Posted by: chapmaar | October 9, 2010

From Genki to Jenky – 3 Days in the Yakushima Wilderness

“and if not, what did it really matter? Wasn’t life just a dewdrop within a dewdrop?” Shogun, James Clavell

My 36 oz. Adams Peanut Butter jar had been scraped clean, washed, and thrown in the recycling. The plants, watered; the appliances, unplugged. The sun was rising over Kanonji’s jagged hilltops, and all I had to do was figure out how to attach my child-sized Deva backpack (and by child-sized I mean it is the size of a five year old child) onto my rickety cruiser and pedal the twenty minute journey to the bus stop. “The adventure starts now,” I thought, as I stopped repeatedly to readjust, clip, tighten, and tie more knots (once with the help of a good natured old woman who kept gesturing “Rope! Rope!” to me). Luckily, I’d given myself an hour, and except for remembering halfway there that I’d left the delicious PB&J sandwich, fancy grapes, and carrots in the fridge, I arrived with time to spare. The long awaited, lengthily planned and oft-discussed trip to Yakushima, a tiny island south of Kyushu, was about to begin.

Bus, bus, and I was standing in an airport waving and squealing excitedly as the handsome face and svelte figure of fellow Whittie David Abramovitz approached and encircled me in a tight squeeze. We made small talk, our conversation careening over widely disparate topics, our tongues loosening, familiarizing themselves to the college cadences, the remembered laugh, the particular quirks. The excitement fizzed in the air around me, wore on me, so I napped on the plane and woke up refreshed and buzzing – soon I would see BRIDGET!!!

 

There was a loud concert playing at the arrival station. Four youngish looking Japanese popsters (but everyone here looks youngish. I had tagged them at 17, but the much more experienced David guesstimated late twenties!)banged and bleated a saccharine harmony to a crowd of politely clapping Japanese girls in black leggings and unlikely heels. But their noise was no match; when the song ended the crowd turned in shock as a piercing “AMYYYYYYY!” rent the placid air. A language-less squeal answered it , and then we were hugging, my heavy backpack obstructing her arms. The girl I’ve lived with, cooked with, cried with, fought with, danced in my underwear with, crossed the country with, and FUCKING OWNED WHITMAN COLLEGE with were back together for one week. In Japan.

We slept that night at an ex-JET’s apartment in Kagoshima, the biggest city near Kanoya, an agricultural town where Bridget teaches English. We ate Indian food, had a photo booth sesh, and rode a Japanese ferris wheel that was in the mall (it wasn’t worth it). The next morning, we woke up at 5 am to catch the ferry to Yakushima.

From here, the pictures begin, and every one knows what they say about the word count ratio of pictures to words. I’ll chime in every now and again, but let me just say that, ultimately, this is the story of a backpacking trip. As I said to David at one point along the journey, in between one step and another, “backpacking is an activity that’s borderline tedious already, unless you have the right attitude.” In all likelihood, the same could be said of the experience of looking at photos of a backpacking trip; after all, how many pictures of rocks and mountains do you need to see (or, to quote a line from my all time favorite novel/movie Pride and Prejudice, “What are men compared to rocks or mountains?” “Or carriages that work!”)? But this is where the whole attitude part comes in. When you’ve been hiking for seven, ten, or twelve hours, you begin to notice when a rock is particularly smooth and sculpted, or a tree twisted and red, or a root, ginormous. And trust me, you get excited. Looking back at these photos, I am unable to distance myself from the amazement and wonder I felt as the nature of Yakushima enveloped me and passed me by. Nor would I want to. So, the following Notice remains:

Yakushima seems to me a place too beautiful, too magical to be real. Everything you’re about to see here, even the really crazy stuff, is 100% thirty-minute oatmeal NATURAL. I didn’t even use special effects settings on my camera. I promise.

ah ha! bridget glimpses yakushima from the ferry boat.

"I guess it's true what the travel book said - Yakushima's mountains really do catch every passing rain cloud." - a comment made as we see the clouds billow over Yakushima's peaks, the only fluff balls in an otherwise clear blue sky

pulling in to port. a sort of gnawing sensation slips under my navel, and grows over the evening that ensues. The first night, we take a bus along an edge of the island, skirting the mountains, which shoot up menacingly besides us. My mind ranges from the soft-soled running shoes in the butt of my backpack to the ominous clouds squatting over the mountainous mounds. No one speaks much, and the question is hanging about all of us. Can we do this?

Can we do this? Well, well, funny you should ask, the old man’s disbelieving smirk seems to say. I don’t know what he says; he’s speaking rapid Japanese at David (who’s studied for eight years and lived abroad in Kyoto, so he’s legit), but I don’t like that X the man makes with his hands, or the way he chops his hand sideways against his chest with such menace.

Finally, David turned to translate. “He says it’s impossible. Apparently there’s a river? He says its really deep and we won’t be able to cross.” We exchange  glances – the man runs THE hostel located near the entrance of the trail. Bridget pulls out her photocopied pages of Lonely Planet’s Hiking In Japan and furrows her brow. “How far in is the river?” I ask, thinking that if it turns out to be true we could always just turn around and attack the peak from another direction. David asks, and then laughs darkly. “He says its seven hours in. And there’s no marked trail.”

