Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Homesick for Somewhere That's Not 'Home'

I am a crier. People who know me, know this. I cry in children's movies (Finding Nemo is a nightmare for me), I cry when I see cute old couples on the train, I cry when adorable fluffy puppies clamber up my legs, I cry at all the images on the news of war-torn countries and shell-shocked kids. I am a crier. Do not play that goddamn Sarah McLaughlin SPCA commercial around me.

I also recently found out that I cry when I'm homesick. I have never been homesick before, so this one is new to me. When I moved to Roatan, I really missed the food choices in Vancouver. I missed efficient banks and air conditioning. I missed making more than $15 a day. I missed my friends. I missed all these things, sure, but not enough to make me upset or want to move back because of it. I never cried for Canada. (Okay, maybe once when there was a blackout and it was +42C in my house with no fan. Just that once though. It was rough.)

Here in Japan, I'm starting to settle into my new life. I really like it here so far! My town is just the right size for me, I have air conditioning, I like literally all the food, the people are nice, and my apartment has everything I need. I think I will like my job, but I haven't started quite yet because the kids are on summer break. Japan is cool and I'm diggin' it.

But I find myself welling up every time something reminds me of Roatan. A dancehall song on my Spotify playlist. Rosquillas in the international import food store. Scuba divers on TV. When I walk onto my balcony and the wall of hot, humid air is so thick I feel like I'm swimming. My island friends posting photos on Facebook of nights out in my favorite bars. Finding goya (Japanese) / cerasee (island English) / bitter melon (North American English) in my food at English camp and thinking back to the time that one of my boat captains taught me how to use it in bush medicine. I still find myself cursing in Spanish and island English, and when I wake up to cicadas buzzing there's been more than once that I thought I was back in the jungle house for a second or two.

It took me a while to figure out what was going on, until I realized - I'm homesick. I miss Roatan and even though I'm loving it here in Japan, I'm already scheming about how I can get back there when I'm done here. I've been busy Googling where to find dancehall/reggaeton/Caribbean dance clubs in Tokyo (FYI: this exists, and I AM GOING), and begging my islander friends to send me videos of their day, and voice memos of them talking so I don't forget my island English. If you say the words "fry meat" or "gyal" to me right now, I will cry.

I mentioned this to a friend recently and was told it isn't possible to be homesick for somewhere that's not home. I say, if you're homesick for it, it is home. I lived on Roatan for four years - it was my home!! I wasn't on vacation. I lived and worked there just like everyone else. I was so frustrated and tired of Roatan by the time I left that I thought I would get to Japan, jump into my new life and forget all about that little island. As it turns out, it's burrowed a lot deeper in my soul than I even thought. I've left my heart in a lot of places around the world in the short time I've been on it, but this has shown me that Roatan has earned her spot there.

Islanders love to say "I'm coming back" when they leave somewhere, whether they actually are coming back in five minutes or not. I feel the same way about wherever my 'home' is - I'm coming back sometime, I don't know when but it makes me and everyone else feel better knowing that it will be sometime. Home really is wherever your heart is, and mine is in many places. And that's okay.

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me try to post more than once a month. So there's that.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

You Might as Well Dance

One thing I want aspiring or incoming JET participants to know is this: you need to show up in this country with your A-game, because more often than not, you are expected to head straight into an onslaught of activities upon arriving...jet lag, lack of sleep, churned-up digestive system, and culture shock be damned. I was lucky that I didn't feel much of these (maybe lack of sleep), though my comrades certainly did. The biggest struggle for me was that I am used to SO much time alone, and SO much personal space, and from the moment I arrived in this country until about two weeks later, I got pretty much zero of each. Constant mandatory participation in all kinds of activities combined with having to share hotel rooms with actual strangers (yes, other participants on the program, but you don't know them till you show up in your room!) really pushed my limits of genki-ness. While I am proud of slugging through it and mostly keeping a smile on, it was a real test for me.

Luckily, one of these activities happened to be something I really LOVE - dancing!

My prefecture (Tokushima) is host to the Awa Odori, which is a famous dance festival that is the largest in all of Japan. The city of 250,000 swells to over 1.5 MILLION people during Awa Odori. Different dance troupes (called ren) come from around Japan to perform. There is a women's dance, men's dance, lantern dance and more. I was fascinated by the history of this dance and the festival itself:

Awa Odori's independent existence as a huge, city-wide dance party is popularly believed to have begun in 1586 when Lord Hachisuka Iemasa, the daimyo of Awa Province hosted a drunken celebration of the opening of Tokushima Castle. The locals, having consumed a great amount of sake, began to drunkenly weave and stumble back and forth. 

