tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
a.k.a. part of our Huddle song on Friday. Went really well actually.

Something else happened on Friday that I forgot to write about in the last entry. In this city, a portrait drawing class received photos of us (the same ones on the website) and used us as practice. During the Celebration we all saw potraits of ourselves, as drawn by this class.

Some turned out really well, some were barely recognizable...mine was deemed a portrait of my twin brother Tony. (It didn't help that the website photo of me is rather bad to begin with.) Hey, at least it makes for an interesting souvenir.

Also, we had a great discussion with Bob and Hiro about the future of Up With People, especially its business side. Basically - we need more money, yo. Hopefully we sparked a few ideas and things work out for the better.

I woke up at 2 o'clock this morning for no real reason. I think my brain has travelled to Europe early. My host mum kept thinking the baby crying woke me up but I heard nothing of the sort. Being bored and way too awake, I went downstairs to the computer and chatted online for a while.

Then at 6 o'clock sharp, I hear this very loudly:


Nothing reaches the height of surrealism more than a talking rice cooker.

Apparently that thing says Good Night too if you set the timer. I swear, it should be the focus of a horror movie. The Rice Cooker. With lines such as:

"Ohayo Gozaimasu - Your rice is rotten today! Have a great breakfast!"
"Ohayo Gozaimasu - I am fed up of rice! Give me something else to cook!"
"Ohayo Gozaimasu - I will take over the world! Listen to me, stupid minions!"


We went to Disney Sea this morning. Like Disneyland except things are more water-based. It was pretty interesting...it wasn't as packed and it was easy to get Fast Passes (gets you to the front of the line) so we didn't have to wait long. Syoko, my host sister, was disappointed that the Mermaid Lagoon was closed though.

I got hijacked for a magic show - basically trying to make a piece of rope hang from an upside down bottle. I know how the trick is done; I had a similar bottle back home. I miss doing magic; I really should get back to it. I was thinking how useful it is to learn circus and magic skills - they really are a workout, they aid with reflexes and flexibility and agility, and it's a blend of the body and the brain and the mind and soul. Everything together.

Tomorrow - HALLOWEEN! My favourite day of the year. Also our flight day to the Netherlands. Nifty. I already have a plan for the day; let's just hope I remember the thing. I'm supposed to pack but I am as always procrastinating.

This faerie will rest her wings for a long flight tomorrow.
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
The last Celebration in Japan went really well. I wasn't terribly woozy, the Circles actually made sense, and we had two people for Shima Uta (which was fun). People were gossiping about my homeless-person-ness (I wish I knew what they were saying exactly, it was kinda funny) and even Peder was laughing, calling me "my little homeless person".

Danni got stood up this time; Kara missed her cue. Usually it's the other way around. And while flinging my gloves away after the Work Dance, I hit an audience member (everyone was on the floor). Oops.

Tom had been watching my Statistics speech the past few weeks and was giving me feedback. This week he exclaimed "Yes!" (he asked me if I heard him from the stage - I didn't) because I apparently improved a lot and actually got it perfect. Too bad it's probably the last time I'll be doing Statistics, since the format is going to change when we arrive in Europe.

Speaking of Tom. He's become even more affectionate towards me - I didn't even think that was possible. He's now calling me "my love" and he has even told me "I love you". I told him Melissa would kill me - or us - and he told me not to worry because apparently Melissa is open about this kind of thing. Or something. Reminds me of this random conversation we had on a train in Tokyo:

Tom, Melissa, Brandy, Me: *something random about petting people - probably Brandy saying she doesn't like to be petted even though her host dad does it a lot*
Tom: *jokingly pets Brandy and tickles me*
Brandy: That's probably illegal over here...*something about public displays of affection*
Melissa: Yeah, cheating on me while I'm there!
Tom: That's what turns me on, baby.

Melissa is awesome - or, using her word, "super". We get along very well too. And she is adorable. Huzzah polyamoury, or something. No one can really tell when Tom's kidding or when he's serious anyway, so no point worrying about it. Just play along.

Tom spent his school days being the only boy in a mainly girls' school. Now apparently he's the female in the relationship and Melissa's the male. Har.

There is another guy out there that likes me. He is reading this, most likely, so hello. This is all way too new an experience for me. Right now the only option I know of is to blush as red as a tomato. Heh.

My sister says I'm "growing up". Heh.

I FINALLY found a place in this whole prefecture that does binding. Now my stories are a book. Looks more professional, and hopefully loads more permanent.

Monday - EUROPE! My goodness the time has flown. Then it'll be over and I'll be extremely depressed and WAH. What shall I do with my life. But for now...new continent, new adventure. And Nina and Christie again! On Halloween too. Our first night is with everyone in a youth hostel - this should prove interesting.
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
Today we had a Group Check-In - sitting in a circle talking about our experiences so far. Originally it was supposed to be just 2 words about how we feel, but that quickly grew to sharing what's in our hearts and minds. Host family frustrations, exhaustion, happiness, all sorts of things.

I talked about the loneliness I felt and how people like Nina came up to help me, though it was something I still need to work on. Knowing people deeper and being comfortable with being vunerable and asking for help. I said I didn't know the crew all that well, and that it would really be a shame for me to leave this amazing program and yet not have a close connection with anyone (since Nanu left).

This sparked a big conversation about getting time to know each other, getting time for ourselves, and just close connections to the group in general. What do we know about each other? What are we telling our host families that we aren't telling the crew? How can we connect?

Somewhere in that discussion Jessica spoke up about needing to know each other better. She then referred to my earlier point and told me (and everyone else) that it wasn't true that I didn't know anyone - my Thank-You Stories (the stories I wrote for each crew member, given to them once they return my NaNo survey) were spot-on, that I captured everyone perfectly through my writing. So really, I did know people more than I thought. Quite a few people agreed with her on that, which surprised me.

This became a bit of a theme for the whole day. I had printed an extra copy of the stories for the whole crew to share amongst themselves (originally the crew members had their own stories to keep). It got passed around, with rave reviews.

Eli kept telling me how amazed she was by the writing, especially the final sentences. She told me that this was really my mode of communication and that it's odd that not many people know about this side of me.

