Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Letter To The Queen

I love mail. Tangible, not email. Seeing a little letter sitting in my mailbox gets me all excited, while the little red dot on my iphone, indicating that I have an email, stresses me out. So, when I came home last week and saw a single white letter, that looked a bit fancy, sitting in my mailbox, I couldn't wait to see who it was from.

I whipped off my glove, braving the cold for the few seconds it took me to unlock my mailbox. I laughed out loud when I saw who it was addressed to...  
                                                                      Ms. Kate Bohan
                                                                Tokyo Parade Queen 2011

How great would it be if all my mail was addressed to my Queen title?! 
I got really excited when I saw the little seal indicating that it came from the embassy. 
I am thrilled to report that I have been invited to a dinner at the Irish Ambassador's house next Friday!  

The dinner is for the people who worked to put the pageant and parade together, though the parade didn't happen. I am so excited to see this team of people I got to know so quickly while all this was happening back in March. Cant believe it's almost been a year since the pageant and earthquake. Wow. 

I will definitely let you know how it goes, I can't wait!

What to wear?!

[The Latest]

Google Search: The Big Bang Theory
Tune: I Like it Like That By Hot Chelle Rae
Accomplishment: Going to the gym despite the cold, returning emails I had apparently ignored
Obsessions: The Sh** People say YouTube videos

Monday, January 30, 2012

Cheesecake Creations

Disclaimer, I don't cook. Like, ever. I partly don't have the patience and partly just don't care enough. I am completely content living off salads, snack plates, yogurt, fruit, pasta and chicken. Every once in a while I feel like I should cook something, mostly because people tell me too. But when it comes down to it, all I really want is a good salad with some chicken, or a snack plate...so we're back to square one.

A fancy snack plate.
I like lots of little flavors from lots of food groups.
On top of all that, living in Japan means that common ingredients are obviously different, sizing is different and then there is the battle of actually reading what you're buying. I learned that one out when I bought what I thought were sliced almonds, turned out to be dried slices of garlic. Learned a new word that day.

And just to make things more interesting, I don't have a proper oven. I have a microwave oven. So anything I plan on cooking can't be too big. Baking cookies is a process because you can only cook about 6 at a time, and prior to that I have to research the Fahrenheit to Celsius conversion. Ready to just boil a pot of water for pasta yet?

Prior to returning home for Christmas, my good friend Jeff was luck enough to find someone with a Costco card and a car, opening up our world to the joys of bagels, olives and pumpkin pie. Jeff and I split a big bag of bagels. At Costco he realized he needed cream cheese to go with his bagels, a wise choice. So he bought some from Costco, a poor choice. He then had essentially a gallon of cream cheese. In deciding what to do with the remaining cream cheese, and seeing that we were out of bagels, we decided to make something. The obvious choice being cheesecake. 

We had everything in the recipe except a crust. So, after I smuggled two back in my suitcase from the states, we finally got to baking last week. Since I don't trust myself in the kitchen alone, and Jeff had a soccer game, Kris came over and the two of us made two cheesecakes and what turned out to be a cookie cake thing.

Rest easy, all turned out beautiful and edible. 

Full of sweets,

[The Latest]

Must Read: Snake Bursts After Gobbling Gator from BBC...check out the picture! Thanks for this Ben.
Google Search: Google translate
Tune: International Love By Pitbull feat. Chris Brown
Accomplishment: Finishing my JET Program Book 3, facebook chatting in Spainsh
Obsessions: The Big Bang Theory TV show, Meiji Chocolate Almonds-Melty Kiss Version

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Alcatraz/ER Restaurant

Welcome to Alcatraz/ER.
I love living abroad. I have said it before, and I`ll say it again. I love the adventure, the challenge, the daily accomplishments, the new things I learn, about both the people and culture. I love it all. But, everyone once in awhile I have the revelation that Japan will most likely not be the last place I live, which makes me want to run outside and try something new. I want to soak up as much of this country as I can. I want to leave with no regrets. And sometimes that means embracing some of Japan`s randomness, and facing some of my own fears.

