Friday, October 22, 2010

Moving on

Well, it's been 2 months now since I left Japan. I never did write up a formal "final entry" for this blog... so I guess I should now.

My last month in Japan was an emotional adventure involving friends from Sweden, farewell parties, finally climbing Fuji (YES!), and ultimately, leaving. I had thought at the time that I had a job lined up that would have me back in the Land of the Rising Sun before Halloween. But, like so many things in life, it didn't pan out.

Instead, I am back in Colorado, catching up on life in the USA and planning my next moves. Which may or may not involve living in Japan; but I am sure will always, in some way, involve the country and the culture I have come so much to adore.

Since life is no longer filled with exciting adventures and crazy experiences in Nihon, I have decided it's time to put an end to this blog. I hadn't been doing a very good job of updating anyway, so it really should come as no big surprise.

If there's anyone still out there, and still interested in what I'm up to, even if it doesn't involve eating fish full of eggs and fermented soybeans, I've started up a new blog, which you can find here. Keep your fingers crossed I can sustain the posts over there better than I did here, hahahaha

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Happy Anniversary Japan, part III

Today I have lived in Japan exactly 3 years. Last year and the year before I wrote a post and took a picture to commemorate... and so it seems I've started a new tradition.
July 29, 2007

July 29, 2008

July 29, 2009

July 29, 2010

For those of you still following this blog, but who are somehow unaware, this will be my final JET anniversary in Japan; as of today I am no longer an ALT! Though somehow, I find myself still signed up to help out with school-related things until my departure from Japan. Which is set for next month - August 22.

It's been a crazy, life-changing adventure, these 3 years in Japan. As evidenced by the gradual slowdown (and pretty much total-stoppage) of posts on this blog, I've grown quite accustomed to life here. Not sure exactly what I'm going to do next, but I can tell you it'll be much more along the lines of environmental work than teaching English; just not sure exactly where it's going to be... yet (~_^)

Now back to packing, cleaning, and more packing... only 4 days left till I have to be out of my apartment!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Portrait by a 6th grader

What do you think? Does it look like me? ;)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Uncaste India

The good people over at Longitude (the organization I went to India with) have just launched a new and improved website.

And guess whose blog post is featured on the Uncaste India page?


If you'd like to read the post, you can check it out here ^_^

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Weird flavor in Japan #10354892

Saw this at the conbini on my way home tonight and just had to give it a try

I can't quite place the taste; kind of a soda with some sort of sweet something-or-other in it. Like bubble gum or something...

Not bad, but not something I think I'd drink every day. At least it's zero calories ;)

Just another one of those quirky things I'm going to miss about Japan; you never know what kind of strange new food item you'll run into in the convenience store~~~

Sunday, May 30, 2010


Here it is, finally! The India post.

It's a huge, epic story. I've actually been telling most of it for a couple of weeks in various English classes, and I've decided to use the slides I made for class here. So I give you my volunteering in India presentation.

Keep in mind, the slides are intended for young ESL learners, ranging from elementary grade 5 to junior high grade 3 (9th grade in US), so they're written in simple English and Japanese ^_^ I'll also throw in some added comments, to flesh the story out.



My trip took me from Nagoya, Japan, through Hong Kong, and into Delhi, where I met up with the other volunteers.

How long do you think it takes to get from Nagoya, Japan to Cheveru Village in India?
Tragically, although I was able to make the switch between airplanes in Hong Kong, it appears my bag was not, as it failed to arrive with me in Delhi. So, there I was, alone in a place I'd never been to, at 3 in the morning, with no way of contacting anyone, filling out lost luggage paperwork and almost missing my connecting flight to Hyderabad. The bag arrived in Delhi the following day, but since I'd already moved on to the south of the country, I ended up fighting with the airline for a week to get it back.

A week! Think about that. No toothbrush. No pajamas. No underwear. For a week. Fortunately, I was able to purchase a toothbrush, some underpants, and a spare shirt. I borrowed another shirt and another pair of pants, and was able to swap out one outfit a day - alternating between the red shirt and the yellow shirt, the jeans and the borrowed pants, until my bag arrived. The day before we left >.<

So why put myself through all of this?
Notice that there are also Dalit in Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, and countries like Japan, Korea, and Somalia have groups similar in status to the Dalit.

But. India is kind of special. Why?
It's HUGE! 1 BILLION people. There's about 6 billion people in the whole world. And a sixth of them live in India. Dalits account for 16% of the population in India, which means there are actually MORE Dalit people in India than all of the people in Japan.


Interesting side note, did you know that there are 22 official languages in India? The primary languages are Hindi and English, and then each state is allowed to have it's own local language too. The official language of Andhra Pradesh (where we were) is Telugu. When Ravi, a Telugu speaker (and the leader of ARV and our "trip Dad") called Delhi, where they speak Hindi, to inquire about my bag, they spoke in English. I thought that was cool d(^_^)b

This was taken as we arrived on the first day in the village - when they greeted us with the most amazing flower leis (which were incredibly heavy) and paraded us down the main street out to the work site, with drums and dancing and beautiful, beautiful smiles ^^ Also, check out the girl in the red shirt, heh heh heh



Think about that - no indoor plumbing. Every time you need water, you have to carry it from a well to your house. Every. Time. And forget about flushing toilets, they don't exist there.

