New Blog

In case you didn't get the message, I've been writing on a new blog for a while now.

It's here: Adventures in Nagoya.


Shall We Dansu?

As you all know, Dustin and I will soon be wed. We decided to brush up on our dancing skills for the reception, since we'll be on the dance floor all by ourselves for the longest three minutes of our lives. Now, I love to dance... at dance parties, where the lights are low, the music is fast, and no one is one hundred percent sober. Despite my love for both music and dance parties, I have long come to terms with the fact that I have little to no rhythm. I'm a fan, but I could never ever be a musician. It's just not in my veins.

I can only remember taking one dance class in my life. It was an Irish dance class, and I only took the lessons because my best friend in junior high school was really into Irish dance, and she looked so cool when she would practice in front of me. So, obviously, I wanted to look equally as cool. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out and I quit before the recital, because the thought of going on stage with my skills was anything but appealing.

I didn't really know what to expect, but I knew it was probably a good idea to take some kind of dance lessons unless I wanted to subject my guests to watching Dustin and I slowly sway from side to side for three whole minutes. I used the amazing people at the International Affairs Center in our local Civic Center as a resource to help me research the possibilities in Nagaoka. We went with the cheapest option, but the minimum class size was 4. So, I recruited my boss and his fiancé, who are getting married a few weeks after us. They didn't really know how to slow dance either. We didn't exactly discuss what kind of dance we wanted to learn beforehand, but both couples agreed to bring in a CD of the songs to which we want to dance.

When we arrived for our first lesson, we were greeted by a tall, elegant man with perfect posture who glided towards us and dipped in a very un-Japanese bow to introduce himself. We exchanged names, and he wrote three out of the four of our names down; Kei, my boss's fiancé is Japanese, so her name was easy enough to commit to memory. He asked us what type of dance we wanted to learn: mambo, salsa, tango, foxtrot? Ummm... we all looked at each other bewildered. I asked Kei, "What is slow dancing called in Japanese?" She didn't know, but she told him something along the lines of, "We just want to learn some steps to dance to some slow songs at our weddings." He looked both confused and annoyed.

I handed over my CD. He put it on, and said, "This is very slow." So... he sped it up, and it didn't sound like the song to which I wanted to dance at all. But he started teaching us some steps. Luckily, dance terms are mostly in English, and the other words he used most frequently were words and phrases I've learned long ago: left, right, woman, man, you can do it. What we didn't understand, Kei attempted to translate, although she didn't always understand what he was saying in Japanese.

By the end of the first lesson, Dustin was ready to trade me in for a new dance partner, because I do not know the meaning of the word "follow." Try as hard as I may, I cannot help leading. I try to let my mind go blank and let him lead me around the dance floor, but at some point in the journey, I've become the one steering us forward. How do you learn not to lead?

We went back for 5 more dance lessons, one half hour session per week. Our instructor was amazed at our lack of progress. The second lesson was spent reviewing and trying to re-teach what was covered in the first lesson. The third lesson began with a new step, but we'd all forgotten the steps from the first two lessons, so he had to go over those again, and by that time, the lesson was over. The fourth and fifth lessons were much of the same, but he taught us a twirl right at the end of the fifth lesson.

For our last lesson, we spent 15 minutes re-learning the twirl and the steps we'd still never mastered from that first lesson. Then, our instructor looked at his hand (where he always had us foreigners' names written), and said, "Deena, you must teach something something something Dasuteen." I knew that I understood most of what he'd said. It was in Japanese, but I could have sworn I heard "feerings," which didn't sound very Japanese. I just stared at him with an expression of confusion. He then began slapping Dustin's shoulder and saying, "No, no, no." Dustin and I looked at each other, but neither of us understood what was going on. So, our instructor just began slapping Dustin more vigorously. At this point, I called Kei over to translate. She said, "Um, he wants you to teach Dustin about your feelings." Wah? We couldn't quite figure out what that means... but Dustin and I began to hold ourselves with more proper postures, and that seemed to satisfy him. I knew it would have taken many many years for me to teach Dustin about my feelings, and dance class was not the proper place to do it; trust me, I've been working on it for the past three, and we're still basically somewhere in the midst of lesson one.

