Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Yep, I`m alive.

Yes--I KNOW--I`ve been in Japan for almost a week now and haven`t said so much as a word about it on this blog!

I promised myself I`d be better than this! So, for anyone who`s reading, sorry!!

However, it`s not like I didn`t think about it. It`s just that I`ve ran into some unexpected problems with my computer, with internet, and with time. The first night I arrived in Tokyo, my computer wouldn`t turn on. After freaking out for a few minutes, I realized that I WAS IN TOKYO!!, and my computer problems weren`t what should have been on my mind. So then I didn`t even touch it until the following night, and lo and behold, it turned right on like nothing had happened. So yeah, I don`t know what was going on there, but ever since I`ve been a little afraid, and have been hesitant to turn it on unless I know I really want to. I`ve talked to both of my parents on Skype, and uploaded some pictures, but really that`s about it. I also didn`t really have any time to be online, since very little of our time in Tokyo was spent in the hotel room!

However, the Tokyo tales will have to wait, because once again, I`ve run into a blogging roadblock, and won`t be able to share my pictures on the blog quite yet. (And I figure that a post just isn`t a post without the whole shebang.) On Monday, Kayoko and I came to her house in Kyoto (that`s where I`m at now), and they don`t have wireless internet. So I figured that instead of going through the hassel of hooking my computer up and getting it all set up (and probably spending more time than I should in front of it during my stay), I`ll just put off most of the important stuff until I move into the dorms this weekend. So right now I`m using Kayoko`s laptop to check up on a few things and fire off some e-mails (related: have you ever attempted to navigate a student webmail page completely in Japanese? I have a very, very limited grasp of kanji at the moment, dammit!). And besides all of that, we`ve been in go-mode shopping, sightseeing, clubbing, eating, and just exploring almost every waking moment since I`ve gotten to Japan, and when we get back to the hotel or now Kayoko`s house I`m just too tired to do much more!

I`m planning on making several entries about what I`ve done so far, because there`s been a lot of things! (And I have a lot of thoughts!) But sadly, they will have to wait until the weekend and next week. I`m hoping I`ll have some downtime after I move in on Saturday and before orientation starts to really work on this blog!

But anyway, I will say a few things about Japan (in bullet form, just because it`s easier for me to think that way). Some things that surprise me, some things that I`m really noticing:
  • First of all, my flight was good; I really surprised myself and didn`t get lost in any of the airports, and made it on to all of my flights just fine. I also managed to get some sleep on the big leap from San Francisco to Narita.
  • The food is agreeing with me! Study Abroad programs are always warning us of all these horrible bouts of disagreement we`re going to go through with the food when first going to a new country, but so far I`ve felt fine and, also surprising, really liked nearly everything I`ve tried! I guess I just don`t have that aversion to fishy or seaweed-y tasting things that it seems like a lot of Americans have. The only thing that`s strange is that I haven`t had much of an appetite since getting here, though I never feel sick or anything. But I can go almost all day walking around and stuff without feeling hungry. The only time I`ve really felt hungry since getting here, come to think of it, was when I was incredibly hungover our second morning in Tokyo XD. (At least it wasn`t a sick-y hangover!)
  • I`m realizing now just how limited my grasp of Japanese is--and it doesn`t help that it seemed as though many shopkeepers and such in Tokyo figured that since I was with a Japanese person, I must speak Japanese, and would always approach me doing so. Many, many gomennasai, hanashimasu chotto...`s. And Kayoko`s family doesn`t speak more than a few words of English! Though, of course, this means that I am learning many phrases FAST!
  • I got a Japanese cellphone! For the students reading this who haven`t come over yet and plan on buying one--first of all, you can`t without your alien registration (at least I couldn`t signing up with Docomo or Softbank), so you will have to wait until after you get it at orientation. Or, you could do as I did, and purchase it in a Japanese friend`s name. This is of course a little difficult though, since she will be recieving all of my bills, and I will have to give her the money and she will pay the bill for me from now on. You would have to have a really good friend I would say! X). (But we`ve been friends for a long time, and I know I can trust her with everything!) ALSO, I know that everyone recommends Softbank for international students to use, but my Docomo phone was about ¥5,000 cheaper, and I think the plans are better. I signed up for a 2-year plan, and will just break the contract at the end of my stay for about $90, rather than pay a ton of money for a pay-as-you-go phone--I really think this is a better deal, as I will most likely be needing unlimited texting. I also think the phones were better quality--mine is actually a brand new model, and was only around ¥6,400 to activate and for the first month, and then I will pay ¥5,400 each month after that. Of course, if you find a better deal, go for it! But we got mine in a giant department store in Akihabara with a ton of cell phone dealers right there, and this was the best we saw with a good-quality phone. *EDIT* Ok, now I understand about the student discount and the Softbank student pre-paid plan we have here on campus! So ignore all that about not getting Softbank, lol. I'm still keeping my Akihabara phone though.
  • They weren`t joking about the vending machines.
  • The people are so fashionable! I love it. I LOVE the clothes. And the girls are so skinny! It`s giving me serious thinspiration! XD
  • If I don`t lose weight from the food and the walking, it will be from the sweating--it is insanely hot and humid here! My poor new bangs...

