Friday, January 15, 2010


Well, I am back in snowy Aomori. As I write this I am in my office, staring out the window, and it is a complete whtie windy mess! Soon I will be heading to lunch for soba followed by a workshop at a Elementary school. I don't want to go out in the cold, I already had my bizarre medical exam this morning and had to be out in it for too long!
But luckily, Aomori is not as cold as it was at Deep Creek when I went home. But what I do miss from the lake, is the central heating. When I return home from work my room is about 8 degrees C (like 46). That doesn't sound too bad, but it's inside, and in the rooms by my door and hallway those are colder, taking a shower is not fun! But being in the US after 1.5 years was very nice. Although I did not get to see as many people as I hoped, all the snow at the lake and the warm fire, kept me up there most of the time! Due to all the snow there were many winter activities occurring, including snowboarding, snowtubing, sleigh riding, and crosscountry skiing.. oh yea and a geocache scavenger hunt. So my days were filled with snow, yummy food I don't get in Japan (CHEESE), many games (of course), the fireplace, player piano, and Wii Fit. Of course, after I leave the country, my parents decide to get a wii. So while I was home I played wii fit for the first time, so fun, Im a pro hula hooper! It was nice to be home, to have the fam in one place for once and of course see my BOYS!! goblin and buckey!
Now its back to Aomori life, this week has been an office week, but school visits start up next week. Ive already had a curling game and practice and have another one tomorrow. Tonight is the first night this week I have not had any plans, so I am looking forward to that. And also, after my game tomorrow I am meeting my friends for karaoke... I mean, i've been out of the country for 3 weeks, I needed some karaoke!
Christy wants me to start an everyday/life sort of blog, since this one I usually only write in after travels, so if I decide to do that, I will let you all know the link!
Hope everyone had a merry christmas and a good new years!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Taiwan - Touch Your Heart

During the month of September my friend Christy and I ventured to the little island of Taiwan. Why September? Why Taiwan? Well, in Japan in May there are three consecutive holidays - that five day break is called Golden week. So with three September holidays just HAPPENING to fall in a row, the week was aptly called Silver Week (I originally thought I made up the name, but then a month later the news was calling it that.. apparently it caught on). Christy and I have wanted to travel together - so we made a list of where in Asia we had been and the two countries that we both had not been to (and had a small desire to go) were Vietnam and Taiwan. With only a week we decided Taiwan would be best - and knew nothing about it (at first).

We planned out our six days in Taiwan, mainly sticking to the east coast. We couch surfed the entire time (amazing thing in the backpacker/traveler world). Couch surfing, although to non-CSers sounds sketchy, is actually wonderful. People open their homes to travelers. Some are involved, some are busy with work, but all give you a place to stay and are generous in their help and recommendations. (I have actually hosted over 12 in Aomori, mainly during Nebuta).

We started our our journey in Taipei, staying two nights with 30 year old Taiwanese English tutor Grace and her roommate Ellen. Our schedules clashed and we only were able to chat with her late in the evenings, but she saved us from traveling to the Western part of Taiwan (that we had purchased a ticket for) when we wanted to go to the South!! In Taipei we did the touristy city things -- went to Taipei 101 (tallest building in the world and fastest elevator), San Yat Sen Memorial, lots of walking around, and of course night markets and lots of yummy food. Food was actually raved about by anyone who has been to Taiwan (foriegners and Japanese alike).

Next we continued our journey (using Taiwan"s incredibly easy to use transportation system) south to Taroko National Park. We met this 26 year old Taiwanese girl (Vivian) at the visitor center. She asked us what trail we were planning on hiking and she said she has a car and can take us to the entrance of the trail. Turns out she is an interpreter/guide in training with her trainer and they ended up taking us around the national park the entire day, taking us to places and teaching us things we never would have known. Vivian actually lives in Hualien (city about 1 hour away) where we were staying for the night and drove us to our new couch surfer, Gloria's home.

Gloria is queen of couch surfing and travel. She is 31, traveled the world and couchsurfed for 7 months straight and has hosted numerous ones. She lives with her family is a very large home (so we only briefly saw her mother) and has two adorable dogs (who I gave English names). She took us to the best dumpling shop and then to a native dance show and a night market. Christy and I had read about white water rafting and she helped us book that for the next day.

White water rafting day -- well, let me just say, was the strangest rafting I have ever taken part in. Basically, we had no guide on our boat, a ditzy couple who thought the boat was going to be automatic, a group of people who could not work together and two boats who when we got close would just start water splashing wars. Needless to say, the motorized boat basically pushed us down the river or would turn our boat down the right rapids, to haphazardly go through.

