If you live as you are now, you will be happy

Paing and Pyae
They are twins and came to Japan from Myanmar when they were 8 years old. When they were in junior high school, they attended a multicultural free school. Later, they went to a regular high school. After graduation, Paing got a job as a caregiver, but left due to illness. Pyae worked at a convenience store, but left due to human relations. They are also active as YouTubers.

– Please tell us about when you came to Japan.

PAING: We came because we were told that we were going on a trip to see our father. His father was a migrant worker in Japan and then we were born in Myanmar, so we never met him until we were 8 years old. My first impression was that he was old. I had seen him in pictures, but at that time he was still young with hair and stuff. I didn’t know I was going to live in Japan until I started elementary school.

PYAE I was thinking that I was going to Japan, and I was looking forward to it. I like flying, and I’m going to meet my father. I was so excited to come to Japan.

– Did you start elementary school in the second grade?

PAING: We started in third grade. We started with “aieueo”, even though other people were doing different subjects. All the way up to the second half of the third grade, we tried our best to learn Japanese. At first, we couldn’t understand anything the teacher said, but after about six months, we started to understand what he said. It took us a year or two to be able to read.

– How was your school life?

PAING: In the beginning, we were close to everyone. When we joined, they would gather around and cackle, but then they started to drift apart. I don’t know why. The first word I learned was “disgusting”. I was also told to “go back to your country”, “die”, and many other things. I wondered why girls were running away from me and why they were so attached to other people but not to me. I was close to some of the boys, but I was the type of person who didn’t talk much, so it was like hanging out with two or three guys I was close to.

PYAE: I’m the kind of person who doesn’t care much. I just thought that the girls didn’t like me, and that it was okay.

– How were your studies?

PAING: It was difficult, like math. I still have a phobia of math (laughs) and can do simple calculations, but I have to break my fingers to do it. It took me a long time to memorize. But I was good at things that didn’t have answers. I don’t like to make mistakes in things that have answers, like arithmetic, so I didn’t speak up. But I could speak up in moral education. Since no one else raises their hands, I am pointed to first in moral education. Also, I’ve loved movies since elementary school, and I’ve always wanted to do anything related to movies, including writing scripts and stories. When I entered junior high school, I got a camera and started shooting with Pyae.

PYAE: What did I like? I didn’t have a particular favorite. I just enjoy what’s in front of me.

PAING: I had a sister-in-law at home who made me study from 7:00 to 11:00, mostly math. I was bullied at school and was a wreck at home. When I think about it now, I don’t know how I was able to endure it all.

PYAE: So when we look back at the pictures from junior high school

PAING: We didn’t smile at all.

PYAE: Neither of us is smiling in any of the pictures. Even now, I wonder why we didn’t smile so much back then.

PAING: I’m thankful that I can write Kanji characters thanks to the constant studying I was forced to do, math on weekdays and Kanji on weekends.

– You went to the multicultural free school ** when you were in junior high school, how did that come about?

PAING: I started going there after being introduced by a friend of my father. I thought, “I’m going to study again”. But the multicultural free school was great. With my family, I would get angry when I couldn’t do something. But the teachers are not my family, so they taught me gently.

– Were you able to study in peace?

PAING: Yes. I was able to relax. With my family, I would get angry when I couldn’t do something. But the teachers are not my family, so they taught me gently.

– Were you able to study in peace?

PAING: Yes. Yes, I was able to relax. I was able to take my time, write kanji while talking, and the teacher made small talk with me. In junior high school, you have a fixed period of time to study, so there’s no room for small talk, and you have to just keep going one after another. If you do one chapter, you have to do the next two or three lessons and then move on to the next chapter. And then there was the test. There were such restrictions. I was bullied in the classroom, so school was boring. At a multicultural free school, everyone gets along well, and we can talk at our own pace while making small talk.

– After graduating from junior high school, you went to a part time high school.

PAING: My mother’s friend’s child was there. At that time, I was suffering from a strange disease, and my mother misunderstood that it was because I was worried about going to high school, so she introduced me.

PYAE: When I visited that high school, there were foreigners there and the teachers seemed kind, so I decided to go there from the second year of junior high school.