It was sad to end our Japanese dance lessons. The saddest part was that we haven't really learned how to dance, and we'll be doing it so very soon. Hopefully, I'll have had enough champagne to take the edge off, and I won't be worrying about leading us into the nearest table full of guests. I might even be so giddy with the excitement of it all that I actually let Dustin lead for once. If you are at our wedding and you see Dustin whispering sweet nothings to me during our first dance, he's probably saying, "slow, slow, quick, quick, slow, slow, and corner, corner, slow, slow..."

Sayonara Nagaoka

This will be my last time writing to you from Nagaoka. Dustin and I leave for Nagoya on Monday. We'll be insanely busy finishing up the packing, cleaning, and partying that needs to be done before that, but I wanted to spend a little time to give my final thoughts on Nagaoka.

It's been a long, cold year and a half. I never expected Dustin could convince me to stay more than a year, but for some reason, I just couldn't imagine leaving when it came time to renew our contracts. Now, we know we'll be here at least until May 2011, and even longer if Dustin gets into a Japanese graduate school. Now that we are closing an important chapter of our lives, our introduction to Japan, I would like to reflect on all of the good things about my life in Nagaoka that I expect I will miss.

-all the really interesting people, foreign and Japanese
-the delicious koshi hikari rice that comes from Niigata-ken
-how inexpensive everything is (well... compared to the rest of Japan at least)
-how easy it is to get from one end of the city to the other on a bike alone
-the train rides
-teaching the cutest little babies and kids
-only having to work between 2 and 5 hours per day
-being able to wear jeans and a t-shirt every day of the week
-being able to sleep in until 11:00 a.m. most mornings

Although there are a lot of things to be thankful about in the life I'm about to leave behind, there are many many things I am looking forward to about this new life I'm about to start in Nagoya.

-four seasons
-museums, live music venues, yoga studios, and all kinds of interesting things to do with my time
-Thai, Indian, Mexican, and Middle Eastern cuisines' availability
-subway rides
-a consistant schedule
-learning about the Japanese public school system
-seeing the same students multiple times a week

We're getting married in two weeks and one day. We'll be in America in a week and two days. We'll be in our new apartment in Nagoya in 3 short days. AH! I can't believe it. I've changed our contact address on the right hand side of this blog. If you plan on sending anything to us from now on, please send it to this address. If you send me anything after the wedding, please address it to Dana Asby, because that'll be my name after May 01!

Dustin and I won't have internet access from April 19-April 24. I can still check facebook and gmail on my phone, but Dustin has a bit more difficulty with that, so we might be a teensy bit less available in the next week. But don't fret, we'll be home sooner than you know it !

I won't be writing again on this blog, but I have set up a new blog, and once we get to Nagoya, I'll start posting there. Perhaps more frequently than this blog turned out to be, but no promises. It's here: Adventures in Nagoya.


Long Time No See

It's been quite a while since my last post.

Dustin and I went home and saw quite a few of you over the holidays. It was really amazing. We had so much fun. I wanted to stay even longer! I ate so many burritos, got a bunch of wedding planning done, and had many good times with lovely friends. I can't wait to get back to the U.S.A. for the wedding in May!

Since we returned in January, things have been exciting and busy. January flew by filled with lots of work, work, and more work... and a bit of snowboarding for Dustin. February brought even more snowboarding for Dustin, and even more work for both of us. I was busy with wedding planning, but our friend Ian came to visit at the end of the month, and brought a friend, so I took a break.

Ian, and his friend, Austin, joined Dustin and I for a three day weekend in Nagano, a city in the prefecture south of us. You may remember that the Winter Olympics were held there a few years back. We bypassed the tours of the Olympic sites, and headed to the mountain instead.

Dustin and Austin hit the slopes immediately. Ian and I opted to meet some of my friends in Matsumoto city where we saw some amazing art work by Yayoi Kusama. Later, we headed to Matumoto Castle, and climbed some extremely steep and slick stairs in slippers. It was a feat. After the castle, we stopped by a very interesting Ukiyo-E Museum, where we saw famous Japanese wood block prints. We were presented with a strange slide show by the curator of the museum. It included explanations of the patterns of the kimonos, which was understandable, but the show got weird when the curator mentioned that stripes represented the African devils. After that, we mentioned how bad slavery was while referencing an eighteenth century map, and assuring us that Obama would bring world peace through nuclear disarmament. It was... enlightening.

