Sunday, January 30, 2011

Me and my Comb

I just got the Hyogo Times file to proof before distribution and I'm having to make myself not go over it tonight.. I'm just excited about it, is all. I imagine the kick I get out of Being Editor will die down eventually and become just another thing I do.

But right now, I don't just do it. I want to do it and have to go to bed instead. Haha. Seriously. The PDF looks sweet. And I've already found a bunch of "errors" and nitpicky crap to ask to be changed.. I want to read over every last little detail and smooth over every last photo caption.

Do you ever do something and stop to consider maybe you were born to do it?

Here's to tomorrow, and my fine toothed-comb. (I also get to do letters with first years tomorrow... I love that pack of weirdos)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Not Done Yet

I realize that I made this post without actually saying what I circled, officially, before turning in that form. Maybe I came off as assuming that the answer to that must be obvious to you. I mean, what else could I circle?

I haven't yet.

It's mostly that the form represents a large amount of emotional time. The actual act of circling an option will take me approximately four seconds. Sign, date, turn in. My VP has asked me for it twice and I said I'd give it to him today. What's taking so long?

I tend to sort things in my mind based on both how important/urgent they are (the form is due on the 2nd, so there is no rush), and also how long they will take. Shorter things get done earlier because longer-time stuff puts a greater strain on the urgency/importance of those set behind it. I keep setting the form aside because of its anomalous stature as a thing that takes no time, but a thing that takes forever.

I walked down to the post box today around noon to drop something in the mail. It was go-home time for the kindergarten next door, so lots of young moms were pushing strollers, and little red-pants-wearing kids were swinging umbrellas as the snow fell all around. The snow is silent, the kids are not.. it doesn't accumulate today, not that cold. I live, some days, in a freaking post card.

And I want to push a stroller, too, and I want to walk a little high-pitched voice bearing kid home from school at noon. I want to see what kinds of things that/those kid(s) will be interested in, what they can do, what makes them happy, what makes them scared. I also know that circling "yes" means putting that [less] distant [every year] eventuality on hold.

Every time I look at the form, I get uncertain about whether staying is what I should do.

But the truth of the matter is, I realized, that I don't have to take the weight of what I should do onto that form. There is no way to know yet what I really should do. But I'm pretty sure of what I will do. That's not so hard to guess. There are lots of reasons, some good, some silly; one of them is the ambivalently valuable fact that I am hard put to go against what I said I'd do, even informally, and I'm not good at voting for a non-incumbent. I don't mean that politically.

I tend to stay until the job is done, or until time is up and I am sent away. Few jobs are ever fully done to my satisfaction. Usually it's keep at it, keep after it, til you look up at the clock and it's de-wa, owarimasu, stand up!

And, I like it here. Sometimes I wonder, why should I stay? Other times, how could I ever leave? But I know I will leave (eventually), the same way I know I'll stay, without actually knowing if I "should" or not. The decision is basically made.

But when my VP asks, I just tell him I'm not done yet. Whatever. I've got time.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Sunday was my first jaunt with a Japanese tour group. The Shiso ladies had been talking about trying to go see a Takarazuka show for some time, and when we finally sat down to look at January dates, Little Brother JET showed up with a flyer from his neighbors saying he intended to go with his landlord on a tour bus and we were welcome to go along.

From 2011_01_23
Hey Little Brother hey

Although we, as Americans, are loath to just sign up for some itinerary when we are fully capable of planning our own trip, we did eventually fork over the money and agreed to their plan. It included a stop at the outlet shopping center near Kobe on the way home. We’ve been there before, and it’s normally an all day event, going to the outlets. But on Sunday, we were only going to be there for like an hour and a half, according to the schedule. Whatever.

Takarazuka Revue is an all-female musical spectacle. There are five troupes (Moon, Snow, Flower, Star, and Cosmos), plus one group of elites called “Superior Members.” Each troupe has a top star otokoyaku (male-role actor), and many of them have a top musumeyaku (female-role actor) as well. The show we saw was performed by the Snow Troupe, and their lead actor is Kei Otozuki. She’s a cutie.

No photos allowed.

We picked January because the performance was Romeo and Juliet that month, and we figured that we could pretty much follow that show, despite the language barriers. Although the last time I ducked into a performance of Romeo and Juliet (in Vienna) and watched the ending, there appeared to be two Juliets, and foam rubber limbs (as in, human limbs.. torsos too!) rained heavily from the ceiling over the stage in the final minutes of the show. It was supremely baffling at the time. I mean, you thought you read a play in class..

