I Kissed a Boy and I Liked It

I never do this. Luring you to read posts with a title like that, which will have nothing to do with the body. So I am sorry (or perhaps not) if you expected the tale of an exotic African girl meeting her Samurai prince and having a happily ever after beautiful family of biracial babies. (Although they make very beautiful people, just check out the Google search and don’t ask me any questions like why was I googling that?)

Keisy Myumi is half black half Japanese
Keisy Myumi is half black half Japanese

How is Japan?

Well, that was the original title of the post. My friends & acquaintances, my internet friends & acquaintances, my family; all ask, how is Japan? This is such a big question requiring an encyclopedia to answer comprehensively, but I almost always say, Japan is good. And it is good. But oh, so very different.

The Food

The food is the first strange thing that you will encounter. No, sushi is not an everyday meal here, so even if I had tasted sushi at the Japanese embassy, I was in no way prepared for the food here. I had arrived at my hotel after midnight, and that night I had a snack I had carried from the plane with a can of Cocacola from the vending machine. (don’t throw away your snacks if you can’t eat them on the plane, you might need them if you’re travelling to an unfamiliar place and don’t know how to ask, “レストラン は どこ ですか”)- Sorry but have to practice my Japanese. Google guys. ]

I signed up for buffet breakfast and when I entered the dining room the following morning, I had a wide choice of nothing familiar to choose from. The boiled eggs had not been boiled but dunked in warm water so they were still very very runny. The tiny sausages were halfway done (do you say rare) so they tasted raw. I couldn’t try the rice because I don’t usually have rice for breakfast. There were several dishes that looked dark and suspicious. Tofu was faintly tasteless. The omelette was also “rarely” done. About the only thing I could have was coffee and a piece of bread.

A typical Japanese breakfast
A typical Japanese breakfast. Image from whoever has watermarked it!

Later, after the International Students Opening Ceremony at the campus, our sensei took our group of 5 for lunch at the school cafeteria. She said, pick anything you want, I will pay. So I picked a number of small bowls haha.. only now do I realize that a typical Japanese meal (lunch/supper) consists of:

  • a variety of side dishes to choose from (your veges and salad will be here in small bowls)
  • one main protein dish (usually chicken/pork/beef/fish coated in some flour and fried or cooked another way). But the underlying taste & smell in all of them is fish, I taste it in everything, even the rice. Maybe not the rice.
  • (miso) soup
  • and of course, rice!

Below is my lunch tray in recent times (more pictures of food on my Instagram):

My lunch tray has a bowl of rice, a side dish of some seaweed I think, and lamb cutlets. The soup didn't fit in the picture.
My lunch tray has a bowl of rice, a side dish of some seaweed I think, and lamb cutlets. The soup didn’t fit in the picture.

So rice is had for breakfast, lunch and supper. And you would think it’s your tasty basmatti rice, or Pakistani rice, or Mwea Pishori, or biryani rice, or those tasty aromatic ones… but no! It’s plain, saltless and tasteless. I guess that is how our ugali must taste to them. Oh ugali, how I miss thee.

Ugali
Image from http://www.e3kids.com/2011/01/29/day-at-jomvu/ who seemed to have liked it.

 

Later as we ate, I asked our sensei why they were serving their food in a million small bowls. She said the Japanese don’t want the tastes of the dishes to mix hence they have them in several bowls. While my entire life, I have spent it mixing my tastes. I want my rice, my meat, my soup, my vegetables all in one plate, thank you! The mixed tastes produce a new taste that buoys the culinary exercise to sensational heaven. I want my starter, main dish and dessert all on one giant plate.

Let’s not forget they eat with chopsticks. I am now dextrous in my handling of chopsticks, I am finding it easier to eat noodles with chopsticks than with a fork. Maybe I should have tried a hand at surgery, hmmm.

I should probably start cooking. But I am lazy; I haven’t bought the crockery and cutlery needed to do the cooking, and I have no idea where to source fresh ingredients from, perhaps I can just try buying them from AEON, the Nakumatt of Japan (and East Asia?).

This post is turning out to be all about food, but I don’t know what is more basic to man than food. Even emotional needs come second. However, I have now kind of adjusted to the food but more tales to come as I sample more and more raw food. Octopus, you are next.

Octopus soup. However, this is a Korean dish, strictly speaking. Image from https://oneforkonespoon.wordpress.com/tag/live-octopus/
Octopus soup. However, this is a Korean dish, strictly speaking. Image from https://oneforkonespoon.wordpress.com/tag/live-octopus/

The Culture

There is not much of the culture shock though. When I am in the campus, it’s the same as any other campus in Kenya. Okay maybe not like most public unis but Strathmore is surely world class. Automated doors are the norm everywhere in Japan. They also like sliding doors in apartments, the doors separate rooms from each other or you can open them to create one big room.

