Sunday, January 24, 2010

Did I tell you about the monkeys?

I’m getting forgetful in my not so old age and cannot remember if I wrote here about my trip to the snow monkeys in Jigokudani (Hell’s Valley), Nagano or not.

The weekend before last I headed up to Nagano with my friends. It took us just over 3 and a half hours to drive from Toyama to Yudanaka, the place where 12 of us were to bed down in a ryokan for 2 nights.

It was 2 nights of eating, drinking, bathing in hot pools fed by natural hot springs and MONKEYS!

Day 1:

Drive to Yudanaka.


Go to public bath.

Go to Karaoke.

Crash out on futons on tatami mats in the ryokan.

Day 2:

Get up.

Hunt down cellphone, left at public bathing house the previous evening.

Head up to Jigokudani where there is an Italian restaurant before heading into the valley.

Walk into the valley. See monkeys.

More bathing.

Sleeeeeeeeeeep glorious sleep.

Day 3:

Get up early.

Drive to Mastumoto Castle.

Check out the castle.

Drive back to Toyama.

So that was the itinerary. Now, about the monkeys…

These monkeys have been living in and around the Jigokundani (Hell’s Valley) for many many years. Jigokudani has geysers and hot pools that Japanese people go to bathe in. It is said that one day in the middle of the 20th century a woman was bathing in one of these hot pools and a monkey chasing some food that had slipped into the pool jumped in with her. This female monkey apparently liked it so much that she stayed in the water and ate her meal. After this incident more monkeys came to join. The locals decided that this was not entirely healthy for humans and built a bath just for the monkeys further up the valley. This is now known as the monkey park where the monkeys now hang out and are looked after by the locals. The pool is kept clean by the locals who run the park. The monkeys forage for food around the valley and spend time keeping warm in the hot pool. They play and go about their daily routines in and around the park. Humans of course find this quite entertaining and are willing to pay to get in to see them. We pay 500 to get in. The monkeys attract many many visitors every year which I think is absolutely awesome.

Below is a slide show of the monkeys.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The New Girl Only Speaks English!!

Hi all,

Today is the students' first day back at school after winter break and there is a new student. She's from the Philippines and doesn't understand Japanese. I asked the teacher who helps the foreign kids if she understands Japanese. The reply was that she has barely even scratched the surface of being able to read it and really only understands English. There's a bit of a panic around the school about this despite having 6 English teachers plus one assistant teacher who's English is more or less perfect plus the foreign students' assistant teacher and me (though my presence is largely ignored in these matters).

Luckily, the head teacher for her grade has had the foresight to put her into his homeroom where lo and behold he has the best English student in the whole school. I was a little worried when I heard this morning about the girl but then I saw that he had buddied her up with little miss awesome at English and felt a lot better. I can't imagine how tough it is going to be for her though. She's 15 years old. Her parents have decided to up and move to Japan for what they perceive to be a good opportunity for training and what not. She has no friends here, yet. Being a teenager is hard enough without being moved to a place where you don't speak the language much less understand the culture and freezing your butt off having moved from a warm country to well, frankly, one great big pile of snow!

This girl is not like the Brazilian students that I have. They have grown up here. They went to primary school here. They speak the language and can, mostly, read. They act out because they're 'different' but they can survive quite happily in the school system here and make themselves understood in their teachers' native language. They can understand, for example, that they are getting told off because they swore at Raewyn in her native language in English class. This girl can't really do those things.

I think she'll be ok, with a little bit of effort on her part. When I was her age I could read hiragana and katakana plus about 20 kanji that were used in class on a regular basis. I had no application for my Japanese other than taking it as a subject at school. This girl has no choice but to learn it if she is to survive the next 9 weeks as a junior high school student in Japan. It won't happen overnight but it will happen for her.

Every time I see or hear of one of these kids who is brought to Japan not knowing the language and getting sent to school I gain a new found respect for the adaptability and perseverence of kids. That is something to never be underestimated. Never ever underestimate the adaptability of a teenager or their perseverence! It's amazing how much the human spirit can put up with and survive through. But that it a topic for another day.

Now, it's time for me to go back to the eavesdropping on the office buzz... what are they talking about? Of course it's: The New Girl Only Speaks ENGLISH! :O

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What’s important???

