Friday, 25 December 2015

My First WWOOFing Experience (Nagano, Japan)

HEY, I'VE MOVED OVER TO: --- see you there ;)

My very first WWOOFing experience was freaking awesome. And since it's so freaking awesome and this is one of my longer posts, I will, for the first time on this blog, put in sub-headings.

What's WWOOF?
For those who don't know about WWOOF, it is basically a work-travel program where you work on organic farms (most of the time) in exchange for food and accommodation. Transport costs not included. For me, I heard of WWOOF a few years back and always wanted to do it in Southeast Asia. However, as you might have read in my previous posts, I was scheduled to be in Tokyo, Japan for an internship. That's why I decided to add WWOOFing in Japan into my travel plans. I also wanted somewhere nearer to Tokyo as I didn't have much money to spare to spend on transport. #poorcollegestudent

I spent 15 days (so not enough) in Nagano, Japan with probably the best WWOOFing host ever. They are a young family of five and have been hosting WWOOFers for more than 10 years I believe. Anyone who's on the WWOOF Japan website would have probably came across their profile at least once and be very impressed; they have nothing but good reviews from other WWOOFers. In fact, they are so popular that they are actually too full to host me next May lol.

Near my WWOOF accommodation, there was an onsen (hot spring) and I would go there after a long work day sometimes. I remember being so nervous the first time HAHAHA cos I have never been naked in front of so many people. But that nervousness disappeared after 10 minutes cos I realised everyone was naked, she has what you have, and everybody's just minding their own business lol.

My farm was also like 2 hours away from Kamikouchi, a famous hiking area in Nagano. IT'S SUPER PRETTY. Will definitely go there again if I get to WWOOF at the same place.

At the very very beautiful Kamikouchi
Eating vending machine food after a good hour of onsen

The Actual WWOOFing
Now I'll just briefly talk about the tasks that I had to do while I was WWOOFing. Do note that the tasks assigned varies with each host and the season when you visit. I visited my WWOOF host family in the second half of September, which means it was fall in Japan. I clearly knew what were some of the tasks available for me to do as my WWOOF host clearly listed them according to seasons on their profile. But not all WWOOF hosts do this, so it might be good to clarify such details with them if you're not a fan of surprises. Anyway, here's a list of what I did:
- Weeding,
- Harvesting apples, pears, tomatoes and chestnuts,
- Packing rice husks into bags,
- Packing fruits into boxes,
- Cleaning carrot field,
- Cleaning work-shed

More tasks that some male WWOOFers were assigned to:
- Fixing the chicken house roof,
- Chopping up firewood

With my fellow WWOOFers at the pear fields

Taking a short break from apple-harvesting

For my WWOOF host, they also had a house rule where everyone has to help with housekeeping every morning after breakfast. They also have a fixed rule on working hours - 6 hours every day except for Sunday (day off). In times of bad weather, the host may suggest to take a day off and split the six hours and be added to your other working days.

On a typical day, we would work for 2 hours, take a 20-minute break, work another 2 hours and have lunch at 12. Lunch break usually lasts for about 1h - 1.5h and sometimes I get to sneak in a short nap haha. After lunch break, we'd work for 2 hours more and so work ends at 3 - 3.30pm everyday. After that, it's totally free-and-easy. Work can be quite tiring, especially for weeding (painful thorns alert) and tomatoes and chestnuts-picking (which involves a lot of bending down) but very calming. My mind has never felt so clear and liberated. There's literally nothing to worry about in that foreign land. There's also something infinitely calming about concentrating on a laborious task. Nothing was bogging me down.

I would want to highlight, though, that each WWOOF host is unique. Some may give you lighter workloads and some more. It also depends on your tolerance for laborious work, of course. WWOOF websites usually have a feedback system where WWOOFers share their experiences with the various hosts, so do look out for those to have a better idea of what's install for you!  

Why WWOOF? (Me trying my best not to sound like I work for them lol)
I later found out this was also why one WWOOFer has been WWOOFing for 6 months and another has done it for the tenth time. Warning: For those who are used to big cities and fake concrete building filled with money-seeking enthusiasts, you can get quite detached from the "real life" that you're used to. While farming, I was also able to pick up Japanese really quickly. 80% of the Japanese that I know now was picked up in the two weeks I spent WWOOFing. So my conclusion is that WWOOFing (speaking only for WWOOF-farming), can be a healthy activity for your mentality.

