Happy Father’s Day

This past weekend was Father’s Day, my first without my dad. As I viewed the many posts on Facebook of Father’s Day adventures, lunches, BBQ’s and gifts my mind traveled back to the many Father’s Days with my own dad. Most likely he would have spent much of the early summer day out in the yard mowing the lawn or digging up my mom’s flowerbeds. He would have shared some conversation and laughs with our neighbor and his best bud, Richard, clad in his white tank-top and jean shorts, high white socks and his beat up sneakers. My older siblings would have come home for the evening to share one of his favorite home-cooked meals while idly chatting at the dining room table about this and that. Earlier that day I would have helped make the cake we silently devoured for dessert (and that night he would have let me sneak another piece without my mom’s knowledge). Immediately after dessert he would have moved to his favorite place in the house, his recliner. Here is where he would have opened cards, mine would have either been personally selected at the local Woolworths or possibly handmade with a portrait of my dad and an overabundance of hearts. The gift from me was most likely a mesh baseball cap or an oversized coffee mug with “World’s Greatest Dad” bedazzled across the front in bright, bold letters.IMG_9420
I can still see him smiling and even feel his wet kiss on my cheek as he thanked me for his goodies. We may have even sat around the living room together to hunker down for a movie, his choosing of course because the TV was always his domain. Within 30 minutes the loud raucous of his snoring would cue us to be able to change the channel to our liking although as soon as we did he would magically wake up and tell us to change it back.

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These memories belong to a young girl, the young me. Now they are blurred and run together like a melted box of crayolas and it is difficult to determine where one ends and another begins. For the past 25 years, Father’s Day interactions have simply been a phone call, usually a surprise as he never remembered that it was his special day (lucky for him in case I happened to forget!) As I scrolled through more and more pictures and posts of fathers and daughters a myriad of feelings coursed through me:

Sadness that he is gone and despite the mere simplicity of a phone call, it was one that I looked forward to making just to hear his voice.

Guilt that maybe I didn’t call enough, write enough or visit enough.

Appreciation for who he was and who he helped shape me to be.

Love.

I began to wonder how I could possibly acknowledge my dad in a way that would make him smile and, if he were here, plant a sloppy kiss on my cheek like he did when I was a girl. Every time I look back and picture him in my mind he is always in the same place; in his hometown of La Piedad. This is where all of my memories of the past 25 years are so it seems apropos to share this piece of him. I know he would like that. IMG_7823

This small town in the state Michoacán means nothing to most people, just a tiny pin on the map of the world. Nothing distinguishes it from the other small Mexican towns, yet for me, this town is where my father took his first breath of life and it is where I whispered my final goodbyes as he was laid to eternal rest with his parents and his brothers and sisters gone before him. It is where he chose to spend the rest of his living years, far from his own children and it is where, as a young girl of just fifteen, I traveled on my own for the first time to try to piece together the mystery that was and still is my father. It wasn’t until this most recent visit that it started to become clear. For the first time in over 20 years of visiting, I saw La Piedad for what it was; my father’s home.

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El Rancho-has been in the family for years and is where most of the family fiestas take place. It also happens to be right next door to my dad’s house.

I can recall my first visit as if it were last week. It was frightening! The dusty roads void of any street signs leading lines of cars and trucks every which way, each seeming to hold more passengers than the one before it while blaring both their horns and the brassy instruments of mariachi music. The uneven sidewalks meandering this way and that way sometimes abruptly disappearing and other times leading absolutely nowhere. The outer walls of the countless shops and homes riddled with graffiti of all kinds and colors.DSC_0907 Dogs of all shapes and sizes wandering the streets and sidewalks paying no attention to the people they share them with, plopping down to rest wherever they feel the urge. People everywhere; walking to and fro, resting here and there and always, always talking amongst themselves. Families, immediate and extended, sharing meals together, resting in the plaza, shopping, talking, and always interacting. Friends gather laughing, drinking, hanging out on doorsteps or plastic chairs in front of their homes.  Doors open signaling a message that all are welcome…one grand fiesta where all are invited.

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The Plaza where many gather at all times of the day. Almost all towns have a central plaza where the main church is located. Here it is Señor de la Piedad.

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I remember taking this all in and wondering, “What on earth does he like about this place?” The modern conveniences I was so used to were nowhere to be seen. Where were the drive-thrus? The coffee shops? THE MALL?? Countless times I found myself hiding behind the shelter of my dad, tuning out the chatter I couldn’t understand and longing for the familiarity of home. I put in little effort to establish relationships with my tios, tias and countless primos because I was too apprehensive of the language barrier. If only I could go back and give my younger self some advice; tell her to open her eyes and not just look, but to actually see.

