Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Sacrificial Llama

I have a job. I have an apartment. I have a commute. I have some routines of yoga classes or bike rides with local cycling clubs. I know all my students names and they have finally got that the vowels in my last name are pronounce like 'eye' or 'buy' or 'bye'. I, very thankfully, received my last paycheck from Ye Ol' Eikaiwa before they declared bankruptcy and succumbed to a hostile take over from another chain. I am making steady progress on my graduate course toward my teaching degree. My lessons are getting better and my students are improving. For the first time in about a year and a half I am not needing or trying to live on a shoestring or feeling totally broke. I am no longer living out of my 35L backpack. I am no longer living paycheck to paycheck.

Life is good.

When I was apartment hunting, I went to six different agencies before I found one that treated me well and I wanted to work with. In the end, I think I chose them because they had a pragmatic sense of humor. And for a foreigner looking for a real apartment in Japan, a sense of humor is key.

60% of apartments disqualified me because I was a foreigner. Of those who would consider me, important points were:

I teach math and science; I am not an English teacher.
I am female.
I am 29.
I have living in Japan nearly 5 years.
I was in high school here and lived with a Japanese family.
I speak Japanese fairly well (I did all the apartment negotiations in Japanese)
I am working for a good/prestigious school.
I am "accustomed to Japanese ways"
I promise not to make too much noise.
I am pretty. I negotiated apartments wearing professional looking, attractive clothes.
I have a "guarantor," or a Japanese person to vouch for me.

If I was a guy, if I couldn't speak polite Japanese, if I taught English, if I had not dressed nicely... I may not have been able to get this or any apartment. Non-discrimination laws simply don't apply.

In the end I looked at about a zillion schematics of apartments and veiwed/visited 6 . I settled on one that was a bit smaller than I initially wanted but with a fantastic fantastic location. It would probably be called a studio in the states but is described as a 1K here. K means there is an area that is the kitchen and 1 means there is one other room. Total space is about 20 sq. meters. The size is certainly big enough for me but it makes it difficult to have couchsurfers, which makes me a bit sad.

But the location brings a smile to my face everyday. I live on one of the coolest parks in Tokyo. I have a little balcony and sliding glass doors that open out onto the park where there are always people picnicking, walking dogs, playing frisbee, or otherwise laughing, being noisy and happy. On the weekends there is the Inokashira (name of the park) Art-Walk and the sidewalks through the park are lined with people selling homemade art, postcards, T-shirts, miniature dog clothes and performing. There is a guy who reads comic books out loud, there are jugglers, there is a violinist, there is a "living art museum" guy who is hilarious. And they are there, performing with a hat out for coins, almost every weekend.

It is a lovely place to live.

And if that wasn't entertaining enough, around the station there is tons of shopping and about a zillion bars with every theme you can imagine and it is colorful and young and really no wonder that it's currently the most popular place to live in Tokyo.

Naturally, living in one of the most popular neighborhoods in Tokyo means that I could be getting a lot more space for my yen if I lived elsewhere. But it is so worth it to me to live somewhere that feels alive and has green space and has just enough foreigners that we are generally treated just like normal people. To me, it's worth every penny.

Ah yes, but not to forget the sacrificial llama.

When you move into an apartment in Japan, it costs a ton of money upfront.
In my case, I paid
First months rent +
1 month deposit
1 month agent's fee
1.5 months key money (basically a gift to the landlord)
150 dollars of fire insurance

or about three and a half grand. wham. it hurt. That's six month in Bolivia worth of money. That was three months at Ye Ol' Eikaiwa pinching pennies so tight that I didn't even take the train into town to have a coffee with friends on the weekends and another month and a half after waiting for my first private school paycheck.

That money was my sacrificial llama. (no? still doesn't make sense? I don't blame you).

So in Bolivia, apparently, before you build a house you sacrifice a llama on the site. This sacrifice blesses your home. However, since killing a llama is awfully messy, you can also buy dried llama fetuses to bury under your house. It's a strange world.

So, I guess I'm trying to say that after being footloose and free for so long and suddenly staring at a 2 year apartment lease ... the commitment freaked me out something fierce. I haven't live two whole years anywhere for the last 15 years. Commitment to anything is not really something I do well. I get itchy. I cut and run. I start from scratch over and over.

But there I was, signing a contract for a serious job and needing an apartment. I could have found a crappy one that was cheaper and didn't have very much upfront money... but I felt I kind of had to do this all the way. All 9 yards or nothing. California or bust. If I didn't sacrifice the llama I was bound to just cut and run when the going got tough again.

And so I'm here, living on the park, teaching chemistry in a school the will forever in this blog be dubbed "The Private School."

Last week was a good week. Some of my students, without any prodding or leading questions, volunteered that I was their favorite science teacher that they've ever had. I'm still glowing. I made significant progress in getting the graduate work I needed to do done. I got a little bit ahead in planning my classes for next week. I had a good yoga class on Friday night and a beautiful bike ride with friends on Saturday. I made a definitive win against the dishes monster one night and am, by a tiny margin, winning against the sleep deprivation monster. Waking up at 5:45 am every morning is a bitch but I'm getting used to it.

Nonetheless, I often still want to cut and run. I won't because I'm learning so much and loving teaching these kids. I won't because it's been much harder than I thought transitioning from living out of backpack to furnishing an apartment and having appropriate clothes to wear to work everyday. I won't because I think my routines can be improved upon a lot with a little more work and tweaking to include more social time and more time on my bike. I won't because I still have so many places I want to cycle too and so many mountain passes I want to be able to make it up without stopping. I won't because I feel I am making progress toward something that is important to me (becoming a teacher, having a meaningful career) rather than killing time. I won't because I'm making more money than I ever have in my life. I won't because I can't find this kind of opportunities anywhere else. I won't because I love my friends here.

But still, every time I see pictures from Ambue Ari or my boss puts on a power-trip and makes me angry or I wind up working another 12 hour day for the second or third time in a week or I see that I totally have enough money in my bank account to just cut and run....

The pull of the road is strong but if I can last here for two years, in this job and in this lovely apartment, finishing my graduate course work, saving money, becoming a kick ass cyclist... it would be a good thing.

But then again, there's nothing like waking up to howler monkeys gently hooting outside your window at dawn or the feel of a puma's tongue liking your mosquito bitten arm...

What a strange and wonderful journey this is.

the adventures continue...