Sorry 2 blog posts in a row since I got too distracted last week - and I still have this weeks to write ungg

The day after the haircut was Koyasan 修練旅行! Kouya Mountain Research / Study trip! Yay! Doesn't that sound like fun!
Kouyasan (高野山) is a World Heritage spot- I was totally sleeping during most of the lectures, but if I remember it right, it's in the 1,200 year old range. Its home to an absolutely ridiculous number of temples, as well as a highschool and college for those who want to become Obou-san [monks] The point was to learn about the bhuddist religion and heritage of the area.

I ended up being driven all 1 and a half hours of winding road there by a Rotary guy I'd never met before. I guess my Rotary is still not really into letting me take a train....ever. I was kind of apprehensive about the whole 'spend a good 90 minutes in a small car trying to be polite' but the conversation took off after about 10 minutes and we managed to talk most of the way there in fairly fluid conversation, so that was a relief. This was repeated the return trip with a DIFFERENT old guy I barely knew. It was actually fun, though, so all good. :] His son was a Mangaka!

Anyway, I was expecting it to be an Exchange student retreat, but in reality, there were only 4 other exchange students there. The other participants, probably about 40 of them, came from all sorts of places, everywhere from a nursing home care company to the International section of Wakayama Universtiy. This was so cool! We got to talk to so many different people. In my group we had a couple chinese, an American girl by the name of Lauren, a Filipino, and then some Japanese boys. I reallly liked the Chinese couple, graduate students form Wakayama U, and I spent a long time talking to them about there experiences here and in China. I mean, China is a country largely... what's the word, monsterized? by the US. I felt really lucky to be able to share culture with someone who came directly from it, who wasn't in the US and feeling pressure from attitude we have towards Chinese- basically, who would speak honestly and not defensively. I especially enjoyed this when I pointedly ask how dog tasted in front of Lauren, who had a little freakout fit while they debated whether it tasted closer to pork or chicken. Hahaha! And then, it's times like that, where you feel language learning is really worth it. : ) Who knows, when I'm done with Japanese....

Hanchou, or Group leader- [Did you know Japanese has about a zillion names for leaders? Thank god Hitler wasn't Japanese. Think of how many chants they'd have! The poor citizens would have to just yell HAIL ALL OF THE ABOVE 30 TITLES HITLER] Anyway, this guy was the spitting image of Aang from The Last Airbender. Anyone remember that cartoon/horrible Night L Shaman movie about the bald 10 year old with an arrow tatooed to his head? Yeah. that one. Consequently, we spent the entire, and I do mean ENTIRE trip referring to him under the names of "The LAST Airbender" "Aang" and "Avatar" and so on. After that, we spent boring bits categorizing the different monks into elemental Airbender types and searching for Aang's flying buffallo. Needless to say, I think the lectures and general point of this trip was completely lost on us. Especially my other Exchangers- Lauren probably speaks around the same level as me, but the lectures used a significant amount of specialized vocabulary that I understood from cramming Roman Catholic Church history for the World History final- but I have no doubt it flew right over the heads of my fellow exchangers.

Among activities we tried were: Calligraphy, meditation, planting a tree, walking through holy sites, eating, and breaking a significant number of rules. I have decided to leave out the bits that could endanger my ability to stay in this country. Which you know is the most interesting part, but.... ; )

Anyway, I'll skip explaining and just go for pictures instead:

Spring Solstice Festival

The word for statue in Japanese is the same as elephant- so technically we're sitting on a zou squared! Hah! How cool are we!
Our rad group!

