Monday, December 20, 2010

More on everyday life in Spain

Against my better judgment I went to bed at 3:30am and just woke up at 7:00am. Tons to do before leaving this afternoon with Liza for our European Adventure…including writing this blog! Blogging is one of those things I really enjoy, but never seem to have the time to do. So, here’s my shot at it.

Time has flown since getting back from the UK. I blinked and it was already December 21. This afternoon Liza and I are off to Switzerland and then Ireland. It will be my first time in both countries and I can’t wait.

I’ve been meaning to tell the world about Macarena. She’s the butcher at our ghetto grocery store, Día. She doesn’t wear latex gloves and it really grosses me out. She also doesn’t have separate knives to cut all of the various disgusting meats. One cleaver and bare hands touch everything. I have to look away when she cuts our weekly order of chicken breasts. I’ve never been a fan of raw meat; seeing it and touching it has always grossed me out, but Macarena brings it to a new level. Doesn’t Spain have their own version of the FDA? Please, hija, put on some gloves. Oh yeah, the worst is getting your meat stained change back from her. Ewww.

Last week I had the opportunity to meet with David, the director of the program I went on the very first time I studied abroad in Spain in high school. It was great to see him, but our coffee was both sad and helpful. David’s been living in Sevilla for 13 years and expressed the same sentiments that I’ve shared about living here. In general, Spaniards are particularly accepting of others. He thought that was the case because most of them were born in Sevilla, went to school with the same kids for high school and then college, and then still live here. He said that even with his good Spanish friends he’s still considered “the American.” None of this was comforting to hear and I know I can’t change Sevillanos, but at the same time I was glad this wasn’t something that was just happening to me. At times it feels like being here has more ups than downs, but then I just have to remind myself of all of the absolutely amazing traveling it’s permitting me to do. That in itself is a reason to stay here.

Which reminds me, I don’t know if I ever mention the little paycheck issue I’m facing. Technically my contract is through the Junta de Andalucia, the local government. I’ve been lead to believe that the school I work committed to being able to pay me until March when the Junta will then reimburse them with the money. When I got my November paycheck my school told me they no longer had any money to pay me or the other American girl teaching at my school. The principal’s advice was to go down to the school board and protest. Thanks for your help? I’m not sure how far that is going to get me. I contacted my program who was great and dealt with it immediately. This time the principal told us we need to be patient. Easy for him to say when he’s being paid. I guess I’ll have to wait and see what is going to happen when I get back. I might be on a plane back home earlier than anticipated…

Last week at school one of my 4th grade classes was conjugating (or attempting to conjugate) the verb to be on the board. They were having quite a difficult time. I laughed out loud when they got to third person plural—we are. One kid starting singing, “We Are the World,” by Michael Jackson. Thanks Mikey for helping teach my students English!

The highlight of my week last week was meeting Eva. She’s five and a quarter and from Britain. One of the teachers brought her into the teachers’ lounge looking for me to translate. She was bawling because she didn’t have Huggie, her little cow figurine that she always hugs. I helped her draw a picture of him so she could remember him until the end of the day when her Mom came to pick her up. She said her mom’s teaching English here and that they’re here for the year, but only eight more sleeps until she gets to go back to Britain for the holidays. This girl was so cute! It was nice to feel like I was actually doing something to help. Most of the time the Spanish kids just look at me with confused faces no matter what language I’m speaking.

Another funny experience was school on Thursday. I walked in at 9am like I do all mornings. All of the teachers were gathered around taking shots of anisette. One teacher handed me a glass and I kindly turned it down. Shots at 9am? Maybe if I’m tailgating, but not at school! Another teacher saw me turn it down, walked across the room and insisted I try it because it’s part of their culture. Needless to say my stomach was feeling a little funky for the rest of the day. This was another incident that probably wouldn’t have been ok in the US. For the rest of the day I watched the kids in their Christmas performance. It brought my back to my youth at FWP. It was really cute. Each class performed their own song and then most performed another as a grade. Some songs were in English and others in Spanish. It was a very enjoyable event.

Jose Alberto came home this week for the holidays from studying abroad in France. It was great to see him. I just wish he were here this year! I was really glad to hear that he seems to be enjoying his program. Study abroad is such a special experience.

Well, I’ve got a ton to do before I go to school and then leave so I better be off. I’m sure I’ll have tons to update when I get back from this crazy adventure.

Hasta pronto,

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It's Amazing How Much Fun You Can Have When Everything's Going Terribly Wrong!

Finding a place to start on this blog post is an overwhelming task. Trying to sum up the past two travel weekends in one post is a challenge. Luckily, there isn’t too much to say about Bilbao, so I can keep that short and sweet.

Two weekends ago Briana and I traveled to Bilbao. It’s in Pais Vasco, in northern Spain. I was excited to venture to a new region to observe the differences from southern Spain. Overall, I think it’s fair to say the people seemed a lot nicer. Everyone was very helpful, minus the strange lady working at the hostel. We noticed a lot of regional differences, which seem to mirror the US and our north versus south rivalries and differences. I enjoyed seeing this new part of the country, but I can’t say there was too much to do there. The Saturday we were there we headed off to San Sebastian. It was beautiful, but pouring and quite cold. We went to the aquarium and I really liked that. Bilbao was also a pretty city. We couldn’t figure out why, but a ton seemed to be closed. It was also freezing. Not only had we not anticipated the cold, but also the city just isn’t equipped for it like you’d expect. Our hostel didn’t have heat so we slept in all of the clothes we’d brought. It was a bit of a rude awakening. The highlight of the trip was visiting the Guggenheim. I had wanted to go there for years, so it was great to make that dream happen.

My favorite exhibit was by Richard Serra. He used giant sculptures to interpret time and space. It was an interactive exhibit because you had to walk through it. Here’s an article I found explaining his work:

I was very ready to leave Bilbao, especially because I had this past weekend to look forward to. It was a whirlwind three days at home until I was off yet again—this time to the United Kingdom. On Friday morning Jan, Julia and I met up at Santa Justa (the train station) to catch a train to Malaga. From the train station we took the metro to the airport. A lot of Europeans (namely Brits and Germans) have vacation homes in Malaga so their airport is much more built up than Sevilla’s. In fact, the city in general seems much more built up. It was easy to find the airport so we just needed to hang around for our flight. The flight was rather seamless, minus the children running around and the clash of cultures (Spanish versus English.) Most importantly, we arrived in one piece. I was really excited to land at John Lennon Airport. We were going to Liverpool to learn about the Beatles and it began at the airport. I was also excited to land and be surrounded by English again. This transition to Spain has been much more difficult than I anticipated and much harder than last time. That being said, having a taste of home was beyond needed. Now we just needed to interpret the accent. Wow, there. You’d think they were speaking another language! We couldn’t understand a word the bus driver said. Luckily, we meet this really nice guy who told us about the city and where to get off the bus.

After a little searching we arrived at our awesome hostel. It looked like it had been a home back in the day, so it had a really nice homey feeling. Additionally, the older man who owns the place and checked us in was great. He gave us another list of suggestions for the night. It was pretty late and the three of us were hungry, so we began our quest for fish and chips. The guy on the bus had recommended a place that wasn’t too far so we figured we’d try to find it. It proved more difficult than anticipated. We found the street, but couldn’t find the joint he recommended. I figured, hey, we’re in the English speaking country, why not ask someone for help? Good idea, in theory. I do not know if this is typical for Liverpool, but everyone was hammered. We asked several people for suggestions and didn’t get anything more than a slur for a response. It was kind of late to be looking for a dinner place, but way too early to be as drunk as the entire city of Liverpool was. Nonetheless, it was quite entertaining. We ended up at this Italian restaurant that served fish and chips. Go figure. Italian or British, it was great. We were beyond satisfied and looking forward to our night out on the town.

When we left the hostel, we left instructions for Briana to meet us at the Cavern Club. The hostel owner said he’d put her in a cab to meet up with us. So, from dinner we headed to the Cavern Club. In case you’re not familiar with it, it’s where the Beatles really got their start. There was a great cover band and Strongbow on tap. We were set. We met some pretty crazy cats, but enjoyed the night. After a full day of travel and several hours out we decided to call it a night. We weren’t sure what to do though because Briana never showed up. My piece-of-shit cell phone doesn’t work outside of the country. (I guess I have to make yet another trip to Vodafone.) Jan’s cell was out of battery and Julia couldn’t remember her pin and locked herself out of her phone. With no other choice, we headed back to the hostel. We were both shocked and sadden to hear Briana’s flight had been cancelled! Things had been going so well…(drum roll, please.) The trip must go on, we thought and we planned on meeting her in Edinburgh the next day.

Saturday morning Stevie T, our Beatles tour guide, picked us up at our hostel bright and early. We were all geared up and ready to learn about the Beatles and see some of the sights. We got to see all of the Beatles’ childhood homes, favorite pubs, Penny Lane and Strawberry Field among many other stops. My favorite by far was Strawberry field. Right now it’s just a deserted plot of land. It used to be an orphanage and John would sneak in and play in the yard. Today, it just has a beautiful, red gate and a sign marking where Strawberry field once stood. Despite there not being a physical structure, the place had a magical spirit. It’s hard to describe exactly what it was, but it just felt special.

After the tour we headed to lunch at one of John Lennon’s hangouts, The Philharmonic Dining Room (known at The Phil.) From lunch we needed to head back to the hostel to pick up our bags and begin the trek to Edinburgh. One would think that having a common language would make travel much easier, but when it comes down to it, I think it’s just confusing no matter where you are.

With a bit of luck, we got on train number one with a few minutes to spare. I had a minor freak out when I couldn’t find my passport in the spot I always keep it in. What’s travel without some panic? That quickly subsided when I found my passport in another purse. Phewf. Train number two was great. We were a little surprised to get on the train to see that our seats didn’t exist and were the handicapped area, but we just plopped down somewhere else. The train board said it would be arriving late, both to the station we picked it up at and Glasgow, its final destination. We wanted to go to the bathroom prior to getting off because we didn’t know if we’d have to run to catch the bus. Jan and I headed to the bathroom when we thought we were about 20 minutes away. The majority of the lavatories were broken so we needed to head about 8 cars down.

