Sunday, January 18, 2015

Osaka Trip

I'm sad to announce that my study abroad experience is almost over...11 more days until I return to Hawaii and I'm NOT counting! I'm currently finishing up finals, but I'm still managing to have time to have fun and explore new places.

Two weeks ago, I went to Osaka on a mini vacation. I really wanted to visit the Kansai area because of its reputation for good food and friendly people. So... I booked a flight from Narita to Kansai International and I decided to find out if this reputation held true.

Did you know that Japan is 70% mountain? This was pretty obvious while's amazing to think so many people live in a country that has such a small percentage of flat land.

Upon arriving I noticed the differences almost immediately. I have a difficult time distinguishing the Osaka accent from the Tokyo one, but I did hear differences in tone and words. Some of the subways and trains were not as modern as the ones in Tokyo. The city, while the second largest in Japan, was also noticeably smaller, which I expected of course but something about its lack of immensity made me feel a bit lonely.

Although I was slightly disappointed that the city wasn't as clean and modern as Tokyo... I felt a special kind of atmosphere that I had never felt in Tokyo. In order to get to the hostel, I had to take a train from KIX to the city, which was honestly a pretty surreal moment. I was riding the train around sunset, so the sun was creating this warm glow from behind the clouds that lit up the whole sky.. it was even more beautiful when the train moved across the bay bridge from the airport to the city.

The hostel I stayed in was really cozy, the staff spoke great English, and everything was clean and convenient. I was ready to explore Osaka!!! The next day I set off for the historical, touristy sights - Osaka Castle and Shitenno-ji, one of Japan's oldest temples.

大坂城 (Osaka Castle)

四天王寺 (Shitenno-ji)

One of the highlights of the day was meeting this Japanese man and his pet eagle

It was cold ..  and I'm definitely not a cold weather type of person so I was losing energy fast. It was time to go back to the hostel and get some rest for the next day. 

The rest of the trip was definitely a more fun experience.. while it's always interesting to see historical sites... once you've been to a lot of temples it just isn't that exciting anymore. I'd rather do the stuff that people do in the just the stuff that looks fun at least ;) Here are some highlights:

TAKOYAKI... a must eat in Osaka, so fresh and warm...mmm
Tempozan Ferris Wheel, the second highest ferris wheel in Japan at 369 ft.

Somewhere in Dotonbori in Namba, the main entertainment hub of Osaka
Shisa at Cafe Absinthe, located in Ame-mura, aka Americatown

The famous Glico logo

So.. I ended up doing lots of touristy stuff, but I did do things that weren't on any guidebooks, like going to two cat cafes to kill time and walking in the cold rain from Koreatown to the train station. There was also this rock bar in Ame-mura (Americatown) that I needed to check out - they were having a classic Japanese rock/pop night, and the end featured a guy dressed in drag strutting out all the dance routines to ピンク・レディー (Pink Lady), a classic pop duo from the 70s.

My overall impression of Osaka had definitely changed over the course of the four days I visited. It seemed as if the city did not have much to offer on the surface, but actually, it has SO much to offer. For some reason it felt more culturally diverse compared to Tokyo - there were many Italian restaurants, the best bakery I've ever been to in my life, Koreatown, Americatown, and of course great Japanese cuisine. I had a lot of fun and the people felt friendly. One striking moment that I'll never forget is going back to the hostel one night and hearing most of the people, not just one or two people, talk in normal voices and even laughing on the train. You just don't get that on Tokyo trains - it's usually just dead silent most of the time.

While I found Osaka more friendlier than Tokyo, I would still choose Tokyo over Osaka... simply because it's the place where I formed many of my first memories in Japan. But if I get the opportunity to return to Osaka, I wouldn't hesitate to say yes. :) 

I Want to Become a Takoyaki Master!

た こ や き!!(takoyaki)
I would like to thank Hajime Mochizuki (right) and Kayoko Mochizuki (left) for giving me the wonderful experience of making takoyaki.

