Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Catching Up

It's been a really long time since my last post and it's not because I got lazy, it's because a lot of things have been happening. My life is quite out of balance and my schedule turned upside down. I went to Hong Kong for a short week and right after that, I was hit with the most intense culture shock when I returned to Japan. Right after my return, Liz and I started getting serious about our 2 month Asia tour and we're working out the flights and everything. Not only that, my parents called and asked if I wanted to stay in Asia longer because I have a cousin getting married in Taiwan over the summer and my aunt wants me to travel with her. Plus, I am looking for a job at the same time. Things are mellowing out though and I think I have a handle on life again. So I finally have the brain power to update my blog!

Let's go backwards... my boss took me to the Agriculture centre to look at the plum blossoms on Wednesday. So BEAUTIFUL!!! I love it. And I got to see some cows and chickens too. It sure beats working!

...On Sunday, I finally met up with Kent's friend, Sarah. We both wanted to go to Nagoya Aquarium but it closed before we could get our sleepy selves out there. Instead, we walked around Nagoya Port, took some puri kara (Japanese photo sticker booth), and hit Little Italy. We took a 5 minute boat tour on the man made canal, quite romantic but we had a small family in the boat with us so it was cramping our style. No sparks there. For dinner, we had pizza which involved pointing at something random on the Japanese menu. The risk was well worth it. We got ourselves some greasy goodness. To finish off, we had some gelato. Not as large a selection as I'm used to back home but it's good enough.

...On Saturday, it was Sayana's (Russian Intern) farewell day. She gave a presentation about her time in Nagoya, then we had dinner at an AIESEC members house, then we went clubbing at Club ID. I didn't get to spend much time with Sayana while she was here but it's still sad to see her leave. It means we definately won't get to spend more time together later on! After the club, Aaron and I couldn't go home because the trains had stopped so we went to Denny's to satisfy my hunger and then we went in search of a bar that we had heard about from someone we met a few weeks back. We knew it was in the red light district so away we went, walking through a shady part of town. There are clothings stores here that stay open all night! Anyways, we eventually found the bar, after having dessert at a convenience store. I like a guy who can share my passion for sweets. But yah, the guy who sat next to me at the bar offered me a mint and I just stared at him, so he offered it to Aaron who actually ate it...then whispered to me that if he passed out to make sure he didn't leave with the guy. Who does that?!?! Oh well, interesting times indeed.


I got back from Hong Kong last Tuesday. It was a nice trip. I got to see Liz and Serge again but it was weird. It was like we were never parted. Liz is the same but with darker hair, which has faded to a rather suiting color for Liz. And Serge is the same cept he was wearing his new stuff from Hong Kong. From the airport, we took the bus back to Liz's apartment. It was a long ride, not really scenic since there was kind of a fog which I think is mostly pollution. It wasn't so nice to see Hong Kong from the air either.

Anyways, I arrived on Valentine's day and to celebrate a lot of people came over and we had chocolate fondu with fruits and candy. There was the rule that if anyone dropped their food into the fondu pot, they'd have to kiss the person on their right so we were all careful, except for all the guys who were sitting next to each other. Also, we visited the New Year's market and got flowers to decorate the apartment with. I love flowers and they lasted till I left.

The next day, Liz took me to some of the markets but I wasn't in the mood to buy anything. That night, we went for Karaoke and I actually enjoyed it. I never liked karaoke before.

Serge and I helped Liz give a presentation about Salsa to her co-workers. It was their monthly team bonding thing where a person gives a presentation about something they like. After that, we got to do Chinese calligraphy as a treat for Chinese New Years. Liz's co-workers helped us write wishes and it was a lot of fun. Liz had to keep working so Serge and I went for bodies massages. It was my first massage in my life so I was excited. Boy was I in for a surprise. Instead of falling asleep and catching up on some zzz's, I was actually in pain. My back hurt when I touched it afterwards but I think in the end, it helped for when I went hiking the next day. The funny story here is that the people thought Serge and I were a couple so they left us in the same room to change.

That night, we went to a place for a seafood dinner in Sai Kung. What I didn't like was being bombarded by all these people trying to get you into their restaurant but, it was cool to see all the live seafood in the tanks. I didn't like the food much in Hong Kong and that includes this place. Afterwards, we stayed up and watched one of Serge's crazy Japanese movies. Even the title was crazy which is why I can't remember what it was.

Next, we went hiking on Lantou Island. Liz and her hiking partner, Jean Philip from France, have been fine tuning their hiking experience to really show Serge and I a good time. We ended up hiking up a dry river path with huge rocks and lotsa spiders. I think the only casualties were Liz getting stung by a caterpiller and me slipping on a rock when it started to rain. Oh and one of the other girls kept banging her shin everytime she took out her camera. It was quite an adventure and I think it'll prep me for South Asia...maybe...hmmm, hotter climate = bigger bugs. We'll see.

