I’m back, as of an hour and a half ago. I was in transit for 29 hours straight, from leaving our house at 5:00 AM EST Saturday (they canceled my 10 AM flight and put me on one two hours earlier; they called us after midnight, so we all got no more than 3 hours of sleep before heading out) to catching the flight to Chicago and the much longer flight to Osaka, and the three trains (express, shinkansen, express) to my town, and arriving here just shy of 10:00 PM JST–it was insane and I’m exhausted, but I’m all right.

A word to the wise: ship your luggage. I did, thanks to Louise’s advice, and they were willing to deliver it as early as tomorrow morning, for less than ¥2000! (I’m getting my suitcase tomorrow evening, so I can be home to claim it.)

And that’s all for now. I hope I can make it through my classes tomorrow, and I hope I can get a full night’s sleep tonight.

Atlanta, part 2

Lots of shopping and socializing…I’ve bought a lot of clothes and stuff to bring back with me, hung out my brother yesterday (and we saw Cars, the latest Pixar flick–typical story, gorgeous animation, some good laughs) and hours and hours hanging out with Terry and Ryan last night, met Carol and Jason and Laura for lunch today and tagged along with them back to campus and spent a while chatting with Carol (my former advisor) in her office, spent a while wandering around in the searing heat (amazingly, Tokushima is humid to the point that Atlanta’s comparatively lesser humidity is drying my skin out) and taking photos of my alma mater, had dinner and threw around a frisbee in Piedmont Park with Laura, and came home. I’m spending all of tomorrow with Jenn (we’ll be seeing X-Men 3 at some point) in this area, and hopefully part of Thursday with her as well, and Thursday night with the orchestra dinner group at Bela’s house and Screen on the Green, and I need to call Miles soon to work out plans, and logistics, for Friday night. My parents have been shuttling me around a lot–it feels like high school all over again. I miss mobility.

I’ve accomplished most of the things on my list–there are still a few more things I need, though, like a trip to the DMV to try to straighten stuff out to enable me to get a Japanese license. This trip doesn’t feel like it’s rushing by, which is nice, but I’m over the hump and now only have 3 solid days left before I leave…I can’t believe it’ll be over so quickly. It felt wonderful to wander around Georgia Tech’s campus and Midtown today. I don’t know if I’ll get to edit and upload my photos, but at the very least I’ll burn them to a CD and bring them back to Japan with me to sort out.

I fell asleep for over an hour downstairs and am now trying to coerce myself to fall back asleep again. I’m honestly not sure if this whirlwind trip is going to leave me feeling recharged and ready to handle another long chunk of time in Japan, or if it’s going to make me even more homesick when I return. At this point, it’s hard to say, and it’s really not something I should dwell on–I just should keep my chin up and remember that there’s far more waiting for me than a disorganized and slightly messy apartment and poisonous centipedes and oppressive humidity and very little vegetarian food.

Okay, good night!


Jetlag’s a crazy thing. I dozed off around 11 PM after a day of feeling dazed and drained by the time difference, at the tail end of a (kind of disappointing) documentary about the Krakatoa volcanic eruption of 1883 (I thought it was a better one I’d seen before, which actually spent 2 hours piecing together a description of the geological processes from firsthand accounts and physical evidence in and around the area, while also elaborating on the people affected, but this one was more filmlike, focusing more on the human angle with more incidental geological accounts sprinkled in occasionally…still, it was a welcome and rather fitting welcome-home gift–thanks, Discovery Channel!). I then woke up around 3:30 AM and just could not for the life of me get back to sleep. I’d left WABE, Atlanta’s NPR station, playing all night, to catch what I could of the Saturday night Jazz Classics show I used to be a regular listener of, and woke up to Grieg’s piano concerto during their overnight classical run, which is one of those pieces that you just can’t ignore, for better or for worse, so that didn’t help lull me back to sleep at all.

