Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A change in the tide

Maybe it is fitting that along with a new year we are experiencing a new India, an India that we love and feel safe in. Maybe we were bound to have to go the hard yards before settling down. Either way, I can safely say that our appreciation of this country, and it's people, has greatened completely.

Yesterday we took a 10-hour bus ride through landscape that was continually changing. For the first time, we saw elephants. Wild elephants, free to roam the fields, majestic and giant, not even realizing how big they really are. We were able to smile at naked babies dancing in fields while mothers collected grains, and let the wind of the desert dunes and rocky cliffs breeze our faces. We talked of the old year, of our strengths, and what we expect from the new. For the entire 10 hours, not one of us was bored, sick, or unsatisfied.

We arrived in Udiapur at 8pm on New Year's eve, and were immediately enthralled at the bazaar- and shop-lined streets we passed on our way to our hotel. We were instantly rejuvinated at the bright lights and cleanliness, and the friendliest people we have met so far. And we hadn't even unlocked the treasure of Udaipur yet...

Udaipur is the fairy tale city, and is not wrongly named. If I could imagine what Monacco looked like, I think it would be like this. There are two castles on the lake (the only bodies of water in this Indian state) that were so spectacularly lit that night that we lost our breath looking at them. Along both sides of the banks of the riverlake are beatifully built Taj-looking domed hotels, hotel after hotel after hotel, each draped with a different color of Christmas-style lights. And our hotel, as all others, afforded beautiful rooftop views of it all. This is where we spent the last few hours of our year, dancing, drinking, and eating under the stars, along the bright river, with amazing travelers from all over the world, whose stories, collectively, could fill hundreds and hundreds of pages.

Now we're ready to tackle India for 6 more days. We are anticipating that the first six of 2009, as well as the many that will follow will really be super.

Maybe it is fitting for it to be that way.

Namaste, and happy new year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cow Question

If I thought my grandpa Foreman read this blog, I would ask him the following question:

'Grandpa, is it possible for a cow to have both udders and horns?'

I'm no bovine expert, but the cows in India sometimes have both, which leave my fellow, (and coincidentally lactose-intolerant) travel companions, and I, quite confused.

Any help with this one? Anyone?

Monday, December 29, 2008


We've arrived in the India we imagined. Big city, non-crowded, great architecture, less poverty, and shopping malls.

Thank you to whatever God you have all been praying to on our behalfs. Miche and I are profound with gratitude.

The getting here, though, wasn't without its side-effects. Paint a picture if you will...

We effortlessly get on the first bus this morning, leaving Agra, immediately meet some real chummy gringos (as Mike would say), and have a nice, tolerabe ride. We enjoy the sites of our travel-between city called Fata-fata-fata-something-or-another, and have a nice Indian lunch on a rooftop restaurant.

Then we tried to catch the second bus from the Fata-fata-something bus baazar, (where 'bus baazar' actually means 'stand on the side of a busy road and try to catch the first bus that comes along'). Gulp. So, four gringos with eight packs are standing there, on the side of the road, hoping that what we are doing is correct. Consider, as well, that at anytime, we are trusting fate to put us on the right bus at the right time going to the right destination, as nobody actually speaks enough English to tell us, nor are there signs or civilization to tell us where to go. For about 20 minutes of panic, we stood there, hoping we were in the right place, letting bus after bus pass us for reason of being too full.

Finally, when we were ready to get in a cab and admit defeat, a bus came plowing down the highway. My words to Mike were, 'Here comes a bus! At a million miles per hour...'. The bus in mention halted to a stop in front of us and gladly picked us up with barely room to spare.

From that moment on, though, the day got better and better. The bus ride was actually truly enjoyable. All 5 hours of it. The drivers are MANIACS, driving on any side of the road they wish (again, why bother with lanes, right?), and have no problem trying to get us there as quickly as possible (which we actually appreciated). Greg and I had the luxury of sitting in the front 'cab' of the bus where the drivers sat, and had a good time.

The highlight of the day: Arriving in Jaipur and seeing sensibilty and civility, and rocking up to the nicest hotel any of us have possibly stayed in. The floors are clean, the service impeccable, and the food amazing (or so I hear - I haven't tried it yet, as you will read below). There is even a pool and a small lawn for soccer, an in-house library, and (yay!) hot water. We feel very, very lucky.

The low point of the day (read with caution): The bathroom break during our bus ride. A squat box, as usual, minus the hole in the ground. Just a tile floor and two bricks for your feet. Needless to say, three hours later, I still do not have an appetite.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Taj

Let's just say that if I ever die giving birth to my husband's fourteenth child, I surely expect a labor of love as grandeour as the Taj Mahal.


We arrived, first at the gate, eager for tickets. While the boys went to scrounge some 5am brekky, we sat and waited and waited in a line of tourists next to a line of Indians.

Two hours later, we walked into the monument, and the Taj herself was hiding shyly behind the mist. For about an hour she danced in and out of the fog, barely affording us a view. Yet, during this peaceful hour at sunrise, as we sat on a step and watched in awe, she was her most beautiful.

The closer I got the less impressed I was, and not becuase she isn't worth being impressed by, but that from a distance is the best way to appreciate her.

My favorite part, though, was stopping every few hundred meters and taking some of the most fantastic, candid, fun, and inappropriate pictures with Mike and Miche. We took so, so many incredible shots, which made the experience even better. The people you travel with really, really do make a difference.


Disclaimer (repeated from blog post 27.12): The worst decision of what I should have brought but didn't? My laptop, for which with, documenting this whole thing, as well as keeping in touch with (and receiving support from?) our friends and family would have allowed us to do.

The pictures taken today, other days, and in the future also would be online by now. I have cursed this decision more than once, and from it add travel advice number 6: Never travel to India without your laptop. Sigh...

Friday, December 26, 2008


Dear fellow travelers,

Let me talk to you a bit about traveling, and prepare you with advice that might help you in future planned trips.

1. Never go to India without a plan.

Upon booking this trip two months ago, Mike and Miche and I sat down to do some planning. Distressed by the amount of effort going into it, and the inability to wrap our heads around what we really wanted to do, we decided to just get to India and go with the flow.

2. Never go with the flow in India.

The flow will never, ever go with you. Imagine, for example our shock to find out that trains anywhere in India need to be reserved up to 20 days in advance. Now, imagine our heightened shock to find this out the night before we were planning on going to the next city on the train tickets that we wanted to by right then and there.-

3. In India, what can go wrong, will go wrong.

And we aren't kidding about this one. Hotels? Booked. Trains? Booked. Private drivers? Expensive. Diarrhea? Eminent.

4. Expect to compromise.

Four people, traveling for different purposes and interests are bound to knock heads. And that hurts. A helpful tip? Never go to India without a plan...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Surivor: India

Who needs Jeff Probst? I am in Survivor mode. Luckily, watching the last 17 seasons of my favorite reality show has prepared me to be ready to adapt to the following rules:

1. Don't drink the water.
2. Be careful what you eat.
3. Your toilet is a hole in the ground.
4. Don't trust anyone.
5. Keep your belongings safe.

Luckily, my fellow travelers and I have no intention of voting anyone out of this journey...

Weary Travelers

We arrived... frightened, dirty, hungry, and tired.

I remember boarding the plane last night, seeing all of the saris and turbans, and asking to Miche and Mike, 'Who the hell's idea was it to go to India for Christmas?' Greece is sounding pretty good right now...

I will not bite my nails the entire time I am here. I actually fear to put my fingers anywhere near my mouth. And walking barefoot in our hotel? Forget it.

India is incredible, and hard. So far, I don't love it, but we are slowly developing a mutual like for each other. I do love the food (we had our first meal today - Indian, which of course is just called 'food' here). We had a Christmas lunch of curry and nan after attending the most horrible mass. It was insisted upon by Mike, and we willingly went along, knowing it would be beneficial to pray for our souls.

So we are here. A bit frightened, still. Very dirty. Very tired. But enjoying ourselves the best that we can.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Well, off to another adventure. This time: India. Last year at this time it was off to Bali, for a great holiday alone. This time, I'll be traveling with two of my best buds, Mike and Michele, and we're planning on having a phenomenal time.

