My body was failing me. I could feel it. A burning sensation rippled from my throat to my extremities. My eyelids were drooping, my lips parched, and all I could think about was how this plane was going to crash at any moment. The seatbelt light turned on and the plane shook. I tightly gripped the uncomfortable seat handle as I took a deep breath, but even that was physically straining.
At first, it was an uncomfortable tingling sensation. A regular sore throat I thought; but alas, it was much worse. Within a few hours time, it hurt to swallow my own saliva -- and of course, this was all happening right before my flight to Narita Airport, Tokyo from JFK, New York City.
Internship @ Obubu Tea Farm
It was going to be an exciting trip I thought. Of course it was. Three months at a tea farm in rural Japan? Well, that might not sound so great to many, but to me it was practically the culmination of all of my dreams. A combination of a rural community, high-context cultural mannerisms, living in the countryside, farming, and drinking fresh tea everyday!? It couldn't get any better than this. The Obubu Tea Farm Ambassadors Program was truly the perfect internship for me.
As a small business venture, the internship would allow me to explore different areas of untapped potential; skillsets that I have that are not commonly used in my academic field. Working for a small business in rural Japan means more control over the creative direction and impact on the business, and consequently accountability for my actions. I would essentially be able to influence the success of this company in penetrating untapped international markets. All of those years wondering what my mediocre skill set but strong interests in design, photography, art, social media management, and powerpoint presentations basically was resolved. It was exciting---
---perhaps too exciting?
That night I couldn't sleep. I kept packing and repacking my suitcase, editing its contents meticulously. After traveling and living in Gabon (in Central Africa) for two months, I learned what I needed and what I didn't to survive on my own in a foreign land. As it turns out, pots, pans, a chef's knife, and a vegetable peeler are essentials (long story short, I would have starved in Gabon had I not brought my kitchen set with me). A whole box of first aid kit supplies to cure every illness, was not. Neither were decorative stamp sets and different colored cardstock paper. I also made some small purchases to help with space efficiency -- packing cubes and a microfiber towel. As it turns out --- one of the best investments I've ever made. I had also purchased my very own suitcase (since I was borrowing my family members' suitcases before). My brother pointed out that I 'ought to get my own since I travel so much. He was right. I also wanted a four-wheel one for easy traveling. Another great investment as it turns out.
I cut down and made sure I brought the essentials: a week's supply of clothes, underwear, socks, undershirts, a tie just in case a special occasion calls for it, one pot, a few kitchen utensils, my camera bag (with camera and lenses) and that was it for the most part. My suitcase would have been half empty without my camera bag and pots. Lugging two suitcases around Japanese train stations and buses would be a horrible experience. I settled on one large suitcase and a small duffel bag to go on top. Perfect. I had extra room to bring back some souvenirs and gifts. Besides, I could probably buy more clothes in any of the city should I need them.
I decided not to bring my tripod with me because it was big and would take up too much space (diagonal positioning due to its size, disallowing compact packing. I hope that wasn't a mistake. We shall see.
Still here? Even after paragraphs on end about packing? Jeez, you must have nothing better to do.
In any case, I was to fly from NYC to Chicago to Tokyo on no sleep, and while developing a fever. Yum! My Chicago flight was delayed by half an hour which left me with only 15 minutes to transfer to my connecting flight to Tokyo. Stress. During my two hour flight to Chicago I could feel my health getting worse. Everything felt stuffy and swallowing became a chore. I reminded myself that I'm no longer at the age where I could pull all-nighters. It just gets me sick every time. Let's hope I remember that.
Luckily, my Tokyo flight was also delayed due to technical difficulties, so I was not left behind (unlike in Gabon, hah). The twelve hour flight to Tokyo was uncomfortable. I had to carefully balance how much I drank to try to soothe my throat while not bothering my "seat neighbors" too often by using the restroom. And then the hacking coughs came around, and I couldn't stop. I was afraid people thought I was going to give them the flu or... ebola or something.
I arrived in Tokyo an hour later than expected. The airport was big, but I managed to get around. I picked up my prepaid SIM card (data only plan for google maps and getting around) that I had shipped to the post office at the airport, exchanged some cash and headed off to the train station. I had signed up to stay with an AirBnB host for 2 night in Tokyo so I let her know that I was coming. Navigating through the railway system was a bit intimidating at first, but it was arguably easier than NYC's subway system. Every time we passed by a station, I practiced reading the names in hiragana. The whole experience reminded me of a cleaner, more efficient NYC subway experience. They had automatic ticket machines, cool card/ticket readers, and polite staff at every station. Oh yeah, no gum on the floors is always a plus. After an hour and a transfer at Aoto station I was in Tokyo, specifically at Kifune station, 10 minutes east of Tokyo SkyTree (like Tokyo Tower, but taller I believe). I was told to meet my AirBnB host at the west exit of the station. As I was about to take the elevator down, I heard the voice of an elderly woman. "Kebin-san?" I turned around and saw the old lady from the AirBnB profile. "Kazuko-san desu ka? Kebin to moshimasu." She immediately replied with "よかったーyokatta" a phrase that means thank goodness/I'm so glad. She repeated it a couple of times as we took the elevator down together.
"Welcome home." Kazuko-san said aloud as she slowly opened the door to her tiny three floor apartment. "ただいま (tadaima - I'm home)" I said back. I tried my best to use all of the Japanese phrases I knew. Kazuko-san showed me to my room as I lugged my suitcase up the flight of stairs. It was small, but had everything I needed -- a nice bed with multiple layers of blankets, a small wall shelf that acts as a table, and a shelf of towels and... what's this!? a bathrobe!
She showed me to the kitchen and offered me a drink. "おちゃをください (ocha wo kudasai - Japanese tea please)" I asked politely. Kazuko was delightfully surprised and quickly made what I assumed to be sencha. She asked me if I liked tea, and I responded by saying that I loved it. I looked around the kitchen. It was small but compact and outfitted with high-tech gear. A hanging drying shelf unit that pushes itself up to become a discreet shelf, an electric stove that had multiple buttons, and other things.
I signed a questionnaire and an agreement form-- all indicators that she has hosted many people before. Apparently I am limited to one shower a day (I, like most Indonesians, shower twice a day). But at least I get home-made breakfast every morning at 8AM.
Welp, better sleep so I don't miss that! Tomorrow: Asakusa, Ueno Park, Ueno Zoo, Museums, Tokyo SkyTree + more!