A Successful Guide to Visa Application to Rich Countries for the Hopeful African

For the last two months, I have been locked in an intense battle of wills with the Canadian Visa Processing Center officials (click link to see summary on Facebook). Previously, I have only traveled to Uganda and Rwanda, countries that are part of the East Africa Community so visas are not required for Kenyan citizens. When I came to Japan, I was (still am) under the Japanese government scholarship so the visa application process was a breeze.

In July, I have to go present an academic paper I wrote at a conference in Toronto, Canada. Having no family in Japan, I was planning on taking Jeremy along with me and took for granted I would get his visa as well as mine. They granted (grant is the right word for they are small lords with a lot of power to guard tightly the borders against unwanted individuals) me the visa and refused (their term) Jeremy. I fear 3 year old boys could cause crime or steal jobs over there. I tried to reapply so in total I made 4 applications and all 4 were rejected on grounds such as travel history (he is 3 years old and has already lived in 2 continents!), immigration status in Japan (should he have a working visa, he is 3!), purpose of travel (is he going to Canada to engage in work illegally perhaps), personal assets (unfortunately I don’t have a savings account in his name, neither does he have a trust fund), lack of proof of relationship, custody agreement, and birth certificate (finally, valid reasons for which I provided the documentation).. but I finally gave up. They won. Fear not, I found someone to look after him for the 1 week I will be gone, but I have learned a lot from that visa application process that I want to share that wisdom with other hopeful visa applicants.

Enjoy the flowchart. Click on it to open and then click again to make it a little bigger. Best viewed on a laptop, not phone. Apologies for typos, don’t have time to correct them.

For EACH question, provide NO LESS THAN 10 DOCUMENTS as proof, SIGNED, SEALED and AUTHENTICATED by the HIGHEST authority in the land. If any witnesses need to sign the documents, make sure they SIGN IN BLOOD. Then sprinkle the documents with a DRAGON’S TEARS to improve your chances of getting the visa.

By rich country, I mean the G7 – USA, Canada, France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan as well as Scandinavian Europe, Switzerland, Russia, China, Singapore or any other country that considers itself rich. And everyone considers themselves richer than Africans.

If at the end of the flowchart your answer is FORGET ABOUT IT, take my advice and invest that money you were going to use in a lottery, trust me your chances of winning the lottery are higher than the chance you’ll get a visa. You will be happier too. If you had prepared any documents, take the documents and all your visa dreams, dig the deepest hole you possibly can – until the Earth’s core is fine – throw the documents and dreams in it, watch them melt away and go live your life happily in your third world country.

A Successful Guide to Visa Application

A Successful Guide to Visa Application

I’m a Supermum!

Suppose I were to let someone take care of Jeremy for a week, I thought to myself, what instructions would I give the person? What’s my typical day like?

Jeremy usually wakes me up – yes, he’s my alarm – between 6 and 7am. Children and old people tend to be naturally early risers, at least from my experience. Like one time when I was in shagz (the village?) with my grandmother and got up “early” at 7:15am, only to find that she had already milked the cow, made tea, swept the house and even made chapatis. I don’t know if I’ll ever be an early riser but for me, 6-7am is already pretty early if you ask me!

He wakes me up by pulling at my ears, inserting fingers into my nose and poking my eyes, singing in my ears, sitting on my face, jumping on my sleeping form etc.Never has a better alarm been invented. So if you were to take care of Jeremy, you had better wake up earlier than him, or brave this morning assault.

As he is a 3 year old just weaned off diapers (sometimes on, mostly off), it is my duty after coming into (I’m deeply asleep in the early morning) to remind him to go to the toilet, wash his hands and dry them. Sometimes he goes by himself, mostly the excitement of a new day (!) makes him easily forget and he can have a dry mattress but after getting up, he will pause in his jumping up and down with this blank look on his face and you just know it’s coming. That’s when I will rush him to the toilet.. “no no Jeremy, to the toilet, to the toilet!”. I make it sound like it’s a call to war! You have to make these activities exciting so he looks forward to it every time.

In the two hours between 7am when we wake up and 9am when I drop him off at the nursery (daycare center/play school/preschool/baby class/all the above), I have to make him breakfast, feed him, dress him and myself as well. Usually, breakfast is a cup of brown uji (porridge) with a slice of bread and cheese. I don’t know how many of you can make smooth uji without lumps, it took me years of practice to get it right. And even then, sometimes it’s too thick or too thin. I then enrich the uji with some milk. When the temperature of the uji has cooled down enough for him to drink it, I hand it to him. While I make breakfast, he is usually preoccupied with driving his (toy) bus. I have to ensure he pauses long enough to finish his breakfast.

Cooking brown uji

Cooking brown uji

As he takes his breakfast, I prepare his school bag. Into the bag goes:

  • a clean hand-towel
  • his cup bag with a clean cup inside
  • his lunch bag with a dish of rice and spoon inside it. At the nursery they provide them with the meat and vegetable side dishes as well as fruits but rice, oh no way, how dare you suggest that! So I have to make sure to cook rice daily.
  • a change of clothes for the times when he soils the current ones. They always keep a change of clothes, at least one set, at the nursery. If he uses up the change of clothes, then I have to provide a new set the following day
  • his announcement book – not daily, just on the days when they have some message to send to parents
  • his attendance notebook – also includes a diary section where the teachers will tell me anything interesting that happened that day and I will also respond in kind. Things like did he eat, sleep and play well? Will he take the bus on the way back or will I be picking him up, and at what time? All this is in Japanese. My Japanese vocabulary concerning children has greatly improved. The notebook also includes a recording of his monthly weight and bi-monthly height checks. He gained 300gms over the past month.
  • any other items necessary or requested. Like on Mondays, his bag weighs tons because I will be returning a picture book that they lend us for the weekend, or his indoor shoes that needed cleaning over the weekend as well

He has taken breakfast, his bag is prepared, but now comes a challenge: making him wash his face and brush his teeth. Some days are easy, but on others I need to convince him why he shouldn’t leave the house with uji stains on his face. It helps that there are songs about “washing my face, brushing my teeth, etc”. I usually brush my teeth and wash my face at the same time too.

