Blog Post #10 “I quit!”

Hello! I haven’t written in quite some time…I felt blocked and nothing was flowing. But then I made a big decision to quit my job after just one year instead of two.. and I’m back, baby!

The cats outta the bag… I’m a spiritual gal.

I’ve decided to take a leap of faith and open up (a bit) about my spirituality. I’ve grown tired of censoring such an integral part of my being in order to not make anyone feel uncomfortable. So from now on, I ain’t gonna. I do so with trepidation, however. There is so much stigma attached to this topic. I’m aware it can make people uncomfortable or even repulsed. Thus, this post (as well as those coming) will not be for everyone. But being the biggest interest in my life, I’d be doing my soul disservice by not opening up about it a little more.

I am weary of doing so for fear of judgement. Judgement that is liable to come in a few different forms. The first being that I’ve gone nutty and this is all some ‘new-age hippy bull sh*t.’ I’m cool with that one, actually. I’ve judged people in this very same way in the past and know how strange and even silly spirituality can seem if you have no connection to it. The form that I’m not comfortable with is having people believe that because I have a connection to spirit, I therefore think I’m better than them. Or even worse, people actually believing that I am better than them.

Let it be known that my intent to expand spiritually is my choice. And my human experience is no better or worse than anyone else’s. Moreover, one does not need to meditate or read spiritual literature in order to have a connection to the universe. My former boyfriend, for example, never meditated a day in his life and is one of the most Zen people I know. For me though, this route was what was necessary to start healing and figuring out who I am. And once I started down this path, I didn’t want to stop. I’ve never encountered anything that’s interested me so enthusiastically before.

Writing this particular post has been a bit of a struggle. Like I said, there is such stigma surrounding spirituality or ‘enlightenment’ ‘ascension’ ‘consciousness’ ‘awakening’ ‘connection to the universe’ whatever you want to call it. Even typing these words makes me feel slightly arrogant. Navigating this stigma has been tricky. In addition, it’s tough to put something so multi-faceted and all encompassing into words to describe it in a general sense. The topic itself seems to resists the breakdown necessary to convert it into words. Here’s my best shot..

Spirituality and personal growth has been the main focus in my life for about four years now. It’s by far what I put most of my spare time and energy into. And good golly has my life changed drastically during this time. The way I experience the world couldn’t be more different from the way I did back then. Heck-it’s even different from last week!

Formerly identifying as a proud atheist, I once had no interest in any of this stuff. Eventually, I picked up yoga and meditation (the gateway drugs) in an effort to find inner calm amidst the constant ebb and flow of anxiety and fear that once plagued me. One thing lead to another and  I am now more connected to God* (the universe, consciousness, a higher power, source energy, my higher self, my inner guide, whatever you want to call it) than I ever knew was possible. This was not my mission, but a bi product of all the inner work I was doing in an effort to become a better, calmer person.

Now, while I don’t associate directly with any particular religion, I can understand and appreciate each of their essences, as I too believe that there is something indescribable and greater than myself out there. I can feel it. With this, I’ve gradually become able to perceive life beyond solely what I learn from my five senses. I suddenly understand that feeling of being ‘guided.’ The same notion I used to think was total bologna back when my elementary school best friend used to bring me to her youth group.

(I should note that I am not alone in this. Were all living in the midst of an extremely transformative time. The whole WORLD is going through an intense period of change and upheaval. Turn on the news and see!)

Let me tell ya, the past few years have been an absolute roller coaster, as a lot of challenges come with this process. (Ascension symptoms are a real thing and they’re rough.) Being deeply honest with oneself, shedding layers and getting closer to the root of their being is uncomfortable by nature. It is certainly a lonely journey at times, too. A sentiment that was magnified since I moved to Japan. Here, my Junior High school stance of ‘nobody understands me’ often felt true again. I found refuge in meditation, books, podcasts and following Youtubers that are going through similar journeys. I also have a few select people in my life who I can talk to openly about all this. A couple of which are family members. Thank goodness for that.

Because of all this. life has been filled with plenty of high highs, low lows, intense change, uncertainty, bliss, anxiety, depression, opening of past wounds, epiphanies, love & connection and everything in between. And it’s only the beginning- I’ve got a lifetime of healing left to do. Thankfully, my sense of inner stability gets stronger with every twist and turn.

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Eleesa caught me meditating at our Women’s Retreat. Funnily of enough I was full of angst in this picture. I’ll explain why below.

So what does my connecting to the Universe have to do with my quitting my job? Everything.

I live by the words ‘a person can only grow when they’re outside of their comfort zone’ They’re so true. If you’re ever looking to get out of your comfort zone.. hit up Japan. More specifically, move to an isolated island, work a job you have zero experience in and make sure to not learn Japanese.

Needless to say my personal growth and connection to the universe grew exponentially when I got  here. It has been intense and difficult, but nothing short of amazing. My whole being seems to have shifted when I look back and remember who I was when I arrived last year. My time in Japan has been the very shock to my system that I needed to really figure out ‘who I am’. I now know for certain, for the first ever, what my life’s purpose is. Goodness, what an amazing discovery that was! As you can imagine, the very nature of learning something of that magnitude is bound to bring about change. And thus, I quit my job. I’ve left many jobs in my lifetime, but none have felt like as pivotal as this.

Why I quit

The more I learned about myself and my purpose, the starker the contrast became between that and what I was actually doing. My current job is very much out of alignment with my path, and that was really started to weigh on me. A number of reasons contribute to this, and in an effort to avoid a negative rant (I won’t lie, a part of me really wants to, as I’m still in the midst of my job dissatisfaction) I will condense the reasons into bullet points.

-The Japanese school system is not one I agree with, by any means. And being a part of it was beginning to feel wrong.

– I am highly under-utilized and spend the majority of my time sitting at my desk trying to ‘look busy’ (This gets old, fast). Even when I am in class, I often feel my role is useless.

-My base school where I spend the majority of my time is riddled with stressful, tense vibes. It’s a very large school with a reputation for being strict. It’s not a place a enjoy being.

-The lack-of-connection I was experiencing through only being able to have very simple, small-talk conversations in my work life was really starting to get to me.

Moreover, I realized that my feelings towards the school system and Japanese work life in general was beginning to seep into my view of the culture as a whole. I was becoming resentful and closed off to it many aspects of it. After speaking with other ALTs, I know this is normal, but I am still somewhat ashamed of it.

These insights about my job were nothing new. I saw it for what it was right off the bat. But I was so grateful to be here and to be receiving the ‘easy money’ my job entails. And there is good stuff too, of course. But the intensity to which I felt against the system grew and grew as I became in touch with myself. And these bad feelings began seeping into my life outside of work. It was causing me to become disconnected and depressed and thus, affecting my ability to be effective in my job, which doesn’t even demand much of me to begin with.

One night, about a month ago,  I was feeling particularly low and confused so I called my mom. She let me vent for a solid hour and a half and by the end of the conversation we both realized it was time for me to go. It seemed like the only viable option. I had been trying to deny my feelings about my situation for a while, but they all came up to show themselves during that conversation. Once I was honest with myself, everything was suddenly so clear. A weight immediately lifted from my shoulders and I saw all the signs I had been trying to ignore that were telling me ‘time to go.’ This was the decision I needed to make to get into alignment with who I’ve recently uncovered myself to be.

Since making this choice, the ensuing tensions of having to break contract and plan my exit-strategy have certainly been present, but they’ve come with such faith that I made the right decision, and excitement about what’s next. Moreover, knowing theres a end date to my time in Amakusa (July), I am pullin’ out all the stops to enjoy what time I have left.

Having said all of this, I wouldn’t have changed a darn thing about my experience! The difficulties I’ve been facing here have been little blessings in disguise. A year in this job has taught me a helluva lot about my values and what i want/don’t want. Knowing this is so valuable. It’s important to experience contrast to learn such things. Every time we face difficult circumstances, it’s the universe prompting growth. And this was no exception to that.  I’m headed towards a life thats much more in sync with my true authentic preferences.  I’ve never known myself as well as I do right now. I’ve never felt so certain of my path. Go me!

My much needed Golden Week Vacation

Golden week (the week-long Japanese holiday) fell at the end of April and the middle of my ‘this job ain’t doin’ it for me’ episode. I travelled to Busan, South Korea where I had originally planned to go to get Lasik eye surgery, but had to cancel upon evaluating my finances when I quit my job. I decided to go anyways and meet up with Brittany, a friend from PEI who had been backpacking around Asia.

Busan is Korea’s second biggest city, and only a three hour ferry ride from Fukuoka, Japan. (The big city, not far from me.) Mitchell, an old High School pal, lives there teaching English and was away on vacation for a few days, so he graciously let us stay at his place while he was away. What a doll!

We really enjoyed our four days in Korea. It was a nice break from the rigours of Japan. Having lived with many Korean exchange students growing up I was curious about the country. Admittedly, I figured it would be similar to Japan. It was wrong about that- it’s totally different. I found it to be much grittier and more relaxed. It sort of felt like a hybrid between Thailand and Japan.

Brittany and I hadn’t made any Busan plans other than the surgery, so we bopped around and went where the wind took us. (My favourite way to travel!) It took us to the Busan Art Museum, a lantern festival at a temple, a couple markets, the extravagant hotel room of some lovely French dudes we met, some parks and great restaurants.

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The end of the art exhibit had a couple stations set up to colour/collage, where we hung out for ages. What a great idea, hey.
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There were one MILLION lanterns on the temple grouds. It was gorgeous.

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IMG_4387One day, we decided to hunt down a difficult-to-find vegan restaurant located on the 7th floor of a random building. We were the only people in the restaurant until two other foreigners walked in, a mother and daughter. Out of habit (you don’t see many fellow foreigners ’round here) I asked where they were from.. and  low and behold, they were Haligonians! (People from Halifax, N.S.) And lovely ones, at that. Goodness me- the world is small.

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Busan was great, but the experience came with the tension brought on by any hustling, bustling city. Luckily, that much needed vacation relaxation really kicked in once we returned to Japan. Brittany and I had plans to travel down to Kagoshima and then road trip around a bit in my car to show her some of Kyushu. The morning we were scheduled to depart, I received a message from my Korean friend Young, who I had met a few weeks prior at Saihate (an adorable eco-village not far from where I live). Young told us about a camping music festival in Oita. It was nearly a 6 hour drive from where we were, but Brittany and I knew we had to go. We scrapped our other plans, packed up the tent and hit the road.

We ended up staying for three nights and it was simply wonderful- exactly the vacation I was hoping for & needed. Spontaneous plans always turn out to the be the best, don’t cha think?

We made it to Oita and were met with a full- on hippy music festival at a lovely camp ground near the beach. I felt just like the one I attended in Aso back in October (blog post 6). Having met at a similar festival ‘Evolve’, Brittany and I were fully in our element.

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This used to be an annual festival but it got cancelled for the last five years. So everyone was in high spirits and stoked to be back.
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We set up our tent next to this wonderful Japanese couple who became our ‘festival parents.’ I friggin miss them.
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There was a surprise, 11am triple wedding/ sing-a-long. It was magical

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We took a little painting class. Here is my rainbow!

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Festival kiddies

It was technically a family festival, so the music started in the morning and ended after the ‘headline’ artist finished at about 9:30pm each night. When the kids went to sleep, you could walk around and find little jam sessions and tent-concerts. Some would have preferred the music continuing into the wee hours, in true festival style, but not me. The early pack-up time meant we got good sleeps and woke up feeling rested and fully able to enjoy our days.

The weekend was spent mostly barefoot- singing, dancing, chatting, people-watching, painting, swimming and eating. We met so many great folks and it wasn’t long before we had formed a small group of festival friends, with whom we spent most of our time. We came from Canada, the US, Japan, Korea, The Netherlands and France.

On the afternoon of the second day at the festival, I felt an unusual sensation that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I was extremely present, content and relaxed. There was nothing pressing for me to do. This prompted some reflection as I realized how I always tend to feel like I ought to be ‘doing’ something productive…planning, managing, fixing, accomplishing. I have a hard time allowing myself to fully relax in my day-to-day life. And when I do, it usually comes with a time limit and a some guilt. This constant ‘doing’ is undoubtedly one of the ways I attribute my self worth.

My habit dissipated at the festival, as I slowly allowed myself to simply ‘be’. Mind you, it didn’t come easily, as I’m not used to this. My mind kept prompting it’s usual ‘shouldn’t you be…?’ for a while before I became comfortable with the fact that there was nothing to be done other than chill and enjoy myself. And so for a short time I was freed from the prison of becoming.. it felt SO good.

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Maybe all of the ‘BE HERE NOW’ t-shirts and flags that decorated the festival contributed to my newfound presence.

This is why I love music festivals. They become their own little worlds, where you forget about the ways ‘real’ life. It’s so easy to make connections and everyone becomes like a big family. You live moment to moment. It’s beautiful. Mark my words, Ima will find a way to make my life feel like a festival all the time. Working on it…

All in all, it was a fantastic Golden Week.

Our ‘no-boys-allowed’ weekend

As I mentioned in a previous post, Eleesa (my Aussie friend who lives in Kumamoto City) and I planned a Women’s Retreat back in March. This was something I had been thinking about for a while, and decided to finally go for it once Eleesa expressed interest in helping me with it. Here’s the ad we put in our prefecture’s Facebook page to promote it:

“KumAJET Women’s Retreat

‘Where do you live?’ ‘How are your schools?’ ‘Did you re-contract?’ Do these sound familiar? They’re some examples of the robotic small talk that we all tend to engage in upon connecting with fellow JETs. And there’s nothing wrong with this. But do you ever long to go a little deeper? We do. Women of Kumamoto – read on!

Kumamoto is home to a wonderful group of female JETs. We’ve all mingled here and there at our various prefectural events, but many of us don’t KNOW each other. And frankly, that’s a damn shame!

To help fix this, we’ve scouted out a beautiful Air BnB in Amakusa over the long weekend in March.

We understand the value of bringing women together in communion. So we’re going to provide a warm and safe space to do just that!

As females living in a foreign country, we are all facing similar challenges . Our JET tenures can be a tumultuous, vulnerable, and lonely at times. But we’re undergoing significant growth as a result, whether we realize it or not. Growth that is bigger than ourselves. Over the weekend, our intention is to invite you to look a little closer at your experience, share, and offer/accept support from one another. It may invite some of us out of our comfort zones, but that’s pretty awesome.. as it’s the only place a person can grow.

But of course, no one is subject to doing anything they aren’t comfortable with.

We’re planning to:

-Onsen
-Group walk/hike
-Cacao session (Google it)
-Yoga 
-Shared meals
-Guided art circle (we’ll pick a craft to do as a group)
-and just hang out and relax in each other’s company!

If you have anything you want to share or guide with the group, please let us know. That would be so rad.

If you’re interested in joining, but feel shy or don’t want to come alone.. fear not. The weekend is catered to people like you. And part of our goal is to connect female JETs who aren’t well acquainted. If you have no one to come with, that’s OK! We’ll make sure you get there and you’ll leave with 9 new friends, guaranteed.

If you want to join, or you have questions… etc.

Much to my surprise, the night after posting this, all the spots were full and we had to start turning people down.

The retreat was a total success. Nine of us spent two nights in Shimoda, Amakusa, at a gorgeous seaside backpackers hostels, which we all fell in love with. By the end of the weekend, the group of us (many of whom had just met 2 days prior) had formed an undeniable bond.

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The view from our hostel
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In honor of the Iranian New Year, Mitra and Lily cooked us an Iranian feast. It was DOPE.

One of the highlights of the weekend was when we took a day trip and went to the famous village of Sakitsu. It was an unusually warm and sunny day for March and we were lovin’ it. We walked up the million stairs to the old abandoned amplitheater at the top, which has a breathtaking view of the islands. Before hand, Eleesa and I had prompted the girls to bring along a piece of writing to share with the group. We sat in the stands and each gal individually went to the stage to read what they had brought.

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We all gave a similar ‘wooooah’ reaction upon getting up on stage noticing how strange/cool it was to be in the performer position.It was really neat.

A few of the gals read quotes, one sang a song, one shared an excerpt from a book she loved, and one read a poem that her mom had written her back in high school (that one made us cry). After each ‘performance’ we all commented and shared our thoughts and support. It was a really intimate and beautiful experience. One that definitely made us feel a little closer.

I read one of my favourite quotes from Marianne Williamson…

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

While I had chosen it well in advance, it ended up being so fitting  given what I was going through that weekend.

Imposter Syndrome

Upon arriving at the Air BnB and getting settled, I started feeling tense. It hit me harder when we sat down to eat the big feast we had all just cooked and it was time for Eleesa and I to give a little speech marking the commencement of the retreat. I felt unusually anxious and self conscious in a way I hadn’t felt in years. I was suddenly so nervous about executing all the activities that Eleesa and I had planned. It was classic imposter syndrome, very much relating to Marianne’s quote. I thought ‘Who am I to be leading a retreat?’ What right do I have to guide and make suggestions to a group of adults, many of whom I barely know?’ and ‘Who do I think I am?’ 

Unfortunately, I woke up anxious and self conscious on the second morning as well. One of attendees, a yoga teacher, had cancelled last minute so it was up to me to teach the yoga class we had planned that morning. The class went smoothly and the girls seemed to enjoy it, but it made me feel like even more of an imposter. This feeling persisted all through the second day. I didn’t feel like myself at all and was having a hard time hiding it. I was self-conscious and more shy than usual. I was making myself small. This was all very out of character for me, which made matters worse, as I was becoming annoyed with myself for acting so silly. I was trying to deny my feelings and push them down.

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Me teaching yoga.. eek!

Before dinner on the second night, Eleesa and I had some time to ourselves so I decided to open up to her about how I was feeling. Putting myself in a vulnerable position and shedding light on my uncomfortable state alleviated the shame it was causing me. An open and understanding ear ended up being all I needed to shake me out of this strange funk and imposter syndrome. It still amazes me that it can be that simple. I felt totally myself after that and was able to especially enjoy our last night together. This was a really good learning experience for me. That quote resonates with me much more deeply now. Really though… who are we not to shine our lights?

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I went skinny dipping here that day. hehe. Twas cold but refreshing.

On day three we packed up to drive home just as it started to pour- the perfect departure weather. It had been such a wonderful, powerful weekend. I left feeling inspired by the 9 women who had gathered from all corners of the world (America, Canada, England, Germany, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia). Women in Unison are sooo powerful. (We gon’ save the world.. I’m telling you!) I was also proud of myself and Eleesa for having taken on this challenge. Which leads me to my gratitude for this post…

I’m grateful for Eleesa Panton (aka Elee Plant)

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How gorgeous is she?

It’s safe to say I would probably have had to leave Japan even sooner if it wasn’t for this gal. Her presence has been essential to my sanity since I’ve been here. I thank my lucky stars every day for having met her.

Having only really started spending time together in December we became fast-friends. Soul-mates might be a better word.

Anais Ninn said 

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”

Knowing  has indeed opened up a world in me. And it has surely contributed to the exponential personal growth I’ve experienced since I moved here.

Were similar in so many ways, yet our differences seem to compliment each other perfectly. She’s the yin to my yang.

She, too, is spiritual, and invests time and energy into self development. Goodness, it’s been so nice to talk to her about such things, share books and meditate together.

I can confide in her about anything. In fact, I feel comfortable opening up to Eleesa about things I don’t share with anyone. She is endlessly supportive and understanding.

Being around her makes me feel full of energy and stoked about life. Knowing her has given me permission to be unapologetically myself while I’m here in Japan.

Needless to say, she is always worth the 3 hour drive.

I am going to miss her the most…

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IMG_3977In other news:

-Since my last post, I started at two new schools. One elementary school, (Wednesdays) and one Kindergarden (Monday mornings). I’m super grateful for this, as I definitely prefer elementary school. There’s a sense of community there. I feel more useful and get to hang out with the kiddies.

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My new school ‘Sedoshoo’ is tiny and adorable. This is the entire school lining up to head home in the rain last week.

-After an ongoing ‘identity crisis’ (if you will) regarding my name, I have decided to give in to what my parents intended and go by Mary Ellen in entering this next transition in my life. Or my oldest nickname ‘Mare’. That being said I will still respond to ‘Mary’ (what I went by when I lived in New Brunswick) ‘Marie-Helen (what I went by when I lived in QC) or ‘Ellen’ (what I’ve been going by in Japan). I have a newfound reverence for my name (which I’ve never really been fond of) after finding out it means ‘rebellious torch.’ How cool is that?

-I had to delete the Tinder (it’s exhausting) but i’ve since begun to fulfil my connecting-with-stranger needs via CouchSurfing! I’ve had 4 couch surfers since I last wrote. One from Ireland, one from Basque country, one from France and one from Germany. All of them were cycling across Japan on their own! I am so sold on this method of travel. 

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My most recent surfer, Andy, is a self-proclaimed minimalist. Check out how little he brought for his four month cross-country journey. This includes camping gear. I’m so inspired. 

