It has only been seven – now quickly going on eight – months into this new year and our family has yet to have a quiet moment. On top of unresolved issues that have built up, a few major family illnesses and a death have occurred in the past two weeks alone. I’m taking a four day hiatus to finish packing and resolving what I can before departure. This blogger is hanging up the will be back sign until then. In the meantime, please enjoy Bach’s Chaconne from Partita No. 2 as played by Hilary Hahn.
Located in the upper North corner of Orange County, the city of Fullerton is best known for the following: a convenient 15 minute distance from Disneyland by car, Troy High School, Republicans, and the eponymous California State University off of Nutwood Avenue. Hordes of commuters and international students arrive each year to pursue higher education for an increasingly competitive job market, their options limited by geography and cost for the most part. It ranks as one of the best Business Administration degree granting institutions but the disparity in inter-departmental expenditure is more than obvious. Humanities and Arts will languish in the ages old archaic system of favoritism while the Business and Engineering colleges are garnished with grants and money willed by famous and/or rich alumni. This hierarchical system is seen around the world and not unique to Cal State Fullerton. It’s sadly bigoted and geared towards pumping out businessmen and professors – the socially acceptable and “successful” of our demographics – professions which most have neither the inclination nor the will to follow for personal reasons.
In the midst of this ages long war, the botanical gardens (otherwise known as the Arboretum) on campus grounds flourish through patron donations, which enables them to provide free entry to the community and not just its students. The grounds are breathtaking, lush, and full of surprises if you step off the beaten tracks. Its main gem and attraction is a Bodhi Tree presented to the university by the Dalai Lama in 2000. Many a person has rested their weary feet at its roots and shaded themselves from the oppressive California sun beneath its verdant foliage. Though not my personal favorite, the Bodhi Tree is nonetheless of great importance and something of a claim to fame for the school.
Summertime sees the ducklings born in the spring transformed into full grown adults as well as a host of seasonal flowers blooming bright and tall, the return of a well-loved crane to its ponds, and a host of children that visit the children’s corner on the grounds. My favorite flowers are sunflowers and seeing them at the entrance made me so excited to discover what else had grown since last I had been there in June. The best part, though, was seeing my mom go absolutely nuts over the Arboretum’s plant collection. As an amateur botanist with years of experience in home gardening and transplanting, she’s also a bit of an enthusiast on rare plants, making the Arboretum her own heaven on earth since each section is divided into geographical regions.
Parking at the Arboretum is also free but very limited. And as previously mentioned it is quite a family friendly destination: it hosts a children’s area complete with play stations, the Nikkei Japanese Heritage Museum, and a greenhouse with plants sold according to seasonal availability. I recommend this Southern California trip to anyone who wants to tour a university campus and escape into the greenery, too.
Although accessible by the 91 or 57 freeways, be aware that most of the 91 carpool lanes have been turned into toll roads by greedy-politician-back-hand deals with equally (if not more so) greedy-and-soulless businessmen. If this sounds a tad bit bitter, please keep in mind that Californians have a special love-hate affair with their freeways. We have pretty steep taxes already and it’s a slap in the face to find out that some of the heaviest traffic carrying freeways (which are already in need of lane expansions to accommodate the heavy influx of commuters) are now charging for being used.
But I digress. More information on the Arboretum and events can be found by clicking here.
It was just one of those things that sort of happened: gathered around the table chatting about the proverbial life and taxes when out of the clear, wide, open blue…
“So did you really want a haircut?” Roberto asked, eyeing my frizzled mess with a discerning look. Earlier in our conversation my mother had remarked that I was unhappy with the current state of folic affairs – I hadn’t gotten a decent trim in, well, seven months and since my hair is deceptively thick it was long overdue for a touch up. I could tell his thoughts were going at a mile a minute; he knew exactly what he wanted to do.
“Um, yeah!” I still don’t know what compelled me but I’m very glad that I did. Was it a pre-midlife crisis building up? Was it the fact that at 22 the most adventurous thing I had ever done to my hair was bob it (albeit from a sober hair dresser). “Just surprise me!”
There was no time to take back a decision made on one and a half shots of spiced rum (shocking, I know. Light weights unite!). And that’s when both Roberto and Eddie got up at the same time, the two slightly tipsier than I was, but still in control of motor functions. “Oh my God, let’s do it.”