PAING: I wondered if there would be bullying or something like that at a full-day school.

PYAE: I had a bad image of it from watching movies and stuff. There was a high school baseball movie with a theme song called “Kiseki (Miracle)”. The baseball team members were swinging sticks and fighting. That was the image I had of the school, so I was glad to see that the regular school I visited was very homey.

– What is Paing’s illness like?

PAING: It’s an illness that comes from a mental disorder. I lose my freedom of movement, my strength, and I get headaches. I have symptoms all over my body. I think it started when I was in the second year of junior high school. There was also a time when I was in a multicultural free school. I went to the hospital because I was having trouble breathing, but there was nothing. I decided to go to a different hospital, so for about a year or two, I went to many different doctors and many different departments. Finally, I went to a mental clinic. I thought at the time that it wasn’t a mental illness. I was cured for a while, and then came back again and again. It still happens now and then. I’m not sure what caused it, but I think it was probably a combination of bullying and fear at home that left me mentally tattered.

– Have you ever had that happen to you, Pyae?

PYAE: Not for me. I’m not a person who cares much.

PAING: I’m a person who cares. I accept it.

PYAE: When Paing was sick, I would share with him if I could. I was wondering why you have symptoms but not illness.

PAING: Because I have symptoms, I thought I was sick. I wanted to say that I wasn’t skipping class because I had symptoms and they said I was skipping class or something. If I had been told that I was sick, people around me might have thought that this kind of disruption was unavoidable, but since I wasn’t diagnosed as sick, they would have misunderstood that I was skipping class. If I was told that I was sick, people around me might think that these hindrances were unavoidable. My family says I’m psychotic.

– How was your high school experience?

PAING: My math test score went up from zero to about 50. I thought that was a great thing. It gave me confidence in myself. The teacher taught us slowly, so we could only go through two pages a day. But it was easy to understand. It was fun. I was able to improve my test scores not only in mathematics but also in other subjects. I was not good at science and English, but I got a good score in Japanese. The tests were easy for me, so my grades were really good.

PYAE: I didn’t improve all at once, but I felt like my scores were coming along. I’m good at music and PE. I don’t like sitting in class.

PAING: I also had a part-time job. I was in my second year of high school. I was a sophomore in high school, and Pyae was a freshman in high school.

– What kind of part-time job did you have?

PYAE: The first job I had was washing dishes in a department store. But I quit soon after, and then I went to a restaurant in Shinbashi, which is an izakaya (Japanese style pub) at night and an udon shop for lunch. I washed dishes at the udon shop during lunch time, and then I worked as a cleaner at a hotel in Shimbashi. I worked there for about two weeks. I had planned to continue working there for a while, but there were two hotel buildings, and I was working in both of them, but it was my first time, so I couldn’t finish my work. I had to decide which was more important, school or work, and I was told to quit this job right away, so I didn’t work at anything for a while after that. After that, I worked at a family restaurant in Ikebukuro for about three or four months, but I didn’t get along with my boss and we had a fight, so I quit. I’ve been doing a lot of things.

PAING: I started a part-time job before I was a senior in high school. I picked up trash at the ship terminal. I only worked on Saturdays. Then I got a call from there saying, “I have a weekday job, can you do it? “. So I went to a short stay in Shibuya and did some cleaning. I thought the old man and the old woman were cute. At that time, there was a questionnaire about employment and I was told to go and check out some things, but it was a hassle so I left it alone. Just before the first day of my spring semester, I randomly wrote “nursing care”. At the time, I didn’t feel like it at all, but when they asked me if I wanted to be a caregiver, I said yes. But I wasn’t very good at cleaning, and the staff at the school was pretty angry with me. But I was terrible at cleaning, and the staff there were pretty upset with me. Then my guidance counselor said, “Since you want to do nursing care, why don’t you do it part-time?” I was connected with a company that came to the career guidance at that time, and I worked there part-time as a caregiver in the morning and went to high school in the afternoon.

– How did you like working as a caregiver?

