Wednesday, April 29, 2009


I have now made it off the Island of Shikoku on not just a bus, train, and ferry, but a bike too.
The Shimanami-Kadio is a 70km route that includes six bridges, running over small islands in the Seto Inland Sea to connect Ehime Prefecture (in Shikoku) to Hiroshima Prefecture (in Honshu).
Christine and I had been planning to bike that 140km round trip journey for some weeks. The weekends preceding our trip were beautiful. Last Saturday we woke up in my apartment to a heavy rainfall. We got in the car regardless and got on our bikes at about noon, just as the rain let up.
Having the time to bike or walk somewhere is a privilege. The evenings I have spent on a bicycle taking the route that I typically drive to school I notice intricacies that could easy go unnoticed for two years in a car.
The bridges that provide an exit off Shikoku are far bigger when traveling by bike than by bus.
While I was pedaling I thought about all the times I drove from Pittsburgh to North Carolina. And how it is possible to walk this route. I spent the following hours primarily in my head, occasionally eating the chocolate almonds in my backpack and talking with Christine when we momentarily paused, I thought more about this hike I wanted to do and the hikes I have done in the past. I also thought about the job I have now and the jobs I have had in the past. The thoughts that involved movement and being outside were far more pleasant than the thoughts that involved international school lunches and a computer screen being an important means of escape.

We arrived in Onomichi City in Hiroshima at about 5 p.m. Naturally, there was a festival. Which meant there was festival food. Christine and I found the French fries. They were especially salty. We stood over our bikes and ate them. Not needing to speak about how delicious and special French fries are.

Andrew, Emma, Maya, and Sarah had started biking a few hours after us and met us around 7 p.m. that evening. We went to a delicious izakaya where we sufiecently gorged on food, drank beer, and met a drunk old man who, naturally, talked to us too much.
The following morning the six of us turned around to return to Shikoku. There was no rain, but a strong wind blowing in the opposite direction we were cycling.
Before each bridge is a 90 meter uphill ramp. Once on the bridge it is a straight ride followed by a rewarding downhill ramp. Other celebratory moments were spent on the islands, sharing momentary instances with the sun.
We cycled to my car as dark clouds rolled in once again and drove towards the rain. Then back to routines of ignition, gas, brake, and deep breaths in front of a computer.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Let Them Eat Cake

I ended my fifth period class ten minutes early today for a cake party. The ten students at Kawasaki elementary school were ushered into the lunch room. A cake was pulled out of a box. The students and staff applauded. The finest plates and forks were distributed as the students lined up according to grade level to wash their hands. Tea was poured, the cake was cut, passed out, and everyone took their seat. The oldest male student at the school then stood in front of the room to formally thank the teacher who had brought the cake. He finished his speech and bowed. Everyone then put their hands together and recited "itadakimaus," a phrase that is said before partaking in the consumption of food in Japan.

As we ate the cake I asked the students about their favorite part of the cake. Most students said they liked the whipped cream the most. I liked the hard chocolate in the middle. The six year old boy sitting next to me told me his favorite part was the "sponge." We all agreed that the strawberries were sweet.

Everyone finished the cake, nodding in agreement that it was supremely delicious. My sixth period class then started fifteen minutes late.

Escape Route

On Saturday afternoon I took my tights off in the park because it was too hot. There was Mexican food, a blanket, Easter chocolate that melted in the sun, and most importantly, talk of an escape route.
The sun was set. Eyes were closed. Someone mumbled Ulan Bator. Then someone mumbled Irkutsk.

Monday, April 20, 2009

5 Things I Want Right Now

-To sit on indoor furniture outside.
-To hear southern accents.
-To share an actual big bed with someone.
-To easily read the menu.
-To appreciate these moments before all gravity is lost.

p.s. I also want a MacBook and a nice camera.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Creative Nonficiton

Currently reading Tiziano Terzani's A Fortune Teller Told Me.
A true story of a man who went to see a fortune teller in Hong Kong in the Spring of 1976. The fortune teller told him not to fly in 1993. When that year came he was a journalist based in Bangkok, not willing to give up his international life style or get on an airplane.

In college I studied English literature. In the post-college book club, Paper Cutz we primarily read fiction that, I suppose, could be classified as classics.

Recently, I have been appreciating creative nonfiction more than I have ever appreciated any genre. Terzani writes a secondary source to my own life as he describes the whole of Japanese society "in a straight jacket, the people are always playing a part and cannot behave naturally" (216).
And I find answers to cultural questions I have had about peoples expectations "in Asia (where) gratitude is more binding than any contract"(231).
Meanwhile, I am awoken to lines of factual poetry: "It was the sort of dawn that leaves you with an eternal sense of nostalgia"(261).

