Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Alternate reality

For 6 years, I spent most of my days glued to the computer screen, only pausing at lunch to eat and chat with my colleagues. For 1 month in Nordic country I got called to coffee breaks twice a day in addition to lunch time to socialize with colleagues. The rest of the time I stayed silent and did my work in front of the computer. Now in Japan I'm in a bigger office with a lot more researchers and the place is way more lively than I'm used to: people chat with each other all day long. Suddenly I realized I am totally anti-social. I bump into colleagues on the bus and I don't know how to talk to them; I stay at work for long hours but nobody knows what I'm working on, not even myself. I feel the need to learn everything that's available, but the scope of the project is simply too broad. Must pick and choose only the relevant things to learn. I feel overwhelmed most of the time, even though nobody is pushing me to do anything. There's just too much going on, not to mention as soon as I step out of the institute buildings, nobody can speak English any more.

I feel like I live in this strange dimension everybody's super busy, so I feel the need to act busy too, but I'm a totally useless being here. I'm getting paid by a European institute; however the money is  guarded by a bank with way too many security checks to allow me to access it from Asia (I didn't manage to finish all the security steps including receiving my bank card before I got sent to Asia). So I'm currently living on borrowed money, in a totally foreign land, interacting mostly with foreign people who are not from the Asian continent (most of the Japanese don't really interact with the foreigners at work).

How did I go from an unemployed bum who spent her days rolling yoga mats, cleaning bathrooms and wiping floors at a serene yoga studio in exchange free yoga classes, to a dazed foreigner in a hyperactive research facility, where everybody takes on too many projects and the work mantra seems to be "get it all done; make it all work, no matter what it takes"?

Sorry if this post does not make sense. But I'm in a place where things don't exactly make sense. There are some smart phones out there that has a gazillion functions, but it's hard to the few basic features that most people would need are not all that user-friendly. Then there are the iPhone/iPad products which do not contain every single cool features that Android phones/tablets have, but are instead designed in a way such that the basic features that everybody needs are super user friendly. I kind of feel like I got dropped off at the company that creates smart phones with way too many features (and keeps pressuring its employees to cram in more features for the phone) and I'm supposed to "learn as much from these guys as possible".

It's definitely a better opportunity than being a jobless bum. As awesome as the yoga studio volunteer position seemed, the most it would have led to would be a receptionist position where I would get paid slightly better than minimum wage. Right now I've been suffering from a cold for more than 2 weeks; I don't eat that well (Japanese food is surprisingly salty); and I have no time or space for yoga. Why I'm compromising my health for this position I'm not sure. I guess I'm counting on the fact that I'm still young enough that my body can handle it. I don't hate my current situation; it just feels really abnormal. I don't understand how people can live their entire lives like this (guess it explains the drunks sprawled out on the floor of a train station at 10pm on a week night). The alternative would have been to take up a much crappier job back home, where work would suck, but life outside of work would be much more normal. Everything would be in English; the work hours would be more regular; food would be more familiar; I could keep my established weekly yoga routine + weekend snowboarding..... Gee that sounds pretty nice right now.

Except that yearning for a better job would always be there. It's funny I'm not even that ambitious about my career any more. I will just take this as an interesting life experience, and hope I don't get a massive reverse culture shock when I return to Europe in a few weeks.


  1. Y, if you have a kindle/ipad and can read a couple of pages a day of: The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer, I think it would decompress you a little. Try to eat fresh produce /fruit...

    1. Thanks for the suggestions SereneFlavor. It's the being sick and being in a culture that's opposite to what I signed up for and being away from home and new job in a somewhat novel field that might have caused these the crazy thoughts in my head. But hey, what doesn't kill me will make me stronger right? I've been having trouble with the fresh produce/fruit part but I will try to obtain more of it. I hope I survive!