Monday, February 28, 2011

Post Fourteen: Blues, Babies, Battlestar Galactica

A quick stop at Parc Olympique first
Today was off to the BLUE MOUNTAINS!

View from Flatrock
 When one thinks of Australia one really doesn't think of 'rainforest'. However, just west of Sydney is a large rainforest national reserve called the Blue Mountains. Today I awoke super early (yes dear people, early) to sneak in a quick workout before heading to catch a tourbus out to these amazing hills.The trip took awhile, Sydney is very large, but once we were on the ridge of the mountains it was really mountains as far as the eye could see. Apparently the reserve is larger than the area of northern Ireland! The pictures really don't do them justice.

Our bus included: Jim, our wonderful and knowledgeable guide, four people from Canada and their (rather fussy and loud) baby girl. She was screaming half the time, and of course, no apology from mommy and daddy...oh well, as well as a couple of neat people from America, an Aussie, and two sisters from Sweden.

Jim was great. We learned all about some of the history of the mountains (e.g. the road was built in 8 months by convicts, where as now they are trying to expand it and it is planned to take 25 years...chew on that!), the flora, and the secrets of mountain rains.

Our bus stopped at a few amazing lookout views, including flatrock, the three sisters, and Katoomba falls. We did a little light hiking in these areas before breaking for the Aussie on-the-go lunch of meatpie (and maaaaaybe an Anzac cookie). After this, we walked down the 1,000 stairs to the bottom of the valley. During this walk it poured rain (fitting for the rainforest) for about 10 minutes, making the waterfalls (usually mere trickles) cascades of gushing water, just for us. Nature really put on a show for us, there was sunshine, then a huge thunderstorm, then waterfalls (including some that only occurred when it rained hard), and clouds on the mountains. We even got to see some fog that was almost good enough that our view became invisible, almost, not quite.

Not even Katoomba falls, this is apparently usually "just a polite trickle"
The rest of the tour group then took the steep railway back up to the top whilst I commenced my climb back up the 1,000 stairs. It was quite the trek, but I enjoyed the physical nature of the hike. I cannot wait to go back, or go to the outback and just hike and hike and hike!

Couldn't resist
Sydney is a great city to be sure, but I love love nature and I much enjoy walking through it an enjoying absorbing it as much as possible. Especially when it is as interesting and different as the Blue Mountains (which are incidentally blue to to the haze from evaporating eucalyptus oil). It was very refreshing to experience some real and different nature. Now I want more more more!!!

Post Thirteen: A Taste of 'Real' Australia

Wildlife World, the Aquarium, Paddy's Markets, and the Rocks (again).

It has been a weekend of discovery!

Early morning Saturday began with a trainride to Haymarket and Paddy's markets. a huuuuuuge building filled with stalls mostly selling junk...but there were some treasures, and most of it was alooooot cheaper than one could find the same junk anywhere else. There was also a rather large fresh fruit and veggie market from which I bought a peach. YUM! DLC so far has had apples and oranges...other than a banana from the wellness table this is all the fruit I have eaten. Thus the peach was divine.

Frilled Lizard
From there it was a lovely walk down Darling Harbor to the Aquarium and Wildlife World. WW was first, there we learned all about some of Australia's native (and apparently very very poisonous) spiders, snakes, lizards, and mammals. I saw a wombat and it has been confirmed that (for me anyway) they are way cuter than either Koalas or Kangaroos. Other than learning that the funnel-web spider lives in cities such as Sydney and is undetectable by people, very common, and also the most dangerous spider in the world... The main attraction at the wildlife place was the giant 5 meter (16 foot) saltwater crocodile named Rex. He was very active and put on quite the show for us onlookers. Things to know about this lovely lizard, apparently he was discovered in a residential creek/wetwater area a few years ago when just one too many of the neighborhood dogs had gone missing.

