Thursday, December 20, 2007

they wish you a merry xmas

jeremy rocks out with his charges at the kindergarten.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

daft punk and shidax

We went to see Daft Punk in Chiba at the Makuhari Messe. The joint was absolutely teeming with blissful hipsters: EVERYONE loved this show. Except me. Because it was just okay.

Later, we went to the Shidax in Shibuya for a little karaoke party. Expensive but fun.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

haircut butchers, inc.

What is it about Iwasaki hair salons?

I guess you get what you pay for. ¥980 gets you a 50/50 chance of a decent haircut, wholly dependent on the personality of the person who's cutting your hair and her (usually her) opinion of what your head should look like. Which, more often than not, ends up producing a striking resemblance to hers.

I'd like to chalk it up to a language barrier, but even I can communicate "five centimeters", with my thumb and forefinger holding an imaginary tangerine for emphasis. How five becomes twenty, I'm not sure, but the aggravation soon fades to acquiescence as I await my fate.

At least my hair grows fast.

Monday, December 03, 2007

roppongi crossing


Roppongi Hills is not a place I've the occasion to visit often, but I'm not sorry when I do. Like it does for many people, Roppongi leaves a bad taste in my mouth - trashy expat bars like Gas Panic come to mind, as does some of the only crime to be overtly found in Japan. Seems like you're more likely to get hustled or pickpocketed in Roppongi than in any other part of Tokyo, especially if you're hitting up the club scene.

And fine, the Roppongi Hills complex is a swanky monolith, with too-expensive bullshit, difficult to navigate corridors, and uncomfy, uncosy, impersonal design.

Still, there are a few highlights here.

The first is the Tofu Café Fujino. Unfortunately, they don't seem to be serving their tofu cheesecake with black sesame crust any longer, which was to die for. However, the soy milk soft cream parfaits are excellent, and the soy milk doughnuts ain't bad, either.

When I need something a little more filling, I always stop in to The Pantry by Homework's, which is a stupid name. They have an excellent selection of vegetarian sandwiches, including a delicious veggie burger as well as a rotating cast of others, a true rarity in Tokyo. Their fries are good too. The staff is always a bit snotty, but I ignore them and bite into heaven.

Up above, the Mori Art Museum is pretty respectable, showing often good art in a fantastic setting. We recently saw Roppongi Crossing, which highlighted young and contemporary Japanese artists; and last year checked out the Berlin to Tokyo show, which examined the artistic relationship between the two cities. It's a good place to take visiting art aficionados who are interested in checking out something local that's not your mama's ikebana. It doesn't hurt that included in the ticket price is admission to the Tokyo City View, the 360º look at Tokyo's skyline. I like this view better than crappy old Tokyo Tower's, and it's higher, too. Bring your old student ID - it's good for about 500¥ off the adult ticket price.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Low Brow Sunday: A Day at the Races


Keirin racing is a bike-nerd niche. I'd never heard of it until my friend Eli came to visit. He's a little bit of a racing bike fanatic. He sent me a youtube spot, and came to Japan this time around specifically to hook up a racing frame and to check out the racetrack, live.

We ran around to various shops in Tokyo and surrounding, and Eli got a chance to hobnob with some bike frame craftsmen.

After consulting the main Keirin racing page, we picked out a race to check out and hoofed up to Chiba one Sunday to see the hoopla in person.

At the bus station, getting ready to board the free bus to the track, we came across an obaasan selling programs and pencils. As we started to get on the bus, she and her cohorts, sure that we were mistaken, pointed us up to another bus heading to the big shopping mall. No, we assured her - we wanted keirin.

What we found there was a colorful bunch of toned bikers on drool-worthy setups in birds-of-paradise-bright spandex costumes. They were sleek and fast and spiff, a sight to behold. Though we didn't bet, we walked all around the track and ogled the splendosity, randomly picking favorites to win. "I'm green this time. GO GREEN! GREEEEN! Damn. Okay, now I'm blue. BLUUUUUUE~!"

The stands were a different story. It was geezer central: shuffling, grimy, loogie-hawking geezers. There were few likely bike aficionados in evidence - most everyone looked as if they would fall over attempting to reach the pedal, let alone the saddle. They were there and most definitely for the betting. They probably split their time between the track and the pachinko parlor. It was as lowbrow and downmarket as I've seen in Tokyo: food stands serving tea in tin cups, cheap crappy machine coffee, and grilled rice balls being gummed by old men with sparse white tufts of hair. We stuck out like hookers in church and received our share of stares. The best came from an old guy who regarded us squintingly, then took out his teeth as he glared at us, ran his tongue over his gums, and popped his chompers back in.

All in all, a splendid outing.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

salt

Salt is a newish restaurant in the New Maru Biru at Tokyo station. It's Australian food with a few Japanese twists. I don't usually like "fusion" cuisine, but this was more understated - I had the risotto with nori, and it was really nice. Subtle. In addition to fish and meat, there's a reasonable vegetable menu that gave me lots to choose from. Portions are generous, and though it's a white tablecloth place with attentive service and an elite atmosphere, prices are not that high - most main courses are ¥2-3000.

There are lots of nice places to sit around in this schmancy building, which I like better than both Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown, as far as upscale malls go. There are lots of swanky restaurants and good views of pretty brick Tokyo Station.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gajoen

















On a recommendation from the elegant Mrs. A, I dropped by Gajoen in Meguro for a look around.

















This lovely hotel is populated with beautiful Japanese art. There's a pretty garden with a few winding paths, a koi pond, and a bridge. The water from the pond runs in channels indoors, and the koi swim through the building and back outdoors again.




























There are several restaurants, and it's a nice place to drop by for lunch or coffee.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Alright tonight

It’s a brisk winter evening. Coming out of Japanese class, we crossed the plaza beneath the tall silver arch that stretches from the keitai shop to the dilapidated tiled alcove containing a Doutor, a boba-tea shop, and a small bright toy-train jungle gym usually surrounded by a smattering of grandparents resting with their shopping while their young charges cavort on the astro-turf. More lonely a place than before now that the Tokyu Hands has closed up shop and moved down the road, we happened on two pubescent boys in navy blue short-pants middle school uniforms sharing a tentative, tender kiss. One was touching the other's hair at the side of his face, just barely. Their schoolbags were puddled around their socks, forgotten.

PDA is fairly non-existent in Japan: the most you usually get is some hetero hand-holding - and then only with young couples. And regular gayness isn't seen much, even in ultra-modern Tokyo. Though you're likely to see a flaming transvestite if you wander Shinjuku's Kabuki-cho, the sighting of non-theatrical same-sex public affection is extremely rare.

Add this to the facts that our little outpost of Machida isn't exactly the center of hipster Tokyo, and that the lovers were probably pre-teen.

I don't know those young boys, but I know that adolescent love and desire is hard enough to reckon with when you're straight. With all the other factors compounding the difficulty, we felt as though we had stumbled across something special happening.

Hang tough, young men.

Monday, November 05, 2007

J-driver's license aggravation, part I.

After trolling several websites, I dragged my ass to Fuchu one Monday to start the process of getting my Japanese driver's license. I've been driving with an International Driving Permit the whole time I've lived here, and illegally for the last almost two years, as you're only supposed to use one for the first year.

First, I printed a map from their website. The site instructs you to take the North exit from Musashi Koganei station, and to hop on the #X bus to the Driving Test Center. The bus is supposed to take 20 minutes. On the map, it doesn't look far, so I decided to try to walk and headed off in what looked like the right direction. After 15-20 minutes of walking, it became apparent that I wasn't going the right way, as I didn't seem to be hitting any of the landmarks shown on the map. I decided that I must be heading the wrong way, and started to look out for a cab.

