We were immediately blown away by the simple beauty of the room. Wonderful tatami floors, accompanied by a traditional kneeling table and chairs, and adorned with a beautiful tea set. We were given a quick tour before we had a moment alone to admire our room. A set of chairs looked out onto the outdoor patio, right next to the stocked bar. Outside our glass sliding doors was an outdoor shower, and an open air hot springs bath. Our own, private hot spring! Lucky for us, there was a tall fence and walls surrounding the private patio, but still a noticeable view of the mountains and trees. Soon enough, the attendant returned and asked us to sit down. She served us green tea and gave us a delicious mochi snack. She left us alone and we delighted in our situation.
I finally removed my shoes and slipped on the provided ones, where we were then ushered into a little dining area with a fantastic, panoramic view. A woman, obviously proficient in English, asked when we would like to schedule dinner, and breakfast in our room before whisking us away down the hall. She gave us a little tour of the facilities, pointing out the bathrooms and accompanying segregated male, and female hot spring baths. There were delightful copper sinks in the hall, which gleamed invitingly. I squealed with delight at every turn in the corridor. Every inch of this place felt authentic, and warm. Soon she showed us to the elevator and informed us which floor the room was located. My partner and I squeezed into the little elevator, while the woman in her tabi and sandals, took the stairs and met us on the same floor. Again, the customer service and enthusiasm impressed me to no end. She quickly escorted us to our room and as soon as we entered the little foyer and genkan, I removed the slippers and stepped up onto raised platform. She thanked me, almost profusely, making it obvious that many foreigners didn’t recognize the faux pas.
When we finally reached the Hakone-Yumoto station, we were starting to get really excited. We found the bus heading in the right direction by asking at information – and felt really fortunate when they spoke English – then prepared for our final leg of the journey. Our stop was approximately 20 minutes away, but it took a little longer since there were delays. The road to the ryokan was a long, twisty road up a mountain. The further we travelled, the more we wondered where we were headed. I started to panic a little (as I do) and hoped that we actually caught the right bus. I wanted to make sure we made our check-in time. I would hate to be late. It would be absolutely unseemly.
We crossed the road and as we were admiring the brilliant visage ahead of us, a man in traditional work garb was bouncing down the stairs with a clipboard. My partner and I looked at one another before the man eagerly greeted us, then said the name the reservation was under. We nodded, impressed with the immediate and enthusiastic service. We hadn’t even gotten to the bottom of the stairs leading to the impressive ryokan. We followed him as he led us through the antique sliding doors, and were instantly set upon by a whole team of women in kimonos. They smiled warmly and encouraged us to remove our shoes in the genkan and replace them with slippers. When they saw the size of my partner’s feet, they quickly and quietly switched them out with larger ones. I was struggling to remove my shoes and was leveraging myself on my partner’s shoulder, when one of the women scurried away to bring me a special bamboo stand especially designed for that purpose. I couldn’t believe the already outstanding service.
During my Christmas break, I had the luck and fortune to visit a few great places in the Kanto region. I visited Hakone (world renown for their hot springs), Tokyo, and Nikko (home of many famous temples and shrines). In Tokyo, I had the opportunity to see a few of the major tourist attractions, including: Shibuya, Shinjuku, Asakusa, Roppongi Hills, the Tokyo Skytree, and just outside of Tokyo – Mitaka, where the Studio Ghibli Museum is located. In order to see all of Tokyo, you would honestly need at least a full week. There is so much to see and do. Many things require reservations in advance and can only be done with enough forethought. My significant other and I had been thinking about what sort of things we’d like to do together, since he was going to visiting me during my break. We came up with ideas and made the appropriate arrangements.
The first place we visited was Hakone! We reserved our room weeks in advance (although it would be better to do it even earlier if you want more time). I spent a long time researching different ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) in the area and found out a number of them offer rooms with a private, outdoor hot spring bath. This really appealed to both of us – and it wasn’t long after that we sorted through our top choices and settled on one. A place called, “Mikawaya Ryokan”. It was established in 1883 and is one of the most popular ryokans in Hakone. After our visit, I completely understand why.
I currently reside in Utsunomiya, Tochigi and that’s where our journey first started. We took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Omiya, which is about a 30 minute ride, and then another 30 minute train ride to Shinjuku. From there we wandered around the station for a bit and enjoyed some time at a café while we waited for our Romancecar train to Hakone. We had booked the tickets in advance and discovered that the train name was slightly misleading. While it was a scenic route, I wouldn’t necessarily call it romantic since it carried passengers of every description between Shinjuku and Hakone. Although we did enjoy the 100 minute ride with a few drinks bought from the cart.
