Monday, March 30, 2015

Stillness Speaks

From my favorite, modern-day philosopher, Eckhart Tolle and his book Stillness Speaks:

"Much suffering, much unhappiness arises when you take
each thought that comes into your head for the truth.
Situations don't make you unhappy.
They may cause you physical pain, but they don't make
you unhappy. Your thoughts make you unhappy.
Your interpretation, the stories you tell yourself make
you unhappy.
 
'The thoughts I am thinking right now are making me
unhappy.' This realization breaks your unconcious
identification with those thoughts.
 
What a miserable day.
 
He didn't have the decency to return my call.
 
She let me down.
 
Little stories we tell ourselves and others, often in the
form of complaints. They are unconsciously designed to
enhance our always deficient sense of self through being "right"
and making something or someone "wrong."
Being "right" places us in a position of imagined superiority
and so strengthens our false sense of self, the ego.
This also creates some kind of enemy: yes, the ego needs enemies
to define its boundary,
and even the weather can serve that function.
 
Through habitual mental judgment and emotional contraction,
you have a personalized, reactive relationship to people and
events in your life. These are all forms of self-created suffering,
but they are not recognized as such because to the ego
they are satisfying. The ego enhances itself through
 reactivity and conflict.
 
How simple life would be without those stories.
 
It is raining.
 
He did not call.
 
I was there she was not."
 
 
 
 
What a powerful thought:
My thoughts make me unhappy.
 
And this isn't a simple, "Look on the bright side!" kind of idea.
It's deeper.
It's harder.

It means that while it may be difficult to control my thoughts, I certainly don't have value them all the same. The mind is a river of constant movement and thought. We think about dry cleaning and dinner and this meeting we are in and the itch on our foot and that high school classmate in the same minute at times. Is every thought as important as the next? Absolutely not.
 
As Tolle says, "Here's a new spiritual practice for you: don't take your thoughts too seriously."
 
 


The Audacity of Spring


She showed up to this dreadful, glum occasion with all the glitz of a real-life princess.




Like she owned the place.
Like she forgot the dress code.

Like she didn't know what time it was.
Like she thought it was a formal affair.




We all looked sideways at her
in our own gray and brittle attire
and scoffed and snickered to each other:
"Just look at her"
"What a priss"
"Ego, much?"



Because we felt less-than
and so "last-season"
and unbearably ugly
compared to the shine
that illuminated from her





She appeared
the middle of March


as if it was

the middle of April





With a smile
a grin
a confidence that made
everyone uncomfortable.

When we chided
"How dare you?"

She reminded

"Why not you?"

And her simple presence
made the whole world lighter.
And brighter.
And springier.

Because she chose to show up.
Thank God, she showed up.
To fight for light.
To place purple petals on every dry branch
To spread pink posies on each calloused shrub

And we wanted to hate her
this audacious spring
but we couldn't
not for long

so we just

breathed

her

in.























Spring has sprung in Korea.
Thank, God.

Friday, March 27, 2015

What My Eating Disorder Taught Me About God

The other day, I realized it was March.

Which means that nine years ago in March, I started the eating disorder behaviors that lead me into the arms of anorexia
and then bulimia
and then somewhere in-between
called EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified).

Which is a nice way of saying, "There's still something seriously wrong with the way you see yourself and your body and eating, but we don't quite know what to call you."

In short, I decided to make myself smaller and smaller, to be less, to be almost non-existent, but not quite dead.



But March also means, it was five years ago that I ended the eating disorder behaviors, which lead me into the arms of grace
and self-awareness
and peace
and somewhere in-between called "recovery".

Which is a nice way of saying, "You're healed, but unfortunately, you're still like every other woman on the planet who spends far too much time questioning her self-worth based on how she looks. Congratulations!"

In short, I decided I was allowed to take up space in this world, to live fully, to be alive, and to still be working on the "worthy" part.



March almost always takes me by surprise. Because I know I'm done with that season of my life and yet, it never feels that far away either. The process of healing continues today and will continue for the rest of my life. It's not a journey that's easily encapsulated in a sentence, a paragraph, or a blog, but it's one that I can try to summarize in this way: my eating disorder changed the way I see God.