-I took a solo hiking trip a couple weeks ago to Unzen, a small tow in the Nagasaki prefecture, famous for beautiful hiking and it’s ‘hells’ (piping hot, sulpher emitting natural hot springs). I love travelling alone and had a hunch I’d meet friends, and I did indeed. I ended up stumbling upon an African drumming concert too, which was fabulous. Some tribal dance move I didn’t even know revealed themselves.

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Unzen
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My Singaporian homeboy Nicholas and I spent the day hiking together. He was such a gem.

-The biggest amusement park in western Japan ‘Greenland’ is about a three hour drive from me, so I met a few friends there last week. We had a blast. We didn’t wait in line for more than 5 minutes the whole day and they had a vast selection of roller coasters/rides-  I was so impressed! I felt like a kid again.

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BEST DAY EVER

-In an effort to help my paraglider friend, Rick, raise money to fund his placement in the Red Bull X-Alps paragliding competition, I spread the word about tandem gliding amongst the JET community in Kumamoto. A lot of people were interest, so during three separate weekends I had 3 guests stay at my place for a weekend of gliding. It’s been a lot of fun.

IMG_3498That’s all for now, folks.

Thanks for stopping by my blog! Leave me a comment, pretty please!

All my love,

XOXO

Silvergirl

aka Mary Ellen

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Blog Post #9

Settling in.. fur reel doe.

The dreaded ‘phase 2’ on the cultural fatigue cycle, which coloured my life for a couple months, is behind me now. It was difficult and I’m definitely glad it’s over. But it was a good learning experience, as all struggles are.

Looking back to the cultural fatigue information, it seems that I’ve surpassed stage 3 ‘Life Goes On’ and reached stage 4 ‘Assimilation.’ Which is another way of saying I’m settled into life in Japan, now.

With this transition, I feel less isolated from Japanese culture. I’ve learned coping strategies for the cultural differences that I face, so they don’t bewilder/upset me anymore, and I’m able to pick up on cultural cues (which would have passed by unnoticed before) and act accordingly. In some instances, I’ve even adopted the culture…I’m cleaner than I’ve ever been in my life, I use a kotatsu (weirdest/best invention. Google it) I’m more prone to gift-giving and I gravitate towards the Japanese way of eating, (forks seem a bit unsettling now, actually) among other things. I’m still very often struct by the significant cultural differences I run into, but it’s with more of a fascination now than anything.

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See? I’m basically a real Japanese. I’m so good at chopsticks.
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There are still aspects of this country that I will never get used to…

Japan feels like home now. Or, more exclusively, Amakusa does. I feel totally calm and settled in my life here. And I have much more energy on a day-to-day basis.(Thank goodness for this..there were a few weeks there that had me needing to go to bed at 8pm)

I felt a significant shift upon arriving back from Winter holidays. As I mentioned in my previous post, I felt somehow ‘changed’ in my core. So I’ve used the past month to internalize these changes. I’ve been more introspective than usual and catered to my inner longing to spend time alone.

While before, I made sure to have plans every weekend, for fear of boredom and loneliness, I’m over that. In fact, I’ve had quite a few weekends to myself in Amakusa since New Years and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them. I needed them, I reckn. I enjoy hanging out by myself, a notion I had forgotten when I was in the midst of ‘phase 2’ and the loneliness had come on strong. But I’m back, baby!

I took the month off drinking alcohol in an effort to show my body some love after an indulgent Christmas break. I’ve turned my phone off and put it the cupboard a few times. I’ve been making more art, dedicating more time to meditation, connecting with my Japanese friends, and exploring this gorgeous island. There’s a lot to be discovered in Amakusa and it seems I’ve only just scratched the surface.

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The park near my house is gorgeous
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Hi, Hondo!
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As seen on my lunch break

My outlook on my job has been improving, too. There are definitely aspects of my job and Japanese work life in general that don’t suit me. There are times when I feel underutilized, or lacking in fulfillment at work. I used to dwell on these things and constantly find myself thinking about what will come next for me, after my JET tenure, and while I’m still navigating these emotions, I’ve decided to make an active effort to change my perspective on things.

Rather than focusing on what my job isn’t doing for me, I’m trying to focus on what I can bring to the job, and how I can improve my experience. So far, so good. I am finding more joy in my day-to-day work life, fostering deeper connections with my students and teachers and feeling more present at school. I’m happy about my decision to recontract and stick around for another year. Go, me!

Moreover, Elementary school doesn’t exhaust me like it once did. Contrarily, I now leave Elementary school most Friday afternoons feeling energized and inspired. I look forward to Fridays when I can go work along side the amazing teachers at Kameshoo. (Including my desk neighbour, Kaminaka sensei, the one who kept gifting me with beautiful handmade jewelry. We are kindred spirits.). And of course, the kiddies. I learn so much from these young humans. They know patience, presence and joy better than any adult I know.

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Kaminaka Sensei took me out for lunch.. sushi boats! I love this woman.

Kiddie Gratitude 

So this week, I am grateful for my amazing Elementary school students, who brightened my week, every week. In particular, this shout out goes to my first graders, who taught me some valuable lessons last week. (Hello role reversal!) Read on!

Two weeks ago, at the beginning of class, one of my first graders got into an argument with her desk mate. I couldn’t understand what happened, but they were clearly upset with each other. The teacher, Ms. Araki, stopped the class to see what was the matter and both students started crying upon trying to explain. They got out their tears, apologized to each other, and preceded to move along, as if nothing had ever happened. Within minutes they were happy as clams, singing ‘head shoulders knees and toes’ with the rest of us.

I admired the way these tots were able to experience their emotions, release them, forgive and move on…the way it should be. As children, we know how to deal with our emotions in a healthy way. But many of us, myself included, tend to forget as we grow up.

Upon getting upset or afraid, I have a tendency to try to numb my emotions, and push them down, in an effort to ignore them and in turn, avoid the uncomfortable sensation of actually feeling them. The thing is, doing this doesn’t make them disappear. Rather, denying the release of emotions actually invites them to reside within and embed themselves inside bodily tissue, only to be regurgitated in some other unhealthy form down the road. Like sickness, anxiety or lashing out at somebody unfairly, for example. (A straightforward example of this is a male conditioned to repress his emotions to appear ‘manly’ only to release them through domestic violence when he can’t bottle them up any longer.)

It may sound strange that I’m talking about ‘feelings’ as if they are actual, physical things. But they are. They’re no less real than the bunch of atoms that make up a flu virus or your big toe. Feelings and emotions are energy. And this energy is constantly flowing, whether it flows out of you, or deeper into you. You can’t make it disappear… that would be too easy.

I know this now and I’m trying to relearn how to deal with my emotions in a healthy way. Therefore, witnessing how this silly argument was dealt with by a coupla six year olds did not go unnoticed. It was enlightening!

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The school put on a festival last Sunday. Here’s some 1st grade frogs & toads. Love em’
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Three cuties from Ms. Araki’s class

The youngster-induced enlightenment didn’t end there. Later in the same class, we were practicing the names of fruits English and set up the ‘fruit basket’ game to review what they had learned.

We arranged our chairs in a big circle and gave each child a card with a picture of one of twelve fruits. One child would stand in the middle and call out the name of any fruit, and everyone with that fruit printed on their card must get up, and race find a new empty chair. Whoever is left chair-less must go in the middle of the circle and call the next fruit. It’s a really fast-paced game with a lot of running and commotion.

One gal, Yumi, is very shy and this game was clearly not for her. When it came her turn to stand in the centre of the circle, she completely froze, and ended up standing there for about a minute, looking terrified. In an effort to end the poor girl’s terror, Mrs. Araki gave her permission to say it in Japanese instead. But she continued to stand there, frozen. The teacher entered the circle to help her and whispered options of things that she could say in her ear. Eventually, she quietly uttered ‘pineapple’ and the game resumed.

Not long after, Yumi’s turn came again. This time, the teacher didn’t have to help. Two of the other children shot up and entered the middle of the circle to help Yumi, who again looked like she was going to cry. Haruna, took the role of whispering options into Yumi’s ear, while Sota, stood by her side with his arm around her. Yumi was taking her time, but her classmates were endlessly patient and supportive.

Yumi’s turn came a third time, and about six students stood up to help her out this time. Haruna realized that this was too many, as Yumi looked overwhelmed, so she took it upon herself to assign the helper role to another student (not even claiming it for herself, as I would have expected) and urged everyone else to sit down.

A scared Yumi received the help and support she needed, once again. When she sat down I noticed the boy next to her put his hand on her back and he kept it there.

It goes without saying… these kids are amazing.

I was blown away by the love, patience and kindness these kids displayed so naturally. Not once did any of them show an ounce of judgment or frustration towards Yumi’s inability to perform the seemingly simple task. And the teacher didn’t command them to do any of this, it was all of their own accord. Sometimes I wonder why I stand up in front of the kids, acting as if I know more than them. That one’s up for debate.

Still sitting in the circle amongst these wonderful humans, my eyes filled with tears. I couldn’t help it. Just then, (this part almost sounds made up) one of the special education teachers, (a tiny, older woman) walked down the hallway carrying a mark tree (that percussion instrument that makes that beautiful chime sound you hear on cartoons when something magical happens). It chimed it’s magical chime sound with her every step as she walked past the classroom.

Like.. are you kidding me, universe? If I needed a reminder to soak in this beautiful moment, that was certainly it.

The class ended and I returned to the staff room for my break. In simple English, I was able to explain to the teacher how utterly amazed I was by what I had just witnessed in her class. She was so touched and happy to hear that.

A few minutes later, she came over from her desk and handed me a paper, pictured below, which read ‘I praise warm feelings.’ It was her way of thanking me (with help from Google translate) for complimenting her students. In Japan, teachers have a much closer relationship with their students than in the west. Their role is comparable to that of a parent, partially responsible for shaping the child’s character. She had clearly been doing a fantastic job.

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She went back to her seat and brought the note with her, but I later asked her if I could keep it. (I’ve since used it in a piece of artwork I’ve been working on!) I don’t think Ms. Araki knew how profound her note was in my eyes. It spoke to the struggle I had been dealing with that week.

The law of attraction, which I try to live by as best I can, says to “pay attention to the way you feel. And let yourself be drawn to those things that feel good or right to you while you let yourself be moved away from those things that do not.” It’s such a simple, seemingly obvious concept, but it’s often easier said than done. And my week had involved attempting to move away from a couple of things that don’t make me feel good. It was a difficult process.

We should all ‘praise warm feelings’ and open ourselves up to drawing in more of them. The opposite is true too.

That experience with my amazing first graders and their teacher single handedly pulled me out of the negativity I had been dwelling on that week. These kids are showing me that we are all born pure, and full of love and goodness. We simply tend to forget that part of ourselves sometimes. But it’s always there.

Frick- I’m excited to have kids of my own one day!

 

Finding power in owning my (not-so-flattering) story

After posting my last blog post, which included a request for feedback, my dad messaged me and gave me some thoughts and suggestions. ‘It might get a little too personal’ was among the advice he provided.

I proceeded to rereading the things I’ve written, wondering where I could have toned it down. But doing so didn’t feel right. I value my dad’s advice and wanted to take all of his points into consideration, however, this particular point didn’t sit well with me. I thought about it and realized that, if anything, I longed for my writing to be more personal. The clear dissonance between his advice and my vision explained my uneasy feelings.

I am aware that I am publishing my navel-gazing for the world to see, and in doing so, I am shedding light on some of my personal affairs, which (unfortunately) is a bit of a radical concept among women my age. But that is exactly my intention, I’ve realized.

As I’ve touched on in other posts, in recent years, I’ve been through my fair share of inner turmoil. And while now these difficulties have evolved into something different, I’m still struggling. I’ve yet to shed much light on exactly what I’m referring to here, but I plan to.

I wouldn’t change these struggles I’ve experiences for anything. In fact, I’m grateful for them. Navigating these difficulties and the corresponding lessons learned have shaped me into who I am… and I’m (newly) fond of this person. Plus, they’ve allowed me to cultivate a whole new outlook on life… a much more positive and gracious one.

It kind of blows my mind how much I’ve learned in such a short time. And the process is showing no signs of stopping, so I want to document and share what I’m learning as I go along. I hope reading about my personal affairs might help others navigate theirs. Or at least serve as an invitation to look at them a little more closely. In addition, even if no one is listening, it’s absolutely therapeutic for me to publish this kind of writing in a public forum.

It’s therapeutic because the act of writing brings me joy, but that’s not what I’m referring to. Writing about my personal affairs is therapeutic because it’s a lesson in waking myself up to my inner truth.

Frankly, the thought of revealing myself to others and what they might think of me is scary. Like the rest of us, I have shameful and embarrassing personal issues and stories that feel much safer kept to myself, or ignored all together. But that is, truly, the worst place to keep them.

This goes back to what I mentioned before about the importance of releasing your emotions. Shame is one of the most insidious emotions that we tend to hang on to. Brene Brown (a vulnerability researcher)says ‘Shame can’t survive if you share your story.’ This is so true.

Recently, I’ve gotten more comfortable in speaking about personal things to others in face-to-face interactions, and now, in my writing. It was difficult at first, but the more I do it, the easier it becomes and the better it feels. Owning my story isn’t always easy, but it’s certainly easier than spending my life running from it. With this realization, my urge to ‘expose myself’ is only getting stronger. Sorry (not sorry), dad.

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Btw, I highly recommend her books and Ted Talks. This lady rocks.

Currently, I feel as though I’m too in the midst of some of my personal issues to be able to look at them objectively and share in a stable manner. But the time will come when I do. And I reckon it’ll be soon. My shame is diminishing, and while it’s a bit scary putting myself in a vulnerable place to share, I know that’s where growth happens.

I just finished Osho’s book ‘Courage’ which also touched on the power behind exposing your truth.

“If you go on exposing yourself, in the beginning it is going to be really scary, but soon you will start gaining strength because once the truth is exposed it becomes stronger and the untruth dies. And with the truth becoming stronger you become rooted, you become centred. You start becoming an individual.”

“Whatsoever you hide goes on growing, and whatsoever you expose, if it is wrong it disappears, evaporates in the sun, and if it is right, it is nourished.”

YEP! You said it, Osho.

(Shout out to Kris Tost for giving me this awesome book as a going away present. Thanks, lady! I enjoyed it.)

Moreover, with my newfound tendency to share in this manner, I’ve become a more open person. I’m able to connect with others more quickly and deeply than before. And my openness often invokes a similar response in whomever I’m sharing with. My relationships and interactions are richer and more interesting than ever before.

So, if my potential ‘over shares’ make you uncomfortable (like they sometimes do my dad..fair enough though, he is my father after all) I suggest not reading on. But lemme tell ya…you should try it. It feels good.

In other news…

-We held our second book club meeting at my place a couple weekends ago. We read ‘Little Bee’ …a really good read. Three of the book club members (Kumamoto city ALTs) plus one of the Amakusa ALTs went paragliding with Rik and Leanne! It was so great to get to see the girls look fear in the eye and run off a cliff into infinity. Hehe. Actually, Matty and Bilal, with whom I went to the music festival in Aso, are coming this weekend to give it a shot, too!

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Some courageous ladies, and Rik!
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We did some yoga while we waited for the other to glide. Twas lovely.

-I had my second painting class, which I’ve joined with a friend of mine and his two young daughters. The teacher only speaks Japanese and Spanish, so Hannah, the ten year-old daughter, has been acting as my translator, when need be. (She speaks English because her mom is British) As it turns out, the teacher is a little out there, and tends to ramble. So sometimes Hannah will be trying to translate with a look of utter confusion on her face, because he’s talking about random things, unrelated to the task at hand. While showing me what I thought was how to use the pencil a certain way I asked ‘What’s he talking about now?’ ‘Now he’s talking about Dracula’ she said. It’s pretty hilarious. We are constantly trying to hold back our laughter.

Before I start painting, he wants me to draw. So I’m drawing one of the roman statues he has in the studio. A lot of the teachings get lost in translation but that’s ok. It’s really nice to just sit in a room amongst other people making art, and have nothing to do but draw. I’m really grateful to have found this class.

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-Eleesa (Aussie ALT living in Kumamoto) and I are planning a ‘Women’s Retreat’ over the long weekend in March. We rented an Air BnB by the sea in Amakusa and we’ve got a total of eleven people on board. I’m really looking forward to it. I have a really good feeling about what may come of this 🙂

-I bought a Kindle, which I vowed I’d never do, as I love books so much. But English books aren’t easy to come by where I live, so I’ve joined the tablet-reading club. I’ve named her Gloria, after my grandma. It’s been a weird adjustment.

-Funny story: I go for walks on my lunch breaks and the other day I ended up on an old, overgrown, path, trying to make my way to what I thought was an abandoned building I saw in the distance. I was walked through some pretty dense bushes to get there. (It ended up being fully inhabited, and there was a landscaped path leading to it from the other side -_-)

I was wearing my long grey, knit coat, which, upon emerging from the path I realised had turned dark brown as I was COVERED in those tiny, prickly brown spikes. (The size and shape of pine needles, but with a grippy claw on one end). These are not the kind that you can brush off a knit coat with the swipe of your hand, or even remove with a sticky roller brush (I tried both). The only way to remove them was pulling tiny groups off with your fingers. I tried to pick off as many as I could before arriving back at school, but I only managed to get about 1/500th of them. I was densely covered.

I prayed no one would notice and tried to hide my coat under my scarf on the back of my chair when I went off to class. I how I’d be spending my evenings for the rest of the week… picking off needles from my only friggin’ coat.

At the end of every school day, we have 15 minutes of cleaning time where the students (since Japan doesn’t use janitors) get assigned an area to clean around the school. I watch over the students in the English room. After cleaning, upon returning to the teacher’s room, I saw a group of five or six students crowded around my desk. They were carefully picking the needles off my coat and putting them in a bucket.

The teacher assigned to overlooking the students who clean the teacher’s room asked me how that had happened, to which I replied, ‘I was in the forest’ in my best (horrible) Japanese. Everyone laughed. I was soo embarrassed.

The students barely put a dent it the needles that day, but every day after cleaning time, I noticed my coat was become greyer again. And by the end of the week, with their efforts combined with mine, they were (mostly) gone. #facepalm

That’s all for now. Notice how short that was? It was longer but I had to ‘kill my babies’ as my professor used to say at Art School. (aka, learn to let go of your work, even if you put effort into it.)

Sending love to all y’all. Whoever reads this. (Again, please comment! It makes me happy!)

XOXO

Silvergirl,

Aka Mary Ellen

 

Blog Post #8

Another Blog post… another Tinder Match

I first connected with Kosta on Tinder, a few weeks back. He informed me that he had quit his job in Australia and was cycling across Asia for about six months. He would soon be taking the ferry from Nagasaki to Amakusa, so we decided to meet up when he arrived. It’s not often other foreigners come to this island, so I jumped at the opportunity to meet one.

Leading up to his arrival, we chatted here and there, but I tried to keep conversation to a minimum as I think it’s always better to save the getting-to-know-each other questions for time spent in person. Without knowing a whole lot him, I was so excited to meet him. This is an unusual sentiment for me when it comes to meeting strangers off Tinder, but I had a really good feeling about Kosta. I just knew we’d get along. And I was so curious to hear more about his journey.

After postponing his arrival in Amakusa serveral times due to bad weather, Friday rolled around and he informed me that he had finally made it. We planned to meet once I was off work, at the café near my house. He mentioned that while in Nagasaki he had run into two other cyclists, Julien and Antoine, a pair of French-Canadian cousins who were also journeying across Asia. I urged him to bring them along so I could meet them too.

I had been invited to a Christmas party that evening in Kumamoto City, and had planned on leaving about an hour after getting home from work, leaving myself just enough time to make some food to bring to the potluck. I was already a bit stressed about getting there on time and I didn’t really have much time to spend with these guys. In addition, I was pretty exhausted, as I hadn’t slept much the night before. Part of me wanted to call off the meeting for these reasons, but another part of me knew I should follow through. So I did.

They weren’t difficult to find, as any non-Japanese have the tendency to stick out like a sore thumb here in Amakusa. The instant I met them, I liked them..all three. That kind of instant connection is such a specific feeling, which doesn’t happen often. I’m sure anyone reading has felt it before. It’s as though you’ve known the person for months when you’ve only just met; conversation flows effortlessly and you feel open; you become your ‘best’ and most authentic self, and it leaves you wanting more, ergo, wanting to continue the interaction..which is exactly what we did.

They came back to my place where I offered them a shower and washing machine, which they graciously accepted. We wasted no time getting to know each other and sharing stories.These boys were great. They were kind and friendly and easy to talk to. They all shared a keen sense of fun & adventure that was plain to see, and they were full of wisdom. Plus they were hilarious. We spent the majority of our time together just laughing.

I have always admired people that can drop everything and travel the world on a shoestring, especially by bicycle. So there was no shortage of questions from my end. I’ve lived in both Australia and Quebec, too, so we also had that in common. And I took as many opportunities as I could to converse in French with my new Francophone friends.