Jessica and Danni were my PR people for this project, always raving about the stories to others. I'm really glad they liked them, I think they were one of the first few to read them.

Krista told me that it was something I should share more. Currently she has the big book; maybe she'll illustrate some of the stories! When I told her that Nina liked my story for her (she told me it was nice and thanked me for it), she said I had perfect timing with the story. I know Nina's been stressed a lot lately but that she doesn't usually show her emotions a lot - she's not extremely affectionate (at least not like Tom, Marco, or I) and she keeps to herself often. I hope my story really did help her feel appreciated, because she is.

Chris came up to me later that night and told me that it was great that I wrote all these notes for everyone and that he really respects me for that. I felt bad because I've been quite an ass to him the first few weeks and here he was being this perfect gentleman. Hopefully things get better.

It's strange, in a way, because I have never really envisioned this kind of reaction. Sure, I hoped people liked it. But it was something I did for a few days because I was ill and bored and needed to write something even though it wasn't November yet. Most of the stories were intensely challenging and half the time I wasn't sure I had captured anyone's personality for real. So all this? Just wow. Amazing.

Now I can't wait till November, just to see how they'll react to the novel. It'll be a lot crazier, but hopefully a lot more fun.

(I'll get to the questions soon! But please send in more!)


Oct. 24th, 2005 08:31 pm
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
Here I am in Abiko, Chiba.

It doesn't feel like a new week because we got here by train, not bus. It feels like some random CI or Regional Learning Day.

We had whale-weighing today - our luggages being those mysterious whales. Anything over 20kg and you get a Free Willy tag (which I painstakingly made!). My carryon, oddly enough, is heavier than my checkin...

Last week in Japan. Not sure what else to report, really. I'm not sure everyone is in the Japan spirit anymore, everyone wants to go to Europe now. And I miss Nina and Christie. Man.

I'll get to your questions soon! Keep them coming!
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
Just a few things first.

Celebration went awesome, though for some weird reason I still felt woozy during the Statistics. This after using Nina and Rob's tips. I don't get it, man.

I took over Natsuko's role as homeless person for the street scene. Apparently I rocked.

Nina and Christie H are leaving Monday morning for Uthrecht. I miss Nina already. It seems that we had just broken a barrier between us and now she'll disappear for a week. Sigh.

OK. I have something for all you readers.

Ask me all the questions you want.

They can be about WorldSmart, about Up With People, about my trip, about me, about whatever. But please, give me questions. Give me 5, give me 20, give me 205. Give me as many questions as you can concievably think of.

Every so often I'll go through the questions and answer them in here, so do check back.

But please, ask me anything! I promise I'll try my best to answer you.
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
There seems to be quite a lot of magic here in Tama. Little surprises here and there.

My host mum shares a birthday with me.

Her English teacher is Malaysian (and still maintains a Malaysian accent).

I actually have a bed.

One of the intepreters in this city is Singaporean.

Reuben has started a cheer that is extremely Singaporean. ("WORLDSMART WORLDSMART IS SO SOLID! ACTUALLY EVERYBODY ALSO SOLID!")

The Lai Lai See Lai game of primary school days has gained popularity here.

I got partnered with Danni for one of the class CIs.

Tom actually does want to come to Malaysia.

Nina randomly comes up to me and we have a great heart-to-heart chat, just when I wished she would.

The heart-to-heart chat comes just when I really needed it and wished someone would spare the time for it.

I wish for food and it arrives.

I wish for a payphone and I find one - in a city where they are nearly extinct.

A long-lost friend from school days is looking for me, just after I tried looking for her.

Myongshin randomly comes up to me when I am alone and we chat for a while.

Jessica tells me that she wants to party with me someday soon.

We went to a university to see kendo and judo - we got to see sumo as an extra surprise.

We were greeted at the Parthenon building by groups of junior high school choirs.

We felt an earthquake for the first time in our Japan trip - in a country that's supposed to have them frequently.

I got to see the Ghibli Museum, housing Miyazai's works - so much Totoro.

Said museum also has a lot of bats. BATS!

We look for food along a street that doesn't have much restaurants - and find a very nice Chinese restaurant.

I get unagi and Malaysian-style tofu for me - and only me.

We finally get the NaNoWriMo ML thing sorted.

I wish for postcards - and find really cute ones of cats playing pianos.

My host mum sighs because she forgot her camera for the museum - no need to worry, since photography wasn't allowed anyway.

The museum requires advanced booking for entry. We get tickets the night before.

The Italian restaurant we went to has really nice rose tea.

We see a magic show in the welcome party.

We hear news from Nanu! She's practically moved into the hospital, she still has hope to return but she's not sure, she really misses us.

People love my little thank-you stories - they say I got them spot on.

The two busiest people in the crew, Bob and Anke, actually returned my surveys to me.

McDonalds gave us a plastic knife when we needed one but couldn't find one.

The Malaysian Prime Minister's wife has returned to God in the holiest month of her faith's year. Sure, this may not seem like the same class of magic as the rest; it is sad news, she seemed like a really nice lady and we were actually supposed to meet her (we got to meet the Prime Minister - her husband - last year).

But perhaps there can be grace and magic and miracles in everything, if we only just look.


Oct. 19th, 2005 10:32 pm
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
I just felt tremors from an earthquake.

A Richter Scale 5 earthquake hit Ibaraki prefecture about half an hour ago - in Tokyo it was RS 4. Things did shake but nothing was destroyed - everything seems fine at the moment. Things at our house were shaking too, and I thought a real earthquake was coming so I was a bit frightened, but everything's OK thankfully.

It's funny because this is our 5th week in Japan and this is our first earthquake. At least we know our topic of discussion for tomorrow...

Tom has declared me as his sister. This actually happened in Murou but I'm only writing about it here now because...well, I kind of forgot. But yes, now I have a brother. And, in a sense, a sister-in-law, Melissa. Woo!

I had a weird dream about Tom last night. The odd thing was, the dream actually made coherent sense - as in, it wasn't one of those "I turned into a bear and then fought a war against aliens and wrote poetry about feet" type dreams I usually have. The whole idea of the dream, though, was nonsensical.

