Saturday, January 31, 2009

When another place becomes another home

Flashback to three years ago from today...

I'm in my small room at Thompson Markward Hall, still unpacking things and getting settled. Although I don't know anyone here and I'm not used to big city life, I feel like I'm ready to begin my semester internship in Washington, D.C. "It will be an adventure."

Where has time gone that it's already been three years?

It's with fondness that I look back on my time as a resident of Capitol Hill. In many ways, I can compare my experience in Washington, D.C. to living in Japan.

I was living away from my family and good friends. I met many new people and made some life-long friendships. I tried new things and saw new places. I learned a lot. I grew as a person.

Being from the Midwest, I was living in a different culture -- a faster-paced culture where I was surrounded by people wearing black suits and talking politics. (At least they were speaking English! Even still, I didn't always understand.) :)

I have a lot of great memories from Washington, D.C. Some are memories from the internship, as a member of "Team Lugar."
(pictured below)

Other memories are of fun times with my galfriends who I lived with at TMH.

It was after nearly four months of living on my own in D.C. that I knew I wanted to take it to the next level after graduating from college -- by living in another country, experiencing another part of the world.

And here I am. :) I'm still trying to live life to the fullest, knowing that in a few years from now I'll be thinking about the experiences and memories from my time in Asia.

I say Asia instead of Japan because I want to travel to other (relatively) nearby countries while I'm living in Kuji.

In fact, I'm very excited because I just made the initial deposit for a trip to the Philippines!! It's a Habitat for Humanity trip during the first week of May (which is Golden Week in Japan, so I already had days off work.) I'll be part of a team of 12 ALT's going to build houses. Of course I'll keep you posted on this opportunity!

My plans for traveling this year also include South Korea in June to visit my friend Wendy (I already have the ticket booked!), traveling around Japan with my good friends Amanda, Lauren and Jennifer, and hopefully a trip to Singapare and Malaysia in December with my friend Ariel!!

I really want to make the most of this time to experience Asia.

After all, time goes so quickly.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I adore all things sweet!

Let me introduce you to one of my very favorite places in all of Kuji.

Oh, how I love having a camera that takes pictures in the dark. :)

Actually, it might just be my VERY favorite place in all of Kuji. Crepe House Sweets.

As soon as you walk inside the door of this cozy venue, you'll be welcomed by the sweetest little lady who owns the shop. She works all day making delicious crepes and adorable ice cream creations.

I want to know how she stays so thin with a job like this!

You'll imediately notice that the walls are completely covered with pictures of customers posing with their treats.

If you look closely, you'll see that in between Ayaka and me is a picture of Ayaka and me. :)

After you've placed your order (which can be hard to do since there are so many wonderful options of crepe fillings and ice cream flavors), it's time to sit back and relax. Grab a notebook from the rack and doodle or write a message. Or in my case, also study Japanese.

Here's a little doodle-message I made in one of the notebooks. :) That's hot strawberry milk {yummy} in the cups behind the notebook.

I like to look at what other folks have doodled. This doesn't even qualify as a doodle; it's a work of art! There are some seriously talented people who visit the sweets shop. I've noticed that many of my students are extremely artistic as well -- especially at drawing anime (Japanese cartoon) characters.

Time to chow down! There's berry ice cream somewhere underneath the mountain of whipped cream, the corn puff decorations and the heart candies on top!

Ayaka and I agree that it is never too cold for ice cream. (As long as you're eating it inside, anyway.) And we also agree that Crepe House Sweets is the place to go.

The atmosphere is homey. The prices are great. The service is wonderful. The food is scrumptious.

What a sweet deal!

Monday, January 26, 2009

A day that was good for my soul

Fresh air and sunshine do wonders for my spirit.

I'm excited to say that the weather was nice enough yesterday morning for me to take a walk! Forget the gym.

So I listened to worship songs on my iPod while I strolled to church. I also played around with my new camera and took the pictures you see below. 'Twas lovely.

Winter is so much easier to cope with when the sun is out. Can I get an "Amen!?!"

Even if there wasn't a dolphin pictured on this sign, I would still know what it says. :) (ドルフイン = dolphin) It makes me so happy when I can read the signs! By the way, stop signs are triangular in Japan.

It's common to see the windshield wipers like this when a car is parked outside overnight.

