The location for the Chinese-Japanese Friendship Group’s speed dating event seemed like a place where love goes to die. From the outside it looked like a local convenience store, the kind where you can easily purchase 50 cent baijiu (rice liquor) and tar filled cigarettes–maybe even a cell phone charge card. If it weren’t for the hand written sign taped to the wall adjacent to the shop keep, we would never know that a dating event lie in wait just beyond the foul stench of the convenience store’s stinky tofu, and up the stairs from the grime filled storage room.
As soon as I stepped off the train, with luggage in both hands and two Japanese officials at my side, I knew that I was definitely not home in the United States anymore. Thousands of miles away from the familiar and transplanted in a new country, nothing had registered mentally—but physically, however, I was indeed feeling it.
July in Japan. I was hit with a tidal wave of humidity that drenched me senseless. The Japanese government in Tokyo decided to send me to this hot, humid sauna called Niigata, Japan. I was sweating profusely, my body was jet lagged, and there was a ringing in my ears that I would later know as “cicadas.” My eyes were heavy, my legs like water and my heart still in Salt Lake City.
You know, men never face this dilemma. They don’t debate about whether they should give up opportunity or stay with the woman of their dreams.
They just take the job.
Women, on the other hand, will face this agonizing predicament at least once in their lifetime. Move away from the boyfriend to pursue the career I have been dreaming of? Or stay behind, stick by his side, and possibly have a life of marital bliss?
I never thought it would happen to me, but it did. I had to choose a man or my career.
I check my e-mail to see the response I have been waiting for sitting there in my inbox, calling my name. I told my friends this is “my dream job,” even though I knew the chances of me actually snagging the position were to slim to none. Still, this organization called me in for an interview (to my surprise) and they seemed impressed at my credentials and skills. Since the position was in Washington DC, I knew the likelihood of me being selected as a candidate from halfway across the country was extremely unlikely, but I still had hope.
Most people are stunned to find out that I’m half Asian half white. They’re even more stunned to find out I’m not half Japanese or even Chinese: I’m half Vietnamese (I know, I don’t look Vietnamese at all).
And I’m not only white–my father is 100% Irish. So I’m a complete 50/50 split of two very different cultures.
Being a Halfie in the USA
In my hometown (a very small town in Utah) my mom was the only Asian person in town, making my brother and I the only Asians in the school. Despite how un-Asian I look, I was constantly teased for being a “gook” or a “chink” and never a moment went by where I wasn’t racially profiled. Me liking Japan didn’t really help improve the situation, so memories of people yelling “hey ching chong wong” and other such uncultured insults are still a very fresh memory today.
“How are things with you and your Shanghai man?” I ask J on the phone as I slurp some coffee and munch on toast.”I hear you have dinner with his family every weekend? Seems like things are getting serious.”
“Mary, I’m going to have a breakdown,” J sighs heavily on the phone. “His mom did something that REALLY bothered me these last few weekends.”
“Oh no,” I set my coffee on the table and leaned in, almost as if J were really sitting across from me. “Did she say something about you being a foreigner? Or maybe about your family?”
Taking The Leap
The craziest adventure in my life was not joining the JET Programme and moving to a village in no-man’s-land Japan for two years as the lone foreigner. It was not dropping everything and randomly studying Chinese in Beijing. It wasn’t even venturing through the countryside of China and traveling by bus to the depths of Vietnam alone. No. All of those things, to me, are semi-normal.
The decision to move to Shanghai was the most rash, insane, and completely bewildering change of my life.
Sometimes, you meet people and you know that you were just meant to cross paths somehow. As soon as you lock eyes and shake hands you know that this was meant to be. This connection between one human being and another, one heart to the next, souls that intertwine.
My boss Takada-san is exactly one of these people.
I’ve mentioned her a few times on here. My boss that could rule the world if she pleased, but can’t handle the burden of it all. A Japanese woman that gave up everything to fight for her rights in a society that wants to keep her at home and tied to the kitchen. A woman that wanted to be more than just that; she aspired to be a leader, a creator, and most of all a traveler–and she succeeded at it all, but at great cost. She looks of a woman tired from the relentless pressure and overtime of the Japanese ad agency world. Despite her experience as being CEO of multiple companies in the past, she continually refuses our headquarter’s offer of taking the position once again. She’s had enough, and you can tell at her age she just wants to soak in a hot spring or dive in the maldives. She’s simply tired of changing the world.
Japan’s Version of Being International
I was looking through ad news at work and discovered that ANA airlines got in big trouble about the following ad, and immediately pulled it from the air with an issued apology:
For someone that has lived in Japan for a long amount of time, I’m not surprised at this advertisement in the slightest. In fact, when I showed it to my boss she said: “Really now, it’s not that bad is it? It’s controversial enough to take off the air?”
Habits. Schedules. Rituals. Sometimes it feels great to have routine in life, and nothing makes you feel warmer and fuzzier than finding out you have one in a foreign country. It helps you realize that yes; unexpectedly, you somehow managed to plant roots in this new place that you somehow home. The city is accepting you not as a foreign object or something that needs to be discarded; but rather, it’s slowly warming up to you and inching in closer and closer like a curious kitten meeting its new master.