What is important in life?

No really, what is important in life?

I live in Japan. My family and a large proportion of my friends, family and others I care about live in New Zealand. In Japan, I often feel isolated. In the two weeks I just spent in NZ I, as previously mentioned, had the chance to catch up with a lot of people that I care deeply about. For the next 8 months I am really going to miss those people!

The times I spent with them got me thinking, on the plane this morning, about what I consider important in my life.

For me, every day interactions are important. The smile on my Dad’s face, for example, when he’s laughing at me for being grumpy with Mum. The calming hug Mum gave me at the airport when I was incredibly grumpy this morning. The happiness in the voice of my friend when she tells me she’s heading off to see someone she really needs to see in another country all of a sudden. The teasing that can only come from a friend who knows you really well. The chat with the smiley shop assistant at Duty Free when you’re buying your (less) expensive (than usual) perfume. The shocked look on your friend’s son’s face when you tell him to wait in his mummy’s language that stops him from running off in a crowded mall.

What’s important to me sits in how people interact, connect and communicate. It’s in the good things we can all share. The impact we can have on each other’s lives. It doesn’t sit in the sheer amount of junk I’ve managed to accumulate. Nor does it sit in the, oh so desirable, plum wine (umeshuu). It’s about interaction. About the every day run of the mill human interaction. About the kindness of others etc etc etc. It may even be about people watching. Am sitting in a cafe in an airport right now watching 20 or 30 different people all interacting with their traveling companion and it is just fascinating, even the bored people look engaged some how. It's great.

Of course it also sits in my cat, who has been my best friend for 14 years, shoving his nose in my face in the middle of the night and demanding that I get out of bed and give his self feeder a good shake even though he can get the food out himself with the right flick of a paw. Having George’s wet nose purring in my face while he paws my cheek is pure joy! I’m going to miss that fur ball!

Have you figured out my New Year’s Resolution yet???

For those that are struggling, I’ll give you a hint, it includes the words “interaction” and “meaningful”.

Love and hugs all round.


Monday, January 4, 2010

New Zealand is more beautiful than I remember.

Hi all,

Happy New Year!!!

I'm in New Zealand at the moment and have been for the past 15 days. It's been fantastic!!!

Over the course of the last two weeks I've been reminded of how beautiful New Zealand is. Even Auckland, where I grew up and get horribly stressed out living for long periods of time, is spectacular. When the rain isn't hosing down down from the sky in Auckland it is amazing.

A friend of mine came and stayed at my parents' house during Christmas week and helped me open my eyes to how cool it can be. Auckland has sooo many beaches and so many free things to do that I had just completely forgotten about. Perhaps because the last time I spent any decent amount of time in Auckland I was still a self absorbed, must be entertained at all times, outdoors hating teenager, I had completely shunned Auckland and the stereotypical "Aucklander". However, I can now see Auckland as the spectacular part of the world that it is. I still don't want to live in Auckland but do think it's a really awesome place to visit. We went to a different beach every day and ate really tasty fish and chips almost every day for lunch, too. It was great!

The Coromandel, too, is really beautiful. I went down there with my dad to have lunch at my uncle's house and visit my grandparents' grave. It was a really lovely trip down here and I was once again reminded of how beautiful New Zealand can be.

In the week leading up to New Year I went to Wellington and stayed with my friend for a few days while I caught up with a whole bunch of people and reminded myself of why I love Wellington. It's just so chilled out there. The weather was great when I was there too (lucky!!!). Wellington has a really awesome culture and is remarkably easy to get around. It's definitely a part of the world that I want to live in!

The past few days I've managed to catch up with a few friends in Auckland and bought some things that I've been meaning to buy for quite some time. Am now all prepared to go back to Japan first thing in the morning.

I've really enjoyed my trip. Everyone I've spent time with has impacted me in a positive way and I feel like it's been important to spend time with each and every person that I've seen. I want to thank everyone for that. I feel as though this trip has sorted out a lot for me and I plan to make the rest of my time in Japan as awesome as this trip has been too.

And here's the photos!!!

Now, to get back to Japan, pay off the credit card, pay my parents back and start saving for what will probably be my return to NZ in late August 2010.

Have fun everyone!