In The Car - Lichtenstein

Caught up on jet lag... almost.

So I have been in New Zealand for about three days now, specifically Dunedin. It is a really lovely area. A picturesque harbor surrounded by a hilly peninsula. And lots of sheep, of course!

It's been generally laidback thus far. The first day I just lounged around Dan and Emma's house, being lazy. In the afternoon, Emma's father Steve took me out on a boat. He works for a company that handles comings and goings in the port, and he had to drop off a couple pilots to a big carrier vessel just outside the harbor. He invited me along so I could get the whole view of Dunedin. It was really cool, and I'm glad I got the opportunity.

The next day I was mostly lazy again, but then took the bus into town later in the afternoon. The bus stop was at the bottom of the hill that is Dan and Emma's street and not labeled at all, so I was a bit worried that it wouldn't stop for me. However, it was the right place after all, thankfully. I walked around town for a bit. It's a really cute little city, with lots of cafes. Then I met Dan and Emma, and after dropping Dan off for his bachelor party, Emma and I walked around, had some dinner, then came back for wine and ice cream at home.

Yesterday I accompanied the two of them to the wedding venue. It's a lovely woodland garden center, and the place where they'll be having the ceremony is very pretty. I had a cappuccino and sat in the sun while they had a meeting, then we walked around the grounds some. Afterwards we all lazed at the house, then went on a drive to see the beach, which was totally gorgeous. In the evening we went to Daniel's parents house for his brother's 21st birthday party. It was a really nice event.

Today we'll be having Emma's hen party, though I'm not sure if I should be preparing games or something. It's a lot harder to think of things when it will be mostly her older relatives there. I guess we'll see how it goes!

Also, thanks to my nifty Flip video camera, I took loads of video. Most are just clips of 30 seconds to a minute, just little snapshots of Dunedin. Here's one for you, and feel free to check out the rest here! They're not Oscar quality, just so you're warned.

... Wait, nevermind, I don't know how to embed a YouTube video. Anyone know how?

Edit: Thanks to chemothetherapy, I can give you a video! Hurrah! Although it is not as good as the one he posted in the comments.

  • Current Mood
    good good
Under the skies - A Cheerful Gang

On the road again!

Well, hello, LJ. It's been a while. I know I've neglected you these past few months as I've been lounging in the States, but I hope you'll take me back as I am once again hitting the road.

This year's destination: New Zealand. One year working holiday visa.

I am, at the moment, enjoying a free internet kiosk in the domestic terminal of Auckland Airport. I have been travelling for 32 hours thus far, and have another 5 to go before reaching my final stopping point, Dunedin. That's where two of my Kiwi friends from Japan, Dan and Emma, live and where they will be getting married in ten days time. I am the only bridesmaid in the wedding, so it should be fun and busy very soon.

The trip has not actually been too bad. For the international bits I had pleasant company in the form of a Wellington university student. Friendly, smart, but not too talkative. It made the trip much more bearable. I left from Chattanooga with Mom at around 1:30pm on Monday, January 11th. We both had flights out of Nashville: hers to New York for training for her new job, and mine to Los Angeles to catch my int'l flight. I got a whole row to myself for that flight. Very nice. The int'l one stopped in Tahiti, which had a lovely open air terminal, before making its way to Auckland.

Admittedly, I am feeling pretty apprehensive about my year here. I hope I'll be able to find work and lodging without too much trouble. This is a whole new ball game for me. I have no experience with New Zealand and no guaranteed means of living. It's weird how I can already tell how fewer people live here; this is their capital city's airport, and it's quite modest. Oh man, this is so nuts...

Anyway, that's enough rambling for now. I'm looking forward to getting to Dunedin and seeing some friendly faces and a bed. I'll be updating more regularly now, so keep reading! <3

Edit:: In my traveling haze, I accidentally said that Auckland is the capital of NZ, which it is not. Wellington is. Sorry!
  • Current Mood
    dirty dirty
Lotus Blossom

The clock is winding down.

I'm feeling it now. No doubt. With two weeks of classes left and a few outstanding goodbye parties behind me, I am definitely feeling completely aware of my impending departure. I blinked, and it became mid-July. I really just can't believe it.

