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

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.

Cathy ringing the bell

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

Lost in Translation

***Part of my delay with getting these blogs updated is that I’m technologically inept when it comes to this site I am using!  Sorry about the pictures…they are all mixed up and kinda all over the place, but hopefully you can still enjoy.  I’ll get better, I promise 🙂

Brrrr!  As I pedaled home tonight in the pouring rain having forgotten my rain jacket, for the first time since I arrived in Japan, I was cold….and it was FABULOUS!  The heavy humidity and the daily deluge of sweat constantly gushing from my pores was enough to turn me into a hot, sweaty monstrous biatch. I have never welcomed the turning of the season as much as I am right now.  The mornings and evenings have a cool crisp to the air, but the afternoon sunlight warms everything up enough to be “just right”.  There is some subtle evidence in the foliage as a few leaves are just starting to turn; the rest will follow suit soon.  Many people have told me that the fall season lasts for quite a while here and that the real cold doesn’t hit until we return from Christmas holiday.  This is great because it allows me a couple more months to explore and actually experience a season change…it’s been seven years for me!

It’s been a long time since I have written and I have many adventures to share; some close to home and others a decent trek away.  I’ll share as much as I can, but others may have to wait until next time.  I know, I know…if I updated more often then I wouldn’t have so much to share.  Stop lecturing me! J

Mt. Mitake

This is a lovely hiking area about 2 hours directly west from where I am.  Of course it took me about 2.5 hours because I hopped on the slow train instead of the rapid.  I still haven’t quite figured that all out yet.  I’m lucky enough if I get on the train going in the right direction.  The morning somehow flew right by and I didn’t actually leave my place until noon; like that’s a surprise, right?  As I mentioned in my last blog, this was my first real outing on my own.  I have to admit that I was quite nervous; especially after two hours on the train and then second-guessing if I was on the right one!  Others who had hiked Mt. Mitake before had told me to just follow all the people (Japanese really enjoy hiking and nature), but since I had such a late start the train was rather empty.  The scenery on the train was beautiful.  My first glimpse of Japan’s undeveloped nature and it was nothing short of breathtaking.  The mountains are covered in deep green forest and they are massive and expansive.   This is the Japan that everyone raves about and I started to feel giddy about exploring and simply getting out of the congestion that is Tokyo.  Seeing the untouched mountainsides also made me understand why the people here value nature so much; not only is it beautiful, but you can escape your busy life in just a couple of hours and feel like you are in a completely different world.

Getting to the mountain posed some challenges, as I had to catch a bus and then a cable car to get to the start of the hiking trail.  Well, let me be honest; I could have skipped the cable car and hiked my way up, but I didn’t want to.  The bus was easy to find and so was the cable car.  The cable car literally went straight up and I couldn’t have been happier with my decision to take it rather than climb the steep first leg of the mountain.  As soon as you reach the top, you are immediately swept away by the views.  The sprawl of mountains and valleys continued as far as the eye could see.  If it didn’t take so long to get to it would be my place to escape from it all on a regular basis.

The hike itself was not very strenuous and since I started from the top my trek was mostly downhill.  The colors were so vibrant…the greens literally looked as if they were glowing.  I wish the pictures could show this.  I reached the Rock Garden, which is simply an open area with a stream and rocks of all shapes and sizes; most covered in moss.  Because of the dense foliage, the overall light seemed dim, but was illuminated by the fluorescent green tones of the moss.  I knew it was getting late and I would lose all light pretty soon, but I was determined to make it to the waterfall.  I could hear it and knew it couldn’t be too far, but every time I came around a bend it wasn’t there.  I finally decided to turn around.  At this point I wasn’t sure how long I had been hiking and since my return trip would be uphill I figured it would take a bit longer than coming down.  I have never booked it so fast in my life.  Sweat dripped from my face and my quads were on fire, but I had to get out of there before the sun went down.

I made it to the shrine before it became dark and luckily for me the rest of the trail to the cable car was lit so I could finally relax.  On the way back home I was tired, sweaty (probably stunk too) and my stomach was yelling at me, but all I could think about was how excited I was that I finally trekked out on my own.  I did it!  I didn’t get lost and I finally got to see the beautiful side of Japan.  The experience was empowering and I was now equipped with the knowledge that I can do this.  I can make a life for myself here and truly enjoy it.  Yay!

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At the entrance to the shrine…kinda creepy

Uh-which way??

Getting deeper into the forest

Mushrooms…I didn’t try them

Rock Garden

The moss is fluorescent!

The greens were so vibrant

Love it!

Rock Garden

hehe…self-timers rock!

Signs to the waterfalls (never made it)

Grass growing on the tree branches

Steps on the trail

View from the trail

Uh-mazing

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Ew…mud

What’s that say??

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Takayama

My second trip my own was quite a bit further away and a very different experience.  Early in October, we had a four-day weekend (Fall break).  Many people were heading to faraway places like Seoul or Okinawa, but I wanted to travel in Japan; get out of my neighborhood for once.  I thought about just exploring downtown, but I know myself well enough to know that I probably wouldn’t get out of bed early enough and end up dinking around until the afternoon and by that time would just tell myself to try again tomorrow; yet I would do the same thing for the entire four days.  Pathetic, I know. A few people had recommended this little mountain town and lucky for me there would be a festival there at the time I would be there!  I booked a room at the only hotel with availability and wistfully awaited a new adventure.

The total travel time took over 6 hours from my door to y hotel room.  From Tokyo Station I hopped on the Shinkansen AKA: bullet train!  Oh yeah-this train is AWESOME!  The ride is so smooth you can’t even tell that you are going as fast as 185 mph…that’s crazy! The ticket was about $100 each way so it isn’t cheap, but well worth the time you save.

