SINGAPORE- Last July, Ms Noriko Kudo's boyfriend proposed to her. Then, three months later, he saw her off on a flight from Japan to Singapore, having encouraged her to accept an overseas job stint of at least two years.
Says Ms Kudo, 26, of her fiance, 30, who owns a beauty spa business: "He lived in New Zealand for four years, so he felt that I should go ahead and try living overseas, since I have this chance."
The couple, who have been dating for seven years, now keep in touch via Skype and text-chat app Line. She hopes to go back to Japan to register her marriage to him later this year.
Hailing from Yokohama city, she is now a beauty therapist and assistant manager with the Miss Paris & Dandy House spa in Ngee Ann City.
At the spa's sole Singapore outlet, she helps to train new therapists and also does treatments for clients.
A former client of Miss Paris, she weighed 70kg at age 20. She checked into a Miss Paris spa in Japan and managed to lose 20kg. Today, she weighs 53kg.
Although she had been pursuing a teaching degree back then at Tamagawa University, she was impressed enough by her spa-going experience to want to be a professional beauty therapist. Upon graduating four years ago, she decided she would work at Miss Paris.
"Most of my classmates went into teaching, but I decided it was boring. I was not interested in a profession with such a hierarchical system," she says in Japanese, while her supervisor Elly Nakajima translates.
"If I became a teacher, I would spend my years slowly climbing the ranks and possibly getting trapped by the system."
She adds that the spa does not promote its employees based on rank, but according to the number of customers and amount of product sales that the employee manages to secure.
She joined the spa in 2010 as a freshly minted therapist and was posted to Singapore last October. She says she applied for the Singapore posting as she was eager for a new challenge.
"I also wanted to learn how to speak English and live overseas," she says.
In the past few months since she arrived, Ms Kudo, who is on an Employment Pass, says that her greatest challenge has been learning to communicate.
At work, she tries to explain herself by gesticulating and by memorising the names of body parts in English.
"It is tough, but my colleagues have been very patient and helpful," she says.
Grinning shyly, she says she has learnt one useful sentence from them, which she frequently repeats: "How do I say this?"
That in itself is a huge achievement, given how she could not speak a word of the language when she arrived in Singapore.
"I also understand some Singlish now and find myself adding 'lah' to the end of my sentences," she says.
"Apparently, it doesn't mean anything, but I find it uniquely Singaporean."
On weekends, she likes to go shopping in town, which is a stone's throw away from her home. She shares a three-room apartment with a colleague in the Orchard Road area and pays rent of about $800 a month.
Life is good at the moment and Ms Kudo expects to be here for the next two years at least.
"My dream is to help Miss Paris set up more branches in Singapore," she says.
Smiling, she adds wistfully: "I've been asking my fiance to consider coming here, so that we can be together."
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