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Update!

It's been ages, apologies.

So, I got back from Australia all in one piece. The very next day (or so) I set about trying to find a job in Warrenton. I landed one at Borders (a bookstore) eventually, and it's not too shabby. I like the folks I work with and most people who come into the shop are really pleasant people, so all is well. I also enjoy being around books all day. It just makes me feel smarter. Actually I really like my job. I look forward to going to it, and I don't mind staying extra hours. The only time I get cranky at it is when people yell at me for things that aren't my fault, or when I haven't eaten in too long. I would get cranky under those circumstances in any situation, though.

I'm looking for another job in addition to my Borders bonanza, since they only let me work up to 32 hours. I applied at Outback and got as far as an interview so far, so we'll see. I'm worried I'll choke on the smoke in the restaurant because VA still lets people smoke in restaurants. Oh big tobacco, do you always have to get your way? I'm also worried I'll buckle under the weight of the mounds of cow I'll have to haul around. Hey, at least I'll have nice arms!(?)

I've been swimming a fair bit, getting back into shape (sort of). I hurt my foot sometime somehow and it won't go away, so I think I should hold off on running for a bit. It sucks, I want to go soooo badly because the weather is starting to get perfect for it. Alas...

It's cool being around Warrenton and seeing old friends and familiar faces. I feel like I'm getting to know the place a little better from talking to so many different people everyday. I kind of like it. If only one of them would hire me.

Downunder

Well, I made it to Australia! Sorry for the posting lag, but I doubt anyone really cares. I'm not sure why I'm writing this, other than to fill time while I wait for someone to sign on to Skype.

So. I left Japan. It was emotional, but good. I felt like I'd done what I'd set out to do: learned a lot, seen a lot, done a lot, eaten a lot... I was lucky to have that experience, and luckier still that I had a good group of people to get to know and such a beautiful place to live. Certainly, some things weren't ideal, but I got over them, and that's probably what I'm proudest of in the end.

Right, so I left Murakami a little before my contract ended thanks to my hoarded-up nenkyuu, and visited Anna in Tokyo for 3 days. It was a blast... seeing a city by the side of someone who lives there is always loads better than floundering about alone. We went to a Yomiuri Giants baseball game, and I touched a foul ball! I couldn't feel my finger for a few minutes, but I almost caught it. That's never happened to me before, so that was way cool.
Anna's family was so nice, and it was such a pleasant note to leave Japan on. I wasn't flustered from spending all day on the Shink, nor was I overly-emotional from just leaving my apartment and students. My last day in Murakami I saw a busload of them, all waving at me and making the "so many hearts" sign I pilfered from Phi Mu... so cute! But anyway, by going to Tokyo for a few days I had time to collect myself and reflect and all that good stuff, so it was pretty much ideal.

I arrived in Sydney after a long, cat-nappy flight. It was so good to see Tom and his family! I have been cooking (and eating) a lot here, most of it involving one or more things like PB, crumpets, oats, and ovens. I've been around Sydney, up north and down south, to the beach, in the mountains, and in the city. It's been pretty good :)

The other day we were driving along through Royal Nationa Park and I had the rare and awesome privelage of seeing a male lyrebird! That's... well, awesome. These birds are incredible! The males look sort of like a cross between a peacock and a pheasant, and their tail feathers curl around like the strings of a lyre. The really impressive thing about these birds is their remarkable ability to immitate pretty much any sound they hear- from camera shutters to chainsaws to more melodious, natural sounds as well. I would really love to spend a pile of time out in the mountains and maybe see one singing... that would be one of the sweetest dreams I could fulfill.

I'm glad I came to Australia before diving straight back into US culture. I don't think I would have survived. I had some really random mood swings here, and I felt bad for Tom for having to endure me. All and all, however, re-adjusting has been pretty painless. One thing I do miss is the cleanliness and orderliness of Japanese society. I also miss the feeling of safety, and I truly can't understand why Western countries are so much more violent and scary than Japan. I'm sure the homogeneity of Japanese society helps keeps things stable, but that's a can of worms I don't want to get into right now.

