Thursday, January 31, 2008

I Thought we had Something

Why did you not call?



Sexy girl weekend.

I thought we had something ...

Just be Nice to Me

I am sick.

With what you ask?

Everything.

Mostly that nasty winter feeling of near death.

I have been coming home this week and getting right under that kotatsu. Sometimes the kotatsu can be a problem. I cannot leave it. I am hungry or I kind of have to pee ... I just do not want to get out from under that kotatsu. Life is cold and hard when you have to leave the kotatsu.

While under the kotatsu I drift in and out of consciousness, Japanese TV in the background and an occasional internet interaction via one of my favorite networking devicies.

The other day I rolled over on my glasses (while enjoying the lack of consciouness under the kotatsu). After I bent them back into shape the right side is all wobbly.

So I sit at work and wobble my glasses back and forth all day.

Between all these extreme hardships I am faced with here in Japan I am pulling it together to get genki for the 45 minutes I have to teach a class.

And for some unknown reason the classes I have taught the past two days have been off the chain.

Wednesday morning I had no real lesson plan but I did have a bag of stuff.
I combined blindfolds, construction paper and the students working knowledge of monsters to create a successful lesson for my typically least successful class.

Today I am dreading the dinner I will have with a bunch of my adult students. It means I will have limited kotatsu time. And they spent last week making speical arrangements so I could get drunk and not have to drive home.

When Japanese people get drunk they do not mess around. It is similar to a bunch of 8th graders getting a case of Milwaukee's Best. No holds. No thinking. Just drinking.

So this morning I pull it together to teach two classes. After the second class the 3rd grade teacher comes up to me and says, "Caity ... when you ... return to ... home country ... I think maybe you should ... be ... TEACHER."

I blushed, said thank you, and felt real good.

Everyone deserves people to be nice to them. But I am really into it this week.
Send me your address, we can make Valentines Day cards or other gestures of overseas love.

Either way, just be real nice to me until it stops raining and my next vacation is a reality ... not a daydream.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Currently Reading:

Hokkaido Highway Blues: Hitchhiking Japan, by Will Ferguson.

Funny tale of a once was English teacher in Japan who decides to hitchhike from Kyushu to Hokkaido.

He spends a brief amount of time in Shikoku (where I live).
I live in Ikeda, a town near the very small city of Miyoshi. When coming from Ikeda, before you get to the Miyoshi area you drive through Mino town.

About twenty years ago Ferguson was on these same roads and came upon the place I call home from "the expressway [as it] twisted and writhed to offer [...] various angles of the lnland Sea, but all [he] saw was urban desolation. [...] [He] came upon Mino Town, pooled in a valley rimmed with mountains and dotted with lifeless ponds."

Ferguson describes northern Shikoku as a place "like all human constructs, [...] a mix of genius, enterprise, and stupidity."

Oh Shikoku.

Once you live here you get a sort of Shikoku pride.
In Laos I meet a Japanese girl from Ehime, another prefecture of Shikoku. When it was discovered that we all lived in this area there was a small of amount of jumping in place and repeating the word, "Shikoku, Shikoku!".

In this bleak weather I have to remind myself of the things that I am beginning to take for granted.
Nights like tonight. When it is not raining the stars give a little bit of light in the maze that is the walk from my car to front door.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Even if I hated it I would stay another year.

My unoffical motto about recontracting, for another year in Japan once was, "even if I hated it I would stay another year."



But I take that back.



A more accurate statement would be, "Only if I hated it would I not stay another year."



The Board of Education (BOE) I work for has been asking me when I am going to come to the office to sign the recontracting papers.



They are due the 8th of Febuary, but most BOE's like to get them in early to figure out budget stuff.



So I geuss I am recontracting. I have told myself that I am going to go there on Friday to sign the papers.



I am in no hurry to make things more convient for my BOE. This is the BOE that does not subsidize any of my rent, or pay for my car, or take me out to dinner, or even anwser my questions- all things that many other JETs BOE`s do for them.



I told myself I got over that awhile ago. There is nothing I can do about it. And it is not like my life is really hard or something.



I went out to dinner with another JET`s BOE supervisor and she was shocked to hear about how little my BOE does for me. She seemed truly concerned (the way any good Japanese woman would be).



I told her that over the past few months I have figured out who will help me out. And I have been invited to numerous dinners and various other, sometimes annoying and somethimes fun, Japaense things.


