Posted by: alivillines | May 10, 2009

Mother Dearest

In honor of the holiday at hand, I’ve comprised a list of important things my mom has taught me over the years.  This list is neither chronological, nor exhaustive.  

Matching Flannels

1. Eating the crust on your bread will help you learn to whistle. (I can whistle now, right?)

2. Always wait ’til it’s 80 degrees before you go to the pool.

3. Don’t call your brother stupid. (Remember that one? I do.)

4. Don’t go ANYWHERE without a full thermos of ice water, a medium sized tote full of nonspecific papers and books, your sunglasses, and an umbrella.

5. Never let your husband talk you into buying a new car after you’re newly wed, and financially unstable.

6. How to make the world’s best brownies.

7. How to use the library’s internet database to locate research materials most efficiently. 

8. That Christmas isn’t Christmas unless you’ve decorated the tree to Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas on cassette.

9. That peanut butter and honey is far better than peanut butter and jelly. 

10. That a person really can live her whole life without cable television.

Mom, you’re an inspiration to us all!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Posted by: alivillines | April 19, 2009

Chapter 2: Mo-nee-kah

First Kuta, then Ubud.  

Kuta was the beach town.  We spent a couple days there and decided to head North to the village of Ubud.  My cousin Amy, our knowledgeable resource on the subject of Bali, gave us plenty of names, numbers, and instructions prior to our arrival.  She had given us the telephone number of a particular driver that she’d used and liked in the past.  His name was Ketut.  So, we called Ketut to come get us in Kuta and take us to Ubud.  

Ketut, ah, Ketut.  Our good and faithful driver.  While the streets of Bali are overrun with drivers– you can’t walk three steps without somebody asking you, “Transport? Transport?” and who, when you politely refuse and continue to walk past, will then shout out behind you, “Tomorrow, daahling? Ok! No problem!”– after one drive with Ketut, we knew we wouldn’t take our business elsewhere.  As I look through my camera at the pictures I’ve taken, I see Ketut in about every other one.  I suppose he was more like a travel partner to us than just our mode of transportation.

Ubud is the epicenter of authentic cultural activities for tourists in Bali.  In Ubud you can see Barong dances, Wayang shadow puppet shows, visit artisan villages, get spectacular spa treatments, and buy LOTS of good souvenirs.  On our first day there– after a particularly long night which Katie and I spent indisposed, undoubtedly due to an offending shared plate of fried noodles the day before– we weren’t up for much.  Our hotel, however, was doing one of those puppet shows, and we wouldn’t have to go far from our room, so we opted to attend.  It was dark, and there was a screen in front, lit from behind by a flame.  Also behind the screen there were the puppeteers and musicians.  We didn’t know what exactly it would be like, but we did expect some serious ancient cultural story, one that we probably wouldn’t understand, but that would be enthralling nevertheless simply because of the beauty of the puppets, or the atmosphere, or whatever.  

Our expectations were carried out for the first act.  But then, after a while, some of the characters began speaking English, saying things to the other characters like, “Transport? Transport? Tomorrow, ok!” and “Wheah aah you furahm, daahling?”  Typical things that the Balinese say to tourists passing by.  It was funny, we laughed.  Then onto the third act, a couple new characters came out.  One, a big Balinese man, and the other a small foreign tourist woman.  The man asks the woman in a raspy, deeply accented voice, “What is yoah name, daahling?”  She says slowly, in the puppeteer’s highest woman voice, “Moneeka.”  And the man puppet says, “Aaah, Moooneeka.. Das nice, daahling, I am Made.  But what is yoah lahs name, daahling?”  And the woman says, “I am Moneeka… Moneeka La-wa-su-kee?”  He repeats her, “Moneeka Lawasuke?”  And she repeats again, “Moneeka Lawasuke.”  

[I believe this is the point when we put the sounds together and realized that a Balinese La-wa-su-kee was, in fact, an English Lewinsky ] We laughed out loud, mouths open in surprise.  

