When I graduated high school, I thought it was all down hill for me, that the best days of my life were over. Boy, was I wrong. Since my graduation day in 2010, I’ve traveled 10 countries and counting. I’ve lived in a town of 3,500 and a city of 2.4 million. I went from cleaning toilets as a summer job to pay for my first Euro trip, to working on the 24th floor in the business hub of one of the biggest cities in the world. I’ve lived in one of the coldest, driest regions of the world, and in one of the hottest, most humid. I’ve seen the oceans of Spain, the mountains of Montenegro, the volcanoes of Italy, sunsets in Greece, waterfalls in Croatia, cherry blossoms in Japan, and the Aurora in Canada. I’ve seen natural and man-made wonders across the globe that even my wildest imagination could not have created. I’ve studied two languages and countless cultures. I’ve worked and volunteered in 4 countries, enjoyed sports on 3 continents, and tasted Heineken in 7 countries. While I’ve loved and learned so much from being away, I’ve had to miss out on some really important things at home. I’ve missed some of my best friends getting married and having kids, I’ve missed family birthdays and Christmas, and I’ve missed annual events with the people I love the most. Although I feel terrible not being there for them and it breaks my heart sometimes to see pictures of everyone together without me, I don’t regret the choices I’ve made that have gotten me here. The only thing I can do is promise that I will come come eventually and that I will be back in those pictures next time. Don’t stop sending me pictures, videos, and updates from home, as it reminds me everyday what I have to look forward to about going home. I miss you all and appreciate your love and understanding in what I have chosen to do with my life so far. Now, back to the present, It’s been months since I wrote a proper blog. Not because I didn’t do anything, I’ve actually been running like mad. Rather, I didn’t have the ambition or inspiration to write. Writing is like travelling for me, I’m passionate about both of them, but sometimes you just need a break to regain some motivation. My last blog, for example, was just words on a page for me. It was lacking the Jody quality I try and bring to all my writings. So I decided to wait until I had something to say again. So, hello friends, I’m back!
It is officially につやすみ (natsuyasumi – summer vacation) and I couldn’t be happier. For those of you who think my life is like just one big vacation, you can all go stick your heads in the freezer until you get a brain freeze because that couldn’t be further from the truth. I work my little English butt off. I work more here than I did when I had a full time government job at home. So ya, I deserve this break, and I deserve the countless bees, ice cream treats, and guilt free matcha frappuccini that come with it. So, suck on that. ( and ya I know how to correctly pluralize frappuccino) In the last few months I’ve embraced the “what the hell am I doing here” feeling, and started to work on answering that question. I traded in my Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night Netflix binges for time with real people. That’s right, I have friends now. A mix of coworkers and randoms, Japanese and Gaijins like me. I’ve joined an acroyoga group, started taking Japanese language classes, and started coaching a university cheerleading team. I’ve started saying “yes” to things I previously said no to.
- “Want to try grilled meet at a traditional やきにく restaurant? (Yakiniku – grilled meat) “yes, I do.”
- “Can I flip you upside down using only my feet?” “Yes you may.” (Context for this one might help. In acro yoga I actually go in the air… That’s a first for me)
- “Want to jump off this waterfall into a river of nibbling fish?” “Sounds exhilarating, sure!”
- “Want to go for さしみ (sashimi- raw fish)?” ” no….” The answer for this is, and will always be, no, because some things never change.
By saying yes more often, I ended up spending Canada Day in a Canadian pub in the middle of Osaka, where the staff were serving grilled cheese and poutine, while wearing Tim Hortons tshirts and passing out Canada flag tattoos. I happily wore my Canadian winter mittens in the 30 degree heat that day as I passed out maple cookies and candy to the students and my coworkers. Most Japanese people had never heard of Canada Day, so I got to shamelessly brag about all the wonderful things that come from my great country (surprise, it’s more than just Avril and Justin) A great friend took me to たなばた (tanabata), which is where they write their wishes on streamers and hang them on the bamboo trees. It was like a Disney Fairytale land. I also went to Gion-Matsuri, which is one of the biggest festivals in Japan with massive floats, street food for blocks, and literally millions of people. The next week I watched 40,000 はなび (hanabi – fireworks). There was 3 million people in attendance. That’s like if everyone from Saskatchewan, Manitoba, P.E.I., Newfoundland, and New Brunswick all got together for a night… Just to give you some perspective.
Finally, after two and a half years, I met up with a Japanese girl that I taught when she was an international student at my university in Canada. It was so nice for the roles to be reversed. In Canada I took her to a hockey game, ate thanksgiving dinner together, and taught her about Canada and about English culture. This time she was able to teach me things about her country. So nice to see you Anna!
After six months of being here, I’ve gone through you’re typical stages: overwhelmed, excited, hopeless, motivated, homesick, angry, and finally content. There are still some things that stump me on a regular basis though:
- Why do you not use soap after using the bathroom….?
- Why is Avril Lavigne so popular here?? And why do some people think the Spice Girls is a new band?
- How is it possible that nobody knows the word ‘gymnastics’?
- To the old guy casually walking around with a live canary on his head… Why?
- It seems mathematically impossible, but every Japanese girl knows how to walk perfectly in 6″ heels…
I always get people to guess my age, and the average guess is 27. Some people even ask how many kids I have…. Like, people, I’m 23 here. I’m the same age as some of you! The university keeps me laughing and has introduced me to great coworkers and hilarious students. Thanks to them, I am now fluent in nerd…. I mean, fluent in Japanese Pokemon. To add to the “ridiculous things my students have said”, (and I’m going to leave these out of context to make them even more hilarious) here’s a list, because I love lists:
- “When you go camping in Canada do you just tap the trees and drink the maple syrup for food?”
