Monday, January 26, 2009

Day at home

Today we wanted to just do our own things at home. In the morning we bought some food and drinks at the grocery store to get us through the day, and then Yasu did some studying and research about grad schools online, and I caught up on blogging a bit, and subtitling an old movie of us on Dutch TV. It was a relaxing day and we closed it with a visit to a new local yakitori restaurant.
The food was nice but nothing really special, except for the baked potatoes and this opinion which is probably due to a lack of my eating potatoes in Japan. I’ve tried preparing potatoes at home, but for some reason I can’t get them cooked well, they always taste kind of raw still. I wonder how the cook at this restaurant got it to taste so fully cooked and wonderfully potatoey...
More pictures 

Yasu & Louana on Dutch TV (with English subtitles)

A little over two years ago, when I was still living in the Netherlands, I missed Yasu because I hadn’t seen him for over a year. I wrote a letter to a Dutch TV show which reunites people who live far apart, for the holidays. As expected, I didn’t hear back from them... But Yasu and Gy did! And behind my back they arranged a reunion with the producers of the show, which led to me being kidnapped to Russia in a private jet and finding Yasu there on some public square! Read the full story here. Of course, this was all broadcasted on TV on Christmas Eve, and I tried to put it online, but I didn’t really know how to do it and the quality wasn’t good. But I’ve finally figured out how to do it properly and I’ve even added English subtitles:

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Welsh fajitas

Machiko went to Wales for a short vacation last December and she brought a very un-Welsh souvenir back to Japan: a fajitas cooking kit. So tonight we gathered at my house for a Mexican-Welsh dinner party. After I picked Machiko, Ben and Enzo up at the station we went straight to the supermarket to pick up ingredients for the fajitas, wine and umeshu and a lot of snacks. Some hours were spent drinking the wine and munching on the snacks, until Yasu arrived (after working late). Then it was time for the fajitas, which were pretty tasty and surprisingly spicy, which is really nice for a change.
Although it was Machiko’s souvenir, Ben did most of the cooking. He really likes to cook and actually seems to know what he was doing. The first batch was prepared by him, the second by Machiko under Ben’s watchful eye. Actually, Ben had also done some cooking at home earlier today: dessert. He brought home-made lamingtons (a typical Australia Day food, which is tomorrow) and little cream-strawberry-chocolate tartlets, and they were delicious, especially the lamingtons. We were very surprised he made almost everything from scratch, even the cream in the pretty tartlets. Amazing.
It was a great evening, and we laughed a lot, induced by Youtube videos, interesting English lessons and of course alcohol. We were pretty loud too... I hope my neighbors weren’t bothered by it too much as it is a Sunday and my guests didn’t leave until after midnight. Oh well, if they were I’ll make it up to them by being exceptionally quiet the next couple of weekends...
Fajitas

Monday, January 19, 2009

By bike

In the morning it was dry and sunny so it was perfect weather for a bike ride! Later it became intensely clouded but at least it stayed dry (which we checked on Yasu’s multipurpose cellphone) so we didn’t give up on our mission, to reach Esaka (near Senri Chuo) from Tsukamoto by bike.
We started biking in the general Esaka direction, at some point even started following a biking trail and encountered quite a few interesting things on the way, like a tiny temple hidden away in some neighborhood.
We had lunch at a cafeteria-like-restaurant where everything was served cold, even though it was supposed to be warm. It was only after I’d given up eating the cold and therefore not tasty food that I noticed the a bunch of microwaves in the back for us to use. Well, never mind, I was over my food by then, and apparently Yasu enjoyed his food enough cold.
We ended up at Starbucks again, as we often do to read or study and enjoy some fancy caffeine, which is why we always carry reading materials. We found a really nice and big Starbucks at Shin-Osaka, but they kept the doors open, making it really cold inside, at least for me, Yasu didn’t seem to be the least bit chilly. These Japanese people have the ability to not feel hot when it’s tropical and to not feel cold when it’s freezing, I wish I had that ability too.
We biked back to Juso to have dinner at some underground izakaya in the yakuza-laden-red-light-district, which made Yasu feel a little uncomfortable at first. But once he took in the surprising interior (it was kind of like dining in a starry fish tank) at the izakaya, he started to relax and we enjoyed a nice meal there.
This was our longest biking adventure so far and I’ve started to experience what we call saddle-pain in the Netherlands. Still it was fun, and we did make it all the way to Esaka, where we did some shopping for Yasu’s wardrobe. So Senri Chuo should be bike-able too, but I’ll still be using the train to commute to work, it’s just quicker!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Huge gardens in Nishinomiya

