All Smiles in Sri Lanka

Time is running short here at the shisha cafe, so I don’t have time to tell you all about Sri Lanka except that it was one of my favourite places that I have ever visited! The reason? People were SO genuinely friendly!! They had the kindest eyes and biggest smiles I have ever seen. So, in turn, I felt myself smiling all day. It was awesome. On top of that, the food was incredible, the beach was beautiful and getting around by tuktuk all day was so much fun! I would love to return to Sri Lanka someday!!

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Singapore – Small country; HUGE city

Singapore was humid, multicultural and SO much bigger than I thought it would be!!

The reason that this was even more pronounced was because instead of having free time in this port, I was the leader of a “challenge program”. The challenge consisted of touring around Singapore, based on what the group wanted to do, speaking as much English as possible throughout the day with mini missions thrown in to keep it interesting! Think an ESL version of the Amazing Race. It was really fun! My group ended up spending most of our time in Little India, tasting sweets, buying saris, exploring temples and getting lost trying to Arab Street. For lunch we headed to Chinatown and ate chili crab while enjoying a much needed rest and a really great discussion getting to know each other. Finally, after spending some more time in Chinatown looking around, we finally headed to the iconic Merlion, but we were cutting our time so close that we had to run there from the MRT (asking directions in English every step of the way), snap some photos, briefly enjoy the view of the bay and the massive Marina Bay Sands and then run back to MRT (subway) to get back to the waterfront by the time limit. We got there with only two minutes to spare.

After my responsibilities as a leader were over I had just under two hours to explore the city on my own. Although I had spent most of the morning there with my group, I loved Little India so much that I really wanted to go back at my own pace. I went to the hawkers (food stands) and got a pulled coffee, wandered through the shops a bit more, bought a delicious samosa (!!) and was able to get my “peace picture” for Singapore. I grabbed the MRT back to the harbour front and only had about 10 minutes on wifi to wish my parents happy anniversary before passing through customs and back onto the boat. After a long day, it felt good to be “home”.

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HK

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Hong Kong was an awesome first port!

I had heard many great things about Hong Kong from friends and my mom (although her experience was dated by about 30 years), I still was not quite sure what to expect and originally, did not have any specific plans. However, I found an HK travel partner in the Spanish teacher, Edu, and together we put together a list of 3 missions for the day: 1) See HK from “The Peak” 2) Get a Hong Kong “peace picture” (a project that I will reveal at a later date) and 3) Eat dim sum. Not only did we complete all three of these things with ease – well, the Peak was easy, because we went there right away before any line up, but because we had heard of “The Cheapest Michelin-rated restaurant in the world”, we starved as we waited 1.5 hrs for dim sum, but at $7/person for a delicious meal, it was well worth it – we also ate frozen yogurt on “the escalators” (actually called “Midlevels” I believe), I mailed a postcard to my mom, we photographed some sweet street art in a cool market and drank some non-Starbucks coffee and milk tea!  The day was a total success and ended with an incredible night view from the ship as we waved goodbye to HK, Asahi beer in-hand. Yosh!

Ps. One other thing I was warned of, but did not know what to expect was “on-land sickness”. Yeah – it’s a thing. It’s a really weird thing! Especially during dim sum, I literally felt like I was swaying like I do when sitting on the ship. It was so weird.

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Departure from the Real World

**Well, this is 28 days late… SO sorry for the delay, everyone. But I have not had a moment’s rest since we left Yokohama on April 1st. But for this very limited time that I have sitting in a shisha cafe in Port Said, Egypt, I am going to try to do a bit of catching up with a few write-ups and at least one photo per post (sorry, but they are taking a long time to upload) from my first few weeks with Peace Boat. So, here we go…

Although it feels like the departure from Yokohama was forever ago, in reality, Peace Boat left Japan only a few weeks ago. But seriously, I had to check my calendar to actually believe that fact because time is no longer an organized or concrete or concept here… but I will get to that in another post. For this one, just try to imagine the buzz of excitement felt from over 800 passengers about to set sail on a 103-day trip around the world. The music, streamers and shouts of “ITEKIMASU” (bye for now) was incredible.

