Half Way There and No Regrets

DoriWhen I titled this post, I couldn’t help but think about that song that goes ” Oooooooo, we’re half way there. Ooo, Ooo ( and then I’m not sure what is said after that)”  Anyways, this exact day is the half way mark of my journey in Japan. I thought I’d dedicate this post to a little bit of reflection of my time so far here.

As many of you know or probably concluded from previous post, my first few months in Japan were quite rough. I didn’t like much of anything here. For me, leaving home was a bittersweet moment. While I was curious about where Japan would take me, I wasn’t excited about being way from home for an entire year. I make it sound like I was forced to come to Japan but I wasn’t. I am fully aware that it was all my decision. Again, my curiosity brought me here and  a part of me believed it was God’s doing as well. Well, that thought quickly jumped out the window when I encountered several setbacks. Some things did not go the way I expected them to go. I won’t go into detail but point is I wasn’t happy. I sent several messages home claiming I as about to throw in the towel. I didn’t believe living like I was worth it. Thanks to the constant encouragement from my friends and family I stayed and now, I’m quite happy I did.

I realized that it was indeed God who brought me here. I came expecting to impact folks and all that goodness–things I did on my previous trips abroad– but God showed me that this trip was for ME. I needed some personal growth and it took putting me in the most uncomfortable and challenging environment for that to happen. I’ve had to lean on God through some of the toughest moments. There were moments I wasn’t so confident about God’s plan for me and it took a lot of prayer and trusting for me to believe. I look back at Leah on July 2012 and I can say that I’m a different person- spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally.   Now, I’m more spiritually connected to God more than I’ve ever been before. Because of it, I feel a lot stronger and confident. Aside from my spiritual growth I’ve learned a few  other valuable things here.

Dont-Quit-Half-Way-Through-560x3741. Attitude of Gratitude

This is the one that has impacted me most. When I came, my town  immediately showered me with kindness. People didn’t know a thing about me, yet they welcomed me with open arms. People went out of their way and I mean extremely out of their way for a complete stranger. This is something that does not happen in the United States. For all of that, I was truly  grateful and took none of it lightly. In my unhappiness, I realized just how important my family, friends, and boyfriend were to me.  I realized how much meaning they held in my life and how I much I depended on them for support ( I had an idea of this but being here amplified it). I reflected on the last moments I shared with them before I departed and found it was really tough for me to find much because  I took those moments lightly.  I’m a thinker. My mind never shuts off. I can’t even chill without thinking or planning something. For this reason, I’ve never learned how to live  in the moment. When you don’t live in the moment, you miss the things unfolding right in front of your eyes which means that you aren’t fully appreciating that moment. I still haven’t mastered this but I put it in to practice when I returned for Thanksgivings. I just took it all in and when I did I was able to appreciate the moments I shared with my family and friends. That was by far my BEST thanksgiving.

2. Kindness

Almost every Japanese person I’ve met has shown me nothing but kindness (a few other JETs toos). I’m not sure if it was something about me that made them want to shower me with love or if it’s just the thing  to do. I honestly believe it’s the latter. I remember the first week in Kazuno we ate at a restaurant for lunch. I had trouble finding something I liked/could eat on the menu. The owner of the restaurant told me to ask for anything I wanted on my pasta and he’ll make it. He made an awesome meal and then extended an invitation for me to visit anytime. He said I could order anything I wanted ( even if it wasn’t on the menu) from his restaurant. I’ve yet to return but it’s on my list.  But point is, he didn’t know much about me ( just read about me in the newspaper) yet he still treated me like we’d been friends for years.  I’ll share another story with you. I just got home from work and  my neighbor, whom I never met or spoke to ( dont know Japanese), rushes towards me with two big bags of cucumbers grown from her garden.  In my head I thought  ‘What! people just don’t do this at home!’. Til this day, I still receive random gifts from her family and of course I send gifts in return.  I haven’t experienced a moment where someone was rude to me. Yall know folks at home  can just have a nasty attitude for no reason. People at home  have no problem mistreating you in a heart beat. Oh, and don’t let you be a stranger to them because it’s worse for you. Of course this isn’t everyone but I know every American reading this could probably talk about at least one rude experience they had in just this week. Beside on the roads, I can’t say I’ve had a rude experience with a Japanese person. I’m always met with a smile and a bow. I know folks can’t be that happy but they don’t allow their personal feelings to affect the harmonious atmosphere.  Experiencing this gave me a little more faith in humanity. We are indeed cable of living together peacefully.

3. Respect/Honor

Folks respect people here simple as that. Regardless of your rank EVERYONE respects you. Of course others get more respect (special treatment) than others because of their position.  But even then, those high positioned individuals are humble enough to bow to the lower ranked person out of respect. This taught me that regardless of anyone’s ‘rank I should show  appreciation and respect for the person because at the end of the day we are all human.  Back home many people get caught up in their degrees,positions, the money they make etc  and lose all respect for those not on their level. I aint gone lie, I’ve been guilty of  doing this a few times. Mentally I’d say ”umm I can’t hang with this girl because she does not know how to speak properly ( caught up in my Davidson mode).’ But now, I’ve learned that I need to honor and respect everyone from the homeless man on the corner to the President of the United States.

