Archive for September, 2010

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Connie: Of food & beauty

September 29, 2010

Let me start out by saying: I’ve always hated paperwork, and Japanese paperwork is no different. Worse even, since I can’t read kanji very well.

But really, aside from taking the bus from the hotel to the campus and having a nice man give me directions and help carrying luggage, there isn’t much to tell thus far.  So instead of my experiences I’d like to focus on two other things that strike me about Japan.

First is the food. I’m not going to talk about the taste or anything like that. Instead I’m intrigued by the way it goes through your system. It’s true that Japanese portions are smaller, and for an American like me, at first that seems dissatisfying. I go into the cafeteria thinking, This is it? This one piece of who-knows-what delicious meat? Why didn’t I get the curry?  The portion’s larger. Oh yeah, because I don’t really like curry.

Despite this I find myself able to go for a long while between meals. While living in America I would eat three meals a day and god-knows how many snacks in between. It was probably an awful diet for every part of my health. I could eat a giant portion for dinner and still pour a tub of butter over a bowl of popcorn an hour or two later (and I’m only exaggerating a little about the butter). Or I could eat a bunch of unhealthy things for lunch, not stay full, and get more continually until dinner. Or…  Well, typing out my awful American eating habits is kind of embarrassing.

With Japanese food I can eat a small portion of something that’s probably way better for me and be satisfied with three meals a day and no snacks. Before coming to campus all I had was a single onigiri for breakfast and still I was okay until lunch. I know nothing about nutrition or how food works, but I kind of enjoy not feeling compelled to eat all the time. Then again, a lack of money could be part of my motivation. One hundred yen shops are wonderful places.

As for the second observation about life in Japan, here it is: everyone is beautiful.  Seriously.  It’s probably because their food has the properties I mentioned above, so there aren’t fat people like in America. I don’t know.  My main point here is that 90% of the people I see are what I would consider attractive.  (This is where you insert a comment about ‘yellow fever’).

This has a strange sort of effect. In the United States when I saw an attractive person, my attention would be immediately (and perhaps conspicuously) drawn to them.  But when there are beautiful people all over the place you get used to it real fast. They become part of the scenery. It really is true that you need all types, not that I’m in any way lodging a complaint.

To be honest, this is probably a good thing for me. I can grudgingly admit that I may have focused too much attention on the pretty people around me while living in the States. I’m sure it annoyed the crap out of my friends. So, maybe if I live in a society filled with beautiful people for a while, I’ll calm down. I’m pleased to say this is one of the things about myself that I’d hoped to get away from when coming here. I really want to be a better person when I return home.

And thus continues my Japanese life. I must fight off the evil jetlag, a villain hiding just outside of my room waiting until I show weakness to pounce.  So far I’ve been doing pretty good.  I’ll defeat him soon.

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Ellen: JODHPUR

September 29, 2010

A few friends and I spent last weekend in Johdpur, the Blue City.
We took the train-sleeper class there and Second AC on the way back. Ven Diagram time!

Second AC:
Airconditioning
Closed and curtained windows
Sheets, blankets, pillows
sneezing, snoring, farting old people
Both:
Benches that can be seats or beds
Sleeper Class:
Open windows to let fresh air in
cute old couples to sit across from
Lots of college-aged Indians watching Justin Beiber music videos on their iPhones and sharing them with us
Small Indian boy walking up and down the aisle wearing his mother’s heels
Men walking down the cars screeching “chaiiiiiii” “garam chaiiiiiiii”

conclusions: sleeper=more fun.

JODHPUR: So beautiful. We saw the Umaid Bhavan Palace: beautiful, built in the 20th century, small museum. The rest of the palace is royal residence and a hotel. You can see the hotel if you eat at the restaurant and spend 2000 rupees a plate.

Mandore Garden: King Louie’s court from the Jungle Book. Monkeys and all. Built in the 15th century. Tombs of royals and temples. We could freely roam through all of them (no charge) and climb up the twisting stone stairs to the balconies/roof with no railings and no surveillance. The phrase most often uttered on adventures like that is “We could never do this in the US.”  Plus an Indian guy that wanted Sam to sign a 10 rupee note and “be in friendship with him”

Mehrangarh Fort: I am speechless. It is at the top of a mountain overlooking Jodhpur. We all did the audio tour so we were the nerdy white kids with headphones on in a sea (literally, if we didn’t hold on to each other we were swept away) of Indians. Gates and courtyards and battlements and the intricately patterned windows that don’t allow anyone to see in, but allow the women living in those quarters to see out.

