Saturday, December 24, 2005
This is Jeff and I in a beautiful restaurant we went to with Rita's family. It was buffet style and there was live entertainment. It turned out it was her father's birthday! The spotlight suddenly turned to our table and the woman on stage started singing "Happy Birthday" to Rita's dad. They brought us drinks and cake. It was a great night.
Merry Christmas Baby! Hamming it up in a karaoke bar. We went after dinner with Rita, her sister Vivian and their friend Christine. Karaoke in Taiwan is very ritzy - even better than Japan! Each room has its own private bathroom! And the videos are much better... not all that cheesy, horrid repetition.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
We've been looking forward to this vacation for a looooong time. Last year, we joked that we needed to stay in Japan a second year so that we could spend the next Christmas with Rita in Taiwan.
But today, as I rushed around during my last day at work, I had a strange sensation of sadness. The past week has been filled with my own version of Christmas madness. I've tried to convey some of the "spirit of Christmas" to my students, and so I've made Christmas cards with and for students, been a daily "delivery service" of cards to classes, had Christmas parties and gift exchanges... And I've thought much of all of you at home, while buying, writing, and sending Christmas cards.
Jeff and I are both cutting out of work two days before the winter holiday officially begins. So today there were many people who knew I was leaving, and many others who didn't. I had four mostly chaotic Christmas-y classes, between which I wrote more cards and wrapped them in style. Throughout the day, 3 of my favourite students came and gave me the cards they had made in my classes, and with personalized English messages even! Then, at the end of the day, I gave each of the 6 English teachers and assistants their Christmas cards. And I gave one each to the principal and vice-principal. They were each written in typical Kathy-style... very "heartful" as one teacher said. (that is my all-time favourite Japanese-English word)! Life at our school has been very difficult the past few months, and I tried to encourage each teacher in their strengths and thank them for various ways they had helped or encouraged me. The three teachers I'm closest to just went on and on about the cards, the ribbon I used, the candy canes...
We said very "heartful" good-byes, and other teachers who knew I was going waved and wished me well. And I left.
And for some strange reason, I choked back the tears. I realized that one day I will say good-bye - to this school, to these people, to this life - and I realized I'm not ready. And I never really will be ready.
As I cruise around Ota every day, and greater Japan on the weekends, life often feels surreal. Here Jeff and I are, living our dream, with all its ups and downs. For now, at least, we have chosen the life of "traveler." In some ways, this makes life more intense, as we deal daily with a culture and language not our own. And in some ways this makes life more lonely as we struggle to connect with people here, and miss people back at home.
I'm not sure exactly what I'm trying to say here... I guess I was just struck by the power of my emotions today. Ya, it's been a rough fall in many ways, but I still often get the sensation that I wish I could just take a million mental snapshots every day. I'm afraid of it all escaping me. I don't want it to fade away. I can't even begin to explain to all of you the things I will miss about Japan. And the thing is, much of what I will miss is subtle, small, in a sense beyond explanation. I could tell you I'll miss Japanese hot springs... but what does that mean to you? Getting naked and soaking in piping hot water with a bunch of strangers? How can I possibly convey all the feelings that go together with this experience? I love sitting on the plastic stool and using the pump soap while I shower... I love the thick steam... I love watching three generations of family bathe together... I love the mix of modernity and peaceful nature... I love how soft my skin feels after I bathe... I love how good the bottled Kirin beer from 7-11 tastes after the bath, and the fact that I can sit beside Jeff and drink it while he drives! Do you get my drift?
So blither, blather... I guess I just needed to get out some of my "melancholiness". As Maria says, us introverts are easily overwhelmed. Each life experience has so much depth, and requires so much contemplation! It can really make life complex for us!
Just so you know, we WILL have internet access while we're in Taiwan, so feel free to email. And yes, we might update the blog a bit. Just don't get impatient if we don't update half as much as we have been!
Love you all. Take good care this Christmas season.
I promise, there are other styles of cards (a few), but we really got ourselves lost in the Santa phenomenon. We hope you get a kick out of it too.
Monday, December 19, 2005
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Yes, an inflatable Christmas tree. The bonus is, it already comes with pre-wrapped gifts! Cool!
