FINALLY!

A few years ago, in Ubud, Bali, the epicenter of pseudo-spirituality (or wait – isn’t that Boulder?), I had the Chinese symbol for “tranquility” tattooed on the back of my neck.

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Yeah, yeah. Cliché. Done. Put a fork in it already, along with the tramp stamp.

But at the time I had NO tranquility in my life. ZERO. I had just moved to Bali – why? To escape from my life in the US? To run away from my failed marriage? To “find myself”? Who really knows? The fact is, I was a disaster, mentally AND physically.

Looking with different eyes upon who I was then, my divorce took a much heavier toll on my psyche than I would admit at the time – either to others or myself. I neglected and avoided MANY important things that would have aided my own and my former spouse’s “closure,” but that we were both too afraid to do. I pushed close friends and family away. I moved away – as far as I could get from my “former” life – and embarked upon a “new” one. But, as everyone knows, these kinds of moves are merely geographic.

I fell into a comfortable yet turbulent (if that’s even possible) relationship that there is no need to explore here. He and I are great friends today, and that’s what matters.

I also fell into some “comfortable” friendships with a group of expats from Australia, New Zealand, and the US. I am only still close with a handful of these women; one of them completely shut me out. I’m thankful to not be involved with them as a group any more. I have maintained some individual relationships with people from that group who are indeed friends for life. In retrospect, I think distancing myself from that group was the first big step I took towards caring for and about myself. That was almost two years ago now.

Caring for myself had never been something I was very good at. I was great at putting up a front, hiding my feelings, burying them if necessary, and avoiding hard truths and facts. I was great at caring for others. But I suffered a deep depression for as long as I can remember, and few people knew about it.

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That’s what hiding feelings does: it leads to depression, which leads to a feeling that you can’t control your feelings or life, which leads to anxiety… Drug and alcohol use and abuse can help temporarily curb these feelings, but self-destructive behaviors like using drugs and alcohol prolong and deepen anxiety and depression. This was a cycle I repeated for many years, in many different locales.

So those demons traveled with me to Bali – it was as if depression sat on my left shoulder and anxiety sat on my right. Forget the angel who should have been on one of my shoulders – there was no room for her.

When I first got to Bali I was fairly physically fit. I had just come out of a season of snowboard instruction and traveling around Asia. I walked a ton and was afraid to ride on the back of a motorbike, much less ride one myself (essential to easy transport in Bali!)

However, I was a fortunate to have enough savings to “be a tourist” for almost two years. What exactly does that mean? Well, from about December, 2011, through early 2014, I did little other than travel, eat, drink beer, hang out with friends, and occasionally attempt to surf. I had a tiny little bit of work that kept me BARELY tethered to that “other” world – that world that still [falsely] represented stress, anxiety, and depression to me.

Meanwhile, I adopted two sister cats, Halia and Ayu.

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They were the loves of my life, and, in many ways, they and their antics helped me start to climb out of the hole I was living in. When Ayu was killed by infection from a dog attack in March of 2015, I felt like my whole world collapsed. Halia had adopted a neighbor, so I was cat-less for a while. I felt empty and shattered. This was probably the deepest moment of my depression, a time when I started drinking a lot more heavily and more often than I had before. I also sought pharmaceutical treatment for my depression, because I knew that SSRIs COULD help me. But I think the drug was pretty well negated by my drinking.

I adopted Bo and Luke Duke at a time when I wasn’t sure if I was ready for a cat, much less two, and even less, boys. But as most of my readers know, it was love at first sight and has been ever since.

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Shortly after Ayu died we found Halia also mauled to death by a pack of neighborhood dogs. While it’s not really fair to say that her death was any “easier” for me, I had just been through it with her sister. Her nomadic nature had told me (ugh) it was only a matter of time before she would suffer the same fate as her sister (also a source of anxiety for my neighbor and me). I saw my neighbor who had adopted her in the same pit of depression I had experienced with the death of Ayu. We put the two sisters’ ashes out to sea together and tried to comfort each other as much as two profoundly private, depressed, withdrawn neighbors could. What could we say to each other? We were both broken. I don’t know about her, but I was also very scared of everything, and retreating further and further into myself.