It's always hard, this part of a journey. There is always a part of me that wants to cling for dear life to what I have. The part that's mind-numbingly afraid of the new and unknown, the part that is a creature of habit and craves the comfort and security of an established lifestyle. I can't deny that part of me exists. It's not as strong as the more adventurous side of me, the side of curiosity and wanderlust and the craving of new experiences. However, in times like this, it gets loud and anxious, and I find it hard to ignore.

The big goodbye party for the ALTs was this past weekend. It was absolutely great; the location was wonderful, there was plenty of food and drink, and everyone seemed to be in good spirits. It's so weird to think that I won't see most of those people again. There are certainly some that I wish I had had more opportunity to get to know. I wouldn't trade my experiences and friendships up here in the north for anything, but I do wish the prefecture wasn't so big and that I had spent a little more time with the characters from the south. Iwate may not be the lifestyle center of Japan, but it certainly has no lack of truly amazing people.

That's something that has always made me feel terrible. I hate missing out on things, events, and people. When I hear about it later or see pictures, I always get a pit in my stomach. Saying goodbye to people I've barely gotten to know feels like a wasted opportunity. Knowing that I'll be absent from so many experiences really is frustrating. I think I've gotten better than I was when I was younger, but I still try and push myself to catch every drop of time and experience. I may have accepted that I can't do and see everything, and I can never know up and down every person I meet, but it doesn't mean I like it. At least the experiences and people I do have are so full and vibrant that I feel what I'm missing is probably less than what I have and will have.

Anyway, too sleepy now to continue in this vein. I'm crazy busy, so the next post may not happen until I'm back in the States. I'll try to not have that be the case, though.
  • Current Mood
    melancholy melancholy
Cambodia bodhisava

The musings of an afternoon.

Well, I know it's been a ridiculously long time since last I wrote in here. No excuse, really. I just didn't have the drive to do it. I guess the point of this journal got a bit lost, since it has hardly been an efficient tool in keeping people updated on my life. I could say that I'll try to do better, but honestly, in the coming months, it will likely become an empty promise.

It seems like not too long ago that I was writing up my reflections on my first year in Ohno; now my second one is rapidly coming to a close. I feel mostly ready to move on, though of course I'm already getting pangs of nostalgia and longing. Spring has finally decided to stick, and the sunny, warm weather really makes everything seem nicer. The scenery is full and gorgeous again, the students are happier and livelier, and I have more energy. It makes me altogether more appreciative of Ohno. I went on a walk a couple days ago, in fact, and came across a Buddhist temple that I had no idea was hidden back behind the houses and schools. It seems crazy to me now that I missed it all this time; after all, most Japanese have a Buddhist burial, so the town would obviously need a temple. I realize that I probably could have become more familiar with my town than I have, but then again, I would rather have the wider experience of Iwate and Tohoku as a whole.

I think that's the foundation of a traveler, anyway. An itch to see the big picture, get a taste of every corner. Admittedly it makes you miss some of the details that only a true local can have. However, you gain instead a open way of looking at the world because you have so many different points of reference. I think there are certainly advantages to both ways of living. For myself, though, I can't shake the desire to keep moving and exploring and learning. It's absolutely true what they say: the more you learn, the less you know. I truly feel like I am absolutely clueless about the world at large. On a somewhat contrasting point, though, I kind of envy the men and women who were able to make a life out of exploring, back when so much of the world was a question mark. Wouldn't it be great to make a living by simply moving around and stumbling upon something that no one else yet had? To be fair, there is still plenty of untrekked places on the Earth, and to be honest, I'm not sure if I really have what it takes to be an explorer. Still, part of me wishes I had stuck with more anthropology, or maybe studied paleontology. It looks exciting, to dig up ancient civilizations. I suppose it's typically pretty tedious though. As are most jobs, it seems.

I guess this just circles me back to the problem I always find myself facing, and that is a lack of passion. I just haven't found something that I am truly passionate about. There are many things I enjoy, certainly. There is just nothing that consumes me, though. Nothing that I would spend hours on without even noticing the time, nothing that makes me feverish just by dipping a toe in. Traveling probably comes closest to that, but it could be that it's just the search for that passion, and not passion itself. I've been reading a book lately that delves into all sorts of tidbits of science, and while I am enjoying it and finding it quite interesting, I do find myself wishing that I had the drive for it that scientists do. It really seems there are endless puzzles and information for scientists to follow, and I wish they held my attention.