- “Do you have summer where you’re from?”
- “So there’s no octopuses where you live?” “I live in the middle of Canada” “ya, but there’s no octopuses?” “There’s no ocean” “yea, but are there octopuses?”
- “You’ve been in Japan for six months and you can’t speak Japanese? Really?” … Well, you’ve been studying for 9 years and you can’t speak English yet….
- “Does everyone in Canada have a special wallet for business cards?” “No.” “WHAT?!”
- ” I’ve been listening to a new English group, theyre called the Spice Girls, have you heard of them?”
- “Everyone in Jakarta hates you” …. “What?”
- “I know how to swear in English, but can you teach me how to say subtle dirty things?” ….. “No, absolutely not!”
- “I had to work late today.” “Oh, that’s too bad, why?” “My boss went into rehab again.” …
- “What kind of work do people in your town do?” “It’s mostly agriculture.” “Ohhh, so how many rice fields does your dad have?” ……
My students always make me laugh, but on the other hand, I’m sure I make them laugh too. Like: that crazy white girl… What will she say next. I can’t count how many times I’ve cried from laughing in a lesson.
I’m finally starting to climatize. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, considering I’ll return to Canada in the middle of winter. Either way, I’ve been able to go a whole day without taking all my clothes off. It sounds crazy, but when it’s 35 feels like 42 with a 90% humidex, sometimes it’s the only way to stay cool. I’m basically personally employing the ice cream and iced coffee industries at this point. I’ve also accepted the fact that deodorant has no effect on people in August. We will all continue wearing it and reapplying it, but the results will always be unsatisfying. I generally don’t eat lunch because it’s so hot the only thing my body wants is water, yogurina (water with yogurt in it, I’m not even kidding you), or うめしゅ (plum wine – it’s like alcoholic juice). I’m on holidays, it’s okay.
So on my 12 days off, I’ve visited the Byodoin Temple (it’s the temple that is on the 10 ¥ coin if you’ve ever seen it), enjoyed playing tourist in Kyoto, and took a day trip to 赤目48滝 (akame 48 taki – Red Eye 48 Waterfalls). I rode passenger on the highway in a Porsche… Pretty much an awesome start to any day. I always say, having friends who can drive is the best way to see things. We even jumped off the waterfall into the water below (while reading this, my mom is going to be imagining me jumping off something like Niagara Falls… Relax mom) it was so refreshing and natural. The only thing being, it was full of fish. Little ones, but unfortunately they were the nibbly ones. Once they started biting my legs I was out of there so fast… All in all it was one of the best things I’ve done so far.
I just got back from 4 days in the Hawaii of Japan: Okinawa island. Guys, this is the weirdest place. It took me 3 days to even begin to wrap my head around what kind of atmosphere it was. I went on my own and stayed in a hostel in an area “owned” by the Yazuka (Japanese Mafia basically) in the middle of the soap lands (look it up yourself, I’m definitely not explaining that here). It was definitely one of the rougher areas I’ve seen of Japan, which may have been why it was the cheapest hostel on the island. However, it was 42 steps from the beach and all of the lifeguards were living there so it had a really cool vibe. As opposed to mainland Japan, people in Okinawa didn’t seem to mind tanning, spending time in the sun, and wearing a bathing suit. When I got off my plane I headed straight for the beach, as it was 33 felt like 49!
I must have been a strange sight as I pulled off my dress to reveal the whitest skin most of them have probably ever seen. Swimming in the ocean was like taking a wonderfully cooling bath, and I made it my mission to hit the beach every day. I even got to teach a very informal English/swimming lesson to two guys who realized I was the only person who could actually swim at the beach and asked for my help. During the days I found myself at a summer festival, scored VIP tickets to watch a drum show front row, toured the World Heritage Site, and did some shopping. As Okinawa plays host to a huge American Army base, it has a lot of Western influence, while still holding strong to Japanese and Chinese history. I mean, I found Roxy flip flops in my size. Hallelujah, take me money, just take it!
Over the past months of being here, I’ve been communicating with a Canadian guy who has been living in Japan. He is a friend of a friend of a friend type deal from back home, but we have never actually met face to face. He helped me with housing, setting up my phone, and making travel plans. It just so happened that he moved to Okinawa a few days prior and so we finally got to meet! Him and his wonderful girlfriend took me for dinner, drove me around the island, and took me to see some very unique limestone caves.
- It’s 49 degrees. Why are you wearing pants, socks, shoes, and a sweater?
- It feels like I’ve been wearing a wet bathing suit for 4 days straight
- How many tacos could I eat today?
- *while choosing outfit. Which shirt will show the least back sweat?
- SPF 50 and water resistant? LIES
- How is it possible you live on an island but you can’t swim?
- $139 for a mango…. Is it filled with the answers to all life’s questions, or?
I really hope time lets me get back to that island before I leave from Japan, as I felt strangely comfortable there. It was like Japan, with a dot of Chinese influence, a dash of Spanish lifestyle, and a dab of Western culture, all rolled into one beautiful paradisio! I have a few more days of unplanned vacation before its back to work. The great thing about going back to work is I will only be 3/4 time instead of full time! Leaving me with some extra time in my last few months to continue my travels in order to make the most of my extension. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me next.
Until next time,
Your Armstrong Abroad