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This always seems to happen…

5 Oct

It’s been quite awhile since I last posted anything. The last several months have been insanity. What has happened since June?

I spent the better part of two months packing and cleaning my apartment. Moved in with a friend for the last few weeks. Saw A Tribe Called Quest and Stevie Wonder at Summer Sonic in Osaka (and CRIED). Returned to California. Reunited with Damon and had him meet my family. dramadramadramadrama. Went to Burning Man for the first time. Ran around the Bay playing tour guide and reconnecting with friends. Said goodbye to Damon. And now we’ve reached today and life is still insane.

I have a plane ticket to fly to Australia at the end of October. Less than three weeks away. I feel like my life is the plot of some overly dramatic romantic film. Full of twists and turns. WHAT WILL SHE DO NEXT?! I’m the one living this life and I only know half the story. I’m excited about moving to Australia and playing out all the little adventures being created in the happier, stress-free section of my brain. At the same time, though, I feel bad about being so far away from my family again. And while I have made a pros and cons list for the move (and lemme tell ya, the pros are winning right now), that doesn’t really make things any easier.

The biggest issue is that of change. When I left for Japan two summers ago, it seemed like was talking about how change was good and we all wanted change and change was growth and etc., etc. For a political theme, maybe it works. For me personally, its become a huge thorn in my side. A friend even said to me a week or so before I flew out “no matter what, don’t change.”

I thought that wouldn’t be too big of a problem, but then again I got flung into a foreign country to be immersed in a language and culture that, after two years, I still have plenty of difficulty understanding. I was living alone. I was self-sufficient for the first time. Independent. It was very different to how I had been living before I left: jobless, fully dependent on parents and responsible for helping other people. With one trip across the Pacific, I had gained a new-found freedom. “don’t change” Is that even fair to ask of a person?

One of the biggest lessons I learned (and am learning even now) is that above all, I have to take responsibility for my faith. 2007 and 2008 were some hard years for Christian churches across the globe. All kinds of scandals and lies and many people were hurt in various ways, including myself. When I left for Japan I was dealing with a lot of anger and hurt towards people who had broken my spirit through their own selfishness and greed. It was never a physical issue, but mentally I had dealt with a lot. It’s understandable that I didn’t want to attend church for some time. I went once in the two years I lived there. I caution the reader not to judge.

In any case, despite all that has been done I still believe in and love God. He’s like a dad: teaches you the things you need to know and then you get to a certain point where you have to walk it out for yourself. I have to make an effort to maintain the relationship and just like He gives each person a different gifting and we all have different personalities, we will all have a different relationship with God. I can’t use my perceptions of another’s relationship with Him as a measuring stick for my own. It doesn’t work like that.

I’ve disappointed people. I’ve changed. But I’ve learned as well and I think I’m the better for it. I can’t not change, that’s not how things work. All I can do is make decisions for myself because I can’t please everyone. Life moves forward. And like the song says:

Time is filled with switch transitions…♫

Uhh… No?

1 Jun

A New Ad Campaign for Ciggs

Hey Japan,

Just so you know, this new ad fails. I don’t know what point you’re trying to make with this image, or who you’re trying to reach. Do you guys even know the meaning of homoerotic? Some questions for the ad creators:

  • Why is it a foreigner?
  • Why are his biceps so HUGE. (They hurt to look at)
  • What’s up with the teeny-tiny jean shorts? So Village People, ya know?
  • Not a question, but I’m a little jealous of the smooth silkiness of his thighs.
  • Or maybe… smoking will make my thighs that silky, だろう?

Maybe you should just go back to the old ads…

Sneezy, Grumpy and Sleepy So I Went to The Doc

1 Jun

Last week I kept having sneezing fits. I didn’t think it was a cold so I assumed it was allergies, although I never usually get allergies. It was probably because my eyes were itching something crazy, like when I was in Melbourne last Dec/Jan. I also thought it was allergies because whenever I left my neighborhood, I felt better. There’s a mountain in my backyard, so you can imagine the pollen count.