When the anorexia started, a voice became painfully prevalent in my head. It said things like:
-"You're looking shitty today."
-"Work-out much?"
-"You're an embarrassment."
-"You're disgusting."
-"You used to be better than this."
-"You have more self-control than other people."
-"Eating is a weakness."

And I began to believe completely in this voice that seemed to be guiding me to a better, more-productive place. This voice was making me better and stronger, right? This was the voice that would take me to my goals.

But when I started counseling, she told me, "Those are lies. You're being brainwashed" which is a totally disorienting thing to hear--that your own mind has been misleading you. And with time, I learned to recognize that there were actually two voices in my head, I just hadn't been hearing the other one.

The second voice was trying to say things like:
-"You're beautiful."
-"You're worthy."
-"You're everything you need to be. Right now."
-"I'm proud of you."
-"There is grace."
-"You can do your balanced best."
-"You deserve food."
-"You can take up space in this world."

I gave these voices names.
The first: Helga.
The second: Grace.

Helga and Grace would duel in my head and I'd feel torn between them, like an abusive partner or divorced parents: unsure of who to trust, who to believe. Both seemed equally appealing for different reasons.

Helga promised me excellence, perfection, and thinness.
Grace promised me authenticity, peace, and wholeness.

Five years ago, I chose Grace.
And five years ago, I realized I was also choosing God.

That while I don't understand the ins-and-outs of spirituality and religion and how and why the world is the way it is, I can tell you that Helga wanted me dead and Grace wanted me fully alive. That the closer I get to Grace, the closer I get to truth and peace and kindness and generosity and life.

And still, I don't always like God. The illusiveness. The questions more than answers. The uncertainty. But I can tell you that, on this side of an eating disorder, Grace/God is just about the only things that makes sense any more.

So these days, I do the best I can while listening to Grace/God. And that journey make look different than yours and that's okay because I know where I've been and I know where I am now, and you just can't get there from here without some kind of miracle along the way.




Anne Lamott says it best in her book Traveling Mercies:

“It is, finally, so wonderful to have learned to eat, to taste and love what slips down my throat, padding me, filling me up, that I’m not uncomfortable calling it a small miracle. A friend who does not believe in God says, ‘Maybe not a miracle, but a little improvement,’ but to that I say Listen! You must not have heard me right; I couldn’t feed myself! So thanks for your input, but I know where I was, and I know where I am now, and you just can’t get here from there. Something happened that I had despaired would ever happen. It was like being a woman who has despaired of ever getting to be a mother but who now cradles a baby. So it was either a miracle- Picasso said, “Everything is a miracle; it’s a miracle that one does not dissolve in one’s bath like a lump of sugar”- or maybe it was more of a gift, one that required some assembly. But whatever it was, learning to eat was about learning to live- and deciding to live; and it is one of the most radical things I’ve ever done.
I know that you are working on a miracle. I know that you are counting on science and medicine and even statistics to help get you there. Perhaps learning to feed ourselves, whether it is literally about food, or it’s about enjoying a moment or two in the middle of a two week wait or it’s about feeling like you can move forward when you hear bad news, perhaps that is the miracle too.
I do believe in miracles and I do believe they can seem very small, even when they make the moment blossom and become shiny and vibrant. There is nothing small about the miracle that you are hoping and striving for; just keep those eyes open for the smaller miracles that happen along the way."















Thursday, March 26, 2015

Jongmin

This is our friend, Jongmin.




He makes our lives in Korea better. 

We met Jongmin when we were seeking a Korean teacher, but as it turns out, we don't practice Korean very much. He's just our friend. And we cannot imagine Korea without him in it.

He comes "to America" as he puts it (to our apartment) once a week and we eat and talk and laugh and learn from each other. Last week, I made him pancakes for dinner and we talked about trying to live in the moment instead of the past or the future. This weekend, we ate Indian food and talked about the differences between dating advice in Korea and dating advice in America. And he asked, "What is it when the lips touch together?" We got into a whole discussion about the different ways we talk about kissing. And we learned about "skin-ship" which is basically PDA, a relationship with lots of skin. He was surprised to hear that that was not an English expression.

Sometimes we learn Korean.
Sometimes we teach English.
It's a pretty good deal for everyone, I think.







