Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Rap and ぬいぐるみ

So, to begin with, it finally happened. I was listening to NPR yesterday, as I frequently do when driving, when something happened that we all knew would happen eventually. I tuned in just in time to hear the announcer say "You're listening to Talk of the Nation, my guest today is Grand Master Flash..." So, it is official. Some Rap is now considered classical music. Just like Futurama predicted.

Anyway, the place where I was driving to was campus in order to pick up Ralph (who I have been spending a lot of time with because I finally got to the point where I am entirely comfortable with him, and, like me, he has very little to do this summer). Ralph has been trying to fix his car, and I have been taking him wherever he needs to go because it's fun for me to hang out. So yesterday we went to Sacramento to stop by his house and pick up a part he needed. I just discovered "Skype", so I was interested in going to Fry's Electronics afterwards to pick up some headphones and a microphone. Well, after dropping off Ralphs brothers we went to Fry's... but only after a detour that I have chosen to omit the details of so as not to embarrass Ralph (who has been good enough to read my blog on occasion) too much.

But why do I tell this story? Skype. What a cool program! Easier for me to use than AIM, with all the functions of AIM, but allowing me to call anywhere in the world like it is a local call. For 2 days in a row I have already talked to Takashi and Yuichi in Japan for free! Stupendous way to practice Japanese! And since I don't have to use my cell phone, I don't get that headache that I always get after using a cell phone for 10 minutes.

So, today I went and visited Grandpa Jim. I took over my computer to show him slides of my trip, but the poor guy had to take medication that made him drowsy while he was there. Oh well, I don't care that we didn't finish the slides (because he began to fall asleep) because now I have another excuse to visit again.

The only other thing that has happened recently that I consider to be significant is that I sat down and had a chat with Thunder, my stuffed yellow dinosaur. He was complaining to me that I am more fun now that I was as a little kid, but these days he is too old to keep up with me. Not only that, most of the stuff I do now he just doesn't understand, and being he is not really a fan of having adventures, he felt like even though I was happier he didn't really feel as close to me as he used to. I reassured him that he didn't need to adapt to fit my changed demeanor, and that there would probably always be a part of me that was the same as before. That reassured him, I think. Still, we have agreed that he should sleep at the top of my bed rather than on the shelf like he used to because there is no denying that we have in fact become a little distant.

What? You don't talk to the stuffed animals you had when you were a kid?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Failed Raid

Well, let's see. Have I done anything noteworthy in the last few days? Actually, skip that question. I don't like the answer.

But to begin I would like to tell you about a very strange discovery I made this morning. Having almost finished organizing my room, I came across my Kanji flash cards. I began to read them. I suddenly realized that I was having more fun than I had had on my own in a week! Since when did studying Japanese become one of my favorite activities!? I only began to study Japanese so hard last year because I needed to pass it. I think this makes it the ONLY time that something I NEEDED to do became something I LIKE to do. I don't even enjoy sleeping and eating that much, to tell you the truth, and those are the things that most people need to do but still enjoy. Maybe because I am not allowed to take any more Japanese classes I am even more attracted to it. Or maybe I'm just nuts.

Confirming the latter suspicion is the story of what I did last night. Bryn, Rachel, Greg and I went on a raid to kidnap Kyle (another one of our coworkers) from his house. While not as prepared as we have been on other occasions, our planning was, nonetheless, flawless.

