Arriving in Peru — August 27th and 28th

Day One: Arrival

I arrived in Lima around 12:45AM. De-planing and cus­toms were rel­a­tively pain­less. My next flight was at 6:45AM, and I was told Star Peru (my air­line) didn’t open reg­is­tra­tion until 3:00AM. Well, as it turned out, Star Peru didn’t open until 4:30AM, so I sat in the frigid ter­mi­nal for over three hours. For­tu­nately, I was able to call my boyfriend from a pay phone — that helped immensely. Once I got my board­ing pass, I made the long trek to gate 36, which actu­ally opens up to the street. We waited a lit­tle over an hour there. At about 6:50AM, we boarded a bus, which took us maybe 500 yards to our plane. The plane, which was quite small and old, was remark­ably spa­cious and com­fort­able. I was in an aisle seat in a row of only two. The flight was very easy, save for the nau­sea I felt from being awake for so long.

Once I arrived in Cusco, I got my bag, found a taxi, and got to Hostal Alfonso II (though the taxi dri­ver scammed me in the process — I ended up pay­ing about five times the amount I should have). When I got to my room, I sat on my bed and got a bit emo­tional; mostly over the fact that I could now sleep. I was so glad that the travel was over. I put on more lay­ers, curled up under two alpaca blan­kets, and passed out for two and a half hours. Those hours were the longest of my life. I woke up feel­ing like I’d been out for seven hours.

We had a brief meet­ing with lunch, then some time to set­tle in before we went shop­ping for last-minute sup­plies. Later, we had a more offi­cial meet­ing to go over rules, expec­ta­tions, and itin­er­ary. Every­one seems really sweet — I think this group will be very suc­cess­ful together. We had a won­der­ful din­ner and a quirky, fairy-tale-like restau­rant, got to explore the main plaza a bit, and now…here we are. My brain revolts when I remind myself that I got in just this morn­ing. It feels like I’ve been here for days.

Tomor­row will be an inter­est­ing one, I’m sure. I am eager to see what ends up pre­sent­ing itself out there in the wilder­ness. I feel like I’ve already become a much bet­ter trav­eler; I can’t imag­ine how I’ll feel at the end of this trip.

Day Two: Travel by Bus

On this day, we spent our time on a bus, which took us over the Andes. I had a great con­ver­sa­tion with Ursula (one of our pro­fes­sors) regard­ing polit­i­cal cli­mate — of course, I found that fas­ci­nat­ing. Appar­ently, it’s a very mixed polit­i­cal spec­trum here. There are many par­ties, and the coun­try can’t really be divided into polit­i­cal regions like the U.S. can. Reli­gion and afflu­ence seem to be big­ger indi­ca­tors of polit­i­cal lean­ings. It also sounds like envi­ron­men­tal sen­ti­ment is very sim­i­lar to Ecuador (where I stud­ied abroad last year), mean­ing that most peo­ple are in favor of devel­op­ment over con­ser­va­tion — it’s that same predica­ment of humans rights in the­ory ver­sus in prac­tice that we see all over the world.

After a few hours, we stopped at Nina­marka, which is a recently exca­vated area with pre-Inca tombs. That was a fas­ci­nat­ing bit of his­tory. The tombs looked like small, one-room houses, and were made up of rough stone and mor­tar. About forty min­utes away from Nina­marka, we stopped in a pre-colonial town for a snack. They served us egg sand­wiches with tea and cof­fee. After we left the town, we descended into a nar­row val­ley where there was clearly more mois­ture. The green cover was much denser, and there was less agriculture.

We later stopped at the entrance to Manu National Park, which would be home for the next twelve days. At this stop, we took some time to walk along a trail and look at plant species. We talked about the endan­gered Polylepis tree, bromeli­ads, epi­phytes, etc. We ate our lunches of fruit with sim­ple cheese sand­wiches, and we were on our way. Our bus bot­tomed out a nub­mer of times, but it pro­vided us with won­der­ful oppor­tu­ni­ties to walk around and stretch our legs again. On one stop, we got to see six Cock of the Rocks doing their mat­ing songs and dances. They were sim­ply stun­ning birds, and their behav­ior was so pecu­liar! The males moved to new loca­tions together, try­ing to lure in the females.

After a total of about 12.5 hours of travel by bus, we’re made it to Ata­laya. Some peo­ple stayed in dorms while the rest of us camped in our tents on a big wooden plat­form. Every­one seemed in high spir­its, and we were feel­ing ready for the next two days of travel.

Returning from The Imperial City…

I just returned this morn­ing from a month in Peru and, boy, what a month it was.