Monday, April 13, 2009


I have spent more time with family in the last few months than I ever did while living in North Carolina.
My aunt, uncle, and other cousin came to visit Leah over spring break. On their last night in Japan we celebrated the first night of Passover. Leah invited one of her former teacher's to the Seder. A cross-cultural explanation was attempted.
The night ended as we sipped the remains of the ten year aged ume-shu that Leah and I acquired in Nara. Bill read excerpts of his travel journal. He began with arriving at the terminal in Japan. He described Leah at the gate, waiting and "beautiful as always."


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Hanging On

Come August I will let go of everything.
My job. My health insurance. My paycheck. My apartment.
Everyday I have moments of complete horror. I think about things like references and resumes. What my parents house looks like in the middle of the day. Free internet at Panera Bread.

Then I have moments of feeling completely free. For the first time in my life I have no educational obligations. No lease. No partner to make geographic locational promises to. No debt. No desire to prove myself based on how much money I make or how professional my work wear must be. Only an urge for something bigger.

Things are no longer secure nor does cultural loneliness loom in the future.
Instead, every moment is fleeting and will soon be lost to overwhelming freedom.

But it is not just me, everything will lose grip soon.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Little Sister

In Southeast Asia people eat spicy food and sit outside. Tourist drink beer on the porch of their, $3 a night, bungalow without a shirt on. Local kids walk around barefoot, selling things to white people, unsurprised by their blue eyes and curly hair. People that barely know each other touch each other. And I still cannot comprehend that this is a place that my older sister calls home. So many things exist in Thailand that I long for so often. Yet, when it is all in front of me it is overwhelming. To come from overcast days and solo cups of coffee to streets that are alive after midnight on a Tuesday is like being thrown into a bucket of ice water. And for the first time since I moved to Japan I left Japan without a partner in crime to stare at these exhibitions of lawlessness with in complete amazement.

I got ripped off by the cab driver on the ride from the Bangkok airport to Carl's apartment, arriving late Wednesday night.

Thursday morning Carl went to work and he pointed me in the direction of Jim Thompson's house. It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon alone in Bangkok. The house itself is a hardwood fantasy home. It is full of 19th and 20th Century Thai treasures matched to suit a New York City architect who appeared in only black and white photos.

Carl and I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Bangkok.
We boarded the night train at 6p.m. to Chiang Mai. The train pulled in around 8:30 a.m. taking about 12 more hours than the BKK to CM flight. Carl woke me up as the sun was rising. I climbed down into his cabin to drink bad coffee and watch light creep over the Thai countryside. It made flying feel like cheating. All things that take place between the departure point and arrival should be cherished a bit more. Perhaps the final destination is the point in engaging in travel, but the things that take place in between should not be rushed for they can bring unexpected pleasures as well.
Once we arrived in Chiang Mai Ann was host to her world of coffee shops and Burmese coworkers.

On Saturday night the three of us went to the SWAN (Shan Women's Action Network) ten-year anniversary celebration. There was loads of delicious free food, dancing, and a documentary. The documentary was about two Shan children who want to attend school. They live in the mountains of a tangerine farm where their parents are waged laborers. Due to finances and location they have a difficult time trying to get to the school. In the end, they find a way to get the children to school and there are shots of the two boys happily reading off the blackboard and playing with schoolmates. After almost three years of working full time in the education field these Shan boys got me thinking, hey - I am a teacher and that feels good sometimes.
On Sunday afternoon I got a bus to the northern town of Pai. Ann and Carl had originally planned on coming but I was having attitude problems and it worked out best for all parties that I just go ... alone.
Pai is a backpackers playground. Spending about twenty minutes with another person translates into days in backpacker time. I rode around on the back of my new friends rented motorbikes and we went to the bar with all the other twenty-somethings who are traveling around Asia looking for something. Everyone talked about where they are from, where they have been, where they are going next, and how long they will be away for.
Some peoples trips around Asia are about drinking and putting notches in their belts. Others are about finding their zen and meditating. Everyones story was too self-indulgent and frivolous. I want my Asian story to be about educating and real relationships.
I left Pai the next day relieved to be in Thailand as someones little sister; perhaps not such a cliched character in the tale of a year or two spent in Asia.
The following day I drank coffee at Elliebum and got a ride to the Maesa Elephant Camp. The Elephants at the camp put on a show that includes picking up a paintbrush and creating a work of art. After feeding the elephants bananas and watching them roll around in the water I managed to get a pretty Thai girl to give me a ride down the hill to the orchid garden. The owner of the orchid garden then gave me a ride back into town and I could not have asked for a more pleasant day in my life.

Ann took the following work day off and we decided to go back to the elephant camp because it is a particularly magical place. And I determined that I must be either a baby or an old person based on the things that bring me pleasure.
And once again, elephants and sisters have been replaced by teacups and blankets.