Or so we thought. Unfortunately, no one had called to see if Kyle was in town, and we arrived to find a dark and uninhabited apartment. So we put Duct Tape over the entrance, just because we had nothing else to do.
Greg then came to the conclusion that it was possible that Kyle had gone home to Kenya, a thought which made Bryn quite distraught, resulting in the pleading chalk message you see below.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Days That I Will Forget In A Month

So allow me to begin with some family reunion pictures just because I know some of you will be very curious to see them. I am working on putting together a site with all the pictures on it, but it is taking me a while because, quite frankly, I am bored by most of the pictures I took. I took all my photos with maximum zoom so I wouldn't have to bother with having people pose for the camera. Big mistake. The lighting on almost all of them came out terribly as a result. Here are mom and dad. Both look thrilled.
The kids were good subjects for photography.
Here is what it looked like.
And here is Nick.
So, there is almost nothing else going on in my life. I have been cleaning the house and organizing my stuff. On Thursday I got so bored that I decided to put on a costume while I sprayed insecticide around the house just so I would feel like something interesting happened that day.
I kept the costume on for some of the yard work I did later. Yes, that is indeed a Spanish flag I am wearing as a cape.
Despite my best efforts, I was not able to make the day interesting. I want to take another trip.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Cause, really, what are my goals...

The last few days I have just been cleaning and moving. I also have been paying bills and attended a Business class at Sac City College.

In other news, I have decided that I want to apply to the JET program next year and return to Japan to teach English for a while. I was considering it before, but I have decided I should just do it. I could survive in Japan, and I have no other plans for next year anyway. However, the thing that really convinced me that I wanted to do JET was actually meeting some people who had done it. I was struck, not by how cool they were, but how uninterested they were in having anything other than a free ride to Japan. It then occurred to me that that was the original reason that I had become interested also. What follows is a philosophical rant, typed in purple to keep any of it from being taken too seriously. Skip if you wish.
It was then that I decided that my new goal should not just be to go and experience Japan, but to do that, AND teach, BUT not suck at it. It seemed so sad to me that, while I was in Korea and Japan, hardly anyone tried to talk to me in English even though in theory, they could, and in reality many probably wanted to. I felt sorry that so many people had been bullied by their English teachers into thinking if you did not say just the right thing it was worse than saying nothing. I vowed to change that if I ever became an English teacher. Then I realized that I do the same thing. I will rarely speak to people I want to talk to, no matter the laughs because I have been convinced that saying nothing is better than saying something improperly. Then I remembered why I started to take Japanese again in the first place: it is easier for me to talk to someone in a foreign language because I can't be expected to know how to do it right. And while people are not always forgiving if you screw up, at least you can feel like you did your best to try to share thoughts with another person. And that is really what language is about. It is a thrill when you and another person share a thought, but this thrill is harder to get in your native tongue. Foreign languages are like a drug that you haven't gotten used to yet. And by the time you get used to it, you usually have a reason to speak it.

Sorry about that. Anyway, not much happening.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Great Hike / Back in CA

Well, as expected, the food from the Imu was fantastic! I ate and ate. And then I stopped because I ate too much. Here are David, Mark and John uncovering the food…

Preparing the food…

The food ready to be eaten. Yes, as I have said, it was delicious.

So on with the story. So on the 11th of August I flew from Kona to Honolulu in order to spend a day with my older cousin Ryan. He picked me up at the airport and we went to his house, ate some killa burritos, went for a drive and found ourselves in a place with a fantastic view of downtown Honolulu.

Diamond Head and Waikiki. Standard things to see when you are on tour. This is as close as I got, though.

Alright, so moving on to the really cool part of the day. After Ryan’s girlfriend, Britney, got off work, the three of us got in the car and drove to the east side of the island. We went to a trail that Ryan was familiar with and began a hike. The trail was covered with roots and leaves, so it was very slippery. We didn’t encounter anyone the entire time. Halfway through the hike we came across a very interesting place. It appears that during WWII the U.S. military constructed pillboxes at the back of this valley. However, we were perplexed as to why they chose to build them at that particular spot. There was no view of the ocean, in was deep in the forest and the view of the sky was partially obstructed by mountains. Finally Britney suggested that they may have been built for training purposes.

It was amazing to see how the forest had just destroyed the concrete. The buildings almost looked as if they had been shelled, but it was just the work of the trees.