For the first time ever I am going to be a backpacker. I celebrated this important moment with the purchase of my very first travel backpack/suitcase. You know, the kind that most dirty, grimy backpackers wear when they travel all over the world? I didn't pay a lot of money for it, as I am hoping that traveling this way will not be something I do often. I prefer a roll-along suitcase, planned stays in hotels, and semi-nice clothing to wear. Instead, I am going to be living out of a backpack, staying in hostels, and recycling my clothes whenever possible. But hey, at least I won't be doing it alone.

Here are a few questions you might be wondering:

You: Wendy, how much Indian do you know?
Wendy: None. Not a single word.

You: And what are you planning on doing when you get there?
Wendy: Beats me. We only have four nights actually booked, and past that, we're hopelessly leaving it up to fate and good advice.

You: Is it going to be safe in India?
Wendy: Probably not. But I am traveling with three Canadians. Terrorists love Canadians, eh?

You: What are you most excited for in India?
Wendy: I am not sure what I am looking forward to the most in India, whether it be the yummy curry or the diarrhea. Likely the curry. Either way, it should be very interesting.

You: What have you done to prepare for India?
Wendy: Well, since school has ended, I have not showered or bathed as much as usual. I have tried to find and practice in as many squatting toilets as possible, and have been feverishly collecting street-packages of toilet paper.

What a long, strange trip it'll be...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Will I Stay or Will I Go?

The decision is official.

Two weeks ago I told my headmaster that I would be leaving NIS at the end of my contract in June.

And then I followed up by saying that I would be returning again in August for a third year. So the decision is official.

And, as many of you know, I have much to look forward to staying for...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Extending Vocabulary

In an effort to get our students, most of whom are fluent in English (although it is their second language), to build up their vocabularies, we do a lot of work with understanding unknown words in texts and within the context of writing.

This child's great work starts with the book Trumpet of the Swan, which was written more than 40 years ago. In the story there is a lot of unfamiliar, old-fashioned language that the students and I had to work through. One day we came across the word 'gay' which I immediately jumped on, describing (in not so many words) that in this context, 'gay' referred to being happy or light-hearted.

Evidently Ai, one of my students, had that word stuck in her head, because she used it later that week on one of her spelling assignments, which required students to write their spelling words in sentences. One of Ai's spelling words for the week was 'feel'. So, she wrote how she felt, which you can see in the picture below. This is now on my refrigerator...

Saturday, December 06, 2008

To mom...

Dear Mom,

This Christmas I am planting you some tulips! I know how much you love them, and you have instilled that love in me. They are my favorite flower, and so, before the first snow is expected tomorrow, I am planting the bulbs. 16 of them in all. I think that might be the first year you gave me tulips for my birthday, thus growing my love for them since then.

I know you are not here to see them, and when they bud and bloom, I will send lots of pictures. But, I hope you smile knowing that flowers in your honor have been planted very far away.

Happy Christmas!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

How did she know!?

First of all, let me say how much I think that everyone should own a scanner. Everyone. No joke.

Were it not for the new scanner I purchased for my classroom (thank you, second grade budget!), I would not be able to send to you future posts that show the adorable things that children say. I am thankful to be able to share these with you, and to make you laugh, all on account of my students and on behalf of my scanner.

Last year, on the last day of school I had my students, as well as the students in the other second grade classroom write a letter to this year's incoming students (my current students). The exact assignment was to write to incoming second graders, teaching them about three things: Miss F. (that's me!), the classroom expectations, and the learning that students will be doing. It was intended to be read on the first day of school to my newbies. Unfortunately, the first days are always too overwhelming for these little guys, and the information in the letters is a bit much for them. Instead, after having had me for four months, it has been fun for them to NOW hear them, to see the similarities in last year's class and themselves, and to make connections. So, recently, I started reading these letters a few at a time.

My current kiddos (and I!) laugh when they hear certain information again and again; namely 'no running in the hall', 'be productive', and 'try not to make Miss F. cranky', among other things.

But JinHee, one of last year's little jewels, in describing me, accurately fit me to a tee in the fourth sentence. These kiddos didn't think it quite as funny (they obviously don't understand dirty humor at 7 years old...) as I did (imagine me choking when reading it out loud), or as David, a friend of mine and Jayden's dad, who was sitting in the classroom on a visit the morning I decided to read this and a few other letters, out loud.

I dare any of you to paint a better picture, in one sentence, of the reason for my being on Earth...

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Say what?

Let's start by stating the obvious: that sometimes the most simple language that we use as adults can have hidden meanings, but that to a child, it makes complete (and, innocent, undefiled) sense.

For example, once, in a case where spelling was concerned, a child wanted to tell me that, for that day's activities, she had 'done a sheet'. Of course, as most first graders do, she spelled it phonetically, thus replacing the double 'e' in the word 'sheet' with an 'i'.

Today, I was again having a good chuckle at a priceless paper a student turned in. The whole probably made complete sense to him, and had no further relevance than the direct meaning for which he intended. The activity, to do a double-entry journal, is one in which students record events from the book they are reading in one column, and record their thinking (questions, comments, predictions) in another. In the particular book said student chose, called Fly Guy, one of the very first pictures shows a little boy being greeted by his overly-excited grandmother in big crash-hug style. So, on the first line, he asked a simple question that any kiddo might...

The story continues and follows the old tale of The Little Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly (no pun intended). You know, the one where the lady swallows a spider to catch the fly, and then a bird to catch the spider, and so on and on until she's swallowed the whole farm? Well, if the first of this child's great thinking didn't blow you away, he earned an additional bonus point by wondering (in true, second-grade, ungrammatical fashion), 'why she never go to the dentist to take him out?'.

Genius, Ladies and Gentlemen. We're encouraging genius here.

In the end, this child received full and enthusiastic credit for the first answer, and a bonus point for the second. As well as the respect of every teacher in the hallway.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

This is the question that haunts my sleep and dreams each day.

December 15th is the deadline. The deadline for making the decision to stay at NIS for another year, or to get out of town like a bat out of Hell.

And, what better place to post my answer than on my blog (I mean, it might take me just too much time to call you all personally)? Of course, I won't actually post that decision for another month, but it's worth mentioning that it is omnipresent in my mind each day, and probably worth writing about.

So, to spice up this decision making process a little, I thought I'd give an inside look into my mind, and show you what it is like to be me and make this choice. You can see how my fickle thoughts have, and will continue to be, and how they will likely change over and over. The factors that have influenced me are the great questions that you, my friends and family have asked during our long conversations, as well as the considerations that have to be made from both administrative and personal sides.

Before I start, though, I have to say thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who has helped begin to shape my choice. Friends afar, and near, have listened patiently, asked amazing questions to get me thinking, and responded thoughtfully. My family, especially, have been amazing in understanding that these decisions are not easy, and that either way, they understand that I am doing what I love, living my dreams, and am incredibly happy.

I appreciate, also, anybody who takes the time to read through this crap. For those of you who enjoy reading my blog, my deepest gratitude to you. Your comments ALWAYS make me smile (except for the anonymous sad guy who negatively responded to my decision to vote for Obama...) and I think so incredibly highly of your opinions that it IS you who I hope reads this and comments on my behalf. I can thank my mother for the disease of indecision that I am plagued with, and in having said that, would appreciate any comments, ideas, considerations, or questions from those of you whom I love most. This is a decision that would be foolish to make alone.


Let's start with the pros and cons. It would seem that making a pro and con list would be an easy way to make a decision, right? But actually, I think most of us have weights in our mind that make some decisions heavier than others, thus making the balancing scale of a pro/con list, from a numbers standpoint, an ineffective way to make a decision. My pro list, for example, is hella long:

Financial security: The yen is very strong and I can buy a lot of dollars with it. Another year also includes a significant signing bonus and huge pension allowance that increases significantly from the second to third years, and then beyond. I have side jobs and am respected as a tutor. I make enough money each month to live a bit frivolously, and I have no debt to pay off.

Professional growth: I would be able to continue towards the completion of PYP training which is a must-have for international schools, as well as a strong desire of mine. Along with that, the opportunity to meet and learn from amazing authors (whom I absolutely ADORE - I heart Debbie Miller!!) who will be visiting our school (and I helped bring them!) for professional development next spring. In the area of literacy, I will continue to be a respected leader. My class sizes are small, my room is comfortable, well furnished, and my school budget is virtually limitless. I will continue towards tenure and receive my yearly pay increase. And, as this year's lower elementary is new but strong, it will be the same group next year (by default of all of the new teachers' 2-year contracts), which could really be a great learning experience as well.

