Jul 30, 2011

Bullet-Point Updates

*Shibuya Adventures- Had another crazy night in Shibuya with S last weekend.  I realize i never wrote about our first crazy night out in Shibuya, but all you need to know about that is that it was a lot of fun.  This time was just as adventurous.  We met our friend Ku last Sunday night in Shinjuku at her hotel- she had just gotten in to the country that evening for JET training.  We went to an Alcatraz-themed restaurant in Shibuya (which i don't recommend- bad service, mediocre food.. The Lock-Up is much much better!) where we met a couple other friends.  I had to cut out early and head to Roppongi to buy a pre-paid phone off of someone (which ended up not going according to plan so i still have to wait until i can get my gaijin-card to get a SIM anyway..). 
One of the drinks you could get a the restaurant.
Anyway, got back to the restaurant just in time to shove some food in my face before everyone headed their separate ways back home.  S and i meandered around the station trying to decide our best course of action, when we were invited to some drinks by a couple guys.  They ended up being really obnoxious and not fun at all, so S got up and left, and i "went to go get her", and when i met her on the stairs i told her to run because they (well, actually the tubby one of the two) were asking for money for the drinks and stuff (i know right?).  So we took off running!  Terrible i know, but honestly they deserved it.
We were worried about hanging around in the area for fear of running in to them (which, we actually did, but we hid ourselves so they didn't see us), but we found a couple of nice guys and they took us to karaoke and were gentlemen and actually paid for us, so the night ended up being fun after all.  Headed home around 9am(?) with the intention of taking a shower and getting some sleep.  Ended up not being able to sleep until late that night anyway though, so was up for a total of 38 hours!
*Comings and goings- The one good thing about staying in a sharehouse is that i always have company.  The bad thing about it is that i get used to having certain people around and then they have to leave and are replaced by others.  When i got here there were four others- i'll call them Boston, Southern-Cali, NY, and New Jersey.  Canary Islands arrived about a week after me.  NJ and CI were my favourites though, lots of fun to talk to and hang out with.  They both left recently though and have been replaced.  Things are a lot more quiet around here and just aren't as fun..
Missing the old group. :( From left to right: NY, K-to, Canary Islands, YB (on chair), New Jersey. We'd hang out like this almost every night.  K-to and YB don't live here, they'd just come by to hang out.

*Jobs- Just got myself a job!  It's at a daycare of sorts just a couple stations away.  I sent in my resume on Monday, got a call Wednesday to set up an interview on Thursday.  Was a bit nervous about not having a proper working visa yet and about my suit-jacket still being a bit damp (!!).  But it was hardly even an interview!  I seriously just went in, they asked me how long i would be staying in Japan ("At the moment until October, but my working visa is processing and then i'll be able to stay until next July at least"), they asked me how much i wanted to be paid per hour (!! again), if i'd like to be paid day-by-day or weekly, then asked if i was free then and would i like to start working!  They gave me some comfy clothes to change into, and i got to sit around for a couple hours and play with the adorable little 7-month-old baby that was there at the time.  There is another floor to the building where the older toddler-aged kids play, but i was in the nursery area i guess.  Then for the last couple hours i did English-conversation with some of the adults that came in.  Super easy, no preparation or anything, and the owner of the school is a super-nice laid-back guy and he sat in on conversations and just chatted away with us.  It was actually a lot of fun!  The pay is not as high as a lot of the big English-conversation schools in Japan, but those places require a lot of preparation and effort, and can really suck the life out of you.  I've always been of the mindset of what good is a lot of money if you hate what you're doing and can't enjoy actually having money?  I'm fine with being paid less, as long as i'm not hating what i'm doing.  Right now i'm just working there Monday through Wednesday, 4pm to 8pm, and i still have my 2-day a week thing here on Friday and Saturday.  If the school wants to offer me more hours, or even start me going full time, i have the option of staying in the company apartments.  We'll see how that goes though.
But it's so nice to be making money again!  I celebrated today by going to the first summer fireworks show in the area, and also buying a handmade bracelet from the guy who's always selling his stuff just outside of the station.  

Ick, vein-y hand!