The pause that hangs over us is pregnant with doubt and concern. But in a flash of irritation, I burst out, “Wait a second. Isn’t this totally Japanese? That they would be really afraid of something, make it sound really hard, when it’s really not?” We laugh with relief for a second – this totally is something that would happen – but a mood is set. For the rest of the night, we fluctuate between self-doubt, exhilarated nonchalance, and tentative excitement. I decide last minute to rent some serious hiking boots (thank.god), and we set our alarm clocks for 4:30 am next morning, planning to hit the trail with the first light.

the sign at the base of the hike - our projected trajectory for day one

sunrise through the trees as we begin our traverse of yakushima

sunrise through the trees

an hour in and we're already sweating like crazy. little did we know, we had over ten hours (i think?) of steady uphill battling still to come

after a few hours, we reached a fork where we could drop our packs and take an hour excursion to a secluded waterfall. david straddles some rocks to get to the little slice of paradise

beauty! feeling hella genki (excited, clean, happy energetic), we strip off our clothes and decide to tak e a dip in the crytal clear, refreshingly cold water

a well-deserved lounge by a beautiful secluded waterfall

back on the "trail," the terrain turns treacherous. we scan the forest for pink markers, then scramble over fun natural obstacles

An oft-repeated quip from that first day occurred during a discussion of how steep the the path was. After countless times pulling on roots, scrabbling onto our knees up a level and then standing back up, Bridget made some claim to its steepness, to which I replied, “I don’t think it could be any more difficult to climb unless we were rock climbing.” A few paces later, we stood before a flat rock face we had to rock climb up with our packs on to get over. We started hiking around 6 am, and reached the mountain hut in which we would be sleeping around 6 pm. We had just enough time to lay out our pads and sleeping bags, soak our screaming legs in the nearby river, and boil up a quick meal of cup of noodles with dehydrated tofu and carrots. We munched and talked quietly in the dark, the cicadas whirring around us, before turning in early ourselves.

You would think any sane person would sleep like a log after such a taxing first day. But the gods made me crazy. I’m a ridiculously light sleeper. The cabin was shared with maybe ten other hikers, most coming from different directions (we saw maybe five other hikers on our first day, all going down hill in the opposite direction, and only one going in the same direction – also a foreigner, from Switzerland). Of the fifteen or twenty people sleeping in that hut, two were particularly musical snorers. I was, frankly, amazed at their range (before I became infuriated with its ceaselessness). They sawed and harumphed and whistled the night away, while I tossed desperately on my silly Japanese-purchased pool-inflatable air mattress. The next morning, I rose from my pad raging. I had another full day to hike, my feet ached, and I hadn’t slept a week. Expletives mired my thoughts, and I was impervious to the genki attitudes of my fellow compatriots over a breakfast of peanut butter bread, instant coffee, and ferociously gnawed apple. But it took maybe, what, ten minutes? Fifteen? of renewed hiking to lift the clouds. I apologized to my friends, and soon was laughing, rapping Warren G, and singing R. Kelly’s “Bump & Grind” in the glorious morning sunlight (as you can tell, our British friends had excellent taste in American music).

That second day was probably the best day of hiking I’ve ever had. The nature was so varied, the weather perfect, the companionship unbeatable. We quickly left the dense tropical forest of gigantic fern fronds and tangled roots we encountered the first day. Instead, high bamboo fields, ridge lines, picturesque highland marshes, and twisting red forests of dappled light brushed past us as we first summited Mt. Miyanoura Dake, the highest point in Kyushu, and then continued on the a small, rustic mountain hut right at the foot of Jomon Sugi, a giant cedar tree that is famous throughout Japan for being over 7000 years old.

Sam, a Britisher, adventurer, philosopher, and lover of Warren G. What's not to like? His great attitude and hilarious questions in long games of "Would You Rather" made our trip so enjoyable and unforgettable

the hills behind us - our first viewpoint of the day

a highland marsh.

this one is said to resemble a traditional japanese garden . .. naturally

it was still a steep uphill battle the second day, but while the first day had been virtually unguided, the second day came with wood platforms, clearer trails and ropes!!!

. . . oh, and little steps cut BETWEEN the rocks - though they weren't quite guy-jin back pack sized

bamboo and cool rocks all around

summit! bridget spots the top of miyanoura dake in the distance

weaving our way to the top

where we've been

it's windy on top!!!!!

the half to come - you can see the ocean and the island of tanegashima between the clouds off in the distance

group photo

and moving on into the mist

The rest of the second day took us between amazing twisting sun-dappled trees. Finally, our feet aching, we arrived at a small little mountain hut, a picture perfect respite at the end of an arduos but unforgettable day.

i love this rock

our mountain hut

That night Bridget and I spent in a tent, talking for hours, until thunder rumbled. “Oh no!” Bridget exclaimed, panic-stricken – our tent didn’t have a ground tarp. The rain fell anyways, and continued pouring after the sun rose, cooling down with our English Breakfast Tea and tapering off into a few light drizzles that coated our packs and leaves as we set off on the more touristy, most downhill day of our climb.

in front of Jomon Sugi, a 7000++ year old tree

hm, looks like a stump. what's UP?

AH, KAWAII! a cute heart

whitties living the afterlife

 

still enough energy for an end of hike dance party

That night, we went to the onsen hot springs near the end of the trail. We scrubbed off the stink. It was my first onsen experience, and surprisingly, I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all in the small room full of naked and sweating Japanese women. I did overdo the heat a bit at first. I left trying not to pass out or vomit from heat exhaustion. But a green tea and a taxi ride later, we were sitting cross legged on the floor of a local izakaya. That night we feasted. I don’t remember tasting the fried pork curry, fried udon, salads, sashimi, and god even knows what else, but I do know each was consumed in record time. Here’s a photo of the aftermath:

full

The rest of the trip, we pretty  much chilled. After one amazing night on a soft bed in a youth hostel, we rented a car and camped on a beautiful stretch of beach. We went to onsens every day, including one that was set in to the ocean (though it was a bit awkward because it was mixed bathing and bathing suits were not allowed. However, I will go against normal sauntersauce decency guidelines so i can give you a glimpse of this really beautiful natural hot spring.

view from the onsen

monkey!

beach time

the sun sets on an amazing week

waving goodbye

Posted by: chapmaar | September 27, 2010

For Daisy

Today I returned home from a magical week traversing Yakushima island with my best friend Bridget Snow and adventure soulmate David Abramovitz. I was greeted in Kanonji by pouring rain and a letter from my mom letting me know that my beloved dog, Daisy, died sometime last week. I want to share my photos and happy memories of my amazing adventure in southern Japan, but first I need to pay tribute to the dog that was my best friend and constant companion for the last six years.

daisy dog

I once read that you never really grow up until your mother dies. I’ve also heard it said many times that no parent should outlive their child. Right now, these sayings have little meaning to me or my situation. The knowledge is raw – shock. Those are just things I know people say about the significance of death.

