What Kept Me Going for over 7.5 Years

I was talking to Ms. D some many days ago when she asked the above question. And that really got me thinking.

When I first moved to Japan, I never thought I would be here this long. I didn’t even think I would be around for a year as I was prepared for the possibility of not landing myself a job during my stay. Even if that were the case, I didn’t think it was a waste of time and money. Rather, that would probably be the best $25,000 I would ever spend. And it turned out even more fruitful. Never mind the shockingly small sum I had left in my savings after that.

Every time I returned to Singapore to meet with friends and family, I would always get the same questions: When are you coming back? Are you going to be in Japan forever?

It’s quite amazing, even for me, to realise I’ve been here almost 8 years now, and by the time my current visa expires, I would’ve been here almost a decade. I recall one of my university lecturers once mentioned he lived in the States for 8 years and everyone in class went, “Ehhhhhhhhh!?” And I was wondering why the response. The lecturer was surprised by the reaction and asked, “Why is that so shocking? Have you all been brainwashed by the government into thinking that this is the best place ever?”

When I first attended Japanese language class in Temasek Poly, I enjoyed the linguistics aspect of it so much, I decided I wanted to do translation work on a freelance basis when I get fluent at the language. Then, I hadn’t thought to move to Japan. But with English being the lingua franca of the world, it makes sense that there are probably more Japanese-English translation work available in Japan than in Singapore, and so, when I eventually made it to Japan, I wanted to make sure I make the most out of the stay regardless of how long or short it is.

Toward the end of my studies at the Yamasa Institute, I began hunting for work because the 6 months in Japan wasn’t enough to get me fluent enough in the language. I spoke Japanese like I would any foreign language. My goal was to be able to speak Japanese like I spoke Mandarin. When I finally got into teaching (to which there’s a separate reason unrelated to this post) that gave me valid work permit, I knew then I had a base from where I can make my move toward translation. So during my off days at home, I would constantly scour the net for open positions in the field of translation or any role at a translation company. And I must have sent out hundreds of resumes since I didn’t care which part of Japan I had to move to, as long as I get to do translation.

A translation agency in Tokyo got back to me offering the position of a Project Manager (PM). It didn’t matter it wasn’t a translator role, because as PM, I had to manage and verify translation quality, which gave me insight into what consists of a good translation, what would be considered poorly done, as well as the general quality of active translators in the market.

A couple of years later, something happened in my career, which triggered my move toward a full-time freelance career. I left employment and registered myself as a sole-proprietor with the tax office and began doing what I had wanted to do. The approximately 2 years at the translation company as well as a part-time translation course I attended gave me a good start in launching this new phase of my life. During this time, thanks to the instability of freelance work, I began to grow more aware of the need to manage my finances and grow my money, and even more so because Japanese banks are only generous enough to offer a 0.001% interest rate. Since I had a lot of flexibility to manage my time, and it was important to get out and about to meet more people, I gradually found more and more business opportunities. The most unrelated of which was importing quality Portuguese wine to Japan. Occasionally, people from various backgrounds would be interested in discussing possible collaborations or partnerships, never mind that some of those didn’t go through.

In the first few years, I didn’t feel like I accomplished enough. Returning after just 6 months of studying, 1 year of teaching and 2 years of translation project management, felt like I just came over to play and then return home. It wasn’t the kind of experience that was satisfactory for me. In private, my social circle also expanded very quickly due to the many drinking parties, sports and other events I participated in. When I got to do full-time freelance work, I realised I could be here much much longer because all kinds of opportunities suddenly opened up for me. I was earning decent income I feel I couldn’t get if I had stayed in Singapore, and getting the freedom to do a lot of things I couldn’t do back home. On a day off, I could rent a car and drive to the countryside areas of Japan not too far from where I live and experience vastly different environments. I valued the private life I could get here as opposed to if I had remained in Singapore.

Even in between my full-time freelance work when I went to work at a mega-corporation for a year, while I did cut down a lot of freelance work then, I didn’t throw away my freelance life completely because I know that someday soon, I would return to it and I wanted to return to it. Now, I work with 2 different businesses hiring me on a 3-day-per-week basis (meaning I work 6 days a week), one of which is considered a freelance assignment, and this is the kind of flexibility and opportunity I do not see in Singapore. I’m not saying there isn’t any, but really, how many companies would be willing to pay what I am receiving here on a 3-day-per-week work schedule?

As I renewed my latest work visa some time last year that allows me to stay till the end of 2019 to make it 9.5 years, it became logical to finish my stay, renew it once more, and apply for permanent residency before deciding what the next move (not move-move but step-move) will be. Besides, I’ve built a significant part of my work life in Japan. It won’t be so easy to just pack up and leave.

There are still things I want to do here and I hope they can happen for me some time soon.



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