People (Unreal life)

“Just Like a Woman”: Let’s Support Each Other

Dear Friends,

It’s incredible how much is happening with a few of my girls around the globe. They’re so incredible that I wanted to share two stories with you all. Maybe you’re out there doing your thing too, or looking to start something, or looking for some fantastic woman to be motivated by, so let me introduce you to Merci and Taryn:

Merci: No one loves traveling or Jamaica more than Merci. No one. She lives in NY, but visits Jamaica so much that people think she lives there. She may even have a post office box, who knows? Every chance she gets she’s on Jet Blue to Norman Manley International Airport; and then, she tortures the rest of us in colder climates with tales of steamed fish and bammy, or escoveitch, dips in the cold rivers of St. Thomas, sticky mango juice dripping from her fingers, the trials of sand in her bathing suit or dinner at some outdoor restaurant.

She sent me an email the other day that really thrilled me, because she has now combined two of her greatest loves (travel and JA, in case you forgot) into a business. She’s giving package tours of the island: the fun places, the places all tourists want to see, the places that’ll make you want to stay in Jamaica and forget your 9-5.  I lifted this from her pdf (without the fabulous accompanying photos):

We’ve Got Jamaica’s Best Kept Secret!

4days/3nights Will Be the Time of Your Life

with *ECO R&R TOURS WITH MERCI*

 JOIN US AS WE TAKE AN ECO/R-N-R TRIP TO JAMAICA & EXPERIENCE THE NATURAL ESSENCE OF THE ISLAND!

 Next Flight Out …November 29th—December 2nd, 2012

 THESE TOURS WILL BE OFFERED ON A MONTHLY BASIS—PRICES ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE

 Please Contact: Merci, Your Travel Consultant

World Time Travel & Tours * (877) 597-3466 Email: ecorrtourswithmerci@yahoo.com

Sights Include: Bath Fountain, Reggae Falls, Reach Falls, Boston beach/Jerk Center, Rafting on the Rio Grande, Somerset Falls, Winnifred Beach, Blue Lagoon, Frenchman’s Cove, & much more…

 Accommodations Include: 4days/3nights Hotel Stay DBL occupancy with Breakfast, Dinner available upon request (minimal cost), Selected Tours, Airport and Hotel Transfer.

Tokyo’s flippity-flopping between warmth and cold, and God knows, if I wasn’t twenty hours away, (and richer), I’d go to the land of wood and water for a little break. A break from nothing exactly, but steamed fish, steamed bammy, and a Red Stripe always does a body good.

Oh Jamaica… now, time for some parrot fish.

Taryn: Taryn has been encouraging and inspiring women for years, first in NY, then in Los Angeles, and now in Berlin. She has been in Berlin for a few years now conducting yoga classes, and most recently workshops, which stretch not only the body, but the spirit. Years ago, a few female friends, Taryn included, and I created a group, which we called The Circle. Each week, we’d set goals that we wanted to fulfill in all aspects of our lives, and hold each other and ourselves accountable for our spirituality, work goals, and general life groups. At the time, she and another member were distant members (NY and D.C), which proved to us that distance was inconsequential when it came to helping another, building relationships, and “being there” for someone. The group served its purpose (and then some), as we grew in many ways over the course of two years. We haven’t kept up with The Circle, but Taryn has gone a step beyond by developing empowerment workshops that aim to strengthen women in every way. Check out her site when you get a minute: http://tarynhughes.com/www.tarynhughes.com/Home.html.

The exciting part: Just this week, Taryn sent us an email telling us that she has created a yoga dvd. In her words, “It’s a 7 video series of YOGA FOR CAREER WOMEN: Complete wellness package. In the end, I am happy with the results, as I think it offers career women and busy mom’s a realistic way to fit yoga into their everyday lives.  That was my goal.  There are short and long practices, which are complimented by a guided foot massage, anti-stress mediation, office yoga and “yoga chocolate” so you can skip your afternoon fix.”

If you’d like to see more information about the video, please click the link:www.udemy.com/tarynhughes. Amazing, isn’t it?

I’ve said it before, but you know I love to repeat myself, so I’ll say it again– this life has been a blessing; to encounter, and know, and love the people that I have (whether still in contact or not) has been a gift.