This is what their houses look like now

There are animals everywhere. Cows, goats, and chickens roam free, you would just see them wandering down the streets, even in the cities. I often wondered how people found their cows when they wanted them, and if they could recognize them on site, like a pet dog or a cat.
Of course, as cows are sacred in India, beef is strictly out of the question. If you go to a McDonalds (which we did, with much glee after we left the village), you won't find one hamburger on the menu. No Big Mac's. No Quater Pouder with Cheese's. They have chicken nuggets, chicken burgers, salad burgers, and french fries. And they always have little marks that will tell you if the food is vegetarian or not.

While we were volunteering, we ate all of our meals in the village, in their school house.
Although they teach grades 1-12, it's relatively rare for these children to actually complete all 12 grades. Most girls in India drop out after grade 5, and boys rarely make it past grade 8. The need to help support their families is just too great; according to UNICEF, India has the largest number of child laborers under the age of 14 in the world.
May is actually the height of summer in this part of India, and so all the kids were off on summer holiday. Quite a few of them came out to play with us every day, and their ability to communicate in English was pretty darn good. It made me kind of sad, in a way, as here are these kids with next to nothing, but they are eager to talk with us and can communicate fairly well. And then there are my students, who have virtually anything they could ever ask for, and I'm lucky if I can get them to to remember how to say Thursday...

We ate curry every day. We all got sick. I was number 5, of 15 (out of 18 total volunteers) to go down with "Delhi belly", as they say. I was out for 2 days, during which time I stayed in the hotel watching tv and trying to ride out the power outages and 'A/C off-time' as best as I could. Lucky for me, India has quite a lot of English language programming, and I did get to see a lot of the Magadheera music videos (see the post below for more about that).

This is actually a two-family home, one would be on the left side and one on the right. Each home has 2 rooms.
The only way up to the roofs we were working on was these crazy bamboo ladders.
^I climbed that.
Everybody helped out on the roof - paid laborers, volunteers, women in saris, kids in sandals...
Mostly our work resembled a kind of cement-tray relay, where we passed the cement up to the roof, dumped it out, the professionals would smooth it out, we tossed the empty trays to the ground, picked them up, and back over to the cement mixer to be loaded up again.

After my, uh, illness, I took it easy on the work and helped out plastering the inside of some of the homes where the roofs had been finished. Which basically meant sitting in a chair and occasionally getting up to hand cement to the pros :D
check out that scaffolding. safety first!
^yellow shirt day ;)

We worked from breakfast to lunch, and then not again until evening. We took the afternoons off. Why? ...

With temperatures like that, it was all we could do to survive the afternoons without melting. Especially when the power went out (as it did, several times a day) and the fans stopped working. Bleh.

On our last day in the village, we had a party to celebrate the end of the work camp. All the girls got saris, which were tailored for us, and the guys got traditional suits. The girls also got glass bangles (which I've been wearing ever since) and flowers for our hair ^o^

And then it was time to go T_T It went by so quickly! But it was such an amazing experience. It was so incredible to meet the villagers, who, although they have so little and must live such difficult lives, they genuinely seemed so happy. It really taught me a lot, especially while I myself had nothing, my temporary impoverishment (having only the barest essentials and having to live off the charity of others to get through the days); I really found that all of those things I brought with me I didn't need. Except the diarrhea medicine. That would have been nice to have.

The night of the party we all headed back to the hotel, showered, then headed off on an overnight bus back to Hyderabad for a morning flight to Delhi. From which we took another bus up to Agra and out to...

Our single day of sightseeing!

Seeing the Taj was great, and also it was a good experience to see kind of the "other-side" of India - the one in which we were seen not so much as heroic volunteers, helping the people, but more as marks for the street vendors and pickpockets... which luckily nobody fell victim to, this time.

All in all, an amazing trip. Absolutely left me wanting more. This is a country that definitely hasn't seen the last of me!

And if, after reading all of that, you find yourself wanting to help out these amazing people, I encourage you to make a donation via the Longitude website, which you can find by clicking HERE.

While we were working, a man came from another village nearby asking Ravi to help him build 100 homes. They had received grants from the government, but the money isn't enough to complete the homes; and in a tragic catch-22, once they've been granted the money they have to use it within a certain time-frame or the government will take it back. So they're desperate to get the houses built before even the little money they've received is lost. Unfortunately, as ARV is struggling to raise enough money just for the homes in Cheveru village, Ravi had to turn the poor man down. It was heartbreaking to see. There has to be a better way to help these people than relying on the donations the work camp volunteers can beg from their friends and families. I just haven't figured out what it is yet...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I'm planning a post about the volunteer work in India, but I have so many photos to sort through and stories to get straight that it's going to take me a little while.

