Wednesday, September 12, 2012

how i survived my first overseas journey

and live to tell the tale. i wasn't born rich nor i am rich now. as a family, we never ventured far from the confines of the beautiful island of cebu while i was growing up. i even crossed the seas for the first time only in my second year in college and that had reached me to zamboanga city where a cousin had his wedding. that was a wow moment for me knowing i had always wanted to see other places and to actually discover new things!

fast forward to the time when i began my slavery for work, i finally got my passport and i then thought it was a significant step towards an exciting experience and a promise where my locked up aspirations may turn into reality. air tickets and the difficult visa would have to come later in order not to ruin the moment. libre lang ang mangarap.

it was five years ago. going out of the country was the least of my concern then because there were still many places that i wanted to visit first in the philippines before attempting to squander a huge amount of money in a foreign land and before my father reprimands me of my superfluous behavior.

but sometimes circumstance would turn into your favor which was exactly what happened to me four years ago. my passport barely a year old then.

judging by the characters in the photo, you would know that my country of destination was not outside asia. a different continent was beyond my sanity at that point.

my supervisor at work dropped the news like a bomb. with barely a month to my scheduled departure, he told me that i was going instead of my other colleague because of a mishap of not having a passport. you would think that i was ecstatic when i heard it but i was not. i was going alone. the country was japan. it was my first travel overseas. i could only speak a few japanese sentences. should my heart leap in that scenario?

Sakura tree in Yokohama


i didn't turn it down either. the cherry blossoms somehow made up for it and i had the assurance of my mentors that i would be just fine.

with my luck still at its best, there was a former colleague who was in the same plane with me on that momentous day of april in 2008. one thing i learned when we deplaned at narita airport, was to simply follow the crowd. one sure thing was -- they would be heading for immigration check. i was used to small airports that having to get on a shuttle just to reach the immigration check was overwhelming. should i say completely crazy? haha

immigration check went smoothly and when i reached the arrival gate, my former colleague had to go on his way for his agent was already waiting for him with even a notice bearing his name.

a japanese colleague was also waiting for me but he wasn't carrying a paper with my name. good thing i recognized him for he had gone to cebu once and i was grateful for my memory that it had not failed me that time!


i was practically alone in those 2 weeks in that foreign country. there were colleagues from cebu but they had their own business to tend to. i could choose to sulk inside my hotel room but it would be more unbearable. the forlorn weather of nonstop rain made my solitary situation a lot depressing.

i simply had to get out. when my first weekend came, i went out to search for my second hotel where i had to commute by train for work. my first hotel was more convenient since i only had to walk albeit the 20-minute distance in a hurried pace.

cebu has no trains. with my naiveté, riding on trains was something i needed to overcome. several weeks prior on my trip, i coincidentally experienced riding on trains in manila. but hello? mrt in manila is a far cry from japan's advanced train system! this does not mean i'm degrading my own but the big difference is a downright fact. adding to an already complex equation was the japanese characters in the train stations and the ticket machines! well at least, the japanese made some effort to romanize a few important signage. that was a tiny relief i gladly welcomed.

Empty cold train seats

on my first saturday, my first agenda was to have my remaining US dollars exchanged. i went to the place by train and even if i made several turns around the block, i was as elated that i found the money changer in the end. my search for my second hotel is a different story and it warrants for a separate post. it still had to do with my outstanding guts by the way.

the following day, i braved to make a trip to yokohama! a classmate back in college was assigned in japan and yokohama was our midpoint. it took me one hour and a half by train. japanese trains are a different lot because that duration already covered 68.6 kilometers. i may have to do another post for that. i can't believe this. i thought i could squeeze everything in just a single post but there are a lot of things left to tell!

People's Help

my colleagues from cebu were not the complete snobs. they had me oriented to the nearby family mart of my first hotel where most of them were staying and some of the nifty details that i needed to know. although the rest was then on me.

the japanese colleague who fetched me from the airport was also a great help. even if we didn't talk that much during the 1-hour commute, he volunteered to tow my luggage. :D kidding aside, at least japan wasn't an outright surprise and the pieces were unraveled to me bit by bit.


i actually can't find my pictures during this trip. :( they were probably lost somewhere in between hard disk crashes. thankfully, i uploaded them in my multiply account and i even came up with few descriptions! i was amused reading my words and it made me relived the moment more real.

A Temple Shrine at Ueno Park

can you guess who took this picture? i did! because that time i believed that putting my camera on top of almost anything and setting it on timer was less shameful than having someone to take my picture instead. i probably didn't know how to ask someone in japanese.

i had a lot of awkward photos but i didn't care. the japanese also didn't care.


most importantly, the internet was my lifeline there. for train schedules, what i did was to save the web pages in my phone -- statically because my phone was cut off from japan's 3g network for data, while everyone around me especially on trains bowed down their heads with their eyes transfixed on their phones. yes, i also bowed down my head not for my phone but to savor some shut-eye. lol

in my second hotel, i was getting the hang of riding trains. the hotel was a 5-minute walk to the train station but it is a local station which means that express trains (the faster ones) don't stop. meanwhile, the train station for my work caters to both local and express trains but interval for the local train is very long. due to late night overtimes, what i did was to get on an express train and change to a local train in a station somewhere in between. i also had the same routine in the morning. for a train newbie, the experience was challenging but exhilarating at the same time!

before i left for my trip, a colleague shared to me a website for checking train schedules which was really helpful on my solitary saga to yokohama and some parts in tokyo.

Akihabara, Tokyo

without me breaking out from my fear and hesitations, i would be looking back at this moment with deep regret. i'm glad that i did it! and yes, i survived!


what did attribute to the randomness?

my experiences in japan suddenly crossed my mind while i was heading off for work one morning. the multiply's redirection of their sense of purpose made it all more timely. come december 1, they would stop hosting most of their social media features and that's why i'm currently in the process of salvaging my uploaded photos and most importantly the few sentences that i managed to scribble down a long time ago.


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