What is this?

August 23, 2010

This is a blog coagulating all of my travel-related posts from my personal blog over the past 4 years. If you got here from the NCC website, I’ll explain a bit on how to navigate this site: the links on the right-hand side revolve mostly around my study abroad experiences; they are separated into one large category (i.e. “China 2006″), and then broken down by specific location from there. From my study abroad experiences at North Central College:

China 2006 – Beijing Foreign Studies University (China/Japan)
Japan 2006 – Kyoto Gakuen University (China/Japan)
China 2007 – Beijing Foreign Studies University (Direct Enrollment)
Japan 2008 and Japan 2009 – Aoyama Gakuin University (Exchange)

The rest are just random travel adventures I’ve had in between studying abroad and since graduating.

If you have any questions about studying abroad or would like to chat feel free to shoot me an email at ethajek@gmail.com. I’ve got a full-time job and my girlfriend and I run our own webcomic (www.clintpidgewood.com – check it out!), so I can’t guarantee an immediate response, but soon enough.

Enjoy!

What Mr. Hike has to Say

September 23, 2009

Things that have changed since last month:

We moved into a new apartment! I got a part time job! We went to Oktoberfest in Michigan! I read more books! We went on a road trip around Illinois! My car keeps breaking! I’ve been applying to more jobs! I’m going to start learning how to cook!

Let’s break it down, shall we?

On September 11 – the 8th anniversary of the WTC attacks – Amanda, Sam, and I moved into an apartment in Naperville.  It was a ballsy move, I’ll admit.  Without a full-time job things will start to become tight around January.  But I at least have this part-time job and a significant amount of savings (money I didn’t spend in Japan) to live off of for now.  We just… we had to get out of that house in Aurora.  It served its purpose, it was good to us, but by mid-September everything had just come apart with it.  The water pressure was awful (we showered in drips), I had intense breathing problems there that required the use of an inhaler (and my insurance through my parents runs out on September 30, meaning no new inhalers unless I want to pay $500 for a doctors appointment and $120 for an inhaler), Amanda’s dad and stepmom were moving back in, and Sam was looking for an apartment too, which provided a good out for us.  So, we looked at apartments for about a week – in Lisle, Naperville, and Aurora – and decided on Windscape, on Ogden next to Naperville North.  It’s in the medium price range of what we were looking at, but it kind of just ended up charming us.  It’s really close to NCC and the highway, it’s attractive and well-kept, it has 2 bathrooms and an in-suite washer and dryer, and it came highly recommended by 4 of our friends.  So, now we’re here and we’re loving it. Notice the skylights:

Ok, the part-time job.  Amanda and I have Austin and Corinne’s job, basically.  They left and we replaced them.  We work for an advertising called Maclyn Group that contracts this van out to Dunkin Donuts.  This van is a “Sampling Van.”  It goes around to different events in Chicago and the suburbs and gives out free coffee samples to people, and we go with it.  It’s really pretty enjoyable, too, because our 24-year old boss Joe is pretty cool and laidback (and acts in low-budget horror movies), we get to smile at people and give them free things which makes them happy and easy to deal with, and we get paid for travel time as well as when we eat a meal (which can add up – an event in the city can be an hour drive there, an hour drive back, and a half hour for dinner.  That’s 25 bucks).  The only drawbacks are the erratic times (we never know when the next job is or how long it will be) and the fact that on weekday jobs it’s just Joe and I, which can get hectic.  Oh, and we get to go to neat events that I would never have gone to otherwise, such as the Bash on Wabash, the Taste of Downers Grove, the Montrose Harbor Memory Walk, and I met Jesse White at a White Sox volunteer event!

This past weekend Amanda and I visited her mom and stepdad in Michigan.  I always enjoy my time with them – it’s just such a relaxing, food-filled break from reality whenever we go up there.  And every time we go there we travel to some place in the area; other times we’ve gone to Niagara Falls, Put-In-Bay, Ann Arbor, and Toledo, and this time we went to the faux German town of Frankenmuth, Michigan, to celebrate Oktoberfest.  Since this is the first Oktoberfest outside of Munich ever sanctioned by Munich (where the original is), we were expecting it to be a big deal.  Instead, though, it was just lots of beer, old people, teenagers, and country-ish German music in a big barn.  Which was still fun (I had 5 beers… never again), but not the big party we were expecting.  So we left after our 5 beers and walked around the German-themed town.  We ambled along the river, looked in shops, at lots of samples of fudge and cheese, and had a huge German dinner.

I read more books.  I finished The Power of Babel, then bought Chinese in Chicago with some birthday gift card money, and on our Illinois road trip I read my first electronic book, Weapons of Choice.  I mean, it’s normally a paperback, but I read the whole thing on my iPod Touch (because it was a free download).  So yeah, we went on a road trip around Illinois, something I had always wanted to do.  You can see my Facebook album for details.  I’m kind of sad, because it’ll probably be the last true traveling I’ll do for a while.  I miss my time abroad.  When I’m there, whether it’s an actual study abroad trip (China/Japan 2006, China 2007, or Japan 2008-2009) or traveling for fun, there’s always good and bad things.  For the bad, it’s often that it’s hot, or lonely, or it’s confrontational with other group members, or it’s awkward and uncomfortable to try and speak the language you’re learning to native speakers, or you’re spending a lot of money.  But I always come out of it with the good overcoming the bad, and years later I can only remember the good.  China/Japan, for me, has by this time achieved a near-mythical status in my mind.  I feel like (and bear with me, this is how my mind works) if I ever somehow went back in time and I saw the China/Japan group at an orientation or was there with them again in Asia, it would be like, meeting Einstein or Abe Lincoln.  You know what I mean?  Just this kind of, awe and reverence at what they’ve done and what they will do.  And my times in China in ’07 and Japan this past year are slowly making their way to the same state of mind.  And I want to experience that again.  I want to create new memories, I want to have this same kind of legendary trip again.  Since many of my best memories are when I travel, and since I have this subconscious obsession with creating and subsequently attempting to relive good memories, the best way to do it is to travel.  Maybe that’s why I do it? Why I keep spending money and going places? I don’t know what I’m getting at here, really.

Time to end this.  We saw S!J and Aoi for a few hours before they went back to Japan.  My car has been breaking down piece by piece, and it couldn’t be at a worse time (not much money + driving to places for job applications and interviews).  I’d list what’s wrong with it, but there’s enough lists in this entry.  Speaking of job stuff, along with the 1-2 applications a day I already do, I applied at Yang Ming (America) Corp. at Ashley’s reference; there’s a current job opening that I’m qualified for as a “coordinator,” or basically a combination of clerical, data entry, and customer service work.  I reformatted my entire resume and cover letter template, mentioned Ashley as a reference, pumped up my Chinese qualifications and mailed it in on fancy paper. I honestly feel pretty good about this, a feeling I haven’t felt since May when I was naive enough to believe I’d find a job pretty quickly.  Also, I want to learn how to cook!  I went to my uncle’s house yesterday to pick up some tomatoes since he grew way too many in his garden, and he gave me a general outline for roasted tomato soup with vegetables and garlic bread that sounded amazing.  So I went to Jewel and for the first time in a long time bought fresh ingredients; along with the tomatoes, I got some carrots, garlic, green bell peppers, and fresh-baked French bread. I’m blogging about this because it’s a pretty big deal – my meals are either instant, or very simple (sandwiches, comfy dogs, eggs, etc.), so I’m pretty excited to make this soup tonight.  Wish me luck!

Tales of Michigan and Jazz

July 16, 2009

I finished The World Without Us.  It was a very illuminating supposition, and the main idea I think it was expressing is not only have we (a) made almost nothing of importance that will survive beyond us other than garbage (radio waves, bronze sculptures, mixed ecosystems, and Mt. Rushmore not included) and (b) screwed up our planet with said garbage, as well as radiation, a hotter atmosphere, etc., but also the fact that we will be missed.  Humans play a part in the ecosystem like every other creature, and our departure would certainly heal the planet but it would also wreak havoc with the life that depends on us.  Some of my favorite facts were that vulcanized tires are a single molecule (a tire is one single molecule… what?) and that most of our garbage ends up in the ocean, where there is a current of trash the size of Texas that rotates in circles above Hawaii and needs an icebreaker to plow through.

I started another new book yesterday, and also finished yesterday.  I was pretty engrossed in it I guess.  It was called Blue Like Jazz.

The subtitle is “Nonereligious thoughts on Christian Spirituality.”  I had been meaning to read this book for half a decade now, ever since my youth leaders read it and seemed to put a lot of stock in it.  Simply put, it presents ideas on Jesus, God, Christianity, and Spirituality from a man whose lived an extreme variety of experiences, from being a homeless hippie to teaching at a fundamentalist camp to auditing classes at the “very un-Christian” Reed College, and a lot more.  He stays a Christian the entire time, but what that means to him also warps over time.  It’s not based in any one sect or way of thinking, but I found the book to be really fresh, and it forced me to re-think the way I value my faith at times.  I was reminded – hard – of how we are called to love one another, but that means nothing to so many people.  Including myself.  I don’t really know where I’m going; I read it all yesterday and I’m trying to process it now.  But it was good.  Real good.

Other than books, I’ve been having a lot of fun this month of July.  For the weekend of the fourth Amanda and I went to Vicky’s family’s cabin near Big Rapids, Michigan for boating, swimming, eating, and watching fireworks.  Her Uncle Bob came and paid for all the food and whatnot as a graduation gift to Vicky (and, by proxy, Ashley and Pixie and Amanda and I) and made delicious meals every day.  It was a great time, even if I did manage to submerge my camera in water and desroy it.  We can add that to the list of other deaths of my cameras: fallen off a bed, stolen at a Mexican restaurant, and now submerged in water.  I bought a new one last week, and this time I got insurance.