Disclaimer: For me and my friend Mochi, this is our first time making takoyaki and that requires us to cook something other than an egg, so we did the best we could under the instructions of the takoyaki master Kayoko. 

Do you have what it takes to become a takoyaki master? You may be wondering what takoyaki is. Allow me to explain.

Takoyaki is gooey, chewy, and delicious! Takoyaki is a ball-shaped snack that is convenient for the busy businessmen. Within the crusty brown ball, there is a gooey substance with a piece of a chewy octopus. You may find these balls of deliciousness all over Osaka. I was lucky enough to actually make fresh takoyaki and savor the taste with great friends I made at HPU.

1. Flour
2. Water
3. Baking powder
4. Egg
5. Vegetable oil/olive oil
6. Octopus
7. Green onion
8. Beni shouga (red pickle)
9. Seaweed flakes
10. Katsuobushi flakes (Otafuku brand)
11. Mayonnaise
12. Okonomi sauce (Otafuku brand)

The first thing you need to make takoyaki is of course an takoyaki machine maker. (I made the name up by the way.) You may find these in stores in Osaka and Kyoto. (I would've bought one for myself if not for the luggage weight restrictions.) In Osaka, you may even notice street vendors cooking up some fresh takoyaki with these machines. 

Step One 
Before we start, oil up the takoyaki machine maker. Then, mix flour, baking soda, and water together. When the mix is smooth, add an egg to the mix. Place the mix into each hole of the maker. After, add an octopus piece in the middle of each mix. Add green onions and beni shouga (red pickle) as toppings.

Oh no! The place is starting to get messy...

Step Two
The next step involves flipping the takoyaki over once the bottom has turned into a nice brown. (I used a chopstick to flip over the balls.) Keep doing this until the whole ball is a nice tan color.

Nice and crispy!

Step Three
Once the ball is evenly brown all over, place the balls onto a plate. Then, spread seaweed and katsuobushi flakes all over. After, spread mayonnaise and Okonomi sauce (Otafuku brand) all over as you please.

Add some flavor with seaweed and katsuobushi flakes.
Takoyaki is not takoyaki without the sauce!

The result should look something like the picture below.

All that hard work and we finally did it. Congratulations! You are now a takoyaki master.

With friends, I think takoyaki taste much better. My friend Mochi personally likes his takoyaki with beer!

"Beer is waiting for me!"

Enjoy your freshly made takoyaki! If you haven't tried takoyaki yet, head over to Osaka now! You will not regret it. Thank you for reading.

- Estanislao "Stan" Cruz

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


I'm baaaaaack.

Official listing of rank in sumo
I felt it was time to update you guys on what's been going on lately (like you don't get that enough through my Facebook pictures already). But I recently attended a sumo wrestling tournament, so I think that's pretty blog-worthy. Now, what's the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the words "sumo wrestling?" If you answered any of the following: Large men, big dudes, scary guys, bad a** Japanese, or diaper thingys, you basically have a solid idea of the sport! But let me give a quick description for those of you that aren't familiar. According to Wikipedia, every college student's favorite invention, "sumo is a competitive full-contact wrestling sport where a rikishi (wrestler) attempts to force another wrestler out of a circular ring (dohyo) or to touch the ground with anything other than the soles of the feet. The sport originated in Japan, the only country where it is practiced professionally."

With the help of my graduation money and dire need for really cool and expensive things, I bought myself a Canon Rebel T3i camera, along with a telephoto lens. I've used this camera to shoot a number of awesome things, but taking pictures of the sumo tournament was my favorite so far. Reviewing the sumo pictures was even better because I got to see all the wrestlers' gnarly expressions. But let's remember to give these guys some credit; this sport ain't easy! For your enjoyment, I've added some of my own captions ;)

It's about to go down!