I intended on writing more, but I was just told that we`re going out to kaiten-zushi whenever I get done on the computer! So I need to go now! Until this weekend!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


It seems like everything went by so fast--tomorrow, I leave for Japan!

This is just going to be a quick entry, because, unsurprisingly, I've been incredibly busy getting everything ready the last few days. Time was strained a bit by a family reunion this past weekend, though I had a lot of fun at it and was glad I could attend and see family members from far away. But yesterday and today were pretty much spent scrambling around getting things packed, money set, last-minute things purchased (and sold--I ended up selling my old saxophone yesterday, so that's an extra $500 in my pocket I wasn't really expecting!), and goodbyes said.

I'm mostly nervous about changing planes tomorrow, and meeting Kayoko in Narita airport when I reach Japan. I think I go through customs upon entry into Japan, though I'm not completely sure. I found an app for my iPod that shows the layout of the Denver and San Francisco airports, flight arrivals, itineraries, and all kinds of SUPER useful things, so I'm really happy about that!

Tonight we're getting ready to go out to eat--my mom asked if I wanted her to make steak or something else really "American" for my last meal, but I wasn't really feeling steak, so I suggested we go out to eat. Since my brother's working tonight at the restaurant we both work at, I suggested we go there, and so that's what we're doing. It sounds kind of strange, since I work there and have eaten there a million times, but I don't mind, I really like the food :). And I don't want him to feel completely left out of our last meal together for possibly 9 months!

Anyway, even though I know nearly everything's packed and everything's ready as far as money and travel arrangements...I still feel like I must not be prepared! I finished packing 90% of my suitcase this afternoon (all that's left are some last-minute clothes I'm washing, a skirt my mom's mending, and a jacket)--we even weighed it, and it came to just under 40lbs, surprisingly (I thought my stuff would be way overweight!) Even knowing that I have that all done, and my carry-on almost packed, I still feel like I must be missing something. Hopefully this feeling will be gone by morning...

So, I guess that's that. The next time I blog, I'll hopefully be in Japan! :)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

My Spain

Well, here I am typing this blog entry, and now I'm not sure exactly what I was going to talk about.

This summer has been pretty boring for me, to be honest. (But it makes sense that it would be, wouldn't it? This is the time right before what will perhaps be the most hectic and engaging point in my life so far--living displaced in a foreign culture. The calm before the storm, I guess. The calm balances out the frenzy.) I'm living with my parents, 2 hours away from most of the friends I've made at university. I don't have many friends in town, because most of my high school friends have apartments at their own schools. I would be doing that myself if it weren't for my studying abroad; I would have been in an apartment last year if I didn't think at the end of my sophomore year that there was a chance I would be at KGU last semester. I ended up putting off applying until this year, for financial reasons mainly. I wanted a full summer to work and earn more money waitressing than I would at my job up at school, and I wanted to stay in Japan from fall to spring. I'm very particular about planning things, if you haven't noticed already...

