24 October 2004
At home in Mihara...
I will never forget a single moment of my whole stay in Mihara town. It was such a nice, little town with, as I mentioned in the earlier entry, the loveliest people. They're all so warm and friendly. My foster family, the Shibaikes, really treated me like a real daughter. The whole time I was with them, I never felt like an outsider or whatever. Never mind that Otoosan (Father) and Ikuko (my 17-year-old foster sister) didn't speak English. I was able to communicate with them in my halting Japanese and by asking them to "yukkuri shabete kudasai" (please speak slowly). Okaasan (Mother) and Takanori (my 22-year-old foster brother) knew English, but later on, Okaasan started talking to me in slow Japanese as well. I had no problem with that, I even liked the idea because I was able to really practice my Nihongo and got my ears a little bit used to native Nihongo speakers.
While I was there, they introduced me to Alicia-san (a Filipina who's been living in Japan for the past 27 years), who went with us to the Public Ofuro/Onsen (Bath/Hot Springs). The experience was great. I've always loved going to the Grand Bath, but I usually went with friends and in smaller ones, like there would only be about seven to about fifteen other people. The Public Ofuro they brought me to, in Sakai City, was huge! It was, after all, a public one. There were looots of people. And, again, I appreciated something about the Japanese people. They really have no hang-ups whatsoever about their bodies. Everyone was just like, "oh, who cares?!" The Public Ofuro was much more relaxing than the ones I've been to in the past. There was even this nice man-made cave we entered. The experience was really, really nice. :)
We were in homestay for four days (four nights). The first day, we didn't go sightseeing because there was supposed to be a typhoon coming and the foster families were scared that if we did go out, the typhoon might suddenly come and ruin the day for us. So, what we did was we had a party at one of the foster families' house. Five families gathered. We, three Filipinos with some help from the two Australians there as well, prepared and cooked Filipino food. We had a great time that day. It never rained that day, but it was really cold outside. That night, we walked to the Karaoke (which was about fifteen minutes away) and partied until late at night. We were still singing until the time we were walking home.
The Mihara International Friendship Association (to which all the foster families belonged to) had another party the next day. This time, everyone helped in preparing Japanese food. It was pretty much like "bayanihan". It was great! We, Filipinos, were used to that. There were even games and singing. We had so much fun.
And, that night, we had an International festival where all (almost all) foreigners residing permanently and temporarily in Mihara were invited. There were Americans, Indonesians, Chinese, British, etc. People from each foreign country were asked to perform one number after the elementary and high school kids performed for us. Our Australian friends sang their "Give Me A Home" and we, Pinoys (including the other Pinoys there), sang and danced. It was such a fun night. The next days we went sightseeing a bit and went to shop at the 100 yen shop for little souvenirs. And then, we had to go back to the Kansai International Center.
In the evening of the same day (the 11th) we came back to Kansai, we had the heart-breaking Farewell Ceremony. We had to say goodbye, not only to our foster families, but, to our co-participants, our Japanese counterparts, the staff, etc. We had another round of performances and for the last number, we, the PPYEP participants sang "Farewell" and cried our hearts out. Everyone went to his/her foster family and just cried and cried. Participants (Japanese and foreigners) and foster families alike cried. Everyone was just hugging and crying.
The next day, the participants left by batch (according to the time of flights). We, Filipinos, didn't have to leave until the next day (the 13th) so we saw every contingent off. It was quite difficult to see everyone off. It was really sad that night because the place was just so quiet and, sometimes, I'd hope or expect to see the other participants in some places we usually hung out in.
Early the next morning, we had to leave as well. Our closest staff member friends saw us off at the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) station. It was another "crying moment" for me. I was saying goodbye to them... and to Osaka. And, we were off to Tokyo. :)
When we got to Tokyo, we met with some SSEAYP 1995 people since Ate Felma (our co-participant) was from batch 1995. We went to the Ana Hotel Tokyo to see the people in the 21st Century Renaissance Program. Renaissance is another Japan government-sponsored program. In this program, only SSEAYP and SWY (Ship for World Youth Program) alumni could participate. This is basically why SSEAYP Japanese and Japan-based alumni would always visit the participants. There would always be familiar faces or batchmates participating. And, so we also went. There were, indeed, familiar faces and I had two batchmates in this year's program (Wai Leng from Singapore and Hau from Vietnam).
