Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Expat in Japan Observations, Second Edition

Getting closer to hitting the 3 month mark in Japan and figured it was time for another collection of my random expat ramblings. Similar to my 11 Early Observations, ranging from the minor details to larger themes of adjusting to life in the land of the rising sun, except this time it's a list of 10.  

Fake food is a real thing. You know how there are collective concepts of what is typical in certain places - cowboys in Texas or bullfights in Spain or rude people in Paris - but you aren't quite sure what is actually prevalent and what's just been blown out of proportion? That's how I felt about fake food. Everyone has heard of the use of plastic food in Japan to advertise a restaurant's offerings, but before getting here, I really wondered whether this was actually a thing, as we're led to believe. It is. Or at least much more so than rude people in Paris. 

Japanese way vs. the American non-way. In Japan it seems there is a right way, and therefore a wrong way, to do just about everything, from eating to parking to riding on the train. If you are unsure about proper procedure (you can be sure there is one) the general rule of thumb is to watch what everyone else around you is doing and then do the same exact thing. Just recently we went to the grocery store for a couple of things, literally two, and Graham asked me why I grabbed a basket. And I was like, look around you...everyone has a basket, so we have a basket! As an American, I certainly regard etiquette as a positive thing, but normally reserved for particularly formal scenarios - dinner parties, weddings, funerals, etc. Everyday American life tends to be more relaxed, with less protocol. Here I fluctuate from feeling like a bumbling, unrefined idiot to an American flag-waving rebel cowboy. Yeehaaw, I just jaywalked! Oh no, everyone is staring...

Friday, April 10, 2015

Sakura at Shomyoji Temple

The cherry blossoms (sakura) in Japan are renowned for their stunning beauty, but they also have a deeper meaning for the Japanese. The short-lived blooms are a metaphor for the fleeting nature of life, the transient nature of existence. They are also a symbol for spring and new beginnings.

Sakura season, though a brief couple of weeks, is highly anticipated - everything becomes about these tiny pink and white flowers. Looking at them, taking pictures of them, sakura flavored food and drink, special limited edition sakura packaging. People plan everything from a short stroll to hours long, food filled and alcohol drenched picnics, called hanami, under the flowering branches. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

11 Early Observations

I have been in Japan almost 2 months! Although really, I feel like I've only actually been living in Japan for one of those two, since the first month was spent living in a hotel on base. I mean, it's located directly next to a Chili's, so it hardly seems fair to count that time as part of the Japanese experience. 

Portrait of a girl who is really effing over living in a hotel room. 

Life in Japan still seems really new and despite having a house, I'm not feeling settled. Our household goods aren't due to arrive until almost June which is definitely a contributing factor. And certainly language and cultural barriers abound. Sometimes I feel like I just arrived. Other times, I feel like I should have gotten more done in two months, seen more, traveled farther. But then I remember that in the span of a month we contracted cell phones, got driver's licenses, bought a car, and rented a house. Throw in the stress of having the pups in quarantine during that time and frankly, it all left me a bit stressed and exhausted.

So no, I haven't been to Tokyo yet. Or planned any big trips. I didn't see the Great Buddha in Kamakura (which is shamefully just one train stop away) until last weekend. I kept telling myself if it had survived since 1252, it would still be there, and it was. Right now, almost every day brings some sort of unique experience even if it's not an exciting adventure. 

Japan is brand new to me. I had never been in the country until the day we stepped off the plane in late January, and had spent very little time in Asia (less than a week in Dubai). So, I might not have any dazzling trip photographs at this point, but I do have the collected experiences and observations of the completely inexperienced. 

I became illiterate. Yes, all it took was a trans-Pacific flight and I lost my ability to read. On top of that, I was also practically deaf and mute. There is really nothing more challenging than not being able to understand or interact with the environment around you. It was immediately obvious that we were going to need to make a concerted effort to learn some Japanese.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

How to survive a cross-country roadtrip

Really, I have no idea. I think it was mostly luck combined with a little bit of planning. The idea to drive from Maryland to Seattle was born primarily out of necessity - we needed to get 2 humans, 2 dogs, and 300 pounds of luggage from point A to point B and for some crazy reason, this seemed like the best plan. Part of it was wanting to avoid a monstrous day of flying for the dogs and the other was the allure of seeing some new parts of the US, after galavanting around Europe for more than 3 years. I mean, it's a bit shameful as an American when Spaniards have seen more of your country. 

Let's be clear, this was no wind in the hair, convertible cruise filled with quirky roadside attractions and back road shenanigans. We needed to travel over 4000 miles in less than a week and there was no room for error, or else we would miss our flight to Japan. No pressure. 

Our route:

This was dictated by a few factors. The typical northern route was out since it was January and we worried about winter weather slowing us down. (Irony alert: There was a giant snow storm in Oklahoma that almost forced us to bypass it by driving north.) The southernmost route, along I-10, wasn't appealing either, because we had done long sections of that in the past and I absolutely refused to drive the entire width of Texas, which is a brutal 12 hour haul. We also needed to see Graham's family in the Outer Banks of North Carolina before heading west. Final piece of the puzzle - my one request was to see the Grand Canyon. I mean, what's a cross-country drive without it?

Grand Canyon kisses.

But how did Graham and I survive (we even still like each other!) all the boring 10-hour plus driving days that made this trip possible? I'm not quite sure, but here's what helped:

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Leaving Spain

I want to talk a little bit about my emotions upon leaving Spain. I know that I left nearly a month ago and that I'm already in Japan, but right now my life here is just a jumble of jet lag, hotel living, and general confusion (if you want photographic evidence of that, check out my instagram @meghannbg). But my feelings about Spain are very fresh. When I think of my very recent home, there's a pain there that varies between dull ache and intense longing. I find myself reciting overused platitudes. It's better to have loved and lost. All good things must come to an end.

First day in Spain! The love affair begins!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Anchors Aweigh

Ten and a half years ago at McGarvey's in Annapolis, I met a Naval Academy midshipman who was 3 days away from being commissioned as an officer in the Navy. At the time, I had no idea that was the beginning of a relationship that would ultimately lead to becoming one of the things that I swore I would never be - a military spouse. Last night, in the same place, I had beers with my husband as we celebrated his first day out of the active duty Navy. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

We're moving to...

Did you ever play that game as a kid where you spun a globe around and stopped it with your finger to see where you were going to live or go on vacation? I know I'm a map nerd, but this can't just be me. It was fun to imagine ending up in those far-away places, while singing a little chorus of "round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows!" as the globe turned.

(Completely unrelated, but I traded my last office an old microwave for this globe, straight up. I'd say I got the better deal.)

When Graham and I discussed his transition to civilian life, we both agreed that our top priority would be to stay overseas, ideally in Europe. But applying for jobs is a bit like a grown-up version of spinning the globe and as various positions became available, we decided to get adventurous and widen our scope.

Which is how our metaphorical fingers came to land on our next home...