The man puppet gets down on a knee and tells the woman, “Moneeka, I lab you!  Kem on, les get maaaahried.”  She agrees, and he asks her, “Wheah do you wan to go for da hahny moon?… I know! How about …Iraq?”  Then she says, again in her highest pitch woman voice, “No sank you.” And so he says, “I know! Joo wan to go to Bali?”  

The story goes on, in a mix of Indonesian and English, with more comedic asides, a few even including bathroom humor.  At one point I believe someone killed someone else with his own fart.  We were shocked.

Posted by: alivillines | April 15, 2009

A Work of Non-fiction, Chapter One

Once upon a time, nearly four weeks ago, my girlfriends and I left Japan for what would be the longest vacation of our lives.  After the end of a particularly stressful school year, my teacher friends and I wanted a long, relaxing break.  What better place to relax than Bali? They’ve got beaches, massages, and shopping.  Perfect, we thought.  

We said good riddance to Japan as we boarded that plane; knowing, of course, that we’d have to come back.  We had three weeks ahead of us.  Three glorious weeks of beaches, books, sleep, more books, and more beaches. Throughout the flight, we all dreamt of the things we’d do the next day.  #1. Go to the beach, #2. Drink fruity cocktails near the beach.  I think that’s as far as any of us got, but of those two things, we were sure.  

We arrived at midnight, and took a cab to our hotel. We checked in, and as we settled into our room, Kate noticed a paper on the night stand.  It must have been with the room service menu, there by the phone.  She picked it up and read it aloud.  First, the date… she read March 26 (the next day).  A day of silence.  A Hindu ceremony, one that comes only once every TEN years, just so happens to be this week.  And the next day, our first day, was to be the day of silence.  She continued to read that this meant we weren’t to leave the hotel.  We weren’t to use lights, to eat in excess, or to drink alcohol at all.  I suppose there was to be no loud noise either, given the order of the day. We were enraged.  

Enraged? you ask? Let me back track. 

August 2008.  Kate, and Mel and I arrive in Bangkok, Thailand.  We have 10 days, and have planned to stay in Bangkok for only one and a half.  We arrive at night.  The following day, we have big plans of doing Bangkok right, going out on the town, partying a little even.  The city’s a bit quieter than we thought it would be.  Shops are closed.  Funny, we thought.  We go to dinner, and order something to drink.  Sorry, no, says the waitress. Ok, they must be out of that one, we say.  We order another.  Sorry, no, she says again.  Interesting, we think.  And so we ask, what drinks CAN we order? in our most considerate tones.  No alcohol, she says.  Oh.. hmm… uh.. Why?  She proceeds to tell us in her best English that today is the Queen’s birthday.  No alcohol today.  So says the Queen.  Ah, we think, of course.  This WOULD happen on our ONLY night in Bangkok.  A few minutes later, after we’ve ordered our Sprites, we look over to the next table and see a man drinking a beer!  Our eyes move from table to table and notice that most all the men are drinking some sort of alcohol! What IS this?! we think.  Are they just refusing us? Has our waitress lied to us because she doesn’t like us? Does she hate Americans? What’s going on here?! Finally, we ask.  Why are they drinking beer, while we cannot?  A thai man, who’s casually reading the paper at a table nearby, says to us with a smile, The king said yes, the queen said no.  Men were allowed to drink, because the king said so.  Women were not, because the queen said no.  Go figure. 

And so there went our big night in Bangkok.  We turned in early, to head out the next day.

Back to Bali.  We were enraged.  Funny that it might happen once, exasperating that it might happen twice. 

Although we couldn’t leave the hotel, our solace was found by the pool for the entirety of the following day.  We sat there, in the sun, with our books, and read.  We read and read.  We wanted relaxing, and that’s exactly what we got.

Posted by: alivillines | April 15, 2009

Bali and Back.

After exactly 8 months and 15 days, I have finally decided to end this lengthy hiatus.  At last, enough is enough!

