Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Don't ask me to cook Japanese food for you. Jennifer and I made a feast for our families and as I'm typing this my mom is puking in the bathroom. The octopus balls didn't agree with her. Everyone else is OK, but she's suffering man.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Time flies here in the ol US of A. I can't believe that I've already been home for a week. It was awesome to hang out with people in the Twin cities and home life hasn't been that bad. After some serious consideration. I think that i like living in the US better than living in japan. That said, I'm looking forward to hanging out with all the homies back in Nagano. Well, i guess that means Lara, Shane and Dawn. With luck there will be some lovely powder snow waiting at Myoko Suginohara so that I can actually use the half day passes that I bought with my hard earned money. Cheers for now, I'm heading to see the old country, Sioux City Iowa.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

It's a long week when you're waiting to go home after almost a year and a half. This is the 24 hour stretch here, this is the money shot. We head out tomorrow morning at about 7:30 and the plan is to avoid sleep until then, well actually until we get on the plane, but you all know me and cars, out like I was hit with a bat. I've still got to get a little last minute stuff for peeps back home, mostly the gallons and gallons of sake that i'm bringing back. It's cheaper than beer here by a long margin and quite good, not like the skunky stuff you get back in the US, but more on the relative merits of alchohol later, I'm heading for the promised land. Head East young man, head East!! It's manifest destiny in reverse!

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Ok folks, here's the itinerary for the upcoming holidays.

Leave Japan at about 2:30 pm, December 18th (saturday) and arrive in the Twin Cities at 2:00 pm. Freaky.

We plan on staying in the twin cities for the next couple of days, going home on Monday sometime in the late afternoon, early evening after gorging ourselves on such regional specialties as Steak, Ethiopian, and Holy Land deliciousness. We hope to spend some time with all our favorite people including, but not limited to; Ben and Marye, Emi and Tim, Timmy Pavlish, Paul, Annie, and with the possible strange reunion of my former roomates, Doug, Alf and Jude. This seems unlikely as certain members of the enterage have become estranged over an incident involving Chinese virgins. With luck no other virgins will get in the way of a great reunion and "Fun, Fun, Fun Times." If you are lucky or willing, you may have the chance to bid, yes bid, for the chance to have two smelly travellers and about 1 metric ton of souveneirs in your house/apartment whathaveyou. Contact the comment box below for further details.

For the week immediately preceeding Christmas we will be lounging in comfort in the fabulous burg of Ames, Iowa, home of the Husker Stomping ISU Cyclones; the biggest bunch of nitwits ever to tear down a goalpost.

After fattening ourselves for a week or so, we fully intend to travel East to Amherst Massachusetts to visit our good and somewhat thinner and bronzer friend Meghan Greeley who will have just returned from 2 years in balmy Guinea in equitorial West Africa. From Amherst there is also a good chance that we'll meet Steve and Yarrow, where we will swap stories about Asia.

From the East we'll head back to our home high in the still snowless Japan Alps where we will attempt to recover from jetlag and begin teaching RIGHT AWAY!

We have shitty 100 yen and cheaper gifts for ALL of you, so don't delay, the time is right, let us sleep on your floor Saturday and Sunday night!!!.
Jennifer and I sat down today and got out our map of the US in an attempt to narrow the focus of our future domicile. We decided, after reflection on our household's worth of shit stored in her parent's basement, that we should really make an effort to set up an actual household somewhere. THis would of course be in a city with a nice cosmopolitan feel, a population of no fewer than 500,000 and no larger than 24 million. We would have to have access to at least one world class institution of higher learning, or at least a university with a world class urban sociology/education program. We also figured that the place must have ready access to outdoors activities such as cycling, rock climbing and hopefully cross country skiing. There must be a thriving and diverse immigrant community, if for no reason other than that we really like to eat. The Bible Belt has been ruled straight out.

The list as it stands, is in no particular order:

San Francisco
Twin Cities

Some outliers include New York and at the behest of our good friend Lara here, Montreal
I spent a really enjoyable evening with my (former, now quitting) boss and his family last night. It was really great to be hanging out with a family, even if they aren't my family, for a change. Aside from the fact that I really don't want to be a parent full time, I had a blast with Tomo's son, Yuma. Yuma's about 4 and a half and the kid's absolutely addicted to Disney. His platelets look like mouse ears, no shit. Tomo hates Disney, as well he should, they've successfully colonized this country with an efficiency that would drive the Conquistadors green with envy. You can name any Disney/Pixar/animated feature from the past 10 years and this kid can tell you the characters names, and what's more the names of the actors who did their voices, English and Japanese. Wow, I would like to have him on my Trivial Pursuit team.
It was really nice to hang out with Tomo and his wife Kayo. I realized while there that I had first met his family a year ago and Tomo over 15 months ago. Odd to think that I've been here that long, and that I've seen kids getting noticely older while to me it's just another year. I'm scared of all the shocking things that have happened in my absence from the US.
I went solo as jennifer was rather preoccupied with packing for our impending return to the Motherland. In a little under a week we'll be back in the Midwest, home sweet home. Tonight we watched "Garden State", directed and starred by Zach Braff. It's a fabulous movie about coming home all screwed up and getting your head back on straight. I recommend it to anyone as a good film and I found it to be particularly fitting as a person who's been out of touch with his home for a long time.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

I'm getting a little antsy about the impending trip home. IN a little over a week and a half, I'll be back in the US. I honestly can hardly imagine the joy, the rapture and the culture shock of being back home. I'm soooooo sick of Christmas here. It's just as shitty as Christmas back home, the incessant music in all store (including my office) the shopping bonanza signs and everybody on shopping spree all over town, but there's none of the hopeful family feeling that was cruising under the surface in the US. Here people go "Christmas Shopping" for themselves. My new shirt, it's a present FOR ME! I guess that's one thing that the Japanese take to heart, a reason for shopping. I'm living right in th middle of Consumerville, next to Packaging Square, on Shopperset Ave.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

I found my new vocation yesterday. Think apparently dangerous, think ice, think winter, think sliding down headfirst at high speeds.

That's right! SKELETON!

The Nagano Bobsled, Luge and Skeleton team held their open house yesterday and it was open to the public. About 50 people showed up for the event, about 25 of them foreigners. We showed up at 8:30 and got a little safety lesson at the 1998 olympic course and then we were shuttled up the mountain to the 8th turn (out of 15 turns total). We then waited our turn for the thrilling experience of shooting down an ice tube at 40 miles per hour (the pros get up to about 80-100). It was a damn scary experience the first run. The sled just kind of accelerates on it's own and you're relatively unable to steer. According to our coach we should, "Think to-fu, make the body like to-fu."
Well, the first run, i was decidedly not tofu and smacked the wall a good 8 times before sliding to a stop in the finish area. Jennifer smoked me by some 3 seconds. I kind of knew that I wasn't going to do well, I pretty much suck at things where natural grace and poise are concerned. By the second run, times were slower due to soft ice. I beat jennifer this time, to my delight, but still sucked in general. I thought "tofu, tofu, tofu..." to myself but it really didn't have any effect.
One thing that really surprised me was how safe it all felt. Once you get over the shock that you're going to be on a small piece of plastic and steel hurtling down the olympic course, it's not so bad. The sled is built in such a way that there is little chance of you actually falling off. You pretty much have to try to tip the thing over, and even then it would be difficult. Your center of mass is so low that going around those death-defying turns actually is the easiest part . The hard part is not hitting the wall coming off the turns. It was, however an ultimate rush. Physically, it's not so difficult but mentally you're on the edge. Pretty awesome if you ask me. If ever you get the chance to do Skeleton (can't vouch for luge) take it, you won't be sorry.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

I'm feeling a little stressed about the visa matters that I previously wrote about. I gotta get everything processed in 2 weeks, which as anyone knows is like lightspeed for a government bureaucracy. Good luck to me I guess. Lets not get deported now, shall we!

Friday, December 03, 2004

I had the privelage of waiting around for several hours to change my visa the other day. If there's one place you can be sure to find foreigners, it is of course, the immigration office. I really should stop by an american immigration office some time to see how they compare. I imagine that the japanese office is a little bit better since they're such bitches about letting people into the country in the first place. Apparently, if I overstay my visa, there's a good chance I get deported and fined something like $5000. If i had that much, it would still be a problem.
Sitting and watching the crowd change in the filmy haze of flourescent light and poorly delineated smoking areas was an interesting experience. I get to try guess the nationality and situation of other undesirables like myself and then to sneak a glance at their passports to confirm my hunches. While i was waiting a large, well dressed young guy came in with a stack of green (Philippine?) passports and began to fill out the forms while his gaggle of young ladies waited in the car. While it's not fair to stereotype, I must assume that they were probably "hostesses". It's kind of odd how blatant the sex industry is here. There is little pretense about it, you go to a hostess bar where you pay some pretty girl a lot of money to sit and engage in small talk with you and then if you're willing and can afford it you pay some extra cash and sleep with her. There's a small enclave of Russian women operating and living in an apartment not 100 meters from my office. They are just the modern Geisha, imported to fill a spot vacated when the Japanese became too affluent to bother with the trade.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

On a personal financial note: FALL DOLLAR FALL!! I'm going to be the richest boy in the world, assuming of course that the dollar falls to the 50 yen to the buck ratio that I dream of! I just won't be able to buy anything outside the US for a while, or travel cheaply. Se la vie.
Saturday was a pretty good day. First slept in till noon, a first for this year I think. Dawn, Lara and Shane came over and we talked the talk and drank the drinks until the wee hours of the morn the previous night, so I had to rid myself of the odious 二日酔い (futstukayoi=hangover). A wee bit later I was rock climbing, just to sober up you know. Got my kiester spanked by the rock, as will happen sometimes. In the evening we went to the Suzaka International Exchange Freakshow. Suzaka is the neighboring city where Dawn lives and the event was not actually called freakshow, but that's what it amounted to. I have never been asked the same question so many times as on this particular evening. "What's your name, where are you from, how long have you been in Japan?" I even got my genitals bumped by a really drunken guy who was complimenting my "strength". What a great time!