Instead, after 45 minutes of tossing and turning, I got up, searched around for a lamp to place on the table next to my bed, and after not being able to find one, I sat in my desk chair next to my closet, flipped the closet light on, and continued reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. I got within a page of the ending before the halogen light turned itself off…but that’s okay, because the book hit me really hard, and actually depressed me to the point of tears. I was able to really strongly relate to some of the main character’s thought processes and actions. There’s a lot I could write about the thoughts it sparked, the whole, “Who am I? What am I? Am I Indian enough? Am I good enough Indian and daughter and sister and person?” train of thought, but I’ll hold off. I just can’t help but wonder why, without fail, every single novel about the Indian experience has ended so miserably…even when Indians meet each other in the US and get together, apparently they’re still inevitably screwed! I’m now not so sure I could handle watching the film version that’s coming out soon–the trailer looks incredible, but I think it may be misleading, unless it deviated from the story.

Well, anyway. I am indeed back in Atlanta, after 27 hours of traveling from my apartment in Ikeda to my house in the ATL suburbs, after a 3.5-hour bus ride to Osaka and loitering there and having Subway for lunch, after an hour-long train ride to Kansai Airport and finding out that I’d goofed by not requesting an aisle seat and was confined to a middle one instead, after momentarily panicking about the seating situation and whether I’d be able to make my connection and calling Louise who totally left me feeling at ease, after a 12-hour flight from Osaka to Chicago (which got in 30 minutes early, which is totally the only thing that made it possible for me to catch my connecting flight to Atlanta), after a 2-hour flight from Chicago to Atlanta (and I did tear up upon descending and recognizing Camp Creek Parkway, and landing and seeing the extremely familiar layout of Hartsfield-Jackson, even from the runway, and I realized how much I missed this place and how glad I was to be home), after surprising my parents by coming out via the T-Gates exit on the far end of the ticketing area and not up the escalators from the trains, after driving home through downtown and getting caught in typical downtown traffic and recognizing all the buildings and looking for familiar Georgia Tech landmarks from the (massive!) freeway. It feels like I never left–I was giving my dad directions on how to take I-85 north to go through the city, instead of the perimeter/bypass as usual, even telling him what lane he needed to be in.

One thing I didn’t expect to feel was sadness at having to return to Japan after this week’s up. It’s going to be really difficult, leaving all this behind. For one thing, my new apartment’s big but a little dingy because the previous teacher didn’t quite clean it up as best as he could, and my former smaller place was in far better condition to begin with, and I came home to see that my parents had replaced the kitchen counters, that the whole house felt extremely well-maintained and organized and clean. My parents proposed an idea for winter break where I meet them in Mumbai and we spend a week touring northern India before I fly home with them and spend another week in Atlanta, before returning to Japan. I’m really just not sure yet…that’s an insane amount of flying for me, since I’d be flying west the whole time and would end up circling the world, and I still don’t even know what I want to do for winter break. I’m 80% sure I’m coming back here, to see more people who couldn’t be in town this time around, but depending on how I feel after returning to Japan, and depending on what other offers come around, we’ll just see.

I’ve already been given reminders of why I love this place so much, though, and I haven’t even seen any of my friends yet. It’s now Sunday at 7 AM, and I’ll be seeing the first of them tomorrow night. I’m really looking forward to how this week plays out. Today’s Father’s Day–it’s also the 25th anniversary of my grandfather passing away, my dad’s dad, who died two months before I was born but whose idiosyncracies and personality traits I apparently seem to exhibit a lot of. I guess not being able to sleep and deciding to (almost) finish The Namesake was very serendipitous timing–it’s put things into perspective for me today. I hope today will be a good day, and that this week will be a good week, and that instead of feeling depressed about what I’m leaving behind, I can look ahead and know that there’ll always be something waiting for me when I return.

Vacation eve

It feels weird, only having a handful of items in my medium-sized suitcase, and knowing that I’ll be checking that and carrying a separate duffel bag on the plane with me tomorrow, to hold the more breakable and more immediately necessary items (gifts, toiletries and emergency change of clothes for the plane, books/CDs/so on). This is the lightest I’ve packed for a trip in years, and this is one of the longest trips (distance-wise) I’ll have taken–definitely the longest solo trip, with the exception of actually moving to Japan, at which time I was packing for moving and not vacationing (I sometimes wonder how different the two are in this case, though), and I was with the incoming ALTs…still solo, but not quite.

