Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Updated...can you tell the difference?

create your own visited countries map


Since I'll be ringing in the New Year on the slopes this weekend I wanted to take this time to wish everyone a very happy new year.

It's hard to believe that last year at this time I was in Sicily...

Places I've visited in 2005

Italy: Sicily
The U.S. : California,Texas
Canada: B.C., Alberta
Thailand: Bangkok, Phuket
Japan: Aichi prefecture for the Expo

People who have visited:

Mom and Dad

New experiences/challenges in 2005:

Road trip in my Beetle
Expo in Aichi
Charity Show performance
Vancouver VW show
Me and my car in a VW magazine
Driving in Tokyo
Climbing Tsurugi Dake (mountain)
A Japanese Wedding
Running a relay marathon
Swim meet
Staff trip to Tokyo
Eating Natto
Scuba Diving
Christmas in Nyuzen

Other significant events:

Babies: Christine, Laurie, Dacia, Tomoko, Jennifer, Kristen
Weddings: Thip & Lambert, Dacia & Alex, Laurie & Glenn, Ross & Sheri, Dale & Yoko, Aiko and Miyano
My parents 35th wedding anniversary
Meeting Lisa
Grandpa Napier's 80th birthday
John's 30th birthday

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A different...slightly odd...but still very Merry Christmas

The merriment began on Friday when I headed in to the mountains to the town of Tateyama (Ta-tay-yam-ma) for a community childrens' Christmas party. I had been invited by a woman who teaches English out of her home on Sunday mornings. I have helped her teach seasonal lessons like Halloween and Easter this year and she needed help with the 80-100 children attending this Christmas party. We played some games in English and then sang some Christmas carols together. It was short but sweet. Before I left I handed out candy canes I had ordered online (they don't sell them here - hot candy like cinnamon and peppermint aren't very popular...)

Friday evening I had dinner with the 'swim ladies'. This is the group of women who swim for the masters club in Kurobe (coo-roe-bay) -I met them through my Japanese teacher who is part of the team. They have been trying to get me to join the club for 2 years now, but so far it hasn't happened. I think they think I'm going to swim in a swim meet in April with them, as they began to formulate relay teams over dinner...we'll see. There were eight of us and we managed to put away an impressive amount of food and cover a wide range of topics over the course of 5 hours.

10:00 came around and I had to say goodbye because I had yet one more 'engagement' Friday night. Kirsten (my neighbor, and partner in crime) and I met up with some friends at a local -and soon to be regular - hang out in Nyuzen (nyew-zen). What was only going to be a drink or two turned into a late, but very enjoyable night. We finally had to concede that it was time to go home when we realized that morning was going to come way to quickly and both of us had plans to meet our other neighbor, John, at 7:30 for a day of snowboarding.

Sure enough, 7:30 came way too early. I managed to crawl out from under my cozy blankets and into my snowboard gear - my only motivation being I would get to try out my new boots and newly rented snowboard!!

The day on the hill was amazing. Tons of fresh powder to plow through- or get stuck in... I came away a happy girl with only a few bumps and scrapes and a minor, self-inflicted concussion. We called it quits early in the afternoon so Kirsten and I could get back in time to 'get ready' for our next Christmas party...

But before I get into it, a bit of background first....

The Colare (co-lar-ray) people: a group of Japanese in Kurobe who work at Colare, an arts and general use community centre. Each month they organize in international dinner featuring dishes from a local foreigner's (can I say that??) home country. For example, when I volunteered, I cooked Greek food...ok, nevermind. USUALLY the foreigner cooks food from their home country -apple pie from America (even though I think it's actually Canadian...) or Chinese food from the Chinese who live in the area. We've had stew from Britain...ok, you get the picture.

Unazuki (oo-na-zoo-key) Beer Gardens: a mini brewery set up in the foothills between Kurobe and Unazuki town. They serve several of their own ales/lagers/beers as well as serve a 'viking' (all you can eat) lunch consisting of anything from sausage, to sushi, to salad, to soup. This is all done in a big dining hall reminscent of a Bavarian chalet or something.

Being invited to social events because you are a foreigner: way too common- yet I still find myself saying yes 99% of the time. In this instance we were invited by the Colare group who flat out told us that they'd be getting the tickets to this party for free if we (the foreigners) showed up.