And then last weekend Amanda and I visited her mom in Monroe, Michigan, and on the way we stopped at Notre Dame University in Indiana just because we could.  I always love going up there, to Michigan; her mom (and her husband John) are really nice and fun, and it’s just always a laidback weekend.  Every time I see them I can expect board games, movies, a bonfire, alcohol, and cigars.  This time around all that happened, plus a visit to the Univeristy of Michigan in Ann Arbor (two great midwestern universities in one weekend!), Indian food for Amanda’s birthday, and a day exploring Toledo, Ohio (three things: Tony Packo’s hot dogs, the Rosary Cathedral, and Fort Meigs).

And then for Amanda’s 21st birthday yesterday, we went to Chicago.  My gift to her was a ride on a Chicago architecture cruise down the river and around the lake.  Please don’t think I’m lame; in fact, I’m probably cooler than you.  Then we had dinner at a Mexican restaurant and went to the Green Mill for drinks and suave jazz.  Happy Birthday Beehns!  Love you!


Her first legal drink in the U.S.

Locality

June 6, 2009

Recently, over Memorial Day weekend, Amanda and I went to Minnesota for her cousin Jessie’s wedding. Even though we had gotten back from Europe not even 2 months prior, we both were starting to experience some wanderlust, so it was good timing to go somewhere. Our hotel and the wedding were in Saint Cloud, Minnesota’s third-largest city about an hour and 15 minutes northwest of Minneapolis. It was a really pleasant place, with the coolest bookstore I’ve ever been to (I bought Bram Stoker’s Dracula for some summer reading), neat local restaurants, and the Mississippi River running through it.

The wedding was nice too. I finally got to meet Amanda’s Minnesota/Wisconsin side of the family, and I think I really clicked with them. The wedding took place on a farm with too few chairs, and afterwards we moved to a VFW Hall for the champagne-infused reception. I also smoked my first cigar with John, and was much more successful than at hookah since my lung capacity is zero (you don’t inhale cigars).

The next day was a bit more road-trippy in nature. First we went to Minneapolis to see the Game Informer headquarters, although because it was Sunday they were closed. Then we walked around downtown Minneapolis before going to Amanda’s cousin Melody’s house in Edina. Melody’s fantastically cool husband Eli showed us the video games he designed (including True Crime) and we played his newest one, a game for the Wii where the cars are various insects and animals. It was crazy to see his sketchbook of the cars and then actually play them on the Wii. After that we headed to Eden Prairie for a pilgrimmage to the studio where they filmed Mystery Science Theater 3000, and then to St. Paul to see the magnificent capitol building and the eponymous cathedral.


Downtown Minneapolis and the MST3K Studio

Since then life has been hectic, but slowly less so. Last weekend was the last party I’ll ever throw in my college career (absolutely not the last party I’ll ever throw, though) – Ascension of Baha’u’llah: The Oak Apple Party. To celebrate I invented an elaborate Baha’i game and we dressed Sam up in a shirt covered in twigs and leaves, our interpretation of the 17th century English celebration of Oak Apple Day. And then over this past week I’ve been slowly completing my studies. My last papers are all written, my last homework is all done, and the very last class of the 18 years of my academic career was yesterday’s Japanese class. All I have left are a test and a quiz next week (finals week).

Also yesterday, besides it being the 10 year “anniversary” of my written journal, it was such a nice day that Amanda and I decided to go to Aurora’s Phillips Park. We visited the free zoo that was mostly North American animals and learned that Mastodon means “Nipple Tooth” and that the scientific name for a llama is “lama glama.” Yes. Then we meandered around Mastodon Lake before getting dessert at Banana Split. I really love local culture like that. I’m not sure when my interest in it started, but I think I can maybe credit it to Adam Rheingan’s friend Alex. I met him when I was visiting Adam’s farm in Wisconsin in 2007. He was very passionate about politics; federal politics to some degree, but mostly state and especially local. He studied Political Science in Beloit and I just found it surprising that he was devoting his intellect and experience to helping his community instead of something with more personal payout. Since then, I think, I’ve realized that local culture and politics aren’t lame or unimportant, but rather constitute a crucial principle of involvement in our communities. (Also, to a lesser extent, was when I went on China/Japan and gained a lot of respect for my hometown and the Chicago suburbs that I hadn’t had before.)

Therefore I want to challenge you: find out who your local politicians are, at least in the area where you’re registered to vote. Here’s what I think you should know:

The mayor of your town – for Aurora it’s Tom Weisner
What the board of your town consists of – Trustees, City Councilmen, Aldermen, Board Members, etc. (Aurora has aldermen)
Your local board representative – our house is in unincorporated Aurora, so we don’t have one, but Aurora’s 1st ward surrounds us
Your IL House of Representatives legislative district and Representative – for me it’s the 83rd district, Democrat Linda Chapa LaVia
Your IL Senate legislative district and Senator – for me it’s the 42nd district, Democrat Linda Holmes
Your U.S. House of Representatives Congressional district and Representative – for me it’s the 14th district, Democrat Bill Foster
Your U.S. Senators – you had better know these
Additionally, since our house lies in unincorporated Aurora, we’re represented most locally at the county level. Our county board member is Gerald Jones from the 7th district of Kane County

Then pop their names into Google News and see what bills they support, statements they’ve made, etc. Recent news shows our State representative Linda Chapa LaVia supporting temporary tax hikes, construction programs, and more social programs, with State Senator Lina Holmes supporting legalizing medical marijuana (a bill that just passed) and temporary tax hikes with provisions to help small businesses.

Good luck! If you want to cheat I’ll give you a website that’s really helpful for finding out your representatives down to the IL House of Representatives level, but the more local ones can be a bit tougher.
The website: http://www.elections.state.il.us/districtlocator/selectsearchtype.aspx. Click on “By Address” and type your address in.

Mackies for Breakfast

March 22, 2009

Amanda and I are in Birmingham now, visiting James. We actually leave his house quite soon, in about 20 minutes, but we got to spend most of yesterday with him and his family and friends. James picked us up in downtown Birmingham and took us to a pub for fish & chips for lunch, then to the art museum and the fantastical Bullring shopping center (centre) before going back to his house. When we got back we watched some comedians and then went out with his sister and friends for a night of curry and pubs. It was lots of fun, even moreso because we got to meet a bunch of cool English people with crazy accents (Birmingham’s accent is “consistently voted the worst in the country”).

Before Birmingham we were in London for 2 days, and that was, well, Londony. I don’t have much more time to type, but suffice it to say we saw all the highlights, and many of them were way more interesting than I thought they would be. Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Picadilly Circus and Chinatown, the Tower of London (no way did we pay the 17 pounds to get in that though), St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Globe Theater, Greenwich. There were two highlights for me: kissing Amanda between the hemispheres in Greenwich was fantastic (I was in the western hemisphere and she was in the eastern), as well as just being awed by the historical splendor of Westminster Abbey.. the coronation chair of kings, the burial place of queens, the epic monuments to great poets, the very floor where every sovereign is crowned; it was breathtaking.

We also spent a day in countryside England. We went to the town of Battle, where the pivotal 1066 Battle of Hastings took place. 1066 is the 4-digit number I chose for my phone number because I love the history behind this battle so much, and I actually got to go! We got a tour of the entire battlefield, as well as “Battle Abbey” which was built by William the Conqueror on the site of the battle as penance for the dead. Everything was surprisingly easy to understand, and by the end I knew exactly how the battle had played out, as well as where everything happeend. I even stood on the spot where King Harold, the last king of pre-Norman England, was shot through the eye with an arrow. Then after that we took a bus through even more nothingness to Bodiam Castle, the most perfect medieval castle there has ever been. Do a google image search and you’ll see what I mean; a moat, towers with those castley bumps on top.. how stereotypical castle can you get? And it’s real too, about 700 years old.

Ok, we can’t miss our train to Liverpool, so Beehn and I are off.

Flygbussarnen

March 15, 2009

That’s the Swedish name for the airport bus. Pretty much everything in Sweden is fun to read.

Oh, yeah! So I’m in Europe. Thursday was long hours and long flights from Osaka to Tokyo to London. Though the view out the window was sunny, cloudless, and crystal clear panoramas of Siberian mountains and Arctic Russian tundras. Then at London Heathrow, worst airport ever, we were grilled onto why we were entering the UK and then our baggage was checked not once, but twice, even though we just had a layover. It all took way too long, but Amanda and I managed to make it onto the plane to Glasgow, the last 2 people, sweaty and out of breath. We finally got to Glasgow pretty late and grabbed a shuttle bus to the city center. So my first step into Europe was in Scotland, which I find silly. We got to our hostel and basically crashed, as our body was running on some crazy times.

Glasgow was a really nice city, actually. I didn’t really know what to expect out of European cities, but it seems they have a sort of medeival, old town core full of pretty but ostentatious old stone buildings and then spread out from there, compared to the high-rise centers and modern planned American cities and the ancient centerless sprawl of Asian cities. The first place we went was St. George’s Square, and as I looked at the statues of famous Scotsmen and listened to the accents of the white people and soaked in the Europy ambiance of the gothic designs that surrounded me, that’s when it really hit: I’m in Europe! What am I doing here? It was just, never really on my list of places to go, and now all of a sudden I’m here, straight from Japan. It felt weird. It still does. I’m sitting on Europe right now, typing this.

So yeah, after the square we wandered around the city center taking in the old buildings that were occupied by modern stores and restaurants (including an Apple store in this 18th century building, which looked really strange), and then we walked past the University of Strathclyde to Glasgow Cathedral. My first European cathedral, it was incredibly beautiful and also quite old, being from the middle ages. Yeah medeival times! It was even apparently a famous medeival pilgrimmage site, as the tomb of St. Mungo is supposedly there. After that we walked behind it to the crumbling tombs of the Necropolis to get nice views of the city, and then went to the nearby St. Mungo’s Museum to see their interpretation of the similarities between the world’s faiths. Britain’s first Zen garden was there too, actually. After lunch at the cafe there we went across the street to “Provand’s Lordship”, Glasgow’s oldest house; it was interesting seeing how (rich) people lived in the late medeival ages. It was free too, like the Cathedral and St. Mungo’s Museum and the Gallery of Modern Art back in the city center, which we went to next. After getting our fill of mostly Scottish modern art we walked around the area and checked out some stores and stuff. Night soon fell, and we went back tot he hostel to pick up our luggage and then went back to the city and dropped it off at the Central Train Station, to be picked up in 10 days. I’m really happy they had that service, because otherwise we’d be dragging that crap all over the continent. We got dinner at a Chinese place and then went to the bus station and got on a Megabus to Edinburgh.