A few passed, but none that were unoccupied. I finally jumped on a bus back to the station and started again. After I figured out that the map was oriented from the SOUTH exit of the station (not the north), I started to walk again and soon found my way. It only took about 20 minutes to walk (the same as the bus) and the center is located across from a large graveyard.

It was 3:30. I made my way up to the counter for changing a foreign license to a Japanese one. The gruff looking man behind the counter ignored me for awhile, then informed me that they were closed. Their hours are until 3:00, even though the center is open until 5:00 and there's no mention of the limited hours on their or any other website that I found. I informed him of this. If I hadn't gotten lost, I would have been there before 3.

Nevertheless, another man said he would at least look over my documents for me. It was here that I found that my hopes were in vain regardless of my tardiness.

First of all, my alien card was expired. Actually, it wasn't expired. Clearly printed on it is a sentence telling me to renew it in something like 2012. However, my "landing permission" date has passed. I had updated my visa at immigration, and had brought my passport to prove it. I showed this to the man, but he said that I had to take my alien card to the city office and have it annotated with my new landing permission date.

Next, my California driver's license was too recently issued. Though I've been driving for 13 years, my wallet was stolen last year and I had to have my DL reissued. The reissued date, not the original date, is printed on my license. Therefore, I need to have a record from the DMV saying that I've had my license and have been in the USA for a total of at least three months since the license was first issued. The three months don't have to be consecutive, but since my license is recent, I do need a record from the DMV.

I had ordered this record, having read about it on the forums, and got ready to produce it. When I looked in the DMV envelope, however, I found it empty save for a receipt. I had somehow vacated the envelope and left the prized document at home.

Not that it would have helped at that point. But it was one more chink in my armor.

At least the translation of my US driver's license, done by JAF (the Japanese version of AAA), was in order.

I left the office, defeated.

Monday, October 29, 2007

gallantry

Exiting the station the other day, I found myself behind a pair of teen-aged lovers. The guy had baggy pants, an untucked shirt, and a spiky hairstyle; the girl was wearing her school uniform skirt ass-short. Possibly-flashing-her-knickers short. As we were coming up to a flight of stairs, I got ready to test my panty-flashing theory. Alas, her boyfriend carefully walked directly behind her, shielding her ass with his body and backpack so there was no chance of a sneak-peek. The lecherous old man in me was disappointed. Ah, modern chivalry.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

saturnine

sluggish in temperament, gloomy, taciturn.

again with the taciturnity.

from joyce's dubliners.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


i do love how the brits call cupcakes "fairy cakes".

Friday, October 26, 2007

curiosities

The other day, I was walking around the neighborhood doing errands. I was wearing my ever-present and utterly nerdy pedometer, and was stopped at a crossing signal. To get some steps in this idle time, I was absentmindedly stepping in place a little. I glanced around me and there was an old granny next to me. She looked ninety if she was a day - frail, hunched over, tufts of snowy white hair, and a blue housecoat. She was looking at me quizzically, and tentatively stepping in place. I can only guess what was going through her mind.

In the hubbub of Machida last week, I was exiting the turnstiles of the station with a stream of other people. Suddenly, I focused on an old granddad. This wizened old dude was decked out, head to toe, in American Southwest-style cowboy gear. Beat-up old hat, chaps, string tie, belt buckle, all studded with turquoise. Above the string tie was perched a wrinkled Japanese face. The incongruity was hilarious and fantastic, and I coveted his outfit. A few days later, I saw him again on a street corner.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

growth



This neighborhood is growing up. Last year, the parking lot behind our house was turned into a row of tightly-packed houses. And I guess it's nicer to have houses than a parking lot. But I'm starting to feel closed in.

Now, around the corner, they're developing what was a grassy lot into some more buildings. Apartments or houses, I'm not sure. But skeletons are going up.

There are still a few dedicated spaces around that seem safe for now. Parks, plazas. But there's something about a weedy empty lot. Wild grasses blowing. With no requirement to be anything, no imperative to please children or provide benches to seat the elderly for a respite. No need to do anything but be overgrown, to shelter in its neglected embrace forlorn lost and forgotten items - key chains, receipts, a kindergartener's dirty beat-up plastic toys. To facilitate the occasional shortcut across its tangled swaths. To give us breathing space.

Friday, October 19, 2007

baby!

Kids make me laugh all the time at school. It's a pretty great benefit of going to work.

I have a class of three high-level kids. Two of them are returnees - one spent time in Canada, the other in English-speaking schools in Hong Kong. The third is just dead smart. They are all nearly native level speakers, which is fantastic, because it means I can treat them pretty much like regular third graders. They catch on super quick and are really fun to teach, since they can handle almost any activity I can throw at them. They are brimming with enthusiasm, love to read and do puzzles, and relish a challenge.

Yesterday, while doing Halloween anagrams, Kota, the most rambunctious of the lot, cracked me up. He kept punctuating his answers with: baby! Example: "Hey guys. What does haunted mean?" K: "Has ghosts and monsters! Scary house! Baby!" Or: "What did you do yesterday?" K: "I went to school and then home. Baby!"

Sometimes I love this job.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

same in print

I've had a version of this post accepted for publication over at Tokyo Notice Board. It'll only be in the print version, that of October 12-18, 2007.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

support your local yokels



Though a lot of urbanites turn their noses up at their metro cousins, Beaverton as a suburb does have a few redeeming factors. Sunset Bingo for one. A charming old-fashioned downtown, though neglected, for another.

Valley Theater in Beaverton is an oasis in what is mostly a strip-mall pocked wasteland. Family run, indie, inexpensive. The box office clerk was friendly, engaged, happy to be working there, and above the oily adolescence of most theater employees. They show second run films for 3.75 a pop, and serve beer and a few other non-traditional snacks. I love Portland's myriad indie theaters, but since this place is in my family's backyard, I'll surely be seeing more of the Valley.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

temerity

reckless boldness; rashness

(from dictionary.com - thanks all things considered, NPR)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

thuggin' and hip-poppin'

I do production work for this magazine.

Friday, October 12, 2007

climbing kilimanjaro

I heard about Nicolai Calabria on All Things Considered, a 13-year old kid who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro on crutches with one leg. He did so in order to raise money to give wheelchairs to the disabled of Tanzania. He's raised more than $58,000 so far, enough for thousands of wheelchairs through the Free Wheelchair Mission.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Walking for AIDS


I'm doing the Portland Aids Walk with my mom and sister this weekend in Portland. Come out and join us, or show your support.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Immigration Tribulation

The need for renewal of my three-year "child of a Japanese national" visa rolled around this month, and I had to trek down to immigration to do it up.

I made my weary way to the Tokyo Immigration office in Shinagawa on a Monday morning. After my hour and a half commute and twenty minute walk, I found the office... closed. It was a public holiday, but since I always have Mondays off, I had failed to notice. Blast.

I tried again the next day, various complicated and fussy documents in hand. I slogged across Tokyo and back to Tennozu Isle station, and found the office, mercifully, open. (If you're lucky enough to be a Yokohama resident, you can use the much-less-crowded Shin Yurigaoka branch. Same goes for residents for other prefectures: if it's possible to SKIP the Tokyo office, do it!)

I filled out my paperwork and took a number. 436. Only.... 221 people ahead of me. Like the DMV times a million, and with even more languages flying around. I took a seat and settled in for the long wait. Tip: bring LOTS to do. I finished a book, practiced kanji, wrote in my journal, text messaged, ate a snack and a had a coffee... and still had time on my hands.

