good reason why they wouldn’t. It would help him to be able to ask me about the school if he wants, and it would help me to know what he’ll be teaching while I’m gone. I would also really like him to convey to the Speech Contest students how much I regret not being there to help them out. Hopefully he’ll do a good job and M- won’t have to lose again, but I just really really hate not being there to coach her. There’s still a somewhat decent chance I’ll actually be back in time for the contest, but there’s really no telling until the CoE comes through.

And that’s where things stand right now. Marooned in my own home, stranded in a life I grew out of years ago, with the pathway back to my current life pending on a piece of paper being processed half a world away.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

The Latest Updates

August 20th, 2012 No comments

Things have been relatively uneventful since I got back to New Jersey. On Thursday evening I went with my dad to Easton, PA to join him on his monthly gathering of a few Lafayette fraternity brothers. We went to Porter’s pub, a place with a selection of about 60 beers, and if you try them all (usually not done all at once) you get your name engraved on your own silver mug which they hang on the ceiling. I tried a few beers and got my own mug started, which should be finished by the next time I get there thanks to my dad impersonating me.

And yesterday I hung out with Lisa, an old friend from high school whom I haven’t seen in years. We were pretty close for awhile but drifted apart towards the end, and she’s had a pretty rough time of it ever since her best friend Val died when they were 17. Her father just passed away on Monday and Lisa had gone to the funeral the day before, but other than some sadness over that she seemed to be doing very well overall. We had lunch at a diner in Clinton, then walked up Point Mountain, the highest point in Hunterdon County for some nice conversation with beautiful scenery. It was nice to see that she’s doing much better since the last time I’d seen her.

Finally, I finally got some new information from Interac last night regarding my visa situation, and the news was pretty good overall. They found out that if I’m in the country when the Certificate of Eligibility is issued, I don’t need to go to an overseas embassy to get the work visa. So as long as I get back to Japan before the processing is complete, I won’t have to leave Japan and I should be able to get the visa and be back to work relatively quickly. However, if the ironic happens and the process is rushed fast enough to get the certificate issued before my August 31st arrival, I’ll have to fly to Korea to get it done.

I’d also asked them about the possibility of working for the school as an unpaid volunteer while I don’t have the visa, and he said that wouldn’t be possible if I’m still on a contract, as on paper it wouldn’t look like volunteer work. They’d have to end my current contract early and draw up a whole new one for the remainder of the school year. After giving it some thought I realized this is probably the best option, and I sent them an e-mail this morning to ask about what exactly that would entail. After all, it reflects pretty poorly on Interac if their ALT can’t fulfill his obligation to work the full school year because of visa issues we should have been on top of, but if we demonstrate our willingness to work around the problem, that should be to our credit.

In any case, I’m feeling much better about the situation overall and it looks like whatever consequences ultimately come of this, they won’t be too disastrous. The worst thing that could still happen, other than a major financial hit, is that I won’t be able to help the Speech Contest students prepare and I’ll have to feel like I let them down. But I’m pretty sure the Speech Contest is open to the public, so I’ll be able to at least go there and show my support to the students regardless of my visa situation.

And that’s where things stand right now. Whatever happens, I’ll be back in Japan by the end of next week.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

Quadruple Cultural Comparison

August 17th, 2012 No comments

In my entry on the California trip, I was so focused on just documenting the various events that I forgot to write about the most interesting element. I’ve got a few cultural observations to share, but I’ll start with a quick “update” on the visa situation.