It quickly became clear that we were all quite similar. We ‘vibrated on the same frequency’ if you will. We effortlessly became fast friends.

Having lost track of time, I looked down at my watch and realized I was already running late for the Christmas party, to which I had to drive 3 hours to get to. But I was enjoying the company of my new friends so much, that the party seemed less and less important in my mind. I felt this interaction had only just begun, and if I were to leave, they would bike off and that would be the end of it. While I felt guilty about it, since I had made a commitment, I decided not to go to the party. I announced my decision to the boys when Kosta suggested ‘Why don’t we all go to the party?’

I called the host, Sheridan, to ask if it was ok if I bring three strange boys to her place. She didn’t answer. I texted her and waited a few minutes, but to no avail. Eventually I thought ‘screw it, lets just get on the road.’ I figured if she wasn’t ok with it we’d simply forego the party and find somewhere else in the city to go. We didn’t know where we’d all sleep, either, but I wasn’t worried. I knew that the friendly, fun-loving cyclists would do nothing but add to the festivities of the party, and sleep arrangements would sort themselves out. So the boys left their bikes behind and we piled into my little car.

Since this was a Secret-Santa party, we stopped at the mall along the way to pick up presents. I allotted 15 minutes for each of us to run in, pick out a $10, unisex gift and meet back at my car. Antoine didn’t know what to buy and ended up opting for a pair of chopsticks, to which I jokingly commented ‘I’ll be pissed if I end up with your gift.’

We arrived at the party pretty late but with gifts and food in hand. Everyone including the host warmly welcomed the boys. They were indeed a wonderful addition to the party. We did our gift exchange, which was great fun. And of course, I randomly ended up getting Antoine’s chopsticks, which we found pretty funny. As it turns out, they’re gorgeous and so ‘me’. I’ve never loved an eating utensil so much in my life. It was clearly meant to be 😉

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Christmas party fun

The evening continued and we all moved to ‘Sanctuary’ to dance. Good times were had by all. My friend Eleesa, from Australia, was kind enough to let me plus the three cyclists sleep on her floor- what a doll! We didn’t get to sleep until about 5:30 though… oh boy.

The next day, the five of us went for a stroll around the city in search of food. It was a gorgeous day and we were all just happy to be in each other’s company. We spent the majority of our day just chatting and laughing. It was so nice. I had an ALT Christmas party that evening back in Amakusa, so we eventually had to say bye to Eleesa and get back on the road.

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Our little gang

We had the loveliest drive home that day. The scenery itself on a such a sunny day as that is enough to put anyone into a state of calm and appreciation. But it was further enhanced by beautiful music (much of it French.. which I loved) and conversation. The conversation was deep and honest, the very kind that drives my soul, and that I often find I’m lacking in my day-to-day life in Amakusa. We talked in depth about our families and lives in general. The boys knew that I too am interested in embarking on some long-term travel, similar to theirs, so they told me all about their trips, as well as their regular lives back home.

Kosta, an engineer, quit his job about a year ago to travel. He backpacked all over the world and then decided to hop on a bike and continue his journey on two wheels. He was not a cyclist by any means, but went for it anyways, learning the ropes as he went along. He had only planned on being away from work for a mere six-months but that deadline came and went. His current plans involve finishing his bike trip and setting back home to start in a different line of work that will make him much happier. What a freakin’ champ.

Antoine has a job back in Quebec that only requires he works in the summer months, so he has made great use of his winters for the past three years, cycling around the world. His cousin, Julien wasn’t happy in his job either and recently quit and decided to join his cousin on a limb.

Their lives absolutely intrigued me. What a beautiful way to live- seeing the world, moving from place to place via the power of their own endurance, sleeping in tents or with people they meet along the way, living without Wi-Fi or the weight of a lifetime of ‘stuff’, not being bound by a schedule. I’m sold!

We arrived home and it came time for me to go to the Christmas party. I was so tired from 2 nights without adequate sleep and feeling the affects from the whiskey the night before (which, I’ve since learned is full of gluten, as are other alcohols. I had no idea. No wonder my hangovers sometimes feel like death) so I didn’t exactly feel up for a party. But I arrived and was pleased to see that it was very relaxed. We sipped on tea and had delicious food and just chatted. I could handle it.

I later went back to rejoin the boys at my apartment and our lovely conversations continued. We took turns playing some of our most favorite songs, and the songs that we would want to be played at our funerals. My choice was Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You, which I’ve classified as my all-time-favorite song…pure poetry.

At a certain point, one of the boys stood up abruptly and left the room and went to the kitchen, shutting the door behind him. I didn’t think much of it, until twenty minutes had passed and he still hadn’t returned. I walked into my kitchen to find him there, crying. His father had died a year ago, he told me, and from a preventable cause. He was still working through it, and sometimes experienced breakdowns like the one he was in the midst of.

I had had no idea. Despite having talked about his family in depth not long before, he had left this part out. My heart ached for him. We had a long, tearful but beautiful hug.

It would have been natural for anyone in his position to have a breakdown at that time. We had been listening to music and speaking about our funerals, after having talked about our families in depth. He couldn’t hold it back any longer. And it didn’t finish with our hug. There was still more he had to work through. So the two of us rejoined the others and we listened as he told us about his father, and dealing with the loss. He explained that his cycling journey was like his therapy.

The three of us listened intently and offered wisdom and support when it was needed. It was an incredibly raw, human moment…one that I won’t soon forget.Losing a parent is not something I can ever understand at this point in my life, but I know it has the power to really alter someone and change the way they look at the world. It had clearly done this to him.

By the time we fell asleep it was nearly 3am and I awoke at around 6:30 the next morning, as I often find it difficult to sleep soundly when there are others in close corners. That was my third night in a row without nearly enough sleep, and I was really feeling the affects by that point.

Kosta and I awoke at around the same time and decided to meditate together, as he also meditates daily. After our session, we shared about our meditation practices and techniques/programs that we use. It felt really nice to talk about such things with someone. My meditation practice is usually something I keep to myself, as I’ve encountered my fair share of people who can be turned off or possibly intimidated upon telling them that I meditate. I’m aware that some people think it’s utter ‘bologna’ or a bunch of ‘new-age hippy stuff’ and that’s honestly totally fine. I don’t judge their ideas about it, especially since I was once someone who didn’t believe in it either. But I often keep it to myself upon meeting new people as to not turn anyone off. So it felt really nice to open up to Kosta on the matter. I was inspired to hear about his personal practice and how it’s changed him.

The French boys awoke and we decided to go for a little drive and find lunch somewhere. They had planned on leaving that afternoon so I wanted to show them a bit more of beautiful Amakusa before their departure.

We had a curry lunch, stopped at the free ‘foot hot spring’ and then a beautiful beach where we played ‘who-can-find-the-coolest-rock’ and the boys decided to go for a swim. Brave souls, they are!

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They came to me after their swim and asked if they could stay one more night at my place. By this point, my body felt like garbage. I was so sleep deprived and my stomach was feeling off, plus, I had to get up for work the next morning. In their presence though, it was easy to ignore how ‘off’ I felt, as my spirits were so high and I was laughing so much. (Afterall, laughter is the best medicine) “Of course” I told them. I would have let them stay for another week if they had wanted to.

We spent the rest of day/night just hanging out and talking..what we seem to do best. Time slipped away and it was about 3am before we actually went to bed. Good golly. I knew my body was going to make me pay for this.

When it came time to actually fall asleep, I was so sleep deprived/feeling ill that I could not sleep. Have you ever been so tired that you can’t sleep? This has happened to me once before and both times were pretty scary. My brain was buzzing from having worked overtime for so long and shutting my eyes brought about hallucinations and dark, inexplicable images. I was even hearing things that I knew weren’t there. Plus, the added pressure of knowing I had to wake up in less than 4 hours for work made everything worse. Sleep just didn’t seem like it was a possibility…an anxiety attack seemed much more plausible.

I was feeling uncomfortable and bit panicky. I wanted to get up and turn on the light to write in my journal or read to take my mind off things, but the boys were sleeping on the floor all around me. I went to the bathroom to try and meditate but it was a no-go. I knew I needed support so I called my sister and one of my best friends from home, but no answer.

My dad and I hadn’t been speaking much in the past three weeks or so. Or I guess I should say, I hadn’t been speaking to him. I wasn’t giving the silent treatment or anything, but I wasn’t as open and warm towards him as I usually am and I had been declining his phone calls. I was holding onto some resentment towards him for something silly that had happened weeks ago.

But I swallowed by pride and called him that night and he answered, thank goodness. Holding onto such silly resentment towards someone I love seemed ludicrous after having heard about my friend’s tragic loss. We ended up having one of the most honest conversations that we’ve had in a long time. It felt really nice. I explained how I had been feeling and apologized for my behaviour. He forgave me and proceeded to help me through my sleep deprivation anxiety. Life would go on whether or not I fell asleep, and I would be fine. Plus, I didn’t have to fall asleep. Simply laying and resting was doing my body good, too. My dad has a way of always putting things into perspective.

After hanging up, I felt a weight off my shoulders and my mind felt more at ease. I watched some of my ‘security-blanket’ show Sex & the City on my phone and was finally able to fall asleep.

The boys left the next morning and I was sad to see them go. There was a big part of me that wanted to leave everything behind, jump on a bike and join them. I envy their absolute freedom.

My apartment felt particularly empty after they left. And despite my body being in terrible shape by that point (I ending up missing three days of work a stomach flu that came in full force after the boys departure) their visit left me feeling inspired and invigorated on a soul level.

Once they left and I was able to get some sleep, I reflected on the few days we spent together. I felt so close to them after our few days together, closer than many of the friends I’ve been living on this island with for months. Their visit really took an affect on me, and altered me as a person in a positive way. You meet people when you ‘need to’ meet them, and I reckon I needed to meet them. I also believe wholeheartedly that you are brought together with people with whom there is maximal learning opportunity. This was certainly the case here. I learned a lot from those three.

It’s become clear to me that my soul is longing for something. Well, a few things…adventure, connection, freedom, spontaneity, and self discovery being chief among them. I know, deep down, that these are the kinds of things that I need to REALLY put myself out of my comfort zone to find. And that means leaving everything and travelling.

I don’t mean taking a weekend trip to a nearby town to explore and be back by work on Monday. I mean traveling, for months on end, living out of a backpack and sleeping in tents…the whole 9 yards. Doing so would encompass so much of what I love about life.

I think i’ve known this for a while, but I’ve stored taking a trip of this nature in the back of my mind along with other things I want to do but figure I can’t, for various reasons.

These boys helped me to recognize that, despite what I tend to tell myself, I can do this. And I can do it by bicycle, if I so wish. They pushed me to stop dreaming about a trip of my own and actually taking the steps towards doing it.

For now, I shall remain in Japan and fulfill my contract for an additional year. However, travel plans are being put into place in my mind. This is a huge and potentially life altering breakthrough, so I am forever grateful to them.

That Friday night, I had to catch a flight out of Kumamoto City to Tokyo for my Winter holidays. The three cyclists happened to be there, too. They were staying at Eleesa’s apartment, actually. Not surprisingly, meeting them had a similar affect on Eleesa. She too shared a deep connection with them and learned a lot from their interaction.

Since I had the day off school, I decided to head up to the city early to spend one last day with them.We had another fantastic day of walking around, eating, laughing and chatting. It was lovely.

Christmas was two days away and I didn’t want them to wake up on Christmas morning with no gifts to open, so I put them each together a little gift bag, filled with things from the Japanese dollar store (which is seriously the bomb & way better than Canadian dollar stores.) While inexpensive, most of the things inside were thoughtfully chosen for each of them, based off what I had learned about them, and with a little note explaining each item. It was a small inexpensive gesture on my part, but meant the world to them. The thanks I received from them on Christmas morning was enough to make me tear up. Man, it feels good to give someone a gift they love, doesn’t it?

I will remain in touch with these three fantastic men, and plan to see them again sometime in the future. Whenever that’s ‘meant’ to happen.

Christmas in Tokyo

I arrived in Tokyo the evening of December 23rd and was picked up by Yosuke, my former exchange student. (I always refer to him as that, however, he didn’t actually live with our family. He was the boyfriend of Hitomi, who lived with us in 2005, so he was always at our house. They met and fell in love in Halifax and now they’re happily married in Tokyo.) He brought me back to his apartment to join Hitomi and their daughter Kaede (which translates to maple in English. Cute.) and we went to sleep.

The next morning day, we piled into the van and drove off to Yosuke’s parent’s house, who live just outside of Tokyo. Their daughter (Yosuke’s sister) and her Canadian husband also live with them. Not long after, my cousin Al (who also lives in Tokyo) joined us and we had a big Christmas Eve feast. And man-did we ever indulge. It was so delicious. We had a range and Japanese and Canadian dishes to choose from and no shortage of alcohol. They even pulled out the fancy Canadian ice wine for the occasion.

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Some of the guests at our Christmas feast

The next morning (Christmas day) I awoke and opened the lovely package that my parents had sent from Canada. It was full of little gifts for Hitomi, Yosuke, Al and I. My favorite part of the package was the painting of my dog, Hannah, that my sister Alex painted, entitled ‘It’s Whatever.’ She really nailed her indifferent nature.

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Christmas day was spent chilling at Yosuke’s parents house. We sat around and chatted, ate and read our books..a very relaxing Christmas day with good vibes all around. It felt very similar to Christmas at home, actually. It was so lovely to be surrounded by friends and family that day.

Here in Japan, Christmas isn’t really celebrated. In fact, it’s a workday. Leading up to the 25th, it’s common to see Christmas decorations around, and some stores play Holiday tunes, but not much else. It’s just a regular day for most Japanese, unless you’re a young couple, for whom it’s treated as a romantic holiday or ‘date-night.’

There is one traditional Christmas food though… Kentucky Fried Chicken, of all things. Thanks to some clever marketing back in the 70’s, KFC has become a Nationwide ‘must’ for Japanese families on Christmas day. The grub must be ordered in advance, otherwise one can expect to wait in line for hours in order to get some. (According to my observations, waiting in line is not something Japanese people seem to mind doing.)

So for the month of December, I didn’t really even think about Christmas, nor did I feel the sometimes-intense pressure of the Christmas build up. This tends to begin shortly after Halloween back home. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the holidays as much as the next gal, but man- they can be tense. And to be honest, I didn’t miss the typical holiday season that I’ve become accustomed to one bit. I was able to skip all of the Christmas build-up and simply enjoy the 25th with family and friends in a much more relaxed way. Loved it.

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Christmas morning Facetime. Could Hannah care less?

That evening, we returned to the city where I went to dinner with my cousin Al and his cousin, Jackie, from the other side of his family. Jackie, her husband and their three kids stopped in to Tokyo for two nights on their way to Bali. We ended up spending the whole next day together as well, doing some of the more touristy ‘must-see’ things in Tokyo, since their time in Japan as so short.

We went to Meiji Shrine, walked the famous shopping street in Harajuku and went to Ooedo onsen. (A hot spring/theme park. Difficult to explain but probably one of the coolest places, ever.) They were a fantastic bunch and open to having me join their Tokyo vacay. Even though we weren’t technically related, spending time with them along with Al still felt like family time. I really enjoyed it.

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Harajuku

I spent the next few days with my cousin Al, and stayed at his apartment. We explored Tokyo, did some shopping and just hung out. We even ventured out to a gluten free restaurant, where we met up with my friend Caitlin from Kumamoto, who was also spending Christmas in Tokyo. There, I got to eat some of the delicious Japanese yummies that I normally can’t eat like gyoza and ramen. And for dessert we had custard, chocolate marshmallow pizza. It was to-die-for. I was like a kid in a candy store.

 

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All my GF peeps put cho hands in da airrr!

One night, Al and I decided to hop on our bikes and go for a drink. We stopped at a little ‘hole-in-the-wall’ Irish Pub and were pleasantly surprised to find that friends of his would be performing that night. A Japanese duo with a phenomenal set list, complete with all the classic rock tunes one could want.

We sat near the bar with our drinks and sang and danced along. Al even got on the microphone to join them in singing ‘Stayin’ Alive’, a real treat. From where we were sitting, we had a good view of the little area where a few people were dancing. There were two young foreigners dancing joyously and a very drunken Japanese man dancing with them, attempting to teach them his moves. It was too cute. I watched and laughed along with them.

I found myself fixating on these two foreign gals. (Creeper? A little.) Partly because it’s still a bit shocking for me to see other foreigners, but also this is just something that I tend to do all the time… observe strangers and wonder about their lives and stories. The Dictionary of obscure sorrows would call it ‘sonder’

(Sonder: the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.)

Did these girls live in Tokyo? What brought them here? Where are they from? What kind of jobs do they have? Do they feel the same ‘outcasted’ feelings that I sometimes do as a foreigner in Japan? What were their inner most fears and secrets? (hehe) I watched them dance and just wondered.

The duo finished their set and the bar began to clear out. One of the patrons started a ‘one more song’ chant and we all joined in. So they went back to their instruments for one more song, and the only slow song of the evening, the late Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah.’ It immediately made me think of Al’s mother, my aunt Mary, who passed away at the end of October, 2016.

When my parents were visiting Amakusa, my mom showed me a video on her iPad that she had taken two prior to Mary’s passing. She was no longer verbal and had been lying in her hospital bed, dull and unanimated. My mom and my aunt, Terry, decided to turn on some music. The result, as shown in the video, was amazing. You see Terry alongside Mary’s bed singing Hallelujah, with the track playing in the background. Mary’s face is lit up and she begins singing along with the melody, to the best of her ability. It was so moving to watch. How’s that for the transformative power of music??

So listening to the Japanese duo’s gorgeous rendition of Hallelujah while sitting next to Mary’s son, Al, was rather poignant. It brought about a slew of emotion and I almost felt as though I could feel Mary there with us. My eyes teared up. I tried to just sit with what was coming up and breath through it. It was a beautiful little moment that I’ll probably never forget.

I’ve made up my mind about Tokyo…

This had been my third trip to Tokyo, and I’ve finally made up my mind about the city- I love it. It’s probably the most amazing/unique city I’ve ever visited. It absolutely blows my mind when I think about it’s population- about 30 million people (not far from the population of Canada) live and work in there yet, somehow, the city is not utter mayhem like you might think. Contrarily, it’s extremely well organized and clean. Everyone is just doing their thang and going about their business. While some areas are definitely busier than others, I was amazed by the amount of calmness we were able to find in the streets. Al and I biked in the middle of the roads and J-walked when it was safe to do so, which it often was. And even without trashcans in the streets, it’s unbelievably clean.

One can find anything one might want in Tokyo, plus plenty of other things they never knew they needed. (Like an underwear vending machine) It’s so interesting for me to spend time there after having lived in Amakusa for five months. It blows my mind how two places in the same small country can be so completely different- like night and day.

It was also extremely refreshing to feel anonymous for a change. Tokyo is full of foreigners so people didn’t stare at me or treat me in any particular way. This is a far cry from Amakusa, where people can’t help but stare, as they’re so unaccustomed to seeing foreigners…and where I always have to be mindful of what I do and say as my business can spread across town, fast.

All in all, Tokyo was a blast. I have Al and Hitomi &Yosuke and their family to thank for that. They were the most generous, gracious hosts. I can’t thank them enough.

New Years in Kyoto

On the 28th, I decided to head to Kyoto for the remainder of my vacation. Kyoto is one of Japan’s former capital and one of its most popular tourist destinations. Untouched by the war, there is no shortage of natural and historical beauty in Kyoto. It seems to be the place that people are always talking about and telling me ’I have to go.’

To get there, I took the Shinkansen, Japan’s famous high speed train which reaches speeds up to 320km/h. The trip was lovely and I got there in no time! Traveling in Japan is like a dream. So organized, timely and comfortable.

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Good afternoon, Kyoto!

 

I arrived in Kyoto and got settled into my hostel. Three other Kumamoto JETs were staying there as well, with another staying at another place just down the street (3 from the U.K. and one from the U.S.) They’re acquaintances of mine, whom I’ve spent time with here and there at orientations and conferences, etc. I had kind of planned on doing the trip on my own, but heard through the grapevine that they would be there and decided to join them. Lucky for me, their hostel still had a vacancy even though I booked it very last minute.

Upon arriving, I was placed in a different room from my friends. They soon called me to tell me that they had spoken to the front desk and received permission to have me move to their room, since they had one extra bed there. I was keen to do so, however, I ended up changing my mind and decided to stay in my original, larger room.

I had missed staying in hostels amongst strangers. I have fond memories of doing so while travelling around Europe and Thailand. It’s always a bit exciting because you never know who you’re going to meet. So I explained to my friends that I had a feeling I may meet some cool people in my room, so I would stay there. And I did indeed! I made a few new friends, two from Korea and one from Japan.

On my second day in Kyoto, our 8 person room was to receive 2 new guests. Lo and behold… it’s the two dancing girls from the Irish Pub in Tokyo! They ended up being from Montreal. We became friends and they were able to answer most of the questions I asked myself about them in ‘sonder.’ What are the odds of that though, really? Out of all the bars in Tokyo, the biggest city in the world, and all the rooms in all the accommodations in Kyoto… it was incredible I ran into them again.