After four hours of waiting, my number was finally called, ten minutes before closing time. I was asked by the clerk if I had a copy of my birth certificate.

When I initially applied for the visa three years ago, I did it at the Japanese Embassy in Seattle, and needed a whole slew of documents including a letter from my now passed grandpa and a copy of my birth certificate. This time, however, the necessary documents listed on the Ministry of Justice's website clearly does NOT require a birth certificate for a renewal, or "Permission for Extending Period of Stay". Since I didn't have one around, I didn't bring it along. I said no, and she made me fill out a family tree. (In Spanish. Though I have a U.S. passport and was applying as a child of a Japanese National. Eh?)

Anyway, they took my application and made me fill out a notification postcard with my address. At that time, I told the clerk that I was planning on going to the states in a few weeks and asked if it was okay, even if they hadn't finished processing my application. My boyfriend had done just that, and since he had an "application pending" stamp in his passport, the immigration officials at the airport had given him no trouble at all. But the clerk was firm. "Your reentry permit expires in two days. You cannot leave the country. If you leave the country before your application is approved, it will be canceled." Yikes.

A little dejected but relieved to be finished with the process, I traipsed my ass home. Though the clerk had reprimanded me, I was determined to go to the States anyway, even if they cancelled my application. There was no way I was going to forfeit an $800 nonrefundable ticket. And I doubted that they would cancel my application, based on I's past experience.

On Friday, I received a letter from the office requested a copy of my birth certificate. I had found this list of necessary documents over at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' website. Which is not linked to the MOJ's website, at least not in any way that's obvious from the English page. And it's for an initial application. And why would you go and look for another list once you've found one on a government website? Get your shit together, people.

Anyway, I managed to find a copy of my birth certificate and mail it off by Saturday. The following Wednesday, I received my notification postcard telling me that my permission was granted! I was pleasantly surprised at how fast my application was processed. Friday morning, I once again made my way to Shinagawa for my permission stamp and my multiple reeentry stamp. It took only about an hour and 10,000 yen this time. On Sunday, I flew to the U.S. without getting my application cancelled and visa revoked. Phew.

Monday, October 08, 2007

otherwise in print

This photo was published as Metropolis' Photo of the Week in March of '05.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Stepping Out


My dear sister Cassandra is Stepping Out to Fight Diabetes this weekend. Give her your money!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Walk for a Cure


My darling sister Cassandra, who has diabetes, is Walking for a Cure this weekend.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

laconic, taciturn

(無口 - mukuchi)
Doesn't say much.

From my textbook Kana and Kanji.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

various punkass children who have no relation to me

Biking down the Onda River the other day, we stopped for a snack break. A mouthy and moonfaced kid rides up on his bike and says, "Whaddya doin'? Eating? Why don't you eat over there?" He points to a place where half a dozen sullen teens are congregated, smoking and listening to a boombox.
"Because it's crowded!" I reply.
"Oh, right," he says, and bikes off.

A little child of about three with a loud mouth, navy rain stomper boots, and a yellow umbrella open but slung over his shoulder, protecting nothing except for his bottom from the rain coming from below, says repeatedly as I pass on the way to the mailbox... "ame na no kasa ga nai... ame na no kasa ga nai...": "it's raining but you don't have an umbrella... it's raining and you don't have an umbrella!" His mom tells him to shut it.


And in other news, "Oh my God!" is catching. Today it was "oh my gahhh!"

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

two great movies

The Uchoten Hotel, and Cha no Aji (the Taste of Tea) - both quirky, funny, weird. Fab!

Monday, September 03, 2007

ice ice baby


The first thing I saw as I walked into the Kanagawa Skating Rink, a five minute walk from Higashi Kanagawa station, was a cotton candy machine that cost only 50 yen! For fresh, spin-it-yourself cotton candy! I was sold.

Entering the rink to the swish-slush sound of blades on ice, I presented myself at the skate rental counter, where they have skates up to the size of 31 cm. Above 29, they only have whole sizes, but this is an important detail in a country of small feet, where it's often difficult to find shoes in my size 24.5 (7 1/2 women US) or men's sizes above 27 or 28. After lacing up my pleasantly retro skates, I hobbled onto the rink to the strains of Duran Duran and Kim Wilde's Kids in America. Another super bonus!

After finding my ice legs and maneuvering for awhile around the rhinestone-beskirted 9 year old Shizuka Arakawa wannabes, I retired to the warm snack/rest area that boasted lots of retail therapy in the form of a wide range of snack machines. Oh, the possibilities: 2 rows of drink machines, hot and cold, in cans, cups, and bottles; an ice-cream bar dispenser; a machine with a variety of frozen-then-microthawed delicacies like hot dogs and grilled onigiri; and my favorite machine, the one I partook of: an Anpanman popcorn machine, complete with TV screen. The popcorn was available in three flavors: chili, light salt, and butter. I opted for butter and was rewarded with a cheery tune and video while I listened to my corn popping. A few minutes later, a movie-size-small (olden day movie theater small, not mall cineplex small) popcorn cup dropped into the serving chamber and I opened the door to retrieve my prize.

After another long bout alongside the twirling girls and the old ponytailed man coaching a young woman in couples skating to the tune of Milli Vanilli's "Girl You Know It's True", I de-bladed and went to the front lobby for my cotton candy fix. Let me tell you, getting cotton candy to adhere to a stick takes talent! I predict many future trips to the Kanagawa skating rink to perfect my technique.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Summerland


For summer fun. I used to go here when I was a kid and have fond memories. We trekked out to Akigawa, an hour and a half away along the Yokohama, Hachiko, and Itsukaichi lines.

Summerland is a water theme park with lots of pools, waterslides, and rides. It's a great way to beat the heat.

Unfortunately, it was chock-a-block packed, even on a Monday afternoon at 4pm. Luckily, they're open til 9 during the summer and offer a discount for coming after 3. Otherwise, I would have felt a little robbed paying 3500Y for admission and pool access. Waterslides are also included, but the wait was about an hour.

Too crowded! One benefit was getting to see a zillion self-conscious girls in bikinis.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

ゲーーーーー

Playing fish with Mina, 5, yesterday in class: each time she drew a card that she didn't like, she said "Ge~!" That's as in Gephardt instead of giraffe, and rhymes with "hey!". And means "puke!". Or barf!, if you prefer. Retch! Gag! Take your pick. Ms. K, the excellent office manager, also uses this charming expression, and one I am eager to cultivate.

Monday, August 20, 2007

三浦海岸


Miura Beach was recommended to me last year by Mr. Mu at work. He said the beach was wide and convenient. He's right - it's close to Tokyo, much cleaner than Enoshima, and with a long, wide beach, gentle waves, and good for swimming. Except for the jellyfish.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

move your ass, people


If you're text-messaging, move to the side so people can get around you. Don't cut in front of me at the last minute to get on the train when everyone else waited in line. Don't block the right side of the escalator with your shopping bags and big butt. Take your damn bag off the seat when the train's crowded. Asshole.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

enoshima (江ノ島)

is a pretty disgusting beach. One of my friends calls it "black water beach", and she's not far off. It's totally trashed, covered with refuse, and really packed. One of the closest beaches to Tokyo, there's a big crowd there especially on weekends and during the summer holiday. It was so dirty though, that I couldn't swim. We did clamber around on the rocks on the island itself, which was fun. And the Enoden line, currently completely decorated with animated characters, is awesome.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

dog days

Tokyo summer is sweating, and shucking off clothing until you're left in your barest skivvies if anything at all. It's cicadas (semi) thick in the trees and their lament thick in the air, their purpose in life to fill the close summer heat with the sound of their discontent and then drop dead from the effort. It's longing for lemonade and watermelon, for snow. Everyone is shining in a glow of perspiration, trying mightily to transition from air con building to air con building. Bright festival clothes are spotted in the streets, and folks flap folding fans in hopes of stirring up a relenting breeze.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Monday, August 06, 2007

good good oregon summer


Oregon may not be the best when it comes to weather most of the year. Because most of the year it's rain and drear, grey and drizzle, soggy and damp.

