Your Face Just Broke the Language Barrier

One lovely weekend at the end of September, Okaasan asked if I wanted to come with the family to go….somewhere.  (She said where we were going, but my Japanese wasn’t good enough yet to keep up with her super fast Japanese).  So naturally, I said, “Sure!”

I turned out that we were going to Saikai Bridge (西海橋) out by Sasebo.  In the morning, Kaori and Miho came over (with Shiho, Miho’s precocious 1 year-old daughter) and we all got in Miho’s car to drive to the bridge.  I sat with Miho in the front while Okaasan and Kaori attempted to entertain Shiho in the backseat for the hour-long drive.

Once we got there, apparently Shiho had managed to tire herself out, so Okaasan stayed in the car to nap with Shiho while Kaori, Miho, and I set out to see the bridge.  In truth, there are two bridges. One of them is old and the other is new; usually they are both open, but Kaori told me that if a typhoon is coming in, the old bridge is closed because they’re worried about how stable it is under those conditions.

We walked on the underpass of the new bridge for a while and I took some pictures of the scenery.  Kaori said that the area around the bridges is absolutely stunning in spring because all the trees around the water are cherry trees and when they bloom all around the bay, the flowers fill the air and are reflected in the water. All the same, the view when we went was lovely:

IMG_0957

After we had walked around for a bit, we headed back toward the car, but apparently we had another stop to make.  Right next to the bridge, there was a marketplace called Toto Ichiba (“ichiba” means market) which sold tons of fish and related products.  In a small arcade right next to it there was a crane game…for live lobsters. O.o  I saw an old man playing it and he and his wife invited me over to watch while they tried to catch one.

Then we went inside the market and Okaasan met us in there with Shiho.  (Okaasan usually carries Shiho on her back; there’s a special name for that kind of carry in Japanese, but I can’t remember it at the moment…)  We walked around and Miho and Kaori were naming all the different kinds of fish for me while Okaasan tried to pick out some good fish to buy for dinners the following week.  Kaori took Shiho and we walked over to see these live clams that were sitting in a deep tray of water.  If you stuck your finger in the clams’ mouths just enough to tickle it and pulled back out really quick, it would snap shut, spitting out a jet of water.  Kaori and I played at this for a while, but then a clam spit on Shiho and she was NOT having it.  xD  (Kaori has a fantastic sense of humor, by the way, as do most of the people in my host family =p)

When we met back up with Okaasan, we ran into some other foreigners, so I said hi.  Apparently, they were from the military base in Sasebo.  Okaasan didn’t really understand anything they said, so I translated for her and she laughed and greeted them in Japanese.  They all looked at me like I had grown a third arm.  “You can speak Japanese?!” they exclaimed.  Seeing as we are in Japan, I’m not sure why that was such a shock, but apparently they couldn’t speak any Japanese, so I explained that I was an exchange student and the Okaasan was my host mom.  (I just seem to be in a never ending cycle of explaining that; Japanese people are like, “Oh my god, a foreigner is using real words?  How strange!” and other foreigners are like “Oh my god, you speak the language of the country we are both currently in?  How strange!” -.-)

Anyway, so we got back in the car and stopped off at a couple of other places to pick up fresh vegetables and a snack (Taiyaki, basically a fat waffle stuffed with sweet goodness, and it was amaaaaazing) and then we went home.  Sorted!  (sorry, I had the urge to say that.  I must be hanging around Max [the British exchange student] too much….)

All You Can Do Now is Wait and Hope You Didn’t Make any Mistakes…

Just a quick post on something I forgot to mention.

The morning of the day I went out to see Nagasaki with Niisan, I spent about 2 hours making Ohagi with Okaasan.  Apparently, in September, there’s a day when you’re supposed to honor your ancestors with gifts, one of the traditional ones is Ohagi.  Ohagi is a sweet treat made by wrapping sweet red bean paste around very soft cooked rice.

2015092310360000

(The very lovely older lady in the picture is Okaasan.  Niisan took the picture on his phone; we asked if he wanted to help, but he said he’d rather be the cameraman xp)

2015092310410000

The rice was really hot and making the Ohagi was kinda hard at first, but I got the hang of it.  After we had finished off the last of the rice, we packed the Ohagi into pretty boxes to go to the temple (only the pretty ones though; the ugly ones, aka the ones I made xD, we got to eat).

You Seek Meaning? Then Listen to the Music, Not the Song

Second post today, woo!  At this rate, I’ll catch up to the present….sometime next year….oh dear….

On my Unzen trip post, I mentioned that I had gotten to know a few of the Chinese students.  After we got back, a bunch of us decided to go out and explore Nagasaki together.  It was sooo much fun!

First, we met up on Saturday.  I had asked a bunch of the other American students if they wanted to tag along, but they were too intimidated by the idea of spending the entire day communicating in Japanese.  Gen and I collaborated with Ryou and Ryuu to set up a time and a plan, but only they were actually successful in getting others to come. *tears*

So, on the day of the meet-up, Gen and I arrived at Sumiyoshi (a bus station near a well-known shopping district) and saw the Chinese students had already arrived.  It was Ryou, Ryuu, Ra (those were the only Chinese dudes), Cho, Han, and three other Chinese girls.