Basically (DISCLAIMER: THIS IS A DREAM, IT IS NOT REAL, PLEASE DON'T SUE OR KILL ME, THANKS MUCH APPRECIATED) - I was having an affair with Tom. He kissed me and we kinda dated for a while, behind Melissa's back. I wrote something in a paper journal about having my first kiss and how I finally found someone; Baljit read it and was telling me "oh, well done! I'm so happy for you!" but inside I was feeling guilty because, well, he is someone else's boyfriend. He later breaks up with me, telling me he should be more loyal to Melissa. Yes, this after he started the damn affair to begin with. Oh well.

I felt so weird when I woke up. To be honest, I would totally go for Tom if he was single. At first I felt he was rather dodgy, but as I got to know him better I grew to like him. We're now actually pretty close, working together a lot, and whenever we see each other there's always a hug or a high-five or something. Sometimes even flirting. We talk a lot and he listens to whatever concerns I have, which is really good. And I do kind of like him, in a different manner.

But you know what? He and Melissa BELONG together. They're the perfect couple. (Well, besides Bob and Anke, but yeah.) They function independently of each other, they don't need to cling onto each other or be around each other all the time, but they still respect and care for each other. And they are just so cute.

So yes, Tom can remain my brother for as long as we want to. Siblings for life, yo.

(I don't even know why I'm journalling all that, but hey.)

Today during CI I became the default leader, mainly because I actually knew the game we were playing at the school. I was just trying to check on everyone, see if everyone was OK, when Nina told me to chill out because I was apprently being too tense and was spreading bad energy. That surprised me - I wasn't tense actually - but I just moved on; we had an awesome day anyway, loads of energy and enthusiasm and fun. They even went through the trouble of learning Malay for me, aww...

We returned from CI and I was just hanging around when Nina came looking for me. She told me that she didn't mean to sound like she hated me, because she didn't...it's just that there are moments I could potentially be overwhelming and almost bossy. That I should maintain my energy and intentions, but that people have different styles and that early in the morning it much be a bit too much, you know?

This then became a real heart-to-heart conversation about connecting with people and making relationships...I finally managed to let out my thoughts about how I felt really lonely in the group because I know people rather superficially but there has been no one (since Nanu) that I felt really deeply connected to. I know this contradicts what I said about Tom earlier, but for me it feels like everyone's so busy, or too concerned by their own friends and their own problems, that me coming in would just be burdening them. That it'd be much better for everyone concerned if I just kept it to myself. That this was an ongoing struggle that might be mainly my fault but I've never really known how to deal with it so I just do what I know.

Nina asked me to think about whether I was the sort of person that worked best alone or with company...that even if I was forced to be alone a lot of the time I might not actually function well in that situation. She told me that she's seen me lonely quite a few times but never knows whether or not to approach me, if she has to make the first move. That maybe sometimes I just have to try to go up and open myself to others and then they'll come to support me. That she was there for me if I needed her to.

I don't remember a lot of what she said - that always happens with the most meaningful conversations; I forget a lot of the details! I suppose I may not remember the words but rather the spirit and the heart of it. And in this one, the heart was: we're here, don't be afraid.

The hugs we had were extremely healing.

It's interesting, because I've been feeling those doubts for a while - especially the "lonely in a crowd" feeling - and I've been wanting to talk to someone about it for a long while. I just was too apprehensive; I never knew when to really approach someone, or who to approach. Also, I've always wanted to talk to Nina about it because I find her fascinating and she may have interesting insights. But again - too shy, too apprehensive, never sure if it's appropiate. And now she's the first one to actually approach me about it. Funny how things work out sometimes.

Myoungshin even came by to me while I was sitting alone and chatted with me for a while. I asked him how he dealt with being comfortable enough to ask for help and he told me that sometimes, just by actually asking, you make other people comfortable, because they feel that you trust them. That's a new perspective; I should keep that in mind.

People actually coming up to me and sharing their hearts with me. People I like. This is good.

Tom and Nina were roommates once (I think now, actually). Apparently Tom hates silence and so fills up the space with constant chatter, while Nina loves silence and can't stand the chatter. Quite funny.

Let's hope I don't have to feel any more earthquakes.
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
I got lost this everning.

I was walking home from the train station to my house - initially I thought my host mum would walk me back, since it was my first time walking back (she followed me to the train station this morning) but she wasn't there so I just walked alone.

I followed the map she drew out for me. Turn at signal...walk past two signals...turn at first T-junction. I turned at the first T-Junction - not my road! Nothing was familiar. There were two big fact cats on bicycles; I couldn't figure out why.

I walked to the next T-junction - not familiar either. Now I was getting worried. There was no one I could stop to ask, I had no mobile phone, no real address, it was dark, I was alone. I remembered my best friend telling me to keep my head up and walk confidently - but inside I was thinking about tomorrow's morning announcement being "Tiara got kidnapped". I was scared.

I walked to a house and asked on the intercom if I could borrow their phone - they refused. They probably thought I was trying to sell something.

I retraced my steps and walked to a convenience store. I called my host mum on a payphone (one of the very few in Tokyo!) - thankfully she was there. I asked her to pick me up; she found me a few minutes later.

We drove home, and I found out that it wasn't the first T-junction. There were 2 T-junctions to go before reaching the one nearest to the house. Only difference is, this particular road was at the top half of the T. So much for confusing.

I'm sure my parents are most likely panicking right now. They worry about me travelling alone, relying on public transport. I worry too, especially in an unfamiliar city, and especially at night! Thank goodness I was safe and nothing of consequence happened. Too bad the people aren't exactly the friendliest - or perhaps it's just my language barrier in the way.

I think many of us will be lost tonight. A few of us are taking the trains and walking home and most of them don't know how to get back home exactly. I wonder how many will survive the trip?

The thank-you gifts got a good reaction. I was surprisingly accurate on some of them. I even managed to guess some traits; in Gaby's story I called him a "cyber MacGyver" but I didn't know that MacGyver actually was the inspiration for his name until he told me. Huh. Psychic writing.

