Saturday, November 7, 2009

Saturday, November 7, 2009-

Shortest blog on record: Away at a Rotary overnight event at some mountain cabin. Very excited, hope to have stories when I get back tomorrow night.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday, November 6, 2009-

The fact of the matter is that Rotary has its ups and its downs. The experiences that each of us encounter are all unique, foreign, overwhelming, and exhilarating. That may seem like an odd combination of emotions to feel, yet I’ve found that each word applies to the life of a Rotary Exchange student. I might even say that at times you feel like this fish- just consider that for a minute!

Unique- You’re the only one. You have spent your life in a culture far different than that in which you are currently living. You bring different knowledge, skills, and opinions to every room you enter. It can be make you feel like a star one second and an outcast the next.

Foreign- As much as you want to absorb the new culture that you’re living in you can’t help but compare it to where you’re coming from. The language, food, people, places, and even the seasons can be so new and unpredictable to you. Eventually you will appreciate the fact that you’re in someplace foreign, yet it may take a long time before everything finally clicks.

Overwhelming- To leave your family and friends for a whole year is more than just a challenge, it is at times incredibly overwhelming. You feel sad knowing that it will be a whole year before you’re back home. Yet what keeps you going is the hope that in this new country there is a family welcoming enough to take you in and friends outgoing enough to make you feel included. What can be most overwhelming at times is the sense of self-dependence and even guilt that seems to consume your thoughts. When you’re sitting at home you feel guilty for not going out, when you’re out and about you feel guilty for not being with your host family. It takes time for you to realize that this year is completely about YOU and that you don’t have enough time to worry about every last moment. Just enjoy the one you’re living right now.

Exhilarating- There are moments when I literally sit back and realize, “Holy Crap! I’m in Japan right now!” I am exhilarated by these random flashes of awareness and take comfort in the fact that I can step back and realize what an impact this year is going to have on my life. I will return home with connections across the globe, speaking a language I’d never thought I’d learn, and competent in a completely new culture. It seems backwards to think about, but part of what makes this year so exciting is recognizing how proud I’ll be of it once I’m back home.

To those who want to study abroad in the future: Although I can tell you stories, show you pictures, and fill this blog with my own experiences, I still feel as though there is no way to prepare you for the unique, foreign, overwhelming, and exhilarating life of an exchange student. Each of you will have a very individual year yet you will all be connected by that individuality. It is something that will take on a whole new meaning once you are actually abroad. Know that there will be good moments and bad moments but the key is to cherish the golden ones and learn from those that challenged you. Best of luck, I know you’ll do great! – Sam

This is just to make you smile -

This is what I encountered upon my return from school. Apparently this is what happens when Mrs. Sato tries to fix the fax machine….

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thursday, November 5, 2009-

You never know what class will entail at the 水産科-Suisanka (Fishery). For example today I spent five of my six hours sorting tiny silver fish called Ugui. I really don’t have much more I can say about that. We scooped the fish into big blue pales from which we sorted them into Giant, Large, Medium, and Small groups. The video below is us throwing the large fish into their new tank. By the end of the day I’d gotten pretty quick at it. Unfortunately as soon as the fish ran out we had to clean their old tank! It just goes to show that I’m taking each day as it comes and have as little idea what will end up on the blog the next day as you do. Thanks to all who have been following so closely. It’s an honor to know you’re out there reading what’s happening on the other side of the world.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wednesday, November 4, 2009-

Time for a Japanese language lesson. Don’t worry, I promise it will be fun. As I’ve slowly plowed my way upstream the raging river that is the Japanese language certain words have jumped out at me. Think of them as shiny little fish (oh no! I can’t get them out of my mind). Anyway, the Japanese have an incredible love for onomatopoeias, or at least funny words. I’ve tried to collect as many as I can yet it feels like every couple days I come across a new one that makes me laugh. Enjoy:

Barabara-Botsubotsu- Scattered about

Betsubetsu- Individual

Boribori- Munch, Crunch

Chichi- Dad

Daidai- Generation after generation

Dandan- Gradually

Dondon- Rapidly

Dorodoro- Muddy, Thick, Syrupy

Furafura- Stumbling off somewhere (it’s my host mom’s favorite response when I ask where my host father went!)

Fuwafuwa- Light, Fluffy

Garigari- Skin and bones

Girigiri- At the last moment; Grinding sounds

Gorogoro- Thunder and lightning; Purring; Rumbling stomach (that’s why little kids in Japan tell a big storm to go eat dinner- it’s stomach must be growling!)