PAING: It was fun. It was good for me. It was a day service, so it was recreational work, and there were some people who were personal care givers, but the rest were people who could walk on their own, and I escorted them because it was an independence support program. I became more and more interested in nursing care, but I couldn’t find a job because I couldn’t get credits for my classes. The only class I couldn’t get credit for was science, so the teacher helped me out somehow, and I turned in all the handouts and stuff, so it was weird, but the teacher told me to turn a blind eye to the fact that I couldn’t get credit. I took the test, and within a week I had a job offer. I got a job offer within a week of taking the test, and I worked there for about two years.

– How did you go about finding a job, Pyae?

PYAE: I didn’t decide. My homeroom teacher was an English teacher and was very strict. If I got a grade of 1, I couldn’t find a job. I could not expect to graduate. So I had to do make-up classes until two weeks before graduation, and then I was allowed to graduate.

– You’re not job hunting?

I was able to ask for advice on what kind of work I wanted to do, so I said things like I wanted to work in the car industry, or I liked airplanes and wanted to work there, but my teacher told me that even if I went to a company like this, my grades would be poor and I wouldn’t be able to work. That’s why they didn’t take my job search seriously.

– Didn’t you think much about going to college or a vocational school?

PAING & PYAE: We didn’t think about it.

PYAE: Because I don’t want to study anymore.

PAING: No, it’s not that, but until 2020, people need to work, so the employment rate is high. But after 2020, it will be harder to work. But after 2020, it will become harder to work. That’s what the teacher said at the meeting with my parents, so I thought I’d do that. Also, my parents are old, so they told me that it would be better to work and get one million yen than to pay one million yen in tuition fees, so I decided to get a job.

– What did you do after graduation?

PYAE: I went to an interview to work for a cell phone company, but it didn’t work out. Then my oldest brother, who was working at a convenience store, told me to come to his workplace and work. It was fine, but the people at the convenience store didn’t trust me much. I was sent to Ginza, Ueno, and many other places. According to the person at the convenience store, I had to go to many places, so I thought that was it. I had a fight with the manager of the Ueno store and quit. My brother heard from the person in charge that he didn’t really trust me, so he was making me go places. It would have been bad if the store made me quit, so they made me go places so that I would quit. That made me realize that people don’t trust me. I was rejected by Softbank, I was told that at a convenience store, and I was told that by my teacher when I was asking for advice on job hunting, so I thought that people didn’t trust me. But my sister-in-law works at the store I’m working at now, and my brother told me to work there because he has my sister. My sister also told me to come work at her place, so I thought I would probably fail if I went there again, but I went there anyway and was hired. But the truth is, I didn’t want to go. Because I became afraid of people. I was afraid to interact with people. But I got the job, so I did what I had to do. So I just did what I had to do, even if no one trusted me, and gradually the managers and store managers started to trust me. If you work well, you get a card, and if you get three cards, you get a certificate, and I got the certificate a couple of times. After working there, something changed in me. I realized that interacting with people is actually fun. I didn’t think that when I was in high school. I was afraid of people. I had friends and stuff, but, well, I thought it was fun to interact with them, but the truth is, I was afraid of people. It seems that being scared and bullied from a young age was holding me back.

– Something changed for you when you worked at that store.

PYAE: Since I graduated from high school and became a member of society, I thought it wouldn’t be good if I didn’t switch at this moment, so I did. I suppressed my fear of interacting with people and started to think that I had to change myself. I was working diligently. I did my work even when people weren’t looking. I did things that other people didn’t do, such as cleaning up, and I proactively called out to people. She would go out in front of the store and talk to people. The store manager and other store staff saw me doing this, and I thought, “This clerk is amazing. I was doing this, and before I knew it, the store manager and the manager trusted me. Then I was allowed to go to various places, and even at those stores, I was told, “The people at this store have good people like you.

– That must have made you very happy.

PYAE: I’m happy. I’m still working there. I’ve been working here for two and a half years now*, and I’ll be in my third year in August. *At the time of the interview

– How about you, Paing, since you started working as a caregiver?

PAING: I really enjoyed my job. It was a little tough at times, but the elderly people were so happy when I did recreational activities, and I thought they were so cute. I continued to work there for about two years, switching from one facility to another a couple of times, but then I got a hernia in my back. I continued for a while, but then the disease came back. It was a really tough time for me. Caring for the elderly requires a lot of skill, and it was really impossible when my head was foggy. Because I was so foggy-headed due to my illness, I forgot to give medication or put myself in danger. There was also a mechanical bath, but if you drowned or got caught in it, you would be in big trouble. But even there, I was so absent-minded that I decided to quit. The company allowed me to rejoin. There were people around me who wanted to join again. So I quit and am now working at the same place as Pyae.

