Saturday, 10 October 2015

The London Files ~ Return to Oz

So after almost two years of living and teaching English in Japan, I (and my finances) decided that it was time to cross the world and pay my family and friends a visit. Immense preparation went into it (e.g. a quick transferral of funds and a packed suitcase) and I was off on a 12 hour flight for a week full of fun and nostalgia. But as I reflect on the brief time I spent back home, I can't help but remember the frequent comparisons I would make. And I could hear myself doing it...

"In Japan, they do this...", "In Japan, they don't do that..."

I became that annoying. But I couldn't stop myself. I'd spent so long in a bubble that the minute I popped it, I found myself almost re-learning about everything I'd left behind so allow me to begin.

Picture courtesy
I'd always said it. A lot of people seem to be enamoured by London; they all want to visit some day if they already haven't, and even those who have been already are keen to go back. But London is not a place known for its cleanliness. I remember working with a guy who told me that his mother had always taught him to watch the ground when he walked because you have no idea what you might step in. And I was instantly reminded of that when I left the airport and got the tube (or subway for my North American audience). The paintwork was chipped, there was a crumbled up tissue sitting in the corner of a seat. Oh, and let's not forget the chips I saw squashed beneath somebody's buggy on the bus. Not all of Japan is perfect but it wins hands down in this department.

On a more positive note however, London does win in terms of diversity. Things have definitely changed from when I was a child. I remember my primary school beings rather multicultural now that I think about it. But back then, whereas we might have had five to ten different languages walking around, I'm pretty sure it's close to thirty odd now. And we have everybody. Africans, Asians, Eastern Europeans, South Americans...etc I love that we have everybody in one city. Nobody stares or gawks at one another. While not always a utopia, people from different cultures become friends and even more. And more than anything, I'm just another face in the crowd. I'm not special and it's kind of nice not feeling so abnormal or out of place.

I went to visit family one day and I had to interact with people because I was either asking directions or buying something at the shop, and I was immediately reminded of how poor the customer service is in London. I used to work in a coffee shop and had to really amp up my customer service when I would deal with people. I learnt a lot from working in that environment but I've learnt even moreso since coming to Japan and I don't even work in that sector anymore. In those two cases that I mentioned earlier, the man whom I asked directions from didn't even look at me once, and the lady who served me thought it would be funny to make me pick up my £46.45 change off of the counter. I'm not a confrontational person and maybe living in Japan has made me a lot more tolerant but seriously? In England, retail jobs and a few other service sector professions are not highly sort after - it's usually considered a first job type deal and as a result they usually have a high staff turnover - but it leads me to wonder why these people are still in these professions. In Japan, that type of treatment would not fly.

When two buses go by and neither one
is yours...
Catching up with my family and friends however, was awesome. I didn't get to see everyone - one week is not long - but it was nice to see how everyone had either grown or changed because a lot had happened with them over the last couple of years. I got to really catch up, relay my adventures and hear theirs. For a moment, it was almost as if my old life had come back. I snapped a load of pictures and laughed a lot, and I also got to eat some really good food. I was actually convinced I'd come back ten pounds heavier but I think I'm actually okay.

Of course, in order to see everyone however, I had to get around somehow. And unfortunately, I never did get my driver's license so I had to depend on the infamous London transport. In Japan, I frequently use Hyperdia or GoogleMaps for all my transportation needs. In London, I had no phone and didn't see the point in using the Transport for London website. Train delays occurred, one point at which my train was cancelled so I was forced to wait an extra twenty minutes in the cold. I recall sitting at a bus stop and seeing three of the same bus (of which I wasn't after) whiz passed, and one of each bus in the opposite direction, while I was sat there waiting for my bus. I do not miss the incompetence of London transport at all. Japan has it problems, especially when someone decides to fling themselves into the train tracks but once again, it wins in this department.

But let's get back to the food, shall we? Because I promise you, I ate very well during that week. I made it my business to have Fish and Chips the minute I touched down. And believe you me, it was glorious. I couldn't finish the whole thing in one day but it was worth it. Screw beer batter. Nothing even comes close to the taste of proper fat chips - salt, vinegar and ketchup - and a good old-fashioned cod. I also got to eat my family's home cooking again (ackee and saltfish anyone?), went to both GBK and Nandos and even tried a new restaurant called Burger and Lobster - a little expensive but I recommend it. Japan has good food but England had good food too (I don't care what anyone says).

While it may not have been too cold in England when I went - people were happily walking around with jackets while my tolerance seemed to have diminished - my skin told me a different story. Now, I was always convinced that I had dry skin but when I came to Japan, I found that my skin didn't dry out as much. And I'm wondering if it just never got accustomed to the climate in England. Because it is much colder than Japan; it's definitely slightly more north that's for sure. Granted I think the weather in England has shifted somewhat over time. It used to get really hot during the summer but now there are hot days in April and warm days in Autumn (but of course, there's rain; there will always be rain). I realised however that I needed to moisturise a lot more when I was in London but in Japan, one coat is enough.

And speaking of coats. While I didn't require one at all during this holiday, it was lovely to be able to walk into almost any and every clothes shop and realise that nearly everything on the shelf could actually fit me. For two years, I couldn't full enjoy the true extent of shopping. I can buy tops in Japan but anything else requires me to search online. But in London, I went a little bit over the top and ended up spending well over £300 on stuff. It was almost as if for that week, I could afford everything and anything. It was a nice feeling to know that in some cases, things were even too big for me whereas in Japan, I am bigger than almost everything (more often then not, people too). It was a glorious week and my wardrobes thanks me so very much.


So there you have it; the comparisons I noted between my homeland and my adopted country. I have to say though that despite seeing everyone and re-experiencing London life, while I still miss little conveniences (like being able to understand everything), I've still yet to experience homesickness and I'm wondering if there's something seriously wrong with me...

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