Teaching as well; I really do enjoy it. I love my students desperately, and I think if I were a full teacher with my own classroom, I'd probably like it even more. But then I'll find myself daydreaming, staring out the window in class, and so again this doesn't seem like the right fit. I fancy myself a creative genius waiting to break free, but I have to admit I'm really not artistically inclined. Perhaps I haven't tried hard enough, but I seem to plateau at passable mediocrity in every outlet I've tried. The only art form I always feel the desire to try again is dance, but my attempts at that have always been pretty unremarkable. Is grace something you can develop? I unfortunately lack it, or at least enough of it to pull off dancing. I am also quite critical of myself, so perhaps that's why I've never made it very far.

My, but this has digressed. I guess the bottom line is that I don't know what I want to do, and I don't know how to figure it out. I'm still young, I know, but I still feel like I should have a better handle on it than I do. I never expected to be one of those left afloat after college, unsure of which way to swim. Half the time all I can come up with is that I'd like to go on an adventure, but even those seem to require certain qualifications that I lack. I should probably go back to school, though I'm at a loss for what I'd study. Of course I could use the skills I have; my Japanese, though far from perfect, is something I will be able to use in the future. I've always been interested in Japan, though. For now, I want to see what else is out there. Just in case that thing that sparks a fire in me is just waiting for me to stumble upon it.
  • Current Music
    Signs - Bloc Party
Thailand

Where do I go from here?

Again, I demonstrate my inability to keep this journal up. I guess you all are used to it by now, though, so perhaps I should stop apologizing.

Well, the end of the school year is quickly approaching, and with it many things to do. I have to get together final prizes for Communication Cards. I want to bake cookies for my 3nensei like I did last year. Mike will be here to visit in less than a month, so I need to get my paid leave approved for that. And then there's the little matter of leaving and the fact that I really need to start thinking about it.

I have less than 6 months now before I'm finished in Ohno. Crazy, I really can't believe I'll have spent 2 years here. I think my decision to stay was a good one, but admittedly, I am so bored with this place now. I'm ready to move on. The big question is what exactly am I moving on to? I had some hopes for a job with Alex in Finland. It sounded perfect; working with my best friend, doing event planning, and being hired just as I get finished here. Unfortunately, news about it has been totally lacking, and indeed, Alex has mentioned that she is passing my resume out to other businesses. This suggests that this opportunity may have crashed. Ah well.

My second idea for the future, which is starting to look more and more my likely course of action, is the Peace Corps. It'd be my hope that with my Asian Studies background that they would put me somewhere in Southeast Asia, a place I really wanted to go anyway. I'd probably still be teaching, as that is where my very slim experience lies, but I'm okay with that. The application process takes about 9 months, so I really need to start on it. I keep hesitating, though. I worry a lot about being lonely. I would have 27 months in an area with little technology and in which I do know the language. I mean, Japan is pretty cushy, particularly as I speak Japanese. Am I really strong enough to possibly be just intensely isolated? I actually don't mind the idea of being in a place for 2 years again. I just am very concerned as to if I can handle it alone. It's very conflicting. Part of me longs to go and help and have an adventure; the other part is terrified and wants to return to the civilation of a city and try things from there. Oh, what to do...

I also need to figure out what to do with all the stuff I have. Provided my successor (if I have one) is amenable, I think most of it will be left here. Blankets, probably some books, any unnecessary knick-knacks.

Hope this snow doesn't keep up. I have plans... Man, I can't wait for winter to end...
  • Current Music
    Lady GaGa - Disco Stick
Pound it - Balthier and Fran

A letter from Putu and Taeko!

While I am primarily putting this on here to check some kanji, it's pretty awesome that Putu and Taeko felt like e-mailing us! Janine and I made it onto their blog too! Rock!

