Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Strange dream last night...

In this dream, I was in a large room, lined up with beds, and I was wearing a negligee. Apparently, I had just gotten married, but in the dream, I had forgotten to whom! Anyway, I was waiting for my new husband and apparently, this room was some sort of group honeymoon suite (haha!) because I wasn`t the only one waiting for her new husband. There were a bunch of other people from Soka, and from my high school and college days. Then, the men started coming in one by one. We were all waiting in anticipation...and I was really curious to know who my husband was. TB, one of the exchange students in Soka, was saying, "I feel sorry for you guys" and I agreed...and then I began to dread the coming of my new husband because that meant my single days were over. Some of the guys from my high school days that were coming in had really nasty-looking hair and the rest of us would jeer at them.

Also, a few days ago, I had a dream, which I vaguely remember, in which I went on some hiking trip with people from Soka, from high school, and from college....it was a reunion of sorts.

Monday, September 01, 2003

"Flew in from Miami Beach BOAC..." or

My Trip "Back Home"

On July 31st, I moved out of Sunflower Hall. Having stayed up all night packing, I would have overslept that morning if I hadn`t received a phone call from, would you believe, but "J". He said that he would be at Hoyu Dormitory to see the guys off and wondered if I would be there. After being picked up in a really nice coach bus rented by the bekka staff, and leaving Sunflower Hall for the last time, we stopped by Hoyu Dorm to pick up the guys that were leaving and sure enough, J was there. How ironic that he would be one of the last people I saw before leaving Japan.

Anyway, we arrived at Narita and everything went smoothly for me. Unfortunately, one girls realized that she had either lost or accidentally forgotten or thrown out her plane ticket. Now, wouldn`t one of the very things you check for before leaving for the airport is your plane ticket? As I left for my gate, she was still trying to figure out that mess, but I`m sure she eventually did. I was scheduled to take a flight to Detroit at 4pm, but I got bumped up to an earlier flight, which was fine with me. I sat next to a middle-aged man who was flying back home after being in Japan on business, and a girl my age who had gone to Japan to visit a friend. Now, in the many flights I have taken, I usually don`t talk with fellow passengers, but they were really friendly, so I had a good time talking to them. And to be honest, it felt good to be talking to other Americans in my own language. I ended up talking with the girl until we cleared customs in Detroit. Needless to say, my return to the US was a LOT smoother than my previous experience.

But the flight to Mexico was a whole other story...

I had the surreal but pleasant experience of being back home for less than a day before heading to Newark, DE with my mom and my sister G, where my sister M was waiting for us in her apartment. We got there a lot later than expected (yappari...), so M was furious and to make things worse, my mother insisted we spend the night in M`s apartment instead of staying at a hotel near the airport in Newark, NJ. After a lot of arguing and grief, we left the stuff that didn`t fit in our suitcases in Mar`s apartment and headed for the other Newark. Well, we ended up missing the exit for the hotel so we got lost in the Newark ghetto. So of course, there was more yelling and laying blame. We ended up stopping by a very scary looking gas station where we dared only to roll down the car window to ask an unfriendly-looking man for directions. He mumbled something that I could hardly understand and I thought of how I had taught Berlitz students countless times to give and receive clear and precise directions, and I wondered how they would handle such a "real life" situation as this. Anyway, I`m really digressing. By the time we got to the hotel, it was nearly midnight, and we had to catch a 6am flight, which meant we had to get up at 3 AM!! Well, we got up, got to the airport, and rushed to the ticket counter, only to be told that our flight had been cancelled due to rain!! M burst into tears right then and there. You see, my cousin`s wedding was to take place the very same day in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and the way we had planned it, we would barely get there on time...and now the woman at the counter was telling us that we couldn`t get a flight to Mexico until noon. Fortunately, we asked someone else at the counter and she told us that there was another flight at 8am on Continental. Our original flight was on Northwest--now I know why the man on my flight back to the US said that it`s known as Northworst. So after running around from counter to counter with our heavy luggage, we were put on standby for the flight, which was already overbooked! We were considering not going to Mexico after all if we didn`t make the flight. For a while, all we could do was wait...but after all the yelling at each other, and all the stress, we shared a really nice moment in which we were talking about our favorite Seinfeld episodes, (which my mom has recently become interested in!) and laughing about them. Fortunately for us, people volunteered to give up their seats on the flight so all the people that were on standby, including us, got a seat on the flight.