People who didn’t know my dog Daisy might think it callous or insensitive for me to even suggest some correlation between her death and the devastating loss of a parent. Those who knew us would understand it immediately.  Daisy was the most reliable friendship in my life the last six years. I cared for her, worried about her, and loved her as my baby and my best friend. She also showed me an incredible way to approach life. Her smile, her wagging tail, the long pink tongue that lolled for days out of her big open mouth.

“There were days, so many days,” I told my sister on the phone tonight, “so many times this happened, that it began to become a habit.” I would be in a bad mood, I wouldn’t want to do something, I would feel myself starting to get bitchy. And then I would think about Daisy. How no matter what we were doing, where I was going, she was alert, excited, ready to go. She didn’t know what was up, or what was going to happen, but she was so frickin ready to get out there!!! Her tail dotted the exclamation points, again! Yay – again! Yay! Again! This is the best most fun day in the world!!!! This was true whether it was a long drive through Walla Walla wheat fields, central oregon’s high deserts, or the winding forest road to the beach; whether it was for a run around Mill Creek, a swimming race through tall green wheat, a frolic in a snowey meadow, a crashing joyous hurdling through Oregon forest underbrush, a sprint down the hard sandy stretch of the Cannon, Sauvie, or George Rogers Park Beach.

Thinking about how Daisy approached life inspired me. My tongue would swing to the right corner of my mouth. I would smile, and my whole attitude would change. In this way, Daisy has made my life immeasurably better. Daisy loved life, she was excited to live it, she wanted to chase and smell and explore it all. I can only hope that I will always remember her energy, and try to continue to preserve it in my life even though she’s gone.

What follows is a photo tribute to the dog that changed my life, and, I know, the life of so many of my friends as well (her sisters/aunts/second mommas in The Wasteland are one recent example). It occurs to me, as I think of the people that I imagine Daisy influenced, that you can’t really have known me, or loved me, without knowing Daisy, and at least acting like you loved her too. Her presence in my friendships and relationships turned ordinary friendships into families, packs. To all who knew her, I hope you can take a moment to remember at least one moment that Daisy made you smile, or that her wagging tail brightened your day. I feel so thankful for every second of my life I got to spend with her, and I know that even though she’s gone, I will love her forever.

driving to the beach with the D dog

the infamous tongue

ball!!!! sandy ball!!! how daisy spent most of her life - dreaming about or actually playing ball

daisy face

how daisy spent another good portion of her life - running, or walking, along with me. running adventure buddies forever.

daisy catching snowballs

a well trained pup sitting for her snowball

good catch!

daisy with her BDFF (best dog friend forever), Jack

I feel this next photo sequence really captures our everyday friendship, and how in tune daisy and I were with each other. Every morning would start off with a simple snuggle - Daisy was for sure the best dog at spooning I've ever seen. Notice how she lets you get the arm AND the leg over.

then, while i'm still trying to be tender, daisy starts in with the mouthing

and then, she starts to get that crazy look in her eye, and before you know it - Crazy Daisy!!

Growl!

from there, there's only one escape - a really vigorous belly rub, to calm the beast

daisy knew how to get a lot of things. she was the life of the party and always managed to get the best seat on the sofa.

my impression of the daisy face

From there, there’s not much to say. I’ll leave you with a video of Daisy frolicking at her favorite place on earth – Cannon Beach, Oregon. I wish I could have taken her there before she died, but I’m thankful that me and my mom got to spend one last great weekend with her there before I left for Japan. Rest in Peace my little Daisy Dogg. You have been so so so so loved, and I will miss you every day.

Posted by: chapmaar | August 30, 2010

Top 3 Engrish Translations . . . So Far

A short list of my personal favorite English mistranslations after living here for one month

1. Mr. PizzaHat – Like the Hut, but formally capped

2. Sun Kus – this is the name of convenience store, and is funny because it is supposed to be THANKS, Japanese style of course

3. Ruxurious – this salon demonstrates that Ls and Rs are tricky little things!

Posted by: chapmaar | August 23, 2010

Home Sweet Home

Welcome to my first apartment. It’s all mine, and I am PSYCHED. Walk up the grimy steps covered with spiders the size of my fist. Knock on the first door on your left. Or, just come on in – it’s probably open. You’ll know it’s mine – I’m apparently the only person in my apartment complex who listens to music  all hours of the day. Feel the air conditioning blast your damp forehead, and take the two steps to my couch. I’ll make you some tea and some toast. Mi casa es su casa. Bienvenidos.

Welcome to my apartment. Imagine me sitting on the floor in a sports bra, Mac open on the table, back resting on the couch, bluegrass blaring from the stereo on top of my unused television, and you get a pretty accurate idea of the amykis chapmanese raquelis in her japanese habitat

Welcome to my apartment. Imagine me sitting on the floor in a sports bra, Mac open on the table, back resting on the couch, bluegrass blaring from the stereo on top of my unused television, and you get a pretty accurate idea of the amykis chapmanese raquelis in her japanese habitat

My kitchen. Just when I was going to rave about how my apartment came with everything I needed, free of charge, I couldn't find a can opener. But that's okay - I guess a one dollar investment at the discount grocery store is a pretty small price to ask for my sweet new digs. Anyone down for a bowl of udon or a little curry stir fry?

tiny bathroom, washer and shower/bath! It's "cold" showers every day now, but I look forward to breaking in the three foot long bath tub when temperatures drop in the winter.

bedroom with pretty lights

Three sliding doors = quite a bit of closet space!

plants and photos make me feel at home

I hope seeing my home gives you a sense of where and how I’m living. More exciting pics and stories to come.