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However, this last visit was different. I did not have my dad to hide behind and instead my eyes were open. I listened to the chatter and instead of a language I couldn’t understand I heard family comforting one another, laughing with each other, embracing, accepting and loving. This time I actually saw it because I was a part of it.  I found myself spiraling through my rolodex of memories to replay them, but this new knowledge made everything change.  All of the fiestas at El Rancho where family would come together from near and far, the women putting the finishing touches on the homemade tamales, tacos and pozole while the men’s chatter became louder with each shot of tequila. Soon all the kids and most of the adults became engaged in a family fútbol or volleyball game.   As I look back, the awkwardness is gone and in its place is an understanding. I see my dad amongst his family surrounded by his “familiar”.  He is happy. These people, all of them, are the people that understood why this was his home.  They are his roots and his branches and they knew him more than I ever could.

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Circa 1992-my first fiesta at el rancho. Just a few of the women in our family.
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…and the men. Tequila not pictured.

I made a recent promise, to myself and to the part of my dad that I know still watches over me, that I will stay connected to his hometown and maybe, someday, it can become almost as familiar to me as it was for him.  That I will continue to walk the streets of La Piedad and see it’s true inner beauty. That regardless of language I will listen to the chatter of my family and interact to understand them and the man they knew as their uncle, cousin and friend.  For it is through them that I will hear his voice and his laughter the loudest and where I will continue to see him in the eyes and smiles of mi familia.

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In Loving Memory

Autumn in Tokyo

As I saunter through my third autumn in Tokyo, I can’t help but wonder if this time of year has crept it’s way to being my favorite time of the year. As I write this, I am sitting on the floor of my living room; my sliding door wide open and the sunshine beaming down on my back, warming me to my core. Simultaneously, the crisp, cool air of this beautiful autumn morning cools me to the state of perfection. Daily walks last just a bit longer as I reflect upon life and all of its pleasures and misgivings. The brilliant red of the maples, the luminescent yellow of the gingkoes and all colors in-between provide a perfect backdrop for these ponderings and although answers are not shouted from the treetops, I somehow find peace with it all.

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Soon, oh so very soon, the biting cold of winter will dominate and life outdoors will be limited to my short journey to and from work and quick jaunts to the local train station…both of which lead to the cozy warmth of the indoors. However, for now, I will continue to immerse myself in nature’s transition; fighting Yumi for the warm patches of sunlight on my back porch, waiting patiently for Rufus to smell every single fallen leaf on our daily walks, laughing and playing in Nogawa park with friends and wandering aimlessly with myself and all the thoughts that incessantly shadow me.

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Happy autumn.

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Siem Reap, Cambodia: A Love Story

Throughout my travels I have discovered that it isn’t just people that have souls anymore…places do too. The various countries, cities, villages and towns that I have encountered these past couple of years have their own character; their own voice and I have truly enjoyed meeting each and every one of them. IMG_7276.JPGHowever, there are certain places in which a connection is instantaneously made…just as there is with the various people that come in and out of our lives.   Some we only remember on occasion, a memory triggered by a casual conversation or revisiting certain places; however, others we think of daily and we have a strong desire to keep them close as long as we can. I have met a soul mate in Siem Reap, Cambodia and my experience there has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I will not be able to articulate my feelings or my experience in perfect detail so bear with me as I fumble my way through.

Some might say, IMG_7270.JPG“Yes, Angkor Wat is beautiful, isn’t it?” But in all honesty, it wasn’t the magnificence and grandeur of this UNESCO site that stole my heart. It was the people. For a country still raw with its too recent history of war, genocide, bloodshed and chaos, the people are the warmest, kindest, most hospitable people you will ever meet. They live a simple life albeit one of corruption and poverty, hard work and adversity, yet their smiles are the friendliest, most sincere I have ever seen. I loved everyone I met…even the Khmer ladies running their shops relentlessly asking me to buy their goods. “You buy from me pretty lady. What you like? We have something for you. What color you like? You buy from me and I give you special price only for yoooouuuuu.” Despite the continuous rant, I never actually felt a lot of pressure to buy; no one physically pulling me into their shop as I have experienced in other places.  After a while it was pretty easy to ignore and I actually welcomed the constant stream of various voices as Mom and I shopped our way through the streets and markets. 

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Meet Son.  