Except for summer.

Oregon is the best place I've been for summer. It's green green green, and hot, but not TOO hot. It's regularly in the 90s, but it's not humid. The evenings are cool, the air is clear, and all's right with the world.

Oregon in the summer is all about adventures. Camping, forest tramps, blackberries, gardens. Picnics in the park. It's too cold to swim at the coast, so you can dip your toes in the icy cold like we did at Haystack Rock, famous Goonies location. It's not too cold, though, to swim in the numerous rivers that run all over Oregon, and which are full-to-bursting with swimmin' holes, replete with kids yahoo- ing as they jump from high rocks into the clear clear water. One such place is Eagle Creek, where Tyler took me hiking and then swimmin' at Punchbowl Falls, where we had a gorgeous enclosed pool all to ourselves just below the falls. If you're not sure where the nearest sweet spot is, check out my friend Brook's dad Relan Colley's book, Oregon Swimming Holes. (Looks like it's out of print and will run you $300 - maybe with enough demand the publisher will reprint.)

Oregon summer is strawberries and roadside stands, t-shirts and haybales, all the doors open and lounging on the floorboards to keep cool, like a cat.

In the Oregon vs. Japan summer competition, Oregon, hands down, TKO, is the champion.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

the epitome of unpretentiousness


My dad thinks wine is good for you, but doesn't really like the taste. So he mixes it with juice.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

come a cropper

A funny idiom, with thanks again to Mr. Bryson.

6. come a cropper, Informal.
a. to fail; be struck by some misfortune: His big deal came a cropper.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

ESL games


We sometimes play UNO in my classes. Usually it's a reward for having finished our textbook work, and sometimes it's to get the kids focused and having fun. It's good for practicing colors, numbers, and a little reading, and I ask the kids to declare their card as they play it, thus practicing adjective-noun combinations. (It's a red seven!) They bungle their numbers and colors a lot, but they do improve as the game wears on. When they can't play, they say "pass".

We were playing in my 10-year-old girls class. They're pretty sharp - they can form simple sentences and understand a lot. They play fast and know the cards. It came to Aya's turn, and, not being able to play, said, "Oh my god! No! Pass!" I cracked up. Where do they get this stuff? Not from me. In another class, an 8-year-old drew a card and declared "Mamma Mia!" These kids don't speak English. Where do they learn Italian?

Monday, July 16, 2007

fisticuffs

fighting with the fists; a fistfight.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

same as it ever was


It's raining a steady patter on the scalloped Japanese rooftiles that surround this upstairs window, the window of my uncle Masayasu's room and more lately sister C's room. When I was a teenager, I came and stayed here, in my grandparents' house, in this room. M's ski posters were still on the wall then and the house smelled of my grandparents and of Japan: of tatami and tea and the small dried fish in a tin that my grandma would fling out the window at the neighborhood cats. The smells - so different from those back in the states. Dark and green and pungent, like moist dirt in cracks and wet straw.

Then I loved, lived, to walk around in the streets just roaming, Mazzy Star and Suzanne Vega on my walkman, desultory and dreamy. I spent ages poring over minutiae in the local department store, Sotestu Rosen, and deliberated at great lengths over which beverage to choose from the legions at the Family Mart convenience store, now no longer there. Peach soda? Honey-lemon? Calpis? Aquarius? Or one of the mysterious bottled teas, so strange to me as an American teen used to stacks of Mountain Dew and Coca-Cola. The closest one got to tea, in my experience, even as a Japanese-American, was the big jars of sun tea that they brewed in Texas where I lived when I was five.

Now my grandparents are gone and I live in their house. It's changed a lot, as has the neighborhood. New things have cropped up, others have gone (the Uny department store, its top floor on which I spent so much time as a kiddy in the candy arcades pumping the gumball and cotton candy machines full of ten-yen pieces from grandpa's generous change purse, is sadly no longer); but a lot is the same. The "body parts shack", as my family likes to call it, the tiny corner izakaya and yakitori shop made of corrugated tin and sagging paper laterns, still remains the same as it ever was. The Jan-Jan pachinko parlor with its Statue of Liberty on top beckoning the poor, the weak, the tired, ragged, and huddled masses, or however it goes, sits staunchly at the intersection. My mom remembers when this neighborhood was all fields. The former landowners still live on this block, on a grand multi-building property. Most of the people in this neighborhood are older and probably remember that time as well. I wonder if they remember me and my brother and sister, the little half kids that have been visiting for the past 25 years, and if they associate those little kids with these grown up foreigners living here now. Surely we were a curiosity in those days, in this not-so-cosmopolitan town. Now it seems as if this sleepy station is crawling with gaikokujin, but when I was younger, I remember a lot more staring, a lot more people stopping and asking to take a picture with you because you weren't Japanese. Most people, in Tokyo anyway, are blasé about foreigners now - old hat, no big deal. Which is nice, in a way. Nice not to be bothered, not to be singled out so much, to be more or less (on the surface, anyway) accepted as a normal resident and a normal human. It wasn't always so, and still isn't in a lot of the country. Friends living in "the provinces", in places like Tochigi and Shikoku, report of still being viewed as constant curiosities.

And though our stuff has melded with theirs, piling on to the layers and years, my grandparents' house is still full of relics, turning up unexpected memories at every sifting. Same as it ever was, and different too.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Kama-kama-kama-kama-kama-kama-

DON'T drive to Kamakura from Tokyo if you can help it. Take the train.










I hadn't visited the Daibutsu since I was a kid, so it was nice to see him again. As temples go though, it's a bit stark. The Buddha is the only thing there really, and though he is impressive, there's only so much staring you can do. Then you can pay the extra 20 yen to go inside. Hey! He's got windows in his back! Ventilation! Cool! Makes the whole thing seem like a giant nesting doll.




More rewarding is Hasedera, right down the street. Lovely gardens and nice temples with more do-dads and stuff to poke around. The major highlight is the cave, which is very Goonies-esque, and filled with interesting nooks and crannies.

Friday, July 06, 2007

judder (chudder)

A few days ago I was CONVINCED that chudder was a word; but looking it up in the dictionary, didn't really find anything that substantiated my idea.

Listening to Car Talk today, the Tappet brothers used the word "judder". A-ha! I thought. THAT'S what I was after.

judder:
1. to vibrate violently: an old automobile with a clutch that judders.

Love the sound of that.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

ghost shower


Alone in the house.

I. was away for the weekend and I was enjoying the time to myself. Everything at my own pace. I fed the cats and finally got up to bed around midnight. Early morning class meant I would get about six hours of sleep if I was lucky.

As I was drifting off to sleep, I thought I heard the clink of a cat's collar. Tux coming upstairs to crawl into bed with me. I nickered at her, but she didn't come. I looked around the bed. No Tux. Guess I was wrong.

