Sunday, December 23, 2018

Fall into Winter

I got quite busy, but I've been meaning to post about several things so I will make a master post of sorts for the past few weeks. I am officially on break, so I've got the time now.

Fall here is absolutely incredible. Paired with temples, day trips are stunning. I went to Nagahama on the last Sunday in November and then to Kyoto on Tuesday. Both trips involves several miles of walking, but the scenery makes it worth it. I absolutely love trees and the temples. The sheer size of the temples is astounding. I feel so small when visiting. The trees make fall one of my favorite times of year, except for the cooler weather. I will add only a few of the many pictures I took.

It's definitely starting to get cold here, but the temperature is far less volatile than both my hometown in Texas and Columbia. It's snowed in both places, but have warmed up drastically after that. The temperature here has just steadily declined. There is a chance for snow next week though. The mornings are quite chilly and there is some snow on the mountains already. It makes them look them visually appealing, but I cannot get a good picture unfortunately.

We went to Koka City for one of my classes two weekends ago. We had a booth at an international festival about SDGs. It was quite interesting. After lunch there were performances from the many cultures that live in Koka. There were dances and other performances from all over the world, and it was really cool to watch. I will add a short clip and I apologize for the poor quality.

Last weekend, my German friend Flo and I did a sort of homestay thing in Nagahama. We got to both experience four star hospitality and how such a hotel is maintained. We did dishes after lunch, and I don't know if I have ever seen so many different kinds of dishes. It was incredible really. They put a lot of focus on presentation. We worked with two high school boys who were going to graduate soon that worked there part time. They were really nice and helpful. I didn't count on having to take my shoes off a hundred time though. The system they had for how they stored the dishes was cool. I don't even know how to begin trying to describe this system, so I will leave you with only that it is cool. They had a separate hotel for those with pets, and I have never seen any place so much accommodate to pets. They had kennels and even a menu for pets. They had baby gates in place and many latches so the dogs wouldn't bolt when the owner was closing the door. They also had cameras in the elevators and screens on each floor so people could see if there were pets in the elevator already that might cause issues. Fun fact: Mercedes-Benz makes dog carriages. I didn't know this, but I will provide photo evidence. I also got to experience an onsen, which is a hot spring. I didn't know if I would be able to since tattoos are taboo here and I have several. I asked the owner and he let me use the private one rather than the public one. It was fabulous. The tubs are made locally and they're beautiful. They had some indoor and outdoor. The water was 40 degrees Celsius inside and 44 outside. I really liked the outside because it was 5 degrees and dark, so it was so so relaxing. I loved it. We also made beds the next day, which is a lot more difficult than you would think. I'm pretty sure I ate more in those two days than I had in the whole week before. After lunch on Sunday, we went to a bird sanctuary where we got to see an eagle that had migrated to the same spot every year for the past 21 years. Then we went to a traditional doll puppet school. It was really cold in the building. It takes three people to do one doll. We got to try and it's really interesting. We also got to see the closet where the dolls are assembled. There were heads that were hundreds of years old that had their original hair. I will add a photo of the doll heads.

That concludes this post I believe. I plan to have a pretty chill break, maybe go on a day trip or two. New Years will be spent with Ayame and her family and I look forward to that.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The 3 Things I Will Miss Most (Sequel)

I began this series with the three things I will miss most from home. I'm excited about home, but there are definitely things I will miss from Canterbury too, so I made another little list -

Walking. I love going on long walks, and it has been so great being able to walk everywhere. Most of the other Americans say they miss driving and are looking forward to having their cars back, but I've enjoyed having long walks as an integral part of my day. Instead of having to make time for a walk at home, it's just my primary mode of transportation. And I've gotten to explore a lot more of the city and become more familiar with it because I walk everywhere.

Travel. This is actually rather two part: the location and the public transport.