Jessie provided the kit: hair oil, mister, shears and… well all those other instruments from the picture above – didn’t quite catch their names. My previous hairdo was really, really outdated plus it was getting too long/monotonous for me even to care about doing much with it. Now I can’t wait to start playing with it again! Roberto you are absolutely fabulous. Anytime, any day, you just say the word and I’ll be your translator, guide, and host in Japan. Lots of love and gratitude XoxO ❤ And for anyone interested: Check out Roberto’s work at the ULTA in Eastvale, California!
Artistry has always run strongly on my mother’s side but while previous generations have chosen professions in the more conventional music/art-related fields, it seems as if these young bloods have taken a shine to hair and cosmetology. Eddie only has to wait for his license to clear. My sister will be starting her courses just as soon as she graduates from high school. And, of course, Jessie. Best of luck in your exams on Tuesday, Jessica! With all of your hard work and enthusiasm, you will soon also be a wonderful hair dresser like Roberto and cousin Eddie.
Thanks for all of these beautiful memories 😀 And now time for a real impromptu in E-flat Major.
Alright so you have booked the flight, packed your bags, and… now what? Exhilarating as travel can be, it’s also quite a pain to plan. Unless you’re the type to wing it (completely) then this post is not for you! For the rest of us who enjoy some measure of security and order, the following is a glorified check-list-tips-and-tricks hybrid post for the inexperienced traveler. Sometimes you learn the hard way but why suffer when you can let others do the suffering for you, eh? I prefer the good old vicarious method and so hopefully this can be useful to someone who is wondering what steps to take next on their adventure planning.
It’s a starter list of suggestions based on my own previous experience as a study abroad student but is quite adaptable to the months long backpacker. It should be enough to get your mind off and imagining about other possible matters you might have to settle before leaving your home country. Also, as cliche as the meme might be, the good old ’10 COMMANDMENTS OF TRAVEL’ comes in handy too 😉 Even if you are not a Type A, there will be times on your journeys – at some seemingly innocuous place – where you will come across an old fashion “WTH JUST HAPPENED?!” moment. Read through the commandments, brandish them on your heart, and depart knowing that you will not come back the same person who left through the front door. The travel gods have spoken; now onwards ho, my brave pioneers!
Ahem. Although the checklist was created by myself, the 10 Commandments for Travelers was taken from a colleague (Study Abroad Adviser Extraordinaire) at my former uni but even she can’t remember who gave it to her or who created it. Sadness. ‘Tis a mystery for the ages; the wit and candor of said author is first rate but doomed to be lost to obscurity. (I have modified it slightly, mostly in regards to gender) Click and enjoy!~
::TRAVEL QUOTES SOUP FOR THE SOUL::
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
-T. S. Eliot
“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”
“It is better to travel well than to arrive.”
“One travels more usefully when alone, because he reflects more.”
“Life is an unfoldment, and the further we travel the more truth we can comprehend. To understand the things that are at our door is the best preparation for understanding those that lie beyond.”
And, of course, what trip would be complete without an epic playlist? With an endless supply of travel themed songs all set, you’ve got an epic-conquest-of-the-world worthy soundtrack to back you up. Solo road trips can be pretty monotonous in dead silence, which for me means drowsiness. Co-pilots are great for bickering, laughing, arguing, and discussing the finer points of philosophy/the meaning of life/university debt/unemployment/hashing out that last failed relationship/The Future… as well as for making sure that you keep sharp and on your toes. But as we all know, apart from pumping your body full of caffeine, it is actually quite hard to fall asleep to your favorite head bashing tune (Beethoven’s 5th anyone?). Plus, who doesn’t like creeping out the driver on the lane next to you with some oh so soothing renditions of heavy metal music-swaying while belting out your favorite lyrics? Normal, it’s over-rated. Anyway, here are some travel themed songs we all know and love. In the spirit of travel, they are compiled in an ever growing Spotify playlist.
Well, it’s less than a week until Departure Day… still so much packing left to do and not enough time. But if uni has taught me anything worthwhile, it is that I perform at well enough under pressure to function. Gah. Creative juices, where are you when I need you?! Curses!
So you think you’ve seen it all, huh? Pffff. Please 😉
Best of all: The second Tuesday of the month is free general admission for the day (usually 11am-5pm). Regular admission price totals $15 (special exhibits start at $25 and up) with parking for the day coming in at an even $12. After 7pm, there is no charge. Children under 17 years are allowed free entry with accompanying adult every day (not just the first Tuesday of the month), which makes it a cheap and educational day trip for Angelenos and tourists alike!
LACMA is also closely situated to the Natural History Museum and the La Brea Tar Pits so come prepared with lots of energy and great enthusiasm for learning!
