Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bring on the changes; but for today, I'll play

Tomorrow is April 1st, and that marks the beginning of the new school year here in Japan. The students don't start tomorrow, but all the personnel changes happen tomorrow with new teachers coming in and old teachers changing schools. We will rearrange the teacher's room, I will get a new desk and new neighbors. But for today I ignored the changes and formality that tomorrow will bring and just played all day!

First thing I did today was map out a new lesson on music for Koga 3rd. After I got that underway, a couple students came to ask me if I would play basketball with them. I told them that I had never played, but sure, I would come to their practice. Turns out they asked me because it was a faculty vs. student pick-up game! I have no clue what the rules of basketball are nor anything resembling strategy or knowledge of the game other than aiming for the hoop. Needless to say I was pretty useless to the faculty team, but I tried. And because I didn't know this game was going to happen, I didn't have any active or sports clothes prepared - oh well. I had fun and gave everyone a good laugh, that was for sure.

After the basketball madness (the students won!), I ran down to practice with Kohei for the welcome ceremony for the first grade students next week. Kohei is a great musician and I will be singing "All the Small Things," by Blink-182. I tried to explain to Kohei that singing a song for a man was hard for me, but he didn't seem to care. I am having so much fun with it though and I love just watching these kids practice and fool around during rehearsal. After that rehearsal was over I grabbed some lunch with some of the teachers.

After lunch, Mika (a Japanese teacher at Sanwa) asked me if I wanted to play catch with her and her friend that was visiting. She remembered that I used to play softball and wanted to play with me. Of course I said sure (anything to get me out of the teacher's room!). We had a really great time and it makes me want to play again quite a bit. I never had the passion to play in high school, but playing Little League was great! Maybe I can find a team when I get home (along with all the other stuff I want to do when I get home!).

So it was a great day today and I wish that more days were like this. Starting tomorrow real work will begin again and the playing will have to end. Today was great.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Many of you may recognize this title as being a recent movie. Well it is pretty recent in Japan - I actually don't know when it was out at home. I saw this movie with Lauren over Valentine's Day weekend and albeit depressing, the movie is very well done. And the movie is alarmingly, wonderfully, very close to the book in it's portrayal - much of the dialogue for the film is actually taken directly from the pages of the novel. As with any 460 page book, it is hard to turn that into a two hour film and not leave out some details. They did a great job with hitting all the major points and showing the deep insecurities of the couple and the destructive relationship they had created, but I wanted to know WHY?!?! So that afternoon, Lauren and I went to a book store and I picked up the book. The book definitely tells you why.

I found that it was very well written and easy to fly through the pages. The story flowed nicely and gave so much background information on Frank and April Wheeler that just doesn't fit into a movie. Their neuroses and poor communication come from an extraordinarily dysfunctional childhood for April. Frank's childhood was much more conventional, except that his parents never planned to have him and he knew it from the start. Frank always felt like he was playing catch up and never quite became an adult in the eyes of his parents, which stunted his self-esteem and caused him to become a pathological liar and story teller.

The book is just as depressing, if not more so than the film, but such a dark look into the dysfunctionality of relationships that I was hooked. Anything that delves into the question of human nature and how we communicate with one another is fascinating to me on a level I cannot quite articulate. I feel like the more I know about all the ways people go wrong, the better I can be at foraging close friendships and more honest relationships.

"Our ability to measure and apportion time affords an almost endless source of comfort." I have been chewing on this sentence for a while. It's all about control; and I really wish it wasn't.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Just the weekend

The weekend was on the whole rather uneventful, but sometimes that kind of recuperation is exactly what I need. Plus I have been needing to save some money to get me through to the end of April. I sent a lot of money home from my March paycheck and what I had saved from February, so now I am walking a bit of a tightrope, but I don't mind. Sending money home feels like a real accomplishment for me - I like when I do it because it means that my loans are being paid each month (thank you, Mom!) and I enjoy paying bills. Granted that is mostly because right now my expenses are minimal and I can pay them easily; I am sure I will not always enjoy paying bills seeing as unexpected life can be. So I made a conscious decision on Friday NOT to go to the bank for the weekend and to just work with the 5000 yen (~$50) I had in my wallet and keep my weekend low key.

Appropriately (hah) after my saving money spiel, I want to share that I bought a bicycle while Michael was here. He gave me the push I needed (thank you) to make that impulse purchase and I am so happy that I did! It's not fancy, it's a cruising bike and doesn't even have gears, but the price was right and the setup is perfect for how I will be using it. It came with a basket, a peddle-generated light, a built-in bike lock and a nice little bell. So this weekend I used to it go to the park for the Peach Blossom Festival. I"ll be sure to post the pictures soon, but the pink blossoms are so pretty. The park is really great too - I had never been there.

