Archive for the ‘Feelings Schmeelings’ Category

23 July

I’ve been carrying anxiety around with me in my belly for the last couple weeks.  Unrestful sleep.  Too hot. The noise of storms at night.  It settles like a hard knot, dissolves, coagulates again.  No longer do I feel untethered, drowning in responsibilities and lists, but rather robotic, on cruise control.  The emotions well up, overflow, are gone.  Are replaced with over-structure and resolve.  My anxiety has not been all for naught.  But mostly it’s surreal: watching myself go through the motions.  All these complicated motions to tie up loose ends and move myself across the seas.  Well, I’m not there yet.

24 July

I’m bad with finality.  Ending relationships, all sorts, is hard.  Especially difficult when there’s little chance of ever seeing these people again.  America is always there.  My friends in America are always there.  But will I ever be in Kazamaura, Aomori-ken again?  Likely not.  Japan- yes, Kazama – no.  And here live people who I lived alongside for a year.  Who touched and changed my life, somehow.  Am I a changed woman?  I don’t know.

— —

I’m beginning to think that I need this sense of displacement, in a way.  My desires for deep settling and roots conflict mightily with my wanderlust.  I believed that one year outside of my own country was enough.  It’s not good enough to visit places.  I want to learn and live them thoroughly, deeply, widely.

Am I Una or Ahab?

26 July

There is ease and comfort in the traveling.  What will it feel like when I’m there, for good?  Real? Weighty?  Will there be substance?  In transit, I am weightless.  Suspended between the realities of my life.  The responsibilities, plans, next steps.  There is a delightful sense of uncontrollability on the move.  In limbo, I am exempt from the figuring.  But landed, arrived – it’s all fair game.  Here comes America.  Or rather, here I have come, America.

— —

I didn’t expect leaving to be so sad.  It blindsided me.  Handing in my gaijin card was like closing a door on my life.  Or a chapter.  America so far is harsh, loud noisy, fat.  First thoughts.


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While I’m sure much of the fun-loving world is the same, my ability to focus, sit still, pay attention to the people speaking Japanese around me, and study Japanese and/or Economics plummets with each degree the temperature rises and the cloud that makes way for Sunny D sunshine.  This itch to be outside, in conjunction with my looming deadline of departure (July 26th y’all!), and all the things to prepare for it, results in this fierce sense of being untethered, spinning on an axis of minutes and hours I can’t quite halt.

And so: It’s come to my attention that I spend so much time outside of the US idealizing it.  Remembering and missing, of course, my friends and family, the impressive grandeur of our National Park system (unrivaled to any country I’ve visited), the vast genetic variations of the American face, lazy Fridays riding my bike to and from the Oak Street farmer’s market, a good sandwich.  But now that my touchdown on US soil is mere months away, I’m starting to panic a bit.  There’s so much about America I dislike; that frustrates me.  And I’m returning to a place that may be the epitome of cringe-worthy America: car-culture and traffic, suburban sprawl, blatant racism, consumerism, an obstinately divided government, fake boobs and plastic surgery, misuse and abuse of the precious little natural resources we have left.

I’m not saying I don’t want to come home.  Because I do.  I’m ready.  Ready for next steps.  Ready to hold my squirmy Samson in my arms.  Ready to share a bottle of wine – or three – with friends I haven’t seen in years.  Ready to sit in classes again and fill my mind with new ‘stuff.’  Ready to put all my books on one bookcase.  (This sums up my notion of home.) But I am resigning myself to the fact that just because I’m ready to leave Japan now, doesn’t mean I’ve gotten “it” out of my system.  That maybe mine own wanderlust is an affliction, a disease that defines the journey as the goal.  But here I go again, getting ahead of myself, and why worry about returning State-side when there’s always so much stuff to busy myself with now. So on that note, I’m going to study some Japanese grammar and teach yoga poses to eight-year olds, because I know how excited you must be getting for a play-by-play of a typical day in the life of THE Kazamaura ALT.  It’s all sorts of crazy up in here.

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Some upsetting and disturbing news that has particularly resonated with me – being a female traveler, sometimes solo.  Thinking of Aubrey Sacco, a girl I’ve never met but in some ways couldn’t know better.  More on Go Girl

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The trip itself was fascinating.  I learned more about Chinese culture and history than I had ever known before, and it sparked a lot of questions about what it means to be a successful nation, how that success can be attained, what a country can and can not do for its people, and the differences between China and the other Asian countries I’m familiar with (notably Japan), and between China and the West.  Where Japan is quiet, subdued, and mannerly, China is boisterous, loud, and gregarious.  Japan’s version of rural is nothing compared to the poverty and poor infrastructure that still exists in parts of the Chinese countryside. If I think I get gawked at here (Japan) for my slightly Asian-slightly not features, it was nothing compared to the looks I – and even more so, my blue-eyed friend – received throughout our trip.  Though in many instances, they believed me to be Chinese and yammered away at me accordingly.