For all of the stops there had first been a warning when we were approaching the station and then another saying arriving at the station. While I was outside waiting for Jan I saw a bunch of people getting up. I was nervous, but kept reminding myself they had never said now approaching, so we must have time, right? Wrong. I head the conductor over the speaker saying now arriving at Carlisle. Oh shit. I was pounding on the bathroom door to get Jan’s attention. Since a bunch of people were getting off everyone was standing in the aisle. We were still 8 cars away from all of our things and Julia. Again it was nice to be able to just yell out in English. Excuse me! Excuse me! We yelled the whole way. We might have plowed through a couple old ladies, but I’m sure it was nothing more than minor scrapes or bruises. We made it just in time!

The third leg of the trip, the bus ride, continued to get more confusing. Both England and Scotland were experiencing unprecedented snow for this time of year so things were shutting down left and right. Luckily, the bus was still headed to Edinburgh. We were even luckier that it wasn’t going to make any stops along the way due to the weather. The bizarre part of the trip is that we were the only people on the bus. Additionally, I could only understand every third word the bus driver said and at one point we questioned whether or not he’d been hitting the sauce. We arrived in Edinburgh and in record time. This bus driver was flying. I’ve never been prone to motion sickness, but I had to keep my ipod on and my eyes closed the entire ride. This guy wanted to get to Edinburgh even more than we did. A cab ride later we found the hostel and were ready to go to bed!

Sunday morning my bagel prayers were answered. We found this adorable little café called Chocolate Soup. My two loves in life: bagels and chocolate, however we saved the chocolate part for another time. After being reunited with my carb filled friend we were off to see the sights. Last time when I was in Europe I heard about these free tours and went on a couple of them in various cities. They’re in large European cities and at the end they just ask that you tip the guide whatever you think the tour was worth. They’re great, so we were anxious to go on the Edinburgh tour. Our guide, Alan, was a riot. The tour was great, but it was freezing out and our lack of winter boots made the tour feel a little longer than necessary. Apparently, my wallabys aren’t meant for snow. My mom sent me a package two weeks ago, but Thanksgiving combined with several Spanish holidays and the slow Spanish mail system to begin with leaves it MIA. Hopefully the package containing my winter boots and long underwear will make it here before I head off to Switzerland! I’m not comforted by the thought of having to buy snow boots here. Jan bought a pair of rain boots on Thursday for the trip and the first time she wore them, Friday, they already leaked. Soo, after our tour with Alan we went to lunch and did some shopping. Similar to home, the UK is blessed with pharmacies! We spent a long time in one buying some basics we can’t find here. Delightful.

At this point in time it was still just me, Jan and Julia. Briana still hadn’t arrived. We got more details and it turns out the Spanish Air Traffic Control folks were on strike. She was stuck in Malaga for two days and then finally made it to Edinburgh Sunday night. Oh Spain. We were so bummed that Briana didn’t make it out, but also appreciative that we missed the strike by about 5 hours. It was great finally having the four of us together. We celebrated with Thai food and Italian desserts. And sleep.

Monday morning the snow continued. We were told this was not normal for Edinburgh at this time of year. We had pre-purchased tickets for Edinburgh Castle because they’re cheaper online. Monday morning we headed up the Royal Mile to find that the castle was closed due to weather conditions. Oops! Instead, we did the next best thing: the Scotch Whiskey Experience! It was a history lesson and sampling of the Scottish delicacy. Turns out whiskey isn’t exactly my thing, but we were inside in the heat for a few hours. From there we were to the Elephant House for lunch. It might appear like a nice, little café, but in fact it’s where Harry Potter was born. J.K. Rowling wrote several of the books there. From her seat you could see various inspirations like Hogwarts (a fancy private school) and the rock its sits on (the rock the castle sits on.) Additionally, during our tour with Alan he showed us several graves in a graveyard nearby that had names Rowling used. It was really fun to see.

After lunch we attempted to go to the Scottish National Museum, which was also closed due to weather. What’s the next best thing? Go see the new Harry Potter movie, in the city it was born in. I was so excited to see it in English and without subtitles. So fabulous. After the movie, warming up a bit in the hostel and changing into dry socks we searched the city for an open restaurant. After walking around for a while I stopped some people on the street to see if they had any recommendations. They recommended an Italian restaurant they had just walked out of. It ended up being great.

Tuesday morning we were finally allowed to enter the castle! Success! It was pretty, but at this point in time I kind of feel like once you’ve seen one castle, you’ve seen them all. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it and we got to see firsthand many of the things Alan talked about on our tour. After the castle, lunch and shopping we figured we should probably be on our way to Glasgow due to the terrible weather conditions and Scotland’s questionable snow clearing tactics. We checked out of the hostel, and said goodbye to the crazy people we met. (Cue the Australian woman living in Britain researching some old astronomical clock in Scotland, with a strange obsession about the slave trade and who kept turning the lights ON in the morning to wake us all up when she left the room.)

We set off with our bags for the Edinburgh bus station. Upon our arrival we quickly learned all buses to Glasgow had been cancelled. Here begins a very troubling 24 hours. Next stop, the train station. With some luck we buy 4:30 tickets to Glasgow. We kept looking at the board for a platform and saw the train was delayed until 4:40. Upon checking it again it just read “delayed.” We figured we’d walk out to the train anyway, where we hoped there would be heat. Turns out they reversed the delay and the train left at 4:30 as planned, but they didn’t alert the passengers. At this point a mild frostbite was setting in. We all literally huddled together for warmth and prayed we could get on the next train.

As soon as the platform came up we booked it for the train…us and about 300 Scots. All I remember is looking behind me while running and seeing a stampede. Thank goodness we got on the train! Sadly, there was no heat, so our limbs continued to freeze. We got off the train in Glasgow so happy to be there and just wanting to get to the hotel. We stood in line for the airport bus and were told most city buses had been cancelled. We decided to move to the cab line, but we were about 6th in line and only one cab was coming every ten minutes. Suddenly, we thought we saw an airport bus rush by so we started to run. Thank Jesus. We got on the bus and I asked the bus driver if he had ever head of our hotel. It was called the Lomond Airport Hotel, so I figured the bus driver must have at least heard of it. This was stage one of being concerned when the bus driver said he hadn’t heard of it and said nothing existed under that name. Once we got to the airport we got in a cab to the hotel. We asked the cab driver if he’d heard of the hotel and he replied, “unfortunately.” Stage two of concern. Stage three began as we got closer to the hotel. We passed boarded up factories and we clearly weren’t in the nice part of town. Stage four: panic begins. We pull up to the hotel. There isn’t even a visible sign. The driveway nor the stairs are shoveled. The doorbell is completely sideways and the place looks like it was the set of a horror movie. Entering the place doesn’t help calm my nerves. The rude man helping us says he only has Jan’s reservation. We should have made a run for it then. “Luckily” he had a room available for Julia, Briana and me. We paid, got our keys and went upstairs. Jan opened her door first, yelled and said she couldn’t go in there because it resembled the horror movie The Ring. We open our door to see a twin bed and a double bed.

We decided we would all sleep in there. Upon further examination, we realize one bed doesn’t have sheets, blankets or a pillow. There’s one towel for the three of us to share, a disturbingly funky stain under the bed, the floor in the bathroom literally sinks when stepped on, there are far too many exposed pipes, the toilet doesn’t flush and there is standing water/urine in the bathtub. After some consideration, we decided we could not stay after all. All we wanted was a warm shower and to sleep. This hotel risked our wellbeing. I have never seen a place as foul as this and I have stayed in my fair share of hostels and hotels throughout the world.

After deciding we couldn’t stay there the group kindly picked me as the group representative. I came up with my speech and we all marched downstairs with our bags to demand our money back. We put up a fight, but failed. We asked him to call a cab and he told us it would take an hour. At this point I was so pissed off, scared for my life and delirious that I said we would walk. So out we went, 20 pounds poorer in the shadiest neighborhood by the airport. Earlier in the day I had commented that it would be a successful trip if no one fell. Unfortunately, on our proud walk out of the hotel, Julia bit the dust and hit the ground pretty hard. Due to adrenaline, she said it didn’t hurt that much.

While we were leaving I was immediately reminded of a scene in the movie Eurotrip when they’re dropped off in the middle of nowhere Europe. Go to 1:47-3:25 for a pretty accurate description of how I felt.

We hit a stroke of luck when we saw someone walking towards us. We asked him which way civilization was. He pointed us towards the train and bus station. All buses to the airport were stopped, so we waited yet again in the cab line. This time we were joined by a Scottish teen with a black eye that had consumed a little too much whiskey. He was shouting god knows what at us and we felt a little better once he got in a cab, which the cab driver made him pay in advance due to his questionable state of being. Ten minutes later a cab arrived and we were off to the Ramada at the airport. Thank the lord they had rooms and an open restaurant. We all slept much better knowing we were not going to be killed and after having taken warm showers with no standing water. On the news we heard a very comforting report saying, “This week marks the collapse of Scotland’s infrastructure.” It’s a miracle we made it back here.

After all of this I learned a very good lesson. Go with your gut. Something didn’t seem right about that hotel and we should have never gotten out of the cab. We might have lost 20 pounds each, but in the end we were much happier staying in a safe hotel. If you think I am exaggerating, please look at the reviews on trip advisor.

We made the mistake of looking at this after the fact. Please tell all of your family and friends to never stay at this hotel! I am going to be contacting the Scottish board of health with my concerns. I’m going to try and make this man wish he’d returned our 80 pounds. Sucker.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip. It’s probably the most fun I’ve had since I’ve been here. Now I’m counting down the days until I leave with Liza for my next adventure.

Hasta pronto,

Friday, November 26, 2010

Falling in Love with Italy. Again.