My ride to the festival should have taken about 20 minutes, but I knew from driving in that direction, that there were some exceptionally narrow roads and I don't like riding my bike where there is no side walk. So I spent about an hour or so riding around trying to find an alternate route to the festival - turns out, there isn't one. So when I rode about half hour out of my way, I had to ride a half hour back so that I could just take the route I knew. The narrow roads weren't too bad, so all is well there. Honestly, I don't mind riding my bike around aimlessly either. I am so happy I bought the bike and since the weather is getting warmer, there will actually be quite a bit of use for it. My town feels so much more accessible now and there will never be a worry with parking again!

Other than my random bike rides, I stayed in. I finished a puzzle I had been working on - I still have another sitting on my table half-finished, but I didn't have it in me to finish both of them. And I have almost finished the current book I am reading, so be on the look out for a new review soon. The book is great, but I am starving to get started on a new book. My stack is a little intimidating right now and I really want to finish before I come home in a few months. I think I can as long as I stay diligent and get off my current Picross obsession! **Picross is a DS game that Michael got me hooked on. I love puzzle games, but I have a one track mind when it comes to a new game on my DS.**

Wow, more to report than I thought. I am excited that the weather is getting warmer and that I have four months left to wrap up my life here and prepare to go home.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Here's to the ladies who lunch, everybody laugh!

Name that show!!!

On Monday, the female teachers at Sanwa had a bit of a going away luncheon for the teachers who will be moving on to new schools in a couple weeks. We went out to a Chinese restaurant and the food was delicious! But aside from the food, the conversation was hilarious and non-stop laughs. First, a couple of the girls were late to the restaurant, so the teachers made this elaborate plan that I would get very upset that they were late and tell them how mad I was in Japanese and then the gym teacher would tell them in English how mad she was and start to walk out, but I had to stop her in a very dramatic way. The whole plan happened with glitches, but was completely hilarious and set the happy tone for the lunch.

During the meal the ladies were discussing where they would be moving and how far their commute was going to be. They talked about how sad they were to leave Sanwa, but that of course they would all still be friends. They talked about some recent vacations they had taken and how they all think that the male teachers are either crazy or funny or both. Gossip central!

At the end of the meal, we ordered dessert (naturally) and while we were waiting the gym teacher devised a game for us all to play. I think I have described the shiri-tori game on here before, but the gist is that each person says a word and the person after them has to say a word that begins with the last letter of the previous word. Well the catch to this game was that we had to play in Japanese, but we had to translate our words into English before we said it. For example, I would say Apple (ringo in Japanese) and the next person would say rice (gohan in Japanese) and so on. It was so much fun and all the ladies tried so hard and pulled out some really great words like scarecrow (kakashi in Japanese). I always have so much fun with the teachers from Sanwa and I am so lucky that they always try to invite me and include me in all their outings!

A wonderful visit

I need to finish up the story about Michael's visit. Okay, so let's start with food. While here I wanted him to try a lot of different Japanese foods, some of which he already had of course. I took him to my favorite sushi place. Now, sushi isn't his favorite, but he did enjoy himself and I think the whole idea of conveyor belt sushi just fascinated him. Here in Japan this type of sushi restaurant is quite popular. Essentially there are small conveyor belts that wind their way throughout the entire restaurant; if you see something you like, you take it off the conveyor and eat it. Most of the sushi at this place (Kappa Zushi) is actually nigiri style, there are some rolls too if you want them. At this particular place I really enjoy the touch screen menus where you can order anything you want! The next food adventure we had was okonomiyaki. This is one of my favorite Japanese foods because it is so tasty and interactive! They describe okonomiyaki as a Japanese pancake, except that it is not sweet at all and it has a ton of other ingredients. The staples in okonomiyaki are cabbage, egg, and pancake batter. Beyond that you can add anything else you want; often there is meat or seafood added. We went to this particular place on a Friday, since it is Lent I got the seafood medley and Michael got the I Love Meat (on the menu they even print a little heart in lieu of the word Love). They bring you the okonomiyaki in bowls and you have to mix it and cook it on your stove top table all by yourself. The beginning is the easy part, but the flipping is always a bit tricky. I have been practicing, so mine was pretty excellent I must say. Michael on the other hand experienced epic failure and his split in half. I, who am so far from being domestic it's not funny, saved the day and his okonomiyaki and put it back together. I think he really enjoyed this meal, but it is so filling that we just went home and napped a bit after that lunch time! haha

The perfect place to buy all kinds of Japanese souvenirs in my little town of
Koga is the Hyaku-en shop (the dollar store). I have said this before, but the hyaku-en shops here are soooo much better than the dollar stores at home - Michael thought so too. We hung out there for a while and picked up all kinds of snacks and gifts for his friends. Though to be honest, I don't think I have gone through every single isle of the hyaku-en shop until Michael got here. The fascination with all the different items to buy was like watching a kid with a new toy! We also popped into the department store, Saty, to pick up some other items. At the Saty there are some really great Engrish tshirts, so we jumped on that action too. Also, the Saty department store has their own jingle that they play over the PA system at the store. Michael repeatedly asked me if there was any way to get the song on a CD - he was a big fan! It's always the little things where he finds the most joy - I like that about him - it's also good for a laugh when he starts singing the Saty song in other stores because he likes it so much.

