Remember blogging?

Blogging was that thing you did when people read articles instead of headlines, editorials instead of 25 THINGS YOU'LL NEVER BELIEVE, and books instead of 10 MIND-BLOWINGLY AWESOME FACTS TO MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER ABOUT YOURSELF.

Blogging was that thing you did when friends read about your life in chunks bigger than than FB statuses and longer than tweets; when they liked what you wrote instead of Like what you post.

Damn, remember those days, though?

I remember that strange, ticklish curiosity that came with the anticipation of reading about someone's day even after you just finished spending that same day with them. I remember getting to know close friends through two voices: their funny, friendly, in-person voice, and their reflective, thoughtful, more formal blogging voice.

Just a nostalgic thought.


A Letter to the Present

Dear 25-year-old self,

It’s the year 2023. I write to you from the future. I guess you’ve figured that out.

I’m you at 35 years old. Hey, you’re still alive. I don’t know why that’s always your first question—you sometimes wonder if you’re a bit of a hypochondriac, but then you wonder if labeling yourself as a hypochondriac makes you not one (like how self-identifying as crazy makes one sane enough to not be crazy) or if diagnosing yourself as a hypochondriac is just one of the deliciously “meta” coincidences of life.

Anyway, hi, you’re alive and well.

What does being a middle-aged person feel like?

A Message from the Present

Dear 15-year-old self,

It's the year 2013. I write to you from the future.  I know that in the year 2003, you're contemplating many morbid yet genuinely curious thoughts of life, death, mortality, and purpose, so I may as well get this bit out of the way: you are still living, breathing... and still writing vain self-reflective blog posts, apparently. 

Allow me to introduce myself. I'm you, ten years from now. You survived high school, graduated university, and you have a job. Spoiler alert: you're a teacher. Glad to have gotten all that out of the way. Now, I know that my revealing all of that bears little to no weight on you right now because until every single one those things comes to fruition in the next 10 years, you'll continue to writhe and worry about each thing and then turn around and say that it's because you fussed and fretted about every little detail that you were able to survive, graduate, and what have you. There's nothing I can do about that.

Moving on, then.


How to Enjoy Your Day without Trying Very Hard

My internal monologue in the morning: 'I like her, she's nice. F*ck that guy, what's his problem?'

My outer monologue, yes, monologue, at work in the morning: "Good morning!" smile. "How are you?" smile. "Do you know the answer? ...Oh, so close!" smile. "Have a good day!" smile.

It's ridiculous, and I mean, absolutely ludicrous how far ahead in the game you can get with these simple steps. You can literally draw a line down the middle of my staff roster and divide everyone by who I like and who I don't like--all the people who I like have one basic thing in common, and it can be summed up in this list. Here's a preview: "Good morning! Have a good weekend! Gosh darn, class was hard today, wasn't it?" smile. smile. smile.

And here it is:

How to Enjoy Your Day without Trying Very Hard:


In the Light of the Super moon

A superstar / beautiful, charming, lovely, full breasted /
meets a superhero / red, blue, strong and full chested / 
at the supermarket / bright, bustling, loud, and fully stocked.
Together they fight supernatural things / the haunted, the mysterious / their force brings forth shock.
They make love 'neath the Super moon / round, yellow, now at its fullest/
They are a superlative / the best, the most, the biggest and brightest.
Until a supernova swallows them all / the moon, the sky, their green and blue planet /
Proving that one and for all, it is mightiest.

Photograph by Quynh Ton, Your Shot via National Geographic

Your Time Left on Earth: One Day vs. 30 Years vs. One Hundred Years

This week's Freakonomics podcast had listeners weigh costs and benefits of a different kind of economics question: if you had a 50/50 chance of getting Huntington's disease in the future and you were given a chance to take a test to confirm whether or not you will get the disease, would you take the test? Currently there are no treatments or preventative measures for the disease (excluding choosing not to have children thereby choosing to prevent passing the gene to the next generation).

If I knew that I carried the gene, would I change the way I live my life? Sure, I wish that my family could all be together. But I want to see the world. I also want my independence. I love, miss, and appreciate my family because of our limited time together. I wouldn't be anywhere else than I am right now if I knew that I carried the gene.


Do Americans Eat Rice?