It all just took a minute to figure out.

And that is a reason I want to stick around a little bit longer ... there is only more figuring out to be done.



That and the fact that I seriously love my kotatsue like I have never loved before.

Before I leave this country I would like to know that I have saved enough money to get a kotatsue in the States. Financially I am not there.



Also, I really do not feel like being in the States for the next election.

Japanese people like to talk about American politics and they are all routing for the democrat.

Most of them are for Obama.

I have successfully turned all the adults in my conversation class to be Obama supporters.



Sometimes in the States I would run into those sneeky republicans or super crazy Christains.

I would think I had made a grown-up friend. I would be feeling real adult because me and this other adult, who I randomly meet, would be talking and I would think we were real cool. Then that adult would sneek in that sly conservative or super Christain remark.

And I would be sad for America.



And my sister will be in Asia another year and who knows who else might move over to this part of the world.



I have sort of been waiting for a sign from God about this recontracting thing. I told myself I would not make any sort of final decision until I got back from south east Asia.

I thought that when I got back that God would tell me in a really obvious way what my decision should be.



The only thing I have noticed about my return is that the sun never shines in January and I am not feeling moved to study that damn language I thought I would want to study upon return.



But I think I have been planning to stay two years all along.



The past months have gone by so quickly and I cannot imagine how fast the next few will go too.



When I first got here I had planned to take a trip back to the States in the Spring. Now that just feels too soon. And Summer in America might be the best thing in the world anyways.



I do feel positive about recontracting. I could have never in my wildest dreams imagined to be so lucky to do as much traveling and exploring as I have done since I have been in Japan. And such travel and exploration really is an art, something I would like to spend much more time mastering.



To quote others, "6 months down and 18 (or more) to go."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Hibernation

Japan is cold and miserable right now.

I am pretty sure that it will never stop raining in Ikeda.

It snowed this weekend, but when I returned to Ikeda the snow had turned into brown slush and was being stirred up by the rain.

Between the rain this morning there was about a 20 minute interlude of snow to then return to rain again.

The snow in Tokushima is a similar kind of snow you get in North Carolina. But everyone here is a little more tough about it, so school remains in session and I find myself being a nervous southerner as I drive.

As a means to escape such hum drums of these seasonal blues Ann and I have decided to return to Houyxai, Laos and the spend the rest of our lives with our soul mates.

Caity + Juni = <3


Ann + that weird guy= a cleaner Laos 4 ever

SIC!

Instead I am thinking a trip to New Zealand with Brad.
After that I REALLY want to check out woolly mammoths
so that means that some time travel is in order.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

This is serious: Cara and Rory came to Japan

After an overnight flight from Bangkok to Kansai I took a bus to Iku's house, who lives outside of Kyoto.
Cara and Rory had been staying at Iku's mom's house, with Iku, for a couple days.

That morning Cara and Rory made an American breakfast, complete with grits! Too bad I was still feeling that mystery Laos barf disease and could not truly enjoy it.

After my first hot shower in two weeks Cara, Rory and I headed to the Osaka aquarium- Kaiyukan.

Cara and Rory had been shown around by Japanese people since they had been in Japan. As I became in charge of the situation I assumed the role of crazy Aunt Caity ... I think Rory was a little nervous about how much trust he should put into me.

The aquarium was super.


We found some comfy seats and posted up in front of a tank for long time, just chit chatting like it was regular.

I was feeling a little delirious having not really eaten anything and coming off an overnight flight. When we made it back to Iku's I tried to appreciate the beautiful Japanese meal Iku's mom had made, but I had to get under the kotatsue and put my head on a pillow.

Cara sat next to me and we snuggled a little and Rory probably tried to play footsie with me under the kotatsue or something.

It felt like we were hanging out on Sylvan street! Everyone sitting on the floor and me falling asleep while everyone was hanging out.

Then Brad came!
Japan friends and Greensboro friends collided! We all slept in the same room! We all woke up together! We all ate breakfast together!

The next afternoon the four of us took a bus to Naruto. I got my car and Cara, Rory and I were off to the deep inaka of Ikeda.

Cara cut my hair, we made french toast, and I used all three of my coffee cups at the same time.
We went up to Hashikuasan temple. It was the middle of the afternoon, on a weekday, so no one was really up there.


The top of the mountain was quiet and peaceful. And some remains of snow allowed for an old fashioned snowball fight.