Daisy Duke came into my life much like Bo and Luke had – a fortunate turn of events brought her to me in a neighbor’s hands. She was tiny, dirty, hungry, cold, and looking for her momma cat.

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Momma cat was me, and her brothers loved her pretty quickly and deeply. I woke up in a three-cat sandwich more often than not.

But still, my drinking was not good. I was not working out. I was not taking good care of myself. I had started a business in Bali that was going fine, paying the bills. But I was empty, lost, and full of anxiety most of the time. Every morning I woke up with a pit of worry in my belly – I think I was a professional worrier by this time. It didn’t matter if the worry was true, imagined, future-based, or based on something I had done in the long forgotten past. It was there, gnawing away at my insides. Always, but worst in the morning, after the few seconds of bliss before TRULY waking… It was all I could do to get out of bed and “put on my game face” for the world. Other than a little bit of work, caring for my cats and the dog (darling Evie)

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I also adopted, I did little besides a bit of socializing, but mostly drinking, watching Netflix, and sleeping. Lather, rinse, repeat.

My business sailed along with few troubles. I moved to a less touristy (but more isolated) part of Bali, and my life went on as before.

I’m leaving out a shit-ton of details because I don’t want to turn this into some boring memoir that chronicles what was basically a life of isolation, dotted with a bit of work, furry friends, some great non-furry friends (thank God for some new ones who work and have ambition to get out of the house and even pull me with them!). Even I’m bored by the details.

Maybe here you’re asking, “How could you POSSIBLY be bored in Bali???”

There is a relatively new theory out there that says that two big contributors to alcoholism are boredom and isolation. I don’t know if this is true or not, or whether I was (am?) an alcoholic. But I can certainly say that isolation and boredom made it REALLY easy to crack open that mid-day, mid-week beer. Or to fall into a case over a weekend watching Netflix with the pets.

Then, almost eight months ago, I experienced a small miracle. A dear friend who has dragged my ass to the gym now TWICE got me to go with her to group fitness classes. The first class hurt like Hell. The second one hurt even more. But I found myself sweating out so much frustration, rage, anger, anxiety – and in group classes I could hardly be bored. Each class was a new challenge to me as I pushed my body to do things I hadn’t done in years. All my old snowboarding injuries came out to play, but muscle memory told me what I could and couldn’t do, and how much I could and could not push myself. I gained fitness quickly and started shedding pounds. And I started to feel better – both physically and mentally (imagine that!)

But here is the real kicker: even though I was starting to feel so much better, I was still drinking. Maybe a little less than I had before, but still enough to know it was too much. I bargained with myself to limit my drinking to x amount of beers per day/ night; to only drink on weekends; to change from beer to clear spirits (less calories! I’ll lose more weight!); etc. etc. etc.

Then, at a GORGEOUS all-you-can-eat-and-drink Sunday buffet, I ate and ate and drank and drank and drank and drank…

I woke up Monday morning looking forward to my 10:00 Body Pump class – my favorite class, and the one that helped me “start my week right.” But in that blissful pre-awake daze I realized that I was still in my dress from the day before. I HATED myself. My stomach churned with anxiety (and probably alcohol) more than it had in MONTHS. My head pounded. I was SO angry that my binge might make going to my “Monday morning blues eliminating class” uncomfortable, if not impossible.

I will never forget this day: June 20, 2016. The day I woke up so angry at myself that I vowed to change the ONE LAST THING that I needed to change to make my life lastingly and profoundly different: my drinking. I finally had to be brutally honest with myself about what was keeping me unhappy and unfit.

As I always wake up early, I had plenty of time to straighten up before the cleaner came (you know how we all do that???) But this time I not only made my bed, washed a few dishes, and readied myself for class: I also put my last empty beer bottles into their crate and sent them away.

Class was difficult but not impossible. I felt better afterwards. But I felt most “right” about the decision I’d made to stop drinking COMPLETELY, at least for the week.

The week went by uneventfully. I missed the beer a little bit, but not nearly as much as I thought I would. With a clearer head and a healthier body, I enjoyed my exercise classes more than I imagined I could. Work was easier. Everything, somehow, was easier…

That next Friday night I experimented with “weekend-only” drinking and drank too much beer and WINE (OMG a friend brought back WINE from Australia – how could I NOT drink it?!?!) Saturday morning I was miraculously not hung over, but I didn’t need a repeat. I was done. For now.

