Hamburga vs. Hamburgu

January 24, 2010

In Japan, there are two ways to get your hamburger.  It’s either “hamburga” or “hamburgu”.  They are totally different.  A hamburga is your typical run of the mill hamburger, like the one you would get at mcdonalds.  A hamburgu is like a normal hamburger, minus the buns, vegetables, and condiment.  Which leaves you with…a burger steak.

So why do I bring this up?  Well, hamburgu’s are fairly common in Japan which makes it difficult to get a real good ol’ greasy American burger, probably because they eat so darn healthy here.  So AJ and I invited two students over to our apartment for dinner and to talk about God and stuff.  But let’s focus on the dinner part, more specifically the preparations.

If you know me, I’m a really bad cook.  However, I’ve been trying to learn how to cook since it’s so expensive to eat out all the time in Tokyo.  I wanted to be a little ambitious and make a good ol’ fashion American burger for my friends.  I looked up a good recipe for a burger and got everything prepared.  After everything was ready, I proceeded to heat up the frying pan to get the oil nice and hot.  Then I did something stupid…really stupid.

So remember when I said I’m a really bad cook?  Well, I just typically think of what a good chef would do (probably thinking of Emeril) and I thought it would be really cool and dramatic (like on TV) if I just slapped the raw beef patty into the frying pan (while saying “BAM!”).  And I did.  And the boiling hot oil splashed everywhere, especially my left arm.  The oil did quite a number to my arm, I mean com’mon, it was hot enough to melt my carpet.

The scar doesn't even look cool. Can't say I fought a bear or slayed a dragon.

So lesson learned.  Watching TV promotes violence.

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make a differense

January 4, 2010

2010. wow.

New Years is the biggest holiday in Japan.  Businesses normally do not close for any holidays, but New Years is an exception.  Even garbage is not picked up for a week, to give the workers time to visit their families.  We were warned by one of the staff that Tokyo would be completely desolate and to do shopping a couple days in advance or you won’t eat.  So, a couple days before New Years I went out and bought tons of food.  I felt like I was shopping for Y2K…but not.

Come New Years Eve, we find out that that staff was exaggerating a tiny bit.  Or maybe it’s just a sign of changes in Japanese culture.  Some chains would still be open and the trains would still be running.  So we decided as a team to go out to Yokohama, a city outside of Tokyo.  One of my teammates family came to visit from America and wanted to treat us out so we ate in the “Chinatown” of Japan.  Ate some wonton noodles, with a little japanese flair in it, just like how in the NY Chinatown you get a little American in your Chinese food (can I say General Tso Chicken?  Who am I kidding, that’s one of my favorite “chinese” dishes).

I don’t know what I was thinking, but I decided to wear flip flops.  And it was cold. real cold.    Yokohama is on a bay, so the ocean breeze made things cold.  We wandered around, and eventually sat inside a really pretty (and conveniently heated) port.  After defrosting my feet and resting, we headed out again with 3 hours left in 2009.

We still did not know what to do, so we just walked towards the bright shiny lights.  And lo’ and behold we find an out door ice skating rink.  It was beautiful.  It was a little crowded, but it was in such a peaceful area.  It was dimly lit with Christmas lights that would flicker on and off, some imitating the drop of an icicle.  After deciding (running ahead and buying a ticket) to go ice skating, we just went in.  First it was only a couple of us.   Then after good ol’ peer pressure, we got a bunch more to follow suit.  It was really refreshing to be ice skating.  Some of them didn’t know how to ice skate, but after a short tutorial they were up and skating.  Quickly, all the worries of each other’s skating abilities, and just worries in general, just melted away.  We were all laughing and enjoying each other’s company.  Just the way I wanted to end 2009.  I really think Heaven will have an ice skating rink too.

But it didn’t end there.  We couldn’t ice skate for three hours, so we walk even closer to the dazzling neon lights, and we found a carnival.  At this point there’s only 45 minutes left in 2009.  There was going to be a fireworks show and a countdown to 2010.  We secure a position on the stairs and wait.  We still had 20 more minutes left in the year.

Amidst being crushed by a bunch of Japanese people, I thought about my year.  2009.  wow.  I always had some year to look forward to.  I remember thinking “wow, 2005 I’ll be graduating High School and going to college”. “YEAH CLASS OF ’05 ROCKS!!! WOOO COLOR WARS!”.  Then after that I had 2009.  “Wow, in 2009 I’ll be moving into the real world”.  And here it is.  I’m in Japan.  Who would’ve thought?  Then after trying to think so more, 2010 rudely interrupted me.  All the lights turned off and some Japanese person said something trendy about 2009 on the loudspeakers.