I have a new special project! "Free Willy" - a project to lighten the load of our luggage before Europe. It was something done last year and Bob knew I was getting bored with nothing much to do so he gave me this to work on. I'm adding a twist; there will be a Stuff Swap, where people can contribute things to discard and they can either get swapped or donated. Noelle is also doing something baggage-related so let's see how that works.

I didn't have anything much to do for Project Time - the Yearbook team were involved in Advance Team training, and I didn't have any computer to work on (oh how I miss my laptop) so I got bored for a while. I ended up running errands for people - I bought oranges (well, one), string, and scissors for the crew's projects, hunted down a plastic knife, mailed postcards, and made copies of receipts. Now this is interning.

I miss being an intern.

The orange was for a Stone Soup presentation on conflict. Part of the presentation was a skit about different types of conflict - Nina and Yoshimi acted as two sisters fighting over an orange; Nina wanted it for a science project while Yoshimi was hungry. Tom and Anke were their "parents" - oh they were hilarious! Even down to "how come they are suddenly my children when there is a problem?!?" har. What an odd couple.

Nina's such a fussy nut ("I want the peel whole! Don't break it!") and Yoshimi's just plain silly...now I have this image of mini (chibi?) Nina and Yoshimi running around fighting over oranges. OH GOODNESS. (If you can draw this, please do...) I'm just worried about how they were when they were mini themselves...

Tomorrow, Community Impact. We'll be going to an elementary school to hang out with the kids. Should be fun.
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
Firstly, thank you so much to everyone that sent me emails and comments from my second-last entry. I know I sounded really dire then, but I'm feeling better. It's just that tiredness and exhaustion and sudden bad news and illness and fatigue came together and boom! major effect on me.

I did take a couple of days off due to the flu. On the first day, in the afternoon I joined the crew at Murouji temple - I was feeling a bit better. Apparently this wasn't a good idea. For one thing, I'm just spreading the bug around. But most importantly, I'm giving the impression that people can pick and choose where they want to go. Never mind that this was a last-minute decision.

I found the policy, while understandable, quite odd - most people came up to me and said it was great that I made the effort to come. And I was obviously still flu-ey; I suppose people can tell when someone is faking it. But what to do...considering the various forms of chaos we've been through, sometimes such things are necessary...

We had a sharing discussion time about different philosophies and faiths, and I shared some thoughts about my own beliefs. I got quite a number of interesting questions, some of which made me pause and ponder. I know many other people have many other questions (we just didn't have time) and I would like to share some more, but it did make me think more about why I believe what I believe, and perhaps how exactly to structure that.

One thing I've learnt from this program so far is that I can be horribly ignorant about things I should know about. I barely know about Malaysia's policies with other countries. (Heck, I didn't even know what a free-trade agreement was until the ASEAN + 3 + 2 summit.) I barely know about Bangladesh's own problems. I barely know about some basic things about my own culture. I've forgotten the children's songs. Laurence knows more Bangla than I do. It's quite surprising really, how much you think you know but you actually don't...how deep you think you know but how much is really just surface level...

The second day of my sick time off, the group went on a hike. One of the checkpoints was the temple I lived in, so my host mum gave me a task as some form of a greeter. I basically stood outside waving Japanese flags and saying hi to the crew that came up. Nina took my photo, Chris jokingly said I had "sexy hair" (it was soaking from a shower), some people joked about me purposely skipping this...the LOCs wanted me to come in and listen to the talk about Buddhism, and I wanted to, but I didn't want to run afoul of the policy again and just sat at home. As it is, they sent Jessica a message for me telling me to stay home and get better. Har.

I worked on some thank-you gifts for my NaNoWriMo surveys for a few days - short stories about each crew member. They will receive this story once they return my survey to me. At first they were barely a hundred words...then things got harder but they got longer...now they're around 200-300 words (some are still in the hundreds), and for some reason Tici's is a page long. Meep. A few people have read their thank-you gifts, and they liked it, so hopefully the rest will too!

The Celebration was fantastic. We had a children's choir beforehand and they were really entertaining. Japanese children's songs are a lot of fun, and they brought some Sound of Music classics. We all got up and danced by the time they sang It's A Small World.

That energy was reciprocated during our Celebration - when I walked out on stage for Rhythm Of The World, everyone immediately clapped in rhythm to my instrument. That has NEVER happened before. People were animatedly talking about the photos in the slideshow (with an "extended remix" version of the soundtrack - basically the slideshow was longer than the song) and the kids even developed clapping games for Song Of Peace and Up With People. Such enthusiasm! They even cheered during our little Expo stuff.

The kids from the choir ran up to me and gave me their namecards. How adorable.

Rie unfortunately was tired and she had to rest during Celebration and Host Family Day. Aaww poor baby. We were just talking about how she never falls ill and now she does. Oops.

For Host Family Day I was taken to the Blue Mountain Plateu, where there are about 24 windmills (counted them all!) - and, for some odd reason that day, a group of colourful motorcyclists and a pile of Toyota convertibles racing. Huh. I took some photos of me trying to be like a windmill - I look more like a wind-blown penguin...

I tried one of the painkiller pills the Nara doctors prescribed to me for my back pain. The pain only got worse, and I had weird hallucinations for almost the whole night. That pill did something to my brain. I'm definitely not taking it again, that's for sure...

The Nara host families are really dedicated to us. They even ran to some distance along our journey just to say goodbye. They really loved us.

There was some sort of odd carousel-like music playing on the bus. Really creepy; almost Hitchcock-like. It sounds innocent but you just know something isn't right. Thankfully they stopped the music, otherwise we would have become a Hitchcock movie ourselves...

Tama looks a bit like Johor Bahru and Singapore combined. The sort of city I'm used to - except they still have the confusing train system (confusing because I can't read Japanese that well). Our facility is quite big and modern, and the welcoming ceremony was typical - they even had a drum circle again! Still awesome, still amazing, and we got a chance to play the drums too, which was great. Los Angeles all over again.

Miho and Cristy were calling out the names of crew and host families - Miho kept making random comments about each person. I half-suspect she's trying to flirt with us or something. Even Bob found it amusing; he was using it as a memory device!