Sunday was pretty decent as well. I went climbing with Jodi and Lara and Shane yesterday. We tried to go to Tobi-iwa (near Sakaki, maybe I got the name wrong)but unfortunately the road is out about halfway up the mountain due to earthquake or erosion, not sure which. We instead went to Omuro (near Tomuli burial mounds) It was pretty good but I'm pissed at myself because i dropped a quickdraw into the weeds there and couldn't find the damn thing. Gotta go back this morning with some rakes ane shovels and implements of destruction to find the damn thing. Oh well, that's stupidity for you.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

It's been a while since I've posted, but we've been vacationing fiends for the past 4 days in Kyoto. It was a whirlwind expensive trip, as you might expect in the most popular tourist destination in Japan (outside Tokyo Disney, of course). We took a bunch of pictures, which will probably be ready sometime next week and right now I'll spare most of the details for some general observances.

As i've said before, there is a season for everything in japan. There are seasonal foods, seasonal flowers, seasonal hobbies and seasonal vacation spots. and this weekend Kyoto was the hot spot. This happens to be the season where the beautiful japanese maple is king. There were thousands and thousands of elderly japanese men smoking profusely, toting giant multi-thousand dollar cameras and stopping everywhere to take pictures of the beautiful things that Kyoto is so renown for. This is cool and all unless you're trying to find accomodations in a place.

Here's a quick rundown of the trip. We started off in Nagano at about 10:30 pm and arrived in Kyoto about 5 the following morning, Saturday. We immediately took the train from there to the nearby city of Himeji to see the awesome castle there. It's the one after which the imperial palace in "The Last Samura" is modeled. After checking it out, we headed off for the city of Nara which houses the biggest all wooden building in the world Todai-ji, a thousand year old temple, well it was established about 1000 years ago, but damn if the thing didn't keep burning down all the time. This particular building is about 300 years old.
THe next day we spent in Kyoto lugging our packs around, looking at some temples, castles and the like. We then found and checked into the scummiest hotel I've ever had the pleasure to stay in. It was basically a shanty town with a single set of toilets and showers and some modest plumbing. The paper thin walls provided us with an earful of the drunken neighbors "tussle on the tatami" at 3 am.
The next day we went to the old imperial palace and the "silver temple" with it's VIM (very important moss, like VIP)
After that we took the surprisingly inexpensive train to Osaka where we saw the biggest aquarium in the world, big enough to hold an adult whaleshark. It was cool.

More on it later, when the pictures are developed.

Friday, November 19, 2004

So, this week has been a draining one. It's not like I've really had that much more work than normal, but my general level of stress and apathy is getting me down. I've bungled a couple of things here, namely missing two lessons in as many weeks. I can blame it on foolishness or forgetfulness, but I think what it really boils down to is Apathy with a capital A. With a month left until we're going home for christmas it's increasingly hard to stay focused on things here. I pretty much don't care about doing a good job at work, mostly about getting through my day. That has its benefits, as in I don't really mind if a lesson is bad, as long as it fills the time effectively. It also has negatives, like, each lesson is 70 minutes of boring hell at worst and stalling tactics at best.

Oh well, this weekend we're going to Kyoto for a nice little 4 day holiday. It should be a welcome respite from the japan I know and am tired of and a foray into the uber-crowded and expensive world of tourism here. I'll be sure to pep up when I get back and post some of our pictures on the ol' website.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

This country is sometimes just perfect. Yesterday, on what I thought was going to be a rainy day, shane and I hiked up in 55 degree sun to one of the local crags and went rock climbing for 4 hours in the beautiful outdoors. The mountains are supremely beautiful with the changing leaves right now. It's just like they were painted. I can honestly say that if I liked my job better, it would be easy to stay for ever. Of course, that's just whistful thinking, but I'm a sentimental guy.
As for rock climbing, it's an interesting sport for me. Firstly, it requires a great deal of hand and arm strength, something that I absolutely lack. This is coming around though, but slowly. I think that I saw a muscle the other day as I was flexing in the mirror. It could have been just a bone or some oddly shaped tumor, but then again, it might very well be a muscle. Secondly, rock climbing is the only activity that I've done where fear plays such a big factor in success. There's nothing to really be afraid of once the gun goes off in either cycling or running, my other two sports. With rock climbing, however, there's a definite fear factor involved. If you go up the rocks and don't have your head about you, it's scary. When it's scary, you lack confidence, and when there's no confidence you are screwed.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

I was contemplating what foods to bring back from Japan for all y'all to feast on. I'm for sure bringing some mochi, the gooey rice cakes. I am also planning on bringing home a Tako-yaki maker. Tako-yaki are the "japanese fastfood" from Osaka consisting of a fish flavored pancake batter ball filled with some rice crispies, ginger, green onions and a fat chunk of octopus. You can make them with shrimp or weiners, but the official ones are only octopus.

Can you buy octopus in Iowa? If you can that's pretty wicked. Within my parents lifetime, the mighty octopus has made his return to Iowa after a several million year hiatus. The last ones there before dead frozen ones came in on trucks were swimming around in the shallow sea with things like brachiopods and gigantic ammonites. Trippy.
I just realized, fortunately, that I have to renew my visa in about a month. It's pretty crazy to think that I've been here that long. It's just been one wild ride, for sure y'all. I'm tolerating my job pretty well, particularly since i've had a good number of easy weeks in a row, and the prospect of our trip to Kyoto in another week makes it all the better. Fall has been just bitchin so far. We've had a whole week without rain (ending today) and the temperatures have been in the teens and twenties C all week. I've been here so long that I can even understand Metric intuitively. I remember one time where I was bitching about Farenheit and the rest of the Imperial system to my dad when he said, "Celsius will never catch on, the degrees are too big, 9/5 of a Farenheit degree." I didn't want to scoff at the time, but really, that's why they created decimal points. Oh well, those who know him realize that my Pa really just likes to have an answer handy no matter what the question. Go ahead and try him. Sorry Dad, but ask Mom, she'll back me up.

Monday, November 08, 2004

This is in response to the discussion started by my venerable Blog colleagues, Tim Pavlish and Ben Knudson
It is also in large part due to the fact that my brain is atrophying at an alarming rate while the brains of my former classmates seem to be rapidly stacking up the neurons, whence my attempt at a reasoned argument on the subject of the environment.

Tim started his post by bemoaning the fact that Bush is still the Douchebag in Chief with an even greater Republican majority which, among other things will gut the environment even further. Ben then countered with a stance that at first attempts to refute Tim's claims that the Bush administration is particularly more anti-environment than the populace as a whole. Ben then finishes his post with a rejoinder for us not just to talk like environmentalists but to buy like environmentalists.

I'm going to first try to respond to Ben's claims about the environment.
1. drilling ANWR is bad

why should i care about the arctic national wildlife refuge. you say anwr will be ruined. ruined for whom. ruined for caribou and marmots. ruined for tundra.
Drilling in the ANWR is bad, not necessarily because of the actual drilling, which could be done to minimize damage to the area, but because exploratory drilling in a park is symptomatic of a bigger problem; oil dependency and in particular foreign oil dependency. The US is the biggest consumer of oil in the world, importing over 54% of the oil that we burn, mostly in our cars. Though it is a somewhat different topic, this oil dependency is, I believe, one of the biggest, most costly risks to our national security. I dare anyone to come up with legitimate reasons to be involved in an Iraq without oil. New exploration and drilling does not address the root probem, that is consumption. Ben asks us to put our money where are convictions lie, is it so different to ask the government to do this as national policy? With a simple increase in the CAFE standards the government could both reduce our foreign oil dependency and spur innovation, innovation that has so far been lacking in the US auto industry. This increased requirement may have a short term cost but a great potential for long term rewards. The potential to sell increasingly fuel efficient cars to foreign buyers cannot be discounted. China, which desperately wants cars, but can absolutely not afford the oil to power the Explorers and the Tahoes and the Caprices that we currently offer, would be a prime market that could be tapped. Yes, drilling in the ANWR is bad.