We've gone to baseball games.
We've played Ultimate Frisbee.
We've eaten together.
We've watched The Office.
We've gone to jimjilbangs.
We taught him how to play Cards Against Humanity (which was awkward).
We've met his father and his sister and nephew (who visit from the States). 




We've probably learned more from Jongmin than from anyone else about Korea: the language, the people, the culture. He's been such a gracious and patient friend. 


We'll miss him when we go. 
But only until he comes to visit us in Colorado ;)
Some day.










Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Republican Jesus

This week, someone, somewhere in Internet-land posted this on Facebook:


And, I'll admit, I had a good laugh.

From my point-of-view, I know the meme is satirical and yet, I agree with it more than I disagree with it. It's probably not a huge secret which direction I lean politically.

But this blog isn't about arguing over another ridiculous Internet meme. This blog is about reminding myself what a big, fat, idiot I can be sometimes. Because the very same afternoon, only hours later, Anne Lamott spoke to me through her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

In joking about a woman she doesn't like:
"Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. 
All right, one of them does, but we 
do not like her very much. 
We do not think she has a rich inner life 
or that God likes her or can even stand her. 
(Although when I mentioned this 
to my priest friend Tom, he said 
you can safely assume you've created God in your 
own image when it turns out that God 
hates all the same people you do)."


Point.
Taken.

I am passionate about particular problems in the world today, like gender equality, restoration of the planet, and the elimination of poverty, and I really do believe that Jesus would be down with those things, too. But God doesn't really need me to assign a political party. To do so is missing the point. I know. I miss the point a lot.

God is on our side.

Not just Republicans.
Not just Democrats.
Not just Christians.
Not just Muslims.

Our side.

All of us.






Tuesday, March 24, 2015

That Kind of Day

It's the kind of day when the alarm sounds and my body is the first thing I sense. Ouch. Sore. Good work-out, body.

It's the kind of day when the sunlight splashing through the windows looks almost golden. Even at 7am. Even on a Wednesday. It's really quite stunning.

It's the kind of day when my husband--part-lumberjack, part-teddy bear--wraps me in his arms and everything feels all right.

It's the kind of day when my hair is just working. I mean, seriously. It's pretty awesome.

It's the kind of day when the baristas at my favorite java joint smile and sing in unison "anyoung haseyo" as I walk in the door and start making my drink without my even requesting it.

It's the kind of day when my students think I'm funny. Which is quite a feat of hand gestures and Konglish, let's be honest.

It's the kind of day when I'm able to separate my desires from what's happening around me. I don't have to have it my way. I don't have to have an opinion. I can just be. And it turns out I'm much happier that way.

It's the kind of day when I ask my student, "What language do they speak in Italy?" and he says, "Pizza!"

It's the kind of day when I bring cookies to my co-workers and they get a real kick out of saying the word "snickerdoodle" over and over again.

It's the kind of day when a co-worker says sadly, "Heather, I can't believe you only have five months left in Korea" and I know she means it.

It's the kind of day when I'm a good balance of productive and relaxed.


And, truthfully, most days are not like this. I don't always see the sun's "morning glow" and my kids aren't always super cute. But today--for the time being--it feels like some kind of serendipity that has landed gently on my shoulders. And instead of worrying about the day when it will wear off, I'm just going with it.


Because we don't live lives of scarcity, but abundance.

And only some of us are lucky enough to remember it.




Closing That Book

Remember that time I said I wanted to try my hand at fiction?

Well, I did. For the months of November and December, I woke up early every morning before work to put 1,000 words on "paper". To mold a story out of nothing. To create something I'd never created before. And when January 2015 arrived, I had indeed written 50,000 words! It felt amazing for a whole second, until it felt shitty, because the story wasn't finished.

And it's still not finished yet.

Why?

Because I hate it.

Yeah, I hate this story.
I don't care about it.
I haven't touched it since January.

When I told this to my friend Kylie on Skype, she looked at me earnestly and after a pause, she said, "I'm not sure what you need to hear right now."

Because what's the "right" answer after all?



 
 
A theme that comes up often enough in my life is: When is it time to call it quits?