On Thursday morning I had to go into work because I didn't want to take any more personal time, so I left Michael at home to sleep in and headed to school. I was there for the morning and then I got to sneak away unnoticed for the afternoon! That afternoon the weather was so gorgeous and we donned the
tshirts to go back into Tokyo and enjoy the city some more. First we went to Asakusa - one of my favorite and most comfortable places in Tokyo. Asakusa has an incredible outdoor marketplace leading up to Senso-ji Temple. The market is always bustling with people and just a really exciting place. I think I have been to this particular market about 7 times and I really know where things are. After some shopping around for souvenirs, we walked up to the temple and saw the elaborate decorations and ceiling paintings. The ceilings of this temple are some of my favorite in all of Japan.

After our shopping trip, we went back into
Akihabara because Michael had to get his geek on. There were two spots he desperately wanted to hit to, "improve his gamer cred." One was Yodobashi Camera and the other was Super Potato. Yodobashi is a huge electronics department store that is literally connected to Akihabara train station. The place has 8 floors and is completely filled to the brim with any kind of electronic anything you can think of. Michael said if he wanted to build a computer, he could go to Yodobashi and find every part he would need all in one place! We painstakingly went through nearly every floor checking out all the merchandise and now I even want to go back and buy a couple more things - like the external hard drive that is one terabyte and looks like a giant Lego block!!! Also, apparently in Japan the brand Logitech is known as Logicool!!! I just want to buy something from them to have the awesome different name! After the exhausting Yodobashi tour, we left in search of the great Super Potato. Now this is a retro game store that is three tiny floors, but stocked so densely it reminded me of an old antique shop. We looked through all the floors of this place and Michael revered it as more of a museum than anything else. It was so much fun for me to see his passion about video games come out. I know when I start talking about the Wizard of Oz - I get excited and confident about what I am saying because my knowledge is so great. His knowledge of the history of video games and different trivia and fun facts was vast and just a joy for me to listen. We even found a king's throne made completely of old video games glued together!

After a very busy and wonderfully enjoyable - albeit much too short - week, I had to bid Michael goodbye at the airport on Sunday. We ventured to the airport and got him checked in with about 2.5 hours to spare. We got some lunch (tempura!) at the airport and then just walked around together until he absolutely had to go through security and get to his gate. The time we spent together was very needed and really great for me. When I had to tell him goodbye at the security check, I did start to cry. It's funny almost, I think I have cried every time we have to be separated for any length of time since we each went off to separate colleges; after every winter break and summer vacation - I always miss the silly time we share together because it is so comfortable and not strained. Soon after that, I made my way down to the trains and headed back home a little sad, but so thankful for the week I just had.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Do we get to keep our memories?

When we go, do you think God lets us keep our memories?

This is not an original pondering of mine, but of my late Uncle Thorn. However I think the idea is well worth thinking about - he was a smart man. Just before I moved to Japan, my uncle was diagnosed with cancer. Since that time he began writing his own blog with thoughts about life and updates on his condition. For the first time, I was able to learn a bit about him, and I must say he was a wonderful writer. I was so deeply impressed and inspired by his strength of heart and of character in such a grim and painful situation. I appreciate very much that he kept a blog and allowed the rest of us to see his private thoughts - I believe everyone who read what he had to say surely came away inspired and a little more optimistic.

Being as far away from home as I am only sinks in at certain times - when there are big family events. Right now my family has each other to console and comfort and celebrate the wonderful life that my uncle lived. But I am alone, half a world away with email updates as my only connection to the love and emotion and healing they are experiencing.

And yes Uncle Thorn, I do sincerely believe that God lets us keep our memories. God allows our withering bodies to keep all the love and incredible life each of us experiences. Our common memories with those we love allow us to communicate through prayer and in the silence of our minds, when meeting up in this life is no longer possible.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Wednesday was good despite the morning

I took the day off work on Wednesday and we decided to go to Kamakura to see the Daibutsu and take advantage of the nice weather. However before heading out to Kamakura, I wanted to run an errand of my own. So, in about a month I will be heading to China for two weeks with my wonderful travel buddy, Lauren. In order to go to China, nearly everyone needs a visa. This is a huge pain in the butt and I will think seriously before I decide to visit another country with a visa requirement. First, the office is only open on weekdays from 9am to noon; that means I have to use my personal days to head into Tokyo and take care of this mess. So Wednesday morning was day one.

The embassy is in Roppongi - about and hour and a half from my house. The application form asks you to type the answers, I don't have a printer at home, so I was running around Roppongi with poor Michael in tow trying to find a convenience store that could print my document. That turned out to be an impossibility. So I got pretty frustrated and Michael kept his usual calm and just ran around with me. Finally I say heck with it and we just go to the embassy without my application. Turns out that despite the instructions to TYPE the form, they have them there for you to complete by hand. The whole place was set up like the DMV with numbers and automated voices telling you whose turn it was. Luckily the line went really fast and we were out of there in about 30 minutes. And I have to go back tomorrow (Tuesday) to pick up my passport again - taking more personal time - LAME!