Jul 26, 2011

Summer festivals

Went to an awesome festival last Sunday, which included a huge mikoshi parade.  Went with one of my housemates and a Japanese friend of ours.  We walked around, looked at some booths, got food and some snow cones.  Walked over to the main road as the parade was starting- it was amazing!  Group after group of people carrying mikoshi after mikoshi, for as far as i could see all down the road through the city.  We stood and watched a few go by before walking up the street to see further down the parade.  There was one group that was stopped while waiting for the group in front of them to get ahead a little.  They had someone holding a sign in front of their mikoshi stating that it had been around since 1746.  I thought that was pretty amazing so i stopped to take a picture.  As i did, one of the men in the group waved me over and insisted that i have a try at carrying it with them!  I was stoked, since when we had been watching the parade before i mentioned how it looked like fun and how i wanted to try carrying one.  Luckily i got my chance! 
It was a lot heavier that i thought it would be!  And with me being about the same height as the men carrying it, i had quite a bit of the weight on my shoulder, whereas a lot of the women who were "carrying" it had it a good couple inches off their shoulders.  It was still a lot of fun though, and while i cut out after about 10 minutes to do some more looking around, we caught up with them near the end of the parade and i got to carry it again for another 20 minutes or so, until the very end.  Everyone got drinks, and then a lot of the people started talking to me afterward too, and telling me i should come back and do it again with them next year.  :D  I would definitely consider it, despite my shoulders still being bruised and super sore 3 days later!  Seriously, when i touch my shoulders even slightly it feels like a sunburn, and lifting and moving my arms around hurts too.  The muscles in my neck and back are pretty achy as well- a good workout i guess!

Made a video, which includes some pictures and video i took that day.

And just as a bonus- since my sister sent me the link to this today- cute baby video!

Isn't my nephew the cutest?  :3

Jul 21, 2011


I've decided that the weather here is almost as schizophrenic as the weather in Seattle.  One day it's hot and humid with the sun beating down, the next it's cloudy and pouring down buckets of rain!  Although rainy season "officially" ended over a week ago, leaving behind its legacy with even more humidity for us to endure once the sun came back full-force, the past few days we've been watching as the typhoon has made its way across the country.  Some places were hit pretty bad, but it wasn't too bad in my area- just a few days of clouds, strong winds, and the occasional downpour.  Yesterday it rained quite a bit in the afternoon, then stayed cloudy for the rest of the day.  By nightfall, the air outside was absolutely refreshing!  So breezy and cool, definitely a nice change from the miserable heat we've been having otherwise.  I didn't even have to turn on the A/C at all, just left the window open all night, and i even actually got a little chilly!

Typhoon hits Japan
Beautiful weather again today.  Partly cloudy, air still nice and cool.  The school's closed today (like it is every Thursday) and we've got all the windows and doors here open, enjoying the nice breezes blowing through.  Typhoon appears to be over though, so i can only expect it to get hot again from here.  Blech!

There was a little festival here last Sunday, and some of my housemates and i went to have a look around, despite the miserable heat.

Gold fish-ing
Lots of masks
Making takoyaki
The traditional dancers

 A whole parade of dancers!
The housemates making faces of... excitement?  haha
Little girls watching the hula dancers
The guy on the left and on the right usually come to the school at night to hang out in the front with us and chat and smoke.  We met them at the festival and hung out with them behind some of the food stands  

Jul 20, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

 Snowmageddon- Seattle, Nov. 2010

 School starts to clear out

The collaborative effort of strangers- 7-foot snow woman

The stranded

Emerging the next day

The aftermath

Jul 18, 2011

海の日(umi no hi), victories, and tragedy

Today was a public holiday much like many public holidays in the US that land on a Monday, in the sense that no one really celebrates it and it's just another excuse for a day off!  I had asked some students what this holiday was about, and got mostly replies of "I don't know" and "There's no meaning, really".  My favourite answer though was, "I think the government decided there weren't enough holidays, so they made another one."  Haha, gotta love some of the advanced students for their wit!
But Umi no Hi, or Ocean Day, does officially have a more significant meaning than that, what with the country being completely surrounded by ocean.  To quote the all-knowing *ahem* Wikipedia, Umi no Hi is "a day of gratitude for the blessings of the oceans and to hope for the economic prosperity of maritime Japan."  Seems a bit ironic though, considering recent events...

And considering other recent events- this morning on Facebook i was greeted by a string of posts, from Japanese and American friends alike, celebrating Japan's victory in the Women's World Cup.  Definitely a morale-booster in a time where the Northeast is still recovering from the devastation of the tsunami, but also a great show of the strength that these people possess.  The Japanese are often known for their politeness and reserve, but they are also fighters and exhibit amazing resilience.  Just look at the before and after pictures of the clean-up process after the tsunami, it's amazing.  I think this World Cup victory is definitely well-deserved.

