Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Bike Trip 3/16-17/2013

AJET Charity Bike Ride:  Everyone on Sunday Morning before the 2nd day Ride

The Oita AJET organization hosts several events every year like a scavenger hunt, welcome parties, sayounara parties, etc.  This past weekend, for the 2nd year in a row, I participated in the yearly bike trip .  This cycling event is organized to raise money for charity.  Last year the money went to a charity in Japan.  This year the money will go to Foundation 18, a charity that helps children in Indonesia.  The Oita AJET charity bike ride is popular and we get JET ALTs and their friends from all over Japan.  This year I think the furthest participants came was from Okayama, about 300 miles away.

The organizers have a big job to do!  This year Nichole and Rhianna selected the route, tested it, drove it, mapped it, and found rental bikes for people who wanted to participate but don't have a bike, like me.  They also had to get a truck to transport those bikes to and from the meeting places.  They arranged food for all of the approximately 65 participants including snacks all day for the riders and volunteers, dinner on day 1, and breakfast on day 2.  They secured cabins at the campground that we rode to, ordered t-shirts, towels, bags, and rider numbers, collected participation fees and charity donations from all the riders, and informed everyone what they would need before, during, and after the trip.  Nichole and Rhianna also recruited volunteers to ride in cars along the route to make sure riders made the correct turns and always had food and water if they needed it.  Nichole and Seiichi were ready with knowledge and tools in case any riders broke down or needed assistance.  They did a lot of work!

64 Registered Participants
47 First Timers
40 Bike Riders
24 Non-Oitans
17 Veterans
8 Prefectures Represented
1 Goal: Support Foundation 18!
I volunteered last year and drove the route and supplied food, water, and directions.  We had a great time and I wanted to try to bike this year, so I signed up, but I had doubts since I hadn't ridden a bike in about 15 years.  I borrowed a friend's bike for a practice ride a few weeks ago, and that went alright, although my seat was too high even on the lowest setting  and I was really sore for days after.  On day 1 I showed up and picked out my bike.  It became clear that I don't know anything about bikes, or I wouldn't have attempted this 80km ride (about 50 miles) on a little town bike.  I thought my bike was so cute and I loved it.  People were giving me doubtful comments before the ride started.  I did not take heed.

My total crap bike

I was in the back of the pack within a few minutes and dead last for the rest of the miles I completed.  And it didn't help that one of the volunteers called me and said I must be lost.  I sat there e-mailing map pins to my location for about 15 minutes until I found out that I was on the right track and should keep going.  My bike was so difficult to ride.  On one hill I just got off and walked my bike up.  Finally Seiichi, who is basically a professional level cyclist, rode with me so I wasn't alone.  He literally put his hand on my back and pushed me up some of the hills, while riding his own bike.  I don't know how he did it.

I got to a volunteer vehicle and stopped for a rest.  One thing some of the volunteers are asked to consider is riding for a cyclist for a while if they need a break.  I was going to keep going, despite how arduous the past 25 miles had been, but a volunteer, my friend Kate, kinda wanted to cycle for a while and asked if I would mind.  I don't think I ever would have quit, but since she asked, I enthusiastically lent my bike to her.  I sat in the car with a serious endorphin high.  I had worked really hard to get those 25 miles down the road.  

My friends Kane and Patrick

The bike broke down on her after a while and neither of us cycled any more that day.  That night, Saturday night, we got to the cabins and I lay on the sweet floor, thankful to no longer have to move.  The organizers and awesome volunteers brought to our cabins the makings for soft tacos.  Bekah cooked the meat while I took a shower with borrowed soap:  Japan is cool because since we all go to the onsen together, walking around naked isn't that big of a deal.  I had an onsen towel which is about 10 inches wide and hangs from about your sternum to mid-thigh, and those who want to be more modest in the onsen hold it like that as they go from bath to bath...  Anyway, I put on clean clothes and we all had soft tacos.  After that we played nerd trivia which entailed us asking each other self-made questions about George Lucas and Harry Potter.  Then we went to the evening meeting where we had a little awards ceremony; best volunteer, best sign, first rider to camp, and first rider to retire.  That was me!!  I got a trophy for being the first rider to "retire."  As soon as they brought it up I was pretty sure it was me and I was beet red as I received my trophy.  