Well, we finally reached a beautiful pool in the middle of the forest. We all went for a swim. Such a great feeling little pool. I’ll probably come down with some sort of rash now. Hehe.

And here is a pretty picture of a dam that we walked over to get back to the car.

After the hike, we went and had some fabulous Greek food, then we returned to Ryan and Britney’s place and went to bed. I woke up the next morning, went to breakfast with Ryan, than was driven back to the airport so that I could catch my flight.

Got to CA. Saw house. Went to reunion and wrote this post while Olivia, Ralph, Diego and Ed played a 2 hour game of Uno.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Plans for Summer/ Imu Construction

I have almost worked out my plans for the rest of the summer. I have found a seminar and a community college class that I plan to take, and while I am still looking for work, I am considering doing a project for my mother which will provide me with a little cash. I also withdrew some money from my bank account here, so I probably won't starve when I get back to CA. Worse comes to worse, I learned how to cook rice in Japan. No, I'm not kidding. Turns out you have to wash it 5 or 6 times! And here I was only washing it once! Here is an unrelated beautiful picture taken from my deck.
Well, while I was planning my life, the weather in Hawaii has been quite interesting. 2 days ago we had some really heavy rain (the first word I wrote was "copious", but I try to keep my English simple so my friends who are not native English speakers can understand me, and so that David doesn't hurt himself by laffing too hard on my spelling and grammar errors). This is a picture of rain, also beautiful.
So, Tuesday was Uncle Jim's birthday. This is part of my family sitting around the table. Antics ensued, I am sure.
Uncle turned (L)7. Soon I will be turning (XX)3.
So, this morning I got up at 4 and walked over to the Alkire's house in order to observe their Imu preparations. 4 in the morning on the Beach, by the way is very still, and kind of spooky. I kept walking and having toads jump into the bushes right in front of me, which scared the pants off of me. I arrived at the Alkires to find that Mark (resident Imu expert) had prepared the fire the night before. All that remained was to pour on da lighter fluid an light da sucka.
We then sat around in the Alkire's yard for an hour waiting for the fire to burn down and heat the rocks that had been stacked around the outside.
Mark then began to prepare the food that would be placed inside the Imu. This is a turkey with a Taro leaf stuck inside, rubbed in special Sea Salt. The secret ingredient, I was told, is dirt. But special, tasty dirt. I don't care what the secret ingredient is. If it comes out of an Imu it almost always tastes good.
Here is the food, ready to be placed inside once the fire is ready.
The Lau Lau!
The leaves which will be used to smother the fire. The fire is just about ready.
Here is Mark organizing the food before we cover it with tea leaf, banana leaf, wet cloth and dirt.
The group photo. By the way, after standing in this smoke, I smelled delicious all day!
Covering the whole thing in wet cloths.
Still putting on wet cloths.
Imu, post dirt. Now we just let it sit for twelve hours, and pull it out when everything else is ready.
I love Imu food. When you next hear from me, I will have eaten some.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Resting in Hawaii

So, I haven't been doing much in Hawaii. Sleeping, eating, visiting with family, and getting all the business that I could not do while in Asia done. I have not been able to go Kayaking as much as I would like because the wind has not been onshore. We have also had tons of fires this year, which means great sunsets.
However, my cousin Vanessa is here from Oregon/California for the first time in a while. So we went to the beach and made a fairly lame sandcastle. It was fun to make, but it wasn't much of a castle. As I was leaving I signed over the deed to a little kid who was passing by.
Here is the dog sleeping at the foot of my bed. That is because, secretly, she likes me best. I feed her treats on the sly.
See, the posts get boring when I am lounging around. I'll be back in Davis soon (on the 12th of August), and looking for someone who can teach me Korean.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Epilouge of My Asian Adventure

Well, I made it home in one piece. Barely. I am totally broke. While there is still a little bit of money in my bank account, I spent every single yen that I had. I barely had enough to get to the airport, and I didn't have enough money to buy breakfast on the 3rd (in Japan). Luckily, I met up with Takashi and he was so generous and bought me a splendid breakfast. But more on that in a bit. First, some backlogged pictures...

