Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy 2009!

We invited some people over to spend New Year’s Eve with us, but unfortunately the invited adults got sick and had to stay home, but all the invited adolescents (Gy & Myra’s friends) did make it to the party. So our house was filled with a pack of youngsters all bringing with them too much energy and volume, but luckily also a lot of food and booze. 
After a very hectic dinner of regular home-cooked food, numerous snacks and lots of frantic conversation, most of the minors disappeared in the living room for hours of karaoke on a Playstation. This gave us oldies the chance to enjoy our drinks, our mature conversations, and a game of Triominos, in relative peace, ignoring the loud microphoned voices from the sitting room. Just before midnight, all the glasses were filled with a pink-colored champagne in preparation for the big countdown. At midnight, we all clinked our glasses and congratulated each other on making it to yet another year alive.
After giving everybody three kisses on the cheeks we went outside to admire the sounds and sights of the fireworks being lit up all over the neighborhood. This year we didn’t have any fireworks ourselves, probably because last year one of Gy’s friends damaged his hearing when one of the firework sticks exploded prematurely next to his ear. Yeah, it’s a dangerous tradition, but also a fun one!
After we all got cold or scared by the sounds of war in the street, and things shooting around, we all went inside for some Dutch karaoke on TV! More of Gy’s friends arrived and we all sang our hearts out to songs I wish they had on offer at the karaoke chains, there’s nothing like singing along to song in your own language! Finally after 2 AM, Gy and his pack of friends left to continue the New Year’s party at a local bar, and peace and quiet kind of returned to the house. It was a fun evening but also very tiring. Yeah, I’m really getting old, and even older in this new year...

Oliebollen

The most ubiquitous New Year’s treat in the Netherlands is ‘oliebollen’. Sometimes called Dutch doughnuts even though, in my opinion, they don’t resemble doughnuts at all. They’re balls (bollen) of batter deep-fried in cooking oil (olie), then sprinkled with powdered sugar. Often the balls have extra ingredients cooked inside them, like raisins or apple. My mother always cooks them herself and this year was no exception.
I’ve always loved oliebollen, especially the ones with pieces of sour apple in them. But today I discovered that oliebollen have become a little bit too greasy for my taste. Which is a shame because I always used to really enjoy them with a glass of champagne at the countdown to the new year. Oh well, one was enough for this year.

Reflecting on 2008

It’s that time of year again, the day that we all look back on what we’ve accomplished this year and think about what we want to accomplish next year. Well, I started this year working and living in Inuyama, which of course I don’t do anymore. I applied for a new job in Osaka with the same company, at the end of last year and was successful in getting a new job and more importantly an apartment very near to Yasu (which is who I came to Japan for to begin with). Although I enjoyed my time in Inuyama and made really good friends there, I’m happy that these days Yasu lives just 30 minutes away by bike! I ended my time in Inuyama by handing over the reigns to a new teacher and with a very, very wild going away party!
Before starting the new job, I had to go through a training period again. There were four other trainees, and the company put us up in a hotel where I shared a large room with the two other girls in the group. Of course, training was way easier than the first time, but it was fun to meet new people and to get familiarized with the different way they teach in Kansai. Since then, I’ve been happy working at the new school in Osaka, and even signed up for 6 more months.
In between the two jobs I went home for two weeks, for another visit. It was the cheapest trip home so far, this was the third, because this time I was traveling off season. Even though I’ve always had the desire to move far away from home, I need to go back on a frequent basis to fight homesickness because I miss my family too much. It’s quite an expensive hobby... I still need to convince my family to move across continents with me, then there’s no more need for all that expensive traveling. Maybe next year? Actually, I’m planning to temporarily move back home in December next year before another emigration, this time to Canada. Anyway, it was great as always to see all the Dutchies again!
This year Bon Jovi went on tour again and I managed to attend (only) four concerts, three in Japan and one in Germany. The concerts in Japan (Nagoya, Tokyo I, Tokyo II ) were all in January and the venues were all filled with seats! Which was really annoying, because there was no room to dance and run around to get good pictures (which you’re not even allowed to take in Japan). The concert in Germany, during my brief stint at home in between jobs, was a lot more relaxing and enjoyable, only wish I’d been able to stick around for more European concerts... Maybe next tour?
But of course, the best thing this year was when the Dutchies (Moem, Gy & Gui) came to visit me in Obon. Of course they’d heard numerous stories and seen countless pictures on this blog, but this August they actually got to experience the real thing! They saw lots of traditional sights (like temples and shrines), tried many modern Japanese activities (like karaoke and purikura) and ate all kinds of Japanese food. And they had an amazing time even though it was so hot and humid that super-blond Gui almost passed out a couple of times. And I loved introducing them to my Japanese life, and I hated having to say goodbye to them again at the airport.
It was a busy year and time flew by. I made new friends, sang hours and hours of karaoke, posed for dozens of purikura pictures, ate lots of Japanese food (duh), and did an enormous amount of sightseeing this year: cities, shrines, cherry blossoms, temples, tall buildings, castles, autumn leaves, boat rides, amusement parks and even museums. You can read all about that on this blog, just travel back in time! And now I’m back home to enjoy this holiday with my family before I fly back to Japan for another busy year. Happy 2009, everybody!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy helper Minke

