Thoughts on moving to Japan [Part 1] – Money, work and childcare.

I had no idea which picture I should use for this post, because when searching “Japan” on image searches, so many different kind of pictures shows up. The beautiful ones of nature or historic places, the pictures of busy city lights and skyscrapers or the goofy ones of everything weird in Japan. Japan is so many thing and I’m still not sure, after all this time, what Japan actually is to me. Most of all I would like to see it as a beautiful country, with stunning sceneries and friendly people and there’s no doubt that this is a part of Japan, but there’s also so many other things – some positive, others… not so much.

After all these years traveling between Denmark and Japan and been in a Japanese marriage, I do feel like I’ve seen a lot of sides of Japan, some I would have liked to leave out, but it’s still a country, still a place with more than 100 million people, so you are to come across both positives and negatives. Just like everything else in life.

This blog will probably both be filled with the fun moments, but also the struggles I will face when I begin my life in Japan. I’ve known for 4 years that I would move to Japan in the year of 2014 and on the way there’s been many doubts if this was the right choice. I love my own country, with our high taxes, high quality in life, free schools, doctors and hospitals and a government which is ready to catch you if you fall down. It’s a lot to leave behind. Going to Japan I’ll enter a life with more uncertainty, lower taxes, but medical and education bills, almost no economical security net if get lost somewhere along the way and not to mention lower salary and close to non-existent childcare service. A country with lower equality of the sexes and where women often have to choose between family or career – because trying to juggle both will mostly just leave you stressed out. Even though women do have to chance to work on the same terms as men, they will also have to face the extreme over time schedules, the possibility of being transferred far away and close to no holidays.

The husband is often also taxed a lot higher if his wife earns a full time salary, and that tax money often equals a good amount of the wife’s salary, which just makes it seem like she’s working for free. Why even bother? The childcare service for children under 3-4 years of age is also extremely limited, have long waiting list and will take a big bite of your possible salary.

I will probably stay at home the first few years with our future children. Not because I in any way believe it’s a woman’s place, but because I feel it’s the best course to take in Japan. I could find a full time job, get pregnant, take leave, pay big bucks for a nursery, then I want a second child and it’ll probably be even more complicated to take a leave again and once again pay a lot of money for someone to look after my child. It’s not impossible – far from, but I don’t really have any career dreams. I think I would like to be a teacher or something, but if I have to chance I feel like I want to take things slowly and therefore have one or two kids before searching for work. I think I want to do some work from home – I have some business plans I want to elaborate in a later post.

My husband and I do think about our future economy a lot. It is kind of embarrassing to say as a soon-to-be university graduate, that I have no career goals. I have a lot of goals and dreams when it comes to children and family life, but none for any future jobs. Does that make me sound old-fashioned? For me, I think I find these dreams acceptable, because they are my own, not any social norms or society told to. I guess somewhere, women of the modern world started to feel bad about wanting to focus more on family, house and childrearing, rather than career, because women for decades have fought for the right to leave their houses and seen equal to men. I did take an education – I went 4 years to university and got almost only A and Bs. I speak several languages, I have strong opinions and I know what I want to in life – and… it’s not a stressful job.

Look at me talking about women’s rights and such, this what not what I was going for in this post, I guess as a women we’re brought up to not only believe that we can do everything – but also believing that we should.

I think the only reason why I know that I will find a job in a near future is not because of financial reasons, well maybe a little, but also because being home everyday would bore me to death. I’m not a native English speaker, which puts a few bumps on the path to become an English teacher in Japan, but I guess it’s not impossible. At least I speak Japanese, unlike many other foreign English teachers.

So I think I will end this post now, since there’s a lot of other things I have been thinking about, but I’ll safe that for a later post. Who want to read too long blog posts anyway?

I will move to Japan around the middle of September this year. It still seems far away, but considering how fast the past 4 years have flown by, 7-8 months is nothing and there is a lot to prepare.

Advertisements

Volunteer work in China and how I was a scam-victim

SONY DSC

So I spend four and a half weeks of my summer vacation doing volunteer work in Northern China. Overall I found it to be a nice experience, I met some awesome people, did work I enjoyed overall and lived with a nice family, thought this does not change the fact that I was a victim of a scam.

