Monday, May 28, 2007

Thai state of mind (or being)

I am feeling a little stressed right now. Tiffany procrastinated on getting her visa for India so now we can't leave until June 8th, meaning I have to change my tickets around. However, I haven't heard back from my travel agent and I am on a remote part of the island where Tiff's cell phone doesn't work...not really that big of a deal... if my flights didnt leave tomorrow. Oops.

So as I was fretting about all of this stuff, I walked past this little shop on the beach where we are staying now. It was closed (it was about 10am) and the sign on the door read:

"Most days we open around 9:30 or 10 but it can be as early as 8 but some days its as late as 11 or 12.

We close for afternoon break around 2 but sometimes it can be 3 or as early as 1:30.

We open again at 4 but it may be 4:30 if it's a nice day and we will close for the day at 6:30 but it may be as early as 6pm or as late as 7pm.

Some days we simply aren't here as we are somewhere else but we will always try tp be here when we are not there. "

I LOVE IT. Can you imagine that in the States? People would be rioting if a shop was closed when it said it's supposed to be open. Letters would be written to the Better Business Bureau, local paper, the shop owner--people would boycott it and never return...

So it's a little inconvienence. But it's an inconvienence because someone else is out doing something they enjoy. How do you fault them for that? Yeah, yeah. Responsibility, work ethic, blah, blah...They run the shop because it makes them happy. And if there is something else they would rather be doing, they will do so. And if you don't want to come back, then don't. They are not running their shop for YOU (or me.)

Why can't we adapt that theory? Work because we enjoy it? Find what we REALLY love and do it--for ourselves? It sure makes responsibilities seem a lot less burdensome.

Ok. my daily does of "we really got it wrong in the US"... now I have try to figure out these tickets. Much more on Thailand later.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Thank You

I have gotten many wonderful emails/comments from friends, family and people I didn't realize were following along. I feel terrible that I haven't emailed you guys back yet. When I sit down in front of the computer it's usually to do homework or write an entry. So please know that I have received them, they've made me feel really good, I miss you all lots, and knowing that you are reading this blog absolutely makes my day!!

I'm paying big bucks for this internet session (3 baht per minute--approx 8 cents) which is high here in Thailand, and I have MUCH to write about. So when I have time, am at a 1 baht internet cafe, and can figure out how to get it all down eloquently I'll write about frogs in the shower, this mystical island, a giant anaconda, the Sanctuary, tarot card readings, tantric yoga, hanging with Tiff, chocolate bliss balls, and rediscovery...

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The traveling part of traveling

I'm in Thailand now. And getting here was a bit of an ordeal. I think I took every means of transportation possible (aside from camel) to finally land in paradise--Koh Phangan.

I woke up at 4:30am on Tuesday to take the subway from Azabu-juban to the Tokyo station to catch the Shikansen train (bullet train) to Osaka, which is where I was flying out of. So I got my speedy-train ticket without a problem, turned on my iPod and zoned out most of the way to the Osaka station. From the train station I had to take a bus to the airport. Lucky for me there were signs everywhere saying "bus to airport" so I follow the signs, paid 4 dollars and felt good that I was going to make it to the airport with plenty of time to spare.

When I go to the airport, the bus driver gave us two options--Japan Airways, or All Nippon Airways. I was flying Thai, before panicking, I thought to myself, maybe its a co-operated flight or something, just go in and ask...

No one had mentioned to me that there were TWO airports in Osaka. The woman that was helping me out told me that I was at the wrong airport and it would take an hour and 10 minutes by bus to get to the other airport. By this time it was 9:55, and my flight left at 11:45. My only hope of making it was a cab. A very, very, very expensive cab. So the taxi driver flew to the other airport, I ran to the check-in line, made it with a few minutes to spare and sank into my seat, all the while telling myself that these things happen, and that in the big scheme of things an $100 cab ride isn't that big of a deal (we can always get more money, right Jeremy?) I was just happy that I would make my connecting flight from Bangkok to Koh Samui.

Riiiiight...After about an hour and a half in the air, the pilot comes on and said we were having mechanical problems and need to make an emergency landing in Taipei, Taiwan. He said it would be a short stop and we'd be back in the air in 20 minutes. 2 hours later, (sat on the runway the entire time) we were back on our way to Bangkok, and I knew that there was a good chance that I would miss my connecting flight. But in a situation like that, what can you do? There was no point in getting worked up or frustrated, because there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

As I'm landing in Bangkok, I see my connecting flight taking off...