I'll be back in the US next Monday, at least if all goes well. I'm nervous about the flights... I've got 3, plus a plane change. Ugh. I think all and all it will take somewhere in the neighborhood of 26 hours, not including getting to the airport in Sydney and getting home from Dulles. Oi...

matane!

Tomorrow I turn in my modem, so I won't have internet anymore. Maybe I'll update from Australia once I get there.
Today I had both my goodbye ceremonies, which was pretty intense emotionally. I'm really going to miss my students. Some of them made me cards and letters. SO CUTE!
I can't believe the time has nearly come for my Japanese adventure to end! Hmm, I wonder what's next...

WHOA! Am I in the Twilight Zone?

WOW! Time is doing some sort of twisty, wormhole thing on me. I can't keep it straight. School is zooming by because, as I may have mentioned before, everyone realized that this was my last week and decided to pack my schedule chock-a-block. I made the mistake of playing a song on my guitar for one class, which mushroomed first into playing one or two for every class, and now I'm playing in front of the whole school at the closing ceremony. What? How do these things happen??

Well, anyway... the REAL craziness is that tonight I had an entirely VEGAN MEAL IN JAPAN. WHOA!!!! At a RESTAURANT! For an ENKAI! Those of you who have been to Japan will understand the enormity of those statements. Normally everything, yes, EVERYTHING has some sort of tentacle, eyeball, or head poking out of it. So... to have nary a smidgeon of animal derived anything in a whole multi-course meal was... amazing. It was beautiful. It took a whole year, but I could finally eat an entire meal without making either myself or somebody else uncomfortable. WOW.

Of course, it was a farewell party, so it was kind of sad. I am happy to leave it here though. I've talked about this before. See you!

Umi no hi!

Today was Marine Day. That's right, a specific holiday for Japanese people to go to the beach and be silly. And silly it was!! Jess and I ventured to the beach as well because the sun finally came out (it's been about a week) and adventure was in the air! It wasn't too big of an adventure though, just a few failed sandcastle attempts and some awwing at cute children being pummeled by massive waves. It still boggles my mind how so many things that would NEVER fly in the US are so commonplace here. For example:
- an aging lifeguard watching a packed beach with minimal parental supervision of wee ones (like really wee ones, maybe 4 years old) in 4-5' surf.
- stopping a vehicle anywhere, including the side of the road with oncoming traffic, at times perpendicular to the flow of traffic
- being SO drunk in front of your boss
- a swimming pool jam packed with children, whose parents are sitting in the onsen on the other side of the building, carousing and generally posing a hazard to themselves, with one lifeguard...
- ... who then stops to chat with his buddy who is swimming laps
- ... who then proceeds to splash the lifeguard

Those are just a few examples from the past few days, but those are only the instances that are fresh in my memory.

The past week has been crazy as I've been trying to get my stuff together in order to leave. Also, my school has realized they have a week left with me and have packed my schedule so full that it's kind of insane. I guess it's nice to be appreciated..? That's what I tell myself. I have 3 more days of classes, and one day of 3 speeches (in Japanese!). I'm nervous about that, but oh well. I'm pretty used to being a spectacle. I have stuff going on EVERY SINGLE DAY until the day I leave. Some days I have 3-4 things going on, so we'll see how that works out. I have a lot of official-type business to take care of, but once that's over I'll nearly be ready to go. WOOHOO!

How do I feel about leaving now?! AWESOME! I'm mostly really excited for the future, so it's hard to feel anything but that about leaving. I feel like I accomplished a lot, since I feel really comfortable here now. That's pretty impressive considering how awful I felt when I first got here. So... I managed, in fact, I did pretty well here, and I'm proud of that. I'm happy I came here, and happy with what I gained. Was it easy? No. Was it 100% peachy? Hell no! There was a lot that sucked, namely winter. Would I do it again? Heck yes, especially since I know how to deal now.

When I said good-bye at SGHS on Friday I definitely cried a little bit, but that's because my kids were getting all choked up and set me off. I think it will be harder at Chutou because I see those kids every day and I'm closer to them. I hope they don't do anything ridiculous the last day or I WILL lose it. Jeeze, I never knew I was such a softie.