And I don't know. And no one does. And it's a question that may never have a clear answer. Because some people say:
NEVER! NEVER QUIT!

and others say:

ALWAYS! ALWAYS QUIT ALL THE HARD THINGS!  


But frankly, I don't want to fall into either of these camps, because while we try to use "never"s and "always"s to describe things in life, they rarely do the job. Life is much too gray.




I'm sure that this quote was meant to inspire people to leave abusive relationships or quit dead-end jobs, but when I saw this quote on Pinterest yesterday, I basically took it as a sign from the Universe to literally close this stupid book.

And not because I necessarily think it's the best decision, it's just the decision I'm making.

And for my own sanity, I'm letting that be enough.

















Monday, March 23, 2015

Honour

Morning.
Class time.
Routine.
Book.
Bag.
Walk.
Classroom.
Door.
Open.




And then the sun gets loose
from it's chains
and these kids
these kids
they don't even know what I'm saying
I don't even know what their saying
but we have our ways

Those smiles
those grins
the way the girls beam
and the boys squirm

Like they don't know 
what's happening
but I'll be damned if they aren't 
really excited about it

It may only be
"English class"
but it's taught by that strange-looking
foreigner with the "yellow hair"
and that seems to be enough

And it shows in their faces
and the way the room
warms up to the joy

It's a small thing
and it's a big thing
at the same time.

What an honour to feel that kind of glow.




Saturday, March 21, 2015

Dear Present-Moment Self

Dear Present-Moment Self,

In this moment at this time, here we sit.




Korea.
Sunday afternoon.
12:49pm.
March 22, 2015.
Coffee shop.
Mint mocha.
Sun-shiney weather.
Bustling taxis and buses out the window.
Old men on bicycles riding the sidewalk.

Though common, still a once-in-a-lifetime moment.


Because now it's over.
It's 12:53pm.
It's a completely different moment.
Now, there's a different song on the radio.
A little family just walked in: Mom, Dad, baby.
Illegal motorbikes.
One of my students walking outside, hiding in her yellow, hoodie.
The sun's shadow's sneaking across the street.
A thought.
A memory.
Moving on.

And the moment is past.
And we're still here.
Now.
Now.
And now.



I know you feel heavy.
Sometimes unbearably so.
With lists and things and to-dos and to-not-dos.
And the endless chatter of thoughts and feelings in your head.

Yet, still...

It's 12:57pm. And we're still here even if you choose not to be.
Because here is now.
And we can do "now".
Because nothing is required now.
Just sitting.
And breathing.
And drinking coffee.
And being here.

Can you be here with me for just a little while?

Please?
Settle in.

Sincerely,
Truth



Wednesday, March 18, 2015

If Asians Said The Stuff White People Say

Living in Korea and being a "minority" has taught me a lot about how it feels to be lumped together with a large group of people: it feels terrible.

Listen.






And because I find these videos hilarious, here's some more:






And another...








Bwah ha ha! 
Day made.

I think switching roles and considering things from another point-of-view is so important. In fact, it may be one of the most important things we can ever do. Seeing things this way teaches us empathy. It forces us out of a place where we know the rules, into one where the comment we just made was actually hurtful.

And it's not worth fighting over whether or not something should be hurtful. If it hurts, it hurts. And arguing with a person about why their feelings should NOT be hurt, doesn't make the pain go away. It only emphasizes the problem by drawing attention to the fact that they will not be heard.

Korea has helped us to tear down certain stereotypes we've had about Asian culture. And on a daily basis, I'm re-aligned more toward the center. One Korean person works 60-hour weeks. One Korean person sets boundaries and values time at home with their family. I can no longer make jokes about how EVERYONE in KOREA is a workaholic because it just isn't true. 

Listening matters.
Empathy matters.
Even when it's hard.
Even when I'm proven wrong.

It matters.






Thursday, March 12, 2015

My Husband is a Better Feminist Than Me

Now let me be clear: in my heart-of-hearts, I'm pretty sure it's not really possible for Jeremy to be a "better" feminist than anyone else because it's not a race or a competition. Being a feminist just means wanting equality of the sexes.

And being a feminist looks like...
-wearing pink
-not wearing pink
-wearing make-up
-not wearing make-up
-wanting kids
-not wanting kids
-working outside the home
-working inside the home
-being straight
-being queer
-being a woman
-being a man
-letting women be whoever they want to be.






