Sunday, October 30, 2011

Gum, Coffee, and the Green Area

Speaking of reports, I should probably finish memorizing my Japanese speech. And I should edit and print my Creative Writing paper.

The last day of school before a week-long vacation, and they make sure before we can to said break, they break US first. Sigh.


First of all, two, count 'em, two things that I've found in Japan in the last week that I thought were neat.

First: GUM!

Looks like an ordinary pack of gum next to my pink mini stapler.

But inside there are pieces of paper in a separate compartment! But what ever for?!

I couldn't figure it out and looked it up online. The spare pieces of paper are for when you're done chewing your gum, and you want to wrap up your used gum and throw it out. OH JAPAN. You don't have paper towels to dry your hands in the bathroom, but you'll cut up pieces of paper and put them in a special compartment with gum for disposing convenience. 
But it is really very handy. Also the gum's pretty tasty, too.

 Next: Individual packs of instant coffee.
Now, these may or may not be in America but as far as I know, they aren't. It is essentially a coffee tea-bag.

You take out the pouch filled with coffee grounds and place it in a mug...

...Like so.

After you've boiled some water, you pour it into the little pouch and the pouch acts like a coffee filter in a coffee machine, holding the coffee grounds in but letting the water soak out, which, TA-DAA, makes coffee.

You pour more into the pouch until you reach the desired amount of coffee.

Then you take out the pouch and throw it away! Little instant coffee pouch is convenient for people who only want to make one cup of coffee at a time. The coffee is also tasty.


Part two is a post I wrote this past Thursday once I was done with exams. It's what I like to think is called, "Artsy," but it was really just me in writing mode and thinking mode at the same time.


After I finished my test, I still had about 25 minutes to spare before my next class, so I decided to go to the Green Area on campus.

The Green Area is…green. It’s a part of campus slightly separated from the school buildings and main street. Its prime attraction is the sun-lit grass field before a tall fountain, with some benches lining the woods that encompass the area.

I went to an empty bench and laid down on it, using my backpack as a pillow. I closed my eyes, letting the sunlight wash over me like a warm blanket.

Now, it might be because I had just finished my last midterm, or really it could be any number of reasons, but in that instant I felt so at ease. So relaxed. Lying on the bench with my face turned towards the sun, I felt a calm wash over me as my body was warmed by the sunlight. A calm I hadn't yet found in Japan.

This is where I’m meant to be.

The thought came suddenly and unprovoked, as many of my thoughts tend to do. In fact, that random thought processor of a brain tends to produce some of my best story ideas that I work off of. It never feels like I’m the one coming up with them, it’s like they form on their own, by chance.

This thought was one of those. I couldn’t help but agree with the little voice that told me I was in the right place.

This has happened once before, after I was accepted into the University of Wisconsin. I was sitting on Bascom Hill – underneath a warm autumn sun, yet again – when I looked over the city, glimpsing the capitol in the distance, and I thought to myself, “Yeah, this feels right.”

This feels right.

In that moment, laying in the sun on campus, it was like someone opened my eyes, slapped my face and said, “Dude, you’re in Japan!” It seems like a silly thing to be unable to notice on your own, but it’s true. It hit me with full force that I was in the country I’ve been working for six years to get to.

And when that realization hit me, panic and anxiety didn’t accompany it. It was me and a calm. Me and Japan.

Japan and I have had our ups and downs. 

Nobody is sure about their future. No matter what you’re majoring in college, how are you supposed to know at such a young age that’s what you want to do? Or that you’re capable of doing it? Or that you won’t end up somewhere else? It’s not uncommon for people to major in something and be part of a successful business somewhere else down the line.

But those kind of thoughts tended to send me into a spiral of anxiety. How much money am I spending to go to college? To be in Japan? And not only the money – the time I’m spending is valuable and – I’m not frittering it away, am I? Those kinds of thoughts. Those terrible, unpreventable worries that plague us day to day.

But laying in the sun, more than six thousand miles away from a vast majority of the people I love on this planet, I allowed myself to feel calm. A huge weight was lifted off my chest, lying in the sunlight. Where I realized that, no matter what the future held, I was where I wanted to be at that moment. That I had worked hard to get here, so I could finally say, “Otsukaresama.”

It was the kind of calm I imagine people hold with them before they’re about to die. Now, that may sound morbid to you (and anyway I've been reading Battle Royale so maybe it is), but it's actually a very soothing thought to me. As a writer, it’s something I’ve wanted to capture in a story many times. A place where any material worries about money and time disappear. Past that – all worries disappear because you realize they don't matter. Things you could have changed, things you couldn’t have, they all hold no importance when you’re about to die. It’s a realization I imagine you have in your last few breaths, when you realize that you can’t do anything more on the planet, so there’s no use in worrying about anything anymore. That tranquil last minute before death.

That’s how I imagine death, anyway. There are lucky and unlucky types of death, but I think that’s the lucky kind.

I was eventually torn away from the Green Area by the ticking of my watch, the minute hand pushing past the 12 and telling me I only had a few minutes to get to class. With a heavy heart, I left the Green Area.

But the warmth from the sunny spot was carried with me for the rest of the day.


Right, so this week is going to be FILLED with fun things that I will make sure to document once I get back from...Disney Sea! That's right! It's like Disney's version of Sea World. I'm going with Ayame and it's sure to be a blast. 

