Sunday, February 14, 2010

My Trip to Korea…ha, ha

“You know what? I am soooo stupid. I can't believe I did this. Before I left for the airport, I checked and double checked everything, but when I got there and they said, "passport, please" I realized the one thing I had forgotten. And to make matters worse, I should have known better, because two weeks before, I sent my passport off to the India visa office in Tokyo, I totally forgot about it, and it still hasn't come back yet. So I won't be going to Korea anytime soon...dang it. That`s what I get for trying to visit every single Asian country in one year.”

That`s what I wrote to a friend on Saturday afternoon when I got back from the airport, miserable and depressed and most of all furious with myself. Because it was nobody`s fault but my own. I can`t blame the passport agency, I can`t blame the airport, I can`t blame the travel agent. Only myself. And if there`s one flaw I have in glaring proportions, it`s a kind of self-deprecation that manifests itself when I do something really, REALLY stupid. This wasn`t like forget your keys in the car or say something stupid to your boss kind of dumb. This was four hundred dollars down the drain because I didn`t notice something that had been glaring me in the face for the past month. Grrr…

But that`s why I didn`t post my blog the moment I got home. Because one week has given me perspective. It might have actually been a blessing in disguise. But before I get into that, here`s exactly what happened, because I know people will ask:

Remember that upcoming trip to India in March to build houses for the “untouchable” population? I sent off my passport to the India visa office in Tokyo about three weeks ago now, and the Monday before I left, they even called me to say I was missing some ridiculously small amount of money, like 150 yen (a dollar seventy-five) and that I had to send it or they couldn`t finish processing. If that was a hint, I don`t know what was. Tuesday, the very next day, as if I totally forgot about my passport, I bought presents for my friends in Korea. Friday I printed off my e-tickets, discount Wonderland tickets, the maps, and the little travel itinerary I`d written up for myself, along with a list of useful Korean words and packed. Then on Saturday morning I got up at 7:30, did my morning routine, double checked EVERYTHING and then hopped on a train for Oehomachi at 8:55, then from there caught the 10:15 airport bus, standing out in the freezing cold for at least twenty minutes. That took me to the airport, which is always a nice little ride along the ocean, which got me there around 11:15. I went straight to the Asiana airline ticket counter and waited in line for about fifteen minutes. I had my tickets and ID in hand. But when I got to the front, the first thing the agent said, of course, was, “passport, please,” and I felt all the blood drain instantly from my face. Can you believe it? It was that moment that I remembered. Not a second before. At first I thought I just left it at home, and the agent offered to look through my bag, but within a minute of searching back through my scattered brain I knew it wouldn`t be there. Dumb di dumb dumb dumb!

The one thing I did right was remain calm. I did not panic. I didn`t freak out. The second I realized what was wrong I explained briefly to the agent and left the line. He told me that there was no way to get a refund, as it was a “deal ticket,” something I had gotten on discount, but I already knew that, as I make a point to read all documents I receive about my travel before I sign them, no matter how boring or long they are. I immediately emailed “Opa,” my Korean friend who was going to pick me up at the airport. I called the travel agency that booked the ticket to see if I could at least get a discount on my next flight or something, but they were closed. I thought briefly about calling a friend to see if my passport had come in the mail, but “what then?” I asked myself. Could I really ask my friend to drive an hour and a half here and an hour and a half back just to give it to me? No, this is your mess, you are not going to inconvenience anyone else on the off chance that your passport might be there and if they speed all the way to the airport you might catch your flight. No. So I ran to catch the very next bus to Oehomachi. I knew that in case my passport was in my mailbox, I`d have no time to get back home and get back to the airport (it`s at least six hours round trip by bus and train) but I didn`t plan on wasting time hanging around the airport either.

I left the airport at 10:45 and got home at 2:15 in the afternoon. On the way I called my friend Kae and asked the cheapest way to call Korea internationally. She told me and as soon as I got home I called Opa. He had already left for the airport to pick me up, but I talked to his sister, an English teacher, and she said it was all right. The airport wasn`t far from their house, they had taken off no days from work, and hadn`t bought any tickets in advance. That was a relief! It was no inconvenience for them at all, she said. So the only one I inconvenienced was myself. That made it a little easier for me not to hate myself for the rest of the day. And she invited me to come back to Korea some other time, when it`s nicer weather. I reflected that perhaps it was a little rude for me to suddenly spring the trip on my Korean friends, only five weeks in advance, but now we had lots of time to plan ahead.

