Monday, May 26, 2008

My love affair with the Keystone State

Since moving to Japan Pennsylvania has felt like home more than ever.
In the last 2 months I have spent precious time with quality Western Pennsylvanians.
I guess it could be traced back to August when I convinced Brad to be my friend by telling him that I am from the great city of Pittsburgh.
Since then I have shared moments of PA comfort with Brad's hometown friends (in order of appearance) Julia, Jon, Jordan, Ant, and Cris.

A couple weeks after I recovered from an evening of Pennsylvanian driver's license holding fools, Julia and Jordan, invading Naruto I got on a bus to Kyoto to hang with Jon, a young man who grew up in Cranberry PA, a place not too far from Mt.Lebanon.

Jon came by ferry from South Korea, where he is currently teaching English.

We screamed the Steelers Super Bowl song into karaoke microphones and picked up some South Americans with the crazy dance moves that, I am convinced, people learn when growing up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh.

The following weekend I drove to Naruto to meet Ant and Cris who flew from Philadelphia to Japan for three weeks of travel. In true hometown fashion, we kept the neighbors up for all hours of the night.

That Saturday afternoon we slowly made our way through Iya's mountains to the double vine bridges with just enough sunlight to enjoy them without having to pay the daytime 500 yen fee.

That evening the four of us individually crept from the campfire to the three person tent. Pushing logs around in the fire, clutching beers, and being somewhat unprepared for a night in a crowded tent was a routine that reminded me of camping in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania.

The next day we hiked up Mt. Turugisan, the highest mountain in Tokushima.

When I hugged Ant and Cris goodbye that Monday morning I was pretty convinced that I would not be seeing them again until I was on American soil.
But when they called me from the Ikeda train station Wednesday evening I was more than thrilled to share my small, mountain side, space that few people ever make it out to.

They popped in on my favorite elementary school to eat lunch, sign autographs, and help the kids clean.
I am sure some of the children will have a vaguely frightening memory of Western sized Ant lingering around their outdoor shoe cubbies.

The Pennsylvania visitors are all out of sight at this point but this new love affair is only growing stronger. For the next two months I will stay couped up in Japan dreaming of July 16th when I get to step off an airplane and kiss the ground of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The Keystone state and I will then spend a romantic two and a half weeks together until I board a plane to return to Japan on August 2nd.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Offically not creepy

The other day I was at my favorite school and I was handed a sticker to put on my car. It was described as "child safety." That statement seemed important, so I inquired further. The detailed description I was then given was "help from bad man." And of course this narrative featured some charades.

The translation of this new automobile accessory is that children will know that I have a sort of safe car. For example, if the bad man is on the prowl then my car and the person driving my car is there to help the child.

I would not have been so eager to put that sticker on my Jeep. But these days, I drive home from work, hope that there is tuna sushi or tomatoes on sale at the grocery store and I do not have to worry about any of the creeps that might need a ride to work. This Toyota is my car, the only person who relies on it is me and I can say with all confidence that I will help keep all bad men out of this town I drive around in.

I placed this sticker on my windshield with as much delicacy as my fingers allow. I am sure most other women of Ikeda are able to eyeball a perfectly straight line between this sticker and their windshield. But I have not been so fortunate as to spend my childhood outside placing rice in strategic lines as part of the school day and I will not spend my old age folding my tea ceremony napkin with sensitive precision.

But because I am taking on these slightly awkward tasks in my 24th year my mouth waters at the thought of that September rice harvest, I genuinely slurp every sip of my green tea after I have stirred it and and placed my hands on their choreographed place on my tea cup and I want to keep every nonnative word that comes out of my mouth that a Japanese person can then keep for their own knowledge.

Monday, May 12, 2008

I prefer not working to working

During the end of April and beginning of May there are a series of Japanese holidays. This time is referred to as Golden Week. A number of Japanese people asked me about American Golden Week. When I explained that there is not one they could not believe it because the overall perception of the USA is that there are always holidays and time off.

The first in this series of holidays is April 29th. This holiday was originally the Emperor's birthday and is now known as Showa Day. This year April 29th fell on a Tuesday. I had to go to work that Monday and Wednesday so I spent Monday night watching so many episodes of Gossip Girl that it began to blend with my emotions about real life.

On the Saturday of the Golden Week weekend I broke a sweat as I walked to the Ikeda train station. I boarded the express train and applied sunscreen as I listen to Erin Mckeown's "Better Wife" twice.
Saturday and Sunday afternoon was spent outside with my number one priority being to get good use out of my new sunglasses and open toed shoes.

May 4th is Nature Day. It was an appropriate time hike up Mt. Ishizuchi, the tallest Mountain in Shikoku. Five other folks (who are currently residing in Tokushima) and I took the rope way to about 1300 meters and hiked for two hours to reach the 1982 meter peak.