2. forests should not be logged.

why should forests not be logged. maybe you would retort that logging destroys flora and fauna. why are flora, fauna, and landscape so important to you. is it the aesthetic, the value you give it...
It would be foolish to say that we should never log forests. We have a whole government department devoted to when and how we should log and mine our natural wonders. What does need to be said is that short term profit cannot override long term planning, particularly when we're talking about natural systems which regard years about the same way that people regard hiccups. Bad logging and mining practices can in a short time decimate existing populations of plants and animals, can destroy the landscape that is vital for these systems to regenerate and can introduce destructive and invasive species which will limit the fertility, productivity and diversity of future natural systems. This is a problem if we ever want to use these places again. Mines in the Rockies constantly dribble arsenic and mercury into freshwater supplies, but we want to drink from and recreate in that water. Natural pests such as fungus and pine borer beetles destroy inexpertly logged areas for years, limiting the potential for future use. Logging also increases erosion which kills off tasty species such as trout and salmon, which we would eat. Maybe just as bad is the trend for cabins or second houses which constantly invade natural stands of wilderness by cutting roads and laying electric lines and septic systems. This not to mention the gasoline required for the off-road capable vehicles required to get there. I don't say that I wouldn't love it, but Ben's right on this one. We can't all have the cabin in the woods, there won't be any woods left.

3. global warming is bad.

it isn’t that bad. and remember, humans are the great ameliorators, we can change and fix in a hurry if forced.
Bullshit. Global warming is bad. We already have preliminary evidence of rising sea levels, changing current patterns and crazy weather. When's the last time that Florida got rocked by four huge hurricanes in a year? How about Japan's record 10 life taking typhoons. It's easy to say that global warming won't make that much of a difference when one is a privelaged westerner who works in an airconditioned office, but it's going to be a lot more bleak if any of the predictions of global warming come to pass. Humans are indeed the great ameliorators, it's true, but only the ones with the money and resources can do any ameliorating. The rest of us just die. The Sahara is expanding at hundreds of square kilometers per year, droughts caused by global climate change cripple many parts of the world. Oh yeah, with a couple fewer inches of rain, the Dust Bowl days are not that far off. Now that would really suck for an Iowan, Minnesotan or Nebraskan. I sound apocalyptic, I realize. I simply wanted to point out that when something happens to the earth, it happens to everybody.

So, as a result, I'm not really looking forward to the environmental record of the past 4 years being duplicated in the next 4. Like Tim said, all that it takes is one Yes vote to cancel out all those No's.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

When one is in a foreign country one is often subject to differing views of international politics. Some of them are quite interesting and some of them make you cringe. This week will be spent explaining why Americans spent their time and votes to re-elect one of the worst presidents in recent memory. I think that we should really turn to our spiritual guides, the Canadians, for solace and reconciliation. We would have more national holidays, universal health care, decriminalized marijuana and also the nicest public servants in the known universe.

Oh Canada!!!!

We can dream, can't we.

Here is one of the perspectives of our northern neighbors.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Mild depression setting in.....
Results indicate future stupidity in the whitehouse.....
Can't . . . bear. . . thought . . . of . . . more . . . shitty . . . . government.

The great thing about this will be explaining to my students who ask, "Why is Bush American President AGAIN?" To which I must respond, "I don't really know. My country is at least half full of fools."

Realistically, I rather expected it to happen. I knew that Americans are fools, just like the Japanese, the Chinese, the Mexicans, the Germans. Hell, over half of the world is below average, I guess that it's just fair that that half gets to represent the US for another 4 years. At least now, in many ways, Bush will have to shoulder the blame for the things that he started; Iraq, the economy, the impending terrorist attacks (there will be something) and the unsustainable tax cuts. My big worry however is that things will just get fucked up even worse and by next election we'll have martial law and Bush and his "good friend" Vladimir Putin will have similar powers.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Here are some pictures from our hike last weekend. The weather was grey but afforded a good view. There's a particularly dashing one of yours truly.

This is Voting Day. I'm praying and hoping and avoiding all news outlets for the next 36 hours. Please tell everyone you know to vote. (also tell them to vote kerry, if for no other reason than he's NOT BUSH)

Sunday, October 31, 2004

I must give out due congratulations to my former teammates on the Macalester CC team. The 3oth was the MIAC Conference race on the venerable Como Golf Course. I remember the pain vividly. It looks like the fellas had a pretty good race and that, given the times, it was a pretty rough and windy day. Paul, I'm sorry that Martins escaped you for the final race. At least you look cuter in tights. Bo, nice job, and Roscoe, I'll definitely give you an 'attaboy for effort. Good luck at Regions (nationals as well, dare I say) and also next year.
I gotta give a shout out to my dear old dad. Today i recieved a perfectly timed box of halloween candy. Inside were all of the necessities for the day; halloween candy, the Toons, the Onion and 2 cans of beets. I admit, my dad took a hit for the team to the tune of $36.80, but man was it appreciated. The halloween candy is of course because today is Halloween and the beets are because I've been pining for Borscht in my diet and you can't get beets for love or money in this country. Well, actually they can be had for an exorbitant sum, but I haven't bothered to shell out for that yet.

Jennifer, Lara, Shane and I along with a good number of other folks hiked up and down Myoko-yama just yesterday, halloween-een. It was one of the better hikes i've done here and aside from it raining on the last hour of our 7 hiking, it was perfect. The typhoon last week brough a sprinkling of snow to the top of the mountain and from the summit we had a great panoramic view on a grey yet clear day. It was what I imagine perfect Christmas weather to be. I can't wait to get back to the US and get myself some real hiking boots though. My hand-me down Nike boots are just a pain to hike in.

After the fabulous trek we headed back to Nagano for one of the most fabulous pizza bonanzas ever. This guy Peter, one of the longest staying foreign residents in Nagano has established his little bistro where he whipped out tens of pizzas to an eagerly awaiting crowd. Imagine 40 people shoved in a dorm room and eating pizza 'till they puke and you have the general idea. I did 9 plus a little salad and some pasta. I could have made ten, but really who needs that. Shane likewise equalled my 9 and the friendly rivalry shall continue until the next pizza bash.

On a side note, pizza here costs about $30for a pizza-hut multi topping pizza. Compare that with the ad in the Toons for 4 medium pizzas for $14.44 from Home Team Pizza in Ames.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Why isn't voting day a national holiday? In japan they've got like 20 national holidays a year and they're doing fine. I mean, everyone loves a national holiday. Sure november also has Thanksgiving to it's name but within a similar span of time the US also has the Christmas (not official but defacto) and Newyears. We could make it kind of a stretch of holidays extending from October 31, Halloween to November 1, which we could call Spirituality Day (instead of the denominational All Saints Day) and then we could do it up right with Election Day. If that name doesn't seem so fitting we could call it "National Futility Day" or maybe "Random Guessing Day" for those people who think that we don't need to bother making any more effort to get the poor people into the voting booth.
What do you think reader(s)? Are you with me?

Monday, October 25, 2004

I think that from now on i'll refer to the Onion for my election coverage. They at least are unbiased and fair regarding their reporting practices. Just look how evenly irreverent they are.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Ok, this is mostly a facts post. I just wanted to let everyone know that while we did notice the earthquake here, nothing bad really happened in our prefecture. The 6.7 quake was centered about 100 miles from here and did a pretty good deal of damage in what is already a poor ken. I was actually rock climbing at the time and didn't really notice anything from the original quake but I did feel several of the aftershocks, including one last night at about midnight and one this morning, kind of a seismic wake up call. As I mentioned, while rock climimbing I noticed an odd shaking in the trees and what sounded like an animal moving quickly, which was probably just the earthquake shaking the ground. As we were hiking out from the climbing area in the dark we noticed one of the aftershocks though. It was pretty cool actually, first a couple of dogs in nearby farmhouses started going nuts and shortly therafter the ground started jiggling and the roof on the nearby Buddhist temple started shaking and rattling.
Jennifer had a better show. When the quake hit, it really set things to swaying and in fact started jiggling all of our liquor stash on the shelf. She ran into the kitchen to support the stuff just as the quake was ending. We're on the sixth floor which really accentuates the shaking. Even the little quakes get the lamp swinging.

I also ran a half marathon race yesterday. I tend to think of it in terms of a big fat race, but realistically there were some mitigating factors. 1. I ran the first ten kilometers in a leisurely 56 minutes, which works out to about a 9 minute per mile pace and ran the second 11 kilometers in 46 minutes which is about 6:45 per mile. I was always told that negative splits are the way to go when running a race. Had I been in shape and run the pace that we used to run in practice, it would have worked out to about 1:31 rather than 1:42. I guess that tells me that I should train more ( which I don't really, my other hobbies tend not to rip holes in my feet and give me a case of "runners runs" for 12 hours after the event). Maybe when I get back to the states I'll be more interested in late fall races, Living History Farms for example, but unless I get someone to drag me back into it, it's unlikely in Japan.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Now for a well reasoned post to sock it to all of you getting bored with my whining. I'm going to lay down the law on all of you doubters of my sincerity and intelligence. Well, mostly i'm talking to Ben, just because he's my cyber-foil.

