Ni Juu Kyuu… or bust

It’s official! I am in the last year of my twenties! Lord, I cannot believe I turned 29 on Monday. I finally dragged my way out of my week long death cold just in time for assignment deadlines and finals week prep so I put the birthday celebrations on hold. The gang were having none of it however and gatecrashed the war room (aka my desk) with a cute card, cake and flowers. Bunch of bloody cuties they are. I guess a girl only turns 29 once after all.

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The rest of the week has been pretty chilled. I am back up in the early AM doing terrible Yoga again which was my new ‘old age’ resolution to myself.  We have a sea wall out the front of AP4 that you can walk along and so I set my mat up there in time for sunrise and do some stretches. I now have a few fisherman friends who wave to me (and laugh at my silly posing) when they put their boats out in the morning.

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We went to Oita on Tuesday night to see Guardians of the Galaxy 2 which was fab. Any night that ends in Chris Pratt is always fine by me! One of the lads bought a BBQ from Hirose so we had that on the beach on Wednesday evening; felt just like home!

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All I have really done since then is study. As Rhianna says, all we do is work, work, work, work, work…. Well, actually that is not strictly true. We also do spend a large portion of our time having a little too much fun so occasional adulting is sometimes required. This week however I was in study mode, cranking out 3-4am finishes which was great fun… The mysterious coffee Gods have thankfully refilled the coffee vending machine downstairs FINALLY; saved my life on a number of occasions this week I tell you.

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We are almost into our final week of first quarter which is complete madness. I can’t believe we have been here two months, it is going so fast. The semester is split into two quarters so some classes will only run for eight weeks, whereas others will go for the full time you are there. You must take a minimum of eight credits (4 classes) and there is no limit on the maximum. I am taking 20 which is ten classes, four this semester and six the next. You choose all your classes in the first week via the infamous ‘Click Wars’. I have to admit, I was a little apprehensive when I heard about this. Exchange students are the last people to pick their classes and there are only a certain number of spaces left so it really is first come first serve. They bring you all up to the school and sit you in a computer room facing a big red clock that is counting down in an ominous fashion; kind of like every doomsday clock you have ever seen in any disaster movie. Once it hits zero, all 83 of us had to log in and select our classes. Even more helpful is that you can only pick a class one at a time so you have to keep logging in which only adds to the stress. Once the hunger games is over, you have one week to drop and swap with other students. There is a Facebook page devoted to connecting people that want to swap classes with each other. The key to surviving Click Wars is to always have back ups. I had a few up my sleeve so was able to get everything I needed to cover my credits. There are a number of tricks that really helped us out so if you are reading this post as you are going to APU, don’t hesitate to hit me up with an email and I will give you the 411 of surviving APU’s own educational hunger games.

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Classes themselves are different. I am a distance student so actually going to class (as opposed to sitting in my pjs with my laptop) is a new experience for me. I am loving the class content so far. I am taking a lot of environmental science classes which I haven’t done before so it is really interesting. Considering I haven’t actually sat science in about fifteen years, some of it has been a little challenging but nothing that an extra strong coffee and Professor Google hasn’t been able to sort out. The home work so far has been fairly manageable but we wait with bated breath for finals next week! I will write a little more again about the classes and APU soon.

Anyways, I have much more to tell you but I am currently in Tokyo finally celebrating my birthday!! I flew up from Oita airport last night with five of the gang and we are staying in Shibuya hostel which is fab. Having a sneaky coffee break while I digest the biggest and most delicious bowl of noodles I have ever had eaten before I return to the chaos of the city that never sleeps. Will let you know how the weekend goes next week! Until then, have a good one!

Sian xo

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Waking up at Shibuya Crossing

I get by with a little help from my friends

If you reading this blog as a guide to what to expect on your student exchange, I can’t emphasis enough how much fun you are going to have; it truly is the best decision I have ever made and I have had the best experience over the last few weeks. I wanted to write this entry as I feel it is important to let you know that there will be the odd occasion when you may feel a little disconnected from life here or back home, and that is okay. Sometimes, it is when you are first arriving and finding your feet, or when you are feeling under the pump during the exam period, or perhaps it is during times when you would be celebrating events back home. It is totally normal and the important thing to remember is that you are not by yourself… like trust me, it is impossible to be alone in this place! You can’t even go to the laundry without bumping into someone shuffling around in their PJs. Your AP crew is your family while you are on exchange, they are all in the same situation as you and it is important that you take care of each other.