I thought of a hundred things I could do for the rest of Saturday, but I just didn`t want to deal with life for awhile. So I lay in bed, eating the chocolate truffles I bought for Opa`s sister and read 225 pages of Orson Scott Card`s Speaker for the Dead. That was cathartic. There are people in the universe with problems bigger than mine, who make even stupider mistakes. Or at least make-believe people, anyway.

The next day I felt a lot better. I called my mom on skype and whined to her, and she made me feel like a person again. I called Kae, usually my ride to church, but she never called me back, so I decided not to go to Kikyogaoka station for her to pick me up. I should have, because she`d simply forgot her cell phone and was there at 10:20 as usual. I guess that just wasn`t my weekend. But I used the time to write, and I wrote ten pages of my latest novel An Honest Assassin and played a little Breath of Fire II, something I hadn`t done in a long time that made me feel better. (There`s something about burning things alive or slicing them in two with a sword that makes me feel a little more in control of my life. We all have a dark side, I guess.) All in all, I just needed a nice relaxing weekend, not to gallivant off to another foreign country. Getting some sleep helped too.

Monday and Tuesday it actually turned out a very good thing that I didn`t go to Korea, because the teachers really needed me at school to help grade the entrance exams from the middle schoolers who applied. I wasn`t actually allowed to grade the tests myself, but I stayed in the room beside them, and every few minutes one of them would ask me a question. They were wrong on most points. On some things they were certain I was incorrect, but I always insisted, saying, “Look it up in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. I promise, it`s there,” or “I promise it`s not there.” One of these points was, “The train starts at 4:00.” “The train can`t start at 4:00,” I explained. “The train departs at 4:00, or leaves or 4:00, or starts at London and ends at Edinburgh, or it can start on time, or it might `set out` at 4:00 or an event like a baseball game might start at 4:00, but the train does not start at 4:00. Never do we say this in English; you`re translating directly from the Japanese. Dame! (Don`t do it!)” And of course, it turns out I was right. Another major point was “I will stay in this country for three weeks.” They thought this was the only correct way to say this sentence, but I explained there are many correct ways. “I will be staying in this country for three weeks” “I will stay in THE country for three weeks” (OK, because in context, THIS is implied), and the most controversial to them of all, “I will VISIT this country for three weeks.” While they agreed pretty quickly with my other comments, they were certain the last one was wrong! It took them half an hour to decide I was right! Can you believe that? These are ENGLISH TEACHERS! If I hadn`t kept insisting, they would have marked half the students papers wrong and put them in the low-level English class! Boy, am I glad I was there for that.

And then there was another point I was right about but we all decided to count as OK, because the teachers all realized it was something they never taught, that THEY had never been taught. In formal, written English, you`re not supposed to begin a sentence with a conjunction. Nearly every student wrote something like: “I want to be a doctor. Because I like help people.” Besides the other obvious flaw, beginning with because instead of writing, “I want to be a doctor because I like helping people” just doesn’t look right. It`s OK to say it that way, or to write that way in informal English, (like a letter to a friend or this blog, for instance), but not in a formal paper to a teacher. It`s the same for starting a sentence with “and,” “but,” “or,” etc. The definition of a conjunction is that is links two parts of a sentence together. Words like “however” and “therefore,” which can start a sentence are not true conjunctions in this sense. Anyway, we decided to count it as OK because the teachers hadn`t even been taught that in school. It is sort of a higher level concept, and doesn’t do anything to disrupt communication or understanding.

Monday night held a wonderful surprise: the Nabari Ebisu festival. Remember when I went to that in Osaka and Kyoto a few weeks ago? Well, apparently every region has it at a different time. I saw the food stalls at the train station as I was coming home from school, so I realized something must be going on and asked the station manager. He gave me a map, so I decided to go! This one was lot better than the Osaka/Kyoto version because there weren`t nearly as many crowds! First I got something to eat. I`m such a sucker for over-priced food, but festival food is so delicious! It`s one of the few times I can get fried chicken or fried corn on the cob, French fries, or cotton candy. Here`s the raw oyster stand:

As I was buying some fried barbeque chicken, I saw these cute little bowing dolls in the adjacent stand. Here they are:

And here`s the shrine wardens. Sorry the picture`s so fuzzy!