After WW it was on to the Aquarium, a neat place that is alot bigger than it looks, the Aquarium has rather large sharks, some dugongs, jellyfish, eels (I do not like these critters, too close to leeches I have decided), some huge sea turtles, and all manner of tropical fish (that I hope to see some of perhaps in their natural habitat maybe on a visit to the reef? possibly?). I also noted the Giant Cuttlefish. there is a documentary on these extraordinary creatures that I watched once upon a time, they change color, and some grow really big while others are smaller but smarter, sounds boring perhaps but it is worth the watch. It was really fun to see some real Australian Wildlife, even though it was behind glass, I think there are some (like the sharks) that I prefer that way...
In the tunnel

Nurses Walk and Surgeons Court, right near the old hospital of course!
Finally we went from there to the Rocks again. We went to the free museum on the history of the area, enjoyed a meat pie in a quiet backalley, sampled local honey (quite good stuff really), then meandered around until finally departing and returning to Uni from Circular Quay. Oh! Also, in the Rocks this day I discovered the Anzac Cookie! an excellent confection made of brown sugar, a little coconut and macadamia perhaps, and oats and butter and honey, it really is a delightful cookie. Now that I have made that discovery, they will be the end of me.

All in all, a fairly straightforward Australian filled day.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Post Twelve: First Week

Ok Macquarie, it has been a difficult ride, but now I think perhaps things are finally sorted out between us.

First week of classes was pretty much ok, I had one major problem on Wednesday when a prof surprised us in class by saying that the 2 hour lecture was going to be only an hour each week with a mandatory discussion class on Tuesdays...problem was I had previously scheduled classes on for all of the times the mentioned Tuesday!!! ERG! I was able to switch some stuff around so it was all taken care of, but the principle of the matter remains the same...and this Prof STILL has not even given us a syllabus so we really have no idea what the heck is going on in this course.

Other than this hiccup, I am thinking that I will like my classes alot. They have interesting material combined with stuff that I really couldn't learn anywhere else (e.g. Aboriginal Studies). My Philosophy of the mind/body(brain) problem class is perhaps the most intriguing class I have ever taken, I cannot wait until we get into the meat of the course. It is all about the idea of the consciousness vs the brain, are they separate, what is consciousness, etc.
Today we discussed Descartes theory of Dualism which proposes that the mind MUST be separate/different from the body because one cannot fragment the mind into pieces, whereas one can certainly cut up the body/brain.

Also, another nice aspect of classes is that (with the exception of this one problematic class), all of the class lectures are recorded online so one can listen to them later if one needs to. So the frantic note taking is a little less frantic.

In other news, I am going to try to join the Water Polo team. It sounds like if I have never played before that doesn't really matter (sort of like Womens Hockey at LU), so I am looking forward to seeing whether this is the case!

Other things I have discovered

1.) Aussies NEVER walk on the proper side of anything, if you are walking on the Left side of the sidewalk, they are on the right (coming at you), likewise if you switch to the right, inevitably farther down you are going to have people on the left side! There is no rhyme or reason to it and NO ONE will move for you, they WILL run into you first. I may try the technique of just stopping (instead of stepping to one side) and see what happens...

2.) Cars will stop nicely for you at the crosswalks ONLY at Uni. downtown Sydney they will come within an inch of hitting you. e.g. if you are crossing and they are turning left they will stop, wait, then go when you are an inch farther than their bumper. However, at Uni they will always stop, which is very very nice when one needs to get to class.

3.) I do not know if this is an Aussie thing, or just MQ. But there is absolutely nowhere to sit and study except the Library, or ones own room. The class buildings are just classrooms that are locked if they are not hosting class. Also, of these buildings, most of them only have classrooms that open out to the open air, so there isn't even the possibility of sitting on the floor. It makes getting to class early a waste of time, because once one gets to the classroom vicinity one has nowhere to be...

4.) Kms are alot harder to run than miles when one is used to miles. Because one gets to 3.0 Km alot faster than 3.0 miles, but of course it takes almost 5 km to be 3 miles and when one sees the 3 on the screen it is difficult not to be done...also when one has not run consistently since...January...that might have an effect too...

Lastly, there was a double rainbow over my dorm the other day. Double rainbow song anyone?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Post Eleven: Sydney Experiences...Anyone know how to get to Wynyard? No?...Cool...(To be said in the Mitch Hedberg voice).

First view of Sydney
OK! So, Sydney is perhaps one of the more awesome cities in the world. That is the an understatement. Sydney is amazing!! I have now been to Sydney three times, first two to pretty much the same area (the Harbor and the Rocks) and then of course to the world famous Bondi beach.

