Monday, May 31, 2010

Sick in Japan.

Hi! How was your weekend? :)

I spent my weekend wishing I were either:
a. stomach-less
b. incapable of feeling pain
c. no longer alive

Food poisoning.

I don't know what I did (or ate) to deserve such horrible punishment, but I most definitely suffered. And suffered. And suffered.

I am telling you this not to elicit pity (though I wouldn't turn it away... ;)), but to remark on some challenges of living here.

People have asked me if I have a hard time with this adventure. Some must think I am crazy for just taking off after college to move to another country where I know no one, don't speak the language, and don't fully grasp the culture. Maybe I am. :)

Overall, though, I would say that it hasn't been that difficult. One of the best things about the JET program is the support system, and because of that, I have never felt completely alone or helpless.

However, I have to say that the worst thing about living alone in a foreign country, thousands of miles away from your family is definitely sickness. Without a doubt.

Normally, my JET family is here and ready to help me through the rough patches. In fact, the past few times I have been sick, other JETs have been superheroes for me, bringing me medicine and food and comfort. But this time... this time was different.

You see, my luck this weekend was just. awful. Not only were most of the JETs gone on a trip to another island (including most of the JETs who I feel closest to), but the JETs who were around were almost all unavailable or unreachable in some way. So, I was stranded.
At a Family Mart convenience store. 3o-plus miles from my home. Unable to walk far without becoming terribly ill, let alone drive... in a rainstorm.

Eventually, I made it home, and the next day I was lucky (?) enough to get sick at church (I thought I was better...) where my pastor and his wife could care for me and take me home, but this weekend was a reminder that there really are challenges to this experience. Somedays I am challenged by being unable to order a decent cheeseburger, somedays by feeling unable to really connect with people, somedays by having to go to the ATM before it closes at night (WHY do ATMs CLOSE??), and somedays by being unable to go to an English speaking hospital because the only one on the island is refusing new patients.

I doubt that I will ever look back and think this experience wasn't mostly positive, but it isn't all sushi and "kawaii" (cute) culture, either.

p.s. I can report that today I feel much better, and though I haven't tested my stomach with more than crackers and a little oatmeal, I've made it through a full day of teaching without any problems. :)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Open Letters: Japan

I've barely written anything about my life in Japan. Before I came, I was so excited about all the new experiences I would be able to write about, but that hasn't really been the case. I feel like my time here is rushing by and all of these fresh experiences are becoming mundane details of daily life. I want to hang on to the novelty! Or at least have some way of remembering it. :) Since I can't seem to articulate in normal blog fashion, I am going to adopt the "open letter" method, instead. I don't know where this originated, but I'd like to thank Michelle for introducing it to me and this blog for reminding me.

Dear Mister Landlord Man,
You.are.awesome. If I could speak more Japanese, I would tell you that you are the best landlord a 20-something-and-alone-in-a-foreign-country-for-the-first-time girl could ask for. What kind of landlord collects the power and water bills and makes one easy bill for me? And who in the world would round the bill /down/ $5 to $10?!? That's just madness, Mister Landlord Man. Please can I pay you the full bill, especially when I am two days late? No? Okay, well if you insist...
-Your Thankful Gaijin Tenant

Dear Rain,
I don't know what to say to you. I knew you would be here, and I thought I had gotten to know you pretty well in Seattle, but boy was I wrong. How is there so much of you?! Where do you come from?? Try to take a rest now and then so I can do laundry, okay? If you do that, I think we can get along pretty well. I do have some pretty rocking rain boots, after all, and you give me a great excuse to curl up with a book.
Keep up the good work, just control yourself a bit, alright?
-Pink Rainbooted Lady

p.s. If you break one more umbrella, I'm gonna come after you. Consider yourself warned.

Dear Dinner,
Thank you for making living alone a little less lonely. I know you are only a turtle, but your presence is comforting somehow. When I walk in the door and you start swimming around frantically, pressing your nose against the glass, I like to pretend you are excited to see me and not just looking for your... well... dinner. Sorry I haven't bought you a waterfilter yet. There are too many options and they are all confusing. This weekend. I promise.
-The Lady with the Food.

p.s. I am going to change your water tonight. I swear.

Dear Salsa Dancing,
Why can't I enjoy one night of you without being creeped out by weirdos? I am starting to really appreciate your sexy style, but can't I keep some boundaries without having to stiff arm every guy on the dance floor? What I am really saying is, why can't you be more like swing dancing? I miss being able to trust the people I dance with... can't you attract more people like that? You should really re-think your PR people. Just sayin'.
-The Dancer Wanna-Be

Dear Cafe KaGeFu,
You are exactly what I needed. Thank you, thank you, thank you for existing. You are convenient, cozy, cost-effective, and many other positive c-words that I am too coffee-deprived to think of, and if were with you right now, that wouldn't be the case. Thank you for providing me with delicious caffeine-fixes, ambient music, and delicious food. If it weren't for you, I would still be studying Japanese at the Thai restaurant down the street. That's just weird. And wrong.
Also, you should give your waitress a raise. She is incredibly sweet, speaks perfect English, and is sympathetic toward my meager attempts at Japanese. Kazuno-san makes coming to you completely worth it, even if you weren't already everything I need in a local hang-out.
I look forward to seeing you every week, if not more often.
-Hot Cafe Latte, Single Sugar, Extra Foam