What happened next? Well, it didn’t take long to finish a cup of tea and run outside into the brisk air. One hot shower later, we braved the even hotter waters of the hot spring. We quickly discerned that we needed to turn on the cold water faucet positioned above the hot spring. We had been warned prior to using it that it would be necessary to use cold water – boy, she wasn’t kidding. I thought maybe she was just being cautious. No, that was a real hot spring with insanely hot, natural water pouring in to the bath. Thank goodness for the cold water as a method to temper the heat. When we finally reached the ideal temperature, we sat back and enjoyed the chill mountain air, and natural, Earthly heat.
After a brief hiccup paying for bus fare, since my partner had never experienced getting change from the machine up front nor recognized all of the currency – we were finally at our stop. The bus pulled away and across the road was our beautiful, Japanese inn. We looked around and saw gorgeous views of the valley below us, since we had climbed the mountain and we were now towering over the little town. We arrived just 5 minutes before check-in, and this made me a little anxious. I was eager to get settled in our room.
When morning finally came, we woke up a bit early to take our final dip in the hot springs. A startling wake-up call from the cold air, followed by an immediate hot shower (and a couple of traditional buckets of water), and we were in the bath enjoying the startling heat and rising steam. We had closed the paper doors between the main room, and the bar room so that if they came early with breakfast, we would be fine. Sure enough, they arrived earlier than anticipated. We could hear the rattling of dishes and movement as we sat in the glory of the morning light. I suddenly realized I wasn’t sure I could get out of the bath, so I sent my partner in to put on his robe and check. The attendant had left but in her absence, sat breakfast – ready and waiting. I scrambled for my yukata, and sat down, eager and hungry for another spectacular meal. I was not disappointed. Rice, miso soup, fried fish, and a couple of dishes I can’t name, but enjoyed.
Their timing was always perfect, it wasn’t long after we finished dessert and were contemplating another session in the hot spring when two men came in and quickly cleaned up the room in the most orderly and efficient fashion. They pushed the table aside and set up the futons as easily, and professionally as a pit crew. Night had finally spilled over the horizon, when we sat in the hot springs sharing sweet plum wine and admiring the night sky.
Hours slipped by, we eventually got out of the bath and put on our yukatas. They were comforting. My partner turned on some Japanese TV while we waited for dinner time. As per Japanese culture, dinner arrived early. Our attendant laid out a few dishes – sushi, sashimi, pickled vegetables, and two burners topped with a metallic bowl of sea inspired soup. We sat in awe of our bubbling soup, and made agreeable sounds when eating the sashimi. There was quite a bit of food, but it didn’t take long for more food to be brought out. Beautiful cuts of fish and steak, more interesting food atop the burner, and of course an assortment of unrecognizable Japanese cuisine. We ate up the delicious food, and was served with yet another dinner course. We continued to marvel at the wonderful dinner and did our best to finish. When she brought the final dinner course, she let us know to call the front desk and ask for dessert. They served a mixture of sweet and unusual dishes, before we finally felt absolutely full.
When we finally finished eating, we realized that we’d have to get ready to leave our dream destination. We prepared for our departure and finally said our goodbyes to the room. My loving and incredibly generous partner took care of the bill while he sent me to the gift shop to check it out. The staff called us a taxi back to the station, and we lamented our leaving. Our trip back down the mountain in the morning light was quiet and unwinding. The views were breathtaking and wondrous. We finally arrived back in town, and bought a few things in a little shop before buying another ticket back to Shinjuku.
March 5, 2013
Information session on teaching English abroad (conveniently located at my alma mater).
September 2, 2013
I officially complete my 100 hour course on teaching English as a second language, and receive my TESOL/TESL/TEFL certification.
September 18, 2013
I attain a federal criminal record check (with photo and fingerprints) in order to apply to a range of companies.
September 17, 2013 - March 20, 2014 (185 Days*)
Struggling job hunt rages war on my time, and emotions.
March 21, 2014
I'm contacted by numerous Japanese companies, including one long phone call discussing my goals and intentions. I'm asked to consider the position thoroughly, then contact them after I've made a decision.
March 24, 2014
I officially register with the company's website and await a reply. I immediately receive a call back and continue with an interview over the phone before proceeding further. I'm informed that I will need to send a scanned passport photo/signature page along with my university degree, a professional looking photo, and a minimum of 3 reference letters (2 work and 1 character). On top of that, I must complete a grammar quiz, and fill out a questionnaire consisting of various work related questions and an essay.
April 10, 2014
I discuss my upcoming decisions about deciding between jobs in a blog post.
April 24, 2014
I receive my final reference letter from my university Japanese professor. I immediately send it to DJ and finish that part of the hiring process.
July 10, 2014
My father drives me to Calgary, Alberta to visit the Japanese Consulate. They approve my work visa and instruct me on the immigration process after entering Japan.
July 16, 2014
As part of the final, official step for moving to Japan - I visit my doctor for a note declaring a clean bill of health.
July 21, 2014
I receive my work visa in the mail.