Haha- Mom

Hatopopo- Sleepy

Jinjin- (lit. personperson) A man of virtue, Humanitarian

Kaka- Sound of laughter; Wife; Mommy

Karikari- Doughy

Kiki- Gleeful, Joyful

Kirakira- Sparkly

Kotokoto- Little bubbles, Simmering

Kurukuru- Spinning round and round

Masumasu- More and more

Merimeri-Biribiri- The sound of breaking branches

Motemote- Sexy, Popular

Nakanaka- Quite, Rather

Perapera- Fluent

Pecopeco- Starving

Poroporo- In large drops (like rain or crumbs)

Puripuri- In a huff

Shibashiba- Often, Again and again

Sorosoro-Bochibochi-Jojo- Soon, Gradually

Sorosoro- Slowly

Surusuru- Smooth

Tsuitsugi- One after another

Shitoshito- Gently

Yaya- A little, Somewhat

Yoyo- Night after night

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009-

I knew the Japanese were smart people- they made my Grandma Beske’s birthday a national holiday! Someone needed to do it = ) Hope it’s a good one grandma.

But today really was a national holiday 文化の日 Bunka no Hi or Cultural Day, something that I would certainly say I experienced. First of all I got to sleep in until 11 which was a holiday in itself! I checked the results of the boys’ soccer game against Apple valley and was so impressed with their 2-3 score. That’s really saying something against a powerhouse like AV! But by 12:30 my host mom and I had hopped in the car, picked up my host dad’s sister and another woman and were on our way north. We drove until we came to a town at the base of the Nasu mountain chain that marks the northern end of Tochigi Prefecture. They we attended the Nasu town Satou Tea Ceremony. The procedure was the real deal and it felt like a privilege to be allowed to watch, let alone to take pictures!

We actually attended two ceremonies, the first is of the picture above. The main host is the woman in the kimono preparing the Ocha Green Tea. All of her movements are short, precise, and delicate. The second was on the floor circled around a tatame matt stage. The host worked from a tea post fit into the floor. The room smelt of warm tea, wild flowers (half because of the ones for the ceremony, half because most of the old women smelt like rose scented perfume), and sweets. Below are some photos of the process and those I shared it with. I was the only foreigner at the ceremonies and people were even taking pictures of me drinking tea and bowing to the servers. Many seemed impressed that I would share their appreciation for the Japanese culture.

During the afternoon my host dad took me over to his friend’s house where we talked over tea, smoked salmon, sushi, rice, and sake, so I certainly felt Japanese there. After that we made our way to a temple that was having its 祭りMatsuri, or traditional festival. The area was packed with bright stalls, food vendors, trinket salesmen, and chilly visitors. The weather was much cooler today, probably dropping into the low 50s with a wind from the mountains up north. Even as a Minnesotan I felt no shame in wearing throwing on a big sweat shirt as soon as I got home. One more picture from the shrine is included below. It’s of a gigantic mask that represents demons and apparently is worn during these festivals. Just so you don’t think it has something to do with the tea ceremony…I hope it’s clear that that would be pretty out of place!

The beautiful pottery and bright green tea are perfectly combined
A bright red paper umbrella with a colorful and intricate center hanging over the ceremony
The cutest little Japanese girl sipping tea as her mother looks on
The sweet desserts meant to hide the bitterness of the powdered green tea
Some of the ceremony pieces
The incredibly expensive pottery used for the procedure
Yet you can tell why when you look closely, each one is so unique
The scary mask at the temple NOTE: NOT IN A TEA CEREMONY!! = )

Monday, November 2, 2009

Monday, November 2, 2009-

It’s raining, I’m tired, and I figure just this once it’s okay for me to do a little copy and pasting. I mentioned my college application essay in yesterday’s train ride post. I hope it can share with you the thrill I get time and again from merely stepping back and realizing just where I am on this fantastic planet we call home:

Our world is merely a pale blue dot. It hangs in space, a point of light lost among the stars. This was the realization of the brilliant Carl Sagan who so profoundly captured the matter-of-fact truth about our planet, pointing out how minuscule we all are in comparison to this “mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.” This past summer, oblivious to Sagan’s genius, I too came to realize both the minuteness and the limitlessness of human life upon earth. Our world is at once both negligible and immeasurable, lost forever in space and all of us with it.

This last June, I bought a cheap ticket on an even cheaper airplane traveling from Denmark to Barcelona, Spain. The flight was short and I was well prepared with my passport, tickets, and credit cards in my pocket, and color copies in my bag, prepared for the worst. I arrived in a small airport forty kilometers north of downtown Barcelona, stuck in a forgettable town that barely marked a point on the map, trying to make my way into Catalonia’s tourist capital. I was confident in my Spanish skills,

but discovered that the people of northeast Spain don’t speak Spanish, they still stick to their native Catalan. I was having my first true insight into just how diverse a single nation could be, let alone a continent or globe. I had to pause for a moment, searching through guidebooks, train schedules, and metro maps just to figure out where I was headed.

Eventually I found myself on a bus bound for the train station, and from there I caught the next train to the metropolis’ downtown. I guess it was while I sat by that train window, drowsy and unexpectedly content, marveling at Catalonia’s mélange of culture despite its small size, that I realized that every one of us has one inescapable thing in common. No matter how small our world may seem, there will always be a place where you have never been, a place where you are lost to the life you’ve known.

As I rode along, lost as I’d ever been, I slowly kept playing a single image in my head, that of Google Earth. It would start with me on the train, and I could vividly imagine the Spanish countryside as it shrank into the Iberian Peninsula, then all of Europe, only to end up as a dot on the map.