My time in Peru was noth­ing short of life-changing. I feel so priv­i­leged to have spent a month with bril­liant, pas­sion­ate peo­ple who cared so much for learn­ing and so much for the health of the envi­ron­ment and its res­i­dents. Every­thing was edu­ca­tional: the places, the locals, the group mem­bers, the pro­fes­sors, and the activ­i­ties. Despite hav­ing only slept about 8 hours in the last three days, my heart feels so full and my mind feels so enriched by this experience.

Over the next week, I’ll be post­ing about my trip in chunks of two days. It was impos­si­ble to blog while in Peru; we rarely had a strong con­nec­tion, and we were quite busy nearly every day. But now that I’m home, I’m so excited to share my travel sto­ries with you read­ers! I hope that my sto­ries — the good and the bad, the beau­ti­ful and the stress­ful, the hilar­i­ous and the emo­tional — will inspire oth­ers to explore this amaz­ing blue and green gem we call home.

Stay tuned!

Dispatch from Greenland

From Chris Nel­son, Class of 2013, Nurs­ing, 2013–14 Ful­bright grant in Denmark/ Greenland

After I fin­ished up my Ful­bright to Den­mark and Green­land this sum­mer, I went even fur­ther up north to Qaanaaq, Green­land (the north­ern­most indige­nous set­tle­ment in the world) for a month of pub­lic health research into sub­sis­tence hunt­ing and fish­ing and tra­di­tional ver­sus con­ve­nience food choices. While I was in Qaanaaq, I served as Camp Nurse for the first sum­mer camp ever held there. I thought you might like to see the video that we made with the kids!

And yes, there is evi­dence of me danc­ing. At least I was in my UW hoodie!

Chris in Qaanaaq sm

Happy in Qaanaaq from Ena Kurtagic Gran­ulo on Vimeo.

I hope you are well, and happy!



PS I’m liv­ing in Anchor­age this school year to fin­ish up my MPH at the Uni­ver­sity of Alaska Anchor­age, while work­ing as an ER nurse at the Alaska Native Med­ical Cen­ter. My MPH practicum is in Bar­row, AK fea­tur­ing my adap­ta­tion of a low-literacy visual guide to food safety, par­a­sites, and dis­eases in game and fish found in the the region. And I’m apply­ing to PhD in Nurs­ing Sci­ence pro­grams for the Fall 2015 cohorts, focus­ing on indige­nous health care pol­icy! GO BOTHELL!

Life in Japan so Far

It’s been a while since I blog any­thing due to the hec­tic sched­ule. now I’m back to write more!

So far Japan has been a blast. The city of Mat­suyama kind of reminds me of home, expect for the fact that it’s hot­ter. Every­where I go, I would always feel the burn of the heat. Even the fact that it’s rain­ing doesn’t change the fact that it’s still hot. Which is sur­pris­ing for me in so many ways. While explor­ing the city of Mat­suyama, I notice that they have a really inter­est­ing pub­lic trans­porta­tion sys­tem here. Most peo­ple here that go to school ride there bikes to school. Besides writ­ing bikes, peo­ple would also take trains or buses around every­where. That doesn’t excuse the fact that peo­ple are still using cars, but not as much seems back at home for me. it’s defi­antly inter­est­ing to say that peo­ple favor other means of trans­porta­tion then cars. I would go crazy if I didn’t use my car to get around places. How­ever, I had learn to appre­ci­ate rid­ing the bikes now. They are con­ve­nient and it’s sort of fun now. I would defi­antly appre­ci­ate get­ting a bike now at home and rid­ing it to places like the store or maybe even school (highly unlikely though).  Here’s a photo of me inspect­ing my bike on the first day. 10641251_927625057254804_4894935110737405964_n

My thoughts exactly.





This morn­ing, we met up at Ehime to watch a doc­u­men­tary.  It was about the nuclear tests that were con­ducted by the United States in 1954 at Bakini Island, in the Mar­shal Islands.  Many Japan­ese fish­er­men were exposed to radi­a­tion and became very sick.  One, from a boat called Lucky Dragon even died.  Most of the rest of the crew mem­bers of these ves­sels have died of can­cer since then.  But nei­ther the Japan­ese, nor the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment has done any­thing to help these people.

The direc­tor of the doc­u­men­tary, as well as one of the main activists on this mat­ter, came to speak with us.  In the after­noon, after another lunch at the cafe­te­ria, a group of Ehime stu­dents who had seen the doc­u­men­tary before gave a pre­sen­ta­tion on research they had done on the same sub­ject.  They had gone out to 3 dif­fer­ent sights and inter­viewed 11 men who had been on fish­ing boats in the area dur­ing the nuclear tests.  The direc­tor and activist were inter­ested in the stu­dents research.  They encour­aged them to keep doing more, and to pur­sue this line of study.