So after the whole embassy adventure, we grabbed a quick lunch and then made our way to the original destination of Kamakura to see the Daibutsu. Again the Daibutsu was completely huge and overwhelming. Michael really enjoyed seeing it and was also impressed by its imposing size. We even got to walk inside the Buddha this time and Michael rubbed his belly from the inside for good luck. I followed suit because who doesn't need a little extra luck on their side?

After spending a little time gazing at the Buddha, we did some souvenir shopping (this time no gifts were left on the train!) and caught the bus for the station. We grabbed a snack and took the train back into Tokyo. This week we spent a ton of time on the train and a lot of that time was spent standing because we were never quite fast enough to get the seats! Once back in Tokyo, I took Michael to see the temple where I spent New Year's Eve. We walked into the Temple and there were some people doing Zen meditation with a monk.

Zojo-ji Temple is right in front of Tokyo Tower; so after our Zen watching, we hoofed it up to the Tower and went all out for the Tokyo Tower experience. We bought the Amusement Pack tickets which include admittance to four museums and the observation deck of the tower. We bought our ticket and headed up to the first observation deck of two. On that level there was a cafe and some live music so we enjoyed taking in the sights of Tokyo and killed some time until it was dark and we could see all the city lights. When the sun set, we made our way up to the second observation deck and the scene was wonderful. I had been to Tokyo Tower 3 times before, but had never gone at night, so it was a new view of Tokyo and really incredible. Tokyo is so huge that it seems to stretch forever in all directions.

After the view from the top, we went to the museums to check it out. You should check out the pictures I will post because some of them are really great! First we went to the wax museum, and let me tell you - they got nothin' on Madam Tussaud! They do mention her as being the one to perfect the art of wax figures, but clearly none of her work was in this little museum. I did take some pictures though and I tried to include the name tags so you could see who the wax figure is supposed to be.

They have a Guinness World Records museum and tons of fun facts about the insane things people do. The tallest man puts me to absolute shame; I mean normal people make me look tiny, but this guy - I am the ant under his foot. We decided that we need to buy a book, but then decided not to buy one because the records change too often to keep properly updated.

Next we went to a short anime about some kind of super villains trying to ruin a movie about super heroes....I think. Honestly, I think Michael understood it better than I did, haha. It was fun and 3-D so that was a huge plus! After that we went to the Trick Art museum though. I have some really great Engrish pictures from that gallery and the whole thing was so much fun. The museum is interactive and all the paintings are even one step more real than trompel'oile! I hope you oooh and aaah at our pictures.

Then to end this night, we took the train back home and made TACOS!!! Mom sent Michael with a taco kit for me because I miss Mexican food so much. It was delicious and here is my formal request for another taco kit please, Mom! It was fun to cook actually. I really don't mind it when I am cooking with/for someone else. More stories to follow.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Welcome to my job

On Monday and Tuesday Michael and I went to school. I had three classes to teach each day and it was so much fun for the kids to meet him! Of course he was nervous as anything, but he performed well and the kids loved him.

On Monday we were at Sanwa and did two lessons of the Shiri-Tori game. It is a Japanese title, but we have this game at home too. Basically the kids get a starting words and have to use the last letter from that word as the first letter of the following word. The object is for the team to write a list of as many words as they can. Of course they have to spell the words correctly, but the kids really enjoy this game. Before any games could begin of course, Michael introduced himself to the class and told them about his hobbies and his favorite food (spaghetti). For our third class at Sanwa, we did a psychology test and these kids had a ton of questions for Michael. They wanted to know who his favorite Dragonball character was and if he intended to see the movie. He was even challenged to a game of basketball, which sadly wasn't able to happen because of school schedulings and whatnot. The kids in this class really worked hard and used the English they knew and helped each other to form good questions for him. I was really proud! After class, they even ran out into the hallway to talk to him some more. It was a really nice day.

On Tuesday we went to Koga First. We had three classes again and the kids here were really great as well. The first two classes, we had some warm-ups with jumbled words. I was impressed that the kids could understand enough that they aced these word scrambles - Michael and I had a hard time. The kids were a little shy, but they really like Michael too. After the warm-up, we played a board game that I made. There were groups of 4 students and each group had a game board. They had to move around the board and ask each other questions and then write down in complete sentences the answers to the questions. It is a bit of speaking and writing practice. I even put some questions on the game board so they would have to ask Michael and I some questions. It was so much fun running around the room and some of the groups would even come up with follow-up questions if they wanted more details! They were really great classes. Our third class we played Jeopardy with some random trivia. This class though had a ton of questions for Michael - they even asked him why he loved me. That was flattering, if not a little embarrassing, but the kids just giggled. At the end of class - as per special request, we played the Shiri-Tori game! These kids were pulling out all kinds of words and the competition was intense. I love that when you strike the right nerve, the kids can be really fantastic! The right nerve must be visitors!

