Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hello from Sendai!

Yes, it has been established from previous attempts that I'm a crummy blogger. However, this time--despite a solid two months of living in Japan without a post--it is actually not my fault.

No, really.

Sendai appears to have very limited internet access, so it was necessary to wait the requisite several weeks before internet could be installed in the apartment. And now--voila! Internet.

...This does not change the fact that I am terrible at keeping up with blogs.

So! I will try to update with a regular post on occasion, but will more importantly use the site to post pictures (If a picture is worth 1000 words, this should legitimize shorter entries, yeah?) If you have any questions/comments (or reminders of my need to update the blog), please feel free to contact me via e-mail! :)

To clarify the title of this blog: Japan apparently does not have cake frosting..? I have now asked approximately 15 people from Tokyo to Kyoto, Osaka, and Sendai after attempting to explain to my host family how we bake cakes in the U.S., and no one has heard of such a thing. Future post: Japanese cake-baking.

The city of Sendai is about 2 hours north of Tokyo by train, and has a climate relatively comparable to the American Midwest. My apartment is a 40-minute walk from the city center, and is perfect for a single occupant.

View from the balcony!

The Fulbright program is very unstructured in that besides conducting my research, there are really no mandatory requirements (although students generally choose to audit related classes or Japanese language courses at their assigned university). As far as cities go, Sendai is easy to navigate in terms of everyday necessities; the coffee shop (yes, a daily necessity) and grocery store are only 2 minutes away, and campus is 20 minutes by bike.

Grocery shopping, however, is another story. At first, you try and be conscientious about what you buy; then you decide that it takes too long to try and translate the kanji with your pocket dictionary, and go ahead and buy the thing anyway--worst case scenario, it can always be thrown into a stirfry and burned to a tasteless crisp. I have made several of such stirfry dishes. Not, per say, because I was averse to the taste of the food--although there was the Cow Tongue Eating Incident last week that will never again be brought to mind (it's a regional specialty)--but because the apartment is equipped with a single burner, rice cooker, and microwave for cooking, and my specialty tends towards baking. Therefore--improvise! Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to present to you my rice-cooker pumpkin bread; it is profoundly misshapen, looks relatively unappetizing, but let me tell you, Paula Dean's recipes overcome all obstacles to create some seriously good munchings.


Well...at least it's orange...ish..

Rather than attempt to recount the past two months---it's picture time! Besides moving to Sendai, I visited my old host family in Osaka, Japan, who took me to visit 天橋立 (Amanohashidate), one of Japan's "three beautiful views."




Picnic time at the rest stop!

This weekend, Sendai was having an Ikebana extravaganza (Japanese flower arrangement). For those of you who were never satisfied with receiving a simple rose on Valentine's day, check out these arrangements:












































Living in a foreign country means that you are frequently placed out of your comfort zone--meaning, inevitably, you are going to do something embarrassing. These faux pas will be incredibly helpful and provide you with new and valuable insights. This does not mean, however, that they will be any less cringe-worthy. For instance: after about 2 weeks in Sendai, I was desperate for internet access on account of several approaching deadlines. I finally found a relatively inexpensive--yet very respectable--hotel that offered wireless in the rooms and paid to stay the night, intending to stay up and complete as many online-related tasks as possible. I checked in around 5 that afternoon, bringing only a large red tote bag in which I had my laptop, notebooks, and so forth--I wasn't going to sleep, so why bother hauling a suitcase when my apartment was 20 minutes away? Nervous about speaking to the receptionists only in Japanese, I fidgeted while waiting in line, twisting the ring on my finger, fiddling with my earrings, checking and re-checking to make sure I had everything.

The woman at the desk gave me a rather odd look when I said that there was no other luggage, but presented me with the room key and internet equipment anyway. Tromping up to the hotel room, I proceeded to work relatively uninterrupted for a few hours before running out and grabbing take-out from the 7/11 next door. A friend that I was planning to meet for coffee at noon the next day called as I reentered the lobby with a change of plans; I assured him that 10 would indeed be fine, and not to worry.

My work was finished by 5 am the next morning; as my apartment was so close (and it was already light outside), I decided that since I was already awake, I might as well return to the apartment and shower. I grabbed the jewelry (which I had removed a bout of frustration at my inadequate writing skills the evening before) and crammed it back on before checking out at the desk. I trudged to the desk looking like death warmed over and wishing for a giant cup of coffee, mumbled thanks to the receptionist (the same woman who had checked me in the evening before, who seemed to have an odd fascination with my left hand as I signed the bill--I dismissed this as sleep-deprived paranoia), and slouched off to my apartment.

It wasn't until I had reached the apartment building that I understood exactly why the clerk was staring.

I had dressed in a relatively nice outfit--a skirt and jacket with heels, the sort that one might wear to work.
I had checked into a hotel room for a single night in the city's downtown district with no luggage.

I had not changed clothes since I had checked in the previous evening.

I had walked through the lobby reassuring and unknown someone on the phone not to worry and to meet me at 10, that everything would be fine.

I was checking out long before anyone else was awake, and very obviously looked as though I had not slept.

In my infinite wisdom, I had replaced my ring (a simple gold band) on my left ring finger in my haste to leave, and had given the receptionist plenty of time to notice as I signed the bill before departing; my left hand had held the paper steady on the counter.

Now normally, humiliating (though hilarious) this may have been, it would not be a problem; I could simply avoid the hotel and surrounding block like the plague and not feel like shrinking into the ground.

It is unfortunate, therefore, that the hotel is directly attached to the Starbucks that I frequent everyday.


So, until next time! :)