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He was our tuk-tuk driver during our stay in Siem Reap and my absolute favorite person I met on this adventure.  My apologies for the faceless picture as this, regrettably, is all I took despite the lasting impression he left on me. He has the warmest eyes and the most genuine smile with a just a hint of shyness to it.  Each morning he greeted us with a “hello” that seemed to really say “it’s good to see you again.” Maybe it was the generous tips I gave him after each ride (shhhh, don’t tell Mom), but I think he was genuinely pleased to see us just as we were to see him. One morning I woke extra early to venture through one of the temples on my own before the crowds and the heat arrived. When I stepped out of the hotel, Son was already waiting for me and greeted me with his sweet smile. It was an overcast morning and a gentle rain fell as we cruised through town and then into the forested area of the ruins.   As early as it was, the streets were already bustling with the daily activities of its inhabitants and I watched it all from the carriage of the tuk-tuk knowing I was in safe hands with Son at the wheel. We parked just outside the temple I was visiting that morning. Son told me he’d be there waiting for me when I returned. I told him I’d be a couple of hours and he gave an all-knowing nod as if he already knew this was a special place that would need time to explore.  I took my time wandering through, mesmerized and in awe of the magnificence of it all and relishing in the quiet as only a few other visitors had arrived at that point. When the crowds started to arrive it was my cue to head back.  I’d had my time and slightly regretted not waking just a bit earlier to have more of it to myself. Oh we’ll, I can’t be too greedy.

I found my way back to where Son had dropped me off. Quickly scanning the area,  a slight worry crept in as I didn’t see him straight away. Several tuk-tuk drivers called to me and I just shook my head knowing that I would find Son soon enough. Gone was the quiet, empty open area I knew from arrival and in its place was the hustle and bustle of locals and tourists milling about; shopping, selling fruits and other goods.  Luckily, it didn’t take too long to spot him.

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Not Son, but a similar picture…

He sat tucked away in the shade, sitting in the carriage of his tuk-tuk with his bare feet propped up and his arms lazily crossed across his chest.  He hadn’t seen me yet and in that moment I paused and simply watched him.  A gentle smile was penciled on his face.  His gaze was towards the temple, but I could tell  he wasn’t really looking at it; just lost in his own thoughts. Maybe he was thinking of how amazing the morning weather was as the heat and humidity had not crept in just yet or maybe he was thinking of the pretty girl he had his eye on and how he planned to get her attention the next time they met. Whatever it was, he was at peace and it warmed my heart to see him that way.  The moment didn’t last long as he noticed me standing there and quickly slipped his feet back in his shoes and jumped out of the carriage.  I wanted nothing more than to just join him that way…to sit with him in that peaceful state in the back of his tuk-tuk and talk casually about what had been on his mind when I so rudely interrupted him. I also wish I had snapped a picture as I don’t feel my words can adequately describe the moment, but as it is, I didn’t. The picture is in my mind and will be with me always. I don’t know anything about Son’s life, but can presume that it can’t be too easy on a daily basis, but whatever was on his mind, he was able to leave the harshness of the real world behind him…. even if for just a moment.

In the short time we were in Siem Reap, we learned of several NGO organizations that are working hard to empower the people of Cambodia. One of these was the Phare Circus. This organization trains young kids and provides them with skills and jobs. Not only is this a fantastic organization, but the show was amazing! Mom and I were on pins and needles as these youngsters performed some incredible acrobatic feats. I can’t recommend this enough (check out www.pharecambodiancircus.org to learn more!).IMG_7422.JPGIMG_7429.JPG

I also had a wonderful time spending money at Claycult Beads. This organization provides jobs for many Cambodian women as they do every step of the process, literally every step. And the beads…oh my…absolutely beautiful! The young guy helping us actually had to take me to an ATM…on his scooter (you’ve seen my video of the traffic, right?)! The owner/founder is Australian and will have some of the beadwork up on etsy soon.IMG_6791

From the hotel staff to the children on the street, Cambodians are innately hospitable and kind people.  I fell in love with almost every person I met and will remember them always. 

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How many Cambodians does it take to find the bead shop?
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Mau, our chef.
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Our guide…he didn’t talk much, but sure was a cutie!

Onto Ankor Wat…

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The entire park is quite massive (about 400 square kilomteres) and the various temples range from 600 to 1300 years old. They are the remains of the different capitols of the Khmer Empire and the area was the center of the Khmer kingdom for several centuries. Mom and I really only had two days to explore the park, but I think you could spend a couple of weeks and still not see it all. We even read that they are still uncovering historic sites and will for years to come. The main temple, Angkor Wat, is massive and was built to honor the Hindu God, Vishnu…although you can see evidence of changes that were made to make it a Buddhist temple somewhere in the 14th or 15th century. A moat and an exterior wall surround its impressive entrance and its walls are covered with various reliefs and carvings that all have some meaning.   Although this wasn’t my favorite temple, it was definitely the most popular and the luxuries that it once provided are still very evident.

