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In a world where hot coffee lawsuits have led to ubiquitous disclaimers, warning signs and laws against most acts of stupidity, It is a rare and entertaining treat when you see ordinary people getting to do something that is actually dangerous for once. As I overheard someone say in the crowd, “if the fire festival weren’t thousands of years old, they would never let it happen.”
I’ve heard the Dosojin Fire Festival explained a few different ways. The idea behind it is to offer a symbolic prayer for a good harvest, and also for good health and successful marriages for the first born sons that families in the village of Nozawa Onsen have welcomed this year. The participants in the fest are the 25 and 42 year olds of the village, because both are unlucky ages for men. Where the stories differ, is on the role each age group played in the fest, so I will relay the version that I like best. Apparently the 42 year olds sit on top of the shrine, about one story in the air, drinking and singing songs, while the 25 year olds defend the bad of the shrine from attacks from the rest of the villagers. The best story I heard was that the 25 year olds were holding the older men captive and that the villagers were truing to free them. This jives with the fact that the older men frequently tossed torches into the crowd for the villagers to light and fight with, but not with their chants of “give up the fight” (in English for the benefit of the many Western tourists, I suppose). However, I also read that the 42 year olds were “defending” the top of the shrine from the villagers. (Were they expecting an air raid? A catapult? Rappelling ninjas? All of those seem unlikely)
After about an hour of fireworks, singing, and carrying on, a large bonfire was set, uncomfortably close to where i was standing, actually, and villagers began lighting bunches of reeds to create torches, and making their way to the shrine. For the main event, villagers take these LIGHTED TORCHES and beat the 25 year olds viciously about the face and hands in an effort to get them away from the base of the shrine so they can try to light it on fire. The brave youg’uns just stood there and took it, over and over again and used their weapon-less arms and hands to push away, grab, or even put out the torches and keep holding on for dear life to the ropes at the base of the shrine. This started rather tamely at first, and I was astonished to see young children and adults with babies strapped to their backs being given handfuls of reeds to light at the bonfire and attempt to ignite the shrine with. Naturally, the 25 year olds didn’t put up much of a fight against 9 year olds and dads wearing baby bjorns, but still the shrine remained intact.
As the fight intensified, more of the base got torn away, and it became clear that the shrine was actually really hard to set on fire. Each time someone managed to knock away enough quarter-centarians to hold their torch against the wood of the shrine for a good long while, the flame wouldn’t actually catch, or it would be easily put out when the defenders recovered their post. So, the villagers gradually pushed the whole bonfire closer and closer to the shrine. Eventually it was close enough that it appeared a decision was made to just stop fighting and burn the thing. All the young defenders disappeared and the older townsmen climbed down from their perch, but one or two could still be seen up there even as the base began to burn.
It made for a massive, gorgeous bonfire. I’ve never been to Burning Man, but I’d imagine that is the only other bonfire that surpasses this one in terms of size. After appreciating the flames for a bit, the festival participants next took the giant umbrella-like posts decorated for first born sons and tipped them into the fire.
After 3 hours in the cold, there was a apoint where what my eyes wanted to do (watch) and what my feet wanted to do (be warm and have circulation again) diverged widely and I decided not to stay to see the structure collapse. I have read that once the shrine is reduced to embers, townspeople take some home, light their fire with it, and use it to roast three beans for good luck in the coming year. Embers from that fire then set afloat in a river to symbolize the end of the whole ceremony. The next morning I went back to check out the site and found it still smoldering, with people having climbed down in the pit to grill mochi over the heat.
Have made it to Nagano. Crooked eye be damned.
After sitting around for almost two whole weeks of vacation seeing none of Japan beyond the interior of my apartment which happens to be located there, I decided I should not let this vision problem cancel any more of my travel plans. Though I needed that long rest, I’m sure, and I thoroughly enjoy doing absolutely nothing every chance I get, I did in fact have plans to get out and do some things (a ski trip, mainly) over New Years which did not get got out and done.
This weekend, I had intended to travel to a ski resort as well. Not to ski this time, but to witness a really wacky bit of Japanese culture called the Dosojin Fire Festival. I’m a bit foggy on the exact details and purposes of this festival, but basically all of the 25 and 42 year old men from the small ski resort town of Nozawa Onsen gather together every Jan 15th and wage an epic battle against the rest of their village using tree branches. 25 and 42 are both unlucky ages in Japan. I don’t know who is defending what or why, but at the end they light a giant wooden structure on fire that they have spent weeks building with trees brought down from the mountain. Oh, and there are people giving out free hot sake as well. Clearly this is a truly unique spectacle that is not to be missed.