Are they racists, you are wondering? No.

Sure, they are reserved and don’t talk much, and especially not in English. But they are very friendly once you get past the shyness. The first night, as I squinted at the map of my hotel showing directions from the station (it was 500 meters from the station), I realized I couldn’t even tell my right from my left. There was a Japanese girl who was also heading to her hotel so I asked her for directions. She checked the address on  Google maps on her phone and took me there. In school, there is this girl who has been helping us open bank accounts and such other things that require a detailed knowledge of Japanese to understand the intricacies in the terms and conditions.

Kenroku-en park in Kanazawa.
Yours truly poses with Japanese ladies wearing a Kimono at Kenroku-en park in Kanazawa. No stop asking if I am wearing pants.

Supermarkets attendants will gladly show you the aisle you are looking for, if you know the name of the item in Japanese! People will sit next to you on the bus. Old women at bus stops will chat you up in Japanese as you nod and say, hai.. hai (yes, yes). Suited men in cars might stare leeringly, happened once, don’t mean to propagate the stereotype of the perverted Japanese businessman. Waiters and waitresses will not ignore you or serve you last. The City Hall gave us international students a Student Pass that gives us free entrance to tourist sites and destinations in Ishikawa Prefecture (province). The Japanese have been very welcoming. As long as you are here legally of course, and have signed a number of forms. bureaucracy is everywhere.

In the end, people are people everywhere. Underneath that rainbow of skin colours, we are individuals who are moody, happy, extroverts, introverts, generous, mean etc. Whether you are Japanese or Kenyan is irrelevant when I start interacting with you as person.

They also don’t say hi with hugs or handshakes. A bow will do. Below are the detailed instructions of how to bow as you say Konnichiwa. The lower the bow the more you respect the person.

 

Japanese greeting
Japanese greeting. Image from http://www.hereisjapan.net

However, we are at a university. Moreover, we are foreigners. So no one will get offended if your bow is not exactly 45 degrees from the point of origin (I still remember my maths) or that for a woman, your hands are not clasped at the front. Men keep their hands by their sides.

At the Supermarket

Well, it is a supermarket like any other, we have supermarkets in Kenya you know. The only difference, as is the difference everywhere else except the university, language. Everything is in Japanese. To shop for things, you have to look at pictures because even the little Japanese we have learned can’t help us. We have learned 9 basic Kanji characters; to read a regular Japanese text you need at least 2,000 characters. It’s a long journey that started with a single step back when… digressing.

They do a lot of sampling of food at the supermarket. Lots of food to sample so you can buy the product. If you want plastic bags for your packaging, you pay for it.

Even at tourist centers, you would be lucky to find someone who speaks English. The booklets we were given of the tourist spots: all in Japanese, sigh. But I am enjoying learning a new language and I love Kanji, for some reason.

The Bus

The buses, like the trains, all run on a schedule. While we are still “experimenting” with NFC payments (tap to pay, rather than swipe) with the cards such as the Equity ones, here most payments at the bus, campus cafeteria & bookshop are NFC. You tap to enter the bus and it deducts the required amount when you exit having calculated your distance. If you don’t have a card, you drop your fare into a coin eating machine. But fare is very expensive, a distance of 20-50 bob in Kenya you will pay about 200. And there is no bargaining.

What else is different .. ah, tissue. You open a bank account and it comes with a pack of pocket tissues. Someone is giving you a poster announcing an event, the give you the poster +tissue. Old people asking you to join an organ donation organization, here have some pocket tissues please. See last Saturday, we went to downtown Kanazawa (which is the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture) to see the sights. That trip is probably the topic of the next post so don’t be lured by whatever title I give it.

Now, as we waited for the bus, there were many old people in yellow t-shirts giving out pocket tissues, sweets and a poster written in Japanese, of course. However, there was a link to the website (yeah websites have Roman alphabet addresses if you are wondering) and it said something about organ donation. Nevertheless, I haven’t checked it out yet, but I am open to the idea of organ donation. Once I die, not while I am still breathing!

Which brings me to the other thing that is different. I know they say that Japan is full of old people, but you have to see it to see what they mean. Old people, very old people, and very very old people are here, but they are not indoors. They walk about, they take buses on their own, sometimes they will have a walker to assist them but they are independent. They shop, they go to the park etc. To be sure, I saw about half as many old people as I saw the middle aged, young and children.

An elderly couple in Japan
An elderly couple in Japan. Image from http://www.tofugu.com

In Kenya, very old people will appear in the news just having made it to that age of say, 90+. It’s an exception in a country where life expectancy is 61. A 61 year old Japanese is a youth with 40 or more years left to enjoy!