So this is Hotel Dandy, the hotel that I said before was kind of sleezy and built on top of a pachinko hall and hostess bar.
And this is the beach in Kamakura. Loaded with swimers.
Mt. Fuji from the beach in Kamakura.
So on the 3rd (in Japan) in the morning I met up with Takashi. We planned to meet at the main exit of Harajuku station, but I got lost and went to the secondary exit. Stupid me. He then treated me to breakfast, and we walked around Harajuku, then took the train to Shibuya. Here is us in front of the famous statue of the waiting dog in Shibuya, a favorite meeting spot. For some reason it smelt like feces near the statue. Probably sombody was made to wait too long and had to make use of the bushes. Yeah right. Not in Japan.
This picture was hard to get. I had to take it from the middle of the street. It is of the famous (or infamous) 109 building, a mecca for "hip" young Japanese females.
So, we toured Shibuya, went to Ueno, walked around a bit in the park admireing the living conditions that the homeless people there had made for themselves and got my stuff. After furious repacking, I got on my train. I left for the airport 5 hours before my flight was set to take off, and got there 4 hours before boarding. But man did I time it right, because when I got there this was the line I had to get in.
Now, the picture cannot show it, but the line was, I am guessing, a quarter mile long. It was about the same size as a track for races in the US! The line took 2 hours, so the time I got to the front was exactly the time I had to check in.

After what felt like I short flight, I arrived in Honolulu. And from there I came over to the Big Island. I met my mom at the airport and we went out to lunch at the resturant where my sister works. Then I came home. This is our dog.
Our porch.
Our Bay.
And that is it. I'm home! It was the best trip of my life, but comming home always feels great.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Last Post From Asia

Well, that's it. Tomorow I leave Japan, which concludes the Asia portion of my trip. However, I have decided to keep up this blog. I have several reasons for this. The biggest reason is I have discovered is that keeping this blog makes me live a fuller life. Just like when I run, if I think other people are watching, I perform better. I have been thinking about all of the things I have done on this trip, and I don't think I would have done as much or have such fond memories if not for this blog. The second major reason I wish to maintain it is for memory purposes. I enjoy being able to go back and jog my memory. Thank you to everyone who has been reading along. I really appreciate your comments; even the ones I don't understand.

So, I have some final observations about this trip. These are the things I learned, in no particular order:

American English, when spoken, is spoken loudly
Japanese people rarely look alike
Sharing food with healthy people will not make you sick
A "date" in Japan means something very diffrent
Whale tastes like dry duck meat
There are some really, really kind people in the world...
and some jerks, too
Deer farts smell terrible
Japanese sunscreen feels awful, but works well
Japan needs more trashcans
Senior Yakuza are well behaved and polite
You cannot mail throwing stars to the US
World Expos are not worth your time
People that study foreign languages are frequently cool
Air over 70 degrees C is too hot to breathe
I can travel alone, but I don't really like it
Shin-Kobe has tons of Love Hotels
When you travel in Asia, bring your own garlic

I'm sure that I learned some other stuff too, but all that stuff is harder to put into words. And that is it from Asia. As long as I make it home safely, this will be the best trip of my life.

Wish me luck. I have only about 2000 more yen, and that has to feed me tomorow and get me to the airport.

By the way, Mom and Dad, plan to pick me up at the airport at 10:20 on the 3rd of August. I arrive on Aloha flight 104. My flight from Narita to Honolulu is United flight 880, leaving at 19:00 on the 3rd and ariving at 7:20 on the 3rd (thanks to the international dateline).

Monday, August 01, 2005

The Strangest Thing So Far This Trip

So, this post has no pictures, but do read to the end because the story gets crazy and weird.

