Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Two Days Down in Canterbury

My journey from Kansas City to where I am now (sitting at the kitchen table in my flat in Canterbury) has been filled with ups and downs for lack of a better phrase.

My trip begins with me sitting on the floor of the Kansas City airport with my two suitcases open and overflowing in front of me at 5 a.m. My checked bag weighed 25 pounds over the limit (whoops) so I had to shove anything I could into the carry-on that I was now checking as well for $100. Hopefully I was able to provide some entertainment to the long line of people next to me at the cost of my pride and dignity.

Luckily, that was the most unfortunate part of the trip. I did wander around alone at the London Heathrow airport at midnight looking for the taxi driver who, when I came back, was standing right where I had left to go on my absolutely pointless search. However, he was extremely pleasant so I didn't even mind.

The first night in my flat was slightly unsettling. It seemed like I was the only human being in my entire student village, which was not exactly pleasant in a new country. I accepted it as part of the experience, though, and fell into a much needed and undisturbed 9 hours of sleep. I woke up the next morning and headed into town trying my best to look like I knew where I was going. I got food and a new number in order to have a working phone--2 essential things. My friend, Sarah, who is studying abroad in Belgium, arrived at my flat that evening, went out for dinner (where we asked for a "check" not a "bill," which should be avoided in England unless you voluntarily want to confuse everyone).

This morning definitely set a new tone for my short experience so far. Jara arrived, and as we settle in, our flat begins to feel more and more like a home. If I feel this content on only my second day, I can't wait for the next few months as I meet people, make friendships, and live the life of a Canterbury local.

Canterbury Cathedral

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Chasing Thailand

Study Abroad: Thailand
My name is Chase Barnes. I am a Junior at Columbia College. My major is Political Science. My home town is Wellsboro, PA. I am studying abroad on an exchange in Thailand.

Where: Rangsit University, Pathum Thani, Thailand (about 45 minutes North of Bangkok)

When: I will depart from the United States on January 5, 2015. I will return June 17, 2015.


1/05/15 Wellsboro, PA > Elmira, NY                      

1/05/15 Elmira, NY 5:45 am > Philadelphia, PA 7:00 am               (3:15 hr layover)
1/05/15 Philadelphia, PA 10:15 am > Doha, Qatar 6:50 am            (14:10 hr layover)        

1/06/15 Doha, Qatar 9:00 pm > Bangkok, Thailand 7:10 am                                         

1/07/15 Bangkok, Thailand > Pathum Thani, Thailand       

Total Distance: 8,580 Miles
Total Time: 39 hours  (2 hrs driving, 19.5 hrs flying, 17.5 hrs layover)

Why: I wanted to do an exchange through Columbia College because it would allow me to retain my      current scholarships and represent CC abroad. Because I study political science and there were two available options for me: Canterbury, England or Bangkok, Thailand. I would have studied American Studies in England while enjoying the company of two lovely CC study abroad ambassadors, Donnie Andrick and Jara Anderson. Thailand offered International Development Courses and a significantly lower cost of living. Canterbury is safe, not tropical, and expensive. Bangkok is exotic, cheap, and warm (it's the worlds hottest city). After a few months of pensive thought and one really long walk, I decided on Thailand. 

What: At Rangsit I will attend the International College so all of my courses will be taught in English. I will go to class on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. My courses are:

Asian Leadership
Theories of Democracy
Thai Language for Beginners
Development and Human Rights

Who: I am the first student from Columbia College to go to Rangsit. I will be traveling alone. Based on the email lists I am on from the coordinators at Rangsit, a majority of the other students are from Finland. 

Other Pre departure FAQ's

I am staying in a single apartment 3 blocks from Rangsit. It is called Sita Villa Apartments. 

I do not speak any Thai. 

I have never been to Asia (I have traveled to England, Africa, Spain, and the Caribbean). 

A beer costs about $1 (USD).