So I take my time through customs, go to the Bangkok Airways counter and they put me on the next flight (only an hour later). I made it to Koh Samui right as Tiffany was getting to the airport. So after the subway, bullet train, bus, taxi, and 2 airplanes and Tiff's motorbike, I am finally in Thailand--in PARADISE. I am so happy to be back here. Its such a drastic change from the fast-paced, material world of Tokyo. And seeing Tiffany made everything I am doing feel so right. We have been friends for 20 years, and being able to share the next 3 months with her is going to be magical.

We took a ferry (one final mode of transportation) over to Koh Phangan yesterday, and most of today I've spent on the beach, playing fetch in the ocean with a new 4-legged friend, and spending time catching up on the last 5 months with Tiffany. She has been here studying tantric yoga--so obvoiusly there was much to discuss.

I am still missing a book for one class, and Drew is going to ship it to me in India (it made it to Japan the day after I left). I just finished my homework, chatted with Jeremy online for a minute, and wrote this blog--so its back to the beach now!!! I would be envious of me right now :)

Sawadee Ka!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Japan Photos

I spent all day uploading, organizing and adding captions to my pictures from Japan. So feel free to take a look. They might make more sense now...

Off to Thailand tomorrow. What a different world that`ll be. And thank God. I think I`ve blown half my budget here. Not a cheap country...

He comes from a land down under

It never fails. We`ve all had it happen...

My intentions for this trip were to keep an open mind, make connections with all different types of people and learn about myself. Meeting men was pretty much last on the priority list. But...undoubtedly when your not looking is always when it hits. Hard.

And it also never fails, that you meet this particular person the day before he is leaving.

So I went out on Friday night with Drew, Mei and a bunch of Drew`s friends. One being his close friend, Honor, a really cool girl from Australia. She had a friend in town, Jeremy, who is a pilot for Qantas airlines. Drew immediately saw some kind of potential match making opportunity, and maybe planted the seed a bit...

Jeremy is 28 and 3/4 (his words) and lives in Sydney. He flies 737s (I believe) from Sydney to various destinations in Asia and other Australian cities. He`s charming, bright, funny, fun, really good looking...the type for me to run far and fast from. So, of course, I do exactly the opposite. There was a pretty immediate spark and we spent hours dancing and not doing much talking since the music was so loud you couldn`t even hear if you screamed. As usual, it was close to daylight when we came out of the club. The trains were not running yet and he was staying at a hotel near the airport so unless he took a $200 cab back he had no place to go. Being the good samaritan that I am, I offered to hang out with him some more. Not really knowing anything about him other than he was safe, cause he was part of our group, and he was really cute (two great reasons, in my opinion) we went back to my hostel. Now, before you think bad things, my roommates were all home, so we went up on the rooftop and hung out for a bit, getting to know one another--since we could actually hear each other speak. When the trains started working we headed towards the station, both exhausted. I told him I was going to go get some coffee and he said he`d join me. Almost 4 hours later we were still at the coffee shop, having talked the entire time.

It is amazing how when you are in a situation that you know there is a very good possibility that you will never see this person again, you just lay it all out there. You know? Here I am, this is me, take it or leave it, I don`t care. And crazily enough, when you do that, it seems to enable the other person to do the same and you end up having a conversation that is more in depth and intense than you`ve ever had with even some of your closest friends. It was like we were in some kind of zone oblivious to everything else around us. He completely understood everything I am doing. He wanted to talk about the things I need to talk about, that others either think I`m weird or they don`t get it. And it wasn`t all serious stuff. It was fun, effortless....really, really nice.

So, after we realized how much time had passed, he said he had to get back to Narita (the airport town) but neither of us were ready for the day to end, so he invited me to join him. It was about an hour and a half to get out there, and on the train ride we just relaxed, looked at pictures, talked some more...just enjoyed one another. When we got to Narita, we went to lunch, and then he cleaned himself up and got ready to fly. He went from being the cool, cute guy in the club to Mr. professional airplane pilot that even wears the funny hat. As my friends know, I am apparently a sucker for accents and uniforms (no worries, NOT a soccer uniform) and this guy has both. Uh-oh.

Then all of the sudden dread started to sink in. Here was this person that I was enjoying the company of immensely and he has to leave. And who knows if we`ll ever see each other again. ahhh...

