Navigating apartment living in Fukuoka, Japan

We plugged something into the kitchen outlet, it beeped and then it played a lovely 10 second ditty. After much consternation, we figured out this unusual looking device was to heat up hot water. We wanted the ditty to play again (and again) because it sounded so lovely, but alas, the hot water heater didn’t want to cooperate. So begins our new life living in Fukuoka, Japan.

As you can imagine, trying to figure out how to work Japanese appliances is very, very difficult if you don’t read Kanji. Turning on the apartment heat, turning on the TV remote or even trying to use the microwave is a tremendously humbling experience. Thank goodness for the internet!  So far I’ve seen several good photos of washing machines with the English words pointing to the necessary buttons. Ditto for the TV remote. And Andy uses Google translate whenever possible.  Hip hip hooray for the photo function! All you have to do is place your cell phone over the item you want to translate and in two seconds you have the translation on your screen.  Unfortunately, a lot of the time, the translation makes absolutely no sense. Case in point, last night at dinner we ordered miso pickles since this was the exact translation Google translate provided.  We never got anything resembling pickles at all, kosher, dill, sweet, old, new….we got nada.  We asked about them twice using Google translate but we just got blank stares. What we did get instead was a fantastic warm, wild mushroom salad with organic greens, another salad with raw salmon, and something called “miso cheese tofu”.  All were excellent!  I also had a kick-butt Earl Grey mojito.  Last nights dinner was our first experience eating at a restaurant with no photos on the menu (so we can point to what we want, and no models of plastic food in the restaurant display case window).  Due to Andy’s advanced use of Google translate, we were able to eat dinner successfully, sans miso pickles.  In another blog I’ll share some of the words Google translate comes up with. They are hysterical.

Our arrival

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After a relatively peaceful journey from LAX to Osaka on China Eastern Airlines and then another flight on Peach Airlines from Osaka to Fukuoka (dare I say our flight on Peach airlines was peachy keen) we arrived in Fukuoka, on the Island of Kyushu.  From the plane Fukuoka looked sprawling and the Bay around the city looked gorgeous.

After landing in Fukuoka, our luggage arrived in record time (you wouldn’t except anything else in Japan).  We then took the train two stops to the Fukuoka Properties rental office and we were met by Sekuda. He went over the terms of our two-month rental contract in broken, but highly understandable English. We then hoped on a jam-packed bus and rode another 15 minutes. Then we took a seven minute walk to our new digs.

There is no way to properly describe this rental apartment.  I imagine this is what a 1960’s apartment in Russia might look like.  It’s typical Japanese in every sense.   It has a very, very tiny kitchen with a two-burner stove and two decently sized bedrooms. There is also a couch, a dining table for two, and a black easy chair. There is no separate living room. The couch, and easy chair are basically in the kitchen.  Everything is highly functional. There is not an ounce of character or color in this entire apartment.  It is completely void of photos on the wall except for three ugly photos of leaves in shadow boxes. The apartment is located on the third floor of drab building. I think there are probably four or five other units here. Until late last night, we thought that we were the only people in the building, until we met Canadian Justin, who lives upstairs with his wife. Like us, they are here for a few months hanging out. Justin confirmed he has seen one other person living in this building with them.  I’m pretty sure Fukuoka Properties owns this entire building and leases the apartments out to foreigners who want to live in Japan for a few months at a time.  Think clean and functional. That’s what we have.

This unit came fully furnished so it has towels (of medium quality) pots and pans (I’ve seen worse) and a fridge/freezer slightly larger than one would find in a dorm room. The neighborhood we are living in is called Yakuin.  It’s considered a very, very desirable area of Fukuoka and I can clearly see why!  There are restaurants, shops and bars within walking distance of our apartment which means we won’t have to take the subway every day.  There are two train stations very close to our apartment. One is a seven minute walk, and the other one is a nine minute walk. Despite the drabness of this pad, we like it very much. It’s more spacious than many other Japanese apartments and it has a lot of storage. Our decorating plan is to go to the Japanese dollar store and find some paper lanterns to hang on the walls, and score some cherry blossom cutouts to spruce this place up!  I feel very happy knowing we are getting to have a highly authentic Japanese living experience in Fukuoka.  I wouldn’t want it any other way.  We can make it work!