We had planned to just go see temples, but all the Chinese girls wanted to go to the Penguin Aquarium, so we all boarded the bus to go see that first.  (Yes, it really is “just” a penguin aquarium)

IMG_0870

Honestly, it wasn’t that impressive, but the fact that I paired up with Ryou and we spent about an hour just trying to understand the signs together made it really fun for me. (There’s nothing quite like trying to understand something written in your mutual second language that you both don’t understand…but you have to use that second language to try and understand it together because both of you don’t speak the other’s language….)

I got a great picture of Ryuu and Ryou together at the aquarium (I tried to sneak up and get a picture, but when I said “Cheese!” they were like “No, no!  Let us pose first!” xD)  (Also, I’d like to point out that there is a “No flash photography” sign in this picture…that has the flash on…*facepalm*)

(Ryuu is the tall one on the left, Ryou is on the right)

IMG_0859

And then we all took a picture together on the pier outside the aquarium:

IMG_0863

(If you’re wondering who the other white guy is, that’s Nathaniel, another American student who’s in my Japanese class.  He decided to tag along when we met up with him at the aquarium)

After we rode the bus back (each way the bus was about 35 minutes), we headed off to Sofukuji Temple.  We stopped in a few smaller temples on the way, but when we got there, we had to pay the entrance fee, then we went inside and took some pictures and stuff.  There was this really nice older Japanese lady that we talked to who wanted to know where we were all from and then she gave us directions to the next place we wanted to go.  She even took a picture of all of us together:

IMG_0887

After that though, Ra and three of the Chinese girls went home because they had worn impractical shoes and/or were sick of being eaten alive by mosquitoes like the rest of us.  (By this point, I was so covered in mosquito bites on my arms, legs, hands, and feet that I just didn’t care anymore).  So the rest of us continued on to Kofukuji Temple, but there was an entrance fee for that one, too, so we decided to just sit outside it and rest for a bit.

We wanted to go see Nagasaki’s night view from Mt. Inasa (it’s ranked as the 3rd best night view in the world), but it was still early, so we wandered until we found a small shrine and sat there to share whatever food we had brought with us.  For whatever reason Ryou ALWAYS has Castella in his bag (castella is essentially pound cake, but it’s something Nagasaki is famous for).  He claims that he always carries food because he’s always hungry. xp

After we ate and chatted for a bit, we decided to head for the streetcar to get to Mt. Inasa.  On the way there, we went up this hill and Ryou was like “Let’s go! Let’s go! Faster!” running ahead of everyone but then Ryuu shouted after him “The number one fastest is the number one idiot.” Ryou slowed down after that. xD

When we got to the streetcar stop, I got this great picture, which we all then used to mock Ryou as well.  (Just look at that posture xP)

IMG_0895

I told him he looks like he’s saying “Hey, look, I’m so cool and awesome and stuff” in this picture and he was like “WHAT?! No, no, no, why….”  xD (The pink thing is Gen using a plushy he bought to keep me from getting his picture)

So, we all got to the top of Mt. Inasa at about 5:30, but it was still too early, so we explored a bit and found out that there was a Deer exhibit and a Monkey exhibit (like zoo exhibits) near the bus station to the observation platform, so we went there first.  Ryou was like “Where are the monkeys?  I want to see the monkeys!”, but Ryuu just pointed at him and said “here.” xD  The face that Ryou made was the most hilarious thing (without any words, it said “Really?  Really, bro?”).  Then (I guess he must have seen it in a movie or something) Ryou said something that really surprised me.  In English, he said “I thought you were my brother! My heart is broken.” I thought it couldn’t get any funnier, but then Ryuu looked over at me, winked and said in English “I’m a heart-breaker.”

Oh god, I almost died laughing right there.

(I would like to point out, Ryuu actually speaks English fairly well, but Ryou doesn’t, which is what made this situation even better.  Ryou actually has asked me to help him learn English and he’ll teach me Chinese, which is going to be AWESOME….trying to learn Chinese through Japanese will be quite a trick though…=p)

Anyway, after that hilarious diversion, it was finally time to see the night view.  It wasn’t super exciting, but it was extremely beautiful.

IMG_0902

On our way back down at about 7:15 or so, Ryuu kept complaining about being hungry (which was kinda weird because he’d been our guide for the whole day so he seemed really mature and stuff; he was the leader because his Japanese is FAR better than the rest of ours: to put it in perspective, I’m in Japanese 4, the highest class that any of the American students got into, he’s in Japanese S, the level above Japanese 7 and he also speaks decent English; so yeah…he basically makes all of us feel stupid 90% of the time).  Anyway, so he kept saying “I’m soooooo hungry.   Sooooo hungry.”  And Ryou (finally getting a little payback) saw the vending machine for animal food by the deer exhibit and said, “Okay, you want to eat that?  You’re my brother, so I’ll buy it for you. *smirk*”  (I could listen to the two of them go at each other all day, it’s so funny)

I have to say though, it’s weird how well we all get along.  I mean, we don’t understand all of what each other says, but by paying attention to body language and mood, we all sort of understand each other and have a ton of fun.  (Although, knowing enough Japanese to understand their jokes was one of the best parts for me =D)