Mental delimma. I had a short debate in my head--there are two ways of looking at this situation. First, it sucks. Bigtime. How often do you find an attraction on all levels--intellectual, emotional, and physical? And when you do, how do you not want to hang on to it for dear life? I am female afterall. But, then I took a deep breath, shut down the franticness in my mind and thought, damn, I am really lucky to have met him. Even if we don`t ever see each other again, I`ve had a wonderful time, and my life is better for having had this experience with him. The past 15 hours have been great, and if nothing else, the memory will always be a cherished one.

When we were looking out the window before he left, there was a beautiful sunset...but it was raining at the same time. He said "Well if that isn`t a perfect metaphor for this moment." Indeed it was...

I imagine this might be a dilemma I may run across a couple more times during my travels. So learning to say: "goodbye and thanks for the contribution you have made to my life" is something I have to be able to do, without getting all mopey and girly about it.

Plus, coming from the hard place I`ve been in, meeting someone like Jeremy gives me hope for myself when I am ready for a relationship in the future. There are good guys out there. I`ve been lucky to have met a few. We have already been in touch via email, and at the very least, I have a new friend.

And who knows, the world is a small place and the man flies an airplane...

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Mei, Mahnaz, and Maggie

Last night was one of the best nights I've had on my trip thus far. I got back to my room after a frustrating day of trying to get my cell phone to work, playing catch-up with my school work, and realizing that Seton Hall only sent me books for one of my classes....ugh. I walk into my room annoyed and hungry and Mei says "You have plans for dinner?" Nope. So I decide to go with her to meet a guy from New Zealand and Iranian girl she knows from her Japanese class to eat at a near by restaurant.

It was absolutely amazing. In one night my world expanded tenfold because of this indescribable connection between 3 completely different women. (Tim, the Kiwi guy had to leave early cause he's a broker and gets up at the crack of dawn) So it was Mei, Mahnaz, and I--Singapore, Iran and America.

Mei and I had built an immediate friendship--you know those people that you feel like you've known forever and it is effortless? That's how its been with Mei (pronounced May). Mahnaz, the Iranian girl, is unlike anyone I have ever met. First of all she is drop dead gorgeous and seemingly oblivious to it. She's just 21, but is well beyond that in terms of understanding life and people. She is an actress in Iran, and is in Japan studying Japanese. She seems to almost be a savant of sorts when it comes to languages as she speaks English very well and has learned it simply from listening to music and watching TV. Her native language is Persian, but her Japanese is very good after only being here a month.

After getting to know each other a bit, the conversation turned to Japanese culture. Mahnaz was hilarious when describing it, because she is so animated and very good at doing exact imitations. The culture is difficult for her, because she is a very, very passionate person, and the blank faces and surface level smiles she receives on the subway are beginning to get to her. The talk eventually evolved to discussing Buddhism...then Christianity and Islam.

I learned so much last night (or maybe just confirmed what I knew deep down). Mahnaz's religious practices are beautiful. Her beliefs are completely peaceful and loving. She is a devout Muslim, but open-minded to all religions and has studied Christianity extensively. Her boyfriend is Japanese and a Buddhist. Her deep love for her mother and sister, her passion for life, her genuine interests in others was contagious. She talked candidly about her religion. When we asked her about terrorism or suicide bombers she said that her beliefs are that anyone who kills themselves or others cannot go to Paradise.

I was fascinated. How quickly all of my preconceived notions were thrown out the window when it was brought down to the human level. Yes, she must be covered when she walks the streets in her country. But no, she does not hate Americans or Christians. She cracks jokes, has boyfriend problems, and is sad about her lack of relationship with her father. She is me and you. If only everyone could meet a Mahnaz. There would be a lot less to fear. And isn't fear what drives all of this anyway?

I've been reading the book Conversations with God (great book if anyone is interested) and the author describes two fundamental human feelings/emotions. The first being love. The second being the opposite...and it's not hate. It's fear. The reason we are at war is not because they are wrong or we are wrong. It is because ultimately we (humans) are terrified of what we don't know or understand. Fear culminates hate. If we could all do what I did last night--bring it down to the human level and understand that we really are all the same...we are all made up of the same matter, we are all born the same way and we all live and we all die. Then the fear would disseminate, acceptance would build, and we'd all live happily ever after.

