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I’ve been meaning to put this up for awhile, from last year’s hanami festival.Sakura Reflection

Sakura Night

Sakura Light Moments like these remind me why I moved to Japan.

When I woke up this morning, the light outside was mingled with darkness.  It looked like there was shade everywhere, similar to when the afternoon is buregoning on dusk, but not quite yet there.  It is the first solar eclipse to be in Japan since the year 1035.  It made me feel rather sleepy.

I don’t even know where to begin of how to explain this arranged marriage meeting thing, but I suppose I should start with the Shinsetsunahitos.

The Shinsetsunahitos, if you haven’t read my blogs before, are my surrogate American parents in the Blue Forest of Japan.  They actually are friends of my family in Hawaii, as we have been neighbors for the past three generations.  They are teachers on the American military Base.  By Providence, I happen to have been placed only an hour away from them.  I spend most of my weekends with them also, since my church is ten minutes away from their house.  

Last week, while visiting with them  in their living room, they asked me if I wanted to meet their friends, a Japanese couple, who were looking for a wife for their son.  Of course, I immediately dismissed the idea for a variety of reasons, however, after they also they showed me a picture of the mom, a Japanese professional artist, who had bright blonde curly hair and was wearing a sunny yellow outfit, I kind of just wanted to meet her, because she looked like she would be a fun person. 

Out of politeness, I said that Arranged-Marriage-Boy could add me as friends on facebook, if he felt inclined to do so.  I have no problem being friends with people.  Anyway, here is an email from my surrogate parents I recieved later that week (I’m not including names or pictures for privacy reasons):

BlueForestPrincess,
  Arranged-Marriage-Mom gave me these two pictures of her son, Arranged-Marriage-Boy.  The family picture shows Arranged-Marriage-Boy, Arranged-Marriage-Mom, Arranged-Marriage-Father, Arranged-Marriage-Sister, and her fiance from Mexico.  The other picture shows Arranged-Marriage-Boy at Hanauma Bay.
 
Arranged-Marriage-Boy works for Morgan Stanley in the Ebisu district of Tokyo.  He is just about your age.
 
This is his Facebook page: (link).
 
No pressure.  Arranged-Marriage-Boy just wanted me to share this with you. I sent him your Facebook page address.   Arranged-Marriage-Mom wanted you to have his phone number but I told her you would not be calling him. I told her you two can connect through Facebook and that’s the most we would do.   Have fun!

After some gentle persuasion, also partly because I thought it would be rather amusing, as well as educational about how other cultures did things, I agreed to meet Arranged-Marriage-Boy’s parents. 

My surrogate parents and I arrived at the restaurant just before Arranged-Marriage-Mom and Dad.  I had to use the restroom, and on my way out, I happened to pass the woman who was most certainly the lady from the photo I had been shown the week before.  She stopped, grabbed both my arms and looked at me and declared, “You look just like your photo! So pretty!”

I really wasn’t sure how to respond to this, I also, at this point did not realize that my photo had been shared with Arranged-Marriage-Mom.  I kind of laughed awkwardly and said, “Nice to meet you,” and darted to the bathroom, contemplating with myself on the way, what the heck had I been thinking meeting these people.

I sat down at the table, directly across from Arranged-Marriage-Mom and she started asking me a bunch of questions throughout the meal, telling me she was a very direct person and on a mission to find a “nice girl” for her son.  Her husband said little to nothing throughout the meal, but sat down with a smile on his face the whole time.

Arranged-Marriage-Mom stated that she was a straight-forward person, however when she asked me questions about myself I felt her conversation rather flowed with ease. In fact, she managed to carefully slide all the information about her family and her son in between asking me questions about myself in a rather delicate manner.  This, I thought, was a real art form of conversation.

  These questions included:

① How did you meet the Shinsetsunahitos?

My answer: Our families have lived next to each other in Hawaii, for the past three generations.  