Posted by: chapmaar | August 18, 2010

A-wa-nderful Awa Adventure

It took a long time to get to Tokoshima Awa-odori Dance Festival. It was held in Tokoshima, the southwest prefecture of my island home in Japan, Shikoku. Driving me halfway there was Mitch, a Canadian in a seriously awesome black printed Japanese summer robe. I shook Mitch’s hand outside a Starbucks for about 23 seconds a week before. That’s pretty much how welcoming the foreigner social network is around here, as this night in particular was warming up to demonstrate to me. After parking outside Mitch’s favorite Japanese wine and cheese bar (“Japanese people eat cheese!?” I gawked), we took a train for a few more hours. When we stepped off the train, it was a little after 8 pm.

the crowded streets at one of Japan's largest festivals - period.

I had to rub my eyes a few times to believe it. There were paved streets instead of a sandy beach; the pulsations of the twenty foot speakers came instead from drummers who swung their entire body weight back and forth into the tuba-sized instruments strapped to their torsos. But the dancing, intoxicated crowd of around 200,000 took me right back to the Full Moon Party on the white sand shores of Koh Phang Nan, Thailand.

crowds clap and cheer as a group dances down a street

these women lead their group at the start of their street

After tearing through our first of many convenience stores of the night for our first round of Asahi beer (ahhh the taste brings back the TKE basement, Natty Light, PBR and all the corresponding nostalgiac college memories), Mitch began to weave his way through the mass of people. Every few feet, he would pause, look back, and laugh – chances were I was teetering on my tiptoes behind a row of Japanese people, camera out, filming yet another awa dance group. The groups danced endlessly – we would turn onto a street and find a group in colorful uniform halfway down it, fast approaching us. Or they would be bowing as they crossed the crosswalk, the crowd clapping and chanting furiously as the band approached, until an impromptu dance party could erupt amidst the observers as the awa band gave everything they had to one last round of music. Or there would be a band and a group huddled together, one lone boy out front waving a long pole with lanterns, chanting and cheering and getting ready to start their own dance path down the street. And this went on for streets, and more streets, and through tunnels and shopping centers, and over bridges, and more streets . . . the Asahi whirled with the drums and hovering flutes and I didn’t know if it was the old street or the new. Standing beside my last-minute friend, I didn’t know what to say or how to express the happiness I felt at seeing, near the end of the night, a brilliant dance group approach the end of their street, and behind them, bouncing and singing and doing their own moves, a huge group of drunk Japanese spontaneously forming their own awa troupe around the band the banged and nodded and banged some more. It’s one of those times where words, even pictures, in their stillness, fail. I hate it when people say it, but “you need to be there.” So come, lean over their shoulders with me – let’s weave through the crowds together.

BUT. THERE’S. MORE.

Oh, I’m sorry, you thought the adventure was over? Well, for parents, family, and friends who want to see me only as a cultural consumer, instead of an alcohol-and-party- imbiber as well, you should probably content yourself with the above blurb, and not continue reading what turned into a debaucherous night with a surprising Winnie-the-Pooh message at the end of it.

The festival ended around 11:30. That means, last train was gone, kaput. I was staying in Tokoshima for the night. And there was no way I was buying a hotel. I was I don’t know how many beers deep. I wandered the streets with Mitch for a while, hoping to run in to people. We ran into a foreigner’s bar – some woman’s name that started with an I that now I can’t remember (this is a night without a lot of names at the end of it – and no pictures). Here’s what I know – I danced. I talked energetically with people I didn’t know at all. The floor was covered with spilled drinks (many of them probably mine). I fell – a lot, often into people. An African girl tried to fight me. I went outside and talked to more people – about how cool Brazil probably is, places I’ve been, the normal traveling jatter. I went back inside. The African girl apologized and tried to hug me. I settled for a shot. The bartender made it tequila. And free. I may have neutralized one enemy, but the raw hard alcohol in my stomach turned into a much more noxious one. The bar closed, and I wandered the streets with some more foreigners – their names are as lost as I felt, stumbling the streets of Tokoshima between maybe 3-5? 4-6? No one knows. Somehow we found the train. I bought a ticket – destination? Price? unknown. I tried to sleep sprawled out on some purple, horribly velvety cushions as I headed back towards my prefecture. The once-empty train slowly filled with Japanese people carrying shopping bags and listening to Ipods and pretending not to stare at the five guy-jin (foreigners) with green faces taking up way too much available seating. An hour away from my home town (so close), I couldn’t make it anymore. I needed off of that train. It was one of the foreigner’s stops, a Canadian with short blonde hair and a sweet Japanese girlfriend who had danced with me for hours at the bar the night before.  I think he leaned over to tell me to keep taking the train for another hour until I reached Kanon-ji, but I could only respond I needed off the train. He and his girlfriend led me down the station steps, out into the burning sun (9 am and hot as the dickens already), through curled streets that felt like they were crafted in the evilest pits of hell, and up a miniscule elevator to his fifth floor apartment. He walked in, flicked the air conditioner, threw a blanket on the floor. I toppled onto it. Out.

I woke up at three in the afternoon. Daniel (I found out his name) and his girlfriend snuggled in their underwear next to me. Was I being horribly rude? I felt so sick I didn’t care – we had wandered the streets and braved the night awake together – I felt bonded enough, and I was ready to take it if they wanted to kick me out immediately.

