New School Year, New Look

Yes, this is still my blog. If you've been reading from the very beginning (Nov 04), you'll know that I change my template every so often. How did you like the iPod template? On this template, you'll be able to see my profile, send me comments, and interact with my blog more like Blogger intended.

Its been a while because I've been on the road, more like on the rails, for the past ten days. Gilda and I used a Youth 18 ticket to ride the train from Nishinomiya to Hiroshima then to Tamana back to Hiroshima and then back to Nishinomiya. The trick about the Youth 18 ticket is that you can only take local and rapid trains. So our trip to Hiroshima was 6 hours and the trip to Tamana in Kyushu was almost 9 hours. Gilda and I learned the hard way that the ride can be quite stressful on an empty stomach! On the long train rides, we found that Scrabble was a great conversation starter with our seatmates. First time, we played with a graduate student who was reading scholarly articles on organic chemistry with words I couldn't even pronounce. So we had a good game with him. When we pulled it out on the trip back, our seatmate didn't speak English but we found out that he was a graduate of Kwansei Gakuin University in the 60s. What interesting connections!

In the hills of Hiroshima, we visited Gilda's dear friend Aki & family. It was valuable to see with my own eyes the town that Gilda lived in for two years. It brings a lot of warm memories to her, so now I can listen with a vivid picture of what she's talking about. We were there for a day and a half: too short to see all of her friends and co-workers. We experienced a Japanese tea ceremony as a gift from one of her former students. I was very impressed with the precise, calculated movements that the host of the tea ceremony used to serve us. This is a centuries-old tradition that is being kept alive today by cultural custodians like Kazue-san. Do you know a "cultural custodian" in your own community? What do you think that tradition contributes to the your community?

We visited the high school where Gilda worked and went out to dinner with the conversation students that Gilda used to teach. The last time Gilda was in her community of Chiyoda was 2004. Returning to a significant part of one's life for just a day isn't always enough. As we boarded the train for Kyushu island, Gilda looked out the window for some time. Perhaps she was reflecting on her life there as a JET teacher for two years: how things have changed, lives moved on, divided by an ocean. Suddenly she was able to rekindle the fire of friendship but not allow the flame to grow and warm her before moving on.

We arrived at the Tokunaga's farm in Tamana, Kumamoto Prefecture to begin our 5 days of farm work. Gilda didn't know what to expect as she'd never done WWOOF before; I knew that we'd have 6 hours of work a day and 3 delicious meals to nourish our work. As we settled into our accommodations for the night, Gilda brought up the idea of going back to Hiroshima after our farm work was done. She put in a call to her friend Akiko and got the go-ahead to come back for a visit. Gil gave me a warm smile. She had more happy moments to look forward to during whatever kind of hard or easy farm work that was in our near future.

Stay tuned for the next blog entry about our farming experience in Kumamoto, visiting an active volcano, and experiencing O-Hanami (cherry blossom viewing)!

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