Drifting off again. Thought I heard water. But the houses are so close together here - you can hear clearly what's going on next door, sometimes as if it's your own house. Finally asleep.

The next morning, I stumbled downstairs to take a shower. Funny, the floor of the shower room was wet. It's not unusual if someone's taken a shower in the last few hours. But I hadn't showered since the previous morning. Weird. It is really humid right now, being tsuyuu and all. It was probably just with all the moisture in the air, the water from the day before hadn't evaporated yet.

Taking a shower, I noticed that the soapdish was full of water. Yuck. A pet peeve. I shower in the tub so that the drain doesn't fill/clog too fast and so that the soapdish doesn't fill with water. I. always leaves the soap swimming mushily in a puddle, and when I come into the shower, I routinely drain it. But I.'d been out of town since Wednesday. I thought I'd drained it since then. But maybe I didn't.

Off to work. Didn't lock the house, as usual. Forgot about it.

The next morning, though, it's still humid. It's still tsuyuu. But the water from the previous morning's shower had completely evaporated and the shower room floor was totally dry.

Am I daft?

Friday, June 01, 2007

Lullas at Midtown


They played at the new huge swanky swishy posh and flashy Midtown mall where a choc truffle will set you back 5000yen... but they offer free live concerts in the atrium, which is pretty nice, and apparently they pay the players handsomely.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

meretricious

Thanks to Billy Bryson for this one - means tawdry, alluring by flashy showiness.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Melaka. Youlaka?

fountain in Dutch square
We took the bus from Mersing to Melaka, saying goodbye to the charming Dutch family that we had met on the ferry. After watching the green Malaysian scenery fly by for a few hours, we landed at the Melaka bus station, where we were immediately accosted by various point-men who thrust their flyers in our faces, entreating us to go to their motel. This was actually welcome, since we hadn't bothered to sort out lodging and we ended up at the adequate Kota Lodge, which is located behind the lustrous Baba House in Chinatown.
baba house
Off to Chinatown in the night, winding through the gilded roads and by the grand shophouses and onto the red paved plaza of Dutch Square, and then to a little alley lined with hawker stalls. Upon closer inspection, we found that one of the first few stalls was selling Indian food. When asked if he had anything vegetarian, the proprietor said "of course" and ushered us to a cracked plastic table set with an assortment of dishware. He began to make roti, working the dough balls in his hands and frying them on his portable griddle. Soon we had piping hot fresh roti and plastic bowls filled to the brim with a smooth and spicy yellow dal. I ate my fill of a bowlful of dal and a few rounds of roti; I.L. had two bowls and several rotis. Sharing our table were several other people of various ethnicities but probably the same nationality (other than us), all chowing down happily. Sated, we paid the bill of about 5 ringgit: about USD1.50, including drinks. A great introduction to Melaka. On the way back to the hotel, we were caught in a tropical downpour, torrents of rain soaking us to the point that resistance was futile. I didn't mind. I was full, happy, and in Malaysia. We ducked in and out from under the porticoes, admiring the tilework inlaid on the sidewalk and the shop fronts.
pavement inlay
The next few days were just as charming. We wandered around Chinatown and went to the museum at Studhuys in Dutch Square where adorable bats were hanging upside down, in repose, from the rafters. We explored Little India, with its profusion of sari shops and beautiful food: another vegetarian delight was my first experience at an Indian "banana leaf" restaurant (here's a good representation and explanation). The lunch special, another very reasonable deal, was scooped onto the enormous leaves that were slapped down in front of us as plates. Different puddles of delicious food, all vegetarian, were accompanied by rice and samosas and pakoras and drinks. No utensils in sight, everyone was eating with their non-poop hand (difficult for me - with naan or other bread I can manage it, but trying to eat a rice/soup mixture with fingers requires special skill). There's a sink for washing up before and boxes of tissues around to wipe up with after. When finished eating, the leaves are conveniently folded over to hide the mess. Beats paper plates any day.
wowzers.
We also checked out the night market on Jonker Walk (aka Jalan Hang Jebat) and then the next day checked out some of the arty stuff in Chinatown and Old Melaka. I wrote about that here. We also wandered into a coffee wholesaler run by Chinese folks. They spoke no English, and my Chinese is limited to the Mandarin xie xie. They were selling fresh ground sugared coffee very inexpensively, and I wanted to buy whole bean coffee, which was not on display anywhere. When I couldn't get the message across, I wrote the Japanese kanji for "bean" (mame: 豆) on my palm and showed it to the shopkeepers. Their faces lit up and they said, yes! yes! and they brought out a sackful, asking how much I wanted to buy. I bought a kilo, for about USD5, with many xie xies. They asked where I was from, that I was able to come up with such information but couldn't speak a word of Chinese or Malay, and I explained the Japan connection. Kanji sure is helpful sometimes.

Good times! Absolutely visit Malaysia if you can, and Melaka if you go. So far, it's been my favorite spot in Asia.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Palau Tioman


Life is slow and simple on Palau Tioman.
Thirty years on from Time magazine's naming of the isle as one of the world's top ten most beautiful, Tioman is still largely unspoiled.

Nowadays, tropical paradises with prime beachfronts are usually synonymous with resorts. Picture Hawaii, and you think of a beautiful beach with dozens of glitzy high-rise hotels cluttering up the strip. Ditto Thailand. But on Tioman, there is only one big resort, and even that is slightly more reserved than your average Hilton monolith. There's also a small airport, with a few flights a day and seeming to cater to the Berjaya resort clientele - the folks staying in the budget huts like us stuck to the cheaper ferry-and-bus route.

There are several small villages on Tioman and one larger "town" of Tekek, where the airport and some municipal buildings are located, along with a scattering of shops and guesthouses. The villages, including Air Batang, where we stayed, are little more than a cluster of huts and guesthouses grouped around the single-lane mostly dirt path, in most places wide enough only to accommodate a motor scooter, that ran alongside the beach. Some of the beach chalets, as they are called here, have open-air restaurants tacked on: a few plastic tables and chairs and a handwritten menu posted on the wall.

Huge lizards waddle along that path, darting from the jungle to the beach and back, and the horizon is empty save a few fishing boats floating in the distance. A thirty second walk to the beach, and after, cold water showers and mosquito coils on the porch as I hang out my sarong and write in my notebook. Not much to do but.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Singapore and beyond


We decided on Singapore for Golden week, mostly because we had a reasonable amount of time - just over a week - and it was the cheapest place we hadn't been yet.

Cheapness has its drawbacks, though, and one of them in travel is the preponderance of funky, badly timed redeye flights on the bargain end of the spectrum. This particular gem's itinerary was kept a secret from us until a few days before takeoff - it was then revealed that we would arrive in the wee hours of the morning, effectively rendering a good part of the next day useless in our exhausted state.

We decided to suck it up and skip sleep, opting instead to hop on the first bus to the Malaysian fishing village of Mersing at 630 a.m. After cabbing into Singapore, it was 3 a.m., and we spent a few hours wandering around the pristine empty streets with their neat rows of shops and absence of detritus. How unlike Hong Kong, Taipei, or even Tokyo it was. Our bus was to depart from the Golden Mile bus depot and food hawker center, which was adjacent to the Arab Quarter and Little India. A few bars were open, with a few lonesome revelers occasionally wandering out of the doors, but mostly it was quiet. Finally, exhausted, we stumbled into a Hotel 81, an inexpensive-ish efficiency hotel chain, and took their transit rate (a fraction of the regular rate) for a few hours' sleep. Hot and sweaty outside at 3am, freezing inside with no windows and no way to turn off the a/c.