I am definitely liking it here, but of course I miss my loved ones. The loneliness creeps upon you in the evening as you watch YouTube clips and surf endlessly so the night is shorter. But I came to the realization that if I keep on sulking it won’t even matter because I am already here and need to make the best of it! I need to enjoy Japan and all it has to offer.

More to come. (Subscribe link is somewhere at the top right on desktop and somewhere below the post on mobile).

 

Transacting Online Safely

There has been and will continue to be an increase in online trade in Kenya.  Sites I have used or my friends use include OLX (good deals among the online classifieds), Mimi (Julie Gichuru’s dress shop), and jumia.  There are many other shops online, I think there was even one where you could do supermarket (Naivas, Tuskys or Nakumatt) shopping and have it delivered to your location. While some sites sell goods directly to the customer, others like olx are not involved in the actual sale of items. Thus some people have used this opportunity to perpetuate fraud.

Keep calm and Stay Safe online
Keep calm and Stay Safe online

 

It’s to this end that OLX partnered with COFEK (Consumer Federation of Kenya) and the ICT Authority in Kenya to launch a one month awareness campaign for the general public to learn about online safety.

The campaign is named, “Kaa Ridhoo”! I don’t know who came up with that slogan surely, but the importance of the message should not be lost.

I have blogged before about staying safe online, OLX has guidelines for using its site, including a page for reporting suspicious ads or sellers. Just click on the Contact Us page to file a report. They then work with the local police to investigate and arrest any of those suspicious individuals, especially dealing with cars and electronics.

Have you had any experience of fraud when shopping online locally, and how did you deal with it?

 

Winter Is Coming & Other Related Stories

In 2011, I spent some 3 months in Rwanda, which is famous for its beautiful women, one thousand hills, cleanliness and a tough, lean president. A lot of my friends and readers told me to get them Rwandese girls when I was going back to Kenya, as if girls are just おみやげ (souvenirs) that I could just put in my bag and distribute them to friends when I got back! Anyway, I have been here a week and I know what you guys want me to send you or come back with cheap  Japanese cars! Am I right guys? Especially you three: Mackel Tisa (Subaru?), Woolie (do you want a Prius) and Alex (do you want an Allex?).

A toyota Alex
A Toyota Alex

The bad news is, there are no abandoned cars on the streets.. I thought I would just find one with keys left in the ignition and drive off. Ok , I am kidding. A new car here is expensive, new baby cars will cost you like 1,000,000 Yen (the conversion rate to Kenya shillings is almost 1:1). For secondhand cars, I have not yet seen a used car lot around, but that could be because I am in a “rural” city. The worse news is, I can’t do business/any part-time job or I will lose my student visa and scholarship. So the business has to wait, patience tomodachi (friends).

I have been in Japan for exactly one week now. I haven’t seen much of it, because I have spent most of the days in campus, getting oriented with the life, filling hundreds of forms and starting Nihongo (Japanese) classes. I have also been shopping for stuff I need from EON, which is a huge supermarket chain in East Asia. Everything in Japanese so thank God for pictures, because they show you or give you a clue of what’s inside the pack. Also, a few international brands for beauty products like Nivea, Lux give you an idea of what you’re buying.

It is autumn, which means the landscape is dotted with trees that turn orange, red, auburn, purple and various other dazzling colours. The weather has been great, except for a couple of days when it rained non-stop. It gets warm, like 26deg. No need for a sweater or blanket at night. But winter is coming. And I hear it could get to zero or sub-zero temperatures. The campus of Kanazawa University (金沢大学) will be covered in snow. While I am dreading the cold temperatures, I am looking forward to snow.

The sign reads: Welcome to Kanazawa Daigaku
The sign reads: Welcome to Kanazawa Daigaku. Click to enlarge

In the meantime, I am really enjoying the walk to school in the morning and evening, takes about 20 minutes from where I stay. It’s a hostel for international students. In your room, there’s a study desk, bed, fridge, wardrobe, several shelves and bathroom with a bathtub and (normal) toilet.

 

This is my study table
This is my study table

The international house has students from all over the world studying in various universities in Kanazawa City. And it’s located 1 block away from EON, a large supermarket.

Ishikawa International House where I am currently staying
Ishikawa International House where I am currently staying

Below are several photos of the campus. Enjoy! Click on the images to see the full view and scroll through the gallery. Also, follow me on Instagram for more pics..

Book Review: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

I got this book from BooksFirst at Nakumatt, for about 400 Kshs. I had finished reading another Wilkie Collins classic, The Woman in White (read the review here) and I waited for a while for the characters and the essence of the book to leave my mind so I don’t get prejudiced when reading the Moonstone.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone is a large, yellow diamond originally stolen in India and now in England. On the 21st birthday of Miss (Rachel) Verrinder, she is gifted the diamond. When the house wakes up on the following day, the diamond is missing.

