Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z: Oh, the places you'll go!

Hooray--I'm so glad to have reached the last day of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, in which I'm focusing on overseas destinations I've visited.

Z is for Zen Buddhist Temple on a Mountain, Koya-san, Japan (January 1989)
During our last winter in Japan, we spent a long weekend up on a mountain about two hours from Wakayama at Mt. Koya, or Koya-san. We went with my roommate Jean and another college friend Tami, who had recently arrived in Japan. Both Jean and Tami ended up living in Japan longer than our three years there. 
Koya-san, first settled in 819 by the monk Kūkai, is the world headquarters of the Kōyasan Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. Wikipedia says, "Located in an 800-m high valley amid the eight peaks of the mountain (which was the reason this location was selected, in that the terrain is supposed to resemble a lotus plant), the original monastery has grown into the town of Kōya, featuring a university dedicated to religious studies and 120 temples, many of which offer lodging to pilgrims."

Cable car up to Koya-san (fortunately I'm not afraid of heights--
you can tell how far uphill it is by the shape of the cable car!)

So peaceful!!

We visited Koya-san previously, but my most memorable visit was staying in a Zen Buddhist temple in January 1989, when everything was blanketed in snow. It was so beautiful!!

Our little snow person (is that what that is???)

Lantern carrier

So pretty!

In our yukatas after a Japanese bath
With Jean
Tami at dinner, served to us in our tatami room

Such fun we had!!
I can't believe I'm really done with 26 days of travel posts. Hallelujah!! Tomorrow I'll do a quick wrap-up. Visit here to read all of my A-Z posts

Food cart adventures: Phat cart

Last week I went out to the carts to see what was next in the row. I passed by the first two--just wasn't in the mood for either of them, and I also guessed I couldn't get much without white, processed flour (either a flour burrito or a hamburger bun). The "Burgers" cart had too many different types of food for my liking--Mexican food, burgers, and sandwiches. And no real name! Maybe I'll have my 16-year-old son try the pulled pork sandwich there and write a review for me. He's a sucker for pulled pork. Chopollo's actually gets good reviews online, so I might have to go back one of these days. As for "Burgers," I couldn't find anything online! Could they possibly have come up with a more boring name?
Chopollo's cart

The incredibly boring (and incomplete) named Burgers cart
Next in the row was Phat Cart, which I hadn't really paid much attention to before. As I was perusing the menu, I noticed a distinctive Japanese flavor, with bentos, Kewpie mayo (Japanese mayonnaise made of egg yolks instead of whole eggs), dumplings, etc.  It looks like the chef might be Japanese or from Hawaii. It's sort of Japanese/Hawaiian/Asian fusion. (The only dessert they offer is Indian fried dough, like a roti.)
Kewpie mayo

Phat cart menus

I like their signage and decor, too!

I decided on the spring special, the oven-roasted chicken bento, which came with sauteed zucchini (one of my favorite veggies), rice, and two chicken gyoza, for $6.50. It's not as great of a deal as my beloved Dosirak, which gives you more food for $7 (enough for two lunches), but a decent-sized lunch irregardless. 
The only downside to this cart was that it had quite a line (a good sign, right?), and I had to wait maybe 10 minutes for my food. This is a longer-than-usual wait for a food cart. The server apologized for the wait. I'm not sure what took so long, because I would presume that the chicken was already roasted. But I'm guessing the food was fresher this way, right?

My Phat cart roasted chicken bento
My verdict: Yum! I'll be back.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Y: Oh, the places you'll go!

This is my contribution to the A to Z Blogging Challenge, in which I'm focusing on overseas destinations I've visited.
Y is for Yogyakarta, Indonesia (August 1989)
Unfortunately, our visit to Yogyakarta (known as a center of classical Javanese fine art and culture, in particular batik, ballet, drama, music, and puppetry) was completely marred by our horrific journey there after our relaxing stay in Pangandaran. And it was all because of the Swiss.
We had to ride sitting on the floor nearly all the way to Yogya because of an intensely rude, hostile group of Swiss tourists, who had bought two tickets apiece and refused to allow us to sit down. Every other seat was empty (and many were filled with luggage while the luggage racks above sat empty). When we asked if we could sit there, they said no (coldly). One double seat was filled with just luggage, and when I asked if we could put it in the rack above, a horrible man said I could put MY bag in the luggage rack but I could not sit there. Not one person would move his or her bags to let us sit down. We couldn't believe it. I was so angry I couldn't hold it in, but I tried. We plopped ourselves on the floor on our bags and prepared to be uncomfortable for the five-hour journey. At that point I still believed that someone would take pity on us and give us one of their precious seats.