Romeo and Juliet is, as you know, a tale of two idiots. It’s Pyramus and Thisbe (and for a moment I was looking out for a lion, because I actually forgot how R&J ends.. I spent too much time reading Ovid). Still, it’s special to me, though, because when I was in middle school, I got my first kiss (from Benvolio!) after seeing it performed by the Academy Street Theatre in town. (After the show I bought a postcard to send that beloved Benvolio!)

This postcard.

It’s also packed with emotional potential, a picture perfect tragedy, and the female actors of Takarazuka were awesomely expressive. The boyish antics of Mercutio, Romeo, and Benvolio made the Montagues look like a fun and rowdy bunch, while moody Tybalt (the boy representative of the Capulets) was full of angst. I understood a lot more than I expected to of the actual words they used, and was happy in my decision to rent opera glasses (we were literally in the back row of the entire theatre). The singing was strong for the most part, though the Nanny (Sao Kurama) and Romeo were standouts.

Romeo may be a sensitive guy, but in every two-Juliets photo, Otozuki just looks like a pimp (in the positive sense of the word).

I absolutely loved the way Otozuki would smile in the love scenes with Juliet (at our show, it was Ami Yumeka, the one on the right).. really, there's a very sweet boyish charming first-love look that she was able to bring to it that was actually heartwarming. I mean, Juliet was kind of a simpering girl-child, but she's pretty much written that way, and it's hard to make her seem mature and decisive when she's not. All of the actors gave heart-wrenching reflections of the human condition. Juliet's father gets a solo right after slapping her, presumably considering what he just did and how it fits/doesn't fit with the kind of dad he wants to be. You can't help but clasp your hands together when you see Benvolio bent over the dead body of his last best friend. I see you. You can't! Or when Tybalt is propped against a wall, mourning/denouncing Juliet's engagement to Paris. Or when Romeo is losing his shit because he just killed Tybalt and doesn't know what will come next.

I mean yeah, everything was over the top. The costumes and the makeup and the dramatics were all fabulous, as would befit a musical rendition of Romeo and Juliet. The hair was even more extreme. They gave brooding Tybalt a long-established love for Juliet, and introduced two silent characters, Love and Death, who danced (or lurked) in some scenes, and opened the show by dancing together.

And then after it ended and everyone died and the actors came out and received their applause, a chorus line of angels started doing the can-can. You wish I were joking. They were joined by even-more-fabulously dressed cast members until Romeo (Otozuki) reappeared dressed entirely in sparkles. They sang and danced and I felt like I was in old-school Japanese Vegas. Then stairs appeared and more costumes came on, and then Otozuki came back wearing The Biggest Feather Tail I Have Ever Seen, and I couldn't stop giggling. It was spectacular! It was spectacle. It was awesome.

Seriously. This.

I loved it because I love emotional stories, and I love angst, and I love expressiveness, and I love pretty things and fabulousness too. I love live shows, so I automatically love things like this (I think this is part of why I love Cirque, too).. I just love spectacle. I bought some photos and got back on the bus.

I'm jazzed, though, because in the spring, a friend from high school will be moving to Takarazuka, so I'll have more excuse to go out there (it's only like an hour or so from here anyway).

Do I sound like a fangirl yet? You probably think I'm obsessed with Otozuki. Can I link these video clips? Are we still OK? I should mention that there are special places in my heart for lots of the actors and characters, it's just easier to find photos of Kei. On the tour bus, some winners of janken (JAN FREAKIN KEN.. that's rock paper scissors to you westerners who do not use such means to decide EVERYTHING) got signed photos of Misuzu Aki (Benvolio) and Sagiri Seina (Mercutio). Want. I guess I'll be satisfied with my program and my memories.

Easy/Not Easy

It's possibly the simplest form in the world. But not the simplest to respond to.

Will you stay with me? Circle yes or no.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Winter Vacation: Penang

As we landed in KL, the pilot came on the announcement contraption to welcome us to Malaysia, give us the current weather report (music to my ears) and (his voice dropped in pitch) "to warn you that drug trafficking in Malaysia carries the mandatory minimum sentence of death."

It sounded like it should have been a joke, but was in fact not. I forgot all that as I stepped out the plane doors onto the movable staircase. Ahahaha. Warm humid air hit me in the face, instantly beginning my poor dried-up skin's [temporary] recovery. It smelled like Florida in springtime. Jackpot and a half.