“Do Americans like rice?” an earnest Japanese student asked me. As an American and an ex-pat living in Japan, I’m constantly at odds with questions about American culture and tradition, such as  questions about food, dress, religion, politics, education, health care, language, tradition, family values, pop culture, rock culture, poop culture, public transportation, large suburban homes and bustling sleepless cities, Lady Gaga, First Lady Obama, taxes, taxi rates, Disneyland, and Disney World. I was hired to serve as a high school English teacher and post facto international ambassador for Japanese students’ culture-related questions.

We Japanese take off our shoes when we enter a building. Do Americans do that?
We Japanese use chopsticks and many small dishes when we eat. How do Americans eat?
We Japanese eat rice with every meal. Do Americans eat rice?

Some of their questions are easy to answer:

The Simple Life

Just as a skilled photographer helps us appreciate the startling beauty in the most simple, everyday sights, so to must we never forget the good in simplicity.

When I was working in Oakland, it was a struggle to show up to work because it was so. Damn. Hard. I’m not going to get into that too much. Now, it’s sometimes hard to show up to work because I feel so purposeless… On more days than I’m willing to admit, I show up at 8:14 (just barely on time… not that it matters), sit at my desk and do as I please (read a book, write, study Japanese, surf the web…… … … yup, that about covers it), and clock out at 4:00. I usually get bored out of my mind, sitting in silence for 7 hours and 45 minutes without any tasks or responsibilities. Assistant Language Teachers are often ridiculously under-utilized in JET.

Today, I procrastinated in showing up for work. At the last minute, my stomach felt ever-so-slightly uncomfortable, at which point I contemplated calling in sick. Despite this, I slowly marched through my routine in getting ready for work.


The Pursuit of --

You're pursing something.
Right now, you're working towards something.
You want it badly.
What is it? Where is it?
Why do you want it? 
How long have you wanted it?
Will it make you happy? Are you unhappy unless you have it?
Will it fulfill you? Are you unfulfilled until you have it?

What do you want? It's hazy now. Why do you want it? It's hazy now.
It's happiness. It's a better job. It's a healthy relationship. It's more time. It's quality time. It's work. It's recreational time.
It's elusive. It comes in and out of focus.
You're happy. You want to be happier. You have like. You want love. You have a home. You want the world. You have the world. You want a home.


We Run the World

Running has helped me in so many ways throughout my travels.

It has helped me get to know my new hometown. My brain and feet connect the scattered landmarks throughout the city and I feel safe and comfortable in my new environment. When I run in a city, I feel like I own the city. I run this town.

When I Grow Up,

I want to teach for 30 years
travel the world
be a published writer
learn how to cut hair and cut people's hair from my garage
host a radio podcast talk show
orbit earth in a space shuttle. maybe go to another orbiting body in space
then retire and become a mail carrier.
I would die a happy woman.

The thing that really gets me juiced is knowing that all of this is entirely possible (that's what's nice about being a 20-something-year-old).


A Weekend in the Woods in Nikko, Tochigi, Japan

I'd say that the first half of Golden Week 2013 was a success--Brian, Noey, and I traipsed across the width of Japan to see a waterfall, mysterious woodland animals, light snowfall (at the end of April!), and clusters of golden, colorful, estately shrines nestled away in the woods. We even managed to squeeze in a morning hike at the tail end of our trip.


Things That Surprised Me as an American-Gaijin: Inaka Japan

Things I Learned about “Inaka” (Countryside) Life in Japan

1.     You need Japanese to interact with people in Japan. Doh! When applying for my job position, I was told that I don’t need to know Japanese for the job. In reality, I do need Japanese to communicate with my principal, vice principal, students, and well, everyone else at my schools. Oh, and everyone else in the community (the bus driver, the grocery store cashier, the bank teller, the waiter at the restaurant...). When I go to Tokyo and other big cities, I’m able to talk to some store owners and some people at the train station and airport in broken Japanese and simple English, but daily life in inaka Japan without Japanese is really difficult. 


Things That Surprised Me as an American-Gaijin: Japanese Public School Basics

Japanese School Culture vs. American School Culture

1.    Teachers are expected to come to school every day of the year, save for holidays; teachers continue to come to school throughout winter, spring, and summer vacation. If you want to take time off, you’re expected to take paid leave on previous scheduled and approved days (scheduled by you, approved by your vice principal).
2.    You must have a pair of indoor shoes to wear at school. You’re expected to take off your shoes at the entrance, store them away in a locker, and wear indoor shoes around the school.