Many people get a Bento box (Japanese lunch box) at the station, but if you don’t have time or forget, there is no need to worry.  A lovely lady pushes a cart filled with food and drink for those that didn’t bring their lunch with them. The shinkansen stopped in a city called Nagoya, an industrial town that looked like a pretty good size from the train station.  Here I needed to change trains for the last (and longest) leg of my trip. After the shinkansen, this train seemed incredibly slow and seemed to stop every 10 minutes.  However, the views through the mountains were ‘gorge’-ous ( I can’t claim that one because I read it in my Lonely Planet book).  Check out the pictures; it was quite amazing.

The hotel was slightly out of town and I ended up taking a taxi instead of waiting the 40 minutes for the next shuttle (I am not my mother’s daughter!).  The hotel was beautiful.  The ornately decorated lobby was a tell-tell sign of the type hotel it was and I was definitely living above my means staying here, but oh well, right? I stopped at the vending machine on the way up to my room and got a couple of Asahi’s (beers).  Oh yeah…I know how to live it up in style.  The room was fantastic;  bigger than my apartment with a glorious view of the distant town and mountains. I needed to eat so I ventured out to where the restaurants were.  My dinner choices were $100 sushi dinner or $70 steak dinner.  Hmmm…I was bummed because it was already late and I had no idea where to grab a bite in town so I opted for the cheaper version.  The food was fine (not $70 worth) and as I ate I realized that this was really the first time I ate in a restaurant by myself.  I’m not sure how I felt about it.  It was lonely and quiet, but enjoyable.

Now for the real challenging part of my evening; the onsen.  These baths are such a traditional aspect of Japan’s culture and I HAD to try it.  I tried to find out if there was a pamphlet or some other type of instructions for the onsen.  Of course communication was an issue so I just told the young gal that I’d come back.  We both nodded and smiled not having any idea what the other was talking about….story of my life these days.   I stopped at the front desk and again tried to ask for directions.  This time I was successful!  The pamphlet I was given was quite hilarious with cartoonish pictures and a step-by-step explanation of what to do.  I was actually quite nervous about my new ink because many establishments see this as a sign of being affiliated with the major Japanese gang; the Yakuza, and do not allow entry.  Oh well, all they can do is ask me to leave, right?  Hopefully I understand them when they do!  I threw on my yukata (Japanese summer robe), my slippers and headed to the onsen.  This particular onsen is separated by gender.  The women’s pools were on the 7th floor.  Upon entering the changing area, I sat and watched for a few minutes, just to make sure I was going to do everything right.  I started to feel a little strange sitting in my robe watching all the naked Japanese women get ready for their bath…haha!  I quickly undressed, grabbed my 6 inch square towel (seriously) and went to the cleansing area.  The showers were traditional Japanese where you sit on a stool and use a hosed showerhead to clean.  It is important to clean yourself extremely well as the onsen are natural water sources.  There are no stalls or curtains at this point so you are sitting naked on a stool in a large room with many other women doing the same.  I can’t say it didn’t feel a bit awkward.  After cleansing I stepped out into the night air trying to cover myself as much as possible with my teeny tiny towel (basically a hand towel) and was taken aback by what I saw.  There were several pools all with steam wafting from the surface of the water.  The three main pools were made of stone and had mini waterfalls creating the tranquil sound of rushing water.  There were several individual baths and a couple that looked like old wine barrels.  I chose the first pool simply to submerge my nakedness as quickly as possible.  The water was perfect and I instantly relaxed.  To many Americans, this idea of walking around naked scares the shit out of us as we are not an open culture when it comes to nudity.  Surprisingly enough, Japanese are very comfortable with being naked despite that they are a very modest people in every other aspect.  The tradition of onsen dates back to ancient times and the Japanese view them as a good tradeoff for having to deal with earthquakes (onsen are created by the earthquakes).  The pools are different temperatures and it is customary to hop from pool to pool.  My favorite pool was the infinity pool overlooking the mountains.  As I soaked in the water overlooking the distant silhouettes of the mountain peeks I think I realized this was maybe the first time since my arrival in Japan that I truly felt at peace.

Takayama is a beautiful little town that has a mix of new and traditional Japanese architecture.  Most of my time was spent just walking and watching.  I loved the older part of the town because it really had a traditional Japanese ambience.  The narrow streets and original architecture made me feel as if I were on the set of The Last Samurai.  It still had running water in the deep gutters that lined the streets that I’m assuming once served as the sewage system.   I enjoyed walking in and out of the stores which all contained pretty much the same things.  Rice cakes are a hot item in Takayama (all over Japan actually) and many stores had samples out which I was very grateful for since I cannot read any of the labeling.

It was here, in the old part of town, where my frustration with the language barrier started to get the better of me.   Day 1 was great because it felt liberating to not have to talk to anyone.  I walked and walked and felt invisible the entire time.  Tuning out the chattering became easy as none of it was understandable anyway.   Often I would sit and just people watch for a while.  However, by Day 2 the inaccessibility definitely got the better of me.  For three entire days I barely spoke to anyone, but not by choice.   I would have loved to ask the little old lady what the weird pink shit she was selling at the farmer’s market was or if the yakitori I bought was the famous Hida beef like I thought because it sure as hell didn’t taste like beef.  I would have truly enjoyed asking the sweet man at the noodle shop about the upcoming festival and instead spent the entire time it took me to eat my dinner memorizing how to say “delicious!” ( it’s oishii).  But I couldn’t.  So I continued walking and watching in silence, making up my own answers to my many questions.