Finally grabbed the bus to Mersing, the Malaysian fishing village that offers a ferry to Palau Tioman, location Bali Hai of South Pacific and tropical island extraordinaire. We alit at the village called Air Batang, also known as ABC beach, and chose the simple and ridiculously inexpensive beach "chalets" at Mawar Beach. Beautiful beach, friendly stray cats, simple cheap dinner at the open-air restaurant. Sleep! under mosquito netting and buffered additionally from the bugs by the fan.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

In Memory of Nami Pricer

Big-sister role model, rad drummer, great taste in music, wry sense of humor, funny as hell, wonderful sister, fantastic daughter, loving mother, friend. You will be sorely missed.

May you go in peace, Nami.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

pink forest




At the beginning of April I were able to o-hanami at Negishi Shinrin Koen in Yokohama. Even though it was raining, it was a magical experience, wandering around the enchanted pink orchard, like a scene from Kurosawa's Dreams, or a cotton candy cloudland.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Here's to Don Ho


I was a dishwasher at M's Italian restaurant in Corvallis for a couple of years during high school, a job several friends also ended up with by association during my tenure there, ensuring that it was usually a semi-enjoyable though smelly and damp experience.

While it wasn't the best job ever, I have fond memories of drinking shakes and spraying prep cooks who got too close to my station while slinging traysful of glasses into the excellent Hobart dishwashing machine.

Some of the waitresses were bitchy and some were friends, but almost all of the cooking staff were down with the dishdogs. They would make us signature pizzas or let us make our own, and we'd joke around in the parking lot on breaks.

The cooks had a record player in their area with a crateful of crappy old LP records. We'd play Creedence and Lynyrd Skynyrd and a host of other classic rock dinosaurs. None was more welcome, though, than the sweet strains of "Tiny Bubbles".

It would start with that swaying guitar riff, and then Mr. Ho's velvety voice: "Tiny bubbles... in the wine..." This was how we knew the night was over. T. would put the record on when the last order had gone out and no more were coming in, as we were breaking down the grill and bussing the tables. This was a moment of such glee that often the whole staff would sing along, full throated: "make me happy... make me feel fine!"

Of course, the end of the night for the cooks was only the beginning of the end for the dishwashers. We still had to clean all the cook's tools that were brought to us, the grills and utensils and sometimes, horribly, the huge sausage roasting pan, utterly repellent to a vegetarian such as myself. And the last order meant there was still at least a tableful of dishes waiting to be subjected to the merciless stream of my sprayer.

"Tiny bubbles... make me warm all over..."

Still, though, it meant the end was in sight. People were starting to clock out, to have a winding-down drink at the bar. During this time, T. would let the record play fully, and I got to know well all the songs on it. "Beautiful Kauai", "E Lei Ka Lei Lei". But inevitably we'd cycle all the way through the record, both sides, while finishing up the trays of silverware and lasagna boats with stuck-on cheese. And as the dishwasher (or two, if it was a busy weekend night) was finishing up, we'd put the song on once more. "Here's to the golden moon", I'd hum along, running the disgusting rubber mats through the Hobart. "And here's to the silver spoon", I'd croon along, pulling the last tray of silverware out of the machine. "And mostly, here's a toast to you and me!" as the last tub of wine glasses came through.

Finally, after spraying down the sink area and slinging my sopping wet, tomato stained, smelly apron into the laundry bag that also resided in my station, I'd grab some bread rolls and clock out, to go into the night and teenage adventures. Still humming Don Ho.

"With a feeling that I'm gonna love you til the end of time."

Don Ho, you will be missed.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

little vegan yummies

Friends Amp and Lourdes have released a vegan cookbook, Little Vegan Monsters. Buy one now and help out Farm Sanctuary at the same time!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

trumpet practice and jan-ken-pon

Today, scooting past the fields on the way to Machida, I caught the strains of someone practicing the trumpet in the middle of the rice paddies.


And on the way back, I pulled up behind a minivan. A little girl's head popped up in the back window and she grinned and waved at me. I waved back. Another little head, about four years old, popped up. Both giggling, they continued to wave at me and give me the peace sign. A third head popped up, this time a little boy. They started playing rock-paper-scissors remotely. The girl won, then I won.


The light changed.

Friday, March 30, 2007

la isla bonita


For our last full day in Taipei, we headed up to Danshui, the end of the MRT line and the place where the river empties into the sea.

An old port town, Danshui is the home of a university, and several forts dating from the times of Dutch and Portuguese trade and expansionism. One of these forts is Fort San Domingo. Though it's not an incredibly striking building, it was interesting to learn about the local history and especially the role the Dutch East India company played in opening China to trade. Again we were able to borrow English earphone guides, this time for a rental fee. Though they were helpful, they were not as thorough and polished as those at the 2-28 Museum; most of the information coming out through the headphones was written, sometimes verbatim, on the posters scattered around the fortress grounds.

After visiting the fortress and walking up and down the boardwalk, looking at the ocean, we tarried for a few minutes in the market streets. We were able again to find boba coffee, which was exciting, this time writing down the characters for what we wanted on another scrap of paper and showing it to the juice john. Chewing on tapioca pearls, we made our way back to Danshui station. Though we had sighted a veggie restaurant sign on our walk, the shop was closed.

Back in the city, we disembarked from the subway at Minquan West Road, intending to check out Caves bookstore, the notable English language bookstore. Unfortunately, again, they didn't have much in the way of Taiwanese lit in translation - perhaps a few countable on one hand, and very expensive. We then found a veg restaurant with a buffet - Song Ching - where we enjoyed a very fresh, cheap, and varied heaping helping of dinner.

We had planned to go to see Chinese opera at Taipei Eye - the LP had said there were performances on Thursday through Saturday evenings. Showing up about an hour before the supposed showtime, though, we were disappointed to find out that the LP had been wrong: showings are only scheduled on Friday and Saturday nights. As it was our last full day in Taiwan, we had missed our chance. Note to self: write LP and tell them about this mistake in their guidebook.

We headed again to the Shida night market, as it was the same neighborhood as the cafe we had been told to visit, Mo!Relax, owned by some friends of friends. This was a great place, and the young proprietors Dizzy and ShiChi were so super cool and friendly. He's a designer, she's a translator, and they use the cafe as an office, working on their own projects at the same time as overseeing the business. When we went, all the tables were full of friendly lounging hipsters, many with laptops. Definitely a rad place to hang out, feeling more like a living room than a cafe, with a homey atmosphere and shelves full of cds and design books. I'm in the process of co-writing an article about these guys for Ping Magazine, so more on them to come. But in the meantime, an excellent place to check out if you find yourself in Taipei.

At about one a.m. we said our goodbyes, laden with gifts from the gregarious couple, and caught a cab back to our hotel for a few winks before having to pack up and head back to Tokyo.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

yangmingshan


Something that's a nice change about being in Taiwan is that people smile. They're curious, interested, helpful. They don't give the stone-cold stare or look at you funny for being in their general vicinity.

We went to Yangmingshan National Park for a look-see. Setting off from Taipei main station, we plotted our day at a Mr. Brown's coffee shop. I was leery of this place, because they have a brand of canned coffee that's not that great. Well, I used to like canned coffee. But the novelty's worn off. And I mostly can't stand the stuff anymore. But the coffee shop was quite decent, their lattes and cakes made and served with skill and attention to detail. A pleasant surprise. We found, after some searching, the bus to Yangmingshan. The LP advises that it's possible to catch the bus from Zhongxiao road. It turns out this is true, but the line begins on the north side of the station, outside the train terminal.

