A Short Tale of Two Sunsets

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“Like what I said, I love ya’ll and this is for you to keep the WAP...” My third alarm sound -a converted MP4 video of Cardi B. I have to set up at least five alarms because lord knows how heavy I sleep. Sleeping is something that I rarely struggle with, ever since I was a kid. I can instantly sleep anywhere, anytime, as long as lethargy strikes me.

It is 4:30 AM. The last time I woke up this early was when I was in high school; because that time, classes starts at 6:30 AM. My orientation with Pierre will not start until 8 AM. This is one adjustment that I have to faithfully sync in my system because of this sudden fear of getting late. Back home, being late is nothing to fret about, because it is a common scenario and no one will really remember it as a grave sin as long as you don’t do it everyday; but now it is different, because this is Japan. I can’t be late and I don’t want to be late. The racial stigma that Sari was telling me about is very real, I felt it the moment I arrived in this foreign land, and I don’t want to add up to that.

Where I stay is the same apartment complex where Reina lives, although she has a bigger room than mine. Initially, she wanted to share it with me, but she’d considered that Pierre sleeps there most days of the week. They want to keep their privacy intact even from relatives, which I perfectly understand.

So here I am, in my own tiny, tiny, apartment, which I have to pay heaps of money- equivalent to my monthly salary back home. Everything here is expensive, but most of the things are quality made and built to perfection except for the thin walls in my apartment or any apartment to say the least. If I brought here the money mindset I had back home, I won’t be able to deposit the down-payment for this thin-walled apartment and just bear the discomfort of hearing the midnight moans of Pierre and Reina.

Because walls here are usually paper-thin, I ultimately have no choice but to listen to music using a headset. I can’t even sing, unless I want my neighbors to call the police on me. So if I am in the mood to unleash my inner diva, it is a must to just go to karaoke places alone, or sometimes if customers aren’t arriving yet, and if I am in a very tight budget, to Reina’s omise. I am no singer, but I can pull off some notes. Actually, no single soul back in my country can’t, except Reina, that’s why she’s here.

One great aspect of having my own place is that, I can cook whatever I want and just plainly do whatever I want, as long as I don’t create nuisance to my neighbors. Breakfast is my favorite, that’s why I make sure that waking up at 4:30 AM is worthy of what I ingest.

I’ve been to New Zealand, and I love how efficient the public transportation is in there. However, in Japan, a lot of people say that it is the most reliable public transportation system in the planet...That’s what I thought at first, that’s what I expected, but Jesus, was I ever so wrong? Train systems here are more complicated than a spider’s webbing. I could not read a single thing posted on signboards. English words are written with 0.5 font size. Yes, my vision is 20/15, more than the average, but it makes me really dyslexic reading alpha-numeric symbols combined with Kanji. They have to do something with its layout, I swear.

Compared to other foreign workers, studying Japanese is totally a different story for me. Reading Japanese characters is like solving fractions and deciphering Hieroglyphics at the same time. The Hiragana app that I was ever so proud of completing, had little to no help at all. Japanese characters are read in a different way. Do I have the time to understand all of these? I do, but not at this moment where I need to absorb everything that’s happening in my surroundings in a minimal span of time. Patience? I don’t have any spare.

Finally, I arrived at the station near the university where I am supposed to meet Pierre. I allotted a few minutes ahead, just to familiarize all the signs and systems of the said station. But as what I was expecting, Pierre didn’t even allow me to take a bit of a breather, because he’s already there in our waiting area, waving back at me, wearing his signature Hawaiian shirt, square-framed specs, and a black bag pack. Loose style, but he’s more talented than what he looks outside. I actually admire him for that. “Good Morning Tsutomu-san! I am sorry. Wait, Am I late?”

“Hello Drea! No, you are not late, but here, for you to be considered like REALLY on time, you need to be in your destination or your workplace at least 30 minutes early.” Pierre said with a dash of pride in his voice. No, Pierre. I am not impressed. You are severely mistaken. Being too early is just the same of being late, you just waste either both of our time.

The university is almost a 10-minute walk from the train station. It is a very big university, because we had to walk for another 5 minutes from its gate just to get to the building where Pierre’s office is located. Thank goodness it is almost autumn; because if I walked the same amount of distance back home, I would be like a sweating pig. But of course there were tricycles everywhere, its not for me to walk under the basking heat of the sun.

The major difference back home and in this country is, the public transportation. I mean yes, this is what I was excited about, until it’s not available for my convenience anymore. Back home, transportations are accessible 24/7. I mean, all sorts of transportations even boats. Here, you need to follow a certain timetable, because once you missed it, you are screwed. There’s no choice left but to wait for dawn or go home using a taxi service; plus, no country in the world has cheap taxi fares and that includes Japan.

One difference that I also noticed is that, this country is squeaky clean. Ever since I arrived a week ago, I haven’t had a single sighting of trash. Even just the tiniest bit. Everything is really shining and dust-free. However, amidst the pristine cleanliness of this country, still lies the fact that most of the places, streets and landmarks are very complex to memorize. Buildings are the same color, same height, same style, same ambiance; even street names sound the freaking same. This city is more complicated to memorize than Manila. My country’s capital is easier to navigate, not because I’ve been there a hundred of times, but because of the colors of the buildings, the landmarks, different street names in English, even the slums look different varying city to city and most importantly, there’s just too many friendly people to ask around. Get lost once, you can get two to three friends and go back home without a wallet or a phone. But hey, at the end of the day, you still gained friends, right?

Here in Tokyo, I can only survive at night. It is easier to learn landmarks because of the major help of neon signs adorned each building. But during the day, it is a hopeless case for me, specially if I’ve got no one to ask for directions. One reason is that, 99% of the people here don’t speak English, don’t want to speak English and worse, they just don’t want to deal with foreigners.

