Sunday, August 16, 2009

What we are doing

Time for a "serious" post. Yes, we really do things here besides cooking, eating, and looking for Engrish.

Our primary task at the moment is studying Japanese. We came having already learned hiragana and katakana (the two syllabic writing systems), so we were able to pretty much start right in on grammar, vocabulary, etc. Learning a language takes a lot of work. When we learned Greek and Hebrew, we could always go look things up in the lexicon. We didn't need to communicate. We always spoke English in class. Therefore, fluency could definitely slide. Now, being that we are daily in situations in which we need to communicate with people on some level in Japanese (without constantly looking up words in the dictionary), we need to practice until every word and sentence pattern comes naturally. So yes, it's difficult, and it's a lot of work... but compared to Regent, it seems like a fun challenge to undertake on a summer holiday... I've been assured that it will get much harder. ;) It's kind of infuriating to completely understand the grammar behind a given sentence pattern, but then to be completely unable to use said sentence pattern in actual conversation. There's also the 3rd language problem. I keep wanting to speak German. I've managed to do this in class only once... All in all, we're excited to learn and enjoying our studies. Every chapter finished, and every successful conversation, is cause for celebration. :)

Our other task is generally learning to live in Japan. This has included shopping trips complete with attempted conversations (I managed to hold a somewhat successful conversation with the saleswoman in a tea shop), participating in cultural activities (fireworks), going to church (we had our first sunday at our new church last week), and doing some tourist-like activities. We have visited 3 nearby parks (the parks are fabulous in Sapporo), and yesterday we went to the beach.

So, yes, parks. We went hiking last Saturday at 円山 (Maruyama) park. (We got there by subway! I love it when I don't have to drive a long way in order to go hiking!) Hiking might be a bit of an overstatement. However, the mountain (that second character, yama, means mountain) was quite steep, albeit not very tall. There was a great view of the city from the top of the mountain. We live near the white dome-like thing in the upper left of the picture. (Unfortunately, it was kind of smoggy.)


What's a hike without a picnic? I made bentos with Japanese style potato salad, homemade tsukemono (pickles), stir-fried broccoli, and rice with peas and salmon. Then there was mugicha (cold barley tea) to drink. I was hungry... so I didn't think to photograph my special picnic bento until it was half eaten. Oh well.


Um... culture shock? This buddha is wearing a Winnie the Pooh bib?? There were 82 (I think) statues along the trail. Many people left offerings for the statues, hoping for good fortune. We also had a quick look at the Hokkaido Shrine, which was nearby. More about this later...


We saw an awesome green bug, a couple of large-ish snakes (Keith almost stepped on one), and a lot of big, nasty crows. Apparently the crows here divebomb people...


The beach. We went with our leaders/mentors, Tony and Pat. It was good to have a chance to talk with them, since they had been busy with a team from Hong Kong when we got here. Yesterday was the official last day of the swimming season, so the beach was very crowded. There were a lot of families. Many people brought little grills with them... the whole place smelled delicious, like grilled fish! The water was pleasantly cool and refreshing. Hooray for swimming in the ocean... or rather the Sea of Japan!


A bit about church now. I don't have any pictures, unfortunately. How silly of me. One of these I'm going to get on my bike and ride around taking pictures of things. Maybe tomorrow, actually, since we don't have classes on mondays. We will be attending Satsunae Lighthouse Church this year. It's a small congregation by North American standards (although about the same size as our old church in Grand Forks), which meets in a large house. Tony and Pat live upstairs, and the church meets downstairs. It's a lovely building. Since it is a house, it really feels homey. There's also a nice big kitchen, lending itself to meals after church. :) Going to church is good language practice for us. Of course there are many people to talk to, and we will sometimes hear words which are repeated in songs and in the sermon, which we can look up later. We have already connected with several people from church who have offered to help us get adjusted to life in Japan! We are very thankful.

Speaking of which, tonight Kondou-san, one of our new friends from church, took us out for conveyor-belt sushi. :)



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Before dinner, we ran across this place, which is apparently an American chain? I'd never heard of it, but Keith got all excited.