Generally I am not a fan of modern art – sorry! – but I will say that the mass of squiggly lines made out of clay spoke to me in ways that the disintegrated rhombus and hexagons did not. It was oddly a convoluted mess of all the unspoken words I had ever wanted to say and yet soothing at the same time. Did not look up the artist’s name as the lovely Diana and I were pressed for time (crown delivery that same day at 6pm so expediency was of the essence!) but I will say this: It fed my soul and my soul was happy for the time it had the privilege and pleasure to look upon the colorfully engaging linear art gracing LACMA’s austere white walls. Props to this artist and I’ll just have to come back sometime after JET to get her or his name down properly.
“I am hitting my head against the walls, but the walls are giving way.”
Another month gone by would have completed the eleventh anniversary since the last time either my sister or I stepped on Mexican soil. With my departure to Japan looming close, dad thought it was about time (long over due, in fact) that we took a family visit to la madre patria. His endeavors, although not in vain, only came into partial fruition… yours truly would not be receiving her passport with a lovely new work visa attached until July 25 (yep, right on the eve of Departure Day). Or as John Lennon once put it: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Or some derivative thereof, because really can any of us honestly trust what’s said on the internet? Ever? Only when convenient. As in this moment: yes. Moving right along.
So, anyway, it’s a jam packed adventurous fortnight with mums and two adorable puppies in tow. Where we’ll go, nobody knows! So far I have trips to the arboretum planned and some down time to watch BBC’s Endeavour series 2… and a dental appointment on Wednesday. Family picnic going on today. So that’s three days down and only eleven more for which to plan 😀 All in all it’s been an interesting last month in the good old U.S. of A.: getting all sorts of dental work done on my calcium deficient teeth (not fun) before it’s too late and getting to hang out with family/friends has been loads of fun although jam-packed.
Here’s the “TOP 10 MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS” everyone seems to want to know with great urgency:
- Are you studying abroad again… I thought you graduated?
- Oh, you’ve graduated! But how did you get hired if you didn’t major in English?
- Do you speak Japanese? Like a native?
- Can you translate (insert-random-phrase-or-cuss-word-here) into Japanese?
- Are you nervous?
- Are you afraid of living alone?
- Are you running away?
- What are you going to do with the rest of your life?
- Do you like Japan or kids or teaching?
- Are you going to get married with a Japanese boy and never come back?
A: 1. I graduated in May; 2. JET Program will accept anyone who has a Bachelor’s degree and a competitive resume; 3. Yes. No; 4. On principle I refuse to translate cuss words although I do not mind teaching you useful phrases; 5. A little bit! I’d be lying if I said no since it’s my first time alone; 6. Not afraid but apprehensive since I’m on the first floor; 7. Yes, always, forever; 8. Live it – whatever comes my way – undecided; 9. Yes, yes, maybe; 10. Refer to answer for question 8.
This program to be followed with an article, sometime next week, on how to prepare for an overseas adventure, or basically a glorified checklist for things to get done before leaving your home country. Smashing!
Thus concludes the Meridian Musings in B-flat minor, 1st edition (aka: procrastinate on packing/research/blog article/life). In the meantime, please enjoy some complimentary Chopin. With 90% more B-flat minor!
I’m not going to lie: this was totally inspired by the Altoid survival kit for campers and decided to create a variation with teachers and teaching assistants in mind… because you know, I’m going to be one in a matter of weeks. Working at two different schools, having two offices… I felt like I might need this on my person just to make sure I’m prepared.
I only used items that I could find around the house (as a writer, former student, and former-not-so-former teaching assistant, I have a treasure trove in excess of school related paraphernalia) but if you find yourself short on any of them, a quick run to the nearest discount store will provide a cheap alternative. Also, having your own personal variation is not only unique but will also serve your needs better. Don’t need a hole puncher? Toss it, simple as that. The whole point is, of course, to find as many items that fit the essential tools of your trade. Preferably ones that you can find at home 😉 Total cost: $o.oo to $5.oo (depending on how many items you might need to purchase).
Dimensions of box (recycled cell phone box)
5.5 inches/13.97 cm L x 3 inches/7.62 cm W x 2 inches/5.08cm H
So that’s the Teacher’s Survival Kit in a nutshell! It’s simple, cheap (practically cost-less if you can find all items or variations thereof at home). Remember, the point of the survival kit is to have an easy to reach and close at hand set for those moments when you might need it for emergency purposes. Keep it in your purse/backpack, inside your car, or homeroom desk drawer in case you forget something important in the teacher’s lounge/home.