After still getting no word by e-mail yesterday evening (Friday morning in Japan) I called my branch office and spoke with the guy who is normally in charge of keeping teachers’ visas up-to-date. But for whatever reason, it’s not him but the branch manager himself who’s handling my case, and he’s on vacation all week (yes, it was very considerate of him to let me know). He’ll be back on Monday and will get in touch with me then. But I was told something like, “We’re just waiting on the processing of your application now, but getting the visa will be easier when you’re back here in Japan,” which totally confused me because of course I’d thought the entire problem was that I couldn’t get the visa from inside the country. But this guy clearly wasn’t too familiar with my case and just told me to wait until Monday. Before I let him go, I just asked him very directly if I’m in any danger of losing my contract, as this is the fear weighing most heavily on my mind. He said, “No, we’re keeping that here” which I thought meant “here in Chiba” but later thought maybe he meant the physical document of my contract. But either way, he was very cordial and nonchalant the whole time, giving off the impression that everything is fine and there’s nothing to worry about, the total opposite of the branch manager who’s always made the situation sound very urgent and dire. So all in all, while I still won’t know anything until Monday at the earliest, the phone call helped put my mind at ease a little until then.

Now, as for California, the view I had through the Japan-tinted lenses was extra-tinted by my East Coast lenses as well as the Germany-lenses. When I visited Santa Barbara last year after three years in Germany, it struck me how in many ways East Coast / West Coast culture is more different and distinct than the difference between German and American culture overall. German culture overall is very similar to American culture, what with the meat and the beer and sports and politics, but the whole busy, hard-working, rude and direct demeanor of Germans in general corresponds much more closely to East Coast culture than the laid-back, relaxed, casual friendliness of the West Coast.

When it comes to Japan, it’s very clear that the subtle differences between East and West coast culture are extremely minor by comparison with the gaping cultural gap between East and West hemisphere. That said, I found it interesting how some of the cultural contrasts I drew between Japan and New York don’t apply to California, and how some of the contrasts between Japan and California wouldn’t apply to New York. For instance, while there’s a gaping difference in the demeanor of shop clerks in Japan and those in New York/New Jersey, it’s not so striking in California where they’re generally much friendlier. They may not be as rigid and professional as Japanese clerks, but they’re very polite and serve you with a smile, as opposed to East Coast clerks who seem to hate you for making them have to do ten seconds of work.

On the other hand, the laid back and relaxed attitude of the West Coast stands in extremely stark contrast to Japan, whereas the East Coast is a bit more similar. For one thing, Japanese drivers and New York/New Jersey drivers have got to be among the most aggressive in the world, as opposed to Californians who are perhaps the least aggressive (and annoyingly so). And while I’m sure this is true for many if not most East coast workers as well, everyone I had a chat with in California had the same basic attitude about work—that it’s just something you’ve gotta do to get money to afford having fun—as opposed to the Japanese mentality where work is the be-all-and-end-all and fun is just a luxury you can have from time to time, as long as it’s scheduled well in advance.

Then there’s just the basic sound of the way people talk. In southern California they speak very slowly and lazily and with a ton of slang. In New York they tend to speak more quickly and aggressively and with a ton of slang. In Japan they speak quickly but non-aggressively, and always adjust to the appropriate level of slang for all situations, which almost never includes adults talking to one another in a public setting. Germans tend to speak quickly and aggressively like New Yorkers, but with surprisingly little slang.

Other minor tid-bits: surfing is a way of life for many Californians and Japanese, whereas it’s pretty rare on the East Coast and almost unheard of in Germany. Baseball is hugely popular all across America and in Japan but Germans couldn’t care less, while soccer is of paramount importance to Germans and Japanese but not at all to Americans.

Finally, the most interesting contrast between all the cultures is probably religion. Both East and West Coasters are a part of America and therefore more religious in general than Germans and Japanese who are mostly very secular, and yet both East and West Coasters are far more socially liberal than Germans and Japanese, who themselves are actually more socially liberal than Bible-belt America. Both Germany and Japan are considered to be more “conservative” cultures, but their brand of “conservatism” doesn’t even come close to the radical right-wing religious extremism of the conservatism you see in parts of America. That’s unique to that sub-culture, and unfortunately for everyone they don’t have the slightest inkling of just how much of tiny minority they are in global terms because they live in a bubble in which they’re the vast majority, and never spare a thought for the world outside “Amurrica”.

