Sunday, December 30, 2007

Reflecting on 2007

It's the last day of the year again, and like last year I'd like to reflect on all the things that happened this year, and share some of the highlights of my 2007. One of the biggest events for my family this year was the wedding of my mother and her boyfriend Guido, who is now officially my stepfather. On May 11th they tied the knot in Veldhoven, and I was my mother's witness (someone who has similar duties as a maid of honor, but without having to wear a pink dress). And crybaby that I am, tears started pouring out of my eyes before the bride and groom even entered the ceremony room and I kept it up until way after the deed was done. It was a beautiful and emotional wedding and Yasu came over from Japan to celebrate this special occasion with us, which made it all even better.

Gui & Moem just married, with their kids

Then just a week after my parents got married, it was party time again. This time it was my farewell party, as I moved to Japan in May of this year. It was a big party and everyone I know and used to know showed up that day to say wish me all the best in Japan. It was great to see everyone, but it was too hard to catch up with more than 30 people so the party kind of felt like working to me. I made sure everyone knew about this blog when they left the party, so that next time I see them there'll be no need to catch up, because all they need to know will be broadcasted on here.

My party give-aways with the details of my blog on the card and some Japanese snacks in the bag

On the 25th of May, I departed from Düsseldorf Airport to Nagoya in Japan. My parents, my brother and my aunt came to see me off and carry my suitcases to the Emirates check-in desk. We tried to be cheerful, but most of the last few hours together we spent in tears (at least Gui and me).

Gy, Chantal, Gui, Moem and Lou

At one point I really thought I wasn't able to go through with the whole moving-to-Japan-thing, but somehow I ended up on the huge plane heading for Dubai, where I transferred to a plane with Nagoya as its destination.

Look closely at the fourth window from the right and you'll see me pressed up against the tiny plane-window

In Nagoya and AEON representative picked me up and escorted me to my hotel near Nagoya Station, where Yasu just happened to have a room for the night as well ;). Two days later, while I was still heavily jetlagged, a grueling training peroid of 9 days started. It totally exhausted me, got me physically ill, but it did prepare me for the job I was going to be doing at AEON Inuyama.

Lousensei freaking out about teaching her first ever lesson (for fake students)

Right after training I was put on a local train to Inuyama, to be picked up by Mayuka (the school's manager) and guided to my new place of work. The first days, I felt completely clueless but gradually (with the help of the other teachers, especially Joanne) I got the hang of it more and more.

AEON Inuyama

The first night after work a student brought me and all my luggage to my new apartment, which was small (especially the kitchen), but sufficient for me and actually quite roomy for Japanese standards. It was very empty in the beginning, but by now I have added lots of furniture and the place is stuffed, but homey. I just wish it was possible to heat the apartment up in this cold winter we've been having in Inuyama.

View from my tiny kitchen

In July Joanne went back home, and she was replaced by Kristin from Cincinnati. So our school organized a welcome and goodbye party at the nextdoor restaurant Al Centro. So until I leave AEON Inuyama in May of 2008, the staff of our school will consist of these 8 people:

Kristin, me, Moe and Kana (top) Noriko, Aiko, Mayuka and Megumi (bottom)

The reason my attention got pulled toward Japan is Yasu, of course. And now that I live in Japan I get to see him much more often than I used to. It's still quite a distance between Osaka and Nagoya, but it's a lot better than between Europe and Japan. Since my arrival in Japan, I've spent lots of time with him and visited many new places in Japan with him.

Besides being able to see my boyfriend on a much more regular basis, I have also achieved some other things since May, like getting better at teaching and all other aspects of my job and getting more and more used to Japanese cuisine, lifestyle and culture. And even though I haven't officially been studying the Japanese language, I have picked up a lot of words from my students and on the street, and I always pratice deciphering katakana and hiragana when Yasu is around (it's just boring by myself and without someone to check and correct my answers).

Teaching a class

The assistant manager of my school likes to use the foreign teachers for the school's promotion and so far I've been published in a magazine and printed on numerous posters and flyers:

My first week of vacation, Obon, I took a plane to Europe to spend those days, including my birthday, with my family at home. I had been quite homesick, so it was the ideal way to get over it and stock up on some Dutch products, and of course have a wonderful birthday.

My 27th birthday back at home

Then my second week of vacation, Shogatsu, I took another plane, this time straight to Amsterdam and Yasu sat next to me! That was last week! I extended the Shogatsu vacation with 3 days, so that we could spend the Christmas holidays with my family and now we're getting ready for the New Year's Eve traditions of oliebollen and fireworks.

