Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Holidays

I'm not sure whether or not any of you celebrate Christmas, but I thought I'd take a moment before clearing off my bed and sleeping to talk about something that happened to me.

It was a busy Christmas Eve. I spent most of the day editing one of my friend's fanfictions she had written about Final Fantasy VI. I hadn't done any editing work before, but my friend insisted on treating me to lunch at a local coffee shop while I helped make her story more like one written in native English. This work wasn't difficult or boring in the least, in fact, I rather enjoy creative writing, but it took a little longer than expected to edit fourteen pages. I won't go into detail about any of that, though. We each said our thank yous and goodbyes, and went our own way.

I also received a Christmas package from my parents, brother and sister-in-law, and grandparents. I received multiple sets of warm clothes--hoodies, jammie pants, tights, socks, and thermal wear--some food from home, a cute snowman blanket, and some movies I wanted to see, but hadn't had time to watch. I am very thankful for these things. It's very cold in Kyoto, and I hadn't had the time or financial means to buy clothes for the upcoming winter weather. I feel that these gifts were perfect for this year, and that I didn't need anything extravagant. It's humbling, and I like it.

However, after going to Laura's house to celebrate Christmas Eve, she and Cornelius walked me back to my apartment. We had all eaten quite a lot, and we wanted fresh air. Laura carried my new snowman blanket as a bundle in one arm and suddenly, a woman--whom we've never met--wearing a Santa hat asked us in Japanese, "Is that a baby?" We kept walking, not knowing she was talking to us, as she had been talking to a man moments before, but she continued, "Is that a baby?" Finally, she ran to us and gently took Laura's hand, "Oh! I thought that was a baby!" The woman sounded relieved. (All of this is in Japanese, by the way.) Laura laughed and said, "No, no! It's a blanket! Just a blanket!" All three of us laughed and the woman smiled. "Oh! I really thought it was a baby! Oh! Silly me!" She took the blanket and rocked it and kissed it. I'm sure all three of us were thinking she was just a drunk, silly woman, but she gave the blanket back to Laura, then did something unexpected. She gave each of us a sincere hug and said, "Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!" We hugged her back and laughed, saying the same greeting to her. She walked us to the intersection and told us to enjoy ourselves. We went our separate ways, and laughed about the experience on the way to my apartment building.

Yet, for some reason, I'm feeling a bit nostalgic at this. I looked at my computer clock, and the time read 12:05 a.m., which would put the meeting with this woman at exactly midnight on Christmas Day. I'm not sure if I'll ever see that woman again, or if I had even seen her before tonight, but I feel like meeting her was not chance. I feel as though I were four years old, sitting with my brother in our dining room looking at the gifts Santa had brought us with wonder, not knowing how fortunate we were. I realized how selfish I had been many Christmases before, never taking the time to try and understand the importance of family and a brief encounter with a friend. To me, this woman was Santa Claus, and our meeting will stick with my thoughts forever.

I think this Christmas, although it has nearly twenty-four more hours to fill, will stick with me because it is not the usual. It's imperfect.

Even if I'm not meeting my own goals in exactly the same way I'd like to, I feel as though I'm learning so much from my stay in Japan. I'm seeing a side of humanity that I never thought existed, or perhaps, it was just a side I had given up on somewhere down the line. If I were to see that woman again, I would look her in the eyes and say thank you with all of my heart. And I hope that someone, somewhere, and someday can repay her the kindness she gave me on this cold night in December in a land very far from home.

I'm sure she would laugh and smile saying, "Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


I didn't really understand how the other exchange students could say they were "homesick" after coming to Japan. I never really missed "home" because I felt--and still feel--very much at home in Kyoto. But with the Christmas holiday quickly approaching, I find myself having more down days than up. I find myself sinking behind in my studies and struggling to concentrate.All I want for Christmas is to spend time with my family and friends, and I know it's impossible for me to go back to Texas for the holidays. I also know that I would be mad at myself for doing this, if it were possible, anyway. I know it's good for me to remain in Japan even during the break.

But knowledge doesn't change the desire to be home, petting my animals, hugging my parents, cuddling the hell out of my boyfriend, and even playing with my chubby nephew.

I am very lucky to be where I am today, and even luckier to be living my dream of living in Japan. This trip has definitely been humbling. I've very lucky and proud to be living in Kyoto, even more so that I could  be fortunate enough to live here for a year.

But for those of you wanting to study abroad, here's my advice to you: Homesickness might not hit you at first, but when it does hit you, be prepared to deal with it for awhile.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Experiences and Realizations: the never-ending continuation.

