Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A year ago today

I moved home from Japan. I never did blog about it. I think that was because I was so emotionally numb at the time. It almost didn't seem real. I had spent the whole last year I was there counting down the days until I could come home since after Nate left and my close friend Marie got a full time job I was pretty lonely. I hurt my shoulder that last year and was pretty miserable with that as well.

Then the closer I got to the date the more I realized how much I really did love Tahara. I spent weeks saying goodbyes - to friends, to students, and to co-workers. I cried only a little at my favorite elementary school. I didn't shed a tear until my very last day when I gave my goodbye speech at Tahara Junior High. I sobbed on the walk home, but even then I still had three weeks to spend with friends.

I packed, traveled, cleaned, went paragliding, took a weekend trip to Osaka and Kobe, biked to the beach, cleaned some more, had several goodbye parties, and met with the mayor to take my official leave. Finally it was time to go.

Leaving Japan
Goodbye party with friends. I also had one with the International Association and the Board of Education. I didn't cry at any of them, even when I was giving my little speech that Marie helped me compose.

My supervisor from city hall met me at the station to give me one last goodbye present (this time from her rather than the BOE.) All of my friends who didn't work that day (and a few who did but took nenkyuu) escorted me all the way to the airport. It was a party atmosphere on the train with Sue taking pictures and me passing around a last minute address book for them to fill out. We got there super early and checked in. I was excited to see on my boarding pass that I had an exit row seat. We walked around at the shops some and went out to the observation deck. My friends Sue and Masako kept pretending to steal my passport so I wouldn't be able to leave. I remember being nervous about getting through security with enough time to get to the gate.

Leaving Japan
Bob, Saori, Sue, Me, Miwa, Kaoru, and Masako

And then it was time to go. I said goodbye at the entrance to the security line. And that's when I finally began to cry. I gave them each a big American hug and we all made promises to keep in touch (which with Facebook we've done a pretty good job.) I didn't stop until I was at my gate. I'm sure the man in immigration thought I was nuts as I handed over my gaijin card with tears in my eyes.

Leaving Japan
You can't tell in this picture but I'm crying pretty steadily.

Once on the plane I realized that my seat was not in the exit row but behind it on top of it being a middle seat. Any other time I would have been more annoyed than I was but I was distracted. I was fine for awhile but almost as soon as I got settled in I started crying again. The people around me politely ignored my sniffling.

Leaving  Japan
My friends actually waited around and waved goodbye as my plane taxied and took off. I couldn't see them waving but I suspect I started crying again right around when this picture was taken.

It was hard to balance the sadness of leaving with the joy of going home and at some point my emotions just switched off. I know they did because the man sitting next to me had a baby who cried and who he kept getting up with, jostling my seat every time, or who he would rock, also rocking me and I didn't get annoyed. Normally I would have been very irritated by the middle seat, no exit row, and a crying baby but I didn't feel anything. I just slept the best I could, watched a movie, and listened to my podcasts.

Leaving Japan
There I go

I landed in Detroit, got through immigration and customs fairly simply. I remember chatting with a grandpa and his two young grandsons while I waited for my flight to Cincy. And then I was home, hugging my mom, dad, sister and nephew. My mom and sister had fought over who got to hug me first (my sister won out.)

This last year at home hasn't always been easy (is moving back in with your parents in your late 20s ever easy) but I don't regret my decision. It was time but I still miss Tahara. I miss my friends. I miss my students. I miss being able to walk everywhere. I miss hiking up Zao-san or in Takigashirakoen. I miss the Pacific Ocean. I miss Japanese food. I miss onsens. I miss being a rockstar. And living by myself.

On the other hand I love seeing my family all the time, especially my new niece and nephew. I'm not missing anything like I did with my other nephew. I love re-connecting with my friends here. I love my bed. And driving my car. And the ease in simple tasks like shopping, getting my hair cut, or going to the pharmacy.