  • With Scotland above, Wales on the side, Ireland a hope away, and the Continent just over the Channel, it is so easy to travel. For one of my classes, we went to Bruges for a day. Basically everyone here has been to at least 3 other countries. When you talk to British people, they casually talk about weekends in France or holidays in Germany, Spain, Italy. You don't even have to fly if you don't want to. Like I said in an earlier post, the US is like the whole of mainland Europe, so people travel to different countries like we travel to different states. 
  • I know it sounds crazy, but I actually quite like the public transportation here. There are so many trains and buses, and they're  actually pretty nice, because so many people depend on them. Unlike in the US, lots of students and adults don't have licenses, and some never get them. Having a car isn't such a priority here. There are so many more pedestrians, and, in fact, the traffic light system is entirely based on pedestrian crossings, not other four-way stops. As someone who vastly prefers walking to driving (purely as a method of transportation, not because of other, more pragmatic factors like time, independence, etc.), I appreciate being able to walk everywhere, and I think the rides are nice. 
The Cathedral. The Cathedral is the big thing in Canterbury and has been for centuries. Even Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, which is what we think of, is really about pilgrimaging to the Cathedral for healing from St. Thomas Becket. As a student, I can visit the Cathedral for free, and I've definitely been taking advantage of that privilege. Both the interior and the grounds are breathtaking, but I also love that they still use it as a Cathedral and place of worship. In addition to Sunday services and special ceremonies, they read out the Lord's Prayer every day to remind people that it's a holy place. They hold evensong each evening, and Sacred Space is the Wednesday night worship in the Crypt. Cathedrals are cool, but the Canterbury Cathedral is something special.

I began this series with the three things I will miss most, but I also said that I want to appreciate everything I have while I have it. Canterbury has been an invaluable experience. Home is always in my heart. Instead of longing for something else, I want to cherish what is. I'll hold the memories fondly, anticipate the future boldly, and be happy in the present. It sounds easy because we're so used to hearing it, but it's not really an intuitive practice. You have to be intentional and mean it

Saturday, December 8, 2018

I'll Be Home for Christmas

In one week, I'll be back in the United States. It's much easier to leave something when you're going to something else. I don't really think about it as leaving Canterbury so much as going home to Christmas with my family.

Again, it's not really something I'd been thinking about when choosing to study abroad during fall term (actually, I'd initially been intending to make next semester, my final semester, the one abroad), but I'm happy, once more, that I came this term. The weather has been amazing; I've met great people; and I'm going home for Christmas, so it's easier to leave. Don't get me wrong, I am going to miss being here. I'm anticipating going home, while also enjoying being away. I'm so glad to be here for the Christmas season - it's truly special - and I wouldn't have had this if I'd chosen spring semester. I'm getting the best of both worlds by getting to a taste of Christmas here, but then going home to have it there too.

I know the house is already being decorated, which will make it even more lovely to return to. Home and family are always full of love and warmth, and then there will be the extra glow of Christmas to enhance everything. I live out in the country, where we have the most beautiful view and a cozy fireplace, and I've been hearing that there's quite a bit of snow, so I'll be home for Christmas, and I'm dreaming of a White Christmas!

PS - Can you tell that I love Christmas songs? I especially enjoy Josh Groban's version, not just because it's Josh Goban (though he's phenomenal and a definite favorite!), but because it's a tribute to those who are separated from their family for Christmas in service.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Christmastime is Here!

I didn't think Christmas would be all that different here, but there are a few things. Perhaps everyone else knew about them, but I didn't.

Christmas Markets
I'd never seen Christmas market before coming here. Apparently we do them in the US but only in the major cities. Here, they're set up everywhere, even in small towns. They're actual shops set up out in the street, and they're beautifully decorated. The streets are lined with lights up and down the stores and across the roofs. In the US, most companies just put out a single strand of lights bordering their building, but, here, they have several strands of glittering lights. And they also have holly, trees, glitter, gifts, ribbons, everything decorating their windows. It's really exciting! We do the same thing but on smaller scales.