I dislike George Bush for the following, well articulated (?) reasons:
1. The federal deficit is a goddamn nightmare. It will bite me and my generation in the ass just as it's going to hit my parents generation when social security runs dry in the next couple of years. According to the IMF, the US deficit is reaching levels where this body would chastise smaller governments and send in little IMF spies to keep the govermnet from doing stupid stuff. Here's a quote from the NY Times

The dangers, according to the report, are that the United States' voracious appetite for borrowing could push up global interest rates and thus slow down global investment and economic growth.

"Higher borrowing costs abroad would mean that the adverse effects of U.S. fiscal deficits would spill over into global investment and output," the report said.

Bush can point out the fact that the weak dollar resulting from his fiscal policies will strengthen exports, but that's a short term effect only. Long term, like when I get back to the country, will be a little less cool.

2. Bush and co. misled the American public about the war in Iraq. They didn't check their intelligence, they didn't have intelligence in some cases, and they relied on questionable sources (Chalabi anyone?).

3. Once on the ground Bush and the US military screwed the pooch, let Iraq get way the hell out of hand and then refused to admit failure by sending in the forces needed. I'm not a genius, but honestly, i saw this shit coming a year off. Regardless of the human rights abuses Saddam Hussein perpetrated against his citizenry, at least they weren't being blown up by pissed off mujahedeen on a regular basis. Iraquis are not so different from the rest of the world, they prefer the devil they know to the one with "Foreign Occupier" written on his face.

4. The Bush campaign have used scare tactics to reinforce it's hold on the American psyche. The War on Terror is a great damn catchphrase isn't it, makes you a little afeared that another turban clad crazy will blow your house in suburban middle america out of existence. Cheney himself said that the US would not be safe in the hands of another president. That's odd, they told Iraquis that they'd be more safe under US control too, what about those soldiers getting blown up every day? Are they more safe under a Bush Whitehouse.

5. Bush is crap on the environment. He vetoed the Kyoto protocol, which while not the finest piece of international legislation could have at least served to give alternative energy technologies (of which i am an ardent supporter) a kick in the pants.

6. Bush favors the death penalty and opposes abortion and stem cell research. In one case he wants to play God, "Thou shalt not kill... unless you're government sanctioned in Texas". While in the other he leaves the fate of unwanted pregnancies and mothers in trouble in the "hands of the Lord". Talk about a waffling line on life.

7. Bush is strongly connected to Consevative Christian groups and is likewise opposed to gay marriage. I am in favor of love in all its forms and I'm not comfortable putting a definition on what is good love or bad love.

8. Bush and Republicans in general did not renew the Assault Weapons Ban. Super, that's one thing that I"ve been missing out on here in Japan, my assault weapons and gun toting fellow citizens.

Now for the point where I give Bush his dues. He is strong of will. Even when the analysis, opinion and in some cases the facts are against him, he holds fast to his convictions. This is good if you're a comic book hero, a revival preacher in a pickle or if you're infallible. I don't think that Bush is any of those (not even the revival preacher).
Bush is not afraid of adversity. He sticks to his guns. Commendable, but only if you are never wrong.
Bush projects earthyness. I really think that, other things being equal, I would prefer to drink a Budweiser with Bush than with Kerry. However, i would rather drink a nice Sam Adams any day.
Bush is heartfelt and honest. I really think that he believes he's doing the right thing every day. The trouble is that, like many others, I don't think he's doing the right thing.

As for Kerry. I like what he has to say. I like that he seems to be a cautious and patient person. I like that he changes his mind. I'm not even put off by the way he may have changed his mind about the Iraq war. I've certainly had mixed feelings. I think that if put in danger or in a tough situation, he would have the strength and resolve to get through it. (Think politics in general, the threat of excommunication and well, that whole Swift Boat thing for starters) Kerry at least has pro-environmental leanings. Kerry advocates fiscal responsibility. We'll see how that goes, but at least he's thinking about it. Kerry, like Bush, seems earnest and determined on the things that are important to him.

One last note before I conclude my longest post ever. Edwards seems like a nice guy. Cheney is, in all likelihood, devil spawn.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Alf has somewhat assuaged my fears about him. He's not voting because he's made a pact with his father in which niether of them will vote because the votes would cancel eachother out. This makes a lot of sense from alf's perspective, he gets all the benefits of voting, plus he can be lazy. However, alf will miss his chance to potentially choose school board members, approve judges and maybe Congresspersons or Senators.
I have two other comments on this matter:
1. Why doesn't Alf backstab his father? By voting for Kerry from China Alf could add his sentiments to those of the millions of sane people who will not vote for George Bush while his abstaining father would be caught unawares. They don't call it a "secret ballot" for nothing. Plus such a vote would serve as insurance in case Alf's father decides to doublecross him. Simple game theory's all it is, ya gotta vote.
2. I still don't see why anyone is interested in voting for Bush to begin with. I can only imagine (based on my experience with a frustrated Alf) what sort of "swears" must have come out during the discussion.

As for me, I would honestly vote for Mickey Mouse if he were the only opponent to Bush.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

One of the nice things about Japan is that it's exceedingly easy to meet other foreigners. With so few other options for socialization here it seems that anyone who can speak English is automatically part of the club. Now it's not exactly as though i'm saying that Japanese people aren't worth hanging out with, I really enjoy talking to most of my students and I wouldn't mind seeing them in a bar or hanging out on the weekends, I do it occasionally. It's just that since my desire to study and practice Japanese has waned since getting here, so has my guilt over not having Japanese friends. My main attempt at internationalization is at the rock climbing gym through meeting people there, but for the most part, the people who hang out at the gym won't talk to me because I suck. It's a pretty clique-y country and the fringe hobbies such as rock climbing are really so. Plus, i'm not really willing or able to play into the big affable gorilla that most Japanese seem to be looking for in their foreigners. If I had the gift of gab, i'd be a popular guy.

Friday, October 15, 2004

I just got an email from doug in which he, the arch-liberal green party archetype voted for kerry, just as I did. I mailed my ballot in this past monday and just like Doug said, it feels good. Doug also apparently wants to find some sort of heathen sexpot in china, but frankly, this is to be expected. What was unexpected and in fact rather shocking is the fact that my good friend and well known anti-Bush kermudgeon Alfred Austin Shoemacher Hickey IS NOT VOTING IN THIS ELECTION!!!!
Of course rather than independently verifying it with him, i've decided to post it for all of my tens of readers to individually harass that stupid lazy hypocrite (more things come to mind, I know that his mom reads this website)
Anyway, i would like all of you to collectively overload his inbox with a flood of indignant emails. Is Wisconsin not a swing state y'all? The NY Times info-graphic says that it is!
Please, hassle Alf at ahickey@gmail.com

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Here's a little TMI* post.
Japan has some interesting ways of making a person feel good about oneself. For one, people are big into the compliments. It's like national policy to say that everything is; beautiful, wonderful, the best ever, the smartest, sooo good at Japanese. These comments are especially poured on if there is nothing close to reality about them. Just a look at Japanese TV will show you what I mean. Every program seems to be about complimenting someone on his cooking, courage, beautiful fashion or something. The mainstay of TV is made up of "variety shows" where a panel of famous or semi-famous people sit around with ridiculous haircuts and sample a wide variety of foods and drinks that are either prepared before or in the stage kitchen. At this time the panelists are all required to shout jokes at eachother and scream, "Suuuuugeeeei!" or the more gutteral surprise noise, "Arrrrruuuughhhh!?!" It's no wonder you can't get a straight answer out of people, it's their culture to sugarcoat and be amazed.
The second, and more personal way that Japan can make a fella feel good is in their clothing selection. While it's annoying and uncomfortable that none of the pants here can really accomodate a person with an actual ass, it is rather complimentary that an Average Joe like me is just TOO HUGE for Japanese brief style underwear. No way in hell that I can get comfortable in those things. It is possible that the discomfort arose principally from the Who-da-man strut that one gets upon discovering that he's the new "cock of the walk" as it were.

*TMI in this case stands for Too Much Information

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

I heard from a reputable source ( an elderly student of mine, why would she lie?) that bush was recieving live help via a radio earpiece during the last presidendial debate. As my student put it, "Therefore, he's stupid." Wouldn't it be great if that were true, that we really had a very clever robotic puppet for the President of the United States, If that were the case, we could easily impeach the impostor. Since Bush is apparently just an actor portraying the president, I nominate Martin Sheen to replace him once he's out of office. I think that Sheen protrays a much more magnanimous and respectable president than the current drawling muppet.

