Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I'm a yellow belt! Master Yoon came back to today and announced that we would have our belt test at the end of class. Michael went first because he already had his yellow belt. He performed his patterns well and received a green belt. Tedd and I then did the first pattern and some kicks and were both awarded yellow belts. Hurray!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Taekwondo: 태권도

We were supposed to have our first belt test last Thursday but it was unfortunately postponed because Master Yoon had to be out of town. We found this out in the middle of class and my excitement and energy deflated almost immediately. I performed horribly for the last half hour of class and felt so dispirited that I took Friday off.

I approached Monday's class with mild enthusiasm and was surprisingly motivated by having to do sprints. Wednesday's class was my favorite. Master John brought out mats and we started off with somersaults and gradually advanced to cartwheels, roundoffs and jumps. We practiced hand stands that segued into back bends, designed to prepare us for flips, and ended with jumping side and back kicks. How often do adults get to do cartwheels?! I loved it!

Tomorrow will be the first time I make 5 classes in a row. When I started I was too sore to go all five days. Progress!
Japan: Revisited in Pictures

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Nara is a small city about a 90 minute train ride away from Kyoto. Its most famous temple, the largest wooden structure in the world, houses a similarly imposing bronze Buddha. I trailed a group of female monks into the temple and watched them bow and take pictures just like all the other tourists. Tame deer populate the large park that surrounds the temple and local women sell biscuits so tourists can feed the deer. The deer don’t bother the visitors, except when they suspect someone is in possession of these biscuits. I saw an eager deer nose around in a woman’s purse. He seemed satisfied enough with eating her map.

Monday, October 01, 2007


Shops were filled with t-shirts that said "I Love Kyoto". Although I would never buy something so touristy, I fully share the sentiment. I had a wonderful time in Kyoto; it's a beautiful city and the people seem so elegant and refined. I was occasionally lulled into the idea that I had plenty of time to see everything I wanted to and other times I was keenly aware that 6 days was insufficient to see all that Kyoto holds. I approached my week as a leisurely vacation rather than as an ambitious trip and still managed to see the major sites.

Imperial Palace

Shrine; woman ringing bell

A stereotype about travel in Japan is that everything is very expensive. It is true that traveling in Japan is more of a strain on the wallet than going to other Asian countries. The filling lunch in China that costs a couple of dollars might cost nearly ten in Japan. But on a more international scale, my expenditures were on par with what I’d face in Paris or London. (Though maybe traveling in Paris and London right now would seem like more of a shock because of the terrible exchange rate. The Korean Won- Japanese Yen exchange rate is currently favorable.) Entrance fees to temples and shrines reached 5 dollars at times, but it was clear that the money was well spent on restoration and maintenance. An all-day bus pass was $4.50 and the 90 minutes train ride from the airport to Kyoto was $25. The train fare seemed like a lot to me, but I was delighted with the service. The airport train bound for Kyoto was waiting on the tracks but everyone was standing neatly in a line outside the doors. Why? Well someone has to clean the train of course! Attendants went into the cars armed with vacuums, dusters and trash bins to clean the cars before the next set of passengers got on. The seats also mechanically turned the other direction so no one would be riding backwards. The Taiwanese woman standing behind me agreed that this was quite impressive. I consistently found Japanese service to be impeccable, although I get the sense that good service is a Japanese way and is not used to validate high prices.

I stayed in two hostels in Kyoto. The second hostel had a reasonably priced single room but was unavailable for my first two nights. I thoroughly enjoyed having my own room but I liked the social atmosphere of the first hostel better. On the first evening alone, I met people from Germany, France, Taiwan, Italy and Korea. I was surprised to find a young Korean woman traveling alone since this was an important holiday week in Korea. She said her family didn’t know that she was in Japan! She lied to her father and told him that she had too much work to do and couldn’t come home. I met Katri, a wonderful Finnish woman, on my second night and we established our friendship by going to a traditional Japanese bathhouse. Since I would be at a different hostel, we arranged to meet in front of a shrine the following evening. After waiting over a half hour, I figured she wasn’t coming and disappointedly went on my way. I did a bit of shopping and got some food before deciding to return to my hostel. I missed the bus by less than a minute and ran into Katri not 30 feet later! She was so surprised to see me that she started talking in Finnish. We were both happy to have randomly bumped into each other and spent the rest of the evening chatting in a funky little jazz bar. Her bus got caught in traffic and she was about a half an hour late to meet me. I must have just missed her… How fortunate that our paths crossed later that evening!

The Ryoanji Temple has a famous Zen garden. It is said that the longer one stares at the simple arrangement of 15 stones, the more one’s imagination wanders. Unfortunately, stones do not inspire me, no matter how artfully they’re arranged. I prefer the lushness of gardens and the tranquility of ponds. For this reason, I particularly enjoyed my lunch at the restaurant within the temple grounds. Two other guests arrived just after me and the three of us sat in respectful silence, gazing at the peaceful scene around us while slowly eating boiled tofu (dipped in soy sauce with minced ginger and scallions) and drinking Japanese tea.

After lunch, I made my way to Arashiyama, an outer area of the city which is famous for its bamboo forests. I had been looking forward to going here and the experience did not disappoint.

more to come...
Reasons to Be Excited

Normally I'm not so excited to get back into the swing of things after a great vacation, but this week is shaping up to be exceptional:

1. I began my fourth week of training for taekwondo this morning and have my first belt test on Thursday.

2. Thursday also happens to be my 24th birthday. Interestingly, this will be my third birthday abroad.

3. I found out the results today of a province-wide UN speech and essay competition that 16 of my students participated in about a month ago. I taught extra classes to help the students prepare and have been eagerly awaiting the results. Seven of our students placed in the top nine, including places one through four! The first place winner goes to the UN in New York. Needless to say, I'm thrilled that my students did so well!

4. The cancellation of my 9 to 11 class tonight is allowing me to write this blog entry and to begin writing about my trip to Japan.

So far so good!