This is a blog I'd like to dedicate to all of the people I've ever met in my life, as silly as that sounds.

I woke up from a nap after eating way too many crepes  my friend, Laura made for me in return for some udon and edible chrysanthemum--I found out, once again, that I was allergic to a plant that usually doesn't bother me--and felt strange. I felt unsettled, out of place, and a little homesick. The dream was strangely familiar. I was home, in Texas in my high school, a hybrid of Japanese and Texan architecture, speaking to my friends and family in Japanese and English. I was welcomed with hugs by my friend, Oscar, a cook I used to work with at a restaurant called Outlaw's back home, and he told me that I was growing up too fast, going to get married soon. I laughed and told him that he'd better make sure my boyfriend married me. My Mom then took my hand and dragged me to talk to a woman I'd only seen at pep rallies in real life. Her blond, flipped-out hair, and former cheerleader smile unnerved me as she asked me if I had already sold my truck, a vehicle I stopped driving almost two years ago. The dream continued like this. My friend Bonnie smiled at me and bobbed around like an excited puppy. Why was I being told "Congratulations for going to Japan?" I opened my eyes and couldn't wrap my head around where I was. I looked to my right, a place I would normally see a black lab/pittbull mix lying beside me. My boyfriend's dog wasn't there, and I wasn't sleeping on the floor on a futon next to a surreal-post-modernist painting. I wasn't home. This was the second time I've had this feeling in Japan. The first occurring only after I woke up in a hotel after flying.

I'm not sure what this dream meant, but I'm asking all of my friends and family to be careful, safe, healthy, well-fed, and warm during the holiday season. I won't be home, something that feels a little lonely, and a weight in my stomach is telling me that something may happen. I'm not sure if it's good, but the suspense is right under my skin.

However, while this dream was rather perplexing--still is, even after writing about it--I've had a few realizations over the past week or two that I haven't written. Each experience is tiny, and I feel that when I write the whole, I lose the emotion that happened in one particular instance. These moments can't be expressed in mundane detail, like the number of steps it takes to climb up Kotohiragu Shrine in Kagawa Prefecture, or the details of my trip to Awaji-shima, school speeches, and being cast in a college film. All of these are interesting, and I'll touch on each of them briefly--I was writing a mundane entry about the Awaji-shima trip that I felt did no justice--but I want to discuss only the important details. (I'm terrible about repeating myself, aren't I?)

I hope that I will never forget sitting with my two good friends on a bench, staring at the river on a cold night with biting wind, drinking a can of fruity alcohol, laughing at childhood stories, complaining about school, and letting ourselves unwind. It was about nine o'clock, and we had just finished a fantastic eight-course meal at a Chinese restaurant in our hotel, the Tokushima Grandvrio Hotel. The trip until that point had been action-packed, and busy, but I'll save that for a different blog entry. Cornelius, Laura and I had been awake since early morning, and we couldn't wait for our two hours of exploration away from the other students and planned outings. We decided the best thing to do would be to stop at a convenience store, purchase some cheap alcohol, and just relax by the bank of a river passing through town.

Honestly, this was the first time that I had really spent time with Cornelius. We had hung around a few times before, but I had always taken it for granted, and I never gave the time to truly appreciate his company. However, away from the group, this pristine, reserved, intelligent guy let his shoulders drop from his rather straight posture. He laughed as my Texan accent slipped, and even shared stories from his childhood. We all took turns talking about laughing with food in our mouth, drinks spraying from nostrils, and even laughing to the point of vomiting. These aren't heavy topics, and they're easy to relate to, no matter whom you talk with. Yet, looking at the sky, shivering under my wool jacket while the can of alcohol stuck to my hand, I smiled to myself as the realization came over me: I've made some very good friends in Japan.

As all three of us walked to the hotel, relaxed enough from the alcohol to talk freely, but not slovenly, we joked that we would work together. Cornelius, the law student, would have to put up with the shenanigans of two very hyper coworkers. He would be our supervisor. Laura would bring people as a negotiation ambassador with her French charm and keep them there with her German matter-of-factness. Our friend, Sindre, would keep us well-fed, but forget to do some of the more important work that comes with being a secretary. Our boss, Chris, would keep the work atmosphere relaxed, allow us to work freely, but would hardly take work on himself. As for me with my hostess-loving personality, I would act as an Ambassador, meeting clients at the airport and restaurants, but would double as a security guard  with a hot temper and wicked umbrella-sword skills. These jokes were light and amusing, but all three of us knew that this probably wouldn't happen. It was a dream. Our smiles were betrayed by the sadness in our eyes. Cornelius kept a small smile on his face, but all three of us knew that he would be returning to Law School after January, and it would be a very long time, perhaps an eternity for me, before we ever saw him again. And likewise, the uncertainty of seeing Laura again after August 2012 hit me hard in the stomach. The hour we spent on the bench would seem like a snowflake in a warm pond. Spring would come too quickly, the snowflake would melt away and remain with the rest of the water; part of a blur too small to be remembered.

