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Published: January 20th 2010
Following my last minute flight on Saudi Arabian Airlines back to Paris, I spent a day with Aude. We saw Avatar in 3-D in English (watching English-language movies dubbed in French is the only option in Douai, and it just isn't the same) and then found an "American" restaurant for lunch. I was very impressed - they served bagel sandwiches, potato chips, and they even had Vitamin Water! For a mere $13, we got a bagel sandwich, tiny tiny serving of chips, a can of soda, and a muffin. It was totally worth it though...you have no idea how much I miss bagels!
My flight to Tokyo was long, but uneventful. I had to transfer airports, so I got a nice hour-long bus ride through the city at night. It looks so interesting, and I will need to go back one day soon and actually visit the city. My flight to Okinawa was full of Americans heading back to their various bases after the holidays. And (the best part) it was a Pokemon plane! There were giant Pokemon painted on the outside of the plane, all the curtains inside had tiny Pokemon on them, and even the headrest covers were
decorated with the little monsters. Only in Japan.
Despite flying through eight time zones, I adjusted quickly to Okinawa time. The island is pretty tropical, so it was in the upper 60s in January. Such a nice change from Douai! Also, the grocery store on the base only stocks American brands. It was almost like culture shock to be surrounded by Betty Crocker, Nabisco, and Yoplait after months of wading through French brands. And they had a Chili's restaurant! It was nice to have a Quesadilla Explosion salad with ranch dressing. It's really the little things that you miss when living in a foreign country.
We went to the Nago Pineapple Park one day, which might be my favorite place in the world. It's certainly the happiest place I've ever been. We tried to start off in the restaurant because we were starving, but the girl intercepted us and insisted we go on the tour because it's "happy, happy, happy!" So we started the visit with a ride through the pineapple plantation in a golf cart with a giant pineapple on top after getting our picture taken with a giant walking and dancing pineapple. The English language recording
of the tour through the plantation was very enlightening. "Do you know what pineapple means? It means pines and apples." We then proceeded to the pineapple restaurant, ate some delicious fried bean curd burgers, and shared an absolutely massive pineapple parfait. After eating the fresh pineapple and drinking the pineapple juice, we were pretty much in pineapple overload. Unfortunately, the next part of the visit was pineapple tasting: pineapple wine, pineapple cake, pineapple cookies, fresh pineapple. You name it, it was probably there in its pineapple form.
We also went to Shurijo Castle Park, which looks an awful lot like a Chinese pagoda. It was right after New Years, so they had special events going on, like traditional Okinawan dance. They had stations set up around the park for children to collect stamps to turn in for a commemorative sticker. I, too, wanted to collect the stamps, even though it said I was too old for the sticker. I learned a valuable lesson that day: Japanese children are, and always will be, much smarter than I am. I could not manage to find all the stations, but the little six year old in front of me with pink leggings,
Shurijo Castle Park
I had huge bruises on my shins from climbing up onto this statue
a sparkly headband, and pigtails totally found them all. I am a failed product of the American public school system.
New Years was nice and rather low-key. We got Italian food with Steve (one of Chris' fellow lawyers) and his Japanese girlfriend before heading to a bar overlooking the East China Sea. We were able to ring in the new year outside on the patio with no coats or gloves. The downside? We were surrounded by drunk 19-year-old Marines (there are several American military bases on Okinawa). At least they were entertaining, and one even gave us 1000 yen (about $11) to buy more drinks! There was no clock in the bar or even a countdown to midnight, but there were fireworks over the water.
All in all, the trip was nice and relaxing...until I had to fly back to France. I had an overnight layover in Tokyo AND I had to switch airports. By the time I claimed my luggage, I had missed the last bus AND the last train to Narita airport. I figured I'd just hang out for seven hours until I could catch the first bus. Wrong-o. They kicked everyone out of the airport
because apparently it totally shuts down at night. I asked everyone I could, but no one spoke English. So, I got on the last train and got off somewhere in Tokyo. The last couple of employees hanging around the train station didn't speak English, but they did understand the word hotel. One guy pulled out a little map that was entirely in Japanese and circled a word and repeated "hotel" several times. Clutching the little quarter sheet of paper, I trudged through Tokyo at 1am with my suitcase trying to find this fabled hotel (the map was not to scale AT ALL and didn't accurately reflect how the streets were laid out). Fortunately, a nice Japanese policeman on a bike (also non-English speaking) walked me to the hotel and helped me get a room.
For a mere 7,000 yen, I had a tiny little hotel room to protect me from the wilds of the Tokyo streets. And by tiny, I mean that I couldn't even lay my suitcase down on the floor and I had to turn sideways to fit between the bed and the wall to walk to the little dresser. I put on the weird Japanese pajamas
that were laid out on the bed for me and tried to sleep. I later woke up because my teeth were chattering. Turns out it was 54 degrees in my room. I adjusted the heat and then woke up a couple hours later drenched in sweat. Clearly I'm not cut out for life in Tokyo. The next morning, I trudged back through Tokyo to the train station and got a bus to the other airport for my incredibly loooong flight back to Paris.
After helping three adorable Japanese university students navigate Charles de Gaulle airport (one of the worst and most confusing airports I've been in) and get on their train, I jumped on my TGV back to Douai. I was tired, yes, but overall I was sort of okay with going back to cold, rainy, boring northern France. That is until I got off the train and heard the familiar reminder "Douai. Ici, Douai." on the loudspeaker. Then it all came crashing down on me, and I remembered how depressing it can get here. I then had to drag my suitcase through the dark and deserted (at 7:30pm) streets to my tiny, cold room.
I've now been back in Douai for about two weeks. My classes are going well, and I feel like I'm actually getting somewhere with my students now. It was quite frustrating at first, but I can see them starting to make connections to things I've taught them previously. Several of my students have been asking me how to say things that are a step more difficult than what the class is working on, and they've come up with some really impressive answers in class. I'm also in charge of teaching three weeks of classes at one school entirely on my own (usually I team-teach or take only half the class at a time), and it's much more fulfilling this way. And, as usual, my kids are so cute and they get so happy to see me. Oh, and I now have the power to kick fifth graders out of my class for an extended period of time due to bad behavior. Hooray!
I'm also in the process of planning my February vacation...just ten more days of classes before I'm off to England, Scotland, and Paris!
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