Monday, November 25, 2013

Exploring the Andes

One of the best things about living in Santiago, is that you're only a couple hours from either the beach or the mountains. From the city there are lots of little hills and mountains in walking distance or a short bus ride away that we like to escape to on the weekends. One of the best areas to go hiking from Santiago is Cajon del Maipo. 

From the end of Line 4 on the metro, you can catch a bus that follows a river up into the mountains, surrounded by beautiful views of the Chilean countryside as you draw nearer to the Andes.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Exploring the crooked streets of Valparaiso

Just two hours northwest of Santiago is the port city of Valparaiso. It was built on dozens of hills right at the ocean's edge and is basically a cartographer's worst nightmare. The streets curve up the hills like snakes, and everywhere you turn there are narrow, graffiti-adorned stairways that wander off... somewhere. There's really no such thing as a direct route in Valparaiso, just lots of urban adventures.

The city is full of color, with brightly painted buildings, crumbling Spanish architecture and gorgeous street art on every surface imaginable.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Devil in the Wine Cellar

One of the more popular day trips from Santiago, is out into the vineyards surrounding the city. The best known and most tourist-y of them is called Concha y Toro and is located right on the edge of Santiago, making it easily accessible via the Metro and a short taxi ride.

Concha y Toro is an old estate house surrounded by vineyards, tucked away at the bottom of the foothills of the Andes. It's famous for having been the discovery place of a grape that was believed to be extinct, after it was killed by disease in Europe. But a few plants survived, sheltered in Chile, and now you can try them at Concha y Toro.

I visited with a group of fellow English teachers and we took the basic tour, which costs around $15 and includes two wine tastings and a souvenir wine glass. We got to see the vineyards and the wine cellars, and there was a fun story about the "devil in the wine cellar", according to which a devil protects the wine from any would-be thieves.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

El Quisco

Anna and I were recently invited to an overnight house party at the beach, in a little town directly west of Santiago called El Quisco. The house was just a couple of blocks up from the ocean and it was a great chance for us to socialize with some Chileans and fellow foreigners, and to practice a little Spanish. We had a great time chatting with people and sipping a variety of flavored pisco, a liqueur produced in Peru and Chile, with some debate over which country it originates from.

Pisco Sour, the citrusy national drink of Peru and Chile. Also available in other fun flavors, like mango, pineapple and lucuma!
El Quisco is a pretty typical small coastal town. In a lot of ways it reminded me of Southern California, with its palm trees and rocky beaches and lots of stucco and red-tile houses.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Santiago de Chile: First Impressions

The view of Santiago from Cerro Santa Lucia
It's amazing how much you can learn about a place in only a month, and how much your perspective can change in such a short amount of time. Coming to Santiago, Chile is like nothing I've ever done before; it's completely different from my experience of first arriving in Japan. In 2010 I arrived in Japan with so much knowledge about the culture, the language, the customs... of course, I still had a great deal to learn, but as I took in my new surroundings, I found so many things that I recognized from Japanese classes and books and movies.

In Chile, everything feels new to me. There's so little here that I recognize that everyday feels like an adventure. The first couple weeks especially so, when I was settling in and exploring the city and trying to understand what Chilean culture is. People would recommend things to me and say, "Oh, you have to try this, it's so Chilean!" and I would be completely mystified as to what made it unique to Chile.

The Terremoto, or "earthquake", a drink consisting of cheap wine, cheap liqueur and cheap ice cream. It's basically a nasty hangover in a plastic cup. For reasons yet unknown to me, it's meant to be "very Chilean".
But after a month in, I'm starting to put some of the puzzle pieces together. It's a slow process, but now I'm beginning to understand when someone says something is "Chilean." Here are some of my first impressions about the city and the culture:

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Week Down In N'awlins

Last month my dad had a business conference in New Orleans, a place I'd wanted to visit for a long time, so my sister, nephew and I decided to tag along for a week-long vacation in Louisiana. 

New Orleans is about an 8 hour drive from Dallas, so we packed into a rental van and road-tripped it down south. It was interesting for me to see how the geography changed as we went eastward; eastern Texas was much greener and hillier than where we live, and that eventually gave way to bayous as we got closer to New Orleans.

Our hotel was the Four Corners Sheraton right on Bourbon Street. In our ignorance, we didn't realize till we got there just what that meant. I've been to Kabuki-cho in Tokyo and the Vegas strip, but it's hard to find so much concentrated sleaziness all in one small place like you do on Bourbon Street. You'll bypass mounted policeman, hordes of drunk tourists flashing each other to get more beads and hookers dressed in pleather every color of the rainbow as you attempt to bar-hop (or just get to your hotel, like in our case.) There were bars that crunched underfoot and actually dripped on me. The key to having a good time on Bourbon Street seems to be getting so drunk you stop noticing the slime.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A-Kon 24

Despite the fact that I only had two months to prepare after returning from Japan, I somehow managed to put together a very complicated costume in time for A-Kon, the Dallas anime convention. I blame this madness on my sister Rose, who talked me into it. The costumes we made were from an MMORPG called Atlantica Online. Our friend Arika, of the blog Mega Geeks, Inc., came down from Portland to go to the con with us. It was awesome hanging out and cosplaying with her again.