Drunken dance parties? Yo, that's my jam!

I also particularly enjoyed the story of the song that is sung during the dance. It loosely translates into English as "Those who are dancing look like fools and those who are watching look like fools, so you might as well dance!" Amen.

the women's dance
Only a few days after arriving in my town, Naruto, we got a taste of it at the Naruto Odori which is a smaller version of the big one in Tokushima City. We were shuffled off to a steamy gym, where we learned the basic steps to the men's dance (which is easier to do and has a much easier costume!) and the call-and-response yells in about ten minutes. We got a good giggle out of this, as we were put at the back of a childrens ren. To be honest, they were better than we were, but we had a good time. Basically, your ren dances through performance areas on the streets with the ren's live band playing on each side of you and spectators in the bleachers watching. We got more than a few bemused grins when people watching noticed the ten foreigners dancing at the back of the kids!

And the best part?

I managed to run into a guy with a Utila dive shop shirt on. Utila, as in THE ISLAND RIGHT FUCKING BESIDE ROATAN. He was doing his divemaster on Utila and had been to Roatan too, so we did some island and diving gossip for a bit until I started to tear up from homesickness. If that doesn't prove it's a small world, I don't know what does.

I had an absolute blast dancing at the Naruto Odori and our ren managed to do three passes through different spectator areas. After returning the happi (the jacket thing I'm wearing in the photos), we were set loose to enjoy the rest of the festival. Which for me meant eating endless yatai, the street food vendors! I had shaved ice, grilled meat on sticks,  takoyaki, and grilled corn. Happy Rika!

takoyaki  (octopus fritters!)
And then I got to do it alllll over again. Part of our orientation a week later included dancing at the massive Awa Odori in Tokushima City - the real deal. We performed as part of Awasowa Ren, the international troupe of over 200 people. There were JETs, expats, a huge group of Harvard students who were in Japan for a few days and more.

We only danced twice but the stages were way longer and there were wayyyyy more people watching! This was a much bigger deal coordinating so many people. I thought the organizers did an amazing job and I had so much fun. I really loved the dancing and I'm determined to find a pro ren to join this year... I want to do the women's dance next year! Or maybe play the drums. I can't decide.

Here's a video that sums it all up nicely - not my video, and I'm not in it, but you can see what the dance is supposed to look like (ours did not look like this) and what the music sounds like. This video features Gojahei Ren, which is the largest ren in Awa Odori:

I'm going to have the song in my head for the rest of my life. YATTOSA YATTOSA!

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me try to post more than once a month. So there's that.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Month 48 Roundup: FOUR YEARS!

If you would have told me four years ago as I got on a plane to Roatan that this roundup would be coming to you from Japan, I probably would have laughed in your face, got a little wistful, and gone back to filling out my dive log.

I never thought I would be on Roatan for four years, and I certainly never thought I'd be in Japan now. But I'm so, so happy for both of those things. I'm here in Naruto and slowly trying to settle into my apartment, my job, and my new time zone. I'm a little sick and I'm not sure if it's mold in the old A/C at my place (my Board of Education kindly replaced it with a brand new A/C unit this morning, since the last tenant got sick too and better safe than sorry) or rice plant "hay" fever, which is apparently a thing here from July-Sept. I don't know but it's wiped me out for a few days now and I forget what breathing out of my nose feels like. I've spent a lot of time in bed binge-watching my new Japanese Netflix obsession, Terrace House.

I had a few days in Tokyo after arriving and orientation there passed in a hazy, tired blur. I got to Naruto on Tuesday and we got straight into things - registering at city hall, signing contracts at the Board of Education, getting cell phones set up, utilities changed over, even a meeting with the mayor of the city, who was so, so kind to us. We did our self-intros (in Japanese! ahhhhHHH!) and he gave us gift bags full of Naruto goodies. Also, all that happened with us in full suits in tropical, humid weather...not sure how I survived.

