Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tadaima: I'm back

I have been called out for totally neglecting my blog. I apologize to those of you left hanging.
So much inactivity in my work life, considering that the students are on summer vacation, has led to me spending way too much time in front of my computer; day after day. My cousin Caitlin and I often refer to the nauseas feeling that comes from staring at one’s computer excessively as carsickness. Just as childhood trips to the beach with my family once left me queasy, summer in Japan, similarly, makes me carsick.

Luckily my laptop is broken so my vegetation time is limited to my work computer, so, come 3:45, I am able to unbuckle my seatbelt after a long journey and finally enjoy my destination.

Since returning to Japan after a three week trip to the US this summer, I have learned the following:
-Festivals in Japan are only meaningful when you hike up a mountain to partake in them.
-If you say you like cheesecake someone might bake you cheesecake and secretly give it to you the next day.
-Japanese toilets are very dangerous.
-Teaching English to Japanese adults is just as fun as teaching English to Japanese children.
-I am 85% happy, according to a test given to me by my ceramics instructor.
-I have a landlord.

Okay, I would elaborate or write more but then I would have to roll the window down and throw up.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Takuma Road Trip

I have a confession. I have come to love where I live.

I am usually quite fickle in emotions, so making such a bold statement on something as official as a blog should warrant hesitation, however, I cannot seem to hold the words in my mouth, or rather my fingers. This is not a new feeling of butterflies to be confused with infatuation. Rather, I have been working up to this realization for months now, and as the weeks come and go, my feelings only seem to grow stronger.

Yesterday solidified my romance with Kagawa when I went on a day-long adventure throughout my town, guided by a new friend who lives in the mountains near an elementary school where I teach.

We began at a hidden, delicious, cafe just minutes behind the gym I frequent.

After we licked our plates, we headed out in search of a local garden maintained by the various elementary schools that I visit.
A small path led us from the field of flowers to the sea
where we soaked our feet and collected washed-up sea glass.

With shoes full of sand, we got back into my friend's car to continue our journey towards the top of Takuma's most famous mountain. The steep and curvy mountain roads would most certainly be deemed one-way in the US, however, cars came from the opposite direction, causing my friend Jocelyn to burst into tears of laughter and freight, which ultimately led to the unanimous decision to save the the summit for another day. My friend Chihiro suggested that we drive to her house where could walk around the beach across the street.

Along the way we stopped to soak up the view and chat with men on motorcycles.

When we reached Chihiro's house we were greeted by her mother who is an elementary school teacher at one of the schools that I frequent. Her brother joined us as we walked to the beach, where we were inspired by the warmth of the water to jump in for an impromptu swim.

We dried off and piled into Chihiro's dad's car for another windy drive, this time, in search of food. We grilled our own meat as we chatted in broken Japanese and English, forming a bond that ended in promises of future home stays and beach barbecues.

I was not upset about missing the Stanley Cup celebrations. There is no where else I would have rather been.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Way to go, girls.

Last summer I lived in Pittsburgh with three wonderful friends.
On our last morning together before Ellen drove off to Cincinatti in her twenty-something-year-old Volvo station wagon, hoping that it would make the five hour trip, the four us sat down for a final breakfast at a diner around the corner from my apartment.

Soon after I, too, left Pittsburgh, leaving Jocelyn and Mallory behind. A month later they both left the city where they were born and headed out on separate adventures, one of which unexpectedly led Jocelyn to Japan.
Yesterday I received two separate emails from Mallory and Ellen informing me that they both got teaching jobs in Nashville, and that they will be moving there, together, in a mere ten days.
Somehow, even though they are still thousands of miles away, the fact that they are together makes them seem that much closer. Jocelyn and I are in Japan, and they will be making lives for themselves in Nashville. Our friendships are still long distance, but at least we are only split in half.
This makes me feel incredibly lucky and optimistic about moving back to the US sometime in the future, where although my friends are still scattered across the country, two of them will be together in a place where I can go without feeling like I am moving back home.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Incredibly Kind

These are some things that I have received from various people since Monday.

My favorite, however, is a four-leaf clover that was given to me today by a second grader. I remember the childhood pursuit of such a prize. Today it came easily to me.

This afternoon I helped 6th year elementary school students address envelopes to foreigners who they met on their class trip to the Kansai region of Japan. In Kyoto, the students approached foreigners and then asked if they could take a picture together. They then asked them to write their address down on a piece of paper. It had become my job to de-code the sloppy handwriting from around the globe into legible letters and numbers that the students would then be able to copy themselves. Among the addresses from Switzerland, Canada, Germany, and England, there were a few from the US. One group showed me their address and I was stunned to see that it was from Pittsburgh. Shock set in as I read the street name. The woman whose picture had been taken by my students in Kyoto lives on Shady Ave, the street directly behind my own. The students who showed me this particular address held up the paper as if it were some sort of a golden ticket.

