Monday, March 31, 2008

update indeed

It's Spring Break here again...meaning a new school year again. This year instead of sitting at school all day, I sit at the Board of Education. It's a nice change because the other English teachers are there as well. Mainly, I spend my time writing, reading, studying Japanese and goofing off with the others. As the same as last year, all the staff are being switched up. I haven't created strong relationships with a lot of the teachers this year, so it's not as depressing as it was for me last year. I get to do this for one more week and then I have to start reporting back to school. I doubt I'll teach much until May anyways.

I believe we've entered the rainy season again as well. Last week it rained 3 or 4 times and it's raining again today. April Showers bring Cherry blossoms...I hope. I can't wait - the cherry blossom season is one of my favorite aspects of Japan. Everyone meets underneath the trees to enjoy a little food and a little beer. It's a time when Japanese people don't seem to mind the foreigner sitting across from them and might actually engage me in conversation.

I've started my job hunt. I am definitely going back to Plattsburgh to live with some old friends for at least a year - and am looking for something to give me employment. Unfortunately, the economy is the worst it's been in 30 years and that's not positive for a young inexperienced person seeking employment. Wish me luck!

I've fallen into a bit of a rut and am wishing time would go by a little bit faster. I know I should treasure my time here because it's only a few short months and then I'll probably never be back here again and I'm really going to miss my friends but I am really looking forward to going home again. Hmm. Here's to staying positive through all the rain!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs

Yesterday, on Saturday I performed in my very first play ever...a re-written version of Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs. The actors were all foreign English teachers from around my prefecture. I of course, played a dwarf.
The Dwarfs were as follows:
Kawaii dwarf -translates as Cute dwarf who was to be the equivalent of Happy Dwarf,played by me.
Salaryman dwarf - he was to be grumpy dwarf - a salaryman who works many, many hours and was looking for a wife. My character has a crush on him, but he doesn't know.
Neet dwarf - he was to be Dopey Dwarf. His character was a womanizer and considered very lazy.
Flu Dwarf - the same as Sneezy dwarf. In our version, he's a hypocondriac dwarf that's always sick.
Scary Dwarf - the same as Sleepy dwarf - this character pretty much stayed in a well all the time. (see picture below)Sensei Dwarf - the same as Doc dwarf. He was our leader pretty much.
Otaku Dwarf - the same as Bashful dwarf. He was in love with Snow White. An Otaku in Japan is pretty much a huge dork that only plays video games and never goes out.
(from left to right. Flu Dwarf, Neet Dwarf, Kawaii Dwarf (me) hugging Salaryman Dwarf, Sensei Dwarf, Snow White and Otaku Dwarf)

The beginning of the play was very similar to Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs - an evil queen asks the mirror who is the prettiest of them all? When he replies it's Snow White, the queen takes action to remove of her. She hires a hunter to go kill her. The hunter takes Snow White out to "go hunting" but can't bring himself to kill her because she gave him a wreath of flowers.
Instead of killing Snow White, he tells her to run away and never return to the castle again. While running through the woods, she comes upon our "dwarf home" where she comes to stay. The story then turns to introducing each of the dwarfs to the audience. My role in the play was to always be smiling and making it clear to the audience I really like the Salaryman Dwarf. At the same time, I also really admire Snow White and want to be her best friend forever. Neet, the womanizer that he is tries to hit on her, but she doesn't have any of it. Flu is constantly warning everyone of the diseases they could get and to be careful. Otaku secretly admires Snow White and can't speak when she's around. Sensei Dwarf keeps us all in line.
Salaryman proposed to Snow White and I get really upset. I go wailing off stage. While I am off stage, the other remaining dwarfs explain to Salaryman how I am in love with him. He didn't know. He then takes tips from all of them and eventually they bring me back on stage. He tells me he likes me and wants to get to know me better and what do I think? My lines at this point were to say, 'I love you! I love you! Honeymoon in Hawaii, Hawaii! Kawaiiiiiiiii!"
Then, we all dance off stage and it's intermission. The 2nd half of the play starts off with a "Cos Play Convention." We brought audience members up on stage for this part and they got to wear masks. The Cos Play Convention is attended only by Otaku Dwarf (of all the Dwarfs). The Queen at this time learns that Snow White is not dead and makes everyone leave the Cos Play Convention (being held at her castle).

She makes a poisonous apple in which Snow White eats and goes into her coma. We all say sorry to her because we think she is dead. Then, Otaku kisses her goodbye and she wakes up. The Queen comes back to try to kill her but Scary dwarf comes out of his well and brings her back into it with him. That ends the play.

I really enjoyed acting a lot. Like I mentioned, it was the first time for me to do anything like this and I wish I had done acting before. It was a ton of fun!