We still have bank accounts to set up, and car insurance to register. I've been cleaning my apartment, organizing, purging the old tenants stuff and buying new furniture and household stuff to get things set up just the way I like it. I have air conditioning and I can finally afford to use it (screw you Roatan) so even though it's eight million degrees outside (= 92F) I am cool as a cucumber in my house. I've been grocery shopping and cooking my favorite Japanese foods. I've gone out for sushi, udon, ramen, gyudon and loads of conbini food. Everyone has been really nice to me and I like my apartment, my town, and my supervisor + Board of Education. So far, so good.

So... here is my month 48 roundup, FROM JAPAN!

1. My most popular Instagram photo:

This month, my most popular photo on my Instagram was this one! Actually, all my Japan photos have been killin' it on Insta, but you guys liked this one of me eating chips in Tokyo the best:

Is it because I have a dress on? (Weird, I know.) Is it because I eat chips in every corner of the world I reach? (True.) Is it because you wanted to know what kind of chips they were? (Grilled steak + black pepper.) Or is it because I WAS IN MF-ING TOKYO!?!?! (Note the cars driving on the left!)

2. In case you missed it:

Back on track with posting more than once a month! I killed it this month with my posting schedule, though to be fair I was unemployed so I had no excuses. Here's a list of my posts since my last roundup, in case you missed any. Some of these are the longest, most detailed posts I have ever written, and I really hope they're helpful for people who might be in my shoes.

3. My favorite thing on the internet right now:

I can't get over how funny/awesome this is - a re-created Peggy's Cove in Thailand! I used to live in the Maritimes so I've been to the real Peggy's Cove and while it's beautiful it certainly didn't inspire me to build one in another country. Anyway, props to this guy - he's actually done a nice job of making this resort and he's 100% right when he talks about how friendly the people are at the real one. I'm totally gonna go to this when I go to Thailand! You can see more about Peggy's Cove Resort here.

That's it for now. Cheers to four years on this crazy adventure that is my life. I'm having so much fun exploring my new city and meeting new people and eating ALL THE THINGS, obviously. New posts about life in Japan coming soon!

You can see all the previous roundups here. Cheers!

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me try to post more than once a month. So there's that.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Konnichiwa Bitches: Hello from Japan

Just a post to say... I MADE IT. Hello from Shinjuku, Tokyo!  I'm eating everything. I'll have more to tell you all soon.

It's muggy and humid and roasting hot. It makes me miss Roatan. I don't want to put my suit on, but work is work. What a funny feeling it is to wake up in a new world to your new life. Bring it, Japan.

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me try to post more than once a month. So there's that.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Weekend in Portland

I had one little thing on my to-do list during these few months I've been in Canada, and that was visit my friend Sarah in Portland before I left for Japan. We had been talking about this for ages - I first met Sarah in Roatan (she arrived shortly after me) and we were soon neighbors and friends. When she moved back to Portland last year, she left the island and I promised the next time I was in Canada that I would come see her. So I did! I only had a short weekend, so we decided to make the most of it. Here's a recap of my weekend, through the unfiltered lens of my old iPhone:

I flew in and out of Vancouver because I wanted to check something off my bucket list - taking the train down the west coast! I went on the Amtrak Cascades and I absolutely loved it (I did not like having to go to the train station at 5:30am though. This girl does not do mornings well). The seats were roomy, there was free wifi on board once we crossed the US border, there was a dining/coffee car, a lounge car and outlets for everyone. It was a long trip... about eight hours, and you aren't allowed to disembark anywhere until you're at your station. I got up and walked around a few times. But the coastal scenery kept me glued to my seat most of the time - I was SO happy I got a window seat.

Once we finally arrived in Portland, Sarah and her roommate Liza came to get me and obviously first things first in Portland - we had to go EAT! We went straight to Pine Street Market, an indoor market full of hip food stalls that are offshoots of local restaurants. I got Israeli street food from Shalom Y'all and slammed it so fast I didn't even take a picture. Everything we got was fantastic and I felt like things here (and actually everywhere I ate in Portland) were really reasonably priced.

After we filled our bellies we headed out to the Portland International Rose Test Gardens, which was beautiful and smelled amazzzziiinnnnngggg. There were lots of selfies and iPhone rose photos going on here.

From here, we headed up to the Pittock Mansion to take in the beautiful architecture of the building (it was closed, I would have loved to have gone inside!) and the stunning city views from up on the ridge. Liza and Sarah gave me a Portland geography lesson, and then we roamed the grounds.