Two weekends ago I traveled to Milan, Italy to see the sights and indulge in some amazing Italian food. After a weekend there I couldn’t help but question why I chose Spain over Italy. It was a great weekend. We flew into Bergamo airport, which is about an hour away from the city. We took a shuttle into the city and then attempted to find our hotel. From there we had to take the metro and then a bus or tram. We thought the tram would be more fun, so we hoped on. We couldn’t figure out how to pay for it. There weren’t any sort of machines and they didn’t except money on the tram. We figured it must be free, right? After being on the tram for at least 45 minutes we came to the conclusion that we weren’t going in the right direction. We asked the woman next to us and she confirmed we were going in the wrong direction. I thought we might as well ask her if the tram was free or not. Her reply was, “you don’t have tickets?!” We quickly realized our slip up and jumped off the tram as fast as possible. After our hour and a half free tram ride around the city we made it to the hotel!

We grabbed at quick lunch at this hole-in-the-wall café that ended up being great. Our waiter called it the international café because we were American, he was Egyptian, the other waitress was Italian, and there were two other customers from Peru and Columbia. It was a mix of English, Spanish and Italian. Combined it didn’t get us too far. Either way, it was fun and a lunch to remember. From there we headed into the center of the city to walk around. We knew it’d be cold in Milan, but I wasn’t expecting it to be quite as cold as it was. We all bought warmer clothing right away.

Earlier in the day I had called Anna to see if we could meet up. Anna was my cousin’s aupair years ago. She’s from a town just outside of Venice and lives in Milan. I had a chance to meet her when I was in Milan last time, so it was great to see her again. I was very impressed with myself because I was able to find Anna’s house without looking at a map, especially since my first visit to Milan was for less than 24 hours. We met Anna just outside her house and drove to another neighborhood to explore and have dinner. It was great to see Milan through her eyes for a second time.

On Saturday we took the train out to Lake Como. Sadly, there weren’t any George Clooney sightings. Nonetheless, it was very enjoyable. Since our time was limited we only went to the town of Como. It’s a really cute little town, but there wasn’t too much to do there. We took the funicular (a tram that goes up the mountain) to see the spectacular views. It was pretty cloudy, which was disappointing, but we could still see the Alps and Switzerland.

On the way up the funicular we met a little girl, Kyla, from Washington. She proudly told us she was four and that Liam, her little brother was there, too. Unfortunately, Kyla and Liam were also on the funicular going down the mountain. We had gotten on really early to ensure we could be in the first car to see the ride down. Kyla and Liam’s mom also insisted on being in the first car because she wanted to get a video on her cell phone of the ride down. Liam’s stroller barely fit, yet alone the rest of his family. Before the funicular even started moving Liam started yelling. After about five minutes later his dad thought he’d try and solve the problem by applying chapstick to Liam’s lips. Way to go, Pops. What a miracle worker. I think the appropriate question is who brings their one- and four-year-olds on a trip to Europe? You might be shocked, but the chapstick didn’t work. The screaming continued and ten minutes later the dad decided to give him an orange slice. These parents should receive the parenting award of the year. The orange slice worked a little better than the chapstick. Needless to say, we were very happy to finally get off the funicular and head back to Milan—not without a stop to a pastry stop to try an authentic Italian cannoli first.

For dinner we headed to Anna’s house. She put out an amazing spread. It’s probably a good thing I don’t live in Italy. Scratch the probably. It’s definitely a good thing I don’t live there. I’d be 400 pounds. She made tortellini with a delicious walnut sauce. Good thing we were only there for a long weekend. On Sunday we hit up the sights. It was rainy out, so that put a damper on things. We went to a castle and the duomo. We were sad to end our long weekend in Milan, but we knew we had to get to bed early. Monday morning we had to wake up at 3:15am to catch the bus to the airport for our 6:25am flight back to Sevilla. It was another successful trip to Italy and I’m already trying to figure out when I can go back.

The past two weeks have been mellow, but fun. Last night a group of us celebrated Thanksgiving. It was the best Thanksgiving away from home that I could ask for. Earlier this week Briana, Julia and I went to Corte Inglés (the largest, and only, Spanish department store) to find some good ol’ American food. We found sweet potatoes, Christmas colored and shaped marshmellows, hard cider, cranberry sauce and a few other things to help us prepare our feast. Since our apartment doesn’t have an oven, we made everything and ate at Julia’s. I was very impressed with our menu and how well everything turned out. We had a crackers, cheese and grape plate for appetizers. A pumpkin soup for a starter and then a gourmet meal consisting of bread, stuffing, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, gravy, roasted asparagus and roasted chicken, which we did buy. It seems pretty hard to find a turkey, yet alone cook it in the tiny ovens here. Oh, and we had plenty of vino (wine.) For dessert we had a chocolate cake and chocolate peanut butter clusters that I made, both of which we barely touched after our huge meal.

It was a wonderful night spent with new friends. I’m looking forward to our next dinner party.

A few weeks ago practically every Spaniard I know told me that they had to switch out the summer clothes in their closets with their winter clothes. Another silly Spanish tradition that doesn’t make sense, I thought. I just wear the same clothes all year round and I’ve always done that.

Only recently did it hit me as to why Spaniards do this.

They literally need two wardrobes because there’s no heat. Anywhere! Even when you’re inside it’s freezing, so you better have on several layers and a sweater. Looks like I have to go and buy some more warm clothes. It was pretty cold last week, so I wore the coat I brought for the winter all day during school. I’m starting to think I didn’t pack really well. I don’t remember it getting this cold last time. Oops. Well, I guess it’s a good excuse to buy some new clothes!

In a few minutes I’m headed off to the airport to go to Bilbao for the weekend. I’ve never been to northern Spain, so I’m looking forward to it. Unfortunately, it’s supposed to rain the entire weekend. I still need to find some shoes suitable for the rain. Maybe I’ll be able to do so there. Hopefully. Next weekend is a long week and I’m taking advantage of it by going to Liverpool and Edinburgh. I’m going with Briana, Julia and Jan. (Jan is the other American that teaches at my school.) I’m really looking forward to it. Especially all of the Beatles stuff in Liverpool. Lots of fun travel coming up!

(ps pictures to come)

Hasta pronto,

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My Fairy Tale Life

As promised, I wanted to talk about the cockroach situation. Let me start with the good news. We haven’t seen one in awhile. Right after I posted my last entry about them I shut down my computer, headed to the bathroom and found a couple. I was able to kill one, but the other sucker got away too fast. They were coming out from under the top of the bathtub. We bought spray and traps and (fingers crossed!) they’re gone.

I know it’s been awhile since my last post, so I’m trying to think of the important things to highlight.

Several weekends ago we went out for a new Spanish friend’s birthday. He’s actually a friend of our roommate’s. He’s half American, so we went to an “American” restaurant for dinner. His girlfriend orchestrated the big surprise. It was fun and interesting to see Spain’s take on an American restaurant. Hate to break it to you Spain, but we don’t eat pork as much as you’d think. Virtually every item on the menu had some type of pork in it. Even though we had to wade through the pork I did enjoy the free refills.

To try and look more Spanish I wore my highest pair of heels. To my surprise, I got several compliments on them. The most surprising was from a Spanish woman saying she wished she could walk as well as I did in them. Little did she know…it was early in the night and my prime form was rapidly fading. We hit a little snafu when we got to the club. Carmen had talked to one of her friends who was going to add all of our names to the list so we could get in free and get a free drink coupon. For some strange reason Briana and I didn’t make the list. Ironic we’re the Americans in the group. Ahhh, what can ya do? In this instance we ended up getting in for free, no free drink though! There have been several other instances however when being American has been more of a hassle. I don’t think it’s necessarily because we’re American, but rather because we’re foreign. In fact, being American gives us a leg up in this somewhat racist country because we’re able to blend in. As soon as we open our mouths to speak it’s pretty obvious we’re not from around here and sadly, the way we’re treated differs from the treatment Spaniards receive. Another part of it has to do with the fact that we have a more difficult time defending ourselves in Spanish. Sometimes instead of putting up a fight (even when I’d probably win) I walk away too nervous to try. That wouldn’t happen at home, but here the language barrier can be overwhelming. Luckily, instances like these are semi rare.

A few weeks ago my cousin Jess and her friend Amanda came to visit. It was so nice to have visitors and see some familiar faces! I think their visit also helped Briana and I get a little more out of our shells. We visited some of the tourist attractions that we loved going to while we were studying abroad. Their visit also prompted us to take advantage of some of the other things Sevilla has to offer for Sevillanos. Every Thursday Sevillanos take over the Plaza de Salvador. We joined in the fun with our visitors and indulged in some tinto (red wine with lemon fanta…much better than it sounds.) On Friday we hit up all of the main tourist attractions. In the evening we went to a fun, but touristy flamenco bar. From there we headed to dinner and a night on the town. Our night on the town didn’t end until 5:15am. Very typical for Spain, however we didn’t plan extremely well considering we had to get up at 8:15 to go to the Arab baths. I was very impressed with how well I functioned with only 3 hours of sleep! It was my second time at the baths, and it was even better than I remembered. I’m hoping to make it a monthly excursion. When in Spain, right?

Jess and Amanda headed to Granada for the weekend, so we were left to celebrate Halloween with new friends. Briana and I go through our fair share of Coca-Cola Light (Diet Coke, or as we call it CCL.) Fair share is probably an understatement. We drink it like water. A last minute decision prompted us to dress up as our favorite beverage. We deemed ourselves as the Coca-Cola Light girls. Another kid on our program was having a Halloween party, so we partook in the fun. It was a nice mix of American, British and Spanish kids. The American host’s mom even brought red party cups from the States! All of the Spaniards were so excited. They kept saying it was like what they saw in the movies.

