Thursday, June 30, 2005

Today`s Plan

So Kari and I have been attending the live concerts that are held on the quad of the campus we are on everyday. On Wednesday we were invited to see the concert of Chiaki, who we had just met, so today, provided the rain in not as severe as yesterday, I plan to go to that. After that our group is going to Kyoto to see the imperial villa.

Anyway, last night we threw a suprise party for two other members of our group, Cindy and Grace. Very fun party, but not enough pizza to go around.

So here is another thing I have observed: the students here dont seem to study as much as us, but they are really serious about thier club activities. I have not seen anyone studying, but the music club has been there everyday, working for hours to set up and take down the stage. And the Intercultural Communication Culb that some of our toutors are a part of seems to take up alot of thier time.

On another note, I just discovered that I was in such a rush to leave the building and beat the rain today that I totally forgot to put on deodorant. *sigh* 恥ずかしい。

감자함니다. <---Hey Lynn, I learned how to type!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Whole Story

So it�s been a very long time since my last post. Sorry about that. Anyway, I have many things to tell. So when we last left off I was heading to Fukuoka by way of Osaka. On the 18th of June I left the Alkire�s house and decided to take the Shinkansen as far as I could. By the time I got to Shin-Osaka station, however, it was really dark, and I got the feeling that even if there were trains to Fukuoka I would not arrive in time to find a place to stay. So I decided to find a Capsule Hotel. After wandering around Shin-Osaka Station for almost an hour and a half looking for the right exit, I was finally told that the hotel was in the station itself. By the way, a Capsule Hotel literally is what it sounds like. For around 30 dollars a night you get to sleep in a room that is just big enough for human habitation (by the way, I�m lucky that I am the same size as a Japanese man, my feet would have stuck out into the hallway if I had been any taller). In the hotel there is usually also a lounge and a bath. In Osaka this lounge and bath were mediocre, but the facilities in Hotel Cabinas in Fukuoka were amazing. The final feature of the Capsule Hotels that I discovered was a large green button on the capsule with a sign in Japanese. The only word that I could read on this sign was �Free�. I sat for several minutes trying to figure out what this gigantic green button was, afraid to push it but dying to know what it did. Finally I decided that if the police showed up I could always just play the stupid foreigner, and since it was �free� I pressed it. It turned on the porn. I was a little more hesitant to touch anything in the capsule after that, as I imagined the thousands of people that had stayed in that capsule before me.
In Shin-Osaka station I took my first Ofuro (Japanese style bath). The first time was very difficult mentally, especially coming from America where communal bathing among men only really happens with sports teams. What made it even more uncomfortable at first was the fact that since I was a foreigner staying in a hotel in which apparently foreigners never stayed, many of the other guests would discreetly stare at me, especially when I was naked. However, everything went well, and my first ofuro went off without a hitch.

After a night of wretched sleep on a pillow that was actually the hardness of a bike tire, I decided that I had to visit Ryukoku University and see if I could store one of my bags somewhere. I hopped on a train to Kyoto, then took a train to Seta, then took a bus to the campus. I then wandered until I found an information desk and asked if there was anyplace where I could store my bag for a week. The people at the information desk were really nice and called everyone who they knew who stored luggage, however, since it was Sunday, there was no luck. Finally they said I should go back to Kyoto and put my bag in a coin locker and just leave it, which I did. I then wandered around Shin-Osaka station for several hours, eating udon, buying train tickets and using the free internet. Then I got on the train for Hakata port, in Fukuoka. By the way, the picture is of the Seta campus of Ryukoku Daigaku.

I arrived at Fukuoka and checked into Hotel Cabinas, the Ritz-Carlton of capsule hotels. Everything about the hotel was four star, except for the fact that you slept in a coffin and paid only 2100 yen (21 dollars) a night if you were a member (which I became). There was a problem with Hotel Cabinas, however, that only I (as the one foreigner) experienced. The girl behind the counter did a great job. She was quick, polite and intelligent. However, all of these things were a hindrance to my understanding of her. She spoke too fast, with words I did not know and had the vocabulary of a college graduate, while I have the vocabulary of a kindergartener. I don’t think I understood a word she said.

After checking in, I wandered around Fukuoka until dark. Fukuoka has the reputation for the best Ramen in Japan, so I had to try it. There is a promenade at the side of the river where all the Ramen vendors set up shop. Beautiful location, great Ramen.
I took a bath in Hotel Cabinas� amazing facilities that night and slept poorly again. In fact, I had not really slept well since I got to Japan, and I was beginning to feel the effects of this. In the middle of the night I woke up and turned of the TV in the capsule, and to my great surprise and excitement they were showing Osamu Tezuka�s �Phoenix�, which I have always read about but never seen, in a back to back marathon.