岩手県・・・寒そう!
PUTUが行ったら、死んじゃうかも?!
PUTUもたえこもローレン&ジェニーと観光できて
新年早々、HAPPYでした!
ありがとうね♪
2人の事、ブログに書いたよ!
またバリで待ってるね!

仕事頑張ってね~!
ジェニーにもよろしくね。

Translation:

Iwate sounds cold!
If I (Putu) went, I'd probably die!
Taeko and I were really happy that we could go sightseeing with you and Janine so early in the new year!
Thank you!
We wrote about you two on our blog!
We'll be waiting for you in Bali!

Good luck with work!
Say hi to Janine!
  • Current Music
    Coffee machine
Under the skies - A Cheerful Gang

Holiday update!

Okie dokie. I was putting off writing this because I'm at the BOE, and sitting at the BOE with nothing to do makes me lazy, and laziness does not good journal entries make. But really, there is seriously nothing else to do, so post I shall!

The holidays were lovely, but minorly hectic. Lots and lots of traveling was done. First I headed back to the States for Christmas. It was nice to be home for this holiday, as what it means to me and what it means to the Japanese are two very different things. The day itself was a laidback one; just lots of chilling around the house, opening presents and making delicious food. I got to see most of my friends while I was back, including Taylor, Maggie, and Jamey, all of whom I missed when I came in March. New Year's Eve was spent in a hotel room in Nashville with Kristen, her boyfriend Matt, Craig, and Drew. Not the world's biggest party, but a lot of fun was had; plus, with a flight out of Nashville at 7 am New Year's Day, the location was well chosen.

While it was great to see family and friends, the real reason I went home was to see Marlene. My mom's best friend since before I was born, Marlene has always been a figure in my life, especially my childhood. Around October, she was diagnosed with liver cancer. I had already made plans with Amanda and Janine to visit Singapore and Bali over the winter break. Tickets were bought, accomodations were reserved. That big break, however, was the only possible time I could see Marlene one last time. I was really conflicted about what to do and spent a few nights searching flight options. Eventually, with help from Mom, I ended up booking a new flight to spend half the holiday at home, and half in Bali with my friends.

Visiting Marlene while I was home was tough. Part of me wanted to avoid it, even though that was the sole reason I came home. I've never been very good with sickness or injury, and Mom told me firmly that I wasn't allowed to cry. It was a challenge; seeing this vibrant woman, always full of dry humor and tough love, unable to walk and barely able to talk was heartbreaking. Underneath her failing body, though, Marlene was still there, and I was beyond glad that I was able to see her one last time. She died a week after our visit. Rest in peace, Marlene. You will be missed.

The next leg of the trip was Bali. The trip from the U.S. to Indonesia was long; over 25 hours and a total of 3 flights. It was a relief to get out of the airport and see Amanda waiting for me. She and Janine, instead of going to the town of Ubud as planned, decided to stay one more night in Legian, where they had been for the past week. Another surprise awaited me; they had picked up a fellow traveler, a Swiss girl named Clementine. Not exactly what I had been expecting; admittedly, in my state of mixed-up emotions (over a day of traveling, leaving my family, dealing with Marlene's impending death), I was a bit put out. I felt (irrationally) replaced, and I didn't feel the instant connection with Clementine that Amanda and Janine must have felt. The whole thing made me feel pretty uncomfortable when I was desperately looking for relaxation.

The next day, the 4 of us headed to Ubud. There Amanda began her yoga retreat, and Janine, Clementine, and I were left to our own devices. I spent most of our time there alone, exploring the town and taking pictures. Amanda was having an illuminating experience at her retreat, and Janine and Clementine seemed to be on the same wavelength as to what they wanted to do. I felt a bit out of the loop, but I was happy to be alone too. It was nice to do things at my own pace. Ubud itself was a totally great place. Full of art and laidback people, I really enjoyed meandering around. The four of us spent a few nights together, and I began to feel more comfortable and friendly towards Clementine. She is really a sweet and interesting girl, and in the end, I was glad I got to know her.