After looking through several volunteer companies on the internet, I found the company called IFRE (please note this name if you ever decide to volunteer). They had the cheapest rates and when I looked them up they had relatively good reviews – though I did not find any reviews from people who went to China.

This was my job description in short: 

– Teach poor and underprivileged children in rural cities of China.

– Have time to travel around in China and get help from staff concerning any information.

– Free mandarin Chinese lessons.

– Don’t have to be a native English speaker.

– 3 Meals a day and a host family will be provided.

The problem was the lack of promises they actually kept when I finally arrived in China. I did get a host family. A family of a father, mother and a daughter and they did everything to make me feel at home, so I only have good memories from my stay with them, the problems started when I had to start my work. I was assigned to work in the northern city of Dalian, nothing rural or underprivileged about this city. They put me in a private English teaching center – not a school. It was a company that sold English lessons to especially high school and university students. These classes weren’t cheap either, I was told that this is one of the most expensive English companies in China and one hour could easily cost between 50 to 100 USD. So basically, I was teaching some of the richest people of the city without getting paid, which where the next problem arose – since I might not get any money from my work, but somebody else did.

Before I arrived in China I got contacted by a Chinese guy from the China department of IFRE called “Jeff” – he explained me some of the main aspects of my work and arrangements. When I arrived in China I was told by the school that they actually paid this “Jeff” money to have me – he was getting money for the work I provided, money I never saw because I was supposed to work there as a volunteer – simply: I was working for free. I was told by other foreigners of the school that this “Jeff” was famous for doing these kind of scams, he would help people with finding a job in China, but then get half of their salary. So no poor children to teach and according to the school I wasn’t working for free either.

Where I lived in China

The apartment complex where I lived in Dalian, China.

Then came the next problem, the school weren’t told that I wasn’t a native  speaker of English and it ended with them asking me to don’t tell the students that I’m from Denmark and make of some kind of lie when it came to my nationality. “You have such nice English, easy to understand and no accent – it won’t be a problem” they told me. Exactly – I have no general accent, meaning I neither speak clean US English nor do I speak clean British English. I was taught British English and when I talk with British people my English to also sound very british, but if I talk with Americans or other English speakers, suddenly my English starts sounding more like US English.

Another problem with this concept of lying was the fact that the students liked asking questions about your country. If I told them I was from New Zealand, but suddenly couldn’t answer a single question about this country, how believable does that make me as a teacher?

Dalian City

Dalian City

The next problem came when I came for work on my second day. Another volunteer from Switzerland had been causing problems. He was from the same volunteer company as me, he had been lied to as well and was quite angry about it. He had tried contacting Jeff to get his money, he tried to cover up his non-native English by telling the students he was from England, but the students complained about him. Saying that his English was hard to understand (seems like a had a strong accent) and that he had attitude problems. My supervisor at the school told me he refused to do English Corners and he would angry at people around him. All these problems made them fear that I would cause the same problems, so they decided that I shouldn’t come to the school anymore.

“You can learn Chinese with your host family” – how they’re hardly home and doesn’t speak any English at all.

“You can travel around China” – I paid the company to come here as a teacher, so if you’re going to send me away I want a 100% refund!.

After long discussion they decided to give me a chance and instead they fired the other volunteer – who was the one causing problems anyway.

I decided to stay, even though my husband told me to quit the school since I was clearly a victim of a scam. I had come to China to get teaching experience, so I was going to stay, but I decided to tell my students that I was from Denmark and not an English speaking country. I wasn’t going to tell them lies.

Then came to promise of time to travel around China. I was given 2 days off a week. I worked from 1pm to 9pm in the weekdays – 8 hours a day and then I worked from 9am to 6pm in the weekends – 9 hours. I had to beg the school to give me 3 days off in one week so I actually had a change to go anywhere. I did get 3 days off, with only 2 days notice, meaning I had to hurry home and search for flight tickets to Beijing and find a hostel to stay at. The fact that I got these 3 days off came back to bite me in the ass later since I only got one day off in my last week in China, meaning they made me work 50 hours in one week. Yes, lots of time to explore the Chinese culture!