It took this trip for me to realize how isolating not knowing the language really is.  In my world of work and the people I associate with, it is so easy not to learn the language.  We are in this little bubble and some people who have been here for several years never leave that bubble.  There are people here who have been here for 10+ years that still cannot speak a lick of Japanese.  I do not want that for myself.  If anything, my experience in Takayama has given me the motivation to study and learn as much as I can while I am here…however long that may be.

KEEP

Some of you may have seen some of the pictures I posted on FB of our sixth grade trip to Kiyosato. What a wonderful trip! We stayed in cabins; each teacher with 6-8 students and simply explored nature for 2 ½ days.  We went on a hike, milked cows, made butter, created crafts using nature, went on a nature walk and ate the best homemade ice cream in the world.  It was a great time for me to get to know so many of the students outside of school and in a setting where they can truly just be themselves without the constrains and stress of the high academics of ASIJ’s curriculum.  They played in an open field next to a cow pasture with Mt. Fuji in the distance.  It doesn’t really get any better than that!

What was most noticeable to me during this trip was how well behaved these kids really are.  Students were required to have an independent reading book with them most of the time and during transitions were asked to read quietly until their next activity began…and they did!  At dinner each evening, students were told they could stay and chat with their friends or go back to the main hall and read their books.  Can you believe that more than half actually came back to read their books?!  The students in my cabin al went to bed when they were supposed to (I did have to warn the girls once) and on the last morning they all chipped in and cleaned! It was such a great trip for the students…and for me!

I’m definitely staying busy.  Between work, studying, working out and exploring I find that my evenings and weekends are pretty full.  I’m looking forward to a quiet Saturday or Sunday in which I can just veg and relax.  Hopefully soon.  I’m also looking forward to coming home in December and seeing all the lovely faces of the people I miss so much! Of course, and cuddling with my Rufy-doooooo!

View from our hike

On the hike

Relaxing…at 6am before the kids woke up. They were up at 6:05

My kiddos in front of our cabin

Nature walk with Eagle

Cows! All cows on the farm were only for milk (one bull-lucky guy!). i think they are the happiest cows on Earth

All kids had a chance to milk Eldeweiss. I’m sure she appreciated it!

Haha!

To the waterfalls

Walking back to the cabins…long day

Best ice cream EVER

Beautiful rainbow!

ELDEWEISS I LOVE YOU

Love…

Japan sky

Kids playing with Fuji in the foreground

BYE!

Coming up next…

Going to prison, dancing ban at the gay club, a prince and a watermelon and moving already????

Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” – Mark Jenkins

All part of the adventure…

I feel blessed to finally have some time tonight to reach out to everyone and say “hi”.  These past weeks have been ridiculously busy; mainly with work, but also with exploring, working out and being sick (boo).  As I sat at my kitchen table to write all you lovely people, I couldn’t decide what music to put on.  I just downloaded an album from Pink Martini, but “meh”.  I thought about my usual go-to, Mr. MRAZ….again…meh.  I just decided to just hit “ALL Songs” and let iTunes decide for me. The first song that popped up was a song by The Head and the Heart…a song I never really paid much attention to.  However, the chorus got my attention tonight:

Nothin’ is as it has been

And I miss your face like hell

And I guess it’s just as well

But I miss your face like hell

It couldn’t be more fitting because I really do miss everyone.  I am definitely loving the adventure, but I’ve mentioned before that the time difference makes staying in touch much more difficult.  I am sooooo appreciating the comments, emails and pictures.  They seriously make my day when I receive them so keep it up!

Last weekend I was feeling those “heavy boots” again and for the longest time I couldn’t figure out why.  Life is good….I’m meeting new people, my job is challenging in a very good way, my apartment is coming along (slowly, but surely) and I have been exploring and enjoying every moment.  The humidity sucks sweaty balls (literally for many), but that has been the worst part (oh, and the mosquitoes…nasty little fuckers)…and it is only temporary as fall is coming soon, yet something just kept tugging at me.  My thoughts drifted to visions of driving over the bridge each day, taking Rufus to the park, and my cottage on Ivy (sitting in the backyard with a glass of wine and shooting the shit with some of my favorite people) and a sense of true nostalgia swept over me.  Then I noticed this on my nightstand:

I found it in one of my bags that I finally cleaned out.  My keyring.  It had actually been sitting on my nightstand for a few days; one of those items that I’m not quite sure where to put because I have no use for it anymore.  At first it may seem insignificant; like it did for me, but then the poignancy really hit me.  My keychains have changed several times over the years and the keys have changed too, but probably not as often (well maybe for me…I’ve moved a lot).  We ALWAYS have our keys on us, or at least close by; to lock our doors when we leave our homes, unlock our cars, start our cars, enter our classrooms/offices, get back into our cars and get back home.  That’s multiple times a day for YEARS! Yet now, I have no use for them.  I do not own a car and my apartment is a keyless entry.  I have no use for something that I have kept with me literally every day for my entire adult life. How WEIRD!  It represents how much my life has changed yet it is already my “normal”.  For the first couple of weeks, every time I left my apartment I would literally stand with my door open and have to mentally tell myself that I didn’t need my keys before I could close the door.  I don’t think twice about it anymore.  My life is my normal, but just three months ago it was completely different.

Which brings me to another topic I’ve been meaning to mention; the name of my blog. “A Beautiful Mess” is the title of a Jason Mraz song near and dear to my heart for several reasons.  More than that though, it describes Life.  Life is beautiful, yet it is so messy…unpredictable; throwing curve balls one minute then lucky lottery tickets the next.  It took me some time to see the chaos of it as beautiful and, like so many others, I dwelled on the unfairness of it, the lack of regard to what I want and how I think it should go….infuriating!  Life is out of our control and once we allow ourselves to just let go it’s so much easier to see the beauty in the ugly.  Letting go is the hard part though and I don’t know if it’s even possible to completely ride hands free.  I’m working on it and I’ll let you know.