The Edinburgh hostel was okay, but a bit far from the center of the city, and we had to take a shuttle bus to get there and back. The next day we started an early day after the hostel’s free breakfast of toast and cereal. As we walked down Princes St. we could really see the European beauty of the city, the capital of Scotland. There were old buildings of course, but also soaring Victorian spires, 16th century mansions, cathedrals, and a medeival castle on a volcano. It was quite the sight. We walked up to the castle, paid the 10 pounds ($15), and went in. Despite the hefty price, though, it was definitely worth it, and I got more and more excited with every medeival thing I saw. I didn’t know this before coming here, but I guess I have a thing for the medeival ages. We saw the free war museum, a 12th century chapel, the remains of a 14th century tower, cannons, 16th century halls and palaces for Scottish royalty, and even the Scottish crown jewels and the “Stone of Destiny” (a huge and apparently royal sandstone block from around 800 AD the kings all carried with them). I was happy for Amanda too, because she had always wanted to see a real European castle. And on our one year one month anniversary at that!

Done with that we left and had lunch at a nice Italian place, then left and walked down the Royal Mile, which has to be one of the most beautiful urban walks in the world. It’s touristy, yes, but even so it’s amazing. Stone streets were flanked by tall, ornamented stone buildings and churches going down a long hill, culminating in the very regal Holyrood Palace. While walking down the Mile we stopped in the beautiful St. Gile’s Cathedral, a fudge shop, and the free People’s Museum. At the end of the mile, across from the palace, was the modern and out-of-place Scottish Parliament building. I didn’t even know they had a parliament, but apparently they got one a little over 10 years ago. We went into it and saw the neat looking debate chamber, then left and walked towards the National Museum of Scotland, also free. It was cool but not well laid out; my favorite part was that I could touch all the medeival things they had. It closed at 5 pm and, when it did, we left and walked up the street, taking pictures of the Elephant House where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book. We ended the night going to a couple malls, having dinner at Pizza Hut, and returning to the hostel.

Which brings us to today. We had a 10:55 am Ryanair flight from Edinburgh to Stockholm, and really the only reasons we came to Sweden are that (1) Ryanair has cheap flights and (2) Sweden is probably ridiculous. And it is. We took the 80 minute airport bus to the city terminal, excuse me, Cityterminalem, and then walked to our hostel which is actually really nice. We’re in an 11-bed dorm but it’s fine. After checking in we decided to walk around, but it was already almost 5 pm and apparently everything in Sweden closes at 5 pm on a Sunday. We tried going to H&M (of which we saw 6 of them all within a 5 minute walk of each other. 6! Some were across the street from each other) and a few other stores, but everything was closed. So we grabbed dinner at a middle eastern fast food place and then walked along the river in the cold night air, then through Gamla Stan (Old Town), soaking in the European ambiance of it all. It was nighttime and really cold (this is the most north I’ve ever been), so there weren’t many people there, and it was really nice. I really like Stockholm; it’s quirky, like I expected. In fact, Sweden itself is exactly how I expected it: cool designs and architecture, H&M and Ikea everywhere (I already saw 1 Ikea), techno music playing in the background (even in the middle eastern restaurant), and silly words. It’s great. Now we’re back in the hostel resting, and tomorrow is a full day exploring this interesting city.

Oh Kyoto

March 8, 2009

I’ve been a lazy bum, haven’t I? I’ve been in Kyoto for over a month now, doing absolutely nothing, and haven’t written in this. Oh well, I wrote in my real journal, so you lose.

Kyoto’s nice, as always. I like the history and the wooden buildings and the mountains a lot, not to mention the company. It’s kind of dead though, like if you take a big, interesting city and then at 6 pm suck all life out of it, that’s Kyoto. But Amanda and I can work around this. Between pizza parties and renting movies with Ashley, daily walks through the mountains and fields, lots of Bomberman and DragonBall Z, making dinner every night, and frequent excursions into Kyoto proper, it’s been a lot of fun. Not to mention all the visitors we’ve had.. first James visited Ashley (her boyfriend from England) at the beginning of February, then my friend Nadav from Tokyo stayed with us the past week, and now Amanda’s sister Nichole and Nichole’s boyfriend Patrick are staying with us until we leave Japan, on March 12.

So Amanda and I downloaded the Buu Saga of DragonBall Z, considering it’s the one we’ve watched the least amount of times (1/2 for Amanda, 1 time for me). At the end of the last episode we watched, Vegeta is dead, everyone thinks Gohan is dead, Buu is killing everyone, and Goku is being brought back to the land of the dead, and as he leaves the world in the hands of two 8 year old boys he smiles and waves to everyone that’s gathered and says “Good luck fighting Majin Buu! Bye!”. Ok Goku.

The plum blossoms are blooming right now, kind of a prelude to the sakura (cherry blossoms) that we won’t get to see. They’re really pretty, but they give this faux air of a spring that doesn’t quite exist yet. “Wow, plum blossom, you are very nice! But I am cold.”

Oh and Amanda and I are going to Europe. It was cheapest for some reason to fly from Osaka to Glasgow than to just fly straight home or through any other major city (??). So we’re making an 11-day stop there when we leave Japan on the 12th, and won’t be back to America until the 23rd. We’ve already bought train, bus, and plane tickets to take us to Edinburgh, Stockholm, London, Birmingham, and Liverpool. The hostel in Stockholm we’re staying at provides a free sauna, free ice skate rentals, and free pasta without sauce; will Sweden be ridiculous?

Sakura House Drama

January 11, 2009

Ah yes well, the rest of Kyushu was a fantastic time. Amanda and I met Midori in Nagasaki and she showed us around the Peace Park and the Wharf and stuff. Midori was one of my exchange student friends when I was studying in Beijing last year, and it was great to see her again. Then Amanda and I went to Kagoshima and spent our time there at an active volcano and walking around a lava park. A great way to end a trip to Japan’s extremely interesing, and surprisingly cold, southern island. Then Amanda and I came back to Tokyo, celebrated the New Year with Ashley with spicy Chinese noodles, karaoke at midnight, and going to Meiji Shrine at 1 am for our fortunes. And other fun things in Tokyo!

So, we have a TV in our lounge, at my guesthouse. I use it here and there; it’s got nice things like Cartoon Network, and I watch anime and the Chinese channel sometimes. MTV Japan, too. It’s a way to relax, practice Japanese, and have background noise while I’m eating. And recently I got a Super Famicon (the Japanese Super Nintendo.. another life goal down!), so I’ve been playing that a lot. All in all, I’m not like a TV junkie, but I use it often enough.

When I got back from Kyushu the TV seemed different, and at times wouldn’t turn on. Just wouldn’t. For hours. Later I found out that it was actually Jong’s TV. Jong is my fluent English-speaking Korean neighbor at Sakura House, the only one who’s been there longer than me, and probably my best friend there. He’s also in his late 30’s haha. Apparently he did some fancy footwork and, although I don’t really understand it, basically he’s going to have the Sakura House people fix his tv, which was broken. Broken in the sense that sometimes it wouldn’t turn on for hours. So now it’s in the common room.

I used it for a while in that state, but recently I’ve been kind of stressed and really just wanting to rest and watch TV or play Zelda on the Super Famicon. But about half the time the TV didn’t even turn on, and I started to get angry. I called Sakura House HQ myself to have them come fix it, but by the time they came it had already started working. So they didn’t do anything. Then today I saw Jong and I was like “Look, Jong. Either put the old TV back” (the unbroken TV is in his room, by the way), “or call Sakura House right now.” He got really defensive, since I probably didn’t use the best of tones to ask him, and called me selfish for complaining and stuff. I was like “What?! Come on. Why did you even put the broken TV down here in the first place? If you’re going to have Sakura House fix it, call them right away. Don’t wait for weeks.” Eventually he was like “Ok, I’m the selfish one. I’ll switch them tomorrow.” It was one of those, giving up and taking the blame on yourself to make the other person feel bad kind of things, I think. I apologized for getting mad, but at least the unbroken TV will be back. A TV should NOT ruin relationships, that’s just silly. Especially since I only have 2 and a 1/2 weeks left here in Tokyo before moving to Kyoto.

Oh, and more dumb stuff happened. Every week it’s someone’s responsibility for garbage duty; for 7 days we have to check the garbage cans and take them out whenever they get full. It’s kind of a sucky job, because you’re in charge of the garbage for like, 15 people. But it’s not terrible. Well, it was my turn last week. I took the garbage out and everything, but the last couple days it was raining and I got lazy and removed the bags and put new ones in, and just stuck the dirty bags next to the garbage cans. Which isn’t as dirty as it sounds, because there’s a big spot where old alcohol bottles and boxes and bags and stuff just collect. So I put the garbage bags there. I can guarantee that no one in the house would care, as long as there were new garbage bags. Well, Saturday was my last day and, as such, I was planning on taking the bags out to the trash outside before going out. As I’m getting dressed, literally with one sock on, I hear a knock at my door and it’s a guy from Sakura House headquarters. He happened to be there that day giving a tour for someone – and let me tell you, that never happens. Sakura House HQ guys are never, ever in our guesthouse. Our exchange went something like this:

Him: “Um, did you know that it’s your turn for garbage duty this week.”
Me: “Yep.”
Him: “Well, why didn’t you take out the garbage?”
Me: “Sorry, I was actually just about to do that.”
Him: “Well, today I was giving a tour. It’s bad for people to see that.”
Me: “Oh ok, I’m really sorry. I’ll get to it as soon as I get dressed.”
Him: “Did you forget to do it?”
Me: (just wanting him to go away) “Uh, yeah.”
Him: “Ok, well I’m giving you a penalty. You have to do garbage next week too.”
Me: “…”

Really? I think he thought I forgot to do the garbage for the whole week maybe, but that didn’t occur to me until later. In any case, I was literally minutes away from taking out the garbage for the last time that week, and that happens. Granted, I kind of shirked my responsibilities a little bit, but it’s not like I’m getting paid. I did what the other tenants expected me to do: provide a clean bag to throw garbage in so it doesn’t all pile up. Plus it was raining the night before. Ugh. He came by today with a new garbage sheet (the list that says who’s week is who’s), and my name is up for this week now, and it’s in RED, instead of the usual black. As if he has to emphasize the fact that it’s a “penalty”.