I briefly considered putting it off until next year, but I looked at the calendar and found that next year the festival would fall on a Tues or something. Not convenient at all (this year it’s on Sun, and I get Sun and Mon off). So, it’s now or never. Me and my one good eye will just have to see what we can because it might be the only chance. Oh, and there is also a snow monkey hot spring! Def not missing this
So, I booked myself a nice cheap bus at the JTB travel agency, and reserved the only hotel room I could get online without a credit card (reasonably priced and looks decent) and headed out to Nozawa Onsen.
I’ve had really good luck so far. I exited on precisely the right side of the mammoth Shinjuku train station to most quickly reach the bus station where I would depart for Nagano. Found the correct bus with my minimal Japanese and a sprinkling of English. Upon reaching Nagano, I was able to find the not clearly marked train station, and subsequently the handy tourist info office by practically just bumping into them, and conveniently arrived just in time to catch the next bus to NO (had I missed it, the next one wasn’t for an hour and a half. Now I am on that bus trying fairly futilely to find the stops the driver is calling out on my map, but worst case I know where the last stop is, and I hear that the town is small enough to walk to anywhere – even if it IS almost the furthest possible point on the map from my hotel. It looks like a gentle blizzard here. The roads are all bordered by a snow wall about 4 to 5 feet high. It is piled on all of the rooftops like sloppy layer cakes. There are fat snowflakes sifting through the air, and people everywhere in ridiculous looking ski getups. It’s kind of nice to get out of the city and see a cute little ski village like this one this winter.
So, it’s been a month now. As of today, I have been cross eyed for precisely 4 weeks.
People tell me my eye looks better. In fact, I am only now finding out that it looked REALLY bad at first. A little scary even. No wonder the staff at work encouraged me to wear an eye patch. It is admittedly unsettling sometimes when you first meet someone who has one eye that doesn’t work. You aren’t sure where to look, and it throws the usual communication cues off – you feel vaguely like someone isn’t paying attention if they aren’t looking directly at you. So, I’ve been wearing an eye patch. I got one of the little white ones from the drug store that come with a little square of gauze and hook around your ears. I wear it all day at work, and I’ve worn it to parties, but I usually don’t wear it out on the street. I like to think that people might not notice anything is wrong as I walk around town going about my daily business. Especially if I try to tilt my face so that I am always looking to the right. Nothing of consequence ever happens on my left side anyways.
I considered getting a “real” eye patch, like the black ones you usually see people wearing. And by people, I mean pirates and movie villains. But, I’ve realized that investing in a more “permanent” patch makes it look like I have a “permanent” eye problem, and I don’t want anyone to think that for a second. Least of all, me. I’ve also realized that wearing the disposable eye patch is actually better than going without one, in many cases. Especially if I’m meeting new people. I don’t want them to assume that my eye is just “like this” all the time. Wearing an obviously temporary eye patch says to the world that I have a temporary problem, and nothing more. I wore it out to a New Years party, and it’s quite possible that I met more people because of it than I otherwise would have. People had something easy to comment on, as they were naturally curious to know why in God’s name anyone would show up to a party wearing a drugstore eye patch, though they normally worded the question much more politely than that. People keep telling me that eye patches are somehow more common here, and that there is a whole niche group of cosplay fans in Japan who like to wear these things just for fun and fashion. I have yet to see even a single one of these people walking around. It would be kind of comforting to come across one.
I went back to the hospital for a follow up check last week. They did another MRI and took more blood, and still didn’t find anything really wrong with me. That’s still good news. Not having a brain tumor is ALWAYS good news. This time, I had a doctor who spoke English well, so he explained a little more about my situation himself. He said that it is probably idiopathic (fancy word for “we don’t know what caused it”), and that he has seen many patients with this type of problem, and usually these nerve palsies go away on their own within 2 months. “Usually” he said again. I already knew all of this from my uncle, the eye doctor, and many consultations with Dr. Google, M.D., but it was still nice to get a personal assessment from a professional. He gave me more vitamin B12, and another drug to increase my circulation, and told me to come back again in 2 weeks. Why, I don’t know. They didn’t take any measurements or pictures, so I don’t think they will be able to tell whether the eye has actually changed at all. Nevertheless, I suppose it is nice that they are going to track it like they would a more life threatening or painful issue.