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Everyone has heard of Tomb Raider. I am not ashamed to admit that I have not seen the movie…although I might now just because of visiting Ta Prohm where it was filmed. This temple is actually in shambles because of the species of trees that inhabit the area. Although it makes for an awesome atmosphere with the trees growing out of the temple itself, the conservation of the temple is a controversial one as these trees are actually destroying the temple. This site was incredibly beautiful and I actually liked that it was left in the same condition in which it was found. Of course, this temple and all of Angkor Wat became much more popular after the movie.

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My favorite was Bayon Temple. It was built as a Buddhist temple around 1200AD. This temple is supposed to represent the intersection of heaven and earth. There are 54 towers thought to represent the 54 days of the lunar calendar and each tower has four faces that symbolize the four states of Buddhism; charity, compassion, sympathy and equanimity. This was the temple in which I explored on my own. Its architecture has a sense of mystery, power and tranquility all blended together. I loved it.IMG_7524.JPG

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Cambodia definitely left its mark on my heart. I can’t wait to go back…and maybe someday I will call it my home away from home.

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To see the other 300+ pics from Siem Reap, CLICK HERE

The Lazy Winter

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I know it has been a while…too long really. I have thought about blogging several times and have many ideas for blogging topics….things I’ve done, my travels, life in Japan, etc. I’ve started them all in my head, but just haven’t quite found the right moment to actually get them down on virtual paper and out to you all. I wish I could chalk it up to my busy schedule and hectic life, but I can’t. What it comes down to really is…well…sheer laziness.

But now spring has arrived and I couldn’t be giddier.  I cannot believe how fast time has gone since I have arrived, but I am so thankful that the horrid winter months have finally come to a close. In all honestly, Japan does not get THAT cold, especially in comparison to Reno.  I would say the winter days averaged in the low-mid thirties…a bit lower at night of course.  However, the difference here is the amount of time spent outside. IMG_4500 In most places that have harsh winters (I’m thinking in the States), modern technology has allowed us to start our cars from our kitchen window to get it nice and toasty before heading off to work in the early mornings.  We also keep our homes at a comfortable temperature throughout the day and night.  Making a quick stop at the grocery store is a mad dash from the parking lot to the warmth of the building and often times, we find ourselves in covered parking lots to protect us from the bite of the winter cold.  IMG_3649 Japan is quite different.  I ride my bike to work every morning, no matter the weather.  Anywhere I need to go, be it the grocery store, out to dinner, or just to pay my bills, I am required to walk or ride my bike.  This winter I did actually use my car to get me to the grocery store at least.   Train stations are quite close to anywhere I would need to go, but that doesn’t alleviate the short distances needed to travel by foot to get to one’s destination.  And why oh why doesn’t Japan have frickin central heating????  I have NO IDEA considering it is supposed to be the leading country in technology.  Our homes are equipped with wall units in each room that do a decent job of warming up, but as soon as you step out of that particular room prepare to freeze your tooshy off!  I think I finally got a routine down in which I didn’t freeze too much.  I had my robe and slipper/boots readily available next to the bed as soon as I woke up in the morning.  I came downstairs and turned on the heat in the living room and turned on the little electric heater in the baIMG_4526throom.  I often would go back up to bed for a “few” more minutes to warm up under the covers while the downstairs warmed up a bit.  It was a pain in the butt, but it worked.  I am truly grateful for one thing….my heated toilet seat!  All hail to the mighty heated toilet seat maker becausIMG_4511e he/she is a fricking genius! Tackling the summer heat will be my next mission, but for now I am going to enjoy the perfect spring weather.  Why did I leave San Diego again?  Oh right, because this is an awesome adventure and it will always be there for me to go back to if I choose!   


The best part of winter is when it ends.  I’m serious!  Here the end of winter signifies the coming of the Sakura trees; my favorite part of the year.  IMG_5009

It isn’t just the blossoms themselves that are so beautiful, it’s that they IMG_5427bring everyone together.  I love observing families, kids, young couples, friends and the elderly all out laughing and sharing the experience together.  People are celebrating the end of a hard winter and the arrival of a new start.  It makes me smile.

A tradition is to have Hanami or a picnic. Everyone lays out their blue tarps side by side and bring their lunches and drinks to view and enjoy the blossoms.  Some stay a little too long and have a hard time walking home…but all in good fun.IMG_5419

 

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If you are ever thinking of visiting Tokyo, spring is the best time.  Timing the blossoming can be unpredictable, but I guarantee that they won’t disappoint.


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The Groan Zone

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One thing is for damn sure…ASIJ knows how to do field trips.  I’m not sure if anything can top sea kayaking, snorkeling and surfing last year on the Izu coast, but this year’s 8th grade trip to Lake Saiko comes in a close second.

