Wednesday, February 28, 2007

s a d

My grandmother in San Francisco passed away this past weekend... She had an asthma attack and died shortly after arriving at the hospital. She was 85 years old and outlived my grandfather by 10 years... Grandma had a happy life, surrounded by her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, almost all in the San Francisco Bay Area. Somehow though, I find myself feeling really guilty for living so far away- she always admonished me for moving ALL THE WAY to New York, and here I am now, ALL THE WAY in Japan. In fact, it was especially after talking to her last week that I immediately felt homesick. I am really grateful that I was able to talk to her during the Chinese New Years holidays.

I am now scrambling around looking for last-minute tickets to California and tracking down my passport (I had to send it off to get a Chinese visa for my upcoming trip to Hong Kong and Beijing). There was a slight discrepancy regarding the bereavement leave at school but things have been ironed out now. Fortuantely, it works out that I won't have classes for the next several weeks due to spring break and graduation.

It will be nice to be with my family during this tough time but who knows, reverse-culture shock may hit me hard.

"A Poh"... rest in peace.....

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Longest birthday party ever...

After getting up at 6am on Friday morning to go to Ine Bunko, teaching a full day of classes, then taking the hour long bus ride back to Miyazu Station, and then taking the 3 hour train to Kyoto, I finally got to the pre-party at Colleen and Lliam's.

Our mustachio'd bunch polished off several bottles of tequila in a few hours and watched Jason down his "dirty pint" -Adam's foul birthday concoction which consisted of mixing every single type of alcohol in the place into the blender. Most people would've been destroyed at that point but Jason's sheer size and tolerance surprised us all, as many of our party fell into ditches, deep slumber, and/or into taxis heading home.

The rest of us went on to a small drum n bass club and continued to happily dance into the wee hours of the night/ morning. It was great to be back in a big city- people are out after 7pm, we were surrounded by well dressed young hipsters and good music. It reminded me of the crazy nights in NYC with Suraj, Vel, and Glen... It was one of the most fun nights I've had in Japan! Finally staggered home on Saturday morning (Jason's real birthday) around 5am? I think...

Woke up totally fuzzy and hungover... No diners here, so we headed to the local ramen restaurant and zoned out there for a few hours filling each other up on the hilarious and sketchy details of the night before. I insisted on having Mexican food at some point in the weekend, so we treated Jason to a proper Mexican birthday dinner on Saturday night.

Rounded out the weekend with a turkey and cheese sandwich from Subway, a latte and chocolate chip cookie from Starbucks (I KNOW, I KNOW), and shopping at Jupiter (the international market under Kyoto Station).

This week I will be recovering.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Birthdays and births

What the hell happened 9 months before February that caused all these boys who all live in Japan at the same time that I am to be born within a 2 week span? (Did that even make sense?)

Let me just say that in a normal way: HAPPY BIRTHDAY to: Yoichi, Simon, Bryn, Jason, Baku, and Jamie!

And while I'm doing my shoutouts....

Congratulations on the birth of teeny tiny Dylan Villanueva Hoang!!

...and congratulations to Tiffany & Jason for (FINALLY) getting engaged!!

...and a Happy Belated Birthday to everyone else I've forgotten, namely Jeremy, Mindy, baby Dillan Desai & his daddy...

...and thanks to Leigh and Becky and Tamar for baking yummy cakes (red velvet cake and chocolate cheesecake??) for Simon & Yoichi's birthday party!!

American lunch with Laurie

Friday I went to my tiny 40 student visit school in Ine. The students' English level is pretty low, so I think my role there is more of a "cultural" one rather than a "teaching" one. So, what better way of sharing cultures than cooking? And better yet, having them cook/prepare my favorite foods for me? The class of 6 prepared "ants on a log", grilled ham and cheese (some with tomato) sandwiches, peanut butter and Jelly sandwiches, and s'mores. "Peanuts butter" is not a common food in Japanese culture, so they were really disturbed and confused with the pairing of it with the celery and even with the jam!!'m not sure that the lunch was universally loved (Kumi whipped up a shitake/miso soup to um, compliment the lunch, but there was definitely a lot of polite head nodding and "OISHIIIIII!!!!" ("delicious!!!") being praised. I also insisted that each person had to make their own s'more but it wasn't until I demonstrated the roasting of the marshmallows did they finally understand why I thought it would be fun. Next I'll teach them "I'm a chubby bunny".

Homesick and sick at home

Wow... so a few hours after my last posting about getting homesick, I developed a fever and got aches and chills and had to go home early. Not sure if they were psychologically linked or what but that was really a bummer way to start the "new year". I just need for the weather to warm up and stay nice -is it too much to ask for my olive oil to stay in liquid form (instead of having it "frozen" solid) or not be able to see my breath inside my apartment?

