Saturday, July 24, 2010

Crazy Finals Week

My bad, another week with hardly a post! That's okay, it was finals week for me so very busy. And since I made an A- in the second course (and an A in the first), I'd say it was definitely worth it!! Let me update you on my fun week.

Last Tuesday my mom made me obentos for lunch because Takumi also needed one for his summer camp-type activity. Summer vacation has started for the kids here; it's only about a month long. I bet if we had a shorter break in America, even two months instead of three, there wouldn't be so many dumb Americans.

We had really good pizza for dinner. :D

Look how cute my host dad and brother are!

On Wednesday I think I just studied all day. There was the first big final exam on Thursday, then a speech and test to prepare for on Friday. I procrastinated a lot but I ended up deciding to make a poster.

On Thursday my friends and I met Bjorn at the station. He was so late that I just ate my obento in the station, haha. Then he and my friends ate at a fish restaurant near Kaihimmakuhari station. After that, we went back to Kanda and he played Wii in the SALC with some English majors. Then we went to my house, played Othello, talked to my host brother, and I made my poster. For dinner we had monja!! It was really good but I failed at making it correctly. Fortunately my host mom made it beautifully, as you can see in the picture.


I was really nervous about my speech and the second final test, but they both turned out to go a lot better than I thought.

After class, my friends and I may or may not have gone to the Aeon to buy drinks before the Sayonara party. Haha. At the party, there was sushi, pizza, salad, and everyone's host families. Mine couldn't come due to very hard work at the end of every month, so I missed them. But I got to meet other people's families again and it was great. The first-year class each gave thank-you speeches but thankfully (ha) I didn't have to, being a second-year and with my host family not there.

Here's a picture with me, Sachi, Yuumi, and Rie (2 students from Kanda University). It got a little sad to think about everyone leaving the friends at KUIS and their host families, even though I don't have to until the 28th, and then I'll see my host family again on August 1st. I don't want such nice people to be halfway across the world from me! I hope we can see each other again. Most of the students have to go home on Sunday, so they got pretty sad. At least at the party it was fun. Here's Ethan and Robert giving their speeches.

After the Sayonara party, Robert, Ethan, and I went drinking with Sachi and her host mom and 12-year-old sister. :) Her host mom is sooo funny, loves getting drunk every Friday and doing crazy things. Every Monday Sachi would tell me about her host mom's antics the previous weekend (like pulling out the freezer drawer and falling down with ice cream everywhere) and I would say, "PLEASE let me hang out with your mom!!" So finally we did. :D And her host mom was so happy to meet me that she wrote "Caroline" on the calendar for Friday, haha.

Anyway, we went to a restaurant with plenty of alcohol and had a great time. Despite my efforts I actually did not get drunk at all but I did have some really delicious drinks, like mango yogurt cocktail (see photo) and one very colorful drink that was called, "Fairy in the Forest" (to Sachi's mom's great amusement) and was labeled "Carbon Offset", haha. Who knows why. Sachi's mom's friend and her daughter came to the drinking party too, and it was neat to meet them. The girl has a test in two days and the results will affect whether or not she can get a scholarship to go to Wisconsin for a year. She seemed so smart and great at English!

One of my friends having a good time at the restaurant. ;D

We all said goodbye after the restaurant and it got pretty sad. I rode the same train as Sachi so we said goodbye there. :( I miss her mom!!! And since Sachi goes to school in Massachusetts and lives in California/Hawaii, I probably won't get to see her much. But she's friends with a guy I knew from Hoggard, so she said she might carpool with him and come visit me. :D

Sachi's shoe tan.

Saturday (today)

I woke up delightfully late, read some emails, and then got ready for a day with uncertain plans. After looking through my Japan guidebook (thanks, Emily!) I decided during breakfast to go to Tokyo Station and Nihombashi. It was a good decision, but way too hot outside.

After arriving at Nihombashi station, I first visited the Nihombashi (Japan's Bridge) bridge. :) It is very famous and measured as the center of Tokyo. It was built in the Edo period and marked the origin/convergence of all of Japan's roads. It was rebuilt in 1911 as it is now.

I saw this really neat statue beneath it.

Then I walked around the area a little bit, lingering in front of air-conditioned door entrances. Just to cool off, I went into a famous store in Nihombashi, but when I saw the clearance shoes were 15,000 yen (more than $150) I felt both bored and uncomfortable so I left, haha. I saw this huge building that was so big it couldn't fit in my camera view, no matter how I moved around. On my walk, I went into the Tokyo station, which has a huuuge, underground mall in it. I got some omiyage and a little bit of air conditioning. Then I ate lunch at a fast-food but amazing Japanese place. I got pork with rice and miso soup for a total of 290 yen! That's maybe $3 or $3.50. It was maybe even healthy.