Two weeks ago something very interesting happened at school. I was called down to the principal’s office to give him my passport info so I could be paid and I found him in the schoolyard instead of his office. With him were two policemen who were looking all around. I asked the principal what happened and he explained that there was someone standing on the other side of the fence, they presume a drug dealer, and that he got spooked and threw a bag of drugs into the schoolyard. The bag hit a child ON THE HEAD and fell to the floor! Not knowing what it was the kid picked it up and threw it back outside. Huge problem, right? Nope. Not at all. The school literally just shrugged it off. Yes, the policemen came to check it out, but that was it. I heard the principal tell the story again later to all of the teachers and he laughed hysterically the whole way through it. As did the teachers. If this had happened at home the school would have shut down, a memo would have gone out to all parents and the kid whose head it fell on would already be in therapy. I really had to laugh at all of the differences.

This nonchalant mentality is carried through most things. There’s no school nurse so kids will come in with all types of problems. Teachers switch off bandaging them up, calling the parents and just consoling them. One day I was sitting in the staffroom/teachers lounge doing some work when a few teachers came in holding the back of a boy’s head. It was gushing blood. They couldn’t hold up clean paper towels fast enough. Another boy had thought it would be a good idea to smash a huge rock into the back of this poor kid’s head. Dios mio. Despite the fact that they couldn’t stop the gushing blood, the teachers still had a no pasa nada (no worries) attitude. I had to excuse myself from the room because I was concerned about passing out. Turns out the kid had to go to the hospital for stitches. Pobrecito.

It seems like their teaching methods also follow this nonchalant attitude. I can’t really figure out the teaching methods…if there are any. I realize I am not a teacher myself, but I do think there are some basics to learning a language. First off, it entails a lot of memorization. Additionally, the key to becoming proficient is being able to conjugate verbs. When I learned Spanish I’d sit down and write out all of the conjugations for one verb in one tense. For example, I go to the store. You go to the store. S/he goes to the store. We go to the store. They went to the store. This method simply isn’t used here. In my opinion, this is vital to learning a language. Instead they do strange activities and learn vocab words for hobbies that one would never actually use. I’m not sure how useful wind boarding is in your average Spaniard’s (or even American’s) vocabulary. All in all, if you ask me, the way these kids are being taught English is virtually useless. They spend all of their time copying word for word dialogues and songs from the book. Great, you know how to write what’s in front of you. If one more child tells me, “I am fine, thank you. And you?” when clearly they are not fine, I might shoot myself in the foot. It’s the only response they know and that translates across the board. Just because Emma, the fictional character from the book, likes egg sandwiches it doesn’t mean it’s also your favorite food. I understand that they don’t know any better because that’s all they’re taught. They read these dialogues over and over again, but they’re not actually learning anything. It’s very frustrating to be sitting in the class and only asked to participate when it’s for pronunciation. On rare occasions I’m even asked what a word in Spanish means in English. Wow! What a great use of my fluency.

To top that off, one of the teachers I work with always tells me, “No, that’s not how we say that here.” I understand there are differences both with vocabulary and also with pronunciation between British English and American English, but lady last time I checked I was the native English speaker. For example, one of the kids asked me how you say demonio in English. I said demon or devil. The teacher said, “No, we say evil here.” I’m sorry, but that just isn’t correct! I’m not interested in stepping on the teachers’ toes, but I am here for a reason. English is my first language and I’m proficient in Spanish, which gives me a leg up with trying to teach these kids. It’s so tough for me to sit back, grin and think to myself that the teacher’s explanation is flat out wrong. As one girl on my program said, there’s a reason we’re in Spain teaching English. I just wish I actually had a chance to teach!

Another thing that has been difficult to get used to is the way teachers conduct their classes. They are much more blunt, aggressive and physical. In front of all of the students they will openly talk about how one student is slow. They also blame a lot of problems on student’s being from other countries. Again, they will openly say (in Spanish) this student is bad in all subjects because they’re from [insert country here.] During my first week that was also how I was introduced to the children. This is Luis, Maria, Carmen, Jose, oh and this is Pablo. He’s from Romania. For some reason it was important to note all of the kids who aren’t Spanish.

I haven’t seen too many kids hit by their teachers, but it happens. It goes along with the no pasa nada attitude. Another thing that’s strange to me is the urgency expressed by the teachers while answering questions. The teachers will call on a student and instead of letting them finish their thought or help them with the answer they’ll call on another student. Basically, it doesn’t help the student who answered it wrong learn. They’re merely skipped.

Briana had a very good example of this. There’s a boy in one of her classes who just moved here from China. The teacher put him in the back of the class and said Luis
(how he got the name Luis, I don’t know) doesn’t speak any English, so just skip over him. Briana had the opportunity to take the kid to another room to work on the workbook. Turns out the kid knows English even better than the Spanish kids in the class. He completed all of the worksheets in one class with Briana that the Spanish kids had been working on all year. As a general rule, if you’re different you’re marginalized and pushed to the back even if you know the information. The sad thing is that the kids pick up on it. There’s a Russian girl in one of my classes. She was born here so she’s spoken Spanish through all of her schooling and learned English at the same time as all of the Spanish kids. The other day I was trying to help her in English and she just kept saying, I don’t know this. I’m Russian. Her English is not as advanced (and I use advanced liberally) as some of the Spanish kids. In this situation I blame the teachers. The poor girl is brushed off to the side because she’s Russian.

Well, this post is getting quite long and it’s getting late. Tomorrow morning I’m headed to Milan with Briana and our new friend Julia. It will be my first trip since getting here. I feel like the travel bug hasn’t bitten me yet, so I’m ready for that to happen this weekend. While the travel virus may not have set in, I have booked a fair amount of trips. In two weeks Briana and I are headed to Bilbao, in Northern Spain. Then Liza is coming to Spain to visit and we’re going to travel together to Switzerland and Ireland. I’m looking so forward to that. We’ve never really traveled by ourselves and it’s been a long time since we’ve even spent more than a week in the same city together. Some sister bonding time is long past due. I can’t wait to be together again. From Ireland I’m headed to Egypt. I never want this fairy tale life to end. Briana and I are going on a guided trip of Egypt through a Spanish travel agency. I think it’s going to be a really interesting experience. We’re going to be in Cairo for a few days and then we’re taking a cruise down the Nile. Even though I don’t work that much at school I’ve loaded my schedule with clases particulars (English lessons) to help pay for this. Goodness knows the next time I’ll have a chance to come to Europe. I’m also fortunate that at this point in my life I don’t absolutely need to do any saving. I’m going to remove that scary word from my vocabulary until I’m stateside again. Until then, I plan on spending every penny on flights, hostels, gelato and the gym.

Hasta pronto,

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Here are some photos of my apartment! It's a great little place, except for the cockroaches. I'll write another post updating you on that...

Our little street!

View of the street from the terrace

Our little kitchen

The living/dining room

My closet and the door leading to the terrace

My bed

My desk and shelves

Hasta pronto,

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

More or Less

Every Spaniard that is learning English seems to use the phrase ‘more or less’ like it’s their job. Now I’ve caught myself using it. I keep picking up on the various expressions they use. The thoughts in my head are in English, but in a Spanish accent. I’m going crazy! Since they learn British English they obviously use British expressions and words. I’ve been surprised with some of the expressions and pronunciations. The thing I’ve been most surprised about is the fact that I’m not already familiar with these sayings, etc. For instance, the British say zed for the letter z. The first time I heard that I had no clue what was going on. Another funny thing about letters is how they try to remember them phonetically. In Spanish our English letter “g” is phonetically spelled like “dzi.” That really threw me off. I can’t look at how they write the letters phonetically because it just confuses me. Then there are the familiar differences between British and American English like pants vs. trousers, gym shoes vs. trainers, etc. I still have a hard time remembering the British words. Not that the kids understand anything I say to begin with.

Speaking of not understanding what I’m saying Antonio and Antonia came over last night to try and fix my blinds. They’re the typical Spanish blinds that block out light. Unfortunately, mine broke in the down position. Most homes here are built to get a lot of natural light, because electricity is so expensive. It’s been a week now that my blinds have been broken and I’ve been forced to use my overhead light. Last night they still couldn’t completely fix them, but at least it’s three quarters of the way up so I don’t need to use my overhead light all of the time. Yesterday it was getting late so I asked them if they wanted to stay for dinner. They accepted, but only after asking what we were making. We had decided on stir-fry earlier in the day, so making enough for two more wasn’t a big deal. I’m not sure how much they liked it though. While I enjoyed most of the food Antonia cooked, I had to laugh because now it was their turn to try something new. Antonio looked like he was going to throw up most of the meal. Briana and I, however, thought it was a job well done.

When we were at Antonia’s house last week Antonio asked how to say buenas noches (good evening.) He had a really hard time with the pronunciation, so every time I see him I test him on it. I kept saying it really slowly and breaking it up by syllable. Guh-oud. He just kept saying gou-eff. Then last night he was telling me I was saying goor. I politely responded by saying that I am the one who speaks English and that I know how to say it. He didn’t have as much of a problem pronouncing it after both Carmen and Antonia said it. I’ll never understand that. The same thing happens in class. I’ll say something and I get 20 blank stares from the students. The teacher will repeat exactly what I said in English and all of the students are like ayyy vale, vale. (Ohhh, ok, ok) I guess I’m just going to have to keep quizzing Antonio.

Last week when we were over at Antonia’s Antonio asked who was going to wash the dishes. He still tries to get out of it every night. You’d think he’d be used to it by now. We decided we’d flip a coin. In Spanish he quickly said, “heads I win, cross you lose.” He flipped it and it landed on the cross so he said I lost. I thought about it for a minute and realized what he’d said. It had even passed by Antonia. Regardless, Antonio ended up doing the dishes.

Our neighborhood is starting to feel a little more like home. We even stumped the fruit guy who was messing with us last week! We were out doing our grocery shopping and like we usually do, we left it until the last minute. It was a Saturday, right before siesta. Many store don’t bother opening after siesta on Saturday and then they’re closed Sunday, too. We wanted to make sure we had enough time to go to the grocery store and to the fruit stand so we asked the fruit guy what time his store closed. He said, “uhh…two..uhhh..ay, dos y media.” (2:30) Maybe that will teach him to stick to Spanish. It’s just frustrating that everyone wants to speak in English. Especially since we’re here to learn Spanish. Either way, his answer meant we had enough time to go to both places. Point being, we’ve established a relationship with him. Every morning when I walk to school I say hello. He told us that he’s also from America, but South America. Argentina to be exact.