Love,

Val

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People (Unreal life)

Chiaroscuro 5:

There’s a black and white photograph on the floor:

The woman’s moving in it. She’s beautiful. (Wonder if she knew that then.) She’s young. Maybe 30, maybe 35. (Can’t tell.) She’s earnest. She has an afro that’s not perfectly round or picked out. She has smooth milky-chocolate skin. Kohl rims her eyes. Unlike the girls in the background, she wears her own lashes. Unlike the girls in the background, the hair on her head isn’t a wig. Her nose is round, an in-between shape. Her lips are full and glossed peach.

She’s singing in the frame. Oh, yes dear. Her large orb earrings swing with her movements. She’s swaying from right to left. She’s saying a little prayer with her heart. At work I just take me some time, and all through my coffee break time, I’m saying a little prayer for you; oh, yes, I am.

She’s roundish. Unlike the girls in the background, she’s wearing a loose dress. Maybe, she has another life with her. Maybe, there are more than perfect notes in the pit of her soul.

She’s young here. She knows little, only what she has known. (We know more, don’t we?)

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life, People (Unreal life)

The Apt: Small and Sweet

Hi Friends,

Today’s an exciting day! The other day DS asked me how my move was going, and I confessed that I’d been so busy with work that I hadn’t packed, moved anything into the new place, or even bought a futon. When I waited for the gas man two days ago, it was on the comfort of the hardwood floor. (I managed to fall asleep, so I can sleep on anything.) Point is: DS heard what must’ve sounded like a cry for help, and offered to not only take me to Nittori (a home furnishings store) in Minami-Sunimachi, but to help me move in. We did it all this morning and afternoon. (Mind you, when he came over, nothing was packed.) He told me I’m a very lucky person. So true! (Forgive my over exclamation mark usage, I’m thrilled/psyched/happy).

My Moving Savior didn’t want me to take photos of him, but check these out:

* The shower and toilet are separate.* The shoe closet.

That’s it. It’s 22 square meters of bliss. (First get together, next Saturday.)

See you soon,

Val

p.s Nothing to do with this post, but I’m hooked on this song, after only one day:

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life, People (Unreal life)

An Interlude: Life’s a Musical Thing

In music, one doesn’t make the end of a composition the point of the composition. – Alan Watts

Dear Friends,

This evening, I met up with R in Ginza to belatedly celebrate his birthday. For those of you who don’t know or remember, R is my fellow American and incredibly awesome housemate from Borderless House. He’s a friend in whose company life becomes “more”: more special, calmer, brighter, and just all-around better.

He led the way to the restaurant in Ginza, Isola Blu, a comfortable, yet spartan in decor, three-floor, Italian restaurant on a quiet side street. We arrived before the dinner rush (if they have a dinner rush), and for almost two hours had almost the entire second floor to ourselves.

We ordered a Margherita pizza, a rich gnocchi, warm bread, and glasses of wine. The  creaminess of the cheese sauce on the gnocchi created such feelings of rapture in R that he closed his eyes after almost every bite.

For dessert, he ordered the Amaretti pudding, which, if our dining experience were a boxing match, kicked my Hazelnut and ricotta tart’s behind. Ridiculously smooth, amaretto-soaked, and heavenly.

* The delicious loser.

Over coffee, we continued to catch up. (It’s been a long time, since we’ve each seen other.) While on the subject of getting the most out of our everyday lives,  R introduced me to Alan Watts, a British philosopher (who has been blowing my mind from dinner until now. Three hours later, I’m still listening to his lectures on YouTube.) Before R and I parted, he reiterated that life’s a dance and encouraged my urge to wander Tokyo by bike.

Though a tad muggy, a slight breeze blew, so with Alan Watts in my ears, and a quiet mind, I danced across bridges and down alleyways. What a wonderful night.

Smile everyday, sing everyday, dance everyday.