A few weeks into my sobriety I asked a trainer at my gym who I trust about personal training. I told her I had recently stopped drinking and she said: “Just wait. You will see. Once you detox your body you will start to look and feel better. Give it at least three weeks. You just need to not drink.” Affirmed, I kept “not drinking.”

Weeks went by, then months. I lost more weight. I started to physically feel better. My fitness classes were more fun and enjoyable. But the best part was that I started to MENTALLY feel better. Better than I had in my recent memory… Better than I had, well, EVER!

I can’t say that I haven’t had ANYTHING to drink: in three and a half months I’ve had maybe five drinks total. But I’ve had little urge to drink more, to binge, or to drink regularly.

My drinking “triggers” (oh well, you know, anything stressful, happy, unusual, an event, a non-event, etc. etc. etc.) have pretty much all been tested. My friends and family have been supportive and understanding. Interestingly, some friends have also quit drinking at about this same time.

Many, many people have commented about how different I look. Yes, I do look 100 times better – possibly because I am looking at myself through non-depressed eyes. My thoughts are now processed by a brain that doesn’t immediately click into a “fight or flight” response to every potential stressor. As I have told many people, I feel like I have completely re-programmed my body and my brain. More than any compliment about my changed appearance, that is what matters.

Although I’ve had a ton of support and encouragement along the way, I’ve done this largely on my own, for myself. And THAT, I think, is the difference this time – the WHY this change is working. At a point of self-loathing and anger, I made a commitment to myself to CHANGE.

I’m not saying I’ll never drink again. Am I an alcoholic? Maybe. Are things in my life improving as a result of not drinking? Most definitely. Like everyone, I still face stressors (this morning a client abruptly canceled my service for a wedding TOMORROW after wasting a ton of my time). But it’s easier to cope. Like I said: everything is just easier.

Back to the tranquility tattoo. Tranquility is what I have sought for years. Not happiness, though I used to equate the two. Not fame and/ or fortune (though either would be nice!) Just peace. Tranquility. The ability to turn off my brain for a nanosecond and not feel so anxious and pressed about EVERYTHING. And FINALLY, at 47 and ¾ years of age, I feel like I have found it. Or at least a piece of it. And it feels SO GOOD!

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Thank you, dear reader, for persevering through this long blog post ☺ I am grateful to have so many amazing, supportive, positive, healthy, concerned, encouraging, CARING people in my life. I’m pretty much grateful for everything right now. And that feels good, too!!!

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Kyoto: Too Many Temples!

I took the bullet train (Shinkansen) for a three-day trip to Kyoto.

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I had a feeling three days wouldn’t be enough and I was right, but it was an amazing trip.

Again, I hadn’t done too much research except to book a hotel room. I should have stayed in a traditional “ryokan” (Japanese homestay), but I honestly just wanted an ordinary hotel room and found one in the right place (VERY central Kyoto) at the right price.

When I got to Kyoto train station I was, once again, overwhelmed by the crowd and the size. I knew there was a train or subway that let out within a two-minute walk from my hotel, but I didn’t know which one it was. I asked several station attendants who gave me different answers, walked around scratching my head a bit, then found the “Good Will Information Desk.” They were a God-send and got me on my way quickly to my hotel. Then, when I had no idea which way to walk from the subway exit, I asked someone who gave me directions in perfect English. It was a great start!

All that putzing around in the train station, however, had made me very tired. That has been a theme on this trip – being tired. I have exercised more in the last ten days than in the last ten months. I couldn’t have thought of a better way to kick-start my exercise program for when I get back to Bali.

The hotel is a little gem, and apparently it’s quite old and well-known. The room was tiny but had everything I needed and then some. Even had beer in the vending machine ☺

I did some research about what I wanted to see in Kyoto. A dear friend from DePauw whose mother is from Japan and who lived here for seven years gave me a great list. I also found a “Kyoto in One Day” tour on the internet that looked pretty good. I researched the places that were on both lists and made a plan for the next day.

Unfortunately, I had a great sleep and a very late start. I woke up well-rested but wanting to spend the day in bed ☹ I headed to the lovely Goodwill Information Center and picked up a Tourist Map which turned out to be a God-send (again!). I mapped out my train route and was on my way!