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Andre played this particular arcade came about 10 times, determined to win a plushie. Despite his best efforts, the machine won. It was painful to watch. Were convinced it’s rigged.

We woke up on our first morning in Kyoto and travelled by bus to the famous Kinkaku-ji temple. We were sure to arrive as early as possible, as this was one of Kyoto’s most famous temples, and it was a busy time for tourists.

We were right to do so, as even at 9:20 (just 20 minutes after it’s gates opened) it was flooded with tourists. The temple and surrounding areas were gorgeous and picture-perfect. I’m really happy I got to see it. But it didn’t interest me to spend much time there. I’ve come to realize that ‘touristy’ things have become quite a turn off to me. And while gorgeous, this particular landmark was very touristy indeed. People everywhere taking photos, selfie-sticks, lineups and souvenir vendors kind of take away from the experience, in my opinion. So for the remainder of the trip, I vowed to do my own thing. The others certainly saw more of Kyoto’s ‘must-see’ destinations, which were amazing, I’m sure. But I’m ok with having missed them.

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the golden temple
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My love for taking photos of strangers lives on in Japan. Gotta be sneaky though.

I had a really nice few days in Kyoto. A friend of mine, Ricardo, from Columbia has been living in Kyoto since April. I met him briefly in Amakusa at our English day. He was one of a group of International students that had travelled from Kyoto University to teach the students about their country. Ricardo and I met up on two occasions and he took me to some of his favourite, less-touristy spots around town. He was a fantastic tour guide who seemed to understand exactly what I was hoping to experience while in Kyoto… nature and authentic beauty, away from the crowds. And that’s exactly what I saw! He also taught me a lot about the city and answered all of my questions as we went from place to place.

We visited a few temples and shrines, most of which were totally quiet and free from other people, but still gorgeous. We spent time in a couple of parks, rented bikes and went for lunch, too.

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Stumbled upon this interesting sculpture. Ricardo interpreted it as an alien abduction, and me, a bunch of fish going bowling. To each their own.

img_2801Kyoto is known for it’s beauty and it’s especially beautiful in the fall and during Cherry blossom season. Neither of those were present during my stay, so as Ricardo put it ‘there are no leaves or Sakura to enchant you so you will see the true personality of each place.’ I was still totally enchanted though, even without the beauty from the trees. Kyoto is a really special place. I now understand what the hype is all about.

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Kyoto is full of women in traditional Kimono. Japanese culture it so alive in this city.
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Nature heals hangovers. Just so you know.
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Strolling along the street when I looked to my right to see THIS, through a doorway.

Ricardo I were walking along the famous ‘philosophers path’ one day. We were on a more secluded section of the path, away from tourist, when we stumbled upon a performance. A band was set up on one side of the river, with a singer/dancer in a big bushy, red tutu doing her thing on the adjacent bridge. This was like no singing or dancing I’ve seen before. It was downright bizarre, to be honest. She was kind of screaming and yelping, while making tumultuous movements and contortions with her body. But it was absolutely enchanting and beautiful, nonetheless. The few people in immediate vicinity couldn’t help but stop and watch, and a small crowd formed.

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Do yo thang, gurl.

The performance seemed very unexpected and un-Japanese. In a country known for being shy that respects tradition so highly, it’s seldom I’ve seen Japanese people completely let loose and express themselves in such a way. So seeing this made me really happy. The performance was short and after thanking their small audience, they began to pack up. Ricardo and I were so lucky to have been walking by in that very moment…what a treat!

The Anticlimactic Strike of Midnight

After going out for an Okonomiyaki and all-you-can-drink dinner, our Kumamoto ALT gang spent New Years Eve at a temple in true Japanese fashion. While Christmas passes by almost unnoticed, New Years is a big holiday in Japan. It’s very different from the West, however, as it’s much more spiritual. It’s about reconnecting with family, visiting shrines, praying, sharing traditional meals, etc. We did add our Western touch to the evening by wear party hats; a simple addition to our ensembles which made it really easy to find each other amongst the huge crowd. Nailed it!

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Ain’t we cute?

We were in line amongst hundreds of other people at a big shrine for the actual countdown, which, surprisingly, was not much of a countdown. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, we were like “OH!? 3..2..1.. It’s midnight?! Really?” The Japanese seem more concerned with what happens after midnight than the actual stroke of midnight. Their first shrine visit and the first sunrise of the New Year, for example, are very significant.

After throwing our money into the shrine, ringing the bell and making a wish, we continued on and went to our new favorite French bar in Kyoto called ‘FSE’. It was a great little bar, and they had warm mulled wine.. quite possibly my new favorite beverage. After having spent a couple of nights there, we had made some new friends. It felt very homey and there was opportunity to practice my French as well. Good times!

On New Years day, while riding our bikes in a park, Ricardo and I met an 80-year-old man named Kozo who stopped us to ask a question. He had taught himself English and was reading a book about Donald Trump for practice. He had gotten into the habit of writing down phrases from his books that he didn’t understand on paper, for moments like these when he ran into English speakers. He pulled one out of his pocket. ‘Let bygones be bygones’ it read. After double-checking my answer on Google, we taught him what it meant (let’s forget the unpleasantness from the past and move forward) and gave him some examples. I thought it was a rather fitting expression for New Years Day!

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Kozo.. The man, the myth, the legend.
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Let em’ be!

We exchanged contact info, and Kozo has since e-mailed me asking for further explanations from his book on Donald Trump. His latest inquiry “Think big, but keep your feet on the ground and your fingers on the till.” hehe

By my last day in Kyoto, my body was hurting. I hadn’t been sleeping enough, I had been drinking alcohol, and I hadn’t been keeping up with my daily yoga practice. I needed onsen (Japanese hot spring) and I was craving some alone time. So I hopped on a train to visit the tiny nearby town of ‘Kibune’ which has it’s own beautiful shrine atop a mountain, a vegan cafe and a traditional Japanese onsen. It was a ‘me’ day well spent, in nature. I needed that.

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FUEL!

That night, I was to board the night bus back to Kumamoto City, where my car was parked. The bus left Kyoto at 8:25pm and arrive in Kumamoto at about 8:00am. I could have taken a 3-hour Shinkansen instead, but wanted that night-bus experience. Each person I told about the night bus I was going to take bus seemed to wince and take pity on me for having to endure such a thing, but to be honest, I was looking forward to it. I love travelling. And I don’t just mean visiting new places, I mean, I love the actual act of being in transit.

I recently read a quote on a blog (www.riskeverythingdearnothing.tumblr.com) that seems to explain my love for travelling perfectly. It reads..

‘One of my favourite parts of traveling is exactly that. Traveling.
Whatever form that forward movement takes, I like it.

I don’t sleep.
I sip on coffee,
and sit with myself. 
It’s my time for me.

 Time to process the footsteps that got me there.
Time to plot and plan the path ahead.
The length that plane and bus rides generally entail are perfect for this practice.

 It’s my time to catch up on the world.’

The night bus experience was awesome. I was able to write in my journal and reminisce on my trip, read, listen to my audio book, window gaze and SLEEP! It was actually thoroughly enjoyable and I plan on using this method of travel in Japan in the future. Tickets are cheap and you save money on accommodation, too! Win, win.

Antoine, the cyclist, felt similarly about travel, which is why he loves cycling so much. “Movement is the perfect state for dreamers like us” he said. So true. My consideration for a cross-country bike trip is furthering more and more…

Arriving back in Amakusa felt strange. I was certainly happy to be back and sleeping in my own bed again. But after my encounter with the three cyclists, and adventuring around Kyoto and Tokyo.. I felt like a bit ‘changed’ and my life in Amakusa felt a bit empty. Settling back in has taken some time. Sitting here and writing about is making the process a bit easier, though. Writing has such a way to put my mind at ease.I’m sure I’ll get back into the swing of things soon.

Snail Mail Gratitude

This week, I’m grateful to everyone who sent me Christmas mail ❤

I arrived home to a mailbox full of Christmas cards and goodies. Not much makes me more happy than receiving snail mail so I was STOKED.

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Julianna, Sasaki-San, Jane & Bill, E-Mills, Hitomi & Yosuke, Mike Whalen, Meg the goddess, Shanny, Miss Julia Spriggs: thank you for your thoughtful Christmas cards. I could feel the love radiating through the cardstock! They made me smile and continue to do so on a daily basis from their new home on my fridge. Thank you, thank you, so much.

Aunt Jackie: Thank you for the gorgeous ‘Silver-girl’ bracelet. It’s been on my wrist since the moment I opened it. And the delicious Mexican balls, too. How thoughtful of you! You are the best and I miss you. XO

Putty: Thank you for the beautiful Nova Scotian mug, which, by the way, is so ‘me!’ You nailed it. I have been drinking my morning tea from it every day. And the adorable photo of you and me is up on my fridge where I can see it all the time. Pound it. ❤

Heath & Mikey: Thank you for the coloring book/planner and pencils! I love them and have already made good use of them. I am so down for this new ‘mindful coloring’ craze, and I’m happy to be a part of it. I miss you guys! Wishing you a Happy 2017.

Norma & B.C. family: Thank you for my beautiful ‘Headband for Hope’ It’s so precious! And what an amazing idea for a gift. I’ve bookmarked the website and plan to buy one for someone as a present in the future. I’ll think of you every time I wear it. Thank you so much 🙂

Mom, Dad & Family: Thank you again for the thoughtful package. It was so nice to have something to open on Christmas morning. I loved the Christmas poem and all the little quotes and poems you wrote on the wrapping paper, too. Too cute. Gracias!!

Thank you, thank you, thank you! Y’all sure know how to make a gal feel special. I really appreciate it.

In other news:

-I’ve resigned my contract for my second, and most likely final year.

-My Japanese friend, Naoko, owns a café and said she’s sell whatever jewelry I make there. So I’ve been back at it! I bought a bunch of beautiful beads in Tokyo and I’m making some cute, simple, bracelets.More to come on this.

-I never wrote about my road trip to the nearby prefecture of Miyazaki, but it was great. One day, we were at a vegan café and I ran into the Canadian yoga teacher that I met and who taught me yoga at the music festival back in October. Crazyness. We all ended up going to a traditional Indian ‘Kirtan’ ceremony that night at her yoga studio. It was the coolest thing.

-I’ve decided to go for it and get Lasic Eyes surgery. Everyone I know whose had it claims it was ‘the best money they’ve ever spent.’ So I shall do it here in Japan, where it’s cheaper.

-I’ve been attending art club at my Junior High School on Wednesday afternoons, and we’ve been doing ‘8-minute life drawings.’ They’re great practice! I always find myself wishing I had more time though… but I suppose that is part of the practice. I’ve been modelling for them too, hehe. They enjoy it when I do because I’m not in the same uniform as all the rest of the student models.

Someof my drawings turn out pretty good, while others are horrible. Here are a couple of the better ones.img_2984

 

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Once again, this post has ended up far longer than I had intended :/

Maybe that’ll just be my thing? I’ll be known for my tiny scroll bar.

Either way… please comment if you read this! I would appreciate it and it’ll keep me motivated to write more 🙂

I would LOVE to hear feedback on my writing, structure and or picture choices too. Anything I should work on? All tips and criticism are welcome. I can take it 😉

Thank you in advance.

All my love,

xoxo

Silver girl

Aka Mary Ellen

 

 

Blog Post #7

Visit from M&D

Mom and Dad flew all the way from Canada to visit me in Amakusa for 5 days. I picked them up from the Kumamoto airport Wednesday night, after their long journey. Since the drive from Kumamoto to Amakusa is so beautiful, it would have been a shame to do it in the dark, so we decided to stay the night in the city. We spent the night at my friend Sheridan’s apartment, as she was away for the weekend and didn’t mind the three of us crashing…what a sweetie.

The next morning, we went walking around in Kumamoto city, had a ‘combini’ (convenience store) breakfast and then got in the car to head home. We took out time driving back and stopped at a few places along the road that I’ve always wanted to stop at. Upon arriving Amakusa and I took them to the conveyor belt sushi restaurant. This is not GOOD sushi, by Japanese standards, but it certainly tastes good, it’s cheap, and it’s fun. I just love the way these conveyor belt sushi restaurants operate. They’re so freakin’ efficient. Hear me out…

You set up your own dishes and replenish your own soy sauce, ginger, tea, etc. Everything you need is right there at your table. You choose your food off the conveyor belt, or order whatever you can’t find from an Ipad at your table. Everything is 100 yen unless otherwise stated, and if you need wait staff, you simply press the button on your table and they’ll promptly come over. (Most Japanese restaurants have this magic button) As a former waitress, I think this sort of system is fantastic. Constantly going to tables to refill drinks/sauces and having to ‘check in’ on tables periodically can be such a waste of time. Western restaurants could learn a thing or two from the Japanese.

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Pit stop on our way to the island
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Touch down in Amakusa. Time to pull out the weird poses.

Since over the course of 12 years, we had several Japanese students living in our family home, we’ve always been intrigued by the culture. So it was great for M&D to emerse themselves in it. We spent the duration of their trip talking about Japan, it’s society and culture, and it’s differences from the West. This country couldn’t be more opposite from Canada in many ways so there’s lots to talk about. Dad started a list in his travel journal of things they liked about Japan and things they didn’t like, which grew as the days went on. It was interesting to hear their take on this amazing & bizarre country I’ve been living in.

One of their ‘likes’ was that prices in Japan seem fairer. I agreed with this sentiment. You don’t feel like you’re being ‘ripped off’ as often as you do back home. Prices for restaurants, cabs, hotels, etc, all feel very reasonable and honest. And even if it does seem like a big expenditure, you’re being treated so kindly (with the best customer service in the world) that it always feels worth it. The Japanese go above and beyond for their customers, the way it should be.

On their ‘dislikes’ was the lack of garbage cans around. This is something that took a lot of getting used to for me, too. There literally aren’t garbage cans in public places. You won’t find one in a mall, a busy street or park or even a festival. Yet, it is incredibly clean here. I very rarely find garbage on the ground, and if I do I always pick it up because it seems so out of place. Your garbage is considered your business, and you dispose of it in your home, properly. This means that you if you buy something to eat while out and about, you may be hanging onto the trash all day until you get home.

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Out for a wee hike

I appreciated the fact that my parents also took note of how difficult everyday life can be for me here sometimes. Seemingly simple tasks like telling a cab driver an address, calling to make a reservation or asking about food allergens can be a stressful hassle without Japanese language ability. Using Google as a solution doesn’t normally work either. Since most info on the net is in Japanese it doesn’t pick up any info from my inquiries. So I’m constantly making assumptions and inferences in my every day life. There’s also the fact that I’m basically illiterate, I face discrimination and I live in a place that’s no easily accessible to the rest of the mainland. I wasn’t looking for a pity party.. I am so privileged to be here and I’m grateful for it every day. But it is a big adjustment and at times that has been tough. Having my parents take note of these things and offer me some compassion felt nice.

Trip to Nagasaki and the Return of the Enigmatic Tinderman

Remember my adventures with Tinderman? He’s another JET, living in Nagasaki. I wrote about our interesting encounter in Blog post #3. He and I have sort of kept in touch since then, sending a friendly text now and then. So the night before our trip to Nagasaki, I texted him to tell him that I’d be in his city for the weekend. He told me he was busy Saturday with the English recitation contest, but would be free Sunday.

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Mom, en route to Nagasaki

Upon arriving in Nagasaki, we dropped our stuff at our hotel room and went to the atomic bomb museum. We walked in and saw a sign outside the auditorium that read ‘English Recitation Contest’ I poked my head into the room, which contained just a few people on stage setting up. And there was Tinderman! What a pleasant surprise to find him there. He was busy working but we said hello and planned to talk later. We then made our way through the museum.

The atomic bomb museum was incredible and heartbreaking. The three of us took our time and spent a few hours walking through the exhibits, independently. We learned a lot. I was impressed by the exhibits and the way in which they told the story; fairly. They weren’t blaming anyone for what happened, just stating facts.

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Paper cranes sent from all over the world to the Atomic Bomb museum. Anyone who was in French Immersion at Rockingham Elementary School remembers making 1000 of these in grade 4 after reading ‘Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes’

The recounting of the events from actual survivors towards the end of the museum was what moved me the most. The sign that I posted a photo of below is the one that sent me to tears, which at that point has been welling up for a while. We left with a much better understanding of the dropping of the atomic bomb and with the gravity of the tragedy impressed upon us.

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My parents and I recognized how privileged we were to visit this museum and Nagasaki in general…a city that had to completely rebuilt itself on a foundation of ashes and tragedy. I reckon it was a good call to have the museum first on our agenda because it allowed us to appreciate our time in the city that much more. That being said, the tone of the day was certainly more somber because of it. Naturally, our spirits weren’t as high as they had been.

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The Nagasaki Peace Memorial, not far from the museum

We all felt very at ease in Nagasaki. It’s a beautiful city and it reminded us a lot of our hometown of Halifax. One thing my parents and I took note of was how peaceful it felt there. We picked up on this upon exiting the atomic bomb museum, which likely gave nuance to our perceptions. But it did feel particularly peaceful for the bustling city that it is. You could actually feel the calmness surrounding you, despite being among buildings and traffic in the middle of the city. It was such an interesting sensation. ‘You can cut the peacefulness in the air with a knife,’ Mum noted. I know this vibe stems from the tragedy and hardship that this city and it’s people endured, although I can’t put my finger on exactly how that works.

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Mum was asking parents if she could take photos of their kids.. they’re just sooo sweet. Not to mention fashionable! Look at the lil’ one on the left, omg.

We didn’t make any prior plans for Sunday, so I got in touch with Tinderman and he met the three of us in the seaside park, where we sat and chatted for a bit. My parents had plenty of Nagasaki-related questions for Tinderman. Mom asked what kind of birds were soaring around everywhere. He responded that they were hawks and preceded to tell us a story about his mother who once got her apple snatched right out of her hand by one. We all laughed. “Things like that always happen to my mom” he said. I thought to myself how things like that always happen to me too.

We parted ways for a few hours..Tinderman and I headed to the art gallery while my parents walked around the city. Before entering the gallery, he and I sat on the steps where he showed me some of his own artwork, which I requested he bring along. He is a very talented illustrator. I’ve seen some of his work in pictures he’s sent me, but it was a treat to see it in person. Recently, I’ve gotten into drawing (thanks to my B.C. Grandma..more on that later) and I’ve been really enjoying it. Lately, however, I’ve been allowing my practice to fall by the wayside. But my trip to Nagasaki left me feeling artistically invigorated, if you will, and I returned feeling inspired to draw more.

We then checked out the art gallery and went for lunch. Since the restaurant we had chosen was too busy, we decided to buy a boxed lunch (bento) at the grocery store instead. We brought our bentos to the river to sit and eat near Nagasaki’s famous ‘Spectacles Bridge’.

We had been eating for about five minutes when wouldn’t you know it.. a freakin’ hawk swoops down, flies between mine and Tinderman’s heads, hitting me with it’s wing and snatches both of my ‘inari’ from my bento before flying off. Needless to say, it scared the crap out of us and I nearly choked on my mouthful of food. How ridiculous was it that we had only just been talking about how that had happening to his mother. We laughed.

The devious hawk remained sitting on a power line above us, watching our every move. This didn’t permit much enjoyment for the rest of the meal. We ate fast, trying to cover our food with our bodies, and keeping an eye on the hawk. I was a little peeved at that bird, considering he stole what was by far the best part of my lunch.

Later, when we found my parents, I said ‘you wouldn’t believe what happened to us’ and mum actually guessed correctly, ‘don’t tell me a hawk stole your food.’ Lol.

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Tinderman at the scene of the crime, Nagasaki’s Spectacles bridge

It was an interesting experience reconnecting with Tinderman again after our weekend back in August. I love Tinder because it gives you the opportunity to meet interesting people who you wouldn’t have otherwise met and who may not be someone you’d typically hang around with, therefore, a learning experience typically ensues. This was certainly the case here. His character is so different from mine (which I explained in detail before), and he fascinates me. (He’s also an Aries, which is the astrological sign that I’ve come to realise I’m attracted to. I find their ‘what-you-see-is-what-you-get’ attitude very compelling.)

We caught up and reminisced on his trip to Amakusa, which felt like ages ago. Since I had written about it in depth on my blog, and therefore pondered it thoroughly, I had memories from our last meeting etched in my mind. So I couldn’t help but to bring them up. When he visited I was brand new to Japan and hadn’t even started teaching yet. It felt like I had come a long way since then.

At one point, I mentioned that my parents sort of knew who he was, since they had read about him on my blog. Understandably, he wanted to read it. I was a little bit embarrassed to show him since that post was particularly honest, and in it I shed light on many of my character defects. Moreover, I wrote it with no intention of him ever reading it. But he and I had been very forthright with each other up until that point and it almost seemed wrong not to share it with him, so I sent him the link later that day.

