Back into the routine

I feel like it’s been a while, but technically, not really, since I blogged from Michelle’s place in Kagoshima.

On the whole, I’m happy with how the trip went–it at least made me hungry for more, and I know I’ll be back to both Unzen and Aso! The 4-hour Sakurajima trip I took was fantastic–I got some really awesome views of the volcano, and it smoked more than usual and put on a nice display for us. And then the typhoon came through the next day, though Kagoshima was virtually untouched, but we were lucky–a train to our east was derailed and turned on its side, there was flooding and more serious damage to our north and west…we definitely lucked out. Still, though, the trains weren’t running at all out of Kagoshima (or at least, the Kyushu Tsubame shinkansen wasn’t), so I couldn’t make it up to Fukuoka, though in retrospect, I think I’m glad I couldn’t–it gave me more time to hang out with Michelle, and Fukuoka was hit harder than we were.

Overall on this trip, the hardest thing to deal with was the staring–everybody stares there. Kyushu has some pretty big cities and considerably more foreigners than Shikoku, but people were openly staring far more than people on Shikoku do, and they weren’t exactly friendly about it, either! On more than one occasion, I’d catch someone staring at me, and then that person would poke his/her companions or say something to them, and they would turn and stare at me, too. It was really discomforting, and really exasperating. At least there were several instances of elderly women seeing me, grinning, and greeting me with genuine warmth, and shopkeepers and waiters were friendly, and I struck up a good conversation with two women who ran a Chinese restaurant in the Tenmonkan district of Kagoshima. I also struck up other conversations, usually with elderly women–maybe that’s partly due to the fact that I’m so used to interacting with elderly Japanese people as a result of living in this town. I don’t mind it at all, though–while some of them are a bit skittish of foreigners, others are really welcoming and more than willing to share their lives and their culture as they ask me about mine.

I also had a weird encounter at a Kiosk in Hakata Station (the major train station in Fukuoka). I’d used really basic, minimal Japanese in the transaction–nothing more than, “Ni-hyaku en desu ka? Hai, douzo. Arigatou gozaimasu.”, when the women behind the counter started complimenting my Japanese–I’d even go so far as to say mildly gushing about it–in a tone that felt extremely insincere. I’d barely said anything to warrant it, and considering what a bustling station Hakata is, there have definitely been other Japanese-speaking foreigners in there. The whole situation really surprised me and left me feeling a bit weird.

Anyway, besides the (general) treatment of foreigners on Kyushu, the rest of the trip was great. The weather, for the most part, was beautiful. The scenery was fantastic. The public transportation was superb (I’m so jealous of their train system–I can’t say it enough; the Relay Tsubame and the Kamome Express are really inspired ideas, and the trains are gorgeous!). And the ALTs are pretty coo, too! I really enjoyed meeting Rebecca in Kumamoto, and her neighbor Minika–Rebecca was a really gracious hostess and I had a lot of fun hanging out with them. And in Kagoshima, I of course met up with Michelle, and we spent my first night hanging out in her place with her friend Sophie, talking for hours over guacamole and ¥100 pizza chips. I didn’t get to meet up with Emiko in Fukuoka, but hopefully I can in the future–we’ve sort of “known of each other” online for a while, since she runs the JET USA National Group and I’d applied for a webmaster position early last year, so it would have been cool to finally meet in person, but her schedule, the weather, and the trains all conspired against us.

Anyway, that’s that about Kyushu. I can’t wait to go back again–maybe the 3-day weekend in early October is too soon, but I’m really tempted all the same.

The speech contest has come and gone–my kid didn’t win (the results surprised everybody, to be honest, but there were a lot of really strong entries and really talented kids this year), but that’s okay. She made an incredible amount of progress and performed beautifully and I’m really proud of her for all her efforts.

Today, I was in a daze…seriously. I think I kind of scared Chalice, because I just felt so weird and was having problems stringing sentences together. It wasn’t till I got out of the car and was walking through the doors of my afternoon elementary school as my eyes were watering and I was sniffling that I realized what it was–the beginnings of a cold. Japanese colds have this tendency to knock me flat on my back (or, in the case of the last cold I had, knock me onto my knees and skin them)–I’ve had that excruciatingly dangerous back-of-the-roof-of-my-mouth tickle coming and going for the last week, and I figured it was just the dust in my apartment, but nope. Luckily, the power of gelato and a 2-hour nap go a long way.

I haven’t written anything really introspective about Japan in a while…maybe I’ll try again after I shake this cold and just get stuff in order. I have a lot to work on and to get started on.

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