Trip 1: Karen, Angie (two DLC residents) and I departed for Sydney around 3:45pm Thursday. We had an international students harbor cruise that night around 7:30 leaving from the Man O War steps near the Opera house. So we decided to go early and find our way from the station to the steps (no idea where either of them were), and then tour around the Opera house area if we got there early enough. The Uni has its own train station, so getting on was no problem, we navigated the train system using the maps (I am getting better at this) and entered Sydney at Wynyard station. Remember this, we will come back to it...literally. Leaving Wynyard we turned down, yes, down, the harbor is down from everywhere else in Sydney, makes it easy to find. Anyway, we turned down and walked down the gorgeous George street, home of the most famous hotels (Shangri-La, George Street, Hilton, etc.) to the Quay. From the Quay one can see all of the ferries, the Opera house, and the harbor bridge, it was a lovely bright evening and we continued down the warf and through the Kings Gardens for the couple hours we had.
Seeing the Opera House for the first time, and Giant Flying Foxes (bats) in the Kings Garden!
Not from the Harbor Cruise, from a DLC orientation event...still...

 The cruise was...interesting. We boarded the boat along with 400 other study abroad and exchange students and then tooled around the harbor for three hours. It was fun to watch the sun set over the operahouse and the bridge. This experience was slightly dampened by the bar and the cloud of cigarette smoke, but seeing the city light up from the water was a special experience. and there was free pizza. OH! by the way! PIZZA HERE IS NOT PIZZA! You thought the US doesn't put enough sauce on the pizza? FALSE. compared to here the US pizza is drowning in sauce! There is typically no tomato sauce on the pizza! Remember this if ever you wish to order pizza the real way and ask for sauce. otherwise you get cheesy bread with onions and mushrooms. However, the pizza on the boat at least had enough sauce that one could see a few red flecks, so, not a total loss.


The trip ended with the boat docking at a totally different warf. This was a problem. the harbor bridge (the landmark that one can see from almost anywhere near the harbor) was nowhere to be seen. We docked and were hussled out, and then what? even the advisors who brought us on this trip did not know how to get to Wynyard station. so now you have over 400 people milling around the warf with no clue in the world how to get home to Uni! Luckily at least the advisors THOUGHT they knew where George street was, so we headed up. upon reaching the street we could not tell which way to turn but THEN dear readers my excellent directional skills kicked in and I said "hey, I know where we are going we turn left to get to Wynyard" my logic was based on that, while non of the shops nearby looked familiar, it was down to the harbor and if NONE of the shops were recognizable then we must be UP from where we came. Turned out I was right. Be proud.

Angie, Karen (from Oberlin College!), and me and the Bridge in the background
Trip 2: The Harbor Bridge. Saturday was not particularly special, it was sunny and hot. We decided to go to the city again (get in as much as we could before school starts). Train navigation. I am memorizing the stations for here too! no Odawaras in Sydney though. We went to Luna park, the oldest amusement park in Australia (built in the early 30s) free admission it is like a carnival more than anything. Then we walked over the Harbor Bridge and up one of the Pylons.

On the crossing
The Harbor bridge is pretty amazing, and actually I realize that it is the first big bridge I have walked on...I think...anyway it is the heaviest in the world (for its size) and the entire bridge is hinged at the top because the steel expands and shrinks 118 inches with the weather!

Cool facts, apparently there used to be a cattery at the top of the bridge pylon. The pylons are actually purely asthetic, added because they make the bridge look more imposing.

Made from locally grown chilies
After crossing, we then spotted the street fair that takes place every weekend in the Rocks (oldest part of Sydney) so we walked that a bit.

Time to head back, but wait, we were now across the bridge and far from our station (North Sydney in this case) do we head back where we came? a long walk? or do we head forward to Wynyard? Karen and Angie were not sure, what if we got lost? Never fear! Ariana is here! I  remembered that we were near this area when we came to the harbor cruise, so we must be near Wynyard right? Map check, yes, there was George street right in front of us! but where now? Haha! That building that looks like a huge smokestack  is right across from the station I remember!!!! We made it home.

