Sunday, January 4, 2009

Home Sweet Home?

I guess this is it... I’m back where I have Sundays and lazy afternoons on the couch, a closet-full of salty snacks and real cow's milk in my refrigerator. It’s clean. It’s safe. And I can drink as much water out of the faucet as my little heart desires.

But all these things are so predictable. I don't think I'm ready for it/ I don' want to be.

For now, I’m going to prolong this adventure for as long as possible... because it was the best thing that has ever happened to me.

Thank you for everyone who crossed its path.

This sure is Jersey because... I'm about to drive at least 30 minutes to get to something fun.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Sometimes the Middle Gets Old

Yes, the middle of the ocean is beautiful. It looks like blue Easter egg dye was poured in the saltiness churning against the ship’s bow. But after nearly two and a half weeks the blue gets old and the boat gets very small. The three blocked dining times are the highlights of the day. We eat, sleep, workout… I’m not complaining, but I do miss the good old U.S. So in respect for America, here are the things I miss…

-       Lying on a couch.

-       Sundays.

-       Going out to eat.

-       Good fresh food

-       Taking a walk.

-       Autumn.

-       Not paying for Internet.

-       The people I love at home.

-       Solid ground.

This sure isn't jersey because... the Garden "Staters" are using the next weeks to soak up final drops of sun and the Californians just don't understand.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


            The train came to the end of the track. I guess that was our stop. We had arrived in Arima Onsen with no plans or reservations, just wanting to eat good food and relax in the Kobe suburb’s famous hot springs. Despite not having any idea what we were doing it turned out to be the smoothest traveling of the entire trip.

            We walked into the closest hotel… and it was perfect. We slid back bamboo and paper-screen doors and fell into our fluffy futon beds. A pot of hot green tea sat waiting on the black table six inches off of the floor. 

            Dinner fell into our laps just as easily. The only restaurant still open was a little bar that could barely squeeze ten people. Two couples filled the only two tables and the bar seats had diners. After seeing our disappointed faces three of them prematurely left just out of courtesy… incredible.

            Everything was written in characters. The cook stood right behind the bar. No one understood us. The only thing we could do was point to the vegetables and noodles prepped on the chef’s counter and smile. He whipped us up four amazingly bizarre combos of noodles… parmesan and roe, scallions and garlic etc etc.

This sure isn’t jersey because… the hot springs were on the sixth floor with no bathing suits allowed. 

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hola, Bonjour, Namaste or Arigato

In a little bright room I clasped hands with a 4-year old and a 60-year old man. We were part of a big circle dancing to Asian music. It was a Friday-night Hippo family meeting. The Hippo foundation is an organization that began in Japan as a method to teach young Japanese to speak English. In a few years it incorporated Spanish and Korean. Decades later, as I stood in the Kobe meeting room with my home-stay mom Hiromi, the members spoke over ten languages.

            The point of the Hippo family is not to have teachers and tests but to have an interactive multilingual environment. Some members start young and others join later but everyone participates in the same activities, from dancing and singing to mimicking audiotapes. The games were beyond goofy. But even though I couldn’t keep a straight face the 15 or so members were actually learning. They all could fluently speak at least three languages and could introduce and explain themselves in the eight others.

            When they want to use their language in a real-life situation they apply to live with a host family abroad… or let a foreigner, like me, stay in their home. At “sharing time,” Hiromi read from her journal what she had learned during our time together- that you can “sprinkle” salt on something and you “hit the road” when it's time to go.


This sure isn’t Jersey because… Hiromi uses whitening lotion and thinks the concept of tanning beds is hilarious. 

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Tourist Wall

My eyes were half open as our tour guide Lee gave us a history on Chinese culture. I propped my head up and saw something winding up the mountain in front of us. Right off of the highway there it was- the Great Wall. It snaked its way up to either side of us, broken by the highway leading out of Beijing.
The wall was packed with people from all over the world. We were two hours from the city center but the spot was a complete tourist trap. It took us two hours to climb up the uneven stone steps of the wall. But as we got closer to the highest tower the crowd thinned and snowflakes started floating down on us. 
At the last tower I slipped my way up the eroded steps to the second floor. I finally felt sure that the hike was worth it. The Chinese graffiti etched in the stone meant that hundreds of others, probably thousands, had felt the same way.

This sure isn’t jersey because… the tour ended with a hot spring bath that “released the gore and dissolved liver fat.”

Friday, October 31, 2008


            The Mekong was once, not that long ago, a site of brutality that was inflicted on many innocent Vietnamese. Hundreds of boats selling fruits and vegetables along the delta were homes to people who were directly affected by the war. Yet when I boarded the wooden boat that propelled by the hundred others, I saw faces of warmth and gratitude, not bitterness. And the home that the boat brought us to was full of similarly beautiful people.

            Smaller paddleboats, no wider than two and a half feet, snaked us through the reeds to our sleeping quarters while our large grass hats caught the impact of the rainy season. We hoisted ourselves up to the porch of our host's stilted, turquoise home. This man was amazing. He lent us a room of tented cots, a porch with six quiet hammocks and a pre-dinner performance with his extended family… who all stayed in the home with us.

 After the sun set his family strolled out from their rooms with a guitar, a sitar-like instrument and a very small but very loud wooden clicker. After five traditional songs, including a Vietnamese “rap” about the fruits and vegetables of the Mekong, they played Old-Langsyne so that we could sing something for them.

            And then there was dinner. Sitting cross-legged on bamboo mats, we followed the lead of our host and pulled pieces of elephant fish off of the skewered animal that stared at us from the floor. We passed around plates of Thai basil, cucumbers and hot soy sauce and heaped them on rice paper that were quickly rolled up and inhaled. The dessert of pineapple and jackfruit picked from the trees out back were just as delectable.

This sure isn’t Jersey because… the host of the house didn’t have a last name, only the number ten to signify his place in the family.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Highly Contagious

            If you’ve had a bad day and need to remember the big picture… and own a jet, I highly recommend visiting Penang, Malaysia. There is no stress, no problems, just love for others. The people on the island of Lankawi, which is a three-hour ferry ride from Penang, understand the flow. They understand that everyone is human, that there’s every reason to respect that and every reason to do nothing but enjoy themselves because of it.

            Sitting around the Submarine Beach Bar on my second night I realized that the Malaysian mentality is contagious. An old Brit at the bar, Paul, visited Malaysia as a twenty-year-old and now was here to stay. With his war pension it is cheaper for him to travel around the islands with his girlfriend (who he met on these travels) than go stale in the UK. He told me that those “lazy jobless bastards” he used to look down on are actually the “clever ones.” And thank the lord he’s now one of them.

            At the swivel stool next to me was a different beautiful story- Jade. She’s a ten-year-old girl that everyone at the bar took care of. I wish I could explain how this isn’t a disturbing situation, but have some faith. She’s home-schooled by her Italian mother and she’s far beyond her years. Within 10 minutes I loved her like family and understood why her friends were bar-goers that quadrupled her in age. Restrictions on friendship are a cultural rule. People like Jade infect people like Paul with values that matter. She treated me like she knew me her entire life, and why not. I now wear her wish bracelets and she’s off somewhere wearing a bracelet of mine.

This sure isn’t Jersey because… our friend and cab driver Hanif assigned himself as our personal chauffeur and picked up our ferry tickets 30 minutes away for no extra charge.