Yeah, yeah, I know. A little idealistic. But you get my point. We cannot judge the people of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan based on what we are seeing on TV. It would be like judging the US based on Ted Kaczynski and Jeffery Dahmer. I think the term "Terrorists" is a perfect description for the sad, horrible people that hurt so many-- not because they inflict terror, but because they themselves are terrified. And the only way they can handle their fear of what they don't know and don't understand is to try to suppress it or get rid of it altogether.

These 2 woman, who have experienced more in their short lives than I probably ever will, taught me more in one night than any psychology or sociology class ever could. I also realized what a charmed life I have lived. Although my problems sometimes seem overwhelming, having a night like last night gives me the perspective I need. We are lucky in America. We do not realize how easy we really do have it. But it doesn't make us better, it doesn't make us the best. In fact, maybe it makes us less capable of handling real difficult situations when they arise. Our lives are easy. Even when we think they're not.

This is why I love traveling...

Monday, May 14, 2007


Ok, to make up for the total suckiness of that last blog I decided to do a bonus blog. (and its thunderstorming outside, so its best for me to stay in the internet cafe until it blows over a little.)

Since I have been in Japan, I`ve seen tons of great sites, but those are really secondary interests to me. I am, and always have been, a people person--watcher, listener, interactor. I`m completely fascinated by human behavior--hence the psychology/counseling grad program. So here is a comprehensive list of what I`ve seen in Japan that has interested me. Much of it is very surface level observations as it`s hard to have in depth conversations when you don`t speak the language...

  • For Japanese women the desired appearance is "cute", not sexy or hot, but cute. And it seems that cute is equated to "little" and "young." So fashion is interesting. Very fashion forward, but lots of catholic school girl looks, with short skirts, knee socks (often coming over their knees) and high heels--frills. The most interesting part though, is they walk very pigeon-toed... on purpose. Apparently they believe it makes them look young, unassuming, innocent.
  • To continue with the cute theme, everyone decorates their cell phones with little charms. As I`m sure you`ve seen, Hello Kitty is big here, so lots of Hello Kitty charms.
  • Japanese women wear the most uncomfortable looking shoes ever. I feel like even if they were running a marathon they would be in heels of some sort.
  • Many men tweeze their eyebrows (yes, straight guys)
  • No one talks on cell phones in public places, like the train or bus. It is considered rude. But they text message non-stop, I guess that's not rude.
  • There are 40,000,000 (yes, MILLION) vending machines in Japan. On every corner there is a drink machine, selling everything from Coke to juice to water to beer. But you could walk for miles without finding a trash can. So they will carry the trash around until they get home. However the streets are incredibly clean.
  • Japanese children could quite possibly be the cutest kids on the face of the planet
  • Every restaurant takes pictures of all of the food they make, and post them on boards outside--that's usually how I order, by pointing at a picture. Same even goes for Starbucks
  • In Tokyo there is a word for literally working oneself to death called Karoshi. Dropping dead from total exhaustion from working non-stop.
  • Men go out in packs after work, most often without wives/significant others, and I think they spend more time doing their hair than the women. There are a lot of Rod Stewart circa 1979 haircuts here.
  • Everyone seems pleasant all the time. It`s like New York except there are no pissed off, grumbling, rude, loud people. (Ok, so maybe it`s not like NY afterall) But seriously, are they really this happy?
  • The westerners don't seem to assimilate all that much. Maybe because the language is so drastically different, or the culture. But it makes me think of the US, when you see large groups of foreigners together--makes more sense now. Its just easier I guess. But they do all mix with each other--Americans, Aussies, Europeans, etc.
  • Most of the men I`ve met are dating Japanese girls. And when I see them together I can`t figure it out, because conversing looks painful. just dawned on me...No wonder men like the language barrier--less talking in general! And probably very little of the "So where is this relationship going? What exactly are we? Where were you till 3am?"
  • Animation is hugely popular here, all kinds of comic books, video games, people dressing as comic book or video game characters...
  • You don`t top off your own drink
  • At the BBQ the women did the grilling
  • Technology is everywhere.

I`m sure there are a ton of things that I am leaving off and as soon as I step outside I`ll see something that is unusual to me.