This is a video of two parents teaching their son to ring the bell and say a prayer. Not going to go into my opinion of that again. But it was kind of cute to see him try to imitate them.

Here`s the “wine shrine.” All the paper you see is wrapped around alcohol bottles, and there`s fruit on the alter. I guess they still make agricultural sacrifices to the god of wealth. I wonder if it just rots or if the priests eat and drink it like in the Old Testament:

And here is the vegetable shrine:

And the trash heap. Much smaller than in Osaka!:

Besides the hundreds of food and game stands, there were also two traveling flower merchants selling fruit trees and banzai (dwarf) trees. After comparing prices, I bought a potted purple plant from one of the regular flower shops along the road (much cheaper) and a sacura cherry tree from one of the traveling merchants (for my balcony garden). He promised I would be able to bring it back to America, but I doubt it. I dreamed last night that it would bloom in a few weeks, and produce delicious cherries, but who knows if the dream will come true or not. But anyway, when my friend Li comes back from China, I will ask him if we can go to Viva homes together, and I will ask the people there to transplant it for me in a bigger pot and give me proper fertilizer and other such things. Having plants in the apartment really brightens things up, especially with all the cold, rainy dark days we`ve been having.

After the festival, I got home in time to have Bible study with the other girls in my group on skype. A new girl, Stephanie joined us. That was quite a treat! It`s actually quite a work of God. She was my roommate at the orientation conference in Tokyo seven months ago, but we hadn`t been in contact since. Then she wanted a book, and since I`m the JET Christian Fellowship librarian, she emailed me for some books, and also remembered that our mutual friend Charlie had recommended my blog. She checked it out and came across “My Faith Story” which is a lot like her own personal story, and she emailed me some questions she`s struggling with in her own faith, we got to talking, and I suggested she join our Bible study! God works in mysterious ways. Nowadays that includes the internet. And to think, that connection wouldn`t have happened so fast if I went to Korea!

Wednesday I was also glad to be in Japan, because that was the day of English Speaking Society’s (the club I`m in charge of) Valentine’s Day baking party. I learned something that day. It`s impossible for me just to “supervise.” I can`t just sit and do nothing, chat with the other girls like the other teacher, anything like that. No sir, I see them working and I have to do something too. So I accessed, the ingredients they weren`t using, and thought, “If I just had milk, we could make crapes!” So I rode my bike in the rain all the way to the combini, (convenience store), slipped on the wet pavement, cut up my right hand, got the milk, came back, visited the nurse for some ointment and a band-aid, and brought the milk to the girls. On the way, I met a boy working at the combini who was obviously Western and asked him, “Doko de kara kimashta?” Where are you from? He stared at me blankly, so I asked the same question in English. He still looked blank, so I asked in Spanish. He said, “I sorry, I don speak English.” So I asked him in Portuguese (one of the few phrases I`ve learned in Portuguese, since so many Japanese people ask me that). Finally, one of the other workers asked very slowly, “Doko de kara kimashta?” what I had originally asked me my rapid “survival Japanese.”

“Oh, Francujin des,” he replied. (I`m French.)

I couldn`t help but laugh on my way out the door. Of course, French. Well, you can`t know every language.

As I walked back into the home ec room, the girls all cried, “Ah, hiyai des ne!” “You`re fast!”

More inside laughter. If I only you knew.

Anyway, I made my crapes, which came out more as pancakes since I made them too thick, but the girls loved them. One of them made a caramel sauce to go on top, which was amazing! So now I know how to make caramel sauce. At 6:00 I went home stuffed with chocolate cake and muffins, with some left over in a baggy. So it was a good day.