I’ve also started to look for Enrique every time I walk by his block. He’s the homeless man that lives a block away. I’m not sure what his real name is, but Briana and I named him Enrique. He’s always on a different corner and typically takes over. He’s recently accumulated a ton of new furniture. Yesterday he even was wearing a cowboy hat. Pretty nifty. He’s a couple fries short of a happy meal and often talks with people from the neighborhood…and to himself. I can’t understand his garble so I never know if he’s talking to me or just to himself. I think I’m going to continue to monitor Enrique from a distance. Another neighborhood character is the guy who lives in the building across from us. Our living room looks directly into his office. He is always there. I really mean always. There have been about 5 times when I’ve looked across the way and he’s not there. He’s there when I wake up, at lunch, when I go to bed…All. Of. The. Time. We have no clue what he does, but clearly it involves him working long hours. The internet network we’re “borrowing” from our neighbor is named Thomson, so we’ve deemed the man across the way who never sleeps Thomson. Oh and by the way, thanks for the internet, Thomson.

Since my last post I’ve started several new clases particulares (English lessons.) I meet with a girl from one of my classes at school once a week. I started that last week and it went really well. This week I started with two new families. For one of them I’ll be meeting with one of the daughters twice a week and the son once a week. I was pretty nervous about going to this clase particular because I didn’t know the family and it was pretty random how I got connected with them. I gave Briana all of their contact information before leaving and told her I’d call her as soon as I got out. While I think it was important for me to have my guard up, it made me realize a big difference between Americans and Spaniards. We are bred to have our guard up. Spaniards on the other hand tend to trust you until you do something to break it. Fortunately, everything went very well. Turns out they live in this beautiful 4-story mansion. I wish it would be appropriate to take pictures of this house. It was amazing. The last class I currently have set up is with a mother and son. They even came to my apartment! Not only did I not have to go anywhere, but I also am able to charge more since it’s two people. Cha-ching! I’m still hoping to set up a few more lessons. With all of the traveling I’d like to do I might have to set up more than a few more. I’m also really hoping to buy a traditional flamenco dress for fería, a festival in May. You only live once, right? Goodness knows if I’ll ever be back here again, so I might as well take advantage of it. As the Spaniards say, aprovecha!

One thing I don’t want to aprovechar is the cockroach situation in our bathroom. The song La Cucaracha has never been more appropriate. Saturday night I heard a startling scream coming from the bathroom. Briana ran out and into her room to grab her gym shoes to use as gloves/cockroach swatters. I joined in suit with appropriate cockroach killing foot attire. Briana described the cockroach as the biggest cockroach she had ever seen and said it was the size of her palm. Yeahhh, I wasn’t about to hang out in the bathroom after hearing that. We searched everywhere for it and couldn’t find it. Since then I’ve been sure to wear shoes in the bathroom. Tonight a similar scream came from the bathroom. This time from Carmen. The cockroach resurfaced. Apparently they’re climbing out from a crack between the bathtub and the tile surrounding it. These cockroach scares conveniently seem to come right before I’m about to shower. Today, I had to grin and bare it. Luckily it didn’t join me in the tub. Tomorrow we’re off to find cockroach repellent and we’ll need some suerte (luck.) I still don’t know where to buy a god damn thing in this country. I am, however, looking forward to a full day of singing La Cucaracha.

Hasta pronto,

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Trying to Adapt

This week there’s a lot of progress to report. I joined a health club and it’s only about five minutes away on foot. It also happens to be the nicest club in town. They have so many different class options—it’s great. Last Friday we tried a class called G.A.P., which is equivalent to glutes, abs and thighs. It was quite the challenge and my muscles are still feeling it today. Last week I also scheduled my first clase particular (English lesson) with a girl who is in one of my classes at school. We’re meeting on Wednesday and I’m not exactly sure how I should go about preparing for it.

There are two ways I’m familiar with that native English speakers, namely Americans, can teach in public schools in Spain. One is working directly with the Spanish government and the other is going through CIEE. CIEE is the study abroad organization I was on the first time I was here. Using them gives you the ability to preference your top location choices. Since I was only willing to come and teach here in Sevilla I thought it made most sense to go through them. The other American girl at my school is working directly with the Spanish government. Renee, the woman who was in her place last year, had actually been at the school for three years. After three years the government won’t allow you to continue teaching in that capacity so she was forced to leave. Renee is still living in Sevilla and recently got a job at a cultural center. I met with her last week to learn a little more about clases particulares. She gave me some great ideas of what I can be teaching the kids. I should probably look through that material so I have something prepared for my first meeting with Rocío. The problem is I don’t know what level she’s at or even what she needs help with. Hopefully, a getting to know you session will be appropriate, especially since we don’t have school tomorrow so I can’t ask her teacher and because I’m not sure what time I’ll be getting there on Wednesday. I have my appointment to apply for my tarjeta de residencia (residency card) on Wednesday and I don’t know how long that is going to take. I’ve got my fingers crossed that it will leave my enough time to make it to school and ask María Jóse what I should be working on. Vamos a ver (we’ll see.)

Friday night Briana and I headed to the centro to meet with some other girls in our program for dinner. We stumbled upon a yummy little Italian place. I’ve already had enough Spanish food…this could be a problem. We met at 9:30, sat down for dinner at about 10:00 and didn’t leave until we closed the place up after midnight. Much to our chagrin, the weather gods were not in our favor, which made us all decide to go home. After some confusion about whether or not there was a taxi line and sopping wet clothes we made it into a cab. Saturday was a relaxing day and I really didn’t do much of anything. On Sunday we went over to Antonia’s and she showed us how to make lentejas (a lentil stew.) It was one of my favorite dishes when I was living with her. I’m looking forward to mastering it on my own so I can make it at my apartment and also when I get home.

Everyone seems to use ollas rápidas (fast cooking pots) here. I’ve never seen them before, so I don’t know if they even exist at home. Basically, it has a lid that seals the pot shut and drastically helps speed up the cooking process. Normally what would take four hours to cook only takes 30 minutes. If these magic pots don’t exist at home I might need to buy one here and send it home with the rents.

After lunch at Antonia’s, Briana, Antonia, Antonio and I played a fun card game called mentiroso (liar.) Antonio was far too good at the game. He was putting his primo bullshitting skills to use. After mentiroso we played Parcheesi. I’ve never played it at home, so I don’t know if it was the same game. Either way, it was a lot of fun. Before we knew it, it was already 8pm so we decided to head home.

This morning we woke up bright and early, by my standards at least, and went to Sato Sport (our new health club.) After some cardio we decided we’d try out a Sevillanas class. Sevillanas is a very typical dance. For someone who doesn’t know a lot about dance, I’d describe it as an easier version of flamenco. We had been told it was just basic, intro classes so we thought we’d fit in. Wrong. Before the class even began we knew we were in trouble. Several of the women were wearing dancing shoes. We stood in the back, hoping we wouldn’t be noticed. Wrong again. It’s been awhile since I’ve felt that embarrassed. I had absolutely no clue what we were doing. To make matters worse the dance would often switch directions leaving Briana and me at the front of the class. That was when several other participants noticed our subpar skills and told us we should move to see the teacher better. I’m afraid my sightlines weren’t exactly the problem. It had more to do with being born with two left feet and the class going waaaay too fast. There were even several times when we had to pair up with partners. Oh goodness. I would try and look at the person to my right and just mimic their steps. Let’s just say I need to find a dance studio with a beginner’s level class before I step back into the Sato studio. I might ask Carmen or Antonia to show me the basic steps even before going to dance lessons.

Yesterday we were reading the CIEE handbook they gave us from when we studied abroad. They classified culture shock in four stages. The first being the honeymoon stage, the second is hostility, the third is humor and the forth is the home stage. There is no doubt that when I was here last time I was in the honeymoon stage the entire time. This time around both Briana and I decided we’re more in the hostility stage. This is when you’re really exposed to the culture and forced to adapt to it. We’re no longer living in our fantasy study abroad worlds when our host moms do all of the grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. Now it’s our turn to be adults. It’s not that I’m not ready for that, but being a grownup at home is kind of different than here. I’ve faced far greater challenges here. Aside from the language barrier there are many other cultures barriers and differences that I didn’t notice the first time. This year we’re going to have to try and figure them out to help ourselves adjust. I’m very happy to be here. There’s nothing at home I’d rather be doing, but at the same time it’s been kind of difficult to adjust. I realize this is to be expected and I’m hoping we’ll move in the humor stage soon. I also find it somewhat comforting that many of the kids in our program seem to feel the same as we do.

Here’s an example of why we’re feeling the way we’re feeling. After going to the grocery and bread stores this morning, we stopped at the fruit and vegetable stand to make some additional purchases. It makes more sense to do it like that because the grocery stores simply don’t have as many options as the fruit/veggie stands and also the stands are significantly cheaper. So Briana and I walked up to the fruit stand. When I went last week I asked if I had to buy things by the kilo or if I could ask for a certain amount. He told me I could do whatever my little heart desired. Naturally, I thought it made more sense to ask for a certain amount of onions rather than buying an entire kilo. Frankly, I don’t even know what a kilo weighs so I could have ended up with half an onion or about 40. I figured since last time he told me I could do whatever I wanted, I’d try the same today. We walked up and I asked for 5 onions, 3 tomatoes (although we got 6. I guess tres and seis sound alike when coming from an American’s mouth), 2 peppers, 1 custard apple and 4 carrots. The storeowner and his other patrons seemed to find this very funny. I quickly learned the norm is to order by the kilo. I guess the choice is mine; I can continue to be made fun of and get the exact amount I need, or succumb to the Spanish way of life and guesstimate. For now, I think I’m going to continue to do it my way. They’ll just have to deal with it. ☺

Last week I signed up for a costume jewelry making class with Antonia. It starts in a few weeks and I’m really looking forward to it. It meets Mondays from 5:00-8:00. It’s through the Junta (government) and it was pretty cheap considering it begins in two weeks and goes all the way through May. I hope I’ll be able to meet some other people in the class and I’m also looking forward to spending the time with Antonia. Briana is taking an embroidery class. I think that sounds really interesting, too. Hopefully she can teach me how to do it at home.