We were told that our host families are driving us to and fro the facility - not in our case! Sammy and I are taking the trains this time around. We even had to take the train to get back today; imagine us with our suitcases in a nearly-packed train. Omoshiroi.

The house I live in is really quite modern and Western compared to the ones I've been in Japan so far. I have a room to myself - with an actual BED. Not a mattress on the floor, an actual bed. (I'm sure my sore back is in glee.) There's a ton of flat-screen TVs, even one in my room. Their son has a music room, filled with vinyl records - he DJs as a hobby, so there are 2 turntables there too, and a keyboard as well. They even have a dishwasher.

My host mum enjoys travelling - she just returned from Canada, and is planning to go to Hungary, Prague, and Austria later this year. She loves sushi and Chinese and Italian food - Japanese traditional food is somewhere lower in her preferences. That was reflected in our dinner - corn soup, potato croquettes, broccoli, toast. Definitely not Japanese.

I'm staying in a house that many might consider to be their dream house, since it's quite ultra-modern in comparsion. Proper bed, modern food, Internet, printer, cable television - and hey, what about that record room, eh? I wonder how the reaction will be like. I already have people asking me how the heck was I lucky enough to get Internet in every house, even in a village like Murou. (This isn't accurate; there was no Internet in my house in Maruko. But the Murou one was quite random.) They'll probably envy me, mwahaha.

Modern house, walking to the train station, beer factory visits, judo and kendo. This will be quite an interesting week.

Ich bien moo.
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
The parade was pretty - you know the word - interesting.

We were all dressed in green - it was new for everyone, so I went around like a pixie and pinched everyone for good luck. (Got a few questions, and very much noticed!) Miho, Scott, and I volunteered to help carry our banner, while some other people went off on the tricycles (flower carts). The rest marched behind us; supposedly in lines of five, but it quickly turned into a jellyfish-like clump. We had Elizabeth's cousin from New Jersey (lived in Japan for 6 months and counting) join us so that was really nifty.

There were tons of other floats and marching groups besides ours, including a Brazillian samba group and a Korean float with a famous Korean actor on it. Yoshimi, the MC, and two Tsubomichans (the NGO mascot) were on the float proper, talking to the audience, while we walked behind them.

There were bubbles from our float. LOADS OF BUBBLES.

The banner people changed from time to time, and even the people in our group just moved around here and there. I saw quite a number of foreigners in the audience, even some I suspect to be Bangladeshi and Malaysian. I was yelling out "Shagatem" and "Selamat petang" to them...I wonder if they heard me.

Danni and I started singing Up With People a few times but stopped because Yoshimi was giving us the "O_O DON'T DO THAT" look. Oopsy. That would have been fun though.

We all got some flowers (looked plasticy to me but they were real) and I gave some to my host mum and her sister who came by. Her sister's a webdesigner too so it was really great to meet her. Cristy and Eli were supposed to follow us bhack to Kyoto for the bamboo festival but they decided to hang out with the rest of the crew at the Hard Rock Cafe instead. So my host family and I went back on our own...we had dinner - bento boxes with all sorts of random stuff - and then we went to the Bamboo Festival at the temple right in front of our house.

Basically, since the temple is right next to a bamboo forest, they cut chunks of bamboo and placed them all over the forest, with candles in them. The only light in the whole area are these bamboo candles (and some flashlights and cameras, which to be honest spoiled the effect). Some of these bamboo candles were arranged in the kanji for "dai" - if my memory serves me right I think it means "big". And it was definitely BIG.

In the middle of the dark bamboo forest was a taiko drum performance. After a while they stopped, and everyone was given a couple of thin bamboo sticks. The idea was that the drum would provide the bass sound of thunder, and our drumming on the bamboo stalks that were still up would sound like rain, thereby creating a musical storm. And oh what a storm it was! It was just like the drum circle in LA, but with a more natural, spiritual side. I honestly felt that we were calling down the rain.

(It didn't rain though. Perhaps soon.)

We then got to take one of the bamboo candles back home. The first one I carried blew out before we reached the exit, so I took another one and placed it in front of my host house.

My host family keep giving me things! They gave me their umbrella when they heard mine was broken. They gave me hurikake (flavourings for cooked rice - REALLY GOOD) when I said that I have to go buy some to take home. They even gave me ¥100 when I calculated my travel allowance and was that amount short (I probably overpaid a bus ticket). And it seemed so rude to refuse.

The next day was a bit chaotic - my period came that morning. Ack. Last minute laundry involving blowing a hairdryer on my clothes. My host mum showed up, understood what was going on, and gave my clothes a good wash. It's still not really 100% clean (I need bleach) and it's damp but it's better than nothing! But what timing, really.

OK, enough of the too much information.

We met up at the Osaka Riverside Hotel, said goodbye to Miho, Cristy and Marco (they'll be working in Tokyo) and left for Nara. I really felt that it was hard to leave this Osaka/Kyoto family; they were my favourite Japan family, so kind and funny and generous. They wrote in my book about how they felt that I was having a hard time because they didn't speak much English; I had an amazing time, really, it lifted me out of my culture shock phase.

Oddly enough, on the way to Nara we returned to Kyoto - nowhere near where I lived, but to another large temple, designated a World Heritage site. They mentioned the statue of Kannon (Kwan Yin) at the entrance but I'm not sure I saw her, unless she also has a form of being a red and black being.

There were quite a number of fortune things at the temple, such as prayer slabs (write a prayer on slabs of wood), bronze statues to be patted for good luck, even Japanese versions of worry dolls (write your worries on the doll, drop it in water; when the paper doll dissolves, so will your worries).

One of the more intriguing things were these two stones where you had to cross between them with eyes closed - if you make it to the other side, your wishes will come true. Gaby helped me across the first time - I made it through, but partway through the walk someone brushed past my right shoulder. I don't know if this means I'll acheive my dreams after some hard knocks or something. I helped Gaby back, his was much smoother. I felt a twinge in my heart afterwards, like something opened, and I could then feel the energy of the place.

The rocks were called "Love Fortune Telling Rocks" so I'm half wondering if there will be something between Gaby and I...har...