We had dinner with batch 1995 and 1997 and then my batchmate, Keiko, picked me up. We left for her Kawasaki place after a few minutes of socializing with the other batches. I homestayed with her and her really cute and smart husband for two days (two nights) and, again, my stay with them was great. Their apartment was so nice and so "sweet". Poon, our batchmate from Thailand, remarked, "In this place, you don't need to use sugar because it's such a 'sweet' place." Keiko made me watch her SSEAYP video, which made us laugh and cry. By the end of the video, we were hugging each other. She took me to the Yokohama port, where we had such a great time. It was a great chance for us to catch up with each other's life, too.
And then, in the morning of the third day, she brought me back to Tokyo. We were met by Ban-chan (another batchmate, of course), with whom I homestayed for two days (two nights). Ban-chan lives with her whole family, so my stay felt like SSEAYP or PPYEP homestay. I was treated like another member of the family. Even their pet bird, named Raku, felt so at home on my shoulders and my head!:) Ban-chan brought me around Tokyo, to places I wasn't able to go to during SSEAYP time. We also went to the NYC Olympic Center (one of the places we stayed in back in SSEAYP) and ate at the same cafeteria we ate in. It was really nice to have gone back there and reminisce things. Her family also brought us around the next day. We went to more places and the Harumi Port, where Nippon Maru docked four years ago. I had such a wonderful time with them.
And, finally, on the third day, we went back to Keiko's place for a mini-reunion which many of our batchmates joined (even Poon and Kong, both from Thailand). That night, I went home with Aya, another batchmate. I homestayed with Aya and Ryoko (another batchmate of ours and board-mate of Aya) for another two days (two nights). The first night Ban-chan and Risa stayed with us. It was a long night of reminiscing and laughing. Aya and Risa prepared really good pasta for brunch the next day and then Aya and I went around Tokyo once more, to places I haven't been to. We went anywhere and everywhere. It was really tiring, but really fun! We had another reunion the next night, this time with Wai Leng and other batchmates who couldn't make it the night before. We went to a Karaoke Place. Hehehe:) And then, the next day, suddenly it was time for me to go... Hay! :(
I spent my last night in Japan, at the Ana Hotel Tokyo, with the Renaissance people. The next day, I prepared to go home. I took the Airport Limousine Bus and took the plane back home on my own. I was pretty sad for I was leaving a place I so loved and people I cared about. But, I know that one day I will be back and they will come visit us here, too. When that time comes, it's time for me to return the favor and make them feel as at home as they made me feel. They have made me feel so thankful and blessed. I realized how great it is to have really good friends around the world because it is important that wherever you are, you have a home. :)
15 October 2004
The 2004 Pan Pacific Youth Exchange Program (PPYEP) officially ended on the 12th of October. The 12-day program was really much, much more fun, more interesting, and greater than I expected it to be. It was like a continuation or an extension of SSEAYP. The difference was that there wasn't a Nippon Maru and there was an Australian contingent (very white people among brown ones). And, there were only 32 of us, all in all, from the seven countries and then, of course, the Japanese counterparts. As a result, we were all really bonded and very close. That's very nice, but that also made the parting very, very sad and difficult for most of us. Hay!
Anyway, since I've started talking about the experience in a day-to-day basis, I'd like to continue doing so. "It's really funny to look back after all these years..." So, the song goes and I really hope to look back on these days for years and years with that funny, dreamy smile on my face.
This day was very, very interesting. We went to the Kitayamamoto Elementary School, a public school. I've always, always wanted to see how a Japanese elementary or junior high school looks like because that's where the kids get their training in every aspect of life. And, I've always wanted to see how the kids dress because I find Japanese fashion very interesting. In the school, the kids were just adorable. They didn't speak any English, but we played with them and they taught us traditional dances. We performed for them and they did the same for us. We ate lunch with them. The day was full of smiles, laughter and fun. Seeing that school made me realize how lucky the Japanese chidren are. I mean, it's a public school and all, but if it were in the Philippines, with how the school looked like and the facilities, it would have been one of the best private schools in the country. Kuya Erick and I got emotional and almost cried as we walked around and saw how nice the school was. He thought of the elementary school he owns and I couldn't help but think of the public schools we have, especially in Mindanao, where kids don't even have chairs or books.