Trip 3: Bondi beach!!! we woke early so that we could make the two hour trip and have some time in the beach. the trip took a long time due to construction on the train lines. But thanks to Karen's innate sense of direction (NSEW which we had relied on before) we found our way to Bondi!!!!!!!!!!

the beach was wonderful, the sand hot, water cool, and I was not even the whitest person there! We also managed to avoid the 'bluebottles' (Man O War jellyfish) that were actually fairly numerous that day. Then we returned to DLC (we rode a bus back to Bondi junction, from there train to Town Hall, then to Wynyard, then North Sydney, then finally Macquarie Uni...getting better and better!) tired and after a loooooooong dinner in which we met a very chatty Aussie who is really fun to talk to and reminds me of Albert Rivero, we were ready for some good sleep before classes commence tomorrow.

Lovely :) even in Australia they have pretty names.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Post Ten: in which I finally find some resolution, discover the DLC allday/night coffe machine, and 'James Bond' my way around campus.

Hello dear readers!

Sorry it has been a fairly long time since my last post. and sadly, I am not creative enough this Saturday morning to come up with anything groudbreakingly amazing for the tenth post in my travel blog. 

Before I get to the nitty and gritty of my academic and orientation travails, I must firstly and most importantly relate some of the crucial discoveries I have made.

1.) Coffee. the coffee here is not good. Of course, since I have not shelled out the 5-7 dollars a cup that it takes at an actual coffee shop, I cannot expect much; therefore I am contenting myself with the 24 hour coffee machine I recently found in the DLC kitchen. THAT'S RIGHT PEOPLE! 24 HOURS! I have added a picture of all of this glorious machine's options so that you can get an idea. All in all, the coffee is like chewing instant coffee flakes flavor-wise, but the round the clock and coffee AND espresso option makes up for it to some degree. I am by no means a coffee addict, I try to limit my intake so that I will not become such a person, however the mere fact that there is constant coffee if I should so choose is pretty sweet.

2.) Vegemite. A truly Australian experience (despite the fact that it is manufactured by Kraft), Vegemite is a brown substance that comes in a jar or packets, similar to Peanut Butter or Nutella. DO NOT BE FOOLED! Vegemite is a yeast-based, butter-like stuff that tastes like brown salt with a butter consistency. I was shown exactly how to eat this stuff by a native of Canberra (pronounced Can-Bra) who said that she grew up eating it on toast as a snack...Vegemite is...tolerable I suppose, I did not find it a totally undigestable substance, but I cannot understand why anyone would WANT to eat it...its not even good for you it is just salty yeastbutter basically. It does not add any pleasure to anything one can put it on, no value as far as I can see.

3.) There was a speed friendship session last evening. I met someone named Han. Yep, like the Solo. Enough said.

4.) The Reject shop: in the mall across the street is a shop by this name. they have a bunch of stuff that is a little less than perfect so it could not be sold in regular stores (e.g. soap bars that are cracked). anyway, it is alot alot cheaper and I have been able to get a bunch of stuff there such as folders, a sponge, and I was really happy to find some dishsoap that smells like Sprite!

ORIENTATION: Now begins my narrative of the first few days of Orientation. Let me start by saying that at least 90% of what we were told at the O-sessions we could have been given through an email packet weeks and weeks before we arrived. We were given info on campus clubs, surf safety, internships, and what to expect from our classes. We were then split into groups to talk with our advisers, we were then told how to access our campus emails (in which I found later we already had important emails that we should have opened BEFORE orientation, but didn't because we were not informed how to access these accounts...) and how to go about changing our classes. Given all the legwork I went through to get all of my classes sorted out before I left America, one would think I would have no issues. WRONG! one of my classes had the one and only lecture time scheduled for the exact same time as another class...therefore I unfortunately had to drop either Indigenous Studies, or AU cultural Studies (the two classes I was most excited about taking). THEN I had to run around campus finding professors so that I could get approved to take another class since I was dropping AU Cultural studies!

I don't mean to complain much. All of this is sort of normal I suppose, for any school, even at LU there are often class issues. It is just that being in a different country, and with all the frantic emails I had sent before my departure I had hoped that things would have already been sorted out. However, no worries, its all worked out now (as far as I know) and the huge bonus is I only have class T, W and Thurs! Hello 4 day weekends! I hope that my classes will not be too difficult and I can perhaps get some weekend trips in!