It took about 30 minutes or so to get to the bus drop off. From there, it's a short hike to the visitors' center. Unfortunately, the maps provided there are not helpful for walking in the area. There's an English map for sale in the giftshop which we didn't buy.

Yangmingshan park is very beautiful. Too bad we didn't get to see very much of it. The weekday shuttle bus is infrequent and the bus stops are poorly posted. We wanted to see the waterfall, but it was a really long hike and we couldn't figure out how to catch the bus, even with the help of the welcome center staff. We sat around what we thought was a bus stop for at least an hour, feeding squirrels, partridges, and a really cool bird with a long blue tail that would occasionally swoop in and steal some bread.

Finally, tired of waiting, we went out to the main road and managed to flag a cab down. She had no idea what we were saying when we tried to pronounce the name of the waterfall, but I had written down the characters and showed them to her and recognition dawned on her face. She drove us there (it would have been a very long walk indeed) and we hiked down the last little ways to see it. Lovely; but it was getting dark already and we had a slim chance of catching the last shuttle bus. Either that, or we would have to try to flag down another cab on the lonely mountain road.

Fortunately, just as we emerged from the woodsy path and onto the road and to the bus stop, the shuttle appeared. From the bus plaza we caught another bus back into the city and wended our long way down the mountain, surrounded by students and folks with flowers and vegetables sticking out of their shopping bags.

We found a veggie restaurant at Taipower station called Su Yuen and then hit the Shida night market, where we finally achieved boba iced coffees with the assistance of a helpful teashop keeper. Chewy cool deliciousness.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

raining today


Today we wanted to go to the national park, and headed to Taipei main station with that goal in mind. It's drizzling as we get some lunch. It's raining as we exit. And by the time we start looking for the bus, it's pouring. Nix that idea.

Instead we hopped over to check out the 2-28 Peace Park and Memorial Museum. The park is pretty, with gardens and a big monument to the events of 2/28/1947, but the museum is what stands out.

Aided by the free English earphone guide (the signs are mostly in Chinese), we learned a lot about the history of Taiwan since WWII. Especially interesting was learning about the role of Japanese imperialism and the clash between the Communist party on the mainland and the Nationalist party headed by Chiang Kai-shek. I liked this better than the National Palace Museum - though the artifacts there were beautiful, I found it much more interesting to learn about the history of Taiwan through the stories of its people.

We headed again to Taipei station for some more veggie buffet excellence, then over to the Shilin night market to peruse the scene. Checking out the youth and fashion over there, it's noticeably more casual than Tokyo - still cute, but much more laid back. Illustrating this is the fact that there are way more flat shoes in Taipei. You still glance the occasional high heel, but even these tend to be kitten heels, and not the killer three-inch and higher fuck-me pumps that all the débutantes in Tokyo seem to wear. Refreshing, that.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

First full day Taipei


We got a late start, sleeping in at our cozy little hotel. Luckily, the MRT station was at our doorstep. Soon we alit at Shilin station, two blocks from which was rumored to be a vegetarian restaurant. We hadn't gotten 50 feet from the exit, though, when the sign jumped out at us: "Vegetarian Kitchen", the sign exclaimed, under some other Chinese characters. We went right in and were greeted in a friendly manner by a man who introduced himself as Ken and had lived, he said, in North Carolina. He helped us with the menu and talked to us about Japan, where he got deals on freeze dried coffee and other imported wonders.

We proceeded on the bus to the National Palace Museum, an impressive place surrounded by a lush green valley creeping up into the surrounding mountains. Inside is housed a wonderful collection of Chinese art dating thousands of years back. The whole place smelled gorgeously of jasmine and had many fetching exhibits and plenty of elbow room. My favorite exhibit was the one about seals, or hanko, as they are known in Japan. Though everyone here uses them instead of a signature on important documents, I have yet to get one of my own, instead using one of the family's whenever a delivery needs to be signed for or I need to open a bank account. The exhibit, though, was beautiful, and featured some prehistoric seals as well as videos detailing the craft of seal-making. Now I'm inspired to design and have made one of my own, to register with the city office and use on my letters and documents. The thing that most struck me, I think, was the way that the seals were added to artists' canvasses and so became a part of the artwork.

After the museum, we headed back into downtown. On the way there, we passed many houses and apartment buildings that, though in no way as decrepit as those I saw in Hong Kong, still had an air of gentle decay about them. This was most obviously manifested as rusting and crumbling. Remarkably, a good deal of the residences we saw had, in addition to the abundance of greenery in the surrounding areas, their own trees and other potted plants, tumbling from balconies and climbing up railings. It seemed to me that nature was attempting to reclaim the buildings of the city, and that the city was in agreement.

We made a stop at the excellent Eslite bookstore in search of Taiwanese literature in translation, but alas found none. The LP recommends "Notes of a Desolate Man", which they didn't have, but which I've ordered from half.com and is on its way.

As night fell, we headed off to the night markets. First though, we ducked into Longshan Temple. And we were so happy that we did! This temple is a cacophony of light and sound and smell. As we entered past the wall of glowing lanterns and the prostate monks and blind masseuses, we were assaulted by the dazzle of the courtyard. Everything is gilded and gleaming: golden detailing on the ornately carved roof corners; myriad sculpted animal figures cavorting in groups and lit from within - dragons, pigs, birds; a huge incense pot and people praying under fringed lanterns; vendors hawking food offering and incense in elaborate piles. The temple houses many religions - Buddhism, Confucianism, and ancestor worship at least, along with probably a few others. The multidenominationalism adds to the general clamor of the place and makes it, in my estimation, much, much better than Disneyland. Head to Longshan Temple for light, color, and spiritual revelation. I offered some incense to my ancestors and headed for Snake Alley.

First, though, we were hungry, and on the way to the market I spied the character that means vegetarian: 素 (su). Upon closer investigation, this sign hovered over a stall selling steamed buns, one of which was veggie. We purchased a pair and bit tentatively into them. Delicious!! I think they were NT$10, which works out to about thirty cents for the both of them.

Into Snake Alley for a peek where, mercifully, I didn't see any snake disembowelment. Tired by that time, we just idly perused the wares before hopping back onto the subway in order to as quickly as possibly crawl into our freshly made beds.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Ni hao Taipei

We touched down in Taipei about ten p.m. It's called Chiang Kai Shek airport, or so I thought, but then I noticed a funny thing: on signs and postings, the airport seems to be called the Taoyuan airport. I wondered if this was to disassociate from CKS himself, and it seems this is so.

Driven into Taiwan by an extremely friendly cabbie, we got our first taste of the character of Taiwanese people: chatty, smiley, and eager to converse and help out. He tried to teach us some words and to demonstrate the tones using "wo". Which means "I" and "car" and some other things, I think. We repeated after him, trying to mimic the different intonations, and he just laughed at us. Well. He dropped us off just in front of our obscure hotel. We checked in to the Yo Tong Regency, a small but friendly and standard business hotel with extremely convenient access to Zhongxiao Dunhua station - our elevator was only steps away from the subway entrance. The staff is really nice and helpful, lending ethernet cables and extension cords and otherwise being generally useful. We ventured out into the late night to find a chain of tea shops open right behind the hotel. We fumblingly ordered two ice coffees, which were huge and came, milky and sweet, in half-carafes, filled to the brim. Buzzing with the caffeine and neon, we retreated to our 13th floor room and slept sound til morning.

Friday, March 23, 2007

itazura

Kenta, one of my most impish students, was terrorizing Ms. K. "Yada!" she reprimanded. "Cut it out!"

