Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The six month mark

And with the start of March, my first semester at Kyushu University ended. So at this point, it has been six months since I arrived in Japan. It's so hard to believe that I've been here so long, and have learned barely any Japanese (what's up with that?!).
March was a crazy month for me, just because of the sheer amount of big events going on. It's when all the new students are getting accepted into college, and when all the senior students are graduating. This is also the same month as my birthday, my Dad's birthday, and the month I had to move out of the dorm and into a new apartment.

So to break it down here is how the events happened in order:

First things, first, the first week of March my friends took me shopping for things to put into my new apartment. With copious amounts of help from them, I managed to find a nice apartment complex near to the main train/bus station in the area. It was a brand new building, close to stores, and at a relatively low rental rate for the area. While that is all fine and dandy, I needed A LOT of stuff to live there. So, to get an idea of price range, and to order big furniture to be delivered, my friend Haejoo and her husband took me to a mall called Marinoa City. It's a giant outlet mall, so ideal for finding household goods. There, I ordered a bed and several other things. That was a pleasant trip that weekend, but it's a little tiring going to so many places and not knowing exactly what you need.

That week, our lab was having its going away party at a local restaurant. It was the same place as my welcoming party, so luckily I didn't get lost. Again, the lab members (and teachers) drank and ate an incredible amount. I was starting to worry about some of the smaller people, but luckily most of them showed up to work the next day (though at a late hour). At the party, people graduating from the department were given special cards, and some money as a thanks from the department and the students. At the end, we took a large group photo, so everyone can remember the lab of 2012-2013.

The weekend following that party, was my birthday! I am starting to feel old, but luckily I turned about 50 when I was 13, so physically, I am just catching up mentally (if that makes sense). It wasn't the most exciting birthday, but it was definitely a nice one (I had donuts!). My family and friends mailed me presents and cards from the USA, and my Korean friends here threw me a small party. We had cake and coffee at my friend's home, and then went to a Korean BBQ for dinner. For just three women, we probably ate half-a-cow's worth of beef. It is always a good time with them, and so I think I had a great day. However, I don't I'll ever feel like I'm truly 24 for a while. For some reason it feels like that when you're 24 you should have accomplished something big or grand, like owning a entrepreneurship or something. Alas, maybe 34 is the new 24. I'll just wait another decade and see what happens.

After that, it was more shopping. Big shopping. My friends made a day trip to go to Ikea and CostCo. which are roughly 2 hours away in a rural area. This was a non-stop shopping in a crowd of people. I can't believe how packed those two places were. Luckily, with my Mom's help I had a membership card for CostCo. but the selection was disappointing. Plus, with all the people there, there was no way to look around and shop. You just grabbed what you could and moved on. I got a lot of things at Ikea, like a table, chairs, and some dishes, but at CostCo. I barely got anything. I was really hoping to find some confectioners sugar and coconut, but no such luck. They do have some American foods, but most of it was really nothing I needed. Somehow, we managed to fit everything we bought into Kayoung's small car, and drive back in one piece. It was a fun day, but I hope to never have to do that again sometime soon.

So, after my birthday, the following weekend was the day I needed to move out of the dorm! This took a ton of preparation, cleaning, and spending money (Ugh, so much money). I packed everything in my room that wasn't essential and moved it towards my door. Luckily, I had been saving the package boxes my mom sent me, so I had plenty of packing to put all my junk in. I also had to call every utility company to tell them my address. This normally wouldn't be a big deal, but I had to constantly ask a friend or a lab member to help me since my Japanese is not good enough to make a phone call to a company. The people here are always so nice to help me, but I hate not being able to do stuff by myself. Relying on others too much, makes me feel lazy, and I would certainly not want anyone to think that I am that.
Moving day was relatively painless, expect for the sheer amount of paperwork and running around we had to do. My friends were too kind to help me out. We made three trips to move goods, so that was not difficult, but everything else that could go wrong, did. First off, the water company came to the dorm to get their last payment from me, two hours earlier than what we requested. My dorm room check was at 3:00, so we called the company to tell them we could NOT meet them at 3, and to please come at 5. So, they came at 3:00, of course. Next, there was no light in my room. In Japan, you are not given lights at all in a new apartment, and since my apartment has no windows, and the back veranda faces another building, there was no light. Needless to say, we had to go out and buy one. Next, my lab member brought me a TV and refrigerator for me to have. While this was a kind act, the fridge was too big to fit into his car.... so Kayoung let them use her car. The guys loading the fridge, though, were too weak to properly lift it, and promptly scratched the back seat of her car.... I felt awful, but there was nothing I could do. Finally, once all the junk was loaded into my room, paperwork completed, and  appliances set up, they took me to get some food. The day was over, and since I had no bed, I slept on the floor... it was a long and exhausting day.