We thought of life by analogy with a journey, with a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end, and the thing was to get to that end– success or whatever it is, or maybe heaven, after you’re dead. But, we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing or to dance, while the music was being played. – Alan Watts

Take care (and dance),

Val

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People (Unreal life)

Burning Rice Fields and Other Things

I know you’ve come a long way baby, but you don’t need that heart of stone. You proved that you can do it baby, you can make it on your own. But, you can’t keep running away from love, ’cause the first one let you down. – Shalamar (The Second Time Around)

Dear Friends,

1) It was my extreme pleasure to teach M again, so soon after I wrote about him in the previous post. (M‘s the student who told me about “catching purpose”). Whenever I’m supposed to teach M, quite the opposite happens and it winds up that he teaches me a multitude of practical lessons and life lessons.

Practical lesson:

* I go into the class with the text; I open to the appropriate page; I say, “Okay, let’s get started.” Then, he does his own thing, takes the marker, marches to the whiteboard, and starts teaching me a bit of Kanji. What am I to do? (I love it).

Life lesson #1: I asked M what he’s going to do when he retires in six years, and he confided that the plan is to go back to school, preferably UC Berkeley, to brush up on Physics. He majored in Physics at Kyoto University, but claims that there are many things he’s forgotten and he wants to know if there are any new developments. (I don’t even know what the old developments were in Physics.) His passion for learning at an advanced age, like so many of the retirees I’ve met, my mother among them, is truly inspiring. It’s never too late to do anything; no time for excuses.

Life lesson #2: He told me that after the rice harvest, the fields are burned, so that the soil will be ready for the next season. The fact that the fields are destroyed to make way for new beginnings struck me. Endings aren’t bad; after a flaming, fiery end, there’s regeneration, regrowth, rebirth. If a rice field can do it, why can’t I?

* Rice paddies viewed from my train window on the way to Hakone.

2) Sadly for me, but not necessarily for her, another of my classmates is leaving Tokyo. She’s on her way to hotter, more humid temperatures in Asia, and all who had the pleasure of spending time with S will miss her. She’s laid back, cool, and completely unassuming, all the things I’d like to be. (Soon.) On Saturday, we gathered at an izakaya near her school to bid her adieu, good luck, and crossed our fingers that she doesn’t like her new country of choice too much. It was my re-entry into the world of alcohol, and what a serious education it was.

 

3) I received this great message just today, “Remember to enjoy your wonderful city.  Twelve million people in Tokyo, so there should be lots of great people in your future!”

4) Speaking of love, you all know how I feel about my bike Lucy. Last week Tuesday, in the typhoon that hit Tokyo, Lucy was the only bike standing outside my school. She’s fortified.

* You’d think in the middle of a typhoon, I’d have better things to do than taking pictures.

Two nights ago, I was talking to a friend about the fact that I took my bike to the bike shop to get looked at for a few different reasons, and I felt how a parent probably feels when they take their kid to the pediatrician. He started laughing, and then asked, “You do know that your bike’s an inanimate object, right?”  Well yes, of course, but…. In other news, I’m soon to inherit another bike; it’ll be my “going to the supermarket and running errands” bike, because it has a basket. (I wonder if it’ll feel that I favor Lucy– like a stepsister kind of envy?)

5) We’re going to stop with five, because it’s the number for rebirth and this post is all about starting again. What could be better than a picture of steaming ramen noodles, friends who refuse to keep it clean (though I plead), and my favorite place in Ningyocho (after Brozer’s of course)?

See you soon,

Val

 

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People (Unreal life)

Soup

Soup: 1: a liquid food especially with a meat, fish, or vegetable stock as a base and often containing pieces of solid food.

Dear Friends,

This post has a lot of liquid and a few things of substance. Life soup with the week’s events cut and diced.

1) Yesterday, my student M told me that at his alma mater, Kyoto University, students who major in Science fields have the option of staying in school anywhere from five to eight years. When I asked him why and how it’s possible to be an approved, perpetual student, he told me that the university is well-aware that “catching purpose” takes time. It’s clear to me, since I took that extended path of learning, for my undergraduate degree, that Kyoto University was where I should have gone. It’s also clear that for years I’ve been trying to “catch purpose,” and it’s proven as hard to grasp now as when I started reaching for it. In the Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Chopra defines dharma (or “purpose in life”):

  •  Each of us is here to discover our higher self or our spiritual self. This is the first fulfillment of the Law of Dharma.
  •  The second component of the Law of Dharma is to express our unique talents.
  • The third component of the Law of Dharma is service to humanity– to serve your fellow human beings and to ask yourself the questions, “How can I help?”