Oh, but I hope that I remember it always.

This is one of the heaviest realizations I've had in awhile, but it eases me to write about it. Even as I type, the moment is bittersweet in my memory. I find myself already forgetting the topics of our conversation and feel myself digging deeper and deeper to try to bring the details to light.

I feel a bit strange going on from this point, especially in such an abrupt transition, but I would like to talk about another realization I had, as well as an experience in brief that I feel changed my life forever.

First, the realization. As I sat down, preparing myself to write this blog, I tried to let go of some of the bitterness I have for some of the people studying language around me. I realized I can't advance unless I let this unnecessary jealousy, contempt, and self-pity leave my body. This is silly, but it's quite common among students that study languages. It becomes a competition to some of us, especially to people like me that consider all of life a competition. Some of my largest faults--and strengths--are my passion for learning, determination to learn, and hardness I put on myself. I have always been the type to push myself to learn something, and I get very frustrated and angry when I can't learn something new. Typically, this happened in math class, where the logic made sense to me, but not the numbers. This frustration comes typically from the fact that I learn pretty quickly, generally. And it makes me angry that people who I feel are on the same level, speaking, writing, and reading wise, are placed in a class higher than me in Japanese. But today, I realized I'm already better in Japanese than I thought. When I came here, I couldn't speak confidently, and if I saw someone was confused, I would switch to English. Now, even though I can't speak with perfect grammar, correct vocabulary, or even in practical sentence-structure, I can get my point across to my friends, teachers, and even strangers. People still look at me as if they can't understand me sometimes, but I can make myself understood. It's refreshing to know that I can survive in a country while receiving help from friends, but doing a majority of the work on my own. In the end, I was the one making this difference the world. I can't let it overtake my time. I'm going to learn Japanese and be happy with myself. Screw the other people.

But at the same time, I never realized how many people could utilize the English language. I had a rather scary moment, when a dear friend of mine told me they wanted to kill themself over skype yesterday. Sadly, this had become a sort of routine. My friend would tell me, I would spend about an hour talking them down, they would calm down, and then it would repeat the next time  I spoke to them. It seemed sort of boy cried wolf, but yesterday was different. It was them telling me they wanted to die, me trying a different reverse-psychology technique, my friend calming down, working back up, then silence on the other end of skype. I tried to wait. Perhaps it was a faulty internet connection. Perhaps my internet had died. Maybe they just wanted to scare me. Then I panicked. I talked to my friend, who at first told me that I was being a bit mean for not being more sympathetic, but then we both felt as if my friend wanted attention. However, we both thought it would be a good idea to take it seriously, so I messaged everyone I could think of, writing in basic English for my friends in Europe to try and contact my best friend of about seven years. Luckily, she was alright, but I had never been so thankful that European countries speak English. I can't say thank you enough to these people I had never met, and could only thank them for taking the time to read my message and check on my friend.

Time for another awkward transition; this blog entry is getting too heavy. Although, technically, this is along the same context, just reverse.

This weekend, a friend of mine contacted me on facebook asking me if I would be willing to participate in her friend's college film.  Apparently, the girl needed a foreigner that could speak English, and she needed some other foreigners for background actors and actresses. This was a case in which someone was very happy that I could speak English,a s well as understand acting directions in Japanese. I was asked to give my voice to even male characters, which had always been a weird sort of dream for me. I've always wanted to voice act, but my shyness has kept me from it. My voice is a  bit deep for a girl, so I figured that if I failed in my ventures to become an English teacher in Japan someday, I could always ask to play the part of gaijin, or background person in Japanese anime. It wasn't anime, but a real film. I had to speak in English, which was a bit harder for me, but I enjoyed it. It was cool seeing my friends on screen, and it was incredibly difficult to sync time with a person speaking in non-native English. I will receive a copy of the DVD when the editing is complete, but I won't say much about the story until then. I don't want to spoil anything.

Thanks for reading a rather long blog entry. But I hope it makes up for not writing very often!

Until next time, whenever that may be.

Please don't take the holidays for granted and enjoy spending time with your friends and family.