As I was sitting at a coffee shop this morning listening to my iPod and watching people go about their day, I had a bit of an epiphany. Yesterday I spent the day and went to dinner with my roommate, Mei (the one from Singapore). We spent 3 hours just drinking tea and talking--and it made me realize that THIS was one of my main goals of this trip. Seeing the temples and shrines are nice, but connecting with people from all over the world is what I love most. Talking to her, I realized that even though we couldn't live farther away, we have the same fears, joys, worries, senses of humor, etc. And each person that I can connect with makes the world just that much smaller--and that much better. Everyone has a story, and taking the time to hear them is what is most meaningful to me. So sure, I`ll write about the sites to see and things to do, but what is going to make this trip unforgettable for me is the people I meet.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Hello, Tokyo

Well I made it to Tokyo from Kyoto with relative ease. I took the super-duper fast bullet train called the Shinkansen. I fell asleep as soon as I got on the train, but woke up, luckily, right as we were passing Mt. Fuji. Wow--what a site. It just shoots into the sky out of nowhere--no other mountains around. It looks like an actual volcano, the way it is shaped and it was still covered with snow at the peak. Breathtaking.

My friend Drew told me that it good luck to see Fuji from the train because its often to hazy to get a good view. And based on my time in Tokyo so far, he`s been right.

Drew and I went to OU together, so it`s been really, really nice to have a familiar face around. He`s been a great guide so far since he`s lived in Japan for almost 4 years, and we`ve been going non-stop since Friday evening. I am staying at a hostel (my first ever!) and I have a really cool roommate from Singapore named Mei. There are also 2 Russian girls and an Australian living in the next room. Some guys are a floor below us but I haven`t met them yet. I am right in the heart of the city, in an area called Azabu-juban . It`s within walking distance from Roppongi a shopping/eating/nightlife area that`s well known.

Tokyo and Kyoto are extremely different from one another. Kyoto is quieter, and has such a rich history with all of the temples and shrines in the area. It recently passed a law that no buildings being built can be over 7 stories high. In Tokyo there doesn`t seem to be buildings under 7 stories high. There are probably more tourist activities in Kyoto, but Tokyo is my kind of city. It is so alive, vibrant, loud--real.

Upon my arrival, I talked with the Australian girl for a bit...she is here hostessing. (a different kind of hostessing than in the US...shes NOT seating people at a restaurant) Look it up if you`re interested... Drew and I then met up and went out on the town. He took me to a very cool underground club, where they had live art being created--graffiti, sculpting, etc. I met people from all over the place (a very drunk Australian actor that acts in low budget Japanese films was pretty fond of me. He told me at least 37 times that he was going to be in a new movie and that his grandma just turned 100). When we walked out of the club it was daylight. Apparently that's a norm here. I don`t think I could hang on a regular basis.

The next day we went to a cookout by a river. It was fun, I got to meet more of Drew`s friends. The food was kinda weird though. They made spaghetti...? And put bananas on the grill. We played frisbee and just chilled, very much like a cookout at home (aside from the bananas).

That night we went to a dinner part and watched the movie Babel. Yesterday we went to a Thai Food Festival in a park in the Shibuya area. It`s kinda like the Central Park of Tokyo. We listened to some Thai rock bands, and ate some fantastic food--made me ready to get to Thailand!

However, I don`t want to rush out of Japan, as I`ve been loving observing the Japanese culture. It is SO different. The people are so incredible hospitable and friendly. Everything they do, they do 100% and then some. But, its apparent that I am different to them, and there is definitely a feeling of us v. them. Not negatively, but the difference is recognized constantly. It isn't "we`re all human", its more "we`re Japanese...and you are whatever it is you are" You know in the states, pretty much anyone can be American despite their background, skin color, etc. Here no one can be Japanese, unless of course you are Japanese. Does that make sense?

I am a bit of a commodity though. I`ve been told by more than one Japanese woman that I am lovely (pronounced lovery). And the reason I am lovery? Because I have a small face. Yes. A small face. Is that a compliment? Ha! I'm not sure, but it seems to be. A group of Junior High aged girls were pointing and smiling and waving at me at the train station the other day. At first I thought they must be looking at something behind me, but then I realized it was me that they were talking about. So I smiled and waved back. They got excited, clapped, talked amongst themselves and waved some more. It was causing a little bit of a commotion. An Italian guy standing next to be said "you have blue eyes." But I can`t imagine that`s what it was. Most likely, my zipper was down, or I had rice stuck on my face or something. But, I definitely don`t fit in, so I get lots of stares. It`s cool though. Everyone should be out of their comfort zone every once in a while.

