Friday, August 26, 2016

Where Does Wanderlust Start?

When I was seven, I was enamored with a book series in my school library. There was a whole shelf of tiny yellow-bound books that detailed an adventure, and every book was a different destination. They were old - maybe from the 60s or 70s? - but I loved them. I was just a little kid living in Nova Scotia, and I had already moved three times from the west coast of Canada to the prairies and then out to the east coast. When you're a military brat, you get used to having a new home in a new city every couple years. The people in these books were doing the same thing, except they were doing way cooler stuff and living in cooler places than a military base in Nova Scotia. They went to Hawaii and Peru and China and other places I had never heard of. I devoured those books. I read every book in the series in two weeks. No small feat when you're seven!

I'm often asked where my wanderlust came from. In my adult life, I seem to throw everything out the window and start over about every four or five years. After I finished high school, I moved away to the "big" city in my province to go to university. After five years and graduating, I moved across Canada to Vancouver. After a few years building my life and career in Vancouver, my boyfriend at the time and I decided to move to Vancouver Island and start a new life there. That didn't work out, and I found myself in Vancouver again. After a few more years, I decided to move to Roatan and become a dive instructor. I did that for four years, then I decided to move to Japan and teach English. I can stay here for three years, or an absolute max of five if I somehow end up being spectacular at my job. Then I have to go somewhere else. I'm already scheming about what's next. I've got a serious case of expat wanderlust. (I'm not much for the constant-travel type of wanderlust...props to you guys!)

Can I take the easy way out and just blame it on being in a military family and being forced to uproot my (albeit tiny) life every few years to a new place as a child? Probably not. My brother moved around with me the same amount, and he couldn't be more different than me in that department. He rarely travels outside of the province, he went to college while still living at home, and his big 'grown-up' move was to a town 45 minutes from my parents' place and he frequently comes back for the weekend. And you know what? That dude is happier than a clam. He has a house, he has a good job that he likes, he's got everything he needs there. He's laid-back, super easygoing and has a way better constitution and temperament to travel or live an expat life than I do, yet he stays home and here I am flailing my way through countless locations over the years.

I don't know why some people are born with itchy feet. All I know is that I have them, and when I think about it I can't picture myself living in Canada with an office job again and paying too much rent on a shitty 1960s walk-up studio apartment again. If I'm going to live in a shitty apartment it's gonna have to be somewhere new in the world for me to explore and learn and grow. I have learned new languages, nuances, cultures and customs. I have networks of connections I've made that spread to every single corner of the world now.

I think it's an insatiable curiosity about the world that sparks wanderlust in people. I wanted to learn how to scuba dive (and be really good at it) and I wanted to learn Spanish and creole so I moved to Roatan. I wanted to keep teaching but in a different way and use skills that I had from taking Linguistics at university, and I wanted to revive my Japanese so I moved to Japan. I am not picking places on a map with my eyes closed. I think to truly understand a place you need to live there, and live like a local (not like a tourist). When you can move easily in that place, knowing the language, customs, and locations. That's when that curiosity gets satisfied.

Do you have wanderlust that just can't be cured? Where did it come from?

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.

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.