Anyway, the next day I walked around Fukuoka again. I decided to try to get to Fukuoka tower, and in the process, I ran across the walls that the Japanese built to defend themselves from the Mongol invasions in the basement of a university.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

I also ran across some girls who interviewed me in English as part of their homework. I was very happy about this, and it made me realize that I had not spoken English for three days, and was also very lonely. Here I am at Fukuoka tower.
I was very impressed by Fukuoka. The architecture was more interesting then much of the rest of Japan, and it seemed like just a nice city. I ran into this magician in a shopping mall. He was pretty good.
After eating at a 24 hour Udon shop (which had the exact same atmosphere as IHOP, except that it served Udon), I went back to the hotel, bathed and tried to sleep. The next day I bought my shirt, socks and underwear from a vending machine in the locker room. The shirt was great, but the underwear was way too small. I then headed for the airport and flew to Korea. I arrived at Inchon airport a little early, and had time to change money before Lynn arrived. When she did arrive I was incredibly happy to see her. Traveling on your own is great because you can do whatever you want, but you get really lonely. Anyway, here we are on the bus.
So we traveled to Lynn�s apartment and dropped our stuff off and went to the farm where most of Lynn�s 11 dogs live. I met the Pomeranian breeders who were caring for her dogs and met her dogs (although I cannot remember all of their names). We sat around chatting for awhile in Korean, about Pomeranian breeding, which meant that I had no idea what was going on.
And here is Lynn�s dog Smiles, who is the Korean national champion.
So after being treated to a great dinner, we returned to the apartment with a different dog then we left with. Lynn�s parents also had a dog, but it needed a friend, so we were bringing Machi (a puppy) to them. The poor little guy had never been away from his brothers and sisters, so he was a little scared. Anyway, we left with Lynn�s friend Jay and went to the Jim Ju Ban (I hope I spelled it right this time). The Jim Ju Ban is a Korean style sauna which was open for 24 hours. For a very small amount of money you can go into a massive facility and stay for as long as you like. Jay and I went and showered and then met Lynn in the mixed sex area. It looked like a ballet studio, except on the walls were doors to different temperature rooms, there was a bar, and there were a lot of people sleeping on the hardwood floor. I tried all of the rooms, although at first it was a little difficult, I got to the point where I could remain in the same room as Lynn and Jay and not need to leave until they did. Since I had been told we would be staying here overnight, I asked where we would be sleeping. I was told we would be sleeping on the floor, and that I could use a pillow if I wanted to. I was very hesitant, but I was told that Koreans commonly sleep on such hard surfaces, and since it was a new cultural experience, I did it. I slept the entire night, and woke up feeling great. I think it is because the sauna leaves you so exhausted that your body does not fight the floor that it becomes so comfortable. The next morning we all arose and took baths. I also went into a room that was 92 degrees C. That was too hot. Anyway, I have never been as clean as when I left the Jim Ju Ban that morning.

Lynn had an appointment to get her hair straitened (which confused me, as it was already strait, but indeed, it was straighter and blacker than before), so she told me to ask Koreans in English the location of a park. Unfortunately, I immediately forgot the name of the park, and instead took a subway to the center of Seoul and visited one of the palaces of one of the old Korean kingdoms.
The palace was almost empty, and was very interesting. There were signs in English, so I was not totally lost.
On the way back to the subway station, I ran into this procession.
I met up again with Lynn and another of her friends. We went to a traditional Korean noodle place, where the noodles were made from acorns and were served at the same temperature as ice water. Then we traveled to the souvenir buying area of Seoul and shopped for a bit. We took a break in this restaurant and had a traditional Korean desert of iced mochi and red beans (shown in the picture). We then traveled to the young and hip area of Seoul and Lynn bought a belt at a very interesting shopping mall.

We parted with her friend, and met up again with Jay. Then we traveled to her aunt’s house. Both of her young cousins are studying English, and I was able to look at the books that they read. It was really hard stuff. The Korean government may be expecting a little much out of primary school students, since the things that they were reading in lower school were grammatically as complex as the things that lower school students in the US read. Despite this fact, very few Koreans can actually speak English. I find this very interesting since I actually am seriously considering becoming an English teacher in Asia after I graduate. It may be more important to teach useful phrases than to emphasize grammar so much in my opinion.