Travel is my passion but it comes with its own setbacks. It widens your horizons but then you know what you're missing. No matter where I am I don't quite fit in because I'm always missing somewhere else. Tahara is truly my daini no furusato or second home. My plan is to go back next spring for a visit (the first of many I hope.)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Paris - Days Six and Seven

Day Six - We got up early again which with jet lag still lingering was just barely tolerable to the Roommate and headed to Giverny to see Monet's home and famous gardens. You have to take a train and then either a shuttle bus, taxi, or bike the rest of the way. I was hoping to bike through the countryside but the Roommate had twisted her knee early in the week (we suspect on the stairs up Notre Dame) and was in no condition to bike. The shuttle bus got us there faster and without the possibility of getting lost. We wandered around the small town, had some coffee and a snack before heading to the main attraction. What to say about Monet's garden other than it was one of the absolute highlights of the trip. We had seen the paintings in Paris and seeing its inspiration was amazing. I'm not sure which is more beautiful.

After crowding on a train full of like minded tourists we took a nap at the hotel before heading out for the night. We took in dinner, dessert, and the view of Paris atop Montmartre. Then we wandered around and down through Pigalle to see the Moulin Rouge. We finished the night off with drinks at the bar next door to the hotel. I'm missing those photos since they were on the Roommate's camera and she has yet to give me her pictures, being a perfectionist and going through them all and "fixing" them in Photoshop. She's much more artsy than me - hence the many many art museums we visited.

At Monet's home in Giverny





And masterpiece

Day Seven - Our last day in Paris we took a train to Chartres. I even managed to buy the train tickets in French, well except for the number 28. For the life of me I couldn't come up with the right word and it came up twice in the conversation. My French is almost non-existent these days. Sad since I was getting fairly proficient in 2005 when I spent almost a year in Burgundy. Oh well, Japanese and Spanish are crowding it out. I hope to come back to it one day.

It was spitting rain when we arrived in Chartres but we didn't let it get us down. We visited the famous gothic cathedral, had a delicious lunch, and wandered around the medieval town. We got lost several times but at least once it worked out in that we stopped at a shop selling nothing but macaroons. There are no pictures because we ate them too quickly and we were very sad to have discovered them our last day in Paris. I've since discovered the one and only bakery in Cincinnati where you can buy them - not quite as good but the best I can do without buying a plane ticket to France.

Back from Chartres we finished up our trip with a night bike tour. We started at the Eiffel Tower and rode all through Paris, stopping for gelato near Notre Dame, pedaling past L'Academie Francaise and the Louvre, before catching a cruise down the Seine. We biked back to the Eiffel Tower just in time to watch it sparkle.

Chartres was built in 30 years amazing quick for the time period so it's a pretty pure example of Gothic architecture.


The veil of Mary. This relic has made this a pilgrimage site for hundreds of years.

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I was most excited to see the Labyrinth on the cathedral floor - only to find it covered up by chairs!

Outside the cathedral.

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Around the medival part of town.


On the bike tour.

Behind Notre Dame

A new tradition is to come to this bridge near Notre Dame with your lover, lock a lock on the bridge, and throw the key into the Seine.

Sunset at the Louvre

Getting artsy on our river cruise

And that was our trip. Absolutely exhausting, filled a little too much with art and not enough wine in my opinion, but I got my fill of espresso and French food, and a great time with my best friend. Now I just have to convince her to go to Japan with me next spring.

Goodbye Paris!

Paris - Days Four and Five

Day Four - was another day of museums. We started out back at the Louvre. We'd already seen the Mona Lisa and the Italian wing so we started out in the Middle Eastern and Egyptian wings before lunch. After four hours of wandering through the castle (and one worrisome 30 minutes where we got separated) we headed out to the Tulieries for a yummy lunch bought from a cart and eaten picnic style in the gardens. We did some geocaching too. The Roommate even ducked behind some official looking tape cordoning off one corner of the Louvre courtyard to grab one.

Then it was down to the other end of the gardens for a quick visit in L'Orangerie to see Money's Water Lilies. We got soaked in a sudden downpour looking for another cache. Then got a coffee, did a little shopping, and headed back to the Louvre so the Roommate could check out the Flemish wing while I sat and read. We finished the night out by taking the metro up to the Arc d'Triomphe where we climbed the steps to the top. I'm not sure cramming all that in one day was really wise. We were both pretty tired at the end of the day but we definitely got our money's worth out of our museum passes.