A couple things that suck--my camera isn`t working. I have the WORST luck with digital cameras, this is my 4th one in 2 years. I have to try to find an Olympus store to see if they can help fix it. Uhhh...what a pain. And trying to explain the problem when all I know how to say in Japanese is Hi and Thank you makes it even more fun...

Second thing that sucks--my parents are shipping my books to me for this semester and they said they are really heavy. Great. Another 10 lbs to lug around Asia with me.

I have posted some pictures from Kyoto so far. They were from Mike`s camera. Its some of the mountain climb and the night out in Shisaibashi. Haven`t had time to do captions because school started on Thursday, so most of my time on the computer is focused on that. I will of these days.

Alright. I think this was a boring blog. Sorry! Im tired of being in the internet cafe. Going to meet Mei for lunch. I`ll be much more interesting (and hilarious) next time around.

Oh! I almost forgot! We saw an old Japanese women yesterday in the train station wearing an Ohio State hat. We are everywhere. I thought about yelling O-H! to see if she`d respond...

Thursday, May 10, 2007


It`s my last day in Kyoto, and its cold and rainy. I was supposed to go visit Nanzen-ji Temple and walk the Philosophers Path today with a guy from New Zealand that I met last night, but mother nature put a damper on those plans. So instead, I`m just sitting here in my little apartment feeling very much alone. I can`t watch TV, because I don`t understand a word of it, and quite frankly it`s bizarre--I guess I don`t get the Japanese sense of humor, where watching people eat weird stuff is entertaining...but who am I to judge, when the US has such quality shows, like "Wife Swap..."

It`s in these quiet moments, when I can`t just pick up the phone and call home (since its 4am) that I ask myself, "What in the hell are you doing?" The answer...traveling around the world. Which leads to my next question. Why? Because I have the money to actually do it. Why? Because I sold the condo in Salt Lake. Why? Because I am getting divorced.


And just like that the reality of my messy life comes crashing down on me, overwhelming. Sure, this is an experience of a lifetime, but I`d change it all in a heartbeat if I could go back in time, figure out what went wrong and fix it. This is the last thing I ever wanted, but somehow I did my part in creating it. Do we do that? Manifest the very things we fear the most so we have to face them and learn how to deal with them? Now, I am fully aware that I cannot be responsible for anyone else`s actions, but I do truly believe that we create most things that happen to us, whether its on a conscious level or not. So subconsciously, I must really have it out for myself...

It`s times like this that I have to believe it is all happening the way it is supposed to. Maybe the lesson I am learning is how to be alone and be OK with it. That giving yourself completely to someone else, although in theory is supposed to be a good thing, really isn`t. It is one thing to be selfless, it`s another to be self-less. It`s terrifying to wake up and think your life is headed in one direction and suddenly it takes a sharp turn and all your left with is you. And who is that? God knows. Apparently, I think the answer is going to be found under a rock in India or something...but really, honestly, I know the answer is right here with me all the time. It`s just facing it, looking at it head on, and then holding on to it, so as to not let it go ever again.

There are so many questions. Is my life going backwards when everyone else`s is moving forwards? Will I be able to do things differently in the future? What if this happens again? What the hell am I doing?

Oh, yeah. Traveling around the world. Looking for me...under a rock in India. Trying to find what I know is there but has been buried for so long. Trying to understand that everything I need, I already have--no other person will be able to give it to me, and if I look to someone to do that, then I will find myself back here all over again.


Monday, May 7, 2007

Lesson 1: Remember where you parked your bike...

Yes, that`s right, it says bike. Not car, or Now, since I have been able to drive, I think I have maybe been on a bike twice. And both times were on paved bike paths, with no cars and very few obstacles (read: people) to maneuver around.

In Kyoto, bicycles are the main mode of transportation. Everyone has one. Including me. (The city should be on red alert.) My bike is blue, it has a basket, a bell, and a blinking red light on the back when it gets dark. It is everything we would laugh cruelly at if we saw it in the US. In fact, when Marcus told me that my guesthouse came with a free bike, I did laugh. Like I was going to be riding around a foreign city on a bike...

Well, I don`t really have much of a choice. The closest train station to my house is about a 10 minute bike ride away. Technically, I could walk it, but it would be a hike, and Lord knows I`ve had enough of those to last me a while. So I began practicing on my little street...back and forth, back and forth. Surprisingly it came back pretty quickly. Like Brett said "it`s like riding a bike."