August 14 - 16, 2014
My plane leaves for Japan. There are stops in Vancouver, Canada and Taipei, Taiwan before landing in Nagoya, Japan.
August 18, 2014
A two week orientation begins, instructing new employees on curriculum and method.
I jumped from a plane today! That's right, out of choice.
My sister and I have been thinking about skydiving for years. We finally decided to do it about three weeks ago. We made the reservation and next thing I know, the day is today and we're in a plane.
We drive out to the place, it's almost an hour out of town. I had already went to the bathroom about 6 times but of course, I needed to go again. So my sister and I rushed off to the bathroom before checking in. After that, we filled out waivers and watched a short orientation video on jumping and landing.
Then off to get ready. We meet our instructors. My sister's? A man about her height (she's 5'11") and not only an experienced jumper but also a pilot. What's my sister? A pilot. Skydiving was the next logical step apparently.
My tandem instructor? A tall, Danish man with over 4000 jumps under his belt. I felt like I was in very safe hands. Although he didn't let on he was experienced until much later. He certainly liked to play up some very dark humour while the plane was climbing, I digress.
Sig (my instructor) picked out a jumpsuit and helped me into the harness. At one point he asked me to spread my legs so he could tighten the harness around my crotch. Then he stood and adjusted the ones around my chest. That was all very intimate but of course absolutely necessary. I want it as tight as possible - I'm pretty sure that's the point.
After a brief explanation on the harness and what to expect, we meet our videographers and head out to the field. It's not only the two videographers, instructors, my sister and I, but three professional skydivers. Each one had their own custom jumpsuit and chute. One guy had a purple jumpsuit with the golden lettering, "Curious Chris" (a Curious George reference, no doubt).
The little plane starts up. The propeller whirrs loudly. They set up a little ladder to get inside the large bay door but it's quite steep and very windy, so I require the assistance of my instructor in order to get into the plane. I get inside and sit down, straddling a sort of long bench. A clear shutter is brought down, blocking the large exit and we start going down the runway. I haven't had any time in small planes, so the take off is quite different from a large plane. Of course, my sister is used to even smaller planes than this one, so she handles it like a pro the whole way up.
The ground shrinks away. The climbing is steep and takes a long time. My sister chats up the people around her easily, talking about learning to be a pilot and her flying experience. I watch the view, I can't help but enjoy the plane ride itself. Sig points out familiar landmarks. It was like having a tour guide, I really enjoyed that. I look at my videographer's wrist and see the altimeter rising. We're getting closer to our altitude.
Finally, we reach 12, 500 feet. The giant, clear shutter is opened up and all that's left is sky. The professional solo divers go first. I watch them. Two men and a woman. I can't believe they just did that. My videographer climbs out on to the bar, waiting for me to come out. My instructor helps march me to the door. I crouch, like taught, and look out. Oh god. My instructor reminds me to cross my arms over my chest and look at the camera guy.
Scariest moment of my entire life.
I scream. Apparently my sister says she can hear me scream after I jump (she jumps after me). I want to scream more but there's so much air filling my mouth that I can't dispel any. Instead I look around me. Holy fuck. Everything is so far and beautiful. A perspective I've never had. The weather is perfect, absolutely perfect. Not a cloud in sight and it's warm, and I'm falling. Actually falling. I can feel gravity pulling me down. The view is so awe inspiring that I don't know how to feel but to be amazed. I actually flail around a bit, kicking my legs and such - only because I'm so excited that I don't know how to express myself (since I can't talk).
Then he pulls the chute. We instantly shoot up into the sky. It was at that moment that I realized how fast we were falling because I watched as the videographer fell to the Earth like a comet. I was frightened for his life!
The first thing that happens when he pulls the chute is my legs fly up like I'm sitting. The same thing happened to my sister. The force is so great that it sucks you up.
That's when you really get to enjoy the view. Wow. I've never seen anything like that. All I could say was, "Wow" mostly. My instructor was holding on to the...oh gosh, what's the word? Well, they're handles that control the parachute. He asked me, "would you like to hold them?" I said, "sure!" Next thing I know, I'm steering the parachute! We did a couple 360s for fun (with his help of course)! Wow! So fun!
Finally, it was time for the landing. He brought us in easily and we landed softly. He unhooked me and I jumped up, incredibly excited. My first words, "I want to do it again!"
Obviously, I had the time of my life. I feel like a whole new person. Would I recommend? Oh yes I fucking would.
P.S. What did I wear? I wore my green Paris, France t-shirt my father bought when he was there years ago. I thought it was the perfect symbol.
Class began at 9:00 a.m. and ended at 6:00 p.m. Perhaps 9:00 a.m. doesn't sound so terrible however that means I woke up at 6:40 a.m. on Saturday morning. Not exactly ideal especially since I stayed up late Friday night. At one point during the class I was having a hard time staying awake but I pulled it back together and got my second wind.