At the moment I’m just trying to kill the time. The internet we’re “borrowing” from our neighbors isn’t working. This seems to happen daily, however today it’s a little earlier and a little longer than normal. Briana showered 45 minutes ago, but the light is still on indicating the water is still heating up. I guess I have to wait a little longer to shower myself. Distracting myself in the third book of “The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo” series doesn’t sound too bad.

Hasta pronto,

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What Time is it? My name is Mary.

Tonight I’m feeling very Spanish. I went over to Antonia’s house at 6:00pm for our first English lesson. We had a slight communication error. I went to Antonia’s house and she came to mine. Quickly 6:00pm turned into 9:00pm and 9:00pm into let’s go get a cervecita (beer.) I agreed and Antonia, Antonio (Antonia’s boyfriend) and I were off to a restaurant just down the street from my house. It was lovely. We sat outside and enjoyed the outdoors. A cervecita quickly turned into dinner. It’s now 11:45 and I’m just getting home. It was a fun night.

On Sunday Briana and I traversed the city, not entirely by choice. We were in search of El Mercadillo, an outdoor market Briana had gone to with her señora when we were studying abroad. It wasn’t exactly where she remembered, or perhaps it moved. We asked several people for directions when we thought we were getting close. Two women pointed us in the right direction and said it was at least a 20-minute walk from where we were. This was after already walking for an hour. After about an hour and a half we found the Mercadillo! It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. Scratch that. It wasn’t what I was expecting in the least. I was thinking along the lines of a Florida flea market. Boy was I off. Just to get there we literally walked through piles of garbage. Maybe we should have seen that as a sign.

I have never seen so much junk in my life. Picture the dirtiest place you’ve ever been and multiple the filth by 5. As we were walking in there was a man walking in the opposite direction carrying a tiny little puppy. I jokingly asked Briana if he bought it there. Turns out he did. The Mercadillo is set up like a flea market in the sense that there are booths with individual vendors. Booths may not be the appropriate word considering most of the vendors simply laid their belongings on the dirt floor. Items ranged from old, dirty tools to saddles to puppies to birds to antiques to used clothing. The list goes on and on. I completely understand why someone would want to buy something used, but there was absolutely nothing there that I could understand purchasing. The condition of the items were laughable. I brought my camera, but I was too nervous to take it out of my bag to take photos. This place was a dump.

Walking through only a small section of the Mercadillo was more than enough. After this little adventure we went to Antonia’s house for lunch. She taught us how to make soup. Delicioso! Now we just have to try it at home. Sunday was the first time I saw Antonio since I’ve been here. Let’s just say nothing has changed. He was still trying to tell me about Chicago’s history. Perhaps buying that book about Chicago for them was a bad idea. I’d have to give it a read myself, but I’m pretty sure he was getting some of the information wrong. We spent most of the afternoon there and returned home only when we couldn’t stay awake any longer and needed to take naps. It’s a tough life.

Tuesday was my first day of school. Por dios. I don’t know if it was just cause it was my first day or if the classes I have on Tuesdays are with the “troubled” kids, but when I left Tuesday I didn’t think I was going to make it through the week. I introduced myself to several of the teachers. I said I was from Chicago and one of them made a gun hand gesture and said, “bang, bang, bang.” After I realized what was going on and what she was referring to I laughed. It often takes me a little while to understand what’s going on. When someone speaks in Spanish I have to absorb and process it. When a Spaniard speaks in English I have to try and decode what they’re saying. I feel like I’m in a weird place between both languages. I find myself tripping up on simple sayings or words in English. Trying to process both languages at once proves to be challenging.

The day started out with a bit of rude awakening. A siren resembling a tornado siren sounded. I had no clue what to do. They have tornadoes in Sevilla? I thought to myself. I still don’t know the answer to that. Turns out the tornado siren was just the class bell. It might as well have been a tornado siren signaling the chaos that was about to begin in my classes.

Carmen has been telling me and Briana that education in Spain is “shit.” I now understand what she meant. From what I’ve seen, the blame isn’t completely on the teachers. I think it stems from the homes. These kids were out of control. It’s hard for me to remember back to elementary school, especially the early years, but I don’t remember any of my classes ever being similar to the chaos I experienced on Tuesday. The kids stood and talked the entire class. They wouldn’t listen to the teachers when they were told to sit down or be quiet. It was a shit show. Also, it is important to note that ADD and ADHD are not diagnosed conditions in Spain. The teachers explain the hyperactive kids as nervous. That seems to be how it’s explained everywhere. Briana said that the teachers in her school said the same thing. While every kid obviously does not have ADD/ADHD, those that do aren’t really getting help for it, or the learning disabilities that are often associated with it. I guess this school, or maybe even all of Spain, isn’t equip to deal with students with special needs. It’s really sad. Yesterday I left the school feeling defeated. Today, however, was much better. The kids were calm, sat down and listened most of the class. Hopefully it will get better day-by-day. As for now, I don’t think being a teacher is in my future.

So far the kids haven’t had any funny mistakes. There was one kid that said he was wearing pizza, but that’s the only slip up I’ve heard. Frankly, I’ve been a little surprised with the English skills, or lack thereof. Maybe they just need to get used to my accent. While I haven’t heard any slip ups from the kids, there is a TV show that demonstrated what I was expecting. The show is really popular with kids my age. In this particular episode 3 of the characters are learning English. One asked to be quizzed, so the guy she was talking to asked, “what time is it?” she replied with “my name is Mary.” Hopefully I’m not doing the same in Spanish!

Here’s another clip from the show.
This is kind of how my classes have been going so far.

Bueno, there’s hope for next week. Tuesday is a holiday so I don’t have to go in until Wednesday! Thank the lord for small favors.

Hasta pronto,

Friday, October 1, 2010

Back home Sevilla

There is really something to be said about the Spanish lifestyle.

After what seemed like forever, I’ve finally arrived in Spain. Getting here and orientation (if you can even call it that) was a whirlwind. I arrived Monday morning, took the shuttle provided by my program to the hotel and started to absorb the fact that I’m finally back in Sevilla.

I tried to call Antonia (my host mom) and Carmen (my Spanish roommate and former speaking partner,) but to no avail. Briana and I decided we’d try and get settled. Getting settled involved a trip to Vodafone to reactivate our Spanish cell phones. After hours of waiting we found out it was cheaper just to buy new ones. Es la vida española. (That’s the Spanish way for ya.) After getting back to the hotel I found out my new móvil (cellphone) didn’t even work. Oops. We were able to get in touch with Antonia using Briana’s functioning phone. She was a dear and had us over for lunch. It was strange to be back at my old homestay. Nothing, but also everything had changed. I was comforted by the fact that the man who cleans the building recognized me. It made me like it was just yesterday that I left. After lunch Antonia drove us to the hotel to pick up our bags. Bags might be an understatement. Perhaps, enormous, overweight suitcases would be more appropriate. Briana had to sit on my lap so we could squeeze them all in the car.

We were off to our new apartment! It’s really great. We still stayed at the hotel Monday and Tuesday nights, but we wanted to bring our bags over here for safekeeping. I’ll have to take some photos of our piso (apartment) to post. It’s a quaint little 4 bedroom, 1 bathroom place. There are only three of us so we even have a guest bedroom. My room also has a pull out bed. I’m itching for visitors, so please come and visit!

Orientation wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, it was much shorter and less informative. I was expecting a similar hand holding experience from study abroad. I quickly realized this is not study abroad. While CIEE is there to help during emergencies I am really here on my own. That being the case, it’s so comforting to have Antonia, my second mother here. And Carmen and Briana, of course.

Orientation ended Wednesday, which was also conveniently the day of a nation wide strike. Students traveling to other cities had the option to leave Tuesday or wait until Thursday. I don’t know the full extent of it, but many businesses and some of the universities were closed. What affected most people was public transportation, which was pretty much stopped. Thank goodness our apartment is relatively close to the hotel because we had to walk with our giant backpacks. It was great to move into the apartment and to see Carmen. We drew straws for rooms and began to unpack. Well, not really. I just moved my bags into my room and thought about unpacking. Carmen made us lunch and then I took a nice little three hour nap. I’m fully embracing the siesta. When in Spain, right? Carmen also made us dinner that night. She’s a doll. And hell, I don’t mind being cooked for. I struggled at home and now we don’t even have an oven, so I’m kind of lost.

Thursday was even less productive than Wednesday. I wouldn’t have thought it could be possible. I did unpack though. It feels great being in my own space. My goodness, I have my own Spanish apartment. Unbelievable. Briana’s back was hurting thanks to the strike and having to walk 30 minutes across town with our heavy backpacks. That meant I was on my own. Sadly, I didn’t seize the opportunity to explore. I walked to my school for a test run. I thought I knew how to get there and I didn’t want to take my map out. Well, I was wrong. Ended up having to take the map out, ask a few people for directions and walk like an embarrassed American tourist. I followed the map so I could go home in a more direct manner. My school is only about 10-15 minutes away. I really lucked out. With everything.

I didn’t leave the house again until 9:30 when we headed to Los Coloniales for dinner. It’s a famous tapas bar that I never ventured to last time. It was my first time since being here that I saw el centro. We walked past our old school. All of it brought back a lot of memories. My breath was taken away yet again by La Giralda. It’s even more beautiful than I remembered. The tapas were great. Now my stomach just needs to get used to this type of food. Ay, dios mios.