The cabin 6 girls from left- Lena, Francesca, Me, Bekah (Not pictured, Azusa)

Then we got to watch Seiichi propose to Nichole!!!!!!!  I was so happy.  Nichole is my best friend in Japan, and I suspect will be a friend for life now since we are both from Florida and can see each other whenever she visits from Japan.  I have heard so much along the way about Seiichi and about them together.  He is such a good-humoured, generous person and she deserves him.  Nichole and Seiichi are awesome together and I was filled to bursting with excitement when I found out what was gonna happen.  Seiichi sat next to me during the awards and Nichole was up there giving them out having NO IDEA.  He practiced in my ear, "Will-you-marry-me?"  I said that yes, that was right, and that he had to get on his knee and hold her hand.  Finally, the lights were turned out and we all turned bike lights on them.  This out-of-prefecture kid was supposed to play Bruno Mars' Will You Marry Me, but he accidentally played The Lazy Song.  He fixed it quickly though.  Then Seiichi got on his knee and Nichole was like, "What are you doing?  What are you doing?"  Seiichi got the box out of his pocket and the rest is history.  She said, "Of course!"  The guys were saying that even they teared up.  It was great.

Then we played Bingo and I didn't win, but Martin won both of the Plumeria flower hair clips and he gave them to me the next day.  :-)  

Then I went to bed at about 9pm.

My beloved road bike... I made it!!!

On Sunday we all got up early, ate breakfast, and got on the road, sort of.  That process took a long time what with group pictures, an info meeting, driving the bikes to the starting point, shuttling riders, etc.  I think we got out by 10am-ish.  I got an actual road bike on Sunday and for more than half of the trip, I wasn't last!!!  I actually got to rest points and there were other people there!  It was exciting.  At our last rest with about 20 km left I had to sit for a while.  Other riders arrived and left and that's when my pack became last.  I also had to walk my bike up some hills because I couldn't figure out how to use my gears, but my pack mates checked it out for me and showed me how and that really helped.  Finally, finally we pulled into the Tsukumin Park after 80 km of cycling.  I did it!  A "High 5 tunnel" was prepared for our arrival, but I couldn't take my hands off to high 5... I tried and I almost crashed into people, which was appropriate for the last person to arrive.  This time I won the medal for being last, and it wasn't like the trophy for being the first to quit.  I was actually proud 'cause I MADE IT!!  

The 1st and Last to arrive

Honestly, I figured a point would come during the day where I could gracefully bow out.  I thought maybe I would need a repair or maybe someone would ask to ride like the day before.  That situation never came up, I just kept going, and I finished.  I'm really happy that I finished.  I read somewhere that completing goals like that actually matters.  It registers in our brains and bodies in ways we don't know, and influences our future thinking.  I thought about that during the day.  I knew I could quit anytime if I wanted to, but once I got to a rest and realised I was already half way, I decided I wanted to make it.

I wasn't tired after the ride.  I actually felt energized.  But I knew that really I must need rest.  I got home and took a hot bath and did 1-load of laundry 'cause I absolutely had to, and I hit the sheets at about 9pm.  

 At one point I had convinced myself that I would likely fall off my bike and get mortally wounded.  But, I never fell off once!  Yay! 

Today I feel great physically.  I mean, I feel tense and sore, but I can feeeeeel the goodness it did for my body to be out and active in the fresh air, in nature, all weekend.  The other day I realized that I hadn't really spent any time outside for days.  Just car to work to car to house.  So I took about an hour and a half to walk to my Starbucks date and rode the bus home.  I love the way my body feels after this ride.  I'm worn out in the healthiest way and I can feel how good it is for me.  

AND I raised ¥8000 for charity!  Here is the website for Foundation 18.  If you think cycling 50 miles after not riding a bike for 15 years is awesome, donate for the kids!!

From Japan,


Thursday, March 14, 2013

JK Rowling's Other Book

I just finished J.K. Rowling's first novel since the series-that-need-not-be-named, also her only other novel.

I'm sort of in a state of just sitting here experiencing my own emotional and physical reaction to her novel The Casual Vacancy.  (Does anyone underline books anymore?)  If a book moves me, I consider it a successful reading experience, and this definitely was.

To be honest, I was completely bored with it at first.  I have this arbitrary number of pages I choose to finish before I become suspicious of a book's capacity to move or entertain me.  Sixty pages.  If I get to page sixty and I'm not yet drawn in, anxious to get Knox to bed so I can read, stealing off to the tatami room to get in a few more pages, then... well, I don't throw the book into a fiery pit... I don't really do anything.  I just keep reading, hoping it will get better.  It takes A LOT for me to put a book down and not finish it.  Once we've had two or three sittings together, I feel an untenable responsibility to finish the book.  

