Friday, July 31, 2009

Okuizumo-cho/奥出雲町

So I have arrived in the lovely town of Okuizumo. The name in kanji literally translates to something like "the inner departing cloud town" which sounds lovely but fairly inane. Ah, Japan.
I`m here with two other JETs- a guy from South Africa named Litha (prounounced lee-ta) and a guy from Seattle name Ian. Litha will be teaching at the two local High Schools and Ian is here with me at the Board of Education for the local elementary and middle schools. It`s such a relief to have not only someone here to share the embarrassment of being an obvious outsider and therefore curiosity; more importantly it`s essential to have someone else to speak English with. Because no one here speaks English. No one. Well, that`s a bit of an exaggeration. There`s apparently a Canadian guy who lives near Ian who is obviously quite proficient at English, but Ian and Litha and the Canadian guy live about twenty minutes away from me by car. And there are a couple people at the BOE who speak a smattering but not really enough to be a relief. Have you ever tried to sign up for trash removal or a phone plan in a language you have the proficiency of a second grader in? I think not.

That`s pretty much my only complaint so far. My co-workers are very kind. Last night we had a welcome reception where everyone drank the most fruity, delicious sake that has ever passed through these lips, and ate some interesting yet delicious food such as candied sweet potatoes and spicy shrimp. Ian`s supervisor got fairly drunk and started hiccuping and jabbering in bits of English- "local language" he kept saying.

My apartment is tiny and far away but very new and clean, complete with a washer (a prized possession in Japan) air conditioner, and television. This morning I watched a show teaching me Russian, Italian, and English in Japanese. It was quite fabulous; I can learn foreign languages and Japanese at the same time it seems. There is very little I will have to buy as my predecessor left me some awesome stuff including the all-important rice maker. The first night my supervisor, Fukuda-san, showed me how to use it. She lives about a five minute walk from my house- I met her family and everything. They are quite kind even though none of them speak a lick of English. The only two things I am really missing are a real bed (I`ve been sleeping on a mat on the floor) and internet. A bed I can live without but the internet I cannot. I`m not really supposed to be using the net at the BOE for personal things, but as I am here every day from eight in the morning to five at night I decided it can`t be helped. Anyway as soon as I get net in my apt you all will get a walking tour of the place.

As we signed up for our phones yesterday we`ll be getting them today, as well as our hanko/
判子 or personal stamp and our bank accounts. These are pretty essential things so I`m looking forward to it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Off to Shimane!


Hey guys. Off to Shimane. I have to fly in to Izumo, which is like Shimane's Indianapolis, and then drive to Okuizumo-cho, which is like Indiana's Frankfort. It could take me up to three weeks to get internet at my apartment so until then my times online will be few and far between. Shimane, here I come!

p.s. these were my roommates in Tokyo. The lady to the right of me had been a JET ten years earlier- she liked it so much the first time she did it again! And the girl on the far right is named Alli actually sat next to me on the way to Tokyo.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Breath Etiquette/ Communication


As many of you know I've arrived in Japan safe and sound- not even too jet-lagged due to my patented technique of staying awake the night before and then sleeping like a drunken zombie on the airplane. Life so far is pretty great. I've staved away homesickness by talking to a lot of people. The fact that my two favorite Japanese friends were awesome and took me out last night didn't hurt either. It was my first experience at an Izakaya, which is like a bar slash restaraunt slash awesome place to consume treats. It was so good to see them :) We tried an unusual drink that was supposedly made of soy milk, alcohol, and strawberries. It wasn't so terrible after you got over the fact that it tasted like liquid alcoholic tofu. Megumi is trying to convince me to run the Tokyo marathon or at least a half marathon in Kyoto which is a great idea except that I've gotten pretty lazy after the Indy mini. But we'll see.
This morning some friends and I ventured out to a convenience store for lotion and toothpaste and various other sundries. The toothpaste was labeled for "Breath Etiquette/Communication". It's this kind of statement that makes me love Japan.
Today is orientations all day, and tomorrow as well. On Wednesday I leave for my tiny town in my rural prefecture. Life is on a roll.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Back in the States

I successfully made it back to the US unscathed- I didn't even scratch my skin off on the ride home due to my one million mosquito bites! The flight home was mercifully short (Is it sick when you are actually THANKFUL the flight only takes nine hours? Sheesh. Now that I'm back home I miss the warm humid air and the sensual perfume of incense I came to associate with the country.