Assuming, never having enough information, and never asking the right questions - 99% of the time.

Ok, so Kirsten and I agree to go to this 'party'. What we weren't told, and what we didn't ask was what kind of party this actually was going to be. So, we show up in jeans and sweaters, prepared for a night of beer, food and casual conversation (you know what they say about assuming...)

Why, why, why wouldn't you tell your invitees that the party you are taking them to is FORMAL, and that they will be SPOTLIGHTED because they are FOREIGNERS and that all the head honchos from all the businesses in Kurobe will be there, including the PRESIDENT of YKK?!?!?!?! Why?

And why, why, why didn't I ask???? You would think after 3 and a half years, I would have learned by now.

Needless to say, we had a good time anyway! We ate a lot of food, drank a lot of beer and wine, danced the men twice our age, try to dodge questions about our marital status, sang silent night with neon glow sticks and forgot all about our jeans.

And the night was not over yet...

After a brief stop at our apartments to 'freshen up' after Unazuki and to grab some games and other goodies, we headed back to Koshi, our new favorite place in Nyuzen. We played a rousing game of scrabble while sipping wine and other beverages and as the night progressed more friends, new and old, started to arrive. We even got a visit from Santa!!

Scrabble quickly progressed into dancing on the tables (as it so often does) and before we knew it, it was 4:30. We knew Santa wouldn't come if we weren't tucked into bed before dawn, so we said our goodbyes and made our way home.

This was probably the first Christmas morning that I have EVER slept in....I actually had to make myself get out of bed. The only reason I did get up was that I knew brunch was in sight! John and I trudged through the snow to Kirsten's apartment from our own, whipped up a hearty Christmas morning feast, opened presents and spent time comparing this Christmas to others we've had. It was the most Christmassy I've felt all season.

In the afternoon I went to Toyama city and watched a couple of my students play in their very first rock band. They had invited me a while ago, got me a ticket and even came to greet me when I showed up at the door. I was the only 'adult' there -the rest were high school students coming to watch their friends play (all the bands were kids from high school), but I felt honored that my students thought I was cool enough to attend!

So as you can see, I had a different...slightly odd...but still very merry Christmas!!!

Monday, December 26, 2005

A week in Thailand

It's nice to have friends who travel! Mike was on his way back from a year in Australia and invited me to meet up with him in Thailand for a little fun in the sun before he went back to the deep freeze of Alberta. Well, we had a lot of fun, but the sun eluded us for most of the trip. We spent one day, two nights in Bangkok getting our bearings and choosing our destination for the week. We both started out with high hopes of Vietnam, but realized very quickly that our time was limiting our choices and we decided to choose an island and plant ourselves for the remainder of the week. We chose Phuket, down in the southern part of Thailand -assuming it would be our best bet for sunshine. But it was not to be!!

The info desk at the airport on Phuket Island recommended a brand new hotel (only 20 days old) for about $30 a night. We took him up on it and arrived at The Sugar Palm Resort and Spa -a hotel so new that they were still putting on the finishing touches while we were there. The location was fantastic -100m from the beach and within walking distance of restaurants, shopping and hangout spots.

If I haven't mentioned it yet - we had a lot of rain! It was raining when we got off the plane and it continued to rain for the next 4 days. I don't even think we went down to check out the beach until the second or third day -what was the point!?!

We did find some cool restaurants to sit in and have a beer. Mike chatted up the guys trying to sell him handmade suits and we both made horrible attempts and 'haggling' with the merchants.
We decided half way through the week that I should learn to scuba dive! So I signed up for a couple of days worth of lessons and that was a great way to get my mind off of the weather. I managed to do a couple of beach dives and one boat dive before my time in Phuket was up. Here's a link to the company I went with: Diving Phuket Scuba Club.

Mike and I did a day tour while staying on the island of Phuket in Thailand. We took a boat to the 'James Bond Island' where part of "The Man with a Golden Gun" was filmed.

and we rode some elephants (no, not on the island)

Souvenir stand on James Bond Island

The boat.

The view.

The rock.

The beach on the island.

The Tuk-tuk

The walk up to our hotel.

Our hotel entrance

The restaurant near our hotel.

The beach, 100m from our hotel.

Mike on the beach (note the overcast sky and lack of PEOPLE!!!)

In our hotel room -comfy!!!

Contemplating the shrimp cocktail.