For all the pictures, click here

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Tokyo Disneyland!

Way way back in December, I went to Tokyo Disneyland. It was great to go at this time because the whole complex was decorated for Christmas. Everything was Christmas themed including the parades. Ruth, Sarah and I left from Sendai at midnight and took an overnight bus there. I don't sleep very well on buses and this time was no exception. The first place the bus stopped was in actual Tokyo. A lot of people got off and I was able to sprawl out in the back of the bus where 3 seats are next to eachother. Thus, I was able to get a few hours of sleep before heading out.

I was really excited to go to Disneyland because I had actually done a ton of case studies on it during college. We often compared how successful Tokyo Disneyland was in comparison with EuroDisney which was a complete flop.

The first ride of the day was Space Mountain at about 8:30am. There was already a 40 minute wait. It was really fun. I had forgotten how much I enjoy roller coasters!

The second ride we went onto was It's a small world...each country wearing the clothes and showing the cultures from fake dolls dancing to the song. Of course, they were all in Christmas attire! This wait was for an hour and a half.

From this point on, it got incredibly crowded and the waits were ridiculous. We figured out something called Fastrack but you could only hold one ticket at a time, unfortunately. The other rides were got on was Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted House, and another roller coaster ride (but I've forgotten the name of it) 2 or 3 times.

We witnessed a few parades and went to a 3D movie that was luckily also showed in English for us. We went and checked out the different Disney characters floating about the complex.

One thing that we had a good laugh at was the extent that Japanese people take when going to Disneyland. Grown adults were wearing these ridiculous hats of their favorite Disney characters. It was ridiculous when girls my age were wearing them but then it was just pathetic when their boyfriend was wearing a matching one. I can understand little kids getting into the Disney spirit and begging their parents to wear these hats but I had a good laugh at grown adults doing it as well.

All in all it was a great weekend trip and I am glad I got to go Disneyland in Tokyo. We took another overnight bus from Tokyo to Sendai and caught the 5:30am train back into Ishinomaki. On the train, we ran into this guy named Paul who is an English teacher in Ishinomaki but through a different program. He was really drunk, coming home from the bars at 5:30am dressed like Santa Clause. He was ho-ho-hoing everyone that came onto the train. The people you meet overseas...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Snow Shoeing

I went snowshoeing for the first time ever yesterday. My two favorite hiking buddies ever - Suzuki -san one of my adult students and Kimura-san, a 68 year old man who is in better shape than I am invited me to go. Ruth and Sarah also came as well. We went to Mt. Zao which is about a 3 hour drive for us.

From inside a house or a car, the weather seemed ideal. It was sunny and blue skies. In actuality though, it was so windy, one could barely move. In the below picture, take a look at the pants on Suzuki san and I - they are blowing huge!
Actual Snow-shoeing was harder than I expected. It really works your calf muscles and thigh muscles in ways that regular hiking doesn't. But, it does increase your productivity as the bottom of the shoe has a cleat that grabs the snow allowing you to have better traction. The below picture is of Ruth, Sarah and I hiking up the first major slope in our shoes.
Unfortunately for us, the weather only got worse the more altitude we gained. The wind was so strong that if we stopped moving, we were nearly blown backwards. A few times, Ruth saved me from falling backwards into her. It was pretty scary and intense to think about how strong Mother Nature actually is. After losing nearly all visibility, barely being able to move forward and receiving really bad wind burn on our faces, we decided to turn around. There was no point in going further because we couldn't see anything anyways.
We chose an area where snow was built up against a tree to sit and have lunch. The tree blocked most of the wind so we could enjoy lunch without everything blowing away.On our way back down, the weather cleared a lot. The below picture is of us girls and Kimura-san with the mountain in the background that was our possible goal destination given the weather was good.
I really enjoyed snow shoeing even though I was incredibly sore afterwards. I hope to do it again in the future! In Japan, there is a superstition that if the weather is bad when you want it good for something in particular then it means you have been being a bad girl or boy. So, I guess from now on, I need to become a better behaved girl! :)

Saturday, March 08, 2008


Ruth and I got back from hiking, quickly showered and ate and made our way to the bus stop. We had to take the bus from Chiang Rai back to Chiang Mai to catch an overnight bus down to Bangkok then catch a ferry and another train to reach our final destination of Kanchanaburi. It was a bit hectic and we almost didn't make it down. From the annoying 3 hour bus ride from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai that played a Thai game show at a volume level that I'm pretty sure even deaf people could hear to someone giving us incorrect information as to where to catch out bus, it wasn't mean to be. I hate buses. I don't mind short bus rides but given the choice of bus or train, I'm totally a train person. I really don't like overnight buses. I can never sleep on them. For some reason, I'm afraid the bus driver will fall asleep like his passengers and we'll all end up off the road.