All that following week, I did nothing but set up and buy things for the house. Several furniture pieces were delivered, so I had to stay at home for that. Most of the delivery people spoke a little English, so they were nice and helped me read the instructions of how to set up stuff.  There is also a major problem with storage in Japan (because everything is so compact) so I had to buy several things to store my stuff. My other senior lab member, also brought me a washing machine, so now I can do laundry! However, since there are no dryers in apartments... you have to line-dry everything. This is a concept I am not fond of. While I am certain is is very energy efficient, I don't want to hang my clothes outside for everyone to see. I had to buy (again goodbye money) a laundry rack and pole for my room. I have no idea how I will dry big things, but if every Japanese person can do it, so can I.

Speaking of Japanese people, spring is time for sakura! Sakura, or cherry blossoms, are one of the biggest symbols in Japanese culture. March is the peak season for these lovely trees, so many Japanese people go out for something called Hanami. Hanami is basically a picnic to go out and enjoy the cherry blossoms, and eat lots of food. Last weekend, I went out with my friends to do a hanami, so I made some chicken salad sandwiches for everyone to enjoy. Haejoo and her husband brought lots of Korean food, and Kayoung brought beverages.  Originally, we were going to go to Ohori Koen, the most popular park in Fukuoka, but on the ride inside the train, we saw a shrine covered with cherry trees. We decided to go there, and miss the crowd. It was a fun time, eating, drinking tea, and playing some Korean hand games. My camera died half-way through, but I did manage to get several pictures of the cherry trees and other flowers.

This weekend, I am hoping to throw an Easter Party for my friends, to thank them for everything they have done with me this month. They'll only be here one more year, so I need to thank them as much as possible for how much they helped me. But, of course, to throw a party, one needs serving ware etc. so I had to go out and spend more money! Luckily, my friend Taku came to Fukuoka before moving to Yokohama, so I went to go meet him out in Tenjin. If anyone know where to get cooking/serving/food related things, it's Taku. It was great to catch up with him, and as I knew, he knew all the places for me to go buy a tea-set, tray, dishes, etc. We walked to several places to look for a tea/coffee set, but most places were out of my price range. I wasn't expecting to find anything cheap, but even though there was beautiful beautiful sets to be had, I am not spending nearly $50 per cup and saucer (if I could I would though). However, Taku was smart enough to think about going to a 300 yen store. Sometimes they have kitchenware, and Taku said that thier quality is not bad, considering the price. Just to my surprise that had a full set! It was just what I needed, but the store only had a setting for three. I need a setting for four, but I wasn't about to let someone else take it... I bought it anyways. I will try later to go buy a fourth setting when I can get someone to go with me to Tenjin as a guide.

So for those of you who think I don't update enough, I'm sorry. As you can see, this month in particular has been a full plate... and I didn't even have any classes this month. Maybe coming April when the new school year begins, I will be able to update with more exciting news. Everyone take care, and enjoy spring!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

February: Lunar New Years, Chocolates, and Cats

February is a really short month to begin with, so to be able to anything particularly interesting during this time is quite hard to do. So, especially in comparison to my December and January, this seemed like a very dull month. However, I did manage to do a few things that I think were interesting.