In any case, I’ll end this before it starts getting too political. I just wanted to record some of these thoughts. Maybe I’ll come back to this later and revise some of my opinions, but these are just my general impressions of the different cultures I’m familiar with now. I’ll undoubtedly see things a bit differently and a bit more clearly as I become more familiar with the cultures I know, and more familiar with cultures yet to be experienced.

California & the Slipping of the Sun

August 16th, 2012 No comments

I’m back in New Jersey already and freshly jet-lagged after an overnight flight from California. The rest of the all-too-brief trip there was great, but I’m too tired to go into the standard level of detail, and there aren’t too many noteworthy details anyway.

Friday went pretty much like Thursday with Krissi working until closing, but the activity that night was a free movie in the park instead of a free concert. I guess every summer in Santa Barbara they show old movies in a park at dusk, this year the theme being old sci-fi. The movie this night was “Invasion of the Body-Snatchers”, a title I’ve heard about but never seen, and it turns out my life was no poorer for having missed it. Just because a movie is a classic apparently doesn’t mean it’s any good.

After the movie, which I went to with Kevin, Rob, Jason, and Natalya, we split up and Kevin and I went to Dargan’s for a few drinks, then back to Kevin’s place where he promptly passed out, at which point I rode back to Dargan’s to get a ride back to Krissi’s place with her and have the standard pita/hummus snack before passing out.

Saturday was quite nice. Krissi only had to work until 6:00, so I went to lunch at Dargan’s and then walked along the beach up to Shoreline Park where I sat on my favorite bench overlooking the cliffs and read my book for an hour. It was cool because that spot is pretty much where I started reading A Song of Ice and Fire a year ago, and I was still reading it at that exact same spot a year later.

I timed my walk back to Dargan’s perfectly for Krissi to be finishing work, then headed across the street to the Press Room for a couple of beers. After that we had camping to prepare for, so we drove back uptown and did some shopping for supplies. It was a pretty quiet evening as we just picked up a less-than-awesome California pizza and watched some Netflix comedy until passing out.

Sunday was very busy. It was Krissi’s friend Diana’s birthday and she was having a champagne brunch from 10:00-2:00 at El Torito, the Mexican chain restaurant where she used to work. We got there half-way through and joined the small crowd. That was a very pleasant time and I got to meet some really nice people and school them on what life is like in Japan.

But we ducked out early to finish our camping preparations, which involved buying massive amounts of beer and ice, as well as a few food items we’d forgotten the evening before. We then loaded up the car with all the supplies, pretty much doubling its weight, and finally headed back up the mountains to Paradise Road and the Upper Oso campground.

No sooner had we finished pitching the tent and cracked out first beers then Kevin and Jason, who’d been hiking nearby all afternoon, rolled up and joined us for a few hours. They both had to work the next day though, so it was just Krissi and myself again for a few hours until midnight, when her room-mate Dave and co-worker Kelly—both very cool people—arrived and joined us for the rest of the drunken camping fun

We got up as soon as it started to get hot the next morning, and after a small oatmeal breakfast drove to Red Rocks, that mountain lake with the big rock you can jump off that Krissi and I hiked to last year. We spent the day in the refreshing coolness of the lake, drinking beer and making each other laugh hysterically. The water level was much lower this year due to the drought, so I was too nervous about jumping in again, but a lot of the other people there did and no one got hurt.

When it was about the time we were expecting the others to arrive at the campsite we drove back, but by then I was already drunk and heat-exhausted so I just headed to the tent and passed out for an hour. I tried to get up and join the crowd later, which now included Kevin and Jason again as well as Diana and her boyfriend, but the drinking-all-day-on-an-empty-stomach had already taken its toll and I just couldn’t hack it. I tried to recover by eating something but I just threw it up right away, and ended up having to duck out early and head back to the tent for another few hours. But I did get up in the middle of the night and join the last few people awake for the last bit of beer and conversation.