After we left the school, we went straight to Kyoto and checked in at the Rakucho Hotel, a Japanese-style hotel. The rooms had tatami and we had futons for beds. We had to wear yukata and they served us Japanese tea as we got in our rooms. We (three Filipino girls) were assigned with the two Malaysian girls. Later on, we invited Crystal to sleep with us because they were seven in their own room. Everything in the hotel was very, very Japanese. It was one of my favorite parts of the program. We had a yukata dinner party where we had the best Japanese food. The hotel served only Japanese food, by the way, much to my delight! The next morning we had yet another very Japanese breakfast. :)
This day, we had an experience of Japanese Yuzen T-Shirt Dyeing at the Kyoto International Exhibition Hall. Yuzen Dyeing is one way to dye cloths for the Kimono. After that, we went to the Kyoto Handicraft Museum and to the Japanese Traditional Goods shops where we could buy some little things. And then, after dinner, we went and checked in at another hotel, the Shin-Osaka Esaka Tokyu Inn. We got there pretty early, so we had a lot of free time. We went up the Kyoto Tower, which afforded us a marvelous view! Wow! :)
We had to wake up earlier than usual this day because we were to go back to Osaka to visit the Matsushita Electric Industrial Company (makers of Panasonic and National). They showed us so many things, from their very first products to their newest, most recent ones (some haven't even come out in the market yet). The whole time, we were just 'ooh-ing' and 'aah-ing' because of all the advance technology that they have. Everything was amazing! In the afternoon, we went to the Kantere (Kansai Television). They showed us how effects (simple ones) were done. They made us take shots of one another in the news room and we watched a sort of a rehearsal for one of their shows which was celebrating its 40th anniversary. The assistant director for this show was sooo cute that I wanted to just go and kiss him. It was too bad that we weren't allowed to take pictures inside the studio! The day was exhausting because we had a lot of walking to do, but our awe and amazement at all the things shown to us got the better of us.
On this day, we went to the Youth Outdoor Activities Center of Osaka Prefecture where we played lots of team building games. It was so much fun, but at one point, I got pissed off at someone who was too serious in the game and acted as the leader and started to scold people in our group. He shut up after I gave him a piece of my mind! Moreover, there was a typhoon coming, so it was really cold in the place. We had to stay indoors. The interpreter for this center was really cute. Hehehe:) But, I didn't like him much anymore after he banged his really heavy hand on my back (it was supposed to be a pat, I think) and asked me if I was okay! I almost threw up because of the impact! I said I was okay and almost added, "until you decided to 'pat' me on the back!" But, he was really, really cute! :)
In the afternoon, we (Filipinos and Australians) were dropped off at the Mihara town where we were to have our homestay. The other contingents were assigned to homestay in other towns in Osaka. Mihara town was so nice, very suburban. The Mihara people were just the loveliest people. They were all very nice and friendly... and super warm. I felt so lucky to have been assigned there. My homestay in Mihara was the one of the best homestays I've had in my whole life.
I'd like to end this entry here and continue (talk) about my homestay(s) in my next entry. I am currently in Kawasaki, homestaying at a SSEAYP batchmate's place and I'll be going to Tokyo to homestay at another batchmate's place tomorrow, so I need to sleep right now. Ja, oyasumi nasai... :)
05 October 2004
I've been here in Osaka for five nights (and four days) now. It has been a very, very interesting and enjoyable time for everyone in the program. After all the activities that we've done so far, we're all quite exhausted, but it's just so much fun that we don't mind at all. We still have eight days more to go before the program ends.