By the way, I won't have internet after the 25th, so don't get pissy or worried if I disappear until August 2 when I land in Sydney. I'm probably okay, unless the bureaucracy finally made my head explode.

Getting closer...

The day draws nearer and nearer when I will leave Murakami!
Sometimes when I think about this I get sad, especially when I think about saying goodbye to the people that were so kind to me here. Other times, like when I check the weather and see nothing but rain for the next TEN DAYS, I can't wait to get out of here. Also, lately every Japanese person that's pestered me on the street, on top of a mountain, during dinner, etc, has without fail called me fat. I think my favorite such instance was a portly drunken man shoveling food down his throat, reaching over, pinching my arm, and calling me fat. Almost as good as that time I had just run up a mountain (yes, RUN), and another sagging old man told me all Americans were unhealthy and fat, then asked me if I had trouble finding clothes in Japan since I was so much bigger than all the women here. Pooheads! I'm out of here!

hisashiburine

Word to the wise: walking from one end of town to the other in nubbly Hello Kitty sandals is not advisable. Nor is eating a giant custard and blueberry crepe right before bed. STILL, that sort of ridiculousness is what makes matsuri so glorious! Of course I can't forget the 5 minute goldfish (not quite as sad as 10 minute turtles, but still...), and what would Japan be without stands boiling over with plastic toys, all of which flash asynchronously and make ridiculous noises? And of COURSE, I wouldn't call anything Japanese without tentacles, and loads of them.

Today and tomorrow are Murakami's big matsuri. Everyone comes out dressed up in yukata, getta, happi, and the like. It's pretty awesome. Tomorrow I may be pulling a float, but perhaps not... we'll see. I think there will be pictures....

Besides that, life has been good. I've been swimming a lot, wandering around, and taking small trips. Jess and I drove out to Yamagata's ZAO to see a crater! I've never seen a volcanic landscape before, so it was pretty incredible. It stunk like sulfur up there, but I suppose that's to be expected. It was neat to see all the animals and plants that had managed to scrape out a living in that environ... and apparently there's some special little beetle that's endangered that only lives up there on that crater. I know because we found 3 guys catching them and putting them in bottles to take back and breed in captivity. That reminded me of that paper I wrote on Lasiorhinus krefftii oh-so-long ago. I think beetles are a little hardier than wombats, though.

School lately has been pretty dull... if I didn't have my conbio textbook to keep me bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I think I'd have some drool stains on my desk. I'm ready to get out of here and start grad school... I'm ready for something that requires all of my faculties. Not like living in Japan has been easy, and truthfully I totally could have studied Japanese harder, but it's a different sort of challenge. For example, drawing a good picture is hard for me, it's a challenge- but I'd rather challenge myself by running 42 km or solving a calculus problem or remembering chemistry or learning anything about biology... I guess it's a matter of interest.

day 2 of ridiculous happenings!

Today I woke up early again and hit one of the local mountains (really local, the ones that I gaze at every day on my way to school). I went with 2 teachers from Sakuragaoka, and it was LOADS of fun! We took a side trail thinking it lead to another peak, then realized that the steady downward direction of the trail would eventually lead us back to Murakami. We found the car again with a little bit of pondering, but not before seeing a caterpillar that looked like it had 2 heads and a molting daddy-long-legs. WOO! A fantastic day!

But wait, there's more! We also drove out to Miomote dam and wandered around the recreational area around the man-made lake. It was pretty sweet because the river has a couple of islands in it, and those islands are accessible via a very long floating bridge. Think hundreds of kerosene jugs filled with air and strung together, and you've got about the right idea. There was one anchored bit in the middle, but walking on inflated plastic jugs was way more fun. I saw some leeches, a snake, and old Japanese people huffing and puffing up a hill. SUCCESS!

But wait, there's STILL more! After that I came home and made myself some lunch, then headed out for some adventures with Jess and Katrina. We drove up the coast, aiming for Sasagawanagare (funny how all of us have been there multiple times, but how none of us had ever seen it on a clear day!!) and made some pit stops along the way. First we stopped at the Salamander shrine, which was awesome because there were these beautiful purple flowers and a couple of tiger lilllies blooming on the bare rock next to the shrine. ALSO on the rocks were nesting seagulls who were none too happy that we were so close to their babes-to-be. Their nests were sort of sandy shallow spots where there were less rocks and more shelter from plants. It was way cool. The eggs themselves were sort of grey-sand colored and had speckles on them. They were hard to see at first, but once I saw one I started seeing them all over. Katrina got swooped.