And, for me, being a feminist means CHEERING MIGHTILY FOR women and men who are making decisions based on what's best for them, not on what makes a church, a school, a culture, or a partner comfortable. That means that girls can play rugby and boys can be hair designers. Hurray for everyone being whoever the hell they want to be!


And lately, I've realized that no one is a better champion of that than my husband, Jeremy.

  • When I have zits and my hair is doing that floppy, droopy thing and I sit down at breakfast, Jeremy's the one who says, "You know I love you no matter what you look like, right?"
  • When I  fight my body for being female, for bleeding, for being hungry, for needing chocolate (!), Jeremy's the one who says, "Good job listening to your body."
  • When I carry the guilt of showing "too much" skin, Jeremy's the one who says, "Men aren't animals. You can't be responsible for all men. Just wear what makes you feel good."
  • When I tell him about sexism I see on a day-to-day basis, he doesn't try to talk me out of it or come up with reasons why it's not true, Jeremy's the one who says, "That's awful."
  • When I worry that I'm being too bossy or taking up too much space in the world, Jeremy's the one who says, "You deserve that leadership role. You are allowed to have a voice. Speak up!"
  • When I thought about keeping my own last name (ya know, because it's my name) after we got married, Jeremy was the one who said, "Wow, if I was expected to change my name, that would be hard. You should do whatever feels right to you."
  • When I try to do all the things--like cooking, cleaning, and paying bills--Jeremy is the one who says, "Hey, you are not the only one who dirties up this house. I'm cleaning."
  • Basically, I try to be the best possible super-WOMAN, and he just wants me to be a grace-filled HUMAN BEING.






And I can be a better feminist, a better woman, and a better human being if I can give myself the same lavish amounts of grace and acceptance that he gives to me.


What I'm trying to say is this: I really love my husband.































Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Retirement Dinner in Korea

A thing I didn't know was a thing until I came to Korea is "the retirement dinner".

At the end of each semester, there is a big dinner, put on by the school, to recognize teachers who are changing schools, teachers who have joined the school, and teachers who are retiring. It's kind of a big deal, at least at my school. Weeks in advance people start talking about and planning for this dinner.

In the three dinners I've been to, the school rents a wedding hall (because finding a restaurant to host 70+ people would be tricky) and there is a program, a buffet dinner, and then--the Korean favorite--noraebong (or what most people know as karaoke). It's always this way. Every semester. Every year.

This year, I was asked to play guitar for "the special song time" which I gladly obliged because it got me out of paying thirty bucks for dinner. The program is all in Korean, so I just sit patiently and think about...oh, just about anything. I have a lot of time to sit quietly in Korea. 

Then, suddenly people stood up and I just followed. Apparently, it was go time. Here's our songs:


 

Then, the male teachers (greatly outnumbered by us women) got up and did a little dance, which kinda surprised me. It is not normal to see men or women dancing so sexy and shaking their hips. And it felt super awkward to be sitting among all these lady teachers hooting and hollering at the token males (other than the administration). I was sure someone was about to throw money their way...Needless to say the guys were a hit.




Then, comes beer and soju. The departing teachers travel in a pack with a bottle of soju and cups. They visit each table and offer a drink in order to say "goodbye." My co-workers say it's kind of awkward because you may or may not have even spoken to the departing teachers before.



And my goodbyes that night were hard. Jiyoung (left) and Mrs. Che (right, wearing the scarf I crocheted for her!) have been my co-teachers since I arrived at Nampyeong Elementary school and now they are being moved to new schools in other parts of the province.

I'm so sad as these women became my closest friends at school. It's not the same without them.




Thursday, March 5, 2015

We Went to Japan!

Hi friends,

What you may or may not know is that we went to Japan in February. It came about when we realized that for the next six months, we didn't have a lot of travel time left. It's pretty much straight-school until our contracts finish up in August. So we seized the day and bought tickets for Japan.

Frankly, we didn't know much about Japan. We didn't have super-specific things we HAD to do while we were there (which maybe we'll regret later) but we just figured, let's show up in Tokyo and wander around. And that we did. 