We deplaned and indulged in some Dunkin' Donuts (Miriam is from Boston, so she lost her shit as soon as she saw that sign) for breakfast. Then we navigated the somewhat frustrating (but laid-back) task of checking our bags and getting to our next flight toward Penang. It was a short trip, and then we were wandering outside an airport half under construction looking for the bus stop. We eventually found it with help from a Singapore-dwelling Croatian. Once on the bus, we realized we had no idea quite how to get where we were going. Luckily, every person on the bus was friendly and helpful. One guy offered to go with us all the way to Batu Ferrenghi, and one lady showed us where to change buses by physically walking us to the right platform. Once on the platform, a bus transit worker came to make sure we had everything we needed.

After we changed buses, we really had no idea how to get to our hotel, so we ended up getting off the bus a stop or two early. It was raining, by then, we still had our stuff in tow, and all the restaurants at that particular intersection looked closed. It was beginning to be frustrating.

Our plan became, let's stop and get lunch, then get a cab to the hotel. But the restaurants were all closed, and I refused to eat at KFC when we were in friggin Malaysia. I spotted a food-stall apparatus by the road and with a bit of encouragement, my traveling companion agreed.

The food was glorious. It cost 7 ringgit (so around two bucks?) and was a symphony of flavors. A nice lady guided us through the buffet line, pointing out which items were not-spicy (perhaps less than 50%). The curry pineapple was what I remember best.

From Winter Vacation Part II: Penang

With renewed spirits, we got to our hotel. It had, as I would discover many thing in Malaysia to have, the look and feel of something that is old, but well kept. It was our splurge hotel ($50 a person for two nights), so fancy they didn't even make us pay up front..! We unloaded our stuff, took a freaking shower, and then boarded a bus back into Georgetown. Between Batu Ferrenghi and Georgetown, the price was 2.70 ringgit, or close to a dollar.

From Winter Vacation Part II: Penang

Baba Nonya Museum House.. closed.

In Georgetown, the museums we wanted to see were closed, but all the little shops were open. Georgetown was a dream, full of balmy air, scents of food and incense, bright colors, and cheap goods. Well okay, mostly that was Little India.

From Winter Vacation Part II: Penang

Actually this is in Chinatown, but either way, those are some giant incense sticks.

Miriam and I just sort of wandered around, sort of following the Georgetown walk outlined in the Lonely Planet book. We had no idea when the sun would set, but were merely glad it stayed out past 5pm. We happened to be standing just near this Mosque around sunset, and we heard the voice broadcast from the mosque. I filmed a little, but the quality of tone doesn't really carry well from the video. It was a pretty magical moment.

From Winter Vacation Part II: Penang

After dark, we ate Indian food on a corner of Little India, which was only partially a mistake, given the low tolerance for spicy food with which I was endowed by my creator..

After that, we wandered a bit more before heading back to our sweet hotel (Bayview Beach Resort, in case you're planning) for the night.

The next morning started with hotel breakfast buffet, which happily included all manner of things. My favorite part was the fruit bar, because at some point while walking past one of the plentiful fruit market stalls in Georgetown, I had thought wistfully, man it would be cool to get a bunch of fruit of all different kinds, and then make a big pile, and then eat it. At breakfast, I didn't even have to cut it up for myself! There was also excellent coffee, tea, curry, museli, and all kinds of breakfast-style breakfast (I guess "Continental style".. eggs and bacon etc) and also non-breakfast-style breakfast (see: Japan's liberal use of rice, salty fish, pickles, etc. FOR BREAKFAST). Oh and we were on the veranda by the garden and pool. In the warm (but not hot) morning air. It was pretty much bliss. I felt like I was at that moment ruining my future honeymoon (if I choose to get married) because it really could not be better than that. It was cool and also weird to be sharing all this with Miriam instead!

From Winter Vacation Part II: Penang

We went back to Georgetown promptly so we could visit the Penang Museum, a nicely displayed setup detailing a lot of historical and cultural stuff. We skipped the Baba-Nonya house, because we had too much to do. This was to be our beach-relaxing day as well as the day we visited Kek Lok Si, the big temple south of town.

We grabbed lunch in a little cluster of stalls, fried rice and coconut or sugarcane drinks. It was (chant along if you like) very cheap and very delicious.

Well Kek Lok Si did not disappoint. I wore a thin sweater for modesty's sake, but the clouds had scattered and it was hot as frick. The temple was completely unlike any Buddhist temple in Japan, as you may remember from any pictures I have.. Horyuji is a decent and recent example. Seriously. Brown wood for Buddhist Japan. Not so for China! And all things Chinese-style. The temple was instead very brightly colored, and coated in paper lanterns for the upcoming (Feb. 4th?) Asian New Year.