Outlook as of December 28, 2014

I am terrified, yet excited. I guess one could say that I am anxious. I am confident that I will be able to manage for 6 months. Now it is just a matter of actually doing it. There is a German term called Zugunruhe that describes the restlessness of birds before they migrate--I think this describes me in anticipation of my adventure. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Thoughts Before Canterbury: 2 Days to Go!

Packing to go to another country makes a mess, both literally and mentally. As I tear apart my room to find every possible trinket that may or may not be useful in my adventures abroad, a plethora of thoughts bombard me (which I'm sure happens to every student traveler). Questions and thoughts range from packing to immigration to new food to weather to how on Earth can I survive in a different country.

1) Why did I even sign up for this? I mean, I'm quite content at my current domestic college, so why must I shake it up and go abroad? There are many answers to this notion: adventure, wanderlust, the desire to see the world, to be culturally mindful. All of these are true. However, I think there is an even bigger factor that is applicable to some oversea-ers as well as myself. I have yet to feel like I've done that one "thing" that makes me develop--and trust--my abilities as an adult. Some people buy a car or take out a loan. I wanted to be immersed in a place so unfamiliar that I had to rely solely on myself. I truly believe it will be the one way that I learn not only how to interact with the world but initiate my independence.

2) Do I really only get to pack four pairs of shoes? I am the kind of person that reads every article and website that gives tips on studying abroad and pack-this-not-that spreadsheets. So when I kept coming across the tips that encourage packing a small amount of footwear, I cringed. I am an eternally heavy packer, which is becoming more and more apparent with each added item to my already cramped suitcase. But what I have to remind myself is that I will be near several stores if needed; I'm not being dropped off in the middle of the wilderness. Also, it's kind of freeing when I realize that I don't need to take absolutely everything. I will be mobile, living out of a suitcase (okay, two and a carry-on). It's a new feeling. Future travelers should take solace in this feeling as well. If I can abandon my favorite pair of red Converse, so can you.

3) What if I did something wrong on the paperwork? The process to Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) has been a little rocky. It's difficult to communicate with people on a different continent with a time difference. It's especially difficult trying to get information through several different people, when regulations are changing and it's the first time a program is being offered. The entire thing is a learning process for everyone. Therefore, I question how prepared I am, whether I have covered all of my bases and done everything necessary for my visa. I think everyone feels unprepared when they are about to embark on such a trip, it is just very unsettling when there is so little time to double-check everything.

4) Wow. It's really happening. Time is ticking and I will soon be 4,355 miles away. It's both stunningly terrifying and invigorating.

I realize nerves and fears about how smoothly the transition will be or if every piece of paper are perfectly normal. To be scared of moving away from family, even temporarily, is a very common experience. I'm excited to get to England and experience a new twist of college life!

Cheerio! -- Jara

Monday, July 28, 2014

Going into this study abroad experience, I personally had no idea England was culturally as different from the US as it is. I thought Britain would be the perfect first abroad destination because they must be pretty much the same right? Is it even going to feel like I am in a different country? I was very wrong. Culture shock to me was a feeling of confusion; not knowing where to go, what to do, or where to find anything that feels remotely familiar to you, being lost. This is probably the reason for eating McDonalds that one time, by the way, so no need to judge. Although I did get used to England fairly quickly I may say, it was in fact much different than living in the US. I had to relearn which way to look before crossing the street! That is a bit of a shock in itself. The feeling is almost as if you are a small child again, you very often do things wrong, and you equally as often apologize to everyone around you who are just trying to live their daily lives. Not that the British people are mean in anyway, or that I felt unwelcome. I just realized towards the end of my stay in Oxford, that people starting asking us for direction, people began to mistake us as locals, and trust me, the tourists not knowing where to go and stopping in the middle of the sidewalk even started to get to me after being there for three weeks. It’s not as if I never felt at home eventually, the differences between our cultures just caught me by surprise. It’s not just that they drive on the other side of the road, they have different money—with no tax, their stoplights turn to yellow going both to red and to green, or they have different names for things like the coaches, or a scout. The difference is more than that, the British people think differently than we do (well most of us, the more I found out about the English people, the more I questioned whether or not I was actually one of them). They are realist, they keep to themselves, and they are very respectful of others around them. They are much more mellow and do not show their emotions like most Americans do. The children are so much more independent and the parents are much less worried about every little thing. Americans focus on the future, the “American Dream”, while the British people focus on right now. They live and think in a way that I don’t see very often around me back home, and I am fond of it personally. I really enjoyed coming here and being surprised about the differences between these cultures, I am so glad I have experienced another culture fully; been dropped in a foreign country to be completely immersed in another culture and way of life. It has opened my eyes to all the possibilities, and I cannot wait to explore the world and experience all the other cultures out there.                                                             