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Sayonara & One Second Everyday

Well, this is it guys. I leave for my round-the-world voyage in less than 24 hours. Pretty unbelievable. I am kind of freaking out right now and I have been scrambling around all day trying to get as many last minute things done, but I don’t think there is any way that I will feel 100% prepared for what I am about to begin, so I am trying to let go and just enjoy (ie, not stress) my final evening on land. So I’m off for a final meal and I leave you with this video project I started and hope to continue. Enjoy!!

[Explanation: This is one second from everyday since the day I left Canada (March 7th) until today (March 31st), the day before I leave Japan… for the world! My goal is to continue taking one second everyday for 103 days during my Peace Boat voyage to have a snap shot of this rad adventure I’m going on. Woo!]

Peace Boat Itinerary!!

I keep mentioning that this trip is taking me around the world, but you may be wondering:
“Where exactly are you going?”
Well, I am going to 21 countries located in the Northern Hemisphere.The dates listed below are when we are expected to be in each country, so feel free to “follow my footsteps” (as my Dad will be) and you can expect to see some sort of update on those days because I may actually be able to find an internet connection…
Of the above countries, I have only been to three of them:
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France! I was there in April 2010 (left) and October 2012 (right). I love the Arc de Triomphe! But I’ve never been to Le Havre. If possible, I am really hoping to visit Mont St. Michel on that stop.
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Italy! I was there in April 2010 (left) and September 2012 (right), but only visited the cities North of Rome. I am very excited to visit Naples.
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Russia! I was there in August 2012. It was such a cool experience for me because I have been wanting to see Saint Basil’s Cathedral since I was in elementary school! I was so pumped to finally see it in real life. On that trip I also spent a week in St. Petersburg, which is now one of my favourite cities, so I can’t wait to visit again…
Along with all of the other countries I have yet to see! I can not believe we set sail in two more days!! But three more sleeps, one of which I need right now…
Expect one final post before the grand departure on Monday!

Peace Boat Orientation

As I said in my last post, Peace Boat orientation began bright and early on Monday morning. However, it wasn’t actually very bright Monday morning, because it was raining, as you can see in the photo below that I snapped at 8am in Shibuya on my way to the Peace Boat office.

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Waiting to cross at the busiest intersection in the world.

When I arrived at the office, it was very surreal, because I was finally able to meet the rest of the GET (Global English Training) teachers that I had been corresponding solely via internet for the past couple months. We began with ice breakers, talking about how we all made our way to Peace Boat, which was a very cool way to get to know each other and all of our very different paths to this point. Following the icebreakers, the rest of the day was filled with meeting more awesome Peace Boat staff and receiving a TON of information. It was all very exciting information, but quite a lot to take in, leaving us all pretty exhausted. Good thing we had some pretty cozy capsules to crawl into at the end of the day…

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Wooden capsule in Shinjuku.

On the last day of orientation, all fifty members of the Peace Boat staff were brought together for some workshops. For lunch, we broke off into groups to eat and find three things in common among us. Our group bought some bento boxes and took them to the park to eat them under the beautiful cherry blossoms!!

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Sakura — like pink snow!

 While our group got along very well, we did not seem to have much in common at all!! There was always one person who would differ from the rest. It was actually pretty hilarious. In the end, the three things we had in common were:

  1. We have all been to Okinawa, Kyoto and Osaka.
  2. We all like to drink water.
  3. We all like funny stories about cockroaches!!
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Yup. We were definitely a special group. Haha.

Upon returning, we listened to everyone else’s common things. They were also pretty funny.

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This group did NOT have height in common.

At the end of the last day, we all went out together for a celebratory dinner and had a final hurrah while we are still on land. At the end of it, most of us were still in disbelief it was really happening…

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Well, at least Sarah & I were… Edu was pretty relaxed about the idea, because he’s done it once before.