Last night after dinner, we went to the local 7–11 which looks like an American 7-11 but is vastly different because it has an endless supply of high-quality food items for consumption. Really, it does. In Japan a lot of people buy tasty meals at 7-11. We bought a few items for breakfast and lunch including instant coffee, 3 bananas, 4 hard boiled eggs, a pack of bread (featuring five very thick slices) some endamame,  some chili sauce shrimp, two cup of noodles, some granola and a nighttime ice cream taste treat for Captain Andy.

Later today, we’ll go to the supermarket and try to stock up with some essentials. Unfortunately, we’ll only be able to carry back a few bags because our apartment is on the third floor and carrying up a lot of bags isn’t going to be an easy feat.  It’s going to be a different way of grocery shopping than we are used to doing in Mexico, that’s for sure.

Next blog post I’ll tell you about our great adventure at Spa World in Osaka. In the meantime, enjoy the photos of our humble, temporary abode.

Stacey

P.S. Cherry blossom season has opened in Fukuoka. We’ll take a walk about later today to see if we can see any buds on the trees, but I suspect most of the trees will look bare. The temperature is cold, around 50 degrees but sunny.

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This is the guest bedroom.

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The washer is in a weird place!

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A two-burner stove should work out OK. It has a small place to cook fish below it.

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This is our small fridge. The freezer is below.

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This is our bedroom. So far my nightstand is an empty box covered in a sheet.

 

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I’m all tingly — and not in a good way

A heavy chest

“Goodbye, if I don’t return from Spanish class, I love you”

These are the words I said to Andy about 10 days ago — and I meant them.

This super sad declaration of love came about because I had been experiencing severe chest pain for at least three days prior to my declaration of unending love. The chest pain was accompanied by a strange sensation in my left arm. It was tingling and burning and it would not stop. I thought my left arm might eventually just fall off and dangle in the warm Mexican sunshine.  The only reason I didn’t go straight to the Mexican doctor all the gringos adore, was that my dad was in town and we were too busy enjoying the beach.  Fast forward, one day later. We’re at an all- inclusive resort in Ixtapa for the day and while I’m enjoying the day a lot, I’m just not feeling my chipper self. My chest/arm pain is at an all-time high and I’m convinced that I’m a goner.  Then Andy says, “what’s the strange rash all over your back”?  Strange rash? On my back?

Two hours later I’m visiting  El Doctor in Zihuatanejo. Surely stabbing chest pain, tingling, unending arm pain and a strange rash on my back are not the best signs. El Doctor comes into the office, and diagnosis me in less than one second! I’m not having a heart attack. but I do have a rather unfortunate case of shingles–the same virus caused by the chicken pox virus, but lies dormant in your system for decades and decades. And yikes, it’s starting to spread to my chest!  Some health care professionals think that the virus is activated by stress and my doctor shared these wise words of wisdom with me. “You need to de-stress your life”. So in addition to  anti-viral medication, a topical spray, and some strange vitamin, he prescribed 30 days of anti-anxiety medication to be taken at night to help me sleep. Since my meeting with El Doctor, I’ve learned that people who have completed chemotherapy are very likely to get shingles due to their compromised immune systems. I’m thinking this scenario is far more likely than me being “highly stressed” in paradise!  However, right before I got shingles I was just recovering from a two-week cold and some other strange skin rash I got during our trip to Taxco.  I was feeling a bit run-down but definately not stressed.