Onto life in Japan…

I made a deal with myself to explore each weekend and try something new.  So far so good even though I was sick as a dog this last weekend.  It wasn’t too far of a trek and I’m glad I went and didn’t spew anywhere. Throughout Japan there are Shrine Sales; the Japanese version of a flea market…the difference being that they are held on the grounds of a Japanese shrine (hence the name). This particular one in Takahatofudo was on beautiful grounds with hiking trails throughout the surrounding hills…the scenery was breathtaking.  What is truly astounding is that it was only a block from the train station; these incredible sights are simply smack dab in the middle of Japan’s sprawling neighborhoods and you would literally think you are in the middle of nowhere once you enter these areas.  Japanese do nature very well considering the limited space they have to work with.  Antique porcelain, kimono, pottery, jewelry, woodwork, art and other antiques were among the many treasures waiting to be taken home by the wistful shoppers.   I found myself choosing a couple of obi hangers at the booth of an adorable little man from Thailand.  He spoke English, but I accidentally said “si” instead of ”hai” and he told me he spent a few months in Mexico.  From then on we spoke Spanish instead of English!  Who would have thought I’d get to use my Spanish skills in Japan?  Hands down the coolest part of the entire experience was the chanting of the monks from within the shrine itself.  That was amazing.

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Running with Chopsticks

I know, I know…it’s been a while.  I have been one busy little bee and have so much to share.  It’s hard to believe that I have been here a full month now…it has truly just flown by.  Oddly enough I feel I have been here forever, yet everything is still so new.  Will it always feel this way?  I hope not…someday soon I hope to feel at home here…although this perpetual feeling of being on vacation may not be so difficult to get used to after all!

I have been the proud resident of Fastest Lap 402, 2-31-1 Asahi-cho, Fuchu-shi, Tokyo 1830003 for two whole weeks!  And yes, I did have to look up my address as it still has not been stored in my memory.  So what?  Don’t judge.  I still don’t know where the hell I am most of the time, but I’m slowly getting used to that too.  Back to my apartment; Fastest Lap is my building name.  I have no idea why it is called that.  Other buildings get names like “Majestic Lion” or “Fiery Dragon”…I get Fastest Lap? I know it has some significance, which will be revealed to me in time…just like all of the other mysteries of Life.  My place is pretty small; two small rooms, a very small living room and a kitchen.  I will take you on a tour soon, but it is in no shape for viewing right now.  In the past, I have always set up house right away…literally within a couple of days…pictures on the walls, curtains up, décor in its proper place, etc.  I’m lucky to have sheets on my bed at this point.  Between work, trying to socialize, getting around and just taking some time for me, putting my apartment together has fallen to the bottom of my priority list.  It will get there eventually and I know I will feel more at home once I do, but I just don’t have the energy right now.  Here is a short video of my street and I promise to take you on a tour of the inside soon enough.

My green couch 🙂

The bakery under my house. I can smell it every morning when I head to work…luckily I’m always running late so I don’t have time to stop!

The people I have met so far are wonderful and am looking forward to establishing many friendships.  They have experienced so much and have explored so much of the world! Right now, everything is only surface level and it will most likely take some time for any relationship to delve any deeper.  I’m not gonna lie…this opens the door for Loneliness to enter. The bastard. We’ve met many times and lucky for me I’ve acquired the skills to not let him take me down.  The fight exhausts me, but I’m proud of myself for staying on my own two feet.  Bring it on!  As I’ve said before, the people I’ve met are seriously really nice people.  Invitations for drinks, dinners with drinks, get-togethers with drinks, work-outs with drinks afterwards, etc. are bountiful!  As you can probably gather, drinking is a favorite pastime of most teachers here and my fear of not finding drinking buddies has definitely been absolved.  How did I expect otherwise in a country that has beer and whiskey in vending machines for goodness sake?!!  Haha…”sake” like “saké”…you know the drink…I just cracked myself up! No, I’m not drunk.  At least I don’t think so.  Oops…I digress.  It seems strange to think that one can feel Loneliness when so many people are around and there are so many opportunities to socialize.  I remember the first time I visited New York City and what stood out to me was how incredibly invisible I felt in a city of millions; like I could really just disappear and no one would ever notice.  That’s similar to what I feel here and although that may not sound like a positive aspect of this experience, I have learned that it actually is a blessing.  Whatever it is I am seeking is not going to be found by being complacent which is what I was in San Diego (extremely complacent actually).  What I seek will be found by putting myself in situations in which I have to look deep into my inner self and figure out who the hell I am and what I want out of this life!  Not an easy task, but one I am bound and determined to accomplish…even if it takes me the rest of my life, which I really hope it won’t.

I went to a wine bar on Friday night.  It was awesome!  Reminded me of San Diego and the wonderful times I had with beautiful friends over many glasses of wine.  It was tiny, with one long bar and about ten barstools.  The best part of the experience was the adorable Japanese man that runs the place.  He speaks a tiny bit of English and runs the place entirely on his own.  He thanks you profusely for allowing him to recommend a bottle, as if he is so flattered by our faith in the fact that he will make a wonderful choice for us (like I’ve ever sent any back).  He had a very specific ritual for opening and pouring the wine.  It was almost like a true craft and to him I think it actually was.  He also did all of the cooking in a tiny little kitchen.  We ordered many items on the menu and everything was simply delicious!  Even the presentation was impressive…the plates matched the food!  Check out the photos.  This will definitely be a place I visit often.

Roasted eggplant soaked in balsamic…oh joy

Sea salt steamed carrot…it was so simple and soooo delicious!

