Monday, October 22, 2007


I think if reincarnation exists, in my prior lives I was probably some of the following

  • An animal that gets eaten for meals by humans
  • A poor person or a sick person
  • A bird
  • A humanitarian
  • A tree

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Health Insurance

In the past month, the never-ending debate regarding providing National Health Insurance to American citizens by the government has been floating in and out of my thoughts. This subject hit home to me when I was back in America visiting and realized that if anything happened to me, I had no health insurance. That's a scary thought when I spent some of my trip in the mountains hiking, engaging in risky behavior. I realized I feel a bit trapped by the fact I don't have health insurance. Because of this - it seems whatever I want to do with my future has to provide me some sort of health benefits. When I want to do some non-profit work or volunteer work, it seems like that's not even feasible. I envy the UK, Canada, Australia, Japan, etc that have National Health Insurance for their citizens. Like really, they can go galavant around wherever they please without having to wonder, "what if something happens to me, I need to take out travel insurance,etc" I've talked to some friends of mine whom are floating around from temp job to temp job. I've heard horror stories of people breaking their arms and owing thousands and thousands of dollars to the hospital because they have no insurance. I've talked to others who are pretty sure they needed to be on crutches but didn't bother going to the hospital because they have no insurance. How crazy is it that we live in a first world country and my friends can't even get the proper medical help they need? It certainly doesn't help when our president is spending as much as he pleases on a stupid war but vetoes health care for children on the grounds that it "costs too much". Maybe before killing our citizens off in a war that was started on false grounds, we should take measures to help lives in our own country first.

I rant this much because I have had bronchitis. I've gone to the doctor three times. Guess how much it costs me to go to the doctor in Japan? One doctor visit cost me the equivalent of $3.16 US Dollars. Let me spell that out for you. Three dollars and sixteen cents!!!!!!! And my prescription? $4.62 for THREE prescriptions! Imagine that health care. That's why I'm ranting because it just blew my mind how cheap health care is here and how amazing it is that everyone has it. Even me, a temporary citizen.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Odyssey Years

So - here I live in Japan. I'm often reminded by friends and family back at home how lucky I am to have this opportunity. I don't dispute that fact ever because I know I am priveledged in not only this opportunity but the many things I take for granted just being a middle-class white person. However, no matter how good things seem to be, no matter how much I remind myself that I am lucky, no matter all these factors - there are times that I feel so lost and so confused. There are times that I feel completely lost in life. Moreover, the things that I feel at a loss for - I often feel I have nowhere to turn to find the answers. A self help book? My parents? the Internet? Who? I know all these sources could provide some answers, but still - not be able to relate very well. I've engaged in several conversations with my peers - not only in Japan, but back in America, others living lives in other countries temporarily, mainly those in their mid to late twenties. As humans, we tend to socialize with those who have similiar interests, hobbies, etc. Thus, most the people I am talking about this to, also think similarly to me and haven't started their permanent career, etc. Someone once mentioned to me that there used to be only be 4 steps in life but now there are more because life expectancy is longer and there are more opportunities. These additional stages are new to society, so there's not much to say about them yet. Today, another English teacher in the area showed me this article...I think it's neat because it kind of describes who I am, and this sometimes overly confusing period in my life for me. So, without further ado, here it's from the New York Times...

The Odyssey Years

There used to be four common life phases: childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. Now, there are at least six: childhood, adolescence, odyssey, adulthood, active retirement and old age. Of the new ones, the least understood is odyssey, the decade of wandering that frequently occurs between adolescence and adulthood.

During this decade, 20-somethings go to school and take breaks from school. They live with friends and they live at home. They fall in and out of love. They try one career and then try another.

Their parents grow increasingly anxious. These parents understand that there’s bound to be a transition phase between student life and adult life. But when they look at their own grown children, they see the transition stretching five years, seven and beyond. The parents don’t even detect a clear sense of direction in their children’s lives. They look at them and see the things that are being delayed.

They see that people in this age bracket are delaying marriage. They’re delaying having children. They’re delaying permanent employment. People who were born before 1964 tend to define adulthood by certain accomplishments — moving away from home, becoming financially independent, getting married and starting a family.

In 1960, roughly 70 percent of 30-year-olds had achieved these things. By 2000, fewer than 40 percent of 30-year-olds had done the same.

Yet with a little imagination it’s possible even for baby boomers to understand what it’s like to be in the middle of the odyssey years. It’s possible to see that this period of improvisation is a sensible response to modern conditions.

Two of the country’s best social scientists have been trying to understand this new life phase. William Galston of the Brookings Institution has recently completed a research project for the Hewlett Foundation. Robert Wuthnow of Princeton has just published a tremendously valuable book, “After the Baby Boomers” that looks at young adulthood through the prism of religious practice.

