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5-month Restrospection

8 Jan

Okay, so I will freely admit that restrospection after only five months sounds kinds of lame; but as I get ready to head back to The Bay for a short visit with family and maybe a few friends, I know I will be asked many a question about everything I’ve experienced thus far.  This is a good way to get all that out because also, I’m pretty happy about some of the things I’ve done =D  So check out my little accomplishments after the jump! Continue reading

Have a Very Merry

25 Dec

It’s Christmas here in Japan… well… what’s left of it anyway.  At 11:30pm Christmas is pretty much over; especially in a country that loves the commercial aspect of the holiday and believes it is celebrated with buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken and Christmas cakes.

I don’t even know what a “Christmas Cake” is; all I know is that when I asked my students what they wanted for Christmas, several of them said Christmas Cake.  I don’t know what type of cake is used for Christmas here in Japan: chocolate, fruit, rum… I have absolutely no clue.

I do know that this Christmas has been kind of weird and a little lonely, even.  I mean, it hasn’t been completely lonely… I got to spend an early Christmas with a family and have a turkey dinner and play some Mario Kart on the Nintendo Wii with a set of gorgeous and absolutely amusing children… but having to work on Christmas (because I couldn’t justify to myself taking paid-leave to sit in my apartment all day alone) and then come home to a lonely apartment with no music, no family, no comfort foods… it was chotto tough.

I don’t want to sound like a wet blanket, though.  I will admit that I did get a nice little mini-vacation the weekend before Christmas, and I will be going home on the 9th for a visit with family, so I don’t have too much be negative about especially since school is out for vacation and (because of my trip home) I won’t have to teach until late January.  That’s a nice feeling.

So, Merry Merry; Happy and the like.  Spend time with the ones you love.  =D

Kobe… The City, Not the Dude.

16 Aug

Pretty much everyone knows the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” but the images I saw online before I came do absolutely no justice to my new home. Kobe, while it may be hot and unbearably humid (for me) is ridiculously gorgeous.

It’s a big port city with a lot of shipping going in and out of Osaka Bay so there are cranes dotting the coastal edge of the city and when my flight was landing into Kobe I was surprised at how much it reminded me of the Bay Area.

A view of Kobe from the South

Kobe and Oakland

The cranes and ships at the water’s edge, the bay, the green hills as backdrop to downtown that you even have to drive through to get to the more suburban part of town on the other side. I didn’t get homesick, but I immediately felt like I would fit right in. My apartment is gorgeous, thanks to my predecessor, and it’s a great size with lots of space for entertaining; which I hope to do in a little while.

My Tatami-floored Living Room

My Tatami-floored Living Room

Dining Room

Dining Room

The first event I went to with a lot of the other ALTs was a fireworks show in Osaka. I have no idea why there were fireworks, but Osaka is only a short train ride away so I was down. Osaka was jam-packed full of people but we did find a decent plot of grass to camp out on.  I don’t know what’s up with the Japanese there, but they must LOVE tanning because half the Osaks I saw were darker than some of my family members!!!  When we walked by one group, they kept saying “sugoi!!!” (cool) a lot.  I thought it was so funny that they were so interested in us.  It was sugoi, though because I love talking to Japanese people… especially the little kids, they just FREAK OUT when I speak to them on the trains or in a department store…. be it in Japanese or English!

After a few hours, though, the Osaka skies changed and pretty soon lightning we’d seen far off in the distance got closer and closer to us, was accompanied by thunder, and very quickly broke into a rain shower.

The group quickly picked up our tarps and everyone huddled together on the ground trying to stay out of the rain because we hadn’t thought of bringing umbrellas, even though it seems to rain quite often here in Japan during the summer. After a while, though, my legs were hurting from crouching under the tarp, so I just said, “forget it” and came out from under the tarp and stood in the rain for a while and soon after that the fireworks started (yeah, they did them anyway, rain and all) then everyone else just stood in little clusters under different tarps watching the show. I’ve never watched a fireworks show in the rain and I was soaked, but it was AWESOME!

After the show was over, a few of us wanted to go do karaoke but didn’t want to wait in the giant line of people exiting the place, so we scaled a wall, ran down a grassy slope that was slicker than normal because of the rain, and headed back to Kobe and belted out some awesome tunes. Climbing that wall I felt like someone crossing a border wall or something because it was pretty steep, we all got kinda messy, but it was probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

The rest of the week was relatively mild: hoofing it all over Sannomiya and downtown Kobe learning where stuff is, touring a jr. high school, and 4 straight days of Japanese lessons. I also had a monstrously difficult banking situation for several days that got resolved the other day, but it made me angry because no one at any bank branch at home explained international banking laws to me and kept saying that things would be the same in both countries, even after I told several people that I would be moving out of the country and would not be doing many transactions from the States. Stupid bank.

There was also a food party hosted by one of the ALTs in my neighborhood. The great thing about Kobe is that there is a fantastic cultural mix, so there are people not only from the States, but also from Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, and more. Since there are so many different people here, another girl from the States and myself decided to introduce people to the S’more.

The S'more

The Smore

First, I’d asked if people from other countries knew what it was. When I explained that it was melted marshmallow on top of a bit of chocolate sandwiched between two graham crackers there were some mixed reactions. Then after explaining to them what a graham cracker was, some people said it sounded awfully sugary, which, admittedly, it is. But I also explained that most people generally only have one s’more in a single sitting.