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Back home again!

We finished up at Oxford and flew home Wednesday, however there is still much that I would like to share. The internet connection was not the greatest where we were staying at so I would like to finish up with the museums even though I am back in the States. Also the last couple of days have given me time to reflect somewhat on the trip itself. The experience was unlike anything else that I have had in my lifetime. There were a few bumps along the three week stay but all in all I would recommend the program. One thing that I think needs to be made clear to students who might be considering this opportunity is that it is not like the classroom experience that we are use to here in the United States. The experience is emphasizes over the classroom setting. The Oxford method of teaching is to have the student critically think for themselves. Teachers present students with ideas or material to read and reflect on. A one on one experience in which teacher and student exchange ideas and the teacher guides the students critical thinking skills is what fuels the academic experience at Oxford. Having said all that I think that it is what you make of the experience and let it enhance your view of the world that brings the real value to the program. If anyone is considering a study aboard program and would like more information feel free to contact me. This week I will be sharing the Museum of the History of Science so until then cheers!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pitt Rivers Museum

The Pitt Rivers Museum houses a vast collection of objects from a variety of civilizations throughout the world. It was initially started to house the collection of General Pitt of whom I believe may have been somewhat of a hoarder! Nonetheless, this is a amazing sight to behold as it tells the story of how a society lives and works through it everyday objects as well as it's crafts.

The website has a virtual tour and virtual collections so that it is no matter if you can't make it to Oxford, you can still enjoy this museum. Cheers!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Well we only have a few days left in England. I cannot believe how fast the trip has gone by; the time has gotten away from me. We have seen so many things, and have had very busy days. Days exploring London, where I found I was pretty good at navigating myself around the city by bus, subway (the tube), or walking. It is a good feeling being able to take on a city such as London, and the experience has made me much more confident about traveling in the future. I have seen the things you are supposed to see, the London eye, Big Ben, Tower Bridge (often mistaken as London Bridge which in no way lives up to its name) and the Tower of London. We have visited Parliament, Westminster abbey, and taken tours all around the city to see the view. Some of my favorite experiences in London however have been with my psychology class. We have gone to Freud and Darwin’s homes, which to a psychology major is definitely something to see. Professor Higgs took us to some beautiful parks to wind down, explore, and see amazing views of the city of London. I have also very much enjoyed the more laid back days, visiting Windsor castle, and drinking wine lakeside in the beautiful gardens of Blenheim palace. I have learned a lot about the culture and the people in England, there is no doubt I will come back again at some point in my life. Being able to study at such a prestigious school, in a place with so much history has been a great privilege. Tomorrow is our trip to Bath, to see the ancient Roman side of England, and although I am very disappointed about Stonehenge being cancelled, I am still looking forward to this step back into time. I have met some amazing people on this trip, and have made some memories I will cherish. Pictures are to come! Until next time, Sara.  