We were welcomed at Schiphol with these selfmade banners

This year is almost over and 2008 is coming! Next year, one of the first things we will do is fly back to Japan, and just a week after arrival in Japan, I'll attend the first of 3 Bon Jovi concerts! Good start of the year! Happy New Year everybody!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Celebrating Christmas at home

When we came home we found the house decorated for Christmas and loads of presents near the Christmas tree. Normally we put them under the tree, but the amount of presents would make it too hard to clean the living room floor. So this year all the presents were gathered on top of the cabinet, and after Yasu and I arrived at the house even more presents were added to this bunch.

The day of Christmas Eve we went for some last minute groceries at my favorite Dutch grocery store Albert Heijn. Outside the store there was a little market stall where two employees were handing out free Dutch winterfood. Yasu tried a 'broodje rookworst' (breadroll with smoked sausage) and a cup of 'erwtensoep' (pea soup) and he especially liked the rookworst, and not just because it was free.

The free-food-giving-guy lent Yasu his Christmas hat

Our first Christmas Day (in the Netherlands we celebrate an official second Christmas Day on the 26th) started with a big brunch with all kinds of Dutch foods and breadtoppings, which I hadn't seen and tasted for quite some time. So that was a nice breakfast feast!

In between the brunch and dinner it was present time! We had a lot of presents to give and receive so it took us a long time to open everything.

Here you are!

Oh, wow, what a beautiful present!

Yasu also brought presents which made my parents very happy!

Yasu gave Gy this vest which says supererotic in Japanese katakana, and Gy loves it!

In between all the present giving the parents prepared a scrumptious Christmas dinner. My mother prepared a delicious turkey, which was especially requested all the way from Japan. Gui made a tasty salad and a cheese fondue, which was too cheesy for me but the others really enjoyed it. Desert was a chocolate fondue (which was too chocolatety for me) and a yummy icecream cake.

The chef cooks

The table setting by my mother

Turkey covered in plastic and a red bow

Stuffed turkey covered in bacon and vegetables

Cooked turkey ready to be carved and served (by me) at the Christmas dinner table

On second Christmas Day we were joined by the rest of the family, meaning Guido's kids and his parents. First we had another big round of opening presents with coffee and Christmas cookies, and then we took a bus to the restaurant Gyano works at. Gy was working that day and he wanted to be part of the Christmas celebration too, so we decided to have dinner at his restaurant while he served us.

Jurre, Yasu, Guido, Moem, Oma & Opa (Gui's parents), Myra and Casper waiting for the bus

Dinner at the Campanile

So, this year's Christmas revolved around food and presents and spending time with eachother. So basically the same as every other year, except this time my Japanese boyfriend was here too! So the party was complete :).

More pictures

Monday, December 24, 2007

Coming home

The flight home was surprisingly comfortable! KLM, the Dutch airline, provided us with a decent amount of room to sit, the food was not bad, the snacks were enjoyable, but most importantly the entertainment system was so entertaining that it would have been ok with me if we stayed in the air for a couple of more hours. And I hate flying, well for longer than 6 hours. But after the 12-hour-flight home on a KLM plane, I'm not dreading the flight back to Japan anymore. Although, we're flying back on Air France with a pitstop in Paris, because the direct KLM flight was fully booked. But I'm hoping the flight will be of a similar quality as the KLM flight, as Air France is KLM's partner.

Amsterdam in Japanese katakana

Already in Dutch airspace

When we arrived at Schiphol Airport we were greeted by my friend Negin at luggage claim. She works at the airport and therefore she has access to places at the airport were normal people can't come without flying around the world first. She welcomed us with a loud cheer, a wild bump after a running through the luggage hall and a huge flower. When we got our suitcases of the rail we went into the arrivals hall and met everybody who was waiting for us there. Of course my parents were there with a 'Welcome Home Louana and Yasu' sign, Gyano was there with a 'Okaeri Nasai' (welcome in Japanese) sign and Minke was there with her new boyfriend Eelco.

Negin, Gyano, Yasu, Eelco, Minke, my mother, Guido

When I saw everyone again it was kind of unreal, probably because I was high on a lack of sleep. I normally fall asleep almost as soon as I sit down in a moving vehicle, but on Sunday I spent almost 2 hours on a train, an hour on a bus and more than 12 hours on a plane, and in total I slept just about 40 minutes. But it was great to see everybody again and have some coffee at Starbucks (my first time at one of the two Dutch Starbucks stores)!

More pictures

Sunday, December 23, 2007

On my way to the Netherlands...

