A Short Tale of Two Sunsets

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Yey! I finally packed a blueberry basket in this Hiragana quiz! I am in my level 2 of studying Hiragana using this very helpful app that seemed to be like a language app and a mobile game at the same time. The more correct answers you acquired in a certain quiz; the more blueberries you get. Once you filled the row of baskets of blueberries, you can advance to the next level. I just downloaded this app yesterday, and now I am in this level. What a jubilant achievement! I looked at my watch, I still have 45 minutes to have fun with this app if my distance and traffic calculations go well.

For a lot of people, a distance of 60 -70 kilometers should not take a traveling time of two hours or more, because it is plainly ridiculous. Well all I can say is that, they have underestimated the usual and NORMAL traffic situation here in this country. Perhaps, this will create such a pain in the neck to most, but for a person who can manage to work well with most inconveniences in front of her; 2 hours of traffic means a lot of opportunity to explore and be entertained.

Sure, this might sound like romanticizing an uncanny situation, but what can you do with things that you can’t control? Nothing.

Just think that 2 hours of traffic equates to a 40-song playlist in Spotify, probably a downloaded movie and 2 K-drama episodes on Netflix, 7-10 chapters of an e-book, and as for me, a Level 2 in this Japanese language app. It is more about utilizing the situation really well, instead of going against it- An obvious reason why most people in this country don’t really tend to panic in severe situations specially, if they face everyday predicaments such as a 2-3 hours of travel time to work.

After an hour and 45 minutes of travel by bus, I hopped in a Jeepney to travel for another 20-30 minutes just to get to the Japanese embassy. Finally, this is the last ride. After a month of fulfilling all the documents needed from certain banks and different government agencies, I am here. I just hope that everything will go swiftly, because I don’t want to endure the same scuffle all over again. I can handle the scuffle, I mean I can, but, I don’t want to.

The Jeepney-- this ride is something that I’ll definitely miss, and I at the same time will not. In 36 years of living and being a citizen of this nation, it is a constant wish of mine to have a more reliable means of transportation; but in a month or two, I’ll be riding the most dependable transportations on earth, and I can’t wait. For an individual to have lived and survived a society like this, a breeze of little convenience is something that anyone in this country can only look forward to.

Para! I told the jeepney driver. Then it halted. I took off the vehicle and walked a few steps back, because I called “para” a bit late. It is okay though, at least I got to take a glimpse of the buildings and the surrounding landmarks for familiarization; in case I need to go back the second time, if everything messes up today. I entered the building, and the guard checked the inside of my bag. Another thing that I’ll miss yet, I will surely not, because most of the things in this country are just there, to make you believe in a false sense of security.

“Where should I send all of these papers? I am in my final submission.” I asked the guard. Then he pointed at a cubicle that has two people in it. A female Japanese officer and a young man whom I think a local. I headed briskly towards the cubicle when a couple, who seemed to be a Japanese male in his late 50′s or early 60′s and a young local female, that is for sure in her early 20′s, judging from her physical built and the way she dresses, cut off my way. They were giggling like high-school kids that are both engulfed in infatuation, even though they don’t understand each other and just communicating through hand and head gestures with a little bit of yesses and noes. What a cringe-fest! But if they are really in-love, who am I to judge? Though, I highly doubt it!

A May-December love affair between locals and foreigners here, is such a common but undeniably an iffy sight to behold. The poverty in this country is quite unfathomable for some, that’s why most of the young women here have to resort to this kind of situation. Well, I can’t blame them.

What I don’t understand is, why would a foreigner endure all of these troubles they didn’t experience their whole lives; just to go to a developing country, settle on just hand gestures, a few yesses and noes to bring these poor women with them back home? Are some people there really desperate for companionship? How expensive is the geriatric care in Japan anyways? How strict is this country from having pets though? These nasty yet sad thoughts immediately gushed through my mind. Thanks for cutting my way off, Miss Smiley and Grandpa!

God, I don’t want to be like that when I get there! That’s why I really have to take the app seriously and focus on acing the quizzes; pick all the fruits from the trees, and make a god damn fruit salad before landing in Japan. Then I approached the cubicle, when suddenly, I heard chuckles and saw sneers from behind.

“Ehem, Ehem.”

“Hey Miss! There’s a line over there. We were ahead of you! Try to follow some instructions will you? Pick a number from there.” Yelled by an irritated lady, whom I think works as an entertainer or a hostess in Japan basing from the color of her hair, the neon pink tint of her lipstick, the length of her shorts, and the height of her glass wedges that has glitters and water inside, just like a snow globe.