Monday, October 11, 2004

I've been in a sort of "Whitehouse Fever" recently. Firstly, it's October 2004, a month before the election and the fate of the free world hangs in the balance. Fucking Bush. We've been listening to the presidential debates on npr.org and have found them to be pretty interesting. I wish that I could have watched the TV version to get the whole effect, but the radio only version has a great bit of nostalgic feeling, even if it's radio downloaded from the internet and played over my laptop's speakers. I honestly thought that Bush did a lot better in the First debate than the commentators seemed to think that that he did a lot worse in the second. Kerry was pretty even both times, but honestly he seemed to kick ass in the second one. Bush just spouted off the same lines as in the first; "I know how these people think, I talk to them every day... That just ain't how it is...etc." Kerry seemed to bring new ideas into the second debate more than Bush. Of course I'm just biased, if I fucking hate that waste of 4 years in the office and all of his warmongering suplicants on the hill, of course I'm going to give him negative points for whatever he says. Likewise if I agree with pretty much everything Kerry says, of course I'm going to give him props for that. What I still have a hard time believing is that anyone can actually support Bush for any reason. Someone back home, please tip me off as to why. I can understand the reason that single issues advocates (pro-lifers, religious zealots, gun nuts, Saudi princes and the shamelessly rich) but I am just going mental trying to figure out how anyone can be "on the fence" at this point. It's getting to the point that i'm starting to have dreams about the election. Yes, I 'm voting for Kerry and yes I'm sending in my overseas ballot tomorrow.
The second form of White House Fever is actually West Wing fever. Jennifer's been downloading last season's episodes and as per usual, I'm totally entranced. It's partly because it's so fricking good, but mostly because it's just like reading Tolkien, the show transports me to another world where there are real honest good guys and I definitely know who I want to win. I can imagine for a short hour what it might be like if there were someone in the White House fighting for what I believe in. Ahh, the sweet bliss of reverie.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Ok, there have been a lot of picture only posts recently. I've run out of space on the local server and so have been using a program from Blogger that allows one at a time posting only. It works well for one or two pictures, but it takes a long time with more than that. The weekend is here and aside from the typhoon yesterday, our 8th of the season, it's been nice. Typhoons have a really particular and predictable weather pattern. They blast in one day, rain a ton and then are gone in about 24-36 hours leaving us with a usually very clear and pleasant day.
We had hoped to climb one of the mountains in the Japanese alps this weekend, Yarigatake, "The Matterhorn of Japan" but the stupid typhoon killed those hopes. I'm thinking that today we'll get out and do something, but i'm not sure what. Since becoming a working stiff at a real job the weekend has attained paramount importance to me. I feel pretty unfulfilled unless i get some outdoorsy stuff in on the weekend.

Ok, the last of the pictures today. This is a typical traffic jam in Manila. It's one of those "Traffic lights are optional" places.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Over the course of the trip we either accidentally or intentionally met up with this couple from Germany who were, "Only on a 3 week trip," about ten times. It's not so hard to find someone who has the same guidebook as yourself.

Here's the spunkiest hermit crab on the beach. While the rest of his compatriots were hiding away this dude was busy jumping off of tree branches and such.

Some of the local toughs. They were busy pushing eachother into the water when we arrived at the biggest beach that I've ever seen.

The ferocious MONITOR LIZARD!

Here is the hellish road that we took for several hours to get to the site of the world's longest underground river where a bunch of these shots were taken. We hired a van and were carted around like the imperial capitalist turds that we are. It was really convenient.

After the canoe day, i got myself a bit of food poisoning and slept for about 12 hours the next day. The following day we took a 9 hour bus ride through jungle on the shittiest roads I've ever been on to get to the city of Puerto Princesa. From Puerto we took the road in the following picture to the tiny town of Sabang where the outlet of the world's longest underground river is. We were able to take a tour of only 1.5 kilometers of the total 20 kilometer length.

The nex day we rented an outrigger canoe and paddled around for a while. Not as easy as a regular canoe, but a lot more stable.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

The hard life of a snorkel captain. Aside from the fact that this guy probably makes about $1000 per year, it's a pretty easy life.

It's a strange experience to snorkel for the first time. For a landlubber like me, it's a bit disconcerting to be able to see sunken wrecks 30 feet down as you easily float by. Of course, it's mostly about looking cool.

Here's a picture of just one of the bazillion picturesque beaches in the Philippines. If your idea of a good time is lounging on an isolated beach, you could do worse than the island of Palawan.

We spent the next day snorkeling around Coron Town. It's pretty amazing that for $9 a day you can rent goggles and snorkel and a whole boat.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Here is Coron Town where we stayed for the first two days in Busuanga. Don't let the idyllic scene fool you, all we heard all day whas the buzz and clatter of ill kept engines, motorcycle, truck and boat.

Here is a little view of the town from the top of a nearby hill. This photo was taken from the base of a giant illuminated cross.

And this is the airport. We were greeted by 4 airport employees, 6 mangy dogs, 15 chickens and 1 pet monkey.

Here's where we touched down.

We flew from Manila to the small island of Busuanga on a 15 seater aircraft. The view was spectacular from the airplane. Turquoise waters and then all of a sudden a reef or a white beached island.

This is a view of the first morning in Manila. It's already damn hot outside and we have yet to figure out how to get where we're going. The garbage pickers we saw as we entered last night have cleared out and it's rather sterile around our hotel at this time.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

I didn't really expect it, but it takes about 4 or 5 days to get back into the swing of things from a vacation. I showed up to work on monday and it was just one of those times when i thought, "Gee, what do I do next?" The whole week has kind of been like that. I mostly just show up. I started preparing my lesson for the girls highschool about an hour ago. With luck it won't suck, like other lessons that I've made. Usually I just steal ideas from Jennifer.
Today we're slogging through the dregs of what is hopefully the last typhoon of the season. It's not so bad, but it has dropped a good deal of rain on us for the past few days. Hopefully it will dry off for the weekend and I'll be able to do something fun outside again.
Sorry for the boring post, but pictures are coming soon, brace yourself.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

We're back safe and sound from the Philippines. Yay.
The week was over in a flash and at the beginning I thought that I was going to be hating life to go back to Japan, but as it turns out, round about the time I got sick, I totally changed my tune. I don't know what it is, but I really get ripped up inside on vacations. It was on our trip to Europe a couple of years ago that I really first got the travellers revenge and it was the exact same thing this time. Fortunately, I had learned about the lovely power of Loperamide!! This is the drug most commonly found in anti-motility pills and about 3-6 milligrams will stop you up like you can only imagine. It's pretty amazing how quickly it returns you to the world of the living.
This time was trying because we happened to be on an all day boating expedidtion when I first started to get sick and the combination of extremely loud motor, bright sunshine, intense heat and choppy seas made for an uncomfortable time island hopping.

Aside from the subject of poo, the trip was really a good one. Travelling was quite easy, though it took a long damn time. Something that really amazed me was that there was no language barrier. Almost everyone spoke English and most people spoke it well enough to be conversational. It puts the Japanese to shame man, it really does. You could talk to the grubbiest of boat drivers quite as easily as the desk clerk at the hotel. Travel is slow mostly, i think due to the fact that there are a lot of damn island in the Philippines. I started counting, but I lost track at 2 bazillion. I think in the whole archipeligo there are like maybe 6 or 7 bazillion. Roads are also pretty shit out in the provinces. We spent almost all our time on the island of Palawan. It took us about 9 hours to drive 100 miles, much of that over crappy dirt roads and washed out bridges. It just takes forever.

This is running on, so I'll post more about the details when we develop the film.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

It's official y'all, i've been in this country for exactly a year as of Monday. And what a year it's been. I can now speak a smattering of japanese words and phrases, i have eaten a great number of raw animals and I've not gagged on many. I've learned how to do the mighty telemark turn on skis, I've spent nights drinking under the cherry blossoms and gotten the wicked hangovers to prove it. I've been hit by a car and insulted by 13 year old girls. It's been real people, it's been real.

Thank god i'm leaving this country (if only temporarily) this Saturday. The Philippines will be a welcome respite from Japan. Not like i really hate the place, it's just that it's not as good as home in many ways. For instance, my job involves talking at ignorant highschool girls for 3 hours every week. I would rather shovel manure to be honest, if the pay were right.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

I've been flexing a lot in the mirror lately and I believe that I saw a muscle the other day. I can't be sure, but i've got a hunch that rock climbing has had something to do with that.
This is the first time in my life that I've done an arm intensive sport. From that perspective, it's ridiculously hard, my poor little pencils are just dying out there. I went climbing outdoors with Jodi today, it was rather an exercise in unbridled expectations and biting off a little more than I can chew. I tried to lead a climb, that is to climb up and put in the protecting carabiners ahead of me, and flopped miserably. Of course I picked two that looked cool and were ridiculously difficult to do-idiot. Anyway, I'm getting better and the hubris finally wore off and I managed to lead a climb successfully at the end of day. No crashes, but my toes are just murdered. It seems that my shoes expand and contract at random intervals, today they were too big for my shoes and it just killed. With luck I won't leave my toenails behind like Jodi did upon buying her new shoes.

Monday, September 06, 2004

The astute may notice that in my sidebar links area, the link to Doug's defunct website is gone and Jude's new one has replaced it. Also, i have conveniently added the website of one of my favorite publishers, Velonews. Alf's website is on the out-list and if there aren't any posts in the next week or so, it's outtahere (got that Hickey?)
How's that for a cyber-ultimatum.
I experienced my first earthquake last night. It wasn't particularliy "moving" shall we say, but it sure was cool to feel the entire building shaking for no good reason. It's all the more cool when you realize that it's not just the building, but the entire surface of the earth that is shimmying and shaking around. It was a good end to a frustrating and rainy day in which I had to fix Jennifer's 3speed belt drive bicycle. If ever I have worked on a more cumbersome project, i cannot recall when. It was a blight on my day with no uncertainty. The three hours that i pitched out the window while "repairing" her bike merely resulted in a 6km walk for her this morning as the whole rear hub came apart after my watchful and dilligent ministrations. Goddamn infuriatin.