My first stop was Fujimi-Inaritaisya Shrine. This one came highly recommended by Mich, my college friend, and it was not a disappointment. Very quickly a friendly woman saw me taking a “selfie” (ugh) and offered to take my photo.

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I walked around here for at least an hour admiring all the red archways.

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I debated about hiking to the top of Mt. Inari to get the most out of my shrine experience, but my hips and knees were already killing me from what little walking I’d done. Stairs were a killer, both up and down. I gave that a miss, but spent another hour walking around the souvenir shops, looking for gifts for friends. It appears that the main “only in Kyoto” things to buy are sweets; the rest of what I saw is also available in Tokyo. Not wanting the schlep a lot of souvenirs around or back to Tokyo from Kyoto, I didn’t buy anything except a piece of pineapple on a stick which was FABULOUS!

I hadn’t eaten anything except the pineapple yet and wanted to experience the part of Kyoto Station with the fake food in front of all the restaurants (damn, I forgot to take a photo!) I inspected the offerings and opted for a little corner restaurant that had a noodle dish that looked (sculpted in plastic) quite tasty. It was. But after eating that I promptly went into a food coma. It was already around 3:00 and I desperately needed to rest. One thing I’m realizing is that traveling even just five years after my first solo adventures is much more difficult on my body. By looking at the map I saw, however, that my hotel was only about two miles from Kyoto Station, and I decided to walk back to check out the action on the streets.

My first stop was a temple that is currently under renovation: the Higashi- Hoganji temple. From what I could gather, earthquake damage was being repaired. It was a nice, quiet little stop and I was happy to see another temple that day.

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On my walk back I spied three Starbucks, two McDs, a Patagonia store, and a North Face store. But I also noticed that the streets were really quiet and clean. People were polite and helpful when needed.

I went back to my room, had an amazing shower (the hotel’s water pressure nearly knocked me off my feet!), and had a rest. Dinner was nothing special as I ate in the hotel lobby restaurant.

Back in my room, with my “Kyoto in One Day” tour suggestion and my friend’s notes, I mapped out my plan for the following day. I knew it was quite ambitious, but that was all the time I had left and I wanted to make the most of it.

First stop was MEANT to be the Bamboo Forest leading to the Tenryu-ji Temple which is also a World Heritage Site. Unfortunately/ fortunately I overshot my stop by three, and got to experience some gorgeous nature that’s just to the west of Kyoto.

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This train stop boggled my mind, as I looked around and saw NOTHING nearby:

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When I realized my mistake, got off the train and asked a station attendant what I needed to do: just get on the next train back to Kyoto and get off three stops later. I can’t believe I had missed this stop! But I was happy to have seen that huge slice of greenery.

My walk to the temple was through a very quiet residential neighborhood. I was amazed by how quiet it was, just a few miles outside the city center. This is when I started to think about Japan as a wonderful place to live. But I’ve since been told that summers are very hot and humid and winters are VERY cold there. Not so sure I could do it…

The walk through the Bamboo Forest and the temple were very crowded (for me) but beautiful.

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The flowers and grounds here were especially breathtaking and gave a sense of peace that having so many people there could have otherwise ruined.

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I sat down in a resting spot and looked at what my “Kyoto in One Day” guide recommended: taking a taxi to the next temple on my list. However, when I looked at my map carefully, it looked like I could take public transport at least part of the way, saving on taxi fare (taxis are quite expensive in Japan). When I got to the station there were instructions in English about what buses to take to the very temple I was going to! So I found my way to the bus and used that instead. Score!

On the bus I met a nice woman named Denise who is from Canada. She studied East Asian Culture in college and was traveling alone in Japan for a while. We went through The Golden Pavilion (Rokuon-Ji Temple) together.

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This one was VERY crowded, but she was nice enough to take some photos of me before I split. I had seen the Pavilion and was on a time crunch. She understood. But she did tell me that there was a special little temple not too far from the Pavilion that I should see. It was good advice.

I could have taken a bus to this temple, but I decided to walk the two miles instead. It was a nice walk, mostly downhill. There was a Zen Garden on the way that I could have stopped at, but I decided not to.