CAMPUS: This is where the James Bond aspect comes into play. I decided that since I have such a poor sense of direction I would try to walk around campus to get to know it a bit before I had to be actually in my classes. I thought it would be fun to take some pictures of campus to post here. On leaving my dorm I ran into another American who is living here, she saw my camera and warned me that a friend of hers had been chewed out by campus security for taking pictures. Apparently it is really not allowed to take pictures of campus unless one has special permission. Needless to say, this did not deterr me from snapping my covert photos, it merely put me on guard and I proceeded to sneak around campus secretly snapping shots of the various buildings all the while thinking of James Bond music and sometimes flashing to Get Smart when I accidentally almost fell down the stairs because I was not aware that they were there. Here are my results.

Dunmore Lang. I live in the right building on the left side. Campus is about five minutes walk directly behind where I am standing
Campus Hub again, sort of looks like a parking garage...
The main walk outside the human sciences buildings
Central Courtyard and Campus Hub building

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Post Nine: South Coast

So! It has been awhile since I last posted and let me say that so much has happened! I departed for the South Coast (Booderee National Park on Jervis Bay) with 28 other Study Abroad students on Saturday morning? Saturday? Yes, Saturday…it is easy to lose track of the days, every day seems to be so long and yet so short at the same time.

Lauren, Lindsey, Brooke, with meatpies
Anyway, the bus ride took all day since we made several stops to see the little towns along the way. I had in Berry (a cute little shop town similar to Cedarburg mixed with an English village) my first authentic Australian meat pie. Similar to a Michigan pastie, the meat pie is like a personal pot pie, very filling and very delicious. Though I cannot eat them too often as they are somewhat expensive (like all the food here) and probably not the best for one’s health…
The ride down south was an odd experience in that the countryside looked more like that of Wales than anything I had pictured Australia to be, except for the trees, the trees were mostly stripped of their bark and looked like they belonged in some sort of jungle.

On the ride we stopped at a park for a bushwalk guided by some local aborigine people who told us about some of their customs including some bushfood and useful plants, the dijereedoo (my apologies if I spelled that wrong…probably did) and of course the boomerang.

One of the guides, we asked her permission for the photo
 We then arrived at out cabins 15 miles inside Booderee national park. Visited the beach (though it was cloudy and cold) nearby, ate dinner, then all crashed as many of those who went on the trip were still jetlagged.
We were visited in the morning and evenings by the locals

Really cold dolphin watching.
So, this was the grey cold trip. One cannot tell, but we are freezing at this point.
The next day it was also rainy and cold. Not the Aussie sun and sand we expected. None of us had dressed or packed for the weather. Even so, we had fun on a cruise around the bay looking for (and finally spotting) some dolphins. We then went to the beach despite the rain and clouds and swam for a bit in the blue water before heading back to our cabins for a barbeque. It was very interesting, before we headed back we stopped to buy buns and all the American people went to the liquor store to by “goons” (boxed wine). They were all really excited about it because most of them were still underage in the states, but here, they could buy as much as they wanted and it was allowed!
I got up early on day three to visit the beach outside our cabin before we had to leave. The water was really blue here too, and the sand white.
BEACH! White sand and blue water. Laura, Kerry, and I
Finally, day three was sunny and so a group of us went the beach again for about two hours before we headed back to Sydney by way of Berry again and a quick stop at a clifftown. Our driver and guide named Ben was perhaps the most Australian Australian I have met so far (in terms of stereotype anyway), he lived in an apartment on Bondi beach, but he liked the country very much. He surfed a lot and wore “boardies” or surf shorts the whole trip, happy, laid back, and friendly, picture an Aussie and you would basically be picturing Ben. It was an awesome trip, and as a plus, some of the people I met on the trip live just a couple of doors down on my hall!
some of the group on the rocks outside the cliff town of Kiama
On the more frustrating side, apparently DLC has been having their freshman orientation going on while we have been gone, and Macquarie has other orientation events planned for during these DLC events so it is difficult for us to become part of the community and we are beginning to be seen as ‘those Americans’ I think. So that is a little disappointing, but hopefully it will not last and we can get to know some of our floormates and become friends once they and we get a bit more settled in.
Now that I am back on campus, orientation is tomorrow. I really hope that that will clear up all the questions I still have and then once it is over I can really be settled in and ready to start the semester. Everything will be squared away and I can relax. Wish me luck!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Post Eight: Australia...