Most days, I just sort of deal with this annoying conflicting vision, and go on about my life. But every once in awhile, I think to myself, “I am really tired of being cross eyed.” I’d just like to be done with this already. It is pointless and I can’t see how this experience is helping me to grow in any way. Am I learning to deal with adversity? I guess. Should I take better care of myself and manage stress better? I suppose. I thought getting lots of rest would have fixed it. I barely left my apartment for most of my 11 day New Years vacation. I went out to celebrate a proper Christmas and New Years Eve, but other than that, I mostly slept. I got a serious professional massage, saw an acupuncturist (who, of course stuck me with needles, but also did moxibustion on me – which is where they set little cones on certain points on your body and then burn them off!), and went to a quirky back healer, who barely makes any physical contact with your body, but sits behind you and makes lots of whooshing noises and motions as though he is pulling imaginary energies up and down and away from your spine. Maybe none of this helped. Maybe all of it did. But, alas, not enough.
But, like I said, people have been telling me it looks better. That’s nice to hear. And, if something is about 3 inches from my face, it actually seems to be mostly in focus and not in duplicate, so maybe that’s an improvement. I don’t understand it really. How can something that didn’t hurt at all and happened without any signs of trauma or injury take 2 whole months to heal? And why does normal function seem to be returning gradually, when it went away pretty much all at once?
Every night now I go to sleep hoping that the nerve that controls my eye will magically repair itself the same way it spontaneously broke sometime in the night. Each morning, I cling to sleep hoping that when I open my eyes the world will align in clear, crisp images once again – if a little fuzzy due to my nearsightedness. Each morning so far, I have been disappointed.
I looked up the medications the hospital gave me, translating the Japanese names as best as I could online. The main medications seem to be a steroid, for inflammation, and vitamin B12, which is supposed to help nerves repair themselves and their outer myelin sheathing. I find this information rather a big let down. Steroids sound hefty and all, but vitamin B12? I was taking a B complex vitamin every day for months before this happened. How is taking B12 now going to do a damn thing? And through translators, I was told that the steroid was actually just to keep my body from developing a resistance to the B12 medicine and would in fact lower my immunity. I was advised to wear a surgical mask when going outside, as is common amongst people here who are sick or fear catching a cold. Yet another thing that will not help me in my quest to avoid looking weird. Neither of these medicines inspires me with any strong hope for recovery. Perhaps I need to start believing in them though, probably they will work much better then. We’ve all heard of the placebo effect.
My emotions drift wildly throughout the course of the day.
Morning: Disappointed. I finally get up the nerve to take off my sleep mask and I find out that I’m still cross eyed.
1:00pm: Accepting. I have stuff to do around the house. If I cover my wobbly eye I can get things done and somewhat enjoy my weekend. I think of how wearing an eye patch could be a fun conversation starter at work.
3:00pm. Scared. I search for double vision as a symptom on the internet and do not find much good news. However nothing is conclusive. I have no other symptoms aside from the double vision to compare, after all.
6:00pm. Tired, confused. I don’t understand why this is happening. I’ve been surfing the net all day looking for answers, and though only one eye is doing all the work, the wonky eye feels strained. What gives?
10:00pm. Vain and self-conscious. I take pictures of myself with my eyes in their most exaggeratedly disparate positions. I envision sharing them with humorous captions on Facebook, but in reality they look alarmingly bad. I look crazy at times, and other times I just look like I haven’t bothered to shower or dress in 2 days (which is in fact the case). Confronting the visual evidence of this affliction is a sobering and deflating blow to my ego.
11pm. Introspective. I am rather proud of this unique and interesting experience I now have to blog about and I write about it prolifically.
1:30am. Shy. I wait until this late hour to run the simple errand of taking my garbage downstairs to the front of the building. I wear a jacket with the hood pulled up and hope and pray that I will not pass anyone, or God forbid, have to share the elevator, so that no one will see me in my slovenly and cock-eyed state.
2:00am. Annoyed. I’m not hungry, but have just realized i have to eat again so that I can take my evening meds.