And an inflatable snowman to go with your Christmas tree. Better yet, it's double the size! And every possible Christmas light you could ever imagine, all shoved into one small corner of the store!
Monday, December 12, 2005
normally those ALT stories include the driver taking off. i was lucky. he didn't take off. and as he asked me frantically if i was okay, i told him to call the police - just like i've been planning to do everyday as i ride to work through the gauntlet of stupid drivers this country so willingly offers.
the good news - it's always the driver's fault when a car and bike are involved. this guy probably got a pretty heafty ticket and a big fine if he's got a history of accidents. the even better news - i'm alright. no damage to me. the best news of all - he will remember to look both ways next time. check this out (i think it's from my elbow):
so my short break from school turned into several hours waiting for the cops to show up, going over details, and then going to the hospital to get checked out because the cops need a record and some form filled in. by the way, did i mention that when i finally made it to the bank they told me, (in typical japanese bank style) that they don't have taiwan dollars at the bank. i ask you - what the hell good are japanese banks anyways...
what a day.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
The second party was held at a tiny, traditional Japanese karaoke bar. WOW. I have never actually been in one of these. But the owner of our company knows the owner of that bar, so it was all you can drink for 1000 yen. Basically 10 bucks. One of the *highlights* of the night was Brian puking outside, sleeping in our car while we were all still in the bar, and then deciding he would walk the 40km home since he didn't want to be a hassle for anyone and the trains were done for the night. We finally found him via cell phone (he had already been stopped by the police for walking on the train tracks). And about 3:30 Jeff and I finally rolled into bed. Ouch. I don't think one is supposed to do this kind of thing anymore after one turns 30.
Enjoy the pics below!
Thursday, December 08, 2005
'Huh?' I says.
'Oh, so you're listening now... stupid girl...' says he.
It turns out that I really had NOT been listening well. I did not know anything was amiss till I heard the bit about taking the train to Kyoto. Here is how it really went:
'So, the book says if you want to take pictures of... (humph... she's not listening) ... your butthole, set it to 57,000, make it green, and take the train to Kyoto.'
I'm still laughing. Jeff is too, although begrudgingly. How on EARTH did I miss the BUTThole?? (he claims he didn't say 'ass' cause that would've been too obvious of an attention getter).
Monday, December 05, 2005
And that was that. Coffee, stroll through the park, and bye-bye Maria... just for a little while longer though...
Sunday, December 04, 2005
After Shibuya, we trekked down to Harajuku, where the fashion is cheap and fun. We dragged Jeff down Takeshita dori, all gothic chic. And after, we made our way to Yoyogi park, home of the "Harajuku girls" and the dancing Elvises. Unfortunately, it seems Sunday is their day, not Saturday. However, there were plenty of other wonders to fascinate us. We were actually astounded by the strange variety of amateur performers out that day in the park. Maria and I started this whole conspiracy theory. We figured that Yoyogi Park is actually the secret recruiting grounds for the underground Japanese circus... if you don't believe us, read the following list of "acts": guy practicing trumpet, guy practicing sax, ... oh, there goes a single relay runner, group doing stretches after soccer practice, three (or more?) separate groups practicing a variety of skits (one seemed to be a dress rehearsal), a group doing a circular dance with fans, oh, there goes another single relay runner, groups playing badminton, volleyball, frisbee, a group of jugglers, a few tapdancers, a group that seemed to be doing something wedding related ... kind of strange - there was a bride, in gown, but no groom... only women, but they all seemed kinda serious... bongo drummers, people doing "Labrynth" moves with glass balls, and our favorite: the percussion/flagging/stick twirling group.
No really, we figure this guy was the circus genius. He excelled in everything. Usually Yoyogi is full of people just strolling around, but for some reason the crowds were small that day, so we ended up being this group's only audience for awhile. But wow - did he ever put on a show! He could do it all - play the xylophone, play the drum - and really really well! ... oh, there goes another single relay runner... And he could twirl those sticks (sorry, don't know the "official" name for them) like no one I've ever seen! In this picture, he has actually twirled them under his legs while sitting down!
And as Maria noted, "look! the girl playing the xylophone! she looks like a midget! you always know it's a circus when there's a midget..." (yes, Kevin, another one to add to the books. The really funny thing is Maria didn't even know about your jokes!)
