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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…♫

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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.

Fuji Bound and Chotto Frightened

10 Jul

As I type this, I’m sitting on a bus headed for Mt. Fuji with the full intention of hiking to the summit. I am also a little scared of Japan’s most mythical mountain.

For the past few weeks I’ve been wondering if I actually have the guts to do it. I knew I had the gumption, hence, the unhesitant “yes!” to a friend’s invitation. As Fuji drew nearer, though, I began to seriously wonder if I could climb all the way up. Not without a few tears did I confide in a close friend joining in on the adventure. They reassured me I could do it and promised to help me up the mountain should I happen to need it.

I wonder now if the experience will have a great impact on me. My dad said “be careful”, my mom said “oh my goodness”, the teachers I work with said I’m crazy and told me to “頑張れ!” One of the teachers I teach English with told me that Japanese people believe that hiking up Fuji-san is a good thing for couples to do before they get married because the experience and working together as a team are great for strengthening the relationship before marriage. I found that very interesting because I hadn’t seen it on any of the Fuji information sites I read.

Sitting on the bus now with a few good friends and thinking about the challenge I’ll face in about 12 hours I feel like I can do it because of who I’m with. They actually inspire confidence in me for this crazy climb.

I’ll send a postcard from the top!

耳が痛い!!! (My Ear Hurts!!!)

4 Mar

When I was a young child I had a slight hearing problem. To fix it, doctors removed the adnoids in my nasal cavity and made me wear hearing tubes for about eight years. The upside? I do not snore, except in the rare case that my nostrils get ridiculously blocked. Downside? When my nasal area gets blocked like that, the fluid build-up makes me mad susceptible to ear infections.

Now normally, back home in the States, I’d buy some Sudafed over the counter, take it regularly for about three or four days and case closed. In Japan, though? ちょっと違うよ。Things are a bit different. Here in the land of temperamental weather and crazy sick masks, Sudafed is illegal because it contains epinephrine, a stimulant. Epinephrine is illegal but you can buy what is basically speed at a combini… Go figure.

Anyway, this puts me in a sticky situation because since I can’t really take any preventative measures or properly self-medicate, I am left waiting for the monster incubating in my inner-ear to hatch like an Alien baby and deliver a mighty painful dose of reality in the middle of the night. Take for instance last September. I had only been in Japan for about a month before I got the summer sniffles. I don’t like to take medicine because I like for my white blood cells to train themselves for war every now and again… let me just say, they go down mighty quickly to that inner ear infection. Needless to say, with almost no warning whatsoever (after many years of dealing with this problem, I can feel an infection coming about 3 days before a doctor can even see it on the monitor =/) I am brutally awakened by what feels like someone repeatedly stabbing me in my ear with a knife. Yay.

With no Sudafed I was left writhing in pain and the only things I could immediately think to do were to call my mother in the middle of her workday, and cry. Simultaneously. I searched online for home remedies but I think at that point all I had in my house was a loaf of bread and a carton of milk so many tips were utterly useless. All I found was some advice to chew gum with Xylitol in it, amazingly that stuff is everywhere in this country. Eventually I just resorted to dripping hot water down my ear canal, hoping it would break up that pressure.

As I waited… and cried, I kept thinking one thing- well, two things actually: it sucks to be contractually forbidden from owning a car or scooter; and WHY ON EARTH IS SUDAFED BANNED?!!?!

When I woke up the next morning after somehow being able to fall back to sleep I thought: man, this might happen a lot here… And here we are, starting round two. Tomorrow, I gets drugs; if I can make it through the night because I definitely can’t drive to a hospital at 3am!

My failed arsenal of weapons. =/

Saying Goodbye

17 Jan

My flight back “home” is tomorrow morning and I have so many feelings about my departure.  I feel happy that I will be getting back to my own apartment, sadness that I’m leaving the baby and my family…  That I won’t be able to see her get older and start walking and talking.  I feel regret about not being able to see a few friends I wanted to see before leaving.  I feel apprehensive and excited about getting back into the swing of things at school… starting a new semester trying to teach some kids, trying to work with a teacher who don’t seem to like me too much or at least doesn’t know the meaning of the words “team teaching”.

I think I’m just ready to get things back to normal.  It’s funny that after five months I feel like this has become my “normal” even though I’m still not used to climbing up and down five flights every day.  And I’m still not used to the trek up from the train station.  And I’m still not used to people gawking at me each and every place I go.  And I’m even still not used to the different foods I’m eating everyday.

I guess I’ve already become used to  hearing people all around me speak Japanese instead of Spanish/Chinese/Vietnamese/Tagalog/etc.  I’ve become used to studying Kanji daily.  I’m used to sleeping on a futon.  I’m used to taking three days to dry my clothes enough to wear them… they’re never fully dry, just “not too wet.”  I like living in Japan… for now.  I’ve embraced the differences for the most part.

I’m going home tomorrow and I guess I’m just excited and ready to get back to life as usual.

You Can’t Go Home Again, I Guess

12 Jan

I’ve been looking forward to visiting home for a while now.  I wasn’t around for the birth of the baby and I was excited to see the little bundle of life that was created inside of and birthed from my sister.  I was excited to see my parents.  I was excited to see my siblings who understand me like no one else.  I don’t know what happened, but when I got here, I felt so different.

I’ve been in Kobe for just 5 months now, but coming back I feel like an outsider.  Not from any negative feelings or sentiments from family; by no means.  Everyone seems so excited to have me back for a visit, but…. I dunno.  I can’t really put it into words, but I feel a little like I don’t belong.  Even more, I feel uncomfortable.

I wonder, have things really changed so much in my life that I feel like I’m on the outside looking in?  Is it because so much has happened while I’ve been gone that I feel out of the loop?  Is it that I’ve created a different world or part of my life that is completely separate from that of my family and I’m just not used to that experience?

Don’t get me wrong, I love my family with my life; but I don’t know if the decisions I’ve made or will continue to make with my life will push me further away from them.  When a belief is not just a part of your personal thinking, but most of your cultural experience, what happens when you change things up a bit?

They will probably love me no matter what, but for me it casts a bit of a shadow over all the exciting visit.  Now, there is also apprehension and doubt.

I think I will try to just push all these thoughts aside and sort them when I go back to Japan; if that is even possible.

It’s also hard because I don’t have an outside person to talk to, not so much here in California.  The strongest non-familial relations I have right now are all in Kobe… on a 17-hour time difference, with school schedules and roaming charges to think about.

Yay 2009… this feels a bit like a punch in the emotional gut.