Anyway, then we went to Kalbi. It was very good. By the way, I ran into another major cultural hang up that I had. Koreans all eat off of the same plate, drink from the same soup bowl, and commonly share glasses and cups. This was very difficult for me to get used to. Here is a picture of Lynn�s aunt and cousins and I.

So we took KTX (the Korean Bullet train) to Pusan, Lynn’s hometown, that night at 9. We arrived at 1:00 and her father and mother had come to pick us up, which was really nice of them since they both had work the next morning. We went to their flat and I was able to get another good night’s sleep.

The next day Lynn and I took an excursion to the ancient capital of the Silla kingdom. Unfortunately I forget the name of the town. But here is a picture of the station.
Then we went to the tombs that had been built for the kings (and queens) of Silla. Really cool mounds.
Unfortunately, it was really freaking hot. I bought a hat that only tourists wear, but poor Lynn didn�t have anything to protect her from the sun, so she was not having the greatest time. Since, in Korea, girls are supposed to be pale, she was very sad when she got what I considered to be the perfect tan. This is an ancient Korean astronomical observatory.
This is an ancient ice house. When we saw there was no ice we were quite depressed. Here is a fun story. When I was standing in that doorway, a group of very young school kids ran up and when one of the kids saw me he screamed and ran away.
And this is not a bad picture of me.
So then we took the bus to this great temple, but we could only stay for 10 minutes because we had another bus to catch. Still, it was neat. Very pretty.
We took a bus to this place, which is the entrance to a holy grotto. We kept running into massive groups of school kids. Some had the courage to say �Hello�, so I would say �hello� back, which made them bust out laughing, especially the girls. The grotto was spectacular, but pictures weren�t allowed, so I don�t have any. We then returned to Pusan and had Brugalgi (forgive me for butchering the spelling) with Lynn�s mom. It was awesome, and nearly as good as Lynn�s.

So the next day we went to the fish market. This was definitely the most interesting fish market I have ever been to, because about half of everything you could buy was still alive. Tons of octopus, tons of shellfish, sea cucumbers, starfish, and so much more. Although it was kind of depressing also, because unlike other fish markets where everything has already been killed, in this one you could see the killing taking place. About half way through the fish market, Lynn said that there was also whale meat, and asked if I wanted to try it. I hesitantly agreed. We sat down at table in front of a large pile of what looked like very thick tire segments. She negotiated with the shop owner and we were amazed to find out how expensive it was. 10,000 won (about 10 dollars) for ten quarter sized pieces. I kind of wanted to use the price as an excuse to leave, since I was beginning to feel really guilty, but the shop owner had already begun cutting one of the pieces of meat that she had. She served us and I sat there looking at the meat for around a minute. Finally, I tried some. It tasted like overcooked duck meat, and was very chewy. I can’t see why people like it, but I guess they do. I really didn’t want to eat all ten pieces, and neither did Lynn, but I would have felt more guilty letting it go to waste, so I ate it all. With each bite I thought of the beautiful humpbacks that breach near my house. When I was done, I felt kind of sick to my stomach.

However, that was not the strangest thing that I ate that day, but more on that later. When we went to take the subway back to meet with Lynn�s mom (who I learned later had taken the day off of work so that she could spend it with us) I went to get coins to pay for my ticket. However, the coin machine and the lottery machine are right next to each other, and since I don�t read Korean, I accidentally bought a lottery ticket. I didn�t win much. 500 won (50 cents).
So then we went and had some of the best frozen yogurt I have ever had with Lynn�s mom and after that, Lynn and I took a tour of Pusan�s coast. By the way, it is a battle to pay the bill in Korea. I frequently found that Lynn had done some sneaky trick so that she could pay instead of me. I think she eventually started telling the store clerks not to take my money in Korean, because even though I would present a wad of cash to pay for something, they would take her money. The only time I was able to succeed at paying the bill was when she went to the bathroom, and I snuck up to the register and paid. Oh, so this is some of the new construction going on in Pusan.
So the cruise took us to these beautiful islands.