After leaving Yoyogi, we ended the night strolling the ritzy back alleys of Omote Sando. It was peaceful, due to a lack of cars, and yet people were still milling around everywhere, in and out of cafes and boutiques. It almost felt a little European...
Friday, December 02, 2005
Friday night we headed to Tokyo. We finally ate dinner at 9:30 in a tiny restaurant in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Sukiyaki....mmmmm....so good. After that, we enjoyed the crazy night life of Shinjuku till about midnight. And then, when we almost missed the last train to Joanne's place - our home for the next two nights, Maria quickly learned why Japanese nightlife often comes to a close so very early. Crazy trains. Midnight, and they were packed FULL.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
After a late lunch, we headed to Hase-dera shrine. It's a massive complex, with some god that has 11 heads and apparently knows everyone's thoughts, and another god that protects the souls of unborn children... the latter one is what I remember from my last trip to Japan. When you go to this section of the complex, there are little statues everywhere representing unborn children... generally the souls of miscarried or aborted children. Many of the statues are clothed. It's very touching. The shrine also has an interesting (if claustrophobic) cave and some beautiful gardens. You can also get a great view of the town since it's halfway up a mountain.
We ended the day with a not-very-successful trip to the Kamakura Daibutsu, and then we had a long plod back to the train station. But we ended the day with a bang at a great tonkatsu restaurant in Ota. (check out the pics below!)
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Shortly after this stop, we found our little noodle shop. We went to the same noodle shop the weekend of my birthday. It is absolutely tiny, with a big, beautiful round cut of tree for a table, and one counter. It was full of many Japanese people eating lunch, but they quickly made space for us to join them at the table. The owner remembered us and thanked us for coming again. She even remembered what part of Japan we are living in! I got to practice my Japanese, and everyone marveled at getting to eat lunch with three interesting foreigners. Maria even got pictures of the group of us! And they were all astonished when Maria stood up. Everyone exclaimed, "ashi wa nagai!" (her legs are long!) All in all, it was a very quirky, and very Japanese experience.
After entering Yamanashi, Maria wasn't ready to get naked yet, so we walked around the town a bit, down some curious side alleys. We ended up seeing a small temple with some beautiful trees and an interesting graveyard on the side of a mountain. Finally, we made it up the mountain to the outdoor onsen... and Maria and I became "bathing buddies." The onsen we went to is the same one Jeff and I went to for my birthday. It's amazing because it's all outdoor on the mountainside, with a view of Mount Fuji. At first, Fuji couldn't be seen due to clouds. But as we sat, we willed the clouds away, and finally, I heard one woman gasp, "Ah! Fuji-san!" By the time we got out of the onsen, we were able to enjoy a clear view of Fuji-san in the sunset. Amazing. (And the ice cream we ate was good too! Yuzu- a variety of citrus- oishii!)
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
So we thought we'd give you a day-by-day summary of the Burrito's travels. We tried to cram in a whole lot of Japan into just a week. We'll start with...
Monday Jeff and I had to work. Maria spent the morning discovering our neighbourhood on foot. In the afternoon, I took her to our local temple and up our friendly mountain, Kanayama, to see some cool views and castle ruins. In the evening, she came with me to my adult class, where I think the men were blown away by her blond hair and fast-talking, natural English... (I have long since succumbed to a slow, stilted, simple-words-only version of the language.) After that, we joined up with Jeff and Mikiko and went to Ikkyu, our favorite Ota hangout. Maria tried hot sake and an itty-bitty piece of sashimi (raw tuna) for the first time. She did good. The chopsticks proved to be a greater challenge, and she eventually admitted defeat and asked for a fork. It was a good first day! Maria, Mikiko and me at Ikkyu.
Sunday, November 20, 2005
And, VERY IMPORTANTLY, we just found out tonight that Jeff is an uncle for the first time! We got a phone call from Jeff's mom while we were driving Maria to our place from the airport. The connection was a bit fuzzy, but we heard that it's a BOY! Andrew James Epp. Mother Karen and baby are fine, and Paul's okay too! ;-)
And finally, yes, Maria is here with us for the week! We just got her today. She is whipped but happy. Expect some fun pics soon...!
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
There are a few reasons for this, I think... This being walking stupid, I mean.