I spent the coming of New Years waiting to get into a nightclub. It was a fun night though. Egle from Lithuania was a REALLY good dancer. In the morning, we went for dim sum. Oh how I miss dim sum! Then we went to a temple which was kind of a dangerous place to go on New Years. People had handfuls of incense and they had to carry them above their heads because of all the smoke coming out of them. That just meant that the tall interns got incense in their faces while ashes fell on us little people. I think we spent more time in the line up to get into the temple than we did in the temple. Oh well, I thought it was worth seeing since you don't really get that in Calgary. Next was the New Years parade. There were so many people and when the parade started, people actually got trapped in different quadrants. I was seperated from Liz and Serge and couldn't get to them until the parade ended. It was crazy and the parade wasn't even as good as the one for the Calgary Stampede. Oh well, afterwards, we went for Indian food which was really good. I think the spices helped to make the food taste good. I think the meat and veggies have a funny taste to them in Hong Kong. Especially the milk!!! Bleh. To end the night, we stayed up to watch City of God and talked till 6am with one of Liz's roommates, Frank.

To end the trip, we went to watch a Chinese movie called "Protege". It had Andy Lau and Danial Wu in it and it's about an undercover cop trying to bust a drug lord. It brought me back to my childhood of watching Hong Kong movies. For Liz, I think she found it amusing and I don't think Serge liked it. I do admit that it gets cheesy but it was really cool to see the scenes in the movie match the places where I had actually just been! Plus, Andy Lau an Danial Wu...drool.

Right after that, we caught the ferry to spend the night in Macau with two other interns, Jean Philip and David from Nigeria. Meaning, another night of no sleep! Our taxi ride was an adventure. Our taxi driver didn't want to take us where we wanted to go and we probably ended up paying more for our ride than we should of...but in the end, it was only like $3 a person. We went to visit the Ruins of St.Paul and walked around the streets with the European style buildings. The boys got some meat jerky and we had dinner at a Polish Restaurant. Then we hit the casinos and took a lot of pictures of us in goofy poses. We lasted the night but by morning, we were pretty well spent. We tried to watch the sunrise along the harbour but it was too cloudy. We went back to a casino to have some buffet breakfast and most of us ended up falling asleep at the table. To kill some time before our ferry back to Hong Kong, we went to Macau tower and then took a taxi to tour Macau for like 15 minutes.

After getting back to Hong Kong, I had to leave right away to go back to Japan. I was sad to leave and I almost cried on the plane. I not only miss Liz and Serge, but all the great people I met in Hong Kong. I am jealous that Liz gets to hang out with so many interns from so many places. Makes for a very interesting crowd. But, I will see Liz again in a couple months...and we're probably going to be really sick of each other 2 months after that... after out Asia tour together!!! I can't wait.

...Pictures of Hong Kong to come...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Culture Shock

I guess if the meaning of culture shock is just noticing how things are different around you then I am definately in culture shock and I definately will still be experiencing it when I leave. I've talked to people who have been here for years and they say that the still find things different or surprising even. It's fun...but I can see how culture shock can be straining because it does take effort to take notice of things, call it overstimulation?

I'm pretty sure I haven't been homesick yet. Sure I miss people, but that's about it. I actually don't miss my parents at all and I think that's because I grew up pretty independantly from them. I'm actually thinking about whether I want to go home after this. I think I have a fear of returning home or something. Also, there are just too many other places that seem more attractive. I haven't settled on anything realistic yet and plus I have to return to Calgary to rebuild my foundation before I go off into the world again. Kind of like putting gas in your car and taking it in for a check-up. Anyways, I think I'm starting to settle in more now. I would have been here for 3 months in 1 more week. I'm just doing more with other people now and I am really loving this living on my own thing. I can't understand how people can do a 3 month internship. It's definately not enough!

Today, I decided to ride my bike to have dinner (nabe again) at an AIESECers new apartment. It was only a half hour bike ride and I realized how much I miss of Nagoya by taking the subway. I even found a pachinko places named after me! So, I must ride my bike more often to see more. Considering how big this city is, I can say that I really haven't seen much of it at all! I've seen more of Tokyo than I have of this city. Also, riding my bike home, I was reminded of the times I drove my car around at night when no one was on the streets. It's a nice feeling, very comforting and relaxing.