Look at all the allergies!!

So I finished out the week, sneezing and sniffling along the way, but on the weekend, the symptoms changed. Now all of a sudden I was feeling really tired, hot-flashy, the phlegm changed color and I could feel fluid in my lungs. I had also developed a cough and a sore throat. I knew I needed a sick day to rest up, but since it was a Monday and the first day back at my second school in two weeks, I had a feeling they wouldn’t quite believe me if I had just phoned in.

I woke up Monday morning and dragged myself to work, just to tell the Principal and Vice Principal and fellow English teachers that I was not feeling well. To make it even easier for them to believe me, I rocked up to school wearing a face mask. I hate face masks with all my might. I didn’t even wear a face mask during the Swine Flu freak out last Spring (and you can believe I caught all kinds of looks on the train as the only person NOT wearing one…) Anyway, I wore the mask and described my symptoms, including a headache, an oncoming ear infection and itchy eyes and general grogginess. I was outta there in less than 5 minutes. The only annoyance was that now I had to walk all the way back to the train station to ride all the way back to my neighborhood to get to the hospital. 5 minutes walk from my home train station. >.<

But, I got the the hospital about 10 minutes after opening and the place was already full of old people and babies. Had to wait about 90 minutes but in the end the doctor told me that I had in fact caught a cold at first, and then without treatment it developed into an upper-respiratory infection. That was a first for me! So I needed meds. And as MUCH as I try to avoid them, especially anti-biotics, I decided to take the recommended prescription because I didn’t want it to develop into pneumonia or something worse.

The best part, though: the kind doctor gave me three days of sick leave! Did I mention that I really don’t like going to the second school? The kids are kinda zombie-ish and the teachers are only lightweight friendly.

Today is day #2 of sitting at home recuperating (and I’m already feeling much better, btw), but I’m still going to take tomorrow off. I’ve been using the free time to clean my apartment and sort things out for the move.

Now, back to my movie.

Let’s Physical = GET!

26 May

So I’ve decided to start working out again. Most people figure that Winter is a pretty good time for that. Not me. Winter isn’t a pretty good time for anything. Anything besides sitting in my living room, parked in front of the heater and under the kotatsu table watching movies and TV shows until Mr. Sun and his buddy Warmth decide to come back. I mean, seriously, I can’t even muster the energy to clean when it’s super cold outside.

In any case, even though this week has apparently been a prelude to June’s rainy season and full of crazy winds and chilly weather, it’s still not as cold as that Winter weather. Plus, I finished my art piece for the Kobe show and I told myself I’d start working out after I finished dedicating two weeks to its completion.

I had a fitness DVD. Something really embarrassing and corny and 80s. The ladies’ outfits consisted of leg-warmers, plain white granny-style hi-top Reeboks (though I will admit, a pair of red-on-red would be noice) and those leotards that ride so high you can see their uterus’ (uterae? uteri?) with shiny leggings.

Ms. Fonda, are you... ovulating?

It was BAD. And not in the Run-DMC way. It was so awful I used to turn down the music on the DVD and play my own stuff just to get through it. It wasn’t made any better by the fact that once I left it out on the table and Damon saw it. He made fun of it for awhile and will still bring it up. But I got it for $5 at Fry’s, so… this cheap lady can’t really complain.

Anyway, my subconscious mind must have been so ashamed of it that it won’t let me remember where I put it. I searched hi and lo in my apartment and cannot find it. So I had to resort to looking for free workout videos on the interwebz. Maybe that was a good thing because the videos are a LOT less embarrassing and there’s not a single glimpse of scrunchie socks on the entire website.

Japan, please don't bring these back, too.

I’m only on day #2, which means my body huuurts. Thighs, abs, arms, etc. I really hope I can stick with it. My goals are to be healthier overall and to slim my waist and bust down a bit as well as tone up my upper arms and thighs. I’m not really shooting for a weight goal, since muscle weighs more than fat. I’m just focusing on converting fat to muscle and becoming smoking hawt by the time I board the plane for los Estados Unidos. Maybe I’ll be able to rock that violating leotard!

