Sunday, July 25, 2010

Almost done =(

We had a camp in Oita a few days ago, and it was some of the most draining days I’ve had in Japan so far. We got up at 5:00 a.m. to travel there, and the campers arrived about half an hour later. The kids were absolutely wonderful, but I can’t honestly say the same thing about the food. It was basically like playing Survivor…or if you were smart, finding a garbage can. “Hey Nick, you want my fish? Hey Sojurou, you want my squid?” I’ve had enough rice to last me eternity and a half. But Mom, thanks for buying me those cliff bars, because those things got me through the weekend.

We were constantly running, and it was one of those weekends when the heat wave hits with some fierce power, you know? And to make things worse, Daniel was out sick with a fever, Kris had a cough the whole time, and Jessica and Alex were also under the weather. But I was so incredibly proud of my team—they supported each other, brought the energy, and gave the kids an incredible camp (the evidence was seen in the massive amounts of tear-stained faces on the last day).

The second day was one of the hardest days here in Japan, because that morning I gave my mom a call to check in on her, and I found out that her cancer had reappeared. She was so strong, though…so strong. Here my mom is on the phone, telling me that she has cancer but that she is so sorry to have to stress me out on my trip! I’m thinking, “Really, Mom? You are apologizing to ME that you have cancer again? I’m so sorry for YOU!” What a strong woman.

But I thank God for my amazing friends here. Denise, one of the most incredible people I’ve met in my entire life, was walking down the stairs right after I heard the news, and a movie scene kind of just unfolded. I called out, “Denise!” She turned around, saw the look on my face, and immediately came running. She has my back, and I love her for it. She and Alex, another dear friend, brought me to Sean, our leader, and basically said that I needed to take the morning off. So I helped with the kids for a bit, but I just took time to think, pray, and nap. It was wonderful, and I’m glad that my team was so understanding.

When I woke up, I found the most wonderful note and present on my bed. Denise left me a note telling me that Sean had had his campers write my name in calligraphy for me during the activity that I had to miss; that meant so much to me! The rest of that day, and the whole camp itself, went so well. I had amazing kids; this is Makoto, pretty much the funniest, most adorable kid I've ever met.

I’m just so thankful for wonderful kids and for great teammates.

That night when we got back to our home base (a crazy beautiful place called Global Arena), our sponsor was kind enough to treat us to an all-you-can-eat buffet/meat grill-out/SOFT SERVE ICE CREAM! *laughs* It was so wonderful to dress up and to just feel beautiful for a night, you know? I think that we were all tired of just being sweaty and gross and wanted to remind ourselves that we could still be lovely (all the girls at least…the guys were just excited to get drunk =P *laughs*) This is Denise, my best friend on the trip =)

It was such a wonderful night, and I loved it.

I had an interesting last few days, to say in the least. What an incredible trip! Ultimate Frisbee cripple style (aka limping around, but having an amazing time), discovering Ethan is an amazing swing dancer, and taking care of my poor Denise.

On Tuesday, we had an off day, and we went into Fukuoaka to go to the beach and go shopping. It was so much fun! I went with a group of 9 other people shopping first, and Anna, our Japanese translator who is absolutely in love with pink, would drag us around to her favorite stores. Because it was her, it was bearable ;) After that, we went out to lunch, and I had Gyoza, thinly-wrapped dumplings stuffed with green onion, pork, and ginger. After that, the 10 of us split the biggest ice cream sundae I’ve seen in my life! It cost $36 (3.60 a piece), but it was a work of art.

After shopping for a bit more, we went to the beach, which was beautiful. The water warm, and it was such a relaxing way to spend a late afternoon. I quite enjoyed that day. That night, I got to talk to Ethan, Sean, and Stephanie for awhile, and it was so cool just to be able to sit down and get to really know people, to dig a bit underneath the surface and see what their passions are, what motivates them, what sets them off, etc. I love discovering the multiple facets to peoples’ personalities, so that was a wonderful night.

However, the next day, Denise, caught something that one of the boys had, and the poor girl was in bed for a solid 2 ½ days. She was shaking so badly that I had to open her water bottle cap for her, and she couldn’t eat anything but bread and scones =( But let me tell you, Denise on drugs is more than slightly entertaining ;) She was such a trooper, and I absolutely love her.

Our last camp at Global Arena was something called “American Village,” and it was different than the camps that I’ve worked at in the past. Our team split up into three groups, and we worked with three different schools at the same time. Most activities were separated, but we would do certain things, such as campfire, meals, and dance parties together. Also, instead of eating with the campers for all of the meals, we served them for the majority of them. The whole goal of American village was to display the culture of the US, so when they got off the bus, they received a passport and money. That money they would use for meals, and they would tip us servers after they finished our meals. We also provided the entertainment for the meals; Ethan and I choreographed a swing dance, and the kids (And the head of the Guy Healy Program!) loved it. It was so refreshing to just dance again =) And serve…I’ve really missed that as well.