So, as I am choosing to write about this, you can guess I had a bit of a rough week.

It started great. We had got a whole bunch of people together for a karaoke trip last Saturday and ventured out en mass into Beppu. Unfortunately, it was Golden Week (a week of public holidays in Japan) and Wei Wei’s knocked us back. It turns out they prefer to keep the rooms for Japanese people only during this time, and as much as we tried to respect that, it did feel a little unfair considering that a lot of the rooms were free. As it happens, we had an even better night playing ‘AP4 Eurovision’ down at the beach until the early hours. The night ended with a cheeky 0500 trip to Maccas to eat brekky while the sun came up before we made it into bed. I woke up a few hours later feeling surprisingly fine for a Sunday morning, did my homework and sorted out myself for the upcoming week like a proper champion.

I should have suspected my bounce back was too good to be true. I woke up on Monday with an annoying sore throat. Tuesday, I had itchy ears and a voice that rivalled Barry White. By Wednesday, I was a flu-y mess. Call it penance for a weekend enjoyed too much I guess. I had also been perhaps a little too smug about my avoidance of all the colds that everyone else caught when they first arrived, so much so that I had kept half the house going on the supply of Codral I’d brought from home. So when it was eventually my turn, it hit me hard. Unfortunately, I had given away my last two tablets only the week before and was therefore left to the mercy of Japanese cold and flu medication. Japanese meds aren’t particularly strong here. Not like back home where it dries out your face in seconds and gives you a much needed kick in the butt to keep going; so it took a few days for me to really start fighting the bug off. I spent most of the end of the week sweating to death in bed, forcing myself to drink tea (which I hate) and taking long hot soaks in the world’s tiniest bathtub, all the while trying to go to class, do homework, communicate with group project participants in a non shirty manner and torturing myself endlessly that my CSU assignment deadline was looming and I was still a long way off finishing. I was also completely sleep deprived as, every time I would lie down, my whole face would block up and I couldn’t breath so I was getting the odd hour kip here and there propped up against the bed head. Then, on Thursday night, I had a scare from back home involving my little brother. Everything turned out to be fine but in my fragile, sleep deprived, cold inflicted state, it was just one thing too many. I was tired, sick, emotional, missing my family and feeling totally miserable, and so I hid out in my room to avoid dealing with anything or anyone else.

The reason why I am telling you this is because feeling a little out of sorts happens to everyone at some point and we should be honest about it. Otherwise you think that no one else ever feels the same way you do which makes people feel even worse, even more disconnected. Of course, when you disappear, people will always come and find you. My beautiful housemates weren’t having any of my self imposed exile and, while respecting my need for some time out, hooked me up with tea, chocolate, hugs and trips to the pharmacy, just as I had done for them in the weeks prior. Finally, the medication began to work and, after a solid and much needed twelve hour sleep last night, I was ready to face the world again this morning. I hit up Starbucks with a friend for a good chat and giggle over coffee and finally began to feel like my old self again. Tomorrow, I will return to the world in time for the much anticipated Sunday morning breakfast and Eurovision house sleep over in the lounge; a perfect reintroduction to AP4 life if there ever was one.

So this week was a minor blip in an otherwise fabulous experience so far. I wasn’t expecting it and had never really felt home sick before  when travelling so it definitely knocked me about. I am so unbelievably glad to feel better and get back to enjoying my APU experience, especially the upcoming trip to Tokyo next weekend. I sincerely hope you do not experience anything similar but if you do, it is okay to take time out and look after yourself. It is also important to keep an eye out for those who might also be having a harder time adjusting or experiencing a few off days. AP4 quickly becomes your family and the more you look out for each other, the quicker and easier you get through the harder days.

Anyways, this is about as serious I ever get so consider this my one and only ‘adulting’ post amongst the tales of adventure, study and wayward night time adventures.

 

I shall leave you with some of my ‘lessons learned’ for the week;

  1. Sometimes you will feel disconnected or out of sorts and that is okay
  2. Taking time out to regroup is a good thing, just don’t isolate yourself too much
  3. AP4 is your family while you are away; take care of each other
  4. Learn the kanji for ‘cold medication’ and ‘painkillers’ – trust me, it will help
  5. Always keep a secret stash of codral as a back up (just in case)
  6. Your student exchange is a whirlwind of emotions and experiences, take it all in your stride and enjoy the journey!