– Did you ever think of doing it again?

PAING: When I look at the website, I feel like I want to wear this uniform again.

– Do you think nursing care is right for you?

PAING: Yes, I do. I want to go back to it. My parents may need care in the future, so I’ll study it.

– You are also active as YouTubers, aren’t you?

PYAE: I was the one who decided to start YouTube. I couldn’t find a job or anything, and my teacher told me I’d never make it, so I thought that if I couldn’t get a job, I should just freely express my honest feelings and make money. I thought I should become famous and overwhelm them, so I asked Paing and my friends if I could be a YouTuber and what I should do.

PAING: At first, I was doing it with a friend from high school. But due to various reason, now PYAE and I do PyaePaingTV together. We did that for about a year, but halfway through it got tedious and we stopped posting for a while. When I look back at it now, it was so boring, so I’m grateful to anyone who watched PyaePaingTV back then.

PYAE: There was no music or attractions.

PAING: Just talking. I’m talking to the camera. So I haven’t done it for a while, but I wanted to start over. I decided to reopen the channel and make it something no one else has. The name of the channel is Maingalarpar Channel, which means “hello” in Myanmar, the language of greetings in my country.

– What do you think about Myanmar?

PAING: The culture and traditions are great, but the lifestyle and economy are not good. It’s hard and not safe. But I want to go back to visit my grandmother. But I don’t want to live there.

– Do you have any advice for children who are in a similar situation?

PAING: I’m sure there will be bullying and other hardships, but once you get over that, if you can speak Japanese, there will be no bullying. Also, Japan is a country that supports people who are trying their best, so do your best. It’s not just one person, there are foreigners around you who are struggling and working hard, so I want to tell them to do their best.

PYAE: I also had trouble with my Japanese and was bullied, but if you study hard, you will be able to study. But if you study hard, you will be able to learn. And don’t worry about bullying, just live your own life. Everyone is different, so instead of being depressed because you were bullied, I would like you to show your own personality and what kind of person you can be.

– What do you think is your “self”?

PAING: I’m pretty much a person who can’t say no to anything. Even at work. If I’m told to stay until the store closes, I go ahead. Then I get impatient, thinking that the store will be closed later. But by doing that, people trust me. That’s what makes you unique, that’s what only you can do.

PYAE: What makes me unique is that I always have a smile on my face. Don’t worry about others. Don’t think that you want to be recognized by others. People sometimes say negative things, and when it comes to good things and bad things, they tend to look at the bad things more. But they only say it at that time. I don’t care about the rest. So, I don’t think there is any need to live my life worrying about others, dragging it out and saying, “This is what they said to me, so that’s what I am. I live my life believing that even if there are people who think badly of me, there are people somewhere who see the good in me. I am. I’m doing what I have to do.

PAING: If you’re good at smiling, it’s good to smile with confidence. Being able to smile confidently is who you are. Even if you are a gloomy person, it’s better to be gloomy than to be depressed because you are not good at communication and can’t get out in front. If you are a dark person, it’s okay to be dark. Because you can’t communicate, there are bright people around you. So the world is made up of a combination of things. The last time I went on a trip, I met a director who said, “I can’t be upfront. You say you don’t know what you like and what you should do, but if you look into it, you’re just wasting your time. You won’t find anything by searching, so just live your life as you are now and you’ll be happy”. If you’re gloomy, just live your life in the dark, and there will be cheerful people around you. I think that’s the easiest way to live. That’s why, since I started thinking this way recently, I haven’t developed the disease anymore.

**multicultural free school
A school run by the Multicultural Center Tokyo, a non-profit organization. It provides a place to stay and a place to study for students who came to Japan at the age of over 15 years old or graduated from junior high school, who are mainly aiming to go on to high school in Japan. At the time, we were running night classes for junior high school students.

Interviewing and writing: Tatsuhiko Uehara