1. Is It Genetic, Or (No, It Can't Be!) Ridiculous Fashion??
This was the question that consumed us while the three Ds visited us in April. We would walk through malls, staring at all the pencil-thin women shuffling around -pigeon-toed- in their high, pointed heels, and we would stop to ponder... could it possibly be genetic? Dave actually voiced this question one day after countless hours of observation. I think he even had it down to a tendency for one leg to be more pigeon-toed/knock-kneed than the other. I don't know. I just keep waiting for them to trip over themselves while walking. Sometimes I'm transfixed on feet, especially when the feet are running. It's like I'm waiting for something horrible to happen... for that right toe to suddenly get jammed behind the left heel, and then *!?BAM!**! A crumpled mess of anorexic glory. Witness the following photo as proof: not sure which side of the argument this proves, though...
Yes, those are actual mannequins at the mall, slightly knock-kneed!
2. The Japanese Phenomenon of Indoor Shoes vs. Outdoor Shoes
In Japan, you are constantly putting shoes on just to take them off again. When I go to school, I put on my shoes. Then, as soon as I enter the genkan, or entrance, I take my shoes off, step up a little step, place them into my labeled shoe locker, and replace them with my indoor shoes. The funny thing is, indoor doesn't necessarily mean indoor. For example, if there is a school assembly, we all walk outside to the gym wearing our indoor shoes. That's ok. Wearing my indoor shoes out while playing dodgeball would NOT be ok.
In addition, there are many areas where you are to wear NO shoes. For example, some restaurants have raised tatami flooring. Here, once again, you take off your shoes, step up a little step, and place them in lockers. Also, in carpeted rooms in my school, we are required to take off our indoor shoes and leave them in a neat line in the hall. And I won't even get started on the toilet slippers...
Needless to say, all the putting on and taking off of shoes can get tiresome. So sometimes on my way to the car I elect to shuffle. You would too. I know you would.
3. The Fuzzy Slipper Syndrome
OK, this doesn't really relate to my stupid walking, but I just have to put it in. You would think that a person would put much thought into the fashion of their indoor shoes in Japan, seeing as they spend so much time in them at work. On the contrary, in this one lowly case, fashion means absolutely nothing. In this case, comfort wins the day. It is perfectly acceptable for teachers in Japan to wear a short skirt with nylons and... white running shoes. Well, female teachers. This isn't Thailand. Yes, everyday I am surrounded by teachers in skirts, slacks, and white runners. I have not succumbed to this aspect of Japanese culture. I just can't. I've always taken issue with my short, stubby, muscular legs, and the thought of me in a short skirt and runners is, well, HIDEOUS. However, I've gotten used to seeing all my colleagues in their comfortable footwear. But nothing prepared me for what I saw last March at graduation...
Graduation is THE ceremony of the year. Japan is all about tradition and ceremonies, and this is IT. Last year, we spent countless hours (yes, I exaggerate, but you never mention it when Jeff does it) practicing BOWING. Yes, bowing. Ich (go down), ni (hold position), san (come up for air). Ya, that's 1-2-3 in Japanese. So you can imagine the type of dress that went along with the occasion. Black. Lots of black. Very formal wear with a smattering of gorgeous kimonos. We were all dressed in our finest. And the mothers were too. (Graduation is held during the day in the middle of the week, so the working dads don't come). Of course, as the mothers entered the gymnasium, they had to remove their outdoor shoes and replace them with their indoor shoes. I was horrified at what I witnessed next. Out came the fuzzy slippers. Big, cushy, fuzzy slippers. In various shades of pink, purple, orange... any colour was fine, really. And not just that! Character slippers. Winnie the Pooh (referred to affectionately as Pooh-san in Japan), Mickey Mouse, Kitty-chan. I sat there imagining the mothers' inner dialogues of that morning: "Oh, should I wear the fuzzy pink ones or the Miffy ones?"
So there you have it. The shoe situation of Japan. I will try to remain strong. I promise you. I will try to refrain from shuffling and pigeon-toeing, and I do solemnly swear NOT to wear my fuzzy slippers in any area outside of our apartment. We're done in March. I think I can make it.
