Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Done with this Chapter...

Fia ai? Hungry? This is some sampling of roadside foods.

So, as I write this it is my last post before returning back to the states. I have now been done as a volunteer for a few weeks, but it hasn't really seemed final until today. So, everything is almost all done including my travels after PC (for now). Tomorrow i get on the plane and make my last trip back to the states. In some ways that prospect seems harder to me than actually leaving Samoa. Maybe because by heading somewhere else first, it didn't seem so permanent.

I know I have said it before, but I am nervous about going back... knots still form in my stomach when I think about it. It seems almost cliche to me to say I am not the person I was when I left, because everyone seems to understand that, but do they? Do they really understand that I am not excited or moved by some of the same things that once captured me? Somethings I used to be passionate about seem almost trivial to me at times and some of the things that seemed trivial before now seem huge, I have new passions and new goals... I am still me, but tweaked a bit. I ask my friends and family to be patient with me and forgive me if it takes me awhile to really feel comfortable back in the states... I know that everyone back home has changed too, almost all of my friends are married now. They have new goals and passions; it will take some getting used to. I think that is what sometimes overwhelms me. For the last 2 years I have lived with and around other volunteers who shared the same basic ideas, almost like we were in our own little world and it will take me awhile to let that world go. We all understand what it feels like to miss hot water, or what the other is struggling with on their compound... To not be surrounded by that common understanding is hard to let go of. I know that yesterday is dead and over, but that doesn't stop me from hanging on a bit longer. So, from my stomach, my nerves and my prayers, that's where i am coming from. Like I asked before, please be patient with me. I am so excited to see everyone again even if it might not seem like it at times... everything takes adjusting to.

That being said, I have one last set of pictures and posts of my life in and around Peace Corps. These last few days I have just been wandering around Seoul, seeing the sights (including some amazing palaces), and I met up with Mike. He was a volunteer in Samoa who finished last December. He, among numerous other returned volunteers from Samoa, has been living in Seoul teaching English. Tho, his time is up shortly. We got to reminisce and chatted a bit in Samoan.

Ok, so tomorrow I fly back... I will finally be the one on the other side of the pond. Until that day comes... here are some pictures to hold you over. Enjoy

Here are some shots from the Gyeonbokgung Palace. It used to be the main palace until the main area was burnt down. It was originally built in the 1400s.

The main entrance gate. Kings and Queens entered in the middle. Servants on the right and left.

Me outside the kings quarters. The rows of stones to the right are where the officers stood. Each stone is engraved with their ranking so they knew where to stand.

One of the entrance ways

Very delicately painted. It's protected with chicken wire and has been re-touched up.

Behind me was the main temple area, but most of the surrounding area was also destroyed by fire.

The Palace gardens are always my favorite parts.

Not part of the palace. Moving on, some more roadside eateries.

Below are pictures from Changdeokgung Palace. After Gyeongbokgung Palace was burnt down, Changdeokgung became the main one. It burnt down 200 years later. Because in this palace all rooms/buildings are connected together, when it caught on fire, it really burnt down fast.

Looking into the main palace area.

A closer look at where the officers stood. You can see the engravings on the stones.

I liked this building because it didn't look like any of the other ones. It has pillars in front.

The queens quarters.

This tree is in a lake.. it looks like stone because the lake is frozen. It was snowing most of the day i went to this palace.

Another temple on the water. They like combining all the elements together.

And that concludes a chapter in my life. I hope you have enjoyed reading about my life in Samoa and abroad as much as i have enjoyed writing it. I will occasionally post a few updates on my whereabouts once I start to get somewhat stable back in the states, so tune in occasionally. You never know where you will be called...