The temple she suggested, Ninnaji, was almost empty and really beautiful – my kind of place.

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It’s also a World Heritage Site.

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I walked around and enjoyed the serenity, took some photos, and thought about what to do with the rest of the day. Across the street was a cute little food shop that sold the most delicious udon soup.

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I took a nice long break and enjoyed the air conditioning.

I consulted my map and once again decided that the “Kyoto in One Day” guide had it all wrong. Took a bus back to the city center and walked to a temple my friend Mich had recommended: “lots of Buddhas,” she had said. I REALLY wanted to see this one. It was about a two-mile walk from the bus station, but I actually felt a lot better on this day than the day before. So the walking wasn’t bothering me that much.

The Sanjusangen-do Temple is by far my favorite thing I’ve seen in Japan. The main attraction is a long hall full of Buddhas – 1001 statues of Buddhas in many different shapes and poses, and one large seated Buddha in another temple. The hall of Buddhas reminded me of the Terracotta Warriors – many warrior-like Buddhas were lined up in rows behind the “28 main” ones. They were made in the 12th and 13th century! Photos were not allowed, which was a bummer, but something I can understand. This site was also where men had arrow-shooting competitions for hours and days to prove their strength. I loved it!

By this time it was 4:00 and I was pretty far from anything else I wanted to see. I went to my room and consulted the map. Took a shower and got ready for an early dinner. I had every intention of getting to Gion to try to scope out some Maiko (NOT Geishas, as Dana told me) but I was BEAT. Still did manage to walk quite a ways for some lovely sushi where I met the friendliest Japanese couple.

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They treated me to Sake and some beautiful white wine they said was only available in Kyoto. I felt guilty ducking out early on their hospitality, but it looked like they were gearing up for a big Friday night. That was the last thing I needed the night before I was to leave! I thanked them and walked back to the hotel.

Now I’m on the bullet train back to Tokyo for a Fourth of July party at Joe’s house. It will be fun to meet more of his friends and colleagues, and to see what a Japanese Fourth of July party looks like ☺

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Japan: The Epicenter of “Cute”

As mentioned in the previous post, I haven’t blogged in ages for so many reasons. Now I hope to change that. Sitting on the train this morning mulling over and writing about what I had done in Japan so far was actually quite fun. So I hope I can keep it up this time!

I set aside two weeks at the end of June/ beginning of July for vacation this year. This was a time when I had no weddings or teacher trainings planned, and when tutoring would slow down. I had time to think about where to go, and was really stumped. Cambodia or Vietnam again? The U.S. again? Australia? Nowhere really nagged at me.

I thought about Japan because I have a colleague and some students there. I’ve been teaching my colleague Joe’s son English for almost two years via Skype; I also help him with other tasks with his Japanese English college students. Japan had never really been on my bucket list, but the more I thought about it, the more interesting it sounded to me.

I asked Joe if he and his students would be around then – there was no point just going to Japan on my own to travel. He said that they would be around and actually would be happy for a visit. I found a great deal on Malaysia Air (you know, the one that had one plane disappear and another shot down over Russia last year)? I didn’t do a whole lot of research – just let Joe know when I’d be there. He graciously has opened his home to me for as long as I will be here.

The flight to Tokyo was a red-eye through Kuala Lumpur. I had no idea how tired I was from preparing for this trip until I got on the first plane and slept through dinner service! I have never done that before, as I don’t normally sleep well on planes at all – much less by accident!

I arrived in Tokyo at 7:40 a.m. the next morning, completely disoriented, exhausted, and knowing little other than I was to go to Shinjuku to wait for Joe to finish work. I got some yen out of an ATM and found my way to Shinjuku via train. I honestly had no idea what Shinjuku was or what I would do there all day. Unlike previous trips, I “winged” my arrival. Not such a great idea, but thanks to Joe and his family’s hospitality, it’s all working out.

Shinjuku is a HUGE busy train station in the midst of a very large busy shopping area. I got out of the station and saw a McDonald’s – FREE WIFI!!! This was an exciting development for me. I had a meal and settled in to let Joe know I was there and figure out how to spend the day waiting for him. Unfortunately a completely crazy woman sat down next to me and proceeded to have an argument with herself about something quite serious. That just made the day more interesting, really!