Next is the question of what to wear and what to dress Jeremy in. After I dress, I then have to beg, plead or do whatever it takes to coax him out of his pajamas. If he’s in a great mood – which is the usual case unless he hasn’t slept well – he just lets you change him right away. Otherwise I have to let him know people don’t go to school in pajamas, well, unless they are in college!

By now, I will be in panic mode as I look at the watch that will be saying it’s 8:30am. The distance from our apartment to the parking lot is normally a 2 minute walk and the nursery is just a 5 minute drive from the parking lot, but it will take us about 20 minutes. First, Jeremy has to decide which shoes to wear, and sometimes nothing will do except the yellow shoes. Then he has to carry his bus with him. When I finally drop him at the nursery, I have to wait until he has changed from his outdoor to indoor shoes, given me a hug, and has waved bye as he runs to his classroom.

Then I drive back to campus to start my day. I usually feel like a champion for getting my son to the nursery on time!

Back at the apartment, I will probably hang out the laundry to dry – which I somehow managed to throw into the washing machine sometime after breakfast and before leaving to drop off J. I do his laundry about 3 times a week, mine once, and once for bedding and towels. So pretty much daily. Then I do any dishes that look they won’t last till evening. Take out the garbage, if it can’t wait for the next day. Open the windows to let in the fresh spring air. I don’t make the beds, that’s for super supermums with nannies, and I’m just a supermum. But I sometimes put out the blankets and futons out to air on the balcony. Then I put together my bag – laptop, charger, earphones, phone, phone charger, notebook, diary, wallet, keys, glasses, tissues, tampons, the basics etc – and head to the lab to do some research.

I have a tiny window from 10am to around 4pm to do my research and any other work, workout, have lunch, respond to emails, and check facebook and twitter. Sometimes I will upload a picture of flowers to Instagram. Maybe even update this blog. Thankfully, I have already finished my coursework but boy, wasn’t that hectic, when I had classes and assignments.

It’s 12 noon. I’m writing this at a desk in the lab where I am doing some part-time job. It’s not much, just about 6 hours a week. I am also supposed to be coding my minor research project while revising my official doctoral proposal. I should also be doing some reading as well designing the system for my main research. I just checked my phone for the first time since 9am this morning, and realize I forgot to charge it. I quickly plug it in, I am always on high alert for any phone calls from the nursery, in case I need to respond to something. Like if he’s sick, or if it’s a reminder that the school bus won’t be running today and I need to pick him up.

By 3:45pm I have to be at the bus stop to wait for the school bus. Then supervise the kids as they play outside until around 6pm. If the weather is not good, then we have to play indoors.

Jeremy and his friend play outside after school

Jeremy and his friend play outside after school

Between 4-6pm I have to make dinner while simultaneously supervising play time! Put away the now clean and dry laundry. Do dishes. 6pm is dinner time. Then shower time. Then story time. Or TV time. Bedtime at 8pm. Actual falling asleep time is around 9:30pm. By then, I am supposed to get up to continue research, or study Japanese, or do dishes, or maybe vacuum – oh, wait can’t vacuum at night and risk waking him up. Sometimes I will hear loud voices of some other (single) students laughing just right outside our window – at least that’s what it feels like, and I wanna slap their mouths shut haha.. can’t they see it’s quiet time for me? That blissful time when mothers put their kids to sleep and they can finally sit down to breathe.

Usually, I am too tired to do anything intellectually useful but I don’t want to sleep too early because then I end up sleeping for too long and wake up tired the following day. What twisted irony. So then I end up on the couch just watching a series, I prefer watching classics that I missed back in the day. The X-Files. Sex and the City. But I sometimes watch sitcoms like Mom, Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory.. and dramas like Shameless or The Good Wife. Sometimes I will read a book, I am currently reading Brisingr, the 3rd book in the series Inheritance by Christopher Paolini. I also recently read my first Manga book, called “Weird Storm Boy” 風の磨転郎. It was great actually, looking forward to more.

Cover of Weird Storm Boy

Cover of Weird Storm Boy

On weekends, we’ll go to a park or a children’s event or swimming or the local library or an English class for kids, or somewhere Jeremy can have fun with other kids. On Sundays, we go to church for the same reason, keeping Jeremy meaningfully engaged in play with people his own age. We might stay home and just ride bikes around the campus, as I clean the bathroom, the walls, vacuum and do (grocery) shopping.

So if someone can do all this for me for one week, I will personally give them the supermum cape. And yet, I’m not special neither am I the only one. There are women out there with 2, 3, 4 or even more kids. They take care of their kids and their husbands, they supervise the cooking, cleaning and arrangement of their houses even if they are working or not, they turn up at work looking great and kick ass getting things done. I salute all the women out there with kids, I know the day passed but Happy Mother’s Day, every day.

Everyone is busy, but if at the end of the day you get to spend the rest of your evening sipping on whiskey in your(QUIET) bachelor(ess) pad while you watch TV as this blog puts it, you are not allowed to seek sympathy from me! I can sympathize with Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau though. Sure, I would love a personal assistant or 7, but luckily for me, I can say it here on the blog without an entire country getting outraged.

P.S.

I have recently removed a few words from my dictionary. I know not their definition anymore and will wear a blank look if a topic involving them comes up. They include “dating”, “social life”, “grab a drink”, “go out at night”, “uninterrupted sleep for more than 3 hours”, “sex”, “marriage” etc.

P.S.II
I hope this post didn’t come out too whiny. I actually prefer a busy life and would be extremely bored if I didn’t have important stuff to do. This post was inspired when a recent situation made me wonder whom would I leave Jeremy with were I to travel for a week or two. The answer, only my mother! But she’s all the way in Kenya!

