I am sure you have al been in situations you did not see coming.
In this blog I will be sharing with you a life experience, I don’t wish to anyone. There is no ‘pointing fingers’ or blaming, I take full responsibility for accepting the situation as it was presented to me, for not standing up for myself, and for not setting clearly defined boundaries. The first part of the story might seem like a fairytale, but keep reading…you will soon find out that things can change in an instant if you allow it to.
Years ago, I worked for a company that marketed their services overseas to build relationships and get overseas clients to come and study in Australia. I enjoyed working there very much as the team was a mixed bag of all different nationalities. Everyone brought his or her unique qualities and opinions to the table and together we thrived. As the word got out that I had lived and worked in Japan and was familiar with the Japanese culture, I was approach by the owner and asked if I would be interested in promoting the company in Japan.
Because I had gathered amazing memories over the period I had lived in The Land of the Rising Sun, I was delighted to pay my old stomping ground a visit.
I couldn’t have imagined to be back there all so soon.
However, I had just finished my Masters and had been working for two years non stop without a holiday… before I went anywhere for work, some down-time was required. Back in February, I had booked a 3-week holiday to the United States. The marketing team understood and we agreed that I would cut my holiday short with 2 days and fly straight from Las Vegas into Osaka.
The next day, we set the date for me to commence my 2-month Japanese venture and contracts were signed.
A few weeks later, early July, I left with my two girlfriends Mel and Shelly to the US on a well-deserved vacation. We had the best time in NYC, rowing in Central Park, eating the most delicious Italian food at Eataly and a visit to the meatpacking district was concluded with an unforgettable dinner at Olive. We visited ground zero and held a minute silence to remember the day the world changed forever. Then we decided to walk the streets of Manhattan making our way back to our apartment (instead of cabbing), admiring the sun going down between two skyscrapers. Over the following days, we visited museums, iconic places such as the Gran Plaza, Barneys Fashion house, the NYC Apple store, the library and we walked across the Brooklyn Bride. What would a visit to The Big Apple have been without a musical on Broadway? We crammed as much into that week as we could and then made our way to the next destination, Washington DC.
We also had a phenomenal time in Washington, where we visited the memorials of famous change leaders such as president Lincoln and Martin Luther King. This city had a very different vibe but was gorgeous with it fountains, parks and museums. From Washington, we made our way back to JFK and flew from there to Las Vegas, the city that never sleeps.
When we arrived in Vegas a limo awaited us. All organized by my two friends who work in the hotel industry. We had booked a suite in the Cosmopolitan for the week. When I opened the door, I could not see the other side of the living area, although my eye was drawn to the massive balcony from which we had a magnificent view on the fountains in front of the Bellagio Hotel. Every night we watched the world-famous fountain lightshow complimented with a classical music piece. We went to several shows, met interesting people, took a helicopter flight above the Gran Canyon and most importantly, relaxed on the rooftop. Sadly, I had to cut this lush life of glamour and high vibes short, and hop on a flight to Osaka. I had truly enjoyed this exquisite holiday of culture, the arts, great food, and the finer things in life – not to forget the privilege of being accompanied by amazing likeminded friends. But, at the same time I was keen to make my way to Nippon, for an Oriental experience once again.
After a long flight, I arrived in Osaka, a city, which is well known for it long queues at customs. I was lucky – two and a half-hours later, I walked into the arrivals hall and was welcomed by the owner and his Japanese partner, for whom I would work during my two months on Japanese soil. They treated me to a delicious sushi dinner and then drove me to my hotel, so I thought…
I was asked if I had Japanese Yen on me and I told them ‘no’ as the exchange bureau was not yet open when I left Las Vegas. I had also expected the company to provide me with some expense money upon arrival, but this was clearly not the case. I was handed a one off 10 000Yen, which is equivalent to $100USD.