The sky is so blue in this picture! Here's the view of Kuji from church...

And here's what the sermon in church was about...

Sean told me that this says we should love our neighbors in the same way that God loves us. (愛 = love) That's the gist of it, anyway. :) It's so refreshing to me to be in the midst of other believers -- whether I understand everything that's going on around me or not!

Look who I saw on my walk back...

None other than Tomoki, riding his bike as usual. Although it was a nice day, it was NOT warm enough to be outside without a coat!!! I wish!

As many times as I've been down this street, I'd never seen this giant picture before. Tomoki said that underneath it says "I'm always angry," or something scary like that. Tomoki is actually a happy kid, but this posed picture might lead you to believe otherwise.

The day continued to be refreshing since I met my friend Ayaka at the "sweets place." (I'm a firm believer that sweet treats are very good for the soul!) I love that little place so much and could easily rave on about it. So I think that in my next blog I will do just that. :) Stay tuned!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Workin' on my fitness

I *attempted* (key word) to play badminton with my students yesterday.

There are no videos of this. On purpose. :)

I haven't played badminton since gym class during my junior year of high school. So it's been a while. I used that as my excuse for why I have issues with the sport.

But the truth is that I'm athletically-challenged. Racquets, bats, balls, discs, clubs -- it doesn't matter. If it requires hand-eye coordination, I'm going to struggle.

The good news is that despite my complete inability to serve the stubborn birdie, I still had a lot of fun. I just couldn't help but laugh at myself. The bad news (or maybe it's not so bad) is that my students also couldn't help but laugh at me as they witnessed my losing battle with the birdie! I may not have contributed many points, but at least I provided some entertainment. Score!

I continued the day in a spirit of amusement and athletics.

With an open mind, a smile on my face and an athletic suit on my body, I ventured after work to a somewhat intimidating place...

The Gym.

I figured that it's about time for me to start workin' on my fitness. Now is the best time of year to go to the gym. It's so cold outside that I try to avoid walking anywhere, which isn't good. I sit too much.

So I enjoyed my nice (warm!) walk around the track, followed by a lovely time riding a stationary bike while reading a good book.

But before I could do these heart-healthy activities, I had to go through an orientation on how to use the machines in the training room. That's what was amusing.

I had three staff people there to help me understand the equipment. None of them spoke English, which seemed to flustered them a bit. I think there were three of them so they could offer each other support!

It wasn't really a problem because I learned a long time ago to just smile, nod and say "OK." It truly makes things easier. However, I really did understand (most of) what my three "personal trainers" said. Besides, I've used gym equipment before. (Shocking, I know.)

I'm not sure how often I'll go visit my new friends/trainers at the gym. I'll definitely be back, though.

I need to work on my badminton skills...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

News that everyone knows

America has a new president.

I think the whole world knows it. At least, I know first-hand that Japan is well aware of what happened in Washington, D.C. yesterday.

It's all over the news.

I watch Japanese news on TV for three reasons:

1. I like to have background noise while I'm cleaning, cooking, getting ready for the day, etc.
2. It's interesting to see (and try to understand!) what they're talking about.
3. It's a good way to learn Japanese -- through osmosis. (Unfortunately, I don't think it's working. Learning Japanese requires a lot more effort than turning on a TV and barely listening to it. But #3 sounds good, anyway.)

I had the news on for 30 minutes this morning, and I couldn't help but notice that the focus the entire time was Obama and the inauguration.

Here's a little sample of today's Japanese news for you:
(I got a new camera for Christmas, so now I can take videos and upload them directly to my blog. Yay!)

I do understand a few words of this. (Other than "Obama," "Washington" and "America," which you probably caught, too, if you watched it.) I wish that I understood more, though. It would be fascinating to learn about this historical moment in American history through the perspective of Japanese media.

I'm not sure if my students watch the news, but they seem to know a lot about American politics. It's pretty impressive.

Yesterday at Okawame Jr. High School, I spoke about my winter vacation. I told them that I went to Washington, D.C. I added, "But I did not see Obama." Immediately, one of my students said, "YES, we can!!" That not only made me chuckle, but the rest of the class also laughed.

They definitely know who Obama is, and they understand what's going on in America.

I really need to study Japanese -- which is my New Year's Resolution -- so I can better understand what's going on and being said around me!