The only other foreigners were a Belgian couple and the man could speak German. He started arguing with a couple and insisted they give up their vacant seats. He sat in one and motioned for his girlfriend to sit in the other; however, she was reluctant to join him.
This tour group also had a nasty piece of work for a tour guide, who insisted that they had paid for ALL the seats, and therefore there were no seats for us. It didn't matter that the vacant seats were not being used or that that we were humans and the seat occupants were pieces of luggage.
When the conductor came to collect tickets, the tour guide complained. A ferocious fight soon ensued. The Belgian argued that we too paid for seats, the seats were not being used, why is luggage more important than people, etc., and then muttered something about whose pockets were being lined with money and corruption...and the maggot of a tour guide flew at him. He started ranting on about why had he come to Indonesia if it's corrupt, and that HE was the one who was corrupt, and why doesn't he like Indonesians? (even though he hadn't said that), and shouted at him, "GET OUT, NOW!" I thought there'd be a knock-down-drag-out fight. Not only was I worried for the Belgian guy but also for myself since I was sitting near him on the floor. It was all horrid and frightening. The unkind, unhelpful conductor blamed it on us for not getting seat numbers in Banjar! I wrote in my journal,
"Those Swiss were the most horrible, cruel, heartless, totally uncompassionate snobby pigs I have ever laid eyes on. Not one person gve up their extra seat. We were treated as a side show in a circus--two people even had the gall to take photos of us. Throughout the journey they were constantly stepping over us as if were vermin, alternately staring at us or trying to pretend we didn't exist. Each time the train would stop, all the cameras and videocameras would come out, to capture 'the real Indonesia' on film, the 'charming natives.' It was disgusting." 
Halfway to Yogya, all sorts of official men boarded the train, including the police. The tour guide had called the station to say there was trouble on the train. Another heated argument ensued and the Belgian woman and I contributed with angry bits. Mike sat brooding next to me. They told the Belgian that he could sit in third class--they'd found a seat for him--but he asked if they had four seats for all of us, and said he wouldn't move until they found four seats. The policeman made a move to pull him out by force. They went off to sit in third class, where it was oppressively airless and smoky.
I will never forget how those Swiss were so inhumane and heartless. I responded in anger at first, and snapped at a man climbing over me. Then Mike calmed me down by reminding me not to sink to their level. It certainly didn't do any good to be angry at them. Before this experience, I had always wanted to visit Switzerland. I had a poster of Switzerland in my college dorm room. But after this experience, I lost all interest in Switzerland. I found it incredibly depressing that there are human beings on this earth who have absolutely no compassion or human feeling for others at all.
We did have a happy ending though, of sorts. About an hour before we reached Yogya, a young Indonesian man came up to me (by this time my legs and butt were aching and I was exhausted) and told us there were two seats available because two people had gotten off the stop before. It must have been fate, because the two really nice guys were studying Japanese and were soon going to Japan. The seats felt heavenly and were a godsend after 4-1/2 hours on the floor.
When we arrived at Yogya there was a mad dash of blue-shirted porters, madly pushing and shoving to get on the train. They were not about to let us off first. It felt like we were pushing against a human wall to disembark, and I was worried something would get stolen in the crush. The Swiss tourists got off the train in snob style, minus their suitcases. Oh yes, let the peons carry them! We lost track of the Belgian couple, sadly, and I was hoping their luggage didn't get carted off with all the Swiss paraphernalia, and they would have had to fight again to retrieve it!
Finally we got off the train, feeling worse for wear. We decided to splurge on a nice(r) hotel after our trauma, and we rode in a decrepit "taxi" to the Wisma Gaja to check in. We felt exhausted physically and emotionally.
We spent the afternoon recuperating, reading, and swimming in our hotel pool. By the time we went to bed, feeling very tired, I wrote in my journal, "I hope their hotel burns down." (I was spitting mad!!)
Artist at work in Yogyakarta
We had been looking forward to Yogyakarta, being a cultural center, but unfortunately it's also full of touts and supposed "tour guides" who try to lure you to batik galleries. It's one of the most touristed cities in Java, and one feels constantly on guard. We bought some batik paintings at one such touristy batik centers but were much happier when we came across some smaller galleries, where we could actually talk to the artists. 
Wayang puppet
Wayang Kulit play