Taking Stock at 28

It’s the eve of my 28th birthday.

For some unknown reason, when I was younger, I always pictured myself at this age on the balcony of my apartment overlooking the ocean in California, a glass of wine in hand contemplating my successful career. Think Gabrielle Union’s character in any movie she stars in.

Instead, I find myself on the balcony of my apartment in a university dormitory in Japan. Okay, I am not at the balcony at this very moment but I plan to go there to take in the fresh spring air after I hit publish on this post. It’s 8:40pm and I’m listening to my son singing himself to sleep. He turned 3 years old about 3 weeks ago. He’s incredibly smart and I’m not just saying that because I am his mother. He is also incredibly handsome, incredibly talented, incredibly kind and loving, and can raise incredible hell when he wants his way. When I am done with this post, I shall probably have some time to think about Prince who died today at the tender age of 57. If you don’t think 57 is young, he could have had 3 more decades, like The Queen who just turned 90.

A recent photo of Jeremy and I

A recent photo of Jeremy and I

So what have I been up to since I last blogged almost 2 months ago? Or since my last taking stock post a year ago?

Making : Plans for a picnic with friends from campus by the riverside tomorrow. Because of seasonal changes in Japan, good weather (warm and outdoor friendly) doesn’t last that long so it’s kind of a big deal when winter clears, spring comes and we can finally have outdoor activities like barbecues, picnics, whatever..

Cooking : Githeri. No, it doesn’t taste the same as I am using sweet baby corn rather than our usual Kenyan white maize. The taste might not be the same but it’s still delicious.

Voila! Presenting the results of my #githeriInJapan experiment!

Savvy Kenyaさん(@savvykenya)が投稿した写真 –

Drinking :
A glass of the cheapest wine (2014 Vintage, LOL) I could buy at Costco. It’s terrible. I couldn’t even afford the 2nd cheapest wine!

Reading:
The second book in the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, Eldest. It’s a tale of a boy, a dragon, magic, elves, dwarfs, shades, oguls.. you know, fantasy. Don’t ask me where I get the time to read, between taking care of Jeremy, keeping my apartment habitable, doing my PhD and other part-time work in the university.

Wanting:
What do I want? Of course I want many things, like a car whose brakes don’t make a hissing sound when I step on them. But these days I am happy with just what I have and with just who I am.

Looking: At the picture below and how it represents my crisis point at this moment. Why am I even doing a PhD when all I’m doing is reducing my chances of employment? My career choices just got narrowed down to academia and industry research.

Why am I doing PhD?

Why am I doing PhD?

Playing: this song. Translated lyrics are here.

Wasting:
My time in the evenings watching Sex and the City. The show was banned in our home back then because of the sex scenes. I can’t really relate with the characters but I’m enjoying it nonetheless.

Sewing: sewing? Sure, I do have a sewing kit but I’m waiting for the loose button on Jeremy’s shirt to first fall off before I fortify it.

Wishing: there was a magic word to put children to sleep at bedtime. If you think you can just let kids play around until they are too tired and fall asleep, you’re wrong. The longer they stay awake, the more wired up they get, the harder it is for them to fall asleep and the worse the quality of sleep they’ll get. Then they’ll suffer bad moods the following day.

Enjoying: Tortilla chips + ketchup. It’s a Friday night, and it’s the eve of my 28th birthday. I can do/eat whatever I want.

Waiting: eagerly for July. If all goes well, Jeremy and I should make our first international conference appearance in Toronto, Canada.

Liking: the 45 minutes of exercise that I manage to squeeze into my schedule from time to time. I’ve however reduced from 5 times a week to barely once a week; but I am trying to up it up to at least 3 times a week.

Wondering: what’s the role of God in the 21st century? To those who believe in a God or gods, how/why?

Loving: the “moments” I have with J. Like we’d be singing in the shower (nursery rhymes, what else) and I forget the lyrics but then he reminds me. “Say goodbye, mummy, say goodbye!”. Or when reminds me to wear my jacket when we’re leaving the house. Or tells me to make sure I turn left so we can go home when I pick him up. Or when he follows me to the toilet like how dare I make a visit to the toilet and not invite him?

Hoping:
To get shortlisted in some kind of competition I am participating in so I can get a free trip to Tokyo. A trip away is always a good break.

Marvelling:
At just how far Jeremy and I have come. I think we sometimes need to take a break from our daily routine just to look back and just see how much we have achieved. When you have big goals, like I do, you can sometimes feel like you’ve done nothing so far. But even staying alive thus far, is something worth appreciating yourself for. *sips wine. dips a chip in sauce. fuck the calories.*

Needing: a plan to include studying Japanese into my schedule. I refuse to be one of those people who spend decades in Japan and yet can’t speak the language. So far, I have to wake up at 5:30am in order to study for an hour before starting my day. I am still amassing the willpower.

Smelling: his scarf. He forgot it here the other day. This is probably insane behaviour.

Wearing: Clothes with little thought to fashion. I always thought I would be better at this fashion thing when I got older or when I got money but I would rather spend any spare cash I get on books. When I’m famous I’m gonna need a full-time fashion staff.

Following: in the footsteps of many who have gone before us. We may think we are unique but we really aren’t. Not so much anyway.

Noticing: That finally, I’m 1Kg away from my ideal weight according to the BMI calculation. But it’s really an outdated method of calculation that doesn’t take into consideration African curves 😉

Knowing: that life is fleeting. It’s hard to accept that there will be a time when I will not be here anymore. That the people I know, the people in my life, won’t always be here forever.

Thinking: that I’ve spent far too much time writing this post. Cheap(est) bottle of wine is nearly empty!

Feeling: awesome. I’m 1 hour or so away from 28 and I feel awesome.

Bookmarking: sammydress.com. I like to look at the clothes even when I’m not buying.

Opening: my mind up to new, un-imagined possibilities.

Giggling: I don’t think I giggle. LOLing (Laughing out loud), yes. Giggling, no.