Unfortunately, this is where the pictures end and the really amazing stuff began. We went to a book store, then returned to the flat so that I could change out of my very American shorts and T-shirt into something nice. Then we met with Lynn’s father and went to dinner and a Korean style Japanese restaurant. Now, the only thing that was Japanese about this restaurant was the concept. Seafood served raw. Aside from that, it was very Korean. Everything was fresh…like, 1 minute old fresh…if that. Actually a lot of the stuff we ate was still alive. It was the most amazing feast of my life, and it must have cost them an arm and a leg. Here are the highlights: sea cucumber (delicious), squid (delicious), fresh muscles, tube worms, abalone, this other shell fish that was huge and you sucked out of the shell, delicious tempura of the entire shrimp (including the shell), acorns and more. The most amazing stuff, however was the stuff that could kill you. Live octopus. They take a tiny octopus and cut it up into segments, remove the brain and the organs and serve with green onions. However, everything on the plate is still wriggling. This dish can kill you if you don’t chew enough because the suction cups on the legs still work, and it can attach to your throat and choke you. If it chokes you the Heimlich maneuver will not save you, since the leg will be attached to your throat like it is glued there. Very few places serve this dish apparently because of the high mortality rate. It was tasty, and really weird feeling as it squirmed in your mouth. But that was not as amazing as what came next. Puffer fish. This fish contains one of the most potent neurotoxins known to man. If prepared by an inexperienced chef, you will probably die. I knew this when the waiter put it down on the table, and was very wary to eat it, but I finally got up the courage. I didn’t die. It was a thrill, but I can’t say the taste was anything special. Other fish taste similar. What came last was the most amazing. Now I don’t know if what I am saying is absolutely correct, as no one at the table knew English anatomical words, but apparently they use the gall of the puffer fish in a green medicine that they served after the puffer fish. This green liquid tasted just like medicine. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but I though gall was toxic, and gall from a puffer fish…

Anyway, it was the most amazing meal of my life. And then we went to Karaoke. It was so much fun. The fact that I spent all day trying new things with people that I liked made me so happy. After the karaoke I literally could not stop smiling, which made it easy to brush my teeth. That was definitely one of the best days of my life.

I woke up the next morning and Lynn and her father drove me to the airport. We talked about history, and I tried another Korean soy milk drink. When I finally got all checked in and ready to go through the security check point Lynn gave me a book that she bought the previous day at the bookstore. It was a beginning Korean book. That was too much. I got all choked up and started to cry a little bit. I gave them both a big hug and bid them farewell. I plan to return to Korea someday.

So I got to Kansai airport and took the train. Nothing really special happened, but the train ride was kind of scary. I had discovered a very strange lump on my leg on the day that Lynn and I went to the town with the tombs, and the next day I had noticed that it was not reduced in size. At that point I had a very strong suspicion that it was a tumor, but I got my fortune told by a Korean fortune telling machine before we went on that cruise and I had Lynn translate. I didn’t tell her at the time, but before I had my fortune told I was quite sure that it was a serious medical problem, and I was extremely scared. However, Lynn translated my fortune well. It wasn’t that the fortune was good, or that the translation was particularly accurate, but it was something else about the way she delivered the translation that I cannot quite explain that put my mind to rest. I didn’t think about the growth on my leg for the rest of the day because I was having such a great time. However, when I had to take the train from Kansai to Kyoto I was alone with my thoughts, and the worst case scenario machine began to turn its wheels. I almost got really depressed, but before that happened, I thought back on my trip to Korea, and the worst case scenario machine broke down. Mercifully, I finally arrived at Kyoto. I retrieved my bag from the coin locker, got on an over crowded train to Seta with 3 bags and arrived at the exact same time as Kari and Noel, who I know from Davis. We shared a taxi to the dorm, got acquainted and went to the local department store, which is about a 40 minute hike in each direction. Actually our dorm isn’t near anything, as I discovered, so everywhere is kind of a hike. That evening we went to a ramen shop for dinner, which was alright, but I would not eat it again. However, I got to practice my Japanese, and I have to say that I like all of the students and tutors. Some of the students were kind of shy, but I have already started to see them grow. Some of the tutors have really impressed me.

So the next day I typed most of this account, which took 4 hours (darn it, you’d better like it!). Then I walked to the department store again and got everything that I forgot, well, almost. I also tried meron pan (melon bread) for the first time. It was not bad. Meron Pan is very interesting because it is one of the only Japanese foods that is surprising on the outside and normal in the middle (usually). There have been so many times when I have bought something in Japan and been surprised. In Fukuoka I bought this bread that was some of the most delicious bread I have ever had, but when I got to the center I discovered that it was filled with the most atrocious cream ever. Even though the bread was great and I was hungry, I threw the entire thing out because the cream was so awful.