One evening we went to see a Wayang Kulit (shadow puppetry) performance at Hanoman's Forest Restaurant. According to Lonely Planet's web site, this place has since closed because of lack of tourist interest. Another day we visited the amazing Borobudor, about an hour's journey from Yogya.
One of the batiks we bought in Yogya (still not framed!!!)
For the most part, though, we disliked the aggressive touts in Yogya, not to mention the need to bargain to get a decent deal on batiks. For its attraction as a cultural center, it attracts hordes of tourists (like the awful Swiss). On the next leg of our journey (in transit to Bali by bus and train), we had to sit on the floor again for awhile...until the train conductor came through and kicked out some of the people with third-class tickets who had been sitting in second class!
Visit here to read my A-X posts. Tomorrow is the last day of April A to Z! Back to Japan, where the journey all started.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Monday Listicle: 10 acronyms

This week's Monday Listicle is an easy one for me, because my daily life is all about acronyms and my efforts to make writing more clear to the reader. Here are my pet peeves about acronyms, working in an environmental engineering/consulting firm:
  • Don't use an acronym unless you have to (if the term is long and you'll be using it again)
  • Don't use an acronym if you only refer to it just once--just spell it out!
  • Don't use an acronym to show off! No one is impressed...what's the use unless it makes the reading easier?)
  • Don't use an acronym if it will make the reading more difficult...
  • Spell out the acronym when you first use it--don't assume people will know what you are talking about 
Just a few of the acronyms I use regularly at work:

  1. EPA: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  2. EIS (environmental impact statement), EA (environmental assessment), etc.
  3. BG (business group)
  4. BDS (Business Development Services, the group that writes and manages proposals in my company)
  5. SR (Sustainability Report, which is what I've been working on in the past few months)
  6. ESBG (Environmental Services Business Group, which is where much of my work comes from)
  7. PDX (Portland, Oregon--both the airport and the acronym for our Portland office)
  8. HR (Human Resources)
  9. IT (Information Technology)
  10. PTO (the most important acronym in my job--personal time off!!)--even though I feel lucky to get paid for a job I love, what I love most of all is my PTO!!
And extra credit, my favorite acronym outside of work, the most important person in my life, my DH (dear husband), who is a saint! I was gone all weekend at a women's music weekend, the Northwest Women's Music Celebration, and I'll also be gone the next two Friday nights on other various women's getaways. I so greatly appreciate my husband's support for my need for female companionship. I love you, DH!

With my friend Lois and my mom at women's music camp
Join in the Monday listicles fun at The Good Life, sponsored by Stasha!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

X: Oh, the places you'll go!

This is my contribution to the A to Z Blogging Challenge, in which I'm focusing on overseas destinations I've visited.

X is for Oaxaca, Mexico (February 1996)

Right before I got pregnant with Christopher, and soon after I just took on a massive new position at work, with tons more responsibility, we spent a little over a week in Oaxaca, Mexico. It was our first time to Mexico, and as we tend to do, we decided to focus on one area instead of moving around through the country.

I remember our initial discomfort when we arrived, because even though we'd traveled in a number of developing countries, including India, you get out of the habit. It had been six and a half years since our big trip. It took us a bit of getting used to at first.

Oaxaca city
We loved Oaxaca...it was the perfect first trip to Mexico for us. We stayed in a simple Mexican hotel there, Hotel Las Rosas, which was only a block from the zocalo. The zocalo (city's main square) was our favorite place to be--it had fantastic people watching, free musical entertainment, and great restaurants ringed around the square. 
Free marimba music one night in the zocalo

We enjoyed going to the markets, both in and outside of the city, and one day we went to see Monte Alban, a great archaeological site. Oaxaca is known as a city of artisans, and it's especially famous for its painted wood sculptures and black pottery.

Art in a shop

Black pottery in the market
As is typical for us, we ran into our friend Judith in Oaxaca! We knew she would be there around the same time, but we hadn't had any luck planning a time to meet. While in a market about 1/2 hour outside of the city, guess who we should run into? Judith was there with her sister, so we hung out with them for the rest of the day and had dinner with them that night.

Chiles in the market
The food in Oaxaca is amazing. We found it interesting that food is served with bread rolls instead of tortillas--not a tortilla to be found, really! Oaxaca does a lot of moles, which we love. And one night Mike sampled another Oaxacan delicacy, deep-fried grasshoppers. Crunchy...tastes like chicken!