Today Minke came to our house to do some major catching up! Of course, we email on a frequent basis, but talking face to face is when it gets really interesting. So she saved all her Bon Jovi adventure stories for today and brought all her pictures and movies to illustrate her escapades. I wasn’t the only one who was happy to see her, so was my mom. First of all, Minke came bearing Christmas presents for everyone and she proved very helpful. My stepsister Myra has a newspaper route and before she can deliver the local newspaper, several flyers need to be folded into each and every separate newspaper. And this is usually my mother’s job, who does it voluntarily. But today she didn’t have to do it alone because Minke was kind enough to join all the folding excitement.
Then after Guido cooked dinner (spaghetti!) and we all had our fair share of pasta, tomato/meat sauce and most importantly melted cheese, someone needed to clean up the after-dinner & cooking mess! And Minke was very helpful again by ladling all the leftover pasta in a ziploc. Isn’t she amazing ;).
All kidding and slave-labor aside, it was fun to see her again and hear about all the thing going on in her life. The most interesting is that she and her boyfriend are planning a trip to Japan in August! So I will get to show Dutchies around again, and again in the humid summer...

Monday, December 29, 2008

Food of the day

To reward us for all the hard work with her car this morning, my mom cooked us one of our favorite meals. When we were younger we nicknamed this meal “Rice”, even though rice is actually just a small part of the meal. But with potatoes being the staple food in the Netherlands we never really ate rice except when we eat this combination of originally Surinam dishes. So when my mom announces that we are eating rice, we know it’ll come with chicken, bacon, beans and cabbage. This used to confuse Gui and his kids into thinking that we were having a meager meal of rice and nothing else. They’ve tried to make us give the meal a more descriptive name, but it never stuck. So this evening we had ‘Rice’ for dinner and it was good!
 
Earlier today, Gui and I went grocery shopping again, this time in preparation for New Year’s Eve, so it was a lot again. When we loaded our car with party snacks and oliebollen batter-mix, I snuck in one of my favorites for desert tonight: an apple pie from Albert Heijn (supermarket chain). And after we cleared away the dinner dishes, it was time to pull out the pie, cut it and serve it with some tea and coffee.
I know everybody knows American apple pie, but Dutch apple pie is even better, especially combined with whipped cream. And this pie was no disappointment like last night’s pizza , it tasted exactly like I remembered and what I hoped it would taste like.

Tow of terror

Today it was back to work for my mom. So she got up early and got into her car to drive to work, but then the car didn’t start. After a futile attempts to start the car she gave up and resorted to her bicycle. She left for work and left us with the task of getting her car to start again. None of us are car mechanics, especially not me I was only there in case something needed to be started, steered or driven and of course to take pictures. We thought that maybe the problem was that the car’s battery was dead, but that didn’t really seem to be the problem as the electric windows and the lights were working properly. The CD player seemed to be the only thing that didn’t work, of course besides it not wanting to start. Still we tried connecting her car to another car’s battery, but as expected it didn’t help at all. So we had to tow the car to the garage to let the experts look at it. Gy connected my mom’s car to Gui’s car with a rope so that Gui could pull my mom’s car to the garage with his car. And this is where I came in, I had to be in the driver’s seat, working my magic on the steering wheel and the brake trying to keep the damn thing from crashing into other things (like Gui’s car). Well, the idea seemed simple enough, but let me tell you it’s not simple... It’s terrifying! 
The first couple of meters in the street had me screaming out loud already and in utter stress! The steering wheel and the brake were almost impossible to handle. Making the car turn slightly was a full-on workout, and preventing the car from sliding against Gui’s car when he stopped required me to put my whole weight on the brake. This being my first time of being towed by another car I expected neither of these things to happen and I was in absolute shock when I found out. I was wildly signaling with my arms and screaming at the top of my lungs to make Gui stop the car and get me out of my misery. When he finally got the message, we stopped in the middle of the road and Gy, who had been following us on his moped, stopped next to my window, while he laughed I pleaded with him to take over. But that wasn’t going to happen as Gy doesn’t have a driver’s license and he needed to get to work and he was already late. So I was doomed to be the ‘towee’. Gui called from the front car and assured me I could do this and that he would keep driving at minimum speed. And after a really, really long half-hour of towing, I finally got of my mom’s car with freezing fingers (no working motor, no heater), painful shoulders (stress tension) and a hoarse voice from all the screaming. It’s a shame I was too tensed to take pictures because apparently I looked pretty funny in Gui’s rearview mirror. The car was fixed almost immediately after simply taking apart and reassembling the motor. The mechanics called it a wacky disturbance! Whatever that means. The car is staying over at the garage in case it wakes up with the same problem after another night out in the cold, because I don’t want to go through the towing ordeal again tomorrow.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Belgian weekend