I actually feel self-conscious about having such a ridiculously empty suitcase, and what they’ll say when they weigh it at the check-in counter and see that it can’t be more than several kilos. Right now, the only things in there are several books I’m taking home and the Pirates of Dark Water animation cels I won 6 months ago–I don’t want to subject them to the humidity and heat of an uninsulated southern Japanese apartment in the dead of summer. (I’m a little worried about any damage they’ll sustain when the suitcase gets thrown around or smooshed in between heavier items, though. Maybe I’ll put everything in the carry-on duffel, so I know that’ll be under my supervision at all times.) Soon to follow those items will be several shirts, my capris, and a couple of other things, and…that’s it. With the exception of showering and cleaning up the apartment a bit, and packing my carry-on duffel and documents/tickets, I’m already done.

It’s also weird, but really comforting, to know that I don’t have to worry about foreign currency once I land in Chicago, before catching my flight to Atlanta. Hello, ATM card!

I’m going shopping like crazy with my family during my first weekend there, and saving the rest of the time for maybe buying sundry items, but mainly for seeing friends–and I do have something going on with somebody daily. It’s so weird to think that this trip is already here, and that in 24 hours, I’ll be about halfway through the first (and by far the longest) leg of my trip. I’m that close to being home again.

Jishin ga arimashita

(The subject reads, “There was an earthquake.”)

We had an earthquake this morning that made the news! It was actually under eastern Kyushu, but I guess it was deep enough, and strong enough, that Shikoku and the Chuugoku region of Honshu also felt it. I woke up at 5 AM for whatever reason, and at 5:01 the floor and my sliding wood-and-glass doors started to shake noticeably. It only registered as a high-3-pointer here.

Anyway, no damage done–just checking in, in case you see this on the news and are wondering. There were those major earthquakes in northern Japan earlier this year/late last year, which prompted a couple of worried e-mails from some folks, but those were way too far for me to feel them; Japan’s the size of California. This is only the second quake I’ve felt since arriving.

(Ooh, here it is.)


The trailer for The Namesake looks stunning. I’m really excited about it–I’m currently reading the book, written by Jhumpa Lahiri, which I picked up a hardback cover of from The Blue Parrot in Tokyo, but because it’s a hardback, it’s not nearly as portable, so it’s been pretty slow-going. It’s been a great read so far, though…so different from the dystopic, miserable fare I always seem to come across any time I read any literature dealing with Indians mingling with westerners in any way. (Even Interpreter of Maladies, the short-story anthology also written by Lahiri, had some dystopic themes–but I was really warmed by how optimistic the final story in the anthology was. I’m glad she ended on an emotionally high note like that.)

Anyway…so today, Tracy had her hula happyoukai in Tokushima City, and she was awesome. Go, Tracy! We were all astonished at how popular hula is in Tokushima–around 20 individual classes from around the prefecture, including two from Kagawa to the north, put on performances today, and at least 250 people were in attendance.

Afterwards, Joanna, Melissa, Jenna, and I went out for a really late lunch at Sombreros, and we ducked over to Big Brothers to have brownies for dessert. REAL BROWNIES. I haven’t had one since coming to Japan! They were rich enough that I actually couldn’t finish mine–we also were completely stuffed, to a point I don’t think I’ve reached in a really long time.

I’ve had a headache all afternoon, and even sleeping on the train home did nothing for it, so I think I may do what I did last week and wake up really early to plan my Monday morning lesson. Have a good evening, guys.

A kind of homestay

Today was wonderful. The principal of my Monday-morning elementary school invited me nearly a month ago to come spend the day at her house so she could help me through my (then-)homesickness, and that day was today. It was like I had an adoptive family for the day.

We met at 7:30 this morning (well, 7:35–I left my apartment at 7:30, and ran nearly the entire way…nice workout, and good to know that if I wear sneakers and don’t carry a heavy bag, I actually can run most of the way to my bus stop) and drove back to her house in Mima, a 30-minute drive, where we made a traditional Japanese breakfast, hung out, chatted and looked at photos, and started to make a traditional Japanese sushi lunch.

That’s when I received the Nasty Shock Of The Day: sushi and miso soup aren’t vegetarian. One of the ingredients that goes into the standard “one-two-three broth” to prepare sushi rice is freaking dashi, and that same dashi is almost always used in miso soup as well. All the bento boxes of sushi I’ve been buying for lunch during my past 11 months here, and all the miso soup I’ve had while under the misconception that it was one of my few washoku staples, haven’t been vegetarian.