For the student variation: substitute the red correction pen with a highlighter and the large Post It Notes with a small stack of flash cards. Magnets and plastic clips can be substituted for small erasers. Hole puncher can be replaced for correction tape/small bottle of white-out fluid. Also, packet of hole punch reinforcements are immensely helpful for those days when you accidentally tear out a page from your binder! In reality, two packs of staples might be a bit much for a survival kit so feel free to toss one out entirely. I just have an irrational fear of not having enough staples for some odd reason >.>”
For the artist variation: Use your preferred medium. Classic examples include: 1 sketching pencil, 2 artist pens in colors of choice, 2 small erasers, a pencil sharpener, and 1 Exacto knife. Can also add: 5 small tubes of paint of your choice (three in primary colors plus black and white in either watercolor/pastel/acrylic/etc) with corresponding brushes of your choice and a brush cleaner, a small shot glass for water. Or if you prefer: a set of small colored pencils or set of molding clay. The combinations are endless.
For the crafter variation: 1 glue stick, 1 tube of crazy glue, 1 pencil, 1 pen in color of choice, 1 Exacto knife, some yarn or a spool of thread, 1 small pin cushion with pins/needles, small scissors, set of small origami folding paper (multicolored), assortment stamps and ink pad, ribbon, trimming, cloth swatches/patches, assortment of buttons (different sizes/colors).
::Beanilla Recipe for Home-Made Vanilla Extract::
-What You’ll Need-
1 Homemade Vanilla Extract Infusion Kit (I used the Bourbon-Madagascar variety)
1 cup rum
Some elbow grease (and groovy dance moves)
8 weeks worth of saintly patience
Lots of love ❤
Stumbling across Beanilla was my best piece of luck last year 😉 The aroma of real vanilla is mouthwatering and soothing all at the same time ❤ Until you smell a fresh vanilla bean, you have no idea what heaven smells like… okay, totally one-sided view of heaven. I especially loved how the scent wafted in the kitchen for a good couple hours. I could almost hear Bach’s Hallelujah in the background. It was glorious.
Some might be hesitant to begin making their own vanilla extract but it’s really just that simple: alcohol + sterilized glass bottle + deliciously scented vanilla beans = magical never ending supply of vanilla extract! For $15.00 you will never have to buy vanilla extract again! So long as you keep the vanilla beans in the bottle, just keep topping off your 8.5 fl oz bottle with alcohol of your choice (preferably same alcohol type and brand that was originally used) and you have a practically never ending supply of vanilla extract. And when you run out of alcohol just buy more. No, seriously… it helps out the environment and it’s worth every penny once you do the math:
Great Value Pure Vanilla Extract, 1 fl oz – $2.48
Pure Vanilla: Premium 100% Pure Extract, 2 oz – $4.12
McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract, 16 fl oz – $9.98
(And those are Walmart prices; as soon as you run out you have to go buy them again)
And some more Time Machine Archives… the baking adventures before life, work, and school puttered me out of my demanding side job of self-appointed cookie chef and baking experimenter extraordinaire 😉 I used my vanilla extract in souffles, chocolate chip cookies, biscotti, and the gem of gems: Linzer cookies! The flavor came out best in the souffle since it wasn’t competing with anything other than the egg. I still don’t like souffles though… all that eggy-ness.
In the last post we discussed the theory behind packing and some common sense steps (Research, Inventory, Weeding) for cutting back on how much you’ll take. Now we’ll get to the nit and grit on different methods of packing, how much you’ll actually need to take abroad (no more and no less, trust me), and I’ll try to get into as much detail as I possibly can in regards to Japanese culture.
So let’s get to it! Let’s talk packing essential number 1: Le Suitcase! 🙂
A suitcase is a suitcase is a suitcase, right? Well, depends on the kind of travel you’re going to take up… and for long-term travel, especially when living for extended periods of time (years) in a foreign country. A suitcase should only be purchased if it stands up to the L.E.D.D. test:
Is the suitcase (while empty):
EASY to transport/store?
And, do the DIMENSIONS fit the flight allowance?
After doing some preliminary research, I found that most airlines offer 62 inches (L + W + H) with 50 lb dimension and weight limit for all checked baggage on international flights. Domestic flights may vary but we won’t worry about those just yet. And so this is where you really want to take advantage of lightweight luggage: when you’ve only got 50 pounds, you have to make them stretch the extra mile. Remember, even though we’ve already done our clothes research and inventory, weeding in a large part correlates to the baggage allowance and also on personal choice. What goes for the ultra-minimalist will not be enough for the pack rat traveler. It’s all about striking a balance in packing, which we’ll go over in the next section. So this brings us to types of luggage and knowing how to invest in a nice set that will last you out for as long as your passport is valid (generally about 10 years worth). Brand name luggage sets can run in the hundreds so knowing where to look will bring down the price to an average of $150 versus department store price of $300 upwards. Generally, there are two types on the market these days: polyester/nylon (soft) and polycarbonate/plastic (hard) shelled suitcases, although I’ve heard of leather and canvas material being used as well.
