Thursday, February 25, 2010

My Hakuba Home  まあい はくば ほむ

It's been a while since my last confession... I mean blog post... because I've been fairly "snowed under" (aah terrible pun, I know) with work and other fun things. The last two weeks have been quite busy at the hotel, so I was working ten hour days, breakfast from 6am to midday, then dinner from 5pm to 9pm. It was actually ok, because I still had the best part of the day to snowboard, although often I was too tired.

I have definitely carved my own little niche in the mountain here though. When I go to the local pub or walk to the mountain or ride around on a bike, I bump into people I know. I feel right at home in this little alpine town, despite being a foreigner. I guess the main reason is because there are so many other foreigners here. The snow is amazingly beautiful, however, since that first week I came here, the snow has never been as good. Everything was covered in a two foot layer of snow, like piles of meringue or marshmallow and it was raining soft little snowflakes every day. There were icicles hanging from the hotel balcony like some kind of Ice Palace and this may sound stupid, but the snow is SO white. All the dirt and filth that humans create is just buried and hidden away under this pure, white, sparkling snow. I love it.

The last few days have been really clear and sunny, which means fantastic views from the summit, but icy runs down the mountain. And believe me, I have felt the full brunt of that ice on every part of my bottom. But I had a great run the other day where I made it down the mountain several times without falling over once and manipulating some nice turns. I don't know if you've heard, but people are saying I'm the next Torah Bright :P

The last few days I got to catch up with some friends from home, which was good to share some experiences and sample some Japanese food together each night. I was able to teach them some Japanese words too! I have been trying to learn Japanese while I'm here, thanks to the girls that work here, Mayumi and Tomoko. They have a lot of patience with my pronunciation and questions. I finally feel like I can almost hold a very basic conversation, although I know a whole lot of words and not necessarily how to string them together in a sentence. But when I listen to people talk in Japanese, I can pick up a few words and that's exciting. My favourite words so far are

1. Bakchikku - means fireworks, and I love it because it sounds like what it is
2. Sukebe Jiji - pronounced like "scabby jiji" and means dirty old man
3. Kombanwe - means good evening and I like it because it sounds african
4. Sugoye! - means awesome or great.
5. Gambatte - means go for it!

Yesterday I also learnt how to read Hirigana in one lesson, and found it is actually easier than I thought. But most things are written in Katakana, a more complex written form, so I can only read some things, and even then I need to know the English translation. But it is fun. I have been amusing the girls by trying to read anything and everything from labels on drink bottles to pamphlets.

Last night I also had my first onsen experience. An onsen is like a big communal hot tub where you have one for females and one for males and you go there to relax and bathe, sort of like a sauna and spa. The difference is you are naked. I went with two of the girls I work with and at first, it is a little daunting. But there is something liberating about not giving a damn and by the end you are so relaxed you don't care. It' all very hygeinic because you shower and scrub before you get in. And when you get out, your skin feels so soft and you are so relaxed and clean, it was sugoye. This one had an indoor and outdoor, but you don't stay in for more than half an hour because it gets pretty hot after a while.

They also bought a cheapo guitar for the hotel, so I have been able to get some singing and playing time in, which is so good, because I was missing my guitar immensely. Some guys down the road also have a jam session every Sunday night which I try to go to, becuase one of them has a guitar exactly like my Cole Clark at home - yes, I am blatantly using him for his guitar, haha.

So that's how things are going at the moment, I will try to do like ET and phone home eventually, I miss you all, all the time, but things get a little easier every day. I will be sort of sad leaving this little family here, but can't wait to get to Malaysia and see my real family too! I have a bit less than 4 weeks to go.

Lots of hugs and kisses,

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Alpine Country

If any of you talked to me last week (on Facebook or wherever) you will know that I was feeling particularly homesick. I was staying at a place where virtually no one spoke English, I had no luck getting a Visa and I was feeling a little alone and pointless in this alien world called Japan. One night I spent about 40 minutes trying to get a phone card to work to call home, then I finally got it to work only to find it would only last 7 minutes. I was standing in a phone booth in Kyoto in the middle of the night blubbering into the phone to my mum. She said it would be a good story to tell my kids.

But after that, all the job offers started flowing in. I got two offers of work at the snow and two working in Osaka teaching English. I ended up taking the one in the Japanese Alps at a ski lodge in Hakuba called Aqua Alpine. I get to wait tables and pour drinks at the bar, get cheap accommodation and food and then in the afternoons I get to hone my snowboarding skills. But more about that later.

Before I took the job I travelled down to Hiroshima, a pretty cool city in its own right. On the way I stopped at Himeji to see Himeji Castle, a cool building that the whole city basically grew around back in the 1800s. People are so much nicer in these smaller towns! I hadn't walked 200m from the station when an old man struck up a conversation with me about Australia. In Hiroshima I went to the Peace Memorial Park where there was a building still in the condition it was in on August 6th 1945 when the Americans blew Hiroshima off the map by dropping an atomic bomb. I went through the museum and unlike the Vietnam War Museum, it was very balanced and presented Japan as being just as responsible as America in the events that lead up to the dropping of the bomb. The museum was more about trying to stop the development of nuclear bombs and trying to achieve peace. It pretty much dobbed in all the countries that still possess nuclear weapons (you could imagine which ones they would be) and had a lot of stuff about the after effects, etc. While looking at the Children's Peace Monument I got hassled by some lovely ladies from Jehovah's Witness. You can't escape them.

Then I caught a ferry to a little island called Miyajima which was a cute little place. There were deer everywhere hassling people for food and a floating temple on the shore. I wanted to do a hike to the top of the mountain on the island, but I ran out of time as it takes 4 hours. That night I had the best meal in Japan so far. Hiroshima is famous for its Okanami-yaki which is a type of savoury pancake cooked teppanyaki style. They cook the pancake then just heap a whole lot of stuff on top - cabbage, noodles, squid, prawns and bacon all with delicious sauces and spices. It was so good. And the guys who cooked it were a lot of fun, trying out their English on me. I washed it all down with a glass of sake for a perfect Japanese meal.

The next day I went back to Kyoto, before heading up the mountains to my new job. The train ride was amazing, as was the fact that trains even go out there. They must have to clear the tracks of snow ten times a day. It was snowing when I arrived and everything was covered in a thick layer of white powder. When I woke up the next morning and looked out the window, it was cool to see the snow falling down, and I felt like a little kid waking up on Christmas day, even though I've only ever known hot Christmases. This place is owned by Aussies and partly by Steven Bradbury, the guy who famously won a gold medal at the Winter Olympics by letting everyone else fall over. Most people that work here are also Aussie, apart from two Japanese girls I am sharing a room with. I help them with their English and they help me with my Japanese :) Not that I need it up here, the place is overrun by Aussies.

I went snowboarding for only the second time in my life yesterday and it was amazing. Everyone at the hotel rallied together to lend me some gear and I got out there and did the Beginners run about 5-6 times. By the end I wasn't falling over quite so much and was pulling off some nice turns. I could get good at this by the end of March!

So that's where I'm at right now, and I will probably stay here until the end of March before flying to Malaysia. I will have to upload some snow shots onto Facebook at some point.

Keep the messages coming, I love hearing about what you're all up to!

x meg x