No jet lag

Finally, not another book review! I have been too busy to read lately - I am happy to report! Last Saturday I ventured, in the awful rainy and windy weather, to Narita airport to pick-up my wonderful visitor! After two domestic connections and one international flight, Michael arrived here in my little Japan. It was a good thing he arrived later in the evening because that way we could grab some dinner and head home.

On Sunday the weather was completely gorgeous and we went back into Tokyo just to look around. First we went to Meguro to have lunch at an English style pub. They have an all-you-can-eat carvery on Sundays with all the mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts you can handle. The food is always wonderful and the atmosphere is nice.

After lunch we caught the train and went to Harajuku. We walked out of the intensely crowded station and passed by all of the most trendy people of Harajuku - the goths, the maid girls, the cos-players and even the kids giving away free hugs. Right around the corner is one of the big gates to Meiji-jingu. This is one of the most famous temples in Tokyo. I have never been but the day was perfect for it. From the entrance gate to the gate of the actual temple is a huge, beautiful canopy of trees lining a gravel walkway. It was just like spring with birds singing and people chatting with one another. The gates to the temple were absolutely immense and Michael immediately wanted one to take home. I think we may have to have one for the driveway or something now...

When we got to the temple itself, there was a traditional Japanese wedding! The woman and man were in intricate kimono and looked perfect! Of course all of the tourists (myself included) were taking pictures of them posing and smiling. After this little photo-op, there was a processional of the bride and groom and their immediate families, along with the priest performing the ceremony. It was incredible that these people were having a wedding right out in the middle of a bunch of strangers!

After the impromptu wedding, we went to Yoyogi Park to walk around. Again the beautiful weather was really on our side and the walk was so much fun. Right before the entrance to the park, there were three or four groups of Japanese dancers almost competing for attention. All these Japanese people were decked out in 50s poodle skirts and saddle shoes or tight leather pants and leather jackets with the name of their gang on the back - it was totally Grease style! Each group had their own boom-box and was rockin' the tunes with some pretty crazy dance moves. The girls were all sticking with the twist, but the guys looked a little spastic almost!

The walk through the park was nice. All the usual suspects were there - guys with a Frisbee, kite flyers, dog walkers, a group doing tai chi, children's laughter, jump rope, picnicking, and bike riders. It was exciting to be in a park with so many happy people! We decided that we would really like to live close to a big park to enjoy nice spring days like this too!

After spending some time in the park, we went into Akihabara's Electronic Town. Akihabara is the geeky nerd's paradise! So many electronics, and video games and trinkets and anime, manga stuff! We explored a couple video game stores, but we are planning to go back for a second trip to actually purchase something, what, I don't know yet. More to come!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Knit Two by Kate Jacobs

Yes, another book report. My life should pick up and be more exciting next week.

This book is a sequel to one I read early during my stay here in Japan. I am delighted to report that I am very happy with the direction the story moved in this book. Of course there is a somewhat troubled, but happy ending none the less.

Knit Two is set five years after Friday Night Knitting Club. Since that time these women have grown, but have not yet learned how to deal with their sadness and loss. I especially like the character of Dakota because I can identify a bit with her. She is a young girl, still in college but going through some rough debates with herself and with her father about her life's plan. Dakota is trying to really figure out where she fits between gutsy adventurer and stable working woman. I can commiserate with this struggle a bit. I think by the end she, with the help of everyone around her, has come up with a solid plan for incorporating dreams and reality.

Reading this kind of book makes me hope to find this kind of friendship and female companions some day. It is such a story of truth and friendship that I can understand, but have never experienced the way it is portrayed in this book.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How ya'll doin'?

I just spent the best 40 minutes I have ever spent in school. I was teaching Hiromi how to make an origami Christmas tree. (Yes, I made one during the holidays and she saw it today and wanted to learn.) And in the process, taught her some very bad English. I put on a horribly fake southern accent and taught her how to drop her Gs and twang it up. Listening to her try and speak with the same twangy accent was more than hilarious. We just laughed as hard as we could and kept making Christmas trees. Hiromi's first attempt was a little...special, so I made a huge piece of origami and we went at it again. Her second attempt was much better.

Sadly Hiromi, along with many other teachers, will be leaving Sanwa in April. As of right now, I cannot imagine Sanwa without these wonderful people in my life. I hope we can still see each other.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

EPL - Indonesia

By far, my favorite part of the book (Lauren's too!) and perfect for getting me out of my weekend funk. The life that Elizabeth Gilbert has chosen to live and her year-long journey described in this book is unbelievable. I admire her gumption and will power, but I would never choose such a life for myself. I think Indonesia is a beautiful culmination of her hardship and struggles the rest of the year and her ability to commit herself so deeply to God. I am inspired by her spiritual journey and her power to love - herself.

I think more often than not we don't regard ourselves at all. Most of us are not self-loathing, but I would bet that most of us are not self-loving either. I want to be self-loving because at that point it is so much easier to love others and to focus your attention on thinking of someone else first. Good book. Read it. India is tough to get through.