I am sooo full from dinner but here I am eating mini donuts. It's because after seeing the movie yesturday, I asked Aaron if he's had a donut in Japan yet. I've seen lots of donut places around, you can even get them at the convience store, but I've never tried them here yet. Then he started craving a donut and since he had missed his bus, we decided to try to explore around Nagoya station and find a donut shop. We never did end up finding one, there's actually not a whole lot around Nagoya station. But, ever since then, I have been craving donuts and here I am, eating them. :)

Oh one last thing! Seko, you mentioned to be wary of gangs around Sakae and Shin-Sakae.... Actually, Yusaku told me to be careful of guys trying to hit on me (pick me up) there because that's what guys do there. He told me that to defend myself that I just need to speak English and they'll leave me alone. Do you think that will work with the gangs too?

"First Step" - A project by an AIESECer

The other day, an AIESECer approached me and told me about a project that he is working on called "First Step". His initiative involves promoting the concepts of "My Bag" and "My stick" where you bring your own re-usable shopping bag instead of using the bags provided by stores and where you bring your own re-usable chopsticks where ever you go to avoid using the disposable chopsticks in restaurants. He called the "bag" and the "chopstick" symbols of "a disposable days" which I find really true.

It really surprises me why restaurants would use disposable chopsticks in a country that has no room for waste. Sure, they burn their garbage and they're heavy into recycling, but the process of recycling also produces waste - more energy is used to recycle things than to make something from scratch. This raises another question in my mind. Why do companies use so much packaging? Quite often, I buy a bag of something, say candy and I open the bag to find that every piece is individually wrapped. Maybe this is to prevent me from eating the whole bag of candy at once but it seems like such a waste...even if it does get recycled, it seems contradictory. Why create more work for yourself?

Anyways, back to the project. The point is for us to address the issues of the environment and "My Bag" and "My Chopstick" are the first steps for us to act on.

The first event for this project was for us to go watch "An Inconvenient Truth" yesturday. It's a pretty interesting movie, most of it is about global warming but there is also alot about Al Gore's life outside of his work around global warming. What frustrated me most was that it seemed like the answer to global warming is in the hands of stubborn politicians. Even if everyone on the world took a small step in doing something for the environment, it doesn't amount to what a new act or law related to global warming can do. That is just what I felt from the movie, I am sure there is more to it.

In March, there is going to be a trip to Kyoto to see the "Community Service" of a super market chain called AEON. They are planning to start a "pay-shopping bag movement" which I think is similar to what The Real Canadian Superstore does in Canada.

Then in April, there is going to be a seminar about "My Bag" where I guess they're going to make me talk about shopping bags because the goal is to "know about shopping bag in foreign countries". We'll also be reflecting back on the whole project and see where we've gotten ourselves.

I'm kind of excited. I've never been in an environmental club before even though I've always wanted to do my part.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Small Differences

Due to my bosses great organizing skills, I am now sitting in a sound proof room blogging on scrap pieces of paper because the equipment isn't hooked up and he has tied himself up in a meeting in the room, where my precious internet is, so he can't get me started to so some work. I could just sit here and stare off into space but luckily, I brought my iPod and a pen with me. I am back to my old self of not being about to sit still so while I feel like I am in prison, I can catch up on some blogging!

Where to start is the difficult questions. I have taken many notes since I have been here. Hmm, I was talking to my friend Ala about discovering new things everyday so maybe I should start talking about my discoveries. Also, I was talking to an Australian guy at an English Cafe the other day and I asked him when he was planning on leaving Japan. He said he doesn't plan to leave until he ceases to be surprised...he's been here for a year and a half already!

-etiquette: before a meal you have to say itadakimasu (I will eat/drink) and after a meal you have to say gotisousama deshita (To appreciate the food)
-moist towels: these are given to you before a meal so that you can clean your hands, also, they're usually heated first
-beeper: when you are ready to order, you can use this to get immediate attention
-instant orders: orders are placed on a portable hand held device which I think goes straight to the kitchen and your bill
-smoking: still allowed
-disposable chopsticks: it's weird to see for a country that is conscious on waste, but it's in every restaurant that you go to

-self bagging: you have to bag your own groceries. Basically, the cashier rings in your items and puts them into another basket which you take to the bagging counter and proceed to bag your groceries however you like
-the dish: this is where you put your money

