Summer Highlights

My summer has ended, but little ways in which it has impacted me keep popping up everyday.
Here is a video of my summer highlights, spanning my visit to India, study abroad in Tokyo and solo travel in Japan.


Day 50: Weeding and a Portuguese Dinner

My last day at the farm started at 7 am with weeding. Although it still felt tough and physically taxing, I pulled through 3 hours of weeding. After that I did some carving on the wooden deck. Later, Sayaka-san had a group of 5 ladies for lunch and needed help with the kitchen and in serving them. There was a certain way to set the table and specific sides from which to serve and to pick up the dishes. Sayaka-san’s father came for the night too and Celso and I ate lunch with him while Sayaka-san was busy in the kitchen. 
It started to rain quite heavily and we were indoors for the rest of the day. The rain was so bad that there would be lightening every now and then which would shake the house and make us jump. Since we had started early, there wasn’t a whole lot of work to do in the afternoon apart from drying dishes. 
Later in the evening Sayaka-san’s friend arrived from Tokyo for Sayaka-san’s birthday which is tomorrow. We cooked Portuguese dinner. We all ate together and drank some wine. The interaction between Sayaka-san and her friend was akin to mine and Shivani’s (my best friend) on one of our sleepovers. 

Portuguese dinner featured octopus salad, grilled fish and potato. It had lots of garlic and olive oil. We chatted for a long time afterwards and it was a perfect last meal.

Sayaka-san’s neighbor presented her with a freshly caught fish for her birthday!

A portuguese dish cooked by Celso: Cod fish and potatoes with garlic and olive oil

All of us ready to eat the yummy food

Day 49 continued: Fukuchiyama, Sushi and Love for Japan

After the English cafe, we went shopping for groceries in the evening. I bought a green apple and what turned out to be chocolate (it resembled an ice cream cone but wasn’t cold). I later learn that it was called Giant Caplico. 
A Giant Caplico: looks like an ice cream cone, but is actually just chocolate. I bought the cookies and cream flavor. YUM! Japanese konbinis continue to enrapture me even after a month and a half of daily visits.
Photo source:
Afterwards, Celso picked up Japan’s unique and somewhat popular shrimp burger from Mcdonalds. We drove to Fukuchiyama (about 30 minutes away) to see Fukuchiyama castle. The castle had been rebuilt 20 or 30 years ago but still looked traditional. The city was double the size of Ayabe but still quite traditional looking.
A view of Fukuchiyama from the castle 
Up close: Fukuchiyama Castle
We decided to go for sushi for dinner to Kaiten zushi (conveyor belt sushi restaurant chain). Sayaka-san loves sushi and said that she once drove to a sushi restaurant straight from the airport after a 2 month trip abroad. This was the same restaurant I’d gone to in my first week when I was in Tokyo with my host family. I enjoyed sushi more this time than my first time. I like to think that I’ve developed more of a palate for different kinds of sushi, though it could simply be difference in quality in the two different restaurants I went to. I asked Sayaka san over dinner what the hardest part of farming is. She said weeding because it needs to be done all year round. But she also said that it isn’t too hard to perform farming tasks physically. The tougher part is gaining the knowledge of weather, nature, etc. required to maintain and run a farm. 
A Kaiten Zushi dinner 
Tomorrow is my last day here. I’m excited to be heading home soon, but also sad to be leaving. I have started to understand why people love Japan so much. It is equivalent or superior to any other developed country in terms of its safety, ease of travel and wide choice of food. Moreover, it has a deep culture and history to it. It has invented all kinds of things and been a pioneer. The roots of games, technology, etc are here and they show very well. At the same time, people here don’t misuse their power and continue to be humble. I think I will return to Japan. This is unlikely to be my last time here. I am glad I’ve gotten to see 8 cities of Japan already (and will probably see 10 in total). But there’s a lot more, I know.

Day 49: English Cafe for Kids

In lieu of the second day of English cafe, no field work today either. I spent the morning cleaning and doing other small chores around the house. Its getting quite hot during the day which is why Sayaka san suggested doing weeding tomorrow early morning.