Her response: Wow, sounds like something that was supposed to happen! Just like how we are meeting me right now.

②Do you have any brothers or sisters?  My son is very protective of his sister!

My answer: I have a younger brother and an older sister. 

③ How old are your parents?  What do they do?

My answer: 70 and 60, my dad works for Boeing and my mom is an Investigator for the government.

④Do you eat a lot?

My answer: Yes. (Seriously though, I have felt like such a pig lately…I didn’t say that of course but that day alone (not including the steak dinner I had the previous night), I had for breakfast Portugese Sausage and Cream of Wheat, with butter, cinnamon and a mocha, then chips and salsa, nabeyaki udon, a popsicle, then more chips and salsa, and of course, the dinner that we were having at that moment, which included 4 slices of pizza, gnocchi, a salad, then soft serve ice cream for dessert. OUT OF CONTROL.)

⑤Why….the Third Gate Town? What is it like, it must be kind of boring right?

My answer: I didn’t get to choose my placement.  Yes, everything pretty much closes early in my town, in fact we had a bowling alley, but it closed down.

⑤ Do you like to cook? My son loves to cook, exercise and clean!

I actually didn’t have to answer for this. My surrogate parents jumped in and told them I sometimes cook at their house.

⑥ What is your dream? (pause.) You want to travel right?

My answer: How did she know this, she must have some kind of gift of discernment or something.  I told her about how I would love to work for an NGO or IO or be a teacher with DODDs.

⑦ Do you like this shirt (She pointed to the shirt she was wearing, it was a picture of one of her pieces of artwork)?  What month is your birthday in? 

My answer: Yes, it’s very nice. I saw some of your artwork, it was beautiful. My birthday is in November.

Her response: Okay! I am going to give you an early birthday present. I’ll give you one of my shirts.

⑧ How tall are you?

My answer: 5’6.

Her response: My son is taller than you.  But everyone seems the same height because everyone is taller than me. (Which is true, this lady is like super petite).

⑧ So, what day is your birthday? My daughter’s November 6th.  

My answer: Umm..My birthday is November 6th.

(When I answered this, there was a kind of collective gasp at the table and her eyes kind of lit up, and I could already see the wheels turning in her head.   This also kind of reminded me of the time when one of my friends told me that her ex and her had met a few months later in public and they were wearing the exact same outfit, down to the shoes.  His eyes widdened and he looked at her and she said tersely, “This means nothing.”)

After the questioning, she leaned closer to me and grabbed a spoon and a napkin holder and went, “This spoon is friendship, and this napkin holder is boyfriend and girlfriend. See this space in the middle between the spoon and this napkin holder?  I want you to be in the middle. Do you think you can be in the middle? You should meet up with my son in Tokyo.”

I am about 98% certain I responded to this with mild laughter as well as, “I will be his friend.”  Mr. Shinsetsunahito, my surrogate dad, interrupted from across the table, “Arranged-Marriage-Mom, are you behaving yourself?”

“Yes, Computer-teacher!”

I should also mention that he is her computer teacher.  At the beginning of the meal, she told me, “I am afraid of computers.  Once, I touched a button and erased everything, so now your surrogate dad is my teacher.”

We were at the restaurant for about 2 to 3 hours, and I don’t remember all the questions she asked me, but I found the experience very educational, and I can totally see the value of arranged marriages in other countries now.  Not that I agree with forcing someone to be married, but for parents arranging the possibility of a meeting, I think, is actually not a horrible thing.  Not that I am going to date her son, ( in fact, I am 99.9% certain I will not be dating him.)  

Last question from Arranged-Marriage-Mom: You didn’t hate me right?

I answered with a smile and laugh: Of course not.