Christmas Cakes
They also do Christmas cakes. I thought these were just cakes with Christmas decorations, but they're traditional cakes specially made for Christmas. They actually make the cake several weeks or even months before Christmas, with fruit and nuts, and then the preserve it all the time with alcohol. 

Christmas Carolling
One of my favourite parts of Christmas is the carols. I love the real, traditional Christmas songs, not so much the modern-day tunes. Since they have gospel choirs and choirs at the Cathedral, they do more Christmas carolling, and this is going to be my first time going! 

Christmas isn't really so different here, and they do a lot of the same things we do, but they seem to celebrate Christmas more. They have more tradition than commercialisation. Of course, both places have both, and England is one of the most secular countries in the world, but Christmas is still Christmas. Despite religious and cultural differences, Christmas unites people and countries as we all celebrate joy, peace, and love

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Soba Making

 It's been a busy past few weeks with school work. Luckily, some of that school work required some adventures.

We went to Nagahama a few weeks ago to experience the process of making soba noodles. I say process, but it was pretty close to art. They follow a very specific process. It's pretty incredible to watch, and really fun to participate in. Some of the chefs had been making soba noodles for upwards of twenty years. One of the chefs even grew his own soba on a nearby mountain. Not to brag or anything, but the chef helping my group said that I should teach him to cut noodles. Soba is a pretty common dish and it can be done several ways, by adding meat and other things, but we just dipped the noodles in soy sauce. It's quite good.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Remember to Give Thanks

I used to think we started celebrating Christmas early, but they don't have Thanksgiving to ease them into the holidays. There were already advertisements before Halloween was even over. Thanksgiving is an American holiday, so I nearly forgot about it and let it pass me by this year.

But I did remember Thanksgiving, and this was the first Thanksgiving away from home. Everyone says they're thankful for friends and family, but I especially was this year - precisely because I was spending it away from them. I felt their absence. I'm so grateful for the people at home, and I'm grateful for the people I've met here. I've come to appreciate a lot of things from both places. It's been a huge privilege to be able to cross the ocean and come to another country to live for several months. I really do appreciate the opportunity and everyone who helped make it possible. I'm grateful for the people I've met and the experiences I've had. And I'm also grateful for home. I realise all the things I took for granted and how important they were for me (not the least of which was my mother's cooking!). It makes me grateful that they're not gone, that I'm going back to those things soon. I'm recognising all the things I have right now to appreciate and all the things I've had and will have that I should be mindful of. Once you start to count your blessings, you realise how countless they are

Sunday, November 18, 2018

1 Month

Photo Credit: 123Calendars

It seems like having an entire semester to study abroad is a lot of time. You have a long list of things you want to do and places you want to go, and then the time passes pretty quickly. I thought coming for a semester was a long time - since lots of study abroad trips are only a couple of weeks - but so many people here are commenting on how short it is. Most students are here for at least a year.

Photo Credit: 123Calendars
Sometimes three months seems like quite a duration and sometimes it seems so short. It depends on what you're focusing on. It seems like a long time when you think of the separation from family and friends, etc., but it seems short when you think of how much there is to do, especially when most of the time is really spent on classes. Most people say that the time flies - some say it's too long, and they couldn't wait to get back - but I think it's both.
Photo Credit: 123Calendars

Photo Credit: 123Calendars
I've lived here for months, and it's already become quite familiar; my time here seems to be waning so quickly. At the same time, I anticipate going home and enjoying Christmas with family, etc.

People make everything all-or-nothing, but it's really a mix. It's good to look forward to what's coming and remember what's happened, but it's important to be notice the present and appreciate it too. I have to remind myself to enjoy where I am and what I have. If I don't appreciate now, the memories of the past become bitter and the anticipations for the future become grey, and they all lose their values. It's not a new idea, but that doesn't make it any less real or true

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