Moving on to day 2 (this is gonna be a long post…again…oops)

After we’d been hanging out all day the day before, I talked to Ryou on the way home and asked him about his plans for Sunday.  He said he was free and Saturday had been so much fun, so we worked it out and all met up the same time the following day for more sightseeing together.  This time, I did manage to get one of the other American students to come.  His name is Warren (he’s from Colorado, too) and I have to give him credit for having the guts to come.  He’s only in Japanese 1, so he understood very little of what everyone said all day.  Ryou and Ryuu would try to use English with him though (Ryou only knows a little English, but what he does know is hilarious).  Ryou told us that in the movie Titanic, there’s that famous line, right? “If you jump, I jump.”  He said that if they were Chinese, it would have been, “You jump, I push.”  (in English) xD

So, we met up again at Sumiyoshi and headed to Koshi-byo (the Confucian shrine in downtown Nagasaki).  Ryuu and Ryou asked if I had an interest in China; I said that I did so Ryou spent the next hour and a half explaining everything in the temple and the attached museum to me.  Not only what everything was, but also why it was important to Chinese people or history.  (There were English descriptions on things as well, but they weren’t nearly as thorough or interesting)

IMG_0917

For example, Ryou was explaining to me about how dragons are viewed in Chinese culture.  The different types of body parts on a Chinese dragon stand for different attributes.  They have the body of a snake, the claws of a bird, the horns of a deer, etc. and stand for bravery, wisdom, and a bunch of other things.

IMG_0914

IMG_0930

I also practiced my Chinese pronunciations of things…but apparently I really really suck at Chinese, so it made Ryou cringe every time…oops.  Ryuu dropped in on us from time to time to add details, but since he was the leader (again), he would swoop off to check on the other members of our group.

IMG_0924

(This was Ryuu in the gift shop.  He thought he looked funny, we thought he looked like a murderer…I guess it’s open to interpretation…)

As we were coming out of the museum, Ryou spotted a calligraphy practice station (a place for tourists to try calligraphy).  He sat down and proceeded to write my name in Chinese (I think he said the pronunciation was something like “Lei Bei Ka”).  It’s SO COOL.

IMG_1037

Then we went over to Oura Catholic Church which honestly wasn’t very impressive.  It was just a church.

IMG_0932

From there, we headed over to Glover Garden.  Again, to us it wasn’t super exciting because it was just an English-style house with a big English-style garden, but it was still fun to go together.  Mostly, we had fun looking at the fish and turtles in the various ponds.

IMG_0941

That’s Ryou, by the way.  I asked him if he was wearing a long-sleeved shirt to look cool (honestly, WHY? It was so freaking hot that day) and he was like “WHA-?! No, no, no!”  He’s hilarious whenever I accuse him of trying to act cool.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the Japanese word for “cool” is the same word as the one for “handsome.” xD

IMG_0944

After seeing most of the garden, we headed out to get to China town because a festival was supposed to start there at 6.  We were still a little early though, so we took the long way around and found a playground;  we all took turns showing off how well we could do flips and stuff on the bars because apparently no matter where you’re from, competition turns everyone into five-year-olds. xP  (I couldn’t kick my legs up and over the bar to do a back flip, but I could do multiple front flips, which sent the yen in my pocket flying out xD)

At 6:00, we joined the crowd in the square to watch the performances at the Chinese Festival.  It was a really cool set of performances actually.  First there were kids doing a dragon dance, then adults, then a bunch of women (mostly) came out holding a huge dragon prop to dance with, too.  It was awesome, but Ryou said it made him homesick.  (Warren helped me record a bunch of the performance, so I’ll put that up on youtube soon)

IMG_0954

At 7:00, we had to leave so the Chinese students could make it back to the dorms in time for dinner.  I’ve never had so much fun despite the fact that in our group we didn’t all completely understand each other.  =D

Anyway, more posts to come.  Love you guys ❤

I Don’t Sound Like I’m from Nagasaki?

The Thursday after I got home from Unzen, Niisan had his first day off since I had arrived.  Usually he has two jobs: he works in a bakery from 4-9am 5 days a week and from 11-8 at his cafe 5 days a week.  Therefore, because of overlap, he only has Thursdays entirely free.  Anyway, he decided that he wanted to spend the day showing me around Nagasaki.  I had mentioned that I loved the ocean, so after breakfast, we set out to go to the beach.  It was a pretty rocky beach and the sky was overcast, but it was still a ton of fun.

IMG_0838

IMG_0840

Niisan pulled a pair of crocks out of his bag so that I could go in the water without hurting my feet and then we climbed some of the sharp rocks together.  You see that tall rock in the photo?  We climbed one that was a little higher further back on the beach to get a good view of the ocean.

IMG_0846

Usually, speaking Japanese is fairly intimidating for me when I’m talking to a group, but since it was just Niisan with me that day, I had no fear of making mistakes and we sat on that rock talking for a long time.  That was the first time I felt like maybe I could actually do this.  Since arriving in Japan, I had barely understood any of what Okaasan (my host mom) said and I always felt like a child because everyone had to dumb things down for me (even now, I still feel a little that way sometimes, but now I understand about 70% of what Okaasan says, so it’s less frequent).