Today I went to my school for the first time. I think I’m really going to like it. I met with Olga, the bilingual coordinator, and Jan, another American girl teaching there. I got my schedule, which completely rocks. I teach Tuesday-Thursday from 9:00am-1:15pm. Did I mention I love my Spanish life?

Today I have to be more productive. My goals are to print out flyers advertising English lessons, look at some gyms and do some errands. Tonight Carmen invited us to go out with her friends. We’re going to go to a local pizzeria and then out to the discotecas (clubs.) I’m looking so forward to seeing Rocío. She was my other speaking partner and is Carmen’s friends. I also can’t wait to meet their other friends. Hopefully, we can speak more Spanish than English. It’s always difficult because they often want to practice their English with us while we want to practice our Spanish. I guess it’s a good dilemma to have.

All in all, I am so happy to be back here. Minus the food, I really do love this country. Sevilla is such a special place.

Besitos a todos.

Hasta pronto,

Sunday, March 28, 2010

What do blue fin tuna and the US Ambassador have in common?

Day 5:

This was by far one of my favorite days of the entire trip. It started out relatively early. We had to take several trains to get to Tsukiji. It’s the world’s largest fish market. They carry over 450 different types of fish. It’s quite the sight to see. I had never seen a lot of the things they had on display. Once we arrived we all went our own ways to explore the market. One of my classrooms described it as a labyrinth of fish and seafood. She was correct. Every which way there were fish, and of all types: some were fresh, some dried, some a part of sushi and some fried. It was great; many of the booths even gave out samples as you pass by. I couldn’t be as adventurous as I would have liked because I didn’t want to get sick, but what I tried was very good.

After walking around for a bit the group randomly reconvened outside a restaurant. We still had about half an hour until we needed to meet up, so it was funny we all ended up in the same place. Even more coincidental was the fact that there was a blue fin tuna slicing demonstration going on right there. While we were in Japan there were talks at the United Nations to put a ban on selling blue fin tuna. Apparently, some animal advocacy groups believe that the species might be extinct by 2012. The morning we headed to Tsukiji I happened to be watching a news report on CNN about the potential ban. It said that about 80% of blue fin tuna is consumed in Japan alone. Needless to say the Japanese were not very happy about this potential ban.

All of a sudden, a CNN crew showed up to film the tuna being sliced. It was really funny considering they were standing next to and then even interviewing journalist students. Two of my classmates were interviewed and one made the final cut. Seeing the tuna sliced was really cool. It was huge and ironically, it was caught right off the coast of Spain. I took a few photos with the CNN journalist, Kyung Lah, and mentioned to her how I had watched a clip on CNN about the blue fin tuna that morning. She chuckled and told me it had been her report.

Here’s the clip:

After the tuna slicing, we were ready to consume some tuna of our own so we headed to lunch. The entire group went to what is supposedly one of the best sushi restaurants at the market. It lived up to its name. It was really good. I have no clue what I was eating, but I enjoyed most of it.

At the restaurant we had to remove our shoes before stepping on the wood floors and there were lockers where you could put your shoes. If you entered the bathroom you had to put on these special slippers. My feet were about 5 sizes too big, but I made it work. I had tried on a pair of shoes in a shoe store I had passed the day before and the biggest size, LL, wasn’t even close to fitting!

From lunch we headed to the US embassy to speak with David Marks (who I mentioned earlier.) He’s the press attaché at the embassy. It was great to speak with him. He’s an incredibly intelligent man. He graduated from IU with a master’s in Russian Literature and he speaks something like four or five different languages. He spoke about his time in the Foreign Service and it really sparked my interest. He’s lived all around the world and his next posting is in Kabul. It sounds like that will be an adjustment from Tokyo. During this meeting, we also had an opportunity to speak with ABC reporter Margaret Conley. It was really interesting to hear her stories about being an American living in Japan and the things she’s gone through in the journalism field. As if these two speakers weren’t amazing enough, we also got to speak with John V. Roos, the US ambassador to Japan. It was really cool to hear how he became ambassador. He even allowed us to visit his residence. The Tokyo ambassador’s residence was the first US ambassador’s residence that was built specifically for an ambassador. It was a really beautiful building. I was tempted to sign the guest book, but thought it would be best for the school if I didn’t.

I was exhausted after such a full day, so I just returned to the hotel. It was the second group’s turn to have dinner with the professionals, so I was on my own. I met up with three other girls in the group to wonder around for dinner. We ventured to the other side of the train station and ended up an Irish pub. It was a multicultural evening. I was in Japan at an Irish pub, eating Italian food. You’ve got to love globalization.

It ended up being a later dinner, so we were all happy to just go back to the hotel to pass out. We didn’t want to be tired for our last day in Nihon!


Friday, March 26, 2010

Conquering the city of Tokyo

Day 4:

Last night I thought ahead about buying breakfast for this morning so I wouldn’t have to leave my room. What a smart decision. It was nice being able to have a slightly slower morning. We met down in the lobby for our daily meeting/briefing at 8:30am. After a slight recap of the week and reminder of the day’s events we took the trains to Kreab Gavin Anderson, an International PR firm. They have offices in 25 different countries on 5 continents. William Sposato spoke to us for a while about the company, his career and his time in Japan. He’s worked in Tokyo, London, and Bombay/Mumbai. I’m envious. I really hope that I can work abroad. I’ve been so fortunate with all I’ve seen thus far and I hope I can continue to explore this beautiful world of ours.

We also heard from a Japanese employee there. It was interesting to hear her perspective regarding the Japanese and business. Their culture is very different from ours. It’s a complete hierarchy system and everyone is very introverted. All of that said, Americans (and many other cultures) really stick out here.

After their presentation we spilt up for lunch in the area. Two friends and I tried a noodle shop down the street. It was delicious, like most of our Japanese meals. After lunch the entire group headed back to the hotel. I changed into some more comfortable clothes to explore the city with more friends. Four of us decided to go back to Asakusa to continue our souvenir shopping. We had hoped to visit Ginza too, but we got a little carried away in Asakusa. Since we cut it too close to do both of them we had some down time at the hotel before going out to dinner with several Japanese professionals.

We headed to a very interesting/strange restaurant on the other side of the train station. I didn’t look at the menu, but I can’t say I was a big fan of the food, at least what they ordered for us. Actually, I felt pretty sick after the meal. Rule to live by: don’t eat parts of a chicken you cannot identify. Aside from the mediocre food, the people I got to sit with were exceptional. We sat with several PR professionals who work at Fleishman-Hillard and David Marks who is the press attaché for the US Embassy. It was great to hear from the PR professionals who PR functions in this country and it was also great to hear from David Marks about living in Japan, working abroad and being in the foreign service. We also got a chance to speak with David Marks the following day (which I’ll mention in a bit). All in all, he really convinced me to look more into the Foreign Service.

After dinner I was pretty tired, so I just went to bed. I wanted to end this post with an observation about Japan. We had been warned that there wouldn’t be a lot of garbage cans, so many people have to walk with their trash. I thought it was kind of strange when our professor and guest lecturers mentioned this, but I didn’t think much of it. It was only when we got there that I realized how strange, or different rather, that is to the States. It was virtually impossible to find trashcans. You might see one at a train station, but other than that it was only in your hotel room. I tried to find one in the lobby of the hotel and couldn’t. So weird. Also, the ones in the rooms are tiny. Both of ours were filled daily. I don’t know where all of their trash goes!


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sun and fun in Japan

Day 3:

Today was another extremely busy day. We left at 8:15am and didn’t get back until almost 10pm. It’s tough to be a tourist in Japan. This morning another one of our professor’s friends, Yas Nakano, met us to help show us around the city. Our professor said they randomly met in Bloomington and have remained friendly. If it’s not clear by what I’ve written so far, my professor is really into networking. He knows people from all over the world. He said he’s got something like 4,000 contacts in his palm pilot. Several weeks ago we had the opportunity to skype with Walter Jennings, who runs the PR company Fleishman-Hillard in Australia. One kid in my class emailed him about their internship program and he ended up getting the position for this summer. I’m super jealous and thinking about applying for next year.

Ok, back to Tokyo. So, Nakano-son. He met us at the hotel for our mini bus tour of the city, primarily of the government district and the imperial palace, where the emperor lives. It was nice to see it all, but not exactly the best atmosphere for taking photos. I hope to go back on foot to wander around. The area around the imperial palace was beautiful. It was also nice to go around by bus because all of our travel has been by train thus far; most of them were underground which obviously doesn’t allow you to see the city.

On our tour around the city Nakano-son was talking about the problems the US is having with Japan’s consumption of tuna. He made an interesting point. He said that it’s very possible India will become the largest world power soon and cows are sacred there. He posed the question, what are you going to do when India is the biggest world power and they tell you you have to stop eating beef? I told him I was going to argue with him because cows aren’t on the endangered species list like some of the types of tuna are, but I saw his point.

We took the bus straight to Bloomberg. We had these official looking name badges, sadly we had to give those back. We also weren’t allowed to take photos inside, which was a major bummer. It was such an amazing office. All of the walls and meeting rooms are glass because they believe in transparency. No one has offices, they all work next to each other. (Can’t say I would personally love that.) Right when we got in they told us to check out the kitchen area. They had so many different types of food and drinks. I grabbed an apple juice, but tasted some of my classmates’ juices. They tried carrot juice and a vegetable juice, both of which were surprisingly delicious. After our snacks, a Malaysian man named Nicholas talked to us about the company. They refer to themselves as an electronic news source, not a news wire. They have these terminals, which they rent out to businesses. It’s insanely expensive, but has the most up-to-date business and financial news. There’s also a ticker running across the floor of the office. We got a brief tour. It’s pretty large, something like four floors. After our tour we got to speak with Brian Fowler, who is the managing news editor. It was awesome to hear from him. He also showed us how the terminal worked. He primarily used the search function, and I have a feeling we could have spent much longer learning about all of its different functions.