Comfort: I know the area and am familiar with everything I need to get around. My apartment is amazing, cozy, and well furnished. I've decorated well and am happy coming home each night. I have a car that is paid off and a driver's license that is good until the 86th year of the next emperor (or at least I think that's what it says). My Japanese is wicked good and can only get better with a bit more practice.

Socially: I can't even begin to explain how great my friends and colleagues are. If I had one huge reason to stay, it would be them. They are my world, the pieces of the puzzle of my life. They, by default, are the most close-nit group of friends I have ever had. More recently as well, and also on my mind, is the small but possible opportunity I've had lately with a new guy who I could really be quite fond of.

No recruiting: Leaving would mean that I had to start applying to schools overseas, most of which do not post their openings until spring. I would have to take days off and pay to fly to London or San Fransisco to attend recruiting fairs and hope that the positions that I want are available at schools that I am interested in. It would mean presenting resume packages and paying shipping fees to get them out to the schools that I'd like, as well as online research, and a crap shoot, that the school I would be going to would be a good one that could challenge me as much as I am at NIS.

No hassle: Leaving would also mean that I would have to start thinking, now, about selling my belongings, shipping my stuff, culling my classroom, saving money, starting new visa processes for new countries, figuring out new housing, planning for leaving, and saying goodbye. And to be honest, I just don't know if I can be bothered.

Lastly, something has to be said for the effort that my administrators, namely Paul, have made to keep me here. The professional development planning for the authors was a collaboration between the two of us with Paul knowing that I adored literacy and authors who have inspired me. He has been patient and eager to let me work my magic in my own way, and is incredibly complimentative to my teaching style. New and younger teachers were hired, I like to think, partially on my behalf, and that has improved the quality of my overall (professional and personal) life by a million.


My con list? There are only a few things, but they are just as heavy if not more 'con' than anything on my pro list could make up for:

I do not love Japan. There is nothing in this country that, in itself, that thrills me. The great things I love to do are only fun because my friends are there. I'm not interested in traveling, learning more about the culture, or seeing more and more places, as I find this country to be a bit boring, incredibly expensive, backwardly homogeneous, and somewhat offensive. The weather in the summer and winter sucks, and Nagoya is about the most uninteresting huge city in the world.

I miss, miss, miss dating. (I know, I know, everyone give a big sigh for the sad girl). The opportunity for it here is just not available. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

Next, of course, I am not getting younger. My goal is to see as much of the world as I can before I decide to stop traveling. Staying here would make that goal a bit harder to attain. I can satiate it a bit by (with friends - Jen too!) continuing to see exotic parts of Asia. The real fact is, though, that exotic parts of Asia, although probably amazing, also don't thrill me as much as the idea of seeing other parts of the world, such as Africa, and most especially Europe.

Lastly, it is my friends and relationships here who make me want to stay the most. But, were to something unbalance and upset that relationship (God forbid it would happen), I would hate to have made the decision to stay, only to find myself in an unhappy environment. I don't even like to write this because it makes me think I am thinking too much about the 'what if' instead of the 'what is', but it is something that I do think about.


In closing, this won't be the last I think about this. I look forward to hearing opinions, ideas, thoughts from anyone who cares to take a minute. To be honest, I do actually rest well at night knowing that this decision is truly a win:win. Either way I choose I will be happy for the opportunity, because I know that life is too short not to be. Each, if chosen, will present challenges, and I will embrace it with the passion of somebody who has been given the challenges for a reason.

"Hey life: bring it on."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

My American Day

Today was an American day. A day, revered by me as one of the best in awhile. The kind of day that doesn't come very often, but makes you proud when it does. A day of the likes of which I haven't had in nearly a month, or ever on mainland Japan. The funniest part is that we didn't even try.

We: Michele and I. Michele, being Canadian, was very eager to play along.

It started with Starbucks. As American as a White Chocolate Mocha.

Lunch was McDonalds. Burgers with American cheese.

For our afternoon entertainment we enjoyed watching the American National Rugby team play the Japanese National Rugby team. Rachel and Mike joined us, and Mike and Michele were slightly willing to oblige holding the American flag for a photo op. We promised them we wouldn't tell their family and friends (see above, but keep a secret?)...

Our dinner tonight was Velveeta Shells and Cheese and Campbells Chicken Noodle Soup.

Then Michele stayed over to watch Walk the Line and appreciate the brilliance of Joaquin Phoenix playing Johnny Cash.

A day as American as Fulsom County and mac 'n cheese...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Another day, Another (50) dollar(s)...

Today's trip to the supermarket was again an expensive one. Although I don't love to cook, I don't mind cooking for others, and of the three things I know how to make, Mexican is one of my favorites.

Tonight I went and bought a few staple items, pictured below, to make quesadillas and guacamole, as well as the pre-purchase of some items for next week's Thanskgiving feast.. The cost for the items you see came to 5,015 yen (roughly USD$50).

Here is a quick breakdown on a few of the items I bought:

I bag of Hershey's Kisses: 788 yen (USD$8)
2 cans of refried beans: 473 yen each (USD$9.50 for two)
1 can of evaporated milk: 789 yen
3 avocados: 330 yen each (USD$10.50 for all three)

Shopping here is a real, real, real big budget dropper.

Friday, November 14, 2008

My friends

The universe is spoiling me.

In Japan, this year, is the most incredible group of teachers.

Formerly, in my previous life, my co-teachers in Waukee were an incredible bunch. They were, and will always be, my first love. Without their professional support and friendship, I wouldn't be the person or teacher I am today. Full stop.

In New Zealand I learned such different things from my co-workers, both at SP and at Richmond Road Primary. In New Zealand I became more aware of the world, including it's differences, similarities, and vast potential. For that time I am thankful, as I grew like never before.

Here and now, I continue to be officially happy. There are many, many , many, many factors that have to do with that, but the biggest being my friends. Of course, there are friends afar, such as you've read about before, but throughout the next year, on this page, you'll learn of my new friends. They are incredible, and are a source of happiness for me here.

When Rob and Paul (my administrators) realized that having so few lone, single teachers in the building (that was me, and me only!) last year was not balancing the make-up of the staff, they set out to hire great new teachers, specifically targeting single, young ones. Boy, did they hit the jackpot.

Starting with Mike and Rachel, through to Michele and Ricco, who we were lucky enough to get at the last minute, the administration did no wrong, hiring four winners. Not only are they great teachers, eager to learn, but we are an incredible group together. The universe knew what it was doing when it put this puzzle of 5 together: Ricco who is the master of a million things at once; MIke, who is so sensible-tive; Rachel, with her head screwed on straight; Michele's beautiful body and spirit; and me, the translator.

Add that to people like Leila and Christine, who make up the rest and rock my world, and the satisfactory feeling of possibly dating someone new (more about that later, I am sure) and I couldn't be more happy. Maybe I'm a bit mushy. But I can't help but think that I must have done something right in the past to be this fortunate now. Or, as my (again, amazing) friend Sheena would have said, 'The universe is spoiling me'. My friends are the luckiest treasures I have.

Sunday, November 02, 2008


In a new series aimed at informing the common reader about the innovation of the Japanese people, I would like to present to you more information about some of the finer, and lesser known (or understood?), Japanese inventions. I'll leave it to you to decide if necessity (which usually proceeds invention) was considered...

bed condom (n): The strange looking sheet that your comforter is inserted into before getting into a bed in a hotel room. The bed condom ensures that no part of your body, at any time, touches the comforter, thus eliminating the need for washing by hotel staff between use. The bed condom in my hotel last night was incredibly starchy and uncomfortable.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Based on the recent popularity (and really well-written posts) of guest bloggers on my site, I am implementing tryouts for anyone who wants to try it out.

It's easy.

1. Write whatever you want
2. Submit it to me (for consideration of course)
3. Send along a picture of you blogging (whether with quill and parchment, on the computer, or notes on a napkin)

Then, I will edit, proof, and post! It's that easy!