The first thing I noticed about Tokyo was the crowd. I had arrived during rush hour so getting around with my wheelie bag was a bit cumbersome. I needed to ditch the bag and change into some cooler clothes (I was drenched from hauling that bag around). Meanwhile I found the Japanese Old Navy – Uniqlo – and did a little shopping. Scored some cooler clothes I’ll also wear in Bali. I went into a bathroom in the train station and changed clothes, found a locker, and locked up what I didn’t need for the day. The station was so big that I took a photo of where the locker was so I could remember. Technology is GREAT!

Besides the crowd, the second thing I noticed was how QUIET and orderly people are. They are polite and keep their voices down in public places. Also, the streets are immaculately clean; cars stop for pedestrians, and people ride their bikes on the sidewalk in special bike lanes. Pretty cool.

I hung out, shopped, ate and had a couple of beers waiting for Joe. I met him at a famous bar in Shinjuku called “The Dubliner” and we enjoyed a couple of pints, and then IT WAS ON! Joe picked up our pace and we were hot on the trail for food for his family’s dinner and the commute home. The supermarket was overwhelming, but I didn’t have more than a very few minutes to check it out.

The next 24 hours are a bit of a blur, as I was completely exhausted and drank a little too much wine with Joe at dinner 😉 But I was so happy to meet my student, his mother, and his little brother. This is the sign they have on their wall:

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I couldn’t have found a better family to host me 🙂

The next morning was an early one, as Joe has his big day at one of the universities where he works. I was in survival mode. The commute was a crowded rush of trains and I had to run to keep up with him at times. In his first class I met some students preparing for the TOEIC test (an English fluency exam that measures some rather odd skills and is used for job placement/ salary advancement). They were EXTREMELY shy to talk to me, but also seemed interested to meet me – maybe horrified?!? I don’t know. But it was fun sitting in on Joe’s class and seeing what he does here in Japan as an English teacher. (He’s a fabulous teacher BTW!)

Then it was off for the fastest lunch ever. I was almost in tears at lunch (don’t tell Joe) suffering from serious culture shock, exhaustion, a tiny bit of hangover (oops!) But I stuck in there through his afternoon writing class which only has two young men in it. I have been emailing these students (and the students in two other classes) as a “pen-pal” to help them with their written English, so it was great to put faces to their names. We talked pretty much the whole class about everything you can think of, and had a lot of laughs.

Joe mentioned that if I wanted to hang with him for the rest of the day, it meant that I would have to stay on campus until 6:30 and then go to a “drinking party” at his other university. I told him there was no way I would make it that long – I needed to go back to his house and basically pass out (I think he thought I would go do touristy things but that was clearly not going to happen). I was SOOOOOOOO tired. He gave me excellent directions back to his house via train (the trains here are awesome) and the combination to his house lock – minus the numbers, just the keyboard pattern.

I got to the first subway station with no problem, then couldn’t find ANY maps with English names of stations on them. Doh! Seriously walked around scratching my head for about an hour. Then I just guessed how much the fare would be and used Joe’s written directions to get on the next train. I must have paid the right amount (or over-paid) because I made it to the station! Took at taxi to his house, then roused the whole neighborhood by setting off his house alarm ☹ I was so embarrassed. Thankfully a neighbor called Joe’s wife who explained (very differently than Joe’s directions) how to do the combination. She is a gem – not just for that!

Joe’s younger son who I don’t work with yet came home from school around 6:15 (late for a little guy, right?). I’d had a shower and a nap and was feeling good. I kind of thought he would think it was weird that I was the only one home, but this little friend is about as outgoing as you can imagine a kid to be. He proceeded to come into my room and show me his card collection, write on a white board in English (at 7 he’s just learning how to write but can read Japanese like a champ!) We had a nice time getting to know each other. He’s super-cute and fun.

Yoshiko got home and made an incredible home-cooked Japanese-style meal. She and Joe cook almost every night, and they are pros. Besides not eating anything here yet that I didn’t like in general, these two have served me some of the best meals I’ve had.