AT the risk of sounding totally unP.C., my father always told me that he thought “Koreans were the Latins of the Asian world.”  But before you judge my family for making this statement, keep in mind that we are both Asian and Latin, and thus are somewhat entitled to make these kinds of jokes (plus we are from Hawaii and as most people know Hawaiians and local people from Hawaii are certainly not afraid of ethnic jokes, in fact they are always encouraged, unless you are telling a big Samoan or Hawaiian a joke about themselves, which is probably not the best idea…just for your own safety…I hope you people who plan to travel to Hawaii are taking notes.)  Anyway, I never really understood what he meant by this statement until now,  having actually been to Korea for Golden Week. 

Koreans are…how should we say this, uninhibited, dramatic, and expressive, in other words HONEYBADGER* don’t care. *If you do not understand this expression, I highly suggest watching this video. Very different from the more reserved and polite Japanese culture I am continuously immersed in.  Although, I actually find these characteristics very entertaining and sometimes funny.

For example on the subway, Princess No1 and I watched a fight happen. Now despite having watched multiple Korean dramas, we were kind of surprised to see such antics displayed in public, BTW this fight consisted of the girlfriend smacking her boyfriend on the face and then giving him the EVIL eye, she seriously looked like she wanted to murder him.  Also the old ladiess who are called Ajimas, will push you out of the way, or run into you when they are walking.  I had one lady grab my waist and move me so she could get off the subway. PrincessNo1 likes to call this the spirit of the Ajima.

I am convinced these characteristics are why Koreans make the BEST dramas out of the Asian world.  Everyone who watches Asian dramas knows that Korean dramas have the best fight and romance scenes and  now I know the reason why, its because these dramas are an actual reflection of their lives as I have observed while being there.

Koreans also make the best food, but unfortunately because their food is so good, everyone smells.  Smells are EVERYWHERE in Korea…so you are certain to either smell one or more combinations of the following: kimchee, garlic and garbage.  I combated this by happily joining into the feasting…of course not feasting on garbage I mean, just the other two.  Ever since I watched the Korean drama Jewel of the Palace, I wanted to go there and eat my head off.  I finally got my chance since PrincessNo1 moved out of the Blue Forest last year to be with her OneTrueRabu who is now living in Korea.

But I am getting ahead of myself, let’s tell this tale in chronological order.

So I arrive in Korea amongst a group of Japanese tourists, almost everyone has black or dark brown hair and dark eyes, so I figure that PrincessNo1, who has blonde hair and green eyes will stick out.  I scanned the crowd for her at the arrivals area but I didn’t see any blonde hair anywhere.  Suddenly, however I heard a distinct clomping noise, and I for some reason knew it was her.  So basically, I heard PrincessNo1 before I saw her, my eyes moved into the direction of the pattering feet and I finally saw a figure behind the crowd jumping up and down like a fish out of water.  We both started cracking up, before we ran to hug each other.  Her hair had been up in a bun, so I that’s why I couldn’t find her at first.

We went back to her apartment via the underground, which interestingly had all of these gas masks in glass cases, in case of an invasion from North Korea.  From that stop, we took a cab who drove us the rest of the way, but not before having to stop before turning into the road to her apartment, where a girl with her dogs had stopped walking to turn around and GLARE at the cab driver daring him to run her and her dogs over. 

The foreign area where I stayed, actually kind of reminded me of Camden, where I used to live in London, smelly with a bunch of coffee and clothing shops and foreigners scattered throughout.   Anyhow, we stayed up pretty late watching FRIENDS episodes, since everything was basically closed and she had to work the next day.

The next day I explored the area alone, and walked around town.  One thing about Seoul, is that there are freaking hills everywhere, oh my gosh–my feet hurt and I was winded when I got back to the apartment.  PrincessNo1 returned and we went out to a traditional Korean dinner at CPK (yes, I mean California Pizza Kitchen) with her OneTrueRabu- who by the way, is a total gentleman and he paid for my meal since I was their guest-better hang on to that one PrincessNo1!  We caught a cab to the restaurant and when we got in the cab driver went in Korean, HURRY UP and tell me where you wanna go. Hurry, hurry!!