Zuccini…
**I didn’t get a picture of the prosciutto and fig dish, but it was to die for too

School has begun and I’ve met all 35 of my students.  Yes, I said 35.  I have a rather large caseload and am still freaking out a bit about it.  If I had 35 special ed students at any of my previous schools I think I would have quit teaching altogether.  Here, at ASIJ, I know it will be manageable once I get a handle on everything.  These kids are literally the nicest, most polite kids I have ever met.  Many have attention issues, but none of them have any serious behavioral issues.  They also seem so much younger than my previous middle schoolers; more innocent. I am really looking forward to getting to know them all.  I have to admit something; I had some very serious doubts about my ability to do this job in the days prior to school starting.  People kept commenting on how happy they are to have my expertise on staff and how I am going to be such an asset to the school.  The high school Learning Support teacher (who has a published book about teaching students with attention and motivation issues) actually said how excited she was to learn from me….WHAT?! In my mind I kept thinking, “They hired the wrong person!” “What did I put on my resumé?” “What the hell is happening?”  I felt so much pressure that my program had to be developed by the first day of school and that it had to surpass anything that had been done before, yet I had no direction.  My direction was simply, “There is no specific program, so you can really do what you want to meet student needs.” I actually felt like a fraud and my mind went so blank that I couldn’t even think of an icebreaker for the first day of school. Can you say “Hello Xanex!”?  Thanks to a reassuring conversation with a wonderful friend and a smooth first week of school, I once again have my confidence back.  I’ll be working my tail off this year, but I think I am going to actually enjoy it and luckily my paycheck will make it all worth it.

*Sidenote: So I assumed that since ASIJ is a private school, the teachers would dress a bit more professionally than most at my previous schools so I went a bit crazy upgrading my wardrobe.  Well, I am the most overdressed teacher on campus!  Oh well, I am actually enjoying dressing up each day…minus the bike ride in high heels each morning.

That’s me!

Speaking of my bike…I am seriously loving my new form of transportation!  The roads are quite narrow and traffic is always buzzing by a little to close for my comfort, but it’s just so easy to get around ( and cheap!).  I do have to plan my outings since I can really only buy what I can carry.  I haven’t had a problem yet, but I also haven’t bought some much needed items since I have no idea how I’m going to get them back to my place.  Even with groceries; I can’t buy everything I want because I simply won’t be able to get it home.  I actually do not see this as a disadvantage though because I am only buying what I need and not a bunch of unnecessary crap that will juts go bad anyway.  I do have the train system down from here to Mashashisakai so I can buy bigger items if I need to and just carry them back.  Lucky for me, the train station is right behind my apartment so I don’t have to walk very far either. I’ve even been on a couple of biking adventures!  I rode with a group to an area that we would normally take the train to just because we could.  It was a tough ride, but the 200yen beers were totally worth it.  Randomly this particular izakaya (Japanese bar with snacks) has 200yen beer nights on any day that ends in a 9…your guess is as good as mine.

All loaded up

…and I think my load is tough! I’ve even seen THREE kids on a bike

This past weekend a group of us went to explore an outdoor architectural museum.  It was in a beautiful park and had many homes ranging from hundreds year old farmhouses to the more “westernized” homes of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s.  They even had a faux town set up that we could explore…everything was fake in the stores, but the houses were original and we were able to tour through them.  Unfortunately, we had to deal with some rain; however, the Japanese have got their shit together…So outside every house/exhibit was an umbrella stand with umbrellas for our use.  Wait, it gets better.  Not only did they have umbrellas for rain, but also “sun shade” umbrellas for extra hot days.  One of the teachers and I were laughing because nowhere in the states would their be something we could use on our own accord…for free.  There’s just no way!  We would have had to fill out some paperwork and leave a deposit.  It’s one of the beauties of Japan though…they have a very respected code of honesty.  So I’m digressing again, but I have heard many stories of someone losing a wallet or something valuable and they find it right where they left it or it had been turned in to one of the many koban (police box).  Very comforting.

It doesn’t look steep, but it is! A lot of people live in Kogenai which also houses many more stores and restaurants than my neighborhood so I try to get there at least once a week

One of the Japanese homes at the architectural museum

Back to my bike ride:  We rode another 13.5 km to a lake/reservoir that was really quite lovely.  It’s no Tahoe, but it was sure nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of my neighborhood.   We didn’t get a chance to stay long due to the grey, ominous cloud cover looming over our heads…we thought it a grand idea to high tail it outta there before the rain came crashing down.  Too late!  Ten minutes into the ride and we were drenched.  Erin and I took cover while the rest of the posse trekked on…good times.

Shrine on the side of the bike path

It rained the rest of the weekend too.  It is actually a welcome reprieve from the high humidity that has been here since I arrived.  Seriously, I wake up and start sweating.  People literally carry around sweat rags to wipe their faces during the day.  I can’t believe I stopped dating a guy because he carried a sweat rag with him all the time in SD…if he could see me now (I didn’t really base my decision to categorize him as “non-dateable” because of the sweat rag).  I seriously feel like Shaquil O’Neil and at this point I don’t even care anymore.  Like I said, the rain is so very welcoming and I am actually looking forward to the autumn months and the changing of the leaves.  It’s been a while for me.

Well, folks, its time for me to say good-night for now.  I have so much more to write about, but the natives are getting restless (Mom) and I need to get something out there before the troops get sent in.  Love to you all…I miss you!