To Be or Not To Be “One of us! One of us!”

When I first arrived in Japan, a fellow expat whom I had just met invited me to dinner. Of my many bewildered, culture-shocked questions, one was “are there any real consequences to breaking social etiquette rules in Japan? Like, will I lose my job or be barred from teaching some classes?”

She said no, as long as I’m following the terms of my contract.

“Then why should I care?” was my follow-up question.

She laughed. “And that attitude is what makes you an American” (She’s half British, half Trinidad and Tobegan).


Tokyo travels – Big City, Small World

32 hours of reuniting with friends from home, making friends with friends of friends from home, devouring new music, and exploring cityscapes of all shapes and colors.

12:00 – Walk through a bustling market place. Stop for sweet bean paste snacks. Continue short pilgrimage to the Sensoji temple. Have curry udon lunch at a quaint, cozy restaurant.

3:00 – Traipse Roppongi, the neighborhood of architecture and design

4:30 – Check in at a budget, upscale hotel.

7:00 – Walk in the rain. Indian curry, basmati rice, kebabs, naan, and chai tea for dinner.

8:00 – Walk in heavier rain. Arrive at a venue very, very, very reminiscent of San Francisco. Attend a show of sweet, sultry, soulful, singer/songwriter music.


Wandering Seoul and Toeing the DMZ

This trip was full of adventures for many reasons besides the fact that Seoul is the second largest metropolis in the world (to Tokyo--w00t!). First, I've become a bit of a country bumpkin in the small town of Taira, Iwaki in Fukushima, Japan--everything from the palaces to the coffee shops, stylish boutiques, street food, diversity of street swellers, tourists, and businessmen amused and amazed me. Second, it was my first time in an full-fledged, honest-to-goodness backpackers hostel, complete with the multilingual young travelers from all over the world, communal bathrooms and living spaces, and co-ed bunk bed dorm rooms.


The Great Tohoku Earthquake, Two Years Later, and Me

Japan's flags are at half mast today.

Two years ago, on March 11, 2011, I heard about the horrible disaster that struck Japan. I was so horrified about the news that for two days, I couldn't bring myself to turn on the TV or read any articles about the disaster. I didn't know why hearing about this earthquake, tsunami, and breakdown of nuclear power plants struck me the way that it did. Perhaps it was because it happened to my birth country. Perhaps it was because I feared for the safety of my dad, mom, and sister, who were all overseas at the time. Or perhaps I felt a particular pang in my gut because by a strange twist of fate, I would end up in the very place where this disaster struck only a year and a few months later.

I live in Fukushima, one of the prefectures affected by the great earthquake, the devastating tsunami, and the radiation that continues to leak throughout the area. All of my coworkers were here during the great earthquake. They all have stories of taking shelter in the school, taking care of students, with nothing but blankets, rice, cups of noodles, and limited water, for five days. They have stories of abandoning their homes and having to start over. Other students have stories of losing loved after they became trapped under fallen buildings or got swept away by the ocean.

Many of my foreigner friends were also here during that time. During those confusing days, they didn't know if they should stay, continue to go to work, and help their neighbors, if they should flee to Tokyo, or if they should flee the country. Afterwards, they didn't know if it was more important (more right?) to come back or to take care of themselves and stay away from Japan.

By forces I still cannot understand--perhaps because I wasn't here myself or because I am a foreigner and forever outside of the deep love, nationalism, compassion, and work ethic of the Japanese people--Japan continue to recover from its damage and loss from two years ago.

What part do I play by being here now?

I am trying to help in bringing a sense of things returning to normal for my students. The number of foreigners has dropped greatly since the disaster; last year, my students did not have a foreigner English teacher. I listen to others share their stories; I hope that with every retelling, they're able to heal a little bit more and come to grips with the aftermath of the earthquake. Tourism in Tohoku has dropped and many businesses have been forced to close; I hope to send the message abroad that life persists here in Tohoku, that this area shall not be abandoned for forgotten. I hope to learn from my neighbors' fortitude in rebuilding their lives that were swept away in an instant. I want to remember that big events happen to us and can throw us for a loop no matter how much we try to plan and how many precautions we take--at which point, there's little more we can do than deal with the consequences one day at a time. I'm here in Fukushima despite many friends and family members' warnings and pleas not to come here. I didn't necessarily think that I could do anything big here to change anyone's life, but I did know that no matter where in the world I go, I can't foresee grand events or disastrous events. I was given an opportunity to come work in a new environment--a place that would offer more personal growth than I've ever experienced--so I took it. I'm glad I took it. I'm glad that I'm here.