Suddenly, it began to rain, so we ran barefoot back to the car, but our feet were covered in sand.  I took a water bottle that Niisan had given me to try and wash the sand off my feet, but when I started doing that, Niisan had a look on his face like “Oh….no….”  and he ran off.  I didn’t really understand why…until he came running back with a bag (yes, a bag….and a leaking bag at that) of water that he had filled in a nearby bathroom; apparently the liquid in the bottle he gave me was not water…oops.

So, we used the bag of water to rinse off our feet and got back in the car to go tour Nagasaki.  Nagasaki is essentially a huge bowl surrounded my mountains and filled with hills, so Niisan drove up and down and all over town to try to find a good place to see the city from.

IMG_0856

After that, we set out to find a place for lunch and ended up at a ramen place (but I only ordered gyouza ^.^) after Niisan had asked about 8 of his friends if their shops were open so we could go there.  It was a holiday, so none of them were at their shops though.  This was also the first time that I really noticed the Nagasaki dialect in Niisan’s Japanese (he told me that his accent only comes out around friends or if he gets too excited or angry).

That night, Niisan actually explained the Nagasaki dialect to me (in Japanese, it’s called Nagasaki-ben).  This likely won’t mean much to most of you, but here is a brief Japanese lesson:

In Japanese, the word kara is added to the end of a phrase or sentence if you want that phrase or sentence to express a reason.  It’s used similarly to the word “because,” but it’s placed at the end of a phrase rather than the beginning.  However, with Nagasaki-ben, they replace the word kara with the word ken.  So, the phrase Gakkou ni itta kara (Because I went to school…) becomes Gakkou ni itta ken.

Similarly, the word they use for “right” as in “It’s on Monday, right?” is deshou, but in Nagasaki-ben, they replace deshou with tai.  There are more examples and an accent as well, but those are the most prominent ones.  I’ve been practicing using it, too, but I’ve been told not to use that in polite company because it makes me sound like a hick.  xD  Niisan told me (in Japanese of course) “Make sure you learn pretty Japanese, too, because no one will understand you if you go to Tokyo and use Nagasaki-ben, and even if they understand, you’ll sound weird.  In Nagasaki though, you sound a little pretentious if you don’t use Nagasaki-ben with your friends.”  So….that’ll be fun to figure out.

Cats! I’m Being Nibbled to Death by Cats.

Just a quick post about something rather odd that I’ve noticed about Nagasaki.  There are cats.  Everywhere.

Not just on advertisements and in commercials and stuff (though there are certainly a bazillion cat mascots for literally everything in Japan).  There are just cats all over the streets, in the parks, in the temples, sleeping in doorways, hanging out on the balcony outside my house; there are even two that just chill on the grounds of my school.

IMG_0799

IMG_0829

It’s exceptionally rare for me not to see at least cat on my way to or from school and usually I see many more.  One of my favorite hang out spots here is the Peace Park (free internet for the win!), but if I’m there past sundown when all the tourists start heading home, the cats start coming out.  There are about a dozen or so that just live in the park and I see them all the time.  If I go to the park with Gen, he often brings cat treats to coax them over and then we can pet them.  The “feral” cats here that wander all over are usually quite nice actually.  They’re a bit skittish, but once you calm them down, they’re usually fine with being touched.  I think most of them used to be house cats, but many of them are probably just really used to people because people feed them.

The ones at my school are super cute and I try to find them everyday to say hi.  We nicknamed them Konyanko and Jaian-sensei.  Konyanko loves being pet and just starts purring incessantly if you pick her up.  Jaian-sensei is nice, too…most of the time.  If you try to pet her when she’s trying to sleep, she tries to bite you.  Understandable.  ^.^

I Don’t Know What That Means…..It’s His Name

Hello again!  I’m very slowly catching up to the present with these posts.  Once I catch up, they’ll probably be shorter, but for now, all these posts are going to be practically novellas.  Sorry.  ^.^

Alrighty, so right after I was introduced to my host family, I and the rest of the exchange students (both the American students and the NICS students) went on a field trip to Unzen. Woo!  (My host brother also packed me some snacks from his cafe for the trip in case I got hungry because he is literally the nicest person I have ever met <3)

Friday morning, we all met up at school to get on the buses to Unzen.  There are about 45  or so students from America and Europe and about 80 or so from Taiwan, China, and Korea (mostly China), so we needed three buses for all of us.  On our way to Unzen, we stopped off at a couple of places to see the sights.  First,  we all stopped off to get lunch since we’d already been on the bus for almost two hours.  We had a fairly traditional Japanese lunch together with the NICS students (NICS students are the ones from other parts of Asia) Up to this point, we hadn’t even met any of them since we had different orientations and different buses (all the JASIN students had orientation and instructions in English while all the NICS students had orientation and instructions in Japanese).