Japan 101

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It’s Monday night and I have made it through my first week living abroad *cue applause*.  The above picture is the result of quick grocery run so I could fuel up and tell you all about said first week.  Now before you judge me on the contents of my dinner I must inform you that I have been trying all…umm…’most’ of the food presented to me with the exception of raw eel and fermented beans.  Considering my history as a picky eater I’d say that’s progress.  I also must say that I fully intended to bring home some take-out sushi (I’m serious), but they did not have any “lunchboxes” (that’s what they call them…well…in Japanese, but I don’t know how to say that) without those red fish eggs that look to me like bath beads and I’m just not quite ready for fish juice squirting in my mouth.  Maybe next week.   As I perused through the aisles wondering what strange concoctions reside behind the cardboard cartons and plastic containers, I stumbled upon the salami and cheese and I couldn’t resist.  You can’t blame me right?  I guess I needed a little piece of home…I won’t mention the Pringles and PB and jelly…oh shit, I just did.  The triangle thing is actually a rice ball with some salmon inside wrapped with seaweed.  It is soooooo delicious!  Can’t have a good meal without a good beer and a bottle of sake.  Oh, and I’m not sure if you can tell, but there is a pack of 50 chopsticks because I couldn’t find any forks…haha!

 

The first thought that comes to mind to share with you is that my inner compass is completely out of whack…not that it was ever 100% accurate.  It is very unsettling not knowing where I am or having reference points.  In Reno, I always looked to the mountains.  In San Diego, I looked to the sun and knew where everything was in reference to the ocean.  Here…I never know what direction I’m heading to and I get things backwards ALL the time.  I try to focus on the sun, but it just doesn’t seem to be helping.  The streets are narrow, curvy and don’t seem to follow any pattern at all.  Many are dead ends.  I was asked in what direction the windows in my apartment face and I literally could not figure it out! South…I think that would have been Guess #4. I know how to get to school from my hotel and have figured it out from my apartment as well.  It’s a start.  I know that eventually I’ll be able to navigate myself around and I so look forward to that day.  I feel like a rat in a maze right now.

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This is a two lane street…

 

I bought some shiny new wheels the other day.  Oh yeah…she’s a beaut for sure.  So I took her out yesterday and we explored the park (Nogawa) next to the school and the cemetery (Tama) which is a few blocks from my apartment.  I’ve have a couple of videos that I took, but am having some technical difficulties.  I’ll get them when I can.  Both places were absolutely beautiful and I felt at peace for the first time since I’ve been here.  They are my new Balboa Park; a place to get away and find a reprieve from it all.  I’ve been told that when the cherry blossoms bloom in the spring that the cemetery is illuminated.  Can’t wait!

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Tokyo is a city of about 35 million people, but it is so quiet.  Ok, so yes…I totally live out in the ‘burbs, but there are still a helluva lot of people out here.  My neighborhood is just houses upon houses in between all shapes and sizes of apartment buildings….yet it is eerily quiet.  Nobody raises their voice for any reason it seems; the trains are quiet, the streets are quiet…even the stores are quiet (except for the poor guy who has the horrible job of standing in the middle of the department store announcing a sale).  In addition to the quiet there are many unsaid rules in which everybody follows.  Nobody walks and eats, no one talks on their phones on the trains, no one ever speaks in a loud voice unless they’ve been out drinking and then it’s humorous, you always walk on the left, you let people off the trains before getting on (duh), in crowds you get through via a line formation…It seems very regimented, but everything flows very well and I really think I can get used to that!  Right now I’m just observing constantly to see the proper way of doing things.  When I was purchasing tonight’s wonderful dinner, I noticed that the cashier shifted the food items from my basket to another basket after scanning them.  After you pay you take your basket of food to a little counter just past the cashier and bag you shit yourself.  I thought that was so clever!!  How many times have you waited while the cashier has to finish bagging the person’s items in front of you??  We all have and this system made it so quick…although you do have to do your own bagging. 

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Vending machines everywhere!!

 

So far my experience with the Japanese people has been incredible.  They are VERY customer service oriented…so much so that I almost can’t believe it!  I’ve had to purchase a lot of things and have needed a lot of help since I have arrived.  Every time people have literally bent over backwards to help me.  You walk into an establishment and everybody greets you!!  I have no idea what they are saying. but they seem so happy that you are there…and when you leave they do the same thing.  At restaurants, even the cooks will wave and bid you farewell.  I can’t articulate how wonderful and refreshing it is just to have some kindness bestowed upon you by a stranger.  The other day I went into a bakery (oh yeah…fuck the whole veggies and fish diet…these people LOVE their sweets!!)  and I bought a few pastries to take to a dinner I was attending.  The woman literally walked me back over to the baked goods and made me pick out two more…she just gave them to me!  Today when I was buying my phone, I received a free Apple TV device as well as a digital picture frame just for being a customer.  I can easily get used to this. 

 

I mentioned a bit about the food, but I want to wait until I experience some more and I think it will deserve its own blog.  One thing I learned very quickly is that I am going to have to learn to tolerate many different textures.  That’s my biggest challenge when it comes to food.  Sushi consumption is going on strong and I’ve actually really been enjoying it.  I have actually put things in my mouth without knowing what they are! The Japanese like to put meat on a stick and grill it.  It’s called yakitori.  This past weekend I went out to Kinchijoji with our new AP and her husband and we found a restaurant that had pictures on the menu (seriously…this is how we choose!).  It was a great little place where we sat on pillows with a sunk-in table.  We actually called our waiter by banging on a wooden gong.  When anyone banged the gong, all the waiters and cook staff would yell in unison.  Pretty cool.  Anyway, we ordered some yakitori based on the pictures thinking we had one chicken, one pork and one beef as there were many to choose from.  Ummm…we don’t think any of them were actually what we thought they were..  Then we ordered these friend things that maybe we thought were popcorn fish because there was a lemon in the picture.  Again…not fish, but a super tough substance that I would have hoped was octopus, but when I talked to one of the teachers and used the analogy that it had a consistency like cartilage, he said, “oh, it probably was”.  That made my stomach turn a bit.   One more thing; I mentioned that Japanese love their sweets and one of the most popular sweets is a sweet bean puree.  At first I thought this sounded disgusting.  Who would ever associate beans with dessert?  At one of the many bakeries, I purchased what I thought was a jelly donut.  It was actually filled with this bean puree instead of jelly, but I thought it was delicious!  I’m willing to try it!