She pointed out the number stand and the waiting area that consists of cold metal benches and a flat screen TV. A quite poor-lit zone, where we have to stay and wait for our numbers to be called, which I honestly didn’t notice when I entered the embassy. This floor is not quite arranged systematically and how I expected it to be organized for people’s convenience. Now, if the embassy is already so complex, how much more if I am in the actual country? I just uttered a soft “sorry” to the irritated lady, because from the looks of it, she is the type who can throw hissy-fits no matter where she is and I don’t have the energy for that.

Damn! There’s a lot of people who are already sitting and waiting. I suddenly looked at my watch, it is almost lunch time, but I don’t want to waste a call. I had no choice but to skip lunch at noon and just wait.

I saw the irritated lady who wears the snow-globe shoes along with her friends who equally share the same penchant for neon pink lipsticks, fiery orange or blonde-colored hair, and sky-high wedges. They were talking so loud to each other as if there’s a distance of 10 meters between them. I shook my head in disappointment. I just love how free the people here in this country to do whatever they want, even wear whatever they want, but what gets my nerves the most is, also how they carry their revolting behavior wherever they go.

"Kabukicho Snakku Girls”. The lady besides me whispered.

“Excuse me? Sorry, I didn’t quite get what you said.” I answered.

“These ladies are working in snack bars or smaller omises, most likely in Kabukicho- the famous red light district in Shinjuku as entertainers, but they possibly do illegal things after their working hours, to make ends meet. I am quite sure that they work under companies that are not really owned by the Japanese, but by Chinese or Koreans or worse, nasty businessmen from this country too.” She told me in a matter-of-factly tone but in a very hushed whisper-y voice.

"How did you know?” I asked.

“Just by their appearance and how they carry themselves. Entertainers who work in large and famous omises and sometimes in hostess clubs in Ginza don’t look and speak like that. They are getting a visa extension perhaps, because they are all married to Japanese men. Sham marriages...That’s what I mean. So what do you do? What is your work in Japan?” She suddenly interrogated me.

“I will work as a teacher.”

“Oh as an English teacher? An ALT? That’s great! There are a lot of teachers from this country who are teaching English in Eikawas and even in local Japanese schools. I say, they have a good reputation compared to those women we saw a while ago and even compared to mine.” The lady said and smiled wryly.

I didn’t tell her that I will be working in a university because I know how people think. It is better to keep important details to myself and only to people around me who are actually involved, like Pierre and Reina...And no one else, most specially to a fellow countryman whom I don’t personally know, even if she is nice and polite.

“Why? What is your work?” I asked in pure curiosity.

"I work in a factory in the morning, and in an omise during night time...but, as a Singer. Only as a singer. I have worked in Nagoya before. It’s my fourth year, so I asked my agency to reassign me in another prefecture just to keep the work flowing. I’ll only know where, the day before my departure. You know one thing that’s definitely hard to erase in the perception of the Japanese, is the reputation of women in this country. To these people, we are merely just girls who work in pubs, no matter what your background is. Thanks to the bubble era during the early 90′s. The visa restriction was very loose resulting to poor women from far-flung islands to work as entertainers, hook up with the Yakuza, and even consider prostitution; just like the snakku ladies that we saw a while ago and even the young woman who had cut your way earlier, who’s doubtless, a mail-order bride. This is what poverty can do to our women. That’s why teachers like you, should be hired more and outnumber us. You know, just to minimize the stigma.”

I honestly don’t know what to feel upon hearing that. But what the lady said, is only the hurtful truth. I asked myself, am I quite prepared for this stigma that she was talking about? Well, I have faced discrimination before, as I also had lived and studied abroad for two years. I just hope that the kind of discrimination I’ll face is not something so foul, because lord knows what I can do. What I understand is that, discrimination is everywhere. It even happens in your own home.

I saw the number 56 in the prompter. It’s the number of the lady who’s sitting besides me.

“Okay, that’s my number. I have to go now. Don’t worry this is going to be fast and you’ll be next in no time. By the way, what’s your name?” The lady asked me.

“I’m Andrea. Andrea Vela. How about you, What’s your name?”

Then the lady gave me a smile, shook my hand, and said, ”I’m Sari Melendez. I hope to see you in Japan someday. I wish for our paths to meet. Well, why not add me on Facebook? Sorry Andrea, I have to go.”