The Lake Sai field trip is one designed to challenge students to push themselves to their limit; to get out of their comfort zone and enter into the “groan zone”.  Outward Bound of Japan runs this 2 1/2 day course where students are challenged with tasks such as rock climbing, orienteering, overcoming obstacles such as getting all team members over a 12ft wall and building a raft that they must all be able to float on safety.  The majority of these tasks takes a great deal of teamwork and the ability to work collaboratively.  My team did moderately well…starting off horribly, but learning as they went. It was surprising to observe the girls full on entering their groan zone while my boys stayed nice and cozy in their comfort zone for the most part. If I were to predict beforehand I would have definitely hypothesized the opposite.

Interestingly enough, students reflected mostly on the fact that they were required to cook all their meals themselves.  What a sight to see!!  Some of these kids had never used a pot in their lives and here they were building their own fires to cook meals they had never cooked before.  They were all successful albeit some probably stayed a tad bit more hungry than others.

As for me: sharing a tatami mat cabin with three 8th grade girls and being out in the rain and cold is not my idea of a good time.  However, experiencing the groan zone myself allowed me to empathize with my students and truly encourage them to challenge themselves as much as possible.  I just don’t see why teachers couldn’t stay at the hotel down the street….

 

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

Who would’ve ever thought that this song would have such a literal meaning for me at some point in my life? Last weekend, I had the ultimate pleasure of experiencing one of Tokyo’s quirkiest attractions: the themed restaurant.  There are several of these types of restaurants scattered about the popular areas of Tokyo with themes such as “lock-up” where you are treated as an inmate as you are served your food and drinks, some kind of deep sea odyssey where you actually catch you own fish and it’s cooked for you right there, “Alcatraz E.R.” (yes, the emergency room at Alcatraz),  several video game themed places, vampire, ninja, planetarium, Alice in Wonderland…you name it. Several friends and I joined a Meet-up group for Tokyo gaijins (Japanese word for foreigner) and had the opportunity to experience a private event at “Robot Restaurant”.  I’m not sure exactly why it is called a restaurant since they don’t really serve much food; it’s basically a type of cabaret show…one of the cheesiest, highly entertaining shows I’ve seen.  Ok, so I am a musical junkie and have seen some of the world’s greatest shows on the world’s greatest stages and this is really no comparison….but c’mon, cheesy and entertaining is hardly ever a let-down.

I’m thinking there was some kind of story that dated back to the early caveman days since there were dinosaurs and scantily clad cavewomen swinging clubs, but then Kung-fu Panda made an appearance and I was totally thrown off.  There also seemed to be some kind of battle going on between robots and other unrecognizable species (basically more scantily clad women), but everyone seemed to be friends at the end so I’m not quite sure what that was all about either.

Whatever the story…or not…it was good fun.  We continued the evening with our own battle: karaoke.  You haven’t truly experienced Tokyo until you’ve experienced Japanese karaoke!  We all ended up winners that night.

PS: I plan to update my blog more often this year…I know, I know…I’ve said that before.  This time I mean it!

From the ocean to the mountains…

Nostalgia is so bittersweet.  I just got home from our high school music concert and while listening to the choral ensemble a flood of some of my best memories swept over me.  I loved every moment of my high school singing career and am so thankful for those years and all of the wonderful people I met along the way. Image

Onto current day adventures…

Last week I had the pleasure of experiencing the best school field trip of my life!! After last year’s trip to the East Coast with 30 8th graders, the worst bout of anxiety and the most annoying tour guide, I swore off travelling with students once and for all.  Obviously that didn’t last very long.

ASIJ’s end of the year field trip for 7th graders is 3 days on the Izu Peninsula where they get to surf, kayak, explore tide pools, snorkel and simply have a blast.  The good thing is that teachers get to do all of those things too!! Each session had a max of 30 students with about eight teacher chaperones.  I stayed for two sessions, which came out to a full school week.  The weather was absolutely perfect; sunny and in the low-mid 70’s the entire time.  I couldn’t have asked for anything better!  Now before you get extremely jealous keep in mind that I had to share a somewhat rustic cabin with 4-6 teenage girls….

Naw…I’d still be jealous too… J

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The view from my cabin.

Izu is a peninsula located about a 4 hour drive south of Tokyo.  It is known mainly for its onsen/hot springs, which are highly valued all over Japan.  However, it’s pristine beaches and great weather attracts just as many people.  Maybe because it was still May, but the area was not crowded at all.  The beaches were basically empty despite the perfect weather and the town itself was pretty quiet.  I guess my comparison is the beaches in San Diego which are guaranteed to be flooded with people if the weather is nice…and usually even if it isn’t.