At the party I thought, “Hey, maybe this is not the greatest stereotype to reinforce about people from the States: that we love sugary snacks that could easily make you diabetic. But that was before an Aussie guy walked in with a plate of “Fairy Bread” and the girl from New Zealand shrieked in delight.

Fairy Bread... an Aussie and Kiwi favorite

Fairy Bread... an Aussie and Kiwi favorite

Everyone from the U.S. was like, “what the *heck* is ‘Fairy Bread’?” Basically it’s a piece of buttered bread with colored sprinkles on it. It’s good, but I laughed so hard when bread-lovers talked about how you’d be the most popular kid in elementary school if your mom brought in Fairy Bread for snacks or something. No one from back home would even try to bring s’mores as a class snack because everyone sort of agreed it was just too much sugar! But it was hilarious.

That incident is one of the many examples of why I know I’m gonna like it here *humming Annie soundtrack* People seem really easy to get along with here. Not everyone gets along with everyone else, but I haven’t had any problems, so yay!

Today I’m just going to keep in mellow, probably stay in my neighborhood, do laundry, watch a movie, etc. Hopefully I can update soon; next week is summer school and I know that’s going to be hilarious.

P.S. Here’s a link to some pictures I took with my phone.

I’M IN TOKYO!!!

5 Aug

Shinjuku @ Night, from Phototravels.net

So I’ve made it to Tokyo, safe and sound after a 10-hour flight.  Relatively easy compared to other folks.  I’ve never flown across the ocean before, so it was pretty cool.  Now I know how Alaskans feel in the middle of summer because the entire flight, the brightness of the sun never dwindled, and when we touched down it was 5:30pm local time, and 1:30am back home.

That was about two days ago and surprisingly, I’m not jet-lagged at all; I think it’s because I hadn’t been sleeping well the last two weeks in California, but I’m glad because that made me able to stay up and go sightseeing!

The first night here, after getting checked in at the hotel and all that stuff, everyone had to go find dinner themselves, so I went out with two other girls from my prefecture and went exploring.  In the picture above, the Hotel we’re in is literally two blocks to the right.  The store on the corner is like a Japanese Fry’s Electronics or Best Buy.

Punch a button, get a meal ticket, turn it in.

Punch a button, get a meal ticket, turn it in.

We went to a restaurant where you stand at a machine, select what you want after you put in your money, punch a button with a picture of what kind of food you want and a little ticket pops out.  I didn’t feel like experimenting with a new food when I was absolutely famished, and I didn’t like any of the pictures because I couldn’t tell what everything was, all I could decipher was かつ (Katsu), which means ‘pork’ and I really felt like having chicken.  The only thing I ended up punching in was for miso soup, which cost ¥60, which is about 60¢ in USD.

I wanted more than miso, so when we sat down and handed our tickets to the waitress.  I waited a little while but knew I’d be hungry later so I asked the waitress for some rice, but I don’t speak very much Japanese at all so it went a little something like:

ME: Um… sumimasen (excuse me), can I have, umm… ichi gohan kudasai (one [cooked]rice please).

WAITRESS: [JapaneseJapaneseJapanese] Gohan [JapaneseJapanese] hyaku rokuju-en kudasai (¥160)

Two minutes later I had a hot steaming bowl of rice set before me.  I was so stoked.  And that’s when it really hit me that I would be living in Japan for the next year (or possibly more) and I said excitedly “I will not starve in this country!!!”  I felt like Hiro in Heroes… I wanted to scream “YATTA!!!

Yesterday for breakfast the hotel had a buffet of two kinds of bacon, toast, yogurts, cereals, fresh fruit, eggs, green salad, and french fries.  Yes, that’s correct, FRENCH FRIES.  I know we’re predominantly all from the West, but I thought it was funny and cute that they offered us french fries.  They weren’t too far off, though, because I saw several people with fries on their plates.  This morning the potato dish was more like a pakora-looking disk thing, but not deep-fried.

Weirder than the French Fries, though, were the eggs.  It was like they’d soft-scrambled the eggs, added in extra yolks that had been boiled, then mixed it all together with some grits.  It’s an interesting taste combination.  Some people didn’t like it, but I ate a little bit both today and yesterday.

So then there was lots of Orientation stuff from morning to afternoon but I missed one of the sessions and went over to Harajuku with a girl from my city and a guy she knew.  Sunday is the “fashion parade” sort of day where all the people come decked out and everything, but yesterday was Monday, so we missed a little bit of that, but it was still interesting.  I got some video footage so I’ll post that up later; but the streets really were as crowded as in the photo.

Luckily the girl from my city really loves Harajuku (and DISNEYLAND!) so we both plan on coming back sometime in the next 12 months, so I’m excited about that, for sure.

We made it back in time for the Welcome Ceremony and the Kanpai (toast); and later on around 9 we went out into Shinjuku.  It was 91 degrees Farenheit, 98% humidity, and it started raining.  That’s when I was the most happy about not relaxing or straightening my hair because I didn’t have to worry about it frizzing up or anything, YAY!  We took purikura pictures and that was hilarious, I’ll have to scan them in later.

Came back, showered, crashed, and woke up.  It’s my big sister’s birthday today, so HAPPY BIRTHDAY ERICA!!!  I wish I could be there to celebrate and all that, but I’ll have to send you a present in a couple weeks. =D  For now, I have to go because another round of Orientation sessions is going to start soon.  Tomorrow morning I’ll be leaving for Kobe and hopefully *fingers crossed*, internet will already be set up in my apaato.