We sang Dick in a Box and made a short clip of PALs in Japan.

The following day Cara and Rory headed to school with me. The entire day was dedicated to question and answer sessions, with the entire school. 1st and 2nd grade. Then 5th and 6th grade. Then 3rd and 4th grade.

We played games with the 3rd and 4th grade and ate lunch with the 5th and 6th grade.
That night we HIT Ikeda TOWN!
We ate Okinawan food and headed to Bar G to get our drink on. Then things got crazy at the snack bar.

Snack bars are over priced karaoke bars. Woman come from various parts of Asia to wear slutty clothes and bring in some Yen from Japanese business men.

Cara and I sang Milkshake and got our dance on.
The old Japanese men thought we were crazy and the snack bar hostesses thought we were cute.

I was wearing overalls and a turtle neck. Another time in my life when I found myself with more clothes on than all of the females in the bar combined.

Rory and I held hands and sang Simon and Garfunkel's -America and I think it was decided that it is one of the best songs ever written.

Then the snack lady asked, "How about Britney Spears?"
Cara and I said, "Hell yea!"
And we sang Hit me Baby one more Time.

About the time I finally got rid of my hangover we boarded an overnight bus for Tokyo.
We arrived in Tokyo early Saturday morning and things just continued to work out.
We went to the fish market early that morning and the National Science Museum that afternoon. We found a lovely sushi restaurant for lunch and I continued to gorge myself on dessert food.

As our time together winded down I had picked up a cold and was totally exhausted from all my travels. That just made the entire situation feel regular.
But instead of a overwhelming lethargic feeling coming from slight depression and substance abuse, as I experienced in Greensboro. I was wiped out from feeling overly stimulated with joy and enthusiasm from the past 2 and a half weeks.

We said our goodbyes Sunday morning on a subway car and as Cara and Rory disappeared into the tunnel I could still not believe that they had actually come to Japan!

I left Tokyo that night after having successfully navigated around the city and spent some time in a thrift shop that was playing a Sublime covers CD.

It was a phenomenal couple of weeks.

Monday was a holiday and the first day I had to myself, not traveling, since December 22nd.
I walked around Ikeda, Ipod in tow and listened to Sleater- Kinney- Modern Girl on repeat. Yea, that is a little cheesy, but I could not have dreamed up a better couple weeks.

But now that that is over with I am wondering what is next ...

Monday, January 14, 2008

Laos and the Gibbon (or large tree rat) Experience

Brad, Ann, and I hit the road for Laos on the 30th.
We took a bus to Chiang Kong, a town that borders on Laos, and hung out there for an evening.
We stayed at the Bamboo Forest Hostel. There was a Mexican theme, proclaiming itself as a place where "Thailand meets Mexico."

To say the least the entire thing was genius.

On New Years Eve we took a boat across the river to Houyxai, Laos.

We all got real fresh and hit the small town.


After we all had a Beer Lao we got up enough courage to walk in on what we thought was the bad ass New Years party.
Turns out it was a funeral. But it was definitely the best party in town that night. The Laotians warmly accepted us crashing the party. An old man fed us shots and weird food till we had to leave in fear of the hangover that would happen if we stayed.

New Years Day was the beginning of our big hike with The Gibbon Experience.
A group of 7 of us put our lives in the hands of two Laotian guides.
We hiked deep into the forest, put on harnesses and zip lined across tree tops.
by night we slept in a tree house. We fell asleep to the brightest stars I have ever seen and woke up to what sounded like a nature sounds CD.

This a kinda bad video I took while zipping across the jungle:

video

The first evening in the tree house we played charades and created the new category- diseases. Ann and I preformed so well at this category that we earned the name Disease Queens.

The second day we hiked to a water fall where I pretended like I was in Fern Gully.


And Brad had some quality time with our guide, Juni

The Gibbon Experience is marketed as an opportunity to spot some Gibbons or other animals in their natural habitat.
The only animal we saw was a large rat in our tree house on the second night.
None of us were too bummed about it though.
The group dynamics were good and we all survived, which was the most important part.
When we made it back on the 3rd day we clutched our beer Lao like a well deserved trophy.
Upon return to Houyxai my sister ended up getting sick in the night.
She woke up that morning whispering in my ear about the possibilities of malaria or denki fever.
As a stroked her warm forehead I ended up spotting a bat climbing into the room through the window fan. It wasn't an ideal situation to get sick in.
After Brad and I feared her death she ended up turning around and pulling through.