So I'll see you all when I get back!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Today I Nearly Pooped My Pants; The Sparrow Hornet

Step back, World. I've got a story.

So it's been a little warm in class at Nanzan Uni lately, so during Japanese class we opened up some windows. The windows there don't have any screens (Japan doesn't have napkins, paper towels and sometimes toilet paper, either, so this really didn't surprise me, I'm sure they're expensive...though you'd think a private school would have a couple...) but this has never been a problem before.

Today, though. Today it was a problem.

As our teacher was explaining about our partner project we have coming up, I noticed Jeff's facial expression change in the corner of my eye. I glanced at him, saw his widened eyes and mouth taking the shape of an, "O," and followed his gaze to my left, where the windows were.

Now, let's take a brief pause here. I want to start by saying that I've dealt with bugs before. Spiders I can handle with a vacuum or even just a tissue, wasps and hornets that have built nests in my old apartment in Madison were taken out with hairspray or were trapped between screen door and glass door but effectively guarded off from the sanctuary of our living room.

But this. This thing that entered our classroom through the window by my side. This was not, by any means, a harmless spider, a small wasp, or even a big wasp.

This was a HUGE ASS hornet.

I introduce to you, people of the world, the suzume bachi. Known literally as the sparrow hornet. Wanna know why it's called a sparrow hornet?

Because it's as big as a mother-effing sparrow, that's why. Its other name is the Asian Giant Hornet. Pleasant.

It's affectionate nickname is the yak-killing hornet, and it is the world's largest hornet.

The world's.



With a body around two inches long (TWO INCHES. DO YOU KNOW HOW BIG TWO INCHES IS?) and a wingspan of three inches (THREE INCHES IS 150% BIGGER THAN TWO INCHES), it's nickname isn't the yak-killing hornet because it tells great jokes to yaks until they die of laughter. 

It's called the yak-killing hornet because its venom can kill things the size of yaks. Like people.

Here's a few fun facts about the Asian giant hornet that LITERALLY makes it too terrible to fit the term, "Terror Bug":

-The venom contains at least eight distinct chemicals, some of which damage tissue, some of which cause pain, and at least one which has an odor that attracts more hornets to the victim.

-Because of the large quantity of venom, this species has one of the greatest toxicities per sting.

-The enzyme in the venom is so strong that it can dissolve human tissue.

-Like all hornets, V. mandarinia has a barbless stinger, allowing it to sting repeatedly.

-Specific to some wasps, and due in part to its large mandibles, the Asian giant hornet can simultaneously bite and sting, leading to compounded excruciating pain.

-The venom contains a neurotoxin called mandaratoxin (MDTX),[6] a single-chain polypeptide with a molecular weight of approximately 20,000 u,[7] which can be lethal even to people who are not allergic if the dose is sufficient. 

-Each year in Japan, the human death toll caused by Asian giant hornet stings exceeds that of all other venomous and non-venomous wild animals combined, including wild bears and venomous snakes.

Hohohohohohooookay, I have something for YOU, nature!

Right, so now that we're all aware of what these massive beasts can do, back to the story.

One of these got in through the window. The window that was right next to my desk.

Luckily for me, I've known about these assholes for a while now, so the minute I saw it get through the window I got up from my desk, ditched my bag, books, and water bottle in the middle of my teacher's explanation of our project and walked away, going, "Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope NOPENOPENOPENOPENOPE." Simultaneously, everyone noticed the bee the size of a sparrow - it's a bit hard to miss - and began moving away from the window as well.

It swam about lazily in the air, acting as though it didn't have the power to mass-murder all of us as it flew wherever it pleased. With everyone's eyes on the hornet, our teacher told us to leave the room. He also mentioned something about taking our things.

I was already at the door, so I cautiously made it back across the room to my seat to retrieve my things that I had unceremoniously ditched during my decision of fight or flight (flight, FLIGHT, FLIGHT). 

After a full minute and a half of striking terror within all of the IJ500 Japanese students however, the sparrow hornet lethargically made its way out of the room and a student near the window slammed it (and the rest of the rooms windows) shut.

And that, everybody, was my terrifying encounter with the largest hornet on the planet. 

And no, if you were wondering, I'm never opening a window again.

If you want to learn more about these bees, you can see how they attack the european honeybees like Spartans, wiping out an entire honeybee colony even when outnumbered a thousand to one:

But in Asia, there are honeybees that have developed a defense mechanism to kill these massive hornets (their European counterparts have yet to evolve to such a level, this kind of thing takes many millennia to adapt to), which includes the honey bees swarming an Asian giant hornet and vibrating their bodies against it until it's baked alive:

Nature plays cruel jokes on people sometimes.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My blog has temporarily turned into a picture dump

MORE PICTURES! David's host mom just sent me the pictures from when we went to the temples and when we went to their place to celebrate David's birthday, so...PICTURE DUUUMP!

Arina and I doing our very accurate interpretations of the fine statue behind us.

These were the stairs to the temple...Looooong walk.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Nagoya Festival Weekend! Picture dump!

Never posted pictures and videos, will do so now!

We went to the zoo, but all the pictures are kind of depressing, animals in cages, you know. So I won't post any of those.

Here's a video where Shuuji was supposed to take a picture of us (twice) but actually he was unknowingly taking a video.

YEAHHHH. I went with Ayame and Shuuji! Skyping with mom now, can't type more, hope you enjoy!