Friday, July 31, 2009

We're here!

We made it! We're in Japan!

Shall I describe the end of the visa saga? We heard on Thursday evening that OMF Japan had received the certificate of eligibility, and that we would receive it on Saturday. So, we made arrangements to go out for lunch with some friends on Friday. 20 minutes before we were supposed to meet them, we unexpectedly got the parcel a day early... then we hastily filled out the application, picked up friend 1, went to get passport pictures, picked up friend 2, ate lunch, left friends at Van Dusen Gardens, went to the consulate, applied for visa, returned to spend the rest of the afternoon with friends. We heard from the man at the consulate that we would be able (most likely) to pick up our passports with the visas on Wednesday morning before our flight, and that we would know for sure Tuesday morning.

We moved out on Saturday morning, had a goodbye party Saturday night, played for worship on Sunday morning, slept all afternoon, then resumed the cleaning and packing frenzy on Monday. Tuesday morning we called the consulate, and the visa was ready to pick up! So, we went and got it, then resumed the last-minute preparation frenzy. (Did I mention that while all of this was happening, it was 90 degrees F/33 degrees C in Vancouver? And no air conditioning anywhere, except in the car?) The result of all this is that we were already completely exhausted when we got on the plane...

Wednesday morning we went to the airport. My brother and several Japanese friends came to see us off... apparently going to the airport with your friends is a tradition in Japan. It was very nice.

I found out that Japan Airlines is definitely the way to go for cellists: there is actually a procedure for booking a seat for cellos and other large objects. The person at the check-in counter greeted me with "Ah, you're the one with the cello. They told us about you in briefing this morning." No one batted an eyelash as I went through security and boarded the plane. On our second flight, the flight attendant helped me carry the cello, and she went right to the correct seat and proceeded to strap it in for me. Yes... very impressive. There weren't any worries at all about whether or not I would be allowed to board, as is the case with most US airlines.

We met Tony, one of our hosts, at the airport. I felt bad because we had so much luggage (5 suitcases, 2 instruments, and 2 backpacks--but what can we do? We had to bring winter clothes too!) We got into our new apartment around 10 p.m. and immediately passed out on the bed. Unfortunately we were up by 4. Ugh. Oh well, today we managed to sleep until 5. Maybe tomorrow we'll make it until 6.

Yesterday we were out most of the day. We went to a supermarket and the local department store (which includes a supermarket, restaurants, and a variety of other shops), talked to a lot of people, ate some ice cream, and went to a fireworks display, at which we fell asleep while sitting upright. Oh dear.

Some observations and reasons to be thankful:
  • The water tastes good! Yay, I won't get dehydrated.
  • The milk tastes good too. It's creamier and sweeter than I'm accustomed to. It makes me want to try some cheese from this region when I get the chance...
  • The weather is cool. There's no bugs either. I'm so glad we're not in Vancouver at present. When the weather clears up a bit, we're looking forward to seeing the mountains, but we're really not in a hurry...
I learned some new words.
  • ふくろはいりません (fukuro wa irimasen) means "don't give me a bag, please." I'm a tree hugger, what can I say?
  • There are two hymnbooks commonly used in Japanese churches, mostly consisting of translations, but still treasured: さんびか (sambika) and せいか (seika).
  • Sapporo (our city) is written 札幌.
I ate some interesting things:
  • I ate a lot of little tiny fish. They're a little larger than mosquitos. I'm not sure I want to think about how many animals I ate yesterday.
  • I also had soft serve ice cream with red bean, mochi, banana, and green tea syrup. It was delicious.
  • I want to try おこのむやき (okonomiyaki--cabbage pancake/frittata thing with toppings) and the ramen which is a specialty in Sapporo. I'll probably wait until the weather gets a little cooler.
More pictures soon, and generally more posting. Check back often... or subscribe through Google Reader or something! :)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

4 more days! For real this time, we hope.

Just a quick update... as I will be put to work as soon as Keith gets up (it's moving day). We received our certificates of eligibility yesterday (this is the preliminary document from the Japanese government which enables us to apply for our work visas), and what followed was a whirlwind of activity in which we hurriedly filled in visa applications, picked up a lunch guest (the documents arrived 45 minutes before we were supposed to have lunch with some friends), got passport photos taken, picked up the other lunch guest, ate lunch, ditched the lunch guests and went to the consulate, applied for the visa, went home to drop Keith off for another social engagement, and then I rejoined our lunch guests at Van Dusen Gardens for the rest of the afternoon... it was a crazy day, and I didn't even mention the frenzy of packing that happened all evening.