Grasshoppers in the market

Zocalo restaurant--lovely!
Panorama of zocalo

We went into Oaxaca's church in the main square, Catedral de Oaxaca, or the Cathedral of Our Lady the Assumption, which offered a fascinating glimpse into the ornate Catholicism of Mexico, full of gaudy statues.

Catedral de Oaxaca
Ornate statue of Mary

Mike in the zocalo
The best thing we got out of Oaxaca, though, was our friendship with a couple from New York City, Jerry and Carolyn. They used to go to Oaxaca for a month every year and knew all the best spots. Jerry came to Mike's aid one day in the hotel lobby when Mike was trying to help an older tourist who thought he was having a heart attack (the guy didn't speak any Spanish). Mike was attempting to get the hotel clerk to call an ambulance, but was struggling with his Spanish. Fortunately Jerry appeared and helped translate more effectively. And with that, our friendship was born!

They took us on an adventure one day, to Zaachila, where they had some great ruins and a wonderful market. Of course, Jerry and Carolyn seemed to know everyone at the market! I took a risk and had fresh pineapple on a stick with chile powder. (I did have fresh fruit in Mexico, and I was okay...but when my sister and her husband went to stay in an all-inclusive resort in Mexico, she ended up getting sick...so you never know!)

Then we went to the most amazing outdoor restaurant, called La Capilla, where we had the best food during our entire trip. The other thing Jerry introduced us to was the drink "michelada," which is like a beer cocktail--made of beer, lime juice, tomato juice, maggi, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce. We attempted to make it when we returned to Oregon, but it just didn't taste the same without the warm weather, Mexican vibe, and of course Jerry and Carolyn.
Jerry and Carolyn on the bus

Church ruins
At the ruins

Zaachila market
Mike in Oaxaca

Altar in a restaurant

Drinking micheladas in a little hole-in-the-wall cantina in Oaxaca
(with Jerry's son and daughter-in-law)
Visiting Jerry and Carolyn's apartment in 2007, 11 years after we me them
We have visited Jerry and Carolyn a few times in Manhattan, but we always talked about returning to Oaxaca one day...and we have yet to go back...now 17 years later. I hope we can return one of these days!

Lovely Oaxaca at night
Visit here to read my A-W posts. Monday, back to Indonesia. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

W: Oh, the places you'll go!

This is my contribution to the A to Z Blogging Challenge, in which I'm focusing on overseas destinations I've visited.

W is for Wakayama, Japan (1986-87)

After I graduated from Pacific Lutheran University with a B.A. in English, I didn't really know what I wanted to do...so on a whim I applied to teach in Japan. I knew none of the language and I wasn't convinced it was something I wanted to do, but I told myself I would go if I got the job. I was leaving it up to fate, or God, or the universe. When I got the letter informing me that I had been hired, I knew it was meant to be. In retrospect, I know my life would have turned out completely differently if I hadn't gone to Japan. 

Thank goodness for two things:
  • I was living with my aunt and uncle in Seattle that summer, and my aunt (a Soviet economics prof at the University of Washington) urged me to get a contract from the company offering me the position. Many times during that first year--as we learned that the company we were working for was unethical and shady--I realized how savvy she was!
  • I convinced my friend Debbie, my roommate during my junior year at PLU, to go to Japan with me. She was in a gap year before going to physical therapy school, so it fit into her schedule. She even left her boyfriend behind in the U.S., which must have been very hard. As I wrote in my O post, our first few hours in Japan were VERY challenging, so I was incredibly grateful that we were in it together for the whole first year.
Rice fields near our apartment
We arrived in Wakayama, a city about an hour from Osaka by train, on a humid morning in late August. It felt great to be out of the city and in what felt like the "real" Japan. Wakayama had traditional Japanese homes with beautiful blue tiled roofs, and green rice paddies dotting every block. The late summer evenings were full of frog songs from the rice fields. The roads were incredibly narrow--I can't believe that later that year I whizzed around on a motor scooter, at night even.

I was 21 years old and this was my first time, ever, outside of North America. In those first several days and weeks, my system felt in shock...different language, different writing, completely different culture...people drove on the other side of the road...I was on the other side of the world. It took some getting used to all the stares, and having children following us around, also staring. In Wakayama, which people in Osaka call "the country," we were novelties...especially in 1986, before the big English teacher boom of the early 1990s.