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The last hour of the drive to the town of Shimoda (which is where Commodore Perry’s black ships landed in 1854) is winding and somewhat sickening, but the views are amazing with lush green mountains, valleys, springs and waterfalls throughout.  Then, finally, as we came around the last bend, I could see it, our final destination….a 7-11 convenie.  Yes, ok, but beyond that…the blue-green expanse of the great Pacific. YES!  I admit, I may have been a little more excited that the students on the bus were just as distracted by the ocean views as I was and ceased their awful singing than I was about seeing the ocean myself, but hey, I see it as a win-win.

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Awesome winding highway…only in Japan!
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Beautiful mountain views

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The guy on the left is in his early 60’s! He was a professional kayaker (whatever that means) and now runs his own shop in Izu. Not a bad gig…

My favorite part of the trip was the sea kayaking. IMG_1286 The first day was windy and the water was quite rough which made it difficult to get past the breakers, but we all managed.  At one point, as another teacher and I were idly chatting while waiting for some students to catch up, I mysteriously fell out of my kayak! I honestly don’t know what happened, but joked that Kevin flipped my kayak and I pretty much stuck to that story the rest of the week! The second time out on the kayak was much calmer and our guides took us to some caves to explore.  The kids (and teachers) loved this!  It was a perfect day to be on the sea and I kept telling myself, “I’m at work…I’m at work!”, but it just wasn’t registering. IMG_1267

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The tide pool was quite incredible as well.  Starfish, crabs, urchins, sea cucumbers, sea hairs and many more sea creatures littered the tide pool for our entertainment.  Watching the students become excited when they discovered a new creature was a pleasure to see.  I think I was the most excited when we came across the baby octopus!

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OCTOPUS!! He got stuck in the low tide so we had to try to get him to deeper water.
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These are all little hermit crabs. They were everywhere!
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Mr. Crab
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Mrs. Starfish
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Sea Hair…my favorite! Some of these were HUGE. This one is a good size, as you can see compared to my foot, but definitely not the biggest.
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Chittons
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Anemone

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I returned from Izu on Friday night and Saturday morning took off again.  This time in the opposite direction to a lake in the mountains to wish a fellow teacher bon voyage as she is leaving ASIJ to teach in Prague next year.  We had many laughs as we played charades, “tell me about yours” and our version of “catch a phrase”.  After many bottles of wine things started to get somewhat viscous; f-bombs were being thrown around like scat in a monkey pen and mock arguments over the rules got a little heated until we were all reminded time and again that no one was keeping score!  All in good humor though.

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View out my window of the fish ponds.
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My room. Ryokans are traditional Japanese hotels with tatami and futon. A lot have an onsen (like this one) and you can walk around in your yukata during your entire stay if you wish.

Our group was the only inhabitants of the ryokan where we stayed.  It was actually a trout farm/ryokan/onsen all in one.  Our dinner Saturday night and breakfast Sunday morning was amazing.  Fresh sashimi, grilled fish, a variety of local vegetables and even roasted locusts.  Yes, I said locusts.  Now, my rule in Japan has been to try as much as I can and I’ve only refused on a couple of items.  I am proud to say that I did try one of the locusts. I probably won’t eat one again…but I did try it.  Tasted like nothing really, but the crunch was rather disturbing. I wish I would have taken pictures of the meals because it was quite an amazing spread.  Oh well, I just have to go back.

Sunday we went on a nice walk up in the mountain.  My dumbass only brought my sandals since I quickly transferred some items from my Izu bag into an overnight bag and forgot to bring any tennis shoes.  I’m a dumbass because there is still snow in the mountains.  Yes, I hiked in the snow with sandals.  Like the locusts, I can say I did it, but probably don’t need to repeat that experience.

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Mountain stream
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You can’t see them, but the Japanese Alps are in the background
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Our crew. Jane is to my right and I hope to visit her next summer in Prague. She is a lovely person and will be missed…
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Lunch at a pizza shop. I tried a blueberry pizza. It tasted like cheese and blueberries. Go figure.
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Dumb. Ass.
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…but worth it!
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Beautiful!

Needless to say this week back at school was a bit tiring, but all worth it.  I can’t believe that only three weeks of school remain! Wow-this first year went by so fast!  Literally on the last day of school I am off to Thailand and Bali.  I can’t wait!

Thanks for reading and I truly miss you all.  Be on the lookout…I have a few more posts coming.