Anyway, I returned to the dorm and basically sat around playing cards and getting to know my fellow students a bit better. Actually, I wanted to wander around the town some more, but since the growth on my leg had not gotten any smaller, I really did not feel like being alone anymore. After cards I offered my help to the tutors in getting ready for the party we had that night, but they never really told me to do much. The party that evening was interesting. I played a game with 4 others in which one of our sushi was filled with a lot of wasabi and the other 4 were OK. I got the heavy wasabi one and it felt like my sinuses were turning inside out. We had a good time, but nothing that I would consider interesting happened. Just a pretty regular college party. I stayed sober.

On Monday we all arose and had our first breakfast in the dorm. It was very good. Miso soup, rice, bread and assorted “western” breakfast foods. We then walked to the Ryukoku campus. I am pleased to brag about the fact that, despite the fact that I am the whitest person here, I am also the best adapted to heat. Thus, after we reached the class room, everyone else was bright red, but I was still my normal color. The fact that I wear a broad brimmed hat when I go out helps too. So we got acquainted with the Ryukoku campus and got many stares. As almost always, I was something of an object of curiosity, but by now I am really used to it. We toured the campus, which is small, and ate lunch. What I haven’t yet talked about was my mood on that day. I was scared, and because I was scared I was grumpy. Much of the politeness that I take great pride in just did not manifest itself on Monday. But I was thinking about more serious things. After lunch Professor Cheng and Morimori (one of the tutors, actually, something of a leader of the tutors) took me to the student health center so that the nurses and doctor could have a look at me. I went in alone with the nurses and tried to explain the growth. I was amazed at how competent I actually was at Japanese. I almost got my description understood, I think. Anyway, the nurses thought it was a swelled lymph node, which mad me feel better. I had been sick so that made sense. However, when I saw the doctor he said that there was no way it could be a lymph node because there was no lymph node in that part of the body. I got the impression that he thought it was some sort of skin cancer since he decided to send me to a dermatologist. Cheng Sensei and I decided to meet downtown at 4:00pm and go to the dermatologist together. I returned to the dorms (Morimori was good enough to wait with me at the bus stop until my bus came), then I put my computer in my bag and headed for downtown. I went a different way than normal, and I ran into hundreds of grammar school kids wearing yellow hats on their way home. I discovered that day that the JR Station area has wireless internet, which means that I can use my laptop provided I can find a place where I can sit down and plug in my computer for half an hour. I had a shaved ice and met up with Cheng Sensei. We went to Tanaka (the dermatologist and he said that it was a tumor, but probably benign. He suggested however that I get a second opinion from a doctor at the local teaching hospital the next day, which I agreed to do after some deliberation. It was after I visited Tanaka that I made the very unfortunate discovery that the health insurance provided by the program I am in will not pay for my hospital bills. Rather, I must pay for all of my medical costs and then they will reimburse me. I only have a limited amount of cash, and I was furious about this. I still am. What is the point of having insurance specifically for traveling if it does not work in foreign countries?! Thus, I needed to withdraw some cash so that I could pay for any future hospital bills. Cheng Sensei and I searched the town and finally found a cash machine that worked on the campus. He was nice enough to pay for the Taxi: 1090 yen. I will pay him back. I returned to the dorm just in time to walk with some students and tutors back to town to get some udon. The Udon was great, and I had a good time talking, but I may have been a touch gloomy on that walk. I came home, bathed, and eventually went to bed. However, there is one more story. So we share a dorm with the baseball team, a group of really tough guys. So I walked in to the bathroom and they were discussing something. I had no idea what any of the words they were using meant, but I was able to pick out one word in particular that they seemed to say with particular relish. This word I concluded must be important. I memorized it, went up stairs and asked Fumi what the word meant. I had a feeling that it was very crude speech, and Fumi said I was correct. She told me I should ask one of the boys. The boys informed me of the meaning of the word and also told me that saying it to a woman was considered sexual harassment in Japan. *Sigh* Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have accidentally sexually harassed someone while learning Japanese.

