Archive for August, 2009

Leaving!

I can’t believe that I’m leaving so soon! It still feels completely surreal. I guess it won’t be so much when I get up at 1:30 to leave for the airport.

I’m so nervous! My next post will be from Japan!

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Countdown to Liftoff:…4…

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Ta da! Yes, that is indeed my PACKED LUGGAGE! I solemnly swear I won’t take more bad pictures like this. I really do. It’s just late-night blog posts do not a good picture make. The freaky thing at the top of the picture is my cat. So, you’ve probably noticed that the gigantic yellow suitcase is absent from the picture. That would be because in the course of packing, my mother weighed one side of the suitcase and found it was nearly 50 pounds! You have to understand, the maximum weight limit for one suitcase at United (you’re allowed to bring two free) is 50 pounds. So we decided to rethink. Both of these suitcases are about the size of half the large suitcase and weigh in at around 45 lbs. Nearly everything except the stuff I use (and the coat that’s at the dry cleaners) is packed, though.

The only problem will be lifting, rolling, dragging, and carrying two hefty suitcases with 100 lbs. of weight. I tried it out. I can do it, but it’s not going to be pretty. At least I’m not taking the maximum sizes allowed for on the plane, or I would be in trouble.

The maximum weight limit used to be 70 lbs., when I went to Japan last time. I was able to pack that suitcase right up. Oh, well. Airlines are cheap.

My brother took me to the movie theater tonight to watch UP. Ironic, no? My flight to Japan will actually be over August 31 – September 1, when planes change their movies. I don’t know which movies I’ll watch on the plane! (It really doesn’t matter, I know. I have bigger things to worry about.) Star Trek would be playing if they have the September movies. That’d keep me entertained. (Last time I went I watched the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy at least five times because I didn’t have enough stuff to do on the plane. I still enjoy watching it. Says something about the quality of the movie, eh?)

But tomorrow my good friend Jade is coming over for a farewell visit, so I don’t think I’ll get much done.   🙂

4 days.

Countdown to Liftoff:…5…

Not much to report on the packing. My tentative deadline for packing is Thursday evening.

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Shoes, I’ve found out, take up enormous amounts of space.

Many of my friends are already going back to school, which is a little weird – but I’ve been so focused on leaving I’ve forgotten that IUP is starting next week as well. My cat, Phoenix, is clearly aware that something is going on, because of the stuff out in the living room, and the amount of time I’m spending there. This morning, I found him here:

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Yes, that’s a blanket he’s sleeping on. I’m taking the blanket, but decided not to take the pillow, because the university is providing me with one. The blanket comes from the advice of a student I met while working at Walmart this summer. She had studied abroad in Ghana for a semester, and was able to give me some limited tips. “Never underestimate the comfort of a familiar blanket,” she told me. “You can wrap yourself in it and imagine you’re home.” I’m following her advice by taking my treasured and very ratty quilt around the world.

So, in honor of my loyal and sentimental cat, here is a video I took of one his endearing quirks:

 

 

On an interesting note, the news has been talking about the Japanese elections, which are coming up rapidly. There is potential that a party other than the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party), might gain power in politics. The LDP has long been the dominant party in Japanese politics, making their government look more like a one-party system. This article in the New York Times states that according to some research, there might be a huge turnout for the elections, which is surprising for a country that as a general rule hasn’t been that concerned with politics.

5 days to liftoff.

Countdown to Liftoff:….6….

6 days.

It’s hard to believe.

Everything’s been a flurry, trying to gather everything together with so little time left. That’s why I’ve not been blogging – but don’t worry. It’s a long trip across the Atlantic, so I’ll have plenty of time to write my next post.

Today I did something important that every traveler going outside the U.S. should do – prepare to come back in. Since I’m studying abroad, I’m taking some expensive stuff with me! In order to not pay duty on the stuff I already own, I registered my electronics with the local Customs and Border Patrol, including my camera, which is probably worth about $50. If that.

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Nevertheless, I think it’ll prove invaluable.

Technically, I should be packed by now. But I’m not even close. The problem is – well, I’ll just say it. In its stores, Japan mostly has small clothes and shoes, and I’m not even close to small, which means that I really ought to take all the clothes and shoes I think I’ll need for 9 months. That’s kind of difficult. So here’s the progress so far:

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In perfect dimensions for the maximum size allowed.

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Gotta pare it down.

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Well, it’s getting there, folks. Tomorrow I might start putting stuff in the suitcase. I’m hoping to only take one so that I don’t have to deal with two gigantic bags, but we’ll see.

It’s hard to fit a life in one 62 linear-inch bag.

 

Countdown: 6 days.

I got my visa!

Excitingly, FedEx came through and got my visa to me last Thursday. I was going to take a picture of me holding it (with important stuff blurred out), but I figured pictures of government documents on the internet would not be a great idea. It’s kind of the final thing, really, that solidifies what I’m doing. Now all I have to do is pack. It’s crazy – such a huge trip happening so soon. I’ve finally started packing, dragging out the large suitcase I used last time I went to Japan and weighing it.