Next we had a photo-op with some ridiculous road signage (a scared looking car getting beaten up by an angry looking wave), and also got some shutter-time with a giant wooden penis. It even had a couple of bouys hanging in nets below it to serve as balls. Oh, Japan.

After THAT we hit up Sasagawanagare. It's SO pretty in the sunlight, and it's even nicer when you can poke around without getting lashed by windy, bitter cold wetness.

Then after that we took the scenic route home and found a road that just ended in the middle of the mountains. It was pretty hilarious because all along we were hazarding guesses as to where the road might actually take us. Yamagata? The Twighlight Zone? Nowhere? As always, the best choice is always C. We managed to find our way to Asahi, then to Himalaya for some awesome curry. We got gifted an amazing coconut nan for dessert this time, perhaps because we brought along yet another new foreigner.

Finally, we came back to Katrina's house and watched Aladdin. Woo!! I need another weekend to rest up after this weekend's craziness!! I guess that's what happens when the sun is shining... we go all out!!

Ridiculous o shimashouka?

HAI!

So today rocked my socks. I woke up early, then drove to Yamagata with my kaiwa friend and her husband. It was AWESOME! I got to watch some shamisen playing, eat a delicious lunch, and then the fun REALLY began!

My kaiwa partner knows a cherry farmer in Yamagata. We dropped by so that I could check it out. It was so sweet! First off, Yamagata is GORGEOUS. I wouldn't want to be there in winter because that's where the snow REALLY falls, but it sure is pretty! The mountains are so steep and rugged, but somehow they're all covered in trees. Recent landslides leave big muddy gashes on the sides of the mountains, but I'm sure in a year or two it will be virtually impossible to detect anything ever happened. I love how verdant this country is!! I guess it's from all the rain... oh, trade-offs...

Anyway, at this farm I encountered several of the most bizarre, awesome things I've ever seen. But before I get into that, let me mention that I had the best apple juice I think I will ever taste. I don't even like apple juice that much, but this stuff was delicious! Ah. Too bad I'll never have it again...

So back to the ridiculous things. First, I saw a very venomous snake! I think it might have been a 'you've got 2 hours to live if it bites you' snake. It had a mean looking face!! Mr. Cherry Farmer said that it was Japan's cobra. Oh dear. What was more impressive was that this pissed off snake was somehow captured in an empty sake bottle. What? I didn't have the sense to ask how that happened. My guess is very carefully.

So, the next ridiculous thing I saw was a cat that likes to ride in cars. What? I didn't know that was possible.

Next, I saw frog eggs hung up in a tree overhanging some water. I'd heard about that in my Australian Vert Fauna class, but never seen it first hand! They looked like giant praying mantis egg cases, only frothier and whiter. I also saw a frog chillaxin' next to the broods. It was SO COOL!

NEXT I got to pick some cherries, which was pretty awesome, but not so ridiculous.

Lastly, I saw a giant goldfish of the lumpy-head variety. Mr. Cherry Farmer reached into the grubbiest tank I've ever seen and hauled up this giant, gasping, bubbly-headed monster. I took a picture. How could I resist??

Then, I was gifted 2 kg of really expensive cherries, and we were on our merry way home. Oodilahlee, oodilahlee, golly what a day!

Thinking...

So, I was reading my JET handbook the other day, and it had warnings about reverse-culture shock in it. Since I spent the better part of the first 2 weeks here curled up on the floor wondering what kind of insanity led me to embark on such a ridiculous journey, I figure that my reverse culture-shock might be pretty severe, too.
One of the things that the all-knowing CLAIRsters recommended to do was to write down everything/anything that I will miss about Japan, what I expect will have changed at home, and what I'm looking forward to. So... here I go. I don't think this is any particular order, just what pops into my head.

The ListsCollapse )
This list is by no means exhaustive, but I think it's a good start. Maybe I'll add to it later.