After the pre­sen­ta­tion, we had a really inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion about nuclear power and nuclear tech­nol­ogy in gen­eral.  It was really great to have such a diverse cross cul­tural dia­log.  The direc­tor and activist even put in a few words.  My favorite part was that we took a pole, and all dif­fer­ent peo­ple were for or against nuclear power, and to have an intel­li­gent con­ver­sa­tion about why this is, it was very refreshing.

After this dis­cus­sion, a bunch of us (Indone­sians, Japan­ese and Amer­i­can) all went together to a big mall.  We rode our bikes to a train sta­tion and took the train out to the mall.  It was huge, crowded, and it seemed to me most of the stores sold sim­i­lar things.  I don’t love malls in Amer­ica, but this was pretty over­whelm­ing.  I wan­dered around and found a lit­tle cor­ner where there was a sort of farm­ers mar­ket.  There was a man there with fresh oys­ters.  For $20, you could pick an oys­ter, he would open it, and take the pearl inside and mount it on a set­ting of your choice.  I thought that was really cool and got one.  It is beautiful.

We came back to the share house, where the Viet­namese and Turk­ish stu­dents had made din­ner.  It was so good!!!  We all ate and hung out, then, about 10 pm, we all jumped on our bikes, and headed up to Okido mall and did karaoke!  It was so much fun.  They have cos­tumes you can wear, and each group gets their own room.  The have a pretty good selec­tion of Amer­i­can music, and every­one sang along.  The Japan­ese stu­dents sang a bunch of Japan­ese songs and every­one had a really good time.  A few peo­ple were drink­ing.  After an hour and a half (you pay per time) about half of us came home, and half went out to con­tinue drink­ing.  I came home.  It was a good night.


Dogo Hot Spring


Today we had a lec­ture start­ing at 9 from Dr. Shoji Kotake from the Japan Atomic Power Com­pany about nuclear waste man­age­ment and the plans for the next gen­er­a­tion of nuclear power.  It was a 3 hour lec­ture that was very dry, but with a lot of good infor­ma­tion.  After­wards, one of the Japan­ese stu­dents and Dr. Kotake got in a bit of an argu­ment about the Fukashima acci­dent.  It was uncom­fort­able to have some­one who is informed by the media (who don’t always have all the facts, and some­times even skew the facts they do have) argue with some­one who very obvi­ously has an agenda.

After the lec­ture, we had lunch at the cafe­te­ria.  Then, Sunny and I went for a lit­tle walk and talk.  It was really nice to not be in a big group.  Then, we met back up with every­one and had an after­noon of activ­i­ties pre­pared by the Ehime stu­dents.  First, an accapella group pre­formed some pop­u­lar Japan­ese songs.  They were great!  Then, we got to try our hand at Japan­ese cal­lig­ra­phy!  I was ter­ri­ble at it, but it was a lot of fun.  The cal­lig­ra­phy pro­fes­sor has been study­ing for a really long time, and even the Japan­ese stu­dents say they can not read all the characters.

IMG_1874   IMG_1879

After the cal­lig­ra­phy, we watched a few videos that stu­dents had made to give an intro­duc­tion to US stu­dents to Japan­ese cul­ture and Ehime Uni­ver­sity stu­dent life.  Then, we got to dress up in ucata (an infor­mal kimono) and play tra­di­tional Japan­ese games!  It was so much fun to get to hang out with every­one.  We all had a really good time.  After this, a few peo­ple wanted to do Kendo (a tra­di­tional form of mar­tial arts, with swords!), so I went and watched.  It was crazy!  They have great uni­forms and armor that look like samu­rai and they yell and hit each other.  Awesome.

IMG_1887After this, we went back to the share house and Nadia, Hamsa, Artie and I went back to the store where I got a kimono, and every­one got kimonos.  They are so beau­ti­ful.  Then, we came back to the share house, and our friend Sayako came over and we all went out to din­ner.  I can’t remem­ber the name of the food we ate, but it was basi­cally a big pan­cake filled with meat, cab­bage and onion, and cov­ered in may­on­naise, this amaz­ing brown sauce, fish flakes and ground sea weed.  Delicious!!!