No topic is off limits (unless you write something I don't like, of course!). Whatever you can say, do, or contribute to make the world more literate - we want you!

Plus, it's a bit of time off for me too...

submit to:

Happy Writing!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Jen and Kyle

When I lived in New Zealand, I used to do a bit where every few blogs, I would post about the people I loved the most. I even created a sub category on my blog page for all of these people so that they could be referenced both quickly and efficiently. Now, though, for no reason whatsoever, I find that my writing in that area is lacking, which of course, needs to be fixed immediately.

William James once said: 'Wherever you are, it's your friends who make your world.' He couldn't be more correct. And, to do justice to those who, here in Japan, really do make my world, I am going to attempt to introduce my greatest friends and companions to you, one (or two) cool person(s) at a time.

It's only fitting that, after this week, I am inspired to put my good friends Jen and Kyle first. But, where, oh where, do I start?

Well ok. it's actually pretty easy. I'll just start off by saying that my friend Jen is a real bitch. A self-proclaimed (and she would endorse me for saying it) bitch, no less.

Strong-willed, tempermental, and used to getting her way, it's no wonder we're really good friends. Jen currently lives in the amazing, but less-than-ideal-for-her, world of the military spouse. As I realized quickly during my time on the bases in Okinawa, the military pays little attention to the needs of spouses, who often quickly lose their identities and lives (and careers, and profiles, and autonomy, and independence, etc...). For a strong woman like Jen, a woman who has always fended for herself, this is difficult to swallow. Although being a 'military wife' is not on Jen's high list, she accepts is as what it is, and 'appreciates' the challenges that come with, like fighting for what she believes in, keeping her brain sharp and strong, and helping others with the planning of their post-military lives. Now maybe she doesn't do it with quite as much effort as when she was a high-flying career woman in Ames, Iowa, but it is what it is, and she is Jen, doing the best she can, in a man's world.

For all her toughness, though, Jen's heart is like gold. Rachel and I both noticed it, I especially more than I ever had. The qualities that make her hard are complimented by her ability to put people at ease, be kind at all (most) times, and her killer sense of humor.

Now, don't get me wrong, Jen is an AMAZING person on her own. But for the last year, she has had something else that has complimented her better than anything I have ever seen: Kyle.

At first, I wasn't sure what I would think of Kyle. When I first heard about him, the summer before I headed to New Zealand, Jen and Kyle (whom I had never heard about, let alone met) had just split, and she talked to me about him when I had no prior knowledge, face, or personality to attach the information with. He was a republican in the military dating my friend Democrat Jen, and I was sure that they would never work out anyway. But, after moving abroad and losing that ever-important contact with those you love, I found out that Kyle and Jen made it back together, and, after some time, were eventually married.

By some scattered twist of fate, 6 months later they were stationed in Okinawa, Japan, a mere two-hour flight from me. To think, Jen and I, friends for almost 15 years, were now on the same continent, living a short flight away from each other, without having planned or tempted fate to put us there.

When I arrived in Okinawa this week to meet Jen and spend a week with her during my autumn break, I, of course, was to meet Kyle for the first time too. Boy, was I amazed. My friend Jen, the real bitch, has a husband whose heart is as golden as hers is, if not more. I have never seen a man so adoring, complimenting, and loving towards any woman in my generation (and I only say that because my grandparents, equally as amazing, are a different subset completely!). Jen, deep down knows it, and loves him equally. They truly are the odd couple, not likely, but very much right together.

Kyle bent over backwards for us all week. When we (including Jen) needed something, he got it, made it, fixed it, bought it, called for it, or planned it. He took time off to take us places, play golf, hang out, eat dinner, and was very generous with his house, his time, and his life. At the end of the week, he made us feel like we had done them the favor by coming over, and to this day, I am not sure who benefited from the holiday more. Always the perfect gentleman, Kyle regularly opened doors, spoke with courtesy, complimented his wife, and chewed with his mouth closed. He is good, good people. The kind you'd be proud to take home to Mom and Dad. He and Jen go together like peanut butter and jelly. Like milk and cookies. Like Japanese Military Police and attitude problems.

As I write this, nearing to my finish, a tear comes to my eye. I am sitting on a plane, just having left paradise, as the happiest girl in the world, and flooded with emotions. If nothing else in this confusing world, I wish for myself, and others, to love and care for each other (whether you're friends of lovers) as Jen and Kyle do, with a deep respect, understanding, and appreciation of each other. As all good couples, and things that work together well in this world, do.

So, in the end, to Jen and Kyle - I say 'compai'. And thanks.

A New Inisight...

(by guest blogger Rachel Hall)

the sharp salute, stony gaze, red, white, and blue
medals of every kind ; ribbons, planes, bars, stars, stripes, gold, sliver, bronze, and purple
yes maam no maam, forward march, company halt, freedom
taps, star spangled banner, trumpets, horns, drums
children laughing, wives crying, joy, sadness, fear, disappointment, love
perceived situation

gate guards, guns, boredom, frustration
inequality, stolen identity, shackles, bondage
grey, drab, stoney, ancient
pregnant mothers, running children, chaperoned streets
music echoing at 8 and 6
compromise, patience, elation, love
precious time, stolen moments
tears, letters, laughter, fear,
red, white, blue, freedom?

Firsts and Lasts

Our last day in Okinawa was filled with many firsts, which included:

... me waking up on the couch.
... Rachel waking up with a scotch hangover
... taking Jen and Kyle's dog Hari to the vet, where he peed on the floor, and was eventually taken in to be neutered.
... makeovers by the keen makeup girl at Lancome.
... a long, long walk with Jen, wwhere we divulged our deepest darkest secrets.
... a ride in the slowest, giant ferris wheel along the ocean, which delivers some of
the best views of downtown base central (well, best next to being 1000 feet in the air in a cessna, that is).
... a fine pot-luck dinner, which included baked beans and Mountain Dew, so generously
provided by Uncle Sam and the US Marine Corps.
... being asked to take our lighters OUT of our checked luggage to be instead carried
on the plane (what the??).
... getting away with bringing two 70 pound suitcases for check-in and not being
questioned for even a second.
... all of Rachel's luggage arriving ON TIME!

Our last day in Okinawa was filled with many lasts, as well. Some of them, sadly, included:

... one last day at the beach.
... a few last bikini photos before having to put them away for winter.
... the last $150 splurge at the Post Exchange (hello, new makeup brushes!)
... one final cornerside Starbucks or two.
... the last use of our MOR citations to get us on base.
and lastly, most unfortunately,
... one last goodbye to new friends, old friends, and some fine-looking Marines as

I think Ray and I both left a bit of our hearts in Okinawa, and I, for one, look forward to visiting again soon.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

2 down, 5 to go

Finally, finally, in all of my long years of playing golf (which is 2), I've tackled my new favorite sport on two continents: America and Asia.

What has stopped me from playing in Japan so far? The $200 price tag, required suit, and 8 hour play time necessary for a formal round on mainland.

In Okinawa, though, on the bases where all things are American, 18 holes, a cart, and club rentals set me back about $36.

And, fortunately for me, Kyle and his friend Langdon are both avid golfers.

So, on Thursday morning, bright and early, I laced up my sneakers, threw on some sunscreen, and headed out for 18 of the most beautiful holes I have ever seen. The base is right along the ocean, boasts 18 different holes, and allows amazing views of the most amazing (and loud) airplanes taking off from the hangers less than 500 meters away.

My golf partners were pretty great too. Langdon, a triathlete and great golfer, led the team in our best-ball game. Kyle and I, who finally warmed up around hole 14, contributed as well. We told dirty jokes, ate and drank the whole way through, and had a great boy's day out.

Oh, and my cowboy hat only fell off once...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Okinawa from 1000 feet

This week was full of best things ever. Laying on the beach, good looking Marines, sun and sand, and all things American. But, truly, one of the BEST things ever was flying above Okinawa at a little over 800 feet, in a small cessena, flown by a retired FAA pilot.

For one hour we were shown the sights and scenery of the entire west coast of Okinawa. I rode in the front (in typical Wendy fashion) and Jen and Ray were happy to fly in the back.

Worst part? That I tried to joke with the pilot about how much the Stealth Jet tour cost and that he didn't find it the least bit funny.
Best part? The sunset over the ocean, the beauty of Okinawa at dusk, and taxiing with F-16 fighter jets that shortly took off, right in front of our eyes (and at the mercy of our ears!) after we landed.