OK, that's the extent of my whining... for now.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Happy Chinese New Year!

It's the year of the pig, boar, inoshishi, whatever you want to call it...
In fact, 2007 (or 4075) is an especially lucky "golden pig" year which only comes around every 60 years! (And bringing with it, a huge baby boom
in China...)

I talked to my parents, grandmother and 2 of my aunts today and I got realllllly homesick for the first time since I've been in Japan... It's weird because Japan surprisingly is one of the few Asian countries that doesn't celebrate the Lunar New Year (but they observe the year of the boar/pig).

So I'm trying to be happy and upbeat and stuff, but it's hard when no one around me has any idea about it... Normally, I'm surrounded by friends and family who celebrate the holiday- whether I am in New York or California, and even when I lived in Florence, a few of us foreigners went to the local Chinese restauarant and celebrated. This year it has been overshadowed by the frenzy of Valentine's Day (now the shelves are stocked with chocolates for "White Day", the reciprocal to Valentine's Day where the guys have to return chocolates to the women.)

I miss the festivities, the firecrackers, the lion dances, the drums, and all the food!!! My dad made his famous "jeen doy" (fried sesame seed balls), grandma made "nian gao" (sticky cake), and of course, the families all get together and exchange red envelopes ("lay see" or "hung bao") for the kids (ha ha, I'm still considered a "kid"!)

Happy new year to all my friends and family around the world!!!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Weird Japanese T-shirt slogans

"Quench your thirst of hert with the collection Parody's T-Super Homo's Mad'am ni Try. Feel the bodily sensation you've never experienced befor."

Some other t-shirt slogans I've seen/heard about:

--"Slowly life"
--"No sandwich, no life"
--"You knew me when you blew me"
--"Firm utopia"

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Kanazawa road trip!

Bitten by the travel-bug again, I took advantage of the 3 day weekend and went on a road trip to Kanazawa with Becky, Leigh, and Jun, aka "The Girls".

Tojinbo Cliffs (popular suicide location and squid ice cream?!?), the winter white wonderland of the Shirakawa Valley with the "gassho- zukuri" houses (literally "hands in prayer" from the shape of the roofs); building my first snowman ever (!); eating international food (crepes, Italian, and German food); shopping like crazy monsters (spring transition meant tons of sales!); seeing the first beautiful spring blossoms at Kenrokuen (one of Japan's 3 most beautiful gardens); stopping at every Lawson's on the way to stock up on junk food, drinks, and snacks ("niku man"! yummy beef buns); Myoryuji / Ninja Temple (more on that below)...

Lows: Confusing and misleading highway signs; mean Kanazawans; paying too much for 4 people to be crammed into a small remote youth hostel room with no amenities and early curfew; having super low blood sugar and then finding out the Mexican restaurant was closed, then walking all over town to find that the French restaurant was also closed, and the "Thai Cafe" was actually a seedy girly bar, and finally finding a German restaurant with slow, awful service; not being able to take pictures inside the Ninja Temple.

All in all though, we had a good time...

More on Myoryuji Temple / Ninja-dera: The name of this place is a misnomer since it actually has nothing to do with ninjas (damn!). But, it basically has inspired me to become an architect again- it's got some damn cool tricks- underground passages, traps and defense mechanisms, hidden compartments, double sliding doors, etc.

One staircase is hidden by removable boards at a landing. However, since that area was often dark, the hidden staircase doubles as a pitfall.

The side walls in closets swing open to reveal narrow spiral stairs and there's even a room that is too short for anyone to unsheathe a sword, but has a curved ceiling to give the optical illusion that it doesn’t look small or feel claustrophobic.

The risers of the entrance stairs are made with paper and there is a little compartment underneath the staircase so defenders can hide and stab intruders with their spears as they enter (by judging where their shadows fall)!

29 staircases and 23 rooms are all expertly and neatly built into this seemingly 2-story building, but actually it's 4-stories with a 7-layer internal structure with middle floors and middle-middle floors and upper-middle floors...

They say it wasn't built by or for ninjas....

Happy Valentine's Day!

Hugs and kisses to those who sent me Valentine's packages and cards!
Well, kisses to Paul and hugs to Nia, Anney, and Chrissi, that is...

It's great to feel loved from across the world.

And more locally, from one of my 3rd year students- a great handmade card, even though my name was misspelled "Rolly" (she fixed some of the mistakes after I pointed it out). I think it's funny that the "Roses are red" poem was also lost on her!

So Valentine's Day in Japan is another one of those western "holidays" that is over- commercialized with that Japanese twist... Apparently chocolate ("choco") companies used this as a marketing tool to promote chocolate and gift giving- but from women to give to men!

