Monday, March 12, 2012

Chocolate with a side order of cat

There are many things I will miss about Japan but there are few things I will miss more than cat cafes. Nothing beats sipping a cup of coffee while curling up with a cat or two (or 10).

One of the best places to drink coffee while petting a cat is the Kyoto Nama Chocolat Organic Tea House. It's not officially a cat cafe but it is a cafe and there is a cat inside so, unofficially, it's a cat cafe. The place is run by a Canadian woman and her Japanese husband, who was the former chef for the Japanese ambassador in New York City. Their hand-made chocolate is light, delicious, and fresh. It's good. Really, really good. (The cat is their family pet.)

Cats, chocolate, and coffee all under one roof. It doesn't get much better than that.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

"You're hired!"

It's official: I got a job with the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat! I report for duty on March 19th, which gives me exactly two weeks to pack up my life in Japan and move to Germany.

I'll be an associate programme officer with the capacity-building and outreach team ("capacity-building" refers to helping developing countries build, strengthen, and improve their capacity to mitigate and adapt to climate change, while "outreach" refers to reaching out to various stakeholders, including young people and intergovernmental organizations).

But I can't get too excited yet. I still have to clear two hurdles before the job offer officially becomes official. The first hurdle is passing the UN medical exam. The exam is intense (and, under Canadian employment law, totally illegal. It took me a few days to get comfortable with the invasive nature of the questions). I have completed about half of the exam so far: chest x-ray, blood samples, urine test, eye test, blood pressure, height, weight, electrocardiogram, family history, self-evaluation, and a colorblindness test (I passed! Does this mean I get to fly a plane?). The second half includes a full physical with a doctor (including a rectal exam). The exam leaves no orifice unprobed. I can understand the necessity of the exam for UN employees working at a refugee camp or in a war zone but it seems a bit over-the-top for a desk job in Germany.

Some of the more questionable questions on the medical exam include the following: "Have you ever been absent from work for longer than one month through illness?" "Have you ever consulted a neurologist, a psychiatrist or a psychoanalyst?" "Have you ever suffered from gonorrhea?" "Do you smoke regularly?" "Are your periods regular? Are they painful? Do you have to stay in bed when they come?" "Have you gained or lost weight during the last three years?" (Seriously!?) In Canada, this would be fodder for a human rights tribunal. I trust that they're not using this information to discriminate against people who are mentally ill or HIV positive or physically disabled. I assume it's just a way to ensure workers in extreme conditions (like the aforementioned war zone) are able to endure mental and physical stress and/or to provide support and services for staff members who need it. (The UN medical exam is posted online so it's not some sort of secret. It's all very transparent and above board.)

Once I got over the initial shock, I realized it's probably a good thing that they're forcing me to take a medical exam since I rarely ever go to the doctor. If something is wrong, it will be good to catch it early. I'm just not sure how the UN defines "healthy" and if I'll measure up. If I fail the medical exam, the job offer will be withdrawn.

The second hurdle is if the German authorities refuse to issue me an entry visa. I'm pretty sure all of this will be a non-issue but the job is not a sure thing until I pass these two hurdles. So I have to temper my excitement. Plus, my general strategy in life is to always expect the worst. That way, when the worst doesn't happen, I'll always be pleasantly surprised. The way I see it, death, dismemberment, illness, heartbreak, and disappointment are always right around the corner. These things follow you around like a shadow, waiting to surprise you when you least expect it. So I live my life knowing that good health and good luck are only temporary constructs that will eventually run out. I've been on a lucky streak for a long time and I fully intend to enjoy it while it lasts.