Happy birthday to me. It seems like it was just the other day that I was an 8 year old little girl. Time flies. RIP to all my friends who never made it to 28.

Culture Shock #96: Valentine’s Day & White Day

I am going to be doing some posts about my experience as a Kenyan in Japan. I’ll count down from 100 but in no particular order. Of course I expected Japan to be different so when people asked me if I experienced culture shock, I’d say no. But opon further reflection, there are so many things that have me asking, Japan, what the hell! That would never happen in Kenya! (and vice versa!). If that isn’t culture shock, then I don’t know what is. As an English-speaking nation and a former British colony, we are heavily influenced by the West (Europe and the USA) so there is little in our media/entertainment from Far East Asia .. for instance, not many Kenyans know much about The Far East and many confuse Japan for China or vice versa. So this has been literally, an eye-opening experience. Click on the hashtag for all the posts so far.

Valentine’s Day in Japan is just like Valentine’s Day in Kenya: a non-official, largely commercialized day for celebrating love. But there is one key difference! In Japan, it is the women who give men chocolates (and any other gifts)! So come this Sunday, the Kenyan woman in a relationship with a worthy man will wait to be treated like a queen. She will expect flowers, preferably red roses, chocolates, several other gifts -or at least one expensive gift, and then dinner at a romantic restaurant. For the luckier ladies, they will be whisked away by helicopters or by other vehicular means to romantic locations such coastal or lakeside resorts or even exotic safaris. For instance, the Villa Rosa Kempiski in Nairobi has a 5 Million Kenyan Shillings (about $5,000USD) Valentine’s Offer that includes roses, champagne, helicopter rides, and the presidential suite etc.

The Villa Rosa Kempiski in Nairobi, Image from http://www.nabiswa.com/

The Villa Rosa Kempiski in Nairobi, Image from http://www.nabiswa.com/

Now, I am not sure how Kenyan couples split their Valentine’s Day bills, but I can bet the man foots the bill on this particular day. He is also encouraged to come up with creative gifts (in addition to the chocolates and flowers) and ideas for the “surprise” dinner at favorable restaurants. When Valentine’s Day falls on a weekday, at least the man can get away with the bare minimum but since this year it falls on a weekend, men in relationships have to put in more effort to impress or prove their love or whatever reason couples celebrate Valentine’s.

The Japanese woman on the other hand, can’t afford to sit back and relax. She has to present chocolates to the man in her life, preferably prepared by themselves “as many of them think it is not true love if they just buy the ready made chocolate at shops”. That is not to say commercially prepared and packaged chocolates don’t have a market, they do! Read more about it here. Apparently, this practice may have started as a way for women, who are traditionally shy(are they?) to express their feelings. I shall now inform you that yours truly has also joined the bandwagon and bought some chocolates to ahem, express feelings with!

japan-valentines

Lots of commercials and guides showing women who to make chocolates for this special day. Image from tastymiso.com

If you are a Kenyan man thinking of immediately applying for a visa and permanent residence in Japan, know that there is also White Day. On this day, the men reciprocate the gifts they received to the women they received gifts from on Valentine’s Day. It comes exactly a month after, on March 14th. Oh, there is no special day for the man to receive gifts in Kenya, I think White Day only exists in Japan. Where is the justice in this?

P.S. While this post is not about the need to celebrate Valentine’s Day, allow me to say that there is nothing wrong with celebrating romantic love. There are always those couples newly in love, or forever in love, who don’t mind a special day to celebrate their love. That this can be done every other day of the year is besides the point. Of course, it has increasingly become commercialized, just like Christmas (and maybe soon Easter as well as other holidays), but it’s not going to go away any time soon.

Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone! What plans do you have with your loved ones?

Culture Shock #97: The Onsen Experience

I am going to be doing some posts about my experience as a Kenyan in Japan. I’ll count down from 100 but in no particular order. Of course I expected Japan to be different so when people asked me if I experienced culture shock, I’d say no. But opon further reflection, there are so many things that have me asking, Japan, what the hell! That would never happen in Kenya! (and vice versa!). If that isn’t culture shock, then I don’t know what is. As an English-speaking nation and a former British colony, we are heavily influenced by the West (Europe and the USA) so there is little in our media/entertainment from Far East Asia .. not many Kenyans know much about The Far East and many confuse Japan for China or vice versa. So this has been literally, an eye-opening experience. Click on the hashtag for all the posts so far.

So your boyfriend has a better handbag than you, yet he walks around with his wallet sticking out of his back pocket. Meanwhile, you are glad you have double eye-lids and have recently been utilizing a small-face corset so your face may have now shrunk to acceptable standards. But just in case it hasn’t, you have been wearing a surgical mask daily even if you’re not in danger of catching a fatal disease. But you’re not yet fully integrated into the Japanese culture until you are comfortable going to have a shower in a public bathhouse, after which you get into a giant bathtub, fully naked, with other strangers.

Okay, so there are onsens and then there are public bathhouses. (This is my understanding/categorization). Onsens are/were (natural)hotsprings, set in a backdrop of beautiful scenery. Sometimes they’d be in the mountains overlooking a beautiful valley, or the scenic view of snow etc. The main bath would be outside as you soak in the view and relax in hot water which is luxurious especially in winter.

An onsen in winter. Image from http://www.japan-guide.com/blog/schauwecker/111231.html

An onsen in winter. Image from http://www.japan-guide.com/blog/schauwecker/111231.html

To soak in the above inviting onsen, anyone can overcome any shyness or reservations they have about public bathing.

Then there are bathhouses. I didn’t understand why anyone would leave their bathtub at home to go bathe and soak in public. Most people do this on a daily basis or on several days a week.

Men bathing at an onsen. Image from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/464926361502378098/

Men bathing at an onsen. Image from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/464926361502378098/

Before getting into the bath, you must first wash yourself. The shower area has these plastic stools where you are supposed to sit so as to properly scrub yourself. After which you can enter the pool of sometimes scalding water, which you get used to after a few minutes.