Instead, they made me pancakes! Delicious, pan-sized pancakes! From scratch! And! Coffee!

I had dinner plans a few towns over at seven. There was no point going home, so I texted Vivian, who I had plans with and happened to live in the same town as Daniel. She texted me back to come over immediately. She met me at the station and walked me, feeling considerably less nauseous despite the still escalating temperatures, to her apartment. “Would you like a shower? Do you want some water?” she asked me in her dark, sonorous Montreal accent. She gave me a clean body, clean teeth, clean water, clean clothes and even some make up. It was our second time hanging out. We went to dinner and had an amazing time (though I couldn’t drink a beer at the cute little local isakaya (Japanese bar)).

That night, as I finally boarded a train back to Kanon-ji, a group of friends standing on the platform waving goodbye til I faded from the distance (it’s Japanese tradition), I felt my heart overspilling with gratitude. Japan is an amazing place – because of the plethora of amazing cultural experiences, its natural beauty, its amazing food – but also, I found, because of its foreigners. In any other country, it takes weeks, months, sometimes years to build up intimacy with new friends. In one night, or one morning/day really, in a state of really dire need, these strangers took me in and made me their automatic friend. And it didn’t feel like a stretch, like an unfamiliar obligation. These people were used to extending every consideration, every bit of comfort to the people around them – it was so normal and expected. I appreciate how rare it is. And it makes me ready to really love, live up, and feel thankful for every experience I’m lucky enough to have with them.

Posted by: chapmaar | August 13, 2010

Things I Like About Kanonji

So far, my verbal revelatations about life in Japan has been little more than a list of complaints: “I’m hot! I’m tired! I suck at life!” So let’s try to change the tone of things, shall we? In reality, there are many things that I like about Kanon-ji. The longer I live here, the more I have come to appreciate the simple joys and ease of this rural life. It may be a driving range and not the Swiss Alps that abutt my apartment, but I’ll indulge in a quick verse of “My Favorite Things” (appropriately amended) anyways.

These are a Few of My Favorite Things

1. My bicycle

my beloved whale rider which I broke on a bad day (see last post). my new bike looks the same but grey and it has a bell!

The best parts of every day have occurred while pedalling furiously around town on my l “mama chatty,” the local nickname for the vintage fixies that old men, grocery-shopping women and, of course, I, use to transport myself around town. However, while most locals go at a slow, leisurely pace, my time on the bicycle is often the one part of my day that I feel any breeze. So when I ride my bike, it’s a bit more reminiscent of this the Wicked Witch of the West’s hell-bent intensity in The Wizard of Oz.\

2. My Ride to Work

Work is maybe a seven minute pedal from house. On the way there, I take the slightly more meandering path that goes along the river. As I pedal along the noiseless canal, I see cranes dip their beaks into the small manmade waterfalls, big fish flop after flies, and turtles sun themselves on rocks.

turtles on rock!

a view of Kanon-ji on my way to work (notice turtles in bottom left hand corner)

3. The Beach

a sunny day at the beach

Do I even need to explain myself? The BEACH is maybe ten minutes bike from my house? Whenever cabin fever climbs to a temperature that even my air-conditioning cannot temper, this is where I go – to write letters, go for a stroll, sing under my breath, people watch, and write in my journal.

Locals dig for clams at low tide

Locals dig for clams at low tide

I sit, write letters, and reflect in my journal as the sun sinks

I can’t remember if it was something I read, was told, or just thought of on my own on a particularly deep thought. But I often think about how photos can change depending on how the photographer sees the subject. When I first arrived in Kanonji, I was a little underwhelmed by its beach. There are no waves, and I had a hard time looking beyond the clutter of trash ten meters from the ocean. I went to take photos of the beach during my first week, and this is what I saw.

not a very nice beach

But only a short time later, the Kanonji beach has quickly become what the Oregon coast has always been: a place where I can escape, and which always restores my sense of independence and freedom. Standing on the Kanonji shore, even though my ears are filled with the quiet sound of lapping waves instead of the reassuring roar and crash of the Pacific, I still gain the sense of insignificance in the face of timeless and sizeless beauty that helps me to live as a free, easy person in the moment of every day. Consequently, here is the most recent photo I took of the beach:

4. My Hill Runs and The Parks

There are basically two runs I do in Kanonji. They both take me an hour, and have significant uphill portions. One leads me to Futohiki Park (I have no idea if that’s the correct name but it’s something like that). The uphill portion seems to go on forever. The longest I’ve been able to run up the steep portion has been a little over twenty minutes; my heaving chest, streaming face, and steady increase in the number of signs that showed rocks falling on to unsuspecting people below has turned me away from pursuing the path to its end . . . for now. Futohiki Park also has a waterfall, a pond with big koi fish, a nice field where I do dynamic stretches to the awed confusion of fully-covered Japanese gardeners, and a really cool playground with a ghetto tire swing zipline and a climbing tower that reminds me of the giant stone structure we had at Riverdale (what was the name of it Lee?) except this one is all wood and in the shape of a shrine (awesome!!!).

getting up into the agricultural hills around kanonji

the waterfall - it's actually manmade. One seriously hot morning I was confused to arrive at the waterfall and find it wasn't flowing! I thought something serious was up, but turns out they only "turn it on" when tourists are likely to come around, which is not 8 am on a sweltering weekday.

tire swing zipline with Aya! Oh the days (7) when I had a friend to play with . . .