…………

Man, I can’t believe I move out in 2 and a half weeks. It’s been, let me check… a little over 4 months since I moved in! I feel like I really took advantage of Tokyo though; I went all over the city, from the well-known places like Shibuya to tiny out of the way places like Kami-Isuga. Since I live in between Shinjuku, Harajuku, and Shibuya, I went to all of them on a regular basis and got to know them quite well. I saw every major thing thing there is to see in Tokyo, and more. I went to obscure places like the Communications Museum, the spaceship-looking Soka Gakkai Temple, and where the Prime Minister holds Cabinet meetings. I walked halfway across the city, I bought video games in Akihabara like a true geek, I ate at over half of the restaurants around where I live (which is a lot, trust me), I saw the emperor himself, I celebrated the New Year at Tokyo’s largest shrine, I got sweets from Toraya (Tokyo’s most famous sweets shop), and I got point cards at a bunch of stores because I shopped there so often. Tokyo’s been good to me, and I’ve been good to it.

On multiple occasions I went to Yokohama, Chiba, and Kamakura, and I still plan on going to Nikko before I leave. I relived “Lost in Translation” by having a drink in the bar, eating at the sushi place, and singing in the exact room that they karaoked in. Went to my school festival, walked down nearly every major street within 2 miles of me, ate ethnic food (Sri Lanka, Thai, etc. And soon Ainu!), gave tours of Tokyo to friends, went up in the government buildings in Shinjuku for their free view about 5 times, saw headquarters of companies that shaped my childhood (Bandai, Sunrise, Square Enix, etc.), went to the Tokyo Game Show, and found little stores and restaurants and backstreets that only Tokyo natives know about. I saw all the random amazing architectural wonders that are the buildings of Tokyo; seriously, there’s soooo many interesting ones that you’ll never see in a book or on the internet. I saw a Russian Orthodox churce, Asia’s top university (the aptly named Tokyo University), the largest fish market in the world, and so many ridiculously beautiful gardens. I suppose that I took a different approach to the city than others would have; I didn’t get into Tokyo’s bar or club scene, didn’t go to any concerts, didn’t waste my life away at pachinko (Japanese gambling) or arcades or clothes stores or maid cafes. But I lived here exactly how I wanted to live here, taking advantage of the opportunities I wanted to take advantage of, and in that I was successful.

A Mongol Christmas Eve, A Japanese/English/Scottish/American Christmas Day

December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas! It’s Christmas now in America too, right? Let me check the time.. yeah, it’s 11 pm here, so it should be like 8 am in Chicago. So Merry Christmas to everyone!

Yesterday – Christmas Eve – Amanda, Sarajane, and I went to Fukuoka City to see some cool things. All the cool things ended up being Mongol related, though, which made me really happy. First we went to Higashi Koen, where the Battle of Bun’ei took place in 1274, when the Mongols first attempted to invade Japan. They lost the battle, not because of the Japanese beating them, but because a huge storm came and blew their ships away; that was the original “kamikaze”, which is Japanese for “divine wind”. I stood where Mongols fought the Japanese! Yes. There were some statues devoted to Nichiren (a famous Buddhist monk) and the Japanese Emperor at the time, and a nicely manicured park, and lots of pidgeons that landed on us, and a museum devoted to the battle (that was closed. Grr).

After that we took a train to the coast to see a famous wall that the Japanese built to fight the Mongols during their second invasion of Japan (which was, incidentally, also stopped by a huge storm). After our Mongol-filled day, we met SJ’s friend Aoi again in Tenjin, which is downtown Fukuoka, and we walked around some neat stores and bought some bus tickets for our Kyushu adventure. Then we went to a really neat bilingual Christmas Eve church service in Tenjin, which was all candle-lit and Christmasy. And Aoi came! Thank you God, for sending your Son to earth for our sake :) . We had a dinner of Tonkotsu Ramen at an apparently famous restaurant called Hakata Ippudo after that, and then walked around Christmas-light-lit Tenjin at night before coming back to SJ’s apartment and going to bed.

And then today is Christmas! Amanda, Sarajane, and I got up and opened our Christmas gifts to each other at like, 9 am. We’re so cool. Then we played Wii Mario Kart and made some food for later. At around 3 pm we went to SJ’s Scottish neighbor’s apartment (Charlotte) and met up with her other friends Eden (from England) and Rick and Rick’s Japanese girlfriend, and chowed down on a huge Christmas feast. Mashed potatoes with gravy, lots of vegetables, salad, chicken rice, and chicken and biscuits from KFC (yay weird Japanese traditions!). Then Rick and his girlfriend left and us remaining five took a cold Christmas walk to the beach while it was still light out (Christmas ocean!) in our Santa hats, then came back. We had dessert (chocolate cake! apple crumble!) and watched “Home Alone”, and then the laughably horrible “A Very Merry Muppet Christmas”, or whatever it was called (not to be confused with “A Muppet Christmas Carol”). Then we came back around 10 pm, and now we’re here, about to finish off the night with Mystery Science Theater 3000.

I wish I were with my family, and I miss them a lot, but God blessed me with a wonderful Christmas with my girlfriend and good friends, and I really couldn’t be happier. So Merry Christmas to everyone, and I hope it was/will be great!

Karatsu Shmaratsu

December 24, 2008

I’m in Fukuoka! Well, actually, a suburb of Fukuoka called Karatsu. Although I’m not sure how much of a suburb it is, because it’s pretty big and in Saga prefecture instead of Fukuoka prefecture. Either way, I’m in Kyushu (the Southern Island of Japan)! And I’m typing on Sarajane’s (also known as SJ) sticky keyboard right now.

Amanda and I left Tokyo on Sunday and got to Fukuoka on Sunday afternoon. We had some Italian food for lunch and then met up with SJ and her friends PJ (where there’s an SJ there’s a PJ, right?), Aoi, and Sayaka. It was raining so we walked around an enormous twisty-turny mall complex called Canal City, eating at Cold Stone and a garlic restaurant for dinner and just browsing stores and talking. After dinner we went to the craziest karaoke place ever, where we had to ring a bell a bunch of times before someone came to the front desk and then unlocked the doors to go into the building, and when we went in it was this weird pipe/cave/haunted motif, but after that hallway it turned into a mini-town and our karaoke rooms were all different shops! Like, what? So cool though.

On Monday Amanda and I went to Karatsu, SJ’s town where we’ll be staying until the 27th (when we go to Nagasaki). Sarajane and Aoi picked us up and took us to her apartment, then to Pizza Milano for homemade pizza lunch. Then we walked to the beach as SJ pointed out Karatsu things, but when we finally got to the beach it was just really cool. Sand and ocean and islands and crazy forests and winter; it was a fun mixture. We walked through gangly pine trees to Karatsu Castle and went up in that, where we saw old Japanese prints of whale and dolphin killing. Then we came back and chilled in her room watching cable (she has Nickelodeon! And Cartoon Network! And Sci Fi!) until her friend Ian came home from work with the car; once he brought the car back she drove us to an even bigger and crazier gangly pine forest, and we had Karatsu Burgers for dinner there. Then we came back, Aoi left, and we watched “Tokyo Godfathers” and Japanese game shows until we got sleepy.

Yesterday SJ had the car all day, so we went to a place called Jammin Seaside Cafe for lunch; we ate Jamaican food while watching surfers on the beach, and yes, it was as great as it sounds. Although it was still pretty cold outside. Then she took us to Tategami, where we climbed around rocky beach formations and watched even more surfers. After that we drove north to Nanatsugama, which has crazy cliffs that look like they were pressed through a playdough spaghetti-maker. And also lots of hawks and a really ugly statue (“the cross-eyed goddess of the caves”). Finally we drove all the way to the other side of Karatsu and scaled Kagami Mountain (ok, in a car) to get sweet views of Karatsu and the bay. I love sweet views. Coming down we stopped at some shops (“Gifts & Presents”, KFC to see if we can reserve Christmas lunch, and “Bulldog” for cooler gifts), then Amanda and I just hung out while Sara had her guitar lesson. When that was over, we went out for a long and fun dinner at a yakitori place with SJ and her friends Ian, Eden, and Charlotte (coolest Scottish accent ever). Then we came back and watched Pirates 2 until we were tired.

Now today is Christmas Eve and we’re going into Fukuoka City for a Christmas Eve service and to see Mongol-invasion related stuff (since the Mongols, you know, invaded Fukuoka, 800 years ago).

Today is my 101st day in Japan

December 18, 2008

Ha I’m terrible at posting entries. Ok well, I’ve gone to Kyoto a few times to see Amanda and she’s come to Tokyo once since we went to Nagoya a month ago. The first time, I spent Thanksgiving with her and some good friends (Ashley, Vicky, Eri, and I finally got to meet Amanda’s friend Naoto!). We also saw amazing red leaves and ate strange Kyoto-style burgers and made our own sushi and watched Vicky’s Chinese horror film and everything was great.

The second time, last weekend, we went to a mock old-style village where they used to film samurai movies, and went to a couple parties involving China/Japan (who left a few days ago, on Monday). It was great to see them all again before they left, because now it’ll be another 3 months. Grr. At least Naoto, Kan, and Liu Min will still be here :)

On weekends when I wasn’t in Kyoto or Amanda wasn’t in Tokyo, I tried to explore my city a bit. I went to some obscure museums with Sam when he came here (the Communications Museum and the Criminal Museum) as well as the Imperial Palace, and I went to Shinjuku Gyoen (Shinjuku Park) another day, spending 2 hours in awe of how they managed to merge garden styles from across the world into one stunning force of nature in the middle of skyscrapers.