The biggest thing you should take away from this blog is that if you are over 50 get the damn vaccine. Shingles suck big time. I’ve been in pain for 12 days. Mine can be controlled with over-the-counter pain medication such as Advil and Motrin, but barely controlled. Sometimes my rash (on the left side of my back and chest) burns, stings and hurts so badly I can’t stand it. Did I mention the itching and blistering?  It’s damn depressing to think you are having a heart attack day in and day out. Did I tell you about the stabbing pain?  Thankfully, I visited the doctor within 72 hours of the rash starting so I was able to take the anti-viral medication. This is supposed to stop the rash from spreading and lessen the chance of developing nerve damage after the rash goes away.  I can see that I’m on the other side of it now–and while I’m much better rash wise, the pain is persisting.  You can read more about shingles here. 

Get the vaccine.  Get the vaccine.  Get the vaccine.

The Land Of the Rising Sun

We’re off to Japan and Korea on March 23 and we’re very confident we’re going to see a lot of cherry blossoms. Our research on when to go seems to have paid off. We’re probably going to be on the Island of Kyushu to experience “full bloom” and I promise to blog from Japan fairly often.  We decided to add Korea to our trip agenda because 1) We’ve not been to Busan. 2) They are having a large cherry blossom festival which we really wanted to check out.

After Japan

We will be returning to Morelia for six months.  We’re super excited to be spending six months in a city we love so much.

P.S.  I you have had shingles, feel free to tell me how much they suck in the comments section. I’d love to hear your stories.

The end.

 

We’re blossoming!

Dear readers of BelieveItOhrNot,

We’re trying to predict the unpredictable and I’m not sure we can. We’re heavy into Japan planning mode for our two-month “move” to Fukuoka, Japan. We’re starting the project with the idea that we’re going to see Japan’s cherry blossoms (for the second time), and trip-planning is just plain hard.

But before I tell you why, I want to give you a bit of background.

Viewing Japan’s cherry blossoms is one of the greatest things we’ve ever done. We went to Japan and Korea for five weeks in 2017 and began our trip with a lot of blossom viewing. But as we found out, viewing cherry blossoms is a national pastime and a national obsession … and it’s not so easy.

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First, cherry blossom season is very short. Trees start blooming in the south of Japan and then the blossoms slowly make their way north. On the main island of Japan, the season usually starts in March and goes through May. But each location has a very short viewing period of just one to two weeks. While the country has blossoms for three months, it’s difficult to know for sure when and where you will get to see them.

Here’s how they make their dramatic appearances. First there’s “first bloom” when trees bud,  Then there’s  “full bloom” when you are engulfed in a sea of pink cotton candy. Starting in January, Japanese websites try to predict when “first bloom” and “full bloom” will occur in each region, and while science and weather and previous dates and averages all go into the equation, the predictions are just that: predictions. Depending on Mother Nature, one year Tokyo may experience “first bloom” on March 16 while another year it might not be until April 2.  With these variations, it’s difficult to book hotels and make travel arrangements. And for amazing cherry blossom cities like historic Kyoto, unless you’ve booked many months in advance, you won’t find any hotel rooms available. Oh, and even if you have booked months in advance, if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, you’ll be looking at empty trees.  Blossom-obsessed people, like Andy and me, look at dates from prior years and make estimates, but current weather patterns are more of a factor than, say, average “first bloom” dates over the past 10 years.

This year we will concentrate most our viewing on the island of Kyushu, on the southern edge of “mainland” Japan. While we’ll focus on big cities like Fukuoka, the city on Kyushu in which we’ll be based for two months, and Hiroshima, we’ll also take day trips to small towns and off-the-radar viewing spots. We may also do a few overnight trips. Once the blossoms start appearing in a few weeks, the sakura websites will start posting regular bloom updates, so we will strive to hit “full boom” when able.

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Andy made us this handy-dandy blooming map

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Side note: In 2017, Kyoto was probably my favorite cherry blossom viewing places in all of Japan. It was also the most crowded and the most touristy.

