Monday, 28 July 2014

june photo diary

It's now a little under two weeks until I return home, and I can't believe it. This last month has been packed with extended goodbyes and just-in-case hugs, since it's hard to know when's the last time we'll see each other. I've been too busy lapping up the sunshine (31 degrees is an average temperature) and negotiating Japanese bureaucracy to blog, but now it's the holidays and I have nothing but time from 8.30 till 4.15 every day. Today my only task was to help with some classes preparing show and tell presentations. After witnessing an elaborate role play involving the personification of fermented beans, I persuaded a tiny, adorable girl that "You bastard!" was not a suitable exclamation for her favourite anime character to make. Another day another dollar.

A while back my Kentucky friends Corey and Danielle had a boozy bourbon afternoon birthday party. We drank cocktails, ate birthday cake, and were introduced to a little device called the shotski. 

Shotski apprehension 

The face Hana gives me when I speak Japanese

Hangover pizza was much needed the next day, and because it's Japan, leftovers were wrapped up like a present with a sprig of parsley. It always reminds me of Love Actually...

Everyday street art

Afternoon light at school

And home

A lot of June was taken up with taiko practice for at least two hours, twice a week. Our festival was at the end of the month and I'll always remember the rain battering off the practice room roof and the deafening frogs in the forest around it. 

One of the adorable older ladies brought as the best sweet corn (it was literally sweet) I've had in my life 
Chilling in my favourite park, out by the mountains, after school

Fun with Line and new vocabulary, as always

Nothing like some purikura on a Sunday afternoon... seriously considering starting up a purikura business back home 

I was so happy to find the great Thai place less than 5 minutes from Miyazaki's main mall. The set menu was so gorgeous and plentiful we literally ate ourselves into a food daze. 

It wouldn't be game night with Noriko without the filthy playing cards. And a bit of Game of Thrones geekdom. 

We had a lovely night introducing Luke's visiting parents to the joys of karaoke and, because it's Miyakonojo, our Backstreet Boys Special. 

Corey leading the group to new heights of musical enjoyment

Jess with the Japanese book cover for Harry Potter 

Adorable student diaries 

I spent a lot of June afternoons playing the stack of records Simon lent me... this guy quickly became a favourite

One weekend was spent in northern Miyazaki, in the mountains near Morotsuka. My friend Ellen was a yoga teacher back in Portland, and she agreed to lead a yoga retreat in a couple of cabins. 

We formed our circle in the meadow by the cabins. Ellen was fantastic and had the perfect soothing voice to guide the beginners! 

The evening was taken up with barbecuing and stargazing (this app is awesome). 

Also with mistakenly consuming chillies... isn't it great to have sympathetic friends? 

As always, we made our own fun. Thankfully this time it didn't involve climbing into floor fridges, only some rather silly card games. The cabins also had an operational stargazing tower, which was amazing way up in the clear mountains. 

The next morning at 6 we headed out to the meadow for sunrise yoga. It was beautifully peaceful, but we all got bitten alive by gnats and mosquitos, so maintaining our zen was quite a challenge. 

Summer had well and truly arrived in Miyazaki.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

markets, muay thai and mosaic

There's a rather special market just outside of Bangkok. It's on a railway track. 
Either side of the tracks, stalls are crowded into the cheap space, and are cleared when the warning sound signals an approaching train. 
Not the safest arrangement, but it seems to work... 

The heat was crazy even in the shade, and I felt so petty thinking of some of my gripes about inconveniences or conditions at work. 

We waved goodbye to Ex and took a rest for most of the afternoon, in preparation for the next thing on our list of Firsts - muay thai boxing

I've never been particularly interested in watching people batter each other, but muay thai reminded me more of sumo wrestling than the bloody violence I've seen in snatches on TV. Each match was preceded by the ritual, praying and sanctifying the space, like in sumo. Most of the contenders were small and young (some of them rather too young).  

The fights ranged from playful to intense.  At least one of them was carried off on a stretcher, knocked out cold. 

The champion was a steely-eyed, serious Russian. 

We grabbed some sweet pakoras and samosas from a street stall for dinner, and spent the rest of the night smoking shisha; trying to stop Annica from screaming at teh large rat that kept approaching our table; and swapping life advice. (My fave being Annica's suggestion to sign myself as Dr Patterson on unofficial forms for better service!) 

These are the only two pictures I took of Chatuchak market, which we visited on our last morning in Thailand. It's a 35 acre rambling warren of stalls, shops and alleyways, and I was simply too busy bargain hunting and eating my weight in crepes and coconut ice cream. We decided on a meeting point and resigned ourselves to solo wandering in the labyrinth. 

The last temple we visited was perhaps the most atmospheric: Wat Arun or Temple of the Dawn. Thunder clouds gathered as we made our way precariously to the top.  

We had an evening to kill before catching our flight home, and decided to balance all the street food with some class at the Banyan Tree Moon Bar. 

Bangkok looked a lot cleaner and more modern from so high up, G+T in hand. As dusk fell we spied a bunch of stalls in a park a few blocks away and made for it in search of dinner. 

The King!

We wandered into the park thinking it was just another night market, and queued up for food with everyone else. Maybe Japan has made us too trusting of strangers and accepting of random boons like free food and good intentions, but when we realised no one was paying we grabbed a bowl and lined up for our share of curry and rice. 

It was only when we started talking to a local journalist that we realised we'd stumbled into a monarchist political rally. It was only when we had watermelon juice running down our elbows that he said we should probably leave soon. Days later the country was in the grip of a military coup. Just when we were feeling like well-seasoned, knowing old travellers! 

We left our lovely hostel late at night, in for a journey full of regrets at accepting dubious free food. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful trip and just what I needed as a break from Japan. When I came back, I missed the flavours and the smells and the exotic chaos of Thailand, but it felt like coming home