EPL - India

I gave this book to my dear friend Amy for her birthday in December. I had heard wonderful things about the book and thought that it was just the type of story to help any woman with a bit of introspection and self-assessment. Well, for my birthday, my lovely friend Amy returned the favor and sent me this book. How intuitive she is to know that I needed to read this and really evaluate the way it made me feel. Her one caveat upon giving it to me was, "India was tough to get through." Amy, I couldn't agree more.

So, here I find myself in India and all I can think about Elizabeth Gilbert is how intensely whiny she is and how I cannot stand to hear her obsess any more about the same thing over and over. And then I get hit with a stick and the stark realization that obsession and over thinking is my most loathed and loyal companion.

"the problem is the emotional attachment that goes along with the thinking."
Story of my life. I attach an emotional value to every aspect of my life. Emotional capital is something I have in abundance and I would share, but frankly I don't think the people around me want that kind of gift. I dwell on things and just the thoughts are not so dangerous - however my unnatural attachment to my emotions is what causes me to sometimes spin into a dark and sad place for absolutely no reason. Because I think with my heart, my heart assumes everyone else does as well. This is a problem because the things I most often obsess over are issues that don't actually matter to anyone else nearly as much as they matter to me and I NEED to realize that. I never let myself off the hook - I need to work on that.

"You gotta stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone oughtta be."
Self explanatory? Yes.

"In your service to your nephew, you are serving God."
This is a sentiment I have believed deeply since I was in high school. When I was younger, I found myself always in a big fight with religion and God. I had a hard time with the concept of a vengeful God and fire and brimstone. I was convinced that the only support and love I needed in this life was the incredibly deep and unconditional love my family had for me and I for them. They are the only thing I need to get through this life - and love is so much more powerful than fear. Since I began college, I have recanted a bit and I have a new respect for my religious upbringing - especially the Priest in my Parish that has never made me feel like an awful sinner. I still have much disdain for the idea that God should be feared, and I think God might too. I know now that by counting on the love and support of my family and giving all my love and support to my family I am depending upon and living through God. "God dwells within you as you yourself, exactly the way you are." What a beautiful and incredibly easy to believe thought.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert - Italy

Okay, so I have joined the masses of women who have read this book and now I wish to comment. As I zoomed through the pages, I made many notes and underlined words I found to be significant. There is far too much emotion and thought in this book to put it all into one blog post. I have decided to split it as the author did into three sections and give my commentary. Not quite a normal book review seeing how thought provoking this book was.

"as Lily Tomlin once said - 'things were going to get a whole lot worse before they got worse.'"
I have huge admiration for Lily Tomlin and her immense talent. And that talent, I sincerely believe, comes from a place of such sound observation of life and human interaction with the world around us. What I think many of us fail to remember sometimes is that just because things are bad doesn't mean there is a light quickly around the corner. Wallowing is good for no one, but blind optimism for an end that is not so near will eventually kill that optimism. Optimism should be used wisely so as to preserve it and keep it for our whole lives. We need to be open to the fact that realism is not pessimism in a pretty dress and that sometimes optimism needs a break to be a little depressed sometimes.

Something not for my own comment, but for you to ponder as I have. "'To find the balance you want, 'Ketut spoke through his translator, 'this is what you must become. You must keep your feet grounded so firmly on the earth that it's like you have four legs, instead of two. That way, you can stay in the world. But you must stop looking at the world through your head. You must look through your heart, instead. That way, you will know God.'"

"not to get too attached to any obsolete ideas about who I am."

This is something I struggle with from time to time. As a young person, I am changing even more than I can realize right now while I am living in the thick of it. I find though, that when I do notice something different about myself I tend to latch onto that new aspect of my personality and grip as tightly as I can. I take on this one aspect as my whole personality and before I know it, I have changed again and all I am gripping is air where my personality fad used to be. I am trying to teach myself - as I have been ever since I watched our home videos for the first time - to be less controlling. And to a large extent I have succeeded in this endeavor when it comes to others or group situations that I cannot possibly control. However, I still have some major control issues with myself and what I deem to be my world. I am trying to learn that not even I want to be controlled by me. This is a work in progress.

griefquake - a staggering amount of emotions colliding along a fault line causing mass emotional casualties and potential physical injuries to anyone standing too close to the epicenter of the disaster.

Love as a Foreign Language - Vol. 1 by J. Torres and Eric Kim

My first ever comic book. I found it to be really entertaining for the ten minutes it took me to read this first volume. My dear friend DC sent this to me because it reminded him of me and boy did he ever hit the nail on the head! I am excited to read more in this series when I get back home and can pick some up.

Essentially this comic is set in Korea with a guy from Canada who lives there to teach English. This first installment is about his struggles with life in Korea, even after ten months and how much he cannot stand being there any more. Everyone around him seems to be in a perpetual "honeymoon" phase and he cannot get out of this grand master funk. Please laugh at that. Please.