"No no no, not in my house." What really gets me is the fellow sumo wrestler watching the match, obviously not impressed. 
That awkward moment when a 300 pound man has more flexibility than you do. 
Look at his feet! So close!
I'm not sure what's cuter: the colors of their mawashi (loincloths), or the referee's uniform. #thighgoals

Click here to watch a quick video montage of some of the matches! I added "Till I Collapse" by Eminem as the background music to add dramatic effect. You're welcome. Make sure to watch until the end! The throwing of the seat cushions is a tradition the audience does at the end of the tournament, either out of frustration at a wrestler's loss, or out of excitement. But mostly because Japanese people are just awesome. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Guten tag from Germany a short stop over before Greece!

Guten Tag from Berlin, Germany. My name is Katarina Lage, I am an International Studies major with a minor in Diplomacy and Military Studies at HPU and I am completing my fourth semester of College in Athens, Greece. So you may now officially be confused because I did in fact write that I am in Berlin, Germany!

The wonderful part of going to school at Hawai’i Pacific University is that you meet students from all over the world and that is in fact why I am in Germany! My roommate from the past semester lives in Grosshansdorf a small village outside of Hamburg. With her the last ten days have included I wandering around Hamburg and Berlin with many small villages and towns along the way as well as eating. I have visited many of the popular sights in these two massive cities as well as journeying by train to the wonderfully breezy Baltic Sea.  

The sights are in order of the pictures posted first the Hamburg Rathaus which is Hamburg Town Hall, second is a night view of the Binnenalster which is a large body of water in the center of Hamburg, third was my first experience at the Baltic Sea (it is a little colder than Waikiki) luckily I was able to go there before the storms came and flooded HafenCity in Hamburg, fourth was taken in Lübeck the closest big city to the Baltic Sea that is famous for their marzipan, fifth is a picture of the original Berlin Wall, sixth is the Reichstag, seventh the Brandenburger Tor (Yes I am wearing a Hawaii Pacific University sweater), eight is the Holocaust Memorial beside the United States Embassy in Berlin, and finally is the Schloss Sanssouci (the castle built for Fredrick the Great.) I took many more pictures than are shared that could more clearly show a small picture of the splendor that is Northern Germany; however I think brevity is best!

It’s a crazy thing jetlag, it didn’t hit me the first night I was here after traveling for nearly 24 hours from Denver, Colorado through Reykjavik, Iceland and Copenhagen, Denmark, or the next day but that third day felt like I had been hit by an airplane with sudden turbulence. In fact, I have been touring this beautiful country so deeply and comprehensively that there is a possibility I may sleep my first two days in Athens before moving into the Dorms!

However, no one wants to read about the negative side of traveling halfway across the world. Let’s move on to a little thing dubbed Culture Shock. To start I would like to point out something, in Germany the citizens speak GERMAN, is your mind blown yet? I only bring this up because mine was that first night I went out in Hamburg. The signs are in German, the people speak with you in German, and menus are in German. While this seems like common sense I was completely blown away by the fact that I was in a country whose society functions in another language.

More surprising than the language barrier was the cuisine. There is more to eat in Germany than Schnitzel, bretzel, and sauerkraut. The food in Germany is gastronomically pleasing from weißwurst mit kartoffelsalat and senf, pfifferlingsuppe, curry wurst, and döner to anything chocolate or the germknödel mit vanilliesoße and mohm. 

I highly recommend going to Germany just to eat as much as possible. But don’t worry; you’ll walk around enough you won’t even have to worry about carrying around any extra insulation. The people of Germany are welcoming and more than willing to help Americans that speak little to no German. I can say Guten Tag, prost, and a few other words in German now so I will consider my trip here successful. One tip that I can give you for getting over Culture Shock, even as minor as my experience has been thus far is to sit back for a moment and appreciate the fact that when the street vendors try to sell you something you won’t be able to understand them so there is no guilt in continuing to walk past them!

I arrive in Greece later today and look forward to many new and exciting experiences in the country that my grandfather emigrated from in the 1900’s.

Until next time, “Don’t stop believing!”


Friday, January 9, 2015


One of the most frequently asked questions I get from people is "why did you choose Thailand?" Answering that question before I arrived here about two weeks ago, I would give a very uninformed reason. I would say reasons such as "I'm going for the food", or "Its super cheap (like me) and has beautiful beaches". Now don't get me wrong, the food is amazing here, and the beaches are breath taking, but I am coming to realize I have discovered just a small piece of all the wonderful things Thailand has to offer.