It was something that I will never, ever forget.

The common criminal

The common criminal is a dirty scoundrel. You think of him/her as someone who will ruin your day, steal your wallet, offend you, or maybe even touch you inappropriately.

On day three in Okinawa, the common criminal became Rachel and I...

Imagine our shock, when, while coming back from a standard day at the beach (like we had done for the two days prior) we were detained at the gate of our base, Camp Lester, for not having a sponsor (Jen or Kyle) to accompany us with our passes.

(As a side note - these passes I speak of had been registered to us earlier in the day, as had to be done on a separate base every day, so that we could enter and exit the bases on our own free will, and of which getting, mind you, was a big pain in the ass for all parties involved (please refer to blog 'I Hate America'), where parties involved is Jen and Kyle, Wendy and Rachel.

So, again, passes in hand, Ray and I cruised up, on foot, to the pass shack, flashed our passes to the Japanese guards, like usual, and were instead detained and asked to stand to the side until we could prove we belonged on the base or a sponsor could be found to accompany us in.

Why is this a big deal? Many reasons.

For starters, it was about a Brazillian degrees outside. Ray and I were in our swimsuits and sundresses, sweaty, sandy, and smelly. And as we stood there, outside the pass shack while the Japanese gate police called for verification, tens of cars, all with passes (and AC), scooted by, staring at us. The two girls who, if were allowed base passes in the first place (please, again, refer to blog 'I Hate America'), wouldn't be standing there feeling like common criminals.

'Criminals?', you say? 'Hardly, Wendy! They were just checking to keep America's service men and women and their bases safe! No worries, girl!'

Yeah, right.

Because then the Military Police rocked up in their cozy little cruiser. Turns out that the verification that the Japanese gate guards needed came in the form of the American Military Police.

Glad to find somebody who could finally speak more than 7 words of my language, I spilled the beans about our situation to the small, skinny little Lance Corporal, very quickly explaining why we didn't have REAL passes in the first place (please, again, refer to blog 'I Hate America'). The small, skinny, rank-less little Lance Corporal listened, made a couple of calls (again, refer to the above paragraph about it being a Brazillian degrees out), and came out to let us know that he was going to issue us an MOR, which, as explained to me, sounded like a free pass into Willy Wonka's chocolate factory (or, actually, just free access to every base, which we hadn't been able to get before).

Ray and I laughed all the way home that the skinny little Lance Corporal was able to get us a free access pass that even the highest ranking officers wouldn't issue. We laughed, and laughed, and laughed (and even told the Lance Corporal that we'd refer him to the general). Then, we got home, prepared to tell Jen our funny story, opened up our MORs, and realized that MOR actually stands for Minor Offense Report. Meaning that Rachel and I had just ACTUALLY been handed Military citations for trying to enter a base without proper ID.

Now, this story does have a happy ending in that in hindsight, the LCPL actually issued us the MOR so that it would look, from that point on, that we were just military-related personnel (spouse, cleaner, whatever) who had 'lost' their military IDs and were in the process of getting new onse made. He hadn't wanted to offend the Japanese gate guards by just letting us roll by without the proper authority, so he issued us citations, which actually satisfied not only the Japanese gate guards in their thirst for finding someone to pick on, but also Jen, Rachel, Kyle, and myself, who for the next 72 hours, did not have to apply for new passes on a different base each day.

But, the coolness of being a common criminal in your own country is still pretty great, I guess. And, it makes a great story to tell the kids. But, if Rachel and I show up on your local milk cartons, we know nothing about it...

Monday, October 20, 2008

America Sucks

Imagine HOW mad Rachel and I were this morning when we realized that being American no longer mattered.

Rachel and I, two America-loving, tax-paying, property-owning, independent, registered voters. Two America-loving, tax-paying, property-owning (and so on and so forth) Americans who no longer believe in their country.

It's sad, really.

We decided that we hated America this morning when we were denied entry onto an American base on account of our residency status in Japan. You know, it's funny, that when the man argued that we were residents of Japan (according to the condition of the 3-year work visa inside our passports, that is) thus refusing us entry to the base, I actually replied, 'Well, it's not by choice!' He didn't seem to care, though.

It's true. Can you believe it? Two America-loving, tax-paying, property-owning, independent, registered voters, not allowed easy access onto the bases in Okinawa because we're not, evidently, 'American' enough.

We've reckoned that the basis of this claim is to keep non-family, residents of other countries from having easy access to the American base, but for bloody Christ, we're FREAKIN' American, right!?

So, again, when the man today, told us that we, two, America-loving, tax-paying, property-owning, independent, registered voters, couldn't gain easy access to the base, as all other Americans are allowed to do, we were pretty pissed.

Were? Are. And probably will be forever.

As Ray lays next to me, her words are, 'hurt, actually'. I couldn't agree more. We, as international Americans in a world who scorns Americans, are some of the country's biggest cheerleaders. Sure, we don't lay down our lives by serving our country with honor and pride, but we do sneak into International teaching placements to brainwash small children into believing that America is the greatest place on Earth. And what do we get in return?


To make matters worse, being a resident in Japan gets us absolutely NO special privileges on the mainland. Which means that Ray and I, in the grand scope of the global world, feel pretty useless right now.

And to prove just how mad we were today, we chose to shop at Japanese Jusco, instead of the American base store, with our fellow Okinawan brothers and sisters. But, even they stared.

God bless America? Not today.

Okinawa, Day 2

Boy, we sure are having fun in Okinawa. Not only are Jen and Kyle AMAZING hosts, but we're just in such awe at the line that separates Japan from America - it's called Hwy. 58.

Day 2 was really great. We did some really cool cultural stuff having to do with the war, like visiting the Peace Park next to the ocean as well as some underground tunnels dug by the Japanese during the Battle of Okinawa (which was the bloodiest battle of World War 2!). To end our day, we took a 'spooky sights' tour, which was pretty bad, mind the scenery, which was cool.

I've included some of the best pictures of our day below.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Okinawa, Day 1

Jen, my wonderful, great friend Jen, really, really was convinced that when we came to Okinawa, we'd be disappointed at how we'd really, really be staying in America. In fact, she hates it because on the base, it is SO American, and she's exactly right.

But I assured Jen that Rachel and I really, really wouldn't mind, and that no matter how much she forced us to eat A&W's and Macaroni Grill, we'd really, really be ok with that.

So, none of us were surprised that our first stop, lunch, was at Chili's. Yum. I mean, I would have just been happy with the diet Coke, but cheese dip too? And loads of single army boys? It was heaven right in front of me.

Of all of the firsts that I saw, though, nothing struck me as funny as seeing military license plates, which are the EXACT same to our license plates except for one small but significant difference: the letter 'Y'.

On the mainland, all license plates are four numbers proceeded by one of the 45 or so Japanese Hiragana phonemes. Mine is the Hiragana letter 'te'. Here on the base, though, in an effort to make military personnel stand out even more than they already do, all cars that are owned privately by military people instead have the letter 'Y'.

What does the 'Y' stand for?


This is wrong on so many levels...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Getting better all the time

When I accepted this job, I remember worrying about the smallest stuff. I wasn't so concerned about curriculum, how many students were in my class, the obvious language barrier, or anything of that sort. Instead, though, I was terribly concerned with what color my curtains would be, the size of sheets I would ned for my bed, and what color picture frames would best accentuate my new place.

I remember getting the e-mail, with 8 whole pictures, showing me what my apartment would look like:

Then, I remember getting here and having very, very little (items and money) to decorate with. It was tragic how bare and lonely my place was, and I preferred, at all costs, not to be in it as much as possible. Although it was better than the pictures had previewed for me before coming, it still wasn't home:

Since arriving (and it has taken a good year to do so), my place has gotten better and better. And now, a year later, I find myself (figuratively) in the same place that my more tenured (and by tenured I mean 'have been in Japan longer than me') friends were a year ago - where the new people walk into my place and say (just as I did a year ago) ' Your place is actually furnished!' and 'I love how this looks over here.' or 'Where did you get that?' or 'It sure smells good in here - what is that great scent??"