I lived (somewhat unpleasantly) in Belgium for almost ten years, and even though it wasn’t an all-round positive experience there were some things there I really liked! Which is why we went there a couple of times this weekend. In Japan, it’s hard to find affordable wine that tastes to my liking, and so I’ve been looking forward to drinking my absolute favorite drink in the world: Moscato Bianco. I first discovered the sweet & sparkling white wine in Belgium and as wine is cheap in Europe I purchased it on a very frequent basis in Belgium, and when we moved back also in the Netherlands. But this week I found out that they don’t sell it in the Netherlands anymore! They are several makes of Moscato Bianco, which I’ve tried but none of them even come close to that bottle with the orange-copper label (I have no idea what the actual brand name is but I can easily recognize the label). So yesterday, before another visit to Oma & Opa, we made a detour to Belgium, to the exact supermarket we used to shop at to buy a whole case of sparkling goodness. It was easy to find the wine in the supermarket because I’ll never forget its exact location, and years later it’s still the same!
And after another wonderful visit to the grandparents, we detoured to Belgium again (Belgium is close but not exactly on the way) to have dinner. Belgium is famous in the Netherlands for its fries in combination with its lemon mayonnaise, and lots of Dutchies cross the border to get themselves a pile of Flemish fries. Honestly, when you live in Belgium and eat the fries on a weekly basis, you find out that they are actually way too greasy, and just make you long for those dry Dutch fries. But none of us lives there anymore, so now the fries have regained their interestingness, so we happily made a detour across the border from some Belgian grease.
And then today we returned to Belgium one more time. I picked Gy up after he finished serving pancakes and we drove back to our old hometown to eat some pizza at the local Egyptian/Italian (weird combo) restaurant. We always used to love their salami pizza with extra cheese. We used get takeout and bring it back home, and one time it smelled so good that we started eating it on the short drive home and our mom who was waiting at home never even got to see the pizza! Anyway, we’d been talking about it for a while, so we decided to go and get us some.
You know, when you have memories that seem too good or delicious to be true, you should really just let them be and not try to relive them. The pizza was not nearly as mouthwatering as we remembered and it even had a nasty aftertaste of too much tomato sauce. Still, the pizza was way better than any pizza in Japan, and it’s always fun to hang out with my little brother, so it was still a successful outing!

Friday, December 26, 2008

The second day of Christmas

I guess the Dutch government decided to add an official second Christmas day to give everybody an opportunity to celebrate the holiday with all of their family members. Like when you have two sets of grandparents (and the usual extended network of aunts, uncles and cousins), or when you want to introduce your boyfriend to your family’s Christmas traditions and vice versa, or like in the case of Gui’s children when your parents are divorced and they both have new families. So yesterday Myra, Casper and Jurre got to celebrate with their mother and today they joined our party. As did Gy’s new girlfriend Floor. 
Because everybody was here today we designated today as official gift-unwrapping day. And we had a lot of gifts, every single person bought at least one gift for every other person present, which ended up being such a big heap of presents that it didn’t fit under the tree, so we stashed the lot on top of a large cabinet next to the tree. I received a lot of nice gifts, like books, perfume, earrings and most interestingly a baby pacifier! Not that my parents are expecting me to give birth soon, it’s just that the pacifier was designed by Tico Torres (Bon Jovi’s drummer), so I’m just supposed to save it for the future. It is my favorite gift though. Of course, I handed out some presents too, which were all bought in Japan. Like a Hello Kitty pen for my stepsister and Pokemon figurines for my stepbrothers, for Gy a signature stamp (inkan or hanko) with his name in Japanese, for my cow-loving mom lots of cow stationery and for crazy Gui the silliest present ever (but my absolute favorite of course) an onigiri hat! Remember the other hats I tried on a while back? He didn’t recognize the riceball snack at first, until I reminded him that it was something he frequently ate during his time in Japan.
There were so many presents that it took us more than two hours to open all of them. The gifts were opened one at the time, in a specific order. First someone selects a gift they bought from the heap, then they pick it up and present the recipient with the package, they have their picture taken together by a Japanese tourist (that would be me), and the gift is opened, admired and the gift-giver is thanked thoroughly with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and of course this moment is also caught on digital film, so we can remember it forever. When Gy was a little boy, who watched way too many American TV shows, he discovered hugging (probably on ‘Full House’ or something cheesy like that), and introduced it to our family and even though it was a bit awkward at first, soon we didn’t know any better and as you can see we still hug like crazy in our house:
Of course, today wasn’t just about the hug-o-rama and the gift-extravaganza, it wouldn’t be Christmas with a feast of food, so of course we had that too. We started with a brunch with loads of European bread, cheeses, eggs, bacon and much much more. In between all the gift-opening we had colorful Christmas chocolate and leftover Sinterklaas candy: colorful chocolate-covered pepernoten. And for dinner we used the two new electric table grills our parents gave each other, to grill meat, bread, potatoes and veggies.
The evening was spent watching some of the many new DVDs that were amongst the presents. And then before I knew it Christmas was over again... But my vacation isn’t over yet, I’m not even halfway, and of course we still have another big holiday event to look forward to: New Year’s Eve.
More pictures 