I hope the people who receive the photos in the mail cherish them and realize the incredibly kind gesture that these students are making. If nothing else, maybe they, like I, can feel that the world is that much smaller.

Friday, May 15, 2009

How to be Cool

Exhausted from a beautiful trip to Hong Kong with pleasant memories of ripe mangos and bubble tea still fresh in my mind, I woke up extra early Tuesday morning for a class field trip that I was invited to partake in. I had been told to dress appropriately for the hike that we would take on the nearby mountain, and I was reminded to bring a bottle of water because I would be very hot. So that morning I put on a t-shirt and jean shorts, and I made sure that I had some cash in my purse for one of the many vending machines that I would find on the island where we would be hiking.

When I arrived at school the first thing I noticed was that all of the teachers were wearing jogging suits (normal attire for Japanese teachers) and big floppy hats to protect their faces from the sun. Everyone had a backpack where they stored their bento (lunch box) and bottle of water. The bento that I was given did not fit into my red over the shoulder purse, and various teachers warned me that I would get sunburned. Already I felt that they regretted inviting me along, because, of course, I had no idea of how to properly prepare for a hike up a sunny mountain.

Along with the hundred or so students, I boarded a ferry down the street from my Junior High School. Ten minutes later we arrived on the island that, somehow, I did not know existed.

After lots of sitting around and chatting with the teachers as the students had to find their way through a walking course, I ate my bento that another teacher had so kindly held in his backpack for me, followed by the commencement of the afternoon hike.

After ten minutes of walking up this I was exhausted, but I kept going amid the "we can do it" chants from my students.

When we reached the top of the mountain I looked down at the water and my town. I asked the students where our Junior High School was, and like me, they were unsure of its location.
On the walk down my students took turns wearing my sunglasses.

We took the ferry back to the mainlaind and returned to school sweaty from our adventure.

The next day I woke up sunburned and ashamed to show my reddened face to my co-workers. Despite my faults it was all worth it because now I know that I can escape to that island for an afternoon and that all it takes to be cool is a good pair of sunglasses.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I barely even noticed the cherry blossoms

When I was approached on the train by a weird middle-aged man recently, I politely looked at the picture he showed me of himself pressed up against a Russian stripper whose name I cannot remember. I agreed in saying that she was pretty, and shook his hand after it had combed through his long, graying locks. As he walked away I only felt slightly relieved, barely bothered by the encounter.

After living in Japan for roughly eight months I have to come to realize that very little unsettles me. The most ridiculous of scenarios occur on a regular basis, and awkwardness has become expected, if not comfortable.
The most trying thing that has recently taken place would be, at any other time in my life, considered completely normal. This being some quality time spent with my mom, dad, and big brother.

The two weeks they were in Japan were filled with day trips and long train rides; slurping on udon and eating raw fish while claiming that every meal was more delicious than the last. My family met my new friends, some of whom speak very little English, and I watched on as my co-workers, students, and a trainer at the gym looked at my relatives in awe, especially my brother who in no way fit in with the restrictive Japanese ways.

Having my family in Japan was a little bit tiring,
much needed,
induced bonding,
and led me to the realization that my dad is a really, really good person.
After they left, my life resumed as normal. Which consists of Saturday nights that look like this
followed by sleepy Sundays and Monday mornings where I am expected to sing, dance, and sometimes speak Russian.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

itsumo arigato gozaimasu: Thank You, Always

There is a bakery cart that sometimes shows up in front of the bookstore across the street from my apartment. The brownies are amazing, and I recently discovered that the cheesecake, too, is out of this world. Although I never know exactly when the cart will show up, Monday evenings seem to be a safe bet. Jocelyn, who has been living with me for over a month, has grown to love the little cakes even more that I do; which has caused her her to dash out the door upon hearing the cart’s music, like a small child running after an ice cream truck.

Today, at 9 am, a surge of teachers grabbed their wallets and began running out of the staff room. One woman who barely speaks English saw that I made no effort to follow the others outside. She came over to my desk and said “bakery, come.” Although I was not hungry and have honestly been trying to cut back, I decided to take a break from my computer to see what this was all about.

Right outside of the Junior High School I found my favorite bakery cart filled with an abundance of unpicked-over goods. As I reached for my favorite brownie, I noticed that the teachers around me were loading trays full of breads, cookies, and cakes. These civilized people who quietly sip on green tea had suddenly become ravenous children. Motivated by the hype, I ended up buying three things. When it was my turn to pay the clerk who knows me well, and knows Jocelyn better, he said “itsumo arigato gozaimasu". He then told me that my friend loves the baked goods, and I told him that I was aware.
I walked away from the situation feeling like an experienced bakery shopper; as if I could have impressed my coworkers by saying “I’ll have the regular”.

Hopefully I can resist eating the two brownies and piece of cheesecake long enough to save some for Jocelyn. Maybe my coworkers were on to something... I should have bought more.