Friday, August 24, 2012

Currency Exchange

There are so many things to learn in Japan.  Which way to look in traffic, how to ask for shrimp tempura, which station to get off the train, how to hand something to a teller or cashier and how to receive it.  Today our wonderful guides from the orchestra, Ryoko and Yoshie, took us to the bank to set up our accounts, to docomo to get our mobile phones, to lunch to feed our peko peko tummies, to a furniture store to look into mattresses and beds and to the electronic store to get routers and printers.  They have organized everything beautifully.  They sat with each of the five of us at the bank and then spent over two hours with us at the phone store, answering questions,  translating contractual issues and offering advice.
They were tireless in the questions we asked them.  Which plan should I get on my phone?  How many minutes do you think I will need?  How much is texting?  How much is international calling?  Texting? To the US?  To England?  Can I avoid getting internet on my phone, and is there an English line for questions and can I change my contract and why do I still have a to pay 390 in yen to set up the internet if I'm not using it?  Is this a good price for a mattress?  Will I have enough money to shop later if I pay for my washer now?
It's incredible the number of things that we learn to assume and the independence that one acquires during growth.  We learn to valuate our currency, to have an understanding of how much we are giving up when we pay for something.  Currency exchange isn't just a numerical transaction.  Certain things carry a certain value in this country and it is similar to America, but not the same.  How do I balance the cost of a router with a mattress in terms of yen?  What does a yen mean to me?  How much internet and how many texts is a yen worth?  Even in American dollars the concept of value is a shady one.  I've spent 20 dollars on magazines in an airport but refused to spend 4 dollars on an overpriced water before a 10 hour flight.  How much are things worth? Given the vacuum of years of familiarity with a currency, the ambiguity of worth is so much easier to detect.  So many things to learn in Japan, and in this moving process, an opportunity to see something in a new way.
Of course value is more than monetary.  Where do we put our time, where do we put our energy, where do we put our thoughts?  These are things that are often outside of our conscious control.  We spend money frivolously, hours browsing the web, energy stressing over things outside our control, and get caught in circuitous thinking.  It's so easy to get blinded in our own habits  and sometimes it takes a new currency to remind us of those things that matter and the way that we show how they matter.  What matters to me?  How do I know?  Is this evident in the way that I live?  How do I spend my life and what value does it have?  

1 comment:

  1. Sunnie and I had such similar feelings in Germany - how do you pay to get your car out of the parking garage, how do you choose between 10 different types of kleber (glue) when you can't read the uses on the package, oh!, they only use duvets here and square pillows. Do resist the temptation to limit yourself to what is comfortable and familiar and rely only on English speaking friends. It's easy to do, but I think you miss so much. ED