WWOOFing is also a great way to meet new people of like interests. My WWOOF host family is such an amazing group of people and their kids are so bright and independent. Their awesomeness also seems to attract more awesome people to their farms. Their permanent staff members are such wonderful people. They couldn't speak much English but are always eager to learn. The other WWOOFers that I met there are also such wonderful human beings that are so opened about sharing their experiences. In fact, every single person that I've met in Nagano was nothing but nice to me. Even when I was in the other parts of Nagano, I interacted with so many lovely people that I can't thank enough. A simple ask of direction can turn into an interesting conversation, a stroll down a small street can turn into a random home visit. A miss of the train (that comes every 2 hours) can lead to a virgin hitchhike experience.

#WWOOFing Tips 
* Learn the basics of the dominant language. This is something that I feel that anyone should at least do when you decide to WWOOF somewhere where English isn't the first language. Actually this should be the least you can do when traveling anywhere where English isn't the first language. Trust me, it will be very, very helpful and it's always nice to learn a new language!

* Pack light. My luggage was 24kg but not by choice since I had 2 months of internship waiting for me right after WWOOFing. If I had the choice, I would have just packed a 50+L backpack or a 10 kg luggage. It was hard trying to carry my luggage up the 2nd storey of the WWOOFers house. Also, to me, WWOOFing is a lot about enjoying the simple life and living with just the basics so packing "just enough" will definitely add up to the entire experience!

* Bring something nice from your country. Preferably something useful like stationery-souvenirs or food! My host family loved the kaya that I bought for them!

* Buy your necessities only after touchdown. Especially if you're going Japan because their 100-yen stores will save.your.ass. I promise.

*Weather check! I cannot stress this enough. IMO your level of preparedness of the weather can make or break your WWOOFing experience. In my case, I consulted my host about the weather. Locals know better than whatever you found on Google.

I could share each and every single interaction I had and it would probably take another 3 hours to read haha but each travel experience is unique and it is something that you have to put in effort to pursuit. The conclusion I've reached from my first WWOOFing experience is that I definitely do not want to stop WWOOFing. I want to make this a yearly affair if my finances allow me to. I'm actually planning to WWOOF in Vietnam next year since Vietnamese is kinda like my minor in college. Somewhere in the south. And I definitely do not want to stop traveling. In my opinion, traveling can be one of the best investments that one can make. There are at least 7 billion more of us living on this big, beautiful Earth. Who knows? Maybe we'll see each other at some unexpected place on Earth (perhaps not necessarily in the future) one day.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

"First time"s list in Japan and Taiwan

In no particular order. Just ones that popped up my mind first.

WWOOFing. Picking apples from a tree that was a storey high. My legs shook at first but the sight of rows and rows of apple trees and their sweet natural scent wafting up higher than a storey high put me at peace.

Picking pears while singing.

Picking chestnuts full of spikes with my two favourite people at Ogurayama Farm: Towa-kun and Tama-chan. ありがとう,和君。You don't know how thankful I am for your kindness.

Received a present (black cat plushie) from a boy named Towa.

Towa is also my seven-year-old Japanese boyfriend who only acknowledges me at home and is two-timing me with this other seven-year-old girl at his school.

Accepted a ride to Shinano-Omachi train station from a guy I met at the Shinano-Kizaki post office. Our conversation was fueled by his broken English, my broken Japanese and Google translate and it was one of the most interesting conversations I've had in a while.

Shared a room with 3 other people who didn't speak much English. One time we were having so much fun using drawings and google translate!

Went to onsen (hot spring) that was on a hill and then coming back down to the foot of hill through a series of slides. #ONSENisLOVE

Ate 蝉(cicada) molted skin that was hanging off a leaf on the apple tree.

Peed in a bush after harvesting apples for 2 hours. Heh.

Washed my clothes on my own (I'm so going to get judged by this).

Taught Singlish to non-Singaporeans and it was so damn difficult to teach. Made me realise how precious and interesting Singlish is too.

Going to a beach alone. In the fall. Experiencing fall. And experiencing the peaceful quietness of the beach when you're not there with anyone else but yourself.

Went clubbing and danced in a circle with good friends and friendly strangers.

Lying on a bed, making small talk with a guy whom I've first met earlier that morning, with our mouths stinking with alcohol. His eyes were twinkling prettily in the dark room. I wasn't feeling butterflies in my stomach. We know we have nothing for each other 'cos four hours ago he was flirting with foreign girls in the club and I was vomiting in the toilet just 50 metres away. Just happy with the fact that I've made another friend and that happy things can be so simple.

Attending a Halloween party and then realising in shame that we were the only ones who didn't dress up. Formed our circle and started dancing when no one else was. Pulled strangers in Halloween costumes into the circle, cheered, laughed and danced like we never had.

Attending a Halloween party that was boring at first but became fun after getting high from strong zeros lined up in their tiny silver columns of a fridge in a nearby 7-11.