After that, we came home and Sunny, Arty, and Van (a girl from Viet­nam) and I all went down to Dogo and went in the soak­ing pool!!!  It was amaz­ing.  Men and women have sep­a­rate baths.  You go in, it’s all stone and all around the walls are lit­tle shower sta­tions.  In the mid­dle there is a huge bath.  Women of all ages were in there and all naked as the day they were born.  An it was so nat­ural.  I was the only white per­son, so peo­ple looked at me a lit­tle funny, but for the most part it was the most relax­ing expe­ri­ence.  Van and I soaked for a lit­tle while, then got out, got dried off, got dressed and went back out to meet the boys.  We all wan­dered around for a lit­tle while, then wan­dered back to the share house.  It was about 10:30 pm at this point.  Sunny had been talk­ing about a doc­u­men­tary he had that he thought I would like, so we sat up and watched it.  It was beau­ti­ful.  There was no talk­ing.  Just images from all around the world.  It was a really lovely way to end a really lovely day.


15 mins of fame (rural Thailand edition)

Today was jam packed! We began with break­fast on our own which means the best of what you could find at 7/11. They told us before we left that 7/11 would become our best­friend and I was reluc­tant to believe them but now I under­stand. It is the only “guar­an­teed safe” place to eat and has sim­i­lar things to what we are used to. After break­fast it was into the vans for a 2 hour drive out to a very rural Thai vil­lage. After wind­ing down very tiny paths, not roads… And through mul­ti­ple rub­ber tree farms we made it to the pri­mary care unit that spe­cial­izes in dis­as­ter response. We were the def­i­n­i­tion of mid­dle of no where. We def­i­nitely were not expect­ing what was there wait­ing for us. All the staff was dressed in pink uni­forms, there was a stage and cabana set up wel­com­ing us and a ban­ner that said “wel­come Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ing­ton stu­dents”. That was so cool!

They we’re so excited that we were came because they said no one ever comes to them and they are never paid atten­tion to so it was a big deal that we had made the trek out there. We were sat in the front and given the “hon­orary drink” which was a pink hibis­cious tea. So yummy!!!

To begin the pre­sen­ta­tion some of the staff pre­formed a tra­di­tional Thai dance that was meant to wel­come us and was very beau­ti­ful to watch.

The pre­sen­ta­tion that fol­lowed was all about their plan for respond­ing to the needs of the men­tally ill if there were to be a dis­as­ter such as the tsunami that hap­pen a while back. They detailed the entire process which when you hear every­thing in Thai takes for­ever… Every sen­tence or two the woman would stop so Jan, our teacher, could trans­late for us so it was like have a delay in the sig­nal. Even­tu­ally we all under­stood there very well thought out plan and enjoyed what they had to say. What hap­pen next was very unex­pected. In Thai­land, hav­ing dark skin sig­ni­fies that you are a field worker and have very low eco­nomic sta­tus so nat­u­rally they strive to be as white as pos­si­ble which sig­ni­fies sta­tus since you would then be assumed to work inside all day. Need­less to say I am the whitest per­son in the group and also blonde with blue eyes. AKA a “movie star” in their per­spec­tive since the only place these peo­ple see peo­ple like me is on the tele­vi­sion. When the pre­sen­ta­tion was over and we broke for pic­tures I was imme­di­ately approached by most of the staff, about 50 women, and asked to take pic­tures with them. This was fun! They love my white skin which I get teased for at home so I was lov­ing this. Lit­tle did I know they were per­sis­tent and a lit­tle aggres­sive. This lady espe­cially loved me.

20 pic­tures later my face was start­ing to hurt and I was really in need of using the restroom. I tried to escape and since they speak no Eng­lish at all they thought I was try­ing to run away. After 20 more pic­tures I needed a break so I made a run for the bath­room but my other class­mates were already in it so that left me out in the open. Soon enough they came around the cor­ner, shrieked, and dragged me back for more pic­tures. I guess the bath­room can wait? The weird­est part about it was that there are two other girls in the group that have blonde hair and are fair skinned as well. I kept try­ing to defer to them each time but the Thai women weren’t hav­ing it, but that might of had some­thing to to with my wear­ing the tra­di­tion Thai cloth­ing so I resem­bled some­thing they were more famil­iar with. They would shake their head, point at me and then point at the cam­era as if to say smile I want another pic­ture! I finally made it to the bath­room if you were won­der­ing… But when I came out they were stand­ing there and I just had to burst out laugh­ing and run away. Who knew my white­ness would make me an instant celebrity in a rural vil­lage in the mid­dle of Thailand.

I made it upstairs to lunch where they thank­fully weren’t eat­ing in the same area but the jok­ing from my class­mates was hilar­i­ous. It was embar­rass­ing for me to be in the spot­light to obvi­ously like that but I decided to embrace it for that short time and then move on. The lunch was deli­cious and we learned that the main woman’s mother had pre­pared it for us.