There, the story starts to unravel the mystery of whoever took the diamond. The story is told through character narration and letters, as well as entry journals, told by the characters who were central to the story at the time. The writing style is similar to The Woman in White (WIW) one, but the characters are very different. This book is also funnier and I actually liked it better than WIW. If had to choose a book to re-read, it would be this one.

This book is hailed as the birth of the detective story, because a detective is hired (Sergent Cuff) to help trace the diamond. You are kept guessing the motives of the diamond thief because everyone who was in the house has a solid alibi on the night the diamond was stolen. Rachel knows something about the diamond, but she won’t tell. The person you suspect most, and who seems to suffer the most anguish, isn’t really the thief. At some point, suspense can be so drawn out that you lose your readers, but Wilkie Collins doesn’ do that. There is just enough suspense while shedding more light on the mystery, until the story comes together beautifully in the end.

The characters who tell the story (Franklin Blake ,  Gabriel Betteredge , Miss Drusilla)  are vain, self-important and offer various perspectives on the circumstances. “An influence of character on circumstance” as Wilkie Collins would say. In WIW, what’s at play is “an influence of circumstance on character”. You will mostly have an emotional connection and remember WIW characters fondly while in The Moonstone, you will remember the adventures (story) more than the emotional character connection. Hope I have not confused anyone.

Let me know if you enjoyed reading it!

What It’s Like To Work in a Big 4

I had the privilege of working for Ernst & Young for almost two years in Kenya. If you asked me whether I enjoyed the experience, I would tell you I did. Here’s what it’s like to work in one of the big four professional firms worldwide. (Don’t worry, I am not going to reveal confidential information here, lest I get sued)

The big 4 accounting firms in the world
The big 4 accounting firms in the world

Brilliant Minds

It’s no secret that the big four recruit the sharpest minds from campus or when they hire at higher levels, they get those with a proven performance record in the industry. So it was a pleasure working with some smart people in EY. People for whom the common goal is to finish an assignment with efficiency. People to whom you explain something only once, or no explanation is needed. No pettiness (mostly), no sweating the small stuff (depending on your team).

Dynamic Environment & Great Experience


I worked on various assignments dealing with clients in different industries: manufacturing, hospitality, banking, insurance etc. In the jobs you get to learn about the clients’ needs and understand how various industries operate. I worked in IT Risk & Advisory, which is a very dynamic field. Well, although EY is known as an accounting firm, and where balance sheets remain the same year in year out; I was in a different service line which is Advisory (Consultancy). In IT, things change all the time and we needed to stay on top of the game in order to win jobs and perform on assignments.

Consultancy

Being a consultant means I hardly spent time in the office. I would report to the office only to get a new assignment, then I go to the client’s premises to ‘advise’ them and stay there for the period of the assignment. When it was done, back to the office for the next assignment; or just straight from one client to the next. At the very least, there is no dread at the thought of going to the same desk over and over again, each day every day, several months and years gone by.. although some client’s working environments were not the most desirable, at least change was guaranteed from time to time.

When you strut into the offices of a new client, and they’ll introduce you like, “This is the consultant from EY” and you stand taller haha.. consultants are generally selfimportant. And you get respect and tea served on time, and since the tag “auditor” hangs over you, and everyone wants to be in your good books.

The Name
So I’m in Japan and I am meeting people from the world over. I tell them I worked in EY and they nod in understanding. Everyone knows EY. Everyone assumes that you must be smart, I mean the big 4 are known for recruiting the smartest of the lot. So the name on your CV will already put in you in favourable light. Of course now you have to prove yourself. And back home you state you work in EY and you pause for people to take it in, as if you own shares in the company, when all you really are is a KYM (Kazi ya Mkono).

Once an EYer, always an EYer
Once an EYer, always an EYer

 

Work Structure

At entry-level, you are a KYM. Then you get to be a senior, after some years, when you have enough work experience to lead an assignment and have also acquired some managerial skills. And then depending on your ability to bring in business, you can make manager. To make director, partner.. it’s not so much about your technical skills now but your ability to sell the business, to bring in accounts and retain clients. You’re a salesman. Just ask Harvey Specter in Suits how he made partner. And it’s a pyramid, so some people have to fall of off along the way. It’s competitive, it is the so-called corporate ladder. Will I go back to the corporate world? Hmmm.. I am now in Japan to get leverage, if I come back it will not be at the base of the pyramid, that’s for sure. In any case, that pyramid base is fed by fresh-eyed and eager smart graduates churned out by our universities, year after year. I am coming for the very top. (GG do you read this? ;-) )

Pay

Haha, what pay? You guys are joking. I think it’s case of the grass is greener on the other side. Guys who are out think we earn more than them, and us who are in know we don’t. After all, we do look at your payroll cough cough. Anyway, money has never been and will never be enough. And if it’s your chief motivation then EY is not the place for you.