He read it and messaged me to tell me how much he’d enjoyed it. He found it very interesting to read someone’s impression of him and he thought I described his character perfectly.

More from M&D’s Japanese Vacay

-A friend of mine, Julian, helped me to arrange a sailing excursion, since my dad is a sailor and wanted to check out the Amakusan seas. The boat captain and his three crew members were Japanese and spoke only limited English so Julian (who owns his own English school) invited along one of his students to translate. He figured she and I would hit it off (which we did) and it would be good English practice for her. It was a lovely day with perfect weather. We laughed a lot, especially while discussing the differences between Japanese and Canadian gestures. (Example: the Canadian gesture for ‘that smells bad’ is the same gesture for ‘no’ in Japanese. This was so confusing to me when I first arrived.)

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Mom, Dad and Hitomi, our translator, and my new pal!

-We went to the Amakusa Ceramics festival. This region of Japan is famous for it’s pottery and that was plain to see at the event. My parents and I really enjoyed exploring all the beautiful ceramics. I was absolutely giddy. It made me want to get back on a plane to Halifax to reenroll at NSCAD. I left with new cereal bowl, which I adore.

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-We stayed in a Japanese style hotel room in Nagasaki. This was a gift from two of our former exchange students. It was quite an experience. The hotel was located atop a mountain and the view was phenomenal. The interior was fancy and luxurious, but dated. It looked like it hadn’t been redone since the 70’s and reminded me of the hotel from the shining. It also included an indoor/outdoor onsen (hot spring) which we all made use of. After a long day of walking around, we were looking forward to jumping in our big, fluffy hotel beds and turning on the T.V., but upon entering our room we realised that was not an option. The room was big, with a bathroom, dining and sitting area complete with tatami floors (traditional Japanese straw mats). No beds. It was beautiful, though! We got into our complimentary Yukatas (like a Kimono) and our three course dinner was served to us in our room by hotel staff. Later, more staff came to remove the dining furniture and set up our futons on the floor. They treated us as if we were royalty…it was pretty extreme. We felt a little out of our element. It was an interesting Japanese experience. One we won’t soon forget.

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-We rented the movie ‘Steve Jobs’ (2015), since we had all recently read Steve Jobs biography (Walter Isaacson) and loved it. It’s been one of my favorite books to date,so I highly recommend it. I enjoyed the movie, too.

-We went to Sakitsu, a little town 45 mins away from my house. It’s famous for it’s Christian church (since Amakusa is known as the place where many Christians fled during the edo period) and is currently in the process of getting UNESCO world heritage status.  There, we found a set of stairs and not knowing where they lead. We hiked up and up and up and up. At the top we found an amphitheater with a gorgeous view. I foolishly preformed Beauty and the Beast’s ‘Little Town’ , which my dad video tapped to send to my sister, who always says I have a Disney Princess voice. Lol.

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A Sakitsu view

img_1883-I introduced them to my house family and they treated us to a big dinner at a beautiful restaurant. Everyone got along great and we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We never seem to tire of discussing the differences between our two cultures. There is endless material to discuss.

-We went out for dinner with my two fellow American ALTs, Sam and Chiri. It was so nice. We talked about Japan and politics, most of us under the impression that Trump would never actually win. Lol.

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M&D, Chiri and Sam ❤

-Mom and I went to my yoga class together. It was so lovely. Mom got to meet my teacher and my Japanese friend who introduced me to the yoga class, both of whom are absolute angels. They were so happy to meet my mom, whose a yoga teacher herself. They had lots to talk about. Mom told them about the delicious dessert she had had at the Ceramics festival with her coffee to which my yoga teacher responded, ‘I made those!’ Cute.

-On M&D’s last day in town I had to work so they hung out in Hondo. I came home to a clean apartment and some newly shined Blundstones, with spaghetti sauce and a big pot of soup in the fridge. How nice of them!

All in all, we had a really nice five days together. I was worried about how they’d handle the 12 hour time difference, but they handled it like champs. I was so happy to spend time with them. It was that little piece of home that I needed.

It certainly took a toll on me, though. Spending that much time in close corners with you family can be tough. While generally we get along great, we can certainly get on each other’s nerves when were together for long periods like that. Moreover, knowing they only had a short five days in Japan, I felt I had to fill it with experiences, to make it worth their while. So almost every hour of the day was accounted for. This made for a great trip, and I’m happy that it worked out that way. But it was stressful for me. I was always concerned about their well being and planning our next move. The people-pleaser in me was out, full force. In addition, it was up to me to do all the ordering, asking for directions, buying tickets, etc. Even though my knowledge of Japanese is very basic, I know more than my parents. So the logistics were up to me. I was happy to do all of this, though. But by the end of the trip, not surprisingly, I ended up sick with a cold.

Gratitude

This week, I’m grateful for my B.C. family.

One of my mottos is ‘don’t forget to talk to strangers.’ It has lead me to many a great experiences in my lifetime. I’ve felt disconnected with that part of myself since moving here, actually. Because of the language barrier, I can’t simply strike up a conversation with a stranger like I often did before. That’s probably why I’m been so into Tinder since coming here, haha.

These ‘words to live by’ lead me to something wonderful back in May. I was working at Fort Langley National Historic site in B.C, and one day I striked up a conversation with a lady I didn’t know…a ‘stranger’. Despite being in the midst of dealing with an elementary school field trip and only having a few minutes to myself, something was drawing me to this lady. So I listened to my gut and went to chat with her. (For privacy’s sake, I will refer to her as Gram, which is what her grandkids call her.)

Much to my amazement, Gram was a StFX grad, same as me! She had moved to N.S. as a teenager and spent several years there before relocating to B.C. We chatted for a few minutes, but then I had to go tend to the kiddies.

That afternoon, she came back looking for me and gave me her contact info. About a week later, she her grandsons were picking me up to bring me back to their place (about an hours drive from mine) for my days off. For the remainder of my short few months in B.C., I spent as much time as I could with Gram, her husband, her daughter and two grandsons, all of whom are absolutely wonderful. While together, we had such great experiences. We took day trips and went hiking and did art. This family could have their own adventure T.V. show, they are always learning and taking on projects and spending time outdoors. It’s so inspiring. They taught me a lot.

They made me feel so welcomed and comfortable. And they allowed me to hang around their house like it was my own, which I appreciated so much. We had many delicious family meals, all-homemade by Gram and adhering to my annoying food restrictions.

Gram and I are very much alike. We both like to move around a lot, enjoy adventure and spending time outdoors, and have strong feminine values. Our connection was undeniable. She shared some amazing stories and was always open to hearing mine, too. She is such a strong willed, adventurous woman, and I absolutely admire her.

I will forever remember Gram as the person who taught me to draw. Or moreso, that yes, I could draw, (anyone can) despite what I had been telling myself my whole life. After overcoming my self-doubt regarding the practice, I started drawing for enjoyment, in the cute little sketchbook she gave me. And I have continued ever since.

Simply being spending time with such a  family was so wonderful. I appreciated their company so much. Especially since I had only just moved to a tiny B.C. town, not easily accessible, and I had no car and not many friends. They were incredibly kind and gracious towards me.

Upon moving to Japan, Gram and her family and I have kept in touch via e-mail. They follow my blog and send me photos of their latest outdoor adventures.

In October, Gram and her family went back to N.S. for a visit, and took time out of their only day in Halifax to meet with my sisters, both of whom had heard me rave about my amazing ‘B.C. family’ on numerous occasions. They all met at a restaurant. Nothing made me happier than hearing about that and seeing the group photo from that day.

Gram and my B.C. family have been so good to me.  I am so grateful to know them. It is no accident that I ran into Gram that day at work.

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They recently e-mail this photo. They wrote ‘Mary Ellen’ on the rock. Bless them! ❤

Accepting 21kms of Defeat with Self Compassion

Remember that half marathon I signed up for back in August? Well, I didn’t do it. And I’ve decided I’m cool with that.

While my half marathon registration was probably over ambitious to begin with, seeing as I’m not a runner, my training started off well. In August & September I was running three or four times a week and for the most part, I was actually enjoying it. But I stopped when I went to Okinawa, for vacation’s sake. After Okinawa, I hit some serious ‘phase two’ on the cultural fatigue curve (which I’ve discussed in other blog posts), meaning that I had little energy and motivation. So I stopped running all together.

Phase two persisted and so did my new sedentary lifestyle. I’d wake up in the morning and plan to run but then get home from school and change course, often getting in bed by 8:00pm. Every day that passed I would come up with another excuse NOT to run and the resulting self-criticism would ensue.

Most days, it was simply that I didn’t feel up to it. To be honest, I haven’t been feeling great for quite a while now. I’m not sick, per se, but certainly not myself. It’s likely a combination of stress/cultural fatigue and my drastic change of diet (which properly includes more gluten than I am aware of).

As time went on, it became clear that I would not be able to run for the duration of the 21 kms, so I’d try my best to run as far as I could and then walk the rest. This was not ideal, but better than nothing.

While no part of me actually wanted to run, bowing out of the race was not an option in my mind. I had already paid the money and had made plans to run it with my two friends. Not to mention, I told all of you about it in this blog. Quitting would result in my underlying feelings of inadequacy revealing themselves. And that would be too difficult to face, given the already dismal version of my ‘phase 2’ self that I was dealing with. I had become self-indulgent enough as it was, the least I could do for myself was stick to my plan and run this race.

Tinderman was also supposed to run a half marathon, but decided against it when he got an injury. I told him my predicament and he advised me not to run either. And I realized he was right.

Not running the race suddenly seemed like the obvious decision. What had I been thinking? It would be have been silly to run at that point, without adequate training and when my body was already in sub-par condition. I wouldn’t have enjoyed myself and injuries would have been inevitable. It would have been a harmful pursuit, rather than a healthy one like I had originally intended.

Up until that point, I had mentioned my predicament (which was a constant weight on my shoulders) to numerous people, most of whom responded with something along the lines of ‘Oh don’t worry. You’ll be fine. You can do it.’ I guess I just needed to someone to tell me the opposite…that it was OK to not run.

So I accepted defeat, right then and there in the Nagasaki Art Gallery, and I felt a weight off my shoulders. It’s liberating, I’ve realized, to say no to the things you don’t want to do. And instead of facing feelings of inadequacy, I turned it into a lesson in self-compassion.

Self compassion is a concept that I’ve become more familiar with in the past few years, and that I’m consciously working to adopt into my everyday life. It basically means treating yourself with the same kindness and compassion that you would towards someone you love. For me, this involves unlearning habits that I’ve built over a lifetime.

Not too long ago, self compassion was a concept I did not understand, and I reckon if someone tried to explain it to me, I would scoff and think it was for sissies. Recently, I found an old journal that I kept from four years ago. Reading it made me feel uneasy and quite frankly, ashamed of myself. The journal was from around the time when I returned from my exchange in France, with about 25 pounds of extra weight on me (much of which I still carry around today). The way I used to criticize myself, using words that I wouldn’t dream of using on a friend, was disconcerting. I would cut myself down and basically punish myself when I didn’t succeed, because I felt I deserved it. As if that kind of harsh self-judgment would force me to push myself harder to succeed the next time. As if letting even the smallest failure slide meant that I was succumbing to becoming a failure myself. I know now that it absolutely doesn’t work that way.

Now, I understand that I am just as deserving of receiving kindness and gentleness as the people around me, to whom I give it with ease. And when I’m faced with difficulties, the best way to get past them is to soften into them, accepting myself and the situation for what it is. It’s not about repressing the difficulties/failures/suffering. It’s about accepting them, allowing them to pass through me with compassion and moving on.

Conversely to what my previous mindset had me believing, engaging in self-compassion actually leads to better motivation. Because it decreases our fear of failure and thus encourages us to try again, feeling supported. It helps us to get in touch with ourselves, seeing beyond the distorted view that comes from self-criticism. It fosters self-confidence and self-love, neither of which one can have enough of. It’s a really powerful practice.

Facing the pressure of running a half marathon that I didn’t feel fit to run, because I told myself I HAD to, did not feel nice. And going to sleep peeved at myself every night because I had not run despite promising myself that I would, only added to my disease. While I’ve come a long way in terms of self-compassion and I’ve stopped engaging with the negative self talk that used to frequent my mind, old habits die hard. I clearly still have some growing to do here.. and that is absolutely ok.

Moving to Japan has been a big adjustment for me. I’m doing the best I can. I need to remember that and be kind to myself.

A Word on the Election (even though I know next-to-nothing about politics)

I cannot believe he actually won.

Over the past year, I have actively tried to avoid discussing, reading and watching videos regarding the US presidential debate. Namely, because it upset me and because in my mind, there was no way someone as hateful as Donald Trump would ever be allowed to run the most powerful country in the world. They wouldn’t let that happen.

Every once in a while I would find myself reading some article about the latest awful remark made by Trump, which resulted in my feeling upset. So I decided to just stay out of it, as I was so certain Hillary would win anyways. Ignorance is indeed bliss.

Needless to say, watching the map of the US turn red on my computer screen at school that day was utterly shocking and depressing. Waking up the next day and realising that ‘yep, that actually happened’ literally made me feel sick.

I made the mistake of allowing myself to catch up on all the news, new and old, regarding the ludicrous buffoon that was the new U.S. President, and the resulting hate crimes that had taken place since the election. Omg. What a disaster.

The feeling reminded me of the way I felt after 9/11….Something bad was happening in the U.S…something hateful and terrible. It’s not my country but it will affect me. I don’t fully understand whats going on or what this means for our future, but I scared and feel less safe. I’m not sure that I have a right to even be upset, or have an opinion on the matter since I live in Canada, but I AM upset.

My fellow ALTs (many of whom are American) and I gathered to discuss the election and our sentiments towards it, and give hugs…which were needed. The vibe in the room was so sad. Everyone had their own opinions and reasons to be upset, but no one was happy about it.

Russel Brand’s opinion, outlined in this video, really resonated with me. I absolutely agree with him on this (and most things, for that matter).

Russel Brand’s Vid

How could so many people vote such a man to rule their country? Don’t they understand how awful he is and the terrible things he’s capable of? Questions that crossed many of our minds, including my own. But I do think its important to try to understand those voters, rather than blaming them.

The conclusion that makes the most sense to me (outlined in Brand’s video) is that they simply wanted change…real change. And unfortunately, Hillary Clinton was promoting a campaign that would continue to enforce the political systems that had left those very voters feeling unheard and betrayed, year after year. So in a sense, a climax such as this was inevitable (Brexit, too) in order to cease functioning the way we have been, which is clearly not working for a lot of folks.

“We have to create a world were Donald Trump isn’t necessary [to evoke change] […] and I don’t think it’s going to take place on the superficial, administrative level of Washington or Westminster Politics, it’s going to take place philosophically and deeply. Were going to have to change the way we treat each other, change the way we see ourselves, change the way we talk about the world.” #yes #nailedit #RusselBrandforpresident

From here on out, I’m choosing to be optimistic. While it may get worse before it gets better, as things often do, we can be optimistic that change is on it’s way, in one form of another. And change is good.

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This map gave me some hope.

More Tinder Adventures.. Bungee jumping!

Upon arriving in Japan back in August, I matched with a guy named Yu on Tinder. He lives near Tokyo but was in the Kyushu area (where I live) for work. He works for Bungy Japan. We chatted for a few weeks here and there and he seemed super lovely. So when he told me he was coming to Kumamoto for a bungee event and invited me to come jump, how could I say no? I always said I had no interest in bungee jumping, (it scared me) but I’ve vowed to remain a ‘yes woman’ while in Japan, which has been working well for me. Plus he said I could jump for free. (“I’m going free bungee jumping!” I told my friend earlier that week. “That sounds really dangerous” he replied. hehe.)

I’ve also stayed in touch with my other friend Oscar. Remember him? (from Blog post #5. A friend of a StFX friend who I also found on Tinder (lol)) He’s the editor of a travel magazine called ‘Fukuoka Now’ and decided to join us for bungee jumping and do a piece on it for the magazine.

A couple of days before the jump, I also asked my friend Matty if he wanted to join (not expecting him to say yes since it was so last minute) and to my pleasant surprise, he was on board!

The morning of the jump came and I awoke not feeling in the mood to jump off a bridge, what so ever. Nor was I particularly interested in the 3.5-hour drive to get there. But I went anyways, knowing the boys were expecting me and hoping that jumping off said bridge might be exactly what I need to pull me out of this ‘phase 2’ funk.

While en route, I spoke to my sister Alex on the phone for the first time in weeks. She had been away in Costa Rica and busy with her Yoga Teaching Training Course. It was soo nice to catch up with her and hear about her adventures. She herself had been bungee jumping before and explained that she did not enjoy it and wished she hadn’t of done it. Obviously, that worried me. So I stopped her right there and we agreed not to talk about it anymore. I didn’t want to psych myself out.

I arrived at Matty’s and he drove the rest of the way. The majority of the drive was on skinny winding roads through the mountains. And I mean skinny. On numerous occasions we got ourselves into a pickle upon running into cars coming the opposite way. It was fun though, and the views were stunning. Surprisingly, all the mountains were full of beautiful fall colours. I hadn’t seen any fall leaves where I live and I was beginning to think Japan’s trees simply didn’t change colour. But they do indeed some areas. It reminded me so much of home.

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Matty and some fall leaves

At one point, we stopped at a roadside market in the middle of nowhere and started chatting with some foreigners. (Both foreign parties were so surprised to see one other, that saying hello was basically a requirement. I’ve experiences this a few times in my area. It’s funny.) They told us they had driven for several hours from Sasebo just to see the fall leaves. This increased my appreciation for being among them, considering we simply stumbled upon them.

Matty and I decided to try not to talk or think about the fact that we were about to jump off a 66m bridge. He was super nervous. I wasn’t nervous, per se. I just didn’t really feel up to it.

We finally made it to Itsuki town. It wasn’t hard to find the giant bridge. By this point, poor Matty was terrified. For whatever reason being in proximity to his fear actually made me feel less scared. I was ‘feeding of his fear’, I jokingly told him. But it’s true-I do this sometimes. For example, when I went for my JET interview (which is notorious for being a difficult and nerve racking interview) I was nervous. But when I arrived to the waiting room and began chatting with three other hopeful applicants I felt better. They were nervous wrecks, which somehow allowed me to overcome my fear and actually foster some additional confidence. I entered the interview feeling like I had already nailed it.

I am trying to understand the psychology behind this, but I don’t get it. Maybe because I’m able to see objectively how futile it is to be nervous? Or because some animal instinct inside of me says that one of us should be alert and calm, in case a hungry polar bear came out of nowhere. I have no idea. (Please comment and tell me how you think this works if you have any ideas.)

We walked down the bridge and were greeted by Oscar, who was in high spirits. We also met his three friends (also from the U.K.) who weren’t jumping but came to help document the experience for Fukuoka Now.

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Three brave jumpers

Being atop the bridge was pretty exciting and we ended up hanging out up there for a while, waiting for our turns. We were able to chat with the Bungy Japan staff and watch other brave jumpers dive off the platform. Since we were now atop the bridge watching others jump, the moment of standing on the edge and raising my arms in preparation to dive kept creeping up in my mind’s eye. And that did freak me out.

From where we were hanging out, on the bridge I could see my Tinder friend, Yu, who was to thank for making all of this happen. He was the person standing on the edge alongside the jumpers, giving them instructions and moral support. I waved hello, knowing he was busy and that I would meet him soon, when my time to jump came.

Matty, Oscar and I all wanted to jump first, to get it over with. So we decided to jankan for it. (Jankan is rock, paper, scissors in Japanese. This is used to settle everything in this country). I won, Oscar came second and Matty third. But upon seeing poor Matty’s reaction to his fate, Oscar and I agreed to allow him the first jump, as he was the most terrified of the lot.

Matty’s turn came and off he dove like a beautiful swam. What a champ! He got reeled up and was buzzing with adrenaline, raving about how amazing it was. I was happy to hear that after the not-so-great review I had heard from my sister. Now it was my turn.

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Matty jumps

I got strapped in and they escorted me into the cage on the edge of the bridge from which I would jump. And there was Yu! We finally got to meet properly. And it was mere moments before jumping off a bridge. What a way to meet a Tinder match for the first time eh? We hugged. I liked his energy right away.

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Yu hug.My Japanese adventures with Tinder could probably have it’s own blog. hehe

For the first time all day I felt truly nervous. My whole body was buzzing with adrenaline and nerves. ‘Sit down please’ said Yu, and motioned towards the chair on the edge of the bridge. I told him that that was a common phrase in my vocabulary since I’m always saying it to my students. He started asking me about my students, as he did some final checks on my harness. He was trying to distract me from what I was about to do and I was thankful for that. I told him I was nervous and he said ‘it’s good to be a bit nervous.’ I appreciated that comment.

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It came time to actually stand on the edge. Looking down at the river below was totally scary and I was absolutely squeamish. But I knew there was no turning back. Yu went over a couple more things and as he spoke I was thinking ‘please stop talking so we can get this over with.’ Finally, they counted me down. 5,4,3,2,1, JUMP! And so I did. It was unreal.