So how did the first class go? It went fine. It was quite typical of an introductory class. We were shown marking rubrics, discussed how we would be assessed and what would happen if we didn't pass the practicum. Apparently you can simply return and do your practicum over, without any additional fees or the need to take extra classes. However if you miss more than four hours, you automatically fail and have to take the course over. Again, there are no additional fees and you can come back when you're ready. Quite fair really.
The teacher also discussed in length what sort of cultural changes to expect and the necessity to be flexible and adapt. She emphasized the importance of the journey and how the experiences shape you into a new person. Most importantly, she expressed enthusiasm at the idea of exploring the world and taking the opportunity when it presents itself. She said, "Usually opportunity only knocks once. If it knocks twice, the second time will be ten years later and you'll regret not taking it before".
I believe she's absolutely right. I'm most pleased that she is quite even handed when discussing the reality of travelling to another country; it's both intensely rewarding and challenging. Perhaps it's the challenge that makes it so rewarding.
I am excited and anxious and nervous and worried and happy and I can't wait. I want to travel to a faraway place and live somewhere new. Do something new. Become something new. I need this for me. I need to push myself out of my comfort zone and see the world in a whole new light.
The instructor shared many, many anecdotes about her 7 years as an ESL teacher in Korea. They were quite enlightening. One really interesting anecdote was the reason she chose to live in Korea. She wanted to pick somewhere far enough that she couldn't swim back. She explained that she didn't want to be able to use a crutch to fall back on and return home early. She wanted to stay there and make it work, no matter what. I truly admire that. She commented that if you give yourself something to fall back on, you inevitably use it. She's right. The moment you say to yourself, "I can just return home if I want," you're really saying, "I already gave up".
I don't want to give up. I want to do my best, even if that means struggling along the way. Tomorrow is my second ESL class and I'm looking forward to it. Another step closer to my dream. Another step closer to Paris.
My entire life I've yearned to explore and travel the world. I wanted to do more than travel the world in fact, I wanted to leave it entirely! I desperately dreamed of being an astronaut.
For the past several months (more accurately, for the past several years) I've been seriously considering my options for world travel. Presently I don't have the money to pay for some sort of lavish vacation so I thought to myself there must be some other way. Then it hit me. Maybe I could do what others have done and teach English overseas.
Such a wild thought! I mean, to think of travelling abroad to an unknown country in order to teach English to people who speak a foreign language. It would be nerve wracking to say the least! However it would also be an adventure.
An adventure. I have always imagined going on an adventure. To travel to some sort of distant land and meet strange, new people. To eat unusual food and see fantastic things. It's everything I've dreamed of. Not to mention all the experiences I could gather and use in my writing.
Before my break-up, I never thought it was a legitimate option. Now it doesn't matter. I can be free to do what I like! I really was trapped. Given the option of freedom, I want to fly away to another country and live there instead!
So I registered for a TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) Certification course and it starts in June. I'm very excited. It takes about a month or so to finish and then I can start looking for work! I still haven't decided where I'd like to go yet. Here's a list of some of the countries I'm considering:
- Czech Republic
- South Korea
If I really had to narrow it down, I'd have to say that I'm probably leaning more towards Belgium, France, Italy and Spain. I think the sort of cultures present in those countries might be something I can enjoy. Especially France. Okay, maybe I partially have my mind made up. I just need to do more research.
I would have said Japan was my number one choice however I am all too aware of Japanese culture. It is quite patriarchal, racist and sexist. Not really something I like. I prefer people to be equal. Although I do speak some amount of Japanese. My Japanese is probably just as good as my French. Very basic.
Anyway, I will keep you updated. Especially in June! I can't wait to start!
Tonight I will be attending the Metric concert! I'm very excited! I've never had the opportunity to see them live before. I will be writing a blog post about it after the concert but I suspect it will be quite late by then. So don't wait up! Tomorrow I'm going to Just for Laughs! What a busy couple of days! I'm looking forward to sharing my experiences.
In honour of Metric please listen to one of my favourite songs.
Mists of Pandaria is being released midnight on September 25! I hope you're ready to create your own Pandaren Monk and explore Pandaria. Of course you shouldn't neglect your main character, you'll need to level up from 85 to 90 in order to collect gear from new dungeons and raids.
I'm excited to explore the new area since I've been everywhere else in Azeroth. I'm especially excited since this will be my first time playing a new World of Warcraft expansion at its release. I've prepped for the game by finishing all the quests. It would have earned me Loremaster before the Patch but now Pandaria has been added to the achievement!
I will be blogging about Mists of Pandaria this week. I hope you enjoy! For all you non-gamers out there or maybe just non-Blizzard gamers, I hope my insight helps you understand what the game is all about. I play for fun and sometimes it helps me relax.
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