Well, that was quick

So of course, after an entire year in Japan without a single sick day, it’s fitting that after less than 72 hours in Cambodia, I ended up at the hospital.

My first two days in country were more or less wonderful. I woke up early, rented a bike, and peddled off to the Angkor Archaeological Park, where I tooled around for 7 or 8 hours each day on the dizzying array of temples and monuments inside. When I get back to Japan, or possibly before, I’ll share some of my many, many pictures, and my reactions to what is undoubtedly one of the world’s most amazing sights.

And then last night, I went to bed feeling fine, looking forward to waking up late and spending my finally day in Siem Reap peeking around the city. It was supposed to be a nice, relaxed day so that I could get ready for my trip to Thailand tomorrow.

All that went out the window when I woke up with diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. That was bad. Worse was the fact that my head felt like it was going to explode. After a few unsuccessful attempts to procure a thermometer, I flag down a tuk-tuk and rode off to the hospital, where I was admitted with a 104-degree fever and severe dehydration.

After six hours hooked up to an IV drip, I was discharged from the hospital, feeling much better but still weak and shitty. I can say, however, that I have a greater respect and admiration for Cambodia after how well I was treated by the hospital staff, who stayed with me in the room for hours, brought me food and coconut milk, and let me watch the National Geographic Channel in English while I recovered.

I’m still not entirely sure why I suddenly got so sick. It could have been the spicy street food I ate. It could have been the long days in the sun and lack of sleep. It could have been the beers I drank at night that dehydrated me. In any case, my visit to Cambodia has been granted a one-day extension, though not the kind you hope for.

Thailand, it seems, will have to wait another day, as the doctor recommended that I not undertake further traveling until I make sure I’m feeling better. You win this round, Southeast Asia.


Welcome to the jungle

Shanghai Pudong International Airport Layover, Hour 6

After two days, two flights, and too many hours at Shanghai Pudong International Airport, I am finally on the ground in Cambodia.

Siem Reap International Airport resembles an off-ramp rest stop on the NYS Thruway. Alas, no TCBY or Roy Roger’s to speak of.

I’m dead tired and trying to make tomorrow an early start, so I’ll make with the anecdotes and leave it at that.

-It’s a well-documented trend that Asians like to take pictures of their food. This isn’t especially strange, given our penchant for food porn in the United States, except that so often the meal being photographed is pretty underwhelming.

In general, I chalk this up as a little eccentric, but what I saw today set a new standard for eyebrow-raising food photos.

On both of my flights today–Fukuoka to Shanghai, Shanghai to Siem Reap–the person seated next to me pulled out a camera when the in-flight meal was served. An in-flight meal is now worthy of being photographed. The whipping boy of all cuisine worldwide.

And it isn’t just one Asian demographic. This epidemic crosses boundaries. The first picture was taken by a middle-aged Japanese businessman, who also ordered a beer on the flight despite the fact that we landed around 11:30am. The second was taken by a young Chinese girl, maybe college-aged, who also insisted on taking a picture of her friend’s identical in-flight meal.

I just… whatever, guys. I don’t even know.

(Also, fucking remarkable that I’ve now flown with China Eastern Airlines four times, and on all four flights, have been served an in-flight meal. None of the flights have been over 4 hours. I keep thinking that it’s a mistake, but no, evidently it’s company policy. You can also order beer from the drink cart at no charge. ASIA: pretty great, even with the stupid pictures.)

-On my flight from Shanghai to Siem Reap, I had a window seat, which I had reserved online months ago when I bought my ticket. So I’m sitting there, and these two girls get on, and immediately, without any introduction, this:

Her: “Excuse me, can we change seats?”

Me: “…uhh…?”

Her: “Can I exchange seats with you?”

Me: “…what?”

Her friend: “She wants to sit by the window so she can see the views.”

Me: (dumbfounded silence)

Her friend: (louder) “She wants to see the views.”

Me: “Yeah, I kind of want to see the views, too.”

Her: “Oh. Sorry.”

Look, I’m familiar with pushy Chinese people, having been accosted by many of them during my previous trip to China. But Jesus Christ, girls, is nothing sacred? Have you no decency? What the fuck?

Sweetheart, I get that you don’t like the middle seat. Nobody likes the fucking middle seat. But maybe, just maybe, you should have thought of that WHEN YOU BOUGHT YOUR TICKET.

Seriously, who does something like this? Just walks up to some random person at a movie theater and says, “Hey, I know you’re sitting in the aisle, and you’ve been here for awhile, and you’re taller and need the leg-room, but I really like the aisle so can you just move? K thanks.” And asking to switch seats in an airplane is ten times nervier.

But of course, she did go on to take pictures of her in-flight meal, not to mention leaning over me to take pictures of the run way as we were taking off. So maybe she’s just never been on an airplane before. One can only hope.

Tomorrow is day one of Angkor Wat. It seems like my plug adapter may not be compatible with Cambodian outlets, so I’m going to try to conserve my battery life until I find an adapter or get to Thailand on Tuesday. So this may be the only post until then. Bate your breath.