There is a sweet fruit inside of these hairy look­ing ones.

We would get to meet her soon when we drove to the woman’s fruit orchards to see where the fruit that we ate at lunch actu­ally came from. They were so good! I found a new favorite one called man­goseed. The inside is white and a tex­ture that I have never had before but the fla­vor was crazy good.

I even got to pluck my own off the trees with this really long stick like they har­vest them in the field. Once we had filled our tum­mies with fruit, we headed to another pri­mary care unit that was one step up from the pre­vi­ous one. This meant it was closer into town and func­tioned more like a hos­pi­tal even though it only had 30 beds. We were wel­comed here and given another pre­sen­ta­tion before we were ush­ered off to din­ner at a loca­tion that wasn’t a restau­rant but there was food set out for us… Very con­fus­ing but the food was good so we ate snails maybe? Haha some­thing you sucked out of a shell and was really spicy.

I have been mak­ing smart food choices and I’m being rewarded for it. I don’t eat things that are poten­tially sketchy or the spicy food because I don’t like it and I haven’t had any stom­ach prob­lems so far. *knock on wood* many other peo­ple on my pro­gram are expe­ri­enc­ing bad bath­room prob­lems and diges­tive issues. Imod­ium and tums are a fre­quent topic of con­ver­sa­tion because every­one is shar­ing or in need of it con­stantly. I am slowly dis­cov­er­ing Thai­land is the most ironic place ever. It’s swel­ter­ing hot but they value mod­esty which means wear­ing more cloth­ing that the heat allows. The food is super spicy and we have to be con­stantly drink­ing water to stay hydrated but there are no toi­lets. The cos­metic prod­ucts that are sup­pose to wash your skin and keep,it look­ing young are actu­ally filled with whiten­ing prod­ucts that chem­i­cally alter your skin. Thank­fully I don’t need those :) noth­ing really makes sense but we are fig­ur­ing it out as a group and shar­ing every­thing as we go alone. Makes for some very inter­est­ing car con­ver­sa­tions :)

The best part of the night came next. We knew we were going on a canal tour because we are close to the water how­ever we didn’t know what it was going to be like. Let’s just say we are lucky to have very adven­tur­ous peo­ple in the group. Again we drive down what seems to be some­ones dri­ve­way to the edge of a canal. It looks pretty, now where is the boat? One of my friends it’s like see those 3 long wooden things with the makeshift motor on the back? That’s our ride! Ok. So they hand us life jack­ets that have never been used before, still in the plas­tic wrap­ping. That’s nice they are let­ting us use life jack­ets that have never been worn before. The rea­son they have never been worn before you may ask? BECAUSE THEY HAVE NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE!!

The lead guy excused the incon­ve­niences by say­ing “I’m sorry for any hic­cups, this is the first time we are tak­ing peo­ple out on this tour.” Lovely. Well I strap that life jacket on till it becomes part of my skin and pre­pare to cap­size at any moment. He starts the motor which sounds like a car that hasn’t been turned on in years going bump bump.…. Bump bump.… Bump bump bump bump vroooooooooom­m­m­mmm!! Ok we are off and going. As we are slowly cruis­ing through these canals it’s a mix between Florida, ani­mal planet and a wild safari trek. We have some time were we are just cruis­ing which allows me to put the pieces together. The point of this boat tour is to see the fire­flies. Sweet! It’s get­ting a lit­tle dark..The dri­ver is wear­ing a head­lamp.… And his 7 year old son is tin­ker­ing with wires and a bat­tery to hook up a giant flash­light.. Hmm? We are gonna be out here in the dark!? They have never done this before… We are off to a great start. I don’t have any other choice so I col­lect myself, look around at the beauty around and and pre­pare to enjoy the ride.