The flight from Seoul to Tokyo is a little over two hours. This isn't lost on me: We live two hours away from Japan. Whoa. We flew into Narita airport and as we were going through customs, I saw some large guys and some big hair. I motioned to Jeremy, "Look at those guys. They look like they are in a band." The more we snuck glances the more we realized: Oh, yeah. That's the band KISS. It was a dead give away when an American guy said, "Mr.Simmons, can I take your picture?"

But being that we aren't huge fans and we didn't want to be that guy. Instead, I creeped on an innocent guy just trying to stand and mind his own business. Yeah, I'm that girl.



The fun/terrifying part about travelling in a new country is navigation; trying to find your way, trying to find the bus station, trying to find your hotel, trying to find anything at all. Especially when that new country speaks a different language.

Gratefully, we didn't have much trouble. We stayed at an Air BnB and our host was quite helpful in getting us there. We got a bus at the airport, drove two hours to the Tama Plaza station, got a taxi and explained where we wanted to go with hand gestures and a map, and somehow--magically--found our way.

The place we stayed was almost church-like and so different that any of the neighboring houses and apartments. It had pretty stained-glass windows and at least ten bedrooms. The gal who runs it--a New Zealander who settled in Japan eight years ago--rents out rooms to Japanese and travelers alike. It was a good gig.





Our first day in Tokyo, we were told to walk to the station and take the train north toward the city center. Easy enough (we thought...). Finding the train station was our first adventure and then, getting to the train station and realizing, Oh, we don't how to use these automated ticket things. That was fun. We stood awkwardly in the way as busy commuters tried to get past us. We looked around for a friendly pair of eyes. We asked, "Do you speak English?" to which we've learned everyone will say "No" even if they are practically fluent. But if you say, "A little?" they'll agree. 

We bought tickets to Shibuya because it was a station name we recognized. Public transportation is a thing in other parts of the world. People use it. All the time. To go every where. I know America's a big place, but I really wish we'd find a way to make better use of public transit. So handy. So much better for the environment.



Another way to get around are taxis. And I just think they are darling. They looked kind of classic in their shape and design. The rear-view mirrors are up front and they come in yellow, orange, green, red, I think we saw a purple one, too! However, this option is super pricey because as soon as you sit down, you're already paying about $7 and you haven't even moved!





Upon getting to Shibuya, we came above ground to look around. We wandered the shopping streets and Jeremy found these slick glasses. The city is just as modern as any other. Lots of familiar stores and restaurants. 


We looked around this area for awhile and then headed to Tokyo station which is kind of city center where I heard there were some English information booths. YAY ENGLISH! It's a super-pretty building.



Gratefully, the information people were awesome and helped us plan out our trip and loaded us up with maps. Yay! We knew that this stop would get us to the Imperial Palace, so we walk about three blocks from here to find it.




The inner grounds and palace are not actually open to the public, but you can see the East Gardens and some older remnants of towers and buildings from the past. I can't give you a full, detailed history or anything, but it was a pretty place and we found grass. Which was so exciting that we laid in it for awhile. It was a beautiful day.




From the palace, we found a free shuttle bus and took a little tour of the area around Tokyo station. We had scouted out a few restaurants that looked good and went in search of Mexican food. That's right, friends: we are in Japan and eating Mexican food. Why? Because we don't live in America in the land flowing with chips and salsa. This is exotic in Asia.




FYI: We found restaurants to be a bit pricey in Japan. For example, that "chips and bean dip" that we ordered on the orange plate cost $5. Yeah.  That's like a dollar for each chip.



On day two, we heard it might rain, so we headed to the Tokyo National Museum. It was on the north side of the city and took a good 40 minutes to get there by train. But this one stop had several different museums, a zoo, and a nice park. We thought it would be more historical, but it was a lot of art work and that was pretty cool, too. Especially when you consider how most of the artwork was dated long before the existence of the little, baby United States. Crazy!





From here we took a train to Asukusa, a more traditional part of the city. We wandered into a neat little, shopping street that had lots of fans and tea pots and painted dolls and kimonos.




Then, we found this shrine we'd heard about. And as we visited during the Asian New Year celebrations, a lot of families were out visiting the temple and praying.







