Tuesday, April 24, 2007


On Thursday I begin my 10 day travels to Cambodia & a quick wink of Thailand! I’ll be visiting the capital city of Phnom Penh, moving onto Siem Reap as home base to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site Angkor Wat that is compared to the wonder of Machu Picchu.

For those interested, I will provide some general information about Cambodia here as I will most likely blog about my adventures either during my trip or after I return. Furthermore, there is a stigma about Cambodia being incredibly unsafe as a result of the 1970’s TV images and the land mine threat. I will also write about how the areas I will be in are rather safe as opposed to the ‘you’re going to die’ conversations I’ve held with people.

First of all, it’s location. The whole country is slightly smaller than Oklahoma. Please see the map. Located between Vietnam, Laos, Thailand & the Gulf of Thailand, the weather for this time of the year is REALLY hot. I checked the 10 day forecast and it looks like we will be seeing the country with varying high temperatures between 86-92 F with 50-60% chance of rain everyday. The low temperature does not drop down under 79 F at all. We will be just entering into the rainy, monsoon season, so hopefully we don’t see much of it.

Some facts:

  • The population is 13,995,904 people.

  • The official language is Khmer with few speaking French from when French colonized there and a bit of English.

  • The Romanization of the Native way to say Cambodia is Preahreacheanachakr Kampuchea

  • I will be 12 hours ahead of USA’s East Coast

  • Both men and women can vote at the age of 18 under a democratic constitution

  • Cambodia is divided into twenty provinces

  • Thearavada Buddhism is practiced by 95% of the population

The economy is steadily rising – in 2006 it grew 13% mainly by their textile and tourist industry. As a result of Cambodia’s history in the 1970’s – more than 50% of their population is younger than 21 years old. Much of the country lacks basic education skills, most notably in the countryside as a result of no infrastructure.

(all this information derived from the CIA World Fact book)

As far as safety goes, I will be tramping around in cities and high tourist spots. Therefore, the two major concerns that I’ve heard are landmines and abductions – for me, these won’t be an issue. While landmine threats are existent, the areas that I am visiting are absolutely mine free. No tourist has stepped on a land mine in four years. Additionally, the number of locals in the countryside that are stepping on landmines have decreased substantially. In 1996, there were 3000 incidents with an improvement of 1000 in 1999. The Khmer Rouge ended back in 1998 and no one has been abducted since then. Again, I will be in major touristy areas, not in the countrysideso I have nothing to worry about. I will take the same precautions here that I would back at home.

Information derived from here.

I am really excited to get there; I need a break from my routine life here in Japan. I’ve really been ignoring my blog lately, mainly because I don’t have anything to write about. I will be keeping a journal while on my trip and will hopefully find time to write up on my blog when I get back. I will have a brief one day visit in Thailand on my way back to Japan – we will cross the border by land, which should be an interesting experience in itself.

Some of the spots I will be visiting include: Wat Phnom, the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda, Sisowath Quay, Toul Sleng Museum and the killing fields, Phsar Thmei boutiques, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Phnom Bakheng, Angkor Thom, Banteay Srei, Kbal Spean, Beng Mealea, Ta Prohm, Preah Khan and Srah Srang.

I’ll let you know how they are when I get back!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Positive beginnings

Finally, my hellish 3 weeks of sitting around doing nothing has come to an end. I was very lazy and didn't do much besides read 3.5 novels, study very little Japanese, read the news and stalk people on the internet.

Now, the school year has really started coming around. I finally taught today and as bored as I have been, I wasn't looking forward to classes with my bad kids. My teacher changed and I have never worked with her and didn't know what to expect. Furthermore, rumor is around these parts that the older, meaner, and manlier of a teacher in the classroom with you, the more likely the students will behave. This teacher is also young and weighs in at 120 lbs when wet.

She is awesome. We taught two classes together. I have never seen these kids behave so well. She is stern and really gets them to listen. The warming up game we did today is one I have done in the past and it never worked well because the kids are never listening or anything. She also really allows me to run the classroom really well, including my ideas, it was so great. Even better, after class she apologized to me for their bad behavior. The best behavior I have seen them be on and she thinks it's still bad - meaning she will only whip them into even better shape. I am soooooo psyched. She even controlled this one kid that has some serious issues and has been the bain of my existence in his classrooms. He was taunting her quite badly and she had him under control in a way I've never seen him behave.