Dear Hamabe no Chiya,
Don't be jealous. You are still the most beautiful cafe I have ever met, but your prices are set for tourists, not a local English teacher. I am not ready for your level of financial commitment, I just want a place to be not-at-home with a cup of joe. I promise I will still visit monthly, if my budget allows, and definitely when I have guests.
Can we still be friends?
Dear Apartment,
I love you.
But do you have to be so BIG? I mean, it is nice to have space and all, but how can I possibly keep you clean?! Take that into consideration. Maybe you can develop some sort of self-cleaning function. That'd be great. Thanks.
-Your Cleaning Slave, ReBekha

Dear Japanese,
Must you be so SCARY?? I have one of your alphabets down, but I can't even be happy about that because your all, "Oh whoop-dee-doo! You can read Hiragana? BABIES can do that! I have two more alphabets, and one is so fricking complicated that some native speakers can't even conquer it. Try learning those before you get all stinking cocky, you meager-minded fool!"
It's not very nice, Japanese. Not nice at all.
~ レベッカ

Dear eMobile Internet,
You are so flipping cool. Everyone should be jealous of your awesomeness. Bow down, wireless connections. Bow low.
I never thought I would just be able to plug in a little USB stick and have fast, flawless, wireless internet everywhere I go. Is there no limit to your service area?? If there is, I haven't found it.
I will sing your praises to the masses, eMobile Internet, for you are truly great.
-Your Biggest Fan

Dear Megavideo,
I have not watched 72 minutes!! You lie! You LIE!!
-Glee, Chuck, Grey's, 30 Rock, House, & The Office Watcher

Dear Japanese Girls, Ladies, Women,
How are you always so sweet and adorable?? Teach me your ways.
~The Awkward American

Dear Seattle (and surrounding areas),
Why are you so great? You make this whole "being away" thing a lot more difficult. I wish you would give up some of those awesome people you are hogging... there are enough to go around, you know.
-A Former Resident

Dear Family,
I miss you most.
Love, love, love,

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fridays are destructive to my health.

I only had one class today, and it is Friday, so I can't be motivated. Heaven forbid.

So I spend all my time on the internet. ALL of it. And then I try to stand up, And I kind of fall over a little. So my coworkers think I put brandy in my tea. And there are fuzzy things in my eyes. And my butt is numb. So I try to get up and stretch, but then the stumbling happens again...

I don't know if this condition is fatal, but it is certainly not good for me.

Somebody find me a rehab facility that deals with chronic internet surfers.

p.s. This blog certainly doesn't help. Too hilarious.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Best Intentions

My plan was to finish Part 2 of my Golden Week story tonight, but then I worked an 11 hour day. Worked. Hard.

This is rare. And painful.

Going to go lie on the floor and drool now.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Golden Week 2010: UPDATED

Golden Week: that magical time each year where three holidays line up with a weekend, affording workers all across Japan with at least 5 days of vacation (and up to 11 in some business). This is recognized as the busiest traveling season of the year, as people take advantage of the free time and warming weather to explore other parts of Japan, Asia, and beyond.

About 2 weeks out, my friends and I didn't have any plans for the week, so we booked a trip through a travel agent and we were off for three days on Yoron Island, the southernmost island in Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan.

Day 1

We board the ferry in Naha at 7 a.m. and are shown to a small carpeted room equipped with sleeping cushions, blankets, pillows. We're pretty thrilled to get such nice accommodations, as most of the people on the ferry are stuck in much larger, more crowded rooms with tatami flooring, crying babies, and noisy foreigners (snicker). None of us know why we are given this special treatment, because we certainly didn't pay for it, but we don't complain.

After 4 hours and 45 minutes, our ferry pulls slowly into the port and we disembark to sunshine, clear skies, moderate temperatures. Perfection.
The shuttle for the Coral Hotel picks us up and we are shown to our room. It is a small, skinny, somewhat dingy room, but it fits four clean bed and boasts stunning views of the teal ocean. Again, we don't complain.
Our first necessity is, of course, lunch.
We walk into the small town near the
hotel and find a sushi restaurant.
I order an awesome sashimi salad. Yum.

Next, we explore the area a bit. Though we are searching for a convenience or grocery store, I mostly just notice the island's critters. There are so many beautiful butterflies on this island that it is difficult to go anywhere without being ambushed (as Sarra would say) by the bright fluttery things.

Then, of course, we head down to the beach. It is low tide so we can walk along the coast to a beach which is usually underwater and therefore especially secluded and lovely. Sarra sunbathes while John and Yang and I wade around in the colder-than-Okinawa waters and harass the local sea creatures.
Yang and the crab (at her feet)
Hermit Crab, Sea Urchin, Puffer Fish, Mysterious-Squishy-Thing.