4. Community

I grew up on this so this isn’t really new to me. I just noticed that people in Japan are a lot more considerate of others than back home.  I remember going to school after the first snow fall. The school placed a pillow and a blanket in my chair because they knew Houston is practicially a desert and doesn’t have much snow haha.   People will ask a lot of personal questions about your health and experience out of genuine concern. At first, I was quite annoyed because we just don’t do that. We normally label those people as flat out nosy folks. I had to learn that they weren’t trying to butt in my business they just really cared to know. But, I still have my moments were switch back to my US mode and mentally say, ‘my business and my business so stop nagging me about it.’

optimism

These are just a few things I noted from my experience here. I can honestly say I’m grateful to be here and I don’t regret my decision (this doesn’t mean I don’t have my rough days) I’ve met some incredible people here and many families have opened up their homes and hearts to me. I will definitely miss that.  These families and handful of foreign friends I’ve made here have definitely made my experience worthwhile ( still are making it). That being said, I move forward into the second half of my experience full of optimism and excitement for all the happy moments I’ll share with my friends and new families. 🙂

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Happy New Year – ( The Year of the Snake)

In the United States, New Year’s Eve is mostly spent with friends partying it up in places like Times Square, a cozy house/apartment, bars, clubs etc you name it. When I was younger, I used to dread bringing in the New Year at the table praying and talking about our goals for the New Year ( sorry mom and dad).  After hearing about what all my other friends were doing, I would have much rather been chilling out with my buddies than reviewing my goals for the new year. In Japan, New Year’s Eve is a little different than in the United States. It’s a family holiday. Much like Christmas and Thanksgiving in the United States,  New Year’s Eve is spent with family. As you read in my previous post, foreigners tend to be excluded from certain activities. Thankfully, I was blessed to be invited to spend New Year’s Eve with my friend and her family. I had a wonderful time and would like to share a few things I learned about Japanese culture ( still hesitant to label this a  Japanese culture because it might have been something only her family did) during my visit.

Let’s rewind the story back to mid December. One of the teachers at my school mentioned a tradition that most families do before the new year. He said families send new year cards to other family members across Japan. I think he mentioned that the post offices are so busy during that time that high school students help deliver cards in the city. When I walked into stores, I noticed many racks filled with new year cards. I went Christmas cookie shopping with my friend and she also mentioned that she needed to get cards to send her family.

Now fast forward to December 31, 2012.  I decided to arrive early for the ‘party’ because I wanted to help prepare the feast. In her family, they normally eat crab, deep fried shrimp, and sushi ( yum). While my friend and I prepared the crab, her brother and sister fried the shrimp ( the pieces of shrimp where pretty BIG).  Weeks before the new year celebration, I mentioned to my friend that I wanted to learn how to cook a Japanese dish. Well, that night  it was my turn to take a swing at it. Her mother called me in the help her make sushi. Sushi in Japan is NOT like sushi in the United States. Of course it’s fresher but they do not make california rolls, dragon rolls, gorilla rolls and so on– just simple fish on top of rice or sometimes rolled with sea weed. When her mother called me in to make sushi I thought, this is going to be a piece of cake. Man, I was so wrong. There was a certain way I had to handle the rice and fish. Too much rice or too little rice would mess up the flow.  Oh, and it was obvious when you skipped a step because the sushi would look either  lopsided or too small or wasabi would be in the wrong places. After about 3 tries, I finally got the hang of it. Her mother was a pro– knocking out a plate of sushi in less than 5 minutes. I was quite impressed and later learned that her father used to own a sushi restaurant.

Once the everything was ready it was time to feast! Of course we had drinks BUT we didn’t drink like most people in the United States drink on New Year’s Eve. The drink was simply to share a toast and have with the meal. Shocker I know, since most Americans imagine spending their New Year’s Eve throwing back drinks. Once our bellies were fully, we still had a few hours to go before we wished each other a happy new year. My friend’s mother and sister knocked out and I was fighting sleep. I didn’t think it would be appropriate for me to sprawl out on their floor. We spent that time watching a Japanese comedy show that airs every year on New Year’s Eve. Her dad pulled out a deck of cards and you know what that meant!! Yup, I ended up teaching them how to play spades. Once they got the hang of it, I started to feel their competitive side come out. We played up until 11:45pm.  I noticed her mother head back to the kitchen to make us bowls of soba. Soba noodles are a special noodle in Japan. It’s pretty much a buckwheat.  But on New Year’s Eve family eat soba RIGHT before midnight to wish longevity and a prosperous year. Why soba noodles? It’s simple!  Soba noodles are long ( this was the explanation given to me).  Her mother said that we had to eat the noodles before midnight because you’re wishing longevity for that year. It doesn’t make sense to wish longevity when the year has already came. Once we gobbled down the noodles, it was time! We had a minute left. midnight struck and my friend’s mother turns my direction and bows saying ” Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu”(Congratulations for the opening of the year).