I’ll briefly try to excuse myself by blaming Japan. Yes, I’ve been here ALL the while, and life just hasn’t been as exciting as it need be, in order for me to write these gripping tales, as you were so used to reading!  As posts got more and more boring (for which I apologize), so also did my life.  Excluding, of course, a few vacations here and there, like to Thailand, America, and Bali. 

While at first life in Japan seemed like an exciting cultural experience, it now is as (if not more) mundane as the lives you, too, no doubt lead.  (Please, take no offense.)

But now… NOW, I’ve got stories.  I’ve been to Bali! 

Stay tuned.

Posted by: alivillines | July 27, 2008


The other night, Wednesday, I think it was, there was an earthquake.  It was 12:30, and I was in bed, fast asleep.  The shaking was loud, and that’s what woke me.  I’ve written about earthquakes before, about my routine sprint to the back door, where I stand and (calmly) wait for the shaking to stop.  Well, this time I must have been sleeping extra hard, or the shaking must have been pretty bad, because I did something a little more extreme.  

I popped out of bed, fast as lightening, and ran to the back door.  I unlocked it, and shoved it open (it’s a sliding door).  I don’t think I even stood there, like I normally do, but instead bolted out  onto the terrace, where I instinctively attempted to jump the banister. (Now, I live on the first floor, so it’s not THAT crazy.) But there I was, no shoes, no keys, no phone, hoisting myself over my banister.  Picture it if you can: I’ve got one foot up, and am pulling myself over with my arms, when I stop to rethink my plan of action.  

Everything is still shaking at this point, but I decide to hop down, and go for the other door, the front door, where I can get shoes and keys.  So I do.  I run through the apartment, and to the front door.  I unlock and open it, shuffling to get my shoes on.  I grab my keys and run out into the hall (and as long as this takes me, everything is STILL shaking).  I get into the hallway, and I can hear neighbors above me scurrying about, but no one is outside.  I look at myself in the glass door, which is the apartment entrance, and laugh.  I’m wearing teeny pajama shorts, a shirt (no bra), and my hair is a MESS.  Thank heavens none of my neighbors saw me.  As if they don’t stare long enough at me on a normal-hair day.  I could just imagine the looks of wonderment at my uncouth physical state now.  

I waited there in the hallway, ready to make my next move, until the swaying finally stopped.  I went back inside and thought to myself, “What if I had jumped the banister?”  

First of all, I would have felt like such a geek outside in my pajamas without any shoes, especially since nobody else seemed to think it necessary to make any big moves.   And since I had no keys, and since the only way to get into my building is with a key, I would have had to somehow get BACK over the banister to get in… embarrassing.

The last big earthquake in June, some guy died from running outside in the street and getting hit by a truck.  That is NOT gonna be me.  There is a busy street right in front of my apartment, but at least I know that If I go anywhere in a panic-stricken frenzy, it’s out the back.

Posted by: alivillines | July 8, 2008

Happy Birthday, America.

Contrary to popular belief, we do actually have the 4th of July, here in Japan.  It’s just not celebrated as such.  At least, not outside my classroom.  Even here, that star spangled banner yet waves high above my whiteboard.  I like to think that it gives my kids a bit of “internationalism”.  

Leading up to the holiday, I talked to my kids about it, and what we Americans usually do to celebrate. Last week we made red, white, and blue stars out of origami paper and strung them as a garland above the windows (internationalism).  Later I let the kids design their own flags, and make them out of construction paper.  About half of them made something that resembled my example of an American flag. Some might think it due to their lack of creativity, but I will attribute it to their being my own tiny little patriots.  By the time the 4th rolled around, my classroom was adorned with more red, white, and blue than old Uncle Sam, himself.  

To top off our patriotic theme,  we made fireworks out of red and blue paint splatter with glitter on top.  The craft was a real hit (as most crafts are, that warrant the use of glitter) .