So there I was at page 120, and I still didn't give a dang about any of the characters or what happened to them next.  I've looked back through the book and I'm not sure what changed in the book to change my interest in it, except that Tessa Wall started getting more page time and she is a character I related to.

I'm glad I didn't disregard the book at page 120 because it ended up starkly illustrating how the apathy of people erodes lives, families, and communities.  How turning a blind eye to someone who needs you might be nothing to your life, but everything to theirs.

J.K. gave an inspiring commencement speech at Harvard.  I looked it up for some reason, and I could see the seeds of this book squarely in her words.  She said much more and it's here and worth reading, but here is the gist:

"...those who choose not to empathise enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy."

After The Casual Vacancy, I read Cormac McCarthy's The Road.  It was so dark and beautiful, he had me from the first paragraph.  The thoughts of what the world might be like if almost everyone were gone, and what it might be like if nuclear war had destroyed most living things, these are intriguing in themselves.  Lay the man and the boy against that backdrop just doing what they can, which isn't much, to keep surviving.  When I finished the last page and closed the book I thought it was like a very long poem, so full each line of story.  With some books, you can be sort of in the story and sort of reading words off the page at the same time.  The experience fluctuates.  With The Road I didn't feel those thin moments.  My head was full of the picture and my heart was full of love and fear for the man and boy throughout every page.  It's pure.  Unaffected.  I highly recommend it.

From Japan,


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

My Heart On My Sleeve

As a kid I tried not to show my emotions.  I don't know why...  maybe it was having two brothers.  Actually, yeah.  That's exactly what it was.  I remember being a little girl watching horror movies with my brothers, and they would make fun of me and call me chicken if I hid my eyes or wanted to go out.  So I would sit there and watch it and pretend I wasn't scared.  Hence my fear of the dark until I was near 30 years old.  And I'm not hyperbolizing.  I tried to sleep with my mom until I was about 10.  I saw The Ring in NYC when I was 22 and that was it.  I could hardly get up to go to the bathroom by myself and I swore off horror movies for about 10 years.  I'm good now, for the most part, but I still have to keep away from scary movies and even Steven King stories sometimes.  I guess my imagination runs away with me and my inflated belief in possibility (for which I blame the American dream, of course). 

Anyway, back to me hiding my emotions.  The thing is that I'm very sensitive.  I've read that sensitive people are perceiving more information from their surroundings than less sensitive people, and can therefore become overwhelmed.  As a sensitive person, I notice a larger share of what is going on around me, especially other people's attitudes and emotions, and I can't handle it all sometimes.  People become shaped by the world and respond in adaptive and maladaptive ways.  I think I have a lot of both going on.  And a habit born of nurture can be adaptive in some cases and maladaptive in others...  

Take my mother.  No really, take her.  Wahaha.  Just kidding.  Never mind.  My mom and I love each other like crazy and thanks to that and our special relationship as mother and daughter, we fight like banshees in the night.  Do banshees fight?  Let's assume they do.  When my mom would fight with me, I would be sensing and experiencing so much emotion and I didn't know how to process it.  So I would shut down.  I'd pull my little turtle tail into my shell along with everything else, and my mom perceived me as I appeared:  Emotionless.  She called me the Ice Princess and asked how I could be so cold.  Transmarginal-inhibition is the term used for "shut-down" in psychology.  I still catch myself doing this, and it's not a healthy way to deal, or to conduct relationships.  My mom didn't know, and still doesn't I think, that I am experiencing the opposite of her accusation.  I'm not emotionless; I'm so emotion-full that I can no longer function with the coping approaches I currently understand.  While writing this post I came across this info about sensitive people;  It describes well much of what I experience and it's definitely going on my reading list.  The Highly Sensitive Person: Book Review

I remember the specific incident at a dance recital rehearsal when I was about 8 that made me decide to start showing my emotion.  I didn't know it at the time, but there at Gibbs High School I observed the effect that showing emotion had on someone else, saw that it created a more desirable atmosphere and relationship for the other person, and decided to try it for myself.  In other words, I made a positive adaptive change.  For once in my life.  Ha!

...My 8th year was big for how my world shaped up.  That's the year I got into my pool at home in a black and white striped bathing suit and my mom told me I'd have to work on my tummy.  I asked her what she meant.  She said something along the lines of if you want to dance you have to be thinner.  I went under the water and cried.  I've had unrealistic expectations of myself ever since...    