The English café had a kids session today. There were lots more people, and so many kids. Celso and I were asked to interact with them over some activities. The kids were of all age groups from 6 months to 6 years old and they were running around. Activities included singing songs, listening to stories in English, collecting bugs and finding out their English names (never before have I come across a situation when the adults ask the kids to go play in the mud with insects) and playing football. The mothers were there throughout and they spoke a bit of English too, some better than others. After being in a controlled, orderly sort of environment for the past month and a half, it felt unfamiliar to see all these kids running around full of energy, completely uncontrolled. Their mothers ran after them encouraging them to do the activities and learn some english words. Although the kids were more interested in running around and playing with each other, they learnt very fast and some of them were very eager to learn English.

Celso reading out a book about animals to the kids

Singing session: The kids sing row row row your boat

Time to collect bugs! 

The kids playing football with Celso

Day 48: Onigiri Making and my host’s English Cafe

Today was the day of Sayaka-san’s English Cafe. Once a month she invites people over to her cafe to interact with foreigners (WWOOFers like me and Celso) in English. As I discovered yesterday, Ayabe doesn’t see many foreigners and this is a good opportunity for some exposure. The English cafe was to be held on two days this time-Thursday (today) and Friday. One of Sayaka-san’s friends, Yuki would come over to take an hour long class for adults on Thursday and kids on Friday. 
So in preparation of the english cafe to be held in the afternoon, we didn’t do any field work today and did cleaning in the morning instead. Sayaka-san was busy cooking in the morning. Still, she had enough time to teach us how to make onigiri (Japanese rice ball), which involved taking some sticky rice in your wet hands and giving it a triangular shape. It took me a few times to get it right, especially since my tiny hands didn’t cooperate when it came to making larger sized onigiris. But I was surprised to see how simple it really is to make onigiri, which I hadn’t realized before having seen onigiris only sold in convenience stores. 
Celso’s onigiri and my hands full of sticky rice

A triangular onigiri of rice with seaweed 

 The English cafe started with Yuki coming over for lunch with her 5 year old son. Yuki had studied abroad several times in the US and UK and spoke fluent english. She was an english teacher is school and liked to take classes outside as well. Her son loved insects and bugs and kept running around the farm after them. He caught frogs and grasshoppers and would bring them back to show us. running after insects.

After lunch, the class for adults comprised of English worksheets, listening activities, reading, etc. Celso and I sat through the class. It was fun. Although there was only one adult today, she was very motivated to learn and we spoke to her and Yuki for an hour after the lesson was over. I also met Sayaka-san’s neighbors who had come over for a drink to the cafe in the afternoon. They were a couple (seemingly in their 50s) who are visiting Singapore in September. Although we couldn’t communicate very well, we exchanged contact details for meeting up in Singapore. 
I was exhausted after all the talking, and fell asleep in the afternoon. Then I watered the fields. It hadn’t rained today or yesterday and the fields were very dry. There were cracks in the ground. I loved using the hose at Sayaka-san’s house to water the fields and garden. It had different kinds of sprayers in it and was very strong. 

Yuki (left) goes through a worksheet with Maiko, an ever ready english learner at the Englsh cafe

Celso and Maiko do a conversational english exercise together

We ate soba for dinner and Celso and I watched another fascinating TED talk after dinner called ‘Why 20s are not the new 30s’. 

Day 47: Getting to know a small Japanese town

Today was our day off. Celso and I went to the city of Ayabe. We took the 9:30 bus. The bus was tiny. Most of the passengers were aged people. Later, while in town we discovered that most of the town comprises of old people, which is well representative of Japan’s ageing population.
We first went to the tourist office and rented bicycles. Then, we went to a shrine which had a complex of gardens and buildings. Just outside its main building, there was a wooden plank facing a zen garden covered in moss. We sat there for quite a while and just talked. 
A moss covered serene zen garden by which we sat for a while. 

A temple that we found after walking uphill from the zen gardens of the complex 

 After that, we went looking for McDonalds to try Japan’s shrimp burger (locally known as ebi burger). We asked several people but couldn’t find it. Everyone we asked pointed us in a different direction. It was impressive that they could understand us in the first place. But it was ironic that Celso and I were working so hard to find Mcdonalds, which is one of the franchises that can be found literally everywhere. Finally, our hunger and the hot sun made us give up on Mcdonalds and postpone it to another day.