That night Gloria had to work until later, so she set us up with two adorable college girls who took us to a little place to eat, where we asked about the Taiwanese shampoos, that we later treated them to. Great 50 minutes of waterless soapy foaming shampoo and head massage!
That evening met back up with Gloria who took us to a night market where I tried Chicken food, Chicken neck, duck tongue, bread stuffed with deer and cheese, and other yummy foods and fresh fruit juices.

The next day Christy and I headed back up the coast (and stopped off at great places Gloria had recommended and given us all the train times for). We stopped at a cold springs (which was very fun, we had our own private room) and then stayed the night in Jiaoshi a town known for hot springs. This one night we did not plan couchsurfing and stayed at a nice hotel and just relaxed and spent time in the hotsprings!

Getting close to the end of our trip on our way back to Taipei we went north and stopped at this mountainous town with great views and an amazingly fun market and old time looking streets!

When we got back to Taipei we met up with Huo, our final couch surfer host. She is 24 and has the most adorable apartment that her and her interior designer boyfriend decorated. That evening she again introduced us to great night market food and then her boyfriend and his friends wanted to take us to this trendy little rock bar that had a room with hundreds and hundreds of records. The following day was our last day and Huo cooked us a traditional Taiwanese breakfast and then came with us to the bus to head to the airport.

Overall it was a wonderful six day trip. Do not rely upon English if you ever do go to Taiwan (although the book said most young people speak it fine). Without the help of our Japanese (either to converse or read Chinese characters) I don't know how we would have survived - def couch surfers!

Now Aomori is getting chilly, fall has arrived. This past Sunday Christy, my friend Steve and I ran the 5 K in the Hirosaki Apple Marathon. My days are becoming very busy with curling starting as well, as I have a 2 hour practice and 2 hour game almost every week. And in the fall there is AT LEAST one four day week a month!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Summer in Aomori

It has been a while. Last I wrote was Golden Week when I went to the Philippines! Since then summer in Aomori has come and gone. Aomori is so far north that the summers are nice and cool. Every week there was always a barbecue, beer garden, or festival happening. Japan loves summer. It is never hard to walk down the street, bike around or listen outside your door to find a festival. Local shrines, neighborhoods, just about anything will hold a festival. Usually consisting of numerous food stands, yaki soba, yaki tori, chocolate bananas, shaved ice, many little fair games, and giving people chances to look cute and walk around in summer kimonos.
One of the largest festivals in Japan is Nebuta, which is held in Aomori city, but other versions of Nebuta are held in other parts of the prefecture. Nebuta is held every year from Aug 2-7. Months prior Nebuta artists start constructing their intricate paper floats, and musicians practice the traditional Aomori nebuta flute and drums. So many people visit Aomori during this week, so many that only one out of ten people actually live in Aomori (statistic I learned this year)!! During this week I hosted many couch surfers (a new phenomenon where you can stay with people all throughout the world to learn more about the local area and have a place to stay). I hosted people from, Singapore, Australia, Japan, Ireland, Serbia, and Spain. It was a busy week and a full house!
During this week, people dress up in the Nebuta outfits, join a group, hop two times on one foot and two times on the other, yelling "Rase Ra, Rase Ra"! For about three hours. I participated with the foreigners group the second night, and the PTA the third night. I went every day to the festival though. The final day is a two hour fireworks display and floating the winning floats out on the ocean for their final appearance. Once Nebuta is over, it is said that summer in Aomori is over. And it pretty much is. It has started to get cooler and beginning to feel more like fall.
But the following week after Nebuta I took a week off work and went to Shizuoka and Osaka. I studied abroad three years ago in Osaka and I wanted to be reunited with my friends and host family! So first I went to Shizuoka where my good friend, Hiroaki, is working. Spent a few days there, and experienced my largest earthquake (a six, highest is seven), we were rocking and rolling and a few things falling. Then we drove together to Osaka where I met up with my good friends Shunsuke and Hiroshi. The following days I met up with my speaking partners Akira, Kitt-chan and Aimi. And then spent some time with my amazing host family. It was very hot in Osaka, 38 degrees, whereas Aomori only gets to about 25!
But now I am back in Aomori which is beginning to get chilly. But in one week I will be headed to Taiwan with my friend Christy for a week! Three holidays happen to fall in a row, so its like another Golden week, so new name - Silver week! We are really excited, Taiwan has SO much to offer, more than we ever knew, six days will be too short but we are looking forward to couch surfing and a lot of great scenery and delicious food!