My trip to Beijing

My trip to Beijing

This was not my first trip to China, since I before had been to Nanjing and Shanghai which also made me prepared for a lot of things – especially the fact that there’s no toilet paper in public toilets and the fact that people will push like the next bus will be the last bus to ever come. I was also prepared for the Chinese food which is very different from non-China Chinese food and I must admit I still prefer Japanese food over Chinese food. I was used to the almost non-existing traffic rules – that cars love honking, especially if you got the silly idea of crossing the road when it’s green light (for you).

From my trip to the Great Wall of China

From my trip to the Great Wall of China

I had some really good experiences in China. I had some nice co-workers at the school, both Chinese and Foreigners. I had a lovely homestay family. I had an amazing trip to Beijing and I had many lovely students, who always seemed overjoyed so see me and always told me how much they liked my classes. Though this does not change the fact that I was scammed. I did not do volunteer work – I was working for free for another person’s benefit. I tried writing complains to the main branch of IFRE (in the US). First they talked about giving me partial refund, but first they wanted to ask Jeff about the situation – I never heard from them again. After I returned home I wrote them again saying that they worked with a liar (Jeff) and I was a victim of fraud. They contacted me again and apologized for the situation and told me they had let Jeff go – though I have no proof that this is true, instead I want to warn people on the internet and tell them to not trust the organization called IFRE – find another company!

My Chinese nails

Image

So I haven’t posted forever, which there’s a lot of reasons for. The main reason is that I was busy with exams in May and June, then I spend almost 5 weeks in China in July, where this site is blocked. Then I spend my August in North and South America and have only recently returned. I want to be an active blogger again soon. First I felt like sharing the beautiful nails I got done in China. They cost around 30 USD, but after 4 weeks they’re still in the same condition. Neither nails nor rhine stones have fallen off, no chipping in the polish and the only proof that I’ve worn them for this long is the growth of my own nails below the polish line.

Recipe: Making Goma Dango (Sesame Dumplings) [ごま団子]

SONY DSC

So like a big amount of girls I love sweets and it’s a miracle that I’m not bigger than I am – since I seem to spend a good part of time eating anything from cakes, cookies and sweet bread – especially when I’m in Japan. One of my favorites here in Japan is pretty much anything with “anko” (red bean paste) and the price winner among anko desserts are “goma dangos” (sesame dumplings). In Japanese these dumplings are considered “chuka” – food which originates from China, but like with most so-called Chinese food in Japan, I feel sure that the taste is different from whatever they might have been inspired from. Anyways, I made these dumplings twice lately and since they’re very easy to make (if you’re able to get hold of the ingredients) I thought I would share this simple recipe.

These are the needed ingredients:

[For 16 dumplings]

  • 200g Dango/dumpling mix.

  • 150 ml. water

  • 200g Koshian (anko) (Red bean paste)

  • White sesame

  • Frying oil.

First pour the dingo/dumpling mix in a bowl and there after add water (some also add milk) – it’s best to pour it in little at the time to make sure you don’t put too much in. Some dango mix needs more water than other, but when the powder has a firm texture it’s done. Then blend the powder and water together with your hands till it has the wanted texture. You can also add some sugar in the mixture after your own liking.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

Then you divide the dango mass into 16 balls. (Yes, there’s more than 16 balls in the picture, but it was for a bigger portion.)

SONY DSC

Then your pour out 200g of red bean paste and like with the dumplings you divide the red bean paste into 16 balls.

SONY DSC

Then you flat out your small dumpling balls in your hand and place the red bean paste in the middle and then your wrap the dumpling around the bean paste and finally you roll them around in your hand till they reach the wanted round ball shape.

SONY DSC

Then you cover the dumplings with the white sesame and then you fry them in oil till they have the good golden color and the outside of the dumpling has hardened a bit and then you’re done!. Enjoy your sesame dumplings.

SONY DSC