I'm especially excited to see a puffer fish (which I think may be my favorite sea creature) but I don't think it was as excited to see us.

Here it is getting all puffy and swimming away as quickly as possible. :P

When the sun and salt has taken its toll on us, we pack up
and head back into town for dinner at a little ramen shop.
After such a long, full day, it is easy to call it a night, and we are all asleep well before ten p.m.

Day 2

One of the perks of our trip is complimentary breakfast so we wake up early and head down with mixed expectations. What we find is a strange mixture of Japanese and "western" foods: breakfast salad, eggs, french fries, spaghetti, nato, bread, hotdogs, and more. Strange, but mostly edible.

Then we walk back down to the beach to claim our reserved sea kayaks and paddle out for 2 hours of costal exploration by boat. We didn't actually plan for kayaks (we originally thought we reserved canoes) so we get wetter than expected, but I think everyone enjoyed themselves anyway. :)

Sarra and I certainly did! We rowed our hearts out and even managed to steal a few photos on my cellphone before I put it safely back in a zip lock bag. I would hate to lose my ketai (cellphone) to the sea! I think the most exciting moment of our journey was when a long, thin fish came fly out of the water and skipped across the top for awhile. I wish I had gotten a photo of that!

After a quick lunch from the grocery store, we decided to continue our exploration of the island via scooter. Sarra decided to opt out for some alone time, so we proceeded with Yang and John on a double-bike and the newbie driver, me, all alone on a one-person bike.
<--don't know what that face's about!

I think this was the highlight of the trip for me. I had never ridden a scooter but quickly grew comfortable at moderate speeds and quickly learned not to grasp the handle (accelerator) when I wanted to stop. heh.

We drove all around, up and down the island in about four hours. Yang and John took a break to explore a sand bar via glass bottom boat while I kept right on scootering on my lonesome.
It was perfect. Barely any traffic, mild weather, breathtaking views, winding roads... *sigh*

I'd do it again in a heartbeat. The experience was almost enough to tempt me to buy a scooter.
If only they weren't death traps in the city. :P

We returned our scooters at 6 and met up with Sarra for dinner. We enjoyed a good meal at a cute little place by the water.

Then we dragged ourselves back to the hotel to rest up. Little did we know, there was one more adventure waiting for us.

I was sitting on the couch, talking to Sarra who was facing me from her bed, when I saw movement behind her. I said slowly, "Sarra, don't turn around." The largest cockroach I have encountered in my life was scurrying quickly across the headboards of our beds. We both ran out of the room screaming, but I managed to return, flip flop in hand, to defeat this terrible foe. Alas, I was too late, and the cockroach scrambled quickly out of sight under the bed. My courage failed me then, and I retreated to the couch and called for John, who was no where to be found.

Finally, after many tense moments of staring at that gap beneath the bed, imagining terrible beady eyes staring back at me, John returned. We immediately entreated him to find out the horrible creature, and as soon as he moved the bed it came bounding out to greet us. Sarra, Yang, and I screamed in terror. Yang jumped up on the couch where I was sitting, wrapping her arms around my toweled head.
Luckily (?), I was talking to Travis on skype at the time and he took a couple snapshots of the shenanigans. I'd like to think I was the composed one of the bunch, but I think I was grasping Yang for fear as much as she was me. :P

Definitely not looking too composed here.

In the end, John managed to herd the cockroach out of our room into the hall where it promptly ran under our neighbor's door. Then we stuffed towels under the door to prevent its reentry.

When we managed to feel comfortable and safe in our room again, we drifted off to sleep in preparation for yet another exciting day. Tune in next time!

JOKES! It's been about a million years since I wrote part one so I am just going to sneak the rest of Golden Week onto this blog and hope no one notices but also anyone who comes later won't think I just promised a continuation and didn't follow through. I am like a ninja of blogging.

SO, here are some pictures and words to describe of the rest of my Golden Week:

Our third day on Yoron was only a half day because we had to catch the ferry at 2 so we didn't go very far from the hotel. We kind of walked around the little town and got lunch.
The restaurant Sarra chose was AMAZING.
I should post bigger pictures but this way I can just drag and drop the thumbnails from facebook. If I do that with the full size photos, they are too big. I just can't be lazy AND have proper sized photos, so I am choosing laziness. Deal with it. :P

This italian restaurant was rocking. The atmosphere, the food, the owners, the COLORS. I loved it.

It is called ... something. Well, I don't remember. But if you are ever going to Yoron you should go to the restaurant with the Italian flag colors on the little road by the little fishing port. Yep, I am gonna be THAT specific.
Okay here is one big picture. Hope that helps. ;P
I think this food was the highlight of my trip. No lie.

After lunch, we caught a shuttle from the hotel to the ferry and began our five hour trip back to Naha.

It was pretty uneventful.
Except for the stalker, but I don't have the energy to tell you about that. If anyone is reading, I am sorry. :P

I spent the rest of Golden Week just kind of bumming around. The other highlight was, not surprisingly, also food. Travis took me to Rose Garden. Finally. I am gonna be so fat.