Also, a shout out for dear old Mom. It's her birthday today, so if you're going to be seeing her soon, give her a hug from her vagrant son.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Well, we survived the eruption. Honestly in the city there have been no effects. I haven't talked to Andy yet, but I'm hoping to get some interesting info or pictures eventurally.

Another interesting thing; they're building a log house down my route to work and the thing has Pella Windows installed in all of the fittings. Those litttle sheets of glass and casements came all the way from my home state to be slapped into a log cabin in the middle of Nagano City. What a weird world. I imagine that the logs were shipped from somewhere in northern Minnesota too.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The volcano that we hiked earlier this summer Asama Sama is now actively blowing up. The bodies are scattered everywhere and the power is almost off, thank god for the battery life of this little laptop, i've only a few minutes in which to compose my last will and testament. Here goes:

Ian, you can have my stereo.
Asa, you can take my guitar.
Leah, you can take my cross country skis and crazy hats.
Claire, you get all the kitchen stuff, but you'll probably have to fight for it with Kelly. She's a pushover though.
Mom, don't worry about my student loans, I think that you don't have to pay them back if i die.
Dad, sell my bike and buy a nice urn for my ashes (if they can be sorted from the volcanic debris and the accumulated dust in my apartment)

Everyone else, just do paper rock scissors for the stuff of mine that you want.

Actually though, the mountain really is erupting and probably no one will get killed. Our friend Andy however lives only like 15 kilometers from the mountain, however. It could be a nice show for him tonight.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Yoda lives, and he's a japanese missile scientist. I have been proofreading for a professor from the local university who is actually a leading japanese expert in missile defense theory. He's really just Yoda in disguise though.
Get this, he's short, even by japanese standards, he has an unkempt mop of grey hair, he has brownish-greenish teeth from all the coffee and whatnot that he drinks and the clincher is that he makes the same throat noise that Yoda does, constantly. Who better to calculate "Force Vectors in Anti-Missile-Missle Countermeasures" than a Jedi Master? Believe me if I ever want to know about the Force, I'll go straight to Yoda.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Hey party people, has anyone been to the Philippines? If not, just wait till I get back and can tell you all how cool I am for going to such an exotic and wonderful place. If you have been there, then please feel free to give me all the advice you can. Jennifer and I are going sometime around the 17 of September, hopefully by which time the typhoon season will have settled down a bit. I've heard that the only gurantee is that there's no gurantee on the weather though. I'm hoping to have mostly sun and some serious sweat stains by the time I get back. The planning is still in phase 1, so any input would be greatly appreciated.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Today was an interesting one. I started off teaching the saturday class at the girls highschool that i pretty much hate. Moreover, the saturday class is 2 hours long, a long damn time in the annals of teaching and thirdly began at 9 which made it my earliest class of the week. When I arrived i saw 5 japanese girls and 1 blonde haired blue eyed tan skinned north american. There's an exchange student at the school and she was in the "Special English" saturday class. It was strange to have that sort of combo, not just a student who was better than the others, that's normal, but a full blown native speaker in the class. It went all right, she was a trooper and even though serious boredom clawed at her she perservered. Me, it's my job. I am no stranger to boredom. She is one of the Rotary Club exchange students and as such is a trooper. I can't imagine myself as a highschool student picking up and traveling to another country solo, much less living there for a year. It would be one thing to do as Laura Moench (Annie's first year roomate and my last summer housemate) did and travel to a European country where one may have at least studied the language and may have a chance at least of blending in, this girl however is shit out of luck in that respect, blue eyes, blonde hair, Canadian accent, the works. Good luck to anyone who can handle such a culture shock. I myself had a pretty damn hard time and I'm a quarter century old (good way of saying 25 huh) at 18 or whatever i would have folded like a wet McDonalds napkin.
After my strange english class I went rock climbing with my predecessor at my job Jodi and Lara. It was my third time to climb outside and it was soooo great to be better than the previous times. I really felt successful this time, I even started a lead climb and did reasonably well at it. I am looking forward to chances to try outdoor climbing in the future.
Lastly, i went to a barbecue where this Kiwi guy Hayden remarked, "Lemme just size those up here, good lord, you've got hobbit feet!" It was the first time my feet were called hobbity and while somewhat shameful, it was a really good slam, one of the best I've had leveled against me. Hobbit feet they are.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

I just got back from a weekend spent on the small island of Sado, about 2 hours ferry ride from Joetsu in the neighboring Niigata prefecture. Jennifer, Lara, Jodi and a new kid on the block Carrie all drove up to Joetsu at 5am and hopped on the ferry going to the island. I really like ferry travel. It's a good time to read a magazine or a book and there's something really cool about being on a big frickin ship. As there had been recent typhoon activity the swells were pretty fierce on the way out. Lots of folks were seasick, barf smell in all the restrooms. I wasn't feeling so bad, partly because I was looking out at the bounding main the whole time. I'm glad I did because I'm the only one in our whole party to have seen a whale. I've really got no idea what kind it was, medium sized something or other. It took a breath and arched its back and was gone.

After arriving at the island's harbor we walked about 100 meters to the camping are, tres convenient no? We set up our tents and proceeded on to the festival area. The whole reason for the trip was to see the Earth Festival sponsored by Japan's renowned Kodo drummers. As it turned out, we didn't get to see the Kodo drummers, but we did watch many of the other acts and some lesser Taiko drum ensembles. The highlight was probably the Saturday evening show where we saw Fanfare Ciocarlia from Romania. THese guys are kind of like a combination Jewish Klezmer, Italian traditional brass band, some German Ooompah and a healthy dose of rural rowdiness. It was a great show all in all.

Island life is always mixed for me, it's nice to be in such a relaxed atmosphere, but at the same time, it's a little claustrophobic. I am a kid of the Midwest, i really need my stretching vistas and my endless highways to nowhere special.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

And the smug look tells it all. I secretly think that I rule. Hard to believe that the handsome devil in the red jacket was hit by a car not two days previous.

Here we are at the summit, we're standing in front of a big friggin cliff, and honestly, if i'm going to go to someplace death defying, i'm not taking Lara or Jennifer. They're both pretty chicken when it comes to heights. Notice the crouch position.

As we walked up the ice the warm air hitting the snow created a great bloody fog bank that we walked through. I hate fog because it, not surprisingly, fogs up my glasses and makes it hard to see.

The first time I've really walked on a glacier. Honestly, I'm not sure that I'd really call it a glacier, but it's pretty damn close, this much snow in August is gonna stay, regardless of what you do to it.

Shane in his natural element, at 2700 m
So, i slapped a bunch of pictures up on the ol website. nothing is too new, in fact they are mostly from earlier this spring at the Ombashira festival. We're currently watching the documentary "Supersize Me", the one where the film maker takes it upon himself to ingest nothing but McDonalds for a month. It's pretty good edutainment. It's educational, not particularly biased and interesting to watch. I'll give it 2 thumbs up. Something I thought was interesting from the movie was that many of the "Nutrition Experts" or "Food Specialists" were pretty fat or flaccid themselves. I suppose it's either a case of "the pot calling the kettle black" or " maybe, "it takes one to know one".

Anyway, this week has been good. Why good? Because when it comes to the work week, short equals good. I've got a 4 day weekend this week due to the national holidays for Obon, or "Visit dead people weekend" where people go out to the cemeteries and clean and burn incense. It's kind of a nice family holiday, nobody is freaking out like for Golden Week in May.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Cheer Squad

Let's enjoy fun times.

Dazed and Confused

Community Involvement

Log Riding

Festival Food


Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Ok first, about my bike accident.
It was kind of the standard bicycle car affair, and i wasn't even doing anything really stupid. I was riding on the bike path/sidewalk along the main drag to Nagano Station when a car pulled out of a parking lot and cut me off. I tried to avoid it but just ended up smacking into the front fender and flipping over which landed me on my back, shoulder and noggin. Fortunately for me, I was wearing my beloved pink helmet (may it rest in peace). My shoulder is a little bruised and my knee as well, but according to the CT scan the next day (not my idea, the insurance company's) my brain is beautiful. My helmet is all smacked up as was my front wheel and fork. Overall it was rather a pain in the ass, but the result is fine now, I've got a new front wheel and fork and there's a fancy new helmet on order from the bike shop for me. I also got to see the scan of my brain, which is pretty cool. It looks grey and smushy, from what I could tell. The woman who hit me also dropped a box of fancy cookies off at work. It was my best bicycle accident ever.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

IN the past 4 days i've had my front wheel, fork and helmet totaled by a car, gotten a CT scan, hiked up a glacier, ascended a peak of 2970 Meters, been passed on the trail by 70 year old women, hiked for 9 hours to get down and obtained a shitty old motor scooter for free. It's been a good week. I'm pretty pooped from it all and i've got to take the bus to work tomorrow to pick up my bicyle on the way back home, so i'm not really going to write much tonight suffice to say that I'm fine and that my knee hurts a lot when i bend it, so i guess I won't bend it right now. More later of course.