My other run takes me almost all the way to the beach. Right before the sand, I take a right at a Shinto shrine. Then, I run up the steps – allllll of them. It doesn’t take too long, maybe 5-7 minutes, so I’m thinking about changing my work out to run multiple sets of them  . . .  when it cools off. But it’s a steep incline, and I love the view when I get up there – lots of little temples and outlooks over the ocean. From this juncture, you can also look down and see the giant sand coin – the only thing that made it into Lonely Planet from my area. I guess it’s pretty cool – but I haven’t taken any pictures of it so I guess not cool enough. It was made forever ago though, and its a giant kanji coin erected out of sand. I have no idea how it survives the monsoonal rains and typhoon winds of late summer and fall – the Japanese are pretty amazing at that kind of stuff I guess. The shrine is nestled in this really great Japanese park. Just this morning I went for a walk there and saw a huge blue heron sitting on one of the quaint red bridges. I approached it calmly and it didin’t take off into graceful swooping flight until I was maybe 5 feet away!

see? i told you it was picturesque

5. The FOOD!

Japanese food is amazing. Except for their surprising affinity for mayonnaise  (who knew?!?). Fried chicken, moist and succulent and swimming in garlic; baked pumpkin with garlic butter; yakisoba with raw egg stirred in to the steaming hot platter; salmon sashimi as soft and subtle as a pat of butter; mochi pastries, soft and sweet and pillowy and filled with a red bean curd paste; fish cakes made out of squid and shrimp, deep friend in crumbly tempura batter and dipped in udon that is sweet, salty, and leaves your lips tingling and your tongue searching for another slippery noodle for hours; green soba noodles gently infused with a little green tea (matcha) powder so they are a beautiful grass color and smell faintly like tea; tofu so soft and cold and fresh that it is perfectly incomparable to tofu I’ve had before; mushrooms bathed in butter and garlic so they drip deliciousness all over your chopsticks, your chin, and your salivating tongue . . . the list goes on forever. I’m going to post a few photos of some of the incredible dishes I ate at Jiji’s, an isakaya (all-ages family friendly bar/restaurant) near my house. And then, I will eat!

japanese dishes with cool crisp japanese beer

feast! shrimp in a yolkey creamy chilli, salmon and basil sushi, a ramen-y stir fry, and yakisoba

eel!

Ok my stomach growls. While eating out is pretty expensive here, I have been experimenting with recreating some of these delicious meals and more. So I will leave you with a photo of one such feast, created by me, and then enjoyed probably while watching Glee on surfthechannel.com. There are more things I like about Kanonji – such as my apartment – so check back for more photos soon! Love!

edamame, udon with scallions and mushrooms, home made teriyaki sauce, and octupus/shrimp fishcakes (everything but the last was home-made - I'm not quite up to fish pounding and tempura frying . . . yet!)

Posted by: chapmaar | August 7, 2010

Bad Day Again

Sigh. Well, I made it through.

And yes, it was One Of Those Days.

So no, it wasn’t as bad as One Of Those Days in Vietnam (Remember my first day in my Ho Chi Minh City home stay?  I got struck by a horrible case of Vietnamese food poisoning while sharing the bed with a brand new host sister. In between constant trips to the bathroom, where I flushed a copious amount of toilet paper down the toilet  = big Vietnamese no-no) I ended up locking myself out. The debacle came to a head (no pun intended) at 4 AM when, forced to awaken my new host sister and father to have them jimmy open the bathroom door, we found my much-needed toilet jammed and flooding, the handle too choked on toilet paper to even wiggle.)

So no, it wasn’t that bad, But I am constantly baffled by my ability to somehow achieve such feats of misfortune and miscalculation in ever-increasing increments in one consolidated period of time. One of these days, Guinness will take a post-modern approach and publsh its first Book of World Fails.  Let’s see if today could be a contender for a first entry.

After sleeping through ambitious plans to wake up at 7 am and go for a run, I stumbled to my living room table and grabbed the stack of Japanese flash cards piled high before my noxious blue couch. I had my first Japanese lesson that day with new teacher Toru, but had been so overwhelmed with work and the change of starting a new independent life in a new country that I hadn’t actually looked at them once (either that, or I was just bored and lazy and really into reading the Count of Monte Cristo…). I lay in bed, alternately dozing and reciting Japanese words, but in an incredible feat of short-term memory had all 56 cards down pat by the time my Japanese teacher knocked on my door. He seemed impressed at my apparent dedication, and got to showing me his photos of Japan, rambling to me in far too advanced Japanese, and giving me complicated Katakana worksheets until I looked up and Oh Shoot! It was almost 1. To not be late to work I had to leave, maybe, five minutes ago?

“Ah! We’ve gone over! I’m sorry but I have to go!”

“Oh yes, I’m sorry.” Sips tea. “This tea is delicious, totemo oishiii.”

“Oh I”m glad you like it. Thanks. Um Thanks! I’ll see you next week!”

(continues sitting cross legged on tatami mat, takes another sip). “Ah, yes week, okay. What time do you have to be at work? Do you have time to eat food?”

“Um, not really. Sorry but I have to go right now.” (scanning apartment for keys and makeup . . .  and this frickin dude is still just sipping his tea!!!!)

At one o’clock, Toru is still bowing his way out the door and my phone is ringing. It’s my boss telling me I have a class right now. I know. I grab my toothbrush, toothpaste and mascara thinking I’ll have time to clean my sweaty self up after my first class, and resign myself to a convenience store dinner eaten in the same precious hour window as I begin pedalling furiously to school.

I make it over the bridge. I make it down the hill. It’s been ten minutes, and all of a sudden my bike…. chokes.

Guck! Uck! The pedals spin madly, and then CHUNK! they stop. I hop off the bike, look at the sagging black chain in desperation, and pull out my cell phone.

In my first draft of this post, I keep going through my horrible day in detail. But it’s been a few days, I’ve moved on, so let’s just surmise the mishaps/mistakes of the day.