On Saturday, which happened to also be Children’s Day, we went to the Palace where they filmed Jangeum and Goong (two of my most favorite Korean dramas ever!!).  I was so excited and it was an absolutely beautiful, sunny, and cloudless day.  But before going to the Palace we met up with one of my Korean friends, Minhee, from college, who was working for the Danish Embassy in Korea.  We went to a traditional Korean restaurant where I ordered bulgogi in an earthen pot (so good) and ate Minhee’s soybean paste with rice dish. 

Before walking to the Palace, we decided to walk around the area, a shopping district where this ice cream vendor guy hit on me.  We were buying our cones and this dude shouts out to me, “Where are you from?”

“Hawaii.”

“Aloooha. Aloha. Aloooha!…I love you.”

So then, I laughed, of course and went to take my ice cream from him.  But when I went to grab the cone, he like grabbed my hand and wouldn’t let go of me.  At this point, there is a small crowd of people cracking up watching this.  I tried to let go, but he kept pulling at my hand, then after he finally let me have my ice cream, and hid behind Minhee while everyone was laughing.

We went to the Palace and on our way out of one of the Exhibition Halls, this pretty Korean reporter, who ended up actually being from Texas and who strangely happened to be wearing the same pants as I was, grabbed PrincessNo1 and her OneTrueRabu and asked to do an interview with them about Korean politics. 

Minhee and I waited in the grass but then this old man came up with a camera and asked to take a picture of me.  It was kind of weird, but I let him, since I figured his chances of habitually stalking me were slim to none as I live in the Blue Forest of Japan anyway and at least he asked me without secretly taking pictures. 

The reported then grabbed me and Minhee as well and asked to do an interview with us about Korean food.  She happened to ask me if I had ever tried soybean paste, which was so weird, since I had just had it like a few hours earlier.  I said it had a strong taste, but I love trying new things and am used to Asian food since I grew up in Hawaii.  So, I guess we will be on some random television program in Korea like a month from now or something that I will probably never end up seeing.  

Not only was it Childrens Day in Korea, it was also Cinco de Mayo, so we headed back to the foreigner area and went to a party on the rooftop of one of PrincessNo1s friends.  We ate tacos and margaritas under the Supermoon, and Seoul Tower which was also visible from the rooftop.

Afterward the dinner, the Cinco de Mayo partygoers went to American Western style bar.  I didnt drink much, well, I never really do, but I did learn how to dance the Two-Step from a guy named John from Virginia.   Then a couple of us went to salsa dance in true Cinco de Mayo fashion.  I dont think I have mentioned this before in my blog, but I am a big salsa dancer, when I lived in Seattle, I used to go out once or twice a week.  I love salsa dancing so much!! I was so excited that I was able to go, because there is no salsa dancing in the Blue Forest, and I hadnt expected to go salsa dancing in Korea, so I was a happy camper.

The next day we went to eat the most favorite food of the BlueForestPrincess, Kalbi.  I was so excited and kept eating and eating, haha even when almost everyone else stopped.  After that we went to see the Avengers in 3D at a shopping center in Myeongdong.  I had made it my goal to see this movie while I was in Korea, because I knew that it wouldnt be out in Japan for a long while.  Waiting in the ticketing area, I felt like I was in the future.  There was a robot that moved around the room and sold tickets. PrincessNo1 kept jumping in front of it, though she wasnt buying any tickets because when you stepped in front of it, it would stop moving. Also there were these screens that would change if you stood right in front of them which told you more about the movie. In the bathrooms there were tvs and strangely mirrors, so you could see yourself sitting on the toilet.  I wasnt sure of the reason for this, but I did notice that Korean girls LOVE to primp, they love any kind of reflection and are constantly fixing themselves in the mirror so that must have been it.

PrincessNo1 and I then went back to her apartment and watched GOONG before falling asleep.  I took the plane early the next morning and watched a beautiful sunrise over the bridge in the cab on the way to the airport.  OneTrueRabus cab driver, whose name is JK, but not like just kidding, he said, drove me to the airport and tried to convince me to move to Seoul.