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Me n’ Yu

Oscar went next and amazingly seemed to have no nerves what so ever. He filmed the whole thing on his go pro, too. Hats off to him for hanging onto that thing! He used his footage from the day to make a video for his company’s website. Check out here..

Bungee Video
My favorite part of Oscar’s video is the two Japanese men explaining their jump. ‘Fear, fear, fear ,fear, very enjoy, very very enjoy, etc’ I agree completely. The first third of the jump was too scary to enjoy. But once you settled into the dive, you’re able to soak in the fun.

After our jumps, we thanked Yu and the rest of the staff and said our goodbyes. We went back to the booking office to get our certificates and they told us about a festival around the corner that was taking place that day. (I love this country- even in the middle of nowhere there is always some sort of festival going on.) Then they gave us $25 in vouchers to go spend there. Sweet! So my 5 British friends and I went over to the festival for some free lunch. It was such a good day.

The next morning, I woke up and met up with my paraglider friends Rik and Leanne, for some more extreme fun. Rik has recently been chosen as chosen as one of the thirty members for this year’s Red Bull Xalps. (One of the world’s most difficult races where members must paraglide and hike 1000kms across the Alps. Cool hey?!)

In order to fundraise, Rik’s was offering tandem glides from Amakusa’s beautiful Mount Kuratake, the same place where we paraglided together last time. Wanting to support their initiative, I enthusiastically signed up. Check out Rik’s blog with pics from the day below.

Rik’s blog

Rik and Leanne and two others were gliding that day. The five of us drove up the mountain, got our gear ready and waited for the right wind for take off. It so happened that there was a mountain climbing event that day, and many of the hikers made a stop at the take-off area on their journey up the mountain. When it came time for take off, we had an audience of about 40 Japanese hikers watching us in awe and at the ready with their cameras. It was hilarious.

After one failed take off (the line in the glider were tangled) we finally took flight. Our audience loved it. And I did too. Being up above the mountains, gliding with the birds is one of the most amazing feelings, one that I could certainly get used to. I felt nothing but gratitude for the beautiful island I live on and the amazing opportunities that have come my way since moving here. I couldn’t stop my joyful giggles. We landed and then went back up for a second glide, which was equally as glorious as the first. What a weekend!

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That’s us!

In other news…

-I started a book club. Our first book was ‘My Stroke of Insight’ which I LOVED.

-I died my hair brown and if I wear sunglasses, people think I’m Japanese and don’t stare at me!

-I went to see a psychic. My future is BRIGHT! 🙂

-I’m headed on a road trip this weekend with the crew I went to Okinawa with. I’m so looking forward to it.

-I’m spending Christmas in Tokyo with my cousin Al and my two former exchange students

Well, that post was much longer than I had originally intended. This always seems to happen… mah bad. Please comment if you’ve read it! : )

One more thing… here is my address (again). Please snail mail me. Especially you who have told me you would. (You know who you are) I check my mailbox daily in hopes of finding something other than junk mail.. cmon’ people!

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Amakusa-shi, imagama-machi 6-6
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Japan

xoxo

Silver Girl

aka Mary Ellen

aka Ellen (in Japan)

Blog Post #6

Rainbow Forest Camp

I was at a cafe in Kumamoto City few weeks back with a friend when we found a flyer for a trance music festival called ‘Rainbow Forest Camp’, the following weekend. It was to be held in beautiful Aso (4 hours drive from my place). Since it was a long weekend, I had made plans to go to Nagasaki to visit some friends, but I knew when I saw the flyer that the music fest was too good to pass up.

Given the festival was only six days away, I realised it might be difficult to find a gang of people to go with, as many would have already made plans for the three day weekend. But I thought I’d give it a shot. So I basically invited every one I knew. I even threw out an invite to a guy I matched with on Tinder who’s bio said he liked trance music. Why not, right?

Eventually, I was able to rope in a group of four of my other fellow ALTs, all of which were male. Sammy (US), who lives in Amakusa, and Max (N-Z), Matty (UK) and Bilal (US) who live elsewhere in the prefecture.

The festival offered free camping, and had 12 bungalows on site. Since we were late making arrangements, we figured all of the bungalows would be booked, but Max called to check anyways. Low and behold, they had availability! We were surprised. So we snatched one, woo! We made a list for food and everyone was assigned some grocery items to bring. Since we had stayed in bungalows twice before (at the Ashikita beach party and at the Waterfall party) we assumed the music festival bungalows would be similar and would therefore have a fridge, cooking facilities, toilets and showers, as well as beds for everyone.

The morning of the festival came and as I was just leaving my house, I checked my phone and saw three texts from three different people stating that Mount Aso (the famous volcano in the region we were headed) had erupted that morning. Only in Japan would this happne! lol. After some panicked research, we learned that the festival was still on until further notice. So off I went to pick up Sam. Before he and I drove off, Sam asked, ‘Do you think I should bring a blanket and pillow, just in case?’ to which I responded something along the lines of ‘you can if you want, but I didn’t. They’ll have bedding there.’ But he ran in and grabbed a blanket and pillow anyways.

We eventually made it to the camp ground in Aso after a long, beautiful drive, It had been beautiful all morning but eventually turned grey and started raining towards the end of the drive.

By the time we reached the festival, it was pouring. I was so grateful that I had made a last minute addition to my backpack.. a rain coat. We met up with the others ALTs and Marcus, the dude I invited from Tinder. I never thought he would actually end up coming, but he did! Max picked him up on his way down. He’s from Sweden but was visiting Japan for a few weeks to study at an inter religious centre.

We walked around the grounds of the festival a bit. It was so cool. The campground was located in a valley, surrounded by beautiful mountains. There were two stages; the main stage was in a field, surrounded by vendor tents, and a smaller stage down the hill near a beautiful river. There were interesting looking Japanese ‘hippy’ folks and their kids around everywhere. Dread locks and crazy clothes, tattoos and piercings galore. This was pretty shocking, yet refreshing to see as I never seen this type of person in my every day life in Japan. In fact, I didn’t even know they existed in this country. Most people I come into contact with are quite the opposite. Another somewhat shocking discovery was that for the first time since moving to Japan, it was cold. It had cooled down that weekend all over the prefecture, but it was especially cold in Aso since the campground is up so high in the mountains. It was a weird sensation to feel cold again.

We paid for out tickets and got the key to our bungalow and went off into the woods to find it. We tracked down the spot and had to jump rocks to cross a rapid river below a waterfall to get there. That was tricky.

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River we had to get across to get to our bungalow

The bungalows came into view and I just started laughing. They are not what we expected at all. They’re old and rickety. Not to mention, tiny. We open the door and it’s one single room, no bigger than my (small) bedroom in my apartment. It’s dirty and old with spider webs and bugs hanging around. There is nothing in the room except for a lightbulb hanging from the ceiling, a broom, and a picture of a daisy on the wall. No toilet, no cooking facilities, and most certainly, no beds.

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At least it had some art

As soon as I opened the door a bat flew in to the room and we all screeched. It was hilarious. This couldn’t have been further from the lovely, air-conditioned bungalow with several rooms and a heated toilet seat that we all expected.

None of us were prepared for this, to say the least. And that goes for the rain as well. We didn’t have proper bedding, or clothes/shoes for the rain and cold. And as it got later, it was getting colder.

The hilarity of the bungalow/weather was ridiculous. But we didn’t let it get us down. Everyone remained in high spirits and we decided the only way to survive the harsh conditions was to have some drinks. So we did. We sat on the floor of our new home, put all the alcohol we had in the middle and had a big Kanpai!

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That green stuff is absinthe… never again

Eventually, the booze warmed us up a bit and we ventured out of our bungalow and into the festival, where we danced in the pouring rain to one of the DJs. There weren’t a whole lot of people around, likely because the weather was miserable. But those who were around were happy and friendly.

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Turns out Matty is probably the best dancer I’ve ever encountered

We had packed all kinds of food, as well as pots and pans but due to the bungalows not exactly living up to our expectations; we had nothing to cook on and nowhere to cool our food. I had made a big pot of curry the night before to bring along and it needed to be eaten soon. We were able to track down someone that was willing to lend us their camping stove and some gas, which we promised to replace the next day. We all huddled under the outdoor cooking shelter and cooked some rice to go under our curry. It was delish.

Eventually, we ended up under one of the vendor tents near the main stage to listen to the tunes, which were awesome. We huddled together for warmth under some blankets we found laying around.

We ended up borrowing two of the wet and muddy blankets we found and brought them back to our bungalow to attempt to sleep. It was a cold and uncomfortable night, to say the least. I was freezing all night, my feet especially, and most of the others were too. What a weird sensation to go from living in sweltering heat every day for the past two months, to spending the night shivering under a wet hippy blanket. lol.

The next morning, Matty (who had ended up sleeping in his car) and I went for a walk up through the hills. It was gorgeous. By the end of the weekend I had fallen in love with the Aso area, which interestingly, reminds me a bit of being in Ireland. I hope to spend more time there during my JET tenure. Later, we joined the others and debriefed on the night before. Poor Bilal was probably the least prepared of all of us and had only brought shorts and boat shoes… no sweater or pants or bedding. So he spent the night freezing under just one of the dirty wet blankets we found. What a trooper.

This festival was free for kids and many of the parents took advantage of that. There were little ‘Rainbow’ children running around everywhere and they were SO cute. We spent some time playing with them, which was thoroughly enjoyable. I could just sit and watch these kids all day. Something about Japanese kiddies.. I just can’t get enough of! And the free-spirited hippy children were even better. One of the kids we were playing with, we later found out, was one of the performers that day. So we made a point to go down to the river stage and check him out when the time came.

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Max with some Japanese cuties
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Kawaii!!
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what a life, eh?

We walked around and checked out some of the vendors, who were selling delicious vegetarian/vegan food, jewelry, handmade goods, clothes etc. One of the booths was selling socks and Sam bought a pair, since his feet were still cold and wet. I followed suit, which ended up being a great call since I had only brought one pair of socks and they were totally drenched. By the end of the weekend, we had all reached the point where our feet NEEDED extra warmth so we all ended up with matching ‘Rainbow’ socks. Worth every penny of the $15 for cozy feet and a souvenir for our hilarious weekend 🙂

The hot sun came out that morning and it felt glorious. The sun brought more and more people into the festival. We spent the afternoon laying on the grass to dry, listening to the musical acts, chatting and playing my favorite drawing game.

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The gang. (missing Swedish Tinder dude)

I was hungry so I bought some vegetarian curry (pretty much my favourite food on earth) I was sitting there on the field, finally dry and warm, eating my favoruite food it, amongst my friends (who are freakin’ wonderful), listening to some awesome Brazilian girl play the guitar.. and I thought Damn.. I am HAPPY. It was absolutely blissful. I didn’t think it could get much better but the yoga teacher (from Quebec!) who I later met and became friends with, laid out a bunch of mats and started a class in the middle of the field near the stage. I joined. #blissful

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My new hippy dog friend

It came time to go watch the little eight-year-old boy’s set. He sang lead vocals and played the guitar while his day played backup. It was the cutest thing and they sounded fantastic! I loved how the dad let his son take center stage, where he clearly belonged. After a few songs, their grandpa joined in as well. Three generations! Grandpa took the lead while the little boy got on the drums. They were all wearing homemade hats made of tin foil and colorful tinsel.  It was too good… one of the highlights of the weekend.

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img_1467Later, we came across a big beautiful tent near the main stage with a sign that said ‘come hang out.’ So in we went. It was carpeted and had blankets and pillows and lanterns. Super cozy. They also had free drinks and cups for everyone. It was like the Japanese Tea Hive! (The tea hive is a similar cozy-tent at ‘Evolve’ festival, back home, where I volunteered last year) By that point it started to get cold again (an unfamiliar sensation, still) so we were happy to hang out in the tent for a while. We made a few new friends in the tent that day, and elsewhere around the festival. Everyone was very open and friendly. And I was pleasantly surprised that there were actually a lot of English speakers there! Likely because this type of festival goer tends to be into travelling.

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View from our cozy new hang out tent

At one point I made friends with an Israeli dude who told me that he has gone to seven different events across Japan with the same crowd of people. Apparently the hippy community of Japan is quite small and they stick together. He told me how lucky I am to have gotten a chance to see this side of Japan.. he was right.

Suppertime came and the friendly hippies let us borrow their stove again to cook some spaghetti. It’s amazing how delicious something so simple can taste when you’re outside in the cold without the comforts of home.

The sun set and out came the super-freaky psychedelic sets. One, was quite possibly the coolest/most bizarre musical performance I’ve seen. The main singer was dressed up like Michael Jackson and he was alongside a female dancer dressed up as a sheep who was just GIVIN’ ER on stage. The light show and the visuals were unreal too. They had the whole crowd on the tip of their fingers. It was mesmerizing.

After MJ’s encore, the DJs started up, and they didn’t stop until the next afternoon. We danced and danced, taking breaks when needed in our new favourite cozy-tent (which was much cozier than our bungalow, to say the least)

Eventually, it was time for bed. Having no interest in a freezing cold night sans bedding again, three of us opted to try to snooze in our cars. I actually fell asleep, surprisingly, but woke up freezing at about 6am. By that point, all the festival goers were up at at em’ and dancing away. Bilal and Max left early and headed to Greenland, the nearby amusement park, for the day. I could not have done that, they are total champs. Sam and I hung around and got breakfast and danced a little more and then headed home, stopping briefly on our way home at the spectacular look off point of beautiful Aso. I can’t wait to go back there soon.

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What a fantastic weekend we had at Rainbow Forest Music Fest. I would say it was my favourite experience since arriving in Japan. It felt so similar to being at Evolve festival, back in the Maritimes, so I felt right at home there. The ALT gang that went was such a solid group, and we all left the weekend feeling much closer than when we had arrived. I think we’ll always share a special little bond because of that ridiculously silly weekend we experienced together. And theres theres Marcus, who is likely back in Sweden now and we will probably never see again. He he.

The community of people involved with the festival have events in the area periodically, actually. I made Facebook friends with one of the ladies cooking food and she invited me to join their invite only ‘hot spring dance party’ the following weekend. Which according to the ad, if you couldn’t afford entrance fee, you could pay in agricultural products instead. He he. I couldn’t go, unfortunately, but it’s nice to feel welcome within this group.

On the way home, Sam and I stopped at the ‘Tsutaya’ (the movie, game, book and CD store) so he could help me get set up with account. This means, I can now rent CDs and movies. And man, it’s great. I didn’t realize how much I missed the ritual of going to the movie store (Blockbuster) and picking out a movie, taking it home and watching it on an actual television. I much prefer this to watching Netflix on my laptop. So I have been taking full advantage of this. I recently got into Greys Anatomy… which I once swore I’d never watch, because it didn’t interest me. Now I’m somewhat hooked. #McDreamy

The next week I felt pretty run down and low energy. It was probably recovery form the festival combined with the abrupt change of season here in Amakusa. I noticed a lot of students and teachers were sick too. You can tell because they wear masks over their faces. I remember when I first came to Japan, two years ago; I was a bit startled by the masks. It reminded me of the SARS epidemic. I wondered what they were trying ‘not to catch’. Should I have been wearing a mask? But my Japanese friend assured me that no, the mask wearers are the ones who are sick. They are wearing them as a courtesy, as to not pass on their sickness. Which is very kind, if you ask me.

I guess the change of season can be a bit hard on everyone. It was so weird to go from coming home to immediately turn on my air-con, to needing a sweater indoors. How strange. That fall feeling did make me miss home a bit, too. There’s not much i love more than fall in NS…

Gratitude

So this week, I’m grateful for lil’ ol’ Nova Scotia, my home.

The older I get the more I come to love my little maritime province. And living away from there, I have a little Nova Scotia shaped hole in my heart.

I have been priveledged enough to grow up in the capital city of Halifax, spending many a nights at my beautiful cottage not far from the city in Lawrencetown, and a couple weekends a year at my family’s Fishing Camp in Sherbrooke. I also spent four years of University in Antigonish (my heart hurts just thinking about it) and one summer in the stunning Cape Breton highlands (Mark my words, I will own land there one day.)

I am so proud of where I’m from. Especially when I meet people abroad who have visited N.S. No one ever has anyting but good things to say about it. A lot of what I’m talking about can be associated with Atlantic Canada as well though. I feel similarly towards N.B, PEI and NFLD.. all wonderful provinces. But of course I’m biased.

I grew more in love the Halifax in the past couple of years, when I got to live in the downtown area. Living DT on my own is much different than living in the burbs with my parents. Through trial and error, I realized I am a North end gal through and through. While I like spending time in the south end, I have no interest in living there.

Nova Scotia is home to some of the nicest people on earth, if you ask me. They are caring and generous and they support one another. Theres a lot of multiculturalism in N.S., and people are generally tolerant of others who are ‘different’. It’s so easy to strike up a conversation with just about anyone, rural or urban folks alike. We all meld together.

Another thing I love is the Halifax ‘bubble’, as I call it. Halifax isn’t that small of a city… about 390,000 people. However, it feels much smaller. Everyone seems to know everyone. You can’t walk down the street without running into someone you know, or a friend of a friend. I miss those typical Halifax serendipitous moments of running into an ol’ pal on the street. I love those moments. I don’t know what it is that makes Halifax feel so much smaller than it is, but I wouldn’t change it, it’s so special.

I’ve visited many places and also lived in N.B, Alberta, Quebec and B.C but nothing compares to N.S. in my eyes. It’s rugged yet quaint and unimposing beauty will never get old to me. It is full of seemingly undiscovered places. Don’t’ get me wrong, I loved B.C, and AB but it was tough to find a hike or a beautiful view that wasn’t full of other hikers or tourists. Or sometimes even a lineup. The same can’t be said for N.S. It’s easy to find a special spot that feels like your own. Nothing would make me more happy than an old fashioned N.S. roadtrip to Lunenburg,  Mahone Bay or Ingonish for a day of exploring, meeting locals and hittin’ up all the Guys’ Frenchies along the way.

I absolutely love exploring a new country and Japan is no exception. But I must say, especially at my favourite time of year (October) I miss N.S. I miss Point Pleasant Park, I miss random North End pot lucks, I miss spending time in the middle-of-nowhere in our little fishing camp in the woods, I miss the Halifax bar scene bubble, I miss all the hipsters and granola heads and the ease that comes with dealing with my food allergies. I miss spending the whole day in Lion and Bright or Local Joes. I miss Guy’s Frenchies ❤ (the best second hand clothing store known to man) I miss driving to my parents house for dinners, I miss people watching at the Seaport market, I miss reading ‘love the way we b*tch’ in Coast, I miss the number 7 bus, I miss the multiculturalism. I miss NSCAD. I miss being able to walk everywhere. I should probably stop myself now before I start to cry…

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My family fishing camp on the river. I love it here.

If youre reading this from N.S.,give it a hug for me. And soak up that beautiful fall weather for me. If you’re reading this from elsewhere, visit N.S., you won’t regret it.

The Best Sushi in Town

Clare’s mom, Kim, who was visiting from Canada, expressed interest in coming to Amakusa last time I saw her in Kumamoto City. So I told her she could stay with me, rather than spending money on a hotel. She graciously accepted and took the bus to join me last Wednesday. We met and decided to go for sushi. I had asked a friend for a sushi restaurant recommendation, so we went where he told us to go.

We walked in to the place, which was pretty fancy, and sat at the long bar-like table in front of the sushi chef. He spoke no English. Since we couldn’t read the menu, we said we’d have whatever he recommended. It ended up being a thirteen-course sushi dinner. and the best sushi I’ve ever had. We’d watch him make each piece individually in front of us and serve them, one by one, on our plate.

Kim and I were having a great time, chatting and enjoying every piece of sushi more than the next. I saw a group of young people walk in, followed by another group, who ended up sitting next to us. I told Kim how it was somewhat unusual to see young people of this sort in Amakusa. It’s mostly children and parents and grandparents. You don’t often see many of the ‘in between’ young people. We joked that maybe they were travelling from elsewhere to come have the delicious sushi, which, upon chatting with the folks next to us, we realized that was indeed true. They were Basketball players form Kumamoto city and drove over 5 hours that night just to get sushi. They told us that that particular restaurant was #1 in Amakusa, and better than Kumamoto city sushi, (I guess it makes sense, since were right on the water, so the fish is more fresh) This came as a surprise to us!

After our courses and dessert. We were finishing our drinks when we noticed the four basketball players sitting next to us were eating some kind of fish that we hadn’t tried…and it looked delicious! Kim and I were full by that point but we couldn’t stop looking at how delicious the fish they were eating looked. Kim suggested we try some. Of course, I was in.

So we asked the sushi chef for one more thing..’one of those delicious looking fish, please.’ Much to our surprise, he said no, followed by some Japanese that I didn’t understand. Noticing out confusion, the people next to us explained that you had to call in advance to specially reserve that particular kind of fish, if you wanted some. Jeeze. Fancy eh?