Other than weekends, life has been pretty standard. School is still going, although after tomorrow I’m on Christmas break for 2 and a half weeks. Classes aren’t too difficult, but not easy either. Vocab is always being thrown at me left and right and I have to make sure to study it all to retain it, and grammar is still weird and hard to click in my head. But overall I feel like I’m improving a lot, and I understand a lot more than I used to. I think that what needs work the most, for me, is grammar and speaking. Grammar is essential, because sometimes it affects whether or not I can even understand the person I’m talking to, let alone respond. My speaking is.. eh. Could be better. I’m hoping that I’ll have a lot more chances this upcoming January, February, and March to practice with friends like Naoto, Kan, Paku, Ryo, and Liu Min in Kyoto (score, Liu Min speaks Chinese too!). I made plenty of friends here in Tokyo, like Ayano, Yuri, Atsu, Zoro, Timing, Nozomi, etc., but they’re always so busy and I see them so little that it’s hard to hang out with them on a regular basis. Things have to be planned far in advance, and I’ve refused to go to the $30 drinking parties that they so love to throw. But Kyoto friends seem different, less busy. Maybe because it’s a suburb in a mountain rather than the middle of the biggest city in the world? Maybe.

Tomorrow morning Amanda arrives in Tokyo! I don’t really have anything planned for the weekend, so let’s have impromptu fun, ok? And then on Sunday the adventure starts; at 11 am we take a plane from Tokyo to Fukuoka (a city in southern Japan). From the 21st to the 26th we’ll be staying with Sarajane, eating Karatsu Burgers and going to Christmas Eve church services and baking cookies (right? right?) and feeling the Christmasness of it all. Then from the 27th to the 30th we’ll be exploring the rest of southern Japan (well, Nagasaki and Kagoshima) and hopefully be seeing Midori, from my days in China last year. Then we come back to Tokyo, spend New Years Eve karaoke-ing with Ashley and New Years Day traditional Japan-style, going to a temple with Eri and Casey (hopefully). And still more time after that until school starts on January 7th. I’m pretty damn excited!

ミニストップ物語 [The Tale of Mini Stop]

December 8, 2008

I stopped at a Mini-Stop (a convenience store) for dinner today. Got a ham and egg sandwich, some fried chicken from their heated up thing at the counter, and a frozen yogurt (which was a delicious find!).

While I was in line some old lady cut in front of the middle-aged lady in front of me, and it was quite a long line. She wasn’t one of those frail old ladies, but rather one of the more assertive kind with too much lipstick and a long red coat and dyed hair.

So anyways, the middle-aged lady in front of me says “the line is back here”, which really makes the old lady angry, who then gets all in the other woman’s face and spits out “uruseei!” (shut up!) and then back-cuts me, still cutting most of the rest of the line.

When the old lady got to the register, the middle-aged woman had finished paying but was still putting her money away or something, and the old lady was overly cheerful at the register, in that I’m-actually-mad-but-pretending-to-be-cheerful-to-make-you-angry kind of way. Then, when the middle-aged lady finally leaves, she yells “baaaaka!” (idiot!) back into the store.

For most of the time I was between them, and the tension was weird. I think she wanted to cut me too, but decided against it and kind of grumbled some stuff instead.

Nags

November 20, 2008

Went to Nagoya over the weekend! Haha what an obscure city. Even when I was in Japan in 2006 I didn’t know what was there. Well, I finally discovered the answer, and apparently it’s a cool downtown, delicious food, and old friends.

Just how I imagined it.

I met Amanda at Nagoya station on Friday after a night bus ride. Ugh, those night buses. The only enjoyable part is the rest stop, because you get to walk around and see Japanese car and truck culture in action. But I take them because they’re super cheap, and it’s the only way I can travel. Anyways, met Amanda and went to Atsuta Shrine on our own. I found out later that one of the three Imperial treasures of Japan is enshrined there (the sword), which is beyond cool (The Imperial Treasures are like the Crown Jewels of Japan). Thanks for letting me know, Amanda. Psh. Then we went back and met up with Chris Kridakorn, and went to the Science Museum. It’s 9 floors devoted to kids, which meant that we could touch everything which meant that it was really fun. Except for the boring planetarium, which I don’t know how you can make an hour show in a planetarium boring, but good job museum. We left, got pizza for lunch, and went to Nagoya Castle. It’s like all the other castles, really. I want to see a real one now. Shoulda went to Inuyasha umimean Inuyama.

After that we walked to Sakae, the downtown area with their own weird version of Tokyo Tower. It was actually really pretty, and they have this crazy cool building called Spaceship Aqua or something that’s just.. futuristic and fun. It gives off a good vibe. From there we took the train to Nagoya Airport and waited there for a while until Hiro was done working (Hiro studied abroad at NCC 2 years ago). We got lost, but found him, and he drove us to a curry restaurant for dinner and then to his apartment. Ugh I miss that apartment; it just felt so homey and perfect and full of video games and computers and couches and I want to live in one now. A nice break from guesthouses and videogame-less apartments.

The next day we went back to Sakae and met up with Chika, another friend who studied at NCC 2 years ago. Together we galloped to a Miso Katsu restaurant and I finally had some of the fabled Nagoya food. Holy cow that was good. It’s such a weird taste, but somehow works, and you just want more. When that was over we wandered some stores downtown and had Cold Stone (apple pie!), then went to Denny’s for dinner and then to a nearby purikura place (purikura is little pictures you take with your friends in a booth that become stickers). But hey, I guess purikura has some new rules, in that there can’t be more guys than girls. It was me, Chris, and Hiro with Amanda and Chika, and no not allowed. An employee actually stopped us from taking pictures. Ok. So we went to another one, took pictures, and then went back to Hiro’s apartment while Chika went home. More Rock Band and Halo and other video games happened that night, as well as some “Naruto” that Chris and Hiro wanted to watch. Ugh so fun.

We woke up to our final day on Sunday. Hiro drove us around for lunch until we decided on Yoshinoya for cheap gyudon (sweet thinly beef over rice), and then we took the train back to the city. We met up with some of Hiro’s white friends and went to the Nagoya Art Museum, which was actually ridiculously small, but it had some cool art. My favorite was “The absurd god” by a Japanese artist from the 70s of a god that was, well, absurd looking. Then Chika, Chris, Amanda, and I broke off as Hiro and his friends went to see a special exhibit, and we took the train south to a disaster museum. It’s got all these neat things you can do, like experience an earthquake (ok, they’re scarier than I thought, but I still want to be in a real one) and go through dark, smoky rooms trying to find the exit. So cool.

Then we went to Nagoya Port which, like other touristy ports and piers (Navy Pier, Odaiba, Coney Island, etc.) is gaudy and silly, but fun to wander around and just soak up the atmosphere. Finally around 6 pm we went back to the center of the city, met up with Hiro and his friends, and went to Yama-chan. I had never heard of it before that day (I’m sure friends mentioned it, but it was hard to remember), but oh man, I won’t forget it. Those chicken wings! Those miso katsu on a stick! Those fried cheese things! It’s right below Portillo’s, Grand Stand Pizza, Beijing dumplings, and all Mexican food as some of the best food ever. We left after that, but even though it was short, it was just such a.. good weekend. So good.

The Seat of Power

November 9, 2008

Tokyo is the capital of Japan, but it never quite feels like a capital. Just a monstrous metropolis. So today I decided to walk to Akasaka, where the Japanese government resides. Within a small square area is the Prime Minister’s Residence, his office, the Diet (Hall of Representatives), the Supreme Court, the Imperial Palace, and a little further away is the Crown Prince’s Palace. I enjoyed walking around the area where decisions are made in one of the more important and powerful countries in the world. Then after that I walked to Tokyo Dome.

I would just like to state the significance of this. I walked from Harajuku to the Imperial Palace, and then north to Tokyo Dome. 20 minutes later I would’ve been in Ueno, meaning that I walked from the extreme west of the Yamanote Line to the east. Half of Tokyo.

It took over 4 hours.

Anyways, here are some pictures that aren’t on Facebook:


A rusty sign nearish the Crown Prince’s palace


The National Diet Library (the Japanese equivalent of the Library of Congress)


That glass building is the Prime Minister’s office, where he meets with his cabinet.


やった!I finally made it to my destination, after getting a bit lost near the end.

有人当选,有人落选

November 6, 2008

发生了!欧巴马竞选了总统,才当选了。作为总统,我不知道他怎么治美国的病,因为他没
说具体的细节。他不仅仅不得不改革健康保险的问题,也必须让伊拉克的军人回国,还得改善经济。无论如何民主党当选了议会的多数。不过现在没关系。他是第一个当选总统的黑人,就载入史册。关于这个情况,我想注重美国的开放化,因为四十年前黑人连白人的几所大学也不可以上。而且,他是个以利诺人,跟林肯一样。林肯的遗产是欧巴马。

今天,黑人击败了仇恨。今天,白人击败了偏见。今天,美国击败了过去。

And with that being said, here are some photos from the weekend:


My school festival


The sushi place from “Lost in Translation”! That is the chef from the movie, so now I have officially met someone who met Bill Murray, and I got his opinion of Bill on camera. Moving up in the world! We sat right next to where Bob and Charlotte did.


We are better than you because we made our own gyudon.

The Next President

November 4, 2008

Amanda came for the weekend, and we had a blast! Shinjuku, my school festival, lots of sushi (we met the sushi guy from “Lost in Translation!”. You know, “Black Toe.”), making gyudon, Daikanyama, Halloween candy on Halloween, a 50s style diner, and Powerpuff Girls! There are some weekends you want to relive all over again, and that is one. Fo sho.

Then from Monday to Tuesday was my school trip to Shizuoka, and we stayed at a ryokan under the watchful protection of Mt. Fuji. It was a gorgeous place, and I had a lot of fun picking grapes and making soba and making new friends and all that. A bit lonely at times, too, because I realized how many aquaintances I had made here in Tokyo but not as many good friends, but it was still a good time.

And now it’s election day in the U.S.
And I’m wondering, who will be running the country when I get back? It’s hard to think of someone besides Bush in the White House, considering he’s been there since I was 13. You know, the age when you first start thinking about politics and the greater picture. So my entire political life has been dominated by George W. Bush. Time for a change, I say.