Apparently, “‘Sento’ or public baths have long been part of the Japanese culture and dates back to the time when not all houses have their own bathrooms and some want to experience the soothing feeling hot springs water gives.” But actually, even if you have your own bathtub, it is just not possible to maintain the temperature as well as the bathhouses do, and of course you have plenty of room to stretch and relax at the bathhouse instead of a cramped bathtub.

No, there are no onsens or bathhouses in Kenya. That would seem a strange idea indeed.

I thought it made sense to go to bathhouses in winter and I have been going at least once a week with J. It is very relaxing afterwards and you sleep like a baby. So J and I like to go after dinner.

However, Japanese people go to onsens/bathhouses even in summer, when temperatures are in their late 30s! They say they feel very refreshed afterwards, but I am yet to muster the courage to enter a scalding hot bath in the summer heat!

Most onsens (I think over 95%) have separate sections for men and women. There are some mixed gender onsens but I am yet to go to such (although I hear they be mostly full of men hoping to catch a glimpse of any women joining them). Girls and boys under 8 years old are allowed to go either way! So it is not strange to see 7 year old boys, who of course understand the physical difference between the genders, bathing and soaking with their mothers in the women’s side. Young girls of up to 8 may go with their grandfathers to the men’s side. It’s a little bit unnerving at first because in most Kenyan communities, gazing upon the nakedness of your mother/motherly women is probably a curse-inviting offense. But really, there should be no shame in or any need to hide the human body. I think it is okay now that J is almost 3 and still young, but I am not sure I can still take him with me after he’s turned 5 and over. We’ll see.

In the meantime, we are loving the bathhouses and can be seen there at least once a week. It’s one of the things I am sure we will miss about Japan if and when we return. Never mind there is no winter in Kenya.

What To Do in Fukui, Gifu and Nagoya

Christmas in Japan is a working day like any other, but I wasn’t going to let it just go by. Jeremy, Patricia (my friend from Solomon Islands) and I had an all-you-can-eat lunch at an Indian restaurant in Kanazawa. But on New Year’s, we made plans to see a little bit more of Japan by visiting Fukui City in Fukui Prefecture (which is adjacent to Ishikawa Prefecture where we live), Gifu City in Gifu Prefecture and Nagoya City in Aichi Prefecture.

We only spent a day in each city so it was mostly touch-and-go, but at each city we made a stop that is worth recommending to anyone who wants to see these places.

Fukui: Dinosaurs, Ruins, Temples

Fukui is mostly famous for several types of dinosaurs whose fossils have been dug up there. Unfortunately, on the day we went there, the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum was closed. We contented ourselves with taking pictures and watching the three dinosaurs in front of Fukui Station. They move and roar from time to time which is exciting even for adults!

dinosaurs at Fukui Station

Try-something-something-aus dinosaur at the Fukui Station

dinosaurs at Fukui Station

Pattie, J and the dinosaurs at Fukui Station

Fukui is a one hour train ride from Komatsu Station. We arrived in Fukui at around noon so naturally, the next stop was lunch. Luckily, our friend Sakana who is a photographer (if you need photos taken of your family for weddings, graduations and such, highly recommended), picked us up and took us to this ramen restaurant in Fukui City.

Ramen restaurant in Fukui. I can't read the Kanjis so I can't tell you its name..

Ramen restaurant in Fukui. I can’t read the Kanjis so I can’t tell you its name..

Allow me to digress a little and show this photo Sakana took of J and I sometime in October last year.

Jeremy and I

Jeremy and I

After lunch, we went for a drive to see the Ichijodani Asakura Clan Ruins. It is basically a beautiful valley in which a castle town existed from the 1470s to the 1570s. However, all that can be seen now are the remains of the town – hence the name Asakura Ruins. It may be better to go in autumn as the scenery will even be more beautiful.

Ichijodani Asakura Water Station

Ichijodani Asakura Water Station, that is what the sign says

The wall surrounding the ghost town

The wall surrounding the ghost town

Just further up the road from the ruins is a beautiful waterfall. We met some other tourists there taking in the view as well. It was quite cold and there was some snow on the ground, it hadn’t yet snowed in Ishikawa!

Pattie and Jeremy at the Ichijodani Waterfall

Pattie and Jeremy at the Ichijodani Waterfall. Note: I am not sure its actual name!

There was still some time left in the day, so we drove to Hokyoji Temple in Ono City. Quoting from japantravel.com, “Hokyoji Temple in Fukui is the second head temple of the Soto school of Zen Buddhism in Japan. It was founded by Jakuen, a Chinese Zen monk who trained in Zen with Dogen, who was visiting China at the time, and later founded Eiheiji Temple.” This is the website of the temple, all in Japanese though. We didn’t see any monks training. In fact, we saw no one. We didn’t enter the temple but admired it from the outside. It had snowed heavily in the mountains and we enjoyed the view, took some pictures and left. It is a quiet, tranquil and isolated temple.

Mummy, what's this snow thing?

Mummy, what’s this snow thing?

Hokyoji Temple

Hokyoji Temple

J's hand searching for warmth :D

J’s hand searching for warmth :D

On the way back to Fukui City, Sakana remembered a Kenyan couple who are also students living in Fukui, we have them a call and they welcomed us into their house, just like that. They had made yummy chapos that we washed down with tea brewed Kenyan style. I hope to see them again, very welcoming people.

Gifu: Mountain Views

The following day, we left Fukui Station around 10am for Gifu City. The limited express train (Shirasagi) takes about 2 and a half hours from Fukui to Gifu. This time when we arrived at the station, Pattie’s Solomon Island friends were waiting to pick us up. Since we arrived at around noon, the first stop was of course, lunch. We had lunch at a Chinese restaurant near Gifu University (I also didn’t get the name). The food was delicious, the portions were HUUGE, and the price very fair. However, Jeremy refused to sit down. He also refused to let me sit down to eat in peace. Sometimes you wonder what 2 year olds want! Eventually, I had to ask for my food to be packed, and bought some food for J at McDonalds which he enjoyed.