The next evening I woke up in the night. hallucinating and turning up my insides.
But we needed to get out of Houxyai. I drank lots of Coke and water and we flew out of an airport complete with bamboo huts.

Brad and I spent the last leg of the journey in Luang Prabang, Laos. While Ann made her way back to Chiang Mai.

We arrived at the most charming guest house and had to wait an hour for the room. Brad explored while I waited on the front porch.
My stomach hurt and all I wanted was to take a hot shower and sleep. When I was about to put my head down on the porch table and cry the owner of the guest house brought me a cup of lemon tea.
Like every time I want to put my head down and cry here in Asia, someone appears to help me out.

That day Brad and I walked around the town of Luang Prabang. The only thing we did not capture on film was the moment I barfed on the sidewalk.
I am pretty sure it was food poisoning though because after that I felt much better.

I was able to enjoy banana smoothies made on the street.
Flies crowded the blender and we even spotted a bonus bee hanging around the produce section when we order one smoothie.
But the fruit was fresh and when we told them not to load the smoothies with sugar it was delicious.

Like most people who visit Laos, I feel in love with it.
The country kicked my ass like an abusive boyfriend, making me beg for forgiveness.
Laos and I both forgave each other and I promised I would come back to it.

Va Keki in Chiang Mai

Rewind.

To three weeks ago, when I arrived at the Atlantic Hotel in Bangkok and I was naive to all the adventures my future would hold. But I was real excited and took a series of pictures of myself in the mirror.

My adventure truly began in Naruto.
I dropped my car off and grabbed a ride with two strangers. One of whom was a four year old Japanese girl- really cute, obviously. The person in the driver seat happened to be a Japanese woman who learned English in America.
"What city?" I asked.
"Pittsburgh," she replied.
Wow!!!! Hey God, thanks for the positive sign at the beginning of the trip!

From Bangkok I flew to Chiang Mai where my sister and I started the vacation off right. Eating lots of delicious food and speaking unedited English over cups of coffee.

We spent Christmas Eve at a wine bar where a plump British man was enthusiastically serving mince pie.


Christmas morning we woke up with the exact same thought ...
Our mother was not climbing the stairs to the den of eternal adolescence (the attic bedroom of 105 Inglewood Dr.) to tell us in a soothing voice, "Girls, Nana and Papa are going to be here any minute, so if you want to take a shower you might want to go ahead and do that now."
And we were not in the States to moan about how we cannot get up because we were watching television, in the basement till the sun came up, on one of the hundreds of movie channels.

Instead, we had gone to bed fairly early so we were able to climb on the motor bike, before noon, and speed around Chiang Mai to shop and pet dirty street dogs.



Brad showed up to Chiang Mai on the evening of the 26th and got on the phone, that evening, with one of his friend's, Jon who was also in Thailand.

Jon, who is currently teaching in Korea, also decided to hit up the land of warm weather for the holiday season with his friend, Tom.

The next day the three boys and I went up to Doi Suthep Temple.

Much like most of the temples I have strolled into, alongside Brad, it was breathtaking and I found another piece of the puzzle that is the meaning of life.

Then the four of us went on a hike at a nearby national park.
We saw one of the coolest trees in the world on our hike.

Hiking with three other boys was exhausting. I fell on the slippery rocks when we finally made it to the waterfall.

My favorite temple in Chiang Mai was the one that served organic vegetarian food. I was really excited about it because healthy eating is the new trendy thing I am into.

It certainly was delicious. But, Brad is allergic to peanuts and being that peanuts are featured in much Thai cuisine he had a bad reaction to some of the food.
My sister had been feeling under the weather as well so we decided to take it in.
We went back to my sisters apartment where we pulled the blinds shut, watched episodes of The Sopranos and two movies. One of the movies being The Devil and Daniel Johnston, which I had never seen before and I recommend it to anyone else who has not seen it.

We finally got our act together enough to order a pizza ... that was delivered to the door!
When the pizza was gone we decided a piece of cake was in order. So we went across the street to the kind of restaurant where everyone drinks blue drinks.
But the cake was MARVELOUS.
Thus, the vacation turned into va-keki. Keki being the Japanese word for cake.
I have not really stopped eating too much cake since.