In the meantime, I've got this little gem for you.

Getting to the village I volunteered in is no easy task; getting yourself to India is only the first part. It took me 12 hours to travel from Nagoya to Delhi - it took another 11 to get to our hotel in Gudivada (2 flying from Delhi to Hyderabad, 9 driving from Hyderabad to Gudivada). It's another half hour or so from there to Cheveru village.

So during this 9 hour bus ride, our "trip Dad", Ravi, asked if we'd like to watch a movie. The films they had were all in Telugu (the language in Andrha Pradesh state), but with 9 hours to kill and nowhere to go, we all said "sure. why not?"

I figured I'd half pay attention and sleep most of the way, seeing as I'd had about 2 hours of sleep in the preceding 30 or so. And then. THE FILM WAS AWESOME.

It's a musical, of course, as most Indian films are. And we couldn't understand a word of it, but, it was just so, entertaining. It probably didn't hurt that it was a love story, too ♥

The film is called Magadheera. It's the story of two lovers; one a warrior and the other a princess, who die in an epic and tragic love triangle/ battle set in the year 1609. Their love for each other is apparently so strong, that 400 years later they are reborn... but the question is, will they re-connect?

From wikipedia:
The story begins in 1609. Kalabhairava (Ram Charan) is a guard of Udayagarh kingdom. His family is praised by everyone for their sacrifice for the kingdom. Mithra (Kajal Agarwal) is the only princess of the kingdom. Bhairava and Mithra fall in love with each other while her relative Ranadev Billa wants to marry Mithra . He loses a challenge with Bhairava for marrying Mithra and he is sent out of the kingdom as per the challenge. In Bhairava's ancestral backround, no male lives more than 30 years and all of them died while protecting the kingdom. The king is worried about that and pleads Bhairava to sacrifice his love. Mean while Ranadev Billa mingles with Sher Khan (Srihari) who is in a spree of conquering India and in process nears the Udayagarh kingdom to conquer the kingdom of udayagarh. They kill everyone in the kingdom in the absence of Bhairava, who went with Mithra to Bhairava kona (a spiritual place) to offer yagnas for the welfare of the kingdom. The enemies come to that place to kill Bhairava and conquer the princess. Bhairava and Mithra die there after Bhairava kills a hundred of Sher khan's soldiers single-handedly in a fight. Sher Khan wants to form allies with Kalabhairava but cannot do so because he promised Billa the kingdom and Mithra. The second shade of the story is in 2009 where Bhairava, Mithra, Sher Khan and Ranadev Billa take rebirth in this century. One day, Bhairava accidentally comes into physical contact with Indu (Mithra) and feels a surge of electric current. But he only saw her dress. So will he in the end find her and save her from the evil desires of her cousin?

Like I said before, since it's an Indian film, it's full of songs and dances, and all sorts of allusions (no kissing! *gasp*) and it's quite long.

So we watched this film on the bus, were all amused by it, and thought that would be the end of it. And THEN. The music made it's re-appearance. Repeatedly. In fact, one night in the village we took a break from working and an impromptu dance-party broke out, fueled by, you guessed it- the soundtrack to the film :D

They're dancing to this song (on top of a half-completed building. safety first! *facepalm*), in which the hero is drunk and keeps seeing his sweetheart's face on another woman - and you can see the kids copied some of the moves from it

This one is kinda long, but I really love it, you can hear the kids singing along and you can really see they've copied a lot of the dance moves from the movie. Plus, this kid is such an awesome dancer! And what a ham! He kept asking me to show him "his video" afterward :D :D :D

It's this song, from the beginning of the film (and the silliest part of it, IMO - shocking pelivs thrust!!! hahaha)

The music popped up a few other times, occasionally during our "siesta time" (when it was way too hot to work) and I caught quite a few of the music videos on TV when I was stuck in the hotel room for 2 days with... let's just call it an unwanted byproduct of a sudden change in diet and extreme heat.

So after all this, several of us decided we wanted to get a copy of the soundtrack, which comes conveniently packaged on several different hit-song CD's full of mp3's from different movies. The one I got looks like this

My personal favorite is this one, the love song from the modern part of the movie

And my second favorite is this one, the love song from the historical part

All told, there are 6 major song and dance numbers in the film. My CD has 64 songs on it, from 10 different films. It's been a fun way to get into the genre; but I have to admit I'm still quite partial to the Magadheera songs, probably because I've seen the film and have a personal connection to the music through the village.

I've since found a version of the movie with English subtitles, which helps to explain a lot of stuff you just can't figure out on your own. It's really a cute story! But I am impressed by how much we were able to understand, just based on facial expressions and actions in the film d(^_^)b Sadly, I think I may never quite understand the, uh, shock-waves from the first song. But perhaps some things are just better left unexplained...

Some movie trivia: It was released on July 31, 2009 and was a huge HUGE hit. It was the highest-budgeted Telugu language film ever made, and became the highest-grossing one of all time. And apparently because of this, they've recently decided to dub it into Tamil.