So in the previous post I told you a bit about Quang Tri. Here is a summary of our manual labor so far…
We are working on renovating an elementary school and we have four major projects: sanding and painting the fence surrounding the property, sanding and painting ten classrooms, building a small road that connects the school to the hand washing station, and rebuilding a fence surrounding a fish pond on the property. We have divided into two groups: the painters and the fence builders/small road builders. I am a member of the builders and so this post will focus on that. I will try to get some details about the painting process for a subsequent post.
So far we have spent 12 hours in the blazing Quang Tri sun. I am sunburned and covered in scratches and bug bites. Thank goodness for sneakers and long pants and baseball caps. Yet my arms are a battle field.
Day one we spent the morning taking down the old bamboo fence. You’d think for a fence that is supposedly unstable this would be easy however many of the posts took enormous upper body strength and a movement I liked to call “churing the butter” for several minutes to remove the posts. This was further agitated by large weeds and bushes surrounding us. We then had to stack these pieces of bamboo in several large piles. Swarming with ants and bugs, this is probably when I acquired most of my bites.
The afternoon was spent removing the aforementioned weeds and bushes using very basic equipment: standard garden hoes and sithes. We got down and personal with the weeds and were all exhausted by the end. However we finished the project for day one
Day two we had to building a 20 inch wide by 25 inch deep trench around the entire pond using the hoes from day one, a few picks, and two shovels. These tools continually broke and had to be repaired due to the extremely hard and dry dirt we were working with. This was a pretty painful task and it took the entire day, especially because the contractor told us the wrong place to build one side of the trench and we had to redo it in the afternoon. Morale was a bit low by the end of the day with sore backs and blistered hands. However, we once again finished our task for day two. The sunburn I got on day one did not get any worse but of course I acquired a new one. We all got a bit snappy with each other towards the end, but I think this project will in the end be quite rewarding – we are aiming for a white fence that matches an already existing bridge on the property….and we only have 8 more days to complete the project!
A never-ending concrete jungle enveloped in silence.
This isn’t a complaint against Japan. It’s a complaint against suburbia. The very definition of a city as a suburb dooms it to a dreary, mundane, residential existence. I fully understand why suburbs exist— people who aren’t insane (aka, upstanding members of society who have graduated from college) need a place to live in peace, quiet and harmony.
It’s interesting how my view of Japanese suburbia has changed since I last came here. The last time I lived in suburban Japan (Kumagaya, Saitama) was in 2006, and I was a freshman in high school. At the time, I thought suburban Japan was great— quiet and peaceful. Everyone woke up at 6 and went to bed at 11, and everything was orderly and predictable.
Interestingly enough, my views on suburbia have changed dramatically during the past four years. During that time, I got my driver’s license, graduated from high school, and lived on my own for a year. In other words, I had a much greater radius of movement than I did four years ago. It was nice being able to drive anywhere I fancied and do whatever I pleased— something that I hadn’t experienced my last trip to Japan.
With new experiences, come new perspectives. I specifically picked CET as my program because I wanted to explore Osaka and get a feel for the place— having lived in central Tokyo (Chiyoda) whenever I visit, I was assuming that I would be greeted with the same sort of accessibility and sensory overload in Osaka. What I found instead was the peace and stability of suburbia. Yet, this time, instead of appreciating it for what it is, I found it to be constraining.
Having to walk 15-20 minutes to the nearest train station isn’t the worst of all possible worlds, but it certainly takes away one’s desire to go out a lot more than, say, if I lived near everything. In addition, it’s almost 300 yen round trip to Umeda, and even more to other areas of Osaka. In short, getting around is quite challenging.
Which makes Suita the ideal location to study. There’s absolutely no distractions, the streets are quiet except for the occasional propaganda van, jogger or dog, and nothing ever happens here. In many ways, it’s the quintessential Japanese experience— this quiet stability, where everyday is the same, is indicative of how most Japanese people live their lives. Too often foreigners are dazzled by the bright lights of Harajuku and Shibuya, and forget that, despite Tokyo’s opulence, most of the nation is isolated from that. Instead, Japanese people live much simpler lives— working nonstop from Monday to Friday, hanging out with friends or shopping on the weekends, repeat. It’s the never-ending cycle of suburban life, and one should definitely be ready for it if one truly wishes to live here long-term.
Written by Sinead Sinnott of Brandeis University, program participant in the CET Sicily Intensive Italian Language and Culture Studies Program.
This weekend, five out of six members of our group went to Taormina. (Don’t worry, we didn’t leave anyone behind, he went to Milano to visit a friend. Tough life we’ve got, huh?) Our trip, a seemingly simple bus ride just over an hour long, started oddly: the bus left on time. After three weeks getting used to the Sicilian pace of life and continuously waiting for everything from a bus to a bureaucrat on a lunch break, this was quite a change. But Taormina was not Catania.
A little less than a month ago, when we got to Catania, we were told some basics about our host city. A key element is that it remains essentially Sicilian. In language, food, and traditions, Catania has not been much changed. Sure, the younger generation speaks less Sicilian than its predecessors and you can find crepes and kebabs. But no one caters to outsiders. When a waiter or cashier speaks English, it’s not a muscle exercised daily. The bulk of the tourists are Europeans and, in fact, Americans are so rare that I, pale skinned and accented, get asked if I’m Spanish.
Taormina, on the other hand, is full of Americans. Ben even stopped one kid to compliment him on the new Lakers championship hat. I’m from Boston and less excited to get my hands on one. Even the street vendors, whose Sicilian is sometimes hard to navigate in Catania, spoke English well. It was strange to encounter English after weeks of Italian and at first I felt relieved. Then I got a little annoyed. I came to learn Italian! And for that, Catania is perfect.
The weekend was great, though. For lunch on Saturday, we were invited into a brand new “fashion” restaurant by the owner. He brought us giant pasta dishes (alla Norma, a Sicilian specialty), white wine, bruschetta, veal, sword fish, and dessert in the early afternoon. His restaurant only serves guests at night but he decided to not only open his kitchen but invite us back. It was awesome, as was the view of the water below. The two other girls and I spent the night in the city center, went to bed early, visited the Greek theatre, and went to the beach at Giardini-Naxos.
The amazing weekend gave us a glimpse at what it might be like in another city in Italy. A tourist spot would be beautiful and elegant and international but not as charming and authentic and real as our own. Go to Taormina for shops and views but I’ll be in Catania for the people and the life.
Posted by Alan Earhart, Resident Director for CET Sicily Intensive Italian Language and Culture Studies in Catania.
Recently the CET Sicily group went to visit the Norman treasures of Palermo and Cefalù. We visited the Norman Palace where the regional government of Sicily still meets today. In the palace we visited the Palatine chapel, a masterpiece of Norman mosaics with strong byzantine influences. It is endemic of the multicultural history that has marked Sicily since its prehistory. From there we briefly visited the cathedral of Palermo, the Martorana church, and some of the piazzas. Before lunch we shot up to Monreale to visit the cathedral that stands as the definitive masterpiece of Norman architecture. After lunch we went along the coast to the east and visited the cathedral of Cefalù to round out our Norman experience. After a dip in the Tyrrenhian sea we returned to Catania.