IMG_0715

I really wanted to get to know some of the Chinese students since I didn’t want to make just American friends here, so I struck up a conversation with the three Chinese guys across from Gen and me.  We all introduced ourselves and asked about hobbies, Japanese studies, etc.  (All in Japanese, of course). Their names were Ryou, Ryuu, and Ra (I think in Chinese their names were more like Liao, Liu, and ….I have no idea, but after we butchered the Chinese pronunciation a couple of times, they told us to just use the Japanese pronunciation xp).  Unfortunately, in Japanese, Ryuu means dragon (which is kinda cool), but Ryou means dormitory…..so I didn’t realize that he meant that Ryou was his name at first (I thought he was saying that he lives in the dorms, which he does….oh never mind).  When I talk a lot, I eat pretty slowly, so everyone finished before me.  Gen finished pretty fast so he ditched me to go explore (I didn’t mind).  But while I was talking to the Chinese guys, I realized that while I wasn’t done, they had finished a while before.  Everyone else had already finished and left.  I asked them why they weren’t heading off to explore; they said that they were waiting because they didn’t want me to have to eat alone  (Everyone here is just so nice!).  After lunch, we talked for a while longer, but then we had to get back on the buses.

After lunch, we stopped at the Unzen Volcano Museum (I don’t know the actual English translation of it, that’s just what I translated from the kanji =p).

IMG_0717

It was pretty interesting, but the only things most of us even sort of understood were the performances.  One was interactive, the other was for kids, so the Japanese in it was super simple.  Apparently the eruption of Mt. Unzen was the worst volcano eruption in Japanese history.  The force of the eruption caused an earthquake (or maybe it was the other way around?  I’m not sure) and the earthquake caused a tsunami.  So the towns around Mt. Unzen were buried in ash and lava and whatever remained near the coast was obliterated by the tsunami.  O.O

After that, we headed over to Shimabara Castle.

IMG_0762

I’d never seen a castle before, so that was pretty awesome.  It was also really really hot that day, so most of us hung out on the balconies on the top floor of the castle for a while because it was open and there was really strong wind to keep us cool.  This was the view from the top of the castle:

IMG_0751

(That’s Mt. Unzen…I think)

Most of the castle itself is a museum about the castle’s history and  samurai and stuff.

IMG_0734

After the castle, we walked for little while until we found the old samurai housing district and toured a few of their houses (they’ve been turned into essentially small museums detailing the history of the samurai family that lived there).

IMG_0767

Then we finally got on the buses to head to the onsen (hot springs + hotel) in Unzen.

IMG_0776

We each got assigned 2 or 3 roommates and went off to find our rooms. Once we were all settled, I went with my roommates down to get in the hot springs.  In Japan, you get naked in a changing room, sit on a stool to wash your hair and body, then you rinse off and can go sit in the bath.

There were two baths in the girls’ side of the hot springs: indoor and outdoor.  My roommate and I sat next to each other to wash up, but…I wasn’t wearing my glasses, so by the time I had finished, I didn’t realize that my roommate had already left, so I just scared the crap out of this Japanese lady who had sat where my roommate had been by speaking English to her.  Woops.

After that, I joined my roommate and several of the other foreign students in the outdoor bath and we were all fairly insecure about being naked around each other at first, but once we all accepted that none of us were perfect, everybody relaxed.  Oddly, when we were talking to the guys afterward, the guys had way more body issues than the girls did.  After a brief moment of insecurity, the girls just flung the towels off and hung out together in the bath, but almost all the guys were like “maybe I’ll go late at night so no one sees me naked.” O.o  Seriously, guys?  I heard from one of the Chinese girls that it was the same with them.  The girls were fine, but the dudes were really insecure xD.

(We were given these unbelievably comfortable yukata to wear around the hotel, I never wanted to take mine off, especially in the heat)

IMG_0772

Then we all had dinner together again and it was amazing and delicious chanpon (a chinese inspired dish that’s essentially a hotpot).

After dinner, we all went to a huge open room for an activity that the teachers had planned for us to all get to know each other.  We split into groups and were each given a sheet of paper with someone else’s name on it.  Then we had to go around calling that person’s name until we found them and until we found the person who was looking for us as well (it took forever for me to find mine because he was Chinese and couldn’t recognize my butchered pronunciation of his name…).  Once we had done that, we split into different groups and played a couple of games with cards that had us separating them into categories and collaborate with each other.  No one really understood what was going on, but we were all talking to each other which was the point, I think.  Ra was in my group, so he and I and another American student wandered around together trying to figure out where our cards fit in with everyone else’s (the last activity was trying to figure out which month was associated with the matching flower cards that we had…like I said, no one knew).

So that was fun, despite the confusion.  After that, they brought in a karaoke machine and we had karaoke.  Gen got up on the stage immediately and sang his heart out which I was extremely impressed by (you couldn’t have paid me to get up on that stage first).  He loves karaoke.  By this point, most of the other students had already left to go to the baths again or go to bed, but about 5 or 6 American students and 25 or so Chinese students stayed for karaoke.  When the Americans started singing “Bad Romance” (seriously, like all five of them were singing it together over the microphone) I sidled over to Ryou and Ryuu who were hanging out by the wall and asked them if they knew the song.  Ryou said that everyone even in China knew Lady Gaga, so yeah.  Then they very soulfully sang Bohemian Rhapsody which was so funny to listen to.  I didn’t know most of the songs that people sang after that, but I clapped with everyone else and got to know another 4 or 5 Chinese students a little bit.  At the end, Ryou and Ryuu got up on the stage together and Ryuu did a rap while Ryou provided background vocals, it was hilarious and amazing. xD