2:30am. Sad. I just want to talk about this to anyone who will listen. I am mourning my perceived loss of good looks, loss of normalcy. I envision being the weird girl with the eye patch at the party, on the street. I imagine the looks on my kid students’ faces when they see my crossed eyes, or alternatively the eye patch I may have to wear. I recognize it is quite possible that they will laugh.
3:00am. Angry. I’ve always considered myself lucky, and I’ve always acknowledged this and felt that I was appropriately appreciative. I’ve always tried to be considerate of others and expected the natural by product of that would be that it kept my karma in tip top shape. So what is this bullshit now of having a spontaneous mystery medical problem attack one of my most precious senses? Not cool, karma. Not cool at all.
I’m on day four of my mysterious double vision adventure, and so far the problem shows no indications of either improving or worsening. I have 3 consecutive days off to rest, so I’ve been getting copious amounts of sleep and generally staying in the house. I’ve found that I can type (obviously), read, and watch movies without too much discomfort, so I spend most of my day on the computer, bad eye covered with a sock stuck inside the lens of my glasses, and legs tucked under my cozy little heated kotatsu table.
I don’t entirely know how to feel about this. So far my eye doesn’t show signs of getting better. So, what if it doesn’t get better? What if I just have sort of a lazy eye now. Forever. Tuesday, come hell or high water, I have to go back to work. I have to get on with the business of living. I can still teach English with one good eye. I can still get to work, still read, still write on the board, and most of all, can still hear and talk. So tomorrow I will probably venture out to the drug store and pick up an eye-patch. (Keeping one eye covered eliminates the double images so that I can function somewhat normally). I’ve already thought of lots of witty comments I can make about it on Facebook. I have, of course, given some thought to how strange I will look as the tall, curly-haired, blatantly non-asian foreigner in the fire-engine red coat who will now also be wearing an eye patch. I’m not looking forward to being the weird girl with the eye patch, but what can you do, really?
I may be more upset about it later if I am forced to accept this rebellious eye as my new normal. This will make dating more challenging. Future job interviews could be difficult. I don’t want to even consider what would happen if I were to lose all sight completely, or have some devastating medical condition. How will I work then? What of my plans to see the world? “Hearing” the world doesn’t have the same ring to it, and with good reason. At any rate, that’s definitely a bridge that I should wait to cross until I come to it. What I am worried about right now, is what this random surprise affliction means in the big picture. On the one hand, perhaps I just coughed too hard in the middle of the night and just shook something loose. But, more than likely, it is an indicator – a symptom of something much bigger. Having lost proper function in one eye is bad enough on its own, but this strange eye problem was caused by something. and that something could turn out to be horrible.
Fortunately, a tumor and diabetes have both been ruled out. I was relieved not to have diabetes, because I really want to continue to have the luxury of eating like crap and not exercising. But, right now I think maybe it would have been more of a relief to have been given that diagnosis. Because then, at least, I would know why. I would have a concrete problem that we more or less understand and that could be fixed, or at least managed. The not knowing is fairly scary. I’ve been reading a fair number of articles about autoimmune diseases where the body’s immune system randomly attacks its own nerves. Probably not a good idea, but I’m eager to find answers.
Not knowing what caused this also means I do not know if there will be more problems to come. If I don’t know what made one eye wonky, how do I know my other, precious eye is safe? I am more appreciative than ever of what vision I have. Naturally, I am sometimes a little angry with God. Am I being punished for taking my eyesight for granted? That thought makes me a little indignant. After all, it was just 6 months ago that I moved to a foreign country in a major effort to “see” some of the world. That’s got to count for something, right? I’m anxious to find an explanation, be it scientific, medical, philosophical, or spiritual. However, should this problem go away on its own, just as suddenly as it came, I will happily let it go unexplained forever and just celebrate by going out every day to enjoy ‘looking at stuff.’
Two days ago, completely out of the blue, my left eye went into revolt. It will no longer follow orders. Sure, it will open and close, and focus, and generally appears healthy, but it will not move – not like it is supposed to. I try to look at something, anything in front of me and what I see is TWO of everything. I try to look right, and more or less see one blurry image. I try to look left, and it’s like someone installed a kaleidoscope in my head. Looking straight on is just confusing. Two paths diverged in a wood – only, my feet are telling me there should just be one.
