Thursday, January 20, 2011

Greener Grass in Japan and Korea?

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. For many, including myself at times, that seems to be true. Some people realize that the "greener grass" thing may not always be true and some never seem to realize that.

When I was 25 and working in a high stress IT job in Canada, I sought greener pastures. I found them in South Korea (a place that has relatively few actual pastures). I found it in a new culture, new food, new friends and travel. Going to Korea was an exciting adventure for me. Life suddenly seemed (and probably was) more exciting, meaningful, fun and downright interesting. Eventually though, days in Korea seemed much like days in Canada. I woke up in the morning. I made a pot of coffee. I had a shower and shaved. I went to work. I came home from work and made dinner. I watched bit torrents of American television shows. I watched Canadian shows on the CTV and CBC websites before they began to geo-block them (I'm still bitter about that!).

Life became routine and just like living anywhere else. There was a difference though. I began to feel the frustration of the language barrier. Even more aggravating was the cultural barrier. The way my Korean coworkers and bosses thought and conducted day to day business began to drive me nuts! The wonderful shades of green started to become brown. It was time to move on. I went back to Canada. I lived in Ottawa and got my Bachelor of Education. After five and some years of teaching children I became a "real teacher."

It is now 2011 and I am going on my third year of living in Japan. I like Japan. It is definitely a pretty cool place. The history, culture, cuisine and many other things are spectacular. I can honestly admit though that I have never been a Japanophile or "Japanfan." I came to Japan because I met an amazing woman from Osaka and followed her here. She is now my wife.

Life is indeed good here, but it isn't a sparkly, wonder-filled existence for me. I work at a school where I would pretty much teach just like I would in Canada. I wake up in the morning and get dressed just like in Canada. I make a pot of coffee and then head to work. I of course see somewhat stranger and slightly more intriguing things on a daily basis than I might in Canada, but things are quite similar (aside from all the Japanese people).

Day after day though, I get so many messages from (especially teenagers) who are hardcore Japan fans! Often they may not be happy with their state of affairs and want a change. For some reason they believe that all of life's problems will be solved if they can just get to Japan! Everything will be better if I can go to Japan. I won't be bullied, I won't have to listen to my boring parents, I won't have to eat crappy food, every moment of life will be an adventure, etc.

Sadly; bullying does happen in Japan (to a much more evil extent that you can imagine…..massive teenage suicide rate). Parents annoy kids (just like in every country/society in the world). Parents are boring too!

Japan is place. You cannot base it on anime (Japanese cartoons) or manga (Japanese comic books) you have read. It is a place just like the United States is a place, just like Canada is a place, just like Britain is a place, etc. Life isn't perfect here. I like living here, but there are always things I can complain about. Then again, I love Canada, but there are always things to complain about there as well.

Long story short: The grass always seems greener. If you are really stoked to head to Korea or Japan, good luck and have fun. BEWARE though…neither place is perfect. Far from it. No place is perfect and every place has it's own set of problems. Not to be a negative Nelly; all places have positives as well!

I am very happy that I have chosen an "international" life. I have been abroad since early 2002. I have to admit that I often long for my home in Canada.

Although change may be a good fit for some folks, the grass may not always be greener for others!


Wanderer said...

Life is always lived BY your mind IN your body.

z-chan said...

I often moan about living in Japan: so far from my family, I hate Japanese cyclists blah blah. I liked this post, because it made me look again at the things in my everyday life that are normal...but not where I come from!

An international life is fantastic: you meet more people, experience more things, but, like the Canadian says, the problems in the west are much the same in the east. Add to that language and culture differences - life in Japan is rewarding, but challenges you every day

Brokendrums said... is life. I put my socks on one foot at a time in japan...just like in Canada....or one does in England. For sure.

Living in the East is fascinating, but it ain't Indiana Jones time! hehe

QiRanger said...

Great read Kevin! I agree that every place has its problems and you have to make best of what you have! I think that many coming to Korea like the idea of living abroad, but aren't ready for it.

I've been abroad since 2007 and enjoy it. But I think it has more to do with my desire to travel and explore. I don't miss the US (culture), but I do miss the parks I frequented. I really long for an extended stay in Yellowstone of Yosemite. Hopefully, I can get a little time there soon.

A and Y Ikeda said...

Your story is a bit like mine. I was never a Japanophile, in fact, after my first stint in Japan (in 1998, yes, I am that old) I did everything I could not to come here again and. And then I met my husband.

Now, probably, because I am older and more mature, I enjoy living in Japan. I've lived in many other places and I believe I can make a somewhat objective comparison.

But the kids who email me asking "how can I move to Japan?" tend to chew me out, because I make no secret of the fact that I'm neither a manga/anime or J-pop fan and in their eyes, I don't "deserve" to be living here. Ha!
And I wish I could write blog posts half as thoughtful as yours.

Anonymous said...

Good post. I have switched between living abroad and living in the UK since I was 19. The older I get, the less I like living in the UK and the more I like living overseas. Routine is routine in any culture. Maybe it is 'difference' and being 'the other' that appeals to those of us who live or have lived abroad, I don't know.

I have also noticed that many expats hold on to an idealised version of what home is/should be like, whereas in reality home keeps evolving and changing at a pace. Many expats go home and then realise it isn't the place it was and can't get away fast enough.

The grass is always greener....:)