Unfortunately, I had to eat it today. There was just no way around it, and the last thing I wanted to do was throw my kocho-sensei’s hospitality in her face by refusing the food she was making as part of her efforts to be my surrogate mom for the day. I’ll just have to stand my ground and not buy any more sushi from the supermarket, and if my eikaiwa ladies ever invite me for another temakizushi night, I’ll see if they can prepare the rice without dashi. Really, the only truly vegetarian foods left for me are onigiri, tofu (raw is my only safe bet), cold/brothless summer udon, shoujin ryouri meals, and anything I prepare for myself. I’ve been a little lax about my vegetarianism here, just due to the difficulty of explaining it when I go out to eat, and I think this was a wake-up call I was hoping not to get–but now I can’t help it, and I have to crack down. I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t. (I’m so glad they’re hooking up my stove again on Monday!)

Well, anyway…after lunch was another awkward moment, involving my frustratingly temperamental stomach. I had to go lie down for a while because it started to ache again, and I was really, really worried that I’d offended my teacher because she’d think her food made my stomach hurt, even though I explained that I’ve been having problems for at least the last month. She ended up being totally understanding, though.

The rest of the day proceeded far better–it turns out she has four children, the youngest of which is a year older than me and lives in Takamatsu, and he comes home every weekend. And he’s huge! He’s the tallest Japanese guy I’ve ever met–well over 6 feet tall. He ended up being really cool, and after we broke the ice a bit, we ended up chatting throughout the afternoon. He was pretty knowledgeable about the US and had a decent English vocabulary. I went on a walk with his grandmother and him up to a nearby shrine, and to see the family burial plot up on the hill past it (it was really a casual affair, but still respectful), as well as the really nice view of Mima that the hilltop vantage point afforded.

I also didn’t mention that their house was the most beautiful, spacious Japanese house I’ve ever been in. The kitchen/dining area was as big as my entire apartment, and the whole house was kept up immaculately. Right now, just this sensei and her husband live there with her husband’s mother (a really, really sweet woman–she reminded me a lot of my dad’s-side grandmother), but I believe all 4 kids grew up in that house.

After dinner, my kocho-sensei (I’m wondering at this point how to keep referring to her here) drove me back to Ikeda, but with a couple of brief stopovers…she takes weekly ikebana lessons, and we went to the ikebana sensei’s house, but she unfortunately had to leave about 20 minutes after we arrived, though it was still quite interesting to watch. We also went by the house where my teacher’s mother lives, which is also where my teacher was born! I felt honored that she showed me her birthplace. After that, under a brilliant sunset, we drove out to Ikeda and parted ways.

My kocho-sensei was really eager to have me over in part because I know that she missed being able to mother her kids–she took really good care of me today. She’s taken in previous ALTs, either from her schools or from her area, and fed them and chatted with them similarly and frequently in the past. This really did feel like a homestay, particularly in the afternoon and evening, when her husband got home from work and I sat down to dinner with the whole family. I did a homestay in Kamiyama last year, the one the incoming ALTs have traditionally done (but won’t be doing this year), and while my host father really tried (but he had such a thick accent and my Japanese and my confidence in my abilities were still pretty crappy then), the host mother really didn’t care much at all, so it was a really strange experience. This felt far more like one than that did, and I really enjoyed it. I know that if she invites me again, I’ll definitely be glad to return.

Warm fuzzy moments

We have a student teacher in training to become a math teacher at my junior high–she’s been there for a couple of weeks and this was her first week of attending classes. I’ve met her before; she’s the older sister of one of my speech contest girls from last year. She’s still in college, which would make her a bit younger than me, and she’s pretty nice, but she mainly replies to stuff I say to her and doesn’t really ask me anything or say much to me. She could be shy, though–I think we started to break the ice a tiny bit this afternoon. I’m unclear as to how long she’ll be here, though. It’d be cool if she were here again next week.