After a few days in Ubud, Janine and I headed to our next destination, Candi Dasa. Amanda was still at her retreat, and so would join us there in a couple days. Clementine also decided to hang back in Ubud, so that left just me and Janine. We hired a driver for the day, a really cool guy named Putu. It was his girlfriend's one day off work, so he asked if it would be okay if she came along. We had no problem with it, of course. As it turned out, his girlfriend Taeko was Japanese, so I got to make use of my second language. We took the entire day to get to Candi Dasa, making a lot of stops on the way: Coffee Park (a neat area surrounded by coffee, banana, and cacao trees where you could try free coffee, cocoa, tea, and a vast variety of native Balinese fruits), Besakih Temple (the mother temple of Bali, rather disappointing due to rain and "guardians" demanding money from us to go inside; one suggested we pay 4000 yen/$40!!), and a wonderful restaurant with an amazing view of tiered rice fields (the spread they put before us was massive; it was amazing that Janine and I managed to eat it all). We arrived at our hotel around 8pm. It was a really great day, and we promised to call Putu for our ride to the airport.

Candi Dasa was absolutely stunning. Our hotel was lovely, very classy and clean, although very obviously aimed towards couples. There were hardly any tourists, and the town itself was small with little to offer entertainment wise. Janine and I took full advantage of the opportunities; we spent one day snorkling at Blue Lagoon, and the next took a boat to White Sand Beach. We were dropped off at the edge of the bay to snorkel to shore. The beach was intensely beautiful; white, white sand, incredibly clear water, and our side of it was totally deserted. Janine and I had the whole place to ourselves. Eventually we wandered past some rocks to the other side of the beach. There were a few hut restaurants there, but very few people. Maybe 10, at most. It was easily the best day of the entire trip.

Janine and I even partied with some locals our last night. We ended up with a hoard of young Balinese guys, most of whom were fishermen. I had one who called himself Ben chasing after me all night. Unfortunately though, his conversation opener of "I really want to marry an American girl and move to America" did not make me particularly inclined to be receptive to his wooing. It took a long time to convince Ben that I wasn't going to be his girlfriend. And once I finally got rid of him, I had another one on me straight away! Admittedly this one, Robert, was a lot cuter and didn't seem all that interested in marrying me, so I humored him a bit. When it came time to say good night, though, he ended up spouting off about love and fate and stars and such. I'm afraid I'm terribly skeptical about that kind of stuff. It's all well and good for the romantic Balinese boys, but I just wanted to laugh, roll my eyes, and push him genty in the direction of the next foreign girl. I don't guess I'm a great target for "love at first sight."

As promised, Putu picked us up from Candi Dasa the day of our flight. As it turned out, Amanda and Clementine had also requested his services, so we surprised them when we arrived with Putu in Ubud. Together we headed to the airport and said goodbye to Bali. Our trek home was the longest of all. We flew into Malaysia, crossed over to Singapore (I definitely want to get back there someday), spent a night there, flew the next morning to Hong Kong, then to Tokyo, and then took the night bus up to Morioka. One more train ride and car trip later, I was finally home.

Phew. I thought about writing some more about how I feel about being back, but I think I'll save that. This should be more than enough reading for now. Until next time!
  • Current Music
    Lots of typing and my name thrown around with no context clues.
All I want is the beach

Hitting the wall.

And there I go again, allowing a huge chunk of time to go by without updating. If anyone still reads this, I offer my apologies yet again. Why do you put up with me?

November absolutely flew by. It never ceases to amaze me how a day can be so incredibly slow, yet months are gone in a blink. The balance doesn't make any kind of sense. Halloween and Thanksgiving were both observed through various parties and meals, and both were lots of fun. I finally feel like my social life is back on track, although personally I've been in a bit of a blue funk for various reasons. Hanging around with people is always a good way to alleviate the blues, but I've also been needing a lot of me time to recharge. I'm hoping a break will reset me.

Just like last year, I feel like I've hit a wall as far as teaching goes. For sure, it's not quite as bleak as last year. The immensely improved relations with my students and JTEs make it worthwhile to come to school, even if I am bored beyond belief. I don't believe it to be a lack of involvement (I've joined the teacher/student/parent choir and I do extra English activities at both schools). It's certainly not the students, because even the difficult ones have become comfortable enough to handle my teasing and joking. It's just the job itself. Maybe if I were a full time teacher, it'd be different. However, there's only so much I can do in my position, and I feel like I've pretty much exhausted my options. Even finding and trying out new games isn't particularly thrilling anymore. It's the least I can do to keep myself from being completely disinterested. My saving grace is my rapport with my students. It's fun when they have fun, and that's what makes this worthwhile. I'm going to be ready to go when the time goes, though. Where exactly I'll be going is still up in the air...