I was on a team of 6 girls that ran camp for a small all-girls school; there were 24 junior high/high school students and one teacher. Initially, it was ridiculously difficult to get these girls into any of the activities, because most were either quite shy, reserved, or had poor English skills. However, by the third day, the girls were laughing, dancing, and having a great time, and it was wonderful to see the progression. I was really concerned about my group; they seemed very aloof and disinterested. But these girls liked me more than I thought; they made me an adorable letter and origami creatures to say thank you at the end of camp! *smiles* Here are my girls!

After the campers left, we chilled, packed, and had our Team 1 mini-graduation \ceremony. Our team AD, Sean, Nhuy, and Alex were adorable and made us all awards! Mine was “Biggest Trooper/Most Stubborn” and had a picture of an ice pack on it for my knees =P They know me well. Sean bought us ice cream, and we just chilled the rest of the night, because we were leaving some of our team back at Global Arena. It was hard to leave them, let me tell you.

We left this morning for Nagoya, and we will be doing our final camp there. I’m currently on a bullet train as I’m writing this. After that, I’m headed home =) I wasn’t ready two days ago, but now I’m definitely ready.

Oh, side note...beautiful bug I killed =)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Last Homestay and Kaisei

This past week has been wonderful and full of some lovely adventures.

Tuesday night I met the majority of my team in Nagasaki city to celebrate Daniel, a team member’s, birthday. We all came from either traveling or our various host families, and we just chilled, ate at a restaurant, and tried to find a public place in which to eat ice cream cake.

However, two others and I needed to be back at Nagasaki station at 10, and we were about 15 minutes walking distance away from the station at 9:45. We were trying to leave, but people kept holding us back for various reasons…which means we ran all the way back to the station! The four of us must have been a sight: me and Sean leading, I in a dress, flip flops, and carrying a giant purse (plus being a cripple), and Nick and Serge following us for 10 blocks. Crazy Americans…can’t even behave decently in a foreign city, eh? But we made it just in time =)

The next morning we headed off for a short 2 day camp up in the mountains near Fukuoaka. The view was incredible; pictures never do it justice. This time we were counseling our first elementary school, Kaisei, which brought a group of about 50 10-12 year olds. We actually didn’t do any English lessons with them, instead just interacting in English. We did a 3 hour orienteering hike, and my group was wonderful: I had three adorable boys and two amazing girls.

We hiked up mountains, through forests, and up and down way too many steps; it pretty much gave my knees a death sentence *laughs*. But it was fun! And just when I thought that my knees couldn’t take the last hill, my kids yelled, “Snake! Snake!” And sure enough, a 6 foot long snake was chilling on the hill above us; I call that God’s providence, eh? *smiles*

That night we had a campfire, and it was wonderful. It is probably my favorite activity from every camp, because I can just sing and dance and have fun trying to get the kids involved and make them smile. It’s not something I’d naturally do; I always think of how I appear to everyone else, and that makes me uncomfortable. However, I always had wanted to just let loose and have fn, so I’m glad for an opportunity that is conducive to craziness. I think the fact that I’m doing it for the kids, not for myself, makes getting out of my comfort zone even easier. When you see the really shy kid start doing the hand motions and singing along, you know that it’s a job well done. Oh, there was a quick break to get rid of a poisonous snake halfway through, too; it was a reminder that this is Japan, not MN.

The next day, we made curry and rice with the kids for about 4 hours! There were two big outdoor cooking areas with 6 sets of sinks and fireplaces, and we went at it.

Let me tell you, my kids and I can make some mean curry. So when I come back, if anyone wants curry, let me know! I’m in love with it right about now.

One thing I both respect and detest about the Japanese culture is its thoroughness. It took us an hour to clean up after ourselves, scrubbing the pots until they were absolutely spotless. We even had an inspection by one of the facility members before we could put our pots and pans away; I seriously felt as nervous about it as I would a midterm, due to the stern look on the man’s face. Good thing we passed ;)

Isn’t it funny how you can get attached to people so quickly, and then it subsequently feels so unnatural to leave? I’ll miss Saya and Ayami, my two wonderful girls. Saya even wrote me a letter! *cries* I hate thinking that I’ll probably never see them again; however, it definitely puts things in perspective to live in the present and for eternity, not for past and future.

Friday was wonderful. I got to sleep in, and then my host mom and her best friend took me over the mountains to see this adorable church and other cultural things. Most of it was in Japanese, but the landscape was absolutely beautiful. After, we ate ice cream and just chilled at a table overlooking the ocean, and it was wonderful.