Work Environment

There is no workplace without its politics and all. Some companies have it better, some have it worse. Also, as a young mother, I was able to work and deliver on my assignments, thanks to a fairly understanding team.  All you can do is embrace the positive and soldier on. The company is quite fair, on paper at least. EY was voted top employer in Africa by some survey. All in all, the work at EY was a necessary corporate experience that I’m grateful for.

 

Flying to Japan

I am in the Kanazawa University library typing this. There is something familiar about all libraries.. the silent shuffle of feet, the queitness broken by the turning of pages of paper, the rows upon rows of beautifully arranged books, the students at the tables all trying to absorb the knowledge. It is a long way from home, and yet it is home for me. I think back to Tuesday afternoon, when I began the actual journey.

The steps to the Kanazawa University Library. Click for larger image
The steps to the Kanazawa University Library

My father wouldn’t let me be late; by 1pm he was revving the car and hooting for us to get out of house. I arrived at the airport at 1:30 for a flight that was departing at 4:40pm. My luggage passed through the safety scan, I had been afraid they wouldn’t let my lotions and hair stuff through(relaxer, treatment – there are no salons for black hair in Japan, I was told). I thought I might have carried stuff over the luggage limit for Emirates Economy class, but fortunately this too was a breeze. My luggage was checked in, and I would get it at the airport in Japan. I wasn’t going to have access to checked-in luggage at Dubai, the stopover.

I said goodbye to my family. My dad, mum, brother and my son, and my friends Veeh & Njeri had come to see me off. I managed not to cry. But later, on the flight to Osaka from Dubai, I let them fall and I pretended I was watching The Fault in Our Stars. Anyway, the flight to Dubai was not long, but it wore me out. It was 5 hours to Dubai. The Captain was American, “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls… this is your captain blah blah” The hostesses were fair and graceful. The meals were okay but the cramped space in Economy makes you understand why people with money opt for Business class or First Class. I could not catch any sleep and my neighbour was chatty. He was giving me advice about taking care of my hand luggage. Don’t let it leave your sight. He was going to Dubai to manage some warehouses. I wished him the best. He gave me some pens as a gift. (I have become a pen collector.) His wife works at a pen company.

Dubai. Nothing is done in half; no expense is spared. From the air, it gives off an aura of organization. Rows and rows of lights, illuminating shiny highways and complicated road designs. From where we landed at the airport, we took a shuttle for almost 30 minutes to arrive at the terminal. Dubai is grand. No, wait, Dubai is grandiose. Towering terminals. There are 3 terminals, A, B & C, and you take a train between the terminals. The terminals are on 3 floors, and you can ride the elevator or escalators. We had about 4 hours to spend at the airport. After marking our gate for the next flight, we went round checking out the terminal.

Inside the elevator at Dubai Airport. Can you see the water flowing down the black wall? This stuff is better seen not told!
Inside the elevator at Dubai Airport. Can you see the water flowing down the black wall? This stuff is better seen not told!

There were so many shops, mostly selling designer perfume. I was sprayed liberally by a salesman; Givenchy I believe. Smelled heavenly but I couldn’t afford it at the time. The few dollars I had with me were for surviving the first month in Japan. Givenchy will have to wait. But it was definitely cheaper there than if you had to buy it in a shop in Nairobi. I bought some water, and a Starbucks coffee. Not as tasty as Java’s latte.

Starbucks Coffee at Terminal B of Dubai airport
Starbucks Coffee at Terminal B of Dubai airport

So I was hanging out with two Zambian dudes who spoke Kiswahili; they were also headed to Osaka with us, they’re in the vehicle importation business. There was another guy who was Kenyan, but lives in Washington DC, and he was also connecting via Dubai. And 3 of us scholars, heading to Osaka. We left the importers with our hand luggage (except for passports & money, duh) and escorted the Washington Guy to his terminal. That was when we took the train to terminal A and back. And thus, the 4 hours at the airport passed away.