Royal Heights, the first place we lived
The first month we lived in Wakayama, we stayed in a three-bedroom apartment, Royal Heights, with four other teachers, including a Japanese/Chinese-American woman from California named Abby. It was crowded to say the least. The bottom floor had a great little bakery with fantastic little pizzas; at that point I avoided the red bean paste buns, but I came to love red bean paste at the end of my three years in Japan. After the first month, three of us moved into a new apartment. The other teachers--Donna Lee, Marianne, and Lee--had been there for awhile already and were settled in. They were also very tight and we often felt excluded from their inner circle...so it was good to have our place.

With neighbor children in Royal Heights
Debbie rocking out to her walkman in the tiny little bedroom we shared that first month
(with no closets or furniture--we lived out of our suitcases!)
Moving into the new place--
we took turns in the nice tatami rooms

Happy to be in our new place!
Seito Joshi Tandai
We taught in a women's junior college called Seito Joshi Tandai, which was part of the larger Kinki University where Mike taught. In Japan, many young women are sent to two-year colleges to make them more marriageable. Sometimes they work as "office ladies" after graduation until they get married, but few go onto a four-year university. So the women we were teaching were not terribly motivated by academics or by learning English. They just wanted to have fun! And most of them, although they'd been studying English for many years, were not very accomplished at English--especially English conversation. That's where we came in.

However, we had absolutely no training in how to teach them, whatsoever. We had to totally wing it! When Mike went to Japan as part of the British English Teachers' program, he and his colleagues actually had training in basic Japanese and how to teach conversational English. That first year, I found myself relying on a lot of role plays and fun games. Eventually, I bought some books to help with my teaching. I felt completely unprepared, and I don't like to feel unprepared.

Our first night in Wakayama we had dinner at a rotating sushi bar (kaiten sushi), which was fun. The longer I was in Japan, the more I became adventurous and selective with sushi! One of my funny memories during that first month was when Abby rode her bike down to the gyoza (dumpling) shop to order some takeout gyoza, and instead of ordering ten gyoza for herself, she ordered ten ORDERS of gyoza. Japanese numbering is complicated, and you use different numbers for different things. She couldn't explain her mistake in Japanese, so she returned home and we all had gyoza that night!

Shopping--on my own!--in downtown Wakayama (first few weeks in Japan)
Wakayama was a great place for my first year in Japan. My favorite memories of Wakayama are (1) all of the new experiences of living in a foreign country--everything was new and exciting that first year, (2) interacting with my students, especially the ones who took learning seriously or who asked me interesting questions about my life and thoughts, and of course, best of all (3) meeting Mike--at our friend Cath's apartment at a Robert Burns night, and again at our apartment a few months later.

Here are a few other photo memories of Wakayama:

Halloween (I was supposed to be Madonna, albeit an overly dressed one!)

Deb was a biology major--so we enjoyed
 getting squid in the supermarket and dissecting them!
Having a student over for ice cream in our little kitchen/dining area
(that table was scrounged from the garbage!)
We were glad we had a contract because my aunt encouraged us to put "furnished apartment" into it. Our employers expected us to furnish it ourselves, even though we didn't have any money. Notice the milk crate in the background of this photo--that's where we put our toaster oven (which we bought). I think our company bought futons for us, a refrigerator, and a gas stove--but that was about it! And that was only after we fought them and insisted.

Adorable Wakayama girl
(Debbie took this photo)
Having dinner with Debbie's friend Yoko, who she met through her church
Having more students over--as you'll note, we often sat
 around the kotatsu in the winter--it had a heating element underneath,
 and you put a blanket under the cover to contain the heat--
I really wanted to bring a kotatsu home with me!
We didn't have central heating in our apartment, so it was critical to stay warm

Origami lessons
Exploring the shore in Wakayama
Wakayama Castle in various seasons

My sister Nadine and her friend visiting from China
(the blonde is the famous Mary Elizabeth, who had a thing for Mike)
Cherry blossom time, with Cath at Wakayama Castle

O-hanami (cherry blossom viewing) crowd at Wakayama Castle
Mike at the fateful party at our flat in April 1987

Summertime! Having drinks at a rooftop garden in early summer 1987

Saying goodbye to some of my students

Fourth of July picnic on the banks of the Kinokawa,
toward the end of my time in Wakayama
Visit here to read my A-V posts. Tomorrow, onto Mexico!