If you can believe it I actu­ally picked the best of these boats because once we got out into more open water the 3 boats split up. We were fine, cruis­ing along, try­ing to speak with the Thai peo­ple and observ­ing the nature around us. All of a sud­den we shined our light on a boat that was stopped in the water and our dri­ver starts yelling at them in Thai.. We have no idea what is going on but it doesn’t sound good. After much trans­la­tion and lis­ten­ing very intently we are told that the boat hold­ing our trans­la­tors and van dri­vers has died and they didn’t bring the tools to fix it out here. So it is pitch dark, get­ting a lit­tle cold if you can believe that and they have no way to pull this boat or make the engine start again. I tell myself, just keep look­ing at he pretty nature… I can’t under­stand what they are say­ing and I can’t get up and help so my only option is to sit there and soak it all in. Even­tu­ally they flag another fish­er­man down who is going up the river to push this boat over to a dock where they might have the tools to fix it. Ok cri­sis avoided.… Almost. As we are wait­ing for that boat to get fixed the other boat hold­ing the rest of my class­mates and one of the trans­la­tors pulls up next to us. We say hi and ask how it is going but we don’t even have to wait for a response because the trans­la­tor is scoop­ing water from the bot­tom of their boat and throw­ing it over the side. THEY ARE SINKING! So one boat’s motor died and the other one is sink­ing. This is going bad real fast how­ever my boat is still afloat and run­ning :) thank good­ness! With all of these events occurs we decide it is time to head back which is still a good 30 mins away. We all made it back safely despite all of the “hic­cups” they warned us about. That’s one night we will never for­get but a very fun one for sure!

That is all for now. I just want to say that although my blogs are funny and a lit­tle dra­matic I am actu­ally hav­ing a fab­u­lous time and learn­ing a lot about nurs­ing and myself. This is an incred­i­ble oppor­tu­nity and I am glad to be shar­ing it with you all :) tomor­row we are off to the beau­ti­ful island of Koh Samui, for a relax­ing week­end off from the pro­gram to lay on the beach and pos­si­bly go snorkeling.

Starting the Program!

Tues­day, August 26th

We woke up early this morn­ing to catch a flight to our new des­ti­na­tion, Surat Thani, which is in the south­ern part of Thai­land. The flight was only an hour so it barely felt like we were in the air and then we were here. The best part was that our plane was pink and was painted to look like a duck.

We got picked up at the air­port by 2 dri­vers and 3 hos­pi­tal staff that are asso­ci­ated with this part of the pro­gram and have been set up to help us for he next cou­ple of days. We stopped in town for some lunch as a famous restau­rant and ate what looked like pho. We stuck to the “don’t ask, just eat it pol­icy” and it turned out really good. This was also the first place I got to try a tra­di­tional Thai desert which was very dif­fer­ent from the US.

When we pulled up to the hos­pi­tal it was very green, relax­ing and rural look­ing. It looked noth­ing like a hos­pi­tal. Our group was greeted by a cou­ple of patients who had very gra­ciously made flower bou­quets out of leaves and pre­sented them to us in very respectable ways. They told us that these “patients” had actu­ally been dis­charged from the hos­pi­tal but their family’s no longer wanted them and would rather pay for them to live in the hos­pi­tal hous­ing… How sad… We were then ush­ered into a meet­ing room where the staff, who sur­pris­ingly spoke enough Eng­lish to give a pre­sen­ta­tion, told us a lit­tle about what they do there and how well their hos­pi­tal functions.

The next part was my favorite! We actu­ally got to go see where they treat the patients and where they live depend­ing on why they are there. The first one was to the house of the peo­ple who live there because their fam­i­lies refuse to take them back. These peo­ple were very nice, serv­ing us iced tea and speak­ing what lit­tle Eng­lish they know. As we are all stand­ing in a group, mind you these peo­ple are star­ring at us the whole time like we are some mar­t­ian crea­tures, one of the older guys comes up to us, stares me right in the face and screams “DO YOU BELIEVE IN GOD?!” I was so taken off guard that I was at a loss for words… I lit­er­ally just starred at him then at my teacher with a “save me” expres­sion. That was bizarre.… From there I avoided any other mishaps such as this one and the man got on a bike that pumps water when you ped­dle. Thank good­ness he found a distraction.

We con­tin­ued to the house where peo­ple with sub­stance abuse prob­lems live. They of course starred at us too and wanted to take pic­tures with the tallest guy in our group because he looks so dif­fer­ent. We left there with­out talk­ing to many of them and con­tin­ued on to what I thought was the most intense part of the site visit. In Thai­land the major­ity of peo­ple who have a men­tal dis­or­der suf­fer from schiz­o­phre­nia. The ini­tial treat­ment is med­ica­tion and coun­sel­ing how­ever if that doesn’t work you are then pre­scribed elec­tric shock ther­apy. This came as a shock to me because I thought this prac­tice was erad­i­cated with lobot­o­mies a long time ago… Do they really still do his to peo­ple. We explored the room where they pre­form them and where they recover and hat was enough for me.., I would rather not think about an elec­tric charge surg­ing through someone’s brain induc­ing a seizure. They said this was a very effec­tive tech­nique but for me that did not make it sound any less scary or painful. We were happy to get out of there and move onto the children’s unit.