We got the bill, as while it was much more than we had expected, we agreed it was worth it. Since it was such an experience and we had fun! Kim treated me.. which was so nice of her.

I must say, I was pretty proud of myself for my Japanese abilities that night. Since Kim has no Japanese what so ever, it was up to me to attempt do the talking. Normally, I’m with at least one person who knows more than I do, so I don’t often get a chance to practice. It was fun to try it out and I was surprised how much the staff and I were able to understand each other. I haven’t been dedicating a whole lot of time to Japanese, but it seems I’m picking up more than I realized.

A week or so later, I was invited out to dinner by the lovely teacher I sit next to at Elementary school. (The one who made me a beautiful necklace for my Birthday, which I shared a photo of on my last post). We pulled up to the restaurant and low and behold, it was my new favorite sushi restaurant, the very same one Kim and I had been to the week prior. I was stoked. This time, however, I was with a native Japanese speaker, who could converse with the chef (same dude as last time( and do a better job at ordering. We had a feast. There were 12 courses of sushi, plus about 5 other dishes and dessert. I was so full by the end of it. She and I had a lovely time and she gave me more gifts. Two gorgeous Swarovski Chrystal necklaces that she had made and a pair of store-bought earrings, all in ‘peach’ colour that she had remembered that I loved. There was no occasion for the gifts, she was just being extremely generous. I appreciate hand-made gifts so much, so i was extremely grateful. I don’t know how to thank her.

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This sushi chef is da man
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We also had a Halloween party last weekend. My dollar store witch hat won me the costume contest. he he.

RIP Aunt Mary

My underlying feeling of homesickness in the pit of my stomach just magnified, ten fold. My aunt, whose been battling MS for years, past away two nights ago.

I received a terribly sad Face time call on Sunday regarding the condition of my Aunt Mary, moms sister. She has been battling MS for years and her condition had taken a turn for the worst so the family was gathering. My mom is one of fourteen kids, so as you can imagine, a lot of people gathered. My parents and my sister and Hannah Factimed me and told me the whole story, recounting the day’s events.. all of the cousins and aunts and uncles gathering at Mary’s bed side. They knew it was only a matter of time before she passed.

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tearful Facetime calls made slightly better by Hannah’s hilarious constant state of indifference

Naturally, I was gutted. I seriously considered hopping on a plane to go home to be with everyone. But the more I thought about it, and as much as I wanted to, I realized it was best to stay put. That was a tough call to make.

Since Mary had been suffering, it was naturally a bit of a relief in some ways that it was her time to go. Nobody wanted to see her suffer any longer. She would undoubtedly go straight to heaven, as she was such a gentle, beautiful soul, and she had been through a lot in her lifetime.

As a child, I was the only person in my immediately family who didn’t have god parents, since I wasn’t baptized. Mary recognized this and used to spoil me as a child, not wanting me to feel ‘lesser than’ my sisters who would sometimes receive special gifts from their godparents. Maya Angelou said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Mary made me feel special and comfortable and warm. She is also the mother of my four amazing cousins, who are all freakin’ gems. I’m so grateful to have them and my heart goes out to them at this sad time.

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Mary. How gorgeous was she?
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Me (with a mouth full) and Mary ❤ ❤
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Little Mary with my uncle John. I love this shot.

Mary’s MS got significantly worse a few years back and she was admitted to a home, where she would later die. I visited her in the home from time to time but I certainly didn’t make as much of an effort as I should have.. I didn’t like going there, as I found it so sad to watch her deteriorate and get further and further from the Mary that I knew. I felt she didn’t belong there. Fortunately, my relatives, who are pretty amazing folks I might add, were there for her. So she had lots of visits from her brothers and sisters and children and grandchildren.

Two days ago, I was talking to a colleague and realized that I had never been atop of Amakusa’s observation tower. I thought I had, (as previously mentioned in another blog post) but it turns out, the one I found wasn’t indeed the ‘best’ most beautiful one. So I decided to cancel my plans that afternoon and drive up to check it out.

I went home first to drop off my things and saw I had a post card from one of my oldest friends, Carly. I decided to hold off on reading it until I was up on the observation deck. The drive was a half hour away and I mistakenly trusted Google maps to get me there. I was about half way up the mountain when I ran into a gate, prohibiting me from going any further. I saw on the map there was another way up, but it was across town. I decided to try to track it down anyways, but got a bit lost and then stuck in traffic. By that point, the sun was beginning to set so I figured I’d just go home and try another day. While driving home, though, I changed my mind. I felt determined to go up there and see it, after all of that.

I got up to the observatory and it was absolutely stunning. I could see all of Amakusa and it’s surrounding islands. The sun had set, leaving a beautiful orange layer of sky above the mountains. There wasn’t a soul in sight, just the crickets and me. It was so peaceful up there. After about five minutes I got a Face time call from my dad, and I knew exactly why he was calling. My aunt had just passed away 15 minutes prior.

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That’s the kind of phone call nobody ever wants to receive, but I knew it was coming, and I was grateful to have gotten such sad news in such a beautiful setting. Now it made sense why I had been so determined to get up there that night, despite the obstacles. I sat on the bench (pictured below) and thought about my beautiful Aunt Mary. I wrote in my journal and just cried. I longed to be at home with the Zareski family, grieving with everyone else.

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I remembered my snail mail that Carly has sent me and sat there and read it and cried some more. Carly is such a beautiful writer and her lovely card was that little taste of home that I needed in that moment.

It was one of those reflective, personal moments in my life that I’ll never forget. On the way home I stopped and bought a plant in Mary’s honor. Named her ‘Mary’ of course.

I just received an e-mail from my sister who is in Costa Rica in the midst of completing her 3 week intensive yoga teaching course. None of us have heard from her since shed left because almost every minute of her day is tied up with the course. Poor Alex had to find out about Mary’s passing via e-mail. So she had mailed me to express her understanding for being away and longing to be home at such a time. She feels the same. My heart goes out to her, as I know how difficult I’m finding it to focus. With such a demanding course on her hands, I can’t imagine what she’s going through.

Grieving while across the world without your family is difficult. I wish I could be there to support them. I’m at school right now but everyone keeps asking me if I’m ok, which we all know just makes the tears well up. I don’t know how to say my aunt died in Japanese. So I ust keep saying I’m ok. I wish I could teleport home.

I read a Japanese poetry book the other day that had a poem about sadness that was translated into English. It read…“People who become sad have generous hearts. Sadness comes from a very deep emotion. When people become sad, they reflect upon themselves and they face the reality of life. People grow and mature from sadness.’ I thought that was so beautiful.

The silver lining is that my parents will be here in one week to visit. Mary’s passing took place at such a time that they didn’t have to cancel their trip, which was a very real possibility. Timing is everything.

I wondered whether or not I should write about this on this blog. But I’m happy I did. It feels good to get it out on paper. My vice principal just gave me the OK to go home. So off I go.

Yours,

Silvergirl

xox

aka Mary Ellen

Yogic Gratitude from Blog Post #5

Gratitude

This week, I’m grateful for my yoga practice.

A year ago, in my film class, we had to make a five minute documentary surrounding the idea of ‘a change of heart’ So I decided to turn it into a personal documentary about my having discovered yoga. Here is the YouTube link.

https://youtu.be/evtlthEmSoY

I’m a little embarrassed to show this to people, not necessarily because of the personal information I disclose (that still freaks me out a bit, but I’m becoming more comfortable with it) but more so because of my film making skills. The not-great sound quality, out-of-focusness and poor editing upset me a bit every time I watch this. I was up until 5am the night before it was due trying to put something together and this is what I was able to come up with. And sadly, I no longer have access to the software I need in order to fix it up. But, whatever. I’m still proud of it. So take a looksy if you feel so inclined.

My aim with that documentary was to introduce my classmates to the power of yoga and hopefully, get at least one person interested in trying it. (I later found out that I had achieved that, when a friend told me they tried a class after watching my doc :))

Yoga has changed me, for the better, in so many ways. My identity has literally been transformed because of this practice. It infiltrated my entire life in so many positive ways and continues to do so; I am more in touch with my body. I have an increased capacity to love others as well as myself. I have a better relationship with food. I’m able to perceive even negative events in my life as valuable life lessons. I’m more understanding of others. I’m less judgmental. I am less uptight and easily stressed out. I am closer to my family. I care more about animals and the environment. I sleep better. I have more control over my thoughts. I could go on and on…

My exponential growth with yoga has slowed down and breakthroughs are fewer and further between, now. Some mornings I wake up and I really don’t feel like doing it. But I never regret it once I do.. Meditation is undoubtedly the most important part of my practice, though. I sit for 10-20 minutes every morning. Doing this has become integral to my well-being.

The word yoga can have totally different interpretations, depending on who you ask. I think I’m particularly opinionated about this. One interpretation, which is becoming more and more trendy, sees yoga as a type of workout, a saleable product that can help you get a nice butt and toned arms. It’s something you can get good at and competitive about…learn how to headstand, and share a photo of it on Instagram. Despite my slight sass when referencing this type of yoga, I’m genuinely happy that more and more people are discovering the practice. Because whether or not it’s spiritual, any kind of yoga practice is beneficial.

My personal yoga practice, however, references another interpretation of yoga, a more spiritual one. It includes asana (poses), meditation and kapala backti (breathing exercises). To me, my yoga mat is a place that I can come to to connect, recenter, and prepare for my day of attempting to live wisely out in the real world. When practicing asana, it’s not so much about the poses and how they look, in my eyes. It’s more about the breathing, the presence, and tuning into your body.

I am so grateful for my yoga practice. It’s the base that I come back to every morning, or throughout the day if I need it. I can turn to my yoga when I’m feeling stressed or life smacks me in the face. There is peace and divinity behind the layers of craziness in everyone’s mind and it’s incredibly satisfying to tap into that. Yoga helps me do that. What a blessing this practice has been for me. I am so grateful.

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Actually, I just got back from my second ever yoga class in Japan and my heart is so full. Here’s how it went…

About a month ago, I went to the bookstore with my ALT friend and he ran into a girl he knew and introduced us. She is a darling Japanese girl, a little older than me, who has lived in Amakusa all her life. She speaks English, too. We only spoke briefly but we exchanged names and she added me on Facebook.

I haven’t heard from or seen her since then until a few days ago when she randomly messaged me inviting me to come to a yoga class with her instead. I happily accepted.

I had searched ‘yoga in Amakusa’ on Google and asked a few friends, neither of which offered me any insight into yoga on this island. So, I simply concluded that finding a class wasn’t going to happen. I have therefore been doing my own personal practice every morning in my apartment. This has been working fine, however, I do find I am not as motivated when doing my own practice. Being the person leading the class, I tend to not hold my poses for as long, or challenge myself as much. And it’s easy to get distracted by my phone or other things I need to do. I much prefer to go to a class where I can follow directions and there is nothing else to do besides be present for the duration of the class.

Class was just a short ten-minute walk from my house. My friend and I met up a half hour before class so she could go over some simple Japanese words used frequently in yoga, (inhale, exhale, sun salutation, etc.) My friend had no idea that I loved yoga so much. She does too and also does it every day. So she was very happy to have me there and vice versa.

We met our teacher and I immediately loved her. She is adorable and gentle and lovely. We, as well as the other two students in the class chatted and got to know each other. They made me feel very welcome.

The class was perfect for me. It was right up my alley. Very slow paced, with focus on breathing and spirit, with frequent shavasanas between poses. The language barrier wasn’t a problem since I could just watch what the teacher was doing, and from time to time she would translate to English. The class was 1.5 hours and I enjoyed every minute of it. It finished with the teacher reading a lovely quote from some yogic philosophy book. She paused after each sentence so my friend could translate it for me. They are so sweet.

After class the teacher confirmed my suspicions and told me that it was Shivananda yoga that she teaches. This particular kind of yoga is not a popular one, per se, but it is one I am familiar with because I spent two weeks at the Shivananda Yoga Ashram in Quebec last year, volunteering and taking classes every day. I loved it there so much, it felt like home to me. There, I took a real liking to this kind of yoga, which was different from what I was used to. Ever since I left Shivananda, I haven’t stopped thinking about it. And for some reason those thoughts intensified in the past few weeks while here in Japan. I hope to go back there to live for a longer period of time when I go back to Canada (whenever that may be) and eventually get my Yoga Teacher Training.

So when she told me she taught Shivananda yoga I knew it was the right fit and that I was meant to be there. I was meant to run into my friend’s friend at the bookstore, so that she could invite me to yoga. Everything lines up, as it often does for me now days. I love when this happens.

My second class was just as great as the first. My friend and our teacher and I met up before hand for tea. We all had a lot in common and plenty to talk about. I really love them. Thanks universe, I am so grateful.

Namaste,

Silvergirlyogz

 

Blog post #5

Okinawan Vacay

A few weeks back I travelled to the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa for about five days. It was fantastic. We adventured and indulged and even met some new friends. Luckily, the typhoon didn’t end up being a problem at all. There were a couple short periods of rain but we didn’t mind.

The trip started on Saturday morning, I left Hondo and drove to Kumamoto city (about 2.5 hours) to pick up the others. While time consuming, this drive is breathtakingly pretty, as you’re seaside the whole way, so I don’t mind it at all. There, I met up with my Canadian friend, Clare and her three friends; Caitlin (U.K.) Sheridan (Australia) and a Devin (U.S.A.) I had met all of them briefly up until that point, but we hadn’t really gotten to know each other. We had a couple hours to chat in the car on our way to Fukuoka, where we were to catch our flight.

I meditate every morning and have been in this routine for nearly three years now. Seldom do I miss a day of meditation, because I understand the unfavourable affects it has on me (more on this later) but I missed it that day, since I accidentally overslept and left home in a rush. In addition, I had coffee that morning, another thing I rarely do. (I stopped drinking caffeinated coffee a few years back because I realized I was less anxious and scatter brained without it.) But, I had run out of green tea that morning and needed a lil’ something, so I made a cup with the beans that my predecessor left behind. The lack of meditation combined with the coffee made for a bad combo and the drive to Fukuoka was stressful. Much more so than it would have been had I not done those things.

Fukuoka is a huge city so traffic was intense and roads were difficult to navigate. Finding parking was also a nuisance. The drive included some wrong tollgate entrances and missed turns. Plus, we were pushing time and running the risk of being late for our flight. Normally, I am relatively calm in these sorts of situations, because I realize that allowing myself to get stressed out just makes everything worse, but that day I was full of tension and anxiety. It was a stressful afternoon and I was happy when we finally found parking and made it to our gate. Next time I go to Fukuoka, I reckon I’ll take the train.

It wasn’t all bad though. Just a couple of days prior, I was swiping through Tinder when I saw a photo of a dude (whose profile it was) sitting with my good friend from University, Paul. I immediately took a screen shot of the photo and sent it to Paul, who explained that guy in the profile was an old friend of his from the U.K. and had just moved to Japan. He expressed his love for this dude and urged me to meet up with him. It just so happened that he lives in Fukuoka, so the Tinder dude and I got in touch and decided we’d meet for dinner before I caught my flight to Okinawa. Clare joined us for the dinner while the others went shopping. It was really nice. He was super easy to get along with and we became fast friends. We have tentative plans to go skiing together later on in the winter, actually. He and I took a picture and sent it to our mutual friend, Paul, who loved it and couldn’t believe how quickly we had actually met up. What a small world we live in.

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The picture we sent to Paul

Finally, we arrived in Okinawa. Devin was staying with a friend of his for the week so it was just us four girls for the majority of the trip. We got our rental car and headed to the hostel. It was about 1am by that time so we went straight to bed.

We stayed in Naha, the capital city. Okinawa is a Japanese island about 650km south from the mainland, and north of Taiwan. It’s a relatively small. You can drive from one end to the other in just a few hours, depending on traffic (which, as we learned that week, can add hours to your expected time) As the site of over 30 American trooped bases since WWII, the island hosts about 25,000 American, which obviously has a heavy influence on Okinawan culture. It’s very different from the rest of Japan. While technically Japanese, many people there consider themselves ‘Okinawan’ instead’

There was a noticeable Western influence in Okinawa. It reminded me a lot of Byron Bay, the little surf town where I lived for a couple months in Australia. Island vibes all around. It was much more laid back than what I know of mainland Japan. Many of the seemingly necessary and polite rules and customs that are expected on the mainland, seemed unimportant here. (Bowing, changing into slippers when entering restaurants or bathrooms, apologizing incessantly, etc.) More people spoke English and advertisements used English, too. It was even common to see people with tattoos there, showing them off with pride (this wouldn’t happen on the mainland.) I felt much more at ease in Okinawa. I felt like I fit in better. And I felt like it was acceptable to put back in my lower lip piercing for the week, hehe.

The people that we met were much more laid back, too. And so friendly. They even have a slightly different look to them than mainland Japanese people. They are beautiful people.

The next few days consisted of…

-Visiting several amazing cafes and restaurants. Sheridan loves food (‘People who love food are always the best people- Julia Child’) and she did her research before every meal, scoping out the best eats in the area. She nailed it every time.

One morning, we went to a beautiful coffee shop near the seawall and I immediately felt like I was back in Byron Bay, Australia. The décor was simple and mostly white and wood, with surfboards and plants all around. Come to find out, the two guys running the restaurant actually met in Australia and imported their coffee beans from Byron Bay. And one of them was about to move to Tofino, B.C. We all made friends. They even let me substitute the gluteny pasta salad in my meal for some avocado (I’ve tried making substitutions at Japanese restaurants before, but to no avail, so this was exciting for me.)

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Byronesk Cafe

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Another day, a couple of us went to a beautiful vegetarian restaurant, where we sat in their outdoor patio, which looked like a fairy garden. Their menu actually considered gluten intolerant folks like me, which was such a relief. To be able to explain my condition to the waitress and have her not only understand completely, but have several different options for me to choose from, was such a treat.

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Dessert at the Vegetarian restaurant. yumz.

-Driving to a beach and going swimming, then taking refuge from the rain in the little café we found in the nearby hills, within the sweet potato fields. We had beers with a beautiful view.

-Going Scuba Diving with Clare. I got my Scuba license back in Australia in 2012, but hadn’t used it since. Naturally, I forgot a lot of the rules and procedures and didn’t quite feel comfortable getting back into my gear without a refresher course. So that’s what we did. It was a great experience. There was one point when we were underwater and we encountered a GIANT school of sardines (like millions). They were all around us, and moving together in formation, shifting directions every so often (like on Nemo). It was the coolest thing. Even our instructor told us that she had never seen such a thing before.

-Treating ourselves to massages. I got a one-hour foot massage. It was heavenly.

-Exploring the giant, beautiful market. There was fresh fruit and Hawaiian shirts and free samples galore. I bought myself a cool pencil case made out of a sail and a beautiful handmade necklace as souvenirs. I bought Omiyage, too, for my school and house family. Gift-giving is an important part of Japanese culture, so upon taking a trip, you’re expected to come back with omiyage for your friends and coworkers. (Prior to my arrival in Japan, actually, I had bought several Canadian foods and gifts to give as omiyage when I got here.) It’s usually something sweet and often associated with the specific region you’re in. The market probably had more than a dozen stores that specialized in omiyage, which come in pre-gift wrapped boxes. I bought some Okinawan specialties; salt cookies and little yam-filled tarts.

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– Going the famous Okinawa aquarium, which is the second largest in the world. It had a massive tank full of all kinds of sea creatures, including giant whale sharks. This was really amazing to see. But I felt a bit torn the whole time I was there. I was thoroughly enjoying observing the fish, but at the same time I felt so sorry for them. In my opinion, no animal should be cooped up in a tank or a cage like that. (Have you seen the Documentary ‘Blackfish?’ Watch it.) I much preferred Scuba diving among the wild sea life, who are free, as they should be.

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Outside the aquarium. We clearly weren’t the only tourists around.. hehe
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The girls outside the aquarium

– Visiting a famous castle in Naha. We didn’t end up paying to go inside, but the grounds were super pretty.

-Spending a lot of time in the car in traffic, listening to bad music. We couldn’t get the radio working and the car didn’t have an AUX hookup, so we stopped at a store and Caitlin and Clare ran in to get a few cheap CDs. They came back with ‘R&B Reggae covers’ ‘EDM dance jams’ and some of Beyonce’s older stuff. They were hilariously bad.

One evening, Sheridan and I went for a night walk near our hotel. We were in a busy square in the middle of Naha and met a guy named Sho and a few of his friends. Sho had perfect English. He was born and raised in Okinawa but lived in Ontario and Vancouver for about 5 years as a teenager. We chatted and found out that he’s a rapper! So I (foolishly) spit him a beat (it was actually pitiful) and he free styled for us right there in the middle of the square. He was so good! Before parting ways, we exchanged contact info.

A couple of nights later, the girls and I went to our new favourite Mexican restaurant near our hostel so I invited Sho to come along. We all had a couple of drinks at the Mexican spot and then went elsewhere for some traditional Okinawan food. Sho fit in perfectly with our group and we all got along great. It felt like we had known him for ages. He has quite an interesting life story too, which he recounted to us beautifully. He is as real as they come. We later found out he was only 19, which blew my mind because he was so wise and well spoken for that age. But age, really, is just a number.