Kenta scurried away and she shook her head. "Itazura" (悪戯) she told me.

Means michief. Or Itazura-ko, mischievous child. Which Kenta certainly is.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Very Important Moss and other great attractions


On our last full day in Kyoto, we readied ourselves for a hearty tramp and caught the bus up to Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion. Contrary to its name, the pavilion is not silver, at least not literally. There's a lovely garden attached, and luckily for us, it was a Tuesday, so not too crowded. But still crowded enough - I can't imagine how bad it must be on a weekend. I'd love to go back when it's even more sparsely attended - I've heard that in the fall, at night, they light up the place and the pavilion glows. To console us, though, for the lack of glow, we were treated to a small exhibition with little snatches of the various kinds of moss that could be found around the garden. They had little descriptive labels, one informing us that the sample before us was "VIP moss (like Very Important Person)". Suitably impressed, we continued our ascent to the overlook of the garden, and I was struck by the amazing shelves of sand that are formed into ridges and waves that aren't so extraordinary from below, but which assemble into a remarkable pattern when viewed from above.
Next we strolled along the Path of Philosophy, a lovely cobbled lane next to a spit of a stream, but which passed by many other temples and shrines. We stopped at a little shrine along the path, of which I've forgotten the name, but which was dedicated to some animals, most notably the rat and the fox.

Back to Shijo for a last round of shopping and visited the wonderful Morita paper store, a bit off the main drag, which has a gorgeous array of handmade paper. I. picked up a sheaf in various beautiful shades of green for printing his record insert, then we were off to Kyoto station to catch our train back to Yokohama.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

nara


Again to the inescapable Nara, which we seem to visit every time we go to Kinki. But who can resist petting hordes of wild head-butting deer, clamoring for shika senbei? We bought some right off the bat and I. did much better with not freaking out while feeding them. The trick is to hide the crackers in a pocket or deep in a bag and only take them out one by one, preferably not in the middle of a crowd of them.

Then on to Todaiji, the biggest wooden building in the world, reportedly, and home to a wicked cool big buddha. And, AND, it was not crowded. Which meant there weren't huge crowds pressed around the pillar with the hole the same size as Buddha's nostril. Which, if you can wiggle through it, means that you can reach enlightenment! And, AND, I did it! As did M! We are getting to nirvana! Wicked!

Back to Kyoto because the National Museum was closed (Monday, duh) and tramped up and down Shijo avenue, the main shopping street in Kyoto, looking for paper, frivolous shoes, stamps, and a yukata for M's mom, which she found in Teramachi arcade. On the way, we were handed a flyer for an Indian restaurant by a miserable and freezing cold-looking man, so after some of our missions were accomplished, we wove through the alleys looking for Ajanta Restaurant. We were not disappointed - the food was excellent.

Back to the White Hotel to rest our aching feet.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Sunday in Kyoto


M. is in town, so we trekked down to Kinki for a long weekend looking at the ancient cities.
Checking in once again to the White Hotel after availing ourselves of the slightly cheaper and slower Puratto Kodama shinkansen, we prepared to squeeze some sightseeing into the rest of the day.
One of the closest big temples to Kyoto Station is Sanjusangendo, which I hadn't visited before. We hoofed on over there and arrived at about 330, just in time to get a good gander at the thousand and one Thousand Armed Kannon statues held inside. So cool! No pictures allowed, but just being in there among so many carved-not-cast statues, obviously made with care and great detail, was fantastic. Except for the idiot boy tourists behind us who kept making stupid comments.

After, since it was still light, we walked over toward Kiyomizudera, which I went to last year when J. was here. We didn't pay to go in, but did gawk at the pagoda a bunch and trolled the shopping streets of Teapot Lane (on Teapot Hill) and Sannenzaka. I. and M. sampled many pickles at a traditional pickle shop, and I bought a packet of cinnamon an-filled mochi triangles, the Kyoto specialty.

Finally, we strolled up the river to Gion and walked around the area. Just when it looked like we were out of luck, a maiko came clattering along one of the narrow cobbled lanes, completely decked out in finery.

A fitting end to our first day in Kyoto.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

moonlighting

the act of holding two jobs, one your "real" job, the other an extra, often worked at night.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

fushinsha


不審者:
a suspicious person. As in, "Get your fishy fushinsha-ass out of here!"

Last year, walking back from Naruse station, we passed as usual the little mom-and-pop drugstore, with its displays of multicolored toilet paper on sale. Out popped a guy from the recesses of the shop, wearing some kind of school uniform and carrying a gym bag. He looked like he was in his late teens to early 20s. Accosting us, he let loose a barrage of words, at the same time brandishing a sack of potatoes.

"Sorry - wakarimasen." We didn't understand him, not at the rate he was going.
He effortlessly switched to English.
"Right now, we are in the middle of a national campaign! It is a very important cause that allows me to offer you these potatoes for only 300 yen!"

300 yen? The bag held about 5 sad little potatoes. I could buy the same bag at the market across the street for 150.

We tried to brush him off, saying we weren't interested, but he dogged us down the street for about half a block more. Finally he gave up, trailing off behind us.

We thought we had seen the last of him. But, telling the story that night, it turned out he had also approached C. in our neighborhood with the same line.

Monday, March 05, 2007

sano, nikko-shi


Hit up Sano again to hang out with R. and K. Pretty low key this time, mostly looking at thrift stores (always on the lookout for Goccos; also currently seeking frivolous shoes) and walking around. We did hit an osenbei factory in Nikko city; we also checked out the foot-onsen outside of Kinugawa onsen station, but it was too crowded to go in; too bad.
Ume trees are in bloom about now, and there are lots of little temples and shrines near K's house in Imaichi. We walked around several; at one we found a stack of boxes marked with the Buddhist manji symbol, meaning harmony and balance. Better known in the West as the swastika, but in fact appropriated by the Nazis, the Buddhist incarnation usually faces left, not right.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

hamamatsu



We went to Hamamatsu city on the weekend to see C. run in her very first 5K. After work on Saturday, I. and I hopped on the bullet train down to Shizuoka prefecture and were picked up at Hamamatsu station by C. and Mom.
C. had booked us into the Grand Hotel, which is pretty imposing. Ugly on the outside, but pretty nice on the inside, with all the bells and whistles. After checking in, we dropped off our bags and headed back downtown to check out the Indonesian restaurant they had peeped before we arrived, Surabaya. Good food, including tempe! and other yummy veggie things. The staff was pretty accommodating about making stuff veg, too.
The next day we went to the marathon area, a few stops from the center of town and then a bit of a walk from the station. Hundreds of people were present, milling around and getting ready to run in various incarnations of the race - a kid 3k, a 5k, a 10k, and a 10 mile run were all options for the participants.
C. ran in the 5k, and paced herself like a pro, going slow and steady. There were several crazily dressed runners, food booths, and dancers cavorting around to keep us busy while she was on the non-visible part of the course, though we stationed ourselves along the way to give her a hearty "GAMBARU!!" as she passed. She clocked in about 30 minutes later, beating her personal best and emerging victorious! Yay Cassass!

She and mom have been wearing pedometers and counting their steps over at WalkerTracker, and I have been inspired by them and jumped on the bandwagon. Called manpokei (万歩計)in Japanese, or "measuring 10,000 steps", the few people who have seen it clipped to my sock or my belt have felt it necessary to tell me that manpokei are for ojiisan. Lucky for me, I don't mind being compared to a grandpa. I am, after all, getting pretty old.