Let’s get physical, suckas!

A Change is Gonna Come

24 May

The weather over the past two days has been crazy. Winds like a typhoon blowing rain, leaves, tattered umbrellas and cars everywhere! Today two parked cars fell down a hill onto the train tracks, stopping travel for a 5-station range. I was thanking God I didn’t have to go to work today. I’m only hoping tomorrow the weather will be a bit more gentle.

It’s almost June, which means my time in Japan is coming to an end relatively quickly. I say “relatively” because when I think in terms of work being finished, being able to go back to the States (and then subsequently, Australia) and seeing people I truly miss, it’s taking forever. But when I think about having to clean and organize and get everything in order for my departure, time seems to fly by almost too quickly. Hopefully I can find balance and maintain my sanity.

I think the balance will come from my time between both schools. The main school I’ve been at for over a year now keeps me busy with lesson planning and chatting with the students, while my newer school, on the other hand, bores me to tears. I don’t plan lessons, the students are off-putting and the teachers are somewhat un-aproachable by comparison to my first school. During my times at the boring school, I’ll use all that free time to organize myself and my apartment. Sort things out and get ready to ship boxes across the world.

I’ve been doing research on different events happening in the Bay Area during August and September and trying to learn and acquaint myself with Melbourne events and culture from October. I can’t wait to see what the coming months have in store for me, though I’m going to try to remember to relish my remaining time here in Japan. Who knows what may happen.

Apprehensive

6 May

It’s been a long, long time.  And Japan has done a lot to me.

I’ve been here for a year and eight months so far. It’ll be time to leave soon. I decided not to stay a third year. These past few months have been difficult for me. Not because of work, but because of culture and life and dealing with so many things on my own.

I have to constantly remind myself to look at the good things: my Japanese has improved, after persevering at this second school things have really turned around and I love the students and staff, I’ve made lasting relationships with Japanese people and friends from across the globe, I’ve gotten to travel to so many places and I met a truly amazing person.

It’s just that the difficult bits rear up over and over again: I still can’t read any decent amount of Japanese, I have a third school that I now rotate to and the teachers seem a tad unfriendly and openly disappointed in my level of Japanese, I live in a homogeneous society and I yearn for diversity, traveling now makes me ache to escape and the one person I feel I can share all these feelings with uncensored is on a completely different continent in another hemisphere.

Before I came here, a friend told me not to change. I’ve since found that to be an absolute impossibility. Living here has increased my tendency towards anxiety. I don’t want to meet new people, I don’t want to face new situations, I don’t want to be outgoing. New things stress me out on a whole new level than ever before. I just want to hide in a comfort zone.

Sometimes I wish *I* could be a metal man...

It probably sounds like a lot of complaining, or culture shock, or whatever. To be clear, I absolutely appreciate the opportunities I’ve had in Japan, and I don’t regret my decisions at all, but one can’t expect to live in such a different country than their own and not be affected to some extent.

Which is what causes me the most worry: that I will go back home and people will see the changes and not accept them or not like them or won’t be able to deal with them. Of course, I am happy with the person I have become, but to a certain extent it comes at the cost of others’ pride and faith in me. It’s really hard to disappoint so many people you love for the first time ever in life in such a short time, especially when it’s the first time you’ve been truly happy in a long while. How can you explain that?

Despite all of this, I am looking forward to going home. I love my family and I miss my friends. I just hope that everything turns out positively in the end. I’ve got less than four months left over here and though I’ll be more than happy to leave, it will still be with a bit of sadness for all the good experiences and personal growth this stint in Japan has given me.

Mt. Fuji is For Learners

13 Jul
Mt. Fuji

Mt. Fuji

Climbing Mt. Fuji was, hands down, the most physically challenging thing I have ever done in my life. Emotionally, it was pretty high up there, too.