I think today was the first day these kids have seen me smile in probably 2 months. Today, we were teaching lessons that included numbers. Well, Japanese Junior High School students aren't any different than American Junior High School students. Once they learned the English word for sex - their maturity level dropped. They kept asking me how to pronounce the number words (like how we pronounce 1886 like eighteen-eighty-six, not one thousand 8 hundred and eighty -six). Well, everytime i said eighteen -eighty-SIX - a group of about 5 boys would start laughing hysterically because SIX is just oh, so close to, *gasp!* SEX!!!!!!!!! Then, they'd all go OH Thank you! Thank you! oshiete kudasai - pointing at the the number 46. Meaning please tell me this one, too. I say, forty- SIX - and the collective gasp and giggles of the possibility I might slip up my I and make it an E. ohhh, kids.

At my other school, I have a new teacher working with me, too. He's 23 and awesome. I'm so excited to have a friend at school. He came out with us this weekend. Additionally, the one teacher that wasn't my favorite to work with has really become one of my favorite teachers. We've finally gotten past our awkwardness of having to work together and now are really effective partners in the classroom. We integrate our lessons to include one another and finally, it's going good with him, too.

So, I hope I am not counting my chickens before they hatch - and that these positive beginnings remain this way all throughout the coming year. I see a lot of potential for growth as a teacher now. Alot of my co-workers are inquiring on my ideas and letting me implement stuff - giving me a lot of leeway. It's like I've finally graduated from that student-teacher status and they trust my opinion. please oh please let this turn into the job that I had hoped it would be when I first got here.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Brief Visit

Anticipation. Excitement. Finally, my first visitor to this small part of the world that I call home. It was almost last minute that Corey could guarantee his visit to me; but I was looking forward to it from the instant he said there was a small possibility he could make it. We met in Sendai at the Starbuck's – a location that is safe for two foreigner's to recognize, even if one has never been to this area before. I left straight from work and made it there about 40 minutes before our meeting time. I ordered my favorite Starbuck's drink, a Caramel Machiatto and killed the time by reviewing some vocabulary. Finally, he came walking through the doors, we hugged and I handed him a Welcome to Northern Japan can of beer as we made our way out of the place.

Got the locker situation figured out, stored our bags and guided our way to the “drinking part of Sendai”, known as Kokubuncho. We walked around for quite a while until Corey spotted a place where we could order beers for basically $1.00. We had dinner here and drank here for the majority of the night, only leaving once to try to find a new, cheap place. This $1.00 a beer place was basically like striking gold since all the other places were charging about $8.00 a beer. We had a few beers at another place before returning to the cheap drinking spot. We closed the place down, leaving at 5am. At this point, it's like well, what a waste of money to pay for a hotel, why not catch the first train out at 5:30 and hope that Katie will allow us to crash on her floor (thanks, Katie!). Cracking open the Welcome to Japan beer, we finished it off on the train while all those around us were preparing to go to work. My only thoughts were – sucks to be you!

We made it to Katie's after a brief jaunt around a baseball diamond and a walk around her city. Corey didn't want to knock before 7am. Thank goodness she didn't care – and on the floor we crashed until afternoon. We woke up, and the two of us along with Akira went to Matsushima Bay. I had heard from many people that the boat tours are really great – and since I've never done one, that is what I had planned for us to do. It would have been a lot better if they didn't charge an extra $6.00 to actually go and see from the viewing deck!

We watched from inside the boat as dozens of pine covered islands passed before us. Our afternoon consisted of doing the Matsushima tour of displaying the National Treasure temple named Zuigan-ji, checking out the museum, and Godai-do temple. Afterwards, we took Corey to a Japanese video arcade so we could play Taiko. Akira rocks at this and it's a lot of fun to play. We had dinner with Meg and a follow up experience of onsen for Corey.