Tonight our pro­fes­sor sug­gested that we go to a mar­ket down by the water to have din­ner… This was a dis­as­ter. It poured rain and none of us had jack­ets because you don’t ever need them and it’s to hot to wear them oth­er­wise. Long story short, we all got drenched like lit­tle wet rats and stum­bled into din­ner look­ing as though we had swam there. After a while of being in he rain I decided to just embrace it and feel the wet­ness because there was no other option and it wasn’t really that cold. I guess I can check run­ning through the rain off my list along with not eat­ing din­ner because it was too spicy. Good thing I like plain white rice :) Since I couldn’t eat that much at din­ner, we decided to go get ice cream at 7/11 and got a very big sur­prise! Just walk­ing down the street on a leash was a giant ele­phant! This is the first one I have seen since we have been here and in such a ran­dom place.

Tomor­row we are off to a monastery and to talk to some fish­er­man. That shall be interesting

Ikata Nuclear Power Plant


Today, we went on a trip to see the nuclear reac­tor at Ikata.  We were up and on the bus by 9, and off on adven­ture!  We drove south west­ish for about an hour and ended up in Uchiko, a tiny town that has pre­served and kept up his­tor­i­cal build­ings.  We got to tour a tra­di­tional Japan­ese the­ater, all the way down to the base­ment (they call it hell) where we could see the mech­a­nism for turn­ing the round cut-out of the stage, and the plat­forms that raise and lower to admit the hero (front and cen­ter) or ninja and other myth­i­cal beings (off to the left of the stage).  We then wan­dered down lit­tle streets and alley­ways (noth­ing like our alley­ways, but tiny lit­tle pas­sages between build­ings) and saw a tra­di­tional apothe­cary, com­plete with man­nequins rep­re­sent­ing the owner, his fam­ily, and the worker.  Next was a tra­di­tional home.  Absolutely stun­ning.  Big main room, tatami rooms for bed­rooms, huge open court­yard in the cen­ter.  The detail in the wood work through­out was incredible.

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After the house, we stopped by one of the only tra­di­tional can­dle mak­ers left in all of Japan.  They actu­ally hand roll each and every can­dle!  Fancy Japan­ese hotels and restau­rants order them, but it was about $4.00 for one small can­dle.  Of course, I bought one.  And a tra­di­tional can­dle stick holder, hand made in the same town.  Then, back onto the bus.  The tour guides were amaz­ing.  Great Eng­lish, and very enter­tain­ing.  And so sweet.


We drove down the road to an out­door mar­ket for lunch.  They had all kinds of fruit, veg­gies, and a bak­ery that smelled absolutely divine.  I couldn’t stay in the bak­ery part, because they had just put out hot, fresh bread, and I REALLY wanted it.  Instead, I grabbed some chicken, some rice and veg­gies, and some fresh car­rots.  Not as good as hot fresh bread, but it was pretty good. Then, we jumped back on the bus and drove about another hour to Ikata.

In Ikata, we went straight to the vis­i­tor cen­ter of the Power plant, where we met a man who has been an activist against nuclear power for 40 years.  He showed us a memo­r­ial that the man who owned the land on top of the hill above the power plant had erected in oppo­si­tion to the plant.  Then, he and two older women gave a lec­ture about why they think nuclear power is bad.  They all believed very fiercely that noth­ing good can come from it.


After this lec­ture, we got to see a film made by the power plant about the power plant, and tour the vis­i­tor cen­ter.  There were a bunch of lit­tle exhibits and inter­ac­tive activ­i­ties.  My favorite part was an exhibit on how the whole sys­tem works:  The reac­tor heats pres­sur­ized water, that water heats other water that cre­ates steam that turns a tur­bine that cre­ates energy.  Very inter­est­ing display.

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After this, we jumped back on the bus and headed toward home.  We drove home along the coast, and stopped at a rest stop that had a lit­tle beach.  There was also a lit­tle fish ven­dor who had just boiled a bunch of octo­pus.  It was CRAZY!!  When we got back, we had to say good buy to Dr. Matt.  He is headed home because he just found out that his girl­friend was diag­nosed with stage 4 can­cer.  She is 25. We are all very sad to see him go, but glad he will get to go be with her.

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After Dr. Matt left, most of us jumped on our bikes and rode about 25 min­utes down the road to the sushi place that my home stay fam­ily had taken me to.  It was so good!!  I sat with Alex (from Amer­ica), Arty (from Indone­sia), Shiho (from Japan), and Hiate (from Japan).  It was so much fun!!  After wards, a bunch of peo­ple went out drink­ing, but I stayed home and went to bed.  Another great day.


