Sunday, January 27, 2013

Living in Japan - the Ying & the Yang

Living overseas is most of the time wonderful, but there are, of course, challenges.  Normal everyday events are a lot more "exciting", especially when living in Japan, where we are illiterate, can only speak very basic Japanese and where still after 5 years, don't understand all the cultural nuances.   After living here for four and a half years, it is definitely easier to get around, but there are often occurrences where I want to throw my hands in the air in defeat.

A couple of weeks ago I went to the hospital for a routine check up.  This was definitely one of those defeated times.  I don't know how to explain Japanese health care.  I often am negative about it, but it's only because I can't communicate and the medical options on our island are not the best for foreigners.  Otherwise, Japan has a much better system than the US, they have a national health care system and even for us paying out of pocket to be reimbursed by our international health insurance, it is super reasonably priced.  One of the other difficult things I have trouble grasping is that many people don't have their own "practitioner" - whether it be an ob-gyn, pediatrician, optometrist, etc.  Most people will visit the same clinics, hospitals or doctor's offices, but whoever is working there will be the one they see and many doctors change locations throughout their careers.  When I find a doctor I like, I stick with them, so that's been hard here.  Even finding a doctor with decent English and a bit of western bedside manner (a little more personable) is difficult.

On to my story...  I went to the hospital which has the ob-gyn offices that I visited when I was pregnant with Lola.  There were two great women ob-gyn doctors there who both spoke English and were lovely.  Not anymore.   The reason I went was to have my IUD removed (I leave it up to you to google this if you're interested or just realize this has to do with my girl parts).  This was where I had my IUD implanted.  I felt fairly comfortable using the hospital because I had been there before many times.   I could get by with my iTranslate app on my phone and they had my records, so I was confident.

It is hard to explain this crazy event (I should have had a hidden camera installed), but let's just say it was not so easy.  I was there for about 2 hours with a very nice man from the administrative offices with very bad English trying to translate...  about a very personal matter.  At one point in the waiting room, with about twenty other patients in the lobby (one of which being my colleague's husband with their sick son), they were discussing my matter in a semi-circle of nods, Japanese and gestures.  And all about my girl parts.

I finally got back to see the doctor, who spoke basic enough English, but she was clearly nervous to see me.  A long story short: I left the hospital 2 hours later, with a $50 bill and the IUD still in my body.  The whole time, I was on the verge of laughing or crying as I texted back and forth with John for my sanity and possibly to get a Japanese female colleague to get on the phone to help me out.

But then I balance something like that with many more experiences like this...

Two days after we arrived back from Bali, we were having friends over for dinner to catch up, when our doorbell rang.  It was our neighbors two flights upstairs from us with HUGE presents for the kids.  They said they had come by the 24th and 25th to try and bring the presents.  I wasn't sure whether I should have invited them in, but we have people here and the house was a mess from the kids.  We bowed and thanked them profusely and wished them a happy new year.

Immediately we knew we had to bring them gifts as gift-giving is very big in Japan.  You gift new neighbors, you gift colleagues after trips and for many thank yous in between.  It took us a few days to figure out what to get, so we settled on a potted orchid.  The orchid sat in our house for about 4 days until I found the time and gathered enough courage to bring the kids upstairs with our gift.

The Tanakas graciously invited us into their lovely apartment, where they served us cake, coffee, and apples.  We spoke in broken English & Japanese about the basics of our lives.  They turned on Japanese cartoons for the kids and doted on them.  It should have been a lot more awkward with our lack of a common language, but it wasn't at all and we stayed there for about an hour.

They are a lovely older couple with grown kids who are enjoying their retirement.  We think they just enjoy seeing our kids in the elevator and may have thought we were all alone in a foreign country celebrating our holidays, not gallivanting on the beaches of Bali.  As we left they loaded up a bag full of more goodies - produce from a farm on Rokko Mountain and other regional snacks and waved good-bye until the elevator doors closed.

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