In the morning, I went to the bath again, then we ate breakfast and headed out for the second day of our trip.  We went to a town called Obama first (Yes, I know) and we found out that because of the name, there was an actual statue of president Obama, so we went out to find it….but it apparently got destroyed in a recent typhoon.  So, if anyone asks, Obama is dead, he was killed in a typhoon. xp

Then we went to climb a mountain.  I thought it was just going to be an easy hike….I was wrong, so wrong.  Imagine going up stairs that are about a 1 and a half feet high…for 50 minutes straight, now imagine that there are rocks, and mud that slides when you try to stand on it to climb.  Yup.  That was fun.  We all started off really positive, and practically dead by the end.  Despite that, everyone was very supportive of each other.  Whenever we stopped to take a short break, we’d hold out our hands to high five the students who were passing us and say “Ganbatte!” (“Keep going!” / “Do your best!”).  Then they would do the same for us when we passed them on break.  (Since we don’t speak Chinese and they don’t speak English, whenever we talk to the Chinese students or large groups of mixed students, we typically use Japanese, the language we all understand).  Once we got to the top, it was so beautiful:

IMG_0805

IMG_0809

Then, I didn’t have my wallet on me, so I couldn’t ride the gondola thing down and had to hike back down, too……yup.  By the time I got back to the bus, my legs were so shaky that I could barely walk on flat ground anymore.  I was still raring to go, but my body had basically given up by that point…Which was fine because when we got back on the bus, it was to head back to Nagasaki.

So my hot springs trip was a blast and I had so much fun and made so many friends, but my body was essentially broken for the following two days. >.<

More posts to come!  Take care, everybody!

Circling an Unknown and Distant Star

So, after almost a year of preparing for this, I’m finally here.  I’m in Japan!  After my time in Hong Kong, arriving here felt a little surreal.  It was nice being able to read the signs though.  In Hong Kong, everything was in Chinese…I don’t speak Chinese (yet), but in Japan, all the signs are in Japanese! (What a shocker…) So I can finally read like….maybe half of what the signs say here.

Anyway, so I arrived in Fukuoka at about 5pm on the 15th of September.  A lovely senior student came to pick me (and another student who is now my best American friend here) up at the airport.  She escorted us back to the hotel and I have to say, I was so excited to have my own room.  After three nights sleeping in that hostel in Hong Kong (which was nice, but it was 10 people to a room….I’m looking at you, snoring people -.-), it was fantastic to be alone.  I say that…but I immediately went out to find dinner with another foreign student (the same one from the airport) because I was sooooo hungry after not eating for almost 35 hours by this point.  (By the way, this student is Chinese American, so he has two names.  For the purposes of this blog, I’m going to use his Chinese name, which is Gen.)

So Gen and I went out to find dinner at a nearby mall (which had four floors dedicated entirely to food.  After walking around ALL of the shops on each floor and watching Gen compare ALL the prices, I was so starving that I just grabbed his arm and dragged him into a ramen place because he JUST WOULDN’T DECIDE.  (“EXCUSE ME, starving lady on the edge over here, we are eating NOW.”)

The food that I had was surprisingly spicy, but it was pretty good.  The staff spoke really fast though, so I barely understood anything.

Anyway, enough about Fukuoka (I barely saw any of it anyway).  The next morning, we got on a bus to Nagasaki and arrived to start orientation….which lasted for six hours….yay….

But, for the last hour or so, I could barely pay attention because I was so nervous about the upcoming meeting with our host families.  Less than half the students are doing homestay; the rest are in the dorms.  I had been corresponding with my host brother for almost three months by this point, but I was still nervous as hell.  They led us to the Lounge, where our host families were waiting.  They’d been sent a picture of me, so when I walked in, my host mom and brother started waving to me from across the room.  I went over to join them at their table and we introduced ourselves again (we’d already established our relationships and what I’d be calling them by email, but it seemed right to introduce myself properly).  As I’d expected, I barely understood any of what they said, especially okaasan (it’s Japanese for mom and I’ll use it from now on to refer to my host mom).  She talks really fast and quiet and has a thick Nagasaki accent, so even now she’s way harder to understand than anyone else.

After we introduced ourselves and chatted using my limited Japanese for a bit, we started working on how I’d be getting to school the following morning for more orientation and okaasan said that she’d be accompanying me on the walk to the bus and the bus ride to the school to make sure that I knew where I was going since in Nagasaki, there is practically no English at all on the buses.

Once we had that worked out, we went and got in niisan’s car (again, niisan or oniisan is the Japanese for brother, so I’ll use that to refer to my host brother; his actual name is Tsuyoshi though) and he drove us home.  I had my backpack and large suitcase to carry, but niisan carried the suitcase for me because it was heavy and my family lives up several steep hills and two long flights of stairs.  Okaasan took me upstairs to my room (the stairs are almost like a ladder, they’re so fricking steep) and I found out that I actually had two rooms to use as well as a small bathroom.  I use one room as just a hanging out room because it has a couch and a small tv while I use the other to lay out my futon (aka my bed), store my clothes, study (I have a table to use for my laptop and homework), and generally just put all my crap.  The room I chose to sleep in is right next to the bathroom, so it works out. =D

After okaasan went back downstairs to work on dinner, niisan stayed to help me figure out internet for my laptop and just to talk for a while to help me get settled in.  By this point, I was so in over my head that I felt like I was just holding myself together by sheer willpower, so I appreciated their kindness and patience with me when I didn’t understand anything they said.