A variety of really good and affordable food is one of the best things of living in Japan. And I must admit one of the things I miss the most whenever I’m visiting my home country, and Yasu of course. Needless to say I was very happy to meet him at our favorite restaurant, Kagonoya (I finally remembered the name) not far from my house, last night. Even though I think it’s usually not cold enough, it is winter, which means it’s time for winter food, like my favorite sukiyaki!
We had planned to bike to Esaka, but today’s heavy rain made us reconsider. Instead we decided to check out this new huge mall, even though some would not consider that wise on a Sunday, especially a rainy Sunday... Sure enough ‘Nishinomiya Gardens’ was crawling with people; good thing the mall was as massive as it was. It was a bit of a challenge to find our way around because there were just too many floors, too many wings, too many stores and way too many people. We encountered the familiar seemingly endless line of Japanese people waiting for something that doesn’t even warrant such patience. This time it was Coldstone ice cream, which from my perspective, really isn’t worth the effort.
The mall was pretty nice, and even though the stores seemed infinite, they didn’t have a Starbucks, which was truly puzzling. They did have a mini Loft, which could easily be my favorite Japanese store. The store may have been mini, but the products were definitely maxi!
The mall also housed a Tohos cinema complex, and we decided to take in a late movie (because it’s cheaper). We browsed a lot of shops, but we bought basically nothing, except for snacks to be eaten during the disappointing movie ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’. But it’s definitely an impressive mall and I’d recommend it to people who’re actually looking to buy stuff. Now, let’s hope it’ll stay dry tomorrow so we can go on that biking trip to Esaka.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Shinenkai

When I was inviting students to our Christmas Party a lot of them couldn’t make it, even though they wanted to. And in one class the students that wanted to party but already had plans during our Christmas shindig suggested I host another Christmas party just for that class, at my house nonetheless! Well, I liked the party idea but not in my shoebox, and not in December. So I organized a New Year’s Party (a.k.a. Shinenkai in Japan) in Bubba Gump, the real-life shrimp restaurant Forrest Gump started in a fictional movie. Seven students, two foreign teachers and a lot of shrimp made for a great party! It was a lot of fun to talk to this bunch of fun-loving and slightly crazy (like me) students outside of school and I wish I could share the pictures and videos on my blog, but alas they are students...
After dinner, we went for a second party in the Wine Bar in Umeda. I’d seen the place several times and always wondered what it would be like. Well, now I know. A glass (normal size) filled only for 30% with wine costs almost ¥1000, and the seats, which were cramped, cost ¥700 per person (and of course nobody told us until it was too late) to park your behind in, and they weren’t even comfortable! And the restrooms where almost inaccessible and disgusting. This restaurant/bar would be a prime example of how to make sure your customers never come back for a second time. Which I exactly what I won’t be doing ever again. But at least the people I was with were enjoyable and I learned a lot of interesting things about my students.
Odyssey Shinenkai
(if you want to see the pictures with students in this album, become my Flick friend)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Still alive

Arrived safely in Amsterdam in December and after two weeks at home I arrived safely in Osaka again, last Monday. I’ve been neglecting this blog because in the Netherlands I was busy celebrating vacation, and in Japan I was busy unpacking, working and getting over jet-lag. So, yes I’m still alive and getting ready to write another wave of updates, so keep an eye on this blog...

Monday, January 05, 2009

I'm back

After saying goodbye to the Dutchies at Schiphol, I hurried to the gate and met Enzo there. He went home for New Year’s too and was on the same flight back to Osaka. The flight was OK, but no way as comfortable as the one two weeks ago. I had only one seat to myself and had a very talkative Japanese couple next to me, who kept trying to tell me things in Japanese and who showed each and every picture of their vacation in Germany and Eastern Europe. Sure they were nice people but 12 hours of them is quite tiring. After the flight I hurried out of the airport into a limousine bus, where I got my first 30 minutes of sleep since I left Amsterdam. I’m in for a serious jet-lag this week... Yasu picked me up in Amagasaki and together we went to Tsukamoto.
When I got home I was supposed to unpack, but that mountain of new clothes overwhelmed me and was too much to handle for my closet, so I left them there and opted for a trip to dreamworld instead. I pretty much slept the whole afternoon, while my sweet boyfriend studied for his GRE test. I woke up long enough for a walk through Tsukamoto in search of a restaurant we hadn’t tried yet. After dinner we went home and even though I’ve slept most of today, I’ll be returning to bed right about now because I’m still exhausted. Tomorrow it’s back to work. And oh yeah, after two weeks of hoping for snow to whiten our holidays, it finally started snowing (a lot) when I was on my flight back! Now, I’m hoping for snow in Japan.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