Tomorrow, we leave for Kyoto to experience Japanese style hotel. I'm really excited about that. Here in Osaka, we're housed at the Kansai International Center (a dormitory-like hostel). Aside from the fact that everything is free here, what I like most about this place is my room. As expected of a Japanese facility, our rooms are fully furnished (TV, heater, refrigerator, VCR player, CD/cassette player, and comfort/shower room). Doing laundry is very convenient, too, because there are 24-hour laundry rooms on every floor. There's a music lounge (with musical instruments and karaoke) for the bored. There's a fitness center/gym for the health and fitness buffs! There's an internet room for Net addicts like me. Anyway, my room is on the 11th floor. All the rooms have really big windows that afford us a magnificent view of a large part of Kansai City. Sitting by my window and looking out has become my favorite relaxation activity. Oh, and cycling around the place alone. :)
Our schedule for the past four days was really hectic and, well, we all know how the Japanese are when we talk about time. As soon as we arrived, there was an orientation and briefing. It was great to see some familiar SSEAYP faces. Crystal (a friend and SSEAYP batchmate from Singapore) has said, "it's sort of a homecoming for us." About 75% of us are alumni of SSEAYP. It's truly a homecoming for us, I think, also because Japan is the home of SSEAYP. I really appreciate Japan's efforts for their youth, as well as the youth of other countries.
On the second day, we went to the Osaka Youth Marine Center. We saw lots of young people (from elementary to tertiary levels) enjoying this facility. We got to interact with them a little. I was so thankful I studied Nihongo. On that day, we went rowing, single-hand yachting and kayaking the whole day. Everything was so interesting for me because it was my first time to try these things. It was a really exhausting day, but it was completely all right with everyone. Everything about the activities spelled F-U-N!!!
The next day, in the morning, we attended the International Youth Forum where every contingent was given a chance to present what is gained from international exchange programs (like the Pan-Pac) and how we could all help our nations and the world and how we could share whatever it is that we gain from these exchanges to our people. In the afternoon, we went to a really nice park and had a cook-out. In this activity, every contingent was asked to prepare or cook two or more native delicacies so that (almost) everyone could get a taste of the different countries' food/specialties. We, Filipinos, prepared chicken adobo and sinigang na hipon. We also had sweets from all over the Philippines. We were so proud of the food we prepared because everyone liked them. Ours was one of the few that got finished almost as soon as the eating started. It was really fun going from one contingent to another and trying all kinds of food and partying, of course.
Yesterday, we had our courtesy calls to the most important agencies in the Osaka prefecture. We had lunch inside the Osaka Castle compound. The Osaka Castle was a sight to behold. And, the food was just great! We also went to the Osaka Commemorative Expo '70 Park, where there was this really beautiful and big Japanese Garden. There, we had 'tea ceremony'. In the evening, we had the Welcome Party, where each contingent was made to perform a number. It was quite informal so we weren't that pressured about the performances that we gave. We were, in fact, free to join other contingents when they performed. I, of course, joined the Japanese because they performed SMAP's "Sekai Ni Hitotsu Dake No Hana" (my current favorite Japanese song).:) I just have to mention that the sushi they served at the party were the best ones I've had in my whole life!
There's also this very funny observation that I had. Being so used to Asian English (especially Japanese English, I've been talking to a lot of them in my part-time job and I have many, many Japanese friends) and American English (on TV and in movies), at first, I had such a hard time understanding the Australian delegates. The others would have such a hard time understanding the Japanese, but in my case, I could understand them perfectly well. And also, because we are around so many delegates with quite similar accents (Malaysians, Bruneians, and Singaporeans), my accent has been affected. I don't sound very Filipino anymore. This happened to me in SSEAYP as well. That's why most people would always mistake me for a Malaysian. This phenomenon (called 'assimilation') is very interesting, if not funny, and very useful to an English language major like me because the study of the variations/varieties of English is one of the most important fields in our course. This is all very, very interesting! This program is (will be) a great venue for me to think about my studies and, probably, start thinking about my thesis topic! Hehehe:)
So, basically, that's how my days in Japan have been so far. One very important thing that I realized is that I like Osaka a lot better than Tokyo or any other place in Japan I've ever been to (I've only been to Tokyo, Okinawa and Chiba, by the way). The place is just so inviting because the people are sooo friendly and warm. Life is more laid back compared to Tokyo life. And, well, Tokyo is really crowded and all. Things are cheaper here, too. If I were to choose a place in Japan where I want to live in, I'd definitely choose Osaka! I've fallen in love with the place... Japan, for me, comes second only to my dear MSU! And now, Osaka, is my "first love" in Japan! :)