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everybody!! It’s finally here, my favorite holiday of the year and the best about celebrating it at home is that it lasts two whole days here. So this is just Christmas day number 1. And if you count Christmas Eve too, then Christmas spreads over 3 days in the Netherlands... Well, never enough Christmas for me.
After waking Gy, to wish him a merry Christmas and to take the santa hat picture above, the morning was spent getting ready for the big Christmas meal we were going to have in Oma’s hospice later in the afternoon. My mom cooked a turkey and the rest of us prepared some side dishes. After the food was ready, the gifts were wrapped and we were all groomed ourselves, we loaded everything into the car, and drove to Limburg, where our hungry grandparents were waiting for us. In the huge kitchen of the hospice we had fun doing some last minute and silly cooking (don’t worry, I’m not about to stab Gy).
Then everybody sat down at the huge table, which the volunteers at the hospice had nicely set for us in a beautifully decorated living room. Gy carved the turkey and and we all had way too much food, which is a prerequisite for a successful Christmas meal, right? Dessert was a tompoes, a cheap typical Dutch pastry Oma apparently had been craving and she was very happy to see it appear on her plate. Of course, all the other food was well received as well and so were the presents.
Even though the day obviously had a sad undertone, with Oma living in a hospice these days, we still had a nice day and it was really nice to spend a long afternoon with Oma and Opa. And of course we took a bunch of pictures to celebrate the fact that Oma is still here with us today:
There’s another reason I was happy to be here for Christmas because in Japan Christmas is different, to say the least. First of all, it’s not even an official holiday, so people just go to work. People that do celebrate Christmas do it all on Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day is the day decorations are taken down as apparently all Christmas spirit fades at the stroke of midnight. Christmas Eve is not a family thing in Japan, it’s more like a second Valentine’s Day and couples go on dates, probably to the local Kentucky Fried Chicken store, because that’s apparently what you’re supposed to eat on Christmas Eve in Japan. Along with a piece of Christmas cake, which is a cake much like the Western birthday cake decorated with Christmas icons instead of candles. Funny thing is that the Japanese think that we all have Christmas cake in the West, and they’re very surprised when they find out that it’s just a Japanese tradition. And I like our traditions better! Tomorrow, one more day of Christmas, yay!
More pictures

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

The day has been busy but it wasn’t over yet, because it’s Christmas Eve, and we had dinner plans. Moem’s sister Chantal has celebrated Christmas with us almost every year that I can remember, but this year she invited us over for dinner at her and her boyfriend Henk’s house. Henk used to be a professional cook so he prepared dinner for all of us, and Chantal took care of decorations and entertainment. Don’t worry she didn’t dance around the table or anything, she just gave us the grand tour of the house (she recently moved in with Henk), put on the background music, organized cleaning the floor when Henk dropped a bottle of red wine on the tiles, and engaged us in conversation.
Dinner was really, really good. The pictures (made in a dark but atmospheric lighting) don’t really do it justice, but believe me it was a true feast. 
Henk spent most of his time in the kitchen, because in between the 6 (!) courses the food needed some extra preparation. It’s unfortunate dinner started quite late, because six courses later it was already near midnight! So by the time our cook finally got to relax, most of us were tired, because of the time (or jetlag) and because our tummies were absolutely stuffed with heaps of this delicious food.
Even though the food was fantastic, it wasn’t the highlight of the evening. No, the highlight was the champagne toast (in between courses) when Chantal and Henk announced their engagement!! My aunt is finally getting married, and the big day is going to be in the summer of 2010, meaning I’ll be able to attend the wedding too! Congratulations, Chan and ‘uncle’ Henk! And thanks for the wonderful Christmas Eve.

Oma

It’s always nice to see the step-grandparents again, they’re such wonderful people. Sadly, this time the reunion was not as cheerful as previous times, because Oma (Dutch for grandmother) now lives in a hospice. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in the beginning of this year and after battling that disease, the doctors discovered tumors all over her poor brain. Unfortunately, there’s nothing they can do for her anymore except lessen the pain and make the remainder of her life more enjoyable. So a couple of months ago Oma moved into a very nice hospice near Maastricht, where she’s been taken care of by lovely people and of course her loving husband, Opa (Dutch for grandfather).
I was happy to see Oma because we weren’t sure she’d make it to the holidays, so even though the situation is sad, it was really nice to see her, hug her and be able to talk to her again. These holidays will be her last, but we’re going to make the most of it. Tomorrow we’re coming back to have a huge home-cooked Christmas meal complete with turkey! Oma looks a little different because she keeps eating as she keeps forgetting she already ate, but she’s still the same lovely, witty woman we all adore. Let’s cherish these last days with her as much as we can.
More pictures