After this we headed back home and thought about getting ourselves together to go out for food or drinks, but I had a long day and my hosts were tired from paddleboarding in the river all afternoon so we called it a night.

Saturday morning we got up and, as you do in Portland, headed to the farmer's market. I don't have any pictures from this because it was, as it is in Portland, raining. I did snag some macarons to enjoy later. I think I managed to eat about 20 macarons in my weekend there. They were everywhere!

We walked around some really cute little shopping/entertainment districts and browsed around in the stores for a few hours. It was very Portland-y to me. Such quirky, eclectic stuff, and hipsters as far as the eye could see!

I enjoyed it though, and there was so much food. After visiting a saltwater aquarium store that sent me into a tearful homesick depression when I saw the seahorses, butterflyfish and tang I know so well, Sarah took me to what was my favorite meal in Portland - a pork belly rice bowl at Double Dragon.

I don't know why this was so good, but I was over the moon while I was eating it. Curry lime collard greens, savory roasted mushrooms, pickled cucumber and some serious soft-boiled egg yolk porn combined with a generous portion of crispy pork belly and topped off with kimchi - it was just the best flavor and texture combination. I don't think I've ever eaten anything better for $11. I could easily eat this daily. Sarah's bahn mi burger was not too shabby either.

We decided on an unconventional form of entertainment for the evening - a paranormal walking tour of the infamous Portland Shanghai Tunnels. Now, I'm no stranger to tunnel tours. My hometown is famous for them. But this was by far the weirdest tunnel tour I've ever been on.

There was a group of about eight of us and we met in a restaurant courtyard while our guide started telling us about the history of the tunnels in downtown Portland. The lady guiding the tour seemed really nervous, and the way she talked about the guy who has been excavating these things was a little creepy - she sounded like a cult member talking about her leader. Oh well, Portland is weird, right? Then they opened up a street-level gate and we shuffled down into the 'tunnels'.

I'm using the term tunnels loosely, because this tour really only consisted of walking around in the basements of like two or three buildings. There wasn't anything really 'tunnel-like' about it, though due to earthquake-proofing a lot of areas were blocked off for safety or restructuring the building, so maybe there used to be more. Our tour focused on paranormal activity and there is apparently a lot of it down in these basements where back in the late 1800s through the early 1900s crooked dudes would 'Shanghai' unsuspecting drunk bar patrons by dropping them through trapdoors in the bar floor, into the basement, into crude holding cells and then onto huge ships as slave labor. Some guys made it back to Portland and some didn't. The basements had to be excavated out as they were full of rubble and they found some interesting artifacts down there like shoes that had been taken away from prisoners (they had broken glass cemented into the floors around the cells - no shoes = no trying to escape), an opium den, etc.

All in all this tour was okay - it was interesting and I liked hearing the stories about the times of Shanghai-ing. I probably would have gone on a non-paranormal tour if I knew then what I knew now, because I wasn't into the ghost focus at all. Our tour guide was super into it and that's cool, but some of her 'proof' consisted of stopping us for 10 minutes in a small, low, enclosed area and telling us that lots of people on the tours faint there so it must be spirits or something. (Uh, or the fact that you've got all these people breathing/exhaling in a small area for 10 minutes with zero airflow, underground?) Anyway, I'd do it again, it was good for $13 but I'd skip the paranormal one next time. The tour came back above ground and they took us to a shop/museum full of stuff they found down there while excavating and it was cool.

We decided to get some fresh air afterward and took a walk over a huge bridge down to OMSI and peeked in the windows (it was closed). Portland is definitely the city of bridges and the early evening scenery from the bridge was gorgeous.

The next morning was time for me to check off my last two to-do items on the list before leaving: hit up a Trader Joe's (we don't have them in Canada!) and have a classic Scandinavian brunch at Broder Soder. Obviously, it being brunch and all, I had to get the cocktail with the dill vodka in it.

Great success!!

All in all, this was such a fantastic weekend filled with food, solid girl time, craft beer, roaming around and a little bit of weird. It was perfect. Thank you Sarah for showing me your city! I hope I'll be back soon. There was so much more I wanted to see and do - I could spend ages just eating my way through PDX. A good reason to plan another trip!

Have you been to Portland? What should be on my agenda next time?

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me try to post more than once a month. So there's that.