Or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Instant Coffee
When my family got stationed in Greece, I remember walking into our house on Kolokotroni Street, taking in the old amber lighting, the brown linoleum floor in the kitchen, and my small white twin bed, and feeling thoroughly overwhelmed. The pieces were there, but it did not feel like my home.
Our shipment of household boxes from the States wasn’t expected to arrive for at least a month, so in the interim we were given a “care package” from the Embassy. It had movies, pots and pans, cleaning supplies – basically everything that one needed to quickly acclimate and get to living (except the movies. The movies were not helpful – they weren’t even that good as I remember). Our embassy contact took us to the sprawling Carrefour, and walking us through the Greek foods, showing us how the coin-operated shopping carts worked. In essence, there was a system in place to help us with the culture shock of being in a foreign environment.
To some extent, my Japanese company does the same thing. We had a corporate representative take us to the municipal office to get our residence cards (so we can pay taxes), and then to the post office to set up bank accounts. I have no idea what is going on, much like when I was in China, so I’m grateful for the hand-holding. There is so much trust required – you give all your details over to strangers, who begin integrating you into their system. I wonder how my identity web stretches over the world…
Paperwork is one thing. Living, however, is another.
Last post, I lamented my blank canvas apartment on which I was not to paint. But I was assured that we’d get a care package box that would help us through that initial hurdle of living. Here is what was in the box when it arrived:
-one (soup) spoon
-two plastic bowls
-a plastic mug
-one chef’s knife
-laundry hanging device
– five hangers
– trash can
And that’s it. It goes a long way towards explaining why the company recommended bringing about half a month’s salary with us before we arrived; they give us very little to help with the transition. Let me be clear: I was not expecting a second embassy experience. Naturally, things are going to be different not only because of the country, but also because I’m working for a private Japanese company. I’m independent now (whee!), not my Mom’s dependent. And I’m just one person, not a family, so I don’t need as much.
Still. I brought two suitcases with me – one with clothes, the other with supplies. But I did not bring coffee mugs, plates, etc. When I moved in the States, I filled my car with the things I felt I needed, some of it necessary, a portion of it decorative. When I went off to college, I had a similar set of supplies. It’s not the same thing, starting from the contents of that one box. One spoon. One fork.
This is a good thing, I tell myself. This will teach me to live with less. This will help me figure out what I really need.
What I really need, it turns out, is a butter knife.
You don’t know what you miss till it’s not there. I use my small frying pan as a strainer when I boil vegetables or make ramen. The small pan also serves as a sort-of lid for the pot when needed. I toast bread in the pan as well. I boil water for tea and (instant) coffee in the pot. I make all my sandwiches with an eight-inch chef’s knife. I have to wash everything immediately because I only have one of anything.
I’m saying this a little out of order. I’ve been to a grocery store and bought some basics – ramen, eggs, miso paste, etc. (I didn’t know about miso paste. One of the teachers showed me where it was). I went up the 100 yen shop and bought a water glass and a proper ceramic coffee mug. I picked up some chopsticks and a tiny teaspoon (I realized I couldn’t eyeball instant coffee with a soup spoon). I don’t know what I need until I need it, and then I have to decide if I really need it. For example, I keep wanting to make carrot sticks, but I have no peeler. I opted to buy a smaller knife instead, because I can do more with the knife than the peeler.
There is also the time factor. Whether I choose to renew my contract or not, I most likely won’t be staying in the same place. The company moves teachers each contract, so whatever I buy I either have to sell, take back home with me, or pay to have removed. It means that every purchase has to be weighed on a timeline. It’s why I only bought one glass instead of four – I’m not going to play hostess here if I have to get rid of everything in five months time (especially if I have to buy it again). So do I really need it? Will I use it for six months? What will I do with it once the contract is done?
Finally, there is money. I won’t get paid for several weeks. Do I really need item A, or can I wait? If I can wait, how long can I wait? Can I wait long enough that I don’t need it? These are the “positive” questions I ask myself – questions that force clarity and make me face my inner drive to accumulate things.
We have a small lull before work starts, which is why I have the luxury of complaining about having to start from scratch. I imagine once this whole teaching things kicks off I will be properly distracted. That is my hope. Because I hate mooning over mixing bowls.