When I felt brave enough, I agreed to meet Brett and Mike on my bike to do some sight seeing. Of course, I got extremely lost and they had to come find me at a pay phone on a street corner. After they tracked me down we proceeded to ride through the busy streets of Kyoto, dodging taxis, streetlights, people, other bikers...

It was the second time in two days that I went on auto pilot. I just focused on Brett`s back, and staying upright. I didn`t spend much time taking in the sights around me, my main focus was staying alive.

The first place we rode was to the Fushimi-inari Taisha Shrine. It was a beautiful shrine with thousands of orange gates leading through forests with stop along the way for cemeteries, and places to pray. We then went to lunch at my first ramen shop--mmmm...I love Japanese food. After that we tried to squeeze in a trip to Nijo Castle, but unfortunately when we got there it was closing due to it being a national holiday. To get downtown to the castle, it was riding through major (busy!) streets. I think I`d have a hard time recognizing Brett from the front because since I`ve been here I`ve been basically keeping his back in sight, trying for dear life to keep up.

That night we went to Osaka and went out in a place called Shinsaibashi. If Kyoto is like Boston to the US than Shinsaibashi would be like Atlantic City...or even the Vegas strip. When I have the opportunity to post my pictures, you`ll see what I mean. Trains from Osaka to Kyoto stop at midnight, and of course there was no way we were going home that early, so we had to wait until the 5am train to head back. The next day I was worthless.

Yesterday, my friends that live here had to go back to work, so I decided to venture to Nijo Castle by myself. I rode my bike to my station, figured out the train ride (only one transfer) and had a wonderful day of sightseeing. The castle and its gardens were beautiful. Afterwards, I wandered to a shopping area of town called Sanjo where I strolled in and out of stores, and stopped for my first sushi since I`ve been here.

After a full day, I made my way back to my train stop, and was ready for my quick ride home. I went down to the bike parking lot, and my bike was no where to be found. Now, when I described my bike, I described 99% of the bikes in Kyoto--they all have baskets and bells. I did not realize that there were about 8 bike lots surrounding the station, and I had no clue which one mine was in. I wandered in circles, in and out of rows of bikes, for at least an hour before I FINALLY recognized my bike lot. There was a big number 6 by it that I paid no attention to when I got there, which would have been extremely helpful in the search. I didn`t bother to ask for help, because trying to describe a bike here would have been quite comical: think, Something About Mary`s "Have you seen my baseball??"

So lesson learned--look for landmarks, numbers, etc. around where you park your bike so you are not that Gaijin wandering for hours trying to find it.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

She´ll be coming ´round the Mountain...

Well I made it safely to Japan and my travel was relatively uneventful. Columbus to Chicago, Chicago to Toyko (14 hrs), Toyko to Osaka, and at Osaka I had one of those guys with my name on a sign pick me up and take me to my guesthouse in Kyoto (about a 45 minute drive).

My guesthouse is quite comfortable with a living room with a PC and high speed intenet, a full kitchen, bathroom and bedroom.

I left at 10:30am and arrived at 7:10pm the following day. I didnt sleep well on the flights so I was exhausted. After having tea and a tray of Pringles and fudge striped cookies (intersting?) with the woman I am renting the guesthouse from, I was getting ready to head up to bed when my friend Marcus called. He said "get some sleep, we are meeting at 7:45 to go hiking tomorrow in Omi Nagaoka." Ok, cool. Some plans for my first day.

I met him and 2 of his friends at the Kyoto train station in the morning and we took about an hour and 10 minute ride to a remote little town with a really big mountain. Mount Ibuki stood towering in the distance and Marcus pointed and said "I think that´s what we´re climbing," I laughed...Marcus is really a funny guy. I knew they wouldnt do something like that to me my first day, after 26 hours of traveling and 6 hours of fitful sleep. We met 4 more friends at the Omi Nagaoka train station so in total there were 8 of us. 3 from Japan, 4 from the US, and 1 Canadian (Marcus is from Canada), and we headed to the base of the mountain.