Meet my new friend. He has attachment issues and I am still trying to explain to him what my "personal bubble" means, but nevertheless, he was the first elephant I've ever seen in person!
This Picture is from Pattaya Thailand, A beach town south of Bangkok. I spent New Years Eve with international friends of mine, as we lighted countless amounts of lamps and let them float to the sky. One of the most beautiful sights I have ever took part in, looking down the beach for miles watching lamps float into the distance and fireworks exploding everywhere!
I know what you're thinking... NO, I didn't take a selfie with a monk. It's hard to tell, but he is actually made out of wax! After meeting some Thai friends at school, I was brought to one of the local museums and was lucky enough to learn some very interesting history and culture about Thailand.

Is culture shock real? YES. I thought Hawaii was a big culture shock two years ago when I came for school. Thailand is a whole different world! I do think Hawaii prepared me better for this experience, as it allowed me to meet people of other cultures and adapt to different lifestyles. 

I was looking for something totally different and I for surely got it coming to Thailand. I realize I am still in the honeymoon phase here but this experience has already been well worth it for me. 

Until next time!

Hunter Haas

Monday, January 5, 2015

Update on my South African adventures

That plan of keeping up my blogging during my semester abroad did not really work out.. I have now been back home in Sweden for a little more than two weeks, I got back right in time for Christmas. Looking back, my semester in South Africa was the best semester of my college experience so far! I would even say that it was one of the best experiences of my life. Now that I’ve been home for a while, and I’m going back to Hawaii in about 11 days, I really miss South Africa. I miss being there because it is an amazing country, but I also miss all the friends that I made, both my friends in my class that I shared this experience with, but also the people I met there, such as the people working with the program and all my host families, I really hope that I can go back one day and meet some of the people again! But even though I’m not in South Africa anymore, I thought that I should take you through the rest of the semester and share with you what I did and experienced.

A lot has happened since the last time! And once again I don’t know how to tell you about everything without writing a super-long post, but I’ll try to cover everything of importance at least. Last time I wrote I was in the middle of my home-stay in Langa, which is a township in Cape Town. The second half passed by pretty much like the first half. During one weekend we also went to Robben Island, which is where Nelson Mandela spent the most part of his time in prison. We were required to read Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom” before coming to South Africa. I have to admit though that I didn’t finish it before I got here, but it was really interesting to see the place that we have heard, read, and discussed so much. The prison on Robben Island is today a museum where you can walk around and see the cells and such. We were even taken to see and go inside Mandela’s cell, but I have to say that it was really hard to imagine and realize that this tiny place was where Mandela actually spent so many years of his life. Our guide in the prison was an actual old political prisoner that stayed around to work and tell people his stories and experiences from the prison. To have that first-hand information made everything so much more real.

When we were moving out of our home-stays in Langa we had a big goodbye-reception where all the students and their families gathered for dinner and entertainment. Unfortunately our class had to perform a song that we had practiced in isiXhosa, and a traditional Zulu dance that we had learned two days before and that we had only practiced once. I can assure you that it was not pretty, but at least our families had something to laugh about.. It was pretty sad to say goodbye to our families that we had gotten to know over the past three weeks, three weeks might not sound like much, but when you live in someone’s home, it is quite a long time.

After we left Langa we went to Simon’s Town where we stayed for two nights. Between each home-stay we always have 3-4 days as a little break. We still have schoolwork to do and stuff, but it is meant to be a sort of mental break between living with different families, and we really appreciated it. Even though we are supposed to be like a family member, you will always be a guest in their home, and you don’t relax in the same way that you do in your own home, and these days in between are really nice. In Simon’s Town we did not have any plans that were decided by the program, so we could pretty much do what we wanted to do. I and two other girls went to a beach park close to where we stayed that was a nature reserve kind of place where you could watch penguins. I can’t remember what kind of penguins it was, but it was awesome and they were so cute! In the afternoon I and Kelsey went to Kalk Bay, a little town a few train stops away, and went for some shopping, lunch and a few drinks. The place was awesome and we are definitely coming back, it’s just a few train stops away from central Cape Town. (I started writing this post quite a while ago, and unfortunately we never went back, there were simply too many other things that we wanted to do).


