Monday, July 28

Summer Vacation (Oita Part I)

I spent this weekend in Oita, Kyushuu; one of Japan's main islands, just south of the main-est island. I was fortunate to be invited by Debbie (canadasue's Aunt) to visit for a weekend. Debbie lives in Oita with her husband, Katsunori, and two kids - Akira and Misa.

Debbie has been in Japan for 22 years. She came as an English teacher, left briefly, came back, and has been living in Oita since. I have (especially after spending the weekend with her & her family) a lot of respect for all of them. In the short seven months that I have spent in Japan, I have faced many difficulties and started (barely) to understand the cultural differences here. When you hear 'cultural differences', you think of religion and food and traditions - but it's not only those things; it's a world of difference. The way of thinking, which pervades every aspect of life, is incredibly different, and often beyond my comprehension. I think that for Debbie and her husband to have built a marriage and raised two children while straddling two countries, cultures, and upbringings says a lot about their personal strength and character. Their children, too, have to contend with two different cultures. Misa, their 18 year old daughter, has been attending highschool in Canada for the past 3 years. Considering the difficulties I've had, at 20 years old, I cannot imagine what it was like for her to suddenly be immersed in a different culture at 15 years old.

Debbie was a pleasure to talk to, and we had some wonderful conversations about life, people, culture, understanding, cooking, baking, experiences.... many things. I enjoyed hearing a bit about what she has experienced, and learned a lot from her perspectives. It was interesting to hear that living in a different culture can still be shocking and difficult - even after 20 years.

. . .

I left work on Thursday and went straight to Kobe Rokko Terminal, to board my ferry. As I had booked the lowest (read: cheapest) fare - to sleep on tatami mats, instead of in a hotel-like room, I full expected to spend the overnight trip sitting in the tatami mat area, amidst people talking and kids crying, trying to get comfortable enough to sleep, but mostly just staring out the window. I was very wrong. The ferry was beautiful!

I shared a room with up to 16 other women (but there were only 7 or so). I had a mat and blanket and pillow to myself - and that was just my sleeping room! The ferry was beautiful with observation desks, a souveneir shop, restaurant, bathrooms, showers, and - an onsen! Actually, it was called a 'Scenic Bathroom'...the onsen window looked out into the ocean. When I got on the ferry, after finding my room (which thrilled me to no end), I was super excited to explore the rest of the ferry. The only downside to it was that there was no one to pull around to explore every nook and cranny. I found myself being super excited, but not having anyone to share it with. (Sidenote: It reminded me that I am single. Being single can be lonely; not just being alone at the time, but knowing that there is no other person, in general. But I only allowed myself to ponder my single-ness and alone-ness for a moment.) I watched the ferry pull away from the dock from the observation deck, perused the ridiculously expensive souveneir shop, and went to check out the bathrooms. As soon as I saw the Scenic Bathroom, I ran right back down a deck to get my shower things, and promptly had a lovely shower, and sat in the onsen looking out the window (into the pitch black, because the sun had set. But it was still wonderful.) :) I ate the supper that I brought (due to canadasue warning me about ferry prices), and walked around the upper deck for quite a while. I did circles around the deck, up the stairs, and down, listened to my music, and watched the clouds and the stars. I almost wished I didn't have a lovely bed to go to, so I could have an excuse to stay outside all night and walk, listen, and watch. It was so relaxing and comforting. But - I didn't want to be too tired to enjoy my time in Oita, so I soon crawled onto my mat and slept. I woke up just before we docked, with enough time to pack up my things and eat my breakfast on the observation dock (beautiful sunny skies, and fresh sea air!). I caught the shuttle bus to Oita station, and found my way to the bus I needed. (Quite proud of myself, for that one. It was a little confusing to find the right bus and where it stopped.) I took the bus to Daigaku Byouin, and called Debbie, who came to pick me up.

When I got to Debbie's, she had to finish packing up her baking, so I relaxed on the couch and read cookbooks. I think I've mentioned it before, but I love to cook and bake (I can't wait to have my own kitchen again!!)....and Debbie has shelves and shelves of cookbooks. It was marvellous.

I read several of them straight through, and found myself wishing for some ingredients and a fully-equipped kitchen. I went with Debbie and Misa to drop off her baking at JAGG house - a beautiful handmade good store. The shop was full of furniture and goods - country style. I wish I had taken a picture! All things handmade, and some not - artwork, furniture, decorations, kitchen things.... it was marvellous to explore! It was sort of like an indoor farmer's market store.

After JAGG house, we stopped at Starbucks, and then had some lunch at home. We had leftover curry (delicious) - I love curry. After lunch, Debbie and Misa and I visited Oita Art Museum.

As Art Museums do, it had all of confusing, strange, mesmerizing, and beautiful art. There were two parts - the regular display, as well as a special European display. I took one picture, but got dame'd and asked not to take anymore. There were a few particularly beautiful pieces, especially in the European display. There was one of a shepherd and his sheep, with moonlight coming over a hill in the distance - it looked so real; as though there was actually a light situated behind the picture, casting a dim glow over the sheep. There was also one of a woman in a gorgeous dress - I wish we still wore dresses like that! We also noticed that in most of the pictures, everyone looked quite unhappy - we determined it must be because of the corsets, which probably didn't let them breathe.

While I have travelled quite a bit in Japan, and been on several 'vacations', this was truly a vacation weekend. I spent quite a bit of time on Friday sitting on the couch reading cookbooks, napping, and chatting. Surprisingly, I wasn't bored at all! It was just lovely to relax. Besides the relaxation, it was nice to be in a house again - with family pictures, knick knacks, arguing siblings, and people milling about. It was wonderful to be around family again - even if it wasn't mine.

Debbie, Misa, Akira and I had dinner at Joyful, with their friend Teddy-O (I'm sure that's NOT how you spell her name, but that's how it sounded to me. :) ). We had a delicious dinner with a drink bar - and I drank a lot of tea. I love tea. The restaurant (Joyfull) was sort of a Denny's-style (except Japanese). I was impressed at how Debbie and her kids converse in both English and Japanese (I suppose I shouldn't be surprised; they grew up in Japan and she's lived there 20 years), but they spoke in Japanese and English, often switching several times in a conversation.

They also have a dog, named Ginny. A huge dog; who isn't very friendly to strangers. Debbie was very careful to make sure Ginny didn't get too close to me, and if she growled, she was put outside. But by the end of the weekend, Ginny was lying near my feet without so much as a glare, and I would like to think we were sort of friends. Or at least indifferent acquaintences.

Friday was exactly how a true summer vacation should be - a few activities in air conditioned buildings, good food, relaxing on a couch, some reading, napping, music, and conversation. It reminded me of the good ol' days - summer vacation. Before jobs and summer responsibilities.

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