Anyway, what I'm getting at with that, is that I've spent a lot of nights researching other KGU student blogs (past, present, and future). While I read, I see certain topics that actually really interest me, and I consider writing about them in my own blog, but then I figure that it would be stupid to since I'm not even in Japan yet, I may change my mind on the subject once I'm there, etc. Although there are a few things that I really feel like I want to get out, and so I'm gonna use this post to kind of dump them.

I've noticed, ever since choosing to study in Japan, that I get a very mixed set of reactions from people when they hear of my plans.

First of all, nearly everyone I talk to has a positive attitude about study abroad in general. I get a lot of "Wow, that'll be such a great experience!"'s and "It'll change your life!"'s. There are always some who say things like they could never do something like that, they're homebodies, they don't have the desire to travel or learn another language just for fun--and that's completely fine. Some people are just different; I very, very rarely get homesick, and absolutely love to travel places, whether it's 30 minutes into downtown Des Moines or hours and hours by Amtrak to St. Louis to visit my aunt. Don't get me wrong, of course I love my family, I just feel comfortable with being away from them, I guess. I can still call them up or talk to them on Skype or whatever else, so it's not a big deal to me. Anyway, I'm off track now. Maybe it's my location in the Midwest, the general friendliness of people around here, or whatever else, but people are generally very excited to hear about students studying abroad.

But then, they inevitably ask where I'm headed, and that's when the reactions can change a bit. I've never had a full-blown rude or vicious reaction to hearing that I'm going to Japan, but I've gotten a lot of people saying", I would never think to go there." or the raised-eyebrow look and "Japan? Really?". It also depends on the age demographic, I guess; obviously older and younger people have different preconceived notions about the country. Actually, it's older people who usually assume I must be really smart or something to be learning Japanese and going there to study the language; I don't think I must be smarter than the next person at all, hell, my GPA wasn't even that spectacular when I was accepted into this program (though my acceptance does still baffle me every day.) As for Japanese itself, I really don't think it's that much harder than any other language to learn--yes, it's easier for an English speaker to learn Spanish or French or German (because all these languages share common ancestries and are full of cognates), but I don't think it's technically much more complicated. (In fact, English is a very difficult language to achieve a full grasp on when not raised a native speaker--think of all the strange spellings, borrowed words, grammatical rules (and how often they are broken), and inconsistent pronunciations there are.) And so, I don't think it's really a sign of being super "smart" to want to go to Japan.

From my peers, there's really a mix of reactions. Many will instantly bring up how gross they think Japanese food is (maybe this is a midwest thing; I get this a LOT from older people too. Did I know they eat seaweed and raw fish over there? Wow, no sir, I sure didn't. Thanks for the tip. -_-) I've had people raise their eyebrows and get this sort of knowing look on their face, before asking if I watch anime or read manga. (And they are almost always surprised to hear that I don't, I just really like Japan.) But hey, I guess we are the anime generation--Japan's cartoons have definitely caused an explosion of interest in the country in Western culture, and I've gotten the feeling from reading other student blogs that that is the reason why many first became interested in Japan.

Even among my own group of friends, I've felt like some were quick to judge me for my choice. In college at least, I've always been really the only one in my group with an interest in Japan. Sometimes, I feel like they think it's a little bit of a novelty to ask me to say something in Japanese at parties, or for me to make friends with Japanese exchange students at our school. I always found this kind of strange, because several people in my group of friends were studying languages of their own (and even majoring in them--I've never even taken a Japanese class), and yet no one asked them to say something in Spanish or whatever else. (Though I will say, I have a friend who lived in Germany for a year, and she really, really likes Germany. Like really likes it. And it's cool to hear her speak German fluently. So I guess she was like me, only with Germany.) Anyway, I guess that Japanese is a sort of novelty, in that in my social circle, it wasn't something you heard about every day, and everyone knew that I really, really liked Japan. I'm sure some thought I was a little strange, but then again, I'm sure they had interests themselves that they were passionate about. (And if not...well, they must be pretty boring. :p) And I'm not trying to throw a pity party or something here--a lot of kids say they're jealous, or that they think Japan sounds way cool and trendy, or that it's just a unique place they wouldn't have thought of.

