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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…♫

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!

Oh Geez!!!

15 Apr

Gomen, yo. I feel like my Ozzie boys for not updating in over a month.  Andy’s last update was in January and Damon’s was… yipe. He just updated a few days ago so I’ve really gotta get on it.

In any case, I have survived the last vestiges of Winter to experience my first Japanese Spring and all the Sakura that make the Nihonjin go crazy.  In the past month I’ve switched my phone provider from AU to Softbank (yay for free iPhone deal!!); gotten a PitaPa which is a magical card that gives me quick access to most rail lines in the Kansai area, do quick check-outs at many stores, and is a “credit” card that is directly linked to my Japanese bank account so I can do PayPal transfers (except when I recently checked, PayPal changed their system so you can now link directly to a Japanese account… it wasn’t like that before which is why I got the PitaPa… anyway).

As per the Board of Education I am employed under, I switched schools in the beginning of April and luckily, I am still very close to my apartment, which means I can wake up late… out of ~30 foreign teachers in my neighborhood, I believe I’m the last one to leave my apartment for work.  It’s nice.

I’ve also gone to 3 or 4 teachers parties and 4 Sakura-viewing events. Made hella (bad) short self-intro-type speeches in Japanese… Although my Japanese is rapidly improving, I get nervous at making speeches or reading/reciting prepared stuff.  I’m much better when I’m freely speaking… *sigh*  But I’ve had classes with most of my new students and even though I’m at a bad school where the kids don’t really study and score (maybe?) lowest in the district, I’m having a good time because it’s a lot more laid-back, relaxed, and welcoming than my first school.

So I’ll just leave you with some images of the latest goings on.  I will be more prudent about updating =D Enjoy!

The Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum

The Osamu Tezuka Manga Museumin Takarazuka

You see the camera crew?  Apparently they were filming promo material for the museum and I unwittingly (and a little unwillingly) became an extra while in the manga library. >.<

Damon had a gig at Trinity

Damon had a gig at Trinity

My friend Damon had a music gig at Trinity that turned out pretty well… except for the creepy guy butchering several West Coast (California) dances in lame attempts to game on J-girls.

Ijinkan Foreigner House in Kitano, Kobe, Japan

Beth, Che, and I finally visited one of the turn-of-the-20th century foreigner houses that Kobe brags about…. it was aiight.

Crazy monkeys!  Dont eat me!

Crazy monkeys! Don't eat me!

Went to Monkey Mountain, a park in the Arashiyama district of Kyoto and fed a bunch of crazy monkeys from inside a cage.  The big ones were really fat, so I tried to feed the babies.  They were mecha kawaii!!!

Sakura Viewing in Akashi Castle Park

Sakura Viewing in Akashi Castle Park

Akashi Park was hellllla crowded that day. I’m so glad I got to enjoy a few hours in an emptier area of the park… plus, no stares.

Sakura in Himeji Castle Park

Sakura in Himeji Castle Park

Many people knew this was probably the last weekend to view Sakura before some rain came and knocked them all down (yesterday); so last weekend at Himeji Castle Park was insanely crowded as well.  My friends and I got a nice spot without too much visual interference (people).   When a strong wind blew, petals would rain down from the trees and it was really lovely.  They got into everything, haha.

Hanami Within Himeji

Hanami Within Himeji

I imagine it was nice to be a lady living in the castle come Hanami time… this is beautiful!  More shots:

Himeji Castle with Sakura and Trees

Himeji Castle with Sakura and Trees

Outside the Castle

Outside the Castle

The last month or so has been crazy, but I’m REALLY looking forward to Spring and Summer.  I feel like I have successfully(?) survived my first “real” winter, which must be why I’ve been hearing Beyonce singing in my head all week.

The weather has been nice and warm lately, you might be able to tell from the beautiful clear blue skies (which will turn grayish come the summer humidity).  Yesterday it rained, though, so the raindrops beat the sakura from the trees and now  petals litter the ground like an autumn scene that has been miniaturized and colored a soft pink.

Sunshine and warm weather make me abundantly happy.