We arrived in Mexico City and caught a bus for Cuernavaca. A young, perhaps college-aged couple that M made friends with on the plane, tagged along with us until we arrived in Cuernavaca. From the Cuernavaca bus station, we caught a taxi to the hotel we were to stay in. It was a beautiful sunny day, with cool, spring-like weather that was unlike the oppressive heat of Japanese and American summers. The hotel we were in was an actual hacienda owned by either Hernan Cortez or one of his descendants and in recent years, it was converted into a hotel. Next to the hotel was a quaint colonial-style yellow and white church and inside, my cousin`s wedding was already in progress! We were bit dissapointed that we didn`t quite make it on time, but we were more excited than anything, really. Unnoticed, my sisters and I took a quick peak at the wedding ceremony before dashing over to our hotel room (which was very charming!) to put on our dresses. We figured we`d at least make it for the reception. Then, as if we hadn`t already gone through enough problems, G realized that she had forgotten the bag that had her and M`s dresses on the bus! Fortunately, it seemed that we had taken plenty of luck with us because M called the bus station and the bus was still in Cuernavaca! So they got a taxi to bring the dresses to the hotel! Can you believe it!?

So by the time we finally got ready, the reception was already under way. We saw relatives we hadn`t seen since I was last in Mexico, which was almost five years ago--some I hadn`t seen for over 10 years! Some of my cousins have gotten married since I last saw them. We got to know my cousin C`s (not the cousin who got married that day) new wife. She seemed really nice--I just can`t believe that C actually got married! I was really nice to see my relatives again and it was a really nice reception, but as the evening wore on, the stress, the jet lag, and the lack of sleep caught up with me and I felt that if I didn`t go back to the hotel room to lay down for at least a few minutes, I would literally collapse in exhaustion. So I caught a few winks in the hotel room and when I woke up, the reception was still going on. Later on, a traditional northwestern Mexican band (Banda Sinaloense), was brought in and people began to dance the quebradita ("broken step"), which is a traditional dance of northern Mexico. At this point, my mom, my sisters, and I decided to call it a night. Besides, I don`t know how to dance the quebradita, even though I wish I did...it`s a pretty wild dance.

The next day, most of my relatives left, but my aunt S stayed with us for the remainder of our stay in Mexico. We stayed in the hotel for one more day. I wish I could convey toyou just how beautiful, colorful, and charming the hotel was. I would actually consider having my honeymoon there. The spacious, high-ceilinged rooms were decorated in the Mexican colonial style. However, we didn`t appreciate the fact that our shower, which was visible right as you entered the room, had only a small wooden screen for cover. We got to experience the humble but history-filled city of Cuernavaca, which is known as "The City of Eternal Spring" because of it`s wonderful, year-round spring weather. There is a rainy season of course, but it only rains at night! How awesome is that? While taking a bus tour of the city, the tour guide asked people where they came from. My sisters and I begged my mom to tell the tour guide we came from northern Mexico so we wouldn`t draw attention to ourselves and surprisingly, my mom agreed! We had some yummy pozole at a restaurant called "El Barco" (The Boat). Mexican food is so delicious! I couldn`t get enough of it! Unfortunately, it resulted in me having sharp stomach pains--I guess that`s what you get when you go from bland Japanese food to spicy Mexican food in a short amount of time. After Cuernavaca, we spent the rest of the week in Mexico City, where we were very hospitably received by GR, my mom`s cousin from my grandfather`s side of the family. GR and her family, which we got to know very well, showed us around many places around Mexico City. Unfortunately, if I were to recount every experience we had in Mexico City, it would take forever. What I hdo want to say is that it was wonderful experiencing such a colorful and vibrant culture such as the Mexican culture. It made me proud to have such a culture as part of my heritage. I didn`t realize just how much history Mexico City has. Even though it`s such an old city, it`s still alive. The history of Mexico is evident in its many churches and old buildings. However, most of these buildings are in bad need of repair and/or renovation and/or restoration. If you want a career in restoration, go to Mexico City!

After a year of being ogled at and feeling slightly out of place, it was comforting to know I was finally in a place where physically, I blended in with the people. But while I blended in physically, I somehow felt like an outsider, which is what happens when the place that I consider my home and the place I grew up in is the US. As a result, there was a bit of "culture shock", especially in the fact that Mexican people are a lot more relaxed and laid back, and by that I mean that they are more willing to bend the rules, make an exception. One thing that my mother and I have always been at odds with is the relaxing of rules. I have grown up in a country that is pretty rigid with rules (not as rigid as Japan though!!). My mother always tried to convince authority figures to bend the rules "just this once", which exasperated or embarrassed me and my sisters. Coming to Mexico City...I came to understand where she was coming from culturally. I learned that it`s very common to ask authority figures to bend the rules. For example...in order to get a discount on a theather ticket, you had to be a student and a Mexican citizen, even though my sisters and I are not Mexican citizens, and I had no valid student ID, my mother and my aunt convinced the man at the ticket booth to give us the discount anyway. My mother was in her very element! And I realized that my aunt is a lot like my mother in aspects like that.