I guess what I've learned from this is that many people expect to hear names like "England" or "Germany" or "France" or, inevitably, always, always, "Spain" when I say I'm studying abroad, and they're surprised to hear "Japan". Even my own mom originally tried to persuade me to go the Spain route, and not Japan--and although I don't think there's anything wrong with these countries or wanting to study there at all (I would like to visit all of these places very much so, actually), I feel like one learns very fast just how unusual their choice to go to a non-European or South American country must be when faced with all of the reactions people have.

I guess I just think of Japan as a country like any other in terms of study abroad; I actually didn't think it was an uncommon choice when I first wanted to go until I actually went to the study abroad office and learned that only a few students go there from our school every year.

Though I doubt that many people will read this outside of other KGU'ers and maybe some relatives, I do hope, just a little bit, that this blog can be a way of showing that Japan is a very interesting and fun country to those who weren't the stereotypical Japan-loving anime kids. I'm going there knowing more Japanese people at the University than non-Japanese, something that I think is also a little atypical of the average KGU exchange student. I really want to try and experience life as a girl my age over there would by hanging out with Japanese friends, and not just as an American hanging out with other foreigners in Japan would (though obviously I will still spend time with my fellow exchange students!). I know there will be disappointments, and that I obviously do not look or sound even remotely Japanese, and will therefore be treated differently--but I actually don't mind that a whole lot, I think experiencing life as a minority will be an interesting journey as well. Though, of course, I can never know how things will actually go until I get there; these are all just predictions and thoughts. 4:15am thoughts, in fact.

Maybe I should stop talking, and really get some sleep. :)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Thunder and Rainclouds

Well, I don't really have much to say in this update, but I really felt like making a post, so I did! It's storming outside--one of my favorite noises--so I'm sitting in the dark in our dining room and watching the lightening flash in the windows and enjoying it. On to things I've been doing recently.

On Saturday morning, my mom and I got up super early (5 a.m., a time that I wasn't even aware existed until this weekend) and headed to the farmer's market in downtown Des Moines. All summer, I've been thinking of what things I can bring to Japan to give to people I meet, my host family, Kayoko's parents, my Japanese friends, etc. I've noticed that the Japanese people are very into gift giving, and I thought it'd be a good idea to bring some stuff to dole out. I thought that getting handmade, or Iowa-esque things would be a good idea.

Anyway, I've never been to the Des Moines farmer's market, and it really surprised me! It's huge! There was a ton of produce, and pastries and breads and a lot of jewelery, clothes, and other handmade goods. Lots of sweet ethnic food stands to try as well! I split some Indian breakfast fried potato pocket things with my mom (I forgot what they were called, but they were fried dough filled with potato chunks and spices and came with a really good dipping sauce), and got a shrimp spring roll later. I ended up buying some really great things to give as presents! I'm not going to write exactly what, because maybe Kayoko or other friends or my speaking partners will read this, but I hope they'll like them or find them useful. My mom actually offered to buy a bunch of the more expensive stuff, which really surprised me, but I didn't decline! :)

Speaking of money, it's been tight lately. Things haven't been nearly as busy as they usually are at the restaurant I work at--I only made 32 freakin' dollars on a DOUBLE shift on Saturday (usually I'll make anywhere between $70-$120 on a Friday or Saturday night shift alone!). Friday wasn't much better, I only made somewhere around $25 and spent it all at the farmer's market the next morning. Luckily, today's double shift was surprisingly good for a Sunday--we had a late rush tonight, and I made $75. I'm really wanting to make money this week, because it's my last week working (for...potentially 9 months, I can't believe it!), and I need to buy some things before I go. I've deposited all the money I've saved this summer in a savings account so I won't spend it until I take it out to exchange it, so I'm relying on this week's money for my last-minute things.

