Saturday, 25 April 2015

A Visit to the Doctor ~ The First

It was inevitable.

No matter how far across the world I'd decided to move, I was not going to be exempt from certain things. I was most definitely going to have to have good days. I was most definitely going to have bad days. And above all, I was most definitely going to get sick enough that I would need to take my first steps to go and see a doctor.

It was one of the things I'd been dreading since I'd arrived. Thus, before I came, I had stacked up on my British medicines and even asked my mother to send me over some goods when I ran out. But evidently, I ran out again. And the cough that had attached itself to my cold persisted long enough for me to become concerned. So I decided that it was time to put my health insurance to good use.

Once again, I consulted those more knowledgeable than myself and they pointed me in the direction of a website (which I unfortunately don't remember the name of) in which you can use in order to find an English speaking doctor. I called the number in question and the lady very helpfully called me back suggesting two that were relatively close to me. The one I was chose to go to was literally located about a two minute walk from my front door. So with that sorted, one morning before work, I took myself to the clinic in question and took yet another giant leap into the unknown.

Winter - as I reckon with anywhere in the world - is cold season. So when I entered into the establishment, I was met was half a dozen other people who were obviously there for the same reasons I was. I went to the front desk and as I had expected, the reception staff did not speak a lick of English so low and behold, I had to brave it and simply do my best. I told them my issue in broken Japanese and they gave me a form to fill out. All I could handle at the time was my name in Japanese and the rest of my details in English. They then proceeded to ask me a bunch of question which I barely understood if I'm honest but I got the general gist of it when the word "allergy" came up. So I figured they were merely asking me if I had any serious conditions that were worthy of note. I am very fortunate that I don't suffer with anything so this made things pretty easy. The form filled out, I took a seat.

Not two minutes later, one of the receptionists came to ask me another question. I had no idea what she was talking about so that very quickly ended that exchange. I watched as people entered and left the consultation room and eventually I was called in.

The doctor in question spoke fairly good English but he didn't particularly do much. We had a brief chat about my symptoms and then he stuck something in my nose to clear a relatively small blockage. After, he sprayed something into my throat and then he postulated that I probably had an inflammation somewhere. He then prescribed me various things for my symptoms, so much so that I ended up enquiring about the price,to which he suggested that I could choose whether to have him remove one of the items or not...hmm. In the end, I decided that one of the products probably wasn't necessary; after all, not even the doctor seemed to think it was required.

Fluffy toys included apparently...
In the middle of all this, the receptionist from earlier who had asked me something that I did not understand came in and had the doctor confirm what she was talking about. It turned out that someone from an insurance company in Tokyo had called saying that they would be sending someone to the establishment for a check up and they wanted to know if the person was me. Obviously I wasn't.

Afterward, they sent me outside where there was a bunch of machines that resembled the photo on the right. The chord had a face mask attached to the end of it and I was instructed to breath in the vapours for roughly 3 minutes. To this day, I'm not 100% sure what it was for but I'm guessing it might have been to clear my airwaves. Afterwards, I went back to reception, paid my dues and was instructed to head to the chemist next door.

I walked inside, handed over my prescription and after filling out my name, address and details for  second time, I sat down and waiting for my goods. The chemist dealing with me, returned with about five or six different drugs and I immediately saw the unease in his eyes. This unease turned into rapid fire Japanese and even after I asked him to slow down, he still persisted so I simply held on for the rollercoaster. Even though I didn't know what each one was for, I managed to understand how often I was to take each medicine which was helpful in a way I guess. I paid my dues again and went home. Collectively, I spent about 3000 yen.

It turned out that it's quite a common thing in Japan to be prescribed what I feel are ridiculous amounts of drugs. In the UK, one prescription is usually enough. And it usually does the trick. But over the 8 days that I took all these medicines, I have to say that not one of them helped me in the slightest. I still had the cough; I still felt under the weather and while not ridiculously expensive, I felt like I'd wasted my money on both doctor and medicine. As a result I will not be going there again.

I spoke to a friend of mine in Shiga who mentioned that he and his entirely family got quite sick
My prescription
but they were prescribed only antibiotics and within a few days they were right as rain. The doctor who I had seen felt that antibiotics weren't necessary at all but I can't help but wonder if a steady seven day course would have sorted me out in no time.

Nevertheless, I suppose I have to take in consideration that the strength of medicine in Japan is weaker than what I'm accustomed to. Whenever I've had an issue, whether it be a headache or a cold, I've yet to find anything that works. I tend to get migraines more often these days as well but I still have a steady supply of paracetamol from back home so that's something I have in check. I dread to find out what happens though when I run out however...

I've only had this sole experience with a doctor in Japan so it's not a lot to go on but I can't say that I am impressed. Hopefully, if I have to go again, the next doctor I see will be as competent at his job as he is at speaking English. But I think next time I go and see a doctor, I'm going to be quite direct. I would rather be prescribed something that works as oppose to ten or twelve things that don't.

