Finding Nemo: Snorkeling in Ainan, Ehime

Awaking mostly hangover free post enkai on Saturday morning, I had one thing on my mind: the celebration of James’ birthday that night down in Ainan. A few of us had planned to make the trip, so we packed up the car, traded cars due to tire issues, and then were on our way; road trippin’ in a Prius.

A few Bryan Adams albums later, we arrived in James’ small town. We had some beers over conversation, hilariously reading the messages on a table he owns, which had been passed down from various ALT’s and signed by even more, and discovering our friend Yasu had already been here (“Yasu, when were you here before?” we asked. “I have NO IDEA, but that’s my phone number,” he replied, pointing to a signature and number on the table..HA) before heading out in our Saturday’s finest to a local restaurant to meet his friends and have some nomihodai (all you can drink).

After a minorly awkward beginning, we were all a few drinks in, and the conversations started flowing more naturally as we started to become less nervous to break out the few Japanese expressions we knew and James’ friends were less afraid to use their English. (I assume this is why it was awkward.) We had drinks and delicious food, and we each took turns wearing a blonde wig Yasu happened to bring along that matched his nurses dress he also brought “just in case” – which obviously meant he wore it out. After an absurd amount of group photos later, the dinner was over. I somehow had a quick game of Super Mario before we left the restaurant (I guess there was a Nintendo there, but I didn’t notice it until we went to leave, and just had to play a game obviously). Then we were back at James’ for a dance party. A highlight of which was James and I dancing harder than I have ever danced in my life to “Big in Japan”. What a tune.

birthday boy
The birthday boy himself.

We rocked out for a while, literally dancing up a storm, until we were “shhh-d” by the neighbors, who in true Japanese style, apologized to us for having disturbed us during what was obviously a rockin’ party. So we turned down the tunes and ended the night.

The next morning, I woke up on a small pillow between the table and the wall. Apparently, in our state, James and I had decided NOT to bother breaking out the futons (I am left only to assume that he suggested this, he was on the couch!), and to just sleep where we were. Either way, I woke up feeling surprisingly good; for now.

Sunday was a beautiful and warm (read: blazing hot) day, so we headed out to the local Kashima deer, monkey, and peacock island to go snorkeling! Here: we nearly went snorkeling in the wrong spot (which would have lead to the opposite of Finding Nemo – Not Finding Nemo, or any Fish in General), got charged at by a local monkey, saw a blow fished that puffed too soon, and ungracefully struggled in water with giant flippers on. Well, actually, I didn’t struggle as much because I was somehow given children’s flippers…

on the ferry
Looking good, and not the least bit hungover, on our way to Kashima.post drinking and snorkelling adventure
Post birthday celebration snorkelling.

The island was beautiful, and the water was nice. After finally getting started snorkeling, and in the right place, we were swimming with beautiful fish in no time. There were bright blues ones, jellyfish which seemed not to sting, as well as coral, and I spotted a Sea Anemone, which we ALL KNOW, is home to Nemo fish! So I hovered over it for a while, and sure enough, out from it swam a little Nemo fish! “IT’S NEMO, I FOUND NEMO,” I struggled to shout to my friends through my snorkeling mask. Fortunately, good friends understand you in times of need, and swam over to see Nemo for themselves. We also happened across a puffed up blow fish, which Yasu retrieved via stick. We thought he may be alive, but unfortunately, he had passed away. RIP Blowfish that Puffed Too Soon.

our message to the blowfish
RIP Blowfish.TRIP
Turn that RIP into TRIP. WOO for trips!

On our way out, with the island mostly deserted, we found some of the locals had come down to hang out… the monkeys (well really only one monkey). We cautiously approached him, in an attempt to take a photo when it charged at us! As we all know, this is not my first time dealing with monkey’s so I was unafraid. Eventually he veered off the path and ran into the woods.

That concludes last weekend’s adventures.

Until next time,
xo R

Goodbyes

I gave my speech in Japanese, although now I can’t really remember even doing it. My JTE assures me I was coherent. It was so hot in the gym. I didn’t really feel nervous though, I embarass myself in front of these people on a daily basis. Usually it’s seperately though. It seems more convienent to have them all gather so I can get it over with all at once. One of my favourite students (am I allowed to have favourites?) came up to me at the end of my speech to present me with these flowers. They are beautiful. She is a great student, and I hope she does well in the future. As I say thank you and look over my 300 kids (a small school as far as Junior High’s go), I can’t help but make eye contact as I search for the handful of kids – across each grade – that I had really connected with. As corny as it sounds, I really hope they do well in the future, and become who they want to be. I will miss seeing their familiar faces. I will miss their help when I stumble through something in class, always rescuing me by raising their hand (sometimes reluctantly) when no one wants to answer my questions, or coming to my aid in a translation. They probably don’t even realise the impact they have had; although I was given the opportunity to write a few of them notes, so I hope they get a sense of it.

Good bye Hojo Minami. We’ve had our ups and downs, but no one can take away the memories of my first year teaching; my first experiences in Japan are owed to you. いろいろ ありがとうございました。

flowers & cardsFlowers & messages from my 3rd year students.

Japan’s School Lunches

I’ve mentioned it in passing before, but I feel it is finally time for kyuushoku or, school lunches, to get the attention they deserve: and entire post.