I'm considering getting a new suitcase to take over, just because the one I took to Italy in high school isn't made of the hard material like the new ones, and it's bulky. I'm super afraid of my stuff being damaged (and lost, but I guess I can't help that). I saw some good looking (and discounted!) suitcases at TJ Maxx the other day, so I'm going to look around there and some other places this week. That's my big purchase I'm looking at, and why I needed to make money this weekend--even getting it for a discounted price, I'm still looking anywhere between the $80-$120 pricerange for a good case.

Hmm, what else...oh, actually, right as I was typing this up I got my speaking partner assignment e-mails! (I've been checking my e-mail almost obsessively the last few days--I'm impatient!) I signed up for two partners, since they had a surplus of Japanese students sign up. Mine are both girls, and named Ayami and Azusa (Azusa is a name I've never heard before!). I'm probably going to e-mail them after typing this blog :).

I've had some experience with speaking partners before, I had to have one for my TESOL class last semester. Actually, my first speaking partner experience wasn't exactly a good one. I was partnered with a Saudi Arabian guy named Mohammad, and while he was really nice, I got the feeling he was being a little too nice--red flags kind of went up in my mind when literally the first question he asked me upon meeting me was "So, you have a boyfriend?" (>.<) He also informed me that he really liked blondes and wanted to meet with me as much as possible every week. Let's just say my time spent with Mohammad was very awkward! I talked to the speaking partner coordinator and was given another partner, a Saudi girl named Noor, who was MUCH better! She's incredibly sweet and we got along really well, even though our schedules wouldn't allow us to meet as often as I would have liked. She knew English pretty well already, so we mostly just talked about fashion, or differences between America and Saudi Arabia, or whatever else. I was kind of hoping that my KGU speaking partners would be girls, just because I think it's easier for me to get along with girls in situations like this, and we'd have more in common to talk about probably! (Uh...this part of my post was half-deleted for some reason when I first posted it, so it may not have made sense if someone read it right away, lol. Hopefully it's fixed now.)

Also, after some serious snooping around tonight, I've found some more KGU blogs to read! I even figured out how to put a widget linking to other blogs on my blog, so check 'em out if you want. I can't wait to get there and meet new people on campus :). よろしくね :)

(speaking of e-mailing my speaking partner--I just now got an e-mail from one of mine! Yay! I'm gonna read it and eventually get to bed sometime tonight!)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Packing and Learning How to Do Woman-Things

I feel like I've finally gotten a lot accomplished today, so I'm gonna make a post about it!

This morning I organized my room (see: looked through stuff, without really moving anything from it's designated spot on my floor) and decided what things I'm going to ship over to KGU before I leave. Originally, I was going to send one big-ish box of clothes and a few dorm-things, but after asking around about shipping rates at the post office the other day I decided to just load up two smaller USPS priority boxes. It might be a little expensive because of the weight, but I was told it'll be less than sending a big box, so I can't complain. And it made me limit myself and really pick-and-choose what to send, which I needed. I had to keep reminding myself that I can still take things in my suitcase, it's not like everything needs to go in the boxes...

I got the boxes all packed and taped up, and am going to send them tomorrow morning hopefully (if I can get the online customs label thing the guy at the PO explained to me figured out...). I ended up getting in a good amount of clothes (you'd be surprised at how much things can compress down!), some jewelry, makeup, picture frames (was going to print out some newer pics to fill them with, but didn't get around to it), some computer things, and a few dorm knick-knacks that I wanted to take to make things a little more homey, I guess. I know that it's probably dumb to take so many clothes since I'm going to inevitably buy more there, but I don't want to spent too much money getting a new wardrobe, and I guess I have kind of an attachment to my clothes :x. I really did pick out only my favorites though. It just happens to be that I have a lot of favorites. :)

My boxes chillin and waiting to be shipped. See you soon, stuff!