The last week

This is our last week. We have done and seen so much. I can successfully navigate myself around London and Oxford using the various methods of inexpensive transportation or on foot. We have seen the houses of Freud and Darwin as well as countless museums and castles. And oh the shopping! I just hope everything fits in my bags! I am still angry about the disorganization of the program but the few days I was allowed to be on my own seemed to be the most productive, educational, and fun. We were told we would be refunded some of the money for one of the events that was cancelled (a small victory). This trip has changed me in ways that I did not expect. I miss my friends and family so I will be happy to go home but it will be bitter sweet. With the things my house mates and I have survived together we are our own kind of family and I will miss them. I will miss Oxford. I will miss England.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Oxford University Museum of Natural History is free to the public and it contains a vast collection of zoology and geological exhibits.
If you want to reflect on the evolution of this planet and the species that have inhabited it then this is the museum for you.  

Not only are the exhibits remarkable but the building that they are housed in is also an awe inspiring setting. All these museums have their own websites if you are interested in more information or if you just want to take a look at some of the collections. Cheers!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Navigating the Wonderful Museums

The museums that are available to the public are certainly worth taking advantage of. There are several here at Oxford such at the Museum of Natural History, Pitt Rivers Museum, Museum of the History of Science and the Ashmolean Museum.

The Ashmolean Museum is the oldest public museum in Britain. It dates back to the late 1600's and underwent a major renovation in 2009. I highly suggest that you try and visit more than once since it is a little overwhelming to try and take in during one visit. In 2011 the Egypt gallery was opened and there are amazing exhibits to view including items that had been stored because of shortage of room. So even if you have been before it is worth taking another look.

There is truly something here for everyone, no matter what your taste are. To be among so many rare treasures is an honor.

I will attempt to feature a museum a day over the next few days just to give anyone who is interested a glimpse at what is available. The internet connection is not the best here so if I am unable I will post them upon returning to the States. Cheers!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Making Friends!

I have been starting to take advantage of all the work out classes at Uni. They are so fun and have been a great way to make new friends! I have taken a zumba class, body pump class, and yoga and so far have made friends in each one. Today I decided to be adventurous with my grocery shopping and bought a few different things. For example, for dinner tonight I had duck sushi and dates. Both were AMAZING. They serve a lot of duck here so it has been fun trying more of that. Anyways, I am going out with a few French Erasmus students tonight, and then meeting up with a few Americans at the RGU Student Center (apparently it is a bar/club but only for RGU students) which I think should be fun. So far I am loving it here. Everyday feels like a new adventure. I have learned that I am more independent than I thought. I like doing things on my own and putting myself out of my comfort zone. It's been amazing.
Well time to go, meeting with a few of the guys to go explore old Aberdeen! Xoxo

Friday, July 11, 2014

For the love of Oxford!

Hello everyone! I have been in Oxford for a little over one week now and it has been an amazing week. There has been so much to see and do. Oxford is full of historic, beautiful places that leave you in awe. To stand at these places gives you a feeling of the countless intellectuals who have traveled these streets and contributed so much to the society that we have become.
One of the things that really surprised me is the cultural diversity that occupies Oxford and London. It is truly a blend of old and new. A building that is hundreds of years old will have a modern structure right next to it. On the streets you will hear several different languages being spoken. People from all over the world contribute daily to the cultural mix that inhibits these historic places.  


Another aspect of daily life here, especially in London, is the awareness of the terroristic threat. It is very clear the Londoners have not forgot the bombing of their subway system as there are constant messages that come across the p.a. system advising commuters to be aware of their surroundings and to report any suspicious behavior or left baggage to an employee. Police presence is supported by much more firearm power than in the U.S. as they visibly carry automatic weapons. With all these things to consider I am surprised how easily that I have adapted to city life and am quickly developing a love for this country that I believe will last a lifetime!