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Roasted eggplant

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Miso soup…with shrimp 🙂

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SAKE!

 

As for me…a dear friend gave me some great advice to find a routine and to figure out how to have some comforts from home.  I downloaded Season 6 of Dexter and have been anticipating my alone time at the Hotel Mets to watch a new episode each evening (ok maybe 2 episodes but who’s counting?).  Having this to look forward to helps with the alone time.  Don’t get me wrong; anyone who knows me knows that I love my alone time, but its different here.  When I come home in the evening it is sleeping hours for those that I would normally talk to.  I can’t just call and chat if I want to…that piece is what makes the alone here so alone.  I know I will meet people and form some great friendships, but this transition phase is tough.  Another factor is that most of the teachers here are married. This makes me feel very single.  Being single is what allowed me to embark on this journey and I truly hope that being single will not dampen my experiences here. Singledome is a whole other blog, but I’m definitely feeling it. 

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Check out the sign on top…7-11.  They are everywhere and even have superstores!

 

That’s plenty for now.  Please ask me anything you are curious about.  I will give you my thoughts an observations as well as I can, but I know that in time they may change.  I can’t believe it has only been a week!  It seriously seems like forever…most days have been quite busy with simply the tasks of trying to establish a household.  It’s been a lot of work.  Thank you all for reading and supporting!  I love hearing from you and even if I don’t get back right away (internet time is limited) please know that your communication truly warms my heart…

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When heading to school, I know to turn right when I get to this shrine.

 

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Musashisakai: home of the Hotel Mets…my temporary home.

 

xoxoxoxo

24

Right now at this very moment as I am typing these first words to this blog I have been in Japan for a full 24 hours.  I know what you are all asking:  How do you feel?  What is your first impression?  What’s it like? Sooooooooo????

I am a fish out of water.

And I don’t mean that in a negative way; I am just overwhelmed. My head is spinning and…well…I just don’t know yet.  So  let me back up a bit and I’ll try to explain my experience thus far as well as I can. 

I read this book not too long ago in which the main narrator was a young boy with autism.  One of the main traits of people with autism is that they have difficulty understanding their emotions. This particular character described his feelings of worry, sadness or just melancholy as having “heavy boots”.  I think that is a perfect way to explain my feelings during my last days in Reno and this term flashed in my head as I thought of what was to come.  Not having a home, Rufus being gone, selling my car, living out of my suitcase, the impending task of saying good-bye to loved ones (again), the fact that I was moving to a foreign country….all of it gave me heavy boots and the fact that I should have been excited and ready to leap into this journey made my boots even heavier because I wasn’t feeling excited; just riddled with anxiety and uncertainty.  To make things worse, my flight out of Reno was delayed and I missed my connecting flight to Tokyo only to be told I would have to be on standby and possibly wouldn’t be able to fly out until the next day.  As I sat waiting, I couldn’t help to think that this was a terrible way to start my journey and that maybe it was a sign…Luckily for me I was able to get on the flight AND  was upgraded to first class which was a total first for me and my “sign” completely did a 180.  Yay.

Arriving in Japan was a cinch; upon arrival to Narita Airport I was led to a small room off to the side and it took only 5 minutes to get my alien registration card, another 10 minutes to grab my luggage, another 10 to get through customs and BAM! just like that I was in Japan!  I was greeted right outside of customs by Marty, our business manager, and thus began my first true glimpse of my new home. 

I have to admit, and unfortunately  it may be disappointing, but I can’t really explain the journey from the airport to my hotel.  It took about 2.5 hours and Marty pointed out many things to me, but all I can really recall is that downtown Tokyo is huge and we passed Tokyo Disney.  After coming off a 10.5 hour flight with the stressful 2 hour delay, I don’t think I had the ability to be totally observant….Also, it was about 3 in the morning for me, I had taken a full Xanex on the plane  and everything still seemed so surreal…like a dream and I was just floating on top of it all.  Marty helped checked me into my hotel which is in a really cool part of “suburban” Tokyo called Musashisakai.  At about 8pm when I arrived it seemed that the area was really hoppin’ and my plan was to get my luggage to my room, do a quick makeover and go explore.  However, the next thing I remember is waking up about 12:30am sprawled out on my bed with my clothes still on as well as all the lights in my room….apparently I was more tired than I thought!

I woke early ( about 5am) and just hung out with my thoughts for a couple of hours; trying to wrap my head around the fact that I now live in Japan.  The hotel provided a complimentary breakfast via a voucher for a cute café (Starbucks knock-off) right next door.  My breakfast consisted of a ham sandwich with a bit of potato salad and a coffee As I ate I tried I noticed how quiet the café was;  people reading, quietly eating and one lady was even sleeping ( head totally sagging to the side and she had her sunglasses on).  I still had an hour before being picked up thus my first adventure of finding an ATM machine began!  I remembered reading that most ATM’s were closed on Sundays, but luckily the third one I found was able to dispense some money for me (all in 10,000 bills!)  