His students are complacent, he is a crappy teacher to boot and he doesn't the like Korean food. I find this such an interesting read because the impression they give of the Korean people is my impression of the Japanese. However, I don't have so much disdain for my life here that this character does. I enjoy my life here a huge amount, so even though I am not recontacting, I am not rushing to break my contract and go home early either. I want to read more of, "Love as a Foreign Language."

Low key

This past week was pretty calm, not much to report. Since my birthday - which was a really wonderful day - I have been laying low, reading until my eyes fall out. This means you should expect a few book reports to follow. I ducked into Tokyo again this weekend, but I wasn't in the best frame of mind for being social, so I didn't end up staying long or making many new friends. My dear Lauren - always the social butterfly went to a party and met up with a few friends after I left, so I am looking forward to hearing about her fun! I'm not quite ready to talk about my bummy mood this weekend, but when I am - you will be my audience! Exciting things should be happening in my life shortly, so bear with me and the book reports and I will have traveling adventures and fun introspections back up again soon.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Maskerade by Terry Pratchett

Another one to add to the fantasy collection. Quite a nice book and really appeals to my theatrical side. I don't know much about Pratchett because this is the first of his books I have read, but he has a quippy writing style that makes the reader think they are in on a huge inside joke. It always feels great to be in the in-crowd.

This book is about murders in an opera house, but it really mocks the whole idea of theatre in general and the supreme diva-ness of performers. I found it to be a perfect example of the concept of, "it's funny because it's true!" In one section of the book he outlines some of the silly superstitions of theatre. He even goes so far as to explain some of them. Silly things that cause bad luck in theatre...giving live flowers, real jewelry worn on stage, real mirrors on stage, whistling, peaking through the curtains at the audience, using a brand new pallet of cake make-up on opening night, knitting on stage, and stopping a performance prematurely. All of these are unlucky for good reason, but rarely do people actually know the reasons. For example whistling in the theatre is bad luck because before headsets, grips and stage hands used to use whistling cues to know when to raise and lower drops and different fly-ins as well as change whole scenes. If you whistle, you might just find a heavy drop bar on your head!

"I don't feel down. I felt fine until you told me I was down,"
I think this speaks to quite a phenomenon of the human psyche. People are very susceptible to the opinions of those around them. When one person projects they create a self-fulfilling prophecy because the person being projected upon is going to wear whatever emotion is being thrown at them and not know what hit them.

Just a quick example of how funny Pratchett can be and how well-informed he is about his subject matter.... The Ghost in the story is writing new, modern "operas" and has titled them the following - Guys and Trolls, Hubwards Side Story, and (my personal favorite) Miserable Les. I really get a kick out of witty and topical humor!

Quite a nice read, and definitely caters to the artist in me. Yes, I probably can be a bit of a Diva, just like everyone else. ;)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


I want to begin by saying thank you to everyone for making my birthday so special! I received so many phone calls, messages, and emails that it really made my day. It was such a relaxed day here at school and I couldn't have been happier than to spend it with the great teachers at Sanwa.

Amid the messages and, "oh, yeah it's already your birthday over in Japan!" I was able to reflect on this past year of my life. As any college graduate knows, this has been quite the transition year from protected, but BUSY school life, to a life with some real responsibility and no homework! And it doesn't take moving to a foreign country to feel a little out of your element and uneasy in your new adult skin. I have been so happy with the direction my life has taken and I know I have worked hard to make it this way. But, my life is not entirely my own and I really cannot find the appropriate words to thank everyone that has given me so much support in my learning and growing and transitioning. And the reason I am so lucky is because people in my life remind me that they love me everyday of the year; they don't need an excuse (like my birthday) to remember me.

Aaand jump back to yesterday, I was sitting around at my desk and some of the teachers were showing each other card tricks. They were having so much fun. I love the audible surprise and shock the Japanese have about almost everything. When I come home and I am still doing it, you will know exactly what I mean - and you'll laugh at me. So, they ask me if I know any card tricks. I know exactly one card trick, and I think nearly everyone else on the planet knows it too, but I don't care and I break out my skills. First, whenever I have cards in my hands I shuffle them - just habit. Well I shuffled like I was taught when I was a kid and the whole bridge motion at the end of the shuffling routine baffled them. So before my trick I took some time to teach them how to shuffle.

Then I launch into my card trick and as soon as it is over, the oooos and aaaaahs commence. Then, they want to know how I do my trick. I was a bit confused because I was always told it was a dire sin to teach those you were trying to "wow" with your secrets! The music teacher saw the glimmer of confusion on my face and in Japanese says, "Hey! In America they don't tell how to do the trick. It's not fun, you know!" I just smiled, but they persisted so I broke down and told them how. Yes, the magic community will now excommunicate me, but I can deal.