Let me open by saying that I have decided to be uptight for the rest of my life. being laid back causes way to much stress!!!!!!!!!

Ok, perhaps that was overkill. however let me relate my stories and you can decide for yourself about the wisdom of my proposed decision.

I traveled to Singapore (notice awesome bathroom in Singapore) fulfilling one of my dreams of spending a night in an airport since I had a layover from 1:40-6am. hm. not what I expected, there wasn't really anything open or anything to do in the airport, so I ended up curling up on some chairs and sleeping.

Then I boarded my final plane for the next several months and flew to....................AUSTRALIA!!!

Sydney Airport
Once landed I easily made my way to the meeting point where I was to be picked up by the free airport pickup service from Macquarie University. it is here where the troubles began.
My ride did not show up, the friendly meeting spot attendant called the service with his phone and I had a chat with them for a long time. apparently for some reason my pickup was cancelled. great. but there was another student coming in on a later flight, could I wait an hour and a half? Sure, I really had no choice, so I waited listening to Akon on my ipod and using a payphone by which I found two AU dollars in coins (thanks mysterious person, I will pay it forward) and I called my house to let them know I had arrived.

then, airport pickup shows up and well look at that, there are TWO students coming in on the flight I had been waiting the other guy wasn't in the system either. more waiting while we sorted that one out.

finally JJ (the driver) took us to our respective places, JJ was great, he stayed with me while I was told at DLC reception that I was not paid for and...well, "we aren't supposed to give keys to people who haven't paid" I am sorry but that is just.........ERGH! I had paid turns out...anyway, I convinced them to give me my keys anyway, I just had a looooooong morning the next day talking with reception and getting everything worked out. lots happened, but suffice to say that it was extremely unorganized and, while the reception woman was very good about getting what I needed, it should have taken 30 minutes and took alot more than that. with many hiccups and frustrations along the way.

to top all that off, I need to call my bank and get some questions answered because there are things that just don't line up with what I was told about abroad expenses for that bank and using atms and such. Why is this all so difficult! cant I just study in another country in peace!


Oh well, Australia! it is really really hot here, and Macquarie is no Lawrence, it is HUGE! I am looking forward to visiting the beach on a South Coast Orientation trip that leaves tomorrow morning. During this trip I hope to have more Australian experience and less just walking around reception and international services.

funny anecdotes:

upon seeing JJ for the first time I asked him to take me home. it just popped out, I had not even been in AU yet (just the airport) and I was already picturing my dorm as home. Good thing I guess

my room inventory mentions that I am suposed to have a door four walls and a ceiling...while I appreciate the thoroughness of this...I chuckled anyway.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Post Seven: sayonara!

Farewell to Japan! It has been the trip of a lifetime; now on to the second adventure!! I am headed for Australia by way of Singapore as of 7pm Japan time (5am EST). Wish me luck!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Post Six: French

Handless Masa? attempting to point at Tower of Terror

Monday we got up extra early and headed off to Dinseyland (no it was DisneySEA get it right, geeze…but Disney sea’s rides are all land rides…Indiana Jones temple, journey to the center of the earth…oh whatever). Anyway, Masa took me to Tokyo Disneyland(SEA!) it was indeed a whole new world (cue Aladdin music). The place is built to look like various locations around the world including Venice, Arabia, Cape Cod, and others. What a place, each ‘town’ is real and yet totally not real, they are all the perfect portrayals, so Venice without the beggars or noise, just the beautiful buildings (albeit they were not REAL Italian buildings) and the quiet waters. It did feel like we had jumped into a movie, kind of wanted to stay there actually, it all seemed so hunky-dory.
a brief high speed jet flight let me visit Italy that afternoon
Anyway, we went to get fastpass tickets (you can have one fast ticket at a time) so that Masa could have something to check, before going on some rides. We walked around the park and took pictures, and one kind woman offered to take a picture of the two f us. Now, she offered speaking in Japanese. Through my travels I have been taught a few words of this language so I replied “oui”…whoops, wrong language. My brain was apparently thinking “oh different language, respond in different language” wrong language brain, thanks, yes, French response to Japanese question. Perfect. I am sure every word was understood…how embarrassing. Oh well, we got the picture.
Taken by a willing non-french speaking volunteer