The Cat Cafe


O Japan!  Got up this morn­ing, worked on catch­ing up my blog (posted the last 3 this morn­ing:-) and had a leisurely break­fast.  Class started at 10, and Dr. Matt talked again about the nucleus, fusion, fis­sion, and bombs.  Then we did a brief dis­cus­sion about Hiroshima.  It was so inter­est­ing to get the per­spec­tives of the stu­dents from other coun­tries.  The Indone­sian stu­dents were par­tic­u­larly mov­ing.  They told us how Japan had occu­pied Indone­sia up until 11 days after the bomb­ing of Hiroshima.  That bomb, they were always taught, it what gave them their inde­pen­dents.  It was a good thing.  But to actu­ally go to Hiroshima, to see the dam­age, the death, it puts a whole new per­spec­tive on the actual event.  Even the Japan­ese stu­dents, they know that Japan is not only a vic­tim of the war.  They are taught all the ter­ri­ble things that Japan­ese peo­ple did.  And they see the after effects of war even still today.


After our dis­cus­sion, we broke for lunch.  Sunny and I went to a lit­tle cafe on cam­pus where our friend Yuri works.  I had “Taco Rice”, which was like a Mex­i­can taco, only with rice instead of a tor­tilla!  It tasted like home:-)  Then, we headed back to class where Tsuchia-sensi gave a lec­ture on Japan­ese pol­i­tics and nuclear power.  We will go visit a nuclear power plant tomor­row, but there is a lot of con­tro­versy over all nuclear plants in Japan.  They have very low pub­lic opinion.

After this lec­ture, we were dis­missed for the day.  I met up with Yuri after she got off work, and we hung out in the sun while she ate a quick lunch.  One of Yuri’s friends, a PHD stu­dent from Sudan stopped by and we talked for a while.  He invited us to a soc­cer match on Sun­day.  He is study­ing robot­ics, and work­ing on a robot that will fol­low peo­ple who run marathons and cary water and such for them.  He seemed like a really nice guy.

After lunch, Yuri and I rode our bikes to up to the big mall, Okido.  Our mis­sion: The Cat Cafe.  It was so funny.  You walk in, and it’s a room full of Japan­ese peo­ple, sit­ting on the floor and couch, and cats.  All kinds of cats, lay­ing around.  You can pet them, feed them, but not hold them.  If they get in your lap, that’s ok, but you can’t pick them up.  It was a very strange place.  But they did have a munchkin cat.  He had a nor­mal cat body, but these tiny lit­tle legs.  It was really funny to see.  We stayed for about half an hour, but when we got there, a few peo­ple were asleep on the couches.  And they didn’t seem like they were about to move when we left.  Japan is a strange place.

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After the cat cafe, I rode my bike past the hot spring to a really big Shinto shrine.  This one has 88 dif­fer­ent shrines all in one park­like set­ting.  It was beau­ti­ful.  On the top of one of the 2 hills that the park encom­passes, there is a huge statue.  I tried to hike up to it, got a lit­tle lost, and ended up on the peak across from it.  The scene from the top of the hill was spec­tac­u­lar.  I had a great van­tage to see the big statue, and a fab­u­lous view of the city.  I won­dered back down the hill amongst worn dirt  paths and minia­ture shrines.  At the bot­tom, there are huge wooden build­ing, tem­ples, and tiny lit­tle shrines all jum­bled together.  Each one by itself is beau­ti­ful, but all together, they cre­ate an almost mag­i­cal space.  Incense burns at a few.  Peo­ple place strings of paper cranes at oth­ers.  And at still oth­ers, plaques, stones with inscrip­tions, coins.  Towards the back, there is a gate to a ceme­tery.  There are rows upon rows of shrines to loved ones lost.  And at each, a bot­tle of green tea.  In case they get thirsty on the hot sum­mer days.

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I made my way back toward the share house, but I had to pass the hot springs, so why not sit down and soak my feet?  It is almost 6, so I sit a while, and at 6, the clock tower goes off, a whole dis­play for all the tourists.  I watch this, then swing by the gro­cery store for break­fast sup­plies.  Then, it’s back to the share house.

Tonight is Indone­sian night.  Arty, Jen and Nadia slave away in the kitchen, and the result, mag­nif­i­cent.  It was spicy, sweet, salty, and deli­cious.  Every­one had a really good time.  We all hung out for a lit­tle, some peo­ple wan­dered down to Dogo, some hung at home play­ing cards.  I took a shower, and headed to bed.  Another fan­tas­tic day full of adventure!