Friday, December 14, 2007

Korean War Memorial & Museum

So, today warrants another update... (I'm sad; free internet and I go nuts... what am I going to be like back in the states?) Anyways, today I wanted to see how long it would take me on the subway system to get to the USO office (about an hour). While I was wandering around the area trying to find it, I noticed the Korean War Memorial & Museum was across the road. I must have spent the entire day there, but it was worth it... a nice pre-cursor to tomorrow. It was a very nicely organized museum. They had everything organized into wars and eras in history, then special rooms and displays for each area of the military: Airforce, Marine... ect. It was really cool. I could have spent more time there, but my legs were getting tired. And just as I was getting ready to leave, I saw the special Exhibition room.. the Dead Sea Scrolls! I got an extra burst of energy I was so excited to see them. They came to Seattle while i was away in the Peace Corps and I was so jealous of my parents for getting to see them, but I sure lucked out. They arrived in Seoul on the 12th of Dec and leave the 8th of January. Good timing on my part. So, I took lots of pictures in the War Memorial & Museum, but of course couldn't take any in the Special Exhibit, so below are some fun pictures I took... and one of me because Marques said I haven't posted any of me, so he can't really tell for sure I am here (that's the one downfall of travelling by yourself...)

Ok, enough rambling, enjoy the pictures below...

The Seoul tower. (It was in the distance as I was wandering around).

From the entrance of the Memorial looking out towards the road.

A traditional style war ship.

This one is for Brian and Dan.

The picture of me in my room... Notice the wool sweater... it's freezing here!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Pictures of Seoul

Here are some pictures from my day in Seoul thus far. (The previous post is of Toyko) Enjoy.

Outside Tapgol Park, Insadong.

This pagoda was inside the park. This is what the sign next to it said:

Designation: National Treasure No. 2. Period: Joseon Dynasty, 1467
This 12-meter high stone pagoda once stood during the early Joseon era temple, Wongaksa. This marble pagoda is unique in form... and more like that.

Where I am staying. This is traditional Hanok, heated by ondol (underfloor heating). A hanok is a traditional Korean one story wood and tile house. There are few left since most were destroyed by fire or war. Each room has a set of sliding doors and you leave your shoes outside. It's a bit drafty and the floor heating doesn't do the best of jobs, but it's a beautiful cosy place and the owner is really helpful (speaks English)...

Typical street in Seoul. Traditional and modern right next to each other.

And I found a Starbucks...

Another building inside the park.

This building was also inside the park. Its nice to have open beautiful parks right in the heart of the city.

Pictures of Tokyo

Now that I have my computer up and running, I have wireless internet at the place I am staying, I can post pictures from my computer. Moving up in the world of technology...

Today I wandered around the more cultural area of Seoul, Insadong. It's the closest to where I am staying. I am still freezing cold and getting colder, but hopefully I will start to get a little more used to it. Tomorrow I will brave the subway and go out to meet the old Peace Corps volunteer. In fact, there are a few from Samoa living here now, so we are going out... Should be fun. Below are some pictures from Tokyo, in no order. Next, pictures of Seoul.

The Imperial Palace in Tokyo. It was the original where the Shogun stayed, but most of it was destroyed in fires and wars. There are only 3 original buildings standing. This is one.

A typical busy street in Shinagawa area.

I took this one for mom. This is how i was served wasabi at one restaurant. You scrape the wasabi root and the mash like stuff is then used. It was so crazy fresh this way it stung...

The view at night from Anna and Will's apartment

On a clear day (one of 2 while I was visiting) you can see Mt Fuji from Anna and Will's apartment. (Not their window, this was taken from the hallway).

The Shinkansen, bullet train we took to Okayama.

This picture was taken in Shibuya in the most crowded intersection in Tokyo. Its like Times Square in New York

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Somehow made it to Seoul...

...and having a bit of a culture shock. I thought coming from Tokyo would help ease me into the life of Seoul, but apparently it did not. I guess I got too dependent hanging out with Anna and her husband and now I am feeling the culture shock from Samoa... I think I just have to force myself to get out there and be among the insanity and the crowds and the foreign language.