The car stopped at some kind of grey and brown apartment building, nothing flash. It actually looked like a very old student accommodation. I was prompted to walk up the stairs to the fourth floor – no elevator – and was welcomed into ‘my place’ for the next couple of months. I tried to contain the utter shock I was in when I saw the place. It was a room with plastic floor, a futon on the ground –no bed, a 35-inch flat screen TV in the corner and the smallest bar-fridge I had ever seen in my life was located in the other corner – no Internet.
There was some space to hang clothes, but there was neither a table nor a chair and my suitcase would take up most of the left over space in the room.
‘How was I going to do work here?’ was the first thing that crossed my mind. Thank goodness, there was an air-conditioning unit, as it can get to 45C easily during Japanese summer.
In the hallway was a tiny cooking nook with one pan and one pot, one glass, one cup and one fork and knife…on the opposite side about a meter from the stove was the toilet and above the toilet was the shower – all this in one cubical of seventy centimeters by one meter, if that. What I did not know at that time was that there was a highway running on the other side of the building and sleep would be something I could only dream of.
I was simply flabbergasted and in disbelief. Here I was. Did I really leave paradise this morning, to come to this dump? When they left, I sat on the floor and looked around. I’d better have a shower – to the extent this was possible – as I had to be in the office tomorrow morning at 9AM. The biggest surprise was yet to come.
The next day, I got up early and walked to the business center down the road where I found an ATM. I tried to withdraw money, but this exercise proved to be unsuccessful. I had only $100 and knew that I had to be careful because this might be all the money I had to work with for a while, until I got my credit card to work. At 9AM I arrived at the office and everyone was super kind and helpful.
They also had doughnuts for me. At least I was not going to die from hunger.
In the afternoon, when I finished work, it was the plan to go to the supermarket and stock up the fridge…but wait, my mini-fridge could probably only fit a few cans and a some Japanese takeaway dishes and on top of that…$100US would not stretch far neither. Anyway, I decided to walk to the supermarket in 40C degrees, just to see what I could buy if I managed to get my card to work. The walk to and from the supermarket was the best part of my day – believe it or not. Once back in my shanty, I felt this incredible frustration. I could not believe the owner of the company had thought it was OK for me to sleep on the floor, with earplugs and with a fridge that did not even fit a one-liter bottle of water. I felt powerless, disrespected and mislead. Imagine coming from once of the most luxurious hotels in the world to this … But, then I thought about the fact that I had seen people live in far less favorable circumstances than this… The next day, I asked the Japanese owner for an Internet dongle as I explained that I should have access to the news and be able to communicate with my family. He agreed and that night I had Internet and… music! I danced around my tiny shack and slowly stated to get myself into better vibes. I also contacted a friend of mine who lived in Tokyo and we met up over the weekend.
Finally after ten days I got my bankcard to work. Halleluiah!
After getting to know me little by little, the Japanese crew seemed to feel bad about me living in this hovel as they kept inviting me for dinners out. I made great friends that I am still in touch with today. However, I will never forget how my company director treated me and dumped me with little or no money in an accommodation set-up that was a far cry from the prestigious image the company was trying to portray.
What I have learned from this rather eye-opening experience was that no matter what happens in life and regardless of where you land, with the right attitude you can make anything work in your favour. Also, being put in this position again, the way I would have responded TODAY would have been very different, as I would not accept to sleep on the floor. I would have respectfully pointed out that with my back injury, I would need a bed to sleep in and in order to do work and enjoy a meal in comfort, I would need a table and chair. Moreover, when a company sends you overseas to represent them, it is their duty to provide you with a daily allowance for food and extras. It is not the right thing for the employee to bear all costs associated with exchange rates etcetera.
Yet again, for a business relationship to sustain, both parties need to have a good feeling about the transaction. If an employer plays cheap but expects exceptional value from an employee, the energy is not in balance. However, if this is the case, it is up to the employee to be accountable and speak up.
As the saying goes: ‘When you bargain with life for a penny, that is exactly what you will get.’ If you know you are worth more, ASK, and it shall be given!