So all in all the trip was a success, filled with friends, food and fun! Thanks PrincessNo1!! Tanoshikata!!

LAST year when the sakura came in May, I felt a sort of cognitive dissonance with myself and my surroundings.  Suddenly,  myriads of trees were flourishing with the most precious pink flowers.  They spread their limbs so proudly throughout the entirety of the Blue Forest and all I kept thinking was, had it been only three months ago that the largest earthquake that Japan had ever experienced had happened and thousands of lives were swept away so viciously?  

While I never voiced it during that time, I felt that beauty of the season was such a sham, a kind of cruel joke.  The spring had come to soon, nature was celebrating new life, and had decided to move on, as if it had forgotten about the devastation it had left in its wake, leaving thousands of people still homeless and so many broken lives.  How could the changing of the seasons be so casual?  And I had felt slightly angered by the beautiful blossoms around me.

This year however, after one of the most longest winters I have ever experienced in my entire life, I had a feverish thirst for spring and the sakura to appear.  Only this time, spring refused to come, or perhaps it was winter that was prevailing, but over and over again winter teased us, refusing to let spring arrive, fighting with it through rebellious thunderstorms and lightning.  It would rain for a bit, and just when we thought it would get warmer, it would snowphoon, icing the streets of our towns once again. 

BUT, when I awoke this past Monday, there were blossoms everywhere.  Since it was a holiday, I made the decision to do ‘hanami’ (flower viewing) with or without people, but luckily for me Sassy-Australian-Fancy-Pants wanted to join.  We really didn’t have a set plan so we met up at Hachinohe station but missed the local train to Hirosaki by a few minutes.  In the end, we  decided to go to this place called Kabushima, where there are a plethora of seagulls.  I had actually heard about this place the week before and had never been so we went. 

I was not mentally prepared for what I was seeing. There were birds EVERYWHERE…there must have been a few thousand, and with birds comes lots of poop.  I know its sounds like weird, but I actually really enjoyed going there.  At one point I took my umbrella, like Sean Connery,  in that one Indiana Jones’ movie and ran through the flock of seagulls (to either the dismay or amusement of the Japanese people who were also there).  But I didn’t care because it was so fun!!  And I was really happy that no birds crapped on my head.  So it was an overall success, I thought. 

After that we decided to actually go and see some blossoms at Kodomo no Kuni koen (Children’s Country Park) in the Eighth Gate.   On our way, we got lost because our conversation was basically:

me: I don’t know my way around the Eighth Gate, so you have to direct me.

Sassy-Australian-Fancy-Pants:  Okay, turn left.  I mean right! TURN RIGHT!

me (jerking wheel): AHHHH!

Sassy-Australian-Fancy-Pants: I wonder where this road goes, oh well, it probably leads to the park.

me: What?!

Sassy-Australian-Fancy-Pants: Go right now.  I mean LEFT!

me: Okay. Is this the right road?

Sassy-Australian-Fancy-Pants: I don’t know.  I’m sure its fine. 

Anyway, we went up this one road that didn’t feel like it led anywhere except into residential neighborhoods, so we decided to turn around, so I pulled into a road to make a U-turn, but the I saw in the corner of my eye a row of cherry trees almost hidden by a bridge.  We decided to be adventurous and go under the passageway to get a better look. 

It totally paid off (even though the passageway smelled like poop- I think there was fertilizer coming from someone’s yard, and we were basically downwind of it),  I had no idea where we were, but there was this really cool walkway with giant cherry trees, that led up a hill to a park.  It was secluded with maybe just a few families in the park.   Anyway, we pranced around and made a really bad rap about sakura…I kind of forget but I think it sounded something like this:

Yo yo, yo yo yo, yo yo, yooo (we said this for awhile since we are not really good at rapping)

I’m at the park with my hommie

And we are watching hanami

and afterwards, we are gonna eat nabeyaki

udon

Sa-sa-sa kura Sa-sa-sa-kura.