(I must have the most insane, hyperactive metabolism in the world, because the girls still poke and pinch my sides and tell me how “smarto” I am. Maybe it`s all the exercise or the fifty sit ups every morning. But I have made a resolution to try to eat healthier. Just whole grain rice and bread, no refined or bleached grains, three cups of green tea a day, no more instant noodles and not so many sweets. It`ll probably give me more energy and maybe help me stay healthier. Some friends of mine in global ministries suggested that the swelling in my right hand might be partially do to diet, and another friend helped me figure out that it very well might be the very sweet, small Japanese oranges I`m so fond of, as they have naturally inflammatory prosperities I wasn`t aware of until he randomly mentioned it in a letter. Well, lent`s coming in two days so maybe I`ll have some incentive to keep it.)

Oh, speaking of health, I went to a skin doctor for the swellings in my hand, and he said it was frost bite. That makes sense, because it is different from the swelling I usually get, much more localized, for one, and it`s not so much swollen and just red and painful. And the fact that it`s only on one hand, my right hand, the one I don`t always wear a glove on, makes sense too. I just didn`t believe that taking my glove off for a few minutes here and there so I could use my hand more deftly as I`m walking to and from work would be enough to let frost bite set in. But I was reading up on it, and apparently, if it`s cold and windy enough, it only takes a few seconds. I also started showing it around to some local people, and they all said the same thing. Frost bite. They showed me their hands, and many of them hand something similar, though not quite so severe. Also, the first symptoms came on after I went to a New Years Eve party, where I lost the glove for my right hand. It was extremely cold and windy that night. The final piece of evidence that convinced me the doctor is right is that I often wear a glove that has the tips cut off while I`m typing, because my apartment is below freezing most of the time. (Darn Japanese rice paper walls.) The places where my fingers are red and swollen are mostly the places where the glove does not cover. So the solution is simple: just don`t take off my gloves outside and inside ignore the electricity bill and turn up the heater!

That`s a relief! I hadn`t had that problem with swelling for at least two years. However, the two problems may be related. The doctor said I am more susceptible to frost bite because I have poor circulation. I have always known this; anyone who feels my hands or face says they are very cold and my limbs fall asleep quickly. Fortunately it`s been warmer the past few days, and promises to continue to steadily warm up. The doctor also gave me some vitamin E and cream to put on my hands, which has been helping a lot. It still hurts and itches off and on, and the skin on my fingers is reddish-gray and dead. But the doctor said it should eventually flake off and my hand will heal on its own.

Wednesday afternoon, while still at school, I started to have a bit of a dilemma. I called my favorite travel agent (Pie from number one travel in Osaka- she speaks English very well and always gets back to me immediately when I email or call her and specializes in getting me really good deals) to arrange my flights to and from India. Turns out there were only two seats available on any flight for the days I wanted, and it was really expensive, and I had to make my choice by Friday morning. I had to ask myself, Do I really even want to go? I was so stressed out and I`d just been reading about all the diseases and sicknesses you can get over there, and with my immune system being so low the past few weeks, I wasn`t sure. I`d already spent a hundred and fifty dollars on my visa and gone through all that trouble of not going to Korea, and I`d have to do all that again if I decided to go later.  

Thursday was a holiday, so I spent most of it thinking about whether to go or not and carefully researching my options. I checked out all the online resources I could find to see if I could find a better price on the plane tickets, but no such luck. There were a few flights that were maybe two hundred dollars cheaper, but that didn`t include the airfare to Hyderabad, had ridiculous layover times, and would get me there at 2:00am a day after I wanted to arrive, and make me leave around the same time the day before I wanted to go. So I decided if anything, I would go with Pei`s offer. Then I looked at some stuff online from past trips, and everyone had such wonderful things to say, and I got into the spirit of planning my trip, and by the time I called Mom around noon, and I had decided to go, and she was really supportive. She said it would be a once-in-a-lifetime chance and that I should do it. I still have five weeks to go, so that would give me plenty of time to rest up and prepare. And it turns out, since I didn`t take off those three days of work for Korea, I could take them for India! So I spent the rest of the day planning what I would do with my one extra day in Hyderabad and two extra days in the Deli/Agra area. I`m still not sure yet, but I`ve got some great ideas. Wow, what a wonderful country! I`m definitely seeing the Taj Mahal. Unfortunately, I tried to get some travel partners but none of them could make it, so I`ll be traveling alone. So I might go with a tour package, (I found several decent ones, but they`re pretty hectic. The least hectic one had just two hours for the Taj Mahal, is that enough time?) Has anyone else been to India and have some suggestions? Can I just go wherever I want and then hire a cheap guide when I get there?