Got high from alcohol for the first time. 142 yen x 2 and I'm good to go.

Got my hair stroked as I fell asleep by a guy who I might not see ever again. A guy whom I now know I was only physically attracted to because my heart aches less now. And egoistically sad because I'm sure it was the same for him.

Ate somen out of a pot because it was that good.

Ate sushi that was made and served traditionally right in front of me. Ate them the traditional way: with my hands and sashimi on tongue bed instead of rice. Before I could react, they melted in my mouth and nourished my tongue. One of the best foodgasm I've had in my whole life.

Had meals on a long table every day with farmers and farming-lovers like myself. My inadequate writing abilities cannot convey the comfort and joy of a warm meal in the cold night of Nagano's late September after a long day of farming under the sun.

Couchsurfed with two really kind ladies and their cat who never let me touch it.

Got invited into a kind old lady's house. Thank goodness it didn't end up like Hansel & Gretel.

Received a souvenir from kind, amicable strangers when I was lost in Haruka.

Ate ikura and rice for breakfast in a cosy dining room of a tiny two-storey house in Yokohama after a short-trip at beautiful Enoshima on the previous day.

Saw Mount Fuji and the sun that rises and sets beside it every day. It's the same sun we have here but why do I miss it so much?

Pretended I was drunk and kicked the guy I was physically attracted to off my bed. Until now I'm not sure if I regret doing that. Okay nope, I don't regret it.

Got confused by physical attraction and liking someone. I was so close to kissing him then but now he disgusts me a little.

Went on a road trip with some of the kindest and most generous people I've met in my life. Fucking thankful for humanity.

Met a good-looking person of the opposite gender and my heart didn't pound when I was talking to him.

Never thought I'd do this because I used to laugh at people who did this is secondary school. I bloody created a non-official family tree. With angmohs (non-Asians). Gosh. As of now I have 2 mothers (1 bisexual female British and 1 straight male British), 1 2-foot tall Nigerian father, 1 Italian older brother, 2 older sisters (1 French-Muslim and 1 Romanian), 1 Belgium-Italian younger brother and 1 Taiwanese life-senpai who cannot fucking stop referring to himself in 3rd person. Still, I love them all.

I also now have a Tokyo mum and two Yokohama aunts.

Went to a cat cafe. Thrice. Went to a rabbit cafe, once.

Vomited from drinking alcohol for the first time.

Witnessing a doctor-heli rescue. (Always thought it was just a drama!!!)

Picked up a language (well, kind of) in a short span of 2 weeks. Farming environment is best learning environment.

Sat on the back of a lorry full of rice sacks and feeling the wind run over my face and through my hair. Laughing 'cos I couldn't feel my face.

Cycling on the roads of Shinbashi to catch the sunset at Rainbow Bridge and failing to do so but was still happy as fuck 'cos I CAN CYCLE NOW.

Being in an environment/setting where I was the only Singaporean.

Sending postcards from a foreign country.

Walked half an hour just to get to a secondhand shop. But shit, secondhand shops in Japan are so damn awesome.

Boarded and alighted planes alone. Even made some friends with my flight neighbours.

Asked a stranger to do me a favour by claiming one of my carry-on baggages as hers 'cos I bought too much souvenirs.

Argued with a flight attendant about how it doesn't make sense that I cannot bring an airport-provided shopping bag up an airplane.

Waited 20 minutes for a densha (like MRT train) to arrive.

Feeling thankful for the public transport service we have in Singapore for the two months I was in Japan and then feeling envious about Taipei's cheap and efficient MRT.

Fed and touched sheeps. Which felt like walking carpets.

Ate goat milk ice-cream which should not be for sale.

Slept in a double bed with 3 other people, all but one of us smelling like alcohol and expired milk.

Took the first train home after dancing non-stop till 4am at a club and then sleeping on the bed of my roommate who left our room.

Being away from my family for more than 16 days.

Letting the prettiest and most well-groomed guy I've ever met trim my eyebrows and a beauty college student cut my fringe.

Crying on a train platform in front of my one and only eonni because I really didn't want to leave Japan and all the friends I have there.

Exchanged contacts with strangers at a club.

Received a letter from a senpai who was on the very same airplane and left his letter in the plane magazine at my seat. Felt like I was in a drama hahaha.

I think there are many more that I left out. Will keep updating this when the wandering memories pay a visit back to the main frame.
But most importantly, for the first time, I traveled alone. Became friendlier and more opened than I've ever been. Did things that I never would have done in Singapore nor if I were with my friend(s). Had a hell of a good time.

Back to Red and White

This thought just came across my mind upon logging into blogger: I'm never going to succeed in life because I'm not even disciplined enough to get a blog going. Jokes.