Love ya’s

xo

 

The Rough (as guts) Guide to Beppu by night

Twas the night after Karaoke and all through AP4 House, not a student was stirring… probably because they all went to bed at 6am and are still in bed either sleeping or severely regretting their lifestyle choices this morning. I am the latter and it is with this thought, as I sit in my pyjamas trying to avoid making eye contact with the To Do list on my wall, I thought I would tell you a little about the night life here. Beppu is a smaller town but that does not mean there isn’t lots of fun to be had. Nights out are the way you make friends fast and I totally encourage any newbies here to try and get out on as many of the organised events that happen during the first few weeks as possible. Six weeks in, our week nights are usually spent eating together at the house and group homework sessions so by the time the weekend comes around, we are ready to get out and have some fun!

Drinking is not allowed in the common areas at the house so we usually meet in one of the rooms for a ‘pre-game’ gathering, before heading out into town after 10PM. Being on the central fourth floor (and being as old as I am, the only person with actual wine glasses), my room is usually volunteered as tribute. It’s always a good start to the night as you get to see with people from other floors who you may not see on weekdays; sharing music from our countries, playing card games and catch up on our school week.

Karaoke is one of our favourite ways to spend a night out here in Beppu. Wei Wei’s is our usual venue although there are many places to choose from. You can rent a room for three hours at 10,000 Yen and so the more people that go, the cheaper it is per person. It is also BYO food and drink which helps support the ol’ student bank account. We usually chuck out a message on the House Facebook page a few days before and are never in short supply of people wanting to attend. For many of us, public singing is not really our thing but, since there is always around 20 – 40 of us in attendance and group singing is encouraged (and usually unavoidable), you have the luxury of never really having to hear your own voice. They take Karaoke super seriously in Japan and the song selection is endless. Part of the fun of karaoke with an international crew is that you get to learn the words to songs you know in other languages. There is a rather amusing video circulating somewhere of us enthusiastically attempting 99 Red Balloons in German and fully butchering La Vie en Rose in French. Apparently I gave a rather exuberant rendition of Men at Work ‘Land Down Under’ last week although my memory of the performance is admittedly a little hazy.

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Getting set up for Karaoke 

Across the road from Wei Wei’s is a little bar that we often frequent on the weekend called Pirates. Pirates follows the Japanese drinking tradition of ‘Nomihoudai’ in which you pay 1000 Yen for three hours of ‘all you can drink’. None of the drinks are particularly strong but it is always a great night of cards, laughs and banter, and regularly a precursor for a night of dancing!

Drink up me hearties Yo Ho!

If you ever grew up in a small town, you will recognise BSB; the Beppu Social Bar. Every town has a place like it. It’s that ‘club’ that you swear you will never go but somehow you always end up there dancing to really bad music at 3am. It isn’t the worst place in the world and it does serve a purpose by providing somewhere to dance in the wee hours, but it does allow smoking which I absolute hate in bars. Having grew up in a time when smoking was prolific in drinking establishments, I was suddenly reminded why it was so great when the laws were passed to ban it. If you stick close to the DJ booth, you are usually okay and it is a good venue to get together with your gang and dance the night away!

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Some of the gang take a break from dancing 

So that is the main contenders for places you will probably frequent the most if you find yourself in Beppu. Definite pros to the place are that it is very safe. We always make sure that we travel together at night, no one is ever left behind by themselves and everyone always has an escort home, but you definitely don’t have the same harassment that you would back in Western bars which is refreshing.

In addition, the walk home from town takes us past 7/11 so therefore a stop for ice cream is always in order. I will talk more about 7/11 and our house’s icecream addiction in an upcoming post relating to the wierd and wonderful shopping in Japan (trust me, its awesomeness needs its own segment).

Finally, as we are right by the beach, there is always an opportunity to watch the sun come up before bed. It’s total madness and you have to ensure there is a non-school day the next day, but its worth it just once if you can managed to stay awake. The sunrise from Mahatogama Park next to AP4 Building is truly stunning (especially with an icecream).

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Early AM shot in the land of the rising sun

So I should probably leave you here, get dressed and start adulting; that homework isn’t going to do itself after all (damn it). For the purposes of balance, I’ll give you an introduction to APU and my start to school life here next. I start week four of classes tomorrow, can’t believe it has already been that long! Have an excellent end to your weekends and wish me luck with my productivity, I certainly will need it.

Xo

 

Konichiwa!

Konichiwa! Greetings from Beppu, Japan!