When we arrived to our destination- it was only a short walk to find our guest house on the river. We had wanted a riverfront room, but of course they were sold out. We had to settle for a different room but we still had a nice porch overlooking the river - just with the part on the river blocking some of our view. No problem! Since we arrived really early, we had decided to check out a museum. The reason why we came to Kanchanaburi was to ride on the ever famous Death Railway. It's supposed to be one of the most beautiful and scenic railways in Thailand.

We went to the museum which was quite startling and a bit appalling regarding the history of the Death Railway. Prior to going to Thailand, I had done a bit of research on the death railway and learned that it received it's name because of the amount of people who died in order to make it. I was aware most of these people were POW's of Japan during WW2. What I didn't know and wasn't entirely prepared for was the way these POW's and other forced laborers from around Asia were treated. Japan was trying to strategically build a railway from Thailand into Burma during WW2 to assist in their war strategies to get supplies from one area of Asia to another. In the beginning, approximately 60,000 POW's of the Allies were shipped up from other parts of Southeast Asia to construct this railway. The work began in 1942 and was completed 1 year and 3 months later. It is estimated that 16,000 POW's and 100,000 Asian laborers died completing it in this time.

When looking at pictures of the laborers in the museum, the only thing you need to think of are pictures of Holocaust survivors. The ones where the human staring back at you only consists of skin, bones and nothing else. When you see those pictures, you think to yourself, how are they still alive? How is it possible? If someone were to give you a Holocaust survivor photo and a photo of a Death Railway worker, you could never tell the difference between the two. The men constructing this passageway were barely fed and not immunized for the diseases in the Southeast Asia area - such as malaria and cholera. Most died from these these inhumane situations. They were literally worked to death. 38 Allied POW's died for each kilometer of track laid on the railway.

To make it even more of a tragedy, it wasn't even in use for two full years. Once the Japanese surrendered in 1945, the British took over the railway and separated 4km of track to cut Burma and Thailand's easy passageway. It's stories like these that makes me wonder why in America we never learn of these tragedies of WW2. Certainly, we can all recall the events of the Holocaust in Europe, but why not these situations in Asia where the conditions were just as terrible if not worse?

We spent quite a few hours in there and then headed out for lunch. Our first day was just exploring what the town of Kanchanburi offered. It's famous for the war sights that are scattered about the long, narrow town. Pretty much the whole reason to go here is to see the war sights. In the middle of the town is the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. It is here that most of the men that died were buried. It's kept up beautifully. There are nearly 7,000 POW's that were laid to rest here. The majority of the men that died for this railway were under 25 years old. There is yet another cemetery for the remaining men in another area. If anyone has seen or heard of the movie, "Bridge on the River Kwai"- well, it's here, in this town - that the actual bridge of the actual river Kwai exists. The original bridge had been destroyed twice by Ally bombers in both 1944 and 1945. However, after the war, it was rebuilt and it's still in use today.

The next day, Ruth and I woke up reaaaaaaaallly early and caught the first train out to ride on the infamous Death Railway. In it's entirety - it's two hours one way from Kanchanaburi to the end of the line at Nam Tok. The railway was really beautiful - with certain spots of the river winding beautifully with the river, at other times, going through 30 meter deep solid rocking cuttings. Then there the sections with towering cliffs above you, - this part of the railway, everyone that worked on it, died from the impossible task of creating this part of the railway and surviving it. The landscaping was reminiscent of Japan for me. The rice paddies in your immediate view with mountains protecting them in the distance. Since we got the early train, we not only got to watch the sunrise but didn't have to deal with tons of people riding with us.

When we reached Nam Tok - the end of the line - we had quite a long layover until the next train would come. Nam Tok consists of pretty much nothing. There is this one waterfall called Sai Yok Noi that we spent way too much time at. It's pretty much the only thing to do in this area. We took a lot of photos and were asked to be the foreign celebrities in many others. Somewhere in Thailand, Ruth and I exist in someone's photo album as the foreigner they met that day. I never know to be flattered of creeped out at the thought of this fact.

We went to see where the end of the line actually is. There's an old train just sitting there as well. We climbed up a bunch of stairs to an overlook and walked about up there. There was a set of stairs that led us up to a cave that enshrined a few Buddha's.

After expiring all of our options we decided to try to find the River Kwai from where we were. We spent an hour to two walking around in the noon-sun finding nothing but stares from the locals. Finally, it was time for the train to come. But as it was Thailand, it arrived easily 45 minutes late. We rode the train back with herds of people all cramming on to see the sights. After riding on the train, we went to see the River Kwai bridge up close and not just by riding over it. We walked across the famous bridge and took a bunch of photos.