Well everyone, we have officially been in beautiful England for about a week now. There have definitely been some crazy ups and downs, and a few problems with my specific program, but overall it has been a great experience. I have personally never been out of the country, so there were some things that have been difficult for me. The homesickness is real, and if you are thinking about studying abroad and have never done anything like that, I would definitely prepare yourself for it. You find yourself to be half way around the world, you miss your friends and family, and you will have moments questioning yourself and what it is you are doing here. But, it will pass. You get chances to talk to your family, and then you start experiencing the new world around you, and trust me.. it starts to go by faster than you think. I am already almost half way done with my program and I feel as if I just arrived. Oxford is a beautiful city, that reminds me a lot of my hometown of Columbia. In fact it is starting to feel like a home away from home. London is a wonderful city with so much to do. We are going on several expeditions there, and when we get back home to Oxford, everyone is exhausted. It is definitely very fast paced, and a lot to take in at once.. and I feel as if I will know more about what I am really learning once I return home and can reflect more on my experience. But right now, I can look out my bedroom window to see a beautiful garden in the back yard and I am reminded of where I am and how amazing that truly is.

Week one

The first week has been crazy. Oxford is beautiful and a home away from home. Our house is amazing (even if it is a 45 minute walk) and I have really connected with some of my housemates making the house seem like a home and our group like a family. London is exciting and everything I expected. What wasn't expected is how unorganized and deceitful the program is. I have so many revised schedules and none of them are correct. I have no idea what I'm doing each day until the day of and even that is subject to change every hour. Not only that I feel as if I have been lied to. I was told we would be going to Stonehenge and having a dinner with a lord and lady both events have been canceled. This is especially infuriating because the cost of the events were included in the cost of the trip. When I inquire about a refund for the canceled events (seeing as how I have paid for them) I get the run around because no one is actually in charge or knows what is going on. I am falling in love with England but am becoming increasingly more disappointed in the program.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

First Day!

I was awoken much earlier that I would have preferred this morning. The seagulls here are much noisier than any other bird I have ever witnessed. Anyways, I woke up and cooked myself some breakfast and was out the door headed towards the bus stop. On my way I ran into Jina and we went to school together. I made it to campus much earlier than I meant to so I used the time to walk around and get my bearings. The buildings all stretch across the banks of the river Dun so the campus provides a pretty beautiful scenery. After about an hour it was time to go to class. Business Information Systems. The class itself got out almost an hour early, which was nice, however I don’t feel like a got a good grasp as to what we will be learning and how the semester will go. I think the lecturer was too sleepy haha.
Later on that evening I finally met all my flatmates. Two Scottish girls, one Irish girl, one Finnish girl, and one French girl. Some how I was lucky enough to have a flat with all girls!   They all seem very sweet.
I ended my evening by attending an Irish dancing class with my Irish flatmate! Don’t worry, it is just as hard as it looks. Xoxo

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Today's the day ( well I guess it was more yesterday was the day)

Today's the day!
Today we left for England and how exciting it was. My name is Jen and I am a sociology and psychology major. I'm so excited for all of the cool places and things we will get to see and I am ready to try and apply this great adventure to my life and future. This is the longest trip I have ever been on (travel time and duration) and my first time out of the United States. I am excited to see how this trip changes me for the better because I know that with an experience like this I will learn a lot and grow.  I will miss my family, friends, and pets but it's all good I will be back in less than a month and they can always keep updated by viewing my blog at cc travelers.

I was trying to upload this yesterday but sadly have had no internet until now. Sorry for the delay.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Hey everybody, my name is Sara and I'm preparing to leave for Oxford tomorrow morning. It's a bit of a crazy feeling. I have never left the country and it all just seems so romantic and enticing. It is hard to wrap my head around the thought of my being in London, England in two days time.. I can't believe it's real. My whole life I have wanted to travel and will be taking my first step towards that tomorrow.. so one can imagine the excitement/nervousness I am feeling right now. I am so thankful for this opportunity that I honestly never saw myself actually getting to do, studying abroad was just a dream that has become reality. Not studying abroad just anywhere mind you, but I get to be a guest in one of the most prestigious universities in one of the oldest college towns in the world. After making some last minute preparations and finishing up packing, I will go to sleep tonight--or try to--thinking of all the amazing things I am about to see on this once in a lifetime adventure. Wish me luck everyone, you will be hearing more from me once I have arrived in a new and beautiful place.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Take Off....England is the Destination

