Before I left Singapore for Japan, I told anyone who had to put up with my annoyingly incessant conversations about the latter that I was looking forward to the many challenges that would invariably fall my way as I navigate foreign lands on my own. Hoo boy, did I get one the moment I stepped off the plane.
Haneda Airport, 24 March, 9:30pm
I was given a free walking tour of half of Haneda Airport, as I was directed from one COVID-19 screening checkpoint to another, culminating in a 40-minute wait for my test result, and thankfully, a much shorter immigration process. It was close to midnight when I finally carted myself into the arrival lobby. A driver who was supposed to pick me up to the quarantine hotel, located two hours away, was nowhere to be found. The airport was almost empty as the few travellers fortunate enough to be allowed entry into Japan gradually trickled out, accompanied by friends and family; and I was all alone.
Thankfully, Hide-san, a staff from my school, that was responsible for arranging the transport, stayed online and contacted the driver on his end while I tried my best to appear as unsuspecting as possible to the policemen that occasionally patrolled the area. I eventually asked two of them in whatever fucked up Japanese I could muster if I could leave my luggage with them so I could use the restroom; an odd request, all things considered, but they understood, by some miracle. In other news, the aforementioned driver actually took off and was about 30 minutes away from the airport when Hide-san managed to get a hold of him. I left the airport at 1:30am and reached my quarantine hotel at 3:30am.
On hindsight, being holed up at a hotel made life in Japan so much easier, mostly because I didn’t have to sort my trash, and I didn’t have to pay too much attention about how much water and electricity I was using — not that I was leaving lights and faucets on, but it was nice not to think about it. Nevertheless, I was dying to leave and roam the streets freely, an urge made worse when I found out that Singaporeans arriving in Japan about two days after I did no longer needed to quarantine. On my 5th and final day, I was finally whisked away to school, and right after, my new apartment.
I still remember the very moment I felt that life in Japan had truly begun, and it was just as James-san, another staff member, dropped me off to my apartment and after a warm conversation, left me to my devices. There I stood, in the middle of the apartment surrounded by my luggage and literally the bare essentials; my mind jolted into action as I then had to think about what to get right away. I was no longer sheltered by family; and it felt surreal, for lack of a better word. I was both excited to prove my mettle, whilst missing the warmth of convenience. But this was it, what I had asked for — a new start in the country I’ve dreamt of living in for years, all alone doing this long-overdue adulting business.
That was over a week ago, and with each responsibility checked off the list, I feel more empowered; and with each blunder, language or otherwise, I feel more humbled, yet more eager to keep going. School starts Monday, and with it comes another challenge of juggling work, studies, and human relationships. I don’t know what’s in store tomorrow, but I’m excited.