There was a giant ferris wheel that had 60 spokes, so it was basically a giant clock.  And that was going to herald us into the new year.  60 ticks with some crazy flashy fireworks later, and I was in 2010.

So I guess this is the time I write about new years resolutions and things like that.  I told my teammates that I wanted to take the stairs instead of the escalator/elevator.  I broke that 2 hours into the New Years.

I’ve been reading a book about how our lives are essentially the same as stories, and the same things that make a story meaningful also apply to our lives.  We all live out stories, some more interesting than others.  That’s one of the reasons why we go watch movies, because our “stories” aren’t as interesting as the ones on movies (and they involve blue guys with tails fighting bad war monger people).  He wrote that “a story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it”.  A story involves risks, fear, failures, and a lot of pain.  We try our hardest to avoid these things.  And it’s true, I avoid taking risks because I’m afraid of what’s going to happen.  But it’s these things that makes life so interesting.  I realized that coming to Japan was probably one of the biggest risks i’ve taken in my life.  It involved a lot of joy coming to Japan, but also a lot of pain to leave behind the friends, family, and comfort I had back home.  My life, which used to involve school and grades, used to be pretty boring.  If I wrote a book about my life, it would probably have some funny little things here and there, but it would still be pretty lame.  But now I’m in Japan, and I want my book to be more interesting.

I wanted to explore Japan a little more.  I was always a little afraid because I didn’t want to get lost, miss the last train and eventually sleep on the streets.  But now I thought that would make for a pretty good story.  So I went to Shibuya, Harajuku, and Shinjuku, some of the more “interesting” parts of Japan.  It was fun, I got to explore the famous “crossings”, see some crazy fashions, and I even accidentally stumbled upon the red light district where I saw some really shady looking people.

I continued reading the book, and it also said that a good story always involves doing something good.  An audience wouldn’t care for the main character if he didn’t have anything good driving his motives.  Exploring around Japan was good and interesting, but if I made that into a story people probably wouldn’t care about me.

I was reading another book that shared a lot about caring for other people, especially for people, like Jesus, who “had no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20).  As I walked around Shinjuku, one of the busiest wards of Tokyo, I saw people who had no homes to return to each day.  Even in one of the richest countries in the world, they still faced problems of poverty.  So I wanted my life to make a difference.  You hear that story again and again about the boy and a starfish, but it’s true.  The entire day I was thinking about that quote from Mother Teresa, the one about not being able to do great things, rather small things with great love.  I went to church, but was continually bothered about how I didn’t really “live” out a life like Christ.  Every moment of Jesus’ life was about making a difference in individual people’s lives.  He didn’t think “it’s just one person, it won’t make a difference”.  One of my favorite verses is John 11:35, when He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead.  Two beautiful words.  So I made a decision and wrote on my hand “make a differense” (without spellcheck I’m kinda clueless).

It’s been getting pretty cold in Tokyo.  It’s no New Jersey, but it’s around 30 degrees.  I wake up everyday snuggled under three blankets, but i’m still cold.  We also have a closet full of clothes from previous STINTers.  They just leave all the things they  can’t fit in their luggage and throw it in this one closet.  So I went over to the closet, grabbed the thickest jackets I could find and threw them into a giant bag.  I felt like an asian Santa Clause.  And asians are always late, so asian Santa would probably be late for Christmas too.

The entire train ride to Shinjuku, I was concerned about all the things that could go completely wrong.  I didn’t know any Japanese, so that was one problem already.  I was stopped two times by the Japanese police for just riding my bicycle.  I thought so many things could go wrong.  So I turned on my iPod and prayed.  To be honest with you, I didn’t know what the heck I was doing.  But that was just part of the story.

I walked around Shinjuku for about 2 hours.  The farther I got away from the neon lights, the shadier and more scared I got.  I ended up in the red light district accidentally again.  I must’ve looked crazy, walking out of the red light district with a giant santa like bag.  But, each person I met, I greeted with a smile, knowing that each one could secretly be Jesus in disguise.  I would open up my bag of goodies, asking them if they would like a jacket.  They all had the same reaction: they would look in my eyes really confused.  I guess it’s not everyday a foreigner went up to them offering them jackets.  Some of the friends I offered jackets to declined, saying that they already had enough jackets.  One person said “thank you” to me, after realizing I didn’t understand a word he was saying.  And just like that, I was out of jackets.

The reason why I’m sharing this with you is because as you reflect on 2009, think about your own story and try to make a difference in someone else’s.  It doesn’t have to be anything big, a smile can go a long way.  Now, this post is getting a lot longer than I intended it to be and my eyes hurt from staring at my screen for so long, so I’m going to end this a little abrup