Birthday Cake and Naked Men

3 Mar

Seems that many of my friends are getting sick or injured lately.  I think it may be attributed to a combination of a few things.  First off, as much as I had hoped Spring had finally sprung and I could commence with the reduction of layers (I rock 6-7 layers on the daily), I was wrong.  The weatherman tricked me with a few warm and sunny days and then *BAM*, so suddenly the gray skies and cold and cloudy days returned, almost with a vengeance.  Indeed, I had forgotten I lived in what I like to call Kita-Cuts because Kobe’s Kita-Ward is absolutely notorious for being cold, and Hanayama tops the list like a sadistic snowy layer on a tree-covered-mountain cake. *sigh*

In addition to the cold that refuses to release its icy grip on my part of town, about 10 days ago my friends and I decided to tax our bodies with an insanely-packed weekend.  It started off with a birthday party in Osaka.  My good friend Damon turned 25 so a bunch of us headed directly from our respective schools out to a tiny bar in Shinsaibashi owned by some friends and made it an awesome event.

In A 100-year old Japanese house.

In A 100-year old Japanese house.

The food was awesome and Damon is a real music-loving guy and most of the Japanese people he meets are involved in the creative arts in some way.  At the party were a rapper who is pretty skilled on acoustic guitar, a DJ, a didgiridoo player that beat-boxes with the rappers, a salaryman magician, and a poi performer who is also a contact juggler (think David Bowie in Labyrinth).

Another guy I’d met before, Jinta, provided the nosh food and the amazing cake, which happened to be the best cake I’ve tasted in quite a long time.  A really fluffy yellow cake with whipped cream and fresh strawberries inside, with more whipped cream and strawberries on top, creating a ring around the edge of the cake with the birthday candles.  The best part was the custom dark-chocolate “album” with “Happy Birthday D-Wolf” scrawled across it.

Scrum-diddly!!!

Scrum-diddly!!!

I mean, seriously, if that thing was a man, I would happily become Mrs. Birthday Cake. It was.that.good.

Anyway, after the festivities wrapped up at that spot, the crazies (that includes myself) decided to STAY in Osaka and make it an all-nighter.  So we headed to an experimental music… thing that was happening until sunrise.  It was quite a walk from the train, and we stopped for food and melon soda (we need it in the States!), and finally got to the tiny gig in a ramshackle structure.  Ended up staying there until 5:30am before deciding to head back home.  It took us 6 train transfers to get back to ‘yama, sweet ‘yama.  I didn’t get to bed until around 8:30 on Saturday morning.

You figured I’d take it mellow, but no.  Woke up a few hours later and headed with a couple people out on another train trip to Okayama, 72 miles West of Kobe, for Hadaka Matsuri, aka Naked Man Festival.  For those wondering what on earth that is, Hadaka Matsuri is a 500-year old festival held every end of (cold as ice) February where thousands of (slightly crazy) men run around for hours in the night in nothing but loincloths and socks through small bodies of water to cleanse and purify themselves before gathering in a temple at midnight to fight for one of two lucky sticks in complete and total darkness.  Thousands more crazy people (including myself) stand around and watch all of this go down.

Swear, Naked Man is one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen in my life.

Delirious J-Guys

Delirious J-Guys

Out of respect for them as my friends, and their personal shame, I will not post pictures of my friends and the other gaijin that participated that night dressed in similar fashion.  After several hours of running around like this, though, all the groups slowly proceeded into the temple to await the dropping of the sticks, which, by the way, “guarantee” you a lucky year (and 10,000yen) if you catch it.  I say you’re already lucky if you can catch and keep that sucker without losing your loincloth, a limb, or your freaking life – no lie.

Still Early in the Game, Yet

Still Early in the Game, Yet

Many of the groups hadn’t gathered yet, this was still more than an hour before the sticks were dropped.  As the time drew nearer, though, the anticipation was palpable as the crowd got bigger and more uncontrollable.

Fights Started to Break Out

Fights Started to Break Out

It was really dangerous on the edge as fights were breaking out for better placement, closer to the center of the action, and also because the core group in the middle was continuously swaying from side-to-side with their arms raised in the air… waiting… for those sticks.  To me, it looked like a gay rave and the only thing missing was It’s Raining Men over a techno track… but that was just my observation.

In any case, after all that running around half naked in the 0 Celsius weather, not a single gaijin came out with stick in hand.  They were still lucky, though, because no one got seriously injured or died, like some dude last year!  Silver lining, eh?  That night I didn’t get to bed until around 4am, then had to rush out of the door in the morning to not get charged extra for the accomodations so I couldn’t even enjoy it.

When I got back home, it was raining and I had 20 minutes to sit down before heading back out into the rain to have dinner with my Obaachan friend and her family.  But, I can’t complain.  I only have the slight sniffles while one of my naked friends fully came down with the flu.  And no stick to show for it, even.

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.

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