In the evening I wrote and sent out a query letter and synopsis for my novel Treasure Traitor to another agent. I already got the rejection letter, but it was nice and she said she would like to see “any other projects I have in the works” so if Dargon gets rejected by Joe Monti, I`ll send it to her. Not that I`m hoping it gets rejected in the least. But I do have back up plans. I will be a published novelist! Nothing will ever make me give up.

Thursday night I taught my English/Evangelism class, but only two people came because it was a holiday. I had been planning to talk about my trip to Korea and do the second part of our travel lesson, but it turned out OK. Kae said we only had until 9:15 because she had to be up early the next morning, so we only had time for the second part of the travel lesson anyway, (I always plan too much/try to cram too much in) and after that we just had casual conversation. Pastor Toshi was really shocked that I didn`t go to Korea, but he said they had a nasty blizzard in Seoul this week, so that added another good reason why it was better for me to stay home anyway.

Friday was the school marathon! I stood at check point one with Nakayama and Horinouchi sensei. The first and second year students warmed up in the gym, then the girls ran 6.8 kilometers and the boys ran 8.6 in the freezing cold drizzle. (A kilometer is .6 miles, so that`s 4.08 miles for girls and 5.16 miles for boys. Now I`m really starting to be thankful that I paid attention in math class, since I can now make conversions in my head, even though I thought I would never use it. I wish my students would have the same mentality. You never know when you might need some boring bit of information.) All ichinensei and ninensei (1st and second year) students, except those who were sick, had to participate. Sannensei (3urd year) stayed home to study for college entrance exams or went to the colleges to take the exams. I think it`s dumb that every single university in Japan has it`s own entrance exam. Students have to study for each separately, and that means third year students end up missing half the school days. It would be a lot simpler if they had a unified test like the SAT or ACT, then students who have just one to study for, one to take, they wouldn`t have to go all the way to Tokyo to take it, and they could freak out over just one instead of ten.

Anyway, the students all did a very good job, every student completing the race in less than three hours. Here`s a picture of Nakayama sensei encouraging some of the runners as they came back, “Mo scoshi,” just a little more!

Towards the end, I got tired of shouting "gambatte!" (A Japanese phrase you hear constantly that directly translates to "fight!" but is similar to our "do your best!") So I started shouting "You can do it!" because I knew they would recognize this phrase from all the hype my predecessor did with the Obama campaign, plus hearing it on TV all the time. One girl from English Speak Society (ESS) club shouted back, “No, I can`t!” but most of them responded, “Yes, I can!” and leapt forward with a burst of energy, so that was exciting to see.

Then, some of the elementary schoolers from the school across the street came out to play, and one of the little boys was teasing our runners, shouting “Konichiwa!” (Hi!) and of course, being Japanese, the runners had to answer back, despite all their huffing and puffing. Mean little kid, here he is:

Here`s Nakayama sensei after the race waving her flags:

And here`s me with some of the other teachers:

I wanted to include some pictures of the students, but of course revealing their faces online isn`t allowed. Sorry.

Here`s a video of the closing ceremony. For first, second, and third places, the band played a stanza from “Thine is the Glory.”

When I explained to the teachers around me that it was a hymn that we usually sing at Easter, giving praise to Jesus, the victor over death, and sang them the words, they were really shocked. “You mean it has words?” It`s just one of those songs they hear so often, whenever there`s an awards ceremony. Of course, most Americans don`t realize that “Pomp and Circumstance,” that annoying, slow, repetitive song we hear at every single graduation, is a British patriotic song with words extolling the vast, powerful, wealthy British Empire with slightly racist connotations. Ah, we are so uneducated about our own cultures. Or maybe we simply omit the words or references that bother us and keep the music we love. Sort of like how many modern hymn books and translations of “Amazing Grace” have changed “wretch” to “one” or something ridiculous like that. “Save a one like me?” Where`s the power in those words?