Then I walked all the way to the Tokyo International Forum past the Tokyo Station. It was SO HOT and yet I know it's worse in a lot of the US, dang. Anyway, the TIF was in my Japan guidebook for its awesome architecture, built like the hull of a boat, and it did not disappoint!

It was actually really breathtaking. There were a bunch of huge exhibition halls, and a teddy bear convention going on. ;) I would have gone in but it was 1000 yen! I am not that interested in teddy bears but a lot of Japanese people were.

Standing at this angle, at the very top, the building was really hot. I'm sure they didn't bother to air-condition the top, so it was probably a really energy-inefficient building. But so cool to see.

Then I walked really far to the Imperial Palace. I got lost, so a nice young guy helped set me on the right path and even walked with me for 5 minutes. I saw this awesome samurai statue in the park next to the palace gardens. I also saw a lot of people sleeping or resting in the short grass in the shade. I bet they were cooler than I was but I couldn't imagine sleeping outside anywhere in that heat.

I couldn't go even into the Imperial Palace gardens but the surrounding area was really cool. Here's the famous bridge that forms the entrance and a little glimpse of a part of the palace itself.

Because the palace occupies so much land in the center of Tokyo, surrounded by huge skyscrapers that were built so high because of the cost of land, it is said that the Imperial Palace sits on a piece of land worth more than all of California. Compare these pictures. They would form a panorama (top being left and bottom being right) if I weren't lazy with photoshop.
So much open space, you'd never think to find it in the middle of Tokyo!! And that's not even the gardens, it's just a huge path in front of the gardens.

By that time I had run out of water and was kind of miserable due to the heat. Ethan called and said he would eat dinner with his host family, so there was no reason for me not to return home. That was pretty good for me, actually; I was and still am exhausted. I bought some mango juice and took the fastest route home that didn't involve any more walking!

After an ice-cold shower and hot bath (which oddly felt really good on my aching feet that had been so hot earlier), I saw that my host mom had made tomato ramen!! I love it so much that she gave me the recipe so I can make it at UNC. Can't wait, that stuff is amazing for anyone who likes tomatoes.

Tomorrow I'm giving an English lesson in the morning to a boy named Kouki. I hope I am not a bad teacher! I've given Spanish lessons to English-speakers and English lessons to Spanish-speakers but never English lessons to Japanese-speakers. I hope we practice pronunciation a lot because I always know about that. :) My host mom lent me a textbook to use. The lesson will be two hours and then I'm eating lunch with his family. His parents are professional cooks so I bet it will be delicious!

In conclusion: I am so glad that my class is over although I really don't want to say goodbye to my friends. I want to stay here longer but part of me is ready to go back to the US. I wish I could have a longer no-school break, though. :)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The previous weekend :)

My apologies for the super-long break! I guess I was having too much fun. :D I'll do a brief summary of the past five days here, and then I'll be happy to answer any questions I left unaddressed in the comments or elsewhere.

On Friday I convinced Ethan to come swimming with me in a Japanese public pool. It was hilariously filled with faux-pas. For one, I was wearing a bikini while every other girl or woman was wearing a conservative one piece. I could hear all the little kids talking about me not-so-discreetly, but it was the only swimsuit I brought with me to Japan. Also, Ethan and I didn't have swimcaps even though we have short hair, so we had to borrow them. We also forgot goggles. Then we went in the walking lane with all the old people while there were tons of genki kids taking swim lessons from strict teachers all around us. It was pretty funny; at least Ethan could try to blend in with his half-Asianness.

On Saturday morning, I woke up really early (4:30am-ish) to go to the Tsukiji fish market. To any vegetarians or fish-lovers, you may want to just skip over this little bit if you don't like hearing about fish markets or seeing any such photos.

Tsukiji is a famous place that I read about in my Japan travelers' guide. Turns out there were a ton of fish! It was a neat place to see but after a few hours I got tired of 1) being accidentally in the way of people who actually needed to be there, 2) the sight of dead fish, and 3) people carrying fish accidentally touching me and getting me fishy. I was impressed with the huuuuuuge tuna fish (see photo), the number of people who were hard at work at 5 or 6am, the busy and cramped stalls, and the knives/machinery people were using to cut up fish. I was really not okay with seeing fish/seafood killed in inhumane ways; I couldn't watch and it made me want to leave. I also got tired of the wet floors and fishy smells.