By the way, if you've wondered why my wit has been so long in coming, it's because I have a Japanese Language Proficiency Test, of a level slightly out of my grasp, on December 4th. It's hard to get witty inspiration when you're spending every waking moment memorizing the following: 動物、旅館、食料品。 I think you understand.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
Today Kathy, Mikiko, Ayako and I spent the afternoon at Kodomo no Kuni (Kid's Park). I took pictures while the ladies lay around on mats reading, talking, and studying Japanese. As usual, the place was full of kids, but it's beautiful enough that none of us minded too much. The leaves are changing or starting to change colours, and the sun was out. Overall a pretty relaxing afternoon.
Saturday, November 12, 2005
So what's happening now you ask? I've got a new camera. I am as excited as ... I don't know - I'm really excited. It's a new Konica Minolta digital 5D. It works with all my old lenses and it is pretty similar to our other camera except it's digital. The pictures are - well, they are freeeeee! That's the biggest thing. I've already been out taking some of course - so here are a few for your enjoyment:
the half moon (in case you thought it was a pizza we didn't finish)
a red flower
and a blue car with water on it
nothing all that exciting. but fun none the less. anyways - i gotta go - gotta go take some pictures!
Saturday, November 05, 2005
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
This past weekend was full of crazy fun stuff. Friday we got our visas renewed. (That wasn't fun). Saturday we got in a car with Christian and Hiroe and drove around the countryside. The most beautiful areas were just along the roadside near Minakami. (you may never see those pictures - it was raining most of the time so picture taking was a little tough). But on Sunday we decided to go to the Tokyo Motor Show. We met up with Mikiko (who was on a luxurious weekend in Tokyo) and headed over to Chiba. It was a typical autoshow (I think), but the big difference was that it was here in Japan, where cars are already weird and small. So the concept cars were pretty cool. Enough babbling. The pictures are here at our photosite. epps.photosite.com
Saturday, October 29, 2005
but before i tell you it would help to give a little background.
actually, let me just start - and you see if you can't keep up.
so, a week ago friday i was teaching grade one students (six year olds). i usually eat lunch with one specially selected class - so i was scheduled to eat with one of the grade one classes. there are about 25 students in the class.
normally in the schools, the students arrange their desks in groups of 4 to 6 to eat lunch. i sit with one of the groups. today was a little different. when i walked into the classroom carrying my lunch tray, all the desks were arranged in two concentric circles - so everyone pretty much faced each other. my seat was in the midst of the circles. (i guess they decided that everyone should share me today).
as we were about to start, one little boy got out of his seat, took his milk, said something about gyunyu (milk) to me in japanese. next thing i know, he has the class's attention and says, "blah blah blah Jeff-sensei blah blah kampai!" loosely translated that's "blah blah blah Mr. Jeff blah blah blah kampai!"
maybe you don't need the background info anymore, but here it is:
whenever we go out and drinks are involved we start our evening with a hearty "kampai" and "otsukarasamadeshita" - "cheers" and "you've worked hard and done a good job".
To which the class replied heartily, "KAMPAI", looked at me, and clinked their milk cartons enthusiastically and took back a swig like it was the best premium beer money could buy.
CHEERS! YOU'VE DONE WELL. CHEERS! Do you see it? These cute little first graders, on their own initiative decided that i deserved a "CHEERS" for just being me.
sometimes kids can be so sweet.
Ryuzu no taki (waterfalls)
Originally uploaded by Bob Jones.
hi everyone. i have to blog this. i'm really excited. i've got lots to tell you, but right now i'm just happy about this picture.
this past sunday (oct 23) i took a trip up to Nikko again. this time i went by myself and i went with only one purpose - to take pictures of the fall colours. this is one of the best scene type shots i took.
so yesterday i posted it to my flickr site (that's the photography website i have for those who don't know - you can see small thumbnail pictures on the left margin of this page for a link). long story short, other flickr people noticed it and came by my site to check it out - LOTS OF PEOPLE. in fact, flickr has a way of measuring "interestingness". this picture was the 22nd most interesting photo of october 28th! of the thousands of pictures people post each day! it made me pretty proud to say the least.
for my friends and family who read this blog though - you don't have to wait for the rest of the pictures from Nikko. you can browse through them right now on our photosite. click here or scroll down the left margin and follow the link to "CHECK OUT OUR PHOTOSITE".