I’m freestlying…yo…when I freestyle I get….nervous… (obviously Flight of the Concords reference)…Sa-sa-sa-sakura!

But then we stopped, because I think we felt stupid, and also because clearly we cannot rap.   

ANYWAY, after that we actually found the road to Children’s Country, but stopped to get popsicle first.  The car line to get into the parking lot of the park was reedickoulus.  BUT, we had some major favor, because this traffic guy called us over and was like come on in the back way, so we actually didn’t have to wait in line, AT ALL.  We basically just sailed into the park and passed everyone in line. <insert evil laugh and thank-you to Jesus for His favor>

As promised, the park was filled with sakura trees, entertainment, food stands, AND also a bunch of amusement park rides!   BUT, the rides were really only for children, nonetheless, Sassy-Australian-Fancy-Pants and I decided to go on a couple rides.

We first went on the Merry-Go-Round, but I think we both didn’t realize how slow the ride was going to be.  In Freeland, Merry-Go-Rounds are usually much faster and more jolting. This Merry-Go-Round however….was very gentle and not jarring in the least to its riders, who mostly happened to be around 8 years old or younger, with a few scattered parents.  Suddenly, I began to feel very awkward.   I think we made the Japanese parents feel awkward as well, who were watching from the sidelines and taking videos of their children. I highly doubt those parents woke up that morning expecting to take pictures of their children with strange gaijin in the background.

We really should have learned our lesson, but we saw this Skyway thing where people were in pedaling contraptions that were lifted high above the ground, so they could view cherry blossoms up high.  Sassy-Australian-Fancy-Pants started having second thoughts about the ride, but I forced her to go on it with me.  I guess we really didn’t think it through, since the seats and pedaling contraption was really built for 1. Japanese children. 2. Skinny Japanese parents.  Let’s just say that neither of us fit into our seats very well.

Midway through pedaling, whilst hovering over park goers and their families,  Sassy-Australian-Fancy-Pants had a panick attack and felt certain that we were going to keel over and plunge into some the meals of the picnickers below us.  She started yelling at me, “PEDDLE WOMAN PEDDLE!” in an effort to get across the stretch way.

So there we were, two oversized gaijin, one screaming at the other and the other laughing her head off (that would be me of course–I think at one point I could barely breathe I was laughing so hard) peddling like madwomen teetering precariously in the air above a crowd of stunned Japanese families, not enjoying the blossoms at all.

After we got off, I think Sassy-Australia-Fancy-Pants was kind of mad at me for making her ride with me, so I apologized.  Hindsight really is 20/20, in retrospect it probably wasn’t the most suitable ride for us to have gone on.

After that I dropped Fancy Pants at her house, and went back to the Third Gate to take a nap, and met Princess No. 2, Knitting-Nihonjin-Girl, Lt. Dan and Precious-Takko-Princess for dinner at Megu where they told me about their trip to Sendai for a rock concert.   So that concluded my weekend.

On a more serious note though, I wanted to end entry this with a literary passage. While gazing this morning at the blossoms, I was reminded of an excerpt from Song of Songs.  The Song of Songs one of the most beautiful books in the Bible about love and seasons, and this passage kept running through my mind with the coming of spring and blossoms, from the second chapter: 

10-14 Get up, my dear friend,
   fair and beautiful lover—come to me!
Look around you: Winter is over;
   the winter rains are over, gone!
Spring flowers are in blossom all over.
   The whole world’s a choir—and singing!
Spring warblers are filling the forest
   with sweet arpeggios.
Lilacs are exuberantly purple and perfumed,
   and cherry trees fragrant with blossoms. (Message Bible)

Anyway, I am so refreshed by the beauty of this season this year- I am a happy garu desu yo and looking forward to fun times ahead, yaay!   ^^v