After that, there were prizes for “lucky numbers” and a male coach dressed up as the “priest” Whoopi Goldberg from Sister Act, a very popular movie in Japan, drew the numbers. Wow, talk about politically incorrect! First of all, I had to explain to the English teachers that “nun” and “priest” are two very different roles, (which they laughed off as being the “exact same thing,” and then to boot, black face! I could hardly believe it! When I explained that a non-African American in the U.S. could be arrested for going around in black-face, the teachers were shocked! But they seemed to understand. I guess it wasn`t that big a deal, but here`s a video of the “atrocity” for you to judge yourself:

One more really weird thing about Japanese culture before I get into the super weird thing that day: All the girls have to wear the school skirt uniform to school, the exact same they wear in the summer. Can you imagine how cold that must be this time of year? They can`t wear any pants underneath it, just their socks and underwear. Their knees are bare! And they must wear toeless shoes too. And they`re only allowed a light sweater and very light dress-jacket. That`s so mean! What are they trying to do, kill the kids? They`re not allowed to wear any gloves in school, or anything to keep their feet warm. I`ve seen girls get in trouble for it! If kids point it out to me, (sometimes they`ll tattle on another girl just to be mean), I just ignore them and pretend not to understand. I`m not going to punish the girls for trying to stay warm! The boys have it a lot easier; they often wear thermals under their pants and shirts. Girls are not allowed, because it shows, and the teachers think it`s tacky.

Now for the super weird thing. After the marathon, I stayed after school until 6:00, then Hada sensei (the geography teacher I sometimes teach with) and another teacher helped me drop off the clothes for the clothing drive at church, then gave me a ride to the after-marathon enkai at a local restaurant called the “Full Moon.” Enkai literally means “drinking party,” a very traditional part of Japanese culture, and this was my first. We waited quite a while for the others, watching the winter Olympic preparations, then got started around 7:00 with the “kampai” which loosely translated means “cheers” but literally means “drain the cup.” Like Americans, Japanese usually drink to get drunk. So when they asked if I wanted any beer、and I said “atoday” meaning “later,” they were really confused. I tried to explain that I won`t drink on an empty stomach, but this was a totally new concept for them. Another new concept apparently is water, because whenever I order water at a restaurant the Japanese people around me, including the waiters, always look confused. What, you don`t even want tea? But this is a restaurant! It confused them even more when I only drank half a small glass of beer, just to try it, then said I`d had enough. They kept trying to refill my glass and I had to keep putting my hand over it, saying, “Kekko desu. Oolong ocha, onegaishimas.” (No thank you; Chinese tea, please.) When along came the hot sake, again I just had a little. “Don`t you like it?” they kept asking. “This is a Japanese delicacy! Everyone loves hot sake.” It was OK, but to keep them from continuing to ask, I finally said that I simply didn`t like the taste of alcohol. I described that it felt like burning in my throat. (Sake is 15% alcohol by the way, so it really does taste like burn, with a tiny bit of ricey sweet aftertaste.) Next time, now that I`ve tried the stuff, I`ll simply go with tea from the beginning. Here`s a picture of the traditional Japanese table before we started eating:

Most everyone else, except the one other female teacher who came late, got absolutely hammered. And of course they were planning to, because most of them had already booked rooms at the nearby hotel. I just don`t get that sort of mentality. At least Japan has really strict no-drinking-and-driving laws. One of the teacher`s wives came afterward with his two young daughters to take her smashed husband home. I didn`t know whether to think that was sick or sweet. It really wasn`t that bad. The Japanese aren`t rowdy drunks, at least not from my school. They just get blood-shot eyes and start slurring their speech, which means if I couldn`t understand their Japanese before, how do you think I did then? And their English level goes from .5 to zero, though I did have some nice conversations with the new math teacher about the upcoming plum blossom and cherry blossom festivals before anyone got too plastered. And the food was very delicious, unusual for Japanese food, in my opinion. It consisted of toriniku tempura (fried Japanese chicken), udon (long noodle) soup, salmon and tuna sushi, no-sugar egg custard, and sweet tofu with fruit. It was all really expensive, but enkais are an extremely important part of Japanese life, and forming work relationships. To refuse to go is to refuse to be part of the office. Some of them are still mad at me for not going to the “forget the year” enkai back in December. So I`ll keep going, they are kind of fun, I`ll just be careful.