Finalizing the preparations for my trip...completing paperwork, updating travel information, and packing for 3 weeks. I am beyond excited for the opportunity to study abroad and represent the United States of America, as well as Columbia College. I look forward to meeting new people and learning a great deal from the Oxford Educational and Tutorial System. Upon departure, I am attempting to prepare for a fantastic trip while regaining my focus on the purpose of my trip; but am having difficulties because I get to experience a different culture in a beautiful and exciting city. My goal is to blog daily about the experiences I encounter along the way. Until then...pray for safe travels and arrival to Oxford and I will update once I arrive and am settled into my room.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Hello everyone my name is Tami Davis and I am a senior here at Columbia College. My major is in psychology and my goal is to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology upon the completion of my degree next spring.

I will be leaving the States this Tuesday for Oxford. I can't believe I have this opportunity and feel very grateful. I hope to obtain as much from this experience as I possibly can. One of the classes that I will be taking is a social research class that utilizes photography. I am from rural Missouri and in preparation for this class I decided to do a little social research in the county that I live in.

Morgan County has always been a very rural area. The only claim to fame that we have is the fact that some of the Lake of the Ozarks runs through it. The economic recession hit us fairly hard with several businesses closing. The mortgage meltdown also reach us. There are several areas in this county that have remain virtually untouched by modern life. Through this project I  was amazed at some of the communities that I encountered such as Ivy Bend. 


The above pictures were just taken just weeks ago and the two residences have occupants. Many do not have electricity or running water. Ivy Bend is in the most remote part of the county and while it does come to the water's edge it does not resemble typical lake living.
There are many unique people who chose to live in this area for various reasons. It is obviously not mainstream America.
The picture below are taken off of Cup Tree Drive. One local resident has a sense of humor regarding the road's name!

The shoe fence is located not far from the cup tree which drawls some traffic for those who wish to get a glimpse of rural life in America.
I hope to not only see the sights of the U.K. but to also broaden my ability to see beyond what is right in front of me and take a deeper look at what is there. From rural Missouri to Oxford, it is sure to be an interesting journey!


Monday, June 23, 2014

Making My Way Around Shiga Prefecture

It's been a while, everyone.

What an eventful and worthwhile month it has been! With the transition from May to June came Hikone’s rainy season, and the new school routine into which I have settled. Almost on a whim, I accepted a friend’s invitation to join the tennis circle on campus. Now, I have never played tennis before in my life and it definitely shows.  Despite my ineptness for all racket sports, the time I spend playing is mirthful and carefree.  It gets me active, spending time with a different crowd, and lets me practice and work-through the many kinks in my speaking.
Another pastime which delightfully presented itself was the opportunity to weekly partake in English conversation with interested students, to help them improve on their abilities. I really value this experience, especially since I have spent time as an international student, because textbooks and instructors typically cannot prepare one for the colloquial speech they will encounter. Hey, classroom resources are solid tools, but at the end of the day they lead to a person sounding too rehearsed and formal for daily communication. Besides, I have realized most slang and shortened-speech a person can only learn by experience.