Christmas market in Maastricht

Maastricht, a beautiful city in the south where I lived for several years as a business student, always has a nice Christmas market this time of year. It’s kind of like the German Christmas market in Osaka, only a lot more extensive and with better and cheaper food. Gui suggested we pay the market a visit this year to soak up some Christmas spirit, and it gave me a nice opportunity to check out all the changes the city has gone through since my graduation in 2006. 
Of course, the Christmas market is located on the Vrijthof right next to the city’s big shopping streets. So even before we laid eyes on all the Christmas goodness at the market, we’d already been in and out of numerous stores and even made several purchases, like two pairs of shoes for yours truly. Then we decided we were hungry and thirsty so we entered one of many cafés, only to find out that their menu was very unsatisfactory. So we only enjoyed some warm drinks to fight the cold, because it’s really cold here in the Netherlands. A couple of weeks ago it even snowed here, Moem showed me on the webcam. I’m hoping it’ll snow for Christmas again. Anyway, the best winter drink here is always hot Chocomel (the best chocolate milk in the world, the brand is recognizable by its yellow color) with whipped cream on top, so that’s what I had. 
After our drinks we were even hungrier so the search for a better café was on, after checking out several options, we finally decided on a place non of us had ever been before. And it was a good choice, their menu was very extensive. Before there was basically nothing decent to chose from, now we had a hard time deciding simply because there was too much to chose from. After long deliberation we decided these dishes were the winners.
With a very full stomach we finally tackled the Christmas market. There were loads of decorations and food on display and for sale, lots of attractions, like a Ferris wheel, a high slide, a carrousel and gambling options (even for children). We even found Santa Claus’s house with a line in front of his closed door, which was a curious sight. But the weirdest find was a snowman with a Hitler mustache... 
After about 30 minutes of walking around on the Christmas market, we continued shopping in the regular stores, until we’d had enough and found it was time to move on to our next destination. A visit to the grandparents.
More pictures 

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My day-long-shopping-spree

Japanese people on average are tiny. They’re short, thin and have small feet, so naturally the clothes they sell there don’t fit me and fashionable women’s shoes don’t tend to come larger than a size 24 (shoe sizes are in centimeters) and my feet measure 25 centimeters. So whenever I go home I make sure I have a wad of euros to spend on clothes and shoes. I know most women love to shop, but I’m not one of them. I hate getting undressed and dressed and undressed and dressed again, especially when I have to do it uncountable times. And it’s even more enjoyable (not!) when it’s winter outside because at that time all the stores have the heater blasting on maximum to create summer inside... But I won’t have another chance until December 2009, so I had to shop. And I had to shop a lot, and it had to be today because I only brought one extra set of clothes to save space for all the new clothes.
My sweet and brave mom accompanied me on my day-long-shopping-spree and after a successful morning at H&M and Hunkemöller (where time spent in a fitting room is even more annoying) we went to refuel at Gyano’s Pannenkoekenhuis (House of Pancakes). Meaning we went to lunch at Gy’s new workplace, a restaurant with Dutch pancakes as its specialty. Our pancakes are huge and really thick and really good. We ordered a sweet one with apple, cinnamon and powdered sugar and a savory one with bacon, onion and lots of cheese. They were delicious, I don’t know which one was better, but I do know that I need to visit the only official foreign Dutch House of Pancakes more often, which is conveniently located in Osaka! But the best thing about lunch was admiring my little brother while he’s hard at work. He seems to enjoy it and it looks like he’s good at it too!
After lunch we worked our way through many, many more stores, with frequent visits back to the car because the shopping bags (not all mine, two of them were my mom’s) were simply too heavy to carry for us, even though we’re rather strong women. But we kept going because we knew there was a reward waiting for us at the end of a day of hard shopping: dinner at Indonesia! My mom got a small Christmas bonus from her boss, so she was treating us (Gui, Gy, Lou and of course herself) to a delicious meal at our absolute favorite Indonesian restaurant. I’ve missed really spicy food (Japanese food is very mild and sometimes even bland) and I’ve missed satay with warm peanut sauce. What a treat dinner at Indonesia was!
All in all, I spend about €700 on clothes today, and I’m not done yet! I still need shoes and some other things... We’re going shopping in Maastricht tomorrow, so I’m not worried, but I am glad that I got most of the dreaded shopping done today. Also now I have something to wear the rest of my vacation!
More pictures 