We were all feeling pretty terrible the next morning, but most left early because some had to work. It was just me, Krissi, and Kevin in the morning to overcome our hangovers and break down the campsite, which naturally took us much longer than it normally would. But we got the job done, then drove back into town for a nice breakfast at the diner, after which Krissi and I went back to her place for some amazingly refreshing showers and naps.

Krissi had to work until close again, so she left at 5:30 and I rode down there at 6:00 to get a delicious buffalo-wing dinner with Jason and Kevin, who apparently do that every Tuesday night. Somehow, by then I’d recovered enough to actually start drinking beer again.

When we were done at Dargan’s, I went with Kevin and Jason to the Old King’s Road, a British Pub around the corner, and had a few drinks there. I then bid farewell to Jason and went back with Kevin to his place where we had some interesting conversation followed by watching a few fascinating PBS nature documentaries.

It was about 12:30 when Kevin started passing out, so I bid him goodbye and rode back to Dargan’s to have a couple of last drinks as Krissi closed down the bar. Once that was done we drove back to her place where for the last time in who-knows-how-long I was able to indulge in some pita-and-hummus deliciousness.

My flight home out of Ontario airport on Wednesday wasn’t until 7:30 p.m., but because of the traffic situation Krissi wanted to get into Ontario by 2:00 and just kill time there until I had to check in. She and Dave had looked up things to do in Ontario the night before and discovered that there was a Jake & Busters very close to the airport, which is a huge place with arcade games, pool tables, shuffleboard, and multiple bars.

We managed to be ready to leave by noon, and we first stopped at the Fresco across the street from Krissi to pick up some lunch we’d ordered to eat on the way. It was without a doubt the best veggie-burger I’ve ever had, and I don’t think anything is ever going to live up to it.

Our plan to avoid major L.A. traffic worked pretty well, and we got to Jake & Busters at about 2:30. We first went to the bar for some obligatory drinks, then proceeded to play a bunch of the arcade games they had in this giant room that reminded me a lot of arcades in Japan, only with significantly crappier graphics. When it looked like we were running out of time we went to the other bar for one last beer, then got back in the car to drive to the airport. We were almost there when Krissi realized she’d read her watch wrong and it was actually an hour earlier than we thought, so we had a good laugh and drove straight back to Jake & Busters to kill the remaining time. We thought we’d play more games but we were both a little hungry by the time we got back, so we just went back to the bar and got some food.

As we drove to the airport we reflected on how quickly the time had gone by, but that it was nice how we’ve still managed to see each other fairly regularly over the years, considering how we’ve been living at least a thousand miles apart for so such a long time. I don’t know if I’ll want to spend the money to visit again next year, especially when there’s still so much travelling within Japan I want to do, but we made extremely tentative plans that the next time I see her, we should skip Santa Barbara altogether and just meet up in San Francisco, spend a night there, then go camping in the Redwoods the whole time, something both of us always wanted to do but never have.

After our fond farewells, I proceeded to go through the long but uneventful process of flying home, first a quick hour-long jump from Ontario to Phoenix and then a four-hour flight into Newark where my dad picked me up at literally the crack of dawn and drove me home. Because of the time-difference, by the time I got to sleep at 7:00 a.m. it was only an hour or two later than I’d gotten accustomed to going to sleep anyway, so hopefully the jet-lag will subside soon enough.

And now the journal is up-to-date again. There’s nothing to report regarding the visa situation, though I should have had some definitive answers two days ago. If I don’t hear from them by tonight I’ll make an overseas call and ask them what the situation is, but whenever I go a few days without hearing from them I start to worry. There’s been no mention of any possibility that I might lose my contract, but I can’t help but feel a little paranoid that some random thing I hadn’t thought of is going to blow up in my face and the next thing you know I’ll find out I can’t go back to work in Japan at all. At this point I don’t even care how much of a financial hit I’m going to take—I just want some kind of assurance that I can fully expect to be back at my school and doing my job at some point, even if it’s a few weeks later than I’d like to.