On Sunday we met Megan’s host family’s aunt and nephew (Daksh. so. cute.) We had lunch at her house and it was DELICIOUS. Living with a family in India means you eat real Indian food every day. When you travel and go to restaurants the “Indian” food is BLAND. its all about eating in a real Indian home.

More Jodhpur adventures include my first true Indian shopping experience, where you stay in the store for 2 hours while they present all their finest tapestries to you, serve you chai and then bargain. We became regulars at a Lassi place, we sampled tons of sweets, we sat on the roof of our hotel, Megan became an honorary marwari woman and we had a 14-year-old rickshaw driver that had no idea where he was going.

ps: My internship is with the Jaipur Virasat Foundation and I will be back in Jodhpur with the foundation to work at a music festival! hooray!

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Connie: Exploring Japan

September 27, 2010

Yesterday I had an abundance of free time. What do you do with free time while you’re in a city you’ve never been to on the other side of the world? You explore of course! The Japanese word of the day was うろうろ(urouro), which means wandering aimlessly.

I started out by having lunch at a cute little cafe near my hotel. My first meal in Japan was beef curry. I’m not a particularly large fan of curry, but this stuff was fairly good, fairly cheap, and it sure filled me up. That’s what I’m discovering about Japanese food—for some reason it fills you up, even if the portions aren’t as big as American ones.

After this I wandered down a large street, checking out the various stores. It was the middle of the day while most people were at work, so it wasn’t terribly crowded. Most of what I looked at was music or book shops, with a 100 yen store thrown in. My favorite was this cute little music shop in the basement of some building. It was tiny and completely FILLED with CDs and posters of visual kei bands. The Gazette’s new single “Red” was playing on repeat and I spent a long time browsing. It was my kind of paradise. I didn’t buy anything the first time, but I liked the place so much I ended up going back and buying a magazine… Even though I didn’t want to spend money. I’m not complaining. The old guy working there threw in a few fliers and told me about Piece’s concert.

After having sufficiently wandered up and down that street I got lost in some tangled back roads trying to head back to the hotel. When I finally emerged from the tangle this is what I was faced with:

Needless to say, it wasn’t going to be hard to find my way back since I’d wandered out right next to the Hiroshima Dome, a building that remained standing despite the atomic bomb so many years ago. Of course having wandered out here I couldn’t just head back to the hotel. I had to explore Peace Park (広島平和記念公園).

Despite all the people wandering about it was peaceful. It was so green and beautiful. Though fairly humid the weather was good for walking about. The park is right on the river, where you can see tour boats drifting casually by. There was also a ‘concert’ going on right on the bank. A woman with a lovely voice was singing older Japanese songs. I stopped to listen for a while before going on. I enjoyed the display cases they had filled with colorful origami—I would have taken a picture if it weren’t for the signs advising me not to. There were elementary school students running around all over the place, presumably on a field trip. It was a nice place to accidentally end up at.

After having tired myself out wandering around I laid down with a bento from a convenience store and watched some Japanese television. The highlights: a dubbed Billy Mays commercial, Pimp My Ride with Japanese subtitles that had amusing mistranslations of the slang, and a Pokemon episode. I think these things sufficiently tell you that I’m kind of a nerd. I also watched baseball for a bit, and some music show with Daigo Stardust.

Today I have to find my way to Saijo so I can move into my dorm. I’m excited. However, I don’t know when I’ll get internet; whether the dorm has wifi or if I’ll have to wait several weeks for a provider. So until the time comes for me to be online again, see you! じゃーまたね。

楽しんでいます。

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Sam: Internship interview

September 27, 2010

On Friday I left my house at 5:50 a.m. to catch a bus to Otavalo for my interview and to meet my placement family. Besides being way too early for anything, the trip was uneventful. Transporter 3, followed by Transporter 2, were on the bus television in Spanish. Judging by the action, I wouldn’t have understood even in English.

As requested, the driver dropped our early bird group of four off at a gas station where we called Nate’s host parents, Marcela and Carlos, to come pick us up and drive us to our interviews. Nothing says “good morning” like being picked up in a big white van at a gas station by complete strangers.

I was first to my interview at CEMOPLAF (Centro Médico de Orientación y Planificación Familiar [Medical Center for Family Orientation and Planning]): it’s going to be great. Dra. Quelal et al are going to have me working in the clinic as well as sending me to talk to high schools.