Monday, December 22, 2008

Stolen Chupa Chups, a fridge makeover and an interim house

Today I was supposed to sleep in to get some rest, but when you’re on Japanese time it’s really hard to do that in Europe. I’d already woken up a couple of times during the night, probably thinking it was time to get up, so when my mom was getting ready for work I got up too and had some breakfast with her and my stepdad Gui. A little later my mom went to work anticipating a dull day at work just before Christmas in an almost deserted company. But when she got to work she discovered that the company had been burglarized over the weekend. The office was a mess, but the only things missing were petty cash and a large stash of Chupa Chups! Yeah, they’re suspecting the culprits were quite young and unprofessional, because of what they stole and all the clear footprints they left. But the cops never sent over a forensics team to gather the evidence, because they had more serious crimes to investigate. But at least my mom had a very eventful day at work and never even needed her Nintendo DS to get through the day. 
My day wasn’t that eventful but busy nonetheless. Gui and I did some serious Christmas grocery shopping, after which we had to stash all that food somewhere in the house, but not before I gave the fridge a thorough makeover by throwing out all the forgotten and expired stuff in jars and bottles and by cleaning all the stains from leakages. It was hard work but in the end I was rewarded with a delicious home-cooked meal of things I’ve missed in Japan, roasted potatoes, peas, mushrooms and a big juicy steak!
During our search for a nice Christmas turkey we bumped into the lady that’s renting her house to my family for about half a year. My parents bought a new house, but it won’t be ready until August, but new people are moving into our house in March, so a temporary place to store things and spend nights was needed. Because I’ll be in Japan during this time, I’ll never get to see this interim house, so she offered to let me see the house tonight. So after dinner we went to her house to check out the new digs (Gy had never seen it before either). It was smaller than where they’re living now, but definitely good enough as an in-between-house for a big family. I wonder what it’ll look like with our furniture, I guess I’ll ask for some pictures when the time comes.
More pictures

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Most comfortable flight ever

Because Shogatsu vacation for the Japanese is still one week away, and most people are still hard at work and not traveling, barely half the seats on the plane were filled. Just after boarding I had a Japanese couple sitting next to me, but they moved to an empty row of seats next to a window even before the plane took off, and I suddenly found myself sitting next to two empty seats! As soon as the captain turned the seatbelt sign off, I moved to the middle seat, and designated the left seat as official pillow-and-remote-control-holder and the right seat as official blanket-and-purse-holder, which are really crucial when you’re flying intercontinental.
Needless to say the flight was extremely comfortable, even if it was economy. At one point I even used my three seats as a bed and really tried to get some sleep, and even though the improvised bed wasn’t bad at all and I didn’t sleep much last night, I didn’t sleep more than 20 minutes. After the best 12 hours I ever spent on a plane I finally arrived in Amsterdam and found a patiently waiting but happy Moem and Gui, after a customs officer analyzed each and every inch of both my suitcases. After a nice hugging session we headed to the same airport snackbar we always go to after I land at Schiphol Airport for some fries and frikandellen.
I’ve missed these Dutch snacks a lot and really enjoy their special versions, meaning they’re served with mayonnaise, curry ketchup and chopped onions. And I was really looking forward to eating these fried snacks, especially after all that not particularly tasty plane-food. The Dutch fries were scrumptious, but the frikandel was shockingly unpleasant. After the other two experts also had a taste, we decided that this wasn’t a regular frikandel, but some new kind which could have been good if you’ve never had a real frikandel before, and if you haven’t spent months thinking about the original taste. But I’ll be here for two more weeks, I’m sure I’m going to get my hands on a genuine frikandel before I leave. And after a couple of hours on the Dutch highway, they fed me delicious Dutch mussels, which made me totally forget the frikandel fiasco and the nasty chicken carbonara the stewardesses served me earlier today. Anyway, I’m happy to be home!
More pictures

On a plane

After a wild party yesterday night with about 50 of our students, I had to get up very early this morning to catch a train to Amagasaki, then a limousine bus (which sounds way fancier than it really is) to Kansai airport, and now I’m on a plane to Amsterdam, again. This is the fourth time I’m traveling home from Japan, but I’m still just as excited as the first time! I’m hoping for a safe and enjoyable flight, to catch up on a lot of new Hollywood movies, because going to the movies in Japan is super expensive (¥1800 which is about $20), and to drink a lot of Dutch icetea (carbonated sweet tea).
And of course I’m really excited about being home again, spending time with my family, eating a lot of non-Japanese food, drinking wine and milk, Christmas, shopping for clothes in stores that actually carry my size, understanding people and being understood (I should really study some Japanese next year), shopping with my mom, New Year’s Eve, real winter weather, eating pizza with my brother, being able to read labels in the supermarket, and much more. I think the only thing that I’m going to miss these two coming weeks is my sweet boyfriend.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Wild Christmas

