Stylistic note: The following blog post is written in diary form: rambling, revealing, and nonsensical.
I’ve never woken up so early before in my life. When I first arrived at Pelan Village, I would wake up at 5:45 am to begin work at 6 am. (Now, I tend to sleep in a bit, since my usual insomnia/nighttime productivity has set in again.) I clean Chika’s Kitchen House, mop the floors, sweep leaves from the deck, change the bathroom compost, and muster up a decent bit of bravery to mix the chicken feed and slip my way down the hill to the coop.
Along the way, I pick a bunch of fruits and veggies: okra, hibiscus petals for pickles or tea leaves, Goa beans, coffee beans, chili peppers, passionfruit and Noni fruits (which Chika sets aside for medical use). There is usually not much, just enough to fill a small colander.
I swat mosquitos away or wear socks to ward them away from my tender ankles. In the coop, I usually end up sweating buckets and leaving with a breathless sticky feeling, since I hold my breath while I shovel the feed out and change the water. I probably mutter various expletives and sport a deep frown at this point.
Once I’m back up the hill, I clean the shovel, put the veggies away, and take a quick shower. Breakfast time! Sticky slimy natto with okra on rice, with black sesame seeds, a fat slice of apple and miso soup.
Since I can set my own hours (I WWOOF about 6 hours a day) I can either choose to chill, do yoga (which I nearly never do, even though Chika has been extremely kind and given me yoga instruction au gratis) or commence work immediately. Tasks range greatly from construction, cleaning, farming, crafting, & house work. After work, around noon, I chill out and nap.
Then I grab my tin bento and zip down to the beach, with a life jacket, fins, snorkel, camera, audiobook, and a liter of water. Pelan is way up in the mountains, 100 km in vertical distance from the water so the bike downhill is a terrifying ride when my brakes are rusted from the rain. Sometimes I walk down, meandering down various streets, through a residential area, and down steps cut into a small bamboo grove.
The beach I mainly visit is Ogiura Beach- I tried snorkeling at Kominato Beach but it had recently rained so the water was murky and I felt like I was floating and vulnerable, like I would crash into coral only feet away from my face. I’ve snorkeled so many times at Ogiura that I know my way around the coral forest even on cloudier days.There are a handful of other beaches within biking distance but I’ve stuck to Ogiura thus far. (Update: I’ve a new favorite beach. I went sea kayaking the other day with Ryo and two tourists and we went snorkeling at Sakaiura Beach, which features a rusty sunken ship that had been torpedoed near the shore during WWII. The ocean had reclaimed a war relic and fish flocked within. There, I fist-bumped a jellyfish, gaped at a lionfish, and caught the tail-end of Ryo’s fight with a stubborn inking octopus. Ryo came away with red spots and scratches all over his right arm while the octopus fled. We swam back to shore to build a small fire, drink chai tea with spices Chika brought back from India, and slices of starfruit from Pelan’s backyard.
I’m not sure any other house on the island practices the sort of loving ecological rituals here at Pelan Village: we use solar powered showers, draw oven-heated baths with firewood that we chop ourselves (translation: firewood that we thwack with great force over an even bigger log in order to break into little bits), wipe with leaves (although truth be told I can’t help but rely a fair bit on toilet paper), cover our excrement with ash and dried leaves, our piss with leaves, turn it all into rich soil, preserve rain water, patch kayak gear with old wet suits, and I’m running out of things to say because it’s all too much, too good.
I share breakfast with Ryo most days, lunch by myself on a beach or in the Kitchen House with a bento, and after cooking rice and/or bread over the fire outside, I eat dinner with Chika and Ryo, and their son Manzo (his name means 10,000 elephants) and their daughter Umi (whose name means sea).