And to continue the previous post’s topic of people in town…

I catch a bus that puts me a 10-minute walk from my junior high (it’d only be around 5 minutes, except that my school’s up on a kind of steep hill and I’m a lazy slug), and I routinely pass this one tiny grocery-type store (fairly crappy selection; I don’t know how they even stay open when there’s a much better place just 1 km away). Usually the two women who run it are nowhere to be seen, but the first time I truly noticed them, I happened to be crossing the street to walk on the sidewalk in front of their store, and I heard a surprised laugh issue from the store and looked up to see them both staring at me with not-quite-warm smiles on their faces. I made sure to greet them and comment on how nice the weather was, only getting a sort of, “Ahh, heh-heh-heh,” in response, and as I passed, I heard them making comments in a kind of brightly derisive tone involving the word “eigo” (English). I was so startled that I kind of let it ruin my afternoon–it’d been a while since I’d come across such a random show of gaijin-disparaging like that, and it was just discouraging, considering how warm and receptive nearly everybody else has been.

I passed by the store yesterday when they were both there–they’d been chatting, but they fell silent when I went by, and I saw their heads turn and heard one of the woman start speaking again in a lower voice, in that tone that totally meant that’s she was talking about someone nearby without wanting that person to overhear. (Too late, Sherlock–even if I couldn’t hear you, it was ridiculously obvious that you were talking about me. Jerk.) It’s discouraging, but I guess there’ll always be people like that. At least I know not to take it personally, but I kind of wish I could somehow outwit or shame them into realizing that they’re being stupidly close-minded for no reason. This isn’t middle school–there’s no reason to gossip as if they’re kids when they’re at least in their 40s (it’s so petty, but when you start to show your age in this town, you’re really getting up there! Chew on that, ladies). We’ve been here for years and we’re here to stay, so they’d better get used to it.

Conversely, though, many times when I go to the bigger supermarket in town, Sunshine, I’ll end up at the register of this girl probably in her 20s, like me, who gives me a really genuinely big, warm smile every time she sees me, and tacks an extra “konnichiwa” or “konbanwa” on the end of her register greeting as a term of familiarity, to show that she recognizes me. It’s as if we’re friends and she’s truly happy to see me, even though we don’t know each other at all. It really makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. If not for the fact that there’s inevitably somebody who gets behind me in line, I’d probably strike up a conversation with her–she seems like she’d be really cool to get to know, just from her personality.

And speaking of Sunshine–as I was walking towards the parking lot, a SUV passed me with a young girl leaning out the window and looking at me in surprise. When I got to the lot, just across the street, her family had just gotten out of the car and was starting to walk towards the store entrance. I happened to glance at them, and the instant I did, the daughter–this young girl, probably a 2nd- or 3rd-grader, said, quite conversationally, “Nice to meet you!” Without even thinking about it, I started smiling and responded with, “Nice to meet you, too!” The parents laughed and the daughter started grinning. I saw them again on my way out, again outside the store, and the girl and her bigger sister both were smiling excitedly at me. We exchanged, “See you!”s, and and the parents and I exchanged friendly smiles and bows before we went our separate ways.

In other news, my plans for my week at home are falling into place–it’s going to be a lot of hectic activity in a short amount of time, but it’ll be so, so much fun. The response I got to my “hi, I’m coming home!” e-mail was huge…I unfortunately won’t be able to see two of my best friends because they just can’t be in town, but I’ll be back in December to see everyone I couldn’t meet this time around. I’m incredibly touched, and I seriously can’t wait to see everyone. Bela asked me on Google Chat what I miss the most, and I immediately responded, “The people.”

I called my parents yesterday, because I was a little concerned that all these plans I was making would mean I wouldn’t be able to spend enough time with them, but they were totally okay with my spending big chunks of the week with my friends, since they knew that that’s a big part of why I came home, and since I have Saturday-Monday reserved almost exclusively to spend with my family. I appreciate how understanding they are of that–I know people whose parents would totally monopolize all their time any time they’re home, and I’m glad they’re okay with it.

I can’t wait to go back to Atlanta. I just can’t express how excited I am. And it’s so close–just one more week before I can leave!

New layout

I was getting tired of how drab the other one was. It kind of disappoints me any time I look at a design and wonder what possessed me to come up with that one to begin with…I guess there’s just a line between “mellow” and “dull” and I stepped over it.