Xoxox

K

Life in Slow Motion

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I recently purchased a subscription to iMatch.  Basically, you pay a yearly fee to listen to all of your music on iTunes on any device.  Considering that I’ve had several computers in the past few years, this was a great option for me as I am iTunes illiterate and do not know how to sync all of my devices.  Anyway….short story made long, I am happier than a puppy with two peters to be able to listen to all of my tunes…most of which I haven’t heard since last June when I said good-bye to America’s Finest City.  I am currently listening to David Gray’s album “Life in Slow Motion”.  I know this means nothing to you, but have you ever had a flood of emotions inundate you when you listen to a particular song?  I’m sure you have, but this album really pulled on my nostalgic heartstrings as it was a constant in my (then) cd player when I first moved to San Diego.  It seriously seems like forever ago when I packed up and headed south…what a tough transition that was for me.  When I think back I can recall spending hours on the phone with family and friends because I felt so incredibly disconnected and lonely.  It was a miserable first year and as much as I ended up loving San Diego and my newfound family there, I’m not sure if I’d want to go through that again.

But I took the chance.

Listening to the melancholy tone of David’s voice, I am swept back to that moment in time and am so grateful that this transition has been a million times easier. I just can’t help but to wonder why?  I am, after all, 6,000 miles away versus 600.  Does the actual distance even matter?  Will that first step always hold the crown for the hardest part of this journey? I hope so.  Being so far away isn’t easy by any means.  I miss everyone more than I could ever describe, but this transition has been so different.  I am lost in my own mind most of the time as I take in my new surroundings, wrap my head around a new and very different culture, nurture new friendships and try not to let the pressures of my new job consume me.   I’ve been here almost nine months and I think that the fog that I have been trudging through is finally beginning to clear.  Plus, I have my main man here now and my new house is finally a place that I can call home so the transition phase is slowly coming to an end. I look forward to the next phase as I feel that I will finally be able to form a clear perspective of all this newness.

I know I am way behind on writing and this isn’t one of the topics on my list, but with my moment of nostalgia came a compulsion to write.  Coming soon:

Kuala Lumpur

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Taipei

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and Hanami (cherry blossoms!).

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Love to you all and I miss your faces like crazy!

XOXOXOX

K

Year of the Snake

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My apologies to all of my dedicated readers (Mom)…it has been quite a while since I’ve given an update on my Japanese adventure.  Well, just to put it out there; I’m alive, I’m well and I still love the journey I am on.

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Love my sister!

I was fortunate enough to start off the Year of the Snake with my favorite woman in the world, my Mama-san.  We arrived in Tokyo on the last day of 2012 with a bundle of luggage and one unhappy Bassett Hound.  We all made it to our new home safely which qualifies the journey as a success, but I can honestly say that I would never do that to him (or myself) again.  Stressful is an understatement!  First of all, Laura, Mom, Rufus and I all spent the night in “The City by the Bay” since we were flying out of SFO.

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Gotta love self-timer photos! Overlooking Fisherman’s Wharf…although you can’t really tell 🙂
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Love the streets of San Francisco

On the morning of our flight we miscalculated our departure time by about 40 minutes, which put us in quite a flurry from the get-go.  Then we couldn’t find the damn on-ramp for the freeway we needed.  We could see it and we drove under it 10 times, but we couldn’t figure out how the hell to actually get on the damn thing.  Imagine three “somewhat” controlling females trying to navigate in unknown territory with one about to have a full blown panic attack….it wasn’t pretty.  Finally, our collaborative efforts figured it out and we were able to exhale.  Upon arrival at the airport the lovely All Nippon Airlines staff were waiting patiently for us as we bombarded our way through the front doors with all of our baggage and a rather large dog kennel in tow. Phew.  Paperwork was in order and all that was left was to actually relinquish responsibility of my boo bear to people I didn’t know.  That was tough.  I won’t mention that my sister kept the van parked in the drop-off zone and was “this” close to being arrested as a terrorist…oops…I just did.  Sorry, Laura, I threw you under the bus!  Despite the stress of getting him here; the endless paperwork, cost and traumatic toll, I am so happy to have him here.  I finally feel at home.

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On our daily walk through the cemetery. He’s so handsome!
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He’s even meeting friends!
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Ummmm…I think he has adjusted well.
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Local Temple. Two minutes from my house.

New Year’s was an interesting experience.  Mom and I went to a colleague’s home for some drinks, snacks and catching up.  People were looking forward to meeting Mom and they knew how excited I was to have her here.  Right before midnight we walked over to the local temple where many of the neighborhood residents, including quite a few ASIJ teachers, gathered to “ring” in the New Year….literally.