On Tuesday I awoke a little later and had breakfast. Then Fumi and I went to the teaching hospital that is in the area. The hospital was basically one of the most stressful places I have been, because while I needed to understand what was going on, I could not. Fumi’s English was good, but had to deal with specific medical terms and translate them. Once again however the really stressful part was not the medicine itself but the whole process of registration and payment. Reception ladies are too polite for their own good. I can never understand them. Fumi is great, by the way. Today was her day off and she went with me anyway. She seems to have picked up that I was nervous because she kept making conversation that was not exactly related to the situation. At one point she began to talk about her family. Well the diagnosis was that yes, indeed it probably is a benign tumor, but I should have it taken out the first chance that I get. I was thinking of having the surgery done in Japan, but the doctor’s schedule was full until two weeks before I leave, which is not enough time. I need to recover and get to Tokyo. I decided to have the surgery done when I return home to Hawaii. Well Fumi and I went and met up with the rest of the class. We ate, and then went to an orientation in which we got to use computers again. Thank goodness. To be without internet access as I am now is something that is very difficult for me. Internet is a vital part of this trip, and with out other people knowing how the trip is going, I almost feel like the trip is incomplete. I don’t know. It’s a surprisingly hard feeling to put in to words. I guess I feel powerless as well. Anyway, then we toured the library, and later in the day the university provided a party. The party was fantastic. I spoke with tons of Japanese people, and learned several new words.

So then I went to class the next day, saw a Japanese band perform, traveled to Kyoto to find internet access, found it and sent this post.

Monday, June 27, 2005


I`m alive, in Japan, with internet access. Korea was fantastic. So that rumors don`t start, yes, I have had medical problems. I have a subceutaneous benign tumor in my right leg and I am going to get it surcically removed when I return to the US. It is probably not dangerous. But Korea was great. More later. I have a really long post weitten, I just need to post it. Korea was great.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Still in Fukuoka

So Im sorry, I still cant post pictures (this computer doesnt even have proper punctuation, let alone a USB port).

I spent all day in Fukuoka looking around the city abd searching for a better gift for Lynns mom, with no sucess. Its hard to shop for a person who you have never met, from a diffrent culture.

Anyway, Fukuoka is great. The highlight of my day was when I found the old wall the Japanese built to defend against the Mongol invasions in the basement of a University I happend to be going through on my way to Fukuoka Tower (which was also cool).

In between the two I had my first set of English students come up to me for an interview. For some reason, when I am doing anything that is important, like paying for something or asking an important question my Japanese totally breaks down, but if Im just shooting the breeze it gets really good. Will have to do something about that.

Well, Ill explain more when the pictures return. Take Care everyone. And if any of the men in the audiance have a desire to come to Japan, I bought a card that allows you to stay at hotel Cabinas for 21 dollars a night. Access to the spa (which is the best I have ever seen, but thats me, not being from Japan) is included with your stay. Also, the pillows here arent as hard as car tires...but there is a story behind that.

Happy Fathers Day From Fukuoka

So in case you didnt get my email, happy fathers day Dad!

I am using a very limited computer, so I cant post any pictures yet. But I can summerize. Stayed in a dive of a Capsule Hotel in Osaka. Tried to find a place to put my bags all day. Came to Fukuoka. Checked into the ultimate Capsule Hotel. Like this city the most so far.

Thanks for checking in every one. Once I can post pictures or go into greater detail I will.

Feel preaty good, by the way. Had my first Japanese bath, and that seems to have helped. The naked with a bunch of older men part wasnt that great though.

Friday, June 17, 2005

I'm off

Alright, I'm well enough. I'm headed to Fukuoka.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Just an Update

Just leaving a post to keep you updated. I'm doing alright. Have a terrible case of the runs, and a dry cough, and less energy, but aside from that I'm nearly back to normal. Got all of my school work done, though, and I got two of the 5 books that I am supposed to read durring summer session out of the way. Regarding these books, here is the review:

Naomi, by Junichiro Tanizaki. Very easy to read book. About a teenage seductress in 1920's Tokyo. Well writen book. I hated it. The main character goes from being kind of like me, and ends up basicly becoming the slave of a 19 year old nymphomaniac who openly extorts him for all of his money and destroys his self-respect. I wasn't too big on that transition. I also kept hoping that something would actually happen in the story, but nothing did. No significant plot twists.

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, by Yukio Mishima. Dificult to read. Amazing descriptions of the mentality of a madman. Really explores the concept of evil. Better than Naomi, but I can't say I liked it either. It is a book driven by well writen descriptions rather than action, and the descriptions go on forever. I have to say, it was intresting, though, and it got me thinking.

Yeah, so thats all I've been up to. Just trying to be better for Korea, so I'm staying inside yet again.

Consequently, I owe the Alkire's big time now.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Not so great trip to Nagano

So, this post isn't a very happy one, but I don't want you to worry about me mom. I'm fine now and everything worked out. Nothing really dangerous happened, I just got really sick in a really bad place. Don't worry.