Of Friends and Coffee. Although There Was No Coffee.

October 29, 2008

3 a day


Aoyama’s main street (looking outwards), with lights strung up for the upcoming festival this weekend


Today I went to a school-sponsored even called the “Coffee Meeting”, where people just got together and had fun. I met some Japanese people and played Bingo (I won a pumpkin coin bank!). Taka, in the awesome hat, is giving out the final prize. Oh – and there was no coffee?


Karaoke after the Coffee Meeting. Hawk and Seaweed can really sing! Oh, I mean Taka and Nori.

She’s even wearing a beret

October 27, 2008

3 a day

So this will be 1 picture from each of the three days I didn’t post any: Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.


Alice is so French today! Notice the pastry.


Tokyo Union Church


World’s biggest dork?

Of Course

October 25, 2008

So, of course, this is probably the worst time for Americans to go abroad in years, maybe decades, as the dollar fell to record lows over the past 8 years. But now the dollar, considered a “safe haven” in times of crisis, is actually starting to rise. It’s about $1.25 for 1 British pound, the best rate in 2 years. Well for us American travelers at least, things are starting to look up!

Wait, what’s this? The yen is also a “safe haven” and is the only other currency to rise during financial crisis? It’s currently 94 point fricking 2 yen to the dollar?/p>

DAMMIT

Thank you, Japan, for being the only place in the world where the dollar is losing ground.

Hong Ping Kong King Pong Kong

October 24, 2008

3 a day


Which one is which? Anthony’s twin brother visits


It was an American and a Korean vs an Australian and a French kid


Chinese style

Rakugo

October 23, 2008

3 a day


This guy managed to be impressive with two balls and a fan. Well played.


And then we had a famous rakugo comedian come into our class and do a dialogue! Rakugo is traditional Japanese comic storytelling, and when I understood him, it was actually pretty funny. Where does Aoyama keep getting all these famous and important guest speakers? (For last week’s class we had the president of an anime company speak to us)


From the subway map in my station (Kitasando)

Three a Day

October 22, 2008

Alright, I’m gonna try the three photos a day thing again. Wish me luck!



I pass by the Turkish embassy every day on my walk to school.



Today I went to chapel, which my school does every day from 10:30 am – 11:00. This was my first time, as it’s hard for me to fit it in. It ended up being completely worth it, though, and they even had a guest speaker from Finland who played the cello! This photo is everyone filing out at the end.



Ok, seriously, anyone know what this is? I’ve seen it graffitied and stickered all over Shibuya. Any combination of Lushy, Shark, and DNA King, actually. A google search only leads me to some Flickr photos from Hawaii.

Ainu Woes

October 10, 2008

Amanda visited Tokyo last weekend!
On Friday I showed her my school and the area where I live and we ate huge Hawaiian hamburgers, and that night went to a small cafe that looked like someone’s dining room owned by an old lady.  Saturday was huge.  We went to Ueno Park, seeing the Tokugawa family shrine and laughing at animals in the zoo.  Then we walked to Asakusa, which is quite the walk, and saw Senso-ji.  From there I surprised her and took her on a sunset boat ride down the river to Odaiba, where we had amazing Italian food with a view of the bay and then rode the ferris wheel.  Romantic, ne?  On Sunday we watched movies and such, and at night met Nina for some karaoke and dinner.

So, I’m getting together some people to go to an Ainu restaurant.  There’s only one outside of Hokkaido, and I guess it’s this one.  On separate occasions I invited some Japanese people to go, and it was actually a bit strange, because it took them a long time to remember what an Ainu was.  It pretty much went something like this, every time.
Me: “Hey, I heard that there’s an Ainu restaurant in Tokyo!  Do you want to go?  It sounds really interesting.”
Ja: “What kind of restaurant?”
Me: “Ainu.”
Ja: “Ai.. nu… ?”
Me: “You know, like from Hokkaido?  Ainu?  The native people of Japan?”
Ja: *turns to friend. “What’s Ainu?”
*whispers with friend for a while
Ja: “Oh!  Ainu!  Uh, yeah.  Really, they have a restaurant here?”

Really, Japan?  You only have one native people to remember.  Just one.  Anyways, we’re going this Monday.  I guess Ainu food involves a lot of deer meat, potatoes, garlic, and salmon.

I wonder how long it takes to get to the point where まさか and まぁ and 詰まり and just throwing out causative-passive like it’s nobody’s business all come quickly and naturally.

Tokyo Handbook

September 27, 2008

This will be long, but don’t worry, a good chunk of it is photography.

Some things have happened in the past two weeks.  Orientation is over, as is my first week of classes.  I’ve got a healthy mix of foreigner-only classes (Japanese language every day, “Japanology”, Japanese Culture and Society, and Asian Politics) as well as classes that normal Japanese people take and are quite hard because, well, it’s in fluent Japanese (Korean movies and dramas, Ethnic groups in Russia, and the Society and Culture of the Spanish Speaking World).  I have no days off outside of weekends, but on Fridays and Mondays I only have one class, so they are considered skippable for the sake of a 3-day weekend here and there.

This is what school is like:

1 Ayano, Yuri, and Atsu in the Spanish culture class
2 View from one of my Japanese classrooms

I’ve hung out with a lot of NCCers, you know, the ones studying abroad here and the ones that used to study abroad there.  Some Kanda kids came over, I visited Yokohama with Eri, gone out for dinner, stuff of that nature.


1 At an Asian Fusion Restaurant
2 Figuring out how to get Vicky home.. it involved like, 2 transfers and was crazy complicated.  Later I found out that there’s a subway by my apartment that goes directly to her stop


1 At Ousanbashi
2 Yokohamaaa~

Besides NCCers, I’ve been attempting to make new friends.  It was a pain in the *** at first, because I was without phone.  But I got one yesterday, and the world is right again.  I’ve seen Ayano a bit outside of class, as well as her friends, and I’ve been talking to the other international students more (some of them, like the Chinese ones, are so good at Japanese that hanging out with them gets me the same practice as hanging out with a Japanese person), plus some of the Australians and French and Korean guys in my guesthouse.

Last weekend I went to Kyoto!  It was an Amanda adventure, a Saga-Arashiyama adventure, and a natsukashii adventure.  I spent the weekend with Beehn, and she showed me around the area she lives in (Umahori) as well as where she used to live last year (Chiyokawa).  The day after that was Saga-Arashiyama and Monkey Mountain with Amanda, Ashley, and Jackie, and I’m sure many of you have seen the pictures on the internets and read all the other blogs.  It was a good time, and I even got to show Amanda where I lived 2 years ago (Nishioji)!  Man, where I live right now is so much better than Nishioji haha.  Our final day was spent eating out, getting ice cream, and watching movies and crazy Japanese TV.  She comes to Tokyo next weekend, and yeah, I can’t wait.


1 Come on, she’s the cutest
2 Listening to Kyoto musics


1 Arashiyama Bridge
2 What’s she doing in Nishioji?

So yeah, then this past week was classes.  And since Wednesday, Pixie-face has been visiting our city, so I’ve spent the past few nights with her and others.  We walked from Shibuya to Shinjuku (the long route.. paaaaainful legs by the end of the day), ate at Shakey’s, did Purikura, went to a restaurant owned by the parents of one of the members of Arashi (Pixie’s idea, of course), and karaoked last night.


1 What’s she doing here?
2 Shakey’s crazy pizza


1 Pixie and Aiba, together at last
2 Everyone’s here just to see Pixie.  Even Tsuyoshi – he was taking the picture

And then, finally, today I explored more of Tokyo.  I went to a bunch of out-of-the-way places, and it was completely worth it.  First I went to a crazy Soka Gakkai temple that was either a spaceship, a castle, or a samurai helmet.  Yay vaguely Buddhist cults!  Right by that was the headquarters of the Freemasons in Japan, which I wasn’t expecting, and as a fun bonus Tokyo Tower was right there too.  Then I went to Hama-Rikyu Park, maybe the most beautiful park I’ve ever been in.  Seriously.  Then I ended my day in Ginza: playing with the toys at the Sony Building, seeing the Toei Headquarters (the company that brought you Dragonball in all its incarnations, Sailor Moon, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Digimon, among others), and eating at the Wendys that I ate at 2 years ago where I first found out I loved Melon Soda.


1 Ahhh the crazy Soka Gakkai building
2 Only 2 minutes away.  Creepy?  You tell me


1 The Tokyo Tower peeking out from the Masonic Lodge
2 Hama-Rikyu Park

Settling In – Part 2

September 15, 2008

(Continuing from the last entry)

Here’s a creepy/cool face statue near the entrance to my school.

That night I chatted up one of the Australians in my building (Matt – he’s living here in Tokyo for 3 months.  Why?  Tourism, he said.  He pretty much sleeps all day and then goes out at nights), and he took me around the area and showed me all the little holes in the wall, like the other grocery store and the hidden kaitenzushi place and his favorite ramen restaurant.

Yesterday I found a pretty large English bookstore and bought the Tokyo Lonely Planet guide, a collection of short Sci Fi stories, and two Japanese cookbooks, so that I can finally learn how to make Japanese food.  It will be hard, though – the ingredients are many, the preparation is difficult, and the kitchen in my guesthouse is gross.  But I’ll start off simple and work my way up.  Did you know that pretty much all Japanese food is cooked with Sake, Mirin, or Dashi?  Mirin is this stuff made from rice and shochu (a kind of alcohol), while Dashi is sort of a of fish stock.

Today I decided to walk around Ikebukuro, in the northern area of Tokyo.  I really liked it, because it was interesting and exciting and full of cool places and people, but it seemed a lot more down to earth.  Instead of being solely inhabited by the most fashionable youths in the world (like Harajuku or Shibuya) or yuppie businessmen (like Shinjuku), it’s a mix of all those people plus families and normal people.

Oh, and I caught a matsuri (festival) while I was there!

