Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Happy birthdays...

I recently celebrated my birthday in Okinawa and it was one of those trips that will go down in awesome birthday history. It was so great, that for two days after I returned, I was still on cloud nine. Dave and I spent four days in Miyako-jima and each day seemed to go on and on, but definitely in a good way. We weren't running around trying to see every little thing. Instead, we spent three days on the beach and wandered around in our rented car. Miyako is a fairly large island, a lot bigger than Tokashiki, the island we visited last year, so I'm happy that I took Julia-jima's advice and rented a car.

There were so many highlights on this trip. The biggest one was seeing Julia again after nearly two years. Julia and I met in Japanese class and during JET orientation stuff in Montreal before leaving to Japan, and have been communicating exclusively through our blogs and email. Hanging out and talking with her was like having a little bit of home on this island was huge for me. Thanks Julia!

A few other highlights were eating Greek food while overlooking the ocean, Dave and I having a whole house to ourselves, eating a lot of great food and swimming in crystal clear waters. Being on this island with Dave made everything happen in technicolor and I was so happy to share everything with him. It was everything I wanted and more.

Today is Dave's birthday and we celebrated it this past weekend. I organized a surprise trip to Osaka and Universal Studios for him and invited a bunch of our friends to share in the fun. I didn't tell Dave that we'd be going on an overnight trip until the day before and arranged for everyone to meet us on the train. It was perfect: at 8:15 in the morning, 7 foreigners jumped out of their seats in a quiet Japanese train car and yelled "SURPRISE" for the delighted Scotsman. Oh man, it was awesome. But he still didn't know where we were going. I blindfolded him when we were about 30 minutes away and we led him to the entrance of the park where we unveiled in his surprise. A lot of hootting, hollering and hugs later, we entered the park where we would spend 9 hours waiting in lines, playing Catchphrase, talking too loud, eating and drinking overpriced food and beer and going on the fantastic attractions. The Spiderman ride and the huge rollercoaster were my favorites.

At night, we had a really late dinner at an Indian restaurant that stayed opened especially for us (thanks to Kana - arigato gozaimashita!). The food was delicious and spirits were high and I was happy that everything worked out. This past weekend was one of the best times I've spent in Japan (gotta make a top ten list before I leave).

So, I'm back at work and trying hard to get back to my routine. I feel like I haven't had a good sleep in ages. I have about 7 more weeks of teaching and then I'm done, but I've got so many things to do. It's getting a little intimidating. I had a craptastic teaching day today and I'm ready to get out of here. I'm sorry if my writing is lackluster but all my happy-happy joy-joy was spent this weekend. I'll be back on track soon. To everyone whom I've been ignoring through email/Facebook, a thousand apologies. I'll get to you soon!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

My Spring Vacation (Part 2)...

Part 2 of your heroine's adventure took place in the lovely prefecture of Ishikawa. Shiloh, Gen, Alice, the Hot Scot and I piled into a mini van and made our way to the capital city of Kanazawa early Thursday morning. Unfortunately, we were not the only ones on the road. We were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic for hours and we didn't even leave our prefecture yet! But we were together, we had tunes and jokes, a beautiful warm day and the freedom of stopping and starting when and where we wanted to. We saw some beautiful cherry blossom trees in Shirwaka-go, a place well known for it's gassho houses which we stopped to shoot and then continued on. It took us about 7 hours to reach out destination when it usually takes about four, but we got there.

So the plan was to camp and BBQ for three nights and that's what we did. Unlike my previous experience camping in Japan, making camp in Ishikawa wasn't so easy breezy. Some camp sites required a reservation of up to 2 weeks prior to your intended stay! But we got lucky every step of the way and found sites that were convenient and somewhat easy to find. Since there were five of us, we had two seperate tents with Dave and I sharing one. It was pretty small but very cozy and warm even though it got a little chilly at night. A week prior to our road trip, it got pretty cold and it hit me that I was going camping by the sea in May. Oy...but a week and several sleeping bags later, everything was toasty.