I have always known of the Alcatraz/ER restaurant in Tokyo`s Shibuya district. The entire restaurant is over the top with hospital and prison decorations. We`re talkin eating in jail cells and mummies in the floor. Upon entering, the hostess, dressed as a slutty nurse, with an element of mummy, asked who in our party is least mentally stable. I immediately elected Kris. He was then handcuffed and we were all escorted to our table. We passed people eating in jail cells on our way to our izakya style room with hospital curtains separating us from other parties.

Kris and Keigo.
Deborah and Kate.
It took a while but we got a waiter, dressed in scrubs and white lab coat, to come take our order. We ordered the most bizarre cocktails possible, including one that was made up of test tubes, a shot that came in a syringe, and my sangria which was to be mixed, by a vibrating dildo.

The amount I could fit in my hand was how much we got for the table.
And for as long as I can remember, I've stuck out my tongue when I got determined.
Dildo stirred sangria.
Deborah's face says it all.
Test tube drinks.
Chicken in a cage. Food out of a barf basin. Rice shaped like a boob.
While we were waiting for our food their was a jailbreak.

Kris has warned me about these jail breaks, thank god. The lights flashed then dimmed, a siren went off and all the employees donned masks, running around scaring the patrons. Getting in their faces and yelling. All while shooting off fake guns, essentially making as much noise as possible. After that went on for 10 minutes, I let out an audible sigh of relief when the lights returned to full. Though and hour later, it went pitch black as we prepared for our second jail break. Everyone else chuckled that it was happening again. I stayed silent and essentially hopped in my friend Deborah's lap. Turned out it was only someone's birthday.
We were safe.

Everyone else at the table chuckled as they realized I really wasn't enjoying myself sans lights. `You're really scared aren't you?` says previously hand-cuffed Kris. I glared at him. No shit Sherlock.
It's my hell. I hate the dark. I hate people jumping out at you. I hate sudden loud noises in the dark. Hate.

Once when I was in high school, my friends convinced me that Knott's Berry Farms', Halloween themed Knott's Scary Farm would be a good idea. I protested, but ultimately went. The damn employees with masks and elaborate face paint, hired to scare the crap out of you, sniffed out my fear. They found me at every turn. At one point I bolted. The wear-wolf ran after me. I turned around, and faced him, decidedly standing my ground. He screamed inches from me. I hit him in the face. He immediately turned into a normal person as I got a lecture about how I would be escorted out of the park if I did that again. And that was the last time I`ll be going back there.

Or to this restaurant for that matter. The experience was fun, weird and different. Glad I went. Never going back. If you come to visit I'd recommend you try it, and I apologize in advance for not going with you.

Enjoy your dinner at Alcatraz/ER, call me when you're done and I'll come meet you,

[The Latest]

Must Read: More of a listen and think...Charlie Chaplin`s final speech from The Great Dictator
Google Search: Hakuba Mountain
Accomplishment: surviving this stupid restaurant, a successful class with Keima today
Obsessions: new bright green running shorts from Jessica, emoticon only conversations

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Talkin' With Japan

Every other Thursday night, and one Saturday morning a month, I lead an adult conversation class. For the Thursday night group, they usually write about something that has happened to them in the past week, they then read what they have written and we chat. My job is basically to keep the conversation going, and explain words or phrases they don't understand or are confused about.

For example, one week I was trying to explain what it meant to be street smart. A tough concept here, since Japan is relatively safe. One of the students asked if that was the same as smart ass. Not quite. I had both phrases written on the board and was trying to give examples of each, intermixed with some type of definition, all while trying not to laugh.

Recently, the only male student in the class moved to Mexico, turning the class into an all female retiree group, lead by a 20 something Californian. It's quite something. As of lately I have been feeling like the conversation has gotten kind of dry. Given that they are speaking good, but not perfect English, all of which is directed at me for two hours, it can be exhausting to say the least. Last week they were trying to pick a topic for the following week and it was turning out to be somewhat of a challenge. I stepped in and offered to come up with one and surprise them. That made them nervous, as the surprise topic meant they wouldn't be able to plan, but I told them it wouldn't be too tough.