2) Speaking of dharma, last night, on Skype, I caught up with Tan, a friend I’ve known forever and a day. It seems that she’s caught her purpose in life and it’s gold. As long as I’ve known her, she’s said that she’s wanted to help children. Years ago, she’d spoken of opening an orphanage, so it was no real surprise to me when she told me that she, her husband, and one or two others had founded a school in Montego Bay, Jamaica. The school, The Academy of Science, Technology, and the Arts (ASTA), which opens in September, plans to empower seventh and eight graders to think critically, in a non-traditional way. Their website states:

The academy is built around the principles of critical thinking and logical reasoning. The academy offers the traditional Caribbean secondary curriculum to students, utilizing traditional and non-traditional teaching techniques aided by technologically advanced tools and good practices.   Encouraging the use of critical thinking and logical reasoning, emphasis will be placed on the disciplines of Science, Technology and Arts and their practical use. Through interactive sessions, practical applications and utilizing a holistic approach ASTA aims to achieve academic excellence and produce well-rounded students who are mentally and emotionally prepared for international tertiary education and equipped with the necessary life skills for the real world.

I forgot to ask her if they’ll accept older students, because it’s increasingly clear that I have not been “equipped with the necessary life skills for the real world.” (Go T!)

3) Last week, a fabulous woman who I had the pleasure of interacting with at my old job in the States visited Tokyo. We happened across a free concert at a temple that was promoting energy conservation and general harmony. The surrounding areas of the temple were lit only by candlelight, and even the lights of Tokyo Tower were turned off for a few hours (happens only once a year).

She, as I have, fell in love with Tokyo and she asked me what my future intentions were in and for this great city. After a brief summary of my days, and what’s been going on, she advised me that to make life complete, it was necessary to get out there and date. Honestly, I hadn’t been pressed for a minute about dating, though in truth, a few months ago it was on my mind. (I’ve deleted the February post where I spoke of my crush– I wish life were as easily revised as this blog).

Emotional landscapes, they puzzle me. – Bjork

Dating’s never been an area in which I excelled, like say spelling, so I cringed when she suggested online dating.

* I went on one good date with this guy; and one evening, I’m sure I became his least favorite person in the world. 

I shared with her as I did with you all my woeful attempts at online dating with Match. com, and how I vowed never ever to online date again (See December posts). However, she said something I’ll never forget, “Don’t be afraid to fail.” I do recognize that failure is inevitable and that it doesn’t mean that I should stop trying. Though her words resonated with me, I didn’t sign up for the dating site until 2am two nights ago, and regretted it the very next morning when I received this message:

Hi M here , how are you i want to know you and see you soon, i am in tokyo working here . i live near tokyo tower in azabu east. i am alone want to meet you and make good friendship with you , waiting for your quick response if you have any skype or messenger please do share with me , or share your contact number so we can meet in a day or two. Plz reply. Can we have date soon . i love black beauty. i am also great at love you will like and love our meeting for long time.

I’ve also received normal messages, but it looks like I’m gonna soon have to hit up some of the cute guys that are checking out my profile and not sending messages. Honestly, I’m not cut out for online dating, when I went to check a message, and my profile showed that I was “Online,” some guy started messaging me and I promptly signed out. Hopefully, it’ll be worth it. (Giving it more than a week.)

4) Speaking of love, I went to Thong, a Thai Restaurant in Coredo Nihonbashi, last night with B and the waiter served us dessert in a heart-shaped bowl. (It’s also definitely time to have meals with guys who’re not romantically entangled, completely head over heels with other women or aren’t just friends.) My male friends here are beyond cool, but it’d be nice if the next time I see something heart-shaped, it induced something more than laughter.


* Sticky rice, mango, and coconut milk.

For our entrée, we shared Tom Yum Talay (spicy) soup.

Sayonara,
Val

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People (Unreal life)

Fantastic Asakusa

Dear Friends,

On March 21, my friends and I formulated a list of twelve things we had to do while in Tokyo; among them, my three that have been completed thus far are: 1) Visit Tokyo Tower 3) Visit Sensoji in Asakusa and 4) Take a trip to an onsen in Hakone. Slow and steady wins the race. Tomorrow, if it doesn’t rain, I’ll tackle number six: ride my bike to the Imperial Palace and tour the garden. For the complete list, please see the original post: http://lettersfromval.com/2012/03/21/my-last-first/.