The next day, even though school isn't in session right now – I still had to go to school. We first went to the school that I travel to 2x a week. On that day, they held a goodbye ceremony for the teachers. Everyone at school gathered in the gym, whereby the principal announced to the whole school all the teachers who are leaving and where they are going. Following the assembly, everyone gathers outside to “see the teacher's off”. The leaving teacher's walk through the crowd as everyone is clapping and cheering for them. Once the assembly was completed, we came back to my base school. Most of the teacher's weren't around so we walked around the school and I made my student's ask him questions in English. It was really good! They were learning English and they didn't even know it! =)

I introduced him to all the teacher's since my strongest relationships with teacher's were at this school. They let us leave early -so I took him up to the park I found a few months ago – Asahiyama park. It gives the best views of my area and really portrays the abundance of the rural setting of my area. There's a few temples to be seen and just a really peaceful, quiet area. I had wanted to show him a boat in my area but it took a lot longer than I had expected to get there and we had to turn around just as we got there to make it on time to Yumie's for dinner. Yumie & family fed us full of food and then it was straight to my Adult Conversation Class for another welcome party for Corey. We came home and had a “beer taste test”. We did this in Korea as well, and for both nights that Corey was at my house. It's a really good way to taste all the local beer in a quick manner. So, Corey will close his eyes and I will serve him 4 beers – in the end, we rate which beers we think taste the best.

these were Corey's top 4

It was unfortunate I had to work two of the days he was here – but I feel that he got a really good “Japanese” experience just by going around with what my life is like here on a daily basis. On Friday when I was at work, one of my adult students picked him up and they talked for 5 hours while I was working. We had one last dinner at a place that was just really happy to have two foreigner's in there. We said our goodbye's at the train station and he made his way to continue the rest of his trip. It was so refreshing to have someone here to talk to everyday, eat with, laugh with and be able to communicate with. Thanks for coming, Corey =)

click on Corey & I to see all the pictures (courtesy of Corey's camera)

Sunday, April 01, 2007

the 10,000th customer!

I went into my local convenient store, only to be met by balloons and screaming - it turns out I am the 10,000th customer and won a free trip anywhere in Japan! My name will be in the newspaper and on TV. Talk about good luck! I am thinking Okinawa...


Ichinoseki City & Hiraizumi

Embracing Spring. The nights and mornings are still cool but I know I have the day to look forward to where the sun is beginning to warm up this part of earth in a way that is very exciting for me. On Saturday, we embraced spring by heading up to the prefecture that is just North of us, named Iwate. The sun was shining and the 5 of us all crammed into Brian's small box car - in a way that reminds me of Florida with my family and cramming as many people as we can into our rental car. As Akira as driver, we set out Northbound to our first location, a city named Ichinoseki.

I had been to Ichinoseki back in October, however, this time we would do something completely different - a boat tour down the Geibi Gorge. The scenery itself was a far stretch from anything that amazing, but it was the boat ride that made this so memorable. They had pictures displaying the scenery in the fall and in winter that looked more beautiful, but with it being the very start of spring, nothing but dead trees left only barren earth to be seen.

According to the pamphlet,

Geibi Gorge, where fantastically-shaped rock formations tower high above, and the lush greenery celebrates the glory of the seasons. Numbered one of the most picturesque spots in Japan, this beautiful gorge was carved from strata of limestone by the Satestu River. The gorge displays the beauty of the changing seasons not only in the verdand green of spring and the brilliant colors of the autumn leaves, but also in the flowers of the wisteria, the golden-rayed lily and the Geibi sweet flas, as well as many varieties of fish and birds that congregate here:sweetfish, fresh-water crab, dace, wagtail and water ousel.

The boat ride was really cool in that we were in these little boats that had a plastic covering. To me, it appeared that the boat was carrying a greenhouse full of curious tourists. The way the boat moves through the gorge is via a person who has a really long bamboo stick with a spear on the end of it. So, imagine a primitive fishing spear. Now imagine that spear time likes 5 more feet added in length. That is exactly what was used by a person to push us down the gorge. For most of the ride, you could see the bottom of this river, that is how shallow the water was. While one person was doing most of the word, pushing us along, another person is in the boat giving information about what we can see on to the left of us or to the right of us.

During this time, I just enjoyed the fact that I could be outside, with no jacket enjoying spring and nature again. We passed through the gorge seeing sites that were named some of the following, the mirror rock, wisteria rock, cloud-kissing rock, bishamon cave, rain shelter rock, ancient peach gorge, cloud spewing peak, mighty man rock, etc. The list goes on and on.