I decided on Movie Night, and went all out. Creating a sign for the table and a worksheet for them to organize their thoughts before sharing them allowed. I made popcorn on the stove and brought See's Candy Lollipops as my gift to them from the States. They enjoyed all the food and the conversation was great. A bit better than usual, since we had a task, rather than just random conversation.

Favorite movies included, The King's Speech, The Sound of Music, a Japanese film, and Charlie Chaplain film. The were able to write about the characters and a basic synopsis of the movies, but their was some question as to what the phrase, when does the movie take place meant. Then their is always the challenge of opinions. For anyone who has ever conversed with someone that has grown up in Japan, and for the most part is traditionally Japanese, getting them to express their thoughts and opinions, what they think and why, is, in a word...painful. It is simply not part of their culture.

The goal of Japanese culture is to keep the harmony. If you express what you think, in the bold way us westerners do, you may offend someone, ergo, disrupting the harmony of the situation. In order to avoid all that, you simply...don't. Which leads to a level of passive aggression like you've never seen, and a pressing need to be able to read between the lines in order to get anything accomplished. I average about 2-3, I'm frustrated with Japan! days a month. It's not until people come visit from the west, that I can see how much I really do know about the culture. Weather or not I really understand it is another story.

With my adult classes I try to choose a safe topic for them to discuss. I want to hear what they think, partly because it is English class and this is what we do in English class, and partly because I really do want to know. I want to know why you like the Sound of Music. I want to know if you really mean that you like the popcorn and the suckers. I want to know if their is something you want to talk about next week. No I wont care. No I wont get offended. But, the truth may never be revealed, shogunai. (Oh well/It can't be helped)

Despite the massive cultural barrier that is still very prevalent here, even after my 1.5 years in Japan, I did just re-contract to stay on one year. Something about all the differences is addicting. You want to learn more, you need to learn more, to make things easier.

I was talking to a friend who is currently having an, I'm frustrated with Japan! day. He also just re-contracted and was questioning weather or not he could handle another year here. I told him he could. I told him the minute he tried to explain why he was frustrated to a westerner living in the west, he'll realize how much he will first have to explain about the culture, which will lead him to realize how much he has learned about the culture, which will lead him to want to learn more, which will lead him to stay longer. It's alllll veryyy, If You Give A Mouse A Cookie-esq.

Everyday is an adventure.


[The Latest]

Must Read: Japan Feels Like Another Planet from the Guardian
Google Search: Alcatraz/ER Tokyo Resturant
Tune: Thinking About You (Acoustic/Beatbox Cover)-Frank Ocean...from a friend`s fb. Amazing.
Accomplishment: Mastering how to organize things in my apartment for maximum heat, All clean clothes!
Obsessions: Mister Donut, Rent the Runway 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

If You Didn't Know I Was From Southern California Before...

Big things are happening here in Kamagaya, and the surrounding Tokyo area. WEATHER! I am proud to report that last night after rain, thunder, lightening, and an earthquake, their was SNOW! It generally only snows here a few times each winter, so the excitement is shared with my fellow Kamagaya residents. Though I have to say, this little southern Californian has set the bar with her excitement level. The only other person I know on my level, is Olivia from sunny Auckland. We bonded over our infatuation with the snow.

Like the last time it snowed here, I was completely enthralled. Staring out the window watching what was once harsh rain, turned white, fluffy flakes, gently float down, covering nooks and crannies I didn't even know were there. On my bike ride to school the next day I pedaled as slow as I could, the goal being not to fall and embarrass myself. I arrived at school with both my pride and ass, un-bruised. Mission accomplished.

The day was filled with comments about the beautiful, yuki outside, and everyone checking that everyone else made it safely to school. As far as I know everyone did. Except my lovely coworker, Namiko. She slipped on the ice and bruised her tailbone and wrist.

On my bike ride home, I took out my iphone/camera, braved the cold, and took pictures of darling Kamagaya, now beautifully trimmed in white. Here are the results.