I visited Asakusa today, three months after writing that list, due to a lucky encounter with N. It was my good fortune to teach her two weeks ago at a time when I was supposed to be teaching another group that couldn’t make it. It was her first day of re-starting English lessons, after a long absence, and her enthusiasm and love of language made the group come alive. As often happens, we were starting the food chapter, and after the lesson, N invited me to lunch and a tour of  her neighborhood of Asakusa. Of course, I jumped at the chance to be guided around Asakusa by someone who has lived there for more years than I’ve been alive. N, whom I’ve already dubbed my Japanese mother, (she sounded exactly like my mother, “You can do anything, you’re clever, etc., etc.), treated me to a really special day. Visiting Asakusa on my own, while leafing through a Frommer’s guidebook, just would not have filled me up (literally and figuratively) the way this day has. Let’s look at Asakusa, starting with… you guessed it–food.

1) N took me to one of her favorite Italian restaurants, because she wasn’t sure if I was a fan of Japanese food. Very often my students express surprise when I tell that I’m a huge fan of sushi, sashimi and wasabe. We lunched at Ristorante Giardino, that has an outdoor patio for dining, where we enjoyed one of the lunch set menus: an appetizer, two main dishes in perfect Japanese sizes, dessert and coffee.

*Prosciutto, potato cream soup with shaved pistachios,  grilled chicken in pesto, greens, and a small omelette. (Definitely Japanese inspired Italian).

*Spaghetti in tomato sauce with shrimp and green beans.

*Grilled fish.

* Chocolate cake, tiramisu, and coffee gelato. At the restaurant N taught me to say “I like cake” in Japanese, but it’s the coffee ice-cream that rocked my world, and I quickly changed my “I like cake” to “I love ice-cream.”

2) After our long lunch, N suggested that we tour Asakusa by rickshaw. She’d never ridden in one before, and I never even take taxis, so we were both hyped for the adventure. Our very lovely rickshaw guy (and by lovely I mean personality and (such) a cute face) carried us down multiple streets where I touched three silver statues of raccoons for good luck, beauty, and prosperity, saw the Japanese version of Robin Hood perched atop a building, and passed countless restaurants, shops and tourists. He went out of his way (it wasn’t a part of our package) to show us the amusement park, and then he carried on with the famous sites: the Buddhist school, the hall for comedy and magic, and the sidewalk with the impressions of celebrity hands. The weather in Tokyo, today, was warm, with a cloudless sky, and it was nice to feel the breeze on our faces as he made stops to point out various landmarks.

* Look up on the building, a robber who steals from the rich and gives to the poor.

* The Tokyo Sky Tree Tower, the tallest radio tower in the world, in the distance.

* For 19, 800 yen, you too can look like a geisha.

* Parting is such sweet sorrow. 

3) The Sensoji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo, has swarms of tourists year round. Though it was a Thursday afternoon, there were many  groups of schoolchildren, locals and foreigners from all over the world, some who wanted to pray, shake a good fortune out of a wooden box, and others who simply wished to marvel at the beauty of the temple, the gates, the shrine, and the surrounding grounds.

* Kaminarimon Gate

* The God of Wind

* Under the lantern is this image of a dragon guarding the gate.

  

* N showed me the right way to pray at the temple; first, wave the smoke towards you to rid yourself of darkness and negativity, then take a ladle filled to the brim,wash both hands, rinse your mouth (spit), then pour some water on the ground for the ancestors.

* After purifying oneself, it’s time to pray. For obvious reasons, I didn’t take photos before the shrine, but after I said my prayer, I did get a shot of the ceiling.

We descended the steps, and though we were less than ten steps away, we left the bustle and high energy of the temple behind, .

A few days ago, my daily inspiration from Brahma Kumaris was, “Great souls take advantage of every moment and every opportunity to give happiness to others through kindness in their thoughts.” On my journey through life, I’ve been blessed to meet some truly great souls, not just great but fantastic. Fantastic N, had not only kind thoughts, positive actions and a willingness to share her neighborhood and culture, which she holds dear, but she gave me the gift of her time.

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