From Winter Vacation Part II: Penang

We explored the area and took a ton of photos, and I bought a prayer candle because I think if you put energy into good intentions, you should do that in front of any statue, and if you have a chance to represent it with a physical (see: ritualistic) action, then by all means! Plus my ringgits went toward the construction that is ongoing at the temple, putting a roof over the big goddess of mercy statue up top. And she is cool, and I am totally behind mercy.

From Winter Vacation Part II: Penang

One other cool thing I remember was being in the temple shop at the top, and a priest(? monk?) came in, robed in saffron and vermilion. He sang or hummed along to the music being played while he looked around, bought something, and went outside. When I went outside I saw him again and he smiled at me. I might just be projecting, but those guys always seem pretty self-possessed and happy when I encounter them.

One harrowing cab ride later, we were back at the hotel, ready to sunscreen and relax as hard as we could. We negotiated with the beach, but found it kind of noisy and full of ATVs and jetskis for hire. I fell asleep reading Murakami by the pool. Our hotel had one of those sunken bars-in-the-pool, as well as a meditation pool which I stood for about 6 minutes.

As darkness fell, M and I got reflexology massages under the palm trees in the gathering dark. My lady didn't speak a lot of English, but M's told her all about her back and stomach problems (true and true), then predicted that she'd have four children one day.

We eschewed our earlier plan of going farther down for the night market and settled for going next door to the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner. I could go for a decent, non-Japan burger, I decided. But it turned out to be our most overpriced and least awesome food of the whole week. Eating decision fail! We were quite sleepy, though, so we retired, and in the morning, a driver was called to take us to the airport.

Our driver was actually kind of interesting. He provided water, for one thing, and spoke very good English. He was a real professional driver, not just a taxi, and said he did by-car tours up into Thailand and down through other parts of Malaysia as well. Sometimes families or older people especially liked to travel that way, see more of the country, hear the guy's information. He told us about how he'd driven the US Admiral stationed at Okinawa, when he visited Malaysia. He also told us that he often drove for Michael Dell when he came in for business. Softspoken guy, apparently, and frequently engaged in his laptop when seated in the car.

Then, we were at the airport, in line for Singapore.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Milk Is Free

I just got handed four milk cartons, with the promise of more to come. It makes me unwarrentedly gleeful when I get free stuff from school or neighbors or adult students. I don't buy much milk, but when I do, I'm glad that Japan sells it in a variety of small containers. Having to buy a half gallon at a time from SuperWalMart was one thing that kinda cramped my style in KS.. and my roommate and I drank different varieties, so we wasted more than I like to remember.

I hate wasting, so of course, in the spirit of mottainai, I'll be taking this milk on home to put into tea and coffee and other such coto.

I would by no means call myself "green," although I like to think I do okay at matters environmental. Especially in Japan, where they make some recycling virtually mandatory, and other recycling very easy (they just ain't got the space to throw stuff away), and I take the train and bus pretty frequently, I feel like my 'carbon footprint' isn't terribly large.

In some ways, Japan feels greener than being back home. In the suburbs around where I'm from, everything is at least a ten or twenty minute drive away, buses can be few, and there are no trains to speak of (not REALLY, I mean, come on). Recycling can be a hassle. When I was in college, most of my consumption was done in dining halls where I could sometimes be fiendish about how much I hated to waste food; I tended not to snack very much, nor cook. My own personal trashcan was negligible, shoebox-sized, to be taken out perhaps weekly. I didn't drive much because, shit, who had time?! I walked all over campus, and campus was essentially all the world I needed most days.

When I lived in Kansas, my roommate worked weekends at the local recycling center, so it was quite natural for us to put everything recyclable (since he knew what was, and how to sort it) in bags under the sink until we could throw them in his car before he left on Saturday. I tried to start a compost bucket, but since we had no yard of any kind, this endeavor failed.

I always tried to combine trips, mostly because I hate feeling inefficient. All the efforts I make toward conservation have been largely a factor of conservative personality rather than any real hardcore conservationist streak. I can't really conscion putting my plastic bottles in burnable trash when, if I cross the street, there's a bin to recycle them.

Japan forces you to sort your trash into burnable, non-burnable, and then a bunch of other types like bound paper, glass (but only kitchen type), plastic bottles, etc. And my town is pretty easygoing. When I say "forces," what I mean is, if you put the wrong crap in the burnable trash bag, the trash will be returned to your front stoop for you to try again. Thanks for playing. You have to sort because there ain't no space, and what is burnable will be burned.