Had a few hangups getting here. I had a close connection from Fukuoka to Seoul and had to switch airports from Domestic to International. I made it on the right bus to my hostel, but got a bit lost trying to find the place. With directions like, turn left down the small alley with the pole in front, wasn't exact enough. However some locals saw me standing at the small alley with the pole in front with a very large backpack on my back and a very confused look on my face and offered to help me find it. The place is really beautiful, a traditional Hanok style place (traditional Korean type houses), only a few left around the area. It had a heated floor for warmth, so I have been curling up on the floor reading. I am pretty cold, it's around 35-40 degrees here, so my body has yet to get used to it... I miss the heat of Samoa. It's dry here too and after the humidity of Samoa I think my body forgot to produce its own oil. :) Oh the joys of travelling.

After my last post I did make it to the Imperial Palace and wandered around a few areas in Tokyo by myself, so that is my plan today. I heard there is a beautiful temple nearby I am going to find and then I'll just explore my area. Most places in Seoul don't open until at least 10am so it's nice to get a late start on the day... I'll get over the culture shock, I just need to get out there and get lost in the crowds and shops. I am meeting up with a former volunteer from Samoa tomorrow night for dinner, so hopefully he will have some good suggestions. Then on Saturday I am heading to the DMZ, should be fun... well, interesting. I don't think fun is the correct word. :)

Until next time...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Pictures from Okayama & Kurashiki

Ok, I was browsing on Anna's computer today and I noticed she had uploaded some of her pictures from our trip to visit Moto. So, I thought I would post a few. I still have a ton of pictures from Tokyo that I will post later, but for now these should suffice.

I am doing well. Anna left today back for the states. Her husband is working all day tomorrow so it's just me, the city and the bus system all by ourselves. I started paying attention to where we were and where we were going when Anna said I would have to make it out to the airport by myself on the bus system when I head out... She lives near Shinagawa. It's in the business area of the city, but we have been to Shibuya, which is where the busiest intersection in Tokyo is... I took pictures. It's insanity. In one of the buildings overlooking the intersection on the 3rd floor is a Starbucks. We went and had coffee and just watched the insanity. We went to Yoyogi park and saw a man dressed in a pink bunny suit with a sign that said "Free hugs." This place is busy and cold and crazy and expensive and the food is amazing. Wish I could have seen a bit more of the country side. Tomorrow I am heading to the Imperial Palace Gardens. Should be fun in winter. Until I can post some pictures from Tokyo, enjoy the ones from Okayama and Kurashiki.

These pictures are from Anna's camera and are in no particular order.

Moto's brother, his mom and Moto. They really treated us like royalty. Moto's mom was absolutely wonderful, cooking for us... she even came to the driveway and waved at us until we were gone... like grandma and grandpa Myers used to do. :)

Some of the gardens at Okayama Castle. You can tell it's winter.

Moto and one of the shrine entrances. Moto was explaining to us that people put stones on the shrine entrance for good luck or prayers.

Anna, me and Moto having matcha (green tea) in a traditional Tea Ceremony

The Okayama Castle

Moto's village of Kurashiki.


Me and Moto

One of the many sites in Kurashiki

Anna and I outside the Okayama Castle. Also known as Crows Castle

Friday, December 07, 2007

In Japan

These last few days have really been a blast and a blur... I am currently in Tokyo Japan staying with my friend Anna and her husband Will. I can't figure out how to post pictures yet since they have this new fancy-dancy Mac computer I can't quite figure out... Being out of the new technology loop for the last 2 years sometimes makes me feel stupid around all of this purdy equipment... Anyways, point being: no pics now, hopefully some later.

I arrived in country on the 5th of Dec (4th where most of you are reading this), but almost didn't make it. I guess the flight overbooked and even tho I checked in 2 hours before hand, I checked in too late and was on standby. I don't know what I would have done if i didn't make the flight, but luckily I didn't have to think about that. The flight is a long 10 1/2 hours, but they had these little entertainment screens in each seat, so I watched 3 or 4 movies on the way there.