If you are in Gifu, be sure to climb Mount Kinka for the views and for the Castle.

#GifuCastle #Gifu #Kinkazan

Savvy Kenyaさん(@savvykenya)が投稿した写真 –

I think you can catch a bus from Gifu Station to Mount Kinka but thank God for friends and friends of friends with cars!

If you are feeling fit, and time and weather permit, you can hike up the hill and it will take you about 45min-1hour. However, we had J with us and the weather wasn’t that good and it was late in the afternoon, so we went up the ropeway. It costs about 1,600 Yen for a return ticket. You can take the ropeway up and then hike down or vice versa.

We went up Mount Kinka using this ropeway .. a little scary but it takes only 2 minutes

Savvy Kenyaさん(@savvykenya)が投稿した写真 –

Once on top, these are some of the views to see around you. You can see as far as Nagoya, which is a 30 minute train ride from Gifu.

#Gifu #Kinkazan

Savvy Kenyaさん(@savvykenya)が投稿した写真 –

Thaaaat there in the distance is Nagoya.. as seen from #MountKinka #Kinkazan #Gifu

Savvy Kenyaさん(@savvykenya)が投稿した写真 –

#Kinkazan #Views

Savvy Kenyaさん(@savvykenya)が投稿した写真 –

There is also a beautiful park at the base of Mount Kinka which is even more beautiful in autumn.

It was around 4PM when we finally came down from Mount Kinka and Pattie’s friends dropped us at Gifu Castle Inn where we had booked a room. It had free wifi in the rooms. We got a chance to relax, had long relaxing baths, turned on the aircon so we had tropical temperatures in a Japanese winter and bought our dinner from the convenience store a minute away.

Nagoya: Aquariums and Adorable Dolphins

There is a subway from Nagoya Station to Nagoya Port, although you may have to connect. The main attraction is the Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium but there is also an amusement park at the port.

We paid around 2,000 Yen entrance and waited until 4pm for the Dolphins Show. The dolphins perform all manner of synchronized swimming, jumping, dancing, bowing etc and tricks such as jumping through hoops and jumping as high as 6 meters to touch a dangling ball. We all ooohed, ahhed and clapped at the end of each show as the dolphins bowed and waved their tails goodbye. Oh man, what a show. I will be sure to take J again when he’s older and able to appreciate the show a bit more.

The Ferris Wheel at the Nagoya Port

The Ferris Wheel at the Nagoya Port

Jeremy watching a dolphin

Jeremy watching a dolphin at the Nagoya Aquarium

A white shark at the Nagoya Aquarium

A white shark at the Nagoya Aquarium

A white shark at the Nagoya Aquarium

A white shark at the Nagoya Aquarium

The dolphins show at the Nagoya Aquarium

Two dolphins bow during show at the Nagoya Aquarium

At Nagoya, we spent New Year’s Eve at an Air BnB house. The lady was very welcoming and she has 2 kids – one 5, one 9 months – and we had dinner together with her family. Later, Jeremy played with her son (Jake) until they both fell asleep. A little before midnight, they left to go to the temple and make wishes for the new year (read more about Japanese New Year Customs Aosindi’s blog). By then J was deep asleep and I didn’t want to disturb him, so Pattie accompanied them.

We of course, took several selfies.

A happy start to the year it was!

A happy start to the year it was!

The following day, on 1st, we got back on a direct, limited express train (Shirasagi) to Komatsu/Kanazawa. Felt good to be back home after seeing so much in so little time.

Looking forward to the next travel adventure. Crossing my fingers it is somewhere abroad.

Happy 2016 dear readers of this blog!

Culture Shock #98: The Mask Revolution

I am going to be doing some posts about my experience as a Kenyan in Japan. I’ll count down from 100 but in no particular order. Of course I expected Japan to be different so when people asked me if I experienced culture shock, I’d say no. But opon further reflection, there are so many things that have me asking, Japan, what the hell! That would never happen in Kenya! (and vice versa!). If that isn’t culture shock, then I don’t know what is. As an English-speaking nation and a former British colony, we are heavily influenced by the West (Europe and the USA) so there is little in our media/entertainment from Far East Asia .. not many Kenyans know much about The Far East and many confuse Japan for China or vice versa. So this has been literally, an eye-opening experience. Click on the hashtag for all the posts so far.

I have only worn a “surgical mask” once in my life. That was last week when I had a minor cold and was sneezing all over the place. I felt like a doctor ready to perform surgery. Move over everyone, enter Dr. Savvy.

Dr. Savvy, ready for surgery!

Dr. Savvy, ready for surgery!

(Stretches left hand out): scissors *cuts something*
(Stretches left hand out again): scalpel *cuts something, again*
(Stretches left hand out again): needle. Dammit, we’re losing the patient. Apply the defibrillator, 100 cc, stat. Stand back everyone, stand back! 1, 2, 3..

Back to reality.

In Kenya, only doctors performing surgery wear surgical masks. I have never seen anyone in Kenya put on a mask and walk about freely. If I were to do that, people would assume I have some deadly disease (like SARS or Ebola – never mind Ebola is not a respiratory disease and is not spread through the airborne route). Matatu conductors wouldn’t want me in their vehicles and no one will want to touch me with a ten-foot pole! At least that’s what I imagine would happen.

In Japan, eeeeeveryone wears masks.

surgical-mask

Scenes like these are not uncommon. Image from http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/

I was worried at first that maybe there is some deadly in the air and perhaps I should rush to get one. So I asked my Japanese and Chinese friends why they wear masks.

The most common reason why Japanese people wear masks is because they have a cold and they don’t want to pass it to others. It is a culture where it is important to maintain harmony with others, where “it will disturb others” is reason enough to do/not do something. It is considered polite to get a mask to stop spraying your germs around whenever you cough, sneeze or blow your nose. You would then think that infection rates are near 0 and no one gets a cold but the business of new cold infections goes on as usual, masks or no masks!

