Friday, August 31, 2007

The boyfriend is back in the country

Finally! Last Saturday was the first time I saw Yasu since he left for the States somewhere in July, since then I've been home in Europe and I turned another year older. The first thing we did was celebrate my birthday in Kihachi, a very expensive Nagoyan restaurant. It was Yasu's treat, but still the prices on the menu startled the heck out of me. The food was really pretty and tasty, except for the lamb in the main course which just tasted too strongly for me. But Yasu loved the lamb so he filled his belly with the lamb. And Yasu made sure that the waiters surprised me with something very pretty after dinner:

Sitting on the floor for several months has been driving me crazy and killing my back, and I have been craving a regular height table and chair for a long time. So the next day, Yasu and I went to the hardware store on the other side of the tracks. It's not far from my apartment but it's impossible to carry a table and chairs back by myself and I needed his help. But to our (very big) surprise transporting my newly bought furniture back to my apartment was extremely easy, because the store just lends you their mini-truck for free! And there is even a helper to load everything on the truck! After dropping off a table, a chair, a stool, a pillow, and two new matrasses at my apartment we still had the car for another hour before it had to be returned to the store. So we just drove around Inuyama to discover that it is actually much bigger (of course) than those few streets I see every day. But I think we enjoyed unexpectantly having a car at our disposal the most of all, we couldn't believe a store would provide its customers with such a great service.

On Monday we went to Meiji-Mura, which is a park in Inuyama where they built copies of dozens of historical Japanese buildings from the Meji period. It was fun to walk around and see so much history, including an old-time jail. But it was extremely hot again, so the ride on the air-conditioned bus and open-windowed steam train were the most enjoyable.

Yasu and I also went to the tiny gym to get me a contract, because I hadn't been succesful in obtaining one without speaking Japanese. But as soon as I started showing him how tiny and truly crappy the gym is, I decided that I didn't want to pay a small fortune on a monthly basis to be a member of that so-called gym. So Yasu spent several hours online to find a decent and accessible gym somewhere around Inuyama. It was extremely frustating and seemed like mission impossible, so we kind of gave up until he accidentally stumbled upon something in the phonebook. Unfortunately, he found it late at night on his last night here, so we can't go there together until September 10th. But I'm so happy about this gym discovery, I've been looking at the pictures on their website and it reminds me of my own gym in Veldhoven! I can't wait to go there next week, but first I'm about to enjoy another weekend in the mountains near Osaka, with Yasu, his parents and their lovely cottage.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The tiny gym

Yesterday, I finally went to the gym here! I have been so busy with work and traveling (either to Osaka to see Yasu or home to see my family), that I haven't had time to go to the gym and I was a bit nervous about going there in the first place. But yesterday I set out to discover the Inuyama gym. At home, I was spoilt with all the luxuries the David Lloyd gym had to offer, and I knew this kind of community gym would be very different and inferior, which is why I was nervous about going there for the most. In Veldhoven, I went to the gym on an almost daily basis, I want to do that here too, but if the gym is crappy it won't be very motivating, and there is no place else to go in this small city...

Well, the gym was even smaller than I feared and they have just a few cardio machines (but not my favorite: the crosstrainer) and a few weight machines... But they do have a studio and they have a high level aerobics class and high level stepsclass! I haven't seen these classes yet, so I am not sure whether they are as high a level as at David Lloyd, but at least it is promising. I wonder how I will do in a high level steps class, after not working out for almost 3 months (I feel so out of shape) and with a Japanese instructor... The steps instructors at home did a lot of explaining in Dutch during the lessons which is fine because I can understand that, but Japanese is another story. Well, it'll be a challenge for sure.

The gym-people were extremely nice, which is what I expected as this is Japan, and I had a pretty decent workout. So overall, the gym experience was good, but I really did miss my big-ass-luxurious-gym when I was working out yesterday. I'm afraid I will get bored here in no time because there is no variation in machines available, but maybe the aerobics and steps classes will be captivating enough. Another problem with this gym is that you have to pay per visit, which is extremely expensive if you want to go there at least 5 times a week... I really want some kind of membership but they didn't understand me when I was talking about it, so I'll try again next week when Yasu goes to the tiny gym with me.

Friday, August 17, 2007

School decoration

During my shopping spree last Monday in Eindhoven, I bought this pretty map of the Netherlands to decorate the wall in my classroom with. I have been staring at it with many of my students already, and they all love it but not as much as I do!

And this is the sandwichboard I was talking about earlier, the one showing my (albeit tiny) picture standing on the sidewalk in front of our school.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Home for Obon

I'm back in Japan after a wonderful Obon week spent back home in the Netherlands. My vacation started last Thursday at Chubu airport when I got on this relatively small plane for a 12-hour-flight across half the globe.