That's all folks

I always dread this day, the day I have to say goodbye again, the day I’m bound to cry again because it sucks to say goodbye. And all the other times, I kind of knew I was going to see them pretty quickly again, this time I’m almost certain I won’t see them until the end of December, and that’s a long time from now... Of course, it’s all my own fault for wanting to reside in more exotic places than my own country. Someday I will be able to say goodbye to them without shedding any tear, but that was not today. But I am getting better at it!
We made sure to arrive at the airport in time, so we could chill out at the airport together a bit before me having to rush off to board. But KLM made some error, so about an hour of that precious time was spent standing in line to get my boarding pass, instead of printing it at a machine after having checked in online already and quickly dropping off my suitcases... The rest of the time was spent, drinking Starbucks coffee and hitting each other in the the face.
Don’t worry, we all still love each other, it was just some silly game Gy and I made up in the backseat while driving back and forth to Limburg the last two weeks. It wasn’t fun saying goodbye, but I know I’ll see them on the webcam every Friday because that’s when my mom and I have our regular Skype date. And before I know it it’ll be time to say goodbye to Japan and be back here again. Now, I’m off to Japan, hoping my flight will be as comfortable as the one I had on the way here... Probably not, the plane is full today.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Movies and food before going back

Tomorrow I’m going back to Japan, so I’m already getting sad at the idea of having to miss the comforts of being home near my family. But actually, I don’t really mind going back as I’ve gotten pretty comfortable in Japan and this week I discovered that I don’t feel that comfortable in my own country anymore, I’m definitely going to experience a reverse culture shock when I move back to the Netherlands next year... Oh well.
Yesterday, was quite uneventful. I just enjoyed being home, already started packing my suitcase, and my mom was sweet enough to fix a bunch of my clothes on her sewing machine. In the evening, we met Gy in Eindhoven and the four of us went to the movies (Body of Lies with Leonardo DiCaprio). Today we went to the shopping center of Veldhoven, so that I could do some last-minute shopping of things to bring back to Japan, like toiletries and souvenirs. And of course, we had lunch at our favorite place, which was dressed up as a ski-hut for the winter season.
In the evening we had dinner at the Spanish restaurant my parents hosted their wedding party. The interior of the place had changed a bit and they even added live reptiles to the interior. Of course, we drank sangria and had some awesome Spanish food, which makes Japanese-Spanish food pale in comparison. I was surprised at how flexible the waiters were with substitution and on-the-side requests when ordering, which you can totally forget about in inflexible Japan. I was also surprised at the sheer volume of food, it was immense. I think I’ve eaten enough for two months in these two weeks at home. I’m stuffed.
After dinner, we hurried home because Chantal and her fiancĂ© were coming for a last visit and we really wanted to watch a scary movie called “The Strangers” together. I had to watch it here, because I’m too scared to watch scary movies alone in Japan and Yasu is too scared to watch scary movies, period. Well, the movie was scary! I screamed and hid behind a pillow a lot, but it was fun to be scared like that again, and I had enough people to protect me! Now, I just have to remember not to think about that movie when I’m walking home alone in the dark, back in Japan...

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The last time...

Usually the first of the year is spent getting over the last night of last year. Some have hangovers (luckily I’ve never had to deal with that), and almost all are sleepy because of the long night. So we all slept in today. And after we got up we made another trip to Limburg to visit our grandparents.
It was a bittersweet visit, because we were all glad that opa and oma got to spend one more New Year’s Eve together (opa stayed over at the hospice for the occasion), but we all knew this would not be a happy new year for them. Still, it was nice to be near oma and talk to the sweet woman. I’m going back to Japan in 3 days, so I knew this was the last time I’d ever see Oma, so it was surreal to say goodbye to her. I kept looking back, not wanting to leave. But of course I did leave, but I will never forget today, the last time...