Monday, August 02, 2004

The Fuji Rock Festival was held in the fancy pants ski resort town of Naeba. The whole place was in a scenic valley that also served as a channel for rain and wind.
It was a pretty stacked weekend, but all in all i don't think that I liked it as much as the Winnepeg folk Fest. For one, it was rainy, and that always puts me in a foul mood. Also, the shows had a really different atmosphere, not so convivial, that really prevented any sort of connection between the crowd and the audience. I believe that the lead singer from the Aussie band JET summed it up in his crowd interactions. "Are you with me?!? I saaaaaid are you WIIIITH MEEE? Can you understand anything I'm saying?" Whether it was the language barrier or the cultural one, I'm not sure. Even with the ridiculously loud soundstage, it must be hard to put a lot of energy out to a crowd of 60,000 moderately interested people.

However, now I can say that i've seen, Ben Harper, Jack Johnson, The Pixies, The White Stripes, Lou Reed, Primus and PJ Harvey live. Of the aforementioned, i think that Lou Reed was the biggest letdown and probably the White Stripes were the biggest pleasure to see. I did really love Primus onstage though, Les Claypool is just plain wierd. It would have all been better if the crowd hadn't been dampened by rain and by the fact that they're Japanese. It just wasn't so charged up as elsewhere.

Aside from seeing the bands i knew, the best thing is always seeing people you don't know. I really liked three new groups; Buffalo Daughter (Japanese electronica/pop fusion) Santos (Spanish nerdy but talented DJ) and most of all Simple Kid (British alternative rock). I would thoroughly recommend Simple Kid to anyone with tastes remotely similar to mine.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

It's gonna be a short post because I'm teaching a weeks worth of classes in 4 days to make up for my vacation on Friday. Why a holiday you ask? It's because of the FUJI ROCK FESTIVAL. With luck i'll be sickeningly tired of music of all sorts by the end of the week. I'll report more later.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

It's a strange day here meteoroligically. The weather in Nagano city is hot as hell and Jennifer and I are rather holed up in our apartment waiting for the storm that may never come. It's perched over the mountains to the east, releasing lightning and thunder but no rain as far as we can tell. Though the mountains are only 11K or so away from us, they seem to be hoarding the storm for themselves. . .bastards.

This weekend sees the final days of probably the least exciting Tour De France since I started following bike racing religiously some 4 years ago. I mean, it's cool and all that Lance is such a phenomenal cyclist but I was soooo expecting at least some real challenge from one of his rivals. All my guys either crashed out or failed miserably and dropped out. Honestly, I'm not a huge Ullrich fan, but I really wanted someone else to win. I gotta say that my favorite team, however did a great job. CSC headed up by director sportif Bjarne Riis is just magnificent. They are by far the spunkiest team out there. Every day it seemed like there was someone on the attack from CSC. Riis just seems to rejuvenate riders and give them the fighting spirit. Anyway, I look forward to a more interesting Vuelta A Espana this fall.

Additionally, on a more sedate scale of entertainment, Jennifer and I went to a tea ceremony yesterday. It was my first experience and it was interesting but probably isn't going to be my bag of chips. Anything that requires me to sit uncomfortably for an hour or so and culminates in drinking something that is not radically alchololic is not really for me. It was certainly nice to see however. I think that if I were an old Japanese lady that it would be a really great thing to do, kind of like going out for coffee, but also more like a sport, because you have to train for it.

Jennifer also has, spurred by the aquisition of a new, non-composting 'frige, decided to utterly redo the apartment. The everything got switched around and it actually looks quite nice. Fortunately the place isn't big enough for me to really be of help, so I just let her go about her business while rocking out to Liz Phair.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

When I asked a woman why she wanted to learn english in her private lesson on tuesday she responded with a grimace, " Well, actually I don't like my life. I am always not happy and I can only remember the time that I lived in New York for 10 months and I miss it."

THis is what they pay me for. I'm part english teacher, part cheerleader, part counsellor and 100% sexy. Well, it's all true except for the sexy portion. However, I think that an unscrupulous person could really take advantage of situations such as this one and wreck havoc on the dissatisfied populations of central Japan.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

The place to see internationals in this city is to go to the buffet restarurantse at about 9:00 pm. We went monday evening and sat down, as usual, the only gaijin in the place. It wasn't as crowded as I had expected and soon the Japanese families started heading out. Heading in was a small but constant stream of non-white foreigners. I pretty much recognise all of the white people here but this was different. Many were Brazillians speaking portuguese or other south americans speaking spanish. By the time we left the restaurant it was about 80 % foreign.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Recently I've been wondering what Brett Brinkmeyer is up to.
I was thinking about guys I knew who were really good at starting
things but not so hot at finishing them. Brett is probably top of
my list as a person who is just wonderful at picking up a hobby or a
job or a sport and quickly becoming proficient and then losing interest
just as quickly. I would probably say that my dad and I tie for a
close second. If you've seen my parents basement, you know what I
mean. Half finished projects abound. At first it was just
my dad's crap, but now it's filling up with the residue of my hobbies
as well. Since I could hardly carry all of my crap with me
to Japan, now the basement of my house. There's the bike stuff,
the beer stuff, the half made projects and the camping gear, skis,
boots and shoes. Now i've picked up two new hobbies, rock
climbing and telemark skiing. I'm waiting for skydiving to become
more realistic.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

As if I don't have enough hobbies. Here's one that I can really sink my teeth into, nyuk nyuk nyuk. (It's surprisingly hard to type nyuk)

IFOCE Internation Federation of Competitive Eating

My real hero of course is Sonya Thomas. She's the American champ and holds numerous records. Take for example the Cheesecake, - February 21, 2004, Brooklyn, NY, NY, Cheesecake: 11 pounds in 9 minutes.
- September 13, 2003, Indianapolis Indiana, New World Record for Boiled Eggs: 65 in 6 minutes, 40 seconds
Cool Hand Luke aint got nothin on this woman.

This is my new hero, Takeru Kobayashi. He, as you may know, is Japanese. He is also the worlds most skilled hot dog eater. Lastly, he comes from, drumroll please...NAGANO CITY, LETS HEAR IT FOR THE HOME TOWN HERO!!! For his amazing feat he ate 53 1/2 hot dogs in 12 minutes. He's my god!

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

There has been a disturbing trend on the crappy radio station that is piped into the office. It's Paula Abdoul. I thought that "Straight up now tell me" was relegated to the dustbin of the music world, but now it's getting some air time on "KRAP 97.4 Hawaii."

Monday, July 12, 2004

I've got to learn some key Japanese phrases. For example, I need to know how to say, "I don't care," and also I really should learn how to say words like "rude", "impolite" and "snot-nosed-kid" as well as "Tell it to your mom."

The reason for this is, as you may expect, that I've been dissed. Not only have I been disrespected, but it was by a 12 year old. That's the worst. In my Junior Highschool private lesson with 4 girls one of them with help from her dictionary and some friends,laboriously informed me, "I don't like English-Speak humans."
While it was funny in some ways, her general attitude pretty much sucks in general and i would have given a great sum of money to be able to lay into her they way I want. Here is what I had in mind:

"I don't care. Shut your damn mouth you whiney, snot-nosed-kid. What the hell do you know about 'English-speak Humans' anyway. If you don't want to learn English, fine, don't come and fuck around in my lessons any more. None of these other kids give me the bad attitude that you do, what is your problem. If you have a problem with all gaijin, tell your parents and have them take you out of here. Stop wasting your parents money and my time."

Thursday, July 08, 2004

I am a murderer.

Yesterday while riding my bike along near the river I made my first kill. This sparrow flew out of the tall grass and skimmed along the ground, and attempting to go under my bottom bracket. The sparrow screwed up. The sensation of running over a goober-peanut was how I could describe the trauma from my end, but for the sparrow, it was much worse. I smushed 'is lit'l brains in.

I'm going to have to check, but I think something like this happened to my Dad while he was riding to work one day, but I think that the animal in question was a squirrel, and that maybe the squirrel lived to tell the tale.

Anyone else ever committed a vehicular homicide with a bicycle?

Monday, July 05, 2004

It's july, and what does that mean for people who love bicycles? The Tour de France!!!

Yes people, i'm going to be rotting my brains thinking about cycling, cycling and more cycling until this glorious event is over. I have to say that honestly I don't want Lance Armstrong to win. I'm personally a little dubious about him with the doping allegations that have recently surfaced and I also just think that he's kind of a jerk. Just personal preference.

If i had to choose who I wanted to win it would be either Tyler Hamilton (a possibility) or Bobby Julich (a long shot) from the USA and as far as internationally, I take my hat off to Iban Mayo, the Ventoux record smashing Basque. It will all come down to the mountains however and we'll just have to see how it goes.

I know that I will be entertained.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

I just got back from a weekend Yoga retreat. How's that for strangeness. I also got pummeled by a waterfall, got naked with a bunch of men and had my picture taken by Chinese tourists.

Overall, i'm not a yoga sort of guy. While I may be lazy, i'm not actually that interested in relaxation time. I'd rather be doing something interesting or outdoorsy than sitting and relaxing or meditating any day. All that time doing yoga I felt like i was just frittering away while i could be outside riding my bike or rock climbing or something.