As you can tell from the above detailed map, it was a very steep hike. Unfortunately, this was the only day in this series of holidays that was not clear and sunny. The higher we hiked the denser the clouds got and by the time we reached the top we could barely see 10 feet in front of us. Though the energies exerted were well worth it.
On the way up we saw some May mountainside snow and said plenty of breathless "Konichiwa's" as we passed other hikers on the same trek.

This spring vacation wrapped up with a lovely picnic on my favorite of the Golden Week Holidays, Children's Day, a day to celebrate the children that make up the family. Then everyone in Japan had to drag themselves back to a three- day work week.

"There is a damn good reason for a change of season" -Dr. Dog

Saturday, May 3, 2008

$1600 is a lot of money

I used to have this reoccurring nightmare that the world was coming to an end and there were zombies involved. I would be running away from the zombies and I would have to pick who to hide from them with. My friends in North Carolina or my family in Pittsburgh.
This dream stemmed from my love/hate relationship with the film 28 Days Later.

The first time I saw 28 Days Later I went with Amy Smith and I was a senior in high school. My parents were out of town and I insisted on sleeping at her house that entire weekend in fear that I would be infected with The Rage if I slept alone at Inglewood Dr.

Perhaps that is how this film became a catalyst in my anxieties as to where home is. In this dream I would find myself with one or the other, friends or family and whomever I was without I would miss. Am I supposed to spend my time on this soon to be demolished earth with my friends whom I love like family or my family whom I am lucky enough to often love like friends?

I now wake up (on the floor) thankful that the dream I had about the earthquake was only a dream. In my new reoccurring nightmare I am stuck in an earthquake. I either get trapped in my apartment and cannot leave or I am in my car and I do not know how to handle the situation. In both cases, I am alone.

Home is no longer two different places. But one giant, glorious place called the US of A. I now feel as if I could live anywhere in that country and feel like I am home. I am hoping I can get to that one place I call home this summer, but I have never dished out that amount of money for anything ....

I did happen to catch my niece Caroline when I rang my mother at my midnight and her noon. Caroline put down her own bag of chips and got on the phone to tell me, in her best Pearl the Landlord voice, "Come to my house. Eat chips."

At that moment, I was pretty sold on the idea of spending my life savings to eat some Pringles in the suburbs.
When Caroline and I got off the phone, her mother explained that "Aunt Caity is far away. Like Dora."

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Weird things are normal. Normal things are weird.

And this is why I have not blogged in awhile.
There is not too much to be said. At least, my internal monologue of how crazy things are has had a significant decrease. That being said, I am not too sure what it is I think about considering most conversations I have take place in slow motion allowing for at least 45 seconds of daydream time between stanzas of a so-called conversation.

Green scenery has returned to Ikeda, so my Monday morning drive to Kawasaki Elementary School has once again become one of the highlights of my life. I teach the entire school at Kawasaki. All 9 students, grades 2-6. And that is normal.

This Monday I skipped out on the Hakuchi Community monthly Awa Dance practice. But I did run into a woman I meet the last time I was there. And she made me go to her car with her where she had gifts for me and the friends I brought to the last one I attended. That was normal too.

Wednesday's are some of my favorite days. On Wednesday, Ashely and I go to Ikeda gym where we share equipment with Japanese people who do not wipe it down after they use it. And that is also normal.
Wednesday's are good because I am guaranteed to have at least an hour and a half of native English conversation. On Monday's or Tuesday's it is possible that I will climb into bed and realize I did not have one solid conversation where both parties really understood what was being said.

On any normal Thursday, I might drive pass a pilgrim who is walking the 88 temple route on Shikoku. I might look out a window while I am teaching a class at Sano or Umaji Elementary and see there bamboo walking stick hit the ground in the same rhythm as their feet.

This last Friday was normal when I paid roughly $40 for a work drinking party. It was normal to find myself about an hour into a conversation with a man, at least twice my age, whose name I had completely forgotten, though he repeated it more than once. When he told me he would not vote for Hilary Clinton because he would not trust a woman to run a country I was not surprised. And when we later laughed and his hand happened to brush across my thigh (though this was not exactly normal) I was not startled.

And that Saturday night it seemed normal enough to want to stay in to watch The Hills on the internet. But when Brad convinced me that we should walk up to the highway to hitch a 15 minute ride into the city I was not surprised when three Japanese girls in their early 20's, armed with many cigarettes were the first ones to stop.

And it was not unexpected that this then happened till about 5 a.m.

And waking up with a sore back when I deserve my few hours sleep on an actual bed as opposed to some futon on the floor has unfortunately also become a normal part of life.

Spending a Sunday at a mall to look at shirts like this
is a normal that I do not know how I lived without.

When I find a pair of shoes that fit my feet or understand the interaction that involves a man telling me how much I will need to pay for my glasses and what day of the week they will be ready, things are not normal.