Hammurabi's Code




Aphrodite. It was surrounded by a horde of tourists.

Outside the Louvre

Monet's Water Lilies - displayed in two rooms especially designed for them.


View from the Arc d'Triomphe

Day Five - we got up early; no mean feat for the Roommate to take the train out to Versailles. We got there fairly early but still waited 45 minutes to get in. Once in there we experienced a crush rivaled only by the Taxi Line of Doom in Beijing. After escaping the palace we wandered through the gardens. It was the weekend for the Musical Fountains so even though our museum passes were supposed to get us in for free we had to pay the 8 euros for the "pleasure" of them turning the fountains on full and playing classical music over the loudspeaker. Neither of us thought it was worth the money, but the gardens were still beautiful and we did some more geocaching. We even met a French cacher from Paris!

Then it was back to Paris where we had dinner, bought some souvenirs, and then headed to the Pompideu. The museum had great views of the city, just as good as Notre Dame and the Arc d'Triomphe.

In the Hall of Mirrors

Gardens of Versailles


A sculpture on the roof of the Pompideu with Sacre Coeur in the background.

Next up: Monet's gardens, Chartres, and a bike tour through Paris.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

For a friend's birthday

The Account Manager I support at work loves art and of anyone I've shown my etegami to is the most supportive and excited. She told me months ago that she expected me to paint her something so I've done her one better - I've made her a whole stash of miniature blank cards to give away or keep for herself. Here are a few in the batch.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Paris - Days One to Three

Day One: Roommate did a really good job of buying tickets and selecting seats so we had a row by the window to ourselves on the way over. It was really nice to be traveling "with" someone rather than just traveling to meet someone.

We arrived in Paris early in the morning, made our way to our hotel, dropped off our bags since it was too early to check in and then headed out. We enjoyed some espresso and a croissant sitting at the bottom of the hill near Sacre Coeur, ate a picnic lunch under the Eiffel Tower, walked the Champs Elysees, drank more espresso, checked out the Place de la Concorde, and then called it a day. We headed to bed early since we had had only 4 hours sleep on the plane the night before.

Sacre Coeur - very near our hotel. We actually requested a room with a view but either we were too late or the guy in reception didn't understand.

Eiffel Tower.

Arc d'Triomphe

Day Two: We headed out early to see Saint Chapelle which although I have been to Paris several times had never seen. Here's a tip - don't leave this off your list. It is a must see and the Roommate's favorite place we saw the entire trip. (Mine too after coffee and French food.) Then it was across the way to Notre Dame where we waited in line to get in the church and then a 2 hour wait to go up to see the gargoyles. Both were worth the wait but since I have never been to Paris during the high season I was a little annoyed by the lines everywhere we went. If you don't want lines visit Paris in the winter. If you want nice weather and flowers then be prepared to stand in line. After Notre Dame we wandered around the Latin Quarter and visited the Musee de Moyenne Age where we saw the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. Since we had a Paris Museum Pass we did a quick stop at the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa and Victory before we headed back to the hotel and fell into bed. The whole six days were non-stop and filled with little else other than art museums and espresso at sidewalk cafes.

Saint Chapelle - Downstairs

And upstairs. The stained glass was amazing.

The floor of the chapel.


Me and the roommate

The view from Notre Dame

The Lady and the Unicorn - Touch. I had tried to get to this museum when I'd been in Paris before and never made it so I was super happy I finally got to see these. They really are stunning although it's hard to take good pictures. They have to keep the light level very low to preserve the color.

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The Roommate was there for the art - I was there for the food.

A Canadian bookshop in the Latin Quarter with more books than shelf space.


Day Three: We hit the Musee Rodin (where we saw the famous statue The Thinker) and the Musee d'Orsay. The weather was cold and rainy so it was a great day for being inside. We had scheduled a bike tour that evening but we weren't attired for the rain and the cold so they took pity on us and let us reschedule to later in the week.

I wonder what he's contemplating.

Next Up: The Louvre, l'Orangerie, Musee Pompideu, Giverny, and Chartres