-make-up: girls here seem to be obsessed with it. It's not uncommon to see a girl pull out this giant mirror to check herself. Girls carry giant make-up cases that are comparable to that of a professional make-up artist. You'll also see girls do their make-up on the train, or right at the dinner table in a restaurant.
-Tokyo Princess: the Russian intern introduced this concept to me. It's true, there are a lot of cookie-cutter girls out there. Basically, they have golden blond hair with loose waves and lots of volume, heavy eyeliner that makes their eyes like ginormous, they wear high heels and LV purses. Not only that, it's the middle of winter and they still wear short shorts and skirts!
-Sweatsuits: this style I find kinda of odd. From the neck up, girls look like Tokyo princess, but from neck down, they're in oversized sweats.
-Typical guys: Big hair, sometimes similar to the girl who they are with, shiny puffy jacket with fur trimming on the hood, straight leg designer jeans with "stylish" rips, cowboy boots
-Classy: This I really like, peacoats and suits. Designer shoes and accessories. Modest hair and make-up

-On trains: they have to be on silent or off if you're in the zone reserved for seniors. Apparently, they interfere with pacemakers. Also, people don't really talk on their phones, they're usually emailing or textmessaging
-Charms: everyone has a ridiculous amount of things hanging off their cellphones, including small stuffed animals
-Gems: Another popular thing are gems glued onto the phone. Very Hollywood!

Vending Machines:
-Cigarettes, and they're cheap too, like $3 a pack
-Beer, also cheap, comparable to pop
-Normal Beverages, hot and cold
-French Fries
-Ice Cream
-Rumor: Underwear, I have yet to find this!

-heating: no central heating so my roommate and I hang out in our own rooms next to our little space heaters
-windows: single pane, I hear everything!
-tatami mats: instead of carpet, I have tatami mats on my floor
-beds: people are starting to use western beds but I sleep the traditional way, on the floor on a futon

-nothing to dry your hand with: people carry hankerchiefs for this reason
-squat toilet: there are western toilets but sometimes, you just have to deal with this
-public washrooms: they're everywhere, in subways stations, parks, outside shrines, etc.
-special toilets: heated toilet seats, jets to clean your bum

Other differences:
-recycling: you have to seperate your garbage into burnables, unburnables and recyclables, even at the train station, McDonald's, just everywhere!
-pointing at the nose: people do this when they are referring to themselves
-sidewalks: this is where you walk and bike which means, bigger sidewalks, smaller roads. What surprised me was when I saw a motorcycle coming straight for me. Bikes can be parked on the sidewalk. Oddly enough, I've even seen cars drive right onto the sidwalk...on purpose.
-right of way: is on the left
-constuction: there is a lot of road construction in Nagoya, in fact, on my way to work. However, construction doesn't mean, you've got to find a detour. Nope, the construction happens around the traffic...and for pedestrians, they get right of way. Meaning, workers have to stop what they're doing and move if their work is obstructing the path for the person.
-advertisements: companies put advertisements on kleenex packages and give them away to people on thes street. Great for when you encounter a public bathroom with no toilet paper!
-dogs: people treat their dogs like people. They dress them up and give them nice hairstyles...including a mohawk! I've also seen a many carry his dog on his shoulder like it was a parrot!
-DVDs: the zoning is different so I had to change the settings on my computer to play DVDs from here.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Challenge to the work week....

This post actually has nothing to do with work. It's about what I'm trying to do after work. Normally, I kick back to a rented DVD or I read a book but I wanted to be a rebel this week and avoid the video store and my bookshelf altogether.

Monday was slow, I cooked up a bunch of stuff, did some beading and spent a lot of time online.

On Tuesday, rode my bike around and I called Liz up randomly to chat. Normally I give her a warning but I was lucky and caught her just before she went for a run.

On Wednesday, I shopped and then I did the weirdest thing, I scrubbed down the kitchen. The fear of turning into my mom, the clean-o-holic, flashed through my mind so after an hour I stopped and went back online.

Today, for the first time I walked the dog. That little bugger left me not 1 but 2 stinky presents. Actually, 3 because he wasn't quite finished with his second poop or something. Sometimes, it felt like he was walking me since it was him who was dragging me along. It was fun though. I wonder if he's a runner cuz I found a great paved spot for running along a river when I went for a bike ride. When I mean run, I think I mean walk. I haven't ran since my junior high track team!

In the news today, a gangster boss is shot dead in his car in Tokyo and in revenge, rounds of shots were directed at the headquarters of rival gang. Hmmm, in my mind, I still believe that these things only happen in movies. Well, it's a good thing that I don't live in Tokyo!

Who knows what will happen tomorrow but I know I've got to start packing for Hong Kong soon. I have a tendancy to pack last minute in which case I always forget my toothpaste, facewash or pajamas. Packing for Japan was no different! I think I've finally gotten used to my Japanese toothpaste though. It tastes like flowers or something.

Monday, February 05, 2007

I need a cooking lesson....