And now on to my big accomplishment of the day: I learned how to cook dinner! (Okay, I learned how to cook a dinner. I know a few more, but they mostly involve tacos or some form of dehydrated noodles or Velveeta cheese.) Anyway, a little backstory. So, when my Japanese friends Hikari and Kayoko have stayed with me, each have made a Japanese meal for our family. Last summer Hikari made Japanese hamburgers and an Okinawan dish that I can't recall the name of (it had potatoes, vegetables, beef, and was flavored with hon-dashi, I believe; she said it's something that girlfriends traditionally make for a new boyfriend to impress them). Over Christmas break Kayoko I think made some type of noodles for everyone, though we made a bunch of different things for ourselves to eat during that time, and I can't quite remember what all we cooked x) (sorry! >.>;;) Anyway, because of that, and because I just think it'd be cool, I decided to learn how to cook some really American dishes so I can make them for Kayoko's family and maybe my home-visit family. I decided on chili and cornbread, since Kayoko and I both really really like them and the ingredients won't be too hard to find (besides the chili powder mix, which I think I'm just going to bring a few packets of over), and apple pie for dessert. And tonight I cooked them for the first time! And took some pictures to document this monumental event.

The chili was actually really easy to make, you pretty much just brown and drain the hamburger and add water and all the vegetables and chili seasoning, and let it simmer.

We put corn in our chili to add some more color. And oh yeah, it turns out my camera isn't actually broken--the battery just loses charge super fast and I had to charge it up forever to get it to stay on. :(

The cornbread was more-or-less a success too, though I used a pan that was too big and it ended up being really thin. But it still tasted good! I think cornbread is going to be one of the foods I miss the most in Japan.

The chili turned out really good--my mom, stepdad, and I ate all of it, with the help of a family friend who stopped in and was peer pressured to eat some too. Then I attempted my first pie, an event which my mom was super psyched about.

We made the pie completely from scratch, and it was very time consuming. I never realized that you had to use one of those dough cutter things to "knead" the crust dough, or why you did before. (For those not up on pie-trivia: it's to mix the shortening and dry ingredients so that the dough is made up of tiny little pieces of shortening covered in the flour/sugar mixture, and not just all mashed together. This is so when it's made into the crust and cooked, the shortening will melt away and leave little layers of crust, which is what makes it flaky.) I won't lie: rolling it nice and thin was a pain in the ass (apparently my dough was very soft, which also meant it would be really flaky and good, but fragile), transferring it into the pan, and later on top of the pie was a pain in the ass, and it was a pain in the ass to peel and slice all those apples. (I'm kind of hoping we can find pre-sliced and skinned cooking apples in Japan. Or I'll just start in like the morning.) Buuut it was worth it; nothing catastrophic happened, and my pie turned out pretty good for my first time!

Spoiler Alert: When I cook for Kayoko's family or my host family, I think I want to cut "apple" in hiragana into the top of the pie, so I tested that tonight. It came out okay; I don't know if I'm going to actually do it unless I can come up with a cooler design!

So proud of my ringo pie.

So, I didn't get done with making the dough and the insides and putting it together until like 10:30, so everyone was already in bed by the time I lifted my greatest accomplishment in awhile out of the oven. But I was proud, dammit, I was proud.

The text's a little warped and I need to work on my outer-edge design skillz, but I would say that's a damn good first attempt.

I didn't really want to just cover my pie up and leave it untouched until morning, and I was really anxious to actually taste it, so I went ahead and cut myself a piece. And it was good! The crust was super flaky (as much as when my mom does it or maybe even more, idk), and it tasted right. The only thing was that the apples weren't mushy enough in the center, so maybe I should have left it in a little longer. I'm going to bake a few more pies I think before I leave (I really want to get it down perfect!), and maybe even venture into the realms of cherry or blueberry. I'm either going to get really good, or way fat trying, or both in the next two weeks.

The only thing that made my cooking lesson better was the news tonight: Yay for California repealing Prop 8! Makes me happy to see us come one step closer to nation-wide equality. :)

Hmm, what else...last night I hung out with my friends Hannah and Clint, and we went down to Scott's man-cave to watch home videos we found, and it was great. Scott was ridiculous when he was little, and I was a mouth-breathing chubster. I'm going to miss hangin wit my homies while I'm in Japan. I'm sure I'll meet new homies, and will have my Japanese friends, but I'll still miss them! Maybe I'll make a post about all the specific things I'll miss about America/where I live soon. Hmm.