Jennifer and I both got a little bit of sunburn while poking around in the waterfall (read concrete spillway) near the yoga retreat. She is a total "robsta".

This is my first fourth of July in a country where it is actually legal to buy fireworks. I bought $30 worth of them last night and we went out to the ol' rice field to blast them off. For your information, it's the Bees that are really the highlight of any home done show. They make a little noise, they fly erratically, glow like freaking UFOs and are cheap to boot. Next time i'm getting $30 worth of those and kissing off the rest of the crap.

Friday, July 02, 2004

I just got back from a bar containing like 45 gaijin. It was the most foreigners I've seen in one place for 9 months and it was scary. We are loud, obnoxious people, particularly when young and drunk. I was also surprised by how hoochie all of jennifer's JET colleagues dress. I saw a lot of titties and hoochie dresses tonight. I guess that loving in Japan is sparse, so people must be going all out for a shag tonight. Anyway, i felt pretty annoyed to be an american, or just a westerner tonight.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

This was great, I just got so much love via the email. I simultaneously got emails from Annie, Jude, Ian and most notably my long lost roomate Brendan.

Annie can still complain while saying that everything is sooo great ( a unique skill), Jude is looking into gene therapy as a way to build muscles and Brendan is kicking it for real in central America. It sounds like his peace corps experience is a little bit more similar to my stint here in Japan than to Meghan's in Guinea.

Lastly, Ian is apparently starting to turn into our dad, I'll post the reasons why.


Finally, after all these years of blissful ignorance or sturdy denial I
have reached the unmistakable and inevitable conclusion that I am most
certainly a Ritz and that I am turning into Dad. This is maybe not necessarily a
bad thing but something scary all the same. I think I have felt it coming
on for a couple years now and it finally fully manifested itself in me
these past few weeks. This is not just meek conclusion that was decided on a
whim; no this is a process of deduction.

Here are my reasons:
1) I am working far too much and spending far
too little time on myself. I work in the mornings coaching at a soccer
camp and then I work out. I have maybe an hour of rest in which I grab a snack
and then I go to work at Jimmy Johns for 10 hour shifts from 5-3.
2) I spend too much time on my bicycle. I have been tinkering with my bike ever
since I got it up here, mostly fixing flat tires. It is fucking ludacris. I
have had 6 flat tires in as many weeks. I even got new tires from Dad and I
just flatted this morning. I'm going to try replacing the rim strips now
but the whole thing is a bitch.
3) I eat whatever is available. This is not anything too new but a contributing factor none the less.
4) All my activities i.e. work and soccer keep me far to busy to spend time with
my significant other at the moment. I have a little thing with a girl
from the beginning of summer and I just have too much stuff going on.

All of these reasons and many more attached with them have led me to
this state. However, I am trying to postpone the transformation a little
while longer...

Ian, if you're pissed about me posting your email for all 6 of my friends to see, then just tell me and I'll take it off.
This is a shout out to Alf Hickey.


I can't believe I waste my time checking your crap website. I'm going to remove the link if something doesn't happen soon, and then where will you be...Hmmmm? Hmmmmmm?

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

I got kinda pissed at the highschool students yesterday. This was at the good higschool, the one where they can actually understand when I give directions. The scenario is this: I give the students questions, which they can understand, and they must ask their partner these questions. To check that they do this I go around the class and interact a little bit and I also ask students to answer, "What did your partner say?" at the end of the activity. I usually ask 3 questions and usually quiz 6 students. THis sometimes works. It's such a bitch because the students, even the ones who do the activity, always freak out and shit themselves when I approach their pair.
For example, yesterday I asked them, "If you had 100,000,000 yen what would you buy?" I ask one of them, "What would he/she buy?" and it's like the end of the world. I feed them the answer, "He would buy..." and still, freak out time. The person I ask has most likely forgotten what the other said, so they have to re-ask their partner, which is where it all goes to shit because to this question "What would you buy..." they look like they have no idea what they would buy, they struggle, make thinking faces, purse their lips and keep saying, "Nandaro, nandaro" (what would it be, what would it be) under their breath. I was thinking, "Honestly, if you have a hundred million yen, you can buy almost anything, so if you say anything, anything at all, you can buy it, so just spit out one English word and I'll be happy."
I think that next class I'm going to start out with a lecture and make the Japanese guy translate. Here is a possibility:

For christ sake people when I ask you a question, particularly an easy question, I don't honestly give a shit whether or not it's the right answer, a particularly thoughtful answer, or anything special. I just want you to say something, anything in fact. When I feed you the answer like I do, it shouldn't take 2 minutes to grind away in your brain, just try something, you can do it you little halfwits. Now I'm not talking to the 5 of you who really do a good job, i'm talking about the 90% of you who just sit and stare. Enough of that, if i ask you a damn question, you should give me a damn answer, even if it's totally wrong. If you don't try I'm a-gonna smack-a you face eh?

Monday, June 28, 2004

i went to a barbeque with some Japanese folks the other day and in the process met up with a guy from Stillwater Minnesota. Imagine the odds of that. Here we are in the middle of the armpit of Japan and i meet up with a big tall guy from Stillwater. What's more, he knows/knew Liz Hajek and her boyfriend Josh, the only other two people I know from Stillwater. Creepy eh? What's more, he was a small time pyromaniac in his youth...just like me. Still even more creepy, his name is Andy, which starts with an A... just like my name does. To top it all off, he teaches English to Japanese people...just like me.

All in all the similarities were striking and eerie, I will in the future avoid this evil twin doppelganger with all of my ability, for fear that he weasel his way into my love life as well.

Umm, actually that's just a little bit nuts. However, it was great to talk to someone from the same part of the world. I love my canadian friends, but someone from the upper midwest can only really connect with another man from the upper midwest. It's just how it is.

Coincidentally, I completed my total Iowa/midwest revival day by watching the movie The Straight Story by David Lynch. This is a movie about Alvin Straight, the guy who rode his lawnmower from Iowa to Wisconsin to see his ailing brother. While some of the bit characters were kind of rough and amateurish, the movie was really superb. I say that particularly for the way that it portrayed Iowa as a land of subtle beauty. I was made intensely homesick for the flatness and the corn and the wide open expanses. Nagano is great, but rather claustrophobic. You can't just hop off your bike and expect to be able to take a piss anywhere on a lonely country road. Here there's always some shrivelled old lady digging a hole or picking some fruit or wielding one of the souped-up weed eaters they use to mow lawns here. I miss the corn, I miss the sky and I miss the thunderstorms. I'll always appreciate where I come from, even if I would be bored to live there again.
Readership going down, can't fight tides of indifference, giving it my all, but can't....break....through....to....audience.

My site meter reported that all six of you who visited me last week did a nice job of keeping the love, however the rest of the world just didn't give a crap.

This should be a signal to me to put s'more love into the ol website.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Here's another one of Aso-san. I would imagine that the fiew from the top of Asama is about the same, except for a little more plant life and a lot more fog.

This is not a picture of the mountain that I climbed today, but of the one from our Kyushu trip. It is pretty much the same sort of martian scenery, but on this particular day, you could see it.
So today we hiked to the top of 浅間山. This would be Asama-Yama, as i'm sure anyone who has traveled in Japan or possibly watched enough samurai movies knows, Yama means mountain. Anyway this is actually the 3rd vocano that I've ever seen personally and the second that I've climbed to the top of.

Lara, Shane, Jennifer and I went with Andy, a guy from the south eastern part of Nagano ken. Though his house is but 80 kilometers from us, it still took about 1:45 to get there because of the crazy-ass roads here and the super traffic and the mountains. At any rate we spent the night at his house in Mochizuki (the name means rice cake moon) and awoke at about 3:45 this morning to get cracking at the devilish peak. This seems insane to me, but actually the sun starts rising at around 4:30 because the Japanese in their infinite wisdom have forsworn the wonders of daylight savings time.
Anyway, we were climbing the mountain before 6:00 and had reached the summit at about 9:00 amid gale force winds and fog. It was a rippin good time while we ascended into the bomb shelter on the top and had a bit of breakfast. Honestly, I couldn't stand up straight, the wind was so fierce. It's possibly a result of the Typhoon that's coming our way tomorrow. Honestly, the hike up to the rim was really wonderful, some of the best scenery I've seen in Japan. Should anyone actually visit me in Japan, I'm all over hiking that one again.

I've posted some pictures of our previous hike to mount Aso in Kyushu. The landscape was pretty similar, but in this case we couldn't see it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

I don't care what anyone else thinks, Elton John sucks.

To provide the appropriate "atmosphere" for an english conversation school my employer utilizes cable radio to pull in a preposterous number of stations. The one that has been selected is an easy listening/soft rock channel from Hawaii. Every day we listen to "romace through the night" piped in from across the ocean. It seems like the damn station (while probably owned by the Clear Channel) is sponsored by the Elton John fan club. There is at least 1 of his songs per hour. Let me tell you, you can only listen to "Yellow brick road" so many times before you go mental or punch out your eardrums.