Anyway, before I start my story about my ill starred trip to Nagano, I thought I would show you this picture I took of John. What's up with the collar?! When he came in and changed the channel to this pre-recorded interview on Bloomberg TV we were all making fun of him about the collar.
And this is John reciving critical adulation from his fans (the firends of David and Miles) after the interview was compleate.
So anyway, back to Nagano. I once again got up at 5 AM and went to Tokyo station where I bought the very first Shinkansen ticket to Nagano. I bought my Bento and borded my train. The guy who was sitting next to me seemed very unfriendly, so after failing to start up a conversation with him, I began to eat my Bento. At the next station, the girl in the picture bellow came up to me an tried to explain (in English) that I was in her seat. I was preaty positive that I wasn't, and said so in Japanese. On closer inspection it turned out that she was supossed to sit next to me instead of Mr. Grumpy Face. We struck up a good conversation in Japanese which lasted the entire train trip. Her name is Emi, and she was traveling to Nagano for vacation. When we got to the station she was nice enough to help me find my way around, although, I did not entirely understand what was going on.
And this is Nagano Station. I had to wait for a while for the information desk to open since I was so early. In the meantime I saw some middle school girls skipping school.
So when the information desk opened I asked what to do. I was beginning to feel a little tired for some reason, so I felt like taking a long bus ride into the mountians so I could take a nap on the way. I bought a very expensive bus ticket, 2300 yen, to Okusha (pronounced Ok'sha) a shrine in the mountians 1 1/2 hours away from Nagano that was said to be very beautiful. I tried napping on the bus, with little success as the roads that we took were the most severely curved that I had ever been on. It was like driving up Lombard Street for an hour and a half. Now I don't get car sick, but that drive left me a little queasy. When I got out I had my picture taken with this sign. You may notice that I am not doing the shaka. That is because I am clucthing my stomach, but not trying to make it look that way.
Okusha was beautiful.
The nature part was almost as beautiful as Hawaii, and the shrine buildings had a unique character.
Very impressive stuff.
Intrestingly though, for being a shrine, the forest had a very weak presence. In other words, it felt like it had once been much holier.
So I reached the top, and that is when I instantaneously started to feel really sick. Suddenly I wanted to vomit, my breathing had become labored, my muscles lost the majority of thier strength, my back hurt, I had a head ache and I a started to feel very cold even though it was a hot summer day. Now I wouldn't call myself a religious person, but I am a superstitious person, and the fact that one of the worst illnesses I have ever had in my entire life struck like lightning at the top of a shrine in a forest that felt a little off kind of freaked my out. Of course, it was probably the Bento, but not wanting to take any chances, I waited for the priest to come back from preforming a ritual and bought an amulet of protection from illness. I then began to walk back down the mountian, a distance of maybe a mile and a half.

There was a Soba resturaunt at the gate of the shrine, and I went in, sat down and nearly fainted from exaustion. The waiter and manager were very nice. They gave me Udon, which helped a little, and then tried to get me to take some medicine that they had. Being they only spoke Japanese, and the medice bottle was also only in Japanese, I was very hesitant to take it. However, I really felt like I couldn't feel much worse at that point, so I gave it a try. It was just graphite, and it didn't work. I went and waited for the bus. The bus ride down was like hell. I had my hat at the ready in case I needed to vomit. My headache got worse, my stomach ache got worse, all my joints and organs began to pulse and I began to have gas.

I finally got to the station, bought my ticket and got on the train. I was in so much pain on the train that I couldn't help letting out the occasional groan, and the people next to me were eating, which made me want to vomit even more. I finally got to Tokyo and took a cab to the Alkire's house. For the last 2 days I have not been able to leave my bed. My temperature got up to 102 and actually broke the Alkire's thermometer. I am feeling much better today though. My temperature has gone away, there is no more pain in my joints, my headache is gone and I am only coughing a little bit. The stomachache remains, and I have painful gas, but I think I'll be well tomorow. I definately want to be well for the Korea leg of my trip, although I get the feeling that I may not be able to eat really spicy foods when I go. But basicly, I'm fine, I lived.

I didn't know if I should include the account of me being sick in my blog or not. It's not exactly a happy story, but I figured that it is better that you all get the whole story from me so that you won't worry rather than hearing it second hand and having you imagine all kinds of terrible scenarios.

Regardless, my next post will definately be more upbeat. Take Care.