If you are wearing a mask to stop yourself from getting infected by those around you, it doesn’t work really as it is not a disinfecting mask. There is no germ filter.

If you have a cold though, there is another reason you should wear a mask apart from infecting those around you. My tutor (who’s Japanese) told me that it helps with keeping the air your breathe moist and warm so it reduces your coughing. This made sense and when I got a cold last week (actually the first time I was getting a cold since coming to Japan), I put on the mask.

It was totally uncomfortable. I am one of those people who never cover their heads with blankets when I sleep because I feel like I am suffocating. The mask made me feel the same if not worse, and it also fogged my glasses. I spent the day with the mask hanging from my ears but leaving my mouth uncovered which was totally pointless. To help my cold heal faster, I resorted to the classic Kenyan treatment: dawa. A potent brew of lemon, ginger, garlic and honey. I discarded the mask the next day. I must add though, that my 2 year old son J, has taken a liking to the mask and has no problem putting one on the whole day.

I was talking with an Egyptian friend whose kids spent several years in Japan and are now back in Egypt. His son had a cold and went to school in a mask to stop spreading it to his classmates. The teacher however, was having none of that. It was too disruptive and he (the teacher) would rather have the kid infect all others but he was not allowing a surgical mask in his class.

Perhaps different masks designs, not the typical white surgical mask, might help sell the appeal of the mask outside of East Asia?

Different styles of masks. Image from http://puu.sh/kFlU5/4c0a613f4b.jpg

Different styles of masks. Image from http://puu.sh/kFlU5/4c0a613f4b.jpg

In China too, they wear masks because the air pollution in some cities is just too much. However, I don’t know if they are scientifically effective as they are just pieces of fabric with no chemical filters included. It would perhaps work on dust but not for much else.

Some people in Japan wear masks as an accessory, even if they aren’t sick. Perhaps if you have allergies to pollen, cat fur etc, a mask would come in handy.

In Japan, people are polite enough and care about others/society to not spread a cold when they get sick so they will definitely wear a mask. In Kenya, it seems sometimes that people GO OUT OF THEIR WAY to disrupt others/society so I think a mask will be a hard sell! As a Kenyan reading this, would you wear a mask? (Where would you even buy one?!)

Asante Mwalimu

World Teachers’ Day is on 5th October each year. I’m, like most other people, caught up with the business and busyness of my present life that I hardly give a thought to my past, or to the teachers that shaped who I am today.

Image courtesy http://thumbs.dreamstime.com/

Image courtesy http://thumbs.dreamstime.com/

There have been many teachers in my life. In the primary school where I sat for my KCPE, there was a mathematics teacher who showed me I didn’t have to settle for 90%, with attention to details I could and often did get 100%. There was a dedicated retired teacher who was on contract teaching us Swahili and I owe my current level of fluency to him. There was the Geography teacher who wasn’t tolerating any signs of truancy from us.. However, it would be hard to trace all these teachers today given my former school is physically no more! It was a private boarding school, getting perhaps rundown by mismanagement, and I hear it is now a seminary.

Now onto high school. It has been a decade since I last walked out of Loreto High School, Limuru. I haven’t been back in as long because I feel my business there was quite done when I picked my KCSE and leaving certificates. I have many memories of that place. Who doesn’t? There were good teachers, there were so-so teachers, and there were some great teachers.

One of my most memorable and influential teachers, although he probably doesn’t realize it, is one Mr. Obuong. Everything else aside, he was a great biology and chemistry teacher. I owe the As I got in those subjects to him. To this day, I can remember some of the essays we had to write in the biology exams word for word; and the experiments we carried out in the biology lab on weekends are stuck in my head. He was one dedicated teacher with clear, unambiguous notes that he sometimes had those students with good handwriting make copies for his well-organized files. Everyone in class had to have a separate biology file and although we weren’t the easiest class to teach (4B class of 2005!), we all complied with rules.

When it comes to Chemistry, I can’t even remember quite clearly who our teacher was. I think it was Mrs R. But I knew I was going to fail the subject if I didn’t do something; I wasn’t grasping the mole concept and those chemistry calculations, organic chemistry and what not.. so I joined Mr. Obuong’s tuition class. Because he was organized, and explained the concepts clearly, then everything fell into place and I finally loved and understood chemistry.

Now that I have been forced down memory lane, we were to pay for those extra tuition classes (considering he wasn’t our Chemistry teacher). To this day I don’t even remember how much but I know I owe him a debt bigger than any few thousand shillings (I shall make this right the next time I am back in the country).

For now, I would like to say, thank you. Thank you to all the teachers who’ve taught me over the years, and especially, thanks to Mr. Obuong for being a great teacher.

By the way, Jacaranda Africa will be giving out the magazines to schools around the country in their effort to say thank you to their teachers.

How Celebrating the Holidays has Changed Over the Years?

Christmas is a special time. It’s a period where families get to spend precious time with their loved ones. In addition, plenty of gifts are given, and people’s dreams come true, even if it is just for one day.

But can you imagine in Japan, Christmas is not a public holiday and people still go to work? I mean, the decorations are up and people will tell you Merry Christmas but it’s like Valentine’s in Kenya. Somewhat celebrated but not official and is not really a family affair but a couple’s affair!

Central - Christmas Decorations #4

Photo Credit: Konrad Krajewski via Compfight cc

History
Looking back through history, there’s no actual evidence that Jesus was born on December 25 or that he and his disciples celebrated his birthday on said date. In a report by the World Bulletin, it was Valentinus, a Roman Christian scholar, who made the first documentation about the holiday being celebrated on December 25 in the year 354. During this era, a Greek Saint called Saint Nicolas, who is known for giving gifts to children, also became popular.

Common celebration
Currently, the most common way of celebrating the holidays worldwide is by erecting a Christmas tree with gifts aplenty surrounding it and having a traditional dinner with family members. Often, those living in far away places book their flights ahead of time so they can stay close to their family during the festive period.

