“Hell-o. My name is Hillary. I understand some Japanese but I cannot speak very well. I have three brothers. My mother is Japanese. I am nervous but excited. It is very nice to meet you all,” I stammer in hesitated Japanese, probably sounding somewhat foolish in front of ten of my new coworkers at Hirota Junior High School in Minamiawaji-shi. Despite my broken speech and all-too-embarrassing hodgepodge of random information mashed together, the faces around me seem amazed that the gaijin* can say even one word in Japanese. They burst out in clapping, crying out, “wow!”, “very good!”, and what I imagine to be something along the lines of “well, that was unexpectedly whimsical”. In Japan, I feel like self introductions are a polite way to simultaneously introduce yourself and be judged with curious eyes. As rudimentary as my Japanese was, the inevitable probing questions are just as broken.
“Marr-a-KECH! Marr-a-KECH!” As we descended into the sunny and yellow countryside, a toddler several rows in front of me began chanting what I was quietly thinking to myself. Marr-a-kech, Marr-a-kech. I had heard dreamy reminiscing tales of the markets, stocked with a tannery, silver, and bolts of silk. We departed at 4am in order to catch our early flight and the cold in Milan has been finding ways to rip through my jackets and rattle my bones. As we were landing in Marrakech, however, the sun glittered on lakes and winding rivers. The sun had been something that I was eternally grateful for, as it brought more warmth than the Milanese can dream of in the middle of winter. Many were wary about my trip to Marrakech but it’s a very stable city that beats with the flow of tourism through its arteries. I would not recommend going alone as a female and going out past dark unless you stick to main lit roads. The city can be beautifully illuminated at night and while I would hate to rob anyone of that sight, I would just caution that your safety is always paramount to getting a nice picture.
Bundle up, bundle up, bundle up. I kept hearing this valuable piece of advice from my friends and fellow travelers every time I mentioned that I would be Czeching out Prague this past weekend. You’d think that this place would have Tauntauns and Wampas. Little did I know how badly I’d be shivering my little heiny in the Czech Republic. Being from the relatively temperate Silicon Valley in California, I’ve only flirted with the concept of “cold” by visiting what we Californians affectionately call Tahoe. Good ol’ Tahoe. I’m no snow bunny and I shy away from weather that makes me look like Rudolph. If there’s one thing you should know about the average Californian gal, it’s that they don their UGGs and North Face fleece pull-overs the second the thermostat hits a blisteringly cold 65F (18C for you down-undahs). I kid. We can last until 60F.
Barcelona and its enthusiasts (I hesitate to use the word residents because they do more than just live there) can be summed up in one word: pride. The city is located in the region of Catalunya, which is considered an official nation, although other residents of Spain may assume otherwise. Let’s just say that as we walked the streets of Barcelona, I think that I only saw the Spanish flag blowing in the wind in front of official government buildings, merely because they had to.