We went to a Japanese curry place for lunch where we faced some embarrassment in trying to understand the drinks on the menu. People around us were amused. 
After lunch we stopped by a super market for some fruit. We found boxed cut pineapple slices and bought them to share. They were so delicious. While buying the fruit I noticed that the cashier machine was automated in giving change. The lady at the counter inserted the money I gave her into the machine, and the machine automatically calculated the change and threw it out. Genius.
We went to a shawl factory museum. There wasn’t much in English. (Good thing we didn’t have to pay any entry fees!) When we got in, a lady came running after us with different shoes (which resembled toilet slippers) that we had to put on before going into the museum. 
A very realistic looking exhibit at the shawl factory

 After the museum, we still had some time left so we went to the downtown area and walked around there. Most of the shops were closed and the street was mostly deserted. We decided to go back to the first shrine we’d gone to and sit there for rest of the afternoon, since the bus only runs at specific times and the next one was 2.5 hours later.

The downtown street of Ayabe-devoid of people on a Wednesday afternoon. Many shops were closed and the area was pretty quiet, apart from the two noisy high school students we saw besides the grocery store and the cars driving by. 

Language barrier was certainly a problem today and I felt it more than I did anywhere else.We didn’t see any other tourists around and people on the street looked at us quite a bit. Many of the locals said hello to us.One couple even came to shake our hands. This behavior kind of reminded me of the way people in small towns (and sometimes even cities) of India react to foreigners. 
We got home around 6 and spent some time watching TED talks, after which we helped Sayaka-san make dinner. I made the miso soup today and it was surprisingly simple. All I had to do was cut vegetables and put them in boiling water. The miso was put in the end because if its put before, the flavor gets dissolved. 

Day 46: A Day of Weeding

Today was all weeding. It was a bright day and it didn’t seem like it would rain. I spent the first hour helping out around the house while Celso did some carpentry with Sayaka-san’s dad. 
In the field, I spent the first one and a half hour using the weeding machine to cut grass around the rice paddy. The weeding machine is very sharp and sends things flying all over the place. When I do it, I seem to get dirt all over myself. But when Celso does it, he doesn’t seem to. Maybe I wasn’t using it perfectly right. Also, the machine only cuts the weeds from the top, and not from the roots. So I wasn’t sure if I was doing it right. But Sayaka-san told me later that it’s okay.  I learnt that grass is a kind of weed too.
I spent another half an hour walking inside the rice paddy looking for weeds with red roots. Those are apparently really dangerous. This rice paddy wasn’t as neatly planted as the last one and it was harder to walk around in it. There weren’t very clear rows and columns and when there were some, they were too thin to comfortably walk in. The good news was that I was wearing socks, so my feet didn’t hurt too much from the stone, and since it hadn’t rained the mud wasn’t as soft and wet as last time. 

We did some more weeding in the afternoon. I spent about an hour and a half weeding with the machine in another field this time.
For dinner, we ate okonomiyaki. Sayaka-san taught me how to cook okonomiyaki on the pan. All that needs to be done is to put the mixture of vegetables, meat and flour on the pan and wait for it to solidify. It is flipped every now and then and takes about 10-15 minutes on the pan. It was delicious and tasted different from the one I’d had before. 
Okonomiyaki (savory Japanese pancakes) for dinner
Some high school students from nearby visited and we introduced ourselves to each other. They spoke broken English. They just hung around the house for a bit playing with fire crackers.Although I couldn’t understand what they were saying to each other, the tone of the conversation seemed similar to what I imagined my own to be when I was their age (around 15 or 16). 
I feel a lot healthier and fit, and I’m eating significantly more than usual. 