Hopefully I’ll finally have some solid answers tomorrow. It’s been a great vacation, but this dark cloud and possible sword hanging over my head have undeniably reduced my appreciation for it. As much as I’m enjoying my time here, I can’t wait to be securely back in Japan.

New York to California

August 10th, 2012 No comments

It’s Friday morning in Santa Barbara and I’ve got some down-time, so I might as well get the blog caught up to where I’m currently at.

Last Saturday, I went with my parents to see the new batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, at a dine-in theater, eating dinner afterwards at a very good Italian restaurant. I’d heard nothing but great things about the movie, so I was surprised to find that it wasn’t very good. At least no one shot up the theater.

On Sunday I drove up to Red Hook, New York to visit my grandparents for a couple of days. It was nice to see them again, and I also got to hang out briefly with my Aunt Marleen and her daughter Casey whom I haven’t seen in at least five years. My grandpa and I somehow managed to get through the two days surprisingly few political shouting matches (though some are of course inevitable).

I was back home for dinner with my parents on Tuesday evening, and the next morning I had to get up extremely early to catch my 7:20 a.m. flight to California. I flew from Newark to Dallas Fort Worth, where I had a two hour stopover which could easily be the only two hours I’ll ever spend in Texas, and from there to Ontario, CA where Krissi picked me up and took me on the two-hour drive from there to Santa Barbara.

It felt strange to be back here again, but not nearly as strange as last year. This time the cultural gap just feels a bit wider, as Japan is as rigid and conservative as it gets while the people here could not be more loose and laid-back.

We stopped at Kevin’s place (other friend from Voorhees High School) and hung out, with him and Krissi’s current boyfriend for a little while, then proceeded to get everything we needed to carry out our plan for the night, to go camping in the mountains like we did last time. We’ll actually be going camping again this weekend with a bunch of people for Krissi’s friend Diana’s birthday, but we wanted to have one night just to ourselves to get all caught up and reconnected. Like last year, it was a wonderful night filled with excellent conversation

We got out of there very early in the morning as soon as the sun started baking us alive in the tent, and drove back into town for some breakfast before heading back to Krissi’s place to take naps and replenish some of the energy our early wake-up had cost. When we got up in the afternoon we headed to a Mexican restaurant for some dinner, then Krissi had to go into her Irish bar Dargan’s to work.

I took a bike downtown to Kevin’s place and went with him and Natalya—the girl who brought us on last year’s beach bonfire adventure—to a free concert in a park across from the beach. The concert was a bunch of local youth bands, with all the musicians between 13 and 16 years old and the audience almost exclusively made up of families with young children. The bands were pretty good considering their ages, but the pop-punk/ska sort of music they played didn’t really appeal to any of us. We stayed until the last band was finished though, mostly amusing ourselves by watching the ever-increasing crowd of lame white people in front of the stage engaging in the lamest white-people-dancing imaginable. The last band was a group of three 16-year-old boys, and while they were impressive enough with their instruments, I couldn’t help but feel a hint of contempt for the over-privileged white kids getting to indulge their rock n’ roll fantasies at such a young age. It wasn’t so much their ages as the fact that they were clearly just mimicking everything they’ve seen adult rock stars do, including taking off their shirts on stage and basking in the screaming of the girls in the audience (rather disturbing in this situation, as all the girls were either under 12 or over 40). At the very least, it was an interesting experience.

Natalya and a guy we met up with there went off to eat at a restaurant on State Street while Kevin and I hung out on the beach for awhile, then we went to join them at the restaurant and had a little to eat and drink. After that, I biked back to Kevin’s place and watched a little TV, then biked back into town to head into Dargan’s as Krissi closed down her bar.

