A Look into My Summer 2018 Internship

**Feel free to skip to the 4th paragraph to dive into the topic directly.**

A few months before my 2018 summer break, I had already set a goal for myself – to obtain work experience and to build my career profile. My parents are both entrepreneurs in their own rights, so I had heard a lot from them on how ‘fortunate’ I am to be inside the ‘greenhouse’ throughout my whole life. Perhaps I have inherited the ‘warrior gene’ (this attributes to my persistence, can-do attitude and no, it is not a resemblance of the mutated gene which causes psychiatric disorder) from my parents, my urge to prove my value eventually transformed into a real action, actively seeking for the internship opportunities overseas.

At that time, I really wanted to try something really challenging and life-changing. Although I had a certain level of marketing, management skills which I had acquired from my parents and through self-education on top of my problem solving, analytical skills from the major that I was pursuing, my job history was just a plain white field on a paper. I was fortunate enough to come across an advertisement from an agency which helps foreigners to search for placements in Japan. When I started my application, the deadline was already fast approaching. I was an engineering sophomore, so my initial choices were of course engineering related jobs. However, the agency told me that it was impossible to look for one since those fields require high language (Japanese) requirement and their stringent policy means that I would have to go for other alternatives. Since my dad is into the real estate business, I thought that by working at a Japanese real estate company, I can acquire useful insights which could be beneficial for his business.

Soon, the Japanese share house company got into contact with me and we had an interview session. They asked a few questions on my interest in real estates and my hobbies. It was more like a casual chat rather than a typical interview. (I was quite curious about why would they take me in the first place, but I later learnt that because they really needed someone who was proficient in analysing and dealing with data. For those people who are still wondering why do we engineers have a broad range of work opportunities, this is the reason.)

I packed my stuff and travelled to Japan on the 13th of June 2018. It did not take me long before I fell in love with this land of the rising sun. When I first started working at the share house company, I mainly worked on the preparation of documents, translation and correction of Japanglish. Not long after working here, I realised that no one was able to tell me about how to apply my skills to benefit the company. So, I took the initiative to perform research on my own whenever I was free and presented the results during company meetings. I was given the freedom to do whatever I wanted for the company, so there was really nothing hindering me. My boss is an open-minded person so you won’t see the typical Japanese bureaucracy here. Her strict demeanour at work is a disguise of her loving personality. We had exchanged thoughts on the problems and the challenges faced by the modern Japanese society. (She actually published a book on human reproduction, which will be given to the couples who register their marriage in the Shinjuku area. Quite an amazing achievement if you ask me.) Having talked to her a few times, I came to believe that my dream, as absurd as it may seem, could possibly be achieved if I work hard enough and have an unwavering faith in myself.

When I worked there, my company had a partnership project with an education company in Japan. Being part of the project myself, I had the opportunity to meet and also network with students from the top universities in the world. It was interesting to learn about how the universities, especially those in the US, deliver education to the students. Their burning passion and their willingness to share made them fun to talk to. One of my responsibilities was to organise events for them, and I also had the privilege to join them. We had a great night in Hakone, one of the most touristic places around two hours of train ride away from Tokyo (it has a few hot springs and traditional Japanese hotels, so I highly recommend this place if you have the chance to visit Tokyo). Being an organiser of the cooking classes, I had the chance to learn along with them on the preparation of Japanese food. Another memorable event was the Tokyo Bay Cruise, which gave us the opportunity to enjoy the night view of the Tokyo Bay area (could have taken a few good photos there, but my iPhone camera turned into a potato at night.)

When I was not at work, I often joined my colleagues in the house meetings and the BBQ events. Grilling meat gets more intense when you know you can’t screw up since everyone relies on you. (My colleague Satoru with his ‘get this thing done now’ attitude gave me lots of troubles because he would throw everything onto the same spot. That’s not barbecuing, pal!)

Throughout my time working there (in fact, I’m still working remotely for the company as a part-timer), I was more like an employee rather than an intern because I often had to give myself a goal or objective every week. I worked along with the other colleagues, overcoming countless challenges such as arranging for housing for some 180 people, planning events and solving conflicts between house residents. I was also a social media manager throughout my time there, keeping people informed about the events happening every week. I also wrote English blogs for my company as a strategy to improve the SEO of our website. My analytical skill was being put to good use as I took the initiative myself to carry out a market research for the company.