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Kyoto cherry blossoms at night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a special feeling to spread out a big, blue tarp (as is the Japanese tradition), bring along some bento boxes and sake, and relax underneath the trees. Japanese people take cherry blossom viewing seriously, planning elaborate picnics with family and friends underneath the canopy of cherry blossoms. We can”t wait to join them!

Lazy days in Zihuatanejo part 2

Dear esteemed readers of Believeitohrnot,

Happy New Year!

First, I must send out a HUGE thank you to everyone who donated to the BAM Kickstarter campaign. I’m so proud to let you know that we got funded! On behalf of BAM I would like to thank you for supporting our campaign and for agreeing to suck a different way using bamboo reusable straws. BAM is small, but it’s evolving. Lisa (my partner) and I have big plans for  BAM in 2019.  Your Kickstarter donations brought us much closer to achieving some important goals. Thank you.

2019… another year of living in Mexico and traveling the world. Another year where we are both in remission from cancer. Will 2019 be another cancer-free year for us?  We don’t know. But what we do know is that we continue to be blessed by the opportunity to live abroad and to travel this great world.

Our New Year’s Eve was super fun. We had dinner with a bunch of friends and then we watched fireworks. The fireworks were incredible. Dare I say they rivaled some of the greatest cities in the world. Forget London, Boston or Sydney.  Zihuatanenjo fireworks kicked butt! Mexicans LOVE fireworks. They set them off all the time, for birthdays, deaths, weddings, funerals, and of course on New Years Eve. We watched the fireworks from two different condos overlooking the Bay of Zihuatenjo and it was a spectacular show indeed.

We have 11 more weeks in Zihuatenejo until we leave for Japan and starting this week, we’re going to be in Japan planning mode. Because we’ll be arriving in Japan during cherry blossom season, we have to make hotel and train reservations. But Japan has great tourist resource information in English and since this is will be my fourth (which I can hardly believe) trip to Japan, it’s not such a daunting process. We’ll starting high gear planning this week.

But first we have to plan our trip to Taxco, Mexico, another great colonial city 7 hours from Zihuataenjo. We’re gong to be taking my mom (and her car) stopping a few places along the way. It will be nice to leave Zihuatanejo. As much as we love it here, it’s very small with very little do except go to the beach so all trips outside of Zihuatanejo are fun. Taxco specializes in Mexican silver and yes, I’m gonna buy me some!

Ah lazy days in Zihuatanejo…someone recently asked me how we can use so many nice pools when we are in Zihuatenjo if we are not staying at a specific hotel. Let me explain. First, we could probably sneak into any place in Zihatanejo or Ixtapa to use a pool in a resort, except for an all-inclusive resort because everyone has wristbands. But it’s a bother and kinda not cool, so we prefer to go to smaller hotels that are on the beach and have small pools. Usually, if we agree to order lunch, we can spend all day there and sit on the beach and use the pool. But there’s usually a catch. The dreaded “spending” minimum. Many places want us to spend a minimum per person on lunch and drinks and it gets confusing because all the places around have very different minimum. This ranges between $250 ($12.00 to $25) pesos with $300 being the average. Andy actually got a spreadsheet going because it got to be so confusing. We kept forgetting which property had which rule so the spreadsheet does help. Naturally, I like the $500 place the best (they have the best pool) but $50 is a bit steep for our budget, especially if we want to go for lunch once or twice a week.  There’s a cheaper option that I like to, that requests 250 pesos per person. It’s a cheaper and good alternative. Andy doesn’t care if there is a pool, but I do. I don’t like ocean water unless it’s very calm.  I’m kinda a pansy about the ocean but give me a nice pool, no problem. There is one resort I love that has amazing food, a to-die-for pool and doesn’t have any minimum at all, but they have minimal shade. You can see how great of a problem this is to have, yes?  This year, I think we’ve been to the beach more than last year. We’re trying to go at least twice a week.  Try as I might, I can’t figure out how we spend our time here.  We’ve both been working our consultant jobs, and I’ve  been working on BAM stuff.  Time just flies by.