The next morning, Ian, Austin, and I headed to Obuse. We saw some temples, one of which had an amazing painting of a phoenix by Hokusai on the ceiling. Near one of the temples was an incredible tofu restaurant. We enjoyed a decadent five course meal of tofu. We had tofu steak, green tea flavored tofu, tofu salad, and tofu pudding, among other types of tofu. It was delicious. After the tofu fest, we headed to the "edo style town recreation." We kept looking around for it, but just couldn't find it. When I finally asked someone where it was, they let me know that we were in the middle of it. It wasn't exactly authentic. We saw a small Hokusai museum that some of his later brush paintings rather than the wood block prints for which he is famous.

We were staying in Yudanaka, a cute little mountain town that had lots of onsen, including an onsen just for the snow monkeys. Austin, Ian, and I went to a small, secluded onsen at the top of a mountain. It was a cloudy day, so we didn't see the sunset, but the sky was a million colors of blue as it turned to night. Looking out at the mountains, it was the most peaceful thirty minutes of my life.

We met a really interesting girl from Hong Kong via Canada. We went to dinner and played cards with her that night. The next morning, she joined us for a trek to the monkey park. We walked up the mountain and saw the monkeys lounging in the onsen. I expected to see more monkeys and less tourists, but the ratio was more like 5 tourist: one monkey. Everyone was huddled around the tiny onsen with giant camera lens snapping away. Most of the monkeys were searching for food outside of the onsen. I bent down to take an up close and personal shot of one of those monkeys, but he felt threatened and attacked me. It was terrifying. After that, I was ready to go.

We strolled through the cute "onsen town" in Yudanaka. There are nine onsen in this area, and it is said that you get good luck if you visit all nine. We didn't have time to visit any of them, unfortunately, because we had a train to catch.

We caught the train to Nagano city, and headed to the Zenkoji temple. It's famous for housing an ancient golden Buddhist image. The original is never shown, but a recreation is shown every seven years. Amazingly, we happened upon the temple, right before closing time, on the very day that it was shown. Dustin and I followed the crowd of people and sat down on some tatami mats listening to a monk chant. Suddenly, a curtain raised for about 10 seconds. All I saw was a golden blur. I bought a stamp of the image afterwards and discovered what it must have looked like. We assured our place in the pureland by touching a sacred key underneath the golden image in the middle of this dark tunnel underneath the temple. It was supposed to be enlightening, but I suppose my mind was too preoccupied. I almost missed the key. I had to turn back and really search for it, but my hand did graze it eventually.

After trying miso ice cream, miso onigiri, and a lovely rice pudding type drink, we headed back to the station to make our way home from our little vacation. It was a really nice break. I love traveling and I haven't gotten the chance to do it as much as I would have liked since I came to Japan, so it was lovely to get away for a bit.

I'm glad I enjoyed my vacation, because it was immediately followed by 11 straight days of work! AH! Today is my first day off, and I am exhausted. Part of the long week was by choice, however. On Monday, Dustin and I went to Tokyo to interview for some jobs in Nagoya with our company. The interview was terrifying, because the big boss drilled me about non-existant hypothetical conflicts with my coworkers, and had me demonstrate my poor Japanese ability. Somehow, however, we got the jobs! We'll be moving to Nagoya, the fourth biggest city in Japan, literally right before we come home for the wedding. We will most likely move to Nagoya the day before our plane before for the U.S. leaves. Eeeek.

I'm very excited about this new opportunity. We will be Assistant English Teachers in a single Nagoya high school. That means we will be working with one Japanese teacher every day and see the same students a few times a week. We're very excited to be able to form relationships with our students and see their progress with English. I can't wait to get to Nagoya! It will be much warmer than Nagaoka, and there will be a lot of culture. It's going to be a very happy change in our lives!