Oscar, fellow MEXT scholar on the left, with the Washington guy on the right as we said bye to him
Oscar, fellow MEXT scholar on the left, with the Washington guy on the right as we said bye to him

Finally, we boarded a Boeing 777 Emirates plane to Osaka. That was one grandiose plane. I had never flown international before, so the jambojet, KQ & Jetlink small planes had left me with a bad impression of take off, landing, changing direction and turbulence. In a huge plane, you don’t feel any of this stuff, at least not on the same level as on a smaller plane. It was 9 hours from Dubai to Osaka. I slept half of the time, watched 2 movies (About a Boy starring Hugh Grant), ate two full meals and enjoyed the flight somewhat. We landed in Osaka at around 6pm local time, finally touchdown in Japan! (Cue for this song)

From Kanazawa airport, it took a while to clear from immigration. Fortunately we are Japanese government scholars, so not many questions were asked. They printed for us residence cards at the airport, we went and claimed our luggage, and went our separate ways. After changing my money into the local currency, yen, I asked for the JR Train ticketing office. It was around 8:10pm when I finally got a ticket to Kanazawa, changing trains at a place called Maibara. The train was departing at 8:16pm so it was a mad dash there. The Japanese are very friendly people, so far everyone I had met on the way had been very helpful.The train ride was very comfortable, and I dozed on and off. The signs were in Japanese as well as English, and the train announced every oncoming stop. Maibara was like the last stop, and it was just me and two Japanese girls who were also going to Kanazawa.

The countryside fly past us, with not much to see in the dark. At every station, we’d meet other trains and you would see students in uniform getting on or off, working class people boarding the train, weary shoulders drooping, and the people got fewer and fewer as it got later and later. We arrived at Kanazawa at 12:39am! I tried to get a taxi to Kanazawa Castle Inn, where I was to spend the night. I was willing to pay as much as it took, but no one would take me, they just pointed the direction. Turns out, it was just 3 minutes away from Kanazawa Station and no one was going to take advantage of me. If it were in a Kenya, I am sure someone would have drove me round in circles and charged me like 2,000 Kenyan shillings for it!

At the hotel, I finally got free wifi (which I couldn’t get at Dubai or Kansai) and let my family know I had arrived safely. After a warm soak in the tub, I asked for an adapter (they use narrow sockets) from the hotel reception using gestures & pointing. The man at the desk just opened a drawer full of adapters and I picked one that fit, with a promise to return (in gestures). At the airport, most Japanese speak fairly good English. However, Kanazawa is a bit farther in, so there are fewer speakers with less fluency. (Except at the universities, lots of people speak English here). I charged my phone and fell asleep.

On Thursday morning, I took a taxi to Morinosato Kaikan (Kanazawa International House) where I was going to spend 6 months. It’s a 20 minutes scenic walk to the university. There was the opening ceremony to attend after that, and later orientation and an introduction lesson to Japanese on Friday. There will be many other tales to tell.

The food in Japan
The food in Japan
More Japanese food
More Japanese food
Even more Japanese food
Even more Japanese food
Some pizza too
Some pizza too
Tamar from Georgia, ken from Malaysia, myself and Akiko, who's Japanese
Tamar from Georgia, ken from Malaysia, myself and Akiko, who’s Japanese

In the meantime, I am getting used to the local food. Sushi. Sashimi. Miso soup. Rice (hehe, yeah also needs getting used to, trust me) And others I can’t pronounce well.

Yesterday evening, being a Friday, we went to a local restaurant with a Japanese student who’s very nice and is helping us around. Below is what we had.. beer, sake, pizza, sushi, sashimi, dessert, and many other local dishes. By us, I mean myself with other foreign students. There are many other foreign students around. They come from Malaysia, Georgia, Solomon Islands, Argentina, Tanzania, Indonesia, Pakistan, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia .. over 25 countries. There are only 3 of us who are black, as far as I can tell. Myself, another lady from Solomon Islands (she speaks with such a lovely accent) and the guy from Tanzania. But I don’t feel it, I think because I am in a university and you know, a campus is the same everywhere. Cool people!

Although I miss home, and my son more than anything, I know I made the right decision. The next countdown on the blog is to the day my son will come to join me in Japan!

Do I Have a Dream?

If there’s one person who is a dreamer, then that person is me. Since I was young, up to now, I have never stopped dreaming. Reality sometimes pours cold water on some of my dreams, but I will go to sleep and dream again.

When Crown Paints asked me to talk about my dream, I was at a loss of where to begin. Because I don’t have a dream, my friends. I have DREAMS! At the moment, I have a to-do list of 30 things to do before 30, which is 3.5 years away. I am not sure I will achieve those 30 things (okay, 29, I have already crossed 1 off my list), but I am already on my way. I haven’t shared my list with you guys (the readers of this blog who keep it alive, I love you guys, excuse the emotions, I am in a strange land and yet to make new emotional connections). Anyway, I was saying I haven’t shared the list with you guys because I have changed my style of writing. I no longer share about everything I see, feel, eat, drink or experience. Perhaps I shall open up again and share that 30-things-to-do-before-30 list, I have a feeling it will shape the future of this blog.

In the meantime, I geared up to talk about my dreams to the Crown Paints team. I am nervous in front of the camera. I hate the sound of my recorded voice. But I braved myself to talk about my dreams, which would have taken over an hour. Fortunately, the required length was only 40 seconds!