Monday, June 13, 2005

A Brief Quest

I decided yesterday that I Really should have brought my Kanji Learner's Dictionary since there are some signs I can't read, and there seems to be no way to learn. Important signs too, like "Caution" and "Pedestrian Crossing" and "Please do not ride the racoon-dog". So today, after working on one of my papers for 3 hours I decided to head to Akihabara (the world's biggest something, I'm sure) to look for a electronic dictionary. Akihabara is the ultimate nerd and geek paradise. It is an entire city that looks like Fry's Electronics. It is also the big Anime, Manga and Hentai area.

I finally reached Akihabara after 1 1/2 hours of being lost on the subway. It turns out there are TWO Roppongi stations. Stupid me. When I got there I went into a Soba shop for some lunch. At this Soba shop you bought your meal from a vending machine, then gave the ticket to the cook. But when I walked in the cook came out from behind the counter to help me as my confusion was holding up other customers. I tried to explain that it was my first time eating Soba. She said that my Japanese was good. I then triped over my words so badly that she corrected her self and said "the sound of your Japanese is preaty". *Sigh*

The Soba was good.
Well, I found an electronic dictionary that would do want I wanted it to, in addition to everything else that a computer could do. Unfortunately it cost as much I as I would have paid to ride on all the trains in Japan for free for a month. So I didn't buy it. I also looked for a lens cap for my camera, with no success. After about an hour I had to get out of Akihabara. Since it is such a center for Anime, there was a constant screaching of female voices (the kind that some female Japanese language students in the U.S. try to mimic because they think that people in Japan are actually hyperactive sopranos or helium coated mice on speed). I still have a headache.

So on the way back I decided to go to Hiroo station (suposedly the one that is closest to the Alkire's house). I got lost again, but in the process I saw something intresting. So when I get lost, as long as I am near enough to central Tokyo, I just walk for Roppongi Hills. It is a colossal building that towers above the entire city, and from it I know how to get home. Well, as I was walking by Roppongi Hills I encountered this crowd.

Just then Tom Cruise stepped out of a car. Screaming started, but since I still had a headache, that was the last thing I wanted to hear, so I kept walking.

I then went to the grocery store and asked if thay had liquid smoke. How the hell do you describe liquid smoke in Japanese. "Kemuri no aji no shoyu" was the best I could do. No dice. And that was my day.

By the way, please leave comments. It's the only way I know if anybody cares.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

I Visit the Kamakura Matsuri

So, today I went to the Kamakura Matsuri. Max was nice enough to drive so that Pua could come. So at 9:00 AM Ann, Pua, Max and I took an hour and a half drive from Tokyo to Kamakura.
Kamakura, by the way, is a big beach town. It wants to be Hawaii, and mostly succedes. It definately has Aloha, but there are some sights you don't see in Hawaii. Such as this.
Another diffrence is the massive crowd. This isn't even the season. I kind of wanted to go in the water, but it looked like it might be kind of, uh, yeah.
So, the Alkires have a house that they rent from a woman named Kyoko, who we went to have lunch with. I entered the house asking if I could help with the cooking. Insted they sat me down with 5 very old ladies and a gentleman and began to place piles of food in front of me. I tried talking to the gentleman, only to find that he was very kind, didn't know a single word of English, couldn't understand my Japanese and may have been a little drunk.
So it is at this point that I should explain the Matsuri. It consists of very tough guys (often gangsters or construction workers) carrying shrines through the town and into the ocean in order to bless the ocean in anticipation of the swiming season. It takes all day to cary the shrines through the town. Sounds boring? Did I mention that almost everybody in extreamly drunk, sometimes to the point where they cannot stand? This helps explain why there are so many cops. Macho guys in loincloths + booze + heat + sacred beliefs = fights.
Of course, many families come as well. This is the small shrine (called a Mikoshi) that the little kids carry. Kawaii.
And these are the Mikoshi. Each weighs a metric ton. The bearers make it bounce as it goes, and occasionally they chant and dance. It's really inspiring.
Well, the Mikoshi bearers decided to take a rest for a while, so we went back into Kyoko's house. Pictured in a clock wise fashion is Me, Ann, Sanae, and "Oba-san".
This was the team of bearers that we were rooting for. Notice that everyone has a beer.
The festivities then began again. But these guys had had too much. This is the middle of a driveway.
So the thing about the Kamakura Matsuri that makes it unique is the fact that the Mikoshi's go into the ocean. That is way all these guys are in loincloths. I talked to the guy the the chest tatoos later, and he was very polite.
You don't see this in the U.S. ever.
Here is the Mikoshi going into the ocean.