Anyway, this is a photo I took (well, two that I pieced together) of the largest temple in Ikeda, Rengenji–not one of the major Shikoku 88, but from an alternate 88 (which I can find absolutely no information online about). I’m still ironing out a few bugs, but here you go. (And as soon as I post this, Amber and Rob, I will indeed start on your Omiko Beach Clean-Up poster and requested changes to the Waki Library site, respectively. Sorry!)

So you know how I, in my cold-induced stupor, tripped and skinned my knees on Thursday, and how the teachers applied some antiseptic and band-aids and everything? Well, the school called the BOE to let them know I’d taken a spill, so on Thursday and Friday, my current and former bosses were checking up on me anxiously to see how I was doing, and they heard that I’d “injured myself.” It was surprising, and really sweet. I was being a wimp (as I always do for even the most minor of scrapes/injuries) and kind of limping around so my knee wouldn’t keep stinging when I straighted/bent it, and I think that heightened their worry.

I also don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this–last August, at Ikeda’s Awa Odori, I went with some other ALTs and we ended up sitting next to an older woman and her husband. The woman was really friendly, asking us about ourselves and just being warm and really sweet, and her husband was as well. A couple of days later, Hannah and I ran into them at Daily Mart while we were trying to figure out the difference between several different kinds of laundry detergent, and the woman totally helped us out, and then let us know that if we ever needed any help, we should feel free to ask, because anybody would be more than happy to help us. That was one of the early comfort-establishing moments in my time in Ikeda–we’d been there for only several weeks at that point, and hearing that really helped to put my mind at ease.

I’ve run into the woman a couple of other times since then, and she and her husband ended up being right ahead of Joe, Julie, and me when we were lining up to get into the Beethoven concert on Friday. She always looks really happy to see me, and she’s always quick to grasp my arm or take my hand in both of hers. We chatted a bit then, and again on our way out. And yesterday, when I was walking home from running errands, I took a side street I’ve never taken before, and ended up running into them again. She told me that she really wants to have me over to eat or drink something sometime. It only hit me after we went our separate ways that I don’t think either of us knows each other’s names–but that’s easily remedied, as I’m sure I’ll run into her again before long. One of the great things about this town is that the people who recognize me are quick to smile and greet me–I actually get greeted by quite a few people I myself don’t recognize. That’s one of the perks of living in such a small community–I’m going to miss that when I move back home.

I’m a nerd, and proud of it

(I only just realized that my recap of Kobe didn’t get posted when I wrote it, but it’s up now, so scroll down to read it, if you would.)

Is it really geeky that I just did a Google search for “spelling bee torrent” to see if anybody had (for whatever reason) decided to tape this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee and put it online?

(Yes, it really is. And that’s okay!)

I’ll admit it–one of the things I miss here is the spelling bee on ESPN (or on ABC during primetime this year!). It’s one of my annual traditions. I’m a big spelling bee geek–I won our county spelling bee in 6th grade (on the word “pagoda,” ironically!) and would’ve gone on to the Georgia state bee if we hadn’t had an idiot proctor at the district round who, after reading off incredibly simple words, gave me the trickiest word in the entire bee and mispronounced it (pacificism, which has the same meaning as pacifism). (I came in 3rd place. Second place lost on “podunk,” and first place won on “disappoint.” I have to admit that it still burns a bit…making it to the state bee, and maybe beyond, would have been an awesome experience.)

I can’t find anything, unfortunately. Maybe I can look for copies of Akeelah and the Bee and Spellbound to appease me, though. I’ve seen the latter (the Indian boy featured, Neil…that poor kid. I watched this with my parents, and my dad was getting so pissed off at that kid’s dad for being such an egotistical showoff–it was pretty funny), and have heard a lot about the former and am dying to check it out.

At any rate, congrats to this year’s winner, who spelled “ursprache” (a parent language)–the first girl to win in 7 years! The second-place winner lost on “weltschmerz” (sadness over the evils of the world), and the third-place winner lost on “icteritious” (of a jaundiced color).

(Yeah, this had nothing to do with Japan. Though it makes me wonder if they have spelling bees in Japan…how would those work? I can definitely picture some kind of kanji-driven thing, where kids are quizzed on the most difficult kanji…)