Last monthI was asked to write an article of the Miyazaki International Exchange Report. They ask local foreign residents to write about their experiences in Japan and share them with members of the International Association. I wrote a piece about seeing a Sumo tournament last year and thought it would be fun to share it here as well. I’ve included the Japanese translations (provided by Heyne Kim, a Coordinator for International Relations who works in Miyazaki) just for fun. Enjoy!
When you think about Japan, as a non-Japanese, there are a few things that likely come to mind. Sushi, kimono, Kinkaku-Ji, and of course, sumo. So when I arrived in Japan for the first time two years ago, I had big plans to make sure I experienced all of these things. I ate at a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant for my first meal in Miyakonojo. I took a trip to Kyoto and found that Kinkaku-Ji is way shinier than the pictures show, and I spent a weekend in Izumi, Kagoshima, where the organizers helped all participants try on (and keep!) our very own kimono. I did all of these, and more, but by the end of my first year I had still not seen a sumo match.
This wasn’t for lack of trying. Soon after I arrived in August I learned about the official tournament held yearly in Fukuoka. I quickly made plans with some friends to go over a long weekend. We booked the hotels, applied for time off from work, and waited for the tickets to go on sale. Despite our best efforts, by the time we went down to the combini to buy tickets, all of the reasonably-priced options were gone. Someone had bought up all of the tickets, and was reselling them at three times the normal price. We were all terribly disappointed, but we couldn’t afford the inflated price and so we changed our plans. I resolved to try again the next year, and I wrote the 2016 tournament dates on my calendar as a promise to myself.
I’m having a tough time believing that it is, indeed, December, but the Christmas decorations on every street would seem to indicate that it’s true. I didn’t think Vietnam would be particularly excited about Christmas, seeing as it’s a primarily Buddhist (but 7% Catholic, according to Wikipedia) country, but it appears the stores all know the value of a holiday promotion, and the Christmas feel that goes with it. Yes, I am a bit of a grinch, but with not one Hanukkah bush to be found, I feel I am entitled to a little less enthusiasm than some, haha.
But regardless, there have been a few holidays in the past weeks that I did celebrate, including Thanksgiving and my 24th birthday! Thanksgiving was a fun affair – it was completely last-minute, but a bunch of the foreign teachers organized a dinner at a friend’s house and made everything from chicken to spring rolls. I dutifully provided cheese and crackers, and a few store-bought cookies, because we all know that cooking is not my forte. I did miss my usual job as pumpkin pie baker (even I can’t screw that up), but I still had fun. Unfortunately, since Thanksgiving isn’t really on the radar in Vietnam, I had to work that night from 6:30-8:30pm. I arrived at dinner in time to help set up, left right as everyone was about to eat, and returned in time for everyone to leave. But not to worry, I still ate my fill of food and was able to get in on some games and singing before heading home for the night. In the end I decided I was very grateful for the friends I have made here, my supportive friends and family back home, and the fact that I can be here doing this right now. I’m a very lucky person, and sometimes it’s nice to sit back and reflect on that.
So, since Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday here in Vietnam, the designated time to begin decorating for Christmas appears to be December 1st. I swear, on November 30th I walked down the street and everything was normal, and the next day I was swimming in a sea of Christmas trees, lights, and Santas. I haven’t really taken any pictures, but even now, I’m writing this in a cafe and there’s a strobing string of lights and ornaments right in front of me, and pictures of snowmen everywhere. It’s a tad strange, but I’ve decided to just go with it.
Anyway, the start of December was a great time for me. As some of you know I was really excited to have clothes made for me once I arrived in Vietnam. Somewhere in the shuffle of getting settled in and working and traveling, I lost track of that thought. A while back I told a friend that I wanted to have some clothes made, and she surprised me a few weeks later by saying that she’d take me to a fabric shop, and then to her friend’s mom, who is a tailor. This all came together about 2 weeks ago, and I picked up my finished clothes just in time to go to a friend’s birthday party. I don’t have pictures yet, but below are a few of the fabrics I picked up. The one on the left is now a nice, full-length skirt, and the other two are waiting for me to figure out what I want. I’ll post pictures once I figure it out.
In any case, after picking up my awesome new skirts and dress I went to a friend’s birthday party, since she’s also an early-December Sagittarius. Fun fact, people I’ve met here talk about astrology a lot. If I tell friends I was born in the year of the horse they know how old I am, and I’ve had my palm read by students at least twice. Fun stuff. Anyway, the birthday party! We went out for goat hot-pot, which I love, and once we got their my friend asked if I had ever tried hột vịt lộn, or fertilized duck egg. Now, before arriving in Vietnam, I thought this sounded like the most horrible thing ever. Having lived here for a while, I’ve had a bit of a change of heart, and decided I was willing to try the egg, provided it was dark, and I’d had a few drinks first. And maybe I’d start with the quail version, since it’s much smaller… In any event, I told her that I hadn’t tried it yet, and that it was still to bright out to change that at the moment. It turns out she wanted to add one to our hot pot, and that sitting on the tray of veggies waiting to be cooked were two, perfectly innocent-looking eggs. Peter and I were both convinced she was just teasing us, and that these were in fact just normal eggs. So, quite brazenly, I told her to go ahead and add them! It was her birthday after all, and I figured if it was the real deal than at least it’d be cooked when I ate it. I was soooo not prepared for what came next. She cracked the egg and poured it on into the pot, and I really haven’t seen anything quite as… well, gross. The egg oozed a black, mucus-y membrane, which was bad enough, and then, out plopped the tiny almost-duck. I don’t tend to be a squeamish eater, but that almost did me in. Even Peter, who had eaten hột vịt lộn before was a bit put off by the whole thing. But after a few minutes we had regained our composure and our appetities, and everyone dug in. I don’t think I ate any of the duck itself, but the hot pot was delicious, and I can now (sort of) say I’ve tried hột vịt lộn. Go me. After dinner we all went out for karaoke and dancing at a local club. It was an eventful, fun night.
The next day I had to give my university students their midterm exam, which they were of course thrilled about. But even so, after the test was finished they surprised me with a birthday cake and they all sang. I was really touched, it was so nice! They gave me a cake even when I gave them an exam, haha. It turns out that my students in almost all of my classes had found out from each other that it was my birthday, and for the next few days each class sang to me. It was so sweet, I really love my students…
And that was about it for my birthday. I went out to a rooftop bar for drinks with friends, but we kept the whole thing pretty laid-back, which pretty much falls in line with how I usually celebrate my birthday. I also went to Ho Chi Minh City for the weekend, but I’ll save that for another post.
So, here I am, a week into being 24, and I’m pretty happy about it. I’ve gotten a lot of love from friends, family, students and coworkers the past few weeks, and I’ve been constantly reminded of how happy I am to be here, living a life-long dream, learning every day, and generally just having a blast.
Thanks to everyone who sent me birthday/holiday well-wishes, and to everyone who has been following my adventures here through my blog. I’ve got a good bit of traveling coming up at the end of the month, so hopefully I’ll have some fun stories (and pictures) to share with you soon!
PS – I saw this bike one day parked outside of a restaurant. I still can’t ride, but if I could have this bike, I think I’d learn right away 🙂