The female teacher gave me a ride home. Saturday morning I got to sleep in late, then did four loads of laundry and cleaned my kitchen and closets from top to bottom. Can you believe it? It took ten hours! But it soooo needed it, especially the kitchen. I scrubbed inside all my cabinets, my refrigerator, even behind the refrigerator and oven and cabinets and all my other appliances. Some of those places looked they hadn`t been cleaned in twenty years, since the apartment was built! I wanted the kitchen to be spotless before the cockroaches hatch in the spring. If there`s not a trace of food for them that`s not tightly sealed in plastic packaging, they won`t be bedding down at my place. Those roaches I found hiding away last summer were four inches long. I`m not kidding! I measured them after I killed them. Six inches if you include the antenna!

In the afternoon, I got a funny Valentine`s Day card in the mail from my friend Jason. Thanks, Jason!

Sunday Kae picked me up for church. It was a lovely service centered around First Corinthians chapter thirteen, the love chapter. The pastor gave a very insightful sermon about what it means and doesn’t mean to love, and the meaning of the ultimate love, God`s love, agape. Afterward we had a lovely “hot pot” lunch. I had found two hot pots in my kitchen the day before left by my predecessors, but didn`t know what they were for and considered selling them to the local second hand store. But now I know, so I`ll keep one! It`s basically like soup, only you put it in a special cooker with a special sauce, kind of like stew in a crock pot. Very tasty! My friend Kae gave me a present of chocolate and cookies so I was a very nice Valentine`s Day. I spent the rest of the day resting, organizing pictures, and writing.

Only I got sick at the end of the day. Maybe too much chocolate...though I didn`t have that much…maybe I`m allergic to the stuff Kae gave me. I hope not. But it was the second day in the row I went to bed with a really sick stomach and migraine, and I didn`t eat the same thing, so maybe I just had a really weird, passing flu bug. I feel fine now.

So moral of the story: I do stupid things, REALLY stupid things, but God always somehow turns them out for good. It`s a good thing I didn`t go to Korea, because they ended up needing me at school, their was a festival in my town, a new girl at Bible study with lots of questions, the baking party on Wednesday, and the nasty blizzard in Korea. I`ll get to spend the three extra vacation days in India, and use the money I saved to see sites in India. I just have to remember: “All things work together for good, for those who love the Lord!”

Prayer requests for this week: Continued health, please! That stomach bug or whatever it was certainly wasn`t fun. Also, thanksgiving that the swelling in my hand was just frost bite and so easy to fix. I sent off the first set of books to the prison this week, so please pray that the inmates will get a lot out of them. Please continue to pray from my Thursday night class, that it grows and the students are moved by the Holy Spirit. Also pray for the upcoming trip to India, that plans and travel go smoothly this time and I don`t make any more stupid mistakes! Thanks so much for praying for the clothing drive! The students have donated a LOT of clothes, and I`m sure those will be useful in Haiti.

Until next time, keep reading and keep praying,
Laura (L.J. Popp)


Silvia Martin said...
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Mistress of the Manse said...

Wow, Laura, what an eventful life you are leading!

Thanks for sharing not just the victories but the blow-outs.

About your apartment heat: Is it not possible for you to get one of the area kerosene heaters to put near where you are working? Those places really are freezing if you don't do that! Brr!

And about the girls' legs... It is funny that they aren't wearing tights. In Yonezawa, the "winter uniform changeover" included that the girls HAD to wear black tights instead of white socks. I wonder if it is optional where you are and if the girls simply don't want to because they aren't "cute?"

Be warm, dear friend! Has anyone shown you the little warm packs that people put on their lower back? They should be available at the combini... If you need the name, I'll get it. They REALLY work!

Mistress of the Manse said...

The hot pad thingies are called "Hokkairo"... They have adhesive, and you stick them between two layers of clothes. I don't know why, but by heating the lower spine, they let the body warm the extremities.

I also don't know why the Japanese don't mention them to us... We were there 3 years before we found out how they stayed warm in the great outdoors for things like marathons,which we don't make the kids do in winter here :)

kaye langit-luistro said...


Great to see another blog on Japan. Great blog! Do check out my blog on my Japan sojourn at
More power!

Stephina Suzzane said...