But this day is definitely a bittersweet one, as tragedy strikes yet again for one of Japan's most influential rock groups- X Japan.  They're often described as "heavy metal", but since i fail to hear the "metal", i prefer to describe them as "Japanese 80's hair band, with makeup sometimes reminiscent of KISS".  At least they were in their early years.  They lost their guitarist hide to bizarre, unfortunate circumstances back in 1998, and just yesterday, their former bassist Taiji died after being found in a similar state.  
I discovered X back in my freshman year of high school, at that time they had been disbanded for a few years and there were no signs of them ever reuniting.  But last year i got lucky as my dreams became reality, and got to see them perform live in Seattle (of course sans hide, and sadly sans Taiji then too).  It was amazing, to say the least.
Mention X Japan to any Japanese person, whether they listen to that sort of music or not, and they'll know who you're talking about, if they don't you can liken them to someone in the West who's never heard of the Rolling Stones (at least, every Japanese that i've asked has at least heard of them).  They've had such an impact on the music scene here, and it's sad that this sort of thing has happened to another of their members.

Was debating which video to leave you with, and i can't pick, so i'll just post them both.
There's Silent Jealousy, the first song of theirs that i ever heard.  Very early, 80's-style video there for you!

And here about a decade later, playing my favourite live- 紅 (Kurenai)- with less hair, less makeup, and less clothes.

Jul 15, 2011

Adventures in Hanguk, Pt. 2

(Late getting this post up too.. had most of this written on Wednesday but didn't get around to posting it til now)
So, continuing from the last post- after getting back to the guesthouse Tuesday night, i was chilling in the living room after i'd changed into my PJs, and surprised the 3 Japanese people there by interjecting into their conversation in Japanese.  There were 2 older men, who had been there for a while, and then the one Japanese girl who i think got there the same day as me.  She was in the same room as me too.  
Anyway, yesterday morning she asked for my email and such and we took some pictures together since we were both leaving.  She left shortly after noon, but i hung around a little to kill some time before heading to the airport.  Went for my last meal in Korea before heading to the airport, and i chose Taco Bell.  Yes, Taco Bell!  I was a little too excited when i discovered the Taco Bell not far from the guesthouse on my walk Tuesday.  Not as big of a menu as in the US, but i was still able to get my delicious bean burritos, and an extra packet of hot sauce to bring back with me.

Anyway, i got to the airport way early so i had a lot of time to kill.  Just wandered around before going to check in.  The guy checking me in started heckling me about my stay in Japan, since my visa expires the 18th and he just kept saying, "How long are you staying in Narita?  Your visa expires the 18th.  You have to buy a return ticket. Etc, etc.."  I was just thinking, yeah and..?  Sorry, you work for Korean Air, you should be worrying about checking me in and getting my boarding pass.  Let the immigration officers worry about my visa status if it is such a big deal to them.  And then i asked him about the meals on the flight, since on the way there we got a meal, which was really unexpected since it's only a 2-hour flight, and there was chicken in it, and ham in the salad.  Ate around it, because what can you do?  But i figured this time i'd request a veg meal so i could actually eat my food without worrying about chewing on little meat-bits that would trigger my gag reflex.  So after the guy was done harassing me about my visa i asked him about requesting a meatless meal.  He told me the flight was only 2 hours so there wouldn't be a meal, just a snack or something.  I asked again, just to be sure, saying that there had been a meal on the flight over.  Again, he told me there was no meal.  Alright, if you say so.

Went through security, and they pulled me aside and asked to go through my backpack.  Why ask?  Would they let me go on ahead if i had said no?  Anyway, the lady pulls out my bag of toiletries and starts inspecting each one.  I knew i was stretching it trying to bring my hairspray with me, but no one stopped me at security in Narita.
She didn't just take my hairspray though.  She took my toothpaste, and my expensive Aveeno face lotion too.  I understand the need for airport security, but there is a point where it just gets excessive, invasive, and annoying.  Especially the whole liquid restrictions (which, i might point out, toothpaste is NOT liquid.  It is a PASTE, hence the name toothPASTE).  Limiting the amount of liquid someone brings on the plane with them will not stop them from creating some sort of crazy explosive concoction if they want to.  Japan's got it right though- they've got the right amount of security without crazy, paranoia-driven regulations that make everyone's trips more irritating.

Anyway, off my soap-box now..
Got to my gate and waited for the line to go down a bit before trying to board.  As i was heading to the back of the line though, i spotted the Japanese girl from the guesthouse!  We chatted a little bit as we went through the line and boarded our plane.

And of course, we got a meal.  A big pile of beef served with rice.  Yep.  
Of course it's pointless to not eat it if it's just going to get thrown away, but i haven't eaten meat for so long that i just can't eat it.  It grosses me out, and i have this automatic gag/spit reflex when i bite into it.  I've gotten used to the fact that there is probably animal-stock in a lot of what i'm eating, but actual bits of meat i just can't do.
So thank you, Korean Air Check-in Guy.  Thank you.