It was an activity only to be rivaled with my solo of our national anthem that began class last Friday.  Hand over heart, I sang it.  Loud and proud and alone, at least, for most of the time.  A few times during the song, some of my kids tried to join in (the dears).  I commend them for the attempt.  

I haven’t forgotten you, America.  And neither has my class.  We think of you fondly, and most often.

Posted by: alivillines | June 15, 2008

Reasons why teaching kindergarten is better than your job.

1. People are always begging you to play dinosaur, so you can use that Pterodactyl move you’ve been keeping to yourself all these years.  

2.  A single comedic bit or magic trick can produce the same rolling laughter each time you do it, for months on end (i.e. pulling one’s thumb apart, or pretending to fall asleep mid-sentence).  

3.  Singing and dancing is widely accepted (the more likeness to a show tune, the better).

4.  You’re smarter than most everyone you work with.

5.  You’re taller than most everyone you work with (buh-dum-chh).

6.  There’s storytime.  

7.  Kids are always saying things to make you laugh, like “handkerchips” instead of “handkerchief” (most often not intentionally).

8.  Whiteboards (because who doesn’t like dry erase?)

9.  Shaving cream writing.  You clean while you learn!

10.  That time today when Pete wouldn’t stop hugging me.  He kept smelling me and then letting out an “aaahh.”  He told me I smelled like cake.

Posted by: alivillines | May 30, 2008

Do you have what it takes?

A friend of mine recently asked me what he called “a theoretical question.”  He asked me how many 5 year olds I thought I could take at once.  Meaning this: if a bunch of 5 year old kids came at me, ready to attack, how many could I handle, without being taken down myself?

A theoretical question for most, yes.  However for me, this scenario isn’t only possible, but is also quite probable in my daily life.  When he asked me, I thought about it a second, and said five.  Then, I thought some more and changed my answer to eleven.  I’m thinking, “I’ve got eleven kids in my class, and they’re all pretty tiny… I think I could take them.”  


But then today, as I chased them all around (the usual playtime proceedings), I turned to find two little boogers standing there with huge inflatable bouncy balls held high above their heads, ready to throw them straight at mine.  They had a certain look on their faces, one that said ( in a low, creepy voice), “Let’s get ‘er.”  At that moment, this question came back to me, and I imagined having to dive to the floor and take them out at their feet.  

I didn’t, of course, but since then, I’ve been contemplating more seriously, if I have what it takes to survive a beating by kindergarteners.  And I’m not quite sure if I do. 


Posted by: alivillines | May 30, 2008

While My Bicycle Gently Weeps.

Here’s one I wrote a long time ago… Guess I forgot to post it. 


In his or her first year of stay in Japan, the American foreigner may drive (if they have access to a car, of course) under an International Driver’s Permit (IDP), obtained in America, prior to their arrival.  This IDP does not require a test or anything, but must accompany the driver’s American license to be valid.  It’s a sort of “drive free for one year” card.  Well, my year is up.  So, I figured if I didn’t want to be scooting around on that bicycle all year, I’d better get my license.    It’s not exactly an easy process, obtaining a Japanese driver’s license, not even for a Japanese person.  So you might imagine the hardships a foreigner endures in the same task.  It’s not like I resent it.  I’m the outsider who has chosen to be here, and I speak VERY little Japanese.  So, as for most of the hardships, I’m sure I deserve them.  Rather than a hardship, though, this could just be considered (along with most other tasks done, here in Japan) a long, drawn-out process.

First, you go fill out paper work.  But you (being a foreigner) may only come to fill out the paper work between 1:00 and 1:30 PM on any weekday.  Yes, that’s a thirty minute window for all the foreigners in the prefecture to visit the DMV.  Thankfully, we are few and far between.  The paper work involves documenting the dates of every entry to and departure from any country that’s listed in your current and/or previous passports.  Thanks to that semester in South America, I had about two pages to fill out, as we travelled by bus in and out, and in and out of a few countries, about a MILLION times each.   Well, I guess I didn’t have to fill them out… my Japanese assistant did, since it had to be written in Japanese (thanks, Rumi!). Then, you have to fill out a few more papers, with your name and address, and all that. They ask you about the driving test in your home country. “Was there a written test?”, “What did you score on it?”, “Was there a driving test?”, “What kind of car did you take the test in?”, “How much did it cost to get your first license?”…. Like I remember. I just made stuff up. That’s the first day.