After all this time, A205 has become a place that I actually enjoy spending time in, by myself, or with the company of others.

It's my home. And it's a nice place to be...

Janglish at its WORST

If you have had a baby or small child since I've moved to Japan, you know that my favorite present to send back is baby clothes. Baby clothes here can be found cheap, if you know where to look. And, my favorite store just happens to sell clothes that speak in really, really, really bad English.

For example, this summer, when my parents came to buy clothes for my two young nephews, they were lucky enough to find a shirt that read, on the back, 'It's a hell of a day.'

Tonight was my luckiest night ever. I found the shirt of shirts, which was funny on the front, and funnier on the back. I am NOT kidding that it is the funniest thing I have EVER seen in this country. In fact, I almost choked.

What do you think? I bought it for my future daughter. No joke.



Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A simple misunderstanding?

So, evidently, tonight, one of my adult learners will be absent. At least, I think so? Maybe all of you could help me understand the following e-mail I received for him this afternoon. $5 for the person who writes the best translation below...


deer wendey
thers days cool day by day if you attetion had coold
Im cod coold bifore athers says so today my absant
forever i'm going to study englishes by climb into one's futon
naturally next week i'll go to a crass hatano

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Politics 1

Because politics 101 is what they would call the expert class, and my class is more like Politics 0. The dumb teaching the dumber (where dumb = me and dumber = non-English speaking Japanese adults).

As you can imagine, my adult class tonight was likely full of erroneous information regarding the American political system. And for that, I say to my students 'Gomen ne'. But, I did try to explain it the best I could, in my best teacher voice, as if I were talking to 10-year olds. I won't really try to explain to you what I tried to teach them, for fear of ridicule, but be rest-assured that 11 Japanese adults are going to go home tonight to try to muddle through the election information they hear on the news. All thanks to my bad lesson.

Tonight, to start this conversation (because I was a little slack about planning), I brought in my absentee ballot, a) because it's the coolest thing ever, and b) I knew my Japanese students would give their left foot to be able to fill it out! As they passed it around and 'ooh'ed and 'ahh'ed, I just KNEW that I would get the question, 'Who are you voting for'.

Now, it is not my intention to try to persuade one person or the other. In fact, if you vote against my candidate, I'll be satisfied that at least my vote cancelled out one of yours. And, I'm not about to get into a political debate with you, as I am about as dumb as politics as my students are in English. But, because I think my reasons are good, I am going to tell you who I am voting for, in the same, truthful, plain way that I told to my students.

It all starts like this:

As an international American, the way my country is viewed by the rest of the world is of high importance to me. I find that everywhere I go, people are very interested to tell me what they think of American politics, as if they think I care about politics, or if they think I care what they think. But, nonetheless, choosing the man who represents the face of America is an important choice for me to consider.

Again, I am not an expert on politics, but I do believe that the president of the United States is more like the poster child of America than he is anything else. He doesn't single-handedly pass laws or make decisions. He does, though, speak with foreign leaders, inspire the nation in times of good and bad, and represent what is good in America.

And it's just that when John McCain speaks, I am not ever inspired.

For the last 8 years, we've had a president who is an embarrassing public speaker. Not once in the darkest of times or best of moments have I felt good listening to him. Never have I felt that the words coming out of his mouth were real, or his own. And never, ever, have I had any faith in anything he says.

Plus, I finished off by telling my students that John McCain just has too many chins for my liking.

So, here's my choice, plain and simple, like it or not. Go ahead, cancel my vote out. Or, be smart, and vote along side of me. And my friends. And family. And everyone I know...

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Finally bitten

(Jerry, this one's for you. You see, you said that one of these days I'd learn my lesson, and it happened, more prominently than other times, recently. From now on, I'll mind the amount I drink (well, of course, no I won't), and I'll be more careful about what I say when doing so...)

In my life, I've been called many things, but never arrogant. I don't like to think that it would be a word used to describe me. Although others might say so, I would never consider myself to be strong, or even confident either. But, on the night in question, I was overly all three. Now, my excuse will be a bottle of wine, but, needless to say, I found myself in a situation that ended quickly, but brought that embarassing 'did-I-really-say-that' feeling to my stomach for the next three days.

Late (rally late) the other night, as my friends and I were running to catch the last trains (with pig's foot in tow), we were hurried by a conductor to run to the train before the doors closed. Having just made it, and shoving our way on, we sighed relief. But, the people directly behind us made a comment, in Japanese, about foreigners, that I partially understood (*partially understood = heard her say 'foreigners'). So, a loud-ish voice, I said to my friends (and, in hindsight, hopefully said quickly, so that maybe I wasn't understood) 'I can't wait until these people behind me start talking about us in Japanese, and I turn around and let them know I know exactly what they're saying.' I guess I thought I was pretty tough and smart (and MAYBE a bit on the too-much-to-drink side) in front of my non-Japanese speaking friends.

But, an instant later, when the train announcer came on to announce the next station, we started questioning whether we were on the right train. So, loud-ish like (again, sorry about that), my friends started looking at the train schedule and wondering out loud whether the train was going where we needed it. As the train slowed to the next station, and we started to realize that we were on the right train, just going in the wrong direction, the Japanese lady (from earlier) behind me spoke out, in perfect English:

"Yep. You guys are on the wrong train. Ozone is the other way."


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Serious Dilemma.

I've a decorating dilemma on my hands. Just where does one put a real, dried pig's leg?

I've found the hard way that a dried, fleshy pig's leg just doesn't go with the decor in any of my rooms. But, it wasn't for lack of trying that I couldn't find a place...

Hanging in the kitchen with the rest of the measuring tools...

In my DVD basket...

Hanging in the doorway next to my bags (surely, guests will feel pleased and welcome?)

In the bathroom cabinet, along with the rest of my hair and make-up goods...

As an extra pillow on my bed...

I'll take suggestions. Anyone? Anyone?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Oh, What a Night

It was nothing like the song, or even remotely close to it, but it was a good time.

This morning, though, I woke to find the most odd thing on my kitchen table: a dried pig's leg. A REAL dried pig's leg. Among the other things that were laying on my table, such as my purse, a pen, my inhaler, and the cookies I baked yesterday afternoon.

I vaguely remember that the pig's leg ACTUALLY belonged on the wall of the bathroom of the bar I was at last night. But then this morning, it was instead on my table. My kitchen table. Which means I had to have somehow carried it home, among my purse and other things, to my house, where I put it on my table before crawling into bed. Again, I think this must have been a lot funnier last night.

This is how I THINK the night went (which is prefaced with some history that is important for you to know in able to understand the story best):

My friend, Lucille, the music teacher, invited me to join her for a night of jazz music by our favorite local pianist, Donny, who plays at the most amazing little club called Caballero. We had visited the club once last year, a night that encouraged us to come again, many times. Club Caballero boasts some of the most incredible decorations I have ever seen, with it's crowning achievement being the bathroom, one of the most magnificent rooms I have ever been. The owner, Boss (or Boss-san, to be polite), used to be a pretty huge jazz bassist in his day, and is now running one of the hippest joints around (for more on Club Caballero, click here). That first time, Lucille met a budding pianist, Eri, whom she convinced to become her pianist for all of our NIS concerts. Since that time, they have become good friends.

Back to last night, when Lucille and I daringly decide to invite copious amounts of gaijin (foreign) friends to infiltrate this bar. We were warmly welcomed by Donny, and the crew, who served us well with wine and music. One of the (many) highlights of the night: Donny playing 'Georgia on My Mind'. An old Georgia boy himself, Donny promised to play this song each night for his mother (or some good story like that). When minutes earlier, the whole bar had been talking over the music, at this point, we all sat silently. Even my Canadian friends were mute.

After the song, during the solemnity of the after-song moment, and being the comedian that I am, I requested Donny to play a song about Iowa. Of course, he had no song, but it sent me, Eri, and many others into a winded conversation about the cornfields and hog cribs of Iowa.

This led to Eri deciding to ask Boss if she could have one of the many dried pig's legs from the bathroom. He was happy to oblige, and without my knowing, a plan went into the works to present me with this kingly gift. So, as I am conversing during the break between sets, Boss delivered the pig's leg with a rousing speech, which, of course, was slightly embarrassing.