They are two of the sweetest ladies EVER; Masako, her good friend, even bought me a going-away present! I’ve just been showered in love, and I feel so incredibly blessed.

On Saturday, my host dad, mom, and her best friend took me to Obama (city, not the president…although fun fact: apparently he did send the city a letter after his election to thank them for supporting him), where we visited the hot springs. On the way there, we stopped at a lotus water flower wild garden, and it was absolutely beautiful. Again, pictures don’t do God’s handiwork justice.

After that, we stopped at a small supermarket, where a Japanese man (either a creeper or very enthusiastic about practicing his English on a white person) proceeded to follow me around and try to sell me his products. At everything I looked at, it was either “Oh, dewecious!” or “Buudeful, no?” I smiled and responded and then found solace in the indoor part of the market. Or not…he followed me, saying, “Hot, no?” *laughs* My host dad just laughed at my predicament.

We continued on, eating lunch at a quaint restaurant, and then arriving at the hot springs.

We were there for twenty minutes, and then the rain started. However, it was a beautiful place. On the way back, we stopped at a small outdoor foot spa, which was incredible.

We also stopped at an old Samurai street, saw a castle from afar,

and ate the best vanilla soft serve ice cream that I’ve had in my life. No joke. I’m thinking that Japan might just be worth visiting to have the experience of a perfect ice cream cone. Oh, Mom, my host dad wanted me to tell you that I’d been to Heaven and Hell on Saturday. The Japanese believe that the lotus flower is the flower of Heaven, so the garden we visited represents that. And a Christian was killed at the hot springs during the Edo period, and it was said that as he was killed, the springs erupted. The Japanese word for this location’s hot springs means “Hell” (sorry, I can’t remember the actual word).

Aunt Dawn, I heard “Kokomo” in the store today, and I thought of you! “Aruba, Jamaica, oh I wanna take ya…” I still remember you singing that to me when i was young, and it made me laugh that the Japanese listen to that, too. Oh, that reminds me! On the way home, my host mom must have pitied me or something (after listening to japanese music for hours), for she put in a cd that played both Japanese and English 90’s Christmas songs. I couldn’t help but laugh as we cruised through the mountains, listening to Will Smith rap about Christmas cheer and family and who knows what else.

Since I'm leaving my host family tomorrow, I probably won't have much access to the Internet. So this could possibly be the last blog update, but I might be able to find an Internet cafe, so we'll see. Regardless, I hope you all have a fabulous two-and-a-half weeks =)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Nagasaki, Japanese Boys, and an Amazing Family!

How are you all doing? I heard there was a crazy storm in the Twin Cities! I’m pretty jealous that I missed it. There’s a lot of rain here, but I’ve only heard thunder twice. By a lot of rain I mean that there have been three or four days when it hasn’t rained for the majority of the day. But it doesn’t really upset me; it seems very natural, like it simply belongs here.

My homestay family is wonderful! Last Sunday the mom, Isoji, and her best friend took me around Nagasaki. Isoji and her friend speak very little English, so we communicated throughout the day with random English words, gestures, and pulling out the English-Japanese dictionary and pointing at different words to make our point. Nevertheless, it was so much fun! We went to Dejima in the morning, which is a remodeled city of the old Dutch town in Nagasaki. It was essentially the only contact with Japan that the entire Western world had for a few hundred years, so it was pretty important. This is a model of what the town used to look like:

We also went out to lunch on a pier overlooking the bay and the mountains. It was absolutely gorgeous and reminded me of a scene from Greece…relaxing music in the background, a slight breeze…mmm it made me very happy. Although I never would have expected to hear Spanish music playing in a Chinese restaurant in Japan

Monday was an adventure. As we got on a bus on Sunday about a mile from my house, my host dad informed me that I should pay attention to where we were, because I was to take this bus into Nagasaki tomorrow to meet my friends and hang out for the day. Haha I wish I had known that as we were walking to the bus stop…I would have paid a lot more attention =P I was pretty nervous for it, but the whole family was going to be gone all day, so I was up for it.

My bus was to leave at 9:18 a.m. My family left before me, and so I went to my bus stop by myself. Not a big deal, right? I thought I knew where it was and walked to that place to wait. And I waited…and waited…checked my watch…at 9:22 I knew I had gone to the wrong station (In fact, looking back on it, I realized I was standing by a speed limit road sign, not a bus stop road sign! Idiot…). By then I was thinking, “Oh, great. How do I explain this to my family? How do I call the people I’m meeting and tell them that I suck at life and missed the bus?” So I started home, kicking myself for being so inattentive. I stopped for a second, and I saw a woman hurrying farther down the street, urging her little boy to follow quickly. I thought, “Hmm…that looks like an ‘I’m late for a bus’ kind of scene! What the heck, I’ll follow them.” I had nothing to lose, right? So I took off at a fast walk after them and followed for about 3 blocks. Suddenly, the hallelujah chorus began to sing as I spotted the bus stop! *laughs* I made it just in time. I got onto it, not knowing where this one was headed, but I figured that it would probably stop in Nagasaki city sometime…and sure enough, I made it just in time to meet my friends. Praise God!