Cons: Not as durable so do not store fragile items or electronics in these cases. Wheels do not rotate (compare model to the left and the polycarbonate down below). Check for quality of stitching before purchasing. Only one packing compartment = less space. Needs to be cleaned more often because fabric case will trap odors and particles more than a hard shell case.
Cons: Scratches and water stains will show more readily. When cleaning a polycarbonate, drying the case right away is essential to maintaining its aesthetics. Check that if comes with a zipper for expanding space between the main and secondary packing compartments.
In summation: essentially it comes down to what you prefer in a case and for me, having used both extensively, the polycarbonates win hands down every time. I was able to find an amazing set of two in a beautiful dark navy blue at Costco. They’ve been taken to Japan and Mexico, roughly handled, shoved, and rolled. Still, they look and function as well as if I had bought them yesterday (even though they have their share of minor scratches).
- 1 set formal business attire (as in the works) – MEN: the suit, neckties, dress socks, business shoes. WOMEN: skirt or pants suit with business jacket, pantyhose, dress shoes.
- 3-4 sets of business casual for work (or if you’re really confident about your mix and match skills, just 3 will suffice) – button up blouses/slacks or skirts.
- 3 sets of casual, daily wear (upgrade to 4-5 sets if you know you won’t be able to find your size readily abroad)
- 1 sweater for autumn
- A week’s worth of undergarments (underwear/bras/socks)
- 1 pair of pajamas
- 1 extra pair of shoes (preferably comfortable running shoes; walking can be brutal if you are not used to mass transport and being without a car longer than a day)
- Travel size toiletries (trust me, you don’t need anymore)
- TAKE TWO STICKS OF YOUR FAVORITE ANTIPERSPIRANTS. That should last you the year and one really humid summer.
- Electronics as necessary (laptop, camera, tablet/Kindle)
Ship winter clothes in a box if you can’t find anything in your size abroad. Otherwise purchase on site as the locals will always have the best winter clothes for their type of winter weather. The ULTRA-minimalist will cut this list down to half 😉 Pajamas? Who needs pajamas? Clothes? Pshaw, I’ll just wash this every day. Satirical dramatization, of course 😉 The people responsible for posting this article have been sacked (just kidding). If you follow these guidelines you will only use one polycarbonate suitcase.
Time and again, the world seems to be divided, perpetually, into two field camps: Them v.s. Us, Allies v.s. Axis, Lannisters v.s. Starks, Team Edward v.s. Team Jacob, coffee lovers v.s. tea lovers… and so the story goes. Packing has it’s own version and the two main camps stand as charged:
Rollers v.s. Folders
Now before you get your knickers into a figurative twist (corny pun intended… literally), keep in mind that both methods should be used. Not all fabric types can withstand the strains of tight rolling, but that being said, you should be rolling more than folding. The reason being that: rolling saves you more space than folding.
TIPS: Make sure that while rolling, you do so as tightly as possible to minimize bulk. For business suits/formal wear: FOLD, DO NOT ROLL. For jeans, you want to start from the legs up after folding lengthwise down. Blouses and clothes made of more fragile material should just be folded. Make sure to line suitcase with your rolled clothing as best as possible to maximize packing space. Heavier items should be packed closer to the wheels for balance. Just use general common sense physics when in doubt 😉
Basically the same fold one finds in department stores. To protect fragile clothing, separate each layer with plastic. Not necessary but can be done to minimize wrinkles.
Et voila! Packing a suitcase and maximizing on space has never been easier. It just takes some practice and lots of creativity to fit everything into one piece.
As for Japanese office culture: they are much more formal than their American counterparts. No casual days at work and everyone has a place on the status ladder that depends on a variety of factors such as their age, where they graduated from, and how long they have worked for that one company. Your office mates will more often than not be like second family and in some cases you will find yourself going out for drinks with them to maintain good rapport and colleague solidarity than you will be spending time at home… there were nights when my first host family’s dad would stumble in at one in the morning. As a foreigner finding your niche is important and might be difficult. I’ll find out more about this once I begin working in Japan but from my experiences as a student at my host university, it was so hard to fit in as ‘one of them’ instead of as the somewhat cool foreigner friend (a.k.a “other”).