But again, back to how I opened up.  At that dance recital rehearsal, I gave a present to my dance teacher with my best friend.  I think I handed it off stone faced, gave my teacher a hug, and ran off to my mom.  I sat in the audience with my mom watching my friend sit with my dance teacher, and they were hugging and smiling and having a real moment together.  I loved my dance teacher, but I didn't know how to show it.  My mom said look at her.  Then she said a lot of nasty things about how I would get more of what I deserved if I acted that way.  My mom wanted me to see my friend's behavior and how it built up her relationship with our dance teacher.  It was a really nice learning moment for me.  Unfortunately, my mom usually taught me through criticism.  She didn't mean to.  Just as I didn't know how to show my love, my mom only knew how to show me the difference between right and wrong by criticizing the wrong in me, instead of teaching me the right.  I saw my friend.  I learned.  

Also around that time I was learning pull backs.  This is a tap step that is hard to learn, but once you have it, you're golden.  There's like, a little magic to it, and once it clicks, you've got a really cool tool in your tap-tool box.  Well, my friend could pretty much do it, and I couldn't.  I was corrected and given heaps of constructive criticism and I would get more and more filled with sadness and embarrassment and anger as the class went by.  I would contain my feelings adeptly.  No one knew it but I was only showing my shell, and when I got into the car with my mom I would show my true face and wail it all out.  Sweaty, in a leotard and tights, with the air as cold and windy as it would blow on my hot, red face.  My mom, in her special way, would tell me that I should let that emotion out in the class.  She said I would get sympathy, more attention, and more help to learn.  This was my opportunity to show my emotion, so I did.  And she was right.  I stopped trying to be so strong.  I allowed my tears to leak like they wanted to when I felt defeated.  And the whole atmosphere around me changed.  

From the negative perspective you might say that the "squeaky wheel gets the grease."  From the positive perspective, which I infinitely prefer, I would say that I was more open and communicative.  The people around me saw how I was affected and I gave them the information they needed to help me feel better and to help me learn.  To this day, I highly value openness, honesty, and communication. 

In life, it seems as though people will beat you up until they see they have gotten to you, and then finally they'll cut you some slack.  By being open with my emotions, I save myself a lot of pain; a lot of beatings that I would've gotten if I appeared (pretended) to wield a strength I just don't have.  

As for pull backs, that tap step I couldn't do...  One evening at my house the dining room table was moved off the tile floor and we were going to have the tile cleaned the next day.  I put on my tap shoes and tapped for hours that night.  I did pull backs back and forth across the floor over and over and over again.  And I got it.  I did pullbacks for the first time that night, and I did them at my next tap class.  My pullbacks were beautiful.  They were more clear than any other student.  Then and now, I could do pullbacks straight, sideways, in circles... I was awesome at them.   

I guess overcoming obstacles really does teach you important lessons.  I remember being an advanced reader in kindergarten.  I could always spell.  Those were never obstacles.  On the other hand, I could never run and I could never do math.  To this day, I am good at humanities related subjects and I can't run to save my life and I hate math.  I didn't overcome some obstacles.  But pull backs...  I was 8.  I felt defeated.  I was trying and I was failing.  More than any other skill I can pick out of my life, pull backs taught me that no matter what you do, if you keep practicing, you will eventually get it.  Since I can do pull backs... and I shit you not I have been personally complimented by Savion Glover for them... I can do anything within reason.  I overcame that obstacle in such a clear way.  So many difficult times in life are so convoluted; it takes a long time to figure it out, to look back and see how and why things worked out the way they did.  And with many things we never really figure it out.  But the pull backs; that I figured out.

Sensitive people tend to have low confidence, and I have often said that I am the most confident insecure person that I have ever met.  Tap dancing in particular put me in a hundred different sink-or-swim scenarios that helped my resilience grow.  When I got to puberty and lost my first love my strength was tested and my choices to express myself to my friends and through poetry and journaling helped me heal.  The single greatest thing to happen to me and help me be strong and resilient after suffering a broken heart was to stay open despite the hurt that can get in with the love.  This was a youthful accident probably!  But I stayed hopeful and open to other people and allowed love into my life.  Had I shut down, I would've missed out on a couple of truly wonderful relationships.

My shut-down response kicks in on occasion.  I'm smarter and better equipped to handle setbacks, but I'm still sensitive and I still experience emotion that I don't know how to handle.  Life says, "Hey little turtle!  Hide your head in that shell or I'm gonna beat you up!"  But my intuition says, "Get out there and don't miss out on the world.  There are miracles waiting to happen, love waits for you."

I'm a work in progress, as they say, and a read of that book I linked should help me take one more step forward on the path that is laid out for me.  

From Japan,