I said a final goodbye to a lot of friends yesterday, which was saddening, but not too much. I’m getting a little less excited and more nervous. I have two connections on my way across the world, each less than 45 minutes. Boarding starts a half hours before leaving, and for the international flight, you have to be there a half hour beforehand, because boarding starts at least 45 minutes before leaving. There’s nothing like running across an airport to make a flight.

I had to book these flights so closely together in order to get to the Kansai airport by 6:00 pm and avoid a 12-hour layover. Why 6:00? So that the representatives of the university and van would be able to pick me up. The only problem is that any delay could cost me the trip. No pressure, right?

So I’m probably more nervous about getting to Japan than I am about living in Japan.

On a brighter note, the New York Times stated that the Japanese economy is improving.

You can read the article here. I guess unemployment has been pretty high recently, but hopefully things will get better as the U.S. economy improves.

Hm. I need to continue packing, I think.

2 weeks to liftoff.

this isn’t the first time – part 1.

This trip won’t be the first time I’ve been to Japan, and I certainly hope it isn’t the last. I went to Japan in 2005 as a part of the 4-H/LEX exchange program. See – in 2003, we decided to host a Japanese exchange student for a month.

Kana and familyHer name was Kana, and she’s the one in the middle. We had a blast together, and when I decided to go to Japan, her family graciously let me stay with them. So I went to Tokyo for my month-long homestay! The picture above is from the day I arrived. My okaasan (Japanese mom) is on the left, and my imouto (younger sister) is on the right.

Here’s a picture of my otousan, or Japanese father:

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I was very lucky to have a Japanese father that, contrary to stereotypes, was often at home and engaged with his family. They took me to their home, which was an apartment with tatami mats. Now, there are three cardinal rules when going to Japan, which I fortunately knew before going:

1. Never blow your nose in public. Ever.

2. Take your shoes off when going into the house, or other designated public areas. (Addendum from personal experience – if you have to carry your shoes, DON’T drop them on the floor.)

3. Never get soap in the bathtub. Wash everything off outside.

But, I found out immediately, these rules weren’t enough. They needed more, things like:

4. Don’t push buttons on Japanese toilets unless you know what they’re for.

Or this one:Japan 573 5. Take off the house slippers and wear bathroom slippers if you ever see them. Then change back when you’re done.

I had many thrilling, fascinating experiences while I was there. One of the first was a visit to the Meiji shrine, located in Tokyo. This was the first shrine I visited, so I had to learn what to do when entering.

Japan 023The entrance torii (gate) to the shrine.

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When you enter the shrine, you have to wash your hands and, sometimes, your mouth.

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The next entrance to the shrine.

 

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The actual shrine! It was quite interesting…

 

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…and there was a wedding procession going on! It was very cool to see a Shinto wedding up close – I’d never dreamed of seeing anything like that.

Anyway, I’ve jabbered long enough. I’ll talk more about my trip later. 20 days until liftoff.

Steps Towards Takeoff

So I’m on the train to Boston to get my visa from the Japanese embassy there. Its kinda awesome – the train has wifi, unlike certain modes of transportation I can name. The “Downeaster” train by Amtrack goes from Portland to Boston with stops on the way, and I’ve never been on it before. It’s meant for people to take day trips to Boston along with other uses, which is exactly the purpose I’m using it for. (I got up at 2:30 am in order to get to the train and get to Boston by 8 am). It’s a pleasant way to travel.

On my previous trip to Japan (yes, I’ve been before.) I didn’t need to visit the embassy, because I was going temporarily – you can somewhat easily get a 90-day visitor’s visa. Where I’m going for 9 months, it’s a little more complicated.

But now I’m finishing my post on the way back. I got to the embassy right when they opened, because I was expecting a line of people, like there are at American embassies. There wasn’t. I handed in my paperwork and left the Federal reserve building. The whole thing took less than 15 minutes. Incredible. So I’ll be getting my Japanese visa within the week, if all goes well.

So my mom and I had an entire day in Boston. It was awesome. We decided to go to the aquarium, which was overpriced ($21) but well worth it. My mom told me the price was never going to go down, so we ought to go while we were there. They have really great stuff. The penguin exhibit is thrilling. We watched them for hours.

The thing about aquariums is that they’ll always have lots of little kids. It’s not an art museum. You just have to take it in and don’t rush. But it was great. One thing was, though, that people would take lots of pictures. Fish don’t photograph well. If you use flash, it bounces off the glass. If you don’t, it’s too dark. But everyone was holding their camera up to the glass like they were going to catch something no one else would.

It’s better to just watch the fish. Memories are better than pictures.

But if you’re going to capture something of the experience, video is the way to go. You can get a far better quality with video than with a picture. Take this one, for example that I took at the zoo in Washington D.C.:

 So -25 days left.