When I stepped out of customs, Anna was not there right away. I had a bit of a breakdown, but she showed up shortly and we piled ourselves into a subway and were off. On the way to Anna's house we switched trains at one of the most busy train stops in the world. More than a million people pass through that stop each day. Even at 7pm it was still pretty insane. That night was chill at Anna's house. I met her husband for the first time, saw wedding pictures and ate cheese and olives... yeah!

That next morning we awoke bright and early and headed off to the train station again. Only, this time we booked seats on the Shinkansen (bullet train) bound for Okayama to visit Moto. The train ride was long (3 hours) with stops in Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe. Moto is from Kurashiki, but that is a small town nearby and Okayama is his district. He was waiting for us at the station. For those of you who might not remember, Moto was the JICA volunteer placed at my school with me. He left in April this year. The whole visit with Moto was sort of a whirlwind since we never really knew for sure the plan, like where we were staying until the time arrived, and he never let us pay for anything...

The first thing we did was get in his car and headed off to Kurashiki. His village is known for some really beautiful buildings that are more traditional style. We walked around, took a ton of pictures, went to the museum, and shopped a bit. Before dinner we got back in the car and headed off to a bath place. Now, in Japan people with tattoos are generally in the mafia. So, unlike Samoa, tattoos are really looked down upon. Even tho for the most part you cant see my tattoos, in a bath house you are naked. We were concerned that I would not be let into the bath house with my tattoos. But I did a good job of keeping the one on my thigh covered up with a towel while we were out of the water and no one really said anything. After that we went out to dinner. A few of his friends worked at the restaurant we went to and we were treated like kings it was so great. Plate after plate of I don't even know what, but I ate it all and it was amazing. :) I am an expert with chopsticks now too. After dinner Moto said his family was waiting to meet us to we headed off to his house. His dad had already gone to bed when we got there, but his mom was so sweat. She doesn't really speak English and I can only really say: thank you, your welcome, how are you, pretty and I am full in Japanese; Anna speaks a bit though and Moto was a good translator. Our room was up the stairs and we had 2 futon like mattresses laid out for us on the mat with really comfy down blankets. Anna said I was out the second my head hit the pillow.

The next morning, we got up and headed down to the kitchen. It was a pretty cold day yesterday and we were freezing, but the kitchen was nice and warm. Moto's dad was already at work, but his brother joined us for breakfast. Once again I felt spoiled. His mom made homemade miso soup, rice, eggs and fruit even. It was good. After tea and an exchange of a few gifts from us and them, we headed out. I do want to say that Moto's brother was really fun. He can't speak English either, but he really wanted to chat with us so Moto kept telling him what to say. His brother is a fire fighter, rock climber, and musician. He even gave us a CD of his. Moto is the oldest brother and works at his dad's company as a carpenter mainly making ornate doors. Its been the family business for a very long time. Moto would like to get involved with a local NGO someday, but promised his dad he would work with him for awhile.

After breakfast we drove out to a local temple. I think it was for fertility, but we really only walked around the gardens. It was very beautiful, but freezing so we weren't there very long. We all piled back into the car and said goodbye to Kurishiki and headed back towards Okayama. In Okayama, one of the main attractions is the Okayama Castle, also called Crows Castle because it is black. It is where the Shogun used to live, and what is left of it that wasn't bombed in the wars is still beautiful. They fixed up the grounds/gardens, and the main house is still the original. We decided to head there for the day. The gardens were beautiful, but I imagine much more colorful and pretty in the spring or summer. Moto's grandfather even built one of the doors to one of the buildings in the garden grounds. In the center of the gardens is a traditional tea house. We walked up to it and Moto was telling us about all of the rules around experiencing a traditional tea ceremony when a lady asked us if we wanted to partake in the ceremony. Moto asked her about the rules, but she said she would walk us through them. So we headed into the little house and kneeled on the mats. The lady came in and served us a little food dish that was sweat. Then she came in with the tea. It was frothy and very green and very strong. We had to turn the cup around in our hands 3 1/2 times and say a few words in Japanese then slurp the tea down. There were a few other things we had to say and do as well. It was a great experience. Anna had never done that before either.