The week before the con is when we usually go into last-minute panic mode. Everything must be finished in a short amount of time and this time our con week was especially grueling. Arika was a life saver and helped Rose with finishing her costume and despite an all new record high of sleep deprivation we managed to get everything finished just in time for the con.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Middle Space

When people talk about traveling, the topic of culture shock invariably comes up. Japanese people loved to ask me what surprised me the most about Japan, people back home wanted to know all about the weirdest food/fashion/vending machines/anime and my fellow foreigners loved bonding over our shared experiences of bewilderment and frustration. My post about life as a gaijin was partially about culture shock. 

Mm, nothing sounds better as a light snack than dried, whole fish.
But there is something even more bewildering and disconcerting that you very rarely hear about: reverse culture shock. It happens to people who spend a long period of time in another culture, experiencing all those jarring moments of regular culture shock and slowly becoming accustomed to them. Eventually, you become so used to your new culture that your native culture starts feeling foreign to you.

For me, it always starts at Narita as I'm waiting to board the plane home with all the other American ex-pats and tourists.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Travel Photos

I've been a very lazy blogger recently, but you can check out some of my travels and day trips via my Picasa albums. Here are some of the highlights:

Farewell Tour: Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo and Yokohama




Friday, May 10, 2013

Japan Farewell Tour

Before leaving Japan, there were a few places I had to go visit and a lot of people I wanted to see one more time. As soon as I finished work at my kindergarten in Tokyo, I caught the bullet train up to Sendai to start my "Farewell Tour" around Japan. 

I spent about a week in Sendai visiting my favorite places there, like Matsushima, and catching up with old friends. A number of us had decided to leave that March and return to our home countries, including my girlfriend and two of our friends who joined me on my farewell tour. The first stop on our trip was Osaka.

Osaka has always been one of my favorite cities in Japan. There is just something really vibrant and fun about it that makes it stand out. The people are famous for being much friendlier and more outgoing than people in other parts of Japan. Plus, Osaka has awesome food, like my favorite okonomiyaki and takoyaki restaurant, Tako Tako King. While we were in Osaka, we went to see a performance of The Count of Monte Cristo by Takarazuka, an all female musical revue. The show was so much fun, and the costumes were as sparkly as ever. We also visited Osaka-jo, the castle in the middle of Osaka city.

Friday, May 3, 2013

A small change of plans...

In my last post, which I realize was ages ago (oops!), I listed some of my goals for this year. Top among them was going to work in an international school in Europe. But for several reasons, I have decided to push that back a couple years and visit some other places first. So I'm happy to announce that I've accepted a new teaching position in Santiago, the capital city of Chile, and will be moving there at the end of June!

Santiago, my new home for the next year! Photo found here
I'm really excited about going to Chile. Latin America has been high up on my travel list for awhile, especially after my good friend Teal visited it and made me jealous with all her awesome travel photos. You can check out her photos and stories at her blog.

My main reasons for choosing to move to Chile were to pick up a new language and to see a new part of the world. I feel like learning Spanish and experiencing a new, completely different culture will help to make me more well-rounded as an individual and a better candidate for a teaching position with an international school. Also, I love hiking and outdoor sports, and Chile has got some absolutely stunning mountains- not to mention deserts, beaches and glaciers. I can't wait to go on some more backpacking adventures down there!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Plans for the New Year

My very first glimpse of Japan, in March 2010
This coming March will be my 3-year anniversary in Japan. The time has flown by, but oddly it feels like I've been here longer than just three years. So much has happened during that time: I settled into life in Sendai, explored Tohoku, became an aunt, improved as a teacher, survived a 9.0 earthquake, visited many famous places, climbed Mt. Fuji, moved to Tokyo, backpacked through Hokkaido.... and so much more. Perhaps best of all I learned a lot about myself and my own culture, and made a lot of wonderful friends. 

The unforgettable view of the sunrise on Mt. Fuji
Meeting my nephew James
Some of my favorite Eikaiwa students
Japan, and Sendai especially, feel like my home-away-from-home. I moved around a lot growing up and lived in a lot of very different places, which gives me a special appreciation for the places that I really love. Cities are like people, they have unique personalities and there are some you like and some you don't- and some you can't help falling in love with.