We spent a lot of time in the van driving around the coast and I was amazed by all the amazing scenery we saw and the fine weather we had. I can't really remember all the notable sights (I guess they weren't so notable after all), but we visited one place that was breathtaking (see left). I don't remember the name of the place, but I really loved it. We only stayed one night but it was awesome. We also met a group of wild Thai boys who hooted and hollered late into the night. We chatted with one of them and he had the cutest/thickest accent I've heard here in Japan. He was a trip.

And that's about it. It really was one of those "you should have been there" trips. What can I say? We laughed, we played, we talked (maybe too much - my bad) and they went swimming. I want summer to come as badly as everyone else, but I haven't lost my damn mind. It was too damn cold. The water was so cold, it even looked cold. When Dave got in, I heard him hollering from from the other side of the beach. He screamed, "there is no pleasure in this". Indeed.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

My spring vacation (part 1)...
I little while ago, some friends and I were planning on taking a week off and going camping. Due to a few reasons (not enough vacation days, other plans, the desire NOT to go camping for a full week), our camping trip was halved. I had already asked for the days off and there was no way I was going to go back and ask for them back. So I made other plans, and boy, did they work out well.

I decided to go to Tokyo for four days and while I have been to Tokyo many times before, it was my first time to go there alone and hang out with my friend Petra. She's been living there for a total of 5 years and knows this vibrant city like the back of her hand. I got to see the Tokyo you can't really find in the guidebook.

We explored the seediness and sexiness of Shinjuku. We hit the Gay Village (racks and racks of every kind of gay porn imaginable - even sumo love!), walked around in Kabuki-cho (or the "pink" district with its love hotels and host/hostess bars), and stumbled through Korea town where we tasted things with our eyes and noses rather than our tongues.

We went to a photograph exhibit at a "nomadic" museum (a travelling installation) and it was so beautiful. Animals shot with children and adults in beautiful sepia tones. I haven't seen an art show in maybe 3 years, so when I heard that "Ashes and Snow" was coming to Tokyo (actually Odaiba, a man made island just off of Tokyo), I knew I had to go (thanks Greggie for the heads up!). It was totally worth the 1800 yen ($18) admission fee. This is me doing a cartwheel in front of the place. Yes, that's an elephant kneeling in front of a child reading a book. Yes, those are train containers, which are stacked in a checkerboard formation and arranged to house the exhibit. Check out www.ashesandsnow.org for amazing pics and info. BTW, the creator of this exhibit is a Canadian. Woot!

On my last full day there, Petra and I bought one-day train tickets and explored the city. We hit up little stores, walked through old neighbourhoods and very un-Japanese-y markets (where I scored the cutest white flats), soaked up the amazing summer-like weather and ate authentic Bretonne crepes. I remember the last time I had Bretonne crepes - it was when I was living in Ottawa and I went to a creperie. I don't exactly rememberwhich crepes I had but one was a meal crepe and the other was a dessert one. What I had wasn't important. It was delicious and I left that creperie very satisfied (damn, that was about 6 years ago!!).
Well, this sweet little creperie was hidden in a Tokyo neighbourhood and the menu was so enticing that we had lunch there. It was not a mistake. The place was charming, the music was delightful and I even got to speak French. Our Japanese waiter had a pitch perfect accent and I was practically drooling with the overstimulation. Though I'll be surrounded by French in a matter of weeks (!!!), I'm looking forward to eating and ordering crepes in France and Belgium sometime in the future.

All in all, I had a great time in Tokyo this time around. It's funny. When I visited the city during my first time in Japan 4 years ago, I didn't really care for Tokyo. I thought it was loud, crowded and obnoxious. But I've had several opportunities to see its softer side and I truly enjoy and appreciate it. Yeah, it's decadent to the max but it can be quaint and quiet when you go to the right places. I hope to visit there again right before I leave the country.

This dude here was a trip. He loves talking to foreigners (in Japanese) and I hope to bump into his stall again in a couple of months. He was funny, charming, and best of all, gave us discounts. My kind of guy!

I'll write about my camping experience really soon.

Love and mochi.