I am always interested in business but I chose to go for a major in engineering. I had no regret choosing chemical engineering over business because chemical engineering is a very versatile major and it gives me a strong foundation of logical thinking which can be applied to many areas including business. I also pick up knowledge on business management on my own by reading books (I doubt I’ll still read books on business if I had chosen to go for a major in business instead).

Alright, that’s it from me this time. My semester has already started and I’m currently eyeing on a summer analyst position at JPMorgan in either Singapore or Hong Kong. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to successfully pass all the interviews. Life is just getting busier with no sign of slowing down.

Till next time.

Abel

 

 

 

Living in Tokyo as a Foreigner

In my last blog post, I’ve talked about my journey to Japan. If you’re keen to know how that was like, you can read about it here.

If you’re planning to visit around Tokyo, make sure to get a PASMO or SUICA card at the ticket machine once you’re at the airport (Haneda International Airport or Narita International Airport). This is the type of card that is widely used for transportation such as buses and trains. The reasons why you should get it there are because the airport is the language buffer zone in which other people can still understand you if you speak English (sometimes Mandarin) and these ticket machines are not widely available. They’re both very similar but if you’re interested in knowing how they differ, you can read about it here.

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The PASMO and SUICA cards. Image courtesy of japanstation.com.

They can also be used like a prepaid card at some of the restaurants. I nicknamed them the Alipay of Japan.

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The vending machine outside of a restaurant.
My first impression of Japan was deceived by my experience at the airport. It seemed to me that every single Japanese person is very well-versed in English. I was dead wrong. The moment I stepped out of the airport, I started to have communication problems with the local people. This was totally different from what I’ve found on the internet saying that most people living in Tokyo are well literate in English. I couldn’t even make use of Google Maps since I had just received my SIM card (from the company Mobal) and it had not been activated yet. I was lucky to even find the place that I’m staying now at the time of writing this post. But that’s mostly thanks to Mrs Naomi because she was walking around that area searching for me.

Japanese people are really polite and helpful.  I remember walking into a supermarket operated by an old couple and checked out items worth around ¥2,000 using a ¥10,000 note. There was not even a sign of resentment on her face. In my country (Malaysia), the cashier would probably have rolled his/her eyes at me. Shame on you! On the contrary, she kept on saying ‘arigatou’ (Japanese people bow when they say this which literally means ‘thank you’). That’s how I developed the ‘Bowing Syndrome’ because I felt obliged to do the same whenever someone who’s older than me is doing it.

Living in Tokyo is very challenging especially if you don’t understand Japanese because the majority of them are only proficient in Japanese. However, there are ways to get around this to avoid the awkward moment that I’ve been through myself that looks like this:

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Graphical depiction of me and the security guard who don’t speak the same language. Drawn by Michelle Majalang (Follow her on Instagram).

Nonetheless, the security guard brought me to the right area (That’s so kind of him).

So first, make sure you have Google Translate and Google Maps installed on your smartphone. The route suggested by Google Maps is very accurate in Tokyo according to my experience. The reason why you should have Google Translate is pretty obvious because this is the app that you’re going to use whenever you want to convey a message to a Japanese who doesn’t know English. Oh, make sure that you have Japanese keyboard installed as well because they’ll have to type it out to be translated into English if the message is too complicated to be expressed by using body language. It can also translate Japanese words in pictures which is very helpful since most of the Japanese goods only have Japanese letters on them. If you don’t even know the slightest bit of Kanji (which is essentially Chinese words and they often have very similar meaning), you’ll have to rely on Google Translate most of the time. And if you’re overconfident with your proficiency in Kanji, you’d end up like me. I mistook sesame oil as cooking oil and bought it home. It could have been worse if I didn’t know Kanji because their osake (rice wine) looks exactly like cooking oil!

