Sunday, March 30, 2008

Chandra in Sapporo

March marks the end of the Japanese school year. Children who's 6th birthday falls on or before April 1st go on to Elementary school. Nova misses the cut-off by a month so she stays at the preschool for another year. She did however graduate from Panda to Giraffe group.
I am particularly proud of this moment because Nova bowed upon receiving her certificate. Getting her to bow has been a bit of a struggle up until recently.
Doesn't this photo make her look like a giant next to her little classmates? Like us, she's still speaking Jenglish but her teachers tell me she understands what they're saying. I wish the same was true for me.
The night of graduation, the preschool moms got together for a drinking party. Nova's senseis are in the front row, second from the left and last two on the right.

Chizuko, Yumie, Kaori and I took a much needed break from village life this weekend. This was my first time in Sapporo and my first time away from the family for 8 months. Sapporo is Japan's fifth largest city and the largest in Hokkaido.
Preschool moms gone wild (in a fairly reserved kind of way). We had a fun time at Rad Brothers, a famous gaijin bar. I met a couple Aussies and a girl from Sweden but steered clear of the seedy looking Russian guys in the corner. It was fun to talk to English speakers who love living in Hokkaido. It gave me hope and made me want to visit Sapporo more often. At 1a.m. this town is just getting started. I'm standing next to Kaori who is maybe the tiniest adult I have ever met. She is also one of the happiest, which makes her appropriately Japanese-Cute. She is going to Hawaii next month so we had fun trading Japanese/English lessons in the car. Sapporo is about a 4 hour drive south of Nishiokoppe. Using the highway is expensive.... the toll is about $34 one way.After the bars we sobered up with a ride in a giant Ferris wheel on the roof of one of the city's taller buildings. Kind of scary but a great view of the city lights from up there. For our comfort the seats were heated. Each floor of that building had a different entertainment arcade. This floor was bowling. Kind of slow at 1a.m. but it promised to pick up later. They say Tokyo is the city that never sleeps but I think Sapporo isn't far behind on weekends.

The highlight of the trip was visiting Sapporo's brand spankin' new COSTCO. It was much bigger than the one in Juneau and I was happy to see that everything was the same. It even had the same COSTCO-ey smell.... ahhh, natsukashi (which Penny tells me means, reminiscent).Same membership area. Kaori was SO excited. She is very interested in American food brands and took pictures of all my purchases. Same snack area. I never thought I'd be so happy to see a COSTCO hotdog.
Here's something for the folks back home. I felt like such a tourist snapping all these pictures but at the same time I felt right at home amongst the aisles of over-sized Kettle Chip bags and 2 pound blocks of cheese. Nothing says America more than giant food. Right there in the salmon aisle who should I run into, but this guy wearing a vintage UAF sweatshirt! Turns out he drove from Seattle to Fairbanks back in the day. We had a nice chat. I was worried I wouldn't be able to find whole dried fish in bulk. Thankfully Chizuko spotted them in the "Japanese" section. Since the parking garage was on the top of the building you had to ride this conveyor belt thingy with your 100 + pounds of groceries in the cart. Since it was ascending at a 45 degree angle I thought it best to be there with Kaori for back-up just in case.

We were all feeling a little sad to leave Sapporo so Chizuko stopped at Pumpkin Kingdom on the way home.Nothing like a pumpkin flavored soft cream to cheer ya up. The owner came out for a peace shot.Can you tell which one is not real? I'll dedicate more blog space later to Japan's love affair with plastic food. I was handed the real one and as a joke the owner threw the other one at Chizuko. This was a great, silly, fun trip. Just what I needed!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Our first Hokkaido winter... SURVIVED!

The snow has stopped and spring has sprung but I had to get in one more 'how cold IS it?' .....
It's SO cold that the Sea of Okhotsk actually freezes over! On this day the ice came all the way up to the shore without a break as far as you could see. Weeks earlier we were on the same beach without a hint ice in sight.
When the ice retreats for a day or two it leaves what my friend Reiko calls 'ice cubes' on the beach. Off in the distance you can see the white line where it starts up again.

The second annual English Camp was held at the Komu (indoor wooden playground). 3rd, 4th and 5th graders got to spend the night, play English games, and eat American junk food. Shawn referees the English Olympics.Kids have been saving up their Shawn dollars all year for this event.
When it came time to settle in for the night the girls all got out their pocket video games and played quietly. The boy's had a little harder time settling down. Though Shawn got about 15 minutes of sleep he reported it was well worth it. Banana pancakes in the morning were a hit.

In case you haven't noticed, food will be an ongoing theme on this blog. Since I've exhausted my repertoire of recipes for the adult English/cooking class I asked them to teach me to cook Japanese food which turned out to be a lot more fun.
Our first recipe was Nikujaga, 'meat and potatoes'.
So far all the meat we've encountered has been really fatty which to be honest, kind of grosses me out, but we're getting used to it. The potatoes on the other hand....they must mix MSG in the fertilizer or something because they're the best tasting spuds I've ever had.
Mystery solved! Nova and I have been wondering what these gelatinous bags are since we got here. We squish and jiggle them every trip to the store and crack up because Nova calls them 'spit packs'. Though it's doesn't contain Cognac (or spit for that matter) and isn't a potato, the ladies called it 'Cognac potato'. It's really stinky stuff but Reiko was kind enough to show me how to rinse them with warm water so they don't smell so bad.
That's Nova behind me doing her shy routine over lunch. This turned out to be a really good recipe. I'll whip up some Nikujaga for our first Juneau potluck when we get home.
This is Chihiro. She's a regular of the English class and is so patient with my lack of Japanese I could just hug her! By the way, hugging..... kind of a no-no here. I've dared to hug a Japanese person three times since I've been here. It's a little awkward but I'm hoping to start a hugging revolution. Chihiro's baby boy Sora has a natural mohawk to die for. Sora means sky. Luckily the hugging thing doesn't apply to children so I can squeeze away on little Sora here.
My favorite subjects to capture on film and hug, Nova and Shawn.... doing just fine. Nova graduates from Panda to Giraffe group in her school. Shawn is looking forward to his new Gibson F9 mandolin to arrive via Nippon post any day.
More spring photos and stories to come!