1. Late for work, without teeth brushed or face washed/makeup/hair done (gross and sweaty)

2. Bike = broken

3. Extra classes scheduled – I am unprepared for class, and still gross and smelly

4. Class scheduled over dinner time, and didn’t have time to eat lunch – don’t eat all day

5. On way to running onto train, my back pack zipper breaks and everything in my bag explodes on the ground. For the rest of my transportation stories that follow, you have to imagine me constantly clutching at my bag juts as it breaks, and a water bottle or a notebook falls on the ground. As I stoop to pick it up, the back pack breaks again, something else falls out… you get the idea.

6. Take train to a few towns over to teach a class at a hospital. Monsoon rains pour down as I walk the 15 minutes to the hospital. I am wearing leather flip flops and I don’t have an umbrella (I am an Oregonian).

7. I have never taken the train home from the hospital before, so I spend the ride back peering out the darkened windows for the sign for my train stop – Motoyama – a stop I’ve never been to before. I see a sign that says Motoyama 2 minutes before I get off, which I think is strange because Japanese trains are usually so punctual they arrive right on the minute. But I grab my backpack – which breaks again obviously – and alight. The conductor takes my ticket and the train pulls away – leaving me in pitch blackness. This is not a station. It is more of a train… stop. There is a sign that says Motoyama, but as I walk over to it with fear roiling in my chest, I see the dirty arrow beneath it, and beneath that, hidden in shadow, a sign declaring this as Hijiadi stop. Great. Got off at the wrong stop. Call my boss’s wife, who calls my boss to pick me up while I sit on the bench. A few tears drop on the busted zipper of my back pack.

It was a bad day. When I finally got into my apartment, I made some food for my cramping stomach. Then, all of a sudden, my day got better. Bridget was on Skype. I was so happy that when her video popped up I burst into tears. Later, a message popped up on my Skype from Luc – apparently we had miscommunicated and he thought we were going to talk that morning, probably while I was trying to politely shove my Japanese teacher out of my apartment. Luc and I wouldn’t be able to talk again for four days, and I felt like it was the shadow of the bad day coming back to haunt me. But just then, Luc messaged me – he was back online, checking to see if I was there before he left for his music festival!!! We talked for a long time, and because of them, I went to bed in a totally different state of mind then when I walked into my apartment that night.

So here are the redeeming things I learned from my bad day:

  • Schedule Japanese lessons earlier
  • Pack a dinner the night before work
  • Get a new backpack
  • Japanese bicycles are not meant for racing
  • There’s nothing to cure a bad day like hot chocolate and good friends
  • In Japan, it’s totally safe to run at night, especially if you’re wearing neon spandex (a practical lesson I observed while waiting for my boss to pick me up at Haijidi)

That’s all for now. I’ll try to post up some pics later this afternoon titled, “Things I Like about Kanonji” so you can get a brighter picture of my time here. Love to all!

Posted by: chapmaar | July 22, 2010

Three observations

“So hot! So tired!”

Maybe I’m turning Japanese already, because it’s Day 1 here in Kanonji and those are the only English words I can form in my severely clouded muddled head.

(Rub sleep out of eyes, avoid eye contact with clock that sternly proclaims: 6:00. PM.)

Well, that’s not exactly true. This morning before she left for work, current English Network teacher Aya showed me around half of this “rural” Japanese town. Then, the word “cool!” was still a solid addition to my vocabulary.

She showed me my funky blue bicycle without gears but that sports a nifty wire basket. “Cool!”

She showed me the easy path to the beach: “Exit apartment, turn right.” “Cool!!”

She showed me the Shinto shrine immediately before the park that leads to the beach (that’s right, there is a park AND a beach near my apartment  – Cool!). “There are something like 400 stairs that lead up to the shrine, then paths that lead down and all around the park where you can run,” Aya says. “Cool!!!”

She showed me the beach. There are no waves. We walk the 80 yards of sand down to the clear blue ocean where a surprising large number of Japanese played (“Aren’t they afraid of the sun?” I ask, remembering the Vietnamese fleeing the most gorgeous beach in mass hordes as the sun rose. Aya shrugs, and tells me something even cooler.)

“They have shell digging competitions around here.” “Shell digging?” “Yeah, a ton of people come out for them, there was one last week. You dig up as many shells as you can, and obviously you get to eat the clams and stuff that you dig, but they also have one of the clams painted or something and if you find it you get like $100.” “Cool!”

We stuck our feet in the water. It was HOT – like I-could-take-a-bath-in-this-if-it-wasn’t-90-degrees-with-62%-humidity  HOT. “I think it might be this hot because this is the inland sea. Honshu is right over there.” While the placid sea shifts and glimmers I glimpse a small rocky island in the distance, and mountains ranging on either side of me. “Cool!”

She showed me the grocery store – maybe ten minutes bike ride from the house? She showed me how to quickly estimate amounts of yen into American dollars: “You just move the decimal point over two. So if something costs 250 yen, then it is around $2.50. However, that’s just approximate, especially because the dollar is so weak right now.” She took me to udon for lunch. We ordered the cold kind and mine came with soup and I ate some of her vegetable tempura. My lunch was 350 yen, which no matter how you approximate is pretty darn affordable for the big bowl of deliciousness I had just slurped (in Japan that’s polite). She offered to show me the school. Previously I had eagerly agreed, but now I could feel a combination jet lag-food coma nap building in my solar plexus and the fuzzy membranes behind my forehead. Aya biked away on her silver bike with basket, and I climbed the hill by the udon restaurant to our/my apartment. I unpacked my clothes, wiped down one counter, contemplated cleaning out the bathroom drawers and putting my stuff in them, and instead lay down on my futon under the air conditioning.

“So hot! So tired!”