It was nice to have a straight flight, but 12 hours is a really long time and one's ass really starts to hurt after half a day of just sitting around in an uncomfortable economy class seat. After my plane landed in Frankfurt, I basically ran through the airport from the gate to customs to baggage claim and into the arrivals hall, because I couldn't wait to see my parents again and it really feels great after being cooped up for way too long in that cylinder with wings. They were a little late due to heavy traffic and extremely bad weather conditions, but I could be patient a little longer. And then finally seeing them again was so good that I almost hugged all the air out of them!

After a long way back home from Frankfurt to Veldhoven (next time I'm going to try and fly to Amsterdam Airport), we got home and it was omiyage (souvenir) time. After everybody admired their little gifts and snacks, I took out the yukata Jo gave me before she left. My mother asked me to bring it with me to the Netherlands so she could try it on... doesn't she look beautiful?!

There were also presents waiting for me at home: a 'welcome home' bouquet of my favorite flowers in the Dutch national color, Dutch candy sticks, a decorative, colorful and tiny Italian perfume bottle (to be filled with whatever smelly substance I prefer) from my parent's honeymoon in Rome, and loads of daily products that I haven't been able to find in a Japanese store.

The next morning, I went grocery shopping with my stepdad and it was simply awesome to browse around aisles of products which are all so familiar to me and all have Dutch descriptions on them! I found my brand of shampoo in a second, without having to try (usually unsuccesfully by the way) to figure out what the combination of weird characters on a bottle might possibly mean. Anyway, I did some shopping there for Japan, I brought back several of my favorite herbs and the almighty Dutch cheese! There was much more I wanted to bring, but most of those thing would not have survived the trip to Japan. What I wouldn't give for an Albert Heijn (Dutch grocery store) around the corner here in Inuyama...

To my surprise they sold one of my favorite kinds of seafood in the store (it's supposed to out of season in the summer): mussles! So we packed up 4 kg of those delicious black clams and brought them back home, where Guido made us a delicious steamed mussle dinner!

On the morning of my birthday, my siblings and parents surprised (not really because it's an old tradition in out family) me with presents and breakfast in (my makeshift but still superior to my futon in Inuyama) bed in my stepdad's attic office. It was just great to celebrate my birthday with my family even though I live in Japan these days.

After breakfast we went cake-and-bread-shopping and Guido treated me to another one of my favorite kinds of seafood (and like the mussles also not available in seafood-crazy-Japan) raw herring with onions! Jurre doesn't really like it, but I love this typical Dutch treat!

Normally, I prefer to celebrate my birthday away from home, and this was the first time in many years that we basically did all the celebrating at home and it was the best! But hey then again, I did spend my birthday away from my Japanese home :). Here are some of the people that made my birthday very special:

Myra, Minke & me

Gyano & me

Guido & me

Chantal (my mother's sister), my sweet mother & me

New guy in the family Henk (Chantal's new boyfriend) & me

Our cooks are getting used to the Japanese way of posing for pictures

Latenight bonfire fun with Myra and Negin

Up until the 11th the weather hadn't been great in the Netherlands, but like every year on my birthday the sun shines its ass off and it was hot, so perfect for our BBQ. The next day, it was significantly cooler and rainy... but that worked out perfectly because we all headed to Eindhoven to see Harry Potter 5 (yes again, and it's still a terrific). For dinner we went to a Dutch snackbar, where I ate a frikandel speciaal (a sausage made out of cow udders among other things, which looks like a big turd according to Adrik) and it was delicious as always!

Monday was shopping spree day, yay! I went to Eindhoven with my mom and Gy, don't they look all summery and tanned compared to me, who has been living in scorching hot and sunny Japan... weird. Well, it probably has something to do with that I shy away from the sun and am not blessed with easily tannable skin like they are.

It truly felt like shopping spree madness as I bought myself silly with my birthday money! I bought new clothes, new shoes, new crocs, Dutch magazines, stuff to put in my Japanese apartment like tiny green and blue garbage cans and kitchen utensils, omiyage and more. In Japan, I thought I lost the art of shopping, but when you're back home running around shops you know and that sell things you understand things are much easier!

Of course, we also occasionally took a break to recover from the shopping absurdity.

Gy discovered this alien disguised as a metal traffic stopper pole.

I used to work at this EXPO shop, which is now under construction... I wonder what it will look like in December when I return for another visit.

These days, Gyano works at the restaurant of a hotel in Veldhoven. On the last night of my Dutch getaway extravaganza, we went for dinner at that restaurant while he was working and he was our server. He loves the whole etiquette thing and he really seems to be in his element there. After about 30 minutes his coworkers decided to give him the rest of the evening off so that he could enjoy dinner with his family.

