Saturday, September 19, 2009

Saturday, September 19, 2009-

Today the sunset was an incredible dark red sinking into the mountains further west. It made me the most homesick I have been thus far. I missed my family sitting on our old porch swing facing westward, perhaps as if looking to Japan. I felt a sudden longing to go to church, the cabin and the boundary waters. I thought of Grandpa Beske. All of that just looking at the sun fall away - falling away just in time to rise over Minnesota.

Thanks to everyone for their comments on the blog. It has honestly been so encouraging to know that I have this many people stopping in to see what I’ve been up to. I guess I’m just at that first dip in the “Rotary Rollercoaster” as we like to call it. I am doing fine now, but I think those brief moments of struggle are what I will look back on and appreciate most from the year.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thursday, September 17-Friday, September 18, 2009-

If a day is a second, a year is just over six minutes.

For me these past two days have felt like two seconds, tick-tick, the clock is playing tricks with my mind. I feel as if I am spending my days twiddling my thumbs at times, and yet I am fast approaching my 1 month mark. I now fully believe my new Rotex friend Ayano Baba when she said to me, “I got home to Japan after my year in Minnesota, looked at myself and asked, ‘was that just a dream?’”

To be brief the two highlights of my split second days have been twofold:

1) I got the new uniform for the Fishery. I get to wear a slick pair o’ slacks, a rather 1980’s fashioned zip-up with the initials BHSF on the back (Bato High School Fishery, because I know you were trying to figure it out), a pair of high-quality boots, and an impressive lab coat. To top it off the slacks and lab coat were embroidered with my name: サム.

2) SUSHI. I actually learned to make Sakura Sushi today in food design (I still smirk every time I say “food design”) along with Osuimono Soup, and Sakura Mochi. Sakura Sushi is made with the traditional sushi rice. To each 3 person batch of rice add 3 Tbsp. Vinegar, 1 tsp. Salt, & 5 tsp. Sugar.

Mix into the rice and leave to cool. If you have sheets of nori seaweed at home you can lay out a sheet on a rolling mat and fill it with your desired fixings. Today we added Egg, Carrot, Shitake Mushrooms, and two Japanese things I didn't recognize.

Mochi are small rice cakes that are cooked flat like pancakes and filled with delectable Anko – Red Bean Paste. Our final result was a nice second lunch for the day. Which reminds me, I think I have gained 2 kilos so far, but I don’t know how much of that is from my thigh muscles bulking up!

Tomorrow is the first of a five day stretch of holidays called Silver Week, so named because it is the autumn version of the infamous Golden Week which comes every spring. I have the next three school days off and I am planning on going ayu fishing, to a sports day, and to Nikko Forest. I am so excited for the last one. From what I've heard, it's quite impressive. As they say in Japanese 楽しいみにしています。”I am in a state of being prepared to do fun.” To translate- I’m excited!

PS I've started having dreams in semi-Japanese. Parts are in Japanese but I don’t actually understand most of it. Kevin Blackburn, the town employee that has been helping me, was joking with me, we decided that somewhere in there I’m already fluent! Now if my dreams would just become reality, then my dreams would really have become reality (WOAH, word play!)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wednesday, September 16, 2009-

Very little to report from my end today so I think it’s about time for another list, don’t you? (This picture does make sense, look closely for #9)

The Top Ten Easiest Ways to Share Your American Culture:

1) Introduce your classmates to such artists as The Fray, Jason Mraz, Taylor Swift, Akon, Beyoncé, T.I., and Lady Gaga

2) Show them your drivers license…they are left amazed

3) Show them your passport with a picture of you age 15…they are left laughing

4) Offer to help them do their English homework and basically complete the whole assignment for them

5) Show them pictures of your house buried in snow

6) Describe a snow day

7) Describe that your high school back home has no dress code *CAUTION: The boys will begin to ask many questions about the types of outfits high school girls wear, apparently they have trouble differentiating hookers and high school students*

8) Explain that you fish for Walleye and Northern pike (then proceed to find out that the Japanese name for pike means “River Barracuda” and feel way cooler saying you fish for “River Barracudas” than pike)

9) Give your classmates Skittles. Half of them may think it’s gum and try to chew it for a remarkably long time before you tell them otherwise.

10) SMILE, duh!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009-

My day on the river entailed much more than I expected it would. I went straight to the fishery in the morning, where my homeroom class (which includes all of my favorite classmates) loaded onto the school’s oversized van of a bus and traveled 15 minutes down stream to the Nakagawa River. I was so excited to finally get to experience the Naka (‘gawa’ is the Japanese word for ‘river’ so I’m guessing its real name is only the Naka River). We unloaded all of our kayaks underneath a bright-red steel bridge and before long my entire class, three different teachers, and our kayaking coach were all on the water. We stayed within the same area today but I was told that next spring our class will kayak a 30 kilometer stretch of the river. I can’t wait!