Here are some more pictures of Nebuta and trip to Shizuoka/Osaka, please check them out!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Well I just have to say this might have been one of the best places on earth. Before going I knew there were over 7,000 islands and that they have the highest English literacy rate in South East Asia. Post going I learn there are actually 7,107 islands and 7,108 at low tide. And that I did not realize how nice it is to travel to a country that has their own language but everyone there (over 90% eng literacy) speaks english, perfectly, little children included.

Things I loved about it. Its BEAUTIFUL. The water is so warm and clear. Each island is so different. The people are genuinely nice and go out of their way to help. It is so incredibly cheap (highlights: 60 cent drinks, 4 dollar meals, 1 dollar bag of mangoes, 10 dollar rooms, 12 dollar flight from Manila to Cebu). I ate mangoes and bananas everyday in all forms. I never once felt unsafe. And its just overall awesome.

Let me back up a bit. In Japan, the first week in May is called Golden week, three holidays always fall right next to each other so its a five day weekend where everyone travels. I took off Golden week and the week before, with two of my friends Chris (a JET from Minnesota) and Yumiko (a JET from Australia) and traveled to the Philippines.

So basically, we spent most of our time in two locations - El Nido on the island of Palawan and the island of Boracay. We did visit Manila for a night and another place in Palawan called Coron.

El Nido was gorgeous, huge cliffs just sticking out of the ocean. The island of Palawan is not too touristy so you really got a local feel. During the day and some streets at night turned off the electricity, so it was cool walking around with stores lit by candle light. The first day we went there we did island hopping. Just got on a boat and spent the entire day stopping at remote islands, snorkeling, swimming and relaxing. Our guides ended up being really cool and so we went and saw their band play that night and island hopping with them again the next day. Our final day was also a great day. We rented motor bikes and Christian and Richard (the two guides) came along. We motor biked on remote beaches that we wouldn't have known about, as well as went to Christians aunt's place. Which was some thatched houses, with kids running around, animals running around and great fruit trees (delicious mangoes). Richard caught and killed a chicken and made lunch. It was pretty great.

Next we went to Coron (for two days) and Manila (for one day). But then Boracay for about 5 days. Boracay is much more touristy than Palawan. But not bad, it was nice to have many restaurant and bar options, it was a good change. And its probably one of the most beautiful white sand beaches ever. I just couldn't get over the beauty and the amazing weather, which is why I did not do much at all here except enjoy. There are tons of water sports and activities to do, I was planning on parasailing, but the beach and relaxation just drew me in. We do go for a sunset sail one evening though. Enjoyed reading, meeting new people, and eating good food. Boracay reminded me a bit of Koh Samui in Thailand, but it was much more beautiful, the beach was larger, the tourists were more local (filippino) tourists, and BEST of all when people try and sell you something when you say no, they leave you alone. People in the Philippines just seem pretty chill and awesome.

people who went out of their way to be nice:
Christian and Richard in El Nido; did not need to turn down more money to hang out with us and show us around.
Nino the Philippine Airline worker who (after we missed our flight) said we volunteered our seats up (to people who were on the canceled flight) so we didnt have to pay extra, drove us back with eight other staff members, found us a room, and hung out with us that night.
Chito: older man visiting Boracay who walked up and down the beach trying to find us the best place to stay, went to dinner with us twice and took us around, and made sure we had his hired friend to help us out after he left.

The list actually goes on and on.
I originally thought two weeks was going to be too long, but it sure was not. I could stay for so long. I am hoping to get back to check out the other islands some day!!

Other interesting facts: I ate BALUT. The delicacy of partially developed chick, you crack the egg, suck the juice, eat the chick and then the yolk. Not too bad just sorta gross to think about. I actually ate one the following night as well.

I also ate a chocolate avocado milkshake.

To get home we took a Tricycle (motorized thing), a boat, a van, a flight from kalibo to manila, flight from manila to cebu, flight from cebu to seoul, flight from seoul to tokyo, and a 9 hour bus ride from tokyo to Aomori. To arrive at 6 am just in time to get ready for work that day. It was VERY difficult to come back to Japan (especially landing in Tokyo). The price of our first meal in Tokyo was probably a few days worth of food in the Philippines! (its painful seeing prices here, I had gotten so used to ignoring how much it costs here and just buying whatever I need). The people too, although Japanese people are incredibly nice, you never really know what they really mean. As well as having to be more aware of appearance and actions.

And now the weather here is cold and rainy. UGH. I asked my friends, would you eat ten balut to go back right now, answer: in an instant.