Sending all kinds of awesome fumes into the air around you, of course. What Japan conserves in landfilling, they quite make up in burning. And what they conserve in recycling, I almost feel they make up (destructively) in the amount of packaging applied to every single damn piece of anything you ever buy. If you want to test my theory, try the Mickey-Dee's drive through and ask yourself if they aren't having a contest to see if they can't wrap your food in more different pieces of paper and plastic than the last time you were there.

But if you want a grocery bag and you forgot to bring your cloth number, you have to pay for one (or if you are stubborn as hell, you cram things in your purse and cradle the rest in your arms.. not that anyone I know does that).

Now that it's winter I wonder about other things. I'm sure there's math to figure out all the variables.. but on the one hand, yeah, maybe it is wasteful to have central heating and heat a building (or a room) you are not currently inhabiting. If you're at work all day, that heat is just being created for no one, right?

But on the other hand, maybe it's wasteful that a room can go cold fifteen minutes after I turn off the heater because the walls are made of paper alloys. I've always heard it's harder to warm up a space than to just keep it warm. I feel like we need to meet somewhere between insulation and space heating, people. When I lived in Kansas, we turned the thermostat down during the day when we were gone, but this was mostly because we were cheap, because we were poor bastards. Sometimes, trying to save money leads you towards being more conservative in your environmental destruction.

Sometimes it does the opposite. It really pisses me off when it is the opposite, because in my head it doesn't make sense that the environmentally friendly way may also be the more expensive way. Shouldn't I be conserving our energy and my cash?

The bus to Himeji costs 1110, one way. This means a round trip is 2220, for those of you who are worse at math than me. It's a little inconvenient because buses run every half hour or so, they take a full hour, and then stop running altogether after like 9:20, so you have to adjust your schedule accordingly. But of course, it is one less car on the road, and the bus is cheap. THIS BUS IS NOT CHEAP.

None of the local buses in my area are cheap. I sat down and calculated the cost of driving to Himeji, round trip. I was liberal in my estimations of both gas cost and amount of gas needed, assumed I was parking in the nicer parking lot and not the far-away 500 lot. And I still couldn't get the whole thing to cost more than 1550. Plus driving is more convenient, especially if you are taking a bunch of stuff with you, not to mention getting to/from the local bus station in the first place. It's crap. The perk of not having to drive is frequently trumped by this crap.

Luckily, I more often go to Himeji in pairs or small groups, which makes driving (ahem, carpooling) a no-brainer.

While I'm ranting..

I've heard people complain about toilets wasting water by using too much with each flush, and I've heard others complain that the lo-flow variety just don't provide enough water.. so I'm pretty pleased that Japan's toilets (even the low-tech squatty potties) offer you choices about 90% of the time. You push the handle one way for 大 (big) and the other way for 小 (small). That's a pretty ingenious way of solving that problem.

At the same time, I find that some Japanese women waste water by flushing the toilet too much. Seriously. It makes me livid to be standing over a squatty-potty, and hear the stall next door flush several times in a row because I'm tenanting in a culture that thinks it's more okay to waste water than to allow someone (SOMEONE, let me remind you, of the same sex, who is presumably in this very room to perform the same natural physical actions as you) to hear you pee.

Oh my God, the thought of it makes me gnash my teeth.

I personally waste water in much better ways, like by taking baths and showers. I just like to feel clean and warm.

I can't believe I've found a topic on which I actually feel like ranting! There's a lot more where this came from, all about travel, but I think I'll save it because I kind of want to think about making it a feature for the Hyogo Times (which, did I mention, I became EIC of..?).

I'm doing a lot of work on it, trying to get ready for the re-launch on January 31st. It's going to be pretty epic (as epic as a free JET-community prefectural publication captained by a total noob can be, anyway), and I'm pretty excited about it. I originally stayed out of the HT business because I didn't think I had time. But the honest truth is, I'm good at this, and that's good for me, and I can make some time. I'm realizing that I am destined neither to be a jack-of-all-trades, nor an expert at any one thing, but rather I am meant to get pretty damn good at one thing at a time, before finding my ceiling, and giving it up (or keeping it, but without aspiration to ever be The Best). I'll give you all the website and PDF upon our glorious re-launch.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Winter Vacation: Tokyo

We had to be in Tokyo for our departure late-night on the 2nd of January, so when we found out the Emperor was going to be addressing folks on the 2nd during the day, we figured we'd just make a day of it. But we had to roll in the night before. We stayed with Alejandro that night.