We left a bit later than expected because Katie was missing. I was really worried about her but she made it fine, thank goodness. Huning and I (we were bus buddies) spent the rest of the trip talking to Bob and Anke, who were right next to us. Interesting conversations; photos, accents, colonization. We have really fascinating program leaders, I tell you.

We had a bit of an incident reaching Murou - our bus wouldn't fit under the bridge. Bob and Anke were joking about my planned NaNoWriMo novel being true and how I should really take notes; I laughed it off but it got a bit weirder by a few minutes and I was starting to wonder if my muses were working overtime!

We made it through eventually, and met up with Jessica and Aya again. Yay! We had our schedules, styled like ancient Japanese scrolls; Jessica wrote positive appreciation messages for each of us in our schedules so that was an awesome surprise. Mine said "Thank you for your sparkling energy and positivity you bring! :)" - awww...

Rie's my roommate! Yay! I've been wanting to room with Rie for a while - she's such a sweetheart - so I'm glad I have my chance.

(ooo! The sirens went off! Around 8 am, noon, 5 pm, and 9 pm, sirens go off to tell the farmers when to start and stop. This will get interesting.)

There's 10 of us in the same general area - Rie & I, Chris, Che-Ri and Ana, Ah-Reum and Jessica, Tici, Elizabeth, and Danni. Oono people - either Uno (#1) or Oh No, depending on what happens. As Danni said, "It's the HOOD, yo."

Our host family meeting was once again ceremonial - and once again there were drums. And this was honestly the best, most entrancing drum performance I've ever seen. I could feel the communication and magic and energy being channeled; it was like they were trying to get access to another realm, then they were raising energy, then they were celebration and making loads of magic. Completely amazing.

Our host mum is the 2nd generation in 4 generations living around this area - her parents, her and her husband, her son and wife, and their 2 kids. Interesting.

Imagine this:

We are in a village barely touched by modern civilization.
We live on top of a mountain.
We live in a temple.
Very few host families have Internet access.

It's dialup - just like back home in Malaysia. It took a while for the connection to work but the battery is dying so I have to be quick. But wow! Of all the random places to get online! We are so the envy of the group.

Tomorrow - new internships! Special Projects for me; NaNo doesn't start till November so I'll probably be working on the Yearbook. Or at least be Free For Hire.

I leave you all with a prayer.
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
Yesterday was the midway point of the program. We are now officially in the second half of the tour. ANd it gets more and more maddening.

It was a bit chaotic yesterday because we were let off really early and not all of us were sure whether to go back or stay or wander around. Add someone running around with surveys (me) and it gets even more confusing. Most of the crew went to explore Osaka, but I decided to go back home.

I slept on the train! And did not miss my stop! I truly am Japanese.

I watched Totoro yesterday - it's a movie about these 2 sisters who see forest spirits/trolls. My host mum in Maruko told me that they were owls; I couldn't quite grasp that because the Totoro stuff I had (her birthday present for me) had a character with whiskers on. After watching the movie, and going online, I found out that they were supposed to be a hybrid of owls, cats, and raccons, though their general shape is mainly the creation of the director. They are based after "oni", or trolls, and my Osaka/Kyoto host mum drew me one - looks like a Totoro all right!

There's 3 of them - Chibi Totoro (white and tiny), Chu Totoro (blue, toddler-sized, and always carrying a sack of acorns), and Oh Totoro (a giant grey thing who yawns often and has a liking for umbrellas). There's also a Catbus, which is basically a cat that is a bus. (No kidding. God bless Japanese anime.) They look vaguely creepy but pretty cute too!

Today we will be going to Universal Studios Japan. I've only been to the City Walk in LA, not the actual LA Studios, so this would be quite interesting indeed.


Oct. 5th, 2005 06:29 am
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
I conducted a brass band. I got lost amongst strip clubs. I placed magical signs up on pillars. I ate eel. I played on taiko drums. I got lost again. I was a fish that became a dragon and went to heaven. I potted flowers. I was on Japanese news live. I spoke in Malay to a crowd of shoppers. I did the Chicken Dance. I did all sorts of dances.

All this in just one day.

Something interesting (in the Chinese sense of the word) happened to me yesterday night. I was taking the train to Nagaokakyo back to my host family, and I was in the Ladies Only compartment. One stop before mine, a guy came into our compartment. He sat there and looked intently at all the women remaining. I was standing; he was looking at me up and down a few times. We got off at the same station, and I was so afraid of him following me that I just ran out of the station - missing my host mum in the process. I didn't want him near me.

Today, while boarding the Ladies Only compartment, once again we were joined by a guy. No action taken; no police or anything. It felt so much more unsafe compared to the normal compartments because you (well, I) start to wonder about the guy: can he read? Is there a reason he's here? Can't he tell he's in the wrong place? What does he want from us? It's seriously creepy. I think I'll just go with the normal compartments from now on; at least you know what the men are there for.

We had the local news crew come film us today - some got picked for personal interviews, the rest of us just waved and greeted. It was live so I wonder if anyone eventually noticed us. We were potting plants and hanging them up (with some funky messages of hope and love written by us) on the pillars in the shopping street. Apparently it'll be there for ages. Yay for glamourbombing.

Some of us did recordings of a special message for shoppers in our language. I did mine in Malay; man have I forgotten the language. It took me a while to get simple words like "membeli-belah" out. We had to give out flyers and flower seeds for an event organized by an environmental NGO our group is working with this week; Danni and some others were super successful, while I just gave up halfway and gave the rest to Elizabeth. I'm sure there's some code word in Japanese that I'm missing.

Yoga shocked me today; he told me that I complain a lot about Malaysia and my faith. It's really odd because I'm not the sort to condemn other things (well perhaps my school but that's another story). I'm in a dilemma now; what did I say? When did "not for me" become "it sucks"? It's strange. huh.

We had a mini-Celebration today, with performances from a junior high school brass band, us (a way shortened version of our Whisks plus a fashion show and the Chicken Dance), a women's group, and a taiko drum group. The Taiko drum girls were really funny; they learnt the Chicken Dance and One To One very quickly! They're cool. We had flashing light rings today but the battery on mine was dead.