After the other interviews I got to meet my host mother, Tania. Her husband, Mario, is the mayor of Otavalo. Nice. She showed me Peguche, the village where they live (98% indigenous, mostly artisans—I can hear looms working from my house) and then showed me the house, pictures of the kids, and the dogs, Pancho and Laika. She was going back to Quito anyway so no bus for that afternoon.

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Elyse: Our first excursion!

September 25, 2010

Today, I went on a day trip with the program to Anduze, a small village about 1–1.5 hours from Montpellier. We visited an enormous bamboo forest, lunched in the town, then visited a nearby cave. Check out pictures here. All in all, an excellent day, but tiring—I woke up at 6:45 (yuck). I think it’s time for a brief nap.

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Connie: Flight & arrival

September 25, 2010

本当に日本にいる!?信じられないよ!タクシー運転者は左で運転した時、私は「これは日本!」という考えあったよ。すげー!

After roughly a ridiculously long flight and a fair amount of sleep, I’m finally in Japan!

I had three layovers: Denver, Seattle, and Tokyo. Each one more stressful than the next. Naturally, in Narita Airport I got quite lost and I was quite jet lagged. I remember going up to some of the workers saying, “あの…私はどこに行くかわか… I dunno where to go…” because at that point my Japanese wasn’t functioning so well.

But in the end I made it. The flight between Tokyo and Hiroshima is gorgeous! I didn’t get to see many mountains during my flight across the U.S., but that was all you could see on this flight! After getting off of the 10+ hour flight across the Pacific I was quite sick of flying, or so I thought until I looked out the window. I just ended up staring at the passing scenery!

Once finally landing in Hiroshima, I had to find a way to get some yen. That wasn’t too convenient seeing as it was roughly 7 p.m. and banks were closed. I had to walk up to the airport hotel (with two troublesome bags) and then back again to get a cab. Then I had to take a cab a lot farther than expected and pay an arm and a leg… Seriously, that bill was ugly.

Not that the cab ride was all bad. It was about the time the driver got into the opposite side of the car to drive that I thought, “Wow! I’m in Japan!” And thought it was a long drive, I got to look at the mountains, the billboards in Japanese, then the city and all the places with dual languages on their neon signs. Despite being very groggy and barely able to move I was in awe at everything. I’m really in Japan! So this is what the other side of the world is like!

There’s not much exciting to say about the hotel. All I did was check-in, shower, sleep. It’s a pretty fancy place, and apparently a Japanese king-sized room is about the size of an American single room. Oh, and there is beer in the vending machines. Haha, Japan.

I plan to go out and explore soon. That and go on an epic quest to find breakfast. I haven’t eaten anything substantial since somewhere on the Pacific ocean.

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Ellen: Only in India

September 25, 2010

This next series of blog entries comes to you in unchronilogical order. Its been a rather crazy 2 weeks and I anticipate that it will only get crazier.

Firstly, I am disclaiming my grammar and spelling for all of my blog entries past, present and future—because I get on the internet so rarely I am always rushing to check a million things plus trying to put together a coherent blog entry. Plus, the internet cafe has a slow connection and doesn’t always automatically spell check for me. And sometimes I don’t want to spend extra time (meaning rupees) on re-reading and for that I am sorry. Pleeze furgiv mme.

Just now, after telling Kamlish “Mai Raja Park me ja rahi hu” and him responding with “Jao” I made my way to ye olde internet cafe: down the little lane, jog to the smelly street and onwards to Raja Park. I am not as startled by the stares and comments every 2 feet anymore: I ignore it, make my angry face and walk with purpose. Rickshaw drivers always slow down to see if you need a ride, and you just wave them past and say “nahi” Well. 5 minutes ago on the smelly street I noticed a driver slowing down behind me and prepared to wave him past, when I turned it was a man in a car slowing down and stopped next to me and asked if I needed a ride. I said no and waved him away. [my mama raised me right] He kept speed with my walking and said I looked very beautiful today. Then he drove away. I should be freaked out by this—but I couldn’t stop laughing all the way to the internet cafe. I wasn’t scared or creeped out. I want to be flattered, but I can’t be because he probably does that to any white woman he sees. Its noon on a beautiful Saturday, I have short blonde hair and am wearing my favorite blue kurta. I was a tad conspicuous. If that happened in the US I would run away, but this is India and it happens.

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