Our evening consisted of drinking beers and watching beautiful sunsets over the river on our front porch. It was technically our last night in Thailand - at least our last comfortable night with a bed. The next day we headed back into Bangkok and caught the bus to the airport where we spent the night. My flight left before Ruth's. Thus, we departed ways at about 5am and I made my way back to cold, dark Japan.

Thailand was great. Thanks Mom and Dad for a lovely Christmas present. :)

The Death Railway Photos

Kanchanaburi Photos

Monday, March 03, 2008

Hiking in Thailand's Jungle

New Year's Day. Ruth and I woke up really early to prepare for our hike. It was a two day, one night adventure. It was a small group, the two of us, our tour guide whom never once introduced himself to us and a French man that was rather interesting. The first half of the morning, we were given the typical run-around of a tour in Thailand. Finally, after lunch we embarked on our hike. The jungle that we hiked in was fantastic. I showered myself in the cancer causing chemical of deet to keep the mosquitoes off me. We had only been in the "high-concentration of mosquitoes" part for about 2 minutes when our tour guide killed one that was a malaria-mosquito. Thank goodness for the pills I was taking.

The jungle wasn't one that is tromped through a lot. Our guide, along with a knife sharp enough to behead someone cut his way through the overgrown bush. He even cut down an entire banana tree with this knife. He taught us survival techniques in the jungle - such as if you ever come become prey of snakes. His knowledge extended to the types of jungle food one can eat. He always gave it to us to try, but it was never anything I'd want to try again. The view was fantastic. It wasn't a terribly difficult hike but nice to be out nonetheless.

Our resting place for the night was in an Akha hill tribe village. We got there just around dinner time and turned the bamboo hut into home. The hut which was typical of what the hills tribe people sleep in was built up on stilts with hard futons, a few blankets and a mosquito net to sleep under. The porch had a gorgeous overlook of the hills in the distance. We all changed into fresher clothes and relaxed. The actual hill tribes people live about a 5 minute walk away from where we were staying. We were staying in their village technically but not imposing on them at all. Unless, they came to our part of the hill, they'd never know we were there. I preferred it that way.

There was one man that was in charge of assisting us. His hut was across the threshold from our hut. He served us tea, brought us snacks and ended up helping our guide by making us dinner and breakfast. The helper man was sweet, no words ever exchanged between us but his smile always so friendly. Later on, while the French man was in the hut talking on his cell phone (yes, his cell phone worked here!) - Ruth and I had a visitor. His name was Chang. Chang was this vibrant 11year old boy.

Our guide while walking had made this pop gun out of a bamboo twig. It soon becomes a spitball gun with the help of some paper. Luckily for me, I had brought a small notepad of paper to keep notes that was soon used for ammunition. Chang taught us. First, rip off a piece of paper and put it in your mouth. While inside your mouth, soak it with your spit and make it into a ball. Put the spit covered ball of paper in one side of the gun. In the other side, put in more bamboo and put it in and out quickly to get some energy going. Last - push the bamboo in and watch the spit ball go POP and fly.

We must have done this for a good 45 minutes. The spit balls getting increasingly larger and us starting to aim for targets such as the local pig or what not. Chang was great - always laughing and never getting tired of the spit ball gun. He was good company. Soon, night fell and we were served dinner. With the setting of the sun and the increase in altitude by being in the hills, it was incredibly cold. I had brought layers and layers but nothing could prepare me for the coldness of the night. Ruth, the tour guide and I played several rounds of rummy by candlelight before calling it a night at 9:30pm. There's not much to do at night in a bamboo hut without electricity.

I must have slept nearly 11 hours when the tour guide forced me awake to have breakfast with the others. We hiked back down that day with even more wild plants to eat, coming across a beautiful waterfall and him showing us more and more tricks

As we made our descent, I couldn't help but to be impressed with the agility the guide had in the jungle. He was always 5 steps ahead of us chopping stuff down, moving rocks in the stream for us to walk over, making sure the trail was clear. What took him a split second would take me a minute to even figure out what to do next. He knew this jungle like the back of his hand. It was at this point that I realized it's no wonder we couldn't win the Vietnam war. This man has been raised in the jungles, hunts in the jungles, he is practically one with the jungle. There's no way we could compete with this type of knowledge, no matter how much training our soldiers may have had. This guy was good. He's been doing it for 35 years, easily. He doesn't need to think twice, he sees, he reacts, he's ahead. Thanks to our skillful guide, we made our way back into Chiang Rai with enough time to shower and catch our scheduled afternoon bus back to Chiang Mai.

Click HERE for all the photos.