I’m sighing off for now.  Maybe I will find the energy to blog more in 2019.

Sweating bullets…

We’re back in Zihuatanejo, Mexico and it’s sweat city.  We drip many times a day. It’s really gross sometimes.  I forgot how hot Zihuatenjo can be. January and February are the best months to be here, December still feels hot. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. The beaches, the people, the fresh fish, ah.  img_20181207_1428371

Our newly built apartments are very nice. As you may recall, we rented two side-by-side one bedroom units because we could not find anything larger in our price range (Zihuatanejo is expensive in high season) and we like space. More importantly, we really wanted a place for guests to stay. Now guests will have their own private one bedroom apartment with a full kitchen and everything is brand new. Like last year, the inn is going to book up fast. Please make your reservations now! The building is just a 7 minute walk to the beach, and a seven minute walk downtown, so it’s central to everything.  It’s about a 45 minute walk to my mom’s but we can also drive (a friend lent us her car for most of the season) or we can take the mini bus. It’s been really nice hanging out with my mom again. This past Sunday,  we went out to dinner and then resumed our Sunday night sleepover tradition.  The next day we had her and her friends over for happy hour. On Thursday we’re going to a ladies lunch to celebrate the holidays. Very fun times. We also had a lot of fun with Andy’s mom and her boyfriend, Tom who came for a week to visit us right before we left Morelia.  We did a lot of day trips including stops in Patzcuaro and Santa Clara Del Cobre.

Thinking ahead

If I’m still in remission from my cancer and if Andy is still in remission from his, our plan is to leave Zihuatenjo in mid-March and then spend 10.5 weeks in Japan (Fukuoka). Our plan is to follow the path of the cherry blossoms and enjoy Japanese culture.

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This is one of my favorite cherry blossom photos from Kyoto. The blossoms are magical!

Then we plan on returning to Morelia, Mexico for SIX months starting June 1-horray!

We have already secured a fantastic colonial two-bedroom house, three blocks from the main square from June to November. This is the same swanky casa we stayed in when we first came to Morelia this past late July.  The owner wants to spend more time in Canada and she wants to travel so she graciously told us we can rent her house for six months so that’s our plan. The digs and location can’t be beat!

BAM Update

A lot of my friends and faithful readers have been asking me about BAM, the Eco-friendly company I founded with my partner and friend Lisa Cortes. I want to let you know that the business is going well and its a ton of fun. Right now, we’re focusing on securing funding for a Kickstarter campaign and we have a bit more than two weeks left!

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The Kickstarter campaign has several important goals:

  1. Support and educate small-scale Mexican farmers and encourage them to farm Mexican bamboo used for making straws.
  2. Educate kids about how bad plastic is for the environment.
  3. Introduce people to products made from avocado seeds including single use straws and plastic silverware made from avocado seed pulp.

Come on peeps, make a donation to our Kickstarter campaign! We want people to suck a different way. Plastic straws are horrible for our planet. Let’s make them a thing of the past. Our straws are good for up to 1,000 uses!  If they break or crack, just let us know and we will replace it for free.

We’ve got 15 days left in our Kickstarter campaign to raise about $1,000. We only get funded if our Kickstarter campaign succeeds so please, please support this important campaign. Plus…we’ve got great swag. Mexican straws made from bamboo,  Mexican sweets and Mexican art.

Check out the campaign and share the link of Facebook!

Adios and gracias!

 

 

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Cesspool of toxic waste

Yesterday I had to “do my business” outside our house. Not once, but twice. Ick!  Doing one’s business in a public place in Mexico is a horrible experience guaranteed to cause PTSD in even the hardiest souls. Going to battle with a Mexican bathrooms is not fun.  Of course there are hundreds upon hundreds of lovely bathrooms in Mexico. This blog post is not about them.

I don’t know why so many Mexican restrooms look like they have been bombed. It’s not something I understand, but it happens repeatedly.