Wow this is so much more like a diary than a fun blog post…

Anyways, Saturday was a day to rest and relax for everyone. I actually did venture out a bit and collected my Japan Rail (JR) ticket for my trip to Kyoto. This involved my second solo trip on the trains and went without a hitch (no pun intended). Sunday we attended his elder son’s basketball game. Students here are VERY involved in their clubs (sports, music, etc.) in their teens and even into their college years. He has chosen basketball. They practice EVERY DAY for hours and hours. The game was interesting for so many reasons. First, I got to see him play, which was the most important part (we talk about basketball a lot during our lessons). But it also gave me a chance to sit, observe, and think about some of the differences I was learning between the American and Japanese (and Indonesian! and Balinese!) cultures. I feel like I could write a book about that already….

We rode bikes to the game – so fun but I haven’t been on a push bike in ages. Thankfully Joe’s elder son has pretty much permanently lent me his bike to get to the subway stations nearby while I’m here. The bike has been a God-send, but my arse is killing me! So then we rode bikes to a ramen place and ate lunch – yummy. Then back to the house where I mapped out my plan to go to Harajuku for the rest of the afternoon.

Here are some photos:

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I didn’t know about the Meiji shrine being in Harajuku, so that was a pleasant surprise and really beautiful – lush and green. Then, after several “drive-bys” I forced my crowd-phobic self into the main shopping street for a look.

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Harajuku in general seems to be the epicenter of “cute.”

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There are lots of girls dressed up like dolls, goths, and any other type of person (and tourist) you can imagine there. I didn’t go into any of the shops because I sniffed out an H&M right outside this shopping street and had my sights set on that. Disappointment ☹ Then I stopped in a pub to have a beer and headed back to Joe’s. I think he was surprised that I had negotiated that trip without even asking him how to get there (I have a couple of great apps on my phone now that are making things a lot easier).

Monday was GAME ON again – we had to get up very early for Joe’s commute to his other job at the beautiful Soka University. This commute involved a 20 minute bike ride, a very crowded train, and a taxi (could have been a bus but we were running a little late).

Soka University has a lot of money because – and I could be telling this all wrong – its affiliation with a religion like the Mormonism of Japan(?!?). I need to ask Joe more about this. The campus was lush and huge with amazing facilities. Students were motivated and again, fun to meet and talk to. The ones I had emailed with were especially talkative. I thoroughly enjoyed them. Two young men took me down to the vending machine to purchase some tea. They told me the tea I wanted was “afternoon tea” but that “it was okay to drink in the morning” – PHEW! Japanese people are really gracious like that, and I always think it’s cute. Lots of cuteness here….

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With more help from Joe I found my way back to his house, changed clothes, and headed out on the bike for a little while, kind of just exploring his neighborhood. Came home to another beautiful home-cooked meal, helped his young son with his Japanese writing homework (does that one look like that one? Giggle giggle.) And crashed hard.

Tuesday I met Joe at the first university to interact with more students with whom I’ve been emailing. They were lovely and very talkative once they got over their initial shyness. Topics were/ are all over the place, including “what do you want to be re-born as?) Clever, bright students!

I ventured down to Asakusa after the uni just to look around. Saw a temple.

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This is a really big tourist area, but it was almost empty when I was there. It’s rainy season right now and so the weather is unseasonably cool and perfect for sightseeing. I looked at all the trinket shops to see what I might buy for friends but didn’t buy anything yet. Had an excellent meal and a couple of beers (I’m on vacation!) then headed home.

Today I’m headed to Kyoto – a recommendation of Joe’s students. Another friend recommended the bullet train, from which I am writing this right now. It’s raining quite a bit and I’m a bit concerned that it will be raining the whole time I’m there, but honestly I don’t care. The cooler weather has been an amazing break from the heat of Bali. And the bullet train is so cool! My friend Rika, who I hope to see when I get back from Kyoto, made sure I bought my bento box (lunch) and a can of beer for the train so I could do like all the Japanese do:

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She was right! Great call!!!

In all, when I first got to Japan I was crazy worried that it would be as difficult for me to navigate/ negotiate as China. But it has been the exact opposite. Joe’s and his family’s hospitality has MADE this trip. I’m slowly learning to ask people for help (and they are ALWAYS helpful) and finding my way.

Kyoto is the next adventure. I hope it won’t be too long before I have time to blog again. Thanks for reading!

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