To summarize the immigration document drama, we had been waiting for a certificate of eligibility, but there had been a delay. We thought we would need to change our flight. We still might, if there are delays processing our visa, but barring no further problems, we will be picking up our passports with visas inside at the Japanese consulate on Wednesday morning... then we will go straight to the airport! I wanted to take a picture of myself holding the claim slip with the date "July 29" written on it, but I didn't get to it yesterday, and right now I'm in my pajamas. Please keep praying for our visas to be ready on time! We will know for sure on Tuesday morning.

As I mentioned, we are moving out today. There's still quite a bit of stuff left to pack, but much of it is "last minute" stuff which we will need until Tuesday. Luckily the storage place is fairly close. Keith has a couple of friends from church to help him. Meanwhile, while they go off to unload the truck, I will be preparing the house for our party!

This has all been very rambling... I'll try to be more coherent in the future. ;) I've got a lot on my mind...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Getting ready to go

The countdown is on. The schedule says that we will be leaving next Wednesday. However, we have yet to see our immigration documents. There might still be hope if we receive them tomorrow or the next day, but after that we'll have to start looking into changing the flight to a later date... this is all very frustrating. We're already well into the process of uprooting ourselves from our current home and ready to move on. Today, for example, all of our instruments except my cello and treble viol go to new homes for the time we are away. I'm very grateful to have found people who will look after them and make good use of them, but definitely sad to leave them behind.

Anyway, we've been doing lots of preparations for leaving, even since before graduation. First there was the application process for the work we will be doing with OMF. Then after graduation, when we started having a little space to spare in our brains, we started studying Japanese. We can't do much on our own, but we've become somewhat comfortable with the writing system, and we're enjoying learning about the grammar. We have found it a little frustrating that most Japanese textbooks assume that the student has no desire or aptitude for grammar, and thus skims over it in an effort to teach the student to intuit the language, teaching phrases rather than vocab and grammar. This doesn't fly with us. We are language nerds. Luckily we found a good textbook finally... I am thrilled with the pages and pages of grammar notes. I have an intense desire to understand how the Japanese language works! We are excited about our upcoming Japanese language lessons with a real teacher.

We've also gone on a couple of trips as part of our preparations. First, we went to Colorado for OMF orientation. This was fun, challenging, and exhausting at the same time. We had many rewarding conversations with the other people who are going to do short term mission trips this summer, as well as with long term workers. We also became vividly aware of the places where we had become rigid from being in our comfortable church and school environment, surrounded by like-minded people. We were confronted with Christians from all different backgrounds, not just Regent-style Christians. That was a good wake-up call--learning to trust God and not be quite so suspicious of other Christians from outside our little tribe. There was time for some fun activities too...

Incidentally (and slightly off topic), we got to visit some dear friends in Colorado while we were there. We finally got to meet Janelle and Kelly's two children, Elaine and Elliott! We didn't do much with them other than cooking, eating, and talking. That's great... since that's what I wanted to do most!

Keith purchases a baby (Elliott) at the grocery store...

We ate hotpot for dinner... yum! (that's an understatement!)

Kelly taught Keith to play Chinese chess.

We had dinner with Don and Amelia and Inara! Don, who will shortly be opening a brewery, gave us a tour of his Bierkeller... including samples. :) Keep your eyes open for Grimm Brothers Brewhouse! It's going to be delicious...

We did a little hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park too.

I already posted a week ago about our road trip, so I will only add a few comments here. Part of the purpose of that trip was to visit all the churches to which we are connected. Keith preached a sermon at our former church in Grand Forks on John 20 which was interwoven with his testimony. That church had played a particularly large role in Keith's faith journey, so it was important for him to tell his story there. We were surprised (and delighted) to find that a new congregation, made up of Mexican immigrants, had grown out of the old congregation. The church welcomed us to attend the Spanish service as well. It was good practice for being in church in Japan... no idea what was going on. Oh well. It was good to be gathered with other Christians even if we weren't speaking the same language. Both the English and Spanish congregations prayed for us and sent us off as missionaries. We were encouraged by the support given to us by the new congregation, even though we didn't know any of them! (On a side note: at orientation we learned the following missionary motto: "Where he leads me, I will follow; what he feeds me, I will swallow." This was put to the test for me at lunch that Sunday... an interesting Mexican soup was served to me with the comment, "It's probably better if I don't tell you what's in it." So, I ate cow stomach for the first time... and discovered that I liked it!)