Before we left Simon’s Town we went down to Cape of Good Hope. It was a beautiful place, and the little hike and the beautiful coast made me miss Hawaii a little. The Cape of Good Hope is also the most south western point of the African continent, which was pretty cool. After this we went to our classroom to chill and pack. In the evening we left for the Eastern Cape, and most of us left about half of our stuff in our classroom in Rondebosch so that we would not have to carry so much. We would only be gone for about 12 days and the main stay was in a small rural village. To get to the Eastern Cape we took a bus, it was a 16 hour bus ride, but we went over night so we slept most of the ride. When we got off the bus at King Williams Town we were picked up by our minibuses that, after a shower and some breakfast, took us to the village of Tshabo, where we were to stay for 8 nights. In all home-stays except the first one we stay two students in each family. But since our group is an odd number someone had to live on their own, and I had known since they day before that it would be me. When we arrived in the village our mamas and a bunch of kids greeted us at the high school with singing, dancing, and hugs. I think it was the happiest and warmest welcoming I’ve ever received. We were each introduced to our mamas and then we had lunch before we went to our new homes. The reason that I, the lonely student, ended up with this particular family was that it was their first time hosting, and it would be nice for them to start with one student instead of being overwhelmed by having two.

There is so much I can say about the week we spent in Tshabo because it was one of the absolute best experiences in my life so far! My family consisted of Mama Nomthanzi, Tata Williams, my two older sisis Nomtu and Nonkululeko, and Nomtu’s eight year old daughter Owami. But in this village family is not restricted to just the closest members, so for the entire week my six year old cousin, or something, Chumande stayed with us, for the first few days her little sister was there too, and for the last second half of the week my six year old nephew Libongwe stayed there too. For the weekend my bhuti Djego came home from Port Elizabeth where he is studying, and for one day his 10 month old son was there too.

I won’t go into detail about what we did during this week, but there was a lot of soccer, walking around the fields, playing with all the kids, hanging out at other peoples’ houses, watching the sunset, and spending time with the family. We also had time for two cultural days with singing and dancing, a visit to the Steve Biko center in East London, and I also spent a day in bed because I got sick, which was not that fun, but I got through it. As it turned out I was really lucky with where I lived. My house was a lot bigger than everyone else’s, and I had my own bedroom with a double bed, a separate wash-room, and a plastic toilet-seat over the hole in the ground. My family even had a nice car, and on Saturday they took me to a traditional ceremony in my mama’s home village. This ceremony was a pretty cool experience. When we got there I was surrounded by so many people, and I’m not a big fan of being the center of attention. The attention was grounded in two things, first of all I was the only white and non-isiXhosa speaking in the entire village at that moment, and I was also carrying the baby that everyone wanted to see. During the night we had some beef from the freshly slaughtered cow in the kraal, there was singing, and there was a whole lot of people that kept talking to me, the only problem was that they kept talking isiXhosa so I couldn’t understand what they were saying. But all in all, it was an experience that I won’t forget.

Another thing that is tradition to do when the class is in Tshabo is to have an afternoon when we do beading with our mamas. We learned how to do some necklaces and bracelets, and my mama made both a necklace and a bracelet, and I will always remember her and the family when I look at them and wear them. When we left Tshabo it was a really sad goodbye. There were some tears being shed and a lot of hugging. I think that the reason that this goodbye was so hard is that it is very unlikely that we will ever see these people again. Even if I go back to visit South Africa again, I will most likely not see them because the village is rural and not really touristy or even close to any other places you might go.