Landed safely after less than 2 hours in the air.  Got my passport stamped at the immigration desk, no problem.  The guy at customs seemed a little skeptical of my luggage-less travel, but after telling him that i was just traveling around before heading back to the US for work, he gave me a nod and waved me on through.
Again, Korean Air Check-in Guy, you just proved yourself to be clueless and annoying.  Thank you.

But yes, i'm back, after a train-ride that took about as long as the flight from Korea.  For serious.  Visa is good til October but i should hopefully have my work visa by then, which means an actual job that pays!  :D
And i have a lot more pictures of Korea here if you are interested in looking!

Jul 13, 2011

Adventures in Hanguk

(Wrote this all up last night, but it took to long to load pictures and everything, so it's a day behind.. I'm too lazy to go through and change all the wording though)

Three days was definitely too short!  Korea was an awesomely wonderful place to visit and i'm just sad i couldn't stay longer (and with more money to spend!)  Despite not knowing anything but "hello" and "thank you" in Korean, i actually had no problem getting around at all.  In fact, all of the people i ended up talking to somehow knew English, lucky me!  I guess all that last-minute studying wasn't really needed after all..  Although, after only 2 days i can read about 80% of the Korean characters (i surprised my friend yesterday by pointing at a sign and asking, "Does that say 'massage'?  And does that one say 'chicken'?"  They were written in Korean (마사지 [masaji] and 치킨 [chikin]) but the pronunciation is the same-ish as in English)!  A lot easier than learning to read Japanese for sure.  I have toyed with the idea of starting to study Korean for a while, and i do think i'll continue to learn it little by little.

But anyway, my trip was nothing but awesome (up until the airport coming back, more on that later though).  
Arrived at the airport Monday afternoon and was welcomed by a big dance performance on the stage on the first floor of the airport, so i stuck around to watch it before catching my bus to the guesthouse.  Got there, checked in and dropped off my backpack before heading out to take a little walk around the neighborhood.  Got some microwave food from Seven-Eleven before going back to chill at the guesthouse and try to get ahold of my friend.
Made plans to meet up around 9pm, when we went to Myeong-dong, a big shopping district with lots to see!  We walked the streets, stopping to look at some of the more interesting vendors along the way.  Friend was thirsty so we decided to stop at the huge 4-story Dunkin Donuts for a little break!  I got some Munchkins and she got some peach tea and we shared.  Then we went to take some purikura (those "print club" photo booth machines), walked around some more, then headed home before it got too late.

 Bustling nightlife in Myeong-dong

 4-story Dunks!

 Enjoying our Munchkins and tea~

Slept in yesterday, got up and got showered before going to the convenience store for some late lunch food (spicy ramen.. tried to find some non-spicy buuuuut, it's Korea haha).  Made plans to meet up with another friend that evening.  Figured out what lines i had to take on the subway and everything (the subway in Korea is super cheap!  Especially compared to Japan), got my fare-card, and was on my merry way.  When i reached my stop and tried to get out through the turnstyles, for some reason the machine wasn't reading my card and it wouldn't let me out!  Of course i could've just hopped over, but with me being a whitey and having a lot of attention drawn to me as it was, i didn't really feel comfortable doing that.  I wandered around for about 15 minutes, wondering what to do, thinking i was going to be stuck down there because there weren't any station staff around to ask for help.  Finally i got up the nerve to try to talk to some nice looking lady about to go through.  I didn't say anything, just flagged her over and showed her what happened when i tried to beep my way through.  Then she came out with awesome English, "Oh.. it must be an error.. Just sneak through!"  Haha, well if it was that easy..!  So she let me slip out behind her.  I thanked her and we went our separate ways.
Met my friend at our agreed-upon exit, and he took me to Insa-dong, which i guess is the more "traditional" area of Seoul.  We wandered the streets first looking for a good bibimbap restaurant.  The bibimbap we got at the restaurant was different than what i'm used to, but still very good!  Lots of green veggies, and of course a bunch of side dishes as is custom at Korean restaurants.  