Through their work, you can see the spirit of fluidity that now characterizes this stage. Young people grow up in tightly structured childhoods, Wuthnow observes, but then graduate into a world characterized by uncertainty, diversity, searching and tinkering. Old success recipes don’t apply, new norms have not been established and everything seems to give way to a less permanent version of itself.

Dating gives way to Facebook and hooking up. Marriage gives way to cohabitation. Church attendance gives way to spiritual longing. Newspaper reading gives way to blogging. (In 1970, 49 percent of adults in their 20s read a daily paper; now it’s at 21 percent.)

The job market is fluid. Graduating seniors don’t find corporations offering them jobs that will guide them all the way to retirement. Instead they find a vast menu of information economy options, few of which they have heard of or prepared for.

Social life is fluid. There’s been a shift in the balance of power between the genders. Thirty-six percent of female workers in their 20s now have a college degree, compared with 23 percent of male workers. Male wages have stagnated over the past decades, while female wages have risen.

This has fundamentally scrambled the courtship rituals and decreased the pressure to get married. Educated women can get many of the things they want (income, status, identity) without marriage, while they find it harder (or, if they’re working-class, next to impossible) to find a suitably accomplished mate.

The odyssey years are not about slacking off. There are intense competitive pressures as a result of the vast numbers of people chasing relatively few opportunities. Moreover, surveys show that people living through these years have highly traditional aspirations (they rate parenthood more highly than their own parents did) even as they lead improvising lives.

Rather, what we’re seeing is the creation of a new life phase, just as adolescence came into being a century ago. It’s a phase in which some social institutions flourish — knitting circles, Teach for America — while others — churches, political parties — have trouble establishing ties.

But there is every reason to think this phase will grow more pronounced in the coming years. European nations are traveling this route ahead of us, Galston notes. Europeans delay marriage even longer than we do and spend even more years shifting between the job market and higher education.

And as the new generational structure solidifies, social and economic entrepreneurs will create new rites and institutions. Someday people will look back and wonder at the vast social changes wrought by the emerging social group that saw their situations first captured by “Friends” and later by “Knocked Up.”


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sara's Crib, Season 2

Alright, here they finally are - videos of my living space

Watch this video first

Watch this video second

Watch this video third

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Kiwi Club!

Last year, I taught English to a group of adults in the community who were interested in learning or practicing their English. That group was amazing, helping me meet people in the community and doing my part. Unfortunately, as a result of the move, I had to stop going to that class because I need a car to get there. But, on a very positive note, I now belong to a new class called The Kiwi Club. This class also consists of adults in my community who want to study English. Last year, I was teaching once a week, but this year I only teach about once a month. However, I am starting up an advanced class for them, allowing me to teach them about 2-3 times a month. I'm excited for it - I really enjoy doing volunteer work and working with adults. This below picture is the majority of the class at our welcome party!
Like last year, the Kiwi Club organizes events to show us around Japan and help us get to know all the members. The first fun thing we did was a hike to a mountain called Haguro san. We went to the neighboring prefecture called Yamagata ken. In Yamagata Ken - there are three sacred peaks that are called Dewa Sanzan. Earlier in the year, I had hiked one of them called gas-san. Afterwards, we actually visited the base of Haguro, which is another one of the sacred peaks to visit the famous pagoda, but didn't do the hike up to the peak. The peak is only a mere 1,358 feet but clincher is - it's all stairs, not so much a hiking trail. You need to climb 2, 446 steps to reach the top.
Along the way, you can get beautiful views like this. I don't know if you can tell, but in the distance of this photo is the Japan Sea! There isn't any type of view from the actual top, just some shrines. We got to see people praying and chanting in the shrine when we reached the top. We also got to view two museums while here. There is one at the base of the mountain and one at the top as well! It displayed items from hundreds of years ago. You can view all the photos from this trip in this photo album, here.
More recently, we've held a moon-viewing party in a local shrine that is basically behind my house. According to my lovely student, Saito Sensei (Hi Saito Sensei!!!) - this is the reason behind a moon-viewing party. He told me that we have a moon-viewing party because long ago, Japanese people's ancestors wanted to thank God for their autumn harvest. So, they used to have a party in autumn to thank God. He said, recently Japanese people don't really thank God for their autumn harvest anymore, but it is still custom to have a moon-viewing party! We were able to enjoy lots of delicious food and spend time with eachother. Below is a silly photo of Ruth, my student, Kyoko and myself. We bought these masks and made a debut with them here!

They also had two people dress up as a dragon(in the below pictures) and dance around. Additionally, there was taiko drumming and flute playing. It was a really fun evening.

So, this is my new adult English conversation class! I think it's going to be a lot of fun with them this year!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Welcome to my the city

Ishinomaki City. Yes, the actual city this year. That what I call home now. As mentioned, I live in a tall white apartment block. In fact, it's the tallest around in comparison to all my neighboring buildings. I have a back balcony in which I seem to spend no time. My front doors opens out to a hallway. However, it's not really a hallway because it's just open air out there. I live on the second floor.