All the wood panels in my apartment are an ugly and depressing brownish grey color. I got to peek into Krishani’s apartment today, and felt a twinge of jealousy when I saw the beautiful paper and wood doors she has in there. Apparently they were built by a previous English teacher and Whitman grad, Kendra Bostwick. I am considering doing the same for my apartment – it could be a cool skill to learn. Four hours after the initial lay down, I rub sleep from my eyes and slide said wood panel back from my bedroom and enter the small living room area. When I step out of the bedroom, I feel like I have entered a steamy little steam room. I immediately flee back to the air conditioner. A few more trials of this sort and I have made it into the living room, and now sit on a flat pillow on the floor typing this on the low square table that will serve as my American coffee table and my Japanese dining room table. I want to return to the spots Aya showed me this morning with my camera to spice up this blog. I am afraid to open my door.

Well, I’ll post this now, and see if boredom conquers comfort. To know the answer to this lifelong question, check back in a few hours. The presence or lack of pictures will be your answer. Just wanted to let you know that after 30 hours of traveling, I got here, I’m safe, and everything looks promising except (say it with me now): so hot. so tired.

Posted by: chapmaar | January 18, 2009

Saunter Sauce 101: An Introductory Course

“Some would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering.” – Henry David Thoreau

*****

“Right in my own backyard” might seem like an odd place to start a travel blog about international adventuring. But here I am, with my feet up and my shirt off, my MacBook sweating on bare thighs, working to bring you the freshest news of my Post-Graduate Experiences. Don’t believe me? Fine! I’ll show you.

"Right in my own backyard" - Good Hap, Portland, OR

Oh, I’m sorry, were you hoping for a little “shirt-off” action? Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you (and, to my family, whom I know are the main ones reading this little guy, I’m happy to relieve you), but it’s time for me to enlighten you to the beauty that is/will be “Saunter Sauce.”

Sauntering on the red sand beaches on the island of Santorini, Greece

Four years ago, I sat in the attic of the Ski Lodge. It smelled a little like stale booze and a lot like fresh weed – the ubiquitous scent of frat housing everywhere. The Ski Lodge was no exception. In this case however, the room belonged to my good friend Sam CharmingMan (for more information on this incredibly talented, incredibly sexy individual, visit http://www.chasanworks.com – and prepare to have your mind blown). He and I were engaged in our ritualistic verbal journey into creative mind expansion; – which basically means we sat with laptops open (shirts = optional), bobbed our heads to Fleet Foxes, scowled, snorted, pondered, and conversed – all in the noble cause of eventually entertaining the proverbial pants off one another. It was something of a weekly tradition for us, but this session in particular stands out – for the moment when Sam stretched back on the couch, opened a book, and introduced me to Thoreau’s views on the Art of Walking.

Sunset saunter-style in the Walla Walla wheatfields

Sunset saunter-style in the Walla Walla wheatfields

Saunter boo boo in the Vietnamese ocean

Saunter boo boo in the Vietnamese ocean

In this essay, Thoreau begins by differentiating between Walking and the superior Art of Sauntering. To saunter means to search for the holy land – which for Thoreau exists in nature. It means to be equally at home everywhere; to appear to meander, but to search without hoping for return. He writes:

“We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return; prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only, as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man; then you are ready for a walk.”

Mountain saunter in DaLat

A year ago, and in a different blog, I wrote about the experience of seeing a man perish in the street of a small town in Eastern Viet Nam. Up to that point, despite my often sardonically-cheery entries, I had spent a lot of time in Vietnam angry at the chaotic  way our program was run. I felt like my very life was constantly threatened, not to mention cultural outlooks and behaviors that were completely reversed. After this traumatic incidence, I realized that what for me was a temporary nightmare, was the Vietnamese’s daily reality. And from this, I think I began to understand, appreciate, and actually adapt to their culture. I remember helping a farmer plant seeds and pull weeds in slow, back-straining work, and suddenly understanding why we kept stopping – to eat a watermelon, or suckle a juicy mango. I remember taking a cold bucket shower in a humid monsoon afternoon, thinking about American commercials for soap and anti-wrinkle lotions, and realizing, “Americans live like if everything goes right, they’re never going to die.” And when poisonous millipedes crawled up my leg, when my friend was launched five feet from her motorbike to lie still in the road on the island of Phu Quoc, I started  accepting that there was no guarantee on life, that I could die any moment. “Okay,” I thought, “well say I am going to die. I want at least for my mom, for my sister, for all my friends, to know that I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing, living as fully as I possibly could, at the moment when I die.” The Whitman reception for freshman Richard O’Brien has since then reaffirmed my outlook, and I now know looking back that it was this thought that motivated me to jump off 60 foot cliffs and swim with sharks in Kho Tao, pet tigers in Bangkok, climb a mountains alone in China, snowboard in Chile, mountain bike in Peru, ski through a blizzard in Walla Walla, road bike in Cape Cod, and finally accept this latest of adventures: a year-long position teaching English at a small conversation school in Kagawa, a rural town in an island in southern Japan.

Shotgun action-shot saunter

Thai island saunters .... ahhhhhhh

I’ve said good-bye to my Whitman life, and my Whitman friends; my boyfriend and my health insurance; and in the next twelve days am steeling myself for the final goodbyes: to my mom, my sister,  my brother and his intensely anticipated wedding; to English characters, American money, and cheese; to my mattress, half my clothes, and (gulp of all gulps, tear of all tears) my beloved Daisy dog. To everyone I’m leaving who will read this, I love you and will miss you. I hope you enjoy hearing about my Japanese adventures, and will keep me updated with your own saunterings as well. Go Forth, and Saunter! Por que no?

Sauntering through earthquake rubble in Dujianyang, China

3 day saunter to witness a mountaintop "Buddhist miracle" in China

Sauntering on Sauvie's Island w/ puppies and friend

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