For dinner, we had mostly sashimi (raw fish) and rice with nori (seaweed) to make wraps.  Oh, also, I only live with three people: niisan, okaasan, and Megumi neesan (Megumi, my host sister); however, okaasan has four kids, not just two (they’re all between the ages of 38 and 45), so my first night, I had dinner with okaasan, niisan, Megumi neesan, Miho neesan, Kaori neesan, Takumi-kun, and Shiho-chan. Niisan is youngest, then Megumi, then Miho, then Kaori; but Miho neesan has a little daughter named Shiho (she’s only 1 year old) and Kaori neesan has a son named Takumi (he’s 18).  So….to say I was overwhelmed is putting it lightly.  Everyone was speaking Japanese to each other really fast and Shiho-chan was toddling around the table trying to touch everything, feed me whatever she could grab off the table, and sit on my lap.  I was thinking, “Oh god this is so different and weird and I thought I was prepared and I was but I really wasn’t and oh god what have I gotten myself into?!”

But the good news is that while I was on the brink of a panic attack my first couple of days with my host family, now I can firmly say that they are the main reason why I feel completely at home here now.  Okaasan is like a second mom to me, niisan is the nicest, most patient person on the planet and I don’t know what I’d do without him, and Kaori and Megumi are so funny and I love hanging out with them every day telling funny stories.

Nagasaki really seems like home to me now and the city is so beautiful.  I’ll have more posts soon about my trip to Unzen, making friends, and day trips with my host family.  Sorry there are no pictures for this one, I was so nervous my first few days here that I didn’t take any.  xD  Anyway, I hope everyone is doing well; I’ll keep you posted. ❤

Alone at Last……

Alrighty!  So, I’ve been in Japan for two weeks and I’m finally getting around to writing a post about my time in Hong Kong!  I hope you find my exploits entertaining. =D

So, like all adventures (at least the big ones) my Hong Kong adventure began at the airport (unfortunately…).  After a 12-hour flight from Vancouver….(yeah, that’s all I need to say about that….) I arrived alone at the airport in Hong Kong.

IMG_0420

Everything went remarkably well considering that this was the first time I had traveled by myself; I didn’t lose anything, forget anything, or get lost (much).  After picking up my luggage, I got on the bus to my hostel….but I don’t really know how buses work…and all the signs were mostly in Chinese, so this really nice man from Singapore (who saw the terrified and confused expression on my face when I thought I had missed my stop), kindly explained to me where we were on the map that I had with me and so I got off at the right stop and everything was good; I found my hostel right away and passed out to prepare myself for the following days of sightseeing.

So, day 1:

Since by this point, my body had no idea what time it was, I woke up at the ungodly hour of 6am (anyone who has met me more than once knows that I’m a “wake up at the crack of noon” kinda girl…) so I got dressed and headed out into the city. By this point, it was about 7:30 and I was trying to find a place to have breakfast.  I had looked up a couple of places on google maps that I was trying to find, but I couldn’t find any of those, so I kinda wandered into a small shop that had its breakfast menu displayed on the street.  Inside were about 6 tables and a little middle-aged lady who looked at me and just pointed at one of the tables near the wall.  She gave me a menu (which had just a little English on it) and said I could order anything in the right column, so when she came back I pointed at what I thought I wanted (I wasn’t sure what it was…), but she said, “no, you have this one,” pointing to the one a couple items up from the one I chose.  Without waiting for me to say anything, she took my menu and walked away. O.o

IMG_0421

(It was delicious, but I still don’t know what it was exactly….)

Anyway, after breakfast, I headed out to find the botanical gardens since they were the closest on the map I had made for myself (I should probably mention that this map wasn’t very detailed….).  On the way there, I ran into Hong Kong Park and explored around for a bit; it was so beautiful and green (and humid…).

IMG_0446

After that, I headed toward the botanical gardens.  I thought I was on the right path, but about an hour later when I still hadn’t found it, I began to wonder.  The path I was on was steeper than I had thought that it would be, but I just thought the gardens must be on one of the higher levels.

IMG_0495

I had only brought 1 bottle of water with me and it was horrifically hot and humid, so I was already exhausted and sweating a ton.  I stopped another tourist to ask where we were and he said that I was almost halfway up Victoria Peak. O.O  Oops.  By this point, I figured I should just keep going, since I had wanted to go there anyway.  Every once in a while, I would see the tram that went up the peak go by…the torture.  After about another hour and a half, I made it to the top dehydrated, dizzy, and incredibly overheated.

IMG_0506

Aaaand then I had a huge cup of iced chocolate (essentially chocolate milk) and two scoops of ice cream because I felt like I had earned it. xP

IMG_0509IMG_0513

After that, I was so tired and hot that I just rode the tram back down the mountain and walked back to my hostel to pass out until the next morning.