In Japan, elementary and junior high schools have set lunches. Every day a lunch specially prepared for the young, active student is served. It is less ideal for the desk sitting, lazy ALT, and will inevitably cause weight gain due to the large serving size and abundance of calories. I have photographed my lunches for the last few days in order to give you an idea of this unique aspect of Japan school life.

school lunchOn June 18th we were served fish cakes. I hate them because, as a mostly non-fish eater, I have trouble with the small bones in them. I mostly just mush it around so it looks like I ate some and then throw it out. Some egg soup, and of course, some rice. Itadakimasu.school lunch
On June 20th we were served one of my favourite on the kyuushoku menu. Delicious sqiud rings, which sound so much worse than they really are. Delicious rice and potato and bacon (and veggie) soup. No trouble eating this one up! Oishii!school lunch
I always mistake these fried balls for fried chicken, but they are actually a fried assortment of random crap. Not my favourite, can you tell? The udon is delicious, and I always take the bread home for next days breakfast, and am often offered the leftover bread from the other teacher’s lunches too. “Rachel-sensei, for breakfast, OK?”kyushoku
A rare sight in school lunches, but a delicious treat, is these burger paddies. A nice change from the usual fish, I gobble these up without problem. The bacon and potato and veggie soup makes another appearance. Whats not to love – besides the flavourless veggies underneath the burger paddies…kyuushoku
On the 26th of June we were served some miso soup and rice; it doesn’t get more Japanese than that. In that little bowl is some chicken and vegetables in a delicious sauce. I quite enjoyed that.kyuushoku
Some sweet and sour shrimp – not to bad, but I can’t eat it all, it gets a bit to fishy tasting. Hiding behind that bread is some chips, the first time I have ever seen them at school lunch. Kids loved it. Again, save the bread. Not complete without an overserving of some OK tasting noodles and vegetable mixture.kyushoku
The final image in my kyushoku files is lunch on the 6th of July. Some red bean rice, some egg and noodle soup, and some fried vegetables mixed with fish make this not the worst of the menu, but not the best. I have heard rumours of a school lunch consisting of naan and curry, and I anxiously await it’s appearnce, however it is elusive and possibly a myth. I’ll keep you posted.

Have you heard about my next adventure yet?

Until next time,
xo R

Next Adventure

Katie and I will be heading to Sinagpore! And Bali! And the Gili Islands! Our friend and fellow ALT, Fernn, is from Singapore and her wonderful family is allowing us to use her home as a base as we make the rounds of Indonesia. A few days in Singapore, then off to Bali where we spend a few more days before taking a boat to Gili, then the whole trip in reverse. Should be an exciting time! We leave on August 4th and return on August 20th. So although I may not get a lot of blogging done during that time, no doubt there will be a plethora of stories for you upon my reutrn.

Until then, look forward to updates on my move into Matsuyama (perhaps a tour of my apartment PART TWO? .. the first one was just such a big hit I don’t see how I couldn’t make a sequel.)

Also I’m making the trip down to what I suspect is the beautiful bustling town of Ainan to visit James, who you may remember from the James & Rachel Travel to South Korea series. We plan on snorkleing and partying (in celebration of his birthday), and I am sure I will come back with at least some sort of good story.

Hope all is well back in the true North strong and free! (& whichever various country anyone else happens to be in at this time..),

Japanese Haunted House

This is the story of how I (very reluctantly) agreed to go to a “Haunted House” on the weekend. Despite the fact that kids were coming out laughing and without fearful faces, I nearly cried. It turned out to be a combination of “The Grudge” and “The Ring” – thus my worst fear in real life.

A “Haunted House” has opened up on one of the popular streets in Matusyama. My friend Katie, who loves scary movies and scary things in general, suggested that we go. Not wanting to seem like a giant scaredy cat, I agreed to go alone, as did Catherine. Zeno, however, was clearly too frightened, and left us girls to go by ourselves.

On our way there we met another ALT friend, who told us about his experience going last year. He told us that it was not the least bit scary because the people working there, upon seeing the foreigners entering, just shouted “JESUS” the whole time. I find this to be the most amusing thing they could have shouted and was at this point hoping the same thing would happen to us. It did not.

The line to enter was long and mostly filled with children. Katie’s students, to be exact, who wanted to go through the house with us. Luckily there were too many of us, so we had to go on our own (this turned out to be a blessing, as I would not have wanted the kids to see my in the state I was in).

We bought our tickets and went inside. Each group (for us, the three of us) goes in one at a time and the whole experience is about 2 minutes long. At first, it is difficult to see anything at all, and we have a quick debate over who should go first. Obviously it would not be me, as I had already latched myself onto Katie, with my arms around her waist and my face buried into her back. She would tell me afterwards that her shoes kept coming off because I kept stepping on her feet. I obviously didn’t even notice this because I was so afraid. So, on we go. We can’t tell what we are walking on, the texture of the floor keeps changing, and we can’t see where we are going. Things aren’t so bad until we approach some stairs. After walking up them we can hear scary voices. This is where true terror sets in. People, in full “The Grudge” and “The Ring” style, with hair in front of their faces, arms out, come chasing us. I scream like a crazy woman, Katie and Catherine are saying “Jesus, Jesus” in an attempt to make the situation lighter, and we rush by each person. More keep coming, however, and in my pure horror I scream “RUN”, and as I round the corner I can see the light of the finish. Scary people are in my way, however, so I push Catherine towards them scream “KEEP RUNNING” and aim for the light. The light, it turns out, is the end, and opens over top of the line to enter the haunted house – something I didn’t notice coming out, maybe because no one came out screaming in pure horror like me. We were supposed to attach our tickets to the last wall before we exited the house, but I was already out and there was no way I was going back in. Catherine thought she would though, and opened the door back up to stick her ticket in, but the people were waiting for her, and she quickly came back out again.

Although we survived, I think the moral of this story is: you would not want to be stuck with me in any time of horror, as apparently I lose all sense of safety for my friends and focus only on escaping myself.

I’m ever going to a Japanese Haunted House again.