Snow People.
Always a beach kid,

[The Latest]

Google Search: The history of the MLB team names
Accomplishment: creating a new meal, baking two cheesecakes with Kris
Obsessions: Apartment 34 blog, snow

Monday, January 23, 2012

Mid-Year Conference

It`s been awhile since I wrote about anything job related, so I thought I would go ahead and remedy that, especially since this was a recent happening. Every January the JETs(participants in the Japan Exchange Teaching Program) of Chiba travel to the middle of the prefecture for a two day skill development conference. Each JET comes with one of the JTEs(Japanese Teachers of English) they work with, all with the goal of bettering our team teaching ability. There are quite a few team teaching demonstrations, as well as lectures and discussion. Aside from the conference itself, the JETs love it because it`s an opportunity to hangout with other JETs who we probably haven`t seen in a while, and of course, eat lunch at a mall food court. We`re a group that appreciated the little things.

Post conference, each day, there is usually a shared beer or meal happening somewhere as we enjoy each other`s company and revel in the fact that we can speak at our natural speed. Again, it`s the little things. 

2nd years, Andrew and Ben,
presenting on Effective Team Teaching Strategies.
Last year, as a 1st year, I was asked, like most 1st years, to come up with a team teaching demonstration to do with my JTE, Namiko. This year, as a big deal 2nd year, I was asked to a moderator for a group of 4 nervous 1st year ALTs. They did an amazing job! 

No one looks good while they`re talking.

Skill Developed, 

[The Latest]

Must Read: Status Humor ...emailed to me from my friend Jessica, it`s a compilation of the best facebook status`. My personal favorites...
-I'm having a hard time meeting a nice Amish girl on Match.com
Google Search: how to make popcorn on the stove
Tune: When You Say Nothing At All By Alison Krauss...sappy I know, but it was raining out...
Accomplishment: responding promptly to a few emails, going for a walk in the snow!, not landing on my ass while biking to school post snow!
Obsessions: The King`s Speech Movie, a pair of winter socks I recently discovered in my `winter clothes pile` they make all the difference

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Fresh Snow, Fresh Look

It doesn't take much to get me excited. A movie, a new coat of nail polish, a candle, a good song on the radio, or as of yesterday, snow! It has been pretty cold and wet here, and I always figure, if it's gonna be uncomfortable, it might as well look pretty. Unfortunately the snow was the heavy, wet kind and didn't stick, but waking up to this to this weather report on my iphone the other day more than put me in a good mood.

I put my phone in celsius as a way to try and
catch up to the rest of the world. 
I have also been making my way around other blogs recently, and decided that comparatively, mine wasn't really portraying the feeling I wanted it too. I decided I could do better. I began clicking around, discovering more options and ways to modify it. I like what I have so far, but I unfortunately I can't promise it will look this way next time you log in. 

What are your thoughts on the new look? Suggestions welcome!


[The Latest]

Must Read: Apparently North Korea has a golf tournament. Be sure to read to the bottom on the Course Information page...D.P.R.K. Amateur Golf Tournament
Google Search: Round 1
Accomplishment: checking off Round 1 on my to-do list!
Obsessions: checking the weather on my phone

Monday, January 16, 2012

Baby It`s Cold Outside

In the past week or so since I`ve been back, it's gotten colder, a lot colder. Given that Japan doesn't believe in insulation or double pain windows, inside offers little relief from the 40 degree weather we've been having. To account for that, I changed my little blog's background to match the season and related posts that are toe. New season, new feel, new background.

Last night we decided to have a little movie night, trimmed with blankets, tea and popcorn.We watched Eat. Pray. Love. a little girly, but the boys were good sports. Jeff made some fancy stove popcorn and we all enjoyed a lovely Monday night in. 

Popcorn Everywhere.
Parmesan. Regular. Nacho Cheese.
Snuggled Campers, and One Sleepy Camper.