Monday, January 19, 2009

A girl can daydream

Let me give you a glimpse of where I've continually been in my mind.

A silhouette of palm trees...

Pretty pastel colors in the sky, along with bright orange. Soak in the warmth...

Standing with my toes in the sand, watching as the sun gets ready to slip under the horizon...

There it goes. So beautiful. Such wispy clouds...

Reality check.

There are no palm trees. Only frozen trees.
The sky looks dull. There are no warm colors or warm air.
My toes aren't in the sand. Sometimes I can't even feel my toes!

This is my current situation. These are probably the circumstances of most of you reading this right now. But we must overcome our frigid surroundings! While we put boots on our feet, let's also put smiles on our faces! We will perservere!

This is what I'm telling myself.

For the most part, it's working. I'm a positive person with determination. Although I don't like the cold, I will deal with it.

I walked around in the chilly air yesterday because people were selling things--mostly produce--along the streets. I wanted to support those folks who were willing to sit outside for hours at a time. Lord, bless them.

The bright sun lit up the sky, helping to warm my spirit. I thought about how that exact same sun was also shining (and setting) over tropical places. I thought about how I'd like to be at those places.

Obviously I'm still thinking about it. I enjoy looking at the above pictures, which I took in Florida just a few weeks ago, wishing that I could still be there with my family and grandparents. And this morning I was looking at photos taken in Nicaragua last year, thinking about the happy memories with great friends and the warm times.

That doesn't change the present. But a girl can daydream, right? :)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Getting back into the swing of things

I'm back in Kuji and back to blogging about it. :)

I had a wonderful vacation. It really couldn't have been much better, honestly. I didn't intend to take a vacation from writing, but that's what happened since I kept very busy.

So now I'm approximately 15 blog posts behind. No kidding. Here are some of the highlights from the past three weeks that I could easily write one or two posts about:

  • The journey Liz and I took to Tokyo -- Wandering around Morioka for a day; being awake the entire night bus ride to Tokyo due to the man snoring behind me; going to the Imperial Palace grounds since it was the Emperor's birthday; getting to see the Emperor make a speech while we waved Japanese flags and shouted "bonzai!!" (which apparently means "Long live the Emperor!") Priceless.

  • My trip from Tokyo to Indianapolis -- Being extremely lucky to fly out of Seattle since the airport had been closed the day before; having no problems flying out of Chicago, where there were many delays and cancellations; finally seeing my family -- a fantastic welcome committee -- behind the glass wall at the new, gorgeous airport.

  • Christmas Day -- Celebrating with the entire Sease side of my family (pictured below) as well as my very good friend Ariel!

  • Spending a week in Florida -- Quality time with my other grandparents, walks on the beach, sunbathing, perfect weather, a nice boat ride, swimming. Ah, paradise. (It's so cold here in Kuji. The ground is covered in snow, and I miss Florida!)

  • Hanging out with friends -- Going to Franklin and catching up with great friends, a celebratory dinner where I got whipped cream in my face, lots of laughter (as usual), helping three of my friends book tickets to Japan (they're visiting the entire month of June!), meeting up with the group of students from Kuji.

  • Being a "homestay family" -- Hosting Marina and Shiori at my house for a few days; having an ice cream party with them at 3 a.m. on the first night since none of us could sleep!; hanging out with them at Franklin Community Middle School for two days; touching sharks at the zoo as well as a real dinosaur bone at the Children's Museum; watching the girls have a great experience in Indiana.

  • Sightseeing in Washington, D.C. -- Playing "tour guide" for the group; going to the monuments and memorials, Arlington Cemetery and a few of the Smithsonian museums; seeing the Capitol building set up for the Inauguration.

  • The trip from D.C. to Kuji -- The 15-hour plane ride to Tokyo; watching practically every movie shown on the flight; checking on the students every couple of hours and at one point having a small "party" near the lavatory; finally arriving to the hotel in Tokyo; watching the group dig into bowls full of rice at breakfast, haha; *almost* getting my luggage stuck in the doors of the bullet train (you have to move quickly!); being part of a welcome ceremony for the group yesterday at City Hall.

Wow, no wonder I'm tired! I'm sure it sounds like I did enough for two months. But oddly, now that I'm back at my desk, it doesn't feel like I was gone long at all!

Time flies when you're having fun. True story.