I knew Fuji-san would be demanding of me; I’m not a person that usually goes hiking up hills and mountains just for the fun of it, but I knew if I could accomplish this, I would be so proud of myself, it’d be like a badge of honor. I also knew that by going with the group of friends that I did, I would be supported and motivated the entire way, which is what I needed to keep going.

Before heading up, I’d read a few different sites about the experience of going up the mountain. All the information I’d seen said the terrain was easy enough for walking shoes but the seven-hour climb was what gave me the most apprehension. Well, that and the risk of being blown off the side of the mountain by Fuji’s strong winds. Nevertheless, I was determined to do it; to succeed; to prove it to myself that I could do it. I wanted something to be really proud of.

The bus ride from Osaka took a few hours with some stops along the way but when we finally came in sight of the mountain and the bus slowly ascended to Station 5, where we were to begin our journey, a lump of fear began to form in my stomach: was I really about to do this? A friend’s reassuring eyes told me, Yes.

After putting on our warmer gear, having a nice warm meal and a bit of a safety lecture barely understood by me because it was all in Japanese, we set out to conquer Japan’s highest peak.

From Station 5

From Station 5

Starting up the mountain from Station 5 was easy enough. It was 5:30pm and there was still enough daylight to enjoy the flora and fauna of the lower altitudes with nice cool breezes blowing down the slope.

We got to Station 6 without any problems and not much challenge. The way to Station 7 is where it began to get more difficult. The sun was setting fast, the terrain was getting tougher as the altitude got higher and the lush greenery turned into rust-colored volcanic rock. I begin to take more breaks that are a little longer each time.

After Station 6

After Station 6

I’m not breathing properly on the way up to Station 7. Instead of nice, big breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth slowly and evenly, I’m breathing quickly in and out of my mouth. Soon enough my technique (or lack thereof) coupled with the ever-increasing altitude practically brings me to my knees as I struggle up the last of the stone steps to Station 7.

I’m dizzy. I’m practically hyperventilating. A friend squeezes my hand. A Japanese woman generously offers me some oxygen from a small aeresol can in her pack. Another gives me a caramel. The tourguide bringing up the rear phones ahead to the lead to tell him and most of the others that we’ve stopped for an unexpected rest. I stand up. They ask if I’m alright. If I want to continue. I look at my friend, squeeze back, and tell them I can. I will. 出来るよ‼

I’m ashamed now that I’ve shown so much weakness. That I fell behind. I’m ashamed that I needed help from so many strangers. I was more than appreciative of their kindness and concern, but I hate feeling like the weakest link. Especially so early on in the journey. From this point I know I can’t do this again. I have to do better. I have to make it all the way. From this point I am constantly aware of how I’m breathing: big, deep, even breaths in through my nose and out through my mouth. Every once in awhile I get a comforting squeeze in the hand or an encouraging word.

Before I started, I promised myself that I wouldn’t complain. I wouldn’t talk about how tired I was. How difficult it was. And I would never say that I wanted to quit. I promised this not only for myself, but also for my friends. I didn’t want them to question why I would even come on the trip if I was just going to complain and whine the entire way up. I wanted a noble effort.

Moving Up The Mountain

Moving Up The Mountain

By this time, night had completely fallen. We were now using our headlamps to see the trail ahead of us. The lead and the tourguide flanked both ends of our group carrying flashing blue and white sticks of light. It was extremely helpful seeing as how there were several other tour groups on the mountain following the same trail and in the darkness and growing fatigue it was becoming more and more difficult to determine if the Nihonjin with the dark grey North Face pack belonged to my “Fuji Yama nantoka” group or the “Kyushu nantoka” group. Around 9pm, though, we were heading towards Station 8 which meant a few hours of sleep and a bit of a meal. After almost four hours of climbing and snacking on Calorie Mate, both of those things sounded just heavenly.