But as you already know, the 1st is a big family holiday. Many people return to their family homes, making cities less populated than usual; in addition, lots of places are closed.

We stepped out of Tokyo station and I was shocked (well I was kinda hoping Tokyo would be empty) to see this.

Tokyo is an okay city, but I've decided that it just has too damn many people. It makes it really difficult to relax because there's just never any space for me to do it. I mean.. maybe you're out walking around, and your feet get tired, so you think, okay, I'll go have a drink or a snack in a cafe. And you find a cafe, but there are absolutely no tables free, or no chairs. So you get your snack, but then you have to consume it standing or walking. Or you can go find a bench outside (in the shade), where it's cold, and after a moment you really want to be moving, to keep warm, but your feet still hurt from before... and basically the opposite of relaxing for a moment is accomplished. Tokyo is cool, as a city, and lots of important things get accomplished there. But I would not want to live there and contend with that stuff every day. As a tourist, it's your own bad planning or bad luck if you have to ride a rush-hour train. But if you live and work there, then it's just your life.

Anyway, that night we walked around trying to find a place that was open for "dinner," although it was kind of late for dinner, and Miriam and I had already been eating all day. We finally found a place, and stayed til closing. Our other friends showed up shortly before closing, actually. But the restaurant guy gave us all mikan and little go-en in envelopes. To wish us a happy New Year and invite us back, I guess.. that's what a tie (go-en) means. The mikan, he said, was "Vitamin C!" .. so we don't get scurvy I guess.

The next day (January 2nd) we did go to the palace (after spending approximately ALL DAY finding a locker in the station in which to store our crap) and we did see the emperor's address. I had the presence of mind a short ways into it to turn on my video and capture a bit of the audio of the experience as well. That will be in the album right after this photo:

From Winter Vacation Part I

It was the kind of thing I'm glad to have done, although the experience itself is more something you enjoy talking about than enjoy in the moment.

After that, Alejandro took me to see the Budokan, which was having some kind of New Year concert/party that started rocking the place just after we arrived to look at it. Nearby to that is the infamous Yasukuni shrine wherein some of Japan's war criminals are enshrined. We poked around a bit, but the crowds were pretty dense what with hatsumode still in swing. We didn't have much time to browse through the revision-heavy history museum on the site. Your basic food stall assortment lined the street leading up to the shrine.

Alejandro and I did a presentation at Vandy for a Japan culture class about the Yasukuni controversy.. mostly it's a problem with China. In the museum, he told me, there's a mention of this incident in Nanking in which "more than 5,000" Chinese people died. Um. Way, way more than 5,000. But you know. We don't know the exact number, so..

From there, we visisted Asakusa's temple, to similar (if less horrifying, at least for historical reasons) effect. There's a long narrow (packed with visitors) street leading up to the temple, and I'd like to check it out again sometime, maybe snag some souvenirs. We saw a little monkey trained to do tricks, and then made for Ueno, where we were meeting for a yakiniku dinner with some other McTyeire alumni.

(Looking back, this whole trip was like a McTyeire reunion roadshow! I mean, we didn't get to see everyone, but almost everyone I did see/visit was my friend because of that place.)

We had crepes or creampuffs (fresh strawberry whipped cream omg BeardPapas) for dessert, then Miriam and I took our leave, off toward Haneda airport for the next leg of our journey into warmth.

Haneda airport, or "new Haneda" as I heard it called, is a nice airport. We stripped down in the international terminal and stored all our winter goods in a bag we'd brought along in a side pocket for just this purpose. We checked the bag at the counter with the friendly and endearing bag-counter people and proceeded to our gate. The atmosphere in the airport was quiet (I mean, it was like 10pm), kind of subdued, people just going about their business in a clean and efficient environment.

Then we got on the plane. Just for the record, Malaysia is not all that far west of Japan, so there is only one hour of difference in their time zones. We were departing at 11:30pm and arriving at 6:30am, for a total of about 7 hours inflight. We picked the cheapest available days on the budget carrier AirAsia. I packed my earplugs and eyemask. There were no movies, nor radio, nor legroom of any kind. There were screaming babies. Not whining, not whimpering, not even just crying. Screaming. Have a good night!

Video Games

From 2011_01_17
View from my front window this morning.

From 2011_01_17
View from the bus stop.