Like most people confronting terrifying physical maladies that appear suddenly without warning, I began this journey in denial…nay, complete ignorance that there was actually even a problem. I got up Thursday morning and my eye felt a little weird, but I put my contacts in as normal and went on about my day. On leaving my apartment, I began to notice that I couldn’t focus well on things that were very far away. What a nuisance. One of my contacts must be inside out or something, I thought. During the day, I would take each one out and inspect it, and put it back in, but did not manage to solve the problem. I found that by angling myself and looking slightly to the right at students, I could focus fairly well on their faces and ostensibly appear to be normal. I muddled through the day this way, and even had dinner with a neighbor after work as planned. Then, before bed I took my contacts out and realized to my shock that the problem was my EYES. I went to bed and hoped that a good nights sleep would put things back in order.
Friday morning I woke up….and it was worse. Now I could recognize that I was not having mere focusing difficulties, but rather seeing two distinct images that would not align. Double vision. I called my uncle, the optometrist. He was careful not to freak me out too much, but urged me to see a doctor. At one point, the word “stroke” was mentioned. I called my boss and told her. We were able to find an eye doctor across the street from my work, so I went in early to see if one of my coworkers could accompany across the street to translate. Walking to work was disorienting at best, though I know every step of the way well enough that there was no real risk of falling or getting lost. I tried hard to concentrate on the person walking 3 feet in front of me, because if I looked up, the floating people coming at me made me feel drunk, unstable, dizzy. Eventually I learned that closing one eye made the world stop moving so much so that I could keep up with it.
One of the teachers at work took me over and dropped me off with the optometrist’s office, but then had to go back to work to cover one of MY classes. Between the preliminary eye checks conducted by the ultra friendly Japanese staff, I was left to sit and wait for a bit, and couldn’t keep myself from crying. All of a sudden, one of my very favorite, most relied-upon senses was being compromised, and I had no idea why, no way to know if it would get better or worse, and could only wonder what horrible affliction my vision problem indicated.
The assistant manager from my office came and found me in this state. I would cry spontaneously several more times throughout the day. Next I saw a junior doctor of some sort – optician perhaps – who tested my vision and was the first to see the problem in action. He made me follow a flashlight, first right, then left. “Ah, soka!” he breathed, his face registering validation of the problem I was experiencing, but til now didn’t know if anyone else could see. I next saw a more senior optometrist. He was kind and even spoke a little English. He was able to tell me, with the aid of a dictionary, that the problem was with my abducens nerve. This is one of the 6 cranial nerves that control the movement of the eyes. Beyond that, he could tell me nothing concrete, but he suspected diabetes and asked me about any other symptoms, of which I’d had none except for a common cold. I was referred to a hospital.
My first experience at a Japanese hospital was a fairly nice one, despite the circumstances. I was referred to Tokai University Hospital, which I’m told is one of the nicer ones in the area, and handles the more serious conditions. Other hospitals here treat a number of patients who come in with colds and such. I’m told that this is partly because the Japanese language doesn’t entirely differentiate between hospitals and other minor care facilities, such as clinics or doctor’s offices, and partly because Japanese health care is socialized. Why NOT go to the hospital? Your tax dollars are paying for it.
Tokai University Hospital is large, clean, and extremely modern. Though I carried around a small file that seemed to have my name and appointment info on it, the doctors I talked with referred to computers for all of my medical information. You pay for most procedures or medicines at a computer kiosk like an ATM or airline check in machine. My blood pressure was taken entirely by a machine about the size of a toaster oven, and with no staff assistance whatsoever. The administrator pointed us to the machine, I stuck my arm in the cylinder, and a few minutes later a receipt with my vitals was printed out.
The hospital was both efficient and slow. I got a lot more done in one visit than I would expect at a hospital in the US, though I haven’t been to US hospitals enough to be qualified to compare. I came at 2pm, and was able to see a neurosurgeon, get an MRI and blood tests, go over the results of those tests with the neurosurgeon, see a neurologist after that, get more blood drawn, and collect a prescription all in one day. However, that one day took 6 full hours, with lots of waiting. We came in to the general info desk where my coworker turned over my referral letter and filled out a form for me. We were asked to wait. Then we were directed to neurosurgery. And asked to wait. Then we were shown to another seat directly outside the doctor’s room, where we waited for a bit longer. After seeing the doctor we went to have my blood drawn. And waited for that. Then we went back down for my MRI, but were told i had to (you guessed it!) wait – because you can’t have eaten within 3 hours of the test. We went upstairs so my coworker could have a pastry and I could be mildly jealous. She chose a bench looking out the window. We chatted a bit. I tried to determine whether there were 2 people or 4 people across the street walking their dogs. I settled on 3. i cried again and tried no to let her see it.