Speaking of the brass band - they had offered one UWP person to be a guest conductor for one song. I volunteered (well I had to play Scissors Paper Stone/Jan Kem Po with Peder to get it) and it was quite something. At first I looked at the kids and they looked at me because neither of us could figure out who starts first. With some prodding (in Japanese) from their teacher, I managed to do it. Fun! Not really as trancey as the Drum Circle but still cool.

I miss the Huddle.

And now I'm back. And I'm way sleepy. But I'm starting to like Osaka. It's fun.
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
Oh man. So much has happened since my birthday that I don't know where to begin. Looks like I need another numerical list.

1. Nanu has gone back to Nepal - her father is very ill. We don't know if we can see her again. Understandably I am quite upset. I'm coping, but it's hard sometimes.

2. Maruko is an official Up With People town. And they're REALLY into Up With People. The first thing you see in the Town Hall are Up With People photos. They even had a GRAND welcoming ceremony for us, with speeches and a stage and all sorts of things. We were like celebrities.

3. We will be even more celebrity-like in Maruko - the news camera crew is following us all week. I've already been interviewed once, something about a community service project involving pulling up a certain weed that's taking over Japan.

4. Thanks to that damn weed, I now hate gardening.

5. Japan has some of the most random games in the world.

6. Act silly and the kids will lighten up.

7. Irina has this wicked (both evil and good) trick involving a "scorpion". Peder's face on receiving the trick must be seen to be believed.

8. Can someone please scan in the article from the October issue of Malaysia's Seventeen and email it to me? I really need it. Thank you!

9. My NaNoWriMo novel is going to be a monster of an Up With People one. Already I have plenty of juicy information.

10. I can't wait till November.

11. Carolynn Lee, another UWP legend, came to speak with us for a while. She's ok, though it was funny how she got Bob and Anke to do some (fantastic) acting. Mwaha!

12. My host family is obsessed with Disney. They even named one of their border collies (they have 2) Goofy.

13. I'm not sure I care for border collies.

14. Aaah heated toilet seats!

15. Natto is awful.

16. We're going to an onsen (hot spring public bath) after this. Should be interesting.

17. Just today the staff dressed up as waiters and started serving us lunch. It was hilarious and very surreal. I am convinced it's supposed to be a hint about something.

18. DAMNIT. I had this long entry planned and now I can't think of what to say. So please, ask me questions! The more the merrier!
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
By the time I get this posted, I will be 20 years old.

Finally legal in Japan - and oddly enough, right at this moment there is a birthday party going on on TV. Apparently there is a coming-of-age ceremony done earlier in the year for those turning 20...I missed it, but I'm sure I'll have a ceremony of sorts for my own.

My host family is waiting up for me, who knows why. They've been ultra sweet to me this past week, even though I've spent most of the week being ill and flu-ey and frustrated at not being completely capable at handling Japan. They keep giving Noelle and I things...fans, purses, toys, scarves, disposable cameras even.

They got me birthday cake! They thought I was turning 19 at first but then I explained my age and they were a lot happier. They plan on coming to see us in Nara, which is even cooler. So generous.

My sister called! Finally got to talk to her after about two months. I miss her voice, I miss talking to her. She was about two hours early but that's ok, at least I got to talk to her.

The article about me and my webmistressing has shown up in Seventeen's October issue back in Malaysia. If you can get your hands on it, please do. I haven't read it yet; I hope it's good! The day of the interview was really a series of mishaps so I'm a bit worried. If you have scans, do send them over.

Saturday was a really long day. A whole bunch of us went trekking around Nagoya - Nagoya Castle was quite nice, Zen-like almost. Unfortunately I grossly overestimated my health, and by the time we got downtown for lunch I was sick and dizzy. It didn't help that I had the worst time trying to figure out food (it took FOREVER to find something without pork and which was affordable - I still ended up paying through my nose), drinks (thank Goddess for an English-speaking person), and directions (why did the bookstore have to be one million miles away?!).

Everyone wanted to go for karaoke; I honestly wanted to go home, but I didn't want to be a wet blanket, and besides it didn't seem like they particularly cared about how I felt anyway. (Bally and Cristy were among the very, very few who cared enough to ask.) Karaoke wasn't too bad - they had Shima Uta, the Japanese song we're singing for the Celebration, so that made it funny.

We had all sorts of barbeque today at our host mum's sister's house - including cow tongue, which tastes like the rest of cow really. And Indian food! Of all the places to finish a glass of lassi, I had to do it in Japan. I normally avoid lassi since it's too sour for me, but the one I had today was actually quite nice.

This time period seems to be one of much change. There are people I know who have deep relationships broken. Some people are changing plans for life. Even I have made changes to plans; though really, it's not so much a change of plans as it is following my principle of taking the best opportunity that comes my way. (And I'm not a planner to boot.)

Before this trip I planned to finish off the second semester of my first year in college once I return from here. That's not likely to happen anymore. Right now the Up With People crew are looking out for people to return next semester as staff, and I am really looking forward to being one of those people. I can be Tom's assistant, since I keep doing the PR stuff anyway. Or some other External Relations thing. Or maybe something with Creative Productions or even Operations. Heck, make me the Official Webmistress, since that's part of my role at the moment (and I really have to buck up; I owe Tom an article. Oops.).

If I get offered a job, I'll take it - which means I won't be returning to LUCT. Most likely, if I get the job, I'll work there for a while and then continue college (or an even better opportunity) elsewhere. But not LUCT. Not the place that screwed me over at the worst time ever. I'm not giving them any more money.

Let's just hope I get offered a job, because Plan B doesn't look too inviting.

Ah, my host family has left for bed. Thank Goddess; I didn't want them to stay up late just because I'm following my tradition of staying up till it hits midnight September 26th, my birthday. (I'd like it if they'd join me, but I don't want to deprive them of sleep.) There's less than 10 minutes left...

Hopefully I'll get better at this Japan business. Hopefully I won't have to deal with even more illnesses. I suspect the humidity has much to do with this, since I get just as sick back home. Worse, even.