I've come in from shoveling snow (an activity in which I had never in my life partaken, until today) because it is snowing again on top of the, what, foot and a half we have already.. there is no class today, which means I can do more of what I always do at my desk.. though this morning I really just wanted to get out in that fine powdery goodness. And roll around. Or something. Sledding might have been cool. But shoveling was okay too. The teachers, without students around to keep them in line, became children, flinging snow on one another in liberal doses by means of snow shovel (okay that was only like twice before it got old). I'm going to be sore tomorrow. Or maybe tonight. I might go shovel some more later, but I'll wait til its sunny again to do that.

From 2011_01_17
Shoveling off the "veranda"

From 2011_01_17
Time to give up (for now).

The world looks awesome and ridiculous to me under so much snow. All features get smoothed over. Objects become murmurs in the smooth evenness of the snowscape. Sidewalks cease to exist. It's like a zen paradise of nothingness. I love it! But walking through it is difficult. I had no idea it was so deep until I stepped into it and it went up halfway on my calves.. and this was in front of my door. It only got worse going out, going north toward work. I was halfway there on the slow, heavy, chain-tired bus when my school sent me a message saying I could stay home today.

I'd kind of rather not heat my own house, though I guess there is some cleaning I could be doing.

You should have seen me yesterday. There was less of it then, but I had the balls/stupidity to bike in it. Because I had a meeting in Himeji and even in what little (comparatively) there was yesterday, I was not gonna drive. I biked to the bus station. Taking the bus is actually more expensive than driving, even paying for parking, but.. I've been thinking about things like public transportation, lately, anyway, since my trip. I'll share more about my environmental thoughts later, though.


I've been thinking about video games lately. It might be the winter, or maybe the way that I've been using a lot of Mario adaptations in class (MarioKart games, find-the-coin/star/fireflower/etc.) .. I keep having these flashbacks to video game parties or even just afternoons with Dean.

More recent was the Kansas apartment and occasional gaming with Dre or by myself. I won an XBox360, once, that I didn't really deserve because I didn't use it nearly enough to be owning such a thing (I mean, I used it some).. but lately I kind of wish I had it around, just to tool around in a gameworld. I am strangely averse to tooling around on a computer gameworld. I want it to be the TV. C'est la vie.

Anyway, I recently read this article and thought it was pretty cool, passed along from a friend who also posted a pretty weird (see: disturbing, took a while to get it out of my head) video called something like Mario, a Sad Story.

But this is pretty cool.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Winter Vacation: Winter Wonderland and A Real Japanese New Year's

You can view the full album here, although I'll attach a slideshow at the end of this post. There are 250 photos in this album, so feel free to not be constrained by the slideshow, and just browse at will! (note: this album is for both Kyoto and Tokyo, though this post is for Kyoto only)
Winter Vacation Part I

Our journey began with the bus to Kyoto at 9:30 in the morning on Friday the 31st. At the bus stop, we picked up some little origami charms made by the toll gate people, for travelers. We were about to roam far and wide, so it seemed an auspicious start.

It was snowing in Kyoto as we picked out some gifts for our Malaysian friends. After wandering all over the station in search of one open establishment without a line out front, we gave up and hit the streets and were finally blessed with a deserted Italian cafe of lovely atmosphere.

From Winter Vacation Part I

We next set out to see Ryoan-ji in the snow.

Have water, will travel.

Which was gorgeous, especially the garden area out front.

The rock garden was interesting in the snow, but I think I liked the rocks better in summertime.

From Winter Vacation Part I

The area up near the pagoda was breathtaking, though.

You aren't supposed to touch these trees. I didn't know that, but Miriam read me a sign just as I was eating snow off the branches.


We intended to see Ginkaku-ji in the snow, too, but by the time we were done with Ryoan-ji, it was 4:30, nearly dark, and closing time. So we went back to meet up with Nami and Hiroshi!

They took us home to treat us to New Year's, Japanese style, kinda. Which meant we hung out and talked for hours, munching on homemade cookies (courtesy of Miriam), chips and salsa, and other snacks. We taugh Hiroshi-san some English not necessarily found in his study program while Nami-san laughed at us from the kitchen, and watched NHK's New Year presentation (hosted by, who else but Arashi!).

At midnight, you eat soba as you cross into the new year, and we had a look at some osechi-ryori without actually eating any, because by then we were too full from having spent the previous three hours eating.

Not long after midnight, we just bathed and went to sleep. I'd gotten up at like 6am that morning, and was quite ready to call it a day!

It was really nice, though, to spend New Year's together with a family. The family of Nami-and-Hiroshi is a small one, but I've known Nami-san for such a long time, that she feels to me like my Japan family, like my big sister. She and Hiroshi are always so nice to me and whoever I happen to have come to Kyoto with at any given occasion.