And what a fun day in the city it was. Let me tell you, I have never been so excited to eat McDonalds in my life. The Japanese food is actually quite delicious, but I was ready for some ice cream and a good ol’ cheeseburger. In all honesty, it’s even better than the American McDonalds !

By Tuesday, I was ready to go back for another camp. We headed back to our facility and prepped for camp for most of the day. After that, we just hung out…I taught some of the guys some swing dancing moves, which was so much fun. It reminded me of home, and it was wonderful. I also taught them how to do the assisted front flip, which might not have been the best idea for my knees, but they held up, and it made my night.

Camp 2 was the other half of the kids from the Sosekan School, and I worked with all boys again. I love boys! However, my groups this time were less cooperative, and it was much more taxing mentally. It really was a blast, though. Here’s a sample of what I did each day:

6:00 am~ Up early for prayer with Amanda and Mikiah

6:50~ Team meeting

7:30~ Campers and ACs (American counselors) assemble


9:00~ 1 minute drills (as many enlgish phrases in 1 minute as possible)

10:30~group discussion (like pulling teeth! Oh my goodness…)


1:20~Orienteering (The campers get a map and lead us to different checkpoints. Let me tell you, it goes a lot smoother when your kids hold the map rightside up instead of upside down.)

3:00~Camp skit prep


6:00~More camp skit prep

7:30~Campfire! (lots of songs, smores, and craziness…wonderful, though!)

9:00~Bathtime for campers, meeting for us ACs

9:30~Our bathtime!

Usually in bed by 11…but a long day lol.

This camp was slightly more…interesting (frustrating is a better word I think) in the sense that for some reason, many of the boys liked me. “Katie cute …I love you Katie…Do you have boyfriend?” Incessantly…and for knowing so little English, these boys are DIRTY! *shakes head* Thankfully, I have great teammates who will smack them for me =D And for my camp skit, my boys decided to do Dragonball and insisted on fighting over me. At the end of the skit, they yelled, “I…love…KATIE!!!” Oh my favorite…they wrote that on the board, but they spelled my name wrong. Picture!

So if anyone wants to pick up a 16 year old Japanese boy, I can help ya out. But if you want to teach me how to get an American one my age, that’d be great =P

Some of my amazing boys:

Now I’m back at my homestay until early on the 7th, a quick camp till late on the 8th, and then I’ll leave again on the 12th for good. I miss you all!

Aunt Michelle~I don’t like sushi. But I tried it. =)

Next day update:

4th of July! I’m sad that I can’t be at home, barbequing, eating s’mores, and watching our neighbors blow thousands of dollars on fireworks. But Haruka, my host sister, made up for it! She took me to see the 26 Saints Memorial, which was incredible. Quick history lesson: St. Xavier, a Portuguese Catholic priest, brought Christianity to Japan in the 1500’s. It grew rapidly—so rapidly, in fact, that the authorities became increasingly afraid of its effects and sought to suppress it. So they took 6 foreign missionaries and 20 japanese Christians (or some split like that) and suspended them on crosses, making a public spectacle out of them before spearing them. However, St. Paulo Miki gave his last sermon from his cross, and it was beautiful. He told the 4,000 onlookers that he forgave the man who placed him on the cross, which was completely counter-cultural; the norm when one was killed unjustly was to ask his children to avenge his death. He proclaimed his death for Christ a blessing and urged others to follow him. Consequently, many others came to Christ. However, they had to live in hiding, for the church was badly persecuted from the 1600s to the late 1800s.

After that, Haruka and I went to a restaurant where we got to grill our own food! She told me what it was called, but I forgot; all I know was that it was incredible, and we ate it all =P

We also took pictures in the picture booth (a big Japanese thing I guess! Way much fun though) and then proceeded to stuff ourselves with crepes! AMAZING! Tiramisu crepes are incredible. *happy sigh* Haruka with hers =)

When we arrived back at her house, four of her friends and their moms were there, so we had yet more food, and the girls practiced their English with me.

A tiring day, but it was wonderful.

Please eat a s’more for me, enjoy family, friends, and fireworks, and send me an email or facebook message (or even mail! =D Lol) if you have time.