Toshi came to pick me up right on time and he took me to my new school.  I’ll have to write more about my school later because, again, my observational skills were still on hiatus.  Another teacher met us in Toshi’s office and we chatted for a few minutes about the places we were going to look at.  Suzanne was looking for something larger than I needed so we had a few options for both of us.  The first place we looked at was not on the list, but the agent we were working with wanted to show it to us anyway.  It was super cute, right above a French bakery and only three blocks from school.  It was tiny…but I figured that was going to be the case.  It may not have been perfect, but with the location; I couldn’t pass it up.  The other places we looked at were much nicer inside; one was a standalone house with sliding paper doors and windows, another was totally open to pets and even had a dog washing station built in the bathroom, another even had a view of Mt. Fuji!!!  As appealing as all of these were, the downside was they are all pretty far out and I just felt that I needed to be close to the school and other teachers…for now anyway.  Toshi shared his concern about my choice only because a big holiday is coming up and he wasn’t sure if it could be cleaned and ready for me in a timely manner.  I might have to stay in the hotel for another 2 weeks! Arghh…oh well, what’s two weeks in the grand scheme of things, right?

Toshi dropped me off at my hotel and I was pretty much on my own for lunch.  Unfortunately, I started to have heavy boots again.  I had been here less than 24 hours, was told I’d be well taken care of yet here I am in the middle of a neighborhood I can’t even pronounce and I’m left to my own devices.  I can’t lie; my frustration was building. I hadn’t heard from anyone by 4pm so I called Marty and left a message regarding the plans for the evening.  He texted me an hour later to say he’d be there to pick me up to take me to dinner at the headmaster’s house.  It was something. 

At Ed’s house (the headmaster), I met the other two new people who were starting at ASIJ, plus some other administrators I’d be working with.  I loved hearing everyone’s stories of travel and experience, but it seemed so out of my league.  These people were experienced…they’d seen more of the world then I could ever imagine….”When I lived in Delhi…When I lived in Prague…When I lived in Paris…When I lived in China…When I lived in Quatar…Uh When I lived in South Park…”.  What I need to remember is that everyone started somewhere and my somewhere is here and now.  I’ll have my experiences soon enough and I can’t express how thoroughly grateful I am that I traveled through Europe this summer (thanks, Mom!) because at least I could contribute somewhat.  I even met another teacher who backpacked through Michoacán as I had and we bonded instantly!   The rest of dinner went well and I have a good feeling that all is going to work out and be an experience I can’t and won’t regret. 

So there’s my first 24 hours…a bit long-winded and boring, but that’s it.  I’ll have much more interesting stories to share in the days to come! …and pictures too…

Whale’s Vagina

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When I moved to San Diego seven years ago I uprooted everything I knew
to be home. My family, my lifelong friends, my home, my
job…everything. I knew not a soul nor did I have a job, but I knew
it was something I had to do; a calling I just couldn’t explain.
Unfortunately, my first year in I wanted nothing but to return to the
comforts of “home”. I never knew Loneliness like I did those first
few months in America’s Finest City. I thought I had…you know those
Friday nights when the phone stays quiet and you think that none of
your friends like you anymore because they are all out having fun
without you and didn’t think to call you (when the reality is that
they are all at home staring at the phone as well). No, that wasn’t
Loneliness, just his pansy-ass sidekick . No, Loneliness envelops you
and pins you down, smothering you with his darkness so you can’t
breath, can’t move. Loneliness and I tangoed constantly and after
about 7 months into it I called “uncle” and told my family I was
coming home. Loneliness won. However, after a long conversation with
a very wise woman, my mom, we both decided that I needed to give it at
least a full year. My mom is probably kicking her own as—butt about
that conversation, but it was one of the best pieces of advice she
has given me…I grew to love San Diego as my home and the growth I made
personally and professionally was astounding. Now seven years later
I’m moving on again.

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Between battling with loneliness that first year, getting myself into
a financial hole and a “not-so-fun” break-up, one might think that my
thoughts about leaving would have been “GOOD RIDDANCE” as I flipped SD
the bird while watching the downtown skyline shrink in my rearview
mirror as I headed north on the 5, gleeful to have this phase of my
life finally behind me. On the contrary, my years in San Diego have
been nothing short of wonderful. The hardships I endured only made me
stronger and I am grateful for the support and love provided by those
near and far. When I think back seven years ago, I realize that
leaving Reno was not difficult…leaving my loved ones was killer, but
Reno itself? No biggie. Saying good-bye to SD was more difficult that
I could have possibly imagined. Those last few weeks were spent
berating myself for not grasping every opportunity possible. I wanted
to spend more time at the coffee shop down the street, go to more
farmer’s markets, take a surfing lesson, paddleboard more often, run
on the beach, have a crepe at Café Madeline’s, invite my friends over
for wine and snacks, participate in a triathlon, make my own beer,
swim in the ocean, start road-biking…I could go on and on. And to
think I stayed quite busy most of the time already! I left part of my
soul in San Diego and I know in my hearts of hearts that someday I
will be back…we are connected.

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Ironically enough my battle with Loneliness that first year dealt
mainly with the fact that I had such a difficult time meeting people.
Since I grew up in Reno, most of my friends were childhood friends;
we had history and that network of friends just continued to grow as
we all got older. However, when I moved to SD I didn’t have that
network anymore…I had to start from scratch. But the people here sure
had their networks dialed down and let me tell you, trying to get in
with no connections is not an easy task! Fortunately for me it was a
task I accomplished and one I accomplished very well…I have been so
blessed with the friendships I have made and will miss so many people
as I embark on this new endeavor. I know that many will stay in my
life for years to come and I can’t express how truly grateful I am.

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So thank you Whale’s Vagina; thank you for the life lessons learned
while residing in your beauty, thank you for the laughs, smiles and
love from your people, thank you for the 15 extra pounds from having a
bit too much fun most of the time, thank you for year-round sunshine
(ok except maybe May and June), thank you for the fresh ocean air and
thank you for giving me the courage to leave you…

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