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Cathy ringing the bell

A Japanese custom is to ring the bell at midnight on New Year’s to bring luck, or something like that.  I’ve actually already forgotten the true significance of it.  Like many other traditions, it’s really just an excuse to come together.  As we stood in line, a bonfire roared on the grounds of the temple and a hot beverage of some sort was served.  It’s one of the things I love so much about this journey; not always knowing exactly why you are doing what you’re doing, but enjoying the experience nonetheless.

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Mom looking too cute in her hot pink beanie and scarf.

Mom took residence here for about five weeks…and I loved it.  Seriously, I’m not just saying that because she is probably my only reader…I truly enjoyed having her here.  First of all, she is the easiest houseguest because she is just as happy staying in and watching a movie as getting out and seeing something new.  That was great for me because as a “new” teacher, I find that I am very busy and overwhelmed pretty much all the time, so I didn’t have to feel guilty about not making sure every moment was filled with seeing something new.  We still managed to do an awful lot in the time that she was here.

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Takeshita Street…home of the Harajuku girls. One of Mom’s favorite spots.
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Lots of sales going on. I’m not sure who actually buys this stuff!
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Mom cleansing before entering the temple.
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Harajuku girls in costume. They were flattered when Mom complemented them 🙂
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View from Tokyo Metropolitan Building. The looming tower is the Skytree Tower.
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Fuji-san’s shadow in the horizon.
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Shinjuku Station; the busiest station in the world.
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Outside of Asakusa Station. Asahi headquarters (the golden turd) and Skytree.
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Temple in Asakusa.
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Mom had a persistent cough…she went loca with the face mask. Most Japanese wear these when they are sick so they don’t spread their germs.
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Shibuya!! Home of the famous Shibuya crossing!
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Kamakura. I was ecstatic to discover that the ocean is just about an hour away!
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The Big Buddha in Kamakura.
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Tunnel of Lights in …somewhere in Japan. It was a great weekend, but too frickin cold to be outside!
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The pink tunnel!
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Lunch in Kamakura. Food was horrible, but the view was worth it.
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Mt Fuji
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Harajuku again…
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I think I’ll get Mom a pair of these for Christmas.
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Tea time at the architectural museum.
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uh-oh! Watch out Japan!
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Tokyo Museum of Art…El Greco exhibit.
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Conveyor belt sushi! So fun!
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Korean BBQ
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Homemade Soba noodles.
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Tokyo Cruise to Obaiba (man-made island).
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Silly game center in Odaiba.
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Great view of Rainbow Bridge.
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Odaiba has a Statue of Liberty…not sure why.
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Plastic sushi
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More plastic food.

I miss you, Mom, and if you and Foxy want to come and stay permanently, I would welcome you with open arms!  I also have a lovely backyard that Foxy would eventually learn to call home.

Aijou Getsu ni Nihon

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Every year it never fails; the dreaded Valentine’s Day holiday rears its pink ugly face to remind me of how utterly single I am. Even in Japan I am surrounded by chocolates and flowers and hearts and pink and…puke. It’s actually worse here because Valentine’s Day is the day in which the females give gifts to the males. Then in March, on White Day, the males reciprocate by giving females an even better gift than the one they received on Valentine’s Day. So those of us in singledome get to be reminded twice. Yay. I simply flip VD the bird in which it replies, “You wish!” Well, yes. Yes, I do wish…and that is why I despise you. Asshole.

This year, however, I do consider myself to be in a relationship. Not the conventional type in which boy meets girl and they go on dates and then have “the talk” to become exclusive (or not) and yadda, yadda, yadda. No, this relationship isn’t exactly like that, but it does exhibit many of the nuances of a new relationship. There is awkwardness and uncertainty; we circle each other constantly, eyes scanning up and down then back up again trying to get a “feel” for each other, but we haven’t actually touched yet. We’ve talked, but neither one of us has opened up completely to show our true selves; only a glimpse as we aren’t quite ready for vulnerability just yet. We are also intrigued and excited as we explore one another and envision the possibilities of what could be. ImageYes, my relationship with Japan is one in which we are currently walking together, but very soon we will be facing that fork in the road in which we will continue to walk together on the same path side by side, or we will choose to go down differing paths, albeit in the same wood for quite some time. My hope is that we will continue together, hand in hand, for the duration of my time here. However, there are certain barriers that must be broken down and this will take quite a degree of open-mindedness and perspective on both parts, but mainly from me, as I am simply a guest. Don’t get me wrong, Japan is interested, but it knows that there are many more “geijins” in the sea if things don’t work out with me.

Each day is a new day. Some are wonderful and exhilarating…others are confusing and discouraging. All in all it is an amazing adventure…one that I will share in more detail soon. Until then, Happy Day of Love to everyone…for that is something I feel every day of the year. Image