Day 2:

In the morning, I woke up early again to go find breakfast and again, I couldn’t find the places I’d seen on google maps, so I just ducked into a little diner that was really crowded for 7am, hoping that that meant the food was pretty good.  Unfortunately (and also fortunately, because it was pretty interesting), this is what I found inside:

IMG_0535

And on closer inspection:

IMG_0536

O.O

Well, let’s just say that after a brief game of charades with the owner of the shop, he just shrugged and went to get me whatever the thing I pointed to on the menu was.

IMG_0537

Even after I ate it, I’m still not entirely sure what all I ate, but it was pretty good in any case.

After that, I left to head toward Man Mo Temple.  Again it was hot and all uphill (somehow), but eventually I found the temple.  To be honest, (especially after being in Japan for a couple of weeks and seeing a dozen just like it) I could have skipped going to this temple.  It was pretty, but didn’t really justify my hour-long trek in the heat and humidity to get to it.

IMG_0547

So, it was nice, but I quickly moved on and started towards the docks to take the star ferry to Kowloon.  Up until now, I’d been staying on Hong Kong island, but that day I wanted to see the main part of the city in Kowloon.  I hopped on the ferry (my first time ever on a real boat =D):

IMG_0572

The ferry was $HK2.50 (which equals out to about 27 cents…Woo!).  And since I took it at around two in the afternoon, it was mostly empty and quiet on the ride over which took about five or so minutes.

Once I was in Kowloon, I needed to find a bus to take me to Kowloon Walled City Park, but I wanted to grab lunch first, so I went to one of the shops near the bus station and picked up a sandwich (basically), a dessert, and a drink (I’d just like to point out that the drink cost over twice as much as the other two items put together).

IMG_0576

The drink was an anko-flavored smoothie, which was deeelicious (anko is an iconic Japanese sweet red bean paste).

IMG_0577

So, I sat and had lunch, but while I was eating, a couple of Indian women came up to me and one of them said that her friend wanted to take a picture with me.  I said okay, but why, and they said that they wanted to prove to their friends back home that they’d made an American friend.  Well, o.O, weird, but okay.

After they had both taken a picture with me, I finished my lunch and got on the bus.  Buuuut, I’m apparently really bad at buses since I don’t really ride them at home, so I panicked and got off six stops too early.  Oops.

It wasn’t too big of a deal though, I just waited there for another bus and while I was waiting, I saw this gem:

IMG_0583

Which was right next to “Piss Bar,” xD but I didn’t get a good picture of that sign.

Once I was back on the right bus, I made it to the Walled City Park.  It was huge and hot and humid and green and full of old buildings.  It was so cool and I’m so glad I went.  I have a pretty long view of it as a video up on youtube, but here are a few pictures, too:

IMG_0590

IMG_0604

IMG_0603

IMG_0618

So I walked around the park for about an hour and a half or so, then I got back on the bus to go see the light show from the Avenue of Stars which started at 8pm.  I had to wait for a long while, so I just talked to the tourists around me when I got there, but then the light show started and it had all the buildings over on Hong Kong island sending up lights to the sky in sync with this pretty awesome music.  Again, there is video footage up on my youtube channel, but here are some pictures (as well as the featured image of this post) of the light show and city at night:

IMG_0661

IMG_0666

When the show was over, I hopped back on the ferry over to my hostel and took a few more pictures of the city on my way:

IMG_0678

In Hong Kong (and Japan as well), they have these covered walkways that connect buildings over the roads, so in shopping districts, usually there are several buildings across from one another that make up a mall, and all the open-air shops are on the outer edges of the buildings facing these walkways.  It’s super convenient and awesome (we need these in America, seriously).

IMG_0679

And so I made it back to my hostel and woke up the next morning to get on the plane to Japan. Wooo!

That was the end of my adventure in Hong Kong.  While I was a little confused and disoriented the whole time, I had a blast and now my adventure continues in Japan.  I’ll write some posts on Japan soon, too.  Until then, I hope everyone is having a great year!  ❤

And So It Begins…

Only one week left.  Seeing as I’ve only been out of the country once and never lived away from home, it still doesn’t feel real quite yet.  I’ve considered everything that I need to get in order before I leave and completed most of the preparations, but I guess I just can’t wrap my mind around it.

Even though people keep telling me that I don’t need to keep studying, I can’t help but feel like anything I learn in this time, even if it doesn’t sink in completely, will help me to understand when I’m being spoken to in Japanese.  I’ve held a fairly long conversation before, but I still feel like I’m overestimating myself.  Well, if I was fluent in Japanese, I wouldn’t be going, right?  I’m sure I’ll learn quickly.

First, of course, I’ll be landing in Hong Kong on the 12th.  I’m both more and less concerned about that because it’s far more likely that I’ll find someone who speaks English (which is good, considering that I haven’t quite gotten around to learning Chinese yet…), but I’ll also be alone, completely alone in a foreign country for the first time in my life.  Well, theoretically, I have a good head on my shoulders, so I’ll be fine…..probably.

Wish me luck!