Day 45: Conversation, Carpentry and Using Weeding Machinery

Today we spent the morning finishing the deck. It was a cloudy day with spells of light rain. While it was fun working on the deck, I was given a few difficult tasks like drilling holes into the wood which required all my strength. 
I chatted with Sayaka-san about doctors without borders where she works seasonally. She told me how the doctors that go to the field only stay there temporarily, but the refugee camps can stay for decades, as many of them have. 
I got to try somen for lunch, which is a summer noodle. 
Somen Noodles: You take the noodles out from their plate and dip them in a bowl of tsuyu sauce before putting them in your mouth (like soba noodles). You can add things like ginger, sprouts and green onions to the sauce for flavor. 

After lunch, I took a long nap and then we engraved our names on the wooden deck. All the wwofers who help create stuff carve their names on their creation. It’s great because it makes this place so international with carved names of people from different countries on the wooden decks around the house, the outhouse, etc. 

Celso tries to be a perfectionist in carving our names by the wooden deck we helped build

Then we went to another rice paddy with Sayaka-san’s father which comprises of rice grown for the rest of Sayaka-san’s family. We did weeding using the sharp machine which Sayaka-san had earlier told me was quite dangerous. It had a sharp circular blade at the end and it sends weed, mud and stones flying everywhere, including your own direction. She didn’t intend to let me use it, but I was glad I did. It was a good experience. After all this work at the farm, I’m motivated to try more sports and outdoor activities when I’m back in Singapore.

Later in the evening, we spent a long time chatting over our usual outdoor dinner. I learnt that Sayaka-san father has an NPO in Laos. 
Celso showed me this show called 60 minutes which tells stories from around the world. We saw one on China’s real estate bubble and another one on stolen paintings from WW2. Another video he showed me was an episode from a TV show called Master of Killing time. It’s a Japanese cartoon about a guy killing time in class doing random things and a girl next to him freaking out about all that he’s doing. 

Day 44: Finishing the Deck and Pizza Making

It was raining this morning and Sayaka san had guests coming over to her guest house. So we spent all morning cleaning the house in preparation of them.

In the afternoon, we all made pizza for lunch. I learnt how to kneed pizza dough. We made a regular veggie pizza and also added some Japanese food to the meal by making miso pizza! 
We did some drilling in the evening and almost finished the wood deck. It feels great to walk on something you’ve built. 

Sayaka-san and Celso cook while I get distracted and start taking pictures

A delicious and somewhat circular vegetable pizza

Miso pizza: giving a japanese touch to the meal!
Plums straight from the farm.
After dinner, we joined Sayaka-san’s two guests in lighting sparklers. Although we couldn’t directly communicate with them due to a language barrier, Sayaka-san’s father acted as our translator and we were able to interact a little bit through him.

Post dinner sparklers: The diversity of sparklers was new to me-there were different colors, multi-colored, big ones and small ones. 

Day 43: Carpentry and weeding

We did more weeding in the rice paddy. Despite a back and shoulder ache that I’d developed overnight, I felt more at ease with walking around in the rice paddy. Although some rocks still hurt me, it wasn’t too bad, and I think I felt it less. My feet once again got bruised and torn. I think I was also bitten by several insects. There was a spider hanging around my weeding machine. But all of that bothered me less. 
Somehow, I feel hungrier and hungrier as I spend more time here. It feels good to eat after working in the field and it feels like I’ve earned the food. 
After lunch, we worked with Sayaka-san’s father whose visiting for a few days. First, I painted a table that Sayaka-san’s father had bought second hand (just for 1500 yen!). Then I sowed some green onions. This was my first time sowing. I was surprised to find that while sowing, you aren’t required to bury the roots too deep. Just one or two scoops of soil is enough. Then, I picked some vegetables from the garden. After all of that, I helped Sayaka-san’s father with the wooden deck he was working on building. I helped Celso carry wooden planks from the work shed to the wooden deck area and then drill nails into them. It’s quite fun.I never thought I’d do carpentry. Its just always been one of those things that I assumed I would never need to do. 
The wooden deck in construction
Over dinner, we had some sake and chatted with Sayaka-san’s father. At night Sayaka-san, Celso and I watched the movie the Grand Budapest Hotel. It was hilarious, I’d definitely recommend it. 
I think today was my longest day. We did outdoor work for about 6 hours. I realized that being here and doing different tasks everyday pushes me outside my comfort zone daily, which is exactly what I’d hoped for.