Having lived in Japan for almost a year, I was especially struck by the contrast of the Japanese and Mexican cultures. I thought of how in the short time span of less than a week, I had been in three different countries and how I have had the priviledge of having lived three different cultures! (Not to mention being briefly exposed to other ones!) During my stay in Mexico, I constantly tried to imagine how my Japanese friends would react to each of the aspects of Mexican culture I experienced, and I wished very much that they would be able to go to Mexico someday.

Some of the highlights of the trip were:

Dinner at a Yucatec restaurant with my cousin KV

Bus tour of Mexico City

Xochimilco! (flotillas a la Venice but more colorful. Can you say boat party!?)

Museum of Anthropology

Castle of Chapultepec

National Palace and Metropolitain Cathedral (where we ran into my cousin AR!)

Basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe

Dinner with GR`s family at an awesome restaurant where we were serenated by mariachis and I drank a coconut flavored margarita and a tequila/caramel concoction!!

I also learned that liquor is very, very cheap in Mexico!

On Saturday, August 9th, we flew from Mexico City to Detroit, where i had been a little over a week before--in the very same customs area! But this time it was a lot less crowded. I mean, Detroit, of all places. I have absolutely no business being in Detroit. That evening, we arrived in Newark, NJ and then we drove to Newark, DE, where we spent the night at M`s apartment before going home the next day. So finally, I was able to spend time at home. It was really nice and relaxing to be back. I wish I had been able to spend more time there. I finally got to see the video of my family during Christmas--it made me want to go back home for Christmas this year--but I don`t know if I will be able to. What I think I regret the most is not being able to see all of my friends. It was a result of not enough time and lack of planning. I should have made plans with people even before leaving Japan. And I just want to say to those I didn`t get to see that I`m really sorry and that I truly wish I could have seen you this time. I know that time will go surprisingly fast and the time will come soon when I will see you again. However, I did get to make a separate trip to Newark, where I met up with the same people, including CY and T, the two new exchange students from Soka. It was so strange seeing them there! I had lunch with them at Ali Baba, my favorite place to eat in Newark. And CY even got to meet MB and ET. For the most part, I had a really nice time while I was in Newark. Another thing that I was really glad I did was that I fulfilled my promise to G and we got to watch "The Birdcage" and eat Arby`s sandwiches!
It`s about time I continue the second part of my blog...

I`m here writing this while sitting on my futon, eating fish egg-flavored chips (I`m not kidding), thinking that there`s no other place in the world besides Japan that makes wacked-out snacks like that.

Well, to update all of you on what`s been going on with me: A little over a week ago, I moved into my new apartment in Hachioji`s Owada-cho after having paid the equivalent of over 300 dollars for a taxi to drive me from Narita Airport to Hachioji. It`s something I will regret for the rest of my life. I`ll be like, 80 years old and I`ll still be kicking myself over having paid so much money for a goddamn taxi (haha). I mean, I could have used that money for a digital camera or for stuff for my new apartment...:-(

Anywayz, I`ve settled into my new apartment pretty nicely. Let me just say that it`s SOOOO AWESOME (just that awesome, K! ;-)) having your own apartment! (Can you tell I`m still in the honeymoon phase? ;-)) Yes, it`s small, but it`s my own! I get to make a fuss over what to buy for it, even though that does cost money. I actually got to go through the experience of buying curtains...how domestic! ;-) And now I finally have my futon (borrowed, of course) after several days of sleeping on a box-spring covered by two towels and my robe. Also, I discovered that I live near a super-market that`s even better than Daiei! (but Paku, even though it was crappy, will always have a place in my heart! ;-))

I`ve even gotten the opportunity to hang out with people. I met an American exchange student who is unfortunately going back to the United States this week. I got to go to the new 7-story karaoke building in Hachioji. It`s pretty cool, but it has a pretty crappy English song selection.

I`ve been back at work too, of course. The first two days went pretty well. I hadn`t lost my touch at teaching like I had feared. But on Saturday, I had a whopping 8 classes...needless to say I was worn out. And during one of my classes, I could hear a crackling noise, which meant I was being monitored. That freaked me out and it affected the way I taught that class...and it was all downhill from there. Well, I just hope I don`t get grief from it. And so begins the second chapter of my life in Japan...

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