On Friday I leave for Chicago for a pre-departure orientation, and on Saturday I board the plane.
Wish me luck!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Water Puppets


In Vietnam there is a curious form of entertainment known as water puppets.

I'm really not sure of the logistics behind these things- it's not as if the puppeteer stands underneath the puppet like normal. Anyway we went to the Vietnamese Cultural Museum to see a real water puppet show. It was pretty cool even though I didn't exactly understand what was going on. The museum itself also was fairly interesting; there were a lot of old pots and dioramas of ancient battles. There were no interactive cyber-adventures or anything but what can you expect for 75 cents? Kimi, Moto and I took a pilgrimage to try and find the laser tag center in Saigon but we encountered a problem kind of unique to this country. It's not as if most businesses have their own website or anything here, and I don't think there is a phonebook. Streets are crowded with hundreds and hundreds of shops. So if you want to go somewhere you have to just know. We drove an hour to go to laser tag only to find out the address we'd secured was for a dentist's office. So we found the nearest mall, had a snack at the foodcourt, and returned home.
Today is my last day, and I intend to make the best of it.
video

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Nha Trang- Part Two

Our final two days in Nha Trang were spent at a resort called Vinpearl. It was located on an island which used to be a graveyard from the war. Apparently the island was bought by some Ukranian investors and then hundreds of monks from Thailand were brought in to cleanse the island from angry spirits. Now there is a gorgous hotel and spa, a theme park, an aquarium, and Indochina's largest swimming pool. Although there were fewer foreigners on this island, everything was still written in Vietnamese, English, and Russian which I thought was pretty cool. This island's beaches were pristine. The water was a clear deep blueish green and there were almost no waves. On both sides we were encircled by mountains and the sky was clear enough that we could see more islands far in the distance. Aside from the beach, my other favorite thing I saw there was a lady in the lobby doing traditional embroidery pictures. Embroidery, a craft in the States reserved for little old ladies, baby bibs, and thousand dollar machines here has really been turned into an art form. The pictures are worked on silk screen with silk thread and thousands and thousand of tiny stitches- all by hand. It was a really cool and unexpected art form to see.
We left late Friday evening- Moto, Erina and I spending waiting time in the airport drawing funny pictures of each other. It was almost a relief to get back to "normal" life at their house

Days

As for the lack of updates I must blame the introduction of Grand Theft Auto to my list of ways to wase time internationally. From this game I have learned three things- 1. If you are being chased by cops just hide. They will forget about you and then ignore you 2. Mini vans do not make good escape vehicles and 3. It is much easier to drive like a freaking lunatic than to drive normally.

Anyway, on Saturday ago we picked Motohide's little brother, Kimihide up from the airport so now the entire Ho family has assembled in Vietnam. He had just gotten in from Denmark, which is apparently a pretty cool place because the Danish drink like Vikings. It is also one of the most expensive places on Earth.


On Sunday we went to the War Museum which was really a somber experience. In the States learning about the Vietnam war we of course get the American perspective, which is a lot less harsh of course than the Vietnamese perspective. The images posted in the museum were brutal. Brutalized civilians, the effects of agent orange, ravaged towns- these were the images that crowded the walls at this museum. I felt so small. I can't believe the things people can do to each other sometimes.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Motorbike

This isn't a full post- I just wanted to say that I just rode home on a motorbike and it was pretty much the most fun thing I've ever done. That's all.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Nha Trang- Part One