23 Days Later

This picture was taken by my friend Luis Zapata. I’m using it without asking him so shhhhhhhh.

David Attenborough voice-over:

The sun, at long last, has come back to Kazusa. In a matter of days, the month-long cloud that hung above town disappeared, and like a starting pistol, the deafening hum of cicadas hidden in trees and brush announced the arrival of summer in southern Japan. Once more, the valleys, mountains, and terraces shine with the green of abundant life.

Technicolor rice.

Since my post from inside Cloud City, a lot has happened, and a lot has changed. Last week, after a difficult month that included a funeral, the first real pangs of homesickness, and an awful lot of rain, I officially finished my first year of teaching in Japan. Although the anniversary of my arrival in country isn’t until next week, the semester is over, and all my students are off enjoying their summer vacation.

I’m enjoying my summer break in the traditional style of Japanese teachers–by working. Well, at least by being at work. As an assistant, I don’t have much in the way of administrative duties, so while I have to show up to the office every day, what I do with my time there is basically up to me. (For instance, I’m writing this blog post from my desk.)

Among other things, crossing the one-year threshold has changed my mindset a little bit. I spent much of the last year trying to figure things out, like my role at work, my place in the community, and why in a country obsessed with technology my Skype barely ever works.

Now, what I still don’t know about Japan could fill a 6,852-island archipelago. But I have gotten the hang of day-to-day life here, which I hope will go a long way towards making my second year in Kazusa easier than the first.

Which isn’t to say that the first year was so difficult. I received a metric ton of help and support, both physical and emotional, from a host of wonderful people at home and in Japan. Chances are, if you’re reading this, then I count you among that number. So thank you for everything–I couldn’t have made it without you.

I spent so much of the last year treading water, and just trying to keep my head above the surface, that I didn’t think much about actually swimming. But with one year finished and one left to go, it’s time for me to start doggy-paddling forward again.

Since my next month will include a lot of free time spent sitting at a desk, I’ll be trying to get a jump on that dreaded next step: applying to grad school. While there’s nothing fun about punching out essays and filing paperwork, I will say it is motivating to begin thinking actively about the future. And certainly, after a full year away, the prospect of returning to the U.S. is pretty appealing.

Of course, I’m not turning my back on Japan, or abdicating my duties here. I’m really looking forward to this next year with my friends, colleagues, and students in Minamishimabara. I’m just going for a little swim.

Since it’s been awhile, here’s the best of what I didn’t post over the last month:

  • Earlier this month, one of the two high schools in Minamishimabara hosted an International Day, with ALTs from four cities in attendance. I never get to work with high school students, so it was pretty exciting to interact with some older students and see how they behave when the hormones start to wear off a little bit. It was also a blast to see a few of my former students again, who are now high school freshmen. Nothing like a fall from the top of the totem pole to the bottom to check a kid’s ego.
  • While the thieving magpie who stole my bike and then returned it last month caused me some heartburn at the time, it seems now like a blessing in disguise. The bike I bought as a replacement, the infamous Chuck Town Deuce, has proven to be a major upgrade over his steadfast predecessor, the Chuck Town Racer. With Deuce’s ability to change speeds, my world has opened, as cycling trips to Obama, Arie and beyond are no longer out of the ordinary. Here are a few pictures to prove it:

The town mascot.

Steam rising from the onsens.

The Spectacle Bridge.

  • There’s a lovely woman in town who teaches private English lessons to elementary and middle school students. For a couple of months, I’ve been helping her with Friday night classes, and occasionally we have dinner together beforehand. (She and her mother are both wonderful cooks.) Well, earlier this month, she insisted that I try unagi, a Japanese summer delicacy. When I found out that unagi meant “freshwater eel” in English, I was a little leery, but in fact it isĀ delicious. Eels, like many phallic-shaped animals, are thought to be virility-boosters, which is why they are eaten during the summer (the hot weather saps people of energy and unagi replaces it). I can’t say I felt any added tingle, but the meal was phenomenal, and I’d gladly eat unagi again.
  • Over the weekend, the neighboring town of Kuchinotsu hosted it’s sea festival, the Marine Festa. Although its name bothers me to no end–it should have been either “Marine Fest” in English or “Marinha Festa” in Portuguese, not a combo platter of the two–it was a really fun event. One of the Kuchinotsu ALTs organized a team to compete in the peron, or dragonboat, race. Although we didn’t practice, we ended up winning our three-team heat and placing 11th out of 27 teams. Gaijin power in action!

At the starting line. Orange bandana, front and center.

Exultant in victory.

And in the very exciting news department, on Friday I’m off to Cambodia, where I’ll be checking out Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples for a few days before moving on to Thailand’s Koh Chang, or Elephant Island. (Yes, I’m going to ride an elephant. With all my freshman-year experience riding Jumbo outside of Barnum, it should be a breeze.) There will certainly be pictures and posts to come, and I promise not to make you wait three weeks for them.