If you would like to pray for us, here are some things you can pray for:
  • We're thankful for God's provision in so many ways: we (obviously) got our visa in time, we are both healthy, our language studies are going well, and we are meeting people in school and in church who are welcoming us and helping us.
  • Please pray for Mr. Chain-Smoker in the building next door. We hear him coughing all the time. It sounds painful.
  • Please pray for the students here at the language school: that we would have good fellowship together and support and encourage each other, and that we would be able to quickly (and cheerfully) learn the Japanese language.
  • There are schools all around us where we live. Pray for the Christian students who are faced with a decision whether to join a club or continue attending church. Many clubs, including some of the most popular (baseball, etc.), meet on Sunday mornings. (Pray too that the adorable screaming children at the preschool next door stay adorable. ;)
  • We're in the "honeymoon" period right now. Everything is new and exciting. Please pray for us that when we come to the end of the initial excitement, we would remain steadfast in our work, rooted in God and in fellowship with other believers.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Japanese food adventures

Being that I love food and cooking and other such things, I have been eager to try out the flavors of my new home. Here's some of our adventures thus far...

Our first Sunday here, we had a meal after church. The particular church we visited (Sapporo International Church--not the one we will attend regularly) has a large population of Koreans and other foreigners. This particular meal was topped with a big scoop of kochujang, a spicy Korean bean paste (unfortunately the kochujang is not in the picture). Our response: "we're in heaven." Yep. We went right out and bought some of that stuff.


I insisted that we buy the "nice garlic." Keith wanted the mean garlic.


We were given a big bag of potatoes. We added a bit of garlic and leek and sauteed them until they were crispity crunchity. Then we added soy sauce, miso, mirin, and a little salt and pepper. Keith ate them straight out of the pan. We still have a bunch of potatoes left, so next time we'll try adding kochujang.


We went out with the other language school students to eat okonomiyaki. This is a savory cabbage-based pancake. You make it yourself at your table. Here Stephanie, one of our fellow students, is getting ready to flip one. It was delicious... and cheap! 700 yen (about $7) for a nice, filling meal!



I saw what appeared to be a cucumber with warts in the grocery store. I inquired, and found that it was called "goya" or "bitter melon." Despite the warnings, I had to have one. I discovered that goya are frequently found in Okinawan champuru (stir fry) dishes, so I set out to make one.

Here is the goya as I'm preparing it. Observe the beautiful, jewel-like skin.


I first stir fried some pork, then added onions, tofu, and finally goya. Then I seasoned it with mirin and soy sauce. The final addition was a couple of eggs.


Then I topped it with a drizzle of miso, mirin, and soy sauce and some bonito flakes...


...and the goya tasted like earwax. Have you ever scratched your ear and then licked your finger a few minutes later? It was like that... in big, beautiful green slices. So sad. Most of our poor goya went in the trash. The rest of the champuru was delicious, though... I think I'm going to explore that cuisine a bit more.


Today's breakfast: natto and brown rice. I'd describe the taste of natto as "coffee flavored cheese." It's famous for being rather vile, but for some reason I really like it. The strings stuck to my chin do get a bit annoying, though. One of our fellow students thinks my desire for natto must be a sign from God... otherwise there's no way I could possibly like it. We'll see. ;)


More on food later... and other stuff too.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

This notebook comes with Engrish.

It's for real, and it's everywhere... of course I am talking about Engrish. Here are some of our favorites so far. It's not always bad grammar/spelling; sometimes it's just wrong or inappropriate usage, or use of odd superlatives or claims for a given product. Anyway, click on the pictures to enlarge them so you can see the writing properly. Enjoy...

I am not making this up. There really is a beverage called Pocari Sweat. It's somewhat Gatorade-like.


This one is a coffee creamer.


Keith's manly bento box will provide endless delight.


We cannot figure this one out. Just weird is all. It's an おにぎり (onigiri=rice ball) box.


We aren't sure we want to know what kind of music they're referring to...



On an entirely different note, did you know it is possible to make a 1 円 (yen) coin float?


Here's how:

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