On Sunday I was again feeling a little down. Kind of lonely. Also, that morning when I went to take a bath I found all of the spaces in the shower room to be filled, so I went without a shower (which made me feel pretty gross). Anyway, as I planed I went to Kamakura. I got to the beach, and immediately felt a little better. I sunscreen as best I could, then got in the water. It felt great. I then walked down the beach to dry off as my towel had become totally covered in sand. It was than that I experienced the most unpleasant part of my day, as 6 people remarked "Shiro!" as I walked down the beach. For those of you who don't speak Japanese, the meaning of "Shiro!" translates as "Oh my god, that guy is so white!". Yeah. As if I wasn't self-conscious enough about being white after a lifetime of teasing and prejudice in Hawaii. Oh well. At least in Japan the racism is based on ignorance alone rather than ignorance, hate and fear.

Anyway, on to the good part. So I left the beach and decided to stop by Kiyoko-san's house to give her a souvenir I got in Korea and to say "Hi". However, I got to the house and kind of lost my nerve. I didn't know if it is rude to just drop in in Japan, and I wanted to, at all costs, avoid being rude. Kiyoko-san has always been so nice to me, and I wanted to do my best to repay her kindness. For an hour and a half I paced in front of the house wondering whether I should go in or go back to Tokyo and not bother her. Finally, I decided to leave my souvenir from Korea and a note in her mailbox, but I could not find the mailbox. I decided to just stick the souvenir in the gate. But as I was fiddling with the gate, I turned around to find a delivery man who wanted to enter also. I followed him in and he rang the door-bell. Kiyoko-san answered, and after she dealt with the delivery man, she greeted me. I handed her the souvenir and tried to explain that I was sorry for just dropping by, but thank you for last time.

Well, she invited me in for a drink and made me some fresh squeezed orange juice. Then she explained that she was having guests for dinner but she had purchased too much food and asked if I wanted to stay and help eat the food. Having not eaten well for a while, I agreed. We then sat around making bread and talking for several hours. After a while she stopped to prepare some food for her mother (who has been in a slightly comatose state and lying in the room next to the kitchen for several years under Kiyoko-san's care). Then we took the dog for a walk. During the walk I saw Mt. Fuji. We had a great dinner, and during dinner Kiyoko-san asked why I was planning to go to Yokohama when Ann had told her that it was Ok for me to stay in the house that the Alkires rent from her. I agreed to stay the night.

The dinner continued until late, and finally I decided to retire to the Alkires' cottage. I tried to figure out how to make the water in the shower hot for at least 15 minutes before giving up and taking a freezing cold shower. When I emerged from the shower I heard sirens. I got dressed, then I saw men running into Kiyoko-san's house. I emerged from the cottage in time to hear from Keisuke (Kiyoko-san's son) that his grandmother's heart had had an irregular beat, but that now she was OK. I returned to the cottage and went to bed.

I went in to Kiyoko-san's house the next morning and immediately noticed that Kiyoko-san's mother had passed away and was lying on the floor. Many other family members who I knew had arrived and one of them, Moto-san, took me over to the corpse and showed me how to properly pay my respects. Then we all ate breakfast. Terrified of doing anything wrong at this very important time, I worriedly did the exact same thing as the person next to me was doing as we ate. I was amazed at how different it was from when someone in America dies. It didn't feel as sad. Then a Zen monk showed up and recited some sutras. We all sat on the floor and listened.

The day basically consisted of eating, playing with Sai-chan (Kiyoko-san's 7 month old granddaughter) and having family members occasionally come in and look at the face of the corpse. They would sniffle for about 15 minutes, but after that almost everyone moved over to play with the baby or have a bite to eat. It was really kind of nice. It made one feel like death was part of life rather than the end of it.

No doubt I will soon have many observations about Japanese funerals, but right now I am still going over all of it in my head.

I am now staying with Julie and Max at their house in Tokyo. Julie offered me a place to stay and I accepted because I have discovered that I hate being alone.