Fortunately, the rainy season has not hampered my adventures.  At the end of May I went to Kyoto with my buddy Daiki.  The first place we hit-up was Fushimi Inari Taisha on Inariyama, my first mountain.  This Shinto shrine is dedicated to the god Inari, known for rice (along with its derivative, sake) and prosperity. Most of you may be familiar with the red Senbon Torii, or “1000 gates”, which line the path connecting the outer and inner portions of the shrine. The trek was peaceful as we slowly meandered along, enjoying the shade cast by the many torii and trees. Several prayer and grave sites were speckled here and there, the smell of burning incense sometimes wafting our way. Many statues of kitsune (foxes) also inhabited important landmarks on the route, as they are believed to be the messengers of Inari. It maybe took us a good 1-1.5 hours to make our way to the top, with many sightseeing detours and rest stops along the way. Of course, after reaching the summit we took a picture of the sign and prayed at the innermost shrine.
In front of the main gate

Some of the Senbon ToriiDaiki is keeping optimistic about our hike
We made it!
Time to pray

         Next, we took the local line to travel into the inner-city where we ate sashimi for lunch and did a little shopping. After our tanks were refueled we set-off by bus to Kinkaku-ji, a Zen Buddhist temple. This is a common spot for foreigners and locals alike to visit, because--as its common name alludes to--Kinkaku-ji is covered in gold (“kin”). Unsurprisingly, the common visitor is not allowed inside the temple.  Actually, the common visitor is not even allowed close to the temple. I can only suspect the reasons. Seeing as the surrounding grounds were not very expansive, it did not take us long to find ourselves back at the entrance, me with a few souvenirs in hand. While waiting for the bus which would take us to Kyoto Station, we grabbed a sweet bite to eat at a café strategically placed within two steps of the bus stop. After getting off at the station, we dropped by Starbucks to see a friend who was working and then had something similar to okonomiyaki at a restaurant on one of the upper floors of the station.  A few hours later I was home and satisfied with how my last weekend in May had been spent.
Kinkaku-ji, I can't confirm if it is real gold ;)

I forget what this specific type of tree is called, forgive me
   The following weekend I found a public event right up my alley.  The Ramen Grand Prix being held near Viva City pit all of the local restaurants against each other.  Meena and I met our good friend Tenshi Kawashima close to where the competition was being held, and then together we agreed to chip-in on the 5-meal ticket package, so we could sample a good portion of the many different ramen stalls.  Looking back it seems crazy we decided to purchase steaming bowls of ramen on the blazing hot day that it was.  But, eating together in the shade with two good friends is always refreshing.  My first ramen had a light-base with plenty of veggies. The second bowl was very heavy with pork, and I liked it best because of the hearty taste. When finished, our crew stuck around to see who was declared champion.  Despite the different stalls we visited, none of us had tried the 1st place dish.  I suppose we didn’t have 5-star taste.
About one week later I went on a Friday school trip to the Shiga Prefectural Police Headquarters in Otsu.  For most people this would seem like a very bland destination, but I was really interested in whether or not they had a forensics lab and how it was managed.  While they do have a lab, we were not permitted to see it or be told too much about it. Some pretty neat facts I did learn was how there were only 8 murders within Shiga prefecture last year—all of them solved—and around 74 motorized vehicle accidents. It is easiest to think of a prefecture as a state, with several cities inside each prefecture.  Hikone, the city inside Shiga Prefecture in which I am living has a population around the size of Columbia. I find these particular rates of occurrence astounding.

Shiga's police mascotOld police bike.  This thing is a beast in size up-closeOne picture to sum up where we went