And yeah.  I have another day off tomorrow, but I really want to spend it with someone other than myself.  I’m emailing Ayano and this other girl that I met, along with some of the NCC Japanese students, but it’s hard without a cell phone because apparently it takes all Japanese people 2 DAYS to reply to messages.  I thought they were punctual?

Settling In – Part 1

September 14, 2008

I live in Sendagaya, which is technically Shibuya-ku, but it’s right by Yoyogi Koen and Harajuku.  For many of you that may be complete nonsense, so let me find a map.

Here we go:

I’m in a pretty neat neighborhood.  It’s an 8 minute walk to Yoyogi JR Station, which is surrounded by interesting stores and restaurants, and it’s a 60 second walk to the subway that I use (Kitasando Station), which goes to Shibuya (where my school is).  Around my guesthouse there’s bundles of convenience stores, a Subway (like, the restaurant), a Starbucks and other coffee shops, a little street full of shops (like a stationary store and a 99 yen grocery store and ramen restaurants), a Mos Burger, and a bunch more places I haven’t looked in yet.  And it’s interesting because business mix with the houses, so there will be an apartment, then a cement shop, then a house, then a fill-bags-with-rice place, then a book printing place, etc.

My guesthouse is pink and full of Australians, Koreans, and French people.  Here’s the guesthouse, and here’s the street it’s on.  The pink SAKURA HOUSE sign helps you if you’re lost.  Fill-bags-with-rice place is on the right there, with the red roof.

I live on the 4th floor, and have a small room (1st picture – it’s better decorated now) but a sweet view (2nd picture).

I went to orientation at school on Friday.  There’s 40 new international students this year, from places as different as Mongolia, Jordan, and Venezuela.  We met the International Programs Lady, Aya, who’s actually a foreigner because she was born in Canada.  But she grew up in Japan and speaks perfect Japanese and looks Japanese, so it’s gotta suck a little bit.  She lives here on a Canadian passport.  Then we met our tutor Ayano and she gave us a tour of campus.  It’s actually a really beautiful campus, full of tree-lined boulevards and old stone buildings and gardens, surrounded by the artsy skyscrapers of Aoyama and Shibuya.  Ayano’s pretty cool, and she’s even at the same level of Chinese as me, so we could theoretically speak in 3 languages, although Japanese dominated.  I used Chinese when I couldn’t remember something.

Good Times and Bad Times

September 10, 2008

Wow.

Malaysia was a relaxing time, a Suntory time.  We spent three days in Kuala Lumpur, one of which was actually Malaysia’s Independence Day.  We just kind of wandered around the city, taking it all in instead of trying to go see the “sights”, of which there were few anyways.  The highlight of Malaysia was the food; I had Malaysian, American, Lebanese, Iraqi, and Japanese, and it was all fantastic (although I think it was the food that made me sick the third day and prevented our day trip to Malacca).  Oh, that and the Brazilian-Chinese band that played in a cozy little club one of the nights, which was incredible.

After that Amanda and I flew to Guangzhou, China.  Air Asia is old school; it’s a budget airlines, and they get their own stupid budget terminal, and then we actually have to go outside to board the plane.  But it’s cheap.  So Guangzhou.  Maybe you know it as Canton?  (Cantonese language, and Chinatown-style food).  We went to a nice park and saw one of the most famous symbols of Guangzhou, a silly statue of 5 rams.  And the Guangzhou City Museum.  Then we saw a beautiful orchid garden, made better because it was devoid of people.  The highlight of this city was, again, the food; we had Cantonese style honey pork and fried rice, and also yum cha (where you sip tea and eat food) and dim sum (little bamboo baskets filled with food, like dumplings).  And I didn’t get sick!

Only a day and a half in Guangzhou, and then it was off to Beijing for 5 days.  It wasn’t even strange to be back anymore, it was just normal.  As if I had been expected back.  Of course, there were a million changes since even last year, let alone 2006.  The dumpling place is gone, there’s a karaoke place on campus, they’re tearing down the classrooms attached to the dorms, and the price of everything – EVERYTHING, no exceptions – has gone up, from taxis to food to clubs.  Stupid Olympics.  We did a lot of hanging out with China/Japan, going to karaoke and bars and whatnot, and mooching off a few of their trips – the Temple of Heaven and the Great Wall.  We also went to see Ditan Park (the Temple of Earth) and the Drum & Bell Towers, where we met an Israeli physician working for the Paralympics.  He gave us (which we then gave to Mayumi) a ticket to see Wheelchair Basketball!  Actually, on our last day, Amanda and I did manage to see the Paralympics – track and field events in the Bird’s Nest Stadium, where an American won a 100 meter dash and a Belgian Princess put the medals on the winners.  It was pretty epic, and I’m glad I got to experience such a part of history.

While in Beijing, I got some sucky news; my dog Sheeba of 10 years had died.  She had some crazy internal diseases and tumors that just started manifesting over the past month or so.  I said a goodbye to her when I left for Asia knowing there was a good chance she wouldn’t make it until I got back, and unfortunately I was right.  She was an amazing dog, mostly because she was so cute and silly and ridiculous, as dogs tend to be.  I’ll miss her a lot, and it actually made me feel kind of lonely, knowing she was gone.  Partly because she was gone, and partly because it hurt my family so much; I wish I could have been there to say a real goodbye, and to share in my family’s pain.

I had a great time in Beijing, but to make things worse, Amanda and I had to go in different directions when it came time to go to Japan.  She flew to Kyoto while I went to Tokyo.  So now my dog is dead, my family is depressed, I had to leave my girlfriend, and I’m in a huge unforgiving city.  It kind of sobered me, and the loneliness just kind of piled on.  Not to be emo, but yeah, it’s just what happened.  I had to drag 80 fricking billion pounds of luggage all over Tokyo too, as I met Kensuke at Tamachi Station to stay the night at his apartment.  That made me feel better, though, because I realized that I had friends in this city.  I took a shower, we got some drinks (Chu-Hi) and snacks, and just talked, and by the end of the night I wasn’t so depressed.

The next day was today, and I lugged my fricking luggage all over Tokyo again, first to go to the Sakura House headquarters in Shinjuku to sign the lease and get my keys, then to Yoyogi (the Kitasando Station) to finally put my stuff down in my salmon-pink apartment, the stuff I had been dragging around Asia for almost 3 weeks.  That cheered me up too, to finally settle down and be in the place that I’ll be spending the next 6 months in.  It’s tiny, but there’s a big common room and kitchen and I’m looking forward to meeting lots of people; plus it’s got a pretty sweet view, and I’m literally only 60 seconds from the subway station that takes me to Shibuya (where my school is) in 6 minutes.  So it’s a pretty good commute!  I met Nina, Eri, and Yusuke at night for dinner at a French/Italian place and drinks at this pretty hip bar.  I forgot how cool and trendy Tokyo is.. ganbarimasu, me! Ha

Oh, and I lost my journal and one of my books.  I think I may have left it on the airplane, or in the Tokyo airport?  I don’t know, but I’m really missing them.

Tomorrow is orientation at Aoyama, and meeting my tutor (who may or may not have made sarcastic fun of me in an email, but maybe whatever they said just got lost in translation), and a campus tour, and my placement test.  I hope I do well.. business Japanese spring term was a joke, and I didn’t practice over the summer, but I’m not feeling too bad about it surprisingly.

I want to see Amanda.

Angkor

August 31, 2008

240

240

240

Impressions of Cambodia

August 27, 2008

Cambodia is a surprisingly charming place. After disembarking from the mostly empty plane on Monday, we met our driver who would pick us up and take us to our room for the night in Phnom Penh, the capital.

And I thought that Chinese people were terrible drivers.

Cambodia puts all other drivers to shame. As we weaved in and out of motorcycles and tuk-tuks (the motorcycle taxis with a carriage on the back), we would periodically drive in the lane of oncoming traffic, sneak through red lights, and go into turn lanes just to pass people. Despite that jolt to the senses, though, Phnom Penh was a fascinating place. Little shops lined French Colonial buildings with sidewalks made of tile and dusty streets as spires of twisted, curly Buddhist architecture waved to us from a distance. It was enthralling.

We arrived at our hotel on the riverside in between bars, restaurants, and internet cafes. We were given over to extravagance a bit, due to the low prices of Cambodia, and booked a room with a river view. We settled in, unloaded, and began our day at 9 am. Immediately as we walked outside a group of tuk-tuk drivers clustered around us and asked if we wanted a ride, a phenomenon that was not to abate. Amanda and I walked through the pounding heat, past vendors selling Lychee Fanta and Lonely Planet guide books, and quickly arrived at our first destination: the National Museum. It was a beautiful old building filled with centuries-old artifacts, but our visit there revealed just how poor this country was; floors were broken, walls were unstained, exhibits were poorly lit (if at all), there was no A/C, and it only took 30-40 minutes to view everything. That was their National Museum.

We explored the surrounding area after that, taking in the sounds and smells and wondering what the various rooftops and golden monuments signified. Cambodia’s architecture is different from that of other Asian cities I’ve been to, and I think it must be due to the French colonial influence. The buildings had Chinese-style bathroom tiles everywhere, but their ugliness was offset by the beautiful flowing balconies and colored walls.

Eventually we decided to move on and got the attention of a sleepy tuk-tuk driver (named Mr. Ny, we found out later) who was alone, away from the groups of others all clamoring for our attention. I only asked him to take us to Tuol Sleng Prison, but he offered to drive us to the killing fields of Cheong Ek as well, and to wait for us as we explored the prison. We didn’t expect that, but later learned (through 3 days of experience now) that you stick with a tuk-tuk driver all day.

So off we went to the prison, which was once a primary school, and soon the grim realities of the Khmer Rouge regime began to sink in. Run by the Cambodian dictator Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge had evacuated Phnom Penh, destroyed an entire country’s way of life, and killed hundreds of thousands of their own people, all within a period of 4 years in the 1970s. I had heard of Pol Pot, but the torture beds and black and white photographs of beaten victims brought his regime to life; and isn’t that why I travel, to learn about the world first-hand? I guess so.