Well, please check out pictures of paradise, island hopping, balut eating and more PICTURES

Upcoming Events:
Sunday: May 17th: Yokohama Flower Marathon
(not really a marathon, any race they call a marathon, but I'll do the 5k)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

It's been a while

Well, it has been a long winter. The cherry blossoms up here in Aomori are finally starting to blossom. The cherry blossom phenomenon in Japan is amazing. Once spring appears to have hit southern Japan the cherry blossom track is on. The daily news will have maps of blossom sightings and will plot the average dates areas of Japan are supposed to bloom and the time period to best view the blossoms. Hirosaki, in Aomori, is supposed to be the most beautiful place in Japan to see cherry blossoms . Cherry Blossom season means many Hanami Parties. Hanami is cherry blossom viewing parties, where large groups of people gather under the blossoms have have large picnics, eat a lot, drink and view the cherry blossoms!
But, to back up a bit since the l
ast post. February I spent my birthday at the Sapporo Snow Festival. I went with my friend Christy and we spent the weekend looking at huge snow sculptures, ice sculptures and enjoying the snow! The rest of the winter was just spent with some snowboardin
g, curling, and the regular bread making, hip hop dance, and hanging out with friends (foreign as well as Japanese haha). 

Much of March and April was spent without school visits. The kids were on spring vacation and then started a new school year (starts in April). So that meant many boring days in the office. But thankfully school visits have started up again. My two new regular schools are Tsutsui JHS and Toyama JHS. I enjoy the kids and almost all of the teachers at Toyama, so I am looking forward to that. And I had never been to Tsutsui. I have been going there this week though. Its one of the largest JHS in the city, with around 700 kids (for three grades). Its the biggest school I have been to. This week I am teaching the first years (7th grade). There are eight cla
sses of about 30. I like the kids a lot, they are not boring yet not out of control (although there are many loud kids but that makes it even more fun), well behaved but get excited about the work and will participate, so I think it will be a good school. 

So, now I am looking forward to spring. It is finally starting to warm up. But, more importantly Golden Week is coming up. Golden Week is the first week in May where the entire country of Japan gets three holidays in a row, making it a five day weekend, where everyone travels. Luckily I am able to take off days of work, so me and two of my friends will be spending two weeks in the Philippines!! 

I leave this friday for Tokyo and 
the Philippines on Saturday. So my next post hopefully will not be so delayed and will have many fun stories from the phils! 

Sunday, January 25, 2009

South East Asia Trip

Well, well, well! So much has happened since my last post! So I will try and keep it brief! Maybe I will make lists!

I started my winter break and adventures on December 20th when I headed on the overnight bus to Tokyo from where I departed to Bangkok with a fellow Aomori City ALT Steve.

THAILAND was wonderfully fun and exciting adventure, full of delicious street vendors, insane Tuk Tuk drivers and bargaining!

Places Visited: Bangkok (about 4 days), Island of Koh Samui (about 4 days)
Things Seen: Many Wats and Palaces, Amusement Parks, Lady Boy Show, Muay Thai Boxing
Excursions: Day of fishing where we caught and ate our own fish, Elephant ride
Best Meal: SPICY meat, chili peppers, onions on rice with an egg - ate at koh samui on the beach.
Most interesting person met: Mon, the Thai tattoo artist
Steve's Illness: The usualy travel sickness (3 days) combined with terrible tooth pain and having to get a tooth pulled.

MALAYSIA was very neat because it does not seem like there are many tourists and they have an amazing amount of ethnic diversity (chinese, malay, indian) which combines for amazing food and friendly people!

Places Visited: Island of Penang(about 2 days), Kuala Lumpur (about 5 day), Melaka (few hours)
Things Seen: Colonial town of Georgetown, Batu Caves, Petronas Towers, many temples and mosques, markets, chinatown, little india
Best Meal: Indian Curry at a place near my hostel
Most Interesting Person met: Three Japanese people we met while waiting in line to get a ticket to walk the sky bridge of the petronas towers. They did not know each other so they were introducing themselves saying where in Japan they were from and then when we were like Aomori, they were surprised -- first because why can we speak japanese and second WHY do we live in Aomori! haah we ended up spending the entire day with them! (they might come visit at Nebuta, our big famous festival held in August)
Steve's Illness: Well -- we spent New Years Eve in Kuala Lumpur (probably the best nye ever), we were wondering why they were selling silly string and foam. Well at around 11 pm everyone in the streets just started spraying everyone with foam, esp us because we are foreigners and it was funny. And it was all a great time covered in foam, people wanting pictures with us. Obviously you are not supposed to get this in your eyes, and my contacts were bothering me so after midnight I went back to the hostel to take them out. Well Steve did not wash out his eyes and the next morning had terrible terrible pain and could not open his eyes at all -- so there was a trip to the hospital.