So we are officially on week five of my Japanese exchange; gosh it has flown. On the one hand, I can’t believe it’s already the beginning of May (where did April go?!) and yet it also feels like I have been here for months. Apologies for the delay in updating, the month really has been a mad introduction to APU life and time between school, socialising and exploring (as well as a fair amount of recovery!) has been scarce. Where did I leave this last? Ah yes, right on the travelling precipice; would I make it to Japan? Would my bag follow me? Well I am very glad to say that after a merry 36 hour stint adventuring around Tokyo and catching some minimal Zzzs in my capsule hotel, my wayward backpack and I were finally reunited at Narita Airport in time for my flight to Oita. Tokyo is the very definition of madness; a fantastic, mind blowing madness that must be seen to be believed. I had heard numerous differing reviews but on arrival I gave it my heart and it rewarded me accordingly with the most beautiful sights, sounds, food and people. The crew and I are heading back up there in two weeks and I am very much looking forward to getting back.

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I arrived in Oita late on the Tuesday night and was promptly met by an APU representative who shuffled us all onto a bus and sent us on our way us to our new home; AP4 House in the town of Beppu. Beppu is a fun yet surreal place, often referred to by us exchange kids as ‘Japan-lite’; it’s very Japanese in some ways, and totally not in others. The locals are very used to us crazy foreigners being constantly perplexed by how things work and are more than happy to help out when we look lost or confused. Saying that, the town has adapted to the influx of international students and tourists and therefore many things have been updated to suit our needs. You also spend a lot of time speaking English, to the point that it is entirely easy to forget you’re in Japan altogether, that is until you suddenly you find yourself trying to decipher the names of mysterious ingredients in the supermarket whilst singing along to the amazingly Japanese jingles. Whatever level your Japanese is at, the two magic phrases to know is ‘arigatou gozaimasu’ (thanks – present tense) and sumimasen (Excuse me/I’m sorry). The latter can get you out of all sorts of trouble I assure you; bumping into someone accidentally (sumimasen!), getting someone’s attention (sumimasen!), holding up the shopping queue while you count your tiny yen coins (sumimasen!). I must use this word at least ten times a day.

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The rectangular building on the left of the road with the green roof is home!

School term started late and so we were left with three weeks of free time and new friends to make. You find your clique pretty quickly and everyone tends to refer to those outside of their group by their country name which makes things a little easier when you cram 83 internationals into one high rise. The group as a whole is a lot of fun and you gradually get to know those you live through the numerous night outs, day trips or simply by crossing paths in the kitchen. We spent the first few weeks eating out most nights at many of Beppu’s hundreds of delicious restaurants which was fab, until our stomachs and wallets gave us a little reminder that we were here for a full semester and should probably break it up a little with some good ol’ fashioned home cooking. Now, we usually get together in the kitchen a few nights a week, do homework and cook with whoever is around (we call it Pot Luck dinner), and share whatever we have as a way to try new cuisines and make our student budgets travel further.

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The town of Beppu is fairly small but there is plenty to see and do, plus it is relatively close to many towns in the Oita Prefecture as well as easily connectable to wider Japan via the JR system. Beppu itself is also famous for hot springs (or Onsens) and have a Fire Festival to celebrate them in April. They are located all over town and you can choose a mixed (in which you can wear your togs) or the more traditional gender specific that usually requires no swim suits. Obviously your choice will depend on how comfortable you are in such situations but I will say that if you ever want to break down barriers with new friends, some awkward cultural nudity will definitely make you family… well that and partaking in bad karaoke anyway.

 

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Some of the crew post Onsen soak plus a pic from the Fire Festival honouring the Onsen Gods! 

School started two and a half weeks ago and it is definitely an experience unlike any other. The university itself is a small but beautiful campus, set high on the mountain. The journey to school, whilst providing some stellar views, does admittedly have a bit of a ‘final destination’ feel about it with tight turns and perilous drops but it does create an amusing atmosphere in the usually crammed buses. Once you hit the top of the hill, you are rewarded with stellar views of the valley, a fun community of students and proper coffee (always a winning find in places like this). I will write again regarding my first couple of weeks at school shortly, there is lots to tell so I shall leave you in suspense for now hehehe.

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Views from the APU Campus 

So I will leave you here but will write again later this week about my introduction to APU life, the legendary Click Wars, some wayward Pirates, bad karaoke and an unexpected introduction to the Japanese medical system. It will either be kawaii or kawai, stay tuned to find out which!

Xo