We were able to land for about twenty minutes onto a little piece of earth that the pamphlet refers to as Victory Hill. This area was created from sand deposits by the river's current. It was here that the tour guide pointed out that this area we can see the tallest gorge wall, named the Great Rock of Geibi and rock formations that look like human noses and lion noses. Underneath this lion nose is a hole in the gorge wall. I don't know if it is legendary or if it is a marketing scam, but they claim if you can throw a rock into that hole, good fortune can be brought to you. They sell for about $1 USD a bag of "good luck" rocks to throw. On top of this stone thing that we bought were the Japanese/Chinese kanji for things like happiness, love, money, etc. I was graciously given the love rock to throw since I so desperately want to find my soulmate. We did a few practice shots before we made our shots, but unforunately none of us got our rock into the hole that would bring our wishes to us.

below:people trying to get their rocks into the hole
Following the little rock throwing excursion we made our way back down the gorge. At the end, the tour guide woman serenaded us with two Japanese folks songs until we reached back to the dock.

According to the pamplet,

"The song of Geibi"

As I pole my boat
on the clear waters of the Satetsu River,
the clouds that dull my heavy heart
are dispelled by the Lion's Snout
Come see for yourself in Old Iwate
This unveiled sight, unrivalled elsewhere
Take the Ofunato line
It's not too far from Ichinoseki

Following our boat ride, we grabbed some soba for lunch in Hiraizumi and then headed to our next location, Chusonji temple. Hiraizumi dates back to the 12th century when one of the most influential and powerful families in Japan founded the area. At the moment, this area is a candidate to become a World Heritage site.

During the 12th century, there was much fighting from social conflicts. A man who eventually became the first lord of the area witnessed the death of his father, his wife and his children. As a result of this, he wanted to build a buddhist center that would be dedicated to to peace. He built the temple area we visited as part of his dream. It took almost twenty years to finish the entire complex. According to a chronicle compiled during the 12th century, at it's peak years, this area had over 40 temples, pagodas, and 300 monastery cells. However, many of these buildings had been burned to the ground, leaving not as many for people in our lifetime to see.

The area was beautiful, with bamboo and cedars surrounding the area. We walked from temple to temple on a trail that had nature all around us. I think since it is March, there weren't many people there - which was nice because that often takes away from the splendor of an area like this. I was pretty quiet from this point on - lately, I find that I just have nothing to say anymore. I enjoy just taking in the earth around me and keeping to myself.

Whenever you go to temples, you often see pieces of paper tied around things. I never knew what they were. Finally, Akira explained it to me. For about $1 USD you can buy this little packet from the temple. Inside the packet is a gold charm (there are about 10 different varieties of the type of charm) along with two pieces of paper. The one piece of paper is kind of like a fortune teller. So, I bought 4 - and the 4 charms I got and their significance (just so you can get an idea) are as follows:

a turtle charm - means long life
a box charm - means you will have good family luck
a Japanese money piece charm - means you will make money
a seed charm- means you are good at making things

The types of fortune telling on these pieces of papers are as following:

  • don't fight at your job
  • be careful with your stress level
  • talk if you need help
  • don't be lazy about love
  • study to get what you want
  • you are a good worker
  • you have good luck
  • you are healthy
  • you have found good love
  • you are a busy person
  • you are open minded
  • don't let someone walk all over you
  • don't be too concerned with guests
Yes, so I bought 4 charms. Those pieces of paper, that tell you your fortune and stuff, is what is tied all around the temple areas. I never knew that. So, you tie your paper around, make a wish or hope and hopefully by tying it, those dreams will come true. I bought 4 because I made wishes for 4 people in my life whom I will eventually send the charm to. Akira helped translate for me and we hung the pieces of paper all over the holy area.
We walked around seeing the temples until it started growing dark and a small rainfall came upon us. It has turned back to the rainy season, I believe. It seems this past week, at some point during the day, we have received some sort of rain. As a result of the rain, we decided to call it a day and head back to my house.

At my house , we made curry and drank throughout the night. We put in a lame movie called Hide and Seek that I do not recommend wasting two hours of your life to watch it. Right in the beginning of the movie, we had an earthquake that was the biggest one I've felt since being here. It ranked as a 5 on the Richter scale. And that was my Saturday! I will write about Corey's visit to my place when I get some pictures to add in with my story.

Click on us to see all the pictures of Hiraizumi courtesy of Meghann's camera