After Bloomberg we took a train to lunch. We were told it would be a ten-minute walk, but it ended up being a train ride away. Unfortunately, we all had to go to the bathroom really badly. We stopped at the train station and I had to use my first squatting toilet. It was an adventure. I’ve been really surprised with how many eastern style toilets they have. Most bathrooms have a combination of “normal” toilets and eastern style ones. The difference between the two is funny. It’s either quite primitive or very advanced. The “normal” toilets play music, have the seat heated, bidets and several other functions. They’re pretty crazy.

For lunch we went to an okayomiaki type restaurant. It’s like a do-it-yourself Benny Hanna. They bring the food out for you and you cook it on the grill in front of you. It was really yummy. We tried three different types, one had pork, one prawns and the other ground beef, at least it looked like it. I’ve stopped trying to care what’s in my food. Very few people speak English so I just point and hope it will be good.

After lunch we went to the Tokyo Edo museum. It’s a history museum and I was a little bored. I wouldn’t say I’d rush back there. Our guide was a little difficult to understand. He was so adorable though. He asked all of us to sign his guest book at the end. It was really cute.

After the Tokyo Edo museum we went to the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Japan for dinner and to meet some journalists. The Jschool really went big on this one. It was a western style dinner and the food just kept coming. We started with salmon, shrimp and white fish and then had a mushroom soup, salad, a steak with veggies and a baked potato and then dessert, too. I was stuffed beyond belief. Thank you, Jschool. The man who helped set up dinner was named Hiromi Hemuki and he actually works for the state of Indiana and tries to bring Japanese business there. I sat across from him and it was interesting to hear about his work. There were several other journalists there, but unfortunately I wasn’t sitting close to them. Dinner ended pretty late and we were all tired, so afterward I just came back to the hotel to go to sleep. It was another wonderfully full and exciting day in Japan!


More fun in Tokyo!

Day 2:

Japan is a wonderful country and it has such friendly people. Our professor and his wife (who’s also on the trip) have taken in a Japanese grad student at IU. Her family lives right outside of Tokyo and they met us at the airport to take us to our hotel so we didn’t get lost. This is the third year this trip has run and the past two years the dean of the Journalism school’s wife, Hiromi, has joined the group. She grew up in Japan, knows her way around and most importantly is fluent in the language. Unfortunately, she’s pregnant so she wasn’t able to join us this year. However, this Japanese couple has taken our group under their wings. When they met us at the airport they brought all of us these great Japanese cookies. Yesterday they met us at the hotel and then took us to Asakusa and stayed with us for the day. Today, the gentleman took the train in to meet us. His train ride was about an hour an a half and he just wanted to make sure we’d get on the right train to go to Nikko. It was so incredibly nice.

So this morning after one train transfer, we were off to Nikko. It’s a 2.5-hour train ride up to the mountains. Nikko is a national park with ancient Shinto/Buddhist shrines. Sadly, photography isn’t allowed inside of the shrines. They were magnificent. I think the first one we went into was my favorite. It had three huge Buddha-like figures. They had to be several stories high. Nikko was also a great break from the bustling city. We got in at about 11:30 and had a mile walk up the mountain to the park. We took a wrong turn and ended up walking down this alley. This tiny, elderly Japanese woman saw we were lost and had us follow her back to the main street. People consistently go out of their way to help you. It’s refreshing. There’s a famous bridge before you enter the park, I forget it’s significance, but we made sure to take a ton of photos, including the obligatory peace sign ones.

Upon entering most of the shrines, you need to remove your shoes. It’s a complicated process. You cannot put your shoes up on the mats, but you can’t have your socks on the sidewalk. You kind of need to do to dance to get them off and simultaneously be in the right spot.

As I mentioned, people are very friendly so they’d ask if they can take a picture for you, and we’d return the favor. My professor sticks out a bit in Japan. For starters he’s over 6 feet tall and balding with white hair. A group of Japanese girls had asked my professor to take a picture for them. They were sitting on the steps in front of one of the shrines. I couldn’t resist going up to them asking if we could all take a picture together. They said of course and were very excited that I asked. All of us jumped in the photo with them and then several Spaniards/Italians (couldn’t really hear them well) jumped in, too. It was hilarious. Everyone wanted a picture with their own camera. It was one of the many highlights of the day.

After we left the park we went to a traditional noodle shop where you sit on tatami mats on the floor. I got soba noodles that you dip into a soy sauce. It was ok. Shabrelle, the girl I was sitting with, got a delicious udon soup. I helped her finish it. After lunch we did a little shopping on our walk down the hill to the train station. Then we had another 2.5 hour ride back on the train. Surprisingly, both ways went faster than I anticipated. I might have taken a little nap on the way there. I was attempting to study for my History of Rock and Roll class by listening to our required music, but it put me to sleep. Oops.

When we got back to Tokyo, we returned to the hotel, had dinner and then met up at 8:30 to go to Shibuya. It’s the Time Square area of New York and about 10 times cooler. It’s probably what you think of when you think of a neon lit Japan, because American media love to use pictures from the area to represent Japan. It’s also home to the Hachiko crosswalk, which is the busiest in the world. I took a ton of pictures. There were people coming from everywhere! It was fun wandering around aimlessly. Most of the group I was with went into a Krispsy Kreme to get donuts. I didn’t come to Tokyo to get Kripsy Kreme, so I sat outside to people watch. I was out there for what seemed like forever. The reason being, it’s very rude to eat on the street in Japan, so the group had to sit down to eat their donuts (I also think they were taking their time.) We found an H&M and went in. It was nice, but similar to the ones at home—and even more expensive. Again, something to take a pass on. After walking around all day we were beat. We returned to the hotel to pass out. Tomorrow is an early morning, so I want to get some sleep.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Konichiwa Tokyo!

We have arrived!

After what seemed like a never-ending trip, we are finally in Tokyo! We got up at 4:00am EST in Indianapolis, took a 7:15am flight to O’hare, a 10:15am flight to Tokyo-Narita and then a train to our hotel. We got to the hotel on Saturday at 5:30pm Tokyo time. Since I have a difficult time sleeping on planes, I was more than ready to go to bed last night. Once we arrived we got settled in the hotel and then met for dinner at 7:30pm. We had no clue where to go so we walked around aimlessly for a while. We were in a group of 11 and decided we needed to spilt up since there weren’t any Japanese restaurants that could handle a group of our size. I spilt off with 4 other girls to eat. Some woman on the street started blabbering in Japanese and insisted that we follow her. A girl in my group fell for it and the woman then led us to the restaurant she works for. We were fooled. We sat down and the lady immediately asked us if we wanted beer. We took a pass. Luckily, well somewhat, the menu had photos. We pointed at what we wanted. We ended up with edamame, an egg dish, a noodle/stir fry dish and eggplant covered with dried fish flakes. Yum! It was all small portions, so we then went to the convenience store downstairs to get some more food. After our delicious C-store meal I was more than ready to hit the hay.

This morning we were able to sleep in a bit. I woke up at 8:30, went downstairs to a coffee shop to get a croissant and then met the group at 9:45am to leave. We went to a neighborhood called Asakusa. It’s filled with great souvenir shops and old Shinto shrines. The souvenir-lined street is also sprinkled with some food vendors. We tried moshi balls. It’s padded down rice, filled with a bean paste and fried. I got the apricot flavor and sampled a bit of my friend’s sesame one. They were delicious and only 100 yen or just over a dollar. After indulging in our moshi, we continued on to the shrines. They were beautiful. Outside of the main shrine were these beautiful gardens. We explored those and then looked at more of the food vendors. We saw some interesting cuisine, the most shocking being octopus.

Everywhere we went we got looks for being American. People love us. It’s really funny. I heard several Japanese women sneeze so I said, “bless you.” They thought it was the most hilarious thing ever. Needless to say, I’m making a ton of Japanese friends. We also met some kids all dressed up in different costumes. We made sure to take some photos with them. For lunch we went to this really neat restaurant. We all tried uniguiri, rice balls filled with salmon and covered with seaweed. Delish! After lunch it was time to meet up with the group.

From there we headed to the 100-yen store (or dollar store.) We met a girl around our age. Her parents are friends with my professor and his wife. Her aunt was with her, too. It was really cute; I mentioned I wanted to get chapstick with kangi (Japanese lettering) on it and they found it for me at the store and bought it for me! I also purchased some stationary at the 100-yen store. I was standing at the counter ready to check out and a man came up to me and started speaking in Japanese and pointing at my stationary. He was also making a praying gesture. I didn’t understand so my new Japanese friend Arina stepped in. She informed me that the stationary I picked out was a funeral card. Oops. That being the case, I switched it out.

After visiting Asakusa, I went with 7 other kids to Akihabara, the electronics district. We wondered around for a while, walking into arcades and a store that I would compare to Best Buy on crack. This store had everything! It was 9 stories high and a block long. After exploring most of it a friend and I decided to camp out in the massage chairs. It was glorious, and a much needed break for our feet. However, we had some trouble securing our chairs. My friend Lexi sat down first. I asked if I could sit next to her and was told to wait, granted I couldn’t really understand since she was speaking Japanese, but it sounded like wait. I think she wanted us to switch off sitting in the chair. There were still a ton of other open chairs, so I went up to another woman and asked if I could sit down. She pointed me to the a chair three chairs down, which coincidentally happened to be the cheapest one, to sit down. We got the impression that they worked for commission and didn’t want us hogging their chairs. Either way, it was a much needed and wonderful break.

On our way back to the subway we stopped at 31 flavors. I couldn’t resist getting some green tea ice cream. From 31 flavors we took the train back to the hotel. From there we decided it was time for dinner. I went to a ramen restaurant with two classmates. I ordered a wonderful noodle soup and we spilt gyoza (dumplings.) Now we’re back in the hotel room and I’m attempting to load my 100+ photos on to my computer. Unfortunately, the fee for internet in the room is pretty high, so I’m hoping to go to the business center to use their computers there.

Thus far, Tokyo has been amazing. I’m looking forward to the days to come and our new adventures.