At least there is a break coming up! It should be a good one; 8 days at home and 8 days in Bali! The travelling will be brutal, but I feel pretty lucky to be able to go home to the familiar and explore a new place all in the same trip. I've been dying to go to Bali forever as well, ever since Aunt Kim lived there. Part of me is a little regretful that I won't get the chance to be there longer, but I'm really happy about going home for Christmas. Nothing beats Christmas at home.

I've got the Japanese Language Proficiency Test this weekend. I didn't study. No surprise. I have been working on my kanji over the past few months, but I don't think it'll be enough to significantly aid me. I feel like I should have put more effort into it, although my efforts did increase from last year, what with regularly attending Japanese classes in Hachinohe and beefing up on my kanji study. The test is held again in July, so I figure if I do poorly once again, I'll have one more shot before (possibly) leaving Japan. I really do want a higher proficiency than I have now. I just have to break my lazy streak and find some motivation.

Well, that's it for now. TGIF!
  • Current Music
    Tegami (Choral Arrangement) - Angela Aki
All I want is the beach

Since I've got the time to burn...

Well, I got stuck with a BOE day, so I might as well update!

A couple of weekends ago, I climbed Mt. Iwate for the second time. This trek was both better and worse than the first. On the upside I seem to have gotten a bit healthier this past year. I made it up and down the mountain in the same amount of time, but I was rarely out of breath and a lot less sore. I took up the rear guard with Amanda and Adam on the way up, then stuck in the back with Amanda and a group of others on the way down. All in all, it was generally enjoyable, though at the end I was ready to swear off mountain climbing again.

On the downside, however, the weather at the top of the mountain was awful. It was frigid, snowy, and very windy. The wind woke me up all through the night, and when it came time to climb to the summit at 4am, I chose not to go. The wind was just too strong for me to feel safe. Of the 30-someodd people on the hike, only Amanda, a girl named Katie, and myself chose to wait at the cabin instead of climbing to the summit. I didn't regret the decision; the way up was slippery and snowy, and nobody could see the sunrise through the clouds. I was glad I saved my strength.

Here are some pictures from the hike, if you are so inclined: Iwate-san Part 1!Iwate-san Part 2!

Other than that, there hasn't been a whole lot to report. I got my hair cut down in Morioka by the girl all foreigners rave about. Her name is Hiroko, and she used to live and work in New York, so not only can she speak English, but she has experience cutting caucasian hair. I have to say, she lived up to the hype. I came out with an adorable short bob, exactly what I wanted but didn't dare hope would turn out right. My goal is to end up with a chin length bob, which will take some time yet. However, I think I have become a Hiroko convert.

Halloween is coming up soon, but all my best efforts to celebrate keep getting foiled! I had a great Halloween lesson planned today for my elementary classes; cancelled. There's a Halloween party in Hachinohe that I was planning on attending Saturday; bunkasai enkai that night. Another Halloween party is planned for the next weekend; I'm entering an ikebana arrangement into the town bunkasai that same weekend, so I'll need to be on hand. To top it off, I can't find pumpkins anywhere (not that I had much hope). However, I mentioned doing a Halloween thing to the Minami household last night, and they seemed super keen on it, especially the idea of carving pumpkins. So who knows? I might get a little celebration after all! And maybe I'll sneak down to that second party...

Trying to get my absentee ballot has been a chore. The Hamilton County Election Commission website has refused to load for months, and the address I got from another Chattanooga website ended up being wrong, resulting in my request being returned to me. Luckily I figured out the fax number yesterday, and I have confirmation that my ballot is on the way. It's a long shot, but if nothing goes amiss, I should be able to get my vote in just in time. If not, I can at least fool myself into thinking I did, and that's what really counts, since my vote isn't really going to change my state's sway.

It's getting cold here... so not looking forward to winter...
  • Current Music
    Typing, typing...