Even though I had to get up really early this morning to catch a plane to the Netherlands, I partied hard last night! It was our school’s Christmas party in some restaurant in Esaka. It was a much nicer restaurant than the one we went to for our Welcome party, in my opinion mostly because they served wine, good wine! Even sangria, which is a bit surprising in an Italian restaurant. The party was also more enjoyable because this time I knew all the students and that makes small talk a lot easier! Back when they were all strangers it was tiring to keep conversations going, but tonight I didn’t even have enough time to talk to everyone I wanted to. The student next to me kept ordering me delicious beverages, and sometimes even two at the time... I guess he thought I was really thirsty? At one point the manager handed out vodka shots to us foreign teachers, herself and some students, I remember at least three each. Which ensured that those of us who weren’t under the influence yet, got there (too) quickly. There definitely were some drunk Santas at this party.
Surprisingly, our Japanese manager seemed immune to the effects of alcohol. Yeah, when you’re pouring water instead of vodka in your own shot glass... Suffice it to say that at the next party we’ll be pouring her glass, if she’s pouring ours! I had planned to get home by 11 PM, because of the big trip the next day. But I was more than tipsy by the time I went home, and some things went wrong on the way back. First of all I got on the wrong train, and found myself traveling back to work instead of home. When I finally got myself on the right train, it stopped after 3 stations and just waited there for a really long time because somewhere somebody had jumped in front of a train again. In the meantime, me, my Santa hat and my inebriated demeanor attracted got a lot of attention, I remember having a lot of conversations in broken Japanese. It was quite fun. I finally got home on the very last train, 2 hours later than planned. I’ve just woken up, still not sober, and I have to get myself and my two suitcases to the airport somehow, on time... Wish me luck.
More pictures
(if you want to see the pictures with students in this album, become my Flick friend)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Scary Santa, cute Santa, and perhaps drunk Santa

Chrismas is coming, so we’re hosting little Christmas parties for the kid students at school. Today was the first one and one of the foreign teachers got to dress up as Santa Claus, but his beard comprised his vision so he needed some help from another foreign teacher with his belt. The manager dressed up as Mrs. Claus and together with Santa she made sure all the little kids got some presents from Santa’s big bag. I think the kids really liked the party, but most of them were too scared to sit on this Santa’s lap though, I don’t blame them...
Then after work Yasu came to Senri Chuo for dinner, because he’s leaving for Tokyo tomorrow morning and I’m leaving for the Netherlands on Sunday morning. Yasu played Santa a bit himself, by presenting me a very cute Christmas cookie from Starbucks, and even though this Santa wasn’t wearing a fluffy suit like the earlier one, I thought this particular Santa was mighty cute. We went to Hokkaido Factory Show (weird name for a restaurant, I know) and ordered a few small dishes, at least that’s what we thought. In izakaya they always bring the food with intervals, and before they brought our last dish we were contemplating ordering some more... Then our last order showed up, what we thought would be two small skewers with meat and vegetables turned out to be four (!) incredibly huge skewers! Oops, good thing we waited to order more. Of course, we couldn’t finish it all, but hey now I have some dinner for tomorrow night too, after convincing the waiter to let us take the leftovers home and that we won’t sue them if the reheated food gives us a headache(?).
Saturday night we have a Christmas party for our adult students at a Italian restaurant with unlimited food and alcohol and presents, so that should be fun too, I wonder if someone is going to dress up as Santa again, maybe then we’ll have drunk Santa.

6 more months

Got a renewal offered last week for another year (or less) of work. And today I chose to sign up for another 6 months at work, meaning my last day as an English teacher in Japan will be December 17th, 2009. So I guess I’ll be writing stories about Japan for one whole more year from now.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas in Japan

Discovered this awesome clip on Brit in Japan tonight, and I enjoyed it so much that I had to watch it twice and felt to need it to share it with you too: 
Most of it is taped in Nagoya, so it was a feast of recognition for me. Also, they sing about a lot of typical Japanese traditions this time of year, which is really funny for us foreigners in Japan, but for those of you that haven’t lived here, you might not understand what’s funny about christmas cake, illuminations, or KFC. So here’s the explanation of 'Christmas in Japan' by the creators themselves. And even if that's too much for you to read, I know you'll enjoy the dancing Santa robot and sushi Christmas tree.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Doing Umeda on two wheels

We had to do some stuff in Umeda today, like exchange the weird-looking hat I gave Yasu for his birthday for something new. After our enjoyable biking adventure last week, we opted to use our bikes instead of the train again. We used a different bridge to cross the Yodo river this time, which was a little bit more scary but the views of the river and city were still excellent.
I’ve been craving sushi from the kaitenzushi chain Kurazushi ever since my last visit with my family in August, but it’s really hard to find in the neighborhoods in Osaka I frequent. They usually place their restaurants near big roads, easy to get to by car but usually outside of walkable reach from train stations . But today were by bike and with the help of a very convenient navigation system in Yasu’s cellphone we finally found a Kurazushi in Umeda! And to our surprise, it was right around the corner from the Loft, yay! The sushi was delicious and cheap as always and I’m sure we’ll be back there soon.
Unfortunately, my camera battery died during lunch and I forgot to bring my other battery, so you’ll have to just believe me when I say that after sushi, we ran many shopping errands (the birthday hat got exchanged for a peas-in-the-pod keychain) all over Umeda, before doing two hours of karaoke (the last time this year). Umeda seems so much smaller when you’re speeding through the streets on two wheels, instead of two feet.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Winter food

After teaching a seminar Yasu and I met up at the Kada-something restaurant again (still don’t remember the actual name), because we wanted to try some of the other interesting things on their extensive menu. We ordered quintessential winter dishes: sukiyaki and stuff with crab.
Yasu’s set menu contained a bowl of rice covered with a layer of precooked crab-flesh, but the grilled crab side dish we ordered was served raw and required some cooking action at the table, as did my sukiyaki set menu. Luckily, I really enjoy mini barbecues and nabe pots on the table, and for exactly that reason I’ll be returning to this Kada-place again. And of course, the food was delicious.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Spanish birthday dinner