You can usually count on one or more of the following happening:

  1. No toilet paper (50 percent chance)
  2. No hand soap (70 percent chance)
  3. No toilet seat (85 percent chance)
  4. Overflowing waste baskets (50 percent chance)
  5. Toilets that won’t flush (50 percent chance)

I’m getting more and more used to these less than ideal conditions but yesterday with my stomach acting up, I just about lost it.  The first bathroom (in a really nice cafe we go to all the time) had one stall completely out of toilet paper and the other stall had no toilet seat!

The second place we visited (a cultural center set-up music and food festival) had no toilet seat either in one stall, and while they did have soap– hooray! – they didn’t have any paper towels.  I found it even more interesting that when I was in the bathroom, they had someone cleaning it but she simply told me in Spanish that no paper towels were to be found.

If a bathroom has a toilet seat, paper towels, hand soap, and is clean, I always say a little prayer of gratitude in my head. I really do!

The state of Mexican bathrooms is of great interest to me because in Japan (where we’ll be living in the spring) every single public restroom even in the busiest train stations is spotless. I trust their state of cleanliness so much, I would completely adhere to the “five second rule” if a piece of candy fell on the floor.  I would do it!   I would eat it. I trust their state of cleanliness that much. I’ve never seen such clean bathrooms in my life!  They never run out of toilet paper or hand towels and their soap containers are overflowing with sweet smelling, silky liquids. Don’t even get me started on how high tech their toilets are!

We’re headed to the United States soon for four days. I’ll see my oncologist and Andy will get some tests.  Then we’ll be back in Morelia for 12 days before we move to Zihuataenjo for four months. I’m excited to return to the beach.

 

 

 

Happy Cancerversary to Me!

I’m a chick who defies odds. This much is apparent. At birth, I weighed just 2 pounds, 11 ounces. I came out of my mom two months early and it was unclear if  would live. But I’m here now dazzling readers with my witty musings so that’s good enough for me. My early entry into this world was just the first time I beat the odds.

Fast forward to the spring of 2015 when I got diagnosed with advanced stage ovarian cancer.  The odds said I shouldn’t get cancer so young, at age 48.  The odds said I probably wouldn’t have the BRCA 1 gene mutation, but the odds were wrong again.

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This photo is so special to me.  I don’t know how I managed to smile so widely, but this photo was taken the day I got diagnosed.

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I think the pain pills must have had me smiling after my cancer surgery.

Now today, November 5, I’ve defied the odds again!  It’s my 3 year cancerversary!  I finished chemo three years ago today!

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Andy sported a cool bandanna to keep my bald head company.

Three years ago today, I left Kaiser hospital in Oakland feeling weak from 18 weeks of chemo.  Andy and I hadn’t yet decided to move to Mexico and I was 4 months into a new job as the Executive Director of the Walnut Creek Education Foundation. Little did I know that we’d eventually quit our jobs, move to Mexico and live a completely different type of life.  I never imagined I would be cancer-free three years after my initial diagnosis. I simply assumed I would be fighting another bout of ovarian cancer because most people with my type of cancer recur within 18-24 months after stopping chemotherapy and once the cancer does come back, it’s considered incurable. Even worse…it comes back in 70-80 percent of women.  I’m still going strong at 36 months with no sign of cancer rearing its ugly head.  I’m incredibly lucky.  Most women diagnosed with ovarian cancer aren’t. I’ve already lost one friend (diagnosed the same time as me) and another friend has had a very, very short lived remission. She’s back fighting this ugly beast.

I don’t know how much longer I can continue to be someone who defies these sucky odds. Many, many days I worry about my cancer coming back. I try hard to keep my fears in check, but the odds are not in my favor. If I can make it cancer-free to the five year mark, I have a good chance of beating it completely, but that’s still a very long way off.  So I continue to try to live in the moment. I continue to celebrate life, celebrate love, and live.

Happy Cancerversary to me!