So, that was the week of orientation. Today was a free day to spend collecting items we still may need or working on some things while we still have internet. Part of my day was spent doing those things, but the highlight was definitely seeing my good high school friend, Nanae! We met up for lunch and caught up on our lives over the past four years…

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It was lovely.

Now, I am back in my hostel and about to head to bed, but not before I do one more quick post. So, do read on…

Goodbye Gunma, Hola Tokyo

The departure from Gunma began early. As in, 5:30am early. My lovely host, Jenn, had a school enkai (celebration drinking party) to attend which departed for Yokohama at 7:00am.  So, if we had to be up early, Jenn and I thought we might as well have a rocking good farewell breakfast before parting ways. And rocking good it was! Jenn was in charge of the smoothies and I made French toast!

Two facts for you: Japanese bread is the BEST for making French Toast.... And smoothies, yeah, they taste better from Japanese beer mugs.
Two facts for you: Japanese bread is the BEST for making French Toast…. And smoothies, yeah, they taste better from Japanese beer mugs.

And then, sadly, part ways we did. Luckily, though, not for too too long, though. I hope to see Jenn, and the rest of Gunma, again in July upon returning from Peace Boat. But until then, sayonara and お元気で!

Best host ever.
Best host ever.

After leaving Gunma, I made a stop in Kumagaya (Saitama prefecture) to see one of my past co-workers who now lives there and was kind enough to show me around the area!

We went to Gyoda city museum which is located in a reconstructed Gosankaiyagura castle.
We went to Gyoda city museum which is located in a reconstructed Gosankaiyagura castle.
It was very cool seeing all of the history inside the castle and then seeing the historic costumes in real life outside of the castle!
It was very cool seeing all of the history inside the castle and then seeing the historic costumes in real life outside of the castle!

When I finally did reach Tokyo, I spent the afternoon hanging out with one of my good friends from university, Saori. We lounged around in her very chique Tokyo apartment, catching up on the past two years of our lives while sipping on milk tea and watching some pretty hilarious Japanese TV shows. Oh, how I`ve missed them. And her!

For dinner, we called up our other university friend, Issa, and headed out to a Mexican restaurant in Shinbashi called Don Blanco. We had a delicious dinner and a hilarious time catching up. And at the end, our awesome waitress gave us some pretty sweet hats for our group picture:

Hola, amigos!!
Hola, amigos!!

And as we were about to leave, I found out that the other waiter in the restaurant was from a city near Acapulco, which is one of the stops on Peace Boat, so I asked for some recommendations, which he graciously wrote down for me. Gracias, Roberto!!

The awesome staff at Don Blanco!
The awesome staff at Don Blanco!

After a long day, and both Issa and Saori needing to work on Sunday, we called it a night. But not before giving the very shy Issa a huge bear hug!

Bye, Issa! I love your soft leather jacket!!
Bye, Issa! I love your soft leather jacket!!

Today (Sunday) consisted of: sleeping in (due to the major lack of sleep yesterday), preparing some documents for Peace Boat, buying some last-minute items in Shibuya and enjoying a final dinner with Saori.

The cherry blossoms (sakura) are in full-bloom here in Tokyo!
The cherry blossoms (sakura) are in full-bloom here in Tokyo!
A final dinner of really delicious curry soup at a local restaurant in the very chique Jiyugaoka area.
A final dinner of really delicious curry soup at a local restaurant in the very chique Jiyugaoka area.

And now I am off to bed because Peace Boat orientation begins tomorrow morning!! Woo!

 

 

Home Away from Home – Pt.2

Well, Annaka, despite the foot injury which kept me bound up on Sunday & Monday, it was an incredible week!! Here are a ton of photos to sum up what I did this week. Enjoy!