After the tea ceremony we headed towards the main castle. Inside is really just a museum and some articles and artifacts about what the castle was like in the day of the Shogun. We walked up the 6 stories and took pictures from the view of the city from the top tier of the castle. If I ever figure out this computer I will have to post pictures of it all. After the castle, we were winding down since Anna and I had tickets back to Tokyo around 4pm. We had another meal, traditional Japanese pizza and finally had to say goodbye to Moto.

Once we arrived back at Anna's house, there was a note from her husband saying him and some friends were out and to meet them wherever they were. After a very confusing and frustrating cab ride, we finally found the place. Dinner reservations weren't for another hour so we killed the time chatting. Dinner itself was at this really famous restaurant I guess with amazing Japanese food. It is known for its sorba (noodles), but had many other items on the list. Will wanted some good sake, so he asked the waiter for the best Sake they had... I am not usually a big fan of sake, but this stuff was so smooth it tasted like water. Overall it was a great night of food and meeting some new people and catching up with Anna. I can tell I am finally over my jet-lag because we finally made it home around 2am and I wasn't struggling like when I visited Moto.

So, that is my travels thus far. You are up to date. As i write this everyone is still asleep but Samoa has turned me into an early riser. When it comes to missing Samoa, I try not to think about it. I am really missing the people a lot lately and it is hard to not be able to just call up a few people I used to talk to almost everyday there... It was fun chatting with Moto because a lot of Samoan words were thrown into the conversation, and we chatted about people there and what everyone was up to. We even played a few Samoan songs in the car rides. For the most part I still feel like I am just on vacation (which I am), but that afterwards I will head back to Uesiliana. Anyways, enough sentimental talk. I will try and post a few random posts when I can while I am here... Until next time.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Ua Uma (I am Done)

So, somehow I finished my 2 year stint called the Peace Corps. I finished, I made it, I am done. Stick a fork in me.

There are so many emotions racing through my body and mind right now I can't even begin to describe them. All I can say is I am in New Zealand again for a night and to be quite honest, loving it. The beer is good, the people are friendly and stores are open late. :) I am sure it hasn't hit me yet that I really am done with my 2 years in Samoa. I am probably in shock and in vacation mode, but for now, it suits me and I am enjoying the start of my long trip back to America. I will miss some of the Peace Corps even more than I can imagine right now, and I have people who are closer than some family to me who will also be dearly missed.

To fill everyone up to date, I left the country today... or rather yesterday since I crossed the International Date Line. Laupama and her girls, Meaalofa and my Pastor and his wife all made it down to airport to see me off (and a guy from my village was also on the plane). Students were calling right up until I boarded on the plane... I will miss them alot, but thank goodness for cell phones... connecting people slowly, but surely one cell phone at a time around the world. I only cried a bit. Tim and Dylan hitched a ride with me to the airport and were dropped off at the wharf. I cried when I said goodbye to them and when I was sitting on the plane (briefly)... I am sure it will really hit me once I am back in the states for a few months and realize that life continues in Samoa with or without me, volunteers continue to hang out and have fun, my family continues with their daily day to day life even if I am not there... I will miss it all and I do look forward to going back someday (also visiting other returned volunteers around the states).

So, currently I am in Auckland. I arrived safe and sound. It helps I have been here before. I ended up getting a dorm with guys somehow, which is a little strange coming from Samoa... I keep thinking someone is going to say something. :) And they are going to hate me tomorrow morning when I have to get up before dawn to head back out to the airport. But, for now, I am having fun. Tokyo is going to be a bit of a shock coming from Samoa, but thankfully Anna will be at the airport to meet me, otherwise I might melt down... :)

Until next time, thanks for keeping in touch with me and following me in my adventures. I still can't believe 2 years went just like the blink of an eye...