Later we had lunch before going on one of the rides that turns you in a loopdeloop…Masa decided that eating lunch before this was NOT good and that we should go on a littler ride to let our stomachs settle some before going on the big drop ride…so we headed to the Aquatopia…turns out this was a jerky, spinning ride. I was laughing my head off the entire time while Masa held on and suffered next to me. It was fun. To conclude our trip we went on the ‘tower of terror’. After waiting in line for a while (70 minutes during which we played ‘bagels’ and ‘5 minute mystery’. Yes, be proud Amirah and Erika). The name says it all and I will not elaborate. It did its job. Good way to end the visit and we left the park leaving the magic behind and going back to the real world. Yes the real world. I finally got to experience the pushers on the trains, absolutely packed, it was incredible. I think I had one inch of space in front of me, the rest of me was smashed up against other people as they packed tighter and tighter on the hour train ride home. I thought yes, it was perhaps not the most comfortable ride, but it was a cool experience and I feel it has augmented my Japan trip.

Post Five: Dinners

The church, this is a small alley that connects the the outside large street, one would never know that this building was here, but for the green spire.
So far it is hard to believe I have been here for over a week now! I would like to say that while I am of course enjoying our day-trip excursions immensely, I am also having a great time at the Takahashi house. Masa’s parents Tomona and Shu are pleasant, fun, and just all around wonderful people. I have been eating the most scrumptious food and enjoying some good conversation about life in Japan among other things. I accompanied Tomona to her Church in the downtown area Sunday morning. I was unable to understand the service of course, seeing as it was in Japanese; however I could follow along somewhat in the hymns with English titles and I had an English/Japanese New Testament. The service itself was similar in many ways to a typical protestant service in America, with some differences of course: birthdays were announced but then the birthday…ee… would speak a bit about their year, the sermon was very long, but one thing I liked a lot was that everyone SANG! The organ was very quiet and the congregation small, but everyone was singing loudly enough that the room was filled. It was a very nice surprise and change from what I am used to in America in that respect.

The rest of the afternoon was spent as a lazy Sunday should, a relaxing lunch, some TV, then a late afternoon run past city buildings and rice paddies under clouds that threatened of rain.
Dinners have been very varied and both enjoyable and fascinating experiences. I have had so many different dishes at the Takahashi household that it is difficult to keep track of all the many flavors, names, and types of meals. At the house I have had: curry rice (a very common dish sort of the macaroni and cheese equivalent),  shish kebob chicken with seaweed and spam and ginger and soysauce and white pickles and all manner of other things that you could pick and choose from to wrap in seaweed and rice. Shabu-Shabu, which is a dish where there is a pot of cooking mushrooms, cabbage, fishcakes and other wonderful surprises, then you add your own meat, cabbage, mushrooms and it cooks then you take what you want and put it over rice with other condiments such as soysauce or ginger or tomatoes. I have also had a stew with fried rice, and lastly but certainly not leastly I have had what is called Nato.

Nato requires its own introduction hence I will give it all of the royalties it deserves. I was told of this dish at the dinner table on Sunday night, it is amazingly delicious. I was then told that apparently Nato was “rotten beans”. Needless to say this did not make me particularly thrilled and I was then reassured that no no it was not rotten, we searched for the right word and found fermented seemed to fit better. Hence Nato is fermented soybeans. Slightly better, I suppose wine is from fermented grapes so why not soybeans as fermented? The next night I was treated to my first taste of this Nato. They smelled like a slightly used tennis ball…not a good start, mixed with mustard and soysauce I was given my first bit to try. I discovered that they tasted pretty good, not as starchy as beans they had a rich almost meaty flavor similar to tempeh. Thus my Nato experience was concluded with two more small portions and a picture of proof that an American woman can indeed like Nato. Bonus! Apparently Nato also makes on more beautiful, who knew, the secret the good looks of this family lies in fermented (not rotten!) soybeans.
Other wonderful dinner conversation included tales of mini-Masa’s exploits, the romantic union between a farmer and a samuri, stories of a soon to be rugby legend, and lots of laughter and smiles.