Finally, we're having a "goodbye bash" on Saturday night! Feel free to drop by any time after 7:30 if you happen to be in Vancouver. I'm not posting the address since sharing personal info on the internet scares me... email me if you need it. Keith promises to entertain you by juggling. There will probably also be a fire and roasted peeps. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you should just come to the party.

For those of you who are praying for us, here are some things to pray about:
  • The visa. Argh!!!!! (And Celia's sanity until everything is worked out. Keith is amazingly calm.)
  • We're moving out on Saturday. So, please pray that everything goes smoothly and quickly... we get to use the moving truck for a total of 4 hours.
  • Safety in travel. As I mentioned, we're supposed to be leaving on the 29th.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Having a look at our home country

We've been on a road trip, but we're back home in Vancouver... for another 2 weeks! That's right, we leave for Japan 2 weeks from today! Feeling excited and antsy and a bit nervous...

Anyway, before we left for Japan, we wanted to spend some time with both our families. Keith really wanted to take a road trip. We flew way too much last year, then we flew to Colorado in May, and of course we have a lovely 12 or so hours on the plane to Japan to look forward to. So, we decided on a road trip.

First stop: Newcastle, WA. We spent time with my parents and brother, and we visited all my grandparents and my aunt and uncle and cousin.

Second stop: Teddy Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. It was hot and moist. This means it was beautiful and green. Last year there was a drought.

Third stop: Grand Forks, ND. We had an eventful time. There were many people to visit, steak to eat... and a sump pump to fix. Keith stayed up half the night bailing water so that the basement wouldn't flood more than it already had. Yuck. Other than that, we spent just about every waking moment with special people. Keith also preached a sermon at our old church. Our nephew, Michael got a lot bigger! He loves his meat like his daddy, and he loves the piano like his mommy and Uncle Keith.

He likes to show affection by giving kisses... awwww!!

Fourth stop: Aberdeen, SD! Here we met our nephew, Alexander Timothy Sweet for the first time! He was born on June 11. However, I have to say that his older sister, Elizabeth upstaged him most of the time... she's smart, cute, and 2 years old! We celebrated her birthday on July 3.

Comparing Alexander with the sleeping face of his grandfather...

Big sister is still Daddy's little girl.

We read lots of books together.

Grandpa is the master at burping the baby!

Elizabeth went down every slide at Storybook Land.

Fifth stop: Fort Dodge, IA. I think by this time I had run out of picture-taking steam. There was just too much cuteness among niece and nephews. Anyway, we had some much needed rest and enjoyed spending time with Keith's parents.

Sixth stop: Glacier National Park, MT. (Yes, Montana, not Glacier BAY NP in Alaska.) This was the "anniversary vacation" I suppose--we celebrated our 4th anniversary on July 9! Well... on that particular day, we actually spent 13 hours in the car. Really we celebrated over the next few days.

This is what highway patrol is like in Montana, apparently. This guy was sitting in his car by the road where we stopped to buy some cherries.

Our first day in Glacier we drove the park road and took 2 short hikes.

The second day, we hiked the "Garden Wall" trail, so named for its spectacular wildflowers all summer long.

We met a friendly goat and some friendly hikers on the trail.

We took a very steep spur trail to a lunch spot, and we were rewarded with bighorn sheep, marmots, and great views. How many bighorn sheep can you count in this picture?

Answer: 6! It was amazing to watch them running carelessly around (or so it seemed) on the scree.

The last few miles of the trail were not as fun. The sun came out, and because of recent forest fires, there was no shade. At present, I look like a half-cooked lobster. Yikes.

Seventh stop: Leavenworth, WA. We ate a great meal and then camped in a beautiful place. Keith played with the fire. He likes to do that.

Final stop: Edmonds, WA. We hung out with my brother, looked at pictures, and ate vegetables and rice for dinner. That was a nice change from meat, meat, starch, and meat. We ate a lot of meat on this trip. Looking forward to eating lots more rice and vegetables when we get to Japan!!

We're glad to be home in Vancouver, even if we don't have much time left here! Give us a call or an email if you want to hang out. :)