Indeed, I have met people who inspire me with the obstacles they've overcome, their attitude, and their lifestyles. I am learning to look at my own life with a different perspectives--both because I live in a foreign
country and because tragedy is so fresh here.



Running and the Happiest Days of My Life

“What? I thought that the marathon started at 3 p.m.!” I said. “April, it started at 9 a.m.. You missed it.” a hazy, familiar, yet unfamiliar figure said. “OLWEJFLAIFJAISJN NOOOOOOOOOOOO...”

I wake up. Darkness. ‘Whew, just a nightmare. Wait. The marathon is today. OMG DID I OVERSLEEP?!’

Check clock. 2:31 a.m. No, I haven't overslept.


“OK, here I am, bright and early, ready to run the other half of this marathon!” I said. “What are you doing here? The marathon was yesterday.” said familiar, unfamiliar person. “Yeah, I ran the first ten miles yesterday, now I’m here to run the other half of the marathon,” I said. “You can’t do that, you have to run it all in one day. Plus, you overslept, the second half of the marathon was at 9 a.m. today. But you can’t run the second half of the marathon because you have to run it all in one day.” “What?!” I said. “THAT MAKES NO SENSE! OMG I OVERSLEPT.”

I wake up. Darkness. Check clock. 3:05 a.m.

“Alright, I’m here! 9 a.m., let’s do this marathon!” I run the marathon. I cross the finish line. “I did it!” “April, you are disqualified, you forgot your race number at home.” I look down. And so I did. “NOOOOOOO...!”

I wake up. Darkness. 3:35 a.m.

Alarm ringing. 5:45 a.m. Real life. ‘Did I finish the race? How did I do? Did I oversleep? What day is it today?’

Sunday. Race day.


Today is real, waking life, race day. The weather is gorgeous—the nicest it has ever been all winter. Last week, it snowed twice, rained three times, and hailed once. Every morning, the wind blew until my knuckles were chapped and every night the wind howled and rattled my bedroom window. Every day after work, I hid away from the world in the shelter of my home. Every day for two solid weeks, I hid away from marathon training. Today, I am nervous that I won’t finish the race. ‘Well, that’s what the medics are here for,’ were my encouraging thoughts to myself.

I mosey about the starting area with Brian. I debate whether I want to keep on all of my layers of clothing—my long-‐sleeved compression shirt, my long-‐sleeved jersey, my windbreaker, running gloves, fleece tights, cotton sweat pants, running hat, and running socks. Men around me are wearing flimsy running shorts that show off their tanned, toned legs and, well... everything else in the below-‐the-‐waist area.

I give Brian my down parka and I decide to keep all my running clothes. It’s how I trained, it’s how I’ll run.

I run into and greet a foreigner friend of mine. We chat. I run into a coworker Japanese English teacher. We greet each other “ganbatte kudasai” (“please do your best”). I run into a coworker from another school. I run into four Japanese friends whom I met at previous races. I run into another coworker.

I start to loosen up. I feel excited. I think about all the teachers who, in the past couple of weeks, approached me at school to wish me luck on this day. My principal actually made an announcement at the whole-‐staff meeting when I wasn’t there about my participation in this race. One teacher even gave me a gift (“April-‐sensei. This is a Japanese energy snack. You tear it open here with your teeth and then eat it while you’re running to get more energy.” At least, that’s what I imagined he was trying to say to me, based on my shallow understanding of Japanese and his gestures).

It’s time to get in position at the starting line. I look for my time bracket. 3 hours and below... 3 to 3.5 hours... 3.5 to 4 hours... 4 to 4.5 hours... and then nothing. ‘Huh? Did they not bother splitting up those of us who expect to finish in longer than 4.5 hours?