Warm and Toasty,

[The Latest]

Google Search: Nikko
Accomplishment: taking the time edit my facebook, finishing book 2 of my Japanese study set
Obsessions: Cheez It Party Mix, Chewy Granola Bars, Reeses...a box was shipped from home.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


My flight back to Japan was long and uneventful, and every time I land here and breeze through security, customs and baggage, I'm reminded how much LAX needs to get it together. Ipod in, Backstreet Boys on (don't judge), Pasmo in hand, I flew through the airport to my train like the round eyed local I am.

I got back to my cold, stuffy apartment where I promptly showered, made some pasta and plopped down under the heater and blankets to watch some TV, allotting myself this night to zone out, putting off unpacking and tidying. A job I do remarkably well. I forced myself to say awake until at least 9pm, telling myself that tomorrow will be a new day.

And it was. Jeff and I took a trip to the store then created an AMAZING brunch. Our own Egg McMuffins with green Tabasco sauce I found at the foreign good store, strawberries, potatoes, orange juice and coffee, which has gotten increasingly better since I splurged at Starbucks and bought the hazelnut syrup.

 After some laundry and tidying, I felt like I needed to move. Cold though sunny, I decided a run was in order. After sitting 12 hours, my body was pretty much begging me to use it. Kim and I headed to Yoyogi Park in Tokyo for a lovely run and an afternoon outdoors.

Professional Train Riders
Yoyogi Koen
Tuesday was opening ceremonies, meaning an assembly in the gym, an extra long cleaning time, and no classes. It also meant the students went home at 11 and I got a special bento lunch. Score.

 It has been a relatively simple trip back, catching up with people and getting back in the grove of things. 


[The Latest]

Must Read: Retired Bored Husband...hysterical chain letter sent from Paula. Chuckle guaranteed.
Google Search: Costco in Kashiwa
Accomplishment: doing better than I expected at Japanese class last night, working on my own little project
Obsessions: scratch off travel map from Tori, Mona Lisa Smile movie

Monday, January 9, 2012

Fiesta 25!

The night before my big departure back to Japan, we had a little birthday/goodbye party for me, marking the end of my 3 weeks at home. The lovely Salinas family offered to allow the celebration to be held at their casa, which is much more of a party house than mine ;) We decided to make it fiesta themed as I wanted Mexican food to be my last meal stateside. We brought out all things Mexican, including Tori's Dad, and had a grand time! 
We had an amazing assortment of appetizers including Mariko's famous spicy tuna, and Tori's guacamole. Daniel worked the bar making margaritas with his super cool Magic Bullet. And that was all before the main course! We ordered meat from El Gringo and created our own taco bar. 

Tori's Guac.
The bowl alone could have been my dinner.
No one was going hungry.

The Salinas'  had so many props de Meixco that we decided we just had to take advantage. We pinned up a huge Mexican flag blanket and aimed to take as many ridiculous pictures as we could. 
Mission accomplished.

Olé !

The Salinas Family
The Bohan Family
Getting organized. Got to make sure the tequilla bottle is visible.
Family fun at its finest!
Fathers and daughters. 
Mothers and daughters.

[Be Merry!]

 After seeing the paper party hats at the store, I knew I had to enhance the party with a few more little treats, preferably ones that reminded people of their childhood. I grabbed a pin the tail on the donkey game which turned out to be a hit, and the Salinas' surprised me with a piñata!  A Dora the Explorer one no less!

First you spin...

...then you pin...
...then we laugh at how not even close you were to the actual tail location.

First you hang...                                                                                                                ...then you hit!
Elementary School Reunion
My Elementary School best friend, Kelli, who I hadn't seen in years, stopped by to say hola and partake in the fun. We grabbed Lauren and had a little Tulita photo shoot, during a conversation that primarily consisted of the phrase, `Remember when...?!`
Kelli, Kate and Lauren
No idea what we're doing.
Childhood BFF
And finally, no birthday party is complete without birthday cake, red velvet to be exact.

Thank you everyone for making this day so special,
(especially you Salinas'!!!)

[The Latest]

Google Search: running in Tokyo
Accomplishment: A successful trip back to Japan, and a lovely run in Yoyogi park
Obsessions: a few new candles that I got for Christmas, and my big brown boots


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