“Okay, we’re here,” Pierre said. The building is just ordinary, the interiors are nothing to be really amazed of. It is just similar to the ones back home with walls decorated by artworks of previous alumni. Pierre headed towards a small cubicle where he had to get his IDs and faculty room keys. ”Drea, what I love most about teaching in the university is that, professors have their own rooms. They don’t have to share with other professors except for their assistants. I don’t have an assistant professor. I don’t need one, because I only manage a small class. A small class, yet it pays a lot and it has too much paperworks to carry through, that’s why I can not take more units to teach... Oh you looked stunned. I am sorry I didn’t mean to overwhelm you, but I am sure this work is easy-peasy for you."

Sure, it sounds like it, until the moment that I’d be facing piles of paperworks which needed to be translated in English first, before accomplishing it. Great. Pierre asked ”Is it okay for you, Drea? I think you can do it.” He added.

“No, it’s okay. I am okay with it.” In my mind, it’s a job. So before I complain, I need to get my hands on it first.

“Okay Drea, I’ll start the orientation by introducing you to few of my professor friends here. Even if you work alone, you might be able to need their help from time to time. Don’t worry, they don’t bite.” My heart began to thump as if it is going to dodge my ribcage.

Just strike a fake smile Drea, please, you can do this. I told myself.

Pierre introduced his friends. They were just three in a room, but because I am so bad with names, I could not remember a single one. They all sounded the same to me and they all look the same to me. The buildings look the same, even the people look the same! My friends were not joking when they say that, this country is so homogenous! I never thought it would apply to its people as well. God, this is going to be tougher than I thought. I want Pierre to finish this “friends’ introduction” once and for all because it seemed useless to me. I just want to learn how he manages his office and get the hell out of this room quickly.

We finished the orientation in his office in less than thirty minutes. Pierre’s nook is the exact opposite of what he is outside. He may look a bit loose and laid back, but his work area is tidier than my room. It is very spic and span, organized and plain; there is no single kitschy item in here, except for a framed picture of him and Reina, wearing Mickey Mouse headbands sitting atop of his desk- if you can even consider that kitschy.

“Good morning class! So you all know that I’ll be gone for the whole semester right? It is a shame that we’ve just known each other for a month and I’m here, bidding a temporary farewell. It is something that could not be helped because I really need to attend to some personal things. So let me introduce to you, your new Life Drawing proxy professor, Miss Andrea Vela. She is from the Philippines.”

“Good morning to all of you! I am Andrea Vela. You can call me Miss Drea or Miss Vela, whatever works for you. I hope we’ll both learn and have fun in this class. Nice to meet you all.” I ended my brief introduction with a slight bow.

Everyone is ready with their easels in front of them. The model arrived sooner than expected. She’s supposed to do drape modelling, but I insisted Pierre to just make the students paint bust portrait in gouache because I know it will take them more time to complete- I am just in no mood to teach today. Pierre left the classroom the second the model posed.

Like what I always do in my classes back home, I walk around and check my students’ works. Most of them are actually pretty good. I thought to myself, this class is going to be an absolute bliss for me.

What I noticed in this class is that, most of the students are from Vietnam. I feel a bit comfortable knowing that most of the people in this room hailed from the same region as mine. They’re quiet and concentrating on what they are doing, so, I roamed again until I noticed a Vietnamese student’s arm wrapped in a bandage. I asked her what happened.

“Oh, my boss poured hot soup on me, because I forgot an instruction that he had given me. The soup was scorching hot, I acquired a 1st degree burn.” My student answered, but it made me more curious. So I asked another series of questions.

"Wait, where do you work? Your boss is a Japanese person, am I right? This is awful. Have you reported this to the police? How about your embassy?”

“I can’t Miss Vela. I am only working as a part-timer in that company and because of my visa, I am not really encouraged to work outside my allocated hours except the ones that is provided by this university...But you know, it is not enough. I have to send money back home and pay my debts.” My Vietnamese student answered.

My heart broke the moment I heard that. How could these people be so cruel? Just because they look so different? Just because she is from a country with a lower economic status? This is unfathomable and I can’t help but to feel fury and sadness at the same time. Surely, if ever I see that man who burnt my student, without an ounce of hesitation, I’d spit on his face. I just wish that our paths won’t cross sooner, because I don’t have enough savings to go home yet.

I reported this to Pierre after my class. He just said one thing. “Most Japanese just look down on people who are not Japanese, regardless the race, Drea.”

I am so mad that I stormed home without saying goodbye to Pierre’s triplet friends.

It’s almost 5 PM. My onigiri lunch that I bought from the nearest convenience store didn’t suffice the fuel that I needed for the whole afternoon. One more thing that I like about here is the availability of the convenience store in every street. Very handy to everyone’s needs. What a pampered nation! I wonder, do the people here know what is the real meaning of survival? Struggle? I doubt.

The anger is still lingering inside me and I need to release this. There’s just one solution to this dilemma: beer and karaoke. So, I decided to head to Reina’s omise before it gets dark.

“Sorry, Excuse me!” Two tall Japanese guys who seemed already drunk, just blocked my way and entered Reina’s omise out of nowhere. Reina got customers already, I can’t sing my lungs and frustrations out! Another thing that I find weird and totally dislike about this country is; men are generally unyielding in following the Ladies first concept . It is something that defies the machismo of Japanese traditional men and they are not taught about chivalry. It makes me want to puke. A polar opposite of our male counterpart.

I rapidly lost the enthusiasm to sing. I’ll probably just sleep away these unbearable feelings tonight.

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