I turn the corner and am greeted by a herd of thousands of nervous runners. Here it is. 4.5 to 5 hours... and 5 hours (‘and more’, it silently, politely implied). Unlike our counterparts in the faster time brackets, these runners were warmly clothed, standing around idle and nervous rather than stretching or jogging in place, and were strapped with water, energy gels, nuts, and sports drink pouches. My people.

Canons or guns of some sort fire six times. Go time!

“Ei-‐pu-‐ri-‐ru! Gan-‐ba-‐re!” (‘April! Do your best!’) I hear someone cheer for me from the sidelines. A student? A coworker? I’m getting fired up. I smile. I run.

After the first three kilometers, I had already run past four coworkers, students, or friends who came out that morning just to cheer for me and the 5,000 other participants that day. “This is one of the happiest moments of my life,” I think to myself. This is the second marathon I’ve run, and the tenth (or so) race I’ve run overall, but this is the first time that I’ve had so many people cheer for me.

I high-‐five a line of little old Japanese grannies who stand side by side on the sidewalk with their hands out, gauntlet-‐style. I high-‐five the preschool and elementary school children who are screaming their lungs out. I wave at the spectators holding handmade signs encouraging us to “ganbappe!” or “do your best!” in Iwaki dialect.

I run and run and run. I am amazed by the food set up at the aid stations—besides the usual water, sports drinks, and banana slices, the volunteers have set up balls of sticky rice, cherry tomatoes, strawberries, individually wrapped pieces of chocolate, hot miso soup, and a Japanese snack called oden, which runners actually stop to eat with chopsticks.

My leg of the race feels like a Halloween celebration: I am running just fast enough that I am alongside people who are experienced enough to run a marathon for fun, but slow enough that all these people were running elaborately-‐themed costumes. I see Doraemon and Pikachu. I see a fleet of Power Rangers. One man is running with a guitar and singing the whole way. Neighbors come out of their houses and stand at the sidelines to distribute hard plum candy to runners.

The race route takes me through businesses of Iwaki, then forestry, our beautiful the beach, our ports, and finally, our seaside aquarium. The waves are gently crashing. The breeze is gentle. The sunshine is friendly. My eyes well up with tears at the sight of storefront banners displayed on the vacant seaside shops—reminders of the tsunami which, less than two years ago, devastated this very area during the Great Tohoku Earthquake. Today, the seafront stores are rebuilt and restored, appearing hopeful for a bright future.

At 20 kilometers, I run to the beat of taiko drums. At 30 kilometers, I hear the bluesy wailing of a high school big band jazz band. Every few kilometers, I run past another spectator who calls out my name. Finally, at 40 kilometers, I hear the frantic screaming of my name and see a camera in my face—it’s my neighbor, the girl who has become one of my new best friends in Japan. “Two kilometers to go, April! You can do it!”

My legs are stiff, but moving. During my first race, I slowed to a near-‐stop at the 20-‐ mile mark and suffered for an hour and a half as I crept to the finish line. This year, I’m going strong at the halfway mark and not even slowing down at the 21-‐, 22-‐, 23-‐, 24-‐, and 25-‐mile marks. Pain shoots up my lower back with every step, but I keep going. When my pace seems to falter, I imagine myself engaging one more thruster for an extra energy boost and I get myself back on pace. “Five more miles... Five more miles... Five more miles... Four more miles. Four more miles. Four more miles.” I chant to myself to keep some rhythm in my strides. The less miles I have left, the more frequent my chants become: “Three more miles, three more miles, three more miles. Two more miles two more miles two more miles. Onemoremile! Onemoremile! Onemoremile!”

“Five hours, six minutes, and twenty-‐four seconds. Twenty-‐five point zero miles. Pace: 11 minutes and 35 seconds per mile.” The robotic woman’s voice on my phone app reports. My stats are a bit off because I started the app a full 5 minutes before the gun start time. I had told Brian to meet me at the finish line after about six hours. I had very low hopes for finishing the marathon at all, let alone before the hard set six hour time limit, but here I was with one mile to go at just over five hours. Brian surely wouldn’t be at the finish line by the time I finished.