 That same weekend I went to the Hikone’s old Ginza district with Tenshi to check-out an extensive craft bazaar being held.  We arrived right as everyone was packing up, so after walking around for 30 minutes to peruse the wares still around, we decided to grab dinner.  I suggested the nearby takoyaki restaurant I had been to before close to Hikone Castle.  While our meal was tasty, it was not enough.  So, it was mutually agreed upon to visit the okonomiyaki restaurant we had passed on the way. Tenshi and I share a love of food, so two meals seemed more than appropriate. To finish the evening, a little extra excitement was added to our bike ride home when we were greeted by one of the first summer showers of the rainy-season.
 Two weeks ago was USP’s Spring Kofūsai.  In front of the campus many people from the community held garage sales which provided quality thrift shopping. Also, within the court space outside of the library there were many carnival-type activities for little ones.  The main action was found on and around the central quad, which had food stalls and a performance stage.  Foremost, I enjoyed several new dishes along with music and dance shows from the different campus groups.  There were even two highly amusing contests, one being similar to a most eligible bachelor competition, and the other for most believable male impersonating a female (attire, make-up, speaking—the whole shebang).  I also took my chances traversing a haunted classroom maze.  I ended the day by participating in a traditional dance and gazing at fireworks.
The following day, Meena and I were taken to Tenshi’s house where we spent the day cooking, eating and playing games with her family.  I somewhat learned how to make temakizushi, though to confirm I will need to practice on my own. Playing the game of LIFE was also a first for me, and I faired pretty well for not taking a job at the beginning of the game. Before we went home, Tenshi’s mother let us borrow a few children books for reading practice and had even prepared take home meals for us. I earnestly hope to one day be as gracious a host as both my family and Japan have taught me.
Finally, this past Friday I joined another school sponsored trip--this time, to Shigaraki inside Shiga Prefecture.  We started with a village which used to be inhabited by real ninjas! The grounds now contain a museum, buildings with many clever secrets, and several ninja challenge courses. Of course, the museum we started with had many artifacts to include mysterious scrolls and writings, various armors, and an assortment of weapons. After, we were ushered to the ninja-equipped house by means of walking and optional underground tunnel. Inside the house is when I learned I would not make a very good ninja (at least back in the day) because of my height. The ceilings were kept especially low, to prevent sword fighting inside.  Numerous traps and tricks would plague any uninvited guests. Right inside the entrance there was a leg trap meant to bust one’s shins when they rushed in. In compliment, there was a concealed ledge above this trap where a ninja could hide and unleash his swift fury down upon anyone caught in said trap. Next, a trick wall was demonstrated to show how a 180-degree rotation of the wall would immediately deter and confuse any pursuers. After, a trick door which actually opens from a side panel and not the two fake central panels was also demonstrated. Inside the kitchen/dining room there was a hiding spot underneath the ground fire pit which could be accessed even if a fire was burning. The ground fire pit was actually contained inside a tray structure would could be slid to the side to grant access to the hole underneath. Following the house tour, we were able to do many of the ninja challenges around the village. This included scaling a rock wall, moving against a fake wall on a narrow plank, and traveling along a log wall with small notches cut-out for gripping. Oh!  Not to forget the pond course we had to cross by balancing on floaters and pulling ourselves along a rope.  Lastly, some of us tried our hand at throwing shuriken (ninja throwing stars), and I am proud to say I got a bulls eye.

Ninja wall challenge

Tricksy ninjasWell-preserved structure.  The building materials and methods are so neatI could be an assassin

Some of the crew at the throwing range
Ninja climbing challenge
 After receiving our official ninja certification scrolls and eating lunch, we traveled to the nearby ruins of what used to be the Shigaraki Imperial Palace.  All that remains are a small shrine, a few informational displays, and the gigantic rocks which acted as the foundation for the pillars supporting the many building structures. The emperor at the time, Emperor Shomu, had moved the capital at least three-times within a five year period and Shigaraki was one of the locations. It was an ideal place for a summer getaway because of its higher elevation and seclusion, definitely a good place to retreat. When we were done rummaging around the ruins, the bus took us to our last activity of the day, pottery.  Though I have to wait a month to see the final results, I am pleased with how my first attempt went.  Pottery may seem really random and out-of-place in the day’s activities, but really Shigaraki is most famous for the ninja village and the many pottery shops.

What is left of Shigaraki no Miya
Pottery depiciting different Kami
 OWL POTTERY!  I had to contain myself
 Phew, that was a lot!  I apologize for the word-dump, but hope you enjoyed reading none-the-less.  Until next time, all.
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