When she was done we drove back uptown to her place, then biked over to the nearest bar for one last drink. While we were there my exhaustion finally caught up to me, and while we were having a nice conversation with another guy there, I kept dozing off. We biked back to Krissi’s place, indulged in an awesome midnight snack of Trader Joe’s pita and hummus, then had a nice long sleep.

And that takes us to right now. When all is said and done, I’ve been having an excellent vacation. It’s nice to think it’s not even half over.

As for the visa situation, there’s apparently no way to know whether whoever handles the processing of Certificates of Eligibility will be able to get that done in time for me to return to Japan on a valid work visa by my scheduled departure date of August 29th. I got an e-mail from Interac yesterday laying it out nice and clearly for me. Either they get the piece of paper by the 15th, in which case they can mail it to me and I can get the visa processed in time, or they don’t and we have to start thinking about other options. Either I wait here in America until I get the work visa processed, in which case I might not be able to get back to Japan until as late as September 28th, or I could return to Japan as scheduled on a tourist visa, and just fly to an overseas embassy like in Korea or China once I get the Certificate of Eligibility. It might cost less to do that than to buy a whole other cross-Pacific plane ticket, but while in Japan I wouldn’t be able to work, whereas if I stay here I could make some money by delivering pizza or something.

I wrote back explaining that my main concern is the obligation I have to my school and my students, especially those in the Speech Contest. I said if there was any way I could go back to work unofficially, to do the same job and just not get paid for a month, I’d be willing to do that. I highly doubt that’s possible, but it might be the case that I could at least go in after school to help the Speech Contest students prepare. I asked them to look into that, and if they’d at least let me volunteer to help with the Speech Contest, then I would without a doubt choose to come back on a tourist visa and just fly overseas again to get the work visa processed as soon as possible. You never know, but I suspect that’s what will end up happening. We’ll see.

At least we’ll know for sure by the 15th what will have to happen. I’ll probably end up taking a substantial financial hit, but nothing I can’t recover from. In any case, I’ll just be relieved when the uncertainty-phase is over.

The Latest

August 3rd, 2012 No comments

I went to the Japanese consulate yesterday and got some clarification on my visa situation. There’s no need to go into all the details here, but the basic conclusion was that my only option is to obtain a completely new work visa. Even if I were to return to Japan before the 15th, I would have to go on a tourist visa, and you’re not allowed to obtain a work visa if you’re located in the country, so returning early would be useless. On the encouraging side, the consulate said a new work visa could be processed in just four business days as long as I have a Certificate of Eligibility. The problem is that the typical processing length of a Certificate of Eligibility is 31 days. The person in charge of the Chiba branch office told me that they’d plead with them to process this as fast as possible and have it mailed to me by August 15 which would give me enough time to have the new work visa ready by my originally planned departure of August 29th, but no guarantees can be made. Worst case scenario, I’d be getting the Certificate of Eligibility on September 13th and looking at an arrival date in Japan of about September 28th. So I won’t miss my vacation, but I might miss a month of school. I hate that idea, but if I have to live with it so be it.

As for who will be considered financially responsible for the returning plane ticket and lost month of work, that issue has yet to be breached. With any luck, it won’t have to.

But in spite of all this bureaucratic stress, I managed to have a great time yesterday. A couple of other college friends, Luke and Marc, came into the city to apply for visas to Brazil where they’ve got an opportunity to run a bar for a person they connected with in their travels. They came back to Mike’s apartment and the four of us spent all afternoon and night together, mostly just walking around and talking. It was really great to see them again and we enjoyed every minute of it thoroughly. I almost forgot about the consulate business altogether.