We went back to the MRI area at the appointed time, but were told it would be another half an hour. Then we were shown inside….to another waiting area. This time in a random hallway where no one seemed to be assigned to the task of coming to fetch us or near enough to even know we were there. Eventually a nurse who had passed by a few times decided to check on us and got us into the room where the MRI was actually located. We sat down again. To wait. “New chair.” I said to my co-worker. She laughed. There were two massive, bank-vault like metal doors in the room. They had giant numbers painted on them that reminded me of some sort of landing bay in a star trek ship. To add to the ambience, the automated entry door to the room and the nurses’ spiffy mandarin collar uniforms looked very futuristic as well. (The neurosurgeon wore scrubs, a white coat, and crocs, just like you would expect). I was eventually taken in and laid on the MRI platform, where my head was strapped down tight and covered with a sort of cage. I was handed a rubber squeeze ball for any emergencies and then mechanically glided into the circular machine. I was warned that it was loud, but the sounds this machine makes are completely incongruous with the idea of an advanced computerized magnet that can take pictures of your brain. There is a bizzarre assortment of knocks and thwacks, drumming like a nail-gun-hitting metal, and various other mechanical grinding and humming sounds.
The neurosurgeon (who, by the way, was alarmingly young looking and very cute), showed me the pictures of my brain and told me there was nothing wrong with them at all. With double vision, they suspect 3 major causes: head trauma, such as from a fall or accident, which I had not experienced; vascular causes due to diabetes, which my blood test had ruled out; and tumors, which would have showed up on the MRI but didn’t. So, the good news is, I don’t have cancer or diabetes. The bad news is, they don’t know why this happened.
I was dispatched to the neurologist next. He told me more or less the same things (through my co-worker/translator), but at the end he began clicking through a wide range of different windows and cells on his computer to assemble a prescription for me. I asked him how he could be certain that I didn’t have diabetes, as I had become convinced that was my fate. After all, both my parents are diabetics, and I had had to pee 5 times already that afternoon, as if my body was conspiring to prove that diagnosis. He showed me a number on my blood test results which were apparently fully normal and nowhere near the diabetic range. I was sent to get more blood drawn. Not sure why. Then we paid for the visit and my prescription at a little computer kiosk. it came to 25,000 yen – roughly $300. Pretty good, I think, for seeing 2 doctors, getting 2 rounds of blood tests, and an MRI. Though it is unsettling to have a major medical problem when far away from friends and family, I am so glad that it happened when I had good health insurance coverage. My self-funded, “hit-by-a-bus” coverage that I carried in the US would not have gotten me so far. I had a $5,000 yearly deductible to meet on that plan before any coverage would kick in. I don’t know what the going rate is these days, but I’m pretty sure the MRI would have eaten a big chunk of that. After about another 30 minutes of waiting outside a pharmacy window that appeared to be closed and deserted, someone eventually emerged with 7 – SEVEN – envelopes of medication for me and my mysterious eye affliction. We returned to my work – mainly so that my co-worker could report back and so that I could get better translation of the information that came with my medicines.
My coworkers have been so great about this. My poor manager was scrambling all morning to get my classes covered – either by the other teachers present who had free hours, or by calling in part timers. Yet, when I saw her this evening, she was upbeat and cheerful, and seemed concerned about my problem. The other teachers who’d had to cover for me didn’t seemed stressed by it, and instead talked happily about getting to talk with my students. I missed my students. I was sad not to have the chance to talk with them myself – especially since I won’t see most of them again until after the new year. And then of course, there is the assistant manager who stayed with me for 8 hours of waiting today – first at the eye doctor, and then all afternoon and evening at the hospital, with a cheerful and supportive demeanor the entire time. This experience sucks, but I could not ask for better people to go through it with. Not one person acted the slightest bit put out by having their entire schedule disrupted, and suddenly having to do more work due to my issues. This is a far cry from a previous place I worked back in America, where my boss made me feel every inch of the inconvenience I caused by asking for 2 days off to attend my Grandmother’s funeral. Here, in this supposedly more rigid, conservative place, everyone has been so kind and warm the whole time.