After we left Tshabo we had our little break before the next homestay. We went to Buccaneer Backpackers on Chintsa beach, also in the Eastern Cape. It was an extremely beautiful place, we stayed in a secluded hostel right on the beach. Once again we did not have too much planed with the program, except the highlight that was the safari. We went on a game drive on a game reserve and it was amazing! We saw hippos, wildebeests, zebras, lions, and I sat on an ostrich! The day after some of us chose to go back to the game reserve for a cheetah interaction. It was a little bit disappointing because all we did was to pet a cheetah on the head for a minute, but it was still pretty cool. Other than that we spent our days at Buccaneers at the beach, paying volleyball, relaxing, and spending time with each other. And of course there was a lot of partying in the bar in the evenings.

I'll take a break here and divide it into several posts, or it will just be too much in one post. But I'll be back with more adventures!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

My Templestay Cultural Experience: Cheongamsa Temple Stay

Upon arriving in Korea, I had set traditional Korean culture to be on my list of things to experience here. When I learned about temple stay's in my Korean Culture Society Class, I wanted to take the chance to immerse myself and learn about one of Korea's three main religions.  

Cheongamsa Temple is located in the mountains in the city of Gimcheom, which was a 3 hour train ride from my university. After getting off of Gimcheon station, our group took a taxi to the temple. Upon arriving there around the evening hours, the temperature quickly dropped. The fall season here is too short, and the temperature is the coldest I have experienced (Yikes! Winter will be much colder). Although the air around us was cold, the surrounding atmosphere of the temple was warm, cozy, and radiated relaxing vibes. I couldn't wait for my two days of cultural experience, smiles, and company of good people. 

As our group checked-in, we were given an introduction to the temple and the temple stay program. Cheongamsa Temple is located under Mt. Sudosan in Pyeongchon-ri. The temple was founded by Dosen, a Korean Buddhist monk who lived during the Shilla Dynasty period. The temple was also subjected to fire several times and as a result underwent destruction and reconstruction several times. 
After the introduction, dinner was served. All meals were vegetarian and in buffet style. It was very delicious! (Especially for a vegetarian like myself). Everyone washed their own dishes and thanked the monks for the food. 

The next activity was the lotus lantern craft making. Everyone was given a candle and flower petal papers to make their lantern. We then wrote our wishes and dreams on the lantern. I wrote something to the lines of "I wish for myself to live a long and healthy life full of joy". All our lanterns were lit and placed under a carved statue of the temple. 

Other activities we did included sitting meditation (called the 5-element sitting meditation) and a meditation moment/dance called the Taegeukgwon. After doing the meditation and dance, I felt a lot more energy and relaxation in my body. I have to admit it was really difficult because sitting down squeezed together with everyone in silence with our backs straight and attention focused on the mind for 5 minutes seemed like it took forever. 

That night, we slept early: at 10:30.

The bells struck at 4:30 in the morning and everyone woke up, got ready and gathered in the main hall to do the morning worship in front of the Buddha statues. Altogether, we bowed 108 times. Yes! My arms and knees were in pain afterwards. However, my mind felt so clear afterwards and my mood changed from being tired and lazy to very uplifting and vibrant. I thought to myself that I wanted to feel this way even morning and to start my day with a positive mind. I also learned that the monks do 3,000 or 8,000 bows of gratitude each day. 

Everyone had breakfast and afterwards, headed down to harvest cabbages and make kimchi. I was really looking forward to this event because after staying in Korea for nearly 2 months now, I ate kimchi as a side dish almost everyday and was curious how kimchi is made. We arrived at our destination and it was beautiful! 

The kimchi event was held outdoors in the countryside with a beautiful scenery. The mountains had trees full vibrant fall colors, old folk houses, and many persimmon trees. There were several large tables with about 50 heads of cut napa cabbages on each. We were all given aprons and there were nice ajummas (helpers) on each table guiding us and explaining how kimchi is made. Everyone has happy and excited, especially because we each got to take our kimchi's home. Lunch was then prepared for us by excellent cooks and helpers of the event. After eating, I felt a little sad because this was our last event and everyone will be saying their farewells. 

I learned so many wonderful things through this experience about Korean religion and culture.