Enjoying our bibimbap!  (And don't you just wanna pinch them cheeks??)  xD

After that we walked around and looked in a few of the shops along the way, selling lots of Korean-y goods.  Then, even though i had stuffed myself full at the restaurant, i got hungry again from walking!  I had spotted a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and was extremely excited about that, since there aren't any in Seattle- a shame really.. they're much better than Starbuck's (sorry Seattle, i still love you!) especially for a non coffee drinker like me.  So we went to take a short rest there, i got a delicious pomegranate-blueberry tea latte and some blueberry yogurt cheesecake.  After that we walked down to this really neat little stream/river and walked the length of it up to where it started, and there was a really awesome waterfall lit up by blue lights.  Saw a couple other landmarks before he accompanied me back to my station.  We decided to stop by this Japanese-style izakaya for drinks (and munchies, since i was hungry again!) before he walked me back to the guesthouse. 

Little shopping area in Insa-dong

 Starbucks in Insa-dong!  Every other Starbucks has the normal English sign, except for this one

Inside the super-fancy Coffee Bean

A really cool little gallery under a bridge along the little river we walked along

 One part of the river all lit up

 The waterfall at the start of the river

 Cool sculpture, and his silhouette in front

 Some cool structure.. i don't remember its significance, sorry!

 Rainy street in Mapo-gu, near the guesthouse.  I love the colorful lights reflecting in the street.

I'll post about my last day later.. this is already a pretty long post, and the next one will be a lot of me complaining about the airport.  But i made it through immigration and everything eventually, obviously, so i can stay here for another 3 months at least while i wait for my work visa, then i don't have to worry about leaving for at least another year.  :D

Goodnight all~

Jul 10, 2011


Yes.  In approximately 12 hours from now i will be on a plane for a short little 2-hour ride across the sea to Korea!  (Yes, of course, the Southern half!)
A rather spontaneous trip, but since my tourist visa expires the 18th and my working visa won't process until the end of the month at least, i have to take a short little out-of-country trip to make sure i'm not caught overstaying my welcome and get kicked out of the country!  That would just be counter-productive.
Initially i had my sights set on Guam.

Beaches, beaches, and more beaches!  And on top of that, a lot of the comforts of home.  But even if i had just slept on the beach instead of getting a hotel as i considered, the $1000 plane ticket just wasn't worth it for a short 3-hour flight.  Just couldn't find a good deal on any English website i checked, and i just couldn't be assed to navigate any more Japanese websites than i already did (it sucks still being mostly illiterate.. and while i was still able to find some deals on some Japanese sites it just wasn't within my budget).
So, Korea it was!  I can't complain.  Korea is still exciting, the flight is relatively cheap, guesthouse is super-cheap, i get to add another country to my list, and best of all, i get to see some of my Korean friends that i met at UW and haven't seen for about a year!  :D  
Should be in bed now as i have to make sure i'm up in time in the morning, but i still want to download some audio Korean lessons from Youtube.  This will be my first time in a country where i literally only know 2 or 3 words of the language, and i won't have Miss C as my tour guide/translator..  My Japanese is still terrible but i can at least ask for directions and other things, but in Korea i can't ask for or understand anything.  But it should definitely be an adventure and i'm still quite excited. :D

돼지꿈 꾸세요!  "Good night and sweet dreams!"  
(At least that's what the phrase-book says that means, haha)

Jul 6, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Taken back when S, J and i all lived together.. we were playing with some face-distorting webcam feature on Miss C's laptop.  They still bring me great amusement whenever i look at them!  

See more Wordless Wednesdays here!

Jul 4, 2011

Happy 4th!

Today passed just like any other day.  No barbeques, root beer floats, big celebrations, fireworks, or any of that other exciting stuff.  But me and one of my other house-mates decided to "celebrate" in our own way- once classes were over we took a walk to Freshness Burger to get us some "American" food!  Freshness Burger is the only burger place i know of here that serves veggie burgers.  Not the typical Gardenburger or Boca Burger that i'm used to, but they have one with a bean-based patty, and one with a tofu patty.  Tried the beans one the first time i went there with my other house-mate, so i got the tofu one this time.  Both are quite delicious.

The cashier there tonight was quite nice- younger guy, all smiles.  Greeted us with a "hello" and took our order in English!  Afterward i complimented him on his English (in Japanese lol.. so he switched to Japanese after that), and when i asked him how long he studied he said he only did an exchange program in Canada for a year.  He chatted with us a bit too while we waited for our food.  Got the burger and fries to-go, then popped into a Lawson's on the way back to get some Coke and vanilla ice cream to make Coke floats!  Root beer is a rare, rare thing here (i haven't found any yet, same with refried beans.. i've only heard stories of them) as most Japanese don't like the taste.  They say it tastes like medicine.  I say i only wish some of the medicine i had to take as a kid tasted like root beer!
But i digress..

The 4th here is now over, but for the rest of you on the other side, the festivities should be starting soon.  Make sure to have lots of fun for me!
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