First, as you know many far Eastern cultures follow the lunar calendar rather than the solar calendar. Because of this, it was New Years in early February. The Japanese generally don't celebrate this, unless they are in an area that has a lot of influence from other Asian cultures like China or Korea (Nagasaki has a big celebration due to the large amount of Chinese influence). So most of my friends didn't even know about Lunar New Years, but my two Korean friends do celebrate this holiday, and invited me to come along and join them. They cooked traditional Korean New Years dishes, and I baked a red-velvet cake since I thought the red and white color would be a nice addition to the traditional New Year's theme. Since they had never had red-velvet cake before, it was something quite exciting for them, and they seemed to really enjoy it.

It was a fun night to just talk with my friends and eat delicious food. Afterwards, everyone ate way too much so we postponed our English lesson a bit, before finally finishing.

Speaking of eating too much, also on Valentine's Day I ate a ridiculous amount of chocolate. In Japan usually girl's only give chocolate to boys that they like, as a way of introducing that they have feelings for them. If the boy likes the girl, he will give her something back on White Day (March 14th). However, this was not the case for me. My Aunt was nice enough to send a giant box of candy for my lab members to enjoy (me as well) and all my non-native Japanese friends gave me candy as well. So, by the end of the day I had received two boxes of chocolate, brownies, and chocolate covered almonds. I ate all of them, and it was a delicious day. The rest of the week I felt guilty about eating so much, so I walked everyday out to the athletic field.

The only exciting thing that happened to me after that was visiting my Berea-Japan friends Momoyo and Sachi.  I was hoping to meet Taku as well, but sadly he was busy that weekend. Having just the three girls is okay sometimes, though. It ended being a good time for us! We meet in Tenjin, and luckily for me it was not raining too much that day for us to be able to walk comfortably down town. It was drizzling a little, but for the most part it was a relatively dry day. 

While, of course, we had  a nice dinner together, the high-light of the night was going to a cat cafe! Cat cafes are for people to visit with kitties in a casual setting, because so many apartment complexes don't allow pets. In fact, unless you have your own house (which is rare in Japan) you usually don't have any animals. So, for me, this was a big deal since I haven't been able to pet any cats since my Isabelle passed away last May.

Momoyo and Sachi had never been in a cat cafe either, so it was a nice experience for us all. However, I was so surprised how in your face these cats were. Generally I think most cats just want to be left alone unless it's feeding time, but these guys had no problem walking on you, getting on your table, or sitting in your chair with you. For sanitary reasons, the actual cafe part is sectioned off from the cat part, but they would wait by the door to get into the food-side of the cafe. Our table was right next to this door, so we were quite popular (and don't worry, the water is actually meant for the cats, not the customers).

 Fat tuxedo cats are my favorite! However, this guy was with another couple across from us.
 Don't drink the water on the tables... someone probably got to it before you did.
 These two were siblings and were together the whole time. This was cute, but unfortunately they also jumped on you together.
 So much for reading the menu... if you look closely at this guy, his tail is actually curly.

Momoyo was terrified of petting the cats. Most of them were lazy cat bums, so I have no idea why she was.
 The guy with the spot on his back moved into my chair. The fact he could fit on the same chair as me is a miracle.
 It was nap time when we got there... of course nap time for cats is relative to 20-hours-a-day.
Yep... he slept there on that chair almost the whole time I was there. So much for having back-support while sitting.
They were all really adorable, but they scared poor Momo everytime they jumped up on the table. Sometimes I am surprised how easily scared by animals the urban Japanese are. I have several Japanese friends from large cities that are terrified by animals and insects.

However, that was the most interesting thing that happened during February! I am moving into a new apartment in the third week of March, so I have a lot of preparation to do. Sorry if I don't post anything else for a while, but please know I may not have internet for a few weeks, until my new internet kicks in at my apartment.

Everyone take care, and I hope to talk to you again soon!