Boyfriends and husbands get "honmei ("favorite" / "fated" / "prospective winner")- choco" but many women consider store-bought chocolates too impersonal, so they painstakingly handmake them at home for their lovers. After all the Christmas and New Years decorations come down, the packaged chocolates, chocolate making kits, molds, and wrapping paper hit the shelves at every store.

The part that kills me though, is that (male) co-workers and bosses are supposed to get "giri (obligation) -choco". "Giri" is a very Japanese concept- as in, it's a mutual obligation when dealing with other people- a debt of gratitude and a self-sacrificing pursuit of their happiness, and both people are probably apologizing ("sumimasen-ing") the whole time.

Now, those folks at the chocolate companies also came up with the reciprocal "White Day", on March 14, where men are expected to "return the favor" and give white chocolate and marshmallows to those who gave them Valentine's gifts. However, most men only give (store bought) chocolates and lingerie to their girlfriends. Oh, the irony of it all.

Good god, I just read about "Black Day" in Korea.... It's on April 14, and those who didn't receive anything on Valentine's or have anyone to give anything to, get together and eat noodles in black sauce. Talk about bitter!!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Miyazu High School "International Day"

We held an International Day last week, and invited some foreigners from Maizuru's Polytechnic College to attend. In the past, we have invited local AETs but they always come from commonly known countries such as America, England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc. so this time, they were excited that our guests were from Malaysia, Laos, Zambia, and China.

However, it seemed like the school was introducing Japanese culture to the guests rather than the opposite. Each of the 6 ichi-nensei (1st years) classes was in charge of one of the guests and had planned a different Japanese activity- including making mochi and okonomiyaki, judo and traditional dancing performances, and playing traditional Japanese games. My only role was to walk around the school with Tanaka-sensei, my supervisor/JTE, and observe what was going on. In a way, this was actually better since we got to see what each class did, but I felt like the students and the guests were really limited since none of them got a chance to rotate classrooms or interact with eachother.

Super Bowl Sunday-> Monday-> TUESDAY?!?

Since Japan is about a day ahead of America, we couldn't watch the Super Bowl ON Super Bowl Sunday- it was going to be aired at like 5am Monday morning, which, of course, was not realistic for any of us to watch on a school day. So Robert kindly offered to tape the game, Andrew & Desirae kindly offered to host the party, and we would all watch the taped game on Monday night- but at that point, the results of the game would already have been posted on the internet and newspapers, so we all had to avoid the internet all day on Monday to not spoil the anticipation. However- the satellite/cable company that Robert has didn't air the game live!!! Instead, they aired LAST YEAR'S game, the 2006 Super Bowl and they were going to air the 2007 one on TUESDAY morning! So the Super Bowl party was delayed by ANOTHER day. Of course, at this point, avoiding the internet was impossible and I found out the results of the game.

But Andrew and Desirae's spread was amazing- two kinds of nacho dip (beef and tofu/mushroom), tortilla chips, fried chicken w/ hot sauce, "buckeyes" (chocolate/peanut butter balls), and a host of other Super Bowl party snacks. I did feel kind of bad that a few Japanese teachers/guests came, expecting to have "conversation practice w/ foreigners" and we basically camped out in front of the TV, but on the other hand, we came to watch the football game! It has been a struggle recently because it seems that many events that the AETs/foreigners go to have been a perfect opportunity for other people to practice their English on you, and less of an event where we just get to hang out. Oh well.

So yeah.... anyway, I haven't really been following sports for the last 7 months, err, well, more like 5 years, since Jeremy, my sports-advisor, moved back to Detroit, so the game wasn't all that exciting for me. With my poor betting record, I wasn't suprised that the I was rooting for the Bears. Good times, good times.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


This is an amazing seaside "atelier" built by a talented artist / ceramicist (is this a word?) friend of the Yoshidas... His pottery studio is hidden down in the basement, but the house is built on a hill, so the entire back of the house is a wall of windows!

Ikeda-san has the most non-traditional Japanese home I've seen. It's big and airy, with colorful glass marbles embedded into the concrete floor, bright white and turquoise walls, handbuilt furniture, and windows, windows, windows! Instead of solid walls, he separated spaces with walls of French doors and transoms, so the light pours in all the way to the front of the house. His painting studio, is in a double height space, punctuated with huge sculptural branches, dangling with small stones, sea glass, and shells.

The Yoshidas, Simon, and I hung out talking with him and Baku (the son of one of his good friends) for hours on Sunday. Baku is an architect from Osaka, young and hip, and bears a striking resemblance to one of my fellow architect friends, Jeff Hong in NYC. He's moving to Brussels in a few months to work in an architecture office (how rad is ithis?!?) and we're having a weekly English/Japanese exchange at a local izakaya or bar or something so that he can brush up on his English bfore tackling French and/or Flemish. It was the first time in Japan I have heard someone mention MVRDV, Hadid, and other architects!