I wonder if it'll be weird to not be a teenager anymore. 20 is a strange sort of age; sure, it's the legal age in Japan, but in most places it's the in-between age. You're not quite adult but you're not a teenager either. It's like a trial year, with your actual initiation in 21.

There will be something quite interesting about 20, at least for me since I'm already on the road during it. It's the first time since I was about 4 that I've had a birthday overseas - as far as I remember anyway. And it's on a Travel Day to boot, so I'm moving around even more.

Miho's birthday is today! September 25th! We still have three minutes! We can both party on the bus, it'll be fun.

I wonder (yet, again) if anyone's sending me text messages on my birthday. I won't be able to check them since Japan's on a completely alien cell system. Too bad Maxis doesn't offer some sort of online text message checking service...they really should, it would be ultra useful.

One minute more. And even then it won't be my birthday officially. I was born at 11:07 AM Malaysian time - 12:07 PM Japan time. I still have half the day: maybe we'd already be in Maruko by then.

DING! DING! It's September 26th 2005; happy 20th birthday to ME!


Sep. 24th, 2005 06:29 am
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
Guess who now has cornrows in her hair!

We were at the Toyota World Expo two days ago - BUSY! There were pavillions from almost every country on the planet (and then some) and almost every person in Japan was there. We were practically the only foreigners, which was rather odd considering how internationally known this event is.

The Malaysian and Bangladesh pavillions were especially happy to see me, just because I am from that country and speak the language. I even got quite a bunch of swag from each pavillion - flags pins, brochures, so on. Nanu was especially excited with the Nepali pavillion since it recreated one of the major temples there. People there were quite lovely.

Almost all the best pavillions had 2 hour waiting lines (I'm not kidding) though we did get VIP access to the Canada pavillion. It was BEAUTIFUL! They had some form of musical multimedia presentation on cloth screens and it was so inspiring. I want to produce a show like that, it was gorgeous.

Shish kebab in the Bangladesh pavillion tastes better than kebab in Bangladesh.

The Cote d'Ivore pavillion had cornrows going on for 3000 yen; I've waited two years for my hair to be braided finely so this was my chance. There was a waiting list; I just managed to sneak in at the last minute. I had old women come up to me while my hair was being braided...they probably thought I was an African model...

Oh what a reaction I had to the cornrows! Everyone's heads turned; some even gasped. All agreed that it was good. It took a while for me to get used to it (I couldn't recognize myself in the mirror!) but I'm liking it.

We were at the Toyota plant yesterday; creepy as it all gets out. It seemed so soulless...even the music they played when there is a problem was creepy. "Ding ding ding...hi! we regret to inform you that a car has broken down. Let's party!" It was...strange.

What was cool was their exhibition - at one point they had a screen of social contributions, and right in the middle was Up With People. Nina's cast too; she recognized everyone in there. (How she did that I wouldn't know, since the faces had no detail...)

Celebration rehearsals were interesting, though it seemed everyone was stressed out over something, or was about to be. We managed to pull together though, and we had a gerat show. A great opening to Japan.
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
The odd feeling I got when I came to Japan wasn't culture shock. It was a fever coming on.

Right now I'm at home resting - I'd rather rest now and miss a Community Impact day, than collapse again during our first Japanese Celebration. The CI project I signed up for was ratehr unpopular (cooking with international people) but hopefully it'll go well.

I'm not sure I mentioned this in my last entry, but Irina is here! Now we have a full group. She's quite cool, though understandably overwhelmed. Hopefully we'll be good friends.

We had an UWP corporate update yesterday from Bob. Our group was involved in quite a number of discussions regarding the program's future and from our feedback, some major changes are being implemented starting next semester.

1. The name of the program will be changed to Up With People Global Education Program. This takes advantage of the Up With People branding that has been established for over 40 years, and helps reconnect the program to alumni and anyone else involved with UWP's history. Also, there were tons of feedback from our group about the word "Leadership" being misleading (to the point that if anyone says "Let's talk about leadership" everyone starts laughing) so this name makes it more accurate.

2. There will not be any more college-style classes on the road. There will still be some form of education (a-la Stone Soup)but there will not be a split between those taking the classes and those doing internships. This allows for everyone to participate fully and gain the same experience together. Also, this allows for the internship opportunities to be spaced out during the week, not just during one day.

3. Because of the lack of classes, the partnership with University of Colorado - Denver has been mutually suspended. Instead, UWP will be looking for partnerships with international universities to recognize the program as a whole - for instance, their current partnership with Hawaii Pacific University allows students from there to gain credit for the whole trip. (Brandy, who is from HPU, and Christie from Northeartern, have this arrangement.)

4. Also because of the lack of classes, the tuition has been lowered to US$11,800 per person. I'm sure my parents are cursing me now.

5. The tour has been extended for 3 weeks - 4 weeks orientation in Denver, and a proper "on the road" city. Right now it's 2 weeks orientation and 1 "practice on the road" week in Denver. This allows for more teambuilding time and more time to fully understand the Celebration.

6. There will be efforts to make the Celebration more professionally produced. It will still very much be a student production, there won't be a sudden emphasis on recruiting performing arts students, and it won't be the major gala that UWP used to perform. But with the added time, there would be more opportunities to polish up the show.

This will be very interesting to watch, especially since I'm thinking of working on the road with them next semester if everything goes well. Hopefully this will bring greater benefits to the program and there won't be so many teething problems. It's great that they really listened to us and made the effort to incorporate our ideas.

World Expo tomorrow, lunch now. Woo!


Sep. 20th, 2005 08:13 am
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
Ohayo gozaimasu from Toyota, Aichi, Japan!

My brain still hasn't registered that I am in Japan. Perhaps because the 11 hour plane ride didn't sem very long - there were familiar people and ample opportunities to chat and hang out. One of the flight attendants, Tom, was very interested in Up With People; they even announced us on the PA system on the plane and made a special greeting for Yoga's birthday. Way cool.

The one time I get an American roommate - Noelle - and it's in Japan. Funky.

The house is pretty interesting...3 kids, they don't speak much English but we're communicating. Our host mum is so sweet!

Give me a while to register Japan. I'm probably going through some mild form of culture shock but I'll be fine, I hope.


tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
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