My view from Sunrise Beach Hotel in Nha Trang, Vietnam- the first of two resorts we stayed at in the past four days. It was so beautiful and so much has happened that I hardly know where to begin. The city itself is much smaller and much less crowded than Saigon. The sea, although beautiful, was marred at this particular location because of how littered the beach was. My agenda for the past two days has been literally eat, swim, eat, and sleep. I'm sure I've eaten more in the past four days than I usually do in two weeks. Speaking of which, I got my first experience of a real seafood restaraunt. Now, eating at such a place for an eleven year veteran vegetarian who has only recently begun to eat seafood is not for the feint of heart. Such as when they caught our fish of choice from the tank and I had to hide before they killed it, or the plates of crabs and shrimp complete with eyes and claws and tiny tiny feet. Everything was so fresh- it was truly a seafood lover's paradise which of I was priveleged to partake. For me, it was certainly an experience. I also witnessed the first stoplight I saw in Vietnam- a thing rare and largely ignored when present. One night we rode in a cyclo (pronounced see-klo) which is basically a Vietnamese rickshaw. On this machine, the driver sits in the back on a bicylce and pushes the front carriage part containing the riders, as illustrated by coconuts in this photograph. Now to ride in a cyclo you have to bargain for the rate, like you have to do for many things here. But the man who offered to drive us was so old and frail I could hardly believe he could still ride the bicycle, let alone push around two full sized adults- so we just agreed to pay whatever he asked. Poor guy! But the ride was really enjoyable- it was night so the air was cool and the scenery moved along leisurely. On the final night we met a really cool guy born England whose parents were from Iraq. He had just graduated university with a degree in medicine and was celebrating by backpacking across the world- literally. He said though he'd been through so many countries none compared to Vietnam in how beautiful the land is and how kind the people are. I agree- my two days at Sunrise Hotel have certainly been filled with beauty and kindness

Monday, July 6, 2009

Vietnam



Today is my second morning in Vietnam. I'm pretty pleased that I did not succumb to jet lag yesterday- aided by the fact that Moto jumped on me at 10 am and asked "Are you awake?" Well I sure was then. Before lunch we went swimming- the cool water felt so pleasant in the hot hot sun. For lunch we joined his sister and parents at a Chinese restaurant. I had never had "REAL" chinese food before- this was really interesting. My favorite dish was this steamed shrimp sausage dumpling (unfortunately I ate too many and really regretted it later). It was soft and spicy and rich all at the same time. After that we went shopping and got to witness the power of bargaining- Moto's sister Erina is a real pro. She talked a lady down for me for a dress that started out at 250000 Dong to only 190000 by saying how I had just come all the way from the states and how she would invite all her friends to this lady's store. For reference seventeen thousand dong is about one US dollar. And interestingly enough the largest bill is 500000 Dong which is only like $30 US. Crazy huh?
Riding in a car her
e was my biggest culture shock. People very rarely drive cars themselves- they either use a taxi, have a driver, or use a motorbike. It was easy to see why as soon as we got on the road. Cars and bikes wove in and out of each other giving little regard to their near-death driving style. Horns are more like a polite "hello" or a statement "here I am!" and are administered freely and with little provocation. It was insane!
Anyway, after a delicious sushi dinner (natto sushi anyone?) we had drinks at the GO2 bar in the backpacker's district where I received my second culture shock. I had gotten used already to vendors on the streets pestering us with
their wares- but as we sipped our drinks outside the bar little kids wa
lked up to
us selling cigarettes. One particularly cute little boy played rock-paper-scissors with the people across from us and then tried to steal his gum. The city certainly is an interesting place, and contrasts sharply with the United States. But I love how kind everyone is, how warm and beautiful the weather is, and how delicious the food is so far.
Today we are flying to a resort in Nha Trang on the beach. I will get to see more of the jungley looking Vietnam with beautiful foliage and wide beaches. It looks like I will get very spoiled :)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Travel

I like traveling to different places. Seeing new landscapes, savoring new foods, hearing new accents and languages- who can resist? But traveling is the suck. Currently I'm stationed near a plug at gate 68B in LAX waiting for my flight to board to Vietnam. This will be the longest flight ever. I mean seriously- I woke up at three this morning to board a plane to Phoenix which then transferred to LA. I will then board a twelve hour flight to Narita and layover there until my six hour flight to Ho Chi Minh. which will arrive around 11 pm Saturday night. That's almost two DAYS of my life spent on a plane or in the airport.
But if I weren't positive this is all worth it, I wouldn't bother ;)