“One kilometer to go!” I hear a stranger yell in Japanese. I put every last effort into picking up my feet higher, stretching my stride longer, and picking off runners who are just ahead of me. I pass one guy. I pass another guy. I pass a girl. And another guy. I see the finish line. I run and run and run. “Go April!” I hear a woman’s voice call from the side. It’s my friend who I estimate crossed the finish line an hour and a half earlier. I turn to her and she snaps a picture of me. I was smiling. I hadn’t stopped smiling for the past 5 hours (it’s what keeps me going in long runs), so I was camera-‐ready for that finish line photo. I cross the finish line.

I bow my head for a congratulatory lei, and smile and bow many more times for all of the “o-‐tsu-‐ka-‐re-‐sa-‐ma”s coming my way (“thank you for your hard work!”). I see another coworker teacher, and he congratulates me. A group of my students are working at the certificate-‐printing booth; they all excitedly greet me. It feels so good to be personally greeted by my friends and students at the finish line. I feel supported and welcome—like Iwaki is my true home and the people here all want to help me and see me succeed.

Afterwards, I meet up with Brian and show him my certificate with my race time printed on it. 5 hours, 13 minutes, 18 seconds. “I’m so proud of you,” he says, “you beat your previous time by a half hour! Imagine if you actually stuck to your training schedule, how fast you might have gone.” This comment reminds me of my friend’s comment just an moments earlier: “That’s not a bad time, April! And that’s without training all that hard!” Her personal best for a full marathon is 3 hours and 15 minutes.
The next day, I’m in the worst pain I’ve ever been after a race.

“Imagine if you had trained harder.” Their words echo in my head. The pain in my lower back and knees remind me of the same sentiment: ‘You should have worked harder.’ I wonder if, from here on out, I should take a break from running or train harder. Regret. Pain. Disappointment.

Back to work. Countless teachers whom I’ve never met approach me to congratulate me on finishing the race. One teacher leaves a gift of sweets on my desk. I wonder at how all these teachers at this school know about my participation in the race (this is not the school where the principal made the announcement). Later, I find out that my name was printed in the Fukushima-‐ken newspaper with my place in my division and my race time. I start to feel proud again.

Physical training is never easy. It was made even more difficult for me this past training season because it was interrupted by a two-‐week trip to the Philippines, a one-‐week visit by family, Brian’s arrival to Japan, and his and moving in. Oh, and need I mention having to run by flashlight in the cold dark after work, bundled up to protect myself against the wind, or skipping running altogether because of snow?

During this training season, I would sometimes sacrifice fun social times with friends in to train, rest from training, or rest for training the next morning. Other times, I sacrificed training to go on road trips, go bouldering, go ice skating, or other activities with friends.

I have no regrets from this past training season. True, my pace during the marathon is unchanged from when I ran my first half marathon two years ago. I could have/should have improved my pace by now. I could have/should have trained harder this past training season. But isn’t that always the case about running? Isn’t that what’s great about running—that you can always run faster, always run longer, and always run harder?

Since I’ve started running, I’ve made friends with people who run faster than I can ever dream of running. They invite me to races. They share running tips with me. They help me shop for winter running gear. I’m still slow by their standards, and I don’t yet train as hard as they do. But they push me. While others cheer for me and tell me “great job!” they tell me, “not bad, but you can do better.”

Ultimately, did I have a good race or did I destroy my body after pushing my body past what it is used to? Am I happy that I beat my previous time—happy that I finished at all—or am I disappointed in myself and regret not training harder?

Screw it. I’m just going to have fun with running. “Fun” means enjoying these races that bring the city together; “fun” means reveling in the satisfaction of improving my own mile time; “fun” means socializing with old and new friends who share in my interest in running; “fun” means running enough to remember how good it feels, but not so much that I miss out on other fun activities with other friends; “fun” means taking time to remember the important people in my life who got me started with running and who continue to inspire me; “fun” means remembering the time that I got close with my then-‐friend, now-‐boyfriend while training for our first marathon and remembering him asking me to be his girlfriend when I crossed the finish line. As long as I'm still having the “this is one of the happiest days of my life” feelings, I’ll keep running.


8-9 Places to Go in 2013

It's a new year--a year teeming with potential, travel, and adventure. For 2013, I've got my eyes set on Osaka, Kyoto, Okinawa, Malaysia, Indonesia, Korea, Palawan and Mindanao, and maybe India, God willing.

1. Osaka