In addition, I think China might benefit from a program like the JET Program, with which I am affiliated.  There is a foreign person in almost every city, town, and village in Japan.  Japanese children are exposed to foreigners as young as preschool these days, and while there is still this huge sense of “outsider” vs. “insider” mentality in Japan, it is nowhere near as jarring as it might be if the past generation of Japanese kids wasn’t exposed to foreigners until their later years.

I was also surprised to learn that China just entered its Industrial Revolution less than one hundred years ago, compared to Japan.  In many ways, it is still playing catch-up (quickly, at that), but is stuck behind some major obstacles.  The water is undrinkable. The notion of waste (i.e. trash everywhere) is shocking to an outsider.  The backcountry enthusiast’s green motto “Pack it in, pack it out” seems to hold little social sway in China, where I was astonished to see so much debris along the country’s number one claim to fame, the Great Wall.

In my earlier post, I mentioned our guide with whom we did not get along.  However, meeting him really inspired a lot of thoughts, feelings, frustrations, and furthered my already instilled sense of privilege at being born a woman in America.  Here was a young man, born in 1984 in rural China to farmers, who worked his way through the seemingly grueling Chinese education system to become fluent in English and with a good job as a tour guide in one of China’s biggest cities. Bravo. Somewhere along the line, he began to question his country’s policies and even the rhetoric fed to him throughout the years about the Evil West.  He mentioned to us reading Orwell’s Animal Farm post-university and how it opened his eyes.  This is a book that almost every American reads in either Middle or High School and which many of us take for utter granted.  However, our guide often swung widely between stereotyping the West, particularly America, in a favorable light and an unfavorable light, taking his vast textbook knowledge and trying to apply it to a country he had not once yet stepped foot in.  Though he mentioned his enthusiasm at making many American friends, the only investment he seemed to have in us was for just that sake, and none else – that we were Americans.  There was no effort at getting to know what we, as Americans, were really like.  As to why, we can only guess that we two represented the unfortunate half of our species: women.  This case was further illustrated in such comments that his family was lucky to have had two sons (sidenote: the further out of Beijing you get, the more lenient the one-child-only policy is) and in his general behavior towards us.

China’s form of communism is also very different to the form I witnessed in Cuba (shhh) only a year ago.  Where in Cuba, it seems that everyone was in the same impoverished boat living off government staples and earning the same meager wages, China is obviously very capitalistic.  From what I could gather, China’s communism was based on: one single party consistently holding all the power; blocked websites such as Facebook, You Tube, and personal blogs; control of the press; such programs as farmers contributing money per household capita or a portion of the year’s harvest – which is really just as similar to our tax system; the fact that no one can own land; and it’s justice system, where rather than suspects being reviewed by a jury of their peers, they are judged by officials elected by (and therefore representative of?) the public.  How can two countries (China and Cuba) both be politically communist yet be so vastly different?  How is China able to reconcile its politics with a developed capitalist and focus on education, while Cuba flounders in the Caribbean?

In the end, I admit that that my view of China is widely incomplete and hugely elementary.  Spending a week in one city and on the Great Wall by no means a China expert make.  And, perhaps some of my opinions seem harsh.  We also met some charming, friendly, welcoming and open-minded Chinese people, particularly getting to share the generous hospitality of family friends who showed us the “local’s” Beijing, and meeting a college girl traveling solo with excellent bohemian fashion style who accompanied us on some sightseeing we did our last day in the city.   What I can state for fact though: that China is an onion of a country – layers upon layers of history and culture, and getting to travel there even for the briefest of times highlighted that which I value in travel (and life).  Exposure to new sights, sounds, foods, people, and ways of thinking.  So yes, my week was certainly Golden.

**This was definitely a mammoth of a no-photo post.  Thanks for getting through all the words.  Any thoughts and comments are always appreciated. KS.**

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Even in the darkest hours of December, I thought to myself, There are way worse people with whom I could be stuck in the middle of nowhere Japan. And while I’ve made friends, missed friends, spent many an hour writing emails and talking on skype, in the end, it’s been me in this house on the hill overlooking Hokkaido.  Just me.

Recently, I caught the evening light just right on a deserted beach several hours south of my town.  Here, I welcomed the coming season with some warmer winds and my sights on the Pacific.  And on much more.  I’ve yet to internalize all that these past eight months have done to shape me as a person, a woman, a daughter, a friend; but the way I felt on this day, greeting Spring on the shores of Japan in excellent solo company, is a start.  On the eve of my twenty-fifth birthday, with brains in my head and feet in my shoes, I am steering myself in the direction I choose.   Happy Birthday to me.

The Beast has been a noble, if not slightly ghetto, adventuring companion

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“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives.  It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

Said by none other than Mr. Charles Darwin. He would know.