After that, we cleaned up and prepared for bed. I stayed the night because it’s illegal to have even an ounce of alcohol in your system while driving. The next morning, her mother cooked  a special meal. My friends told me that families usually eat a special meal (a meal that isn’t normally eaten) to start the year. I honestly can’t say what all we ate but it was delicious. I left with Tupperware full of good food. I hung out a little longer then I headed to my chilly apartment. It felt great not being alone for the new year and bringing it in with a loving family. I got to eat delicious food and learn a few things about Japanese culture.!

Oh, before I forget, this year is the year of the snake. Japan has 12 animals that represent the year. Once they’ve reach the last animal, they start all over. Last year was the dragon and now it’s a snake! Oooooo and people do not kiss their lover when it hits midnight in Japan– womp womp sorry to all those who enjoy PDA.

Small Victories

I’m slowly learning that  small victories are just as significant as the big ones. Today was a small victory but it meant so much to me. I’ve always been frustrated with the second year junior high school teacher. He gives the students the correct answer without letting them think about it and try to figure it out themselves. Of course, I eventually  called hin out and he made it known that he knew it was a bad thing. But, that’s not the point of this post. Sooo…  I finally witnessed what a student felt like when we discovered the answer herself. The students had to write about their town using the model from their textbook. My task was to check and correct their sentences.

The day before, I tried to correct their sentences and it was an epic fail. I’d say they needed to change the verb or add an article and their response was a confused look. So today, I tried something different. I used the gap fill method. I just rewrote the sentence and left a blank where the missing word needed to be. I gave it a test run on my first student. I wrote out the sentence and told her to find the missing word. I sat next to her trying to explain as simple as possible the word she needed for the sentence. When I say I explained I really mean I did a bunch of crazy gestures. After making fool of myself, she finally understood what word she needed. She looked up the word in her Japanese-English dictionary. There it was, the correct word! Well actually, there were two options. I explained ( in gestures) to her which one was the better one to use. She got it! I said “good job” and she gave me a huge smile.  I walked to the other side of the class and looked back in her direction. She as still smiling. She was so proud of herself for being able to understand my corrections and finding the answer on her own. Her victory made me do a mental victory dance. Now, imagine if all the students in the class were encouraged to think for themselves (given a chance). I’m sure they’ll be just as proud and motivated to study English like she was.

“Oh what fun it is to ride….”

On the road again 010Umm not!

Driving in the snow has been quite the experience. I’m not sure whether it’s early morning wake ups to shovel the snow or the actual driving itself. But, I DO know it’s not so fun and can be pretty scary when you are driving in a small car that can easily be blown by a powerful gust of wind. So, let me take you through my daily routine.

6:00 am Wake up

I crawl out of my warm comfy electric blanket and walk into my freezing kitchen to check to see just how much snow I need to shovel before leave. Most of the time that morning peek out my door turns into me  grunting about how the day before there was hardly any snow then all of a sudden the snow wants to pile on at night.

6:45 ish Make breakfast and Eat it

Most of the time my hands are frozen solid after trying to prepare a meal in my kitchen. I’ve resorted to either oatmeal in the morning or an apple. No more eggs for me. ( I’m sure that’ll change)

After dragging myself around my cold apartment and preparing for work, it’s shoveling time ( yay)

7:20 ish Outside trying not to freeze to death

I throw on my gloves and my boots. Oops, forgot I preheat the car when I check on the snow at 6am.  Anyways, I walk to the trunk of my car where the shovel is located only to find it’s frozen shut ( this doesn’t happen all the time but it happened for that week) Great! I use my hand  to try to remove the ice from the knob and finally free my shovel.  And it begins… Shivering and blowing my hands, I try to remove the snow from my car as quickly as possible. For some reason the roof gives me the most problems. I have to jump up and down to get the snow  from the roof while dodging the snow blown from the wind. After playing dodgeball with the snow on my roof, I notice all the snow from the roof have fallen on to the side windows and front of my car. You know what that means…. Time for ROUND TWO of scraping my windows.

7:35 is It’s time for the big boy!

I have to get the big shovel from the side of my apartment to clear a path for my car.  By then, my hands feel frozen solid so I eventually give up and hope that my car doesn’t get stuck ( haven’t been stuck yet sooo I do a mental victory dance once I’ve made it out the parking lot) I quickly toss the shovel on the side and hop in the car.

7:45 or 7:50 Defrosting time/ Time to go

After sitting for a few seconds to try to thaw my hands, it’s time to head out.

I reach the end of the street that connects with the main road and what do you know… I  can’t see the lanes! Most of the time it’s a guessing game for the location of the lanes  because the road is covered in snow.  I just follow the tracks from the other cars and normally it works.

And off to work I go only to find a field covered in snow that was once called a parking lot– hope I don’t  have to shovel myself a spot ( winter struggles).