After about 2 hours on 3 different trains (alone) and 1 hour on a bus (with Yasu) we arrived at Kansai Airport. I am writing this on my hotpink keitai (cellphone) while we are waiting to board the KLM plane (see picture). That's where I'll be spending the next 12+ hours :(. But after that and a couple of more hours in the car I'll be home! Can't wait!

More pictures

Thursday, December 20, 2007

I'm dreaming of a White Christmas...

Two more days of teaching and then it's Sunday! What’s so exciting about Sunday you ask? Well, that is the day that Yasu and I will be flying from Osaka to Amsterdam!! Because we’ll be celebrating the holidays with my family, in the Netherlands :). It’s almost Christmas and traditionalist that I am I’m always dreaming of a ‘White Christmas’… But it always seems to stay just that, a dream. But look at what happened at home this morning:

My Dutch home decorated by snow

Our pretty white street

This could be a good sign. Although they forecasted rain for the weekend, that doesn’t mean my hope for a ‘White Christmas’ hasn’t increased by today’s beautiful snowfall! But snow or no snow, I’m pretty sure I’ll be pretty merry this Christmas, because I’ll be home and it’s the first time Yasu gets to share it with us!

P.S. This might just be my last blog from Japan in 2007! Merry Christmas ;)!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Celebrating Christmas

So last Sunday we had a little Christmas celebration at our school for the kids. 33 kids were divided into four groups and dumped into a different teacher’s room every 30 minutes. In one room they got to make Santa hats, in another they played a game, and in yet another room they decorated roll cake with whipped cream and sprinkles and subsequently decorated the floor or their faces with their ‘Christmas cakes’. When they got to my room they got to personalize a microphone with crayons, before I attempted to teach them some Christmas carols.

Most of the carols were way too difficult for them, and I basically ended up loudly singing “Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way” over and over again by myself. Sometimes I got lucky and found some of the kids screaming along with me or even dancing. But still all the kids seemed to enjoy themselves and left with a nice bag of goodies after two exhausting hours.

And as I discovered on Monday, the rest of the days before Christmas posters that look like the one above, will be adding some Christmas spirit to our cold Japanese street. Merry Christmas everybody!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hanging out with university students

Today I was hanging out with the craziest Japanese friend I have: Maiko. She recently went to Australia for a home stay, but she’s been back for a while so it was about time to have do some serious catching up and hanging out!

So today she took me to her university in Nagoya. She’s graduating in March, which means that she’s free of classes now, yeah the Japanese university system doesn’t make much sense to me. But she still has her university ID so she could still enter all student-only areas, and have me tag along.

After a quick tour of the campus and a sneak peek into one of the university’s too-boring-to-attend-according-to-Maiko lectures, we went down to the cafeteria to get some really cheap (¥ 350) and tasty Japanese food.

Maiko wanted to check out this blog, so we went to one of the data-processing rooms the university has to pretend to be studying while we were really looking at my pictures and movies and eating chocolate. Which was a lot of fun, until a professor who had snuck into the computer room unnoticed (by us anyway) suddenly started teaching a class with us sitting in front of the classroom… We got out of there as quickly as we could!

The university has a building that is 75 meters high, and is named Building 75, which has a top floor heated observatory with couches and a great view of Nagoya. Looking down on the neighborhood, I was slightly shocked when I saw the next-door cemetery which is immensely large. I’ve never seen anything like it! This picture only captures part of the gigantic cemetary:

A couple of hours later we went up to the observatory again, to tease the couple trying to be romantic up there with our giggles and babbles and to enjoy the beautiful night view:

Around dinner time we met up with about 15 of her fellow students and one of her professors for an all-you-can-eat-and-drink party at a nearby restaurant. I was planted smack-dab in the middle of the table on a big pink pillow (we were sitting on the floor), so that everyone had a chance to try out their English on me. It was a lot of fun meeting all of her friends, even though a lot of them had problems conversing in English and I have big problems conversing in Japanese.

From left to right, all around the table: Mr. X (forgot his difficult name), Takamasa, me, Maiko, Yuka, Yuriko, Sayako, Real Pooh (his nickname because he resembles Winnie the Pooh), Asahi-san, Kenji, Misori, Nori, Kenta and Keisuke at Sakuraya. The professor had left by the time we took this picture.

After a long trip on three different trains, we ended up back in Inuyama just before midnight. Can’t wait to hang out with Maiko again! But first I’m going home for the holidays next week and after I return to Japan I have three Bon Jovi concerts to attend in Nagoya and Tokyo!