Then we bid goodbye to each other. It’s quite a brief encounter, but I learned a lot. And so, while waiting for my turn, here I am looking at Sari’s Facebook. It’s really typical of me to do a background check before I add someone in any social media just by scrutinizing the owner’s profile and pictures. Hmmmm, Sari looks pretty decent. She looks happy in Japan and working in a what seemed to be a bakery or a packaging factory for bread or any food, and as a singer in an omise. Ohhhh... What’s this? She got a boyfriend. They look good together. Then it occurred to me, I’ve dated one foreign guy before, while I was studying abroad. A twinge of curiosity suddenly crept into my mind and wondered, what it’ll be like to date and fuck a Japanese guy. I thought, if they are what they are in porn videos, then I’m all set.

I shook my head. I should erase this profanity in my mind ASAP.

Then, the number 57 flashed in the prompter. I went to the cubicle and was actually searching for Sari, but I could not find her...Maybe she was in a hurry and went straight out somewhere else. And so, I gave all my requirements. The Japanese woman asked about my work, where will I live and how long I am planning to stay and just the usual stuff. The immigration officers in our local airport were more inquisitive than this Japanese officer.

“Congratulations Dr. Vela! Welcome to Japan! Oh, or should I say... Vela-Sensei?” The guy in the cubicle greeted me with a cheery disposition as he handed me my passport; a very common attitude amongst the customer services in this country that, FOR SURE I’ll miss. Well, I didn’t expect this to be quite fast. I was expecting more questions to be honest, but I was really well- prepared and my documents were prearranged; so yeah, maybe I am good to go. I flipped through my passport and in the second to the last page, is my “working holiday” visa. Hmmm my passport picture looks better than my visa’s.

Yes, I am good to go...but funny enough, the excitement that I felt when I entered the embassy waned and I don’t quite understand why. Maybe because of what Sari told me? But I’m pretty much aware of that fact as I hear this from Reina all the time; maybe it becomes more of a reality when you hear it from people you don’t know. All of a sudden, a shroud of emptiness clutched my chest.

Then, my cellphone rang.

"Andrea!!! How’s everything now? Did you finally have your visa?” Reina excitedly asked.

“Well, I got it. It’s quite fast. I actually never expected the processing to finish so quickly.”

“Oh well, that’s Japan for you. Fast. So, we haven’t heard from each other in a while. How many kilos did you lose? Aunt said, you’re quite strict with this intermittent fasting thing that you are doing. I’m happy that you have this kind of dedication.”

I rolled my eyes because the topic about losing all these extra fats and weight really bugs me the most. It actually took a bit of toll from me. Yes, I lost weight but I also couldn’t sleep at night. I feel light physically, but it affected me mentally and I haven’t really told Reina about this. She’s so adamant of me to really get in shape.

“Hey Reina, this weight lost thing... It’s not a joke that I lost 7 kilos in a month. Do you think it’s healthy? It’s really hard for me to sleep at night. Just so you know. I hope you quit pressuring me like this. I thought Pierre wants me to work because of my skills and my brains and not with my physical attributes —because physically, compared to you, I have less to offer.” I answered irritatingly.

“You’ll thank me soon. Reality is, skill is not a very important factor here if you are a gaijin. You are a gaijin first, and it will honestly end there. You need to conform to what the society wants...and what the society wants for someone who has ovaries, is to be paper-thin and say yes all the time. Anyways, it’s just for six months Drea, if your stomach can’t handle the backwardness of this country in that time span, you can always go back home, collect diplomas all you want, and be poor in the future. You really have to work double here and the absurd amount of stress you’ll undergo in a few weeks, should be enough to make you sleep at night.”Reina spewed harshly.

“So what should I do next Reina? Everything is prepared here. I am all good to go.”

“I just want you to be ready. This world is the complete 360 degrees of what you’re used to. It’s going to be hard, but nothing worth it comes easy. You know that. Sorry Andrea, I have to go. See you soon, in Tokyo. Pierre and I will pick you up at the airport.” Then Reina ended her call.

Once I got home, I quickly went to my hard-built wall-of-fame. I looked at it and ran questions through my mind. These graduation pictures...Will I be able to smile like that when I get to Japan? Will I be able to maximize my skills and my knowledge? Will I be able to have enough time to do the things I want? Will I get the same amount of gender equality I experience here? Will I be treated poorly because I am a foreigner? Or because I am from a less-privileged part of Asia? Or just simply because I am a woman? Will I be able to taste greasy food? Will I be able to speak what’s on my mind? These important questions bother me the most.

This wall-of-fame. This country. I’ll certainly miss.

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