After a delicious steak dinner, I tried to decline dessert but was unsuccesful as the cook showed up to bring me his improvised (it's not on the menu) grand dessert with a blue blob in the whipped cream. Before dinner I joked that Gyano might put his delayed birthday present for me in my dessert, little did I know that he had in act arranged that a couple of hours earlier with the cook. Of course he didn't ask me to marry him ;), but he has seen many American shows and movies and he just loves all the (romantic) drama and traditions. So after dinner I found a blue gemstone amulet (I forgot the name of the stone) in my whipped cream. Gy told me the stone will help me in my love relationships and keep my teeth healthy, which is good because I have a sickening fear of all dentists!

This picture was taken in Frankfurt, on Tuesday morning right before we said goodbye and went off to hop on another tiny Lufthansa flight. It was sad saying goodbye again, I didn't expect any less, but it was in no way comparable to my departure in May. This time it was ok and not mind-numbingly painful to say goodbye. I was a little afraid that my trip home would ignite a desire in me to stay in Europe, but that didn't happen. The trip did exactly what I hoped it would do, it gave me a wonderful and loving recharge so that I can easily last another 4.5 months in Japan before I go back for Christmas. And when I sat on the train back to Inuyama this morning, all was well, even though I missed my family it was actually kind of fun to be in Japan again.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Happy birthday to me :)

Today I turned even older than I already was: 27! But all is perfectly well because I am celebrating it at home! This morning, my parents and siblings surprised me with breakfast in bed and presents. My stepbrothers made me a book of drawings, my stepsister bought me a pretty pink pen and chocolate, and my brother Djamo recorded his own version of Bon Jovi's Livin' On A Prayer (which my other brother Gyano played for me this morning) and my parents and grandparents are funding a small shopping spree in the Eindhoven citycenter this Monday, and I'm still waiting for Gyano's present :)...

Myra and Gyano decorated the room with lovely streamers and a scavenger hunt made out of balloons in the living room. Later today, some of my friends and family will join us for a BBQ in the garden. The weather here hasn't been quite as summery as in Japan (I'm so happy about that) but today it's very sunny and quite warm, like all my previous birthdays. So it's BBQ time!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Going home!

Just got home from a very long day at work and dinner at Al Centro with Kristin, and now it's time to pack! Normally I start packing days before a big trip, but I haven't had the time the last couple of days with cleaning my apartment and preparing lessons. So now I am doing it last minute with only 6 hours left before I have to get up...
But it's all cool because I am going home tomorrow!! I can't really believe it though, it seems very surreal to me. I've kind of gotten used to life in Japan, especially since my homesickness vanished on June 29th. But now I'm actually going back to the Netherlands!! Naturally, I'm very excited :). Hope everyone has a great Obon vacation, I know I will!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Shrimp sex at Shirokiya

So after work on Saturday we went to dinner at Shirokiya with most of the staff of our school. I am not sure what the occasion was but it seemed like fun so I joined the group. We ate a lot of Japanese food and drank lots of Japanese alcohol and laughed a lot! The more we drank, the weirder the conversation got, at one point we were even talking about shrimp sex ;).

Noriko, Mayuka, me and Megan

Megan, the assistant trainer from Honbu, taught most of Kristin's lessons last week because of Kristin's back problems. She enjoyed it a lot because she used to be a foreign teacher at Inuyama and this week she got to teach a lot of her old students. Megan left for England yesterday, so this week Kristin will be on her own. But this week we only have to teach for two days, because our Obon vacation starts on Thursday! That's right, I'm going home this week, yay!

Kristin, Aiko and Moe

The people on my side of the table didn't really like the above picture because they seem to not like eachother very much. So Mayuka wanted them to try again, and we always listen to our manager of course. So here is take two:

But in this picture they seemed to like eachother way too much so we tried one more time:

They seem to like eachother the appropriate amount in this picture, but they also seem slightly crazy here. But that's ok, because we are all kind of crazy at our school :).

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Lousensei going at it

As I arrived at work today, I discovered (with a slight shock) a picture of me teaching outside on a big sandwich board. Right there on the street for everybody to see, luckily the picture is quite tiny so people need to put in some effort to actually see me. Moe, the assistant manager often takes pictures around the school of us teachers going at it, and I thought I'd share some of them with you.
This is me in my second week as a teacher posing for a picture to be posted on the staff page of our school website. On the web site you can actually find more pictures of me and it is frequently updated with new pictures. Although right now, Joanne is still all over the website (and sometimes you can even find Glenn, the guy I replaced) and Kristin is nowhere to be found, but I'm sure Moe will get around to changing that soon.

This is yours truly teaching one of her favorite classes somewhere last week. This is actually the picture that startled me this morning in front of our school in Inuyama.

And this is the entire (new) school staff, right before the party last Saturday. In the back from left to right: Kristin (native teacher), me (crazy), Moe (assistant manager) and Kana (Japanese teacher). In the front from left to right: Noriko (Japanese teacher), Aiko (Japanese teacher), Mayuka (the manager) and Megumi (Japanese kids teacher). They are all great people to work with and I'm glad to teach at this school.