After work I hurried back to Tsukamoto, where the birthday-boy was alread waiting at the station. We returned to the little Spanish restaurant we tried a while back and I sang Yasu a birthday song before giving him his gifts. He loved the warm winter gloves, but we both thought the hat looked weird. When I bought it was alone and only had my own head to try it out on, on which it looked fine, but our heads have very different shapes and it looks goofy on his. So Monday we’ll go back to the store to exchange it for a better-looking one.
Dinner was good and especially the sangria was delicious. We ordered a set menu which included paella, which I usually avoid. For some reason, I’ve always believed I don’t like that dish because I don’t like rice (with the exception of sticky Japanese rice). So even though I’ve often been to Spanish restaurants at home and have even been to Spain several times, tonight was the first time I ever tried paella. And it was good! Or maybe it was because they used Japanese rice, instead of dry Spanish rice... Anyway, Yasu really enjoyed his birthday dinner, but was too tired (after his work in Nagoya) to do some karaoke.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Happy birthday Yasu!

Today my boyfriend is turning 25! He’s finally on my side of the twenties, meaning closer to thirty than twenty! Yeah, it’s tough having a younger boyfriend. He’ll be working in Nagoya today, but he’ll return to Osaka in the evening and we’re planning to celebrate his birthday with some Spanish food and karaoke in Tsukamoto.
I’ve known what I wanted to give him for his birthday for a while now, but I’ve had a hard time finding a suitable and affordable one in Japan. I know exactly which stores to go to in the Netherlands, to be presented with a nice variety of choices and qualities, but it seems Japanese stores only offer expensive & boring, and just in three different versions. After an extensive search in Umeda yesterday I managed to find a nice surrogate gift, and I'll give him that thing I wanted to give him as a New Year's gift after some shopping in the Netherlands.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Biking to the Umeda Sky Building

Originally we were just going to hang out at home today, because Yasu was leaving for Nagoya in the evening. But after sleeping in for a couple of hours, with no alarm clock set at all, which is quite special for me because I’m always afraid I’ll sleep the day away, we wanted to go outside. So we decided to bike around a little bit and discover the neighborhood. It’s nice and cold these days, which puts me in the best spirits ever and which always makes me feel like exploring the world. Poor Yasu, who doesn’t handle cold weather that well, but will always accompany me like the great boyfriend he is.
Quickly we decided to cross the Yodo river and ended up in Umeda. We biked towards the most recognizable building, the Umeda Sky Building and to my utter pleasure discovered a German Christmas market! I love Christmas and I love being able to say things to people and be understood and be able to understand the response. That’s right the market was crawling with real Germans, that apparently come over for 2 months each year to make some money during this season, so I could practice my rickety German. This was the first time in Japan that I was doing the ordering and that Yasu was just standing around with no clue what was going on, in stead of the other way around. But surprisingly he did pick up on some things that were being said, has he been secretly studying German?
I bought some German candy that tasted very much like home, and we also had some fried balls of dough, that seemed very much like tiny ‘oliebollen ’ (a Dutch New Year treat) to me. But I was told these little balls originated from Northern Germany, but suspiciously as we ate them with chopsticks, they still tasted like dry oliebollen to me. And of course we also had some bread (also very dry) with bratwurst , but I failed to produce photographic proof of that. Of course, it was all very expensive and not that great tasting, but it was a nice and surprising change from the usual in Japan.
Now that we were here, we decided to go up to the floating garden observatory too. Yasu had never been there before and I always love seeing cities from way up above. We saw Osaka from all angles and discovered the bridge we biked over earlier. We also made sure to admire the structure of the peculiar building with its weird escalators.
They gave us some stars to write down our wishes on and put in the big starboxes of wishes, if they like your wish they won’t make it come true but they’ll display it on some electrical memo board. Not sure what that’ll do, and they probably won’t chose ours as they were in English but hey it’s always nice to put your verbalize your desires, and also make sure they line up with your partner’s wants.
We had some fun in a dark room 173 meters above the ground by jumping up and down on some colorfully lit benches that were connected to lights in the big floor circle. We started out carefully, but things got kind of crazy in the end with everybody jumping up and down as hard as they could to create the wildest effects possible:
When we were having a rather disgusting, but expensive (which is why we finished it) drink up in the observatory cafe, we saw the beginnings of the sunset. We decided to quickly bike back to the bridge and see the sun set from there (we could have stayed in the tall building too, but of course all the good spots were already taken), we hurried and arrived at the bridge just about a minute too late... Oh well, the view was still beautiful and the sun sets everyday, so we’ll get another chance.
When we got back to Tsukamoto, we went for a quick Korean barbecue dinner in a newly discovered budget yakiniku place, before Yasu had to leave for Nagoya. But he’ll be back on his birthday (which is in 2 days) and we’re celebrating that together!