Most days, we eat some variation of tuna, rice, and soup. It is absolutely wonderful how tuna can be manipulated. I grew up with tuna fish in a can, and the only way to eat it was with mayo on bread. When I got to Saitama, that definition broadened to tuna mayo in onigiri (rice balls). Now, I know of whole broiled tuna head, tuna sashimi salad with lemon and cabbage, hmmm I’m afraid to disappoint but I forget the rest. Sometimes we have pasta, or au gratin, or udon, or rice porridge. The tuna is the most memorable though, because it showcases the plentiful and delicious ways one meat can be rendered.
After dinner, I generally strip and roll into bed, glue my face to the computer screen, troll my facebook and instagram feeds, perhaps indulge in some Adventure Time, read (Murakami, Rousseau, or Flaubert), or draw postcards.
There are a plethora of little animals thriving about us: little geckos that croak little epithets every now and again, scampering with their little stuccoed toes, hermit crabs that curl up into their shells with fright, termites that eat away at the house, giant stupid toads that get squashed flat in the street, their innards attracting a cloud of flies for days, and let’s not ignore those dratted mosquitos.
When I first arrived, another WWOOFer showed me the ropes. Sabu-chan, who later confessed of aspirations of buddahood, was tall, gangly, with a closely shaved head, and a large adam’s apple. He was sweet, although tended to deliver short responses since he had just begun to speak conversational English. Soon after my arrival, he departed on the Ogasawara-maru ferry back to Tokyo, where he planned to hang with friends for a week before earning money back at his family’s hot springs in southern Japan.
I was on my own for a while, getting a bit lonely, until Sanae came back from Shangri-la. She, Chika, and two other women had attended an Ashram meditation retreat in India and then the ladies had parted their separate ways: to return home, to travel more.
Every diary entry says the same thing: Sanae is incredibly sweet. She WWOOFed at Pelan for 3 months last March and then found a job working at the grocery store in town. She rents the room next door, and we greet each other, albeit sleepily, every morning. We have a lot of fun talking to each other in Japanese and English, respectively.
She somehow intuited my obsession with sweets and mochi and has shared her culinary creations ever since: pumpkin pudding, butter-brushed red bean mochi toasted and wrapped in delicate rice paper, and the sweetest umeboshi you will have ever laid your tongue upon. Although last week was only the first, we’ve (inc. Fumi, a glass artist) been having henna decorating parties intermingled with halting English lessons.
Tonight, we headed to town. The town center is transformed at night. For a month I’ve only seen it in the daylight and it has become a familiar sight. But during the night, christmas lights cast a friendly glow on the street, and all the restaurants that were mysteriously closed during the day are open, doors invitingly ajar.
This transformation immediately reminds one of that scene in Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, of the alleyways that are asleep during the daylight but bustling in the evening, steam rising from laden dishes and guests frolicking within the brightly lit interiors.
I met a few other foreigners this evening at a surf movie premiere in town. As I’ve grown I’ve also begun to understand the critical difference between solitude and loneliness but boy-o-boy was it nice to meet another foreigner, the new English teacher, who I immediately felt a connection to and I really hope we can hang out. The surf movie was a masterpiece created by another foreigner, a ripped blonde surfer dude. It was inspirational and made me realize how much potential for love, community, and exploration this island holds, despite its size. I’ve got to get out more. No more shy guy… maybe.
Chika and Ryo host a lot of dinner parties which is an amazing way to meet other islanders and soak up the language. I tend to keep to myself at these gatherings- somehow the shy side of myself has emerged here. It surprises me- that I don’t really want to speak or engage but am happy to listen and observe. Well, surfer dude and an Italian-Japanese guy are coming to this Thursday’s dinner party and I have no idea whether I’ll be left in peace to be quiet as usual. Hopefully?
I’ve taken up knitting, like a little old lady. There was a bazaar at the community center the other day and I snatched up $80 worth of fine mohair yarn for a paltry 100 yen. I spent all of my time today just knitting, listening to various UK bands, and pouring royal milk tea from a new blue porcelain pot. Time has rarely felt so luxurious.
Here, surrounded by peaceful people and nature’s bounty, my mind is becoming more restful, more serene, finally taking the time for myself to heal from an ongoing addiction to academic stress culture.