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Text before translation.
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Text after translation. It also shows that Google hasn’t perfected this technology yet.
Tokyo has been really rainy lately. Unlike in the UK where the weather (sometimes even the season) is always changing, if it rains here, it’s very likely to rain the whole day. When we had a good weather a couple of days ago, I snatched the opportunity to visit some of the beautiful places in Tokyo. Below are some of the photos that I had taken:

 

 

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Shinjuku Gyoen Park

Shinjuku Gyoen Park is one of the most beautiful parks I’ve ever seen in my life. It boasts the greatest greenhouse I’ve ever seen but too bad, it falls short in size. The park does indeed live up to its rating of 4.5 on Google Review.

This sums up everything that I want to share in this blog post. See you guys on my next blog post.

 

First Solo Adventure to Tokyo

14/06/2018 marks the first day I’m travelling alone to Japan for my summer internship. I had a long list of the essentials ready a few days ago so after making sure that everything was ready, I set off. After checking in my luggage and going through the security check, I sat down and started reading a book that I had recently bought. About an hour before my gate opened, I went to Gate 43 to meet my best friend, Jason, as he was also travelling back to China on the same day. We had a short chat and I reached for my bag once again to make sure that I have my Japanese Yen with me. “I might have left something.” “Is that something important?” “Very important.” I started calling my housemates to check my room for the money and luckily, one of them picked up. To my surprise, I actually left my money at home (what a blunder, Abel). “Can you bring the money to the airport for me?” “You have to pay for my Uber I tell you (thicc Malaysian accent).” Heartbroken, I agreed. To make the matter even worse, I was not allowed to go out of the boarding area. Apparently, if you want to exit the boarding area at Manchester International Airport, you have to be escorted outside by the staff in charge of your flight and get a new boarding pass. I knew I could survive without the money, but I definitely won’t be able to survive if I missed my flight (my parents will definitely kill me). While I had my credit cards with me, my mum had deactivated my Malaysia phone number months ago so I won’t be able to use them without the code sent to my phone (yet another blunder). Left with no choice, I chose to board the plane. While I was on the plane, I figured out I still had some money left in the saving account that I had set up to pay for my rent. What a relief.

While landing in Tokyo Haneda International Airport, I experienced yet another traumatic event. As I was looking out of the window the whole time, I could tell that right after my plane had touched the ground, the side of the track got closer and closer to me. My plane was skidding. Although the whole event didn’t last for more than 5 seconds, I could see my life flashing before my eyes. That’s how scary it was. I suspect that the wheels at the front weren’t properly aligned when they were being retracted so this might have caused the brief skidding moment right after touching the ground. Pretty sure I was going to be on the headlines if the pilots handling my flight weren’t proficient enough.

Hit by a big loss (mostly due to the exchange rates), I’ve also learnt important lessons, and these lessons may come in handy in the future. First, if you are travelling to Tokyo, don’t turn all the money that you’re going to spend into Japanese Yen. Having some Yen is okay but since there are many ATMs that accept foreign Visa or MasterCard debit card, you can always withdraw cash by using your debit card. Local banks often compete with each other for lower exchange rate so you can rest assured that you won’t be ripped off if you withdraw money using a foreign debit card. In fact, I’ve received around 3.5% more Yen by withdrawing money through local ATMs (I was using a Natwest debit card with British Pound in my account, the rate may differ depending on your bank company or currency) than buying them from a store in the UK that offered me the best exchange rate. Just keep in mind that your bank may charge you on transaction fee but it’s normally only around £2-5 per withdrawal. Also, only ATMs with Visa or Mastercard logo can be used. They are available in the crowded area such as the airports and also the convenience stores. Only when you’re travelling to the rural area then you’re better off with more Yen since this type of ATM is more uncommon there.

I was never the kind of person who is very well-organized and yet I have never really faced any problem with it. This time when I tried to be organized and made a list of things that I have to prepare before coming over to Japan, I made a blunder. I guess it’s safe to say that sometimes we just have to be ourselves. Blindly following what the other people do can sometimes be catastrophic. In fact, I was so confident that my Yen was in my bag that I did not even bother checking for it until the very last minute.

This sums up my journey and things I’ve learnt during my first day in Japan. In my next blog post, I’ll talk about ways to travel around Tokyo and also my experience staying there. Till then, take care.