So enjoy my 40 seconds of fame below! I shall be blogging about Japan soon, and other experiences.

A New Beginning: The Journey East

There are no direct flights to Narita International Aiport, Tokyo or to any other major international airport like Kansai in Osaka or Komatsu in Ishikawa Prefecture. To fly to Japan, the best airlines to use are those with the home country in the Middle East, where they make a stopover (for five hours or so) before flying to Japan. You can also fly to Europe, then start the journey East, if you pick a European airline. I will be flying Emirates.

The other airlines popular for flights to Japan from Kenya are Qatar airways with a stopover in Doha, and Etihad which I think also stops over at Dubai. It takes 5 hours to Dubai, and then 9 hours from Dubai to Kansai Aiport in Japan. If you fly KLM for example, you will have a stopover in Amsterdam, then fly for like 19 hours to Japan. Turkish Airlines will take you to Instanbul, before taking a journey just as long as if you flew KLM. So Etihad/Emirates are your most efficient flights. Return tickets from Nairobi cost anywhere between 100-150 thousand shillings.

On Tuesday afternoon, my luggage checked in and my backpack containing my most precious documents and some money (in American dollars), I shall board an Emirates flight heading to Dubai. It will take about 5 hours to Dubai. ETA 9:30pm Kenyan time, which will be 10:30PM in Dubai. The stopover is just 5 hours, meaning we will not leave the airport. I will alight with my fellow scholars, there are 3 of us sharing the same itinerary. I will get out dazed, ready to search for wifi signal, to check up on my family via whatsapp. My son will probably have gone to bed, these days his bedtime is at 9PM.

After confirming our next flight and the boarding gate, I will probably persuade my colleagues that we ought to try out Starbucks at the airport. Coffee & croissants. Paid for in strange green bills. Most bureaus in Kenya are just like banks, only dealing with major currencies: the American dollar, British Pound or Euro. So you find yourself changing your shillings to dollars, then changing the dollars to the Japanese Yen on arrival.

Starbucks Coffee in Dubai. Mambo ya Artcaffe tumewacha
Starbucks Coffee in Dubai. Mambo ya Artcaffe tumewacha

And so we will while our time at the Dubai airport, sipping coffee, walking around and waiting for the next flight. I hope I will find some sleep in the long flight to Japan. Arrival time at Kansai Airport will be 5:30PM local time, which will be 11:30AM back here.

From Kansai I need to make my way to Kanazawa City, some 4 hours away by train or 5 hours by bus. Sure, there was a chartered bus for the foreigners by the university, but it leaves the airport at 11:30AM, some six hours before I land. I will need to take a Japan Railway (JR) train, transferring at Shin-Osaka. I have all these detailed directions printed out in both English and Japanese, so I am not anxious about getting on the wrong train.

On arrival at Kanazawa Station, I will probably hail a taxi to the hotel where I will spend the night before checking into the university hostel the following day. I have already booked the hotel online. I have printed out the address in both English & Japanese. Hailing a taxi is easy, taxi in Japanese is “takushi”. I hope not to oversleep.

The following day (Thursday) 9am I will report at the Kanazawa International House (Morinosato), to get my assigned room. From there, I will attend the international students opening ceremony. We are to wear appropriate clothing, but I am not sure what that is. In case they mean national dress for each student’s country, I am armed with a couple of kitenge dresses. In the afternoon, I am to register as a foreign resident and get a resident card with which I will use to open a bank account (for the monthly scholarship stipend :D ), and also obtain my student ID. I have already sent the picture they will use. When they asked for a picture, I sent one of my better looking ones, the only one I have makeup on ;-)

For once, I will look good in an identification card
For once, I will look good in an identification card

Just when you think I can now relax, I have my first class on Friday at 9:30AM, Introduction to Japanese. And on Friday evening, I will attend the orientation for International Students. I will probably spend all of Saturday sleeping! And thus my Adventures from the Land of the Rising Sun will begin.

Moving Out? OLX is Your Friend

It’s one thing to pack for a week away from home, or perhaps for a month. What do you take when you are relocating altogether? And you have a 30Kg luggage limit! How do you pack your entire life into 30Kgs of luggage? If I don’t get a nervous breakdown this current week, I shall get through any other period. I am even yet to buy a suitcase, and I don’t want one of those generic ones found in supermarkets that break apart after a single journey. Then I decided to try online, went to olx and oh gosh, people are posting weird, dark and blurry pictures of suitcases with no descriptions. And only one picture to give you an idea of the suitcase. I think I have no option but to go back to the supermarket and hope for a good find within my budget.