I just have to keep enjoying this trip moment by moment and not let the uncertainty ruin anything that would otherwise be a perfectly wonderful time. The worst possible outcome of this situation is pretty bad in the short-term, but not at all devastating in the long-term. As much as it will suck while the consequences are still ongoing and fresh, eventually it’ll just be a story to tell.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

Legal Limbo

August 2nd, 2012 No comments

It turns out this immigration status issue might be far worse than I thought. Apparently my original work visa expires on August 15, which means I was supposed have gotten it renewed before leaving Japan. It would have been nice of Interac to warn me about this before I left, perhaps in response to one of those “What do I need to do before leaving Japan?” e-mails I sent them.

I went to the Japanese consulate yesterday because I was in town anyway, but I’d left my passport at my parent’s house because it’s safer here and I hadn’t expected to need it. As such, while the ladies at the consulate were sympathetic and anxious to help, there wasn’t much they could do for me. I’ll be returning there with passport in hand today, and it won’t be until then that I finally get a more solid idea of where I stand.

The time difference issue is a huge head-ache, as the Interac office is closed when the consulate is open and open when it’s closed. I had to wait until about 7:30 p.m. yesterday to get a phone call from Interac and what they said was not the least bit helpful or encouraging. The person in charge of my branch has never had a situation like this before, and it appears to him as though I have to physically return to Japan before August 15 when my current visa expires and have it renewed at an immigration office there. If not, I have to go through the entire visa application process from start-to-finish again, which includes an application for something called a Certificate of Eligibility which usually takes a month to process.

All of this sounds like insane bureaucratic nonsense to me, as I already obtained a Certificate of Eligibility last year—the fact that I’ve been working in Japan for a year ought to be sufficient evidence of that. The idea that I wouldn’t need this certificate if I wanted to renew my visa at an immigration office in Japan, but I need to get it all over again when trying to renew my visa from the United States just makes no logical sense to me, but bureaucracies are often illogical. It’s 2012 for crying out loud. Why should the physical location of my flesh and organs make such a huge difference? I have a job in Japan, an apartment I’m currently paying rent for…do you really mean to tell me that just because the cells which make up my physical body are not spatially located within specific geographic parameters, I have the same status as some schmuck who’s never been to Japan applying for a visa for the first time?

For all I know that may actually be the case, so I’m just going to have to deal with this stress until I get more answers later today. The worst case scenario isn’t the most devastating thing in the world, but it is pretty awful. I’d have to cut my vacation extremely short and go back to Japan almost immediately. Despite my foolish optimism of yesterday morning, I now no longer have any reasonable expectation that Interac would cover the cost of a new plane ticket or anything else. So I’d have to eat the cost of my original plane ticket back on the 29th, as well as the cost of my ticket to California from August 8 to 15, a trip I of course would have to forego in order to get this visa business taken care of on time. Sorry, friends I almost never get to see in life—it’ll have to wait at least another year. Some forms need to be stamped, after all, and they can’t be stamped in this longitude.

I can’t expect any help from Interac. Sure, they do have somebody at the Chiba office who’s specific job it is to oversee their employee’s visa status and whatnot, but I should have checked my visa’s expiration date before leaving and asked them about it specifically, instead of asking about the related issue of a re-entry permit and assuming they wouldn’t have just said, “Don’t worry about it” but also something like, “Just make sure your visa is renewed before you leave.” This company has thousands of employees. Am I the first person to ever go home for summer vacation? You’d think some kind of “Make sure of A, B, and C before you leave” would be standard procedure, but apparently not. They just let you go on your way and if there’s a problem…oops. Our bad. But you have to pay for it.

Anyway, this could turn out to be the shortest, most ill-fated vacation I’ve ever taken. What was I saying about the summer of 2012 again? Something about “fun and interesting experiences”? Well, one out of two ain’t bad.

Categories: Personal Tags: , ,

Japan-Tinted Lenses

August 1st, 2012 No comments

One of the best things about spending significant amounts of time abroad is coming home and seeing all the old familiar things from a slightly new perspective. This was certainly the case each time I came back from Germany, but after a year in Japan it’s even more extreme. All kinds of mundane little things you take for granted are suddenly endowed with cultural significance.