That night for dinner, we found some Japanese food: miso-baked rice balls, tuna rolls, and chicken yakitori. It was yummy.



From here, we took a train to the Akihibara district, nick-named "Electric City" for it's bright lights, anime and manga comic book stores, and massive, electronics stores. It's a gamers paradise. Thus, we felt a little out-of-place, but we found some yummy mochi and called it a night.



Oh yeah, we made a late night burger stop because we were famished from all that walking!



The third day we we a bit east of the city to Shinjuku district where we went 60 floors up in an elevator (my ears popped on the way up) to get a good look at the city. Unfortunately, it was pretty hazy that day. And while we hoped to get a decent view of Mt. Fuji, it was too dreary. 
But from here, we headed to the Harajuku district to see the Meiji shrine. It's like the Central Park of Tokyo: a large, heavily wooded area standing in stark contrast to the sky scrapers on either side. It was probably my favorite part of the trip: quiet, pretty, and peaceful.



Before entering the shrine, we were directed to cleanse our hands and mouth before entering. 







This is a place were people could write their prayers and wishes from the coming year, a popular tradition--we heard--during the Asian New Year.



Upon watching for a long time, we finally gathered the process at the shrine (which I don't have in pictures, but just trust me):
-people pick up a wooden box with sticks in it, shake it, and take one out
-this is their fortune for the coming year
-they take the stick to a counter where they pay maybe a dollar for a small token related to that fortune
-then, they take the token to the temple, toss it in front of the Buddha and say a prayer






 From here we walked just across the way to Takeshita street, a place we'd heard was popular with "the youths." It was, indeed, an interesting place. Very sub-culture. A lot of grunge music, dark make-up, and black clothing. There were many stores that boasted the F-word, just for the shock factor, I suppose.






This is where I saw some really interestingly dressed Japanese young people that I didn't try to get a picture of, but trust me when I saw we saw a lot of people dressed like this:





From here, we stumbled upon an Indian restaurant and nothing on heaven or earth could stop me from going in. Yum!



We walked around Harajuku for awhile longer, which slowly morphed away from the punky stores to the more ritzy styles of Coach and Prada. 

On our train back toward home, we stopped again at Shibuya where Jeremy wanted to snap some pictures of this crazy intersection famous for its sheer volume of pedestrians every five minutes. It's kind of fun to watch.

So fun, in fact, that Jeremy wanted to run out into the middle and get a picture. He's the one below in the blue jeans and green shirt laying in the middle the cross-walk. That guy.





It was a short three day adventure in Tokyo. It was interesting to travel from one Asian country to another not knowing exactly how they would be similar or different.

We didn't know what to expect in Japan. Before we left, one of Jeremy's co-teachers who is particularly well-travelled told him,
"I think you will like Japan better than Korea" which--at the time--felt like such a strange thing to say, being that Korea has been our home for the past 18 months.

But, to be honest, after only three days in Japan, we kind of understood what she meant.

And that's not to say that we don't like Korea or that we wish we lived in Japan. But Japan quickly felt more quickly familiar to us in a way that is difficult to explain.

In Korea, I can spot a foreigner a mile away. I have never confused a Korean person for a foreigner.

In Japan, I was regularly stealing second glances at people that I thought were foreigners at first, but turned out to be Japanese. I kept seeing people that reminded me of a neighbour or a friend in the States. It was weird.

And the reason I think this kept happening is because Japanese people (at least in Tokyo) seem to look very diverse. The first thing we noticed in Japan is that people look so different but from each other. Maybe the more-Western ideals of individualism have sunk into the culture. But there was a lot of funky, non-traditional clothing styles. Chunky jewellery. Hair dyed in bright blues and purples. There was grey hair (something we rarely see in Korea, even among the older population)! I even saw some tattoos! Which isn't to say that none of these styles exist in Korea, we just see a lot less of them.

Our observations in Japan are not meant to be prescriptive. We know virtually nothing about the deep, history that makes these two countries what they are. And we are comparing our limited understanding of Korea with three days in one city in Japan. These are just a few interesting things we noticed.


We enjoyed our brief stay and appreciated Japan for what we were able to see. But we were certainly happy to get "home" to a place where we can at least ask for directions and order food in the local language. Whew!

What a blessing.