Snow Monkey Sighting Count to Date: Around 30 (including drive-bys and on runs behind my house). Good pictures of the wiley guys: .5

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This morning on my way to school I heard a cry. My ears are innately tuned to kitty cries in a maternal fashion, and it cut through me like a knife.  I can hear Samson’s pathetic little mewl from opposite ends of the house.  I looked around and thought I was mistaken, since I couldn’t determine the source.  A few steps later, crouched near a car in the parking lot I saw this tiny little thing, no more than 8 or 9 weeks old, mostly white with black little cow spots, limping and meowing. As I got closer, it snuck under the car, but then tentatively crept out and towards my open hand.  It was purring!  I immediately scooped it up, since a parking lot is no place for a sweet little kitten.  I was on my way into the building to ask if anyone knew about the cat, when someone came out and told me I couldn’t bring it inside and that it was 捨てた猫 (literally, ‘thrown away cat’). Acting on the innate belief that you don’t leave starving and hurt kittens who obviously want human contact in a parking lot, I took it home, put it in my shed, and fed it some tuna.

Back at school, over the course of the next half hour, the kitten was a hot topic in the teacher’s room.  I was worried and torn, wanting to keep it, knowing that it needed to go to a vet, but also knowing that at the moment, I was physically ill-prepared to take care of a cat – no litterbox, no food.  I asked repeatedly if they thought the cat had a home.  Everyone said, no, probably not.  Also, nobody wanted to give me their opinion, though the one idea that they threw around was that it should be taken back to the bridge in town where it was found (it followed a student on her commute this morning) even though it had no home, and left there.

At this moment is where my cultural beliefs on animal treatment  and most Japanese people’s cultural beliefs on animal treatment clashed.  In as sweet and sincere a way as possible, I said that I could give the animal to a shelter where someone would take care of it, but that I could not and would not leave it outside to die. This is when they called in to my supervisor to make a decision.  Evidently, while I was in class, a decision was made and my supervisor came by to pick up the cat. Apparently, they are going to take care of it until they can take it to a humane society, where it will get vet treatment and hopefully find a home.  If this indeed happens or not, I’m not sure. I did, however, get the sense that I had created more work for them than they wanted, even though I would have happily adopted the kitty and carried out all necessary errands concerning its health.

So here’s my struggle and assessment.  If that kitten had scurried away and didn’t want to be helped, so be it.  There would have been nothing I could do. Yet, it’s sweet demeanor and how it obviously craved human contact broke my heart. Here I was holding a good, snuggly kitty with a hurt paw and an empty tummy. For all my Japanese coworkers, I might as well have been talking about a rabbit or a squirrell.  Atleast here in the inaka, they don’t consider cats as pets. Many stray cats run around town, probably being fed every so often, but ultimately shying away from people and living a feral lifestyle. I see dogs locked in 4×4 foot yards, or relegated to the genkan area by a leash, but never allowed to come inside the house. On my way to Mutsu, on the side of a highly trafficked road, there is a golden retriever locked in an approximately 5×8 foot pen, with a doghouse, surrounded by weeks worth of its own feces. I can only imagine it is never let out, nor taken care of in the least. It is animal cruelty and neglect for everyone and anyone to see, and no one does a thing. And how???

One reason, is the cultural framework.  Many people I’ve come across don’t understand the American notion that a pet is a member of the household.  In Japan, it is treated as an animal is meant to be treated, and that means, not at all human-like. (This confuses me, though, since name-brand ‘fashion’ cats and dogs are doted on like Paris Hilton’s stupid little chihuahua.  And just look at all the Japanese youtube videos people take of their cute Scottish Fold kittens!)  Going back to the cultural reasons though, another one is that the infrastructure we are accustomed to for unwanted animals doesn’t exist here.  People are more likely to “throw away” a litter of kittens outside than take them to a shelter where they might find a good home.  Needless to say, people then don’t go to a shelter to adopt like we do in America.  From my experience, nobody takes direct responsibility for stray animals, or maybe even their own.  In fact, if I hadn’t made a big deal out of it, that cat would have been left to fend for itself.

So, this upsets me because I love animals, and specifically, because I could give that cat a better future than it will likely get.  (Also, because I so dearly want a kitty and, while I have decided I won’t go out and buy one, would not object to the responsibility if it fell into my lap. Which, it more or less did.) And I believe that humans are and should be responsible for the ethical treatment of defenseless creatures. And it upsets me because I don’t think Japan can hide behind economic reasons that afflict many poor and developing countries, as far as their treatment of animals.  By far, the more heartwrenching aspects of traveling in Cuba and India were the countless stray and unwanted dogs and cats. However, how can you blame a country for not feeding or neutering their animals when they can’t even feed themselves?  As a wealthy and developed nation, Japan should not have stray animals running around and they should have a wider infrastructure set up to deal with this problem.  Maybe in the more urban areas this is the case, but given that the nearest veterinarian is 1 hour away from my town, the Japan inaka has a long way to go in terms of animal welfare.

Poor kitters…what will become of it?

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