When I left my job as creative director of Vice Media’s creative agency Virtue in Berlin in September of last year, I needed a change of scenery. So I threw some threads into a travel bag and headed to Asia for some adventure, with absolutely no clue of what was about to unfold.
First stop, adventure in Thailand. A need to create beautiful tangible things led me to a pottery and ceramics course in Chiang Mai, then to some soul searching at a retreat in the mountains and finally some volunteer work with orphans in Nepal.
All the while, Japan was surreptitiously calling me, luring me to her Eastern promise. The language, the food, the culture, not to mention the creative opportunities enthralled me. At first I lived in a capsule hotel which is a truly genius short-term accommodation option for anyone travelling on a budget. I ended up spending my Christmas there which was quite a surreal experience. Having been used to big, loud family affairs in previous years, I found myself feeling lonely, and for the first time in my life, a bit of an outsider. But it was OK, I took comfort in the fact that come the new year, I was about to embark on a new chapter in my life and proceed with my plans to settle in Tokyo, so I focussed on securing the job of my dreams: a Creative Director role at a creative agency in Tokyo.
So in January of this very uncommon year, my research into the Tokyo creative community led me to UltraSuperNew. I loved their style, their work and their belief in the power of big ideas, and unashamedly harassed founders Tomo Murakami and Marc Wesseling into listening to my pitch as to why they should hire me. So they did, and all was good in the world.
I applied for my working visa, which would allow me to live and work in Japan semi-permanently, put down some roots and ditch the backpack. Japanese immigration law required me to leave the country while my papers were being prepared. With an office in Singapore, UltraSuperNew sent me there to work and wait for my Japanese work visa. All sounds so simple. Until...
...the pandemic hit. The world closed down. International borders shut. All immigration activity put on ice. I was literally locked out in lockdown.
I felt devastated, it was all happening so fast, and difficult to believe what was actually happening, but then some common sense kicking in? Surely this won't last for too long right? Just a couple of weeks and it will be all OK again. But then there were no timeframes, no parameters to work within. I wasn’t getting into Japan anytime soon. And as it turns out, I wasn’t permitted to get comfortable in Singapore either as there was a time limit to Singapore’s hospitality, and even after a kindly visa extension, it wasn’t long enough. I was thrown into a tumultuous journey taking me from country to country, and once again living out of my backpack.
Trying not to panic I went to UAE (one of the only countries with open borders at that time). At first this sounded like an OK plan. Nice weather, a hotel on the beach, what's not to like? Except it was August, and the outside air temperature was at least 50 degrees. I am Portuguese, so I can safely say I am usually very comfortable in high temperatures, but this was different, and 50 degrees is not a pleasant temperature to feel on the skin! If I wanted to go anywhere, I had to take a taxi, so there was nowhere to walk, to gather my thoughts. There was no aimless strolling and it was impossible to take in anything cultural. I went from one air conditioned building to the next.
It was so hard to be constantly waiting, and without any timeframes to manage my expectations. I felt like I’d got off the train at the wrong station, only to find myself lost in the middle of nowhere with an indefinite wait for the next train to arrive. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, the whole world was adapting to the immense tidal wave of the pandemic fall out. We still are.
Eventually I found it impossible to live with this never ending uncertainty, and went back to Portugal to wait it out. It was so good to be around my family after months of feeling like an outsider and not wanted. I had always wanted to see the world, but this was an experience I had not imagined in my wildest dreams or nightmares!
Almost a year on (10 months to be exact), my visa finally came through and I’m now back in Tokyo where my dreams are, and although I feel like I’ve been through an emotional washing machine, I realise I’m extremely lucky, when so many have lost so much. Looking back over the past few months I realise that instead of avoiding uncertainty we should try to embrace it, and accept it as a constant in life. It's in times of adversity and uncertainty and being outside of our comfort zone that awakens our brain, our senses and our creativity, questioning what we know and exposing us to life without the rose-tinted specs.