As the night got later, we realized we soon needed to leave to catch the last trains home (the second, which we missed, by the way, led to a very expensive cab ride home). So after the last song, we headed out to the station, I with a pig's leg in my hand. Once on the train, and no longer with a moral compass of what was right or wrong, we went into hysterics over the whole thing. Mike, who is one of the nicest guys I know, decided to slip his arm out of his sleeve, and replace it with the pig foot. He then proceeded to do a dialogue with the other passengers while we all laughed hysterically. One of his 'skits': putting his train ticket within the hoof toes and asking 'Excuse me, does this train go to Ozone?' Needless to say, it was the funniest thing I have ever seen. For all the money in the world, I wanted to attach the video, but my computer just wouldn't do it. Gosh, it was funny.

To end the story, I am now the (proud?) owner of a preserved, dead, fleshy pig's foot. A pig's foot, that for the memories, I will never be able to remove myself of. Plus, I wouldn't know which trash to put it in anyway...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Life's Little Mysteries (part 1)

Why, oh why, does the windshield wiper function never go JUST the right speed? It's either too slow, or too fast. There's no goldilocks-just-right at any level.

Never, in any car that I drive in, do I find a wiper speed that works perfectly.

Woe is me.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Alive and Well

I woke up at 2am on Saturday morning and was disappointed to be laying perfectly peacefully in my bed. I had prepared for the earthquake so dedicatedly, and then, nothing.

(I take back what I said about my stuff.)

But, for now, I am alive and well. Well, I am alive. I'd be well if I had some sugar-free kool-aid. I ran out of the package Tera sent me in March.

Oh, and I'd be better if there wasn't a person outside of my apartment practicing their harmonica at 7am on Sunday morning. Which is right now. Which is why I'm even writing this.

So, 'well' is too be determined.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

It's the end of the world...

... as we know it?

Predicted for this Saturday is the biggest earthquake to rock Asia since baked bread was first baked.

So, just in case, this will be my final will and testament.

Mom - you can keep my bills, (but you can have my insurance money to pay for it).

Nik can have all of my clothes. Cause we wear the same size tops. My bottoms, though, need to go to someone more rounded. Sorry, Nik.

Aimee Thode? You can have all of my teaching stuff. Please share it?

I leave everything else I own to Tera.

Except my cotton Supre bag. Mary can have that.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Happy Anniversary

As of today, it's two years since my adventure around the world started. On the 6th of September, two years ago, I left America for an experience in personal growth that has led me here. As of today, I have spent more than 700 days abroad.

I look back to reflect the amount of gowing that I have done since leaving home. Life lessons have been plenty, including tears and fears to mend, semi-masterment of a completely foreign language and alphabet, professional growth beyond my my wildest reaches, and a sense of self-worth and accomplishment that can only com from having had the experiences that I have been fortunate enough to have.

So, in retrospect, I would like to share some of my most fond memories and learning moments that I can remember (in no specific order).

1. Who would have ever known that Canada was not one of the United States of America?

2. The best diet you can have? A broken heart. (But I don't recommend it...)

3. Gay men make the best friends.

4. Playing 'dumb foreigner' is the best way out of any sticky situation (and you can take that advice to the bank!).

5. Children around the world are the same. They love cookies, need bandaids, and give hugs. A hello in any language or a smile on any color of face is something that can make your day.

6. The second best diet you can have? Living in Japan.

7. Facebook and Guitar Hero are like crack.

8. Bacon, in any other country, is not bacon.

9. Most countries won't allow your auntie to ship real bacon to you.

10. Lighting and music can make or break the mood of your living space.

11. Friends are good to have, but keeping in touch with them is hard to do.

12. Mastering driving on two sides of the road is a skill worth putting on a resume.

13. A good resume is good to have.

14. Sometimes, long lost things do come back to you. And when they do, you often don't know what the hell to do with them, although you're mighty glad they're there...

15. Living is easy with eyes closed, but I wouldn't advise that either.

16. People come and go. Friends are good and bad. And life is too short to allow others to bring you down.

and lastly,

17. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Or so they say.

Here's to 700 more good ones abroad (just don't tell my Auntie)...

Saturday, August 30, 2008


Here's the hot-off-the-press, first look at my half of Nagoya International School's class of 2019. An 'interesting' bunch.

You know, for all it's worth, I am looking forward to a year of challenges that will help me redefine my teaching in ways that will only propel me (and my students) forward.

Plus, there's only 12 of them. Really, how bad could that be?


Thursday, August 28, 2008


To say that I have a completely different class of learners this year (compared to the cherubs I had the privilege of teaching last year) would be the understatement of the century.

But, in an effort to follow my new routine of 'no criticism, no complaining, no condemning' as well as 'positive mental attitude', I will try to explain my situation this year, to you, as light-heartedly as possible.

My new class is very interesting.

I don't think they'd be quite so 'interesting' if I hadn't have had a class of absolute angels last year. Smart, kind, caring, friendly angels. Angels whose new teachers (and anyone else who is fortunate enough to walk in to the third grade class during work times) say nothing but good things about what 'thoughtful readers', 'smart kids' and 'independent workers' they are (thank you very much to the EXCELLENT teaching they had last year, if it may be mentioned here!)

My new class is just so interesting.

I don't think they'd be quite so 'interesting' if I hadn't have been spoiled last year wtih kids who really listened, who worked hard, who followed the rules, and who had great respect for their teacher (thank you very much to the EXCELLENT teaching and modeling they had last year, if it may be mentioned here!).

So this year, I am just 'lucky' enough to have kids who are 'interesting'. There is really no other way to describe it.

And so, I hope that I have accurately conveyed to you, without uttering a single word of negativity, just now 'nice' my class this year really is...

Monday, August 18, 2008


Big news of the day: Gary eats Indian food (and likes it!)...

Tonight, at approximately 6:45pm (JST), Gary Thornton of Ankeny, Iowa, tried Indian food for the first time. Thornton, 49, had always proclaimed himself a 'meat and potatoes' kind of guy, preferring any table with salt and pepper and a diet Pepsi.

Tonight, in an unexpected turn, though, Thornton was asked to try Indian food, and, after trying it, with little hesitation, found it to be more delicious than he had ever imagined. After tasting the third course, Indian-styled ice cream called Kulfee, Thornton gladly exclaimed 'there's nothing tonight that hasn't been right on. This stuff is good.' and was overheard discussing finding Indian restaurants with his wife Lynne, 44.

Some of the foods eaten by Mr. Thornton at the time of this publishing:

Vegetable Pakura
Tandori Chicken
Chicken Masala Curry
Garlic Naan

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Some Random Thoughts from Japan

By Lynne Thornton, guest blogger

Wendy is letting me a “guest writer” on her blog while we are in Japan. I have never done this before and I can only hope that you will enjoy reading this so here goes.

Japan is VERY hot in August. Wendy had warned us of this but it was really the only time that worked for all of us to visit. For those of you that know me well, I don’t do heat well at all. We have been out walking in it for 5 days now pretty much from sunrise to sunset and it has been so great, we have seen so much. Wendy has been an amazing tour guide. I definitely would not want to be here on my own trying to get everywhere that she has taken us.

One of the things that I knew I was going to miss when we came to Japan were the Olympics. I really enjoy watching the Olympics and I set up the DVR at home so that I could watch them when I get home. Wendy knows how the Gymnastic team did but I have asked her not to tell me. I have seen Michael Phelps a couple of times on Japanese TV with Japanese announcers (which is funny at first and then VERY irritating). When we were in Hiroshima & Tokoyo, we were able to watch LIVE Olympics but it was all Japan participants (who knew there could be so many live Judo & Ju-jitsu matches)? I am truly looking forward to coming home and watching the Olympics two weeks late with English speaking announcers.

If you come to Japan, try not to come during their ‘holiday”. This is when a lot of the businesses close down and everyone does the stuff that WE are trying to do. We went to Disney Sea yesterday in Tokyo and there were so many people. We got there at 10am and left at 9pm and rode only 4 rides because of the lines. It was crazy. BUT…at least I am not a Disney virgin any more. Yes, it is true, at the ripe old age of 44, I have made my first trip to Disney!!!!!