Since Year End Finals ended on Friday, we have halfdays until Spring break! Which is the 24th! Which I would be happy about if I didn't like school! : ( That's about 2 weeks of halfdays for no apparent reason at all. Then again, since we'll be moving up to 3rd year after break, theres not like theres real point in drilling us on our current classes. Monday was the weekly Rotary meeting, which sucked because it happened -just- as the first World History class was held. That means after alllll that studying I did for my History Final, I DIDNT EVEN GET IT BACK, SEE MY SCORE, OR COMPARE SHARE THE PAIN WITH MY FRIENDS. [That's something I miss about getting tests back. While everyone here is slumped over their desks considering seppuku over the test score, I'm just sitting there blinking like. Nice weather huh.]
The next day, my friends informed me that Oyama Sensei announced to the ENTIRE class that I had managed to beat out 22 of my classmates in the History Final- our of 40 !!!! AHHH! Isn't that great! Oh mannn, I have never been so excited to be average!
Tuesday, I got Biology and English, including that English composition final which was flipped around Japanese for me. Again, I got a class announcement, although as this was the 3rd time I kind of hid- I guess I'm getting attention because none of the Exchange students they get ever actually try to participate in class, even the ones that come with previous language knowledge. My Biology test, which was the same as my classmates but halved since I started participating late, I almost scored perfectly. However, I got tripped up since the word 'Blood type' uses the same 3rd kanji as 'Gene formation,' so I thought she wanted me to write the gene formation of the blood type (AO, AB, BO ect) but really she just wanted A, B, AB ect. >8 |.... grrr...

Tuesday, I did what I've been considering for a long time; I told Arai-Sensei I wanted to quit badminton. After school, I went to the teachers lounge- but I was so nervous that the first time I entered with the low greeting 'Shitureshimasu.." I saw his back and ran out again. After composing myself again, I marched in there and told him. He was doing that 'speak in slow polite japanese like I don't understand anything' thing again, and halfway through the conversation I said, 'Sensei. Sensei. That- your normal speaking style is okay, really.' and the teacher sitting beside him busted up laughing. I explained my reasons for quitting- I have the Japanese Proficiency test, the SAT, and then I plan to try to try my hardest on all my classes from here on out- that will require studying. I left the real reason unsaid, however, that I wasn't getting along well with my teamates and found the regime excessive. But the studying thing was no lie, either.

To be honest, I've kept up badminton so long because telling Arai sensei that you want to quit takes significantly more guts than killing yourself daily in the presence of people who aren't a big fan of you. He's just one of those teachers that you don't want to quit to- I'm sure you understand. That, and my captain and some of my team mates- I respect them a lot. So, after school on Wednesday, I went to collect my stuff and say thank you for everything they did. That was an awkward affair. I'd warn one technicolor moose sock and one white one, and as I bowed to say thank you, I kind of looked down- haha.... I wanted to ask for a picture too, but I was so nervous that I forgot it. Wahhhh... I really have almost proof I was ever there. I think that in the end of my exchange, my failure in badminton will be my biggest regret. But if that's all I have for regrets, I think I'll be okay.

From here on out, I'll join art club for a 2-3 days a week and investigate volunteer options since colleges like that and maybe I could meet new people. I have almost dropped art entirely over the last 6 months due to badminton, which I think was a bad decision because Art is the only thing I've ever passionately held my entire life. Furthermore, I feel like I've lost the ability to value artistic skill, especially as I plan my future in the opposite direction. I want to pick it up again.

Thursday and Friday (today) were off days since 3rd year middle schoolers were taking highschool entrance exams. I wrote 'good luck!' on my desk teehee. I spent Thursday running around with Ninna, being foreign idiots, doing horribly taboo things like eating special imported Oreo's by dipping them into a milk carton while straddling a high fence and talking loudly in English. It is good to have a foreign friend you can relax with in Japan. :::) While we were doing that, a creepy old guy approached us and asked started saying things in English. We just kind of looked at him, I said, 'Takk' [Danish / Swedish for Thanks] to Ninna and she took off in Danish while I nodded and and answered in really poor french. I don't know if he bought it, since we were half laughing, but he just sat there and stared a good minute or two until we ran away.
As for what she was saying, apparently it involved yogurt and yelling at me to speak in German.

Friday, I got up early, and thought to myself, I think I'll blog in the dark while drinking hot Cocoa!
And so I did.
Today is packing day, I'm switching to my next hosts tomorrow. Ughhh, like usual, I do not want to leave. This family is so sweet, they know all my likes down better than my real parents [OK, so my real parents usually just ignore them haha] and they're always so funny. I came home the other day to find the snack bowl stocked with Snickers and white chocolate and was just all BAWWW HOW DO I LEAVE... I don't want to! And because this is Ayume's house, visiting might be awkward. They've invited me back to visit in the Cherry blossom season, since this is in the country and it'll be a sea of blooming flowers in a few months.
Anywayso I'll end it here. Next blog, Family number 4!

Cleaned up room