SINGAPORE was an AMAZING difference from both the two other countries (all differed greatly from one another) but Singapore is so very developed, has insane amount of rules that everyone follows and is the most expensive. While in Singapore we stayed with a man who worked for the British Embassy and he showed us an amazing time! He made great suggestions of where to go and took us out to amazing food that we would def not have tried on our own! For any of you travelers out there I would highly recommend the website Couchsurfing, people are willing to give up a couch and have people from all over the world crash, and not sketchy due to all the recommendations and details required.

Places Visited: Singapore (not a very big place!)
Things Seen: Singapore Zoo (very good), Singapore NIGHT SAFARI (by far the best thing in Singapore), Singapore Bird Park, Sentosa Island (an island that is like a disney resort), the city
Best Meal: Chili Crab or Sting Ray
Most Interesting Person Met: Couch Surfing Host Anthony from England
Steve's Illness: maybe a hangover after Anthony took us Ladyboy/Prostitute watching haha

The trip was great! Loved all the countries I went to, loved all the foods, loved all the people, loved the differences each country had and just all the new sites and architecture I had never seen before!

Coming home I spent three days in Tokyo. I stayed with my friend Steve (different Steve) who graduated a year before me at WAKE FOREST (GO DEACON BASKETBALL!). He works in Tokyo and I was so excited to see him after 1.5 years! It was great, we hung out, ate good foods (the restaurant from the Kill Bill movie, a Ramen museum, a Jamaican place...), and bought SNOWBOARDS!!

Things to look forward to:
AOMORI SNOWBOARDING SEASON (NOW the snow keeps falling!)
Feb 8 MY BIRTHDAY (and next curling match)
Feb 11 National Holiday: National Foundation Day

PLEASE check out my pictures on Picasa from my travels: I have tried to organize them so you can pick and choose what you want to look at, or you can click on them all and see small thumbnails, click through them all, or view a slideshow.. i believe they should load relatively quickly. And I enjoy any and all comments! :)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Winter Time

Well, Aomori is becoming snowy, currently giant snow globe snowflakes are falling from the sky! We have had on and off snow throughout December, it accumulates very quickly but then usually it has warmed up a bit again so it melts away. January and February are supposed to be different with nonstop snow.

But, next week I will be in tropical South East Asia!! I leave Aomori next Saturday on the night bus to Tokyo and fly out of Tokyo Sunday evening. I will be traveling with one other friend (but might meet up with some other JETs in Thailand). We start our adventures in Bangkok and head South hitting up various islands and towns, making our way down into Malaysia. In Malaysia we do bascially the same thing making our way down to Singapore. After a few days in Singapore we make our way back to Tokyo on Janurary 9th. I'll most likely spend that weekend in Tokyo and then head back up to Aomori. That weekend and week there is an all Japan Curling tournament in Aomori, so I will probably try to get back up to Aomori to help my team participate in that!

Last night I had a curling match, we won 6-2!

Recently I have just been busy with the normal business of life, teaching, hiphop, bread and curling! The other weekend though I made a trip to the neighboring prefecture of Iwate and went to Morioka. Morioka is famous for a specific type of soba (a type of noodle). In Morioka you can eat Wanko Soba, here at a certain restaraunt they gear you up with an apron, you sit there, and the goal is to eat as many bowls of soba possible (15 little cups = one regular size serving of soba). The thing is, the women stand above you with a tray of cups of soba and constantly dump them in your bowl. In order to stop eating you must put the lid on your bowl, BUT you are not allowed to leave any noodles. And the women stand above you in constantly dump the soba in, so its quite tricky to place the lid on your bowl before she dumps in more (since you are holding your bowl in one hand and chopsticks in the other). I surprisingly ate 101 bowls!! Everyone is shocked, I wanted to make it to 100 and get a little wooden certificate HAHA. It was a ton of fun though, the atmosphere is great and the women serving are fun and keep talking and encouraging you to eat more and do not stop dumping the noodles!!

This past week I had my favorite school and favorite grade -- the Sannai Junior High School Third Graders (9th grade). I love them, they are so fun to hang around with. It might be my last time with the third graders, as they graduate in March and I will only be going back in January and February so I will probably have the two other grades. So that makes me sad, they are by far my favorite!

Well, my next post will probably be after I return from the tropical paradise to the snow covered Aomori!