Before I could rest, though, I first had to MAKE it to Station 8. I had to keep my head down and my hand in someone’s tight grip because everytime I looked up, that station just seemed further and further away. I was tired. I cried a little. I just wanted a rest. But I refused to complain. I just kept pushing. I went at a slightly slower pace than most of the group but by this time, many others were having their own struggles and I wasn’t the very last person in the group anymore. To me, that alone felt like am accomplishment. I had to help cheer them up, too! 頑張ってしましょう (gambatte shimashou – Let’s do our best)!!

I made it to Station 8 after some time. I got my bed placement (in a hostel-like setup), a small bento of salmon and rice and a much-needed bathroom break. I gobbled down my dinner, popped out my contacts and settled in for just under three hours of sleep.

At 1am we were woken up with lights and a few “Ohayou gozaimasu”‘s (although some really loud gaijin outside who had just arrived thirty minutes earlier woke me up with their loud chattering). We had half an hour to get ready before trekking the last three hours to the summit and the sunrise. While we slept, though, the groups had just kept coming so by the time we were ready to leave, the number of tour groups on the mountain had doubled and there was a literal human traffic jam of people wanting to catch that same sunrise.

Now, generally, I don’t like huge crowds of people, and HUNDREDS of people simultaneously crawling up the same path I am would have normally irritated me; but the sheer number of enthusiastic climbers slowed the pace down to a speed I was very comfortable with keeping while maintaining my breathing and constantly telling myself that I could do this.

That was before the collective pace slowed down to a full stop. The last few hundred meters to the top consisted of a path made up of various-sized volcanic rocks that required much careful climbing and maintaining a sure foot lest you lose your balance and what once was a light breeze now evolved to a full-on gust assists in pushing you onto a part if the mountain you would have much trouble returning from with your life still intact.

These last few hundred meters were so difficult for me. As daylight drew closer and closer and the sun threatened to rise whether or not I made it to the summit, it became a personal race for me. I raced my tired body that kept begging for a rest. I raced my exhausted emotions that kept wondering when this challenge would end and if it would be worth it. I raced my guilt at the worry of holding someone else from their goal when they had so patiently encouraged me, cheered me on, and helped me find the strength to make it when I became so exhausted. I definitely couldn’t hold someone else back so I gritted my teeth to find the strength, bit down on my tongue that wanted to scream out about how difficult it was, how much I hurt, how tired I had become… I forcefully blinked through the tears that I could no longer hold in and I struggled up those last 200 meters without holding anyone’s hand.

The Final Tori Gate

The Final Tori Gate

When I crossed under the final Tori gate and saw my other friends waiting for me, saving me a spot on the summit, cheering because they knew how much I’d wanted to make it, I cried even more because I knew I had done it. I climbed Mt. Fuji and made it to the top to see the sunrise. A cloudy sunrise, but one from the top of a mountain almost 4,000meters tall.

I rewarded myself with a seat on the edge of the summit, facing the hidden sun and trying to eat a candy bar which was pretty much frozen at such an altitude and temperature (7 celsius). As I watched the clouds drift by slowly, thousands of feet below instead of above, I was thankful and blessed that I had come with such supportive people, knowing I may have never made it by myself.

At the Tori Gate, Cold As Ice

At the Tori Gate, Cold As Ice

After 40 minutes or so, we began the descent. That was a completely different ordeal. Somehow 3-4 hours spent coming back down seemed more difficult than the seven it took to get to the summit; but it may have also been because I started my period on the way back down and didn’t have any breakfast or real food before starting the descent an ended up almost passing out in the gift shop. But even then, someone was there to take my hand.

I climbed Mt. Fuji and I learned that I am stronger than I think. Although it was difficult and my body is still sore, I accomplished a goal that I wasn’t sure was possible for me. I can be really tough and I have people who will support me if I just have the confidence in myself first. I learned that I have to give something my absolute best before I can ask someone to have so much patience with me.

I’m proud I did it, as crazy as it may have seemed for me to do.