From my back balcony, I only get views of rusty, old homes(see photo to the left). From the front open area I can see the Kitakami River. This is the longest river in Tohoku, or Northern Japan. It is also said to be the cleanest river. And, it flows right in front of my apartment practically).

I have a pink bike. This bike has a handy basket. My bike is 3rd hand used. I bought it for about $40 USD. The breaks squeak uncontrollably and it sounds like the chain will fall off at any moment. However, the bike shop I had look at it told me it's fine, just noisy. I should survive the next year on it.

Across from the area that I park my bike is a soy sauce or miso soup factory, I forget which(see below picture). So, sometimes my apartment smells of that. When it's not smelling of that, it's gagging me of the smell of fish. And, I mean fish! Somedays, it's so gross, you can't leave the glass door open with out feeling nauseous. This nasty fish smell is a result of the fish factory in town. I think it smells a lot more like catfood than fish though.

As mentioned, I live with 4 other English teachers in the same apartment block. There are two guys whom I see occasionally. The first is Brock, who has been here for a year already. The second guy is Azrael who hails from Singapore. The other two girls and I have become good friends in our short two months of being neighbors. Allow me to introduce you with the below picture.

Ruth, the stunning young lady in red is my direct neighbor. She lives right next door to my apartment. She's from Scotland, her town is where the writer of Peter Pan grew up or something like that. Before Japan, she was finishing up her law degree. She lived here four years ago doing a gap year. I'm learning all sorts of British/Scottish slang from her. We like to fool around a lot. Like me, she has an older sister and a younger sister. Not only are we both the middle child of an all female family, but our birthdays are only a week apart.

In the middle in black, is Jane. She lives 3 doors down from me. Jane comes from Chicago and spent time doing business before coming here. I like to think Jane keeps Ruth and I grounded sometimes. I love both my neighbors. This year in Ishinomaki, we have a bunch of women. It's lovely. I'm sure with time, everyone will slowly be introduced to you through stories.

Last year, I taught at nine schools, this year it's eight. I've adjusted to being spread thin between my schools. So, it doesn't bother me anymore. The breakdown is nearly the same. I teach at two Junior High Schools, five Elementary Schools and one kindergarden.

So, welcome to my life in Ishinomaki City! Still so much more to write, but one day at a time!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A new life in a new city

As most of you are aware, I moved way back when- two months ago. I've been incredibly lazy and busy at the same time to ever find time to really blog about it. In retrospect, making the decision to move was the best idea and the best thing for me. I don't think I could have survived a second year in my rural town.

I now live in an apartment building where 4 other teachers live as well. I have daily social interaction in English again. I have an escape when I have bad days at work. I have people to eat dinner with, people to watch movies and TV with, people to laugh with daily. It's amazing and I love it.

It's still too soon to determine if the school switch will be better or not. So far, it seems my students are way better than my bad school last year. Granted, there is still the isolation at work that I don't feel like hurdling over this year. I have accepted the me as the foreigner and "them" as the Japanese teachers ideology that is seen working here. Certainly, if I put forth the effort, I could create small relationships, but to be honest, I don't have the energy or will power to do that this year. I'm content with doing my work and spending my free time reading or writing. I still am enjoying every minute of elementary schools.

I've given up a big house for a one room apartment with an attached kitchen, toilet and shower room. The picture below displays the building I live in. It's the big white one you can see in the distance. I'll show close ups later! I've given up a car for a bicycle. However, these two "pleasures" being removed from my life has made things easier for me. I'm happier without them.

I don't regret or wish my first year living situation could have been different. I've accepted it as one year of my life that I constantly stood up after being knocked down incessantly. I've come to grips with the fact that I am a social person. I tried to live the non-social life and I was unhappy. That's okay - that's me, this is who I am - I am person who loves to be around other people. If I hadn't lived in Monou for a year, my Japanese would never be where it is now. I wouldn't have challenged myself in the hardest way possible until my 23rd year of life. I think I am capable of trying to find happiness in any situation. As someone who has left said to me recently, "not only did I experience my all-time most depressive lows, I also experience my all time - euphoric highs." I think she put it best when she said that when speaking of living in the middle of nowhere Japan. I'm proud of my one year. It was tough, but I did it. I recognized I needed change in my life and I took a risk and went for it. It's working out for the best so far.

Pretty soon I'll blog more about what I have actually been doing since living in my new city. I haven't been traveling every weekend like I was last year, but I have still been remaining involved in the community and those around me. I'm pretty sure this will be my last year in Japan, as there is someone back home I want to be back with and the feeling is mutual between us. So, I'm going to live out my remaining 10 months with as much positive energy as my body can breathe. Then, hopefully get a job back in Plattsburgh for a year as an International Student Service Intern. A stepping stone to becoming a study abroad coordinator or something along those lines.