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Japan Files ~ International Parties

I believe it's been said many times before but for the foreigner living in Japan, when attempting to make friends, it can go one of two ways. You're either inundated with popularity - girls and guys desperately clawing at you in order to bask in your presence because of that foreigner magic. Or you're met with the stone-cold reality that making genuine friendships in Japan is harder than it should be; maybe even that the natives are so intimidated by your "other-worldliness" that they flee at the mere sight of you. And sometimes there's a happy medium, but the longer I live here - and it hasn't been long mind you - the more I'm starting to realise that as with anywhere else in the world, it's really important to choose your friends. And choose them well.

The amount of friends I have in Japan is okay for me. I was never a social butterfly but obviously, I'd taken a giant leap by moving halfway across the country, which meant I had to start the process of building relationships all over again. So I turned to the sanctity that was the internet and started researching, and I turned to my coworkers who obviously knew more about my new city than I did. As a result, I was swiftly invited to a relatively common event for foreigners in Japan known as the international party.

The clue is in the name really but in Japan, these types of parties are designed to bring foreigners and Japanese people together to exchange culture, life and language. Sounds innocent enough. I recall a similar event at my university back home where all the international students were invited to such an event where they could meet and mingle with other international students so as not to feel entirely isolated in their new world. In Japan however, it's very easy to find yourself in familiar territory. We foreigners have found ways of finding each other and building support networks, whether it's through work or other means. We always find each other. But despite the 1000 to 1 ratio of Japanese people to foreigners living in Japan, there is still a little bit of a divide. And as a result, the international party and various other international or global events were born.

Now, I've not been to many of these parties but I do feel that they usually go one of two ways...

The English Opportunity Spectrum

Japan's first language is Japanese, I'm sure you're aware, but in order to take itself out of this Japanese mentality, over the last couple of decades or so, there has been a push for people to learn English in hopes that Japan - being so closed off from the rest of the world for so many years - might become a little bit more global. (And now, especially with The 2020 Olympics dawning, the necessity for English is probably going through the roof). But with English-speaking foreigners scarce in number, there is often very little opportunity to use English. So when there's an international party, it's not uncommon for those practising English to flock in large numbers. They're often breeding grounds for students of English in particular, looking to test their abilities. It has been my experience that a genuine interest in the person is often misplaced and that people talk for the sake of talking in English as oppose to having a conversation and just taking the time to get to know someone new. It often feels a little bit disingenuous.

The Undercover Dating Spectrum

It is no secret that foreign men are popular amongst the women in Japan. I have come across various women who are either curious, interested or hell-bent on dating a foreigner. Stories pollute the internet. And even though among the international parties, I've been to, there has been a mixed crowd, it isn't uncommon to find a lot more women in attendance. I do not mind my own company - on occasion, I crave it - but I have actually felt forgotten during one said event where I was actually the only foreign woman and I bore witness to my male counterparts cavorting with members of the opposite sex in a manner that I could only really describe as international speed dating. Heck, some international events actually promote themselves as such events, some even reduce the price for foreigners and women to gauge more interest. It is no secret that Japan wants to know its foreign residence but I'm presuming there are those that would rather get to know each other on a more intimate level. But, again, I suspect it's inevitable if your throw men and women together in a room (and especially with alcohol lighting the flames as well).

That said, I'm not trying to dissuade people from attending these events. If I had to pick a relatively safe place to meet people and make friends, I would suggest attending one of these. It's reduces the sleaze factor that is commonly found at clubs and bars, but also almost entirely eradicates the anonymity and uncertainty that people come across when using the internet to form relationships. International parties are also time-restricted so even if there is alcohol involved, over-drinking (and general stupidity as a result) at the party establishment is unlikely.

Recently, I've actually found an international party that I really enjoy going to but this is because in my opinion, it actually fits the definition of an international event. I walked in during my first time and came across not only Japanese people, but people from all over the world, all sharing a common language, but coming from different walks of life. (There were still aspect of The English Opportunity Spectrum lurking about but I suppose I can't expect anything less from an English school). I actually ended up forming friendships at that event and since then, I've returned a couple more times and fully intend to do so in the future.

As a result, I think as with anything, it's all about trial and error. It's important to find something that suits you and I think as I get older and deeper into my experience of living and working overseas, I'm looking at the important things. As I might have mentioned before, I came to Japan alone and I knew how important a support network was. At my previous company however, I pretty much walked into a really big one. As I am now, my current company is much smaller and even though they are like a second family, I'm aware that they each have their own families and responsibilities that must come first and consequently, they cannot always be a crutch for me.

Unfortunately, I cannot speak much for the countryside but I do know that the bigger the city, the more the variety. And this not only goes for people and international parties obviously, but general activities and opportunities as well. So if I had to give someone advice, I would definitely say put yourself out there. But a with any social event, have your wits about you. Japan is a wonderful place, but it's still important to be at least a little bit savvy.