Japanese woman are very beautiful AND they don’t sweat (did I mention it is HOT in Japan)??? Yesterday I was watching them in line and none of them were sweating – their hair was perfect, their face was perfect, just absolutely beautiful woman. The craziest part of this is that even in this heat, some woman wear long pants and long gloves to protect themselves from the sun. I guess this is how they stay looking so young for so long.

My last random thought is going to be about Wendy. She is not Japanese but she IS very beautiful. I have been amazed this week at how fluently she has mastered the Japanese language and culture. She has been a terrific host and an absolute perfect tour guide. Yes, there have been some issues along the way, not in her control, but it has been a wonderful week. Wendy and I can get on each others nerves when we are together for a long period of time but we always end of getting through it – we just try and leave each other alone for awhile which is what we ended up doing today. Gary and I took off on an adventure on our own to Fuji while Wendy came back to Nagoya. This gave Gary and I some alone time and it gave Wendy a chance to have her apartment to herself for a few hours without having to keep us busy. It also gave Gary and I a chance to see what we have learned (and retained) from Wendy over the past week of how to get around Japan. I will always remember the look on Wendy’s face when we made it back to her apartment. She was amazed that we had done so well. (THANK YOU Wendy for an incredible time in Japan.) Someday I hope that she will be blessed with a daughter and my greatest hope for her is that she will have a great relationship with her and she will then be able to completely understand the pride of watching your baby girl turn into such a beautiful woman before your eyes. Wendy, you continue to amaze me and I hope you know how much you mean to me and how much I Love You.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Our Diet

Two incredibly picky eaters: Lynne and Gary. I promise that I haven't starved them, seriously. But, it's just that they won't eat anything I give them.

Ok, well, Lynne isn't SO bad, but Gary? Lost cause...

Our diet this week has consisted of mainly the following:

Flavored pretzels
Any ice cream
Diet Coke
Mc Donalds
Kraft Macaroni and Cheese

So, when Mom and Gary come home 15 pounds lighter, no one will wonder why...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Second verse, same as the first

(Mom and Gary do Japan: Day 2)

An early wakening took us on a long walk to see my school, and back home for showers and a delicious breakfast of omelets and fresh fruit salad. Still 640 degrees in my apartment, Gary and Mom found the positive in my excellent showering facilities and my delicious breakfast-making skills.

And then we left the house.

The cab ride was uneventful, and the first train ride too. But, I knew the day was going to be disaster when Mom said, 'So, where do we change our money at?'

Uh... yeah. Of all the things that I FORGOT to tell Mom and Gary to do (and of all the things that I take advantage of knowing as a seasoned traveler) is that if you don't know much about your country, just to be safe, you always exchange some or all of your money at the airport. Japan is a perfect example of why to do this, as we could not find a money exchange place anywhere between my house and the most major train station in Nagoya. Which effectively put my parents on a train, about to travel halfway across Japan, without a spendable cent in their pockets.

This led to an uncomfortable discussion between Gary and myself and the Shinkansen ticket seller that went something like this:

Train guy: (in Japanese): There is a money exchange place somewhere nearby.
Gary (at the same time): Is there a place nearby?
Wendy (angrily trying to keep her calm, and not being able to believe that Gary had forgotten the getting-lost-debacle from the previous night, and remembering that the tickets we have just purchased leave in 22 minutes): Do you know how to get us there? Are you going to lead us?

(later I apologized)

As in any problem solving situation, the facts were reconsidered, plans b and c were made, and the money problem was (semi-) solved.

But then...

As we got into the train station to transfer Mom and Gary's Japan Rail Pass vouchers into Rail Pass tickets (which lets them travel throughout the country for free, and is something I'm not able to get, nor do I know much about), the two of them were dragged out of the ticket purchasing line and taken to the Rail Pass transfer line. I waited in the purchase line still, hoping they would complete the transfer before it was my turn to buy the tickets, but no luck. And then, of course, as soon as I got to the window and was told to step back in line until my parents, with their passes, were also there, they finished their pass exchange, and came on over. To the back of the line we went.


When we got to the counter, we realized that Mom and Gary's rail pass did not allow for us to take the most direct train for our three-hour ride to Hiroshima, but that instead, we would be required to switch one time. Which wouldn't have been a problem if you could read the bloody timetable. Which, of course, was in Japanese. So, back to the help desk for a transfer question which was answered by two good-looking Japanese men whose only faults were making me speak Japanese for half of the conversation before admitting that they spoke English. Jerks.

The first train was easy and effortless and we landed at our transfer station right on time.

But then...

Because of the nature of our tickets, the second train ride was to be non-reserved seats, which means everyone and their mothers crams into the first three cars (so pray to God that you get a seat). I thought I was clever to find the shortest line possible to stand in, assuring we'd get a seat, which we did, until I realized that there was a reason that the line for car 2 was quite short. And, so, for the rest of the 90 minute ride to Hiroshima, we sat in a car full of sick, smelly, Japanese smokers (and one crying baby who obviously wasn't a smoker either). Needless to say, that train ride was not as enjoyable.

Other memorable highlights of the day:

Planning our whole day around the baseball game in the evening, only to be dressed and walking out the door when we realized that the game was not for tonight, but tomorrow night.

Reading brochures during dinner and finding out that one of the biggest fireworks displays in all of the country is set to go off in two days, one day after we leave.


The moral of the story: sometimes it's just best to not leave the house.

Mom and Gary's Big Adventure

(an adventurous fiasco from day 1)

I was really excited for Mom and Gary to visit Japan. Until they got here. You see, I realized, as soon as they arrived, that I don't know nearly enough about this country to get myself, let alone them, around safely and efficiently.

Thus, the fiasco began at landing time, 8:00pm (Nagoya Central Time).

1. On the way home from the airport, the navigation system that I was using fell out of my hands, and (which we didn't know until later) the cd (that guides via satellite) became dislodged. So, as we were getting ready to merge from one highway to the next, the entire system stopped working.

(Side note - I really am not kidding when I say that you can't just 'take a wrong turn' or 'get lost' in Japan. The end result would be to be lost off o the planet forever. Only this time, It was going to be myself and my parents to never be heard from again...)

In a series of miscalculated judgement errors, I, at that time, took two wrong turns. Panicked and nearly crying, I called my friend Daniel (the master of Japan) who effortlessly led us home. If you've ever seen Apollo 13, it was like trying to get to Earth from the Moon with no computer to guide me. Daniel was my steely-eyed missile man.

2. When we got to my apartment, Gary immediately fell into a grate that was about 2 feet deep. You see, these large canal-like grates are built between the building and the parking lot to collect rain water during storms. In most places* they are not covered with metal bars, but are merely large, cement holes. Not only did he scrape his leg and elbow and twist his foot, he hit his head and mouth on the side of the cement. I mean, I guess I hadn't thought to say "Hey Gary, watch out for that really deep and large and dangerous and dark grate that is behind my car. It's a killer."

*most places = my house

3. We carried the 4-50 pound bags up to the second floor and inside. Although I had kept the air-conditioning on (only a luxury I would afford my parents), it was about 650 degrees inside my place. My apartment is plenty big for one, but is a bit of a stretch for 3 plus 4 suitcases full of stuff. But, we got fairly sorted quickly, and started packing up for the next day's journey. Except that one of Gary's suitcases would not open. At all. So we had to cut it apart. Which was sweaty and frustrating. But, at least we were down to 3 people and three suitcases.

the rest of the night (thankfully) proceeded pretty uneventfully (considering it was bedtime), until I found out that:

4. Earlier that day, Mom and Gary had to 'lighten' the two suitcases they were bringing for me by about 10 pounds upon arrival to the airport in Des Moines. Before they arrived there, anticipating such a need, Mom and I discussed that whatever she needed to take out would be fine, not life or death, and to not worry about it. Upon the arrival in Japan, she presented me the list of things that she had taken out. Obviously, when I said 'anything you take out is fine', I meant 'anything but the five things you took out'. Here is an abbreviated list:

my brand new hard drive for my computer
the shampoo from a set of very expensive, huge sized, salon style hair care (but hey, at least I have the conditioner, right?)
a bottle of shampoo that a friend asked me to bring (since she wasn't going to get to America this summer)

You know what did make it though? Four jars of homemade jam, three unnecessary towels, and a huge blanket that I didn't even want to bring in the first place.


All of this, and they had only been in town for 3 hours.