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Our fav Okinawan spot. Hi Clare!

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Sho and Sheridan and I ❤

After dinner, the other two gals went off to bed, but Sho and Caitlin and I stayed out and walked around. At about 11pm Sho decided to take us to a bar to meet his friends. We pull up to this small bar in some random alley and Sho’s friend comes outside to greet us. He is also a rapper, and a somewhat famous one at that. He won a freestyle rap competition a few years back and has since been growing in popularity. His name is R’ Kuma (pronounced Ryo-Kuma.. I think) He didn’t speak much English, except for a few words and phrases, which he would throw in from time to time. Much to my surprise, the English he did speak had no detectable Japanese accent, so he sounded like a proper gangster rapper. He looked like a Japanese Bieber, decked out in Louis Vuitton and cool pink and yellow pants. He was also wearing light brown colored contacts, which further enhanced his already-interesting look, given Japanese people all have black eyes. Sho was our translator when we needed him. Despite the language barrier, he and I were totally flirting. Which was too funny.

We went inside the beautiful bar, which was totally empty except for our group. We were introduced to the three other guys, all of whom were also rappers, and their one girl friend. They were great people. We were all sitting around chatting and having a few drinks. At one point we gathered around someone’s iPhone to watch R’Kuma’s latest music video,( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7iqBGO6Jrs) which a couple of the other guys in the room were in too. And at another point their other friend came in, who Sho later told me was a billionaire. (Like what?!) Later, they went around in a circle and all took turns freestyle rapping. It was so impressive. R’Kuma actually rapped about my friend Caitlin and I, lol. The whole experience was somewhat surreal. Needless to say, this is not my usual ‘scene.’ He he. But it was great.. definitely one of the highlights of my trip.

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Caitlin with our new rapper friends. he he

Before we parted ways, R’Kuma took a photo of he, Sho, Caitlin and I and posted it on Instagram, tagging us in it. It ended up getting hundreds of likes and Caitlin and I were actually getting random Japanese fans of his adding us on Instagram. LOL.

Were still in touch with Sho and we plan on meeting him and maybe the others when they come to the mainland at some point to perform.

Side story..

I sit next to this adorable woman at my elementary school that teaches Japanese. She is probably about 65 and she speaks pretty good English. (I actually found out from my Paraglider friends, who are English teachers, that she was a former student of theirs and she actually started re-attending classes after a several year hiatus because of her excitement about sitting next to me. So cute.) I celebrated a birthday on Sept 25th (a Sunday) and she somehow remembered the date and gave me a present the next Friday when I saw her again. She makes and sells jewelry in her off time so she made me a beautiful mother of pearl necklace. I was so surprised and happy.

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I had a funny moment with her when I told her the story about meeting the rappers. It started with me asking ‘do you know rap music?’ and she said ‘I love rap music.’ Ha ha. And it finished with me showing her the photo that R’Kuma had posted on Instagram and having her translate the Japanese caption that he posted under it. (It said something along the lines of ‘We were meant to meet.’) The juxtaposition of the lovely, old Japanese lady reading the rapper’s Instagram post on my smartphone was hilarious.

On our last night in Okinawa, we decided to go to the American Village. Where had been staying in Naha, which is not close to any of the American bases, so while we saw Americans around from time to time, it was mostly Okinawans in the area. The American Village is a large entertainment complex near the beach, located close to many of the American bases. It’s like a big outdoor shopping mall with lots of American style stores and restaurants, clubs, movie theaters, and a big flashy Ferris wheel. At night it’s all lit up and it looks like Miami. It’s easy to totally forget you’re in Japan when you’re there.

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Seawall near the ‘American Village’ (which I unfortunately have no photo of)

It was a Wednesday night so we figured there wouldn’t be many people out at the bars, so we decided to get on Tinder to invite people to join us at some sports bar called ‘Side Lines’. Our plan worked and we ended up at a bar with a few different groups of American Armed Forces dudes from Tinder and their friends. It felt so familiar sitting in a sports bar among English speakers and staff, chatting over beers. It was really fun. There was not a Japanese in sight, which was weird. We had some interesting chats and I learned a lot about what life in the Army/Navy/Marines is like.

We left the next morning, early and headed home. It was a fantastic trip and I made some new Okinawan friends and also grew a lot closer to the three Kumamoto City JETs whom I got to share the experience with. I loved Okinawa. I would love to live there at some point, actually.

Phase 2ing

The days following my trip to Okinawa were different from other days in Japan. I felt a significant shift when I got home. It was as if I felt more settled. Like Amakusa was home, finally. But the shift also came with some feelings of low energy combined with a lack of motivation and inspiration. At first, I attributed this to tiredness from my trip, which was certainly true. But the feelings persisted.

For the first time since moving to Japan I felt low and lonely. I came home from work feeling wasted and was going to bed at 8pm all week. I had no interest in going to art club or running. I noticed a significant shift in my attitude. I was becoming easily annoyed by little things that people said or Japanese customs that I don’t agree with. I was ‘phase two-ing’ (verb I learned and discussed in Blog post 2). I didn’t miss home, per se, but I missed feeling connected, and having easy access to like-minded people to converse with. It was a difficult week, for sure. But maintaining awareness of what was going on and noticing those negative thought patterns kept me from getting too involved with what was going on in my head, and ruminating on silly annoyances. I tried to give me self a break and just surrender to the phase 2. So I took it real easy.

Last Saturday, we had another English Camp, this time in Kumamoto City. We drove up early that morning and spent the whole day working and playing with the kids and them about Canada. This demanded a lot of energy, so when the camp ended at 5pm, I was wiped and feeling like I was going to get sick. I wanted to go home and rest, but had already made plans for dinner with the gals I went to Okinawa with and Clare’s mom, who was visiting from Vancouver.

I spent the few hours between English camp and dinner in the busy streets of Kumamoto City. I love people watching but there really isn’t much of it in Amakusa. So I sat on a busy street bench and just sketched in my sketch book. Relaxing and drawing made me feel a lot better. I later found a hip-hop competition in a square nearby, which was awesome. I’m so used to seeing Japanese people a certain way at work, which is put together and poised and extremely polite. So to see a group of Japanese decked out in crazy makeup and costumes and breaking it down to rap music on stage was a real treat.

I eventually lugged my tired body to Clare’s apartment and was greeted with a glass of sangria and appetizers. I met Clare’s mom, who I immediately took a liking to. The other girls arrived and we all sat around and ate the delicious home cooked food that Clare’s mom, Kim, had prepared. As it turns out, her husband (Clare’s dad) graduated from the same Law School University class as my dad. So we share a few mutual family friends. This, in addition to the fact that Clare (who is from the other side of Canada) was on the same University rowing team as my Halifax roommate last year, was too weird. Again…small world.

Seeing these gals for the first time in Okinawa was so lovely. We laughed and reminisced on our trip. I also got to know two other Kumamoto City JETs who joined us for dinner. We were all like-minded females with plenty to say and the conversations were flowing effortlessly. I felt a surge of rejuvenation, as though all I needed to shake my ‘phase two’ was to feel connection again. The older I get, the more I realize that I am indeed a people person and I live for that kind of human connection.

I stayed in the city that night at Sheridan’s. She and I get along great and I really enjoy her company. We stayed in chatting and I was able to dish some of my week’s grievances to her. I felt so much better than I had all week.

The next morning, Sheridan made us a delicious breaky and we went for a lovely, sunny bike ride. Despite and slight hangover and lack of sleep, I felt great. I was able to see the beauty in everything again. We spent the afternoon shopping and walking around and we even made a new Japanese friend at a restaurant.

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What a good host she was!

We stopped at an onsen (a traditional Japanese hotspring/bath house) on the way home. I chilled out in the outdoor hot spring and sauna and we finished our visit with 15 minutes in the massage chairs. Best $2.00 I ever spent. I arrived home feeling rejuvenated and happy, again.

My Birthday, School Field Trip and the Speech Competition.

School has been going quite well. I’ve gotten into the swing of things and feel pretty settled and happy and my schools. Some of the students remembered that it was my birthday and I received three birthday cards in my mailbox from my Junior High school and some Happy Birthday songs and cards at Elementary, too. One of my grade four classes at elementary made me a big card, each kid signed in Japanese and wrote me a little message, which I later had a friend translate for me. They’re so good to me.

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Card from my grade fours 🙂

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All the ALTs in the area got together again for their annual welcome party at a waterfall. We rented bungalows and stayed the nights in the beautiful forest park. A couple friends from elsewhere in the prefecture came to join the festivities, too.  It was the night before my Birthday so I wanted to celebrate when midnight hit, but sadly, I fell asleep at about 10pm. He he. I was a good time regardless, though. I’m 24 now and I must say, it feels no different. The weird thing is, I don’t feel like I fully identify with my age. For the past few years I’ve felt a bit older than my age. And I tend to connect more easily with people older than me. But like I said before, age is just a number.

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We stumbled upon a ‘foot spa’ on the way to the party

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Last week, all the 7th grade students (over 200 of them) took their annual 7th grade three-day field trip to Matsushima (about an hour from here). They allowed me to join on day two, so instead of going to school I hopped in the car and drove to the field trip venue. It was a big building atop a mountain with a dormitory and gym, used mainly for school field trips and other conferences. We all gathered in the parking lot when I got there. The kids were all in uniform and had to sit, holding their knees on the ground in straight lines. We all stayed in straight line formation and walked the 20 min walk down the hill to the nearby beach. The kids were to find and collect shells, rocks and sea glass, which they would use the next day for an art project. I picked up on the slightly unusual seriousness of this field trip. It was nothing like the trips I remembered being on as a kid, where everyone would take full advantage of the field trip freedom and things would often get crazy. Upon talking to my JTE, she explained to me that this field trip is not for the kids to have fun and enjoy themselves. Quite the contrary, in fact, it was a field trip to teach them discipline and how to behave properly outside of school. I’m not in Kansas anymore..

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After lunch, we went as a group to the top of the mountain to check out the view. And then all gathered in the gym so each class could practice their singing for the upcoming annual corral contest. Each class competes against each other, singing one song of their choice and a second song that everyone must sing. Each class performed what they had prepared so far for their piece. It was interesting because each class has a pianist and a conductor but they weren’t music teachers, they were simply students from that class. So whoever was the best at playing piano and conducting was given that the role. It was a pleasure to watch.

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The three first year students who were participating in the English Speech Recitation contest also got to perform their speech to the rest of the group. My JTE and I, along with the other ALT that works at my school, have been training these kids since August for the contest, which took place on Oct 4th. Every year, 1, 2 or 3 students from each Junior High school grade are chosen to participate in the English Speech Recitation contest, where they must recite a two minute piece from the English textbook. Pronunciation, gestures and volume are all taken into account by the judges. We worked with these students every day after lunch and a few times after school for the couple months leading up to the contest. I only helped with the 1st and 3rd year students as another teacher was coaching the 2nd years. The JTE that I team-coached with takes this competition very seriously, and helped lead all three grades to the prefectural competition Kumamoto City last year. So she was set on winning this year, and worked with the kids before and after school every day as well.

The day of the competition finally came. My JTE and I as well as the performers all had the day of school to attend the competition. We piled in a taxi and drove to another Junior High school were the contest was to take place. Every Junior High in Amakusa participates in this contest (about 21 schools, I believe) so there was a big group of students present as well as all of my fellow Amakusan ALTs.

Before the contest was to begin, everyone was scattered around the parking lot performing his or her speeches. It was quite a site to witness, seeing all of these Junior High students standing around performing in English. I loved seeing all of the different female uniforms, too. They are so beautiful and adorable. I love Japanese fashion. It’s very put-together and refined, for the most part, and the school uniforms are no exception to that. They are all a bit different and come in a variety of colors but most have a similar ‘sailor’ style to them, with a bow in the front and a square collar. (Like Sailor Moon) I hope to do a photography piece on Junior High school uniforms, while I’m here. (I just need to get myself a proper camera.)

It was a long day of listening to speech after speech after speech. Admittedly, I tuned out for a good portion of it and sketched in my sketchbook. Finally, the end of the day came and the results were in. The first and third graders at my school (the two teams I helped coach) got first place in their divisions! I couldn’t believe it. I was so proud of the kids, seeing as they had worked so hard for this. It was very gratifying to see all of their hard work pay off, and to know that I aided in helping them achieve first place. While the other teams get to take a break until next year, my school will continue daily practices for another month since we’ll be headed to the prefectural competition in Kumamoto city next month.

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My sketch of the gal in front of me at the contest

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Typhoon

We had another (our third) typhoon this week. And this one definitely felt more like a typhoon than the others. The high winds and heavy rain kept me up at that night and they continued through the next day. Some schools were cancelled but mine wasn’t. I arrived at school that morning and parked my car, I opened the door and it flew open, hitting the car next to me and getting a line of white paint down the side of the adjacent car’s door. I realized I didn’t have enough space in that spot to get out safely, so I moved to the next open spot and carefully opened the door, leaving it open for a moment to grab my belongings when WHOOSH, another gust of wind, and I hit the car next to me. This resulted in another line of paint down the second car’s door. (-_-)What a way to start my morning. The next twenty minutes were stressful, as I had to explain to my JTE what happened, track down the secretary who helped us to identify the cars, and the track down their owners and have someone translate for me what happened. I then walked back into the typhoon with each owner individually to check out the damage and had to get a translator to help. One man brushed it off and said no worries, as there was no dent, just  paint. The other lady called her mechanic, who came to the school, to wipe off the paint. It ended up being no biggie but I felt so silly for making the same stupid mistake twice. Lesson learned.

I was giggling all day at the ridiculousness of the fierce sound of the wind. Every classroom in my school has full size sliding doors and windows, most of which were kept open that day, for some reason. The intense howling of the wind actually made it difficult to hear people talking in class. Every once in a while a massive gust would come and everyone would just stopped and look out the window. The lampposts on the sports field were shaking fiercely and there were plastic bags flying around. If anyone was outside, you could see their hair and clothes flying all over the place. Most of the students and teachers seemed pretty unphased by all of this typhoon business, but it was all very new to me, so I was looking out the window all day.

I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for my insensitivity in my last blog post with regards to typhoons. I understand the severity of these potentially extreme weather events and know that people can die in them. By no means do I wish to actually encounter any weather event that has the potential to destroy buildings or hurt people, nor do I wish that on anyone else. Though, the way I wrote it, may have made it seem that way. I guess I was comparing it to the ‘extreme weather events’ of Nova Scotia, like blizzards or ‘tropical storms’ which I always thoroughly enjoy because they generally aren’t dangerous, they bring people together, and they allows for a more-exciting-than-usual day. Anyways, I apologize for the insensitivity and ignorance behind those comments I made. Part of me wanted to go back and erase them, but I figured it was best to leave it and take responsibility for them instead.

Gratitude

This week, I’m grateful for my yoga practice.

A year ago, in my film class, we had to make a five minute documentary surrounding the idea of ‘a change of heart’ So I decided to turn it into a personal documentary about my having discovered yoga. Here is the YouTube link.

https://youtu.be/evtlthEmSoY

I’m a little embarrassed to show this to people, not necessarily because of the personal information I disclose (that still freaks me out a bit, but I’m becoming more comfortable with it) but more so because of my film making skills. The not-great sound quality, out-of-focusness and poor editing upset me a bit every time I watch this. I was up until 5am the night before it was due trying to put something together and this is what I was able to come up with. And sadly, I no longer have access to the software I need in order to fix it up. But, whatever. I’m still proud of it. So take a looksy if you feel so inclined.

My aim with that documentary was to introduce my classmates to the power of yoga and hopefully, get at least one person interested in trying it. (I later found out that I had achieved that, when a friend told me they tried a class after watching my doc :))

Yoga has changed me, for the better, in so many ways. My identity has literally been transformed because of this practice. It infiltrated my entire life in so many positive ways and continues to do so; I am more in touch with my body. I have an increased capacity to love others as well as myself. I have a better relationship with food. I’m able to perceive even negative events in my life as valuable life lessons. I’m more understanding of others. I’m less judgmental. I am less uptight and easily stressed out. I am closer to my family. I care more about animals and the environment. I sleep better. I have more control over my thoughts. I could go on and on…

My exponential growth with yoga has slowed down and breakthroughs are fewer and further between, now. Some mornings I wake up and I really don’t feel like doing it. But I never regret it once I do.. Meditation is undoubtedly the most important part of my practice, though. I sit for 10-20 minutes every morning. Doing this has become integral to my well-being.

The word yoga can have totally different interpretations, depending on who you ask. I think I’m particularly opinionated about this. One interpretation, which is becoming more and more trendy, sees yoga as a type of workout, a saleable product that can help you get a nice butt and toned arms. It’s something you can get good at and competitive about…learn how to headstand, and share a photo of it on Instagram. Despite my slight sass when referencing this type of yoga, I’m genuinely happy that more and more people are discovering the practice. Because whether or not it’s spiritual, any kind of yoga practice is beneficial.

My personal yoga practice, however, references another interpretation of yoga, a more spiritual one. It includes asana (poses), meditation and kapala backti (breathing exercises). To me, my yoga mat is a place that I can come to to connect, recenter, and prepare for my day of attempting to live wisely out in the real world. When practicing asana, it’s not so much about the poses and how they look, in my eyes. It’s more about the breathing, the presence, and tuning into your body.

I am so grateful for my yoga practice. It’s the base that I come back to every morning, or throughout the day if I need it. I can turn to my yoga when I’m feeling stressed or life smacks me in the face. There is peace and divinity behind the layers of craziness in everyone’s mind and it’s incredibly satisfying to tap into that. Yoga helps me do that. What a blessing this practice has been for me. I am so grateful.

Actually, I just got back from my second ever yoga class in Japan and my heart is so full. Here’s how it went…

About a month ago, I went to the bookstore with my ALT friend and he ran into a girl he knew and introduced us. She is a darling Japanese girl, a little older than me, who has lived in Amakusa all her life. She speaks English, too. We only spoke briefly but we exchanged names and she added me on Facebook.

I haven’t heard from or seen her since then until a few days ago when she randomly messaged me inviting me to come to a yoga class with her instead. I happily accepted.

I had searched ‘yoga in Amakusa’ on Google and asked a few friends, neither of which offered me any insight into yoga on this island. So, I simply concluded that finding a class wasn’t going to happen. I have therefore been doing my own personal practice every morning in my apartment. This has been working fine, however, I do find I am not as motivated when doing my own practice. Being the person leading the class, I tend to not hold my poses for as long, or challenge myself as much. And it’s easy to get distracted by my phone or other things I need to do. I much prefer to go to a class where I can follow directions and there is nothing else to do besides be present for the duration of the class.

Class was just a short ten-minute walk from my house. My friend and I met up a half hour before class so she could go over some simple Japanese words used frequently in yoga, (inhale, exhale, sun salutation, etc.) My friend had no idea that I loved yoga so much. She does too and also does it every day. So she was very happy to have me there and vice versa.

We met our teacher and I immediately loved her. She is adorable and gentle and lovely. We, as well as the other two students in the class chatted and got to know each other. They made me feel very welcome.

The class was perfect for me. It was r up my alley. Very slow paced, with focus on breathing and spirit, with frequent shavasanas between poses. The language barrier wasn’t a problem since I could just watch what the teacher was doing, and from time to time she would translate to English. The class was 1.5 hours and I enjoyed every minute of it. It finished with the teacher reading a lovely quote from some yogic philosophy book. She paused after each sentence so my friend could translate it for me. They are so sweet.

After class the teacher confirmed my suspicions and told me that it was Shivananda yoga that she teaches. This particular kind of yoga is not a popular one, per se, but it is one I am familiar with because I spent two weeks at the Shivananda Yoga Ashram in Quebec last year, volunteering and taking classes every day. I loved it there so much, it felt like home to me. There, I took a real liking to this kind of yoga, which was different from what I was used to. Ever since I left Shivananda, I haven’t stopped thinking about it. And for some reason those thoughts intensified in the past few weeks while here in Japan. I hope to go back there to live for a longer period of time when I go back to Canada (whenever that may be) and eventually get my Yoga Teacher Training.

So when she told me she taught Shivananda yoga I knew it was the right fit and that I was meant to be there. I was meant to run into my friend’s friend at the bookstore, so that she could invite me to yoga. Everything lines up, as it often does for me now days. I love when this happens.

My second class was just as great as the first. My friend and our teacher and I met up before hand for tea. We all had a lot in common and plenty to talk about. I really love them. Thanks universe, I am so grateful.

Rainbow Forest Music Fest

I just got back from a Trance Music Festival that was like a Japanese ‘Evolve.’ It was probably the best/most interesting experience I’ve had since being here. I can’t wait to write about it… tune in next time 🙂

XOXO SilverGirl

aka Mary Ellen

aka Ellen

P.S. Please comment if you read this! I’d love to hear from you. And it keeps me motivated to keep writing.