So the other day, I discovered these packages in the supermarket that are sauces for asian dishes and right on the back are illustrations to the exact ingredients you need to add, which to me is important because I can't read the Japanese instructions. I call home telling my mom this great discovery just to hear her tell me that all I need is a bit of salt and sugar and maybe some soy sauce for color to cook my meat and vegetables in. I was surpised that I thought cooking involved so much more. I tried it and like Alan said, the meat and vegetables are what brings the flavours to a dish!

Okay, but now I have more questions:

Deep frying food is not healthy...but what if you deep fry in olive oil?
How many days can you leave leftovers in the fridge for?
Why does my leftover eggplant dish turn purple in the fridge, then go back to being brown after I heat it up?
If there's no mold, is expired food still okay to eat?
How long can I leave meat to defrost in the fridge?

Wah, so many questions! Help!

A great week-end

After bugging Yusaku to take me clubbing since I first arrived, we finally found the time and rounded up enough people to go. On Friday, we started off the night with all-you-can-eat grill and drinks. Then we walked down to Club ID and danced the night away. Cover charge for ladies was about $20 but you get 4 drinks with it. For guys it was $30. Things like this make me appreciate being a girl more. Oh, and we all got coupons for $10 off our next visit!
The clubbing experience in Japan is only a little bit different. The club we went to had a techno beat floor, a lounging floor and a hip-hop floor. On the techno-ish floor, it looked like there were regulars there because more than a few times, the people were dancing in sync, like there was a dance to the song or something. On the hip-hop floor, the new intern from the US, Aaron, kept sarcasticly commenting on the hip-hop style of wear. It was kind of dark for me to see, plus I am not 6'2 like Aaron so I didn't get much of a good view but I think I know what he is talking about. Imagine guys my height in oversized clothing. ;) Another thing about the dancing is that people dance facing the dj unlike what I'm used to, dancing in a circle with your friends.
The dancing was fun and the tequila really good. Okay, when in Japan, drink sake but tequila is my favorite! There were 5 of us who went to Club ID, 2 of us were interns, and 2 had never been clubbing before. I think we were all satisfied with the night but I know the 3 Japanese boys were super tired because they all fell asleep at the restaurant that we went to afterwards. After playing some pranks, Aaron and I left them some money for our drinks and went in search for another bar. By the time we were done, the subway was running again so we could all go home and sleep in our nice warm beds!


On Saturday I had to prepare for my Canadian Culture Presentation to the AIESECers. After that, I met up with Aaron and brought him the a cafe called, My English Room, where George, the intern from the UK works. Here, we met Japanese people who go to this cafe to practice speaking English with each other and with the foreigners who work there. It's an interesting concept, they also give Japanese lessons to foreigners so it has lots to offer.

On Sunday, I gave my presentation about myself, Canada and my time in Japan. Then the AIESECers presented to me Valentine's day and McDonald's in Japan. It was fun. The Valentine's presentation made me laugh really hard. One person explained it like this, guys try to be nice this month to girls because on Valentine's day, girls give boys chocolate. The amount of chocolate a guy receives shows his worthiness. If a guy does not receive enough chocolate, he will have to go and buy chocolate for himself to feel better. Another person explained it as a celebration in 3 ways; girls give chocolate to boys to show LOVE, girls give their male friends chocolate, girls also give their female friends chocolate. I had to ask what the difference between friendship chocolate and love chocolate and it's the price!

In Japan, there is also White day and on this day, guys have to give girls chocolate or cookies or other sweets. BUT, guys have to spend MORE money on their gift so they have to work very hard this month!

After the presentations, we went into a room that had these kitchenette stations and we all divided up into groups to make pancakes! It was really cool. I had requested for there to be pancakes because I had brought Maple Syrup with me from Canada and there was no way I was bringing it back with me. I also brought Canadian Whiskey which I still have lots of so there will be a Whiskey party some night!

To finish up the week-end we went bowling again. I think it's starting to grow on me. Someone told me that I'd start liking it after I get a strike and I think they're right!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Typical Japanese Lunch

I have Japanese food for lunch quite often and it looks something like this...

Clockwise from top left: raw octopus with cucumber in vinegar sauce, fish, leek, kishamin noodles, raw fish, rice, soy sauce, picked vegetables

Clockwise from top left: raw fish, say sauce, white radish in miso sauce, soba noodles, leek emptied into noodles, raw fish on top of rice, hidden pickled vegetables

Clockwise from top left: teriyaky chicken with white radish on top, deep fried something (maybe fish or pork), salad, pickled vegetable, miso soup, tofu, rice

If you're interested in food from all around the world, check out this blog that many interns around the world contribute to:

Kent keeps reminding me to update on the food blog - I hope you are happy now, I did it just for you!