Next, you come back on a different day to take the written test (between 1 and 1:30, of course). Then, if you pass that, you can take the driving test the same day. (And I did, woohoo!) So, once you’ve passed the written, you wait. About an hour we waited. We foreigners must only test drive between the hours of 2:30 and 3:30 PM on a weekday.  I guess the assumption is that we don’t work for a living.  

Anyway, I passed (victory!), and I’m gonna stick by the idea that a light batting of the eyelashes or a casual flip of the hair, coupled with a confident, yet unpretentious smile never hurts.  That’s not to say that my driving wasn’t as spectacular  as ever.  Because I went through that “S” like nobody’s business.



Posted by: alivillines | April 27, 2008

Cherry Blossom Viewing

Seldom known, if only to me, as “Full Day of Torture and Regret.”

Maybe I’m exaggerating just a smidge, but last Sunday was, perhaps, the longest day of my life. 

A gal at work (bless her heart) signed me and my friends up for a Cherry Blossom viewing tour, which we took, last Sunday.  It was a bus tour- the red flag that screams, “C’mon, you know better! Don’t DO IT!” Under pressure, however, I didn’t pay any mind to that friendly little flag.  Nope, when my friends said it, so did I… “Sign me up!” After all, it was to be the last weekend of the Sakura season, in which the trees are in full bloom, the prettiest day of all.  You can’t miss out on that, now can you?

The bus was to leave the station at 7AM, so the said “gal” came to pick us (my friends and me) up at 6.  Why would we leave so early? I wondered…  We got there half an unnecessary hour early, and waited for the bus to arrive.  Of course.  And this is where it began.

We made three stops before leaving the city, to pick up other passengers.  By about 8:45, we were off.  It was a two hour drive to the Fukushima prefecture, where we would see a 1,000 year old Sakura tree, still blooming in the middle of the countryside.  It was beautiful.  What wasn’t beautiful was the 2 hour standstill as we neared the tree locale.  It seems that every able-bodied Japanese person and their dachshund showed up that day to see the same thing we did.  It was a pretty big deal.   The upside to the traffic jam was lunch.  Well, we thought it would be an upside.  The tour company provides lunch on these sorts of tours.  It’s usually a bento (Japanese-style box lunch, with rice and a few other small side dishes).  I like bentos, most of the time.  As long as there’s no octopus or fish babies, I’m usually fine.  It was just my luck that this bento did, indeed, have fish babies sprinkled all over the rice.  When I say fish babies, I mean tiny little whole fish, with heads and tails and all.  Sick. I managed to eat around them though, gagging only a few times.

After seeing the tree, we got back on that god-forsaken bus.  Now hot and smelly, from the fish babies, and since no one but ourselves seemed to want any sort of airflow.  Japanese people, as a rule of thumb, are always just a little bit cold.  Everybody else on that bus wore their sweaters and jackets, while us Americans practically had our heads out the window like labradors.  It’s no wonder we get funny looks.  

And the day went on, much like what I’ve already described.  Hot, smelly bus, lots of Japanese people, lots of flowers.  

Thirteen hours later, we’re back at the station.  My friends and I are stARving, practically withering away on those last few bits of fish baby in our stomachs.  We stop at McDonald’s and thank God for American franchised restaurants.  

It’s funny: everybody on that bus, excluding me and my American friends, seemed to be having a swell time!  It was like they wanted to spend that 6,000 yen, plus thirteen hours of the weekend on a bus.  

Yet another reason why I will never understand or really belong in Japan.


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