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GREAT day of being climbed on by first graders at Gokan elementary school.
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Bonded over Pokemon with a third grade student during recess, telling him that my fave was Ditto, which is known as Metamon in Japanese, and then getting him to spell it out in English. He felt more comfortable trying after he saw that I did my best in writing it out in Japanese ;D
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Tuesday night began with these two cool kids, catching up over some Asahi and yakitori at a cool vintage izakaya.

*During karaoke, I was exposed to the full craziness of Kyari Kyari Pamyu Pamyu. Check out her bizarre “PON PON” video here.

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Post-karaoke we indulged in some plastic-bottled organic 500yen wine. Hilarious.
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The next day, Chris and I went for a BBQ at the house of a Japanese family I befriended during my time in Japan. I think Chris was a bit more excited about Super Smash Bros. on the wii than the actual BBQ…
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And I was super excited to see this guy!! Only ten years old, but brilliant at English.
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On Thursday, I tagged along with Emily for lunch at Haraichi elementary school and we became celebrities, signing all of the students’ school bags! Amazing.
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Emily’s a pretty rad teacher!
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And I’m a pretty decent monkey.

*And if you were wondering, the answer is:

Yes, when you aren’t fluent in the language, funny faces are a requirement for teaching at elementary schools in foreign countries.

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More awesome kids from Haraichi.
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Fave photo of the day, though, goes to this kid, who was actually in about 90% of all the pics I took that day.
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Thursday night was a delicious dinner and Japanese curling.
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It also included one more round of taiko practice! Man, I love this group!!

On Friday I went for one last visit to Nichu... where everyone is masked because of hay fever!
On Friday I went for one last visit to Nichu… where everyone is masked because of hay fever!
Friday night, I went for karaoke with some friends and ran into some sixth grade students celebrating graduation. It was a lovely *guzen* (coincidence).
Friday night, I went for karaoke with some friends and ran into some sixth grade students celebrating graduation. It was a lovely *guzen* (coincidence).

Home Away from Home – Pt.1

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One of the main reason that I was so excited when I found out that I got the teaching position on Peace Boat was because it meant that I would be able to return to my “home away from home” of Annaka (located in Gunma prefecture), the city where I lived and worked as an English teacher from August 2010 until August 2012. I arrived on Tuesday evening so that I would be able to make it to my students’ graduation on Wednesday morning. This was really important to me because similar to North American JHS, Japanese JHS has three grades, so when I started teaching two years ago, they were the babies of the school and I saw them mature into the seniors at the school. Seeing them graduate two days ago really brought closure to my time in Annaka… and it was just so nice to see them all again!! I was met with many “Eeeeeeh?!” (the Japanese sound for shock and bewilderment) and excited smiles and hugs, which I, too, was showing to them.

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 Other than the highlight of graduation, being back in Annaka for a full 10 days has given me the chance to visit my elementary schools! The first of which, I visited on Friday:

I love Isobe!
I love Isobe!

 

Kawaii!
Kawaii!

And then the weekend consisted of:

Plum blossom viewing
Plum blossom viewing

 

Seeing lots of graduated students (from past years) in various locations
Seeing lots of graduated students (from past years) in various locations
And celebrating St. Patrick's Day in Isesaki! (Greg is a fan of "burst mode" photo shoots.)
And celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Isesaki!
(Greg is a fan of “burst mode” photo shoots.)

It was a wonderful weekend and has been a lovely first half of my time in Annaka/Gunma!

However, my plans for the upcoming week have been thrown a curve ball because last night, I managed to sprain my right ankle!! Fortunately/unfortunately I have sprained this ankle twice before over the past few years, so I know the drill. But “the drill” means that instead of visiting another elementary school tomorrow, I will be laying low with my foot elevated for most of the day. It was possibly a blessing in disguise, though, because I do have a list of things to work on for Peace Boat prep, so this will force me to get that done! And I will be able to visit the school later in the week… but even then, I don’t think I will be playing much “oni-goko” (tag) with them 😦

Ah, well. I’m just happy this did not happen mid-voyage AND that it is not broken! Phew.