And then, as if I had the world on GPS, I would come time and again zooming back until I sat staring out the train window, marveling at the fact that I was in Spain, thousands of miles away from home on a train with people just as “lost” as me, uncertain as to where I was headed or how I would get there.

And so I leaned back, wholly and unreservedly in love with the world, and took another slow breath, watching the specks of dust drift around the passenger car, excited about the fact that I would only ever be a microscopic point on this pale blue dot. I couldn’t wait to explore, I couldn’t wait to learn, to understand, to appreciate, and to experience it all. I couldn’t wait to live my life, because I, just like the rest of this world, will always be lost, and my realization that every instant would bring something new and every adventure would take me someplace different was precisely what made me so content. As I closed my eyes and zoomed above the train again, I could practically hear Sagan’s voice in my ear,

“Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives…[and] our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe are challenged by this point of pale light.” I realized that the second you stop trying to find yourself, and understand that getting lost is when you’re truly living your life, then you will see exactly where you’re headed. So in the end I looked down, with Barcelona and all the rest of the world beneath my feet, larger than the pale blue dot, at least for a moment.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sunday, November 1, 2009-

It’s already November? Two odd months into this crazy year in Japan and I still feel as though time is playing tricks on me. I have little idea as to what is in store for me these coming days yet after today’s experience I know that adventures have a habit of unfolding for those who carry an open mind, flexible attitude, and good spirit.

Talking with my friends Chisaki and Amberly at last weekend’s Rotary orientation we agreed that it would be nice to get together for Halloween and maybe even find a pumpkin to carve. Well Halloween quickly fell through because both girls had school (Yes schools do meet on Saturdays sometimes here in Japan). Yet something even better unfolded. The fact that today I boarded my first train in Japan all alone with only a round trip ticket and a scrap of paper with my route on it gave me one of my biggest thrills yet. I had an intense case of déja vù looking back to the experience I had last summer on a train heading into Barcelona. Today I changed trains twice in the two largest cities in Tochigi, I boarded one train just as the doors were closing shut, I read Gabriel García Márquez’ Crónica de una Muerte Anunciada and thought of how different this experience would be if I’d ended up somewhere where I knew the language (definitely pros and cons to that whole concept I’ve decided), and on the train ride home I watched the funniest thirty-something mom play jokes on her sleeping kids. All in all the trains were fantastic. However on my return, one train did arrive 20 minutes late so I had to change my plans. But with that flexible attitude I mentioned earlier it all worked out just fine.

As for where I went – Sano City. It is Chisaki’s hometown and Amberly’s host city. To get there from my house, my host mom had to drive me 3o mins, I rode three different trains and arrived an hour and a half later. But it was well worth it! The day consisted of us meeting Amberly and her friend Ellen who is on exchange from California at the Sano International Festival. My senses were in overload. I could hear Spanish, Chinese, French, Japanese, and English all be spoken on some stage. The many colorful stalls and fantastic smells South American meats mixing with gyros, falafels, and Chinese dumplings made me happy and proud to be included in such an international crowd. I was excited to order in Spanish from the Argentina stand, but gosh it was a struggle not to say, “Hai, Hai. Onegai Shimasu!” (Japanese FYI). I suppose that’s a good sign though.

After the international festival we walked to a giant shopping mall where Chisaki’s family took us out to Kaitenzushi, or the sushi that comes around on a little conveyer belt. It is so much fun and the place we went today really had fresh fish, so it was delicious. We walked around the mall for a little bit and it proved once again just how gigantic the Mall of America is compared to other shopping centers. Chisaki laughed at me and then giggled as she admitted that she really misses the MOA after coming back from Minnesota this past summer! Oh Chisaki, I’m glad we Americanized you so well!

Okay you’re going to laugh when you hear what we did next and Mary Weaver is going to leave some sassy comment about what a fool I am, but I’m well prepared for it. The four of us bought tickets, popcorn, and ginger ale in preparation for the big show. Amberly refrained from buying one of the t-shirt’s on display in the entryway but said that if she were at the real deal it wouldn’t even be a question.

We went to This Is It! The Michael Jackson movie that everyone is freaking out about. Hahaha, oh my goodness was that a hilarious way to spend the afternoon. Amberly is the kind of person that laughs at everything and when she knows she shouldn’t be laughing (like in a dark theater watching a movie about a now deceased man) she laughs even harder. It was fantastic. I’ll admit I snapped this illegal pic but it was well worth it! Who knows, if you get lucky Mary I’ll frame it and ship it to you for X-Mas.

**Please note the perfect transition into the two incredibly-early Christmas pictures I took. The fact that Halloween is now done meant that Christmas decorations went up the following day. Crazy, huh? To be honest when I saw the giant Christmas tree in the mall my first thought was, “Wait, what about Thanksgiving? Oh yeah….”**

Ellen, Amberly, and Chisaki in front of the mall Christmas tree
That is indeed Colonel Sanders dressed as Santa in the entrance to a Japanese KFC...