Anyway, in my packing and sorting out my stuff, I have come across several items I need to get rid of, things I don’t need any more but I could make some money if I put them up on olx. There is this set of baby cots, a bigger cot and a Moses-like smaller cot. Note: if you have a baby, don’t be in a hurry to buy those Chinese-made metal baby cots no matter how cute they may look. The baby outgrows them really fast, so if you buy them, just know it’s for a short period. It’s better to get a good wooden cot made for you that the baby can use till they are 2 or 3 years old, and can then transfer to those smaller beds. Anyway, I shall be selling the set below on olx, any takers?

Baby cot set that Jeremy has outgrown
Baby cot set that Jeremy has outgrown. Click to see larger image.

There are many more items I would love to give away, or sell and not just shoes or clothes. If you’re moving places, this could be a chance to upgrade your furniture, electronics etc. Get some cash to start afresh. If you are selling something online, please for the love of the Internet and all that is holy, take pictures in good lighting (take them outside if you live in one of those flats that never receive natural light), take many of those pictures, and write a good description. It doesn’t have to be long, make it like a mini skirt. Long enough to cover the essentials, short enough to entice. People like me who are looking for deals online are relying on sellers to put up a good & comprehensive database of affordable items in all categories. If you’re moving out and there’s stuff you don’t want to leave behind for your nasty caretaker, neighbours or landlord, sell it on olx.

Some 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Japan

Sometime last year, I learned that I was one of the four recipients of a scholarship by the Japanese government, to go to Japan and study whatever I wanted, in whichever institution I preferred. I have always wanted to travel and this was one chance I couldn’t let go, so here we are now. My travel date is 30th September (see countdown on top right).

After getting the scholarship, and of course during the interview process, I tried to familiarize myself with Japan, gathering as much information as I could over the internet. My geography lessons from high school were a bit hazy, only thing I could remember (like most of you) is that Japan is made up of a series of islands.  Fact: Japan is a stratovolcanic archipelago of 6,852 islands.

Regions and prefectures of Japan
Regions and prefectures of Japan. Image from wikipedia

Here is a few facts:

  1. Japan is the third richest country by GDP (nominal – don’t ask me what this means). The USA has the largest GDP, by far (it’s really a sub-continent), followed by China, then Japan.
  2. Even if both countries, China and Japan, are rich by GDP, there is a fundamental difference between China and Japan. China is a third world (or second world if you look at its industralization) country; there are people living in extremely poor conditions in that country. Japan on the other hand, has very high standards of living for all her citizens, which makes her a first world country. I hear Japanese citizens who go to work in the USA demand a hardship allowance. They don’t have automated toilets in the US of A like in Japan.

    A Japanese toilet
    A Japanese toilet
  3. Japan is also known as the land of the rising sun. That’s what the red dot on the white flag means.

    Japan Flag
    Japan Flag
  4. Japanese is the main language used in Japan (obviously). Speaking it should be easy for a Kiswahili speaker like me. However, writing is another matter. The language uses 3 sets of characters, Kanji being one of them, as well as 2 sets of kana (hiragana & katakana). Kanji (Chinese characters) is mostly used for nouns (places & names). It is quite complex as a Kanji character could mean a whole concept. Hiragana is simpler as there are symbols to represent basic sounds, so you just combine these to make up the word, just like you do in Katakana. However, Katakana is mostly used to translate words from other languages. If I had to write my name, Savvy Kenya,  I would write it in Katakana as なケニア or something close to that. (Confession: I used Google translate!)

    Kanji words
    Kanji words
  5. The Japanese prime minister is Shinzō Abe.  He is 59, tough and conservative. Read more about him in this guardian article

    Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe
    Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe
  6. Japan’s population is decreasing. There is an increase in older people and a decrease in the younger people. The country is purported to have the highest proportion of elderly citizens; more than 24% are aged 65 or above, as of 2012. Japan has the lowest birth rate. The Economist set to find out why the Japanese are having so few babies.
  7. Japan is still a conservative nation. For example, to quote the Economist: Only around 2% of babies are born outside marriage (compared with 30-50% in most of the rich world).  On a related note, they have a strict sense of timing, I hear. I definitely need to up my game, when it comes to keeping time. However, they are very friendly and hardworking people, and I look forward to enjoying the hospitality ;-)
  8. Japan experiences the four seasons: Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring. The country is beautiful, stunningly so, in all the seasons.

    Springtime in Japan
    Springtime in Japan
  9. The car in front is always a Toyota, and it’s made in Japan. Okay, its owned by Japanese but manufacturing has probably been outsourced to China. You probably know this already.
  10. Tokyo is the capital city – this you already know. To be honest I ran out of facts you didn’t know and got tired of googling hehe.. so bear with me, I will write more about the country while I am there. I will probably change the title of this blog to “Adventures From the East” or “Tales From the Land of the Rising Sun”. Which do you like better?