Near the bridge was a fantastic rapids shoot that we each got to experience several times. The current was really moving, so when on my 2nd pass I tipped I didn’t feel too bad. By the time the day was up nearly the whole class had taken a nice refreshing dip one way or another = ) I decided it was too risky to take my camera in the kayak so unfortunately no pictures. So let’s paint a mental image instead. The sky is overcast, yet where you can see the bright blue sky poking through it looks as if it too wants to dive into the rushing turquoise current of the Nakagawa. The rapids on our left are small but plentiful, while to the right is where the real adventure lies. Three large rock outcroppings, each splattered with mildew and defiant little river plants, shoot out of the foaming water as if to add an additional element of risk to the pass. The forest on both sides of the river is thick, green bamboo with its countless leaves swooping in the chilly breeze. As you begin your run you hear from the trees the screech of golden eagles as they glide overhead in search of a meal smaller than the sudden abundance of kayaks that have overtaken their stretch of the river. The pass leaves your heart bounding, your kayak drenched, and your arms and face sore, the first from paddling and the second from smiling…

But that was just the first half. After our sack lunches along the stony riverbank we moved further downstream to where the class had our first 和船 – Wasen lesson.

The traditional Japanese style river fishing boat is one tricky craft to maneuver. With the bamboo staff you have to think opposite of what your instincts tell you. As we took turns tackling the new challenge, my classmates laughed, joked, wrestled, pulled pranks, and tried (in vain) to catch the minnows that swam around our feet. A reporter from the town newspaper was even there taking pictures and I was interviewed (in Japanese so I hope I understood what he was asking me correctly). By the time we headed back to the fishery we were each soaked, tired, and happy. What more can I say? It was another great day.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Random Realization

I just realized that by this point in my Germany exchange three years ago I would already be safe and sound back home. I can only assume a year will be done in no time! Keep that in mind Mom. This post was mainly for your benefit : ) Love you, Sam

Monday, September 14, 2009-

A calm day here in Nakagawa. I spent the school day helping in English classrooms today and studying Japanese in the library. Oshima-Sensei (the very fun librarian) has become one of my favorites at Bato High School, and we spent quite a while simply talking in Japanese today. At this point that is exactly what I need to be doing most, so I appreciated her taking the time to chat with me today.

My afternoon was quite nice, I went to soccer for all of 20 minutes where we kicked the ball around, biked home, and decided I was going to do something I have practically never done before. I painted! Hah random, huh? I asked myself what I wouldn’t do if I were at home right now and decided that taking out the water color pencils that Saki and Riho used last night would be just that.

I painted one picture of Mt. Fuji that is awful so I refuse to show it to you. But I still laugh every time I see this picture of the old Sasayaso man mask, so I decided I was going to paint it! It was surprisingly satisfying and relaxing. Now I’ve blogged, I might read for a bit, and then crash. Life doesn’t get any better than Rotary Exchange.

PS. Tomorrow I spend all day out on the water again. It’s nice when you can’t wait for your next day of school.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday, September 13, 2009-

Today I had the red carpet rolled out for me! It has been perhaps my best day in Nakagawa yet, which I think you’ll agree, is saying something. The Welcoming Barbeque that was supposed to happen last weekend was moved to today. The weather couldn’t have been better, 80 and sunny with a perfect breeze coming off of the ocean from the east. The entire Rotary club (21 members) and some friends and family were all invited to President Ohkawa’s “mountain resort.” I say that because with the clear skies today you could see all the way across Tochigi Prefecture to the Mountains and Nikko Forest more than 50 kilometers inland. It was honestly breathtaking.

Papa Sato provided all of the Ayu for the party. For those of you who don’t know, Ayu is a small, freshwater sweetfish that Nakagawa loves. In order to have the fish ready for the party he and I headed over to the Ohkawas’ early. He and I sat on the front step and skewered over 100 fish! It was great sitting there learning from the “Ayu Master of Nakagawa.”

Soon the other Rotarians started showing up, each loaded with more and more food and drinks. It quickly proved to be a genuine feast. I was happy to see my Sasayaso friends, Mr. Kevin Blackburn, the principle of Bato High School, and the Sato’s son, his wife and two daughters came all the way from Utsunomiya.

The rest of the menu was grilled veggies, meat, seafood, and soba noodles out on this large falt iron skillet. That is my “host sister-in-law” (my brother’s wife) as she grills the food. Everything was very fresh and they use this great dipping sauce that is tangy and rich, I need to figure out what’s in it!

We then had a short welcoming ceremony, which was all in Japanese so I can’t exactly tell you what was said. But my counselor spoke for a bit, then my host family was introduced and the club gave me a giant bouquet of flowers. These are my host parents and their two granddaughters with me during the ceremony.

The party lasted several hours and I had a nice afternoon of socializing with my new hosts. Once it started to get dark, the club governor said a few words again, and everyone helped to clean up.

We then headed back home where the family had tea and more snacks. The two girls, Saki and Riho ages 11 and 6, jumped all over the place, doodled something for a while, watched a TV show about whales, ate raisins and looked at pictures I had of back home. I guess kids have ADHD all over the world : ) They were fun though, and Saki has even started to learn English in school so we practiced for a while together. When it was finally decided that it was late and that we kiddies had school tomorrow, we walked them to the door.

Just as they were about to leave Saki whispered something in Riho’s ear and turned suddenly to me and handed over the three pictures they had colored together. One was a flower done by Saki, the other two were Riho’s creations: I think the first is her in a kimono holding the sun and a tree, and the second is of two very colorful flowers. It was such a sweet gesture that I wanted to hug them but help back because hugging is so rare here in Japan. I hope they knew how happy I was by how big my smile was. I guess kids are cute all over the world too.