Expat Musings, Opinion

Tokyo 2020 Employees: Where Do We Go Now?

There is little reprieve for the many contract workers, freelancers, and interns of Tokyo 2020.


One of the reasons why I chose to study in Japan was to be able to live in the same city as the Olympics; to feel the vigor and unity as hundreds of thousands of people join underneath the five interlaced rings. I, along with thousands of others, joined the volunteer program. I, along with thousands of other college students, raced to apply to the olympic broadcasting program, which would consequently make us employees of the olympics broadcasting systems. And I, along with thousands of others, were let go last week, when the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee announced that the Olympics would be postponed. 

I knew that the Olympics would have to be postponed. Months leading up to the announcement, I had doubts about Japan’s capacity in holding the Olympics in the midst of a global pandemic. While Western media praised Japan for its efforts and often alluded to the mystery why Japan had avoided the fate of many of its neighbors inundated by the novel coronavirus– Japan had deliberately avoided widespread testing and relied on contact tracing in order to keep the cases at a minimum. For months, discontent over the current incumbent government has been stirring over a multitude of problems: tax policies, corruption scandals, inability to enact social change, and the response to the coronavirus pandemic. The mismanagement of the Princess Diamond, resulting in 712 infections and 10 deaths was just the brim of what to come. 

I briefly wondered whether I should rescind my position. The virus had no sign of stopping as it ravaged through Europe and America. If the Olympics were to be held in the summer, what sort of precautions should I take? Would I be endangering myself, exposing myself to thousands of people everyday in enclosed spaces like stadiums, broadcasting trailers, or commentary rooms? Would I be endangering others, interacting with my teammates, my colleagues, and thousands of other Olympic employees? 

I expected that the announcement would come soon, as countries were quickly dismantling in the midst of the pandemic. Health care workers in America were pleading for people to stay home; city upon city were issuing quarantine orders. Borders were closing down as thousands of people rushed against the virus to return home. I watched as headlines blared new jumps in cases and new jumps in death tolls. A week prior to the announcement, the government continued to press on, refusing to consider any derailment to their dreams of Olympic grandeur. And yet the world screeched to an abrupt halt as everything shuttered down around us.

The announcement was brief: the Olympics was to be postponed to 2021. I felt relief for a moment before the sinking emptiness and realization hit me. Yes, I would be safe this summer. Yes, I would not be exposing myself to others. And with a brief statement that was released the next day by the broadcasting systems, me, along with thousands of students, and thousands of freelancers, contractors, and volunteers at the Olympics, were let go. 

I realized that I would have to do over the series of tests, applications, training sessions, group discussions next year. My place would not be guaranteed. Hundreds of other students around me gave up coveted positions at other firms for a chance at the Olympics. Many of us are scrambling to apply to other positions, only to find out that many firms, facing an economic crisis, have shuttered their internship programs and turned back new recruits. Our plight cannot compare to the thousands of contract workers and freelancers who work during the Olympics, serving as ticketing organizers, broadcasting professionals, and transportation service providers. With rescinded contracts, many may be without work for several months. Most Olympic employees are on a contract basis without the safety net that other full-time employees have. There is no unemployment insurance to collect; there is no compensation for lost time.  At the end, all of us are faced with the same question: where do we go now? 

With the world in disarray, there is little hope for the many who have become unemployed. There is little solace in the misfortune of many who have the same plight. However, we will continue on, as we always have. 

 

Expat Musings

Why Is Your English So Good?

The first time someone asked me that question, I was stunned. The first time someone asked me that question, I struggled to answer in a composed manner. Why couldn’t my English be good? Why was I being asked such a question? Why was I so angry?

“I was born in America. I grew up in California,” I replied, after a moment of shocked silence.

“Oh, I’m from San Diego,” came the reply. As we lapsed into conversation, I couldn’t forget the wave, the feeling of anger that washed over me. It felt foreign; I’ve never been questioned about my English ability before. Perhaps I had been asked in Chinese before, asking why I could speak English by a curious shopkeeper or street seller; but never directly as a conversation starter in English. Was it because the asker was a white American? Was it because of his tone? I felt offended.

On the train ride back, I mulled over the question. Why? But then I realized that this question would have been unacceptable if asked in America– to an Asian American who has spoken English all their life suddenly to be asked about the validity of their American-ness, about their identity as an Asian-American. The question is akin to the “Where are you from?” question often asked to POC, as if America can’t be a valid answer because the color of their skin is not white. In this sense, this question is asking if one can’t be a native English speaker because their appearance is not of Caucasian descent.

The second time someone asked me this question, the shock was no longer there. “Why don’t you have a Taiwanese accent?” the person asked me.

“I grew up in America,” I explained. I had grown accustomed to the question; I had realized that the circumstances abroad and back in America are different; many people haven’t met that many Asian-Americans or other third-culture individuals. I was simply not used to the question; since asking this same question to an Asian-American or to an Asian who has never lived in an English-speaking country would yield very different results.

This question underlies the assumption that the askee is a foreigner– something that would be considered racist towards Asians who have always lived and grown up in an English environment. That’s why this question is acceptable when asked to Asians who have not grown up in an English environment; the asker is wondering how they acquired their English ability.

Once I came to understand how different people would react to this question, I began to understand. The assumption that I couldn’t possibly be American, the assumption that I couldn’t possibly be a native English speaker was what angered me. This assumption would be unacceptable in America, due to the ethnically and culturally diversified demographic. However, this is not the case in Japan, or in any homogeneous society. It is natural to assume that people are not third-culture individuals, or that people’s nationalities and upbringing match their ethnic and cultural background. It is natural to assume that I’m not American.

So if someone asks me this question, I’ll just take the compliment and say that their English is good too.