It’s still traditional to sign Christmas carols to our neighbors. In fact, holiday songs are the most common signs that Christmas is just around the corner. In the Philippines and other countries, some stores start building their decorations and playing Christmas carols as early as September, according to the Discipleship Ministries.

High-tech holidays
Some families have relatives living abroad, who aren’t capable of leaving their work or homes during the holiday period. Making it almost impossible to enjoy Christmas the way they used to when they were younger. Thankfully, technology has made it easier for us to stay in touch with our loved ones even if we are thousands of miles away from them. Skype and other video calling services allow people to stay connected. Smartphones also have the same features, which help to keep family members close and connected.

Ownership of mobile devices has increased over time, outdoing other computing devices. In fact, Gaming Realms, the developer of Spin Genie states smartphone usage has now accounted for up to 50 percent of the overall tech consumption worldwide. This is mainly due to people now being highly dependent on mobile devices in their daily lives and even at work through the bring your own device (BYOD) scheme. So, it’s not at all surprising to know that we now rely on incorporating technology to stay connected with our loved ones during the holiday season.

Hopefully in 2016, technology will help to keep us close to our families regardless of distance. Make sure to keep up to date with the latest tech trends so that you never lose sight of family members during the holidays throughout 2016.

Culture Shock #99: Japanese Beauty Standards

I am going to be doing some posts about my experience as a Kenyan in Japan. I’ll count down from 100 but in no particular order. Of course I expected Japan to be different, so when people asked me if I experienced culture shock, I’d say no, but on further reflection there are so many things that have me asking, Japan, what the hell? That would never happen in Kenya! (and vice versa!). If that isn’t culture shock, then I don’t know what is. As an English-speaking nation and a former British colony, we are heavily influenced by the West (Europe and the USA), there is little in our media/entertainment from Far East Asia .. not many Kenyans know much about The Far East and many confuse Japan for China or vice versa. Here is the previous post, #100 and the hashtag for all the posts so far.

  • Small Head, Small Face

I was in the bus with my Ethiopian friend who’s married to a Japanese guy and she has been living here in Japan for over 15 years. I was of course, actively avoiding eye contact with a few curious people who stole glances at me. I couldn’t however, avoid eye contact with my Ethiopian friend whom I was chatting with, even if she was looking at me a tad too intensely before remarking:

“You’re very pretty. And you’ve got a small head, and a small face..”

I was puzzled.

Here is a picture of me wearing an Ethiopian dress. Is my head small? What about my face?

Here is a picture of me wearing an Ethiopian dress. Is my head small? What about my face?

She then explained to me that Japanese people usually have big heads (her words, not mine) and that they desire small heads and small faces. Up until that point, and really even up to now, I had and have never given a thought to the ratio of the size of Japanese heads to their bodies. It’s simply ridiculous but perhaps that’s the Kenyan in me talking. No one gives a thought about the size of your head, and width of your face as a standard of beauty in Kenya.

I thought maybe it is just something foreigners observe. Until another time I was in the car with a Japanese friend who was dropping me off in campus. He spent a year in the US and is obsessed with basketball, rap and basketballers. He remarked wistfully, “They are so tall and they have such small heads.” So I turned to look at him and earnestly told him, “Hey, your head is small too.” He was like, “really? thanks!”
Now you know what compliment to give next time you’re talking to a Japanese guy. “You’ve got such a small head, and your face is small too!”. Say that to a Kenyan at the risk of being thought insane.

Oh look at the size of LeBron's head.. so small!

Oh look at the size of LeBron’s head.. so small!

In my opinion if you ask me, I think having a big head would imply a big brain and that’s a good thing, no?

Perhaps nothing can be done about the size of the head but fear not if you’re a broad-faced Kenyan woman wanting to look beautiful in Japan, there is an invention called the facial corset that promises a tiny face. You might think I am joking but this product is available on Amazon from as low as $10 and has a 3.6/5 star rating..

The Absolute Tiny Face Corset from Amazon

The Absolute Tiny Face Corset from Amazon. Image from Amazon

  • Small, Straight Nose

As an African, my nose is probably on the broader, flatter side.. Here I would terribly fail the Japanese beauty test for the desired small, straight nose. Being in a land of technological innovation, there is a list of gadgets available to help shape my face, including The Hana Tsun Nose Straightener (see image below), The Eye Slack Haruka, The Eyelid Trainer, The Rhythm Slim Chin Exerciser, The Face Slimmer Mouthpiece etc..

The Hana Tsun Nose Straightener

The Hana Tsun Nose Straightener. See link above for source

  • Double Eyelids

Let’s not even get started on this one. I had no idea what “double eyelids” were until I got to Japan. 100% of the Kenyans I know have double eyelids so it’s not something you’re “aware” of until you meet people who want it. You can read an article about it on gaijinpot.com.” Blepharoplasty, also known as the double eyelid surgery is one of the most popular cosmetic surgeries in Japan. The surgery is performed to transform the Asian “monolid” into a Western-style [edit African-style too!] “double lid” thereby making the patient’s eyes look bigger.”

Source: gaijinpot.com

Source: gaijinpot.com

  • Crooked Teeth

There are reports of Japanese women getting surgery to make their straight teeth crooked because it is seen as more attractive. But it’s not crooked teeth per se but slightly longer, vampire-like canines.. I don’t think it is a very popular trend among the general population. However, I have made one interesting observation: all the women I’ve met so far with (naturally) crooked teeth are beautiful. I don’t know if there’s a correlation there.

Japanese twins

I met the Japanese twins above at the Tokyo Sevens, they were supporting the Kenyan team. They’re beautiful and coincidentally they also have slightly crooked canines. I hope they’re okay with me using their photos, I don’t remember their names/contact!

Physique
Ah.. let’s not go there today! But a definition of “slim” by Kenya standards is “average” here.