Around 3:30pm, I am sitting and reading at my desk and I notice that the lights in the teachers room are being turned off. Now, the teachers have been going in and out of the room all day busy with meetings and things. But I did not expect them to forget about me and completely turn off the lights! Then Otsuka-sensei comes over to me and asks me to come with him. I guess I am used to being kind of clueless at this point, so I follow him. Turns out, all the teachers bought me a cake and sang to me!!! It was such a great surprise and really made me feel like someone they cared about and wanted to celebrate. I love spending my time at Sanwa and I will be a little sad when things change in April.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A little bit of Pomp and a whole lot of Circumstance

Today was graduation at Sanwa Senior High School. I watched the rehearsal for Koga third's graduation, but this morning I sat through the whole thing and I must say the differences are astounding. First, the whole ceremony only lasted an hour and 20 minutes. Now, I know that probably sounds pretty great, but I think that graduations in America are much more special. For starters, there were not even as many parents present as children graduating. That to me is such a sad situation. Here in Japan, parents are not nearly as involved as they are back home. (A) Here graduation is held in the morning of a weekday. (B) All students have to be in attendance, so the first years and the second years are seated in the auditorium the whole time, falling asleep. (C) There is very little music and NO clapping. I will say that there was more standin' and sittin' than a Catholic Mass! Of course a lot of bowing too.

The students are all dressed in their uniforms, same as any other day. The third years' only distinguishing feature is a small, fake flower attached to their lapel. There is almost nothing to make the third year students stand out or feel special. Each students' name is called by their homeroom teacher, but then only one student is designated to go up on stage and receive every ones diplomas from the Principal. One student from the whole third grade class spoke and it was short congratulatory speech with an incredibly formal tone. There was no celebrating and no excitement. Seeing this ceremony made me very thankful for my high school graduation and the fact that my whole family was there; special visitors from Texas included!!! And that at our graduations there is clapping and singing and music played. The students stand out and the night is separate and special. There is a level of formality, but in the end there is excitement and emotion that is so tangible. Luckily, these kids don't know what they're missing.

Lounging around Tokyo

This past weekend (as has become habit) I met Lauren in Tokyo. Since she and I live so far away, she wanted to celebrate my birthday with me and we really had a nice time. She and I really only need a little coffee, a little food, and a cocktail or two; but when you're in Tokyo, you end up getting so much more!

First we met up in Roppongi Hills to watch Benjamin Button. I had heard wonderful things about this movie, and I must say that I found it to be very well done. I now would very much like to read the book and get some more background information about Benjamin and what goes on in his head. I am not going to spoil the movie, but I suggest you see it; the three hour run time is a breeze to get through.

After the movie, we walked around with no real purpose, but found ourselves in the Rigoletto Bar & Grill. We split a nice salad and each had some soup. I sincerely think Lauren and I could just sit and talk all day long! After a delicious lunch, we went to Coldstone! I got a coconut cream pie and because Lauren let it slip that it was my birthday weekend, the guy gave me white chocolate chips for free! Again we chilled outside and talked up a storm. She is one of those people that you instantly feel comfortable talking to about intimate things.

We took a quick subway ride to Ginza because Lauren made reservations at the Alice in Wonderland Cafe! It was a really cute little place with mirrors everywhere and the waitresses were all dressed in Alice's signature blue dress! We had some appetizers there and I had a Charlie Chaplin to drink. I am sticking with my gin drinks, but this time I went for Sloe gin instead of the normal pine tree stuff. Mom, I think you would love a Charlie Chaplin because it is sour and refreshing! After we got our fill of the Disney happiness (creepiness) we left and decided to go shopping. I have been looking for a lighter spring jacket, so we went across the street to H&M and I picked up a wicked cool jacket! It is a blood orange color and so vibrant, you'd think it sparkles. Okay, that is totally just my description, but I really love my new jacket!

Lauren always comes through with the posh bar or lounge, and next we found ourselves in Dazzle. It is a cute little bar that Lauren has been to a couple times and already seems to know everyone who works there! We each got a drink and sat there while she introduced some of her friends to me. I met Toshi, bartender extraordinaire, and Bruce; the Australian manager of the Japanese bar! After a while, sipping our cocktails, Toshi asks us if we want dessert. He describes this amazing flan type dessert with ice cream and fresh berries that we immediately want. Lauren, again, lets it slip that it is my birthday weekend and Toshi wishes me a happy birthday.

After we place our dessert order, another waiter at the bar comes over to say hello to Lauren. He asks me my name and where I am from. I tell him West Virginia, and he says, "I have never been, but I have heard!" I just laugh and appreciate his enthusiasm. He continues on into the kitchen. When he comes out, he passes by us again and says, "John Denver!" and then sings, "Almost heaven, West Virginia!" He was so proud of himself and I was incredibly surprised and flattered. Then he told me that song was the first English song he ever learned in Junior high school. It was a really nice moment to make me feel special and make me proud to be a West Virginian.

When Toshi brought out our dessert, there were three long and very thin candles stuck into a piece of kiwi and the words, "Happy Birthday" written beautifully in chocolate sauce! It was a nice surprise and then Lauren and Toshi sang to me. I had a really nice weekend with Lauren, as always, and It makes celebrating my birthday a total blast!