This entire time I was still not believing that we were actually going to climb the mountain. Maybe hike around it, or go halfway up, or take a scenic ride...something other than scaling (literally) up a mountain. So we began walking...and walking and walking and walking. Straight up. Not weaving back and forth like when usually climbing up a large, STRAIGHT UP. The group quickly split into 3 groups, the super climbers, the middle of the pack, and then me and Tomo. I remember at one point we stopped at a sign written in Japanese, I asked Tomo what it said and he said it was the second stop. I asked how many stops there were total, praying the answer was 3...he said 9. I´ve never climbed a mountain before and had not at all prepared myself mentally for what was ahead of me. On top of everything else, my body was telling me that it was midnight and it was time to go to bed (there is a 13 hr time difference). So after climbing for about an hour we meet the group halfway up. They were taking a nice little break while waiting for us. I sat down and thats when I felt my legs tell me "there is absolutely no way you can walk one more step, Maggie." But the rest of the group jumped up ready for the second half of the climb, nicely rested. Tomo and I looked at each other, I´m sure thinking in our two different languages the very same thought..."we´ll see you guys on your way back down." But instead, we stood up too, and what I accomplished from there has become one of my proudest accomplishments to date.

Physically, my body was done. There was nothing left in me. Jetlag is bad enough when you are just out shopping, nevermind climbing a mountain. But something in me was saying you have to do this. So I kept going, literally willing each step, living one second at a time, afraid to look up to see how much farther. I hated Marcus, I hated Japan, I hated everything. I have never felt this type of physical pain and exhaustion, but for some reason I kept pushing through. As we got closer to the top it became much more difficult. We were climbing with our legs and arms now through large rocks and narrow trails. I was running on nothing but sheer willpower. Finally when I allowed myself to look up I saw my new friends (even though I hated them) smiling and cheering and taking pictures of us (hated them for that too).

I did it. My first day in Japan I climbed a mountain. At the top we ate lunch (which was heaven since all I had to eat in the past 2 days was airplane food and a breakfast bar that morning) let our legs relax for a bit and took in the sites. I was trying to play it cool on the outside, so my new friends didnt think I was a huge dork, but inside I was beaming with pride. I cannot ever remember a time in my life when I pushed through something so physically streanous by only using the strength of my mind, because there was no more strenght left in my body. Already this trip has started to make a difference...

So, what goes up must come down, right? I was a master at going down, but my knees and blisters the size of bowling balls disagree today. Brett, one of the other Americans told me to embrace my pain, so I kept repeating "I love my blisters, I love my blisters" and he was saying the same thing about his knee. We reached the bottom, and just sat for a bit. It took two and a half hours to go up and an hour to come back down.

Now the story could end there, but what´s a good story without some nudity?

After a day like that nothing sounds better than a hottub. So we headed to a traditional Japanese hot spring, called an Onsen which included indoor and outdoor natural baths. I had read about these baths before, and thought it was funny that such a modest society holds business retreats at these hot springs where you are bathing completely naked with strangers, or worse, coworkers. But, as they say, when in Rome...

So I put my own modesty aside, paid for my little towel and an hour in the Onsen, and proceeded to let my muscles relax in the soothing natural springs. You have to first wash yourself with soap in a shower, and then you are free to go into both the indoor and outdoor baths. One of the large indoor baths had some bags of herbs floating in it, and one of the outdoor baths had bubbles like a hottub. The other one outside was simply carved into a large rock. It was wonderful.

I´m guessing by now you are wondering if these baths are coed...sorry, nope. The women and men seperated and met back up in a quiet relaxation room (like a yoga room) where we just laid on the floor waiting for our taxis back to the train station.

I crashed on the train, and made my way back to my little home. I slept for 8 consecutive hours and am starting to feel like I am catching up. My knees and blisters are still killing me, but I just look at it as a reminder of my accomplishment on my first day in Japan.

Today I am going with Brett and his brother Mike to visit some temples and tonight we will meet Marcus and head to Osaka for dinner and a night on the town.

I am still trying to get my bearings and still can´t quite believe that this is just the first stop in 4 months of travel. I dont think I could have scripted a better first day.

On a side note, I feel like I should also address those people that might be reading this blog whom I havent met, that saw the little blurb in the Dispatch (all 4 of you). Originally I set this up to keep family and friends updated on whats happening in this hemisphere, but was excited about the opportunity to share my travel (and life) stories with Dispatch readers. So welcome, I hope you enjoy. And please remember "The thoughts and views expressed here are solely those of the author and in no way reflect those of the Columbus Dispatch"...blah, official disclaimer.

Ok, going to make some tea and begin the second day of the rest of my life...