From Winter Vacation Part I
Happy New Year!

On the 1st, we got to accompany the two of them to give the traditional New Year greeting to Hiroshi-san's parents. (Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!) Though they didn't eat with us, they did give us a lot of the special foods for the holiday (osechi ryori), and we sipped sake and tea and sat in the formal room. Most of the foods in the osechi boxes had symbolic meanings, and sitting around eating them generally made me feel really calm and happy. I felt then, as so far, that this is going to be a very good year.

From Winter Vacation Part I
Pre-meal.. we're standing because once we sit, we're gonna be in seiza for a long time.

On our walk back, I saw a biking post-person delivering the New Year cards (nengajou)! When we got to the apartment, Nami-san put Miriam's nengajou next to my Christmas card (I sent a nengajou too, but Miriam's was home-made). Next we went into Kyoto city to make the New Year's shrine visit (hatsumode).

First up was Hiroshi-san's natal shrine, Yasaka jinja. It was absolutely packed. In fact, the entire district was packed. We couldn't even walk on the sidewalks, or not very well, anyway. Too many slow old people and stuff. Once we reached the gate, we elbowed our way up to the shrine where we tossed coins and said prayers. The first time I visited Yasaka, I said a little prayer to end the swine flu issues that were then effing up the lives of students everywhere (school closings, tubs of sanitizer, etc.) because Yasaka shrine was connected to an epidemic long ago (the stopping thereof, I mean).

From Winter Vacation Part I
Calm and peaceful, yes?

But I didn't have any swineflu to stop this time, so I made a little wish, and even in that roaring crowd, felt pretty peaceful. Everyone was buying fortunes (omikuji) but I didn't want to.. I don't really like to buy those very much, because I worry that if I read one, it'll come true, not because it was destiny, but because the stuff will get into my head, and then I'll make it all self-fulfilling prophecy. Off to another side, there was a booth for people to retire their old 2010 charms, things they'd bought last New Year's Day. I was surprised to see all these being basically thrown away, but as I was told, the charms have served their purpose, done their work, and now they can go. I guess if everyone kept every charm, they'd have craploads of the little (sometimes big) things hanging around. I personally will only be in Japan a few years, so of course I tend to keep them all.

Nami-san was reading to me the different aims of different charms. I almost bought "transportation," but then she translated another one as "opening up your future" or something like that. Pretty generic, but it was how I was feeling.

We got out of there and headed for Nami-san's home shrine, Shimogamo, but her father reported that it had taken him like an hour and a half to get in and back, so we skipped it in favor of going to her parents' house to eat and be merry.

From Winter Vacation Part I

Now, Nami-san is weird. Not in a negative way, but in Japanese way. Most Japanese people are vaguely interested in foreign cultures as long as they stay just like that, foreign. Fewer people want to actually get involved in foreign stuff.. but Nami lived in the US for many years, and even considered making it permanent. Having been to her family home, now, I know she comes by it honestly. It struck me as basically indicative of her family's way when I got their addresses from her to send thank-you notes after the trip. In the email she asked us to write to Hiroshi-san's parents in Japanese, and it was okay if we made mistakes. To her own parents she said English, Japanese, Hebrew, Russian, whatever we wanted to write was fine, and they loved getting postcards from anywhere. (We sent Hiroshi-san's parents a classy Thank You note.. actually left over from my graduation! And we sent Nami-san's parents a postcard we got in Kuala Lumpur)

So we got a great traditional cultural lesson with one meal, and just hung out at the other. Hiroshi-san made okonomiyaki in a style I loved better than either Osaka-style or Hiroshima-style. Nami's sister and I made takoyaki (yes, octopus balls) like pros. All too soon we had to leave to catch our train to Tokyo!

Though the day wasn't even over, and we were pretty tired, I have to admit that it was one of the best New Year's I've had, partly because it was very different from any New Year's I've had. It wasn't loaded down with expectations, but it was relaxed, educational, and warm of heart. I loved that.

From Winter Vacation Part I
The day isn't even over yet? (Stay tuned for Tokyo)

Monday, January 10, 2011


I'm back! Our trip was amazing, all over countries and climates, all kinds of experiences.

I took 872 pictures.

Of course, I'll be behind a little while, back to work tomorrow morning, and all my quiz material is expired. And the new HT is supposed to launch January 31st, and... well, you know.

^_^ Life is always the same in that way it never stops changing.

It was a good trip.