Robert was thinking about meeting me there at some point, but since he came so late and it was getting really hot outside at like 8am, I decided to eat sushi by myself. It was overpriced right next to the market (because it was crawling with tourists) but I went for it anyway and just ordered three pieces (460 yen!). I sat next to some Spaniards and proceeded to humiliate myself with my now-terrible Spanish, haha. My sentences came out in Japanese more often than Spanish, even though I told them that I lived in Mexico for three weeks and I used to be pretty good at Spanish. They probably thought I was lying, haha. Anyway, it was fun to practice distinguishing two languages that sound sooooo similar and often use the same words (but with different definitions). Fun story: just now when I tried to type "different", I said "different" in my head but I typed "diferente." Anyway, kasa in Japanese is umbrella but the same pronunciation (casa) in Spanish is house. Kara in Japanese means many things, mostly "from", but in Spanish the same thing means face. Anyway. Cool. :D

I returned home after the fish market, jumped on the bed with Takumi instead of taking a nap like I wanted, and then we all left to visit my host mom's parents in western Tokyo. It took about 90 minutes or more to get there due to traffic, but we played fun car games in Japanese. :D

At the house, Namiko, her mom, and her sister Sachiko dressed me in a real kimono! Some Japanese women have never even worn one, and most don't know how to put one on, or can't do it by themselves.

The final product was awesome! Toasty warm, though. This kimono is about 1,000,000 yen, and the obi is the same price too, making the entire outfit $20,000! Earlier I thought it was just $2,000 (still hugely expensive) but my host mom corrected me; I forgot a zero. Can you believe it?? It's only for 20-year-olds, for the ceremony of becoming an adult at age 20.

After we took pictures, we all went to a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant (fourth time since being here). This picture is funny because no one is smiling but we were actually all really happy. The sushi was great! Namiko's mom treated everyone, and then we ate watermelon and cake for dessert at home.

I went to bed early because I was so tired from my early morning. Then the next day, we relaxed, played board games, and ate more watermelon. :) I lost Othello every time except once. For lunch we went out to a restaurant and I got soba made with green tea, so good.

My host mom surprised me with a really, really beautiful and high-quality yukata before we left for the trip! Her mom then gave me an obi to go with the yukata. So that my mom won't freak out, I can't write the price here. Here is a picture of me wearing the yukata and the obi, which is really difficult to tie. I wrote instructions for how to do it on Facebook, but I now know how to do it myself. :) The more times I do it, the better it will look and the softer my obi will become. I can't wait to show it off at UNC Japan Club and at my apartment sometime when I'm feeling fancy. :D

Then we all went to a huge outlet mall. I didn't buy much, but I saw this funny shirt.

We returned home late that night and I studied a little. Then the next day, I went to a nomihoudai party with the United Nations University interns in Shibuya. It was great fun! Here's a picture of me with some new friends. I was really happy at that time. :D
Apparently everyone in America thinks Inception is the greatest movie ever made, so here's a giant poster of it from Shibuya station that I saw last night. Included in this picture is another not-too-common sight: PDA! Although I think it's becoming more popular among young people to have PDA despite the older generation seeing it as a sign of weakness and disrespect.

Today was normal class with a test and impending doom about the final exams on Thursday and presentation on Friday. To kill the stress effectively for an hour or two (only to have it rebound spectacularly on my end later), some friends and I ate some ice cream. I got Pop-Rocks ice cream and it was delightful.

Tonight my host mom told me that her neighbors want me to teach their son some English next week. It'll be fun but I'm nervous! He's 12, likes sports, and has learned only a little English at school, or at least that's what he told me on the phone. I was really excited that I could understand his and his mom's Japanese over the phone tonight; that's usually the most difficult thing about learning another language. I know Spanish is nearly impossible over the phone. Maybe I'm getting better at Japanese than I thought! Although yesterday, I saw a young boy crying in the road, and I asked him if everything was okay. I couldn't understand his answer at ALLLLLLLL so I just stood there awkwardly until he told me things were okay. But at least he stopped crying because weird foreigners are interesting to look at.

After dinner, I explained American discrimination to my host mom, who had thought that in America, discrimination wasn't too common (neither based on race nor on sexual orientation). I told her that it's quite the opposite in many places! It was pretty difficult to explain American racism, because most racist things are now illegal but social racism is everywhere.  I also explained some of economic and cultural discrepancies between whites and blacks in America, and their origins in slavery and male-oriented black culture (regarding HIV and unplanned pregnancies which often keep young black women from meeting their goals). And as for gay issues, she thought that because in San Fran that gay people can get married, it must be a really open country. But I showed her some pictures from the hate crime in Wilmington last year and told her about Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the UNC LGBTQ trip. Then I tried to explain the effect of religion on gay discrimination... so hard to do in Japanese but I think I did it. :)

That's the end for now.