Seriously? I can keep my shoes on in your house?

Wait, we’re going to cross the street before the light changes?

Oh my god, almost every last person at the supermarket is morbidly obese!

Oh right…I have to tip the bartender.

Dude, people are just casually bringing up politics in conversation. It’s like they don’t even care if an argument breaks out.

Damn, these convenience store clerks really hate their jobs and they actually let it show.

I spent the first few days back at my parents’ house, pretty much just relaxing and trying to overcome the jet-lag (which hasn’t quite fully subsided yet). On Sunday I went with my dad to a nearby micro-brewery and did a beer-tasting. When I came back from Germany I felt like now I had to settle for mediocre American beer, but coming back from Japan is the polar opposite: “Yes! Delicious American beer, how I missed you!” On Monday we went out to dinner and I indulged in some genuine buffalo wings, loving the sauce but disappointed at the low quality of the chicken. You can get better-quality chicken wings at the Japanese supermarket, just not the sauce. But last night I had some genuine New York pizza, and for that there is no comparison with anything they have in Japan (or pretty much anywhere else in the world for that matter).

I’m in Brooklyn now, visiting my friend Mike a.k.a. Craig who used to work full-time on Wall Street as an IT manager but now does part-time consulting (but makes about the same money, it seems). Being in the city is much more of an in-your-face reverse culture-shock, partly because in Japan I live in what many consider “the countryside”. I don’t know how it is in Tokyo, but I’ll bet you can’t just go online and have several hundred restaurants’ worth of food to select from and have delivered to your door within 20 minutes, all without saying a word to anyone. Most restaurants in Japan don’t even have take-out, let alone delivery. If you want their food you’ve got to eat it there.

To add to the whole America-experience, I just happened to time my arrival perfectly with the 2012 Olympics. Last night was a big night for Team USA, with our gymnastics girls winning team gold for the first time since 1996, and Michael Phelps winning two medals to become the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time. [Sidenote: the whole “you’ll never amount to anything if you smoke weed” argument has to be slightly undercut now that we know you can take a few bong rips and still be one of the world’s greatest athletes, let alone President of the United States.] I already knew what happened when we were watching it at a bar, but it was still incredibly fun to watch it while drinking with random New Yorkers and cheering our people on. We just pretended that we hadn’t watched the news earlier, or that maybe Brian Williams had been lying.

I’ll be here for another day before heading back to New Jersey tomorrow, so it promises to be another day full of cross-cultural observations and uniquely-perceived experiences. I’ll try to document as many as I can.

In other, perhaps more serious news, it looks like my little difficulty with immigration at the airport when I left Japan might end up being consequential. I e-mailed Interac with my concerns as soon as I had the opportunity. They took a few days in responding, but finally yesterday they said they were looking into it. This morning I had two more increasingly alarming e-mails in my inbox, telling me that I might need to go through the Visa application process again. That wouldn’t be too big a deal except that it takes two months, which would mean I wouldn’t be able to return to Japan until October. I’d be missing an entire month of school, including the Speech Contest, which would suck for the kids if I can’t be there to help them.

I can at least rest assured that none of this is in any way my fault, as I e-mailed Interac months before leaving to ask them exactly what I needed to do before leaving Japan in order to be able to re-enter the country without issue. I was told that new rules were going into place, so while I’d needed a special stamp in my passport the last time I left, I wouldn’t need anything of the sort this time. If it turns out they were wrong, I’d expect them to compensate me for any financial losses incurred, including the month of missed work and plane tickets back. It’s a huge company so they can definitely afford it, but if it’s more cost-effective to just cut me loose and put a replacement in there….I just don’t know how evil they are. But I’ve got a contract, so I feel pretty secure about it. I just hate the idea of missing an entire month of the school-year. I love the job, so I’d much rather work for the money than get it for free, even if it means an extra month of vacation.

Wow, that doesn’t sound American at all, does it?