After that we had lunch at a restaurant across the street that obviously catered to tourists, but was still good, and Amanda and I had our first taste of Cambodian food – noodles with vegetables and two eggs in a mild vaguely-coconut sauce, with a slightly spicier dipping sauce. We finished, paid, and met Mr. Ny to take us to the Cheong Ek killing fields in the jungle, where prisoners were killed en masse. It took a half hour through dusty rural roads as we passed chickens and, strangely, exactly the same shops we saw in the middle of the city, selling everything from bottled coke to tiles to incense burners. It’s fascinating how their way of life remained unchanged, no matter where they were. A large city like Phnom Penh is nothing different from the countryside.

Once at the killing fields we gazed somberly at the tower of skulls and the swampy, unearthed death pits. It was a sad but necessary trip, as it put Cambodian history into perspective for us. From there Mr. Ny took us to the “Russian Market” for souvenirs (hello bootleg DVDs) and then to monkey-infested Wat Phnom temple, on top of a large hill. The oddest part of that visit occurred when I passed into the traditional heart of the temple – full of incense, bowing worshipers, and ancient wooden beams – only to see a silly flashing LED behind the statue of the Buddha, as if he were supposed to give off an aura of unexplainable mystery, and aura that can only be conveyed through swirling blue and pink lights.

Once we left there we asked Mr. Ny to take us back to the hotel. On the way back we started talking, and he eventually stopped driving as we ended up discussing life, love, work, and politics for a half hour. He had broken his arm in a scuffle with other tuk-tuk drivers in an attempt to get passengers, and that’s why we found him alone and not as pushy as the others. We learned that a tuk-tuk costs about $900, his wife works in a European clothes factory, Thailand stole Cambodia’s land, and he worked for himself. We had to part ways, though, so he dropped Amanda and I off and admonished us “Don’t separate!”.

Amanda and I finished off the night in style, with a dinner where the proceeds went to help Cambodian street children and a few drinks at a clever nearby bar. My day in Phnom Penh was unexpected and exhilarating, sad and gratifying, and full of interesting people, and I can honestly say that Cambodia has charmed me. This was a sentiment that would be challenged the next day – as our bus broke down for an hour and a half – and reinforced the day after, as I saw one of the greatest triumphs of the human mind deep in the jungle. And now it’s a sentiment that has lasted.

Singapore

August 24, 2008

I’m at City Backpacker’s Hostel north of downtown Singapore right now. Amanda and I have already spent a day here, and the day before yesterday we were in Seoul. We managed to see downtown, eat food that we missed, and see Meehyun and Hyuein again. Even though it was crazy rainy, I think our layover in Korea was quite successful.

As for Singapore, well, it’s very Chinese. More than I expected. There’s still crazy Chinese smells and skyscrapers made of tiles. But it’s different here; for one, we’re almost next to the equator, so the weather is perpetually hot and rainy all year round, and that affects the psyche, I’m sure. Also, besides Chinese people, there’s a very large percentage of Malays, Indians, and white expats that live here, and it makes for a fun mix. Everywhere we go are signs in English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil (from southern India). The food is fantastic, the city is clean, and there’s a surprising amount of history.

So yesterday Beehn and I basically spent our time downtown. We took pictures of the large and weird Merlion, went to the Asian Civilizations Museum, had Indian food for lunch, drank a Singapore Sling in the bar where it was invented (it was so British! and ot to throw peanut shells on the floor), spent a lot of time in a huge mall and bought a cool new wallet, saw a free concert by a Singaporean cover band that was amazing with a view of the skyline from where we were sitting, saw a 20 minute fireworks show with seriously the biggest fireworks I’ve ever seen (they filled the whole sky! and I could feel the aftershocks in my bones. it was crazy), and went to the super futuristic and hip Clarke Quay area for Cuban food and drinks.

Today will be cheaper, with Chinatown and Little India on the list, and tomorrow we head off to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

I like this place.

Sometimes I feel really lucky that I get to do this kind of stuff..

They Tumble Blindly As They Make Their Way Across The Universe

August 20, 2008

SLI is over.  Over.  Done.  No more stress, no more insubordination, no more working, no more.  Even if there were a good amount of pretty cool kids, even if I miss living with my friends, even if I learned a lot, I’m still glad it’s done.

You know how it is when you’re running around and rushing to do stuff and have doctor’s appointments and dentist appointments and have to buy a new supply of contacts and have to buy other travel-related stuff and pack and see friends and family for one last time and eat as much American food as you can because you leave in only a few days?  Yeah.

Tonight we leave.  I wonder if this will be the best year yet.

June 29, 2008

As a Bill Murray fan, there are many strict rules I need to follow.  5 times a day I have to stop whatever I’m doing, face Wilmette, IL (his hometown), and quote a line from “The Life Aquatic”.  For a month of every year I have to fast and the only thing I can drink is Suntory Whisky.  I have to live February 2 over at least 5 times in a row (this one is difficult).  And of course, every true fan has to make a Billgrimage at least once in their lifetime.  Well friends, over the weekend my girlfriend and I finally got my chance to go to the holy of holies, and I wish to share with you my tales of Wilmette.

We left on a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon, and took the highway to the northern suburbs of Chicago.  Along the way, Amanda and I talked about the things we would do while in Wilmette: walk, breathe, talk, move, see, hear.  We quickly became very excited.  After a 30 minute drive, with the anticipation mounting every second, I could barely breathe by the time we arrived at our first stop on our trek: Loyola Academy, Bill’s all-boys Jesuit high school.

It seemed very prestigous.  According to his English teacher, Father Reuter, he was “brilliant but a terrible student”.*  After ceremoniously busting a ghost in effigy (get it?  ghostbusters?  one of his movies?…), we returned to our car and drove to our second destination – Border’s Books.  As a Bill Murray fan, I had no choice but to buy a Bill Murray movie in his hometown.  It was a glorious feeling as a cashier rang up my selection and a hole in my movie collection, and my heart, was plugged.

Wilmette is talking about Bill Murray, of course.  Savoring the moment, we then proceeded to stop # 3 on our Trek, the magnificent St. Joseph’s School where Mr. Murray attended grade school.  “Unfortunately for his teachers, he was an irrepressible character, keener to entertain his peers than concentrate on the lesson in hand. This would lead to him being kicked out of both the Boy Scouts and Little League”.*

Oh how I long to have been one of Bill’s peers.  Maybe I was?  The next stop was of vital importance for Bill Murray fans.  We drove 6 minutes from St. Joseph’s School and came to the Indian Hill Club, where Bill Murray worked a part-time job as a caddie.  Influencing movies such as “Caddyshack” and kindling Bill’s insatiable interest in golf, this job helped make him who he is today.

Our Billgrimage was nearing an end, but before we headed to the Final Destination, we had to of course pay our respects to other systems of belief, whether or not they acknowledge Bill Murray’s acting as divinely inspired.  Because being a Bill Murray fan means being tolerant.  So, as we were in Wilmette, what better way than to explore the beauty of the North American Baha’i Temple?**

We then drove into Skokie and completed our Billgrimage with a visit to Little Caesar’s, where the Billster worked a part-time job after being kicked out of college in Denver for possesion of marijuana.  The first picture is one I took of Bill in 1971.***

And thus ended our holy trek to the promised land. The tale isn’t over yet, though, for a “documurray” is in the works and will be released onto YouTube by the end of the summer.  Prepare yourselves.

* Quotes courtesy of http://www.tiscali.co.uk/entertainment/f

ilm/biographies/bill_murray_biog.html
** No better way.
*** Not true.  But it really is a picture of him working there in 1971, at 21 years old.

Brookfield, Toronto, Niagara Falls, Monroe, and Tokyo

March 21, 2008

Going back to the beginning of March, I went to the Brookfield Zoo with Will and Amanda. It was the first time I had been there since I was a kid. Animals are so ridiculous; the only thing I could do there was laugh. Also – the zoo is right in the middle of suburbville, suburbia. It felt weird.


1 Stupid dolphins
2 Stupid dinosaurs

Then right before spring break started, I found out that Kyoto Gakuen University is only going to take 2 people instead of 3, like they had originally said. According to Matsubara, since I like big cities, she thought that Aoyama Gakuin University (in downtown Tokyo) would be better for me. After finding out that there is full immersion available (I can take normal classes with Japanese students), and the fact that my only other choice was Iwate, I decided to go with Aoyama. On the plus side, I’ll be in downtown Tokyo and I’ll be able to live in a guesthouse anywhere in Tokyo that I choose (skyscrapers right outside my window?). And Matsubara was right – I do prefer big cities. Also, Aoyama has a very good reputation in Japan, while most Japanese people have never heard of Kyoto Gakuen. On the downside, I will now be half a country away from Amanda, so poo on that. And the China/Japan group and Valeria and Ashley too. And while Aoyama is the 2nd or 3rd most rigorous program NCC offers, it’s not 1st. And it’s super expensive, although more scholarships and free money are available this year than in previous years.

Then spring break started, and Amanda and I went to Toronto. Which was pretty much cool as hell. It was big and skyscrapery and fun and colorful and artsy and unique and everything I like in a huge city. After the first day we went to Toronto’s first post office (where I wrote a letter to my parents with a quill pen and sealed it with wax!), saw the Stanley Cup at the Hockey Hall of Fame, went to a micronation (http://www.baronyofcaux.com/), went out for sushi and udon to celebrate one month together, saw a movie at a crazy movie theater, ate poutine, scaled the tallest building in the world, pet stupid dogs and cats, went to islands on Lake Ontario, and saw a show at The Second City (which was just as funny as the one in Chicago). In other words: go to Toronto! A world-class city that’s only an 8 hour drive from Chicago.

Here are some pictures that aren’t on facebook:


1 A store selling construction clothes in Kensington (the “hip” area of Toronto)
2 On a garbage can


1 The shadow of the CN Tower… from the CN Tower!
2 Friends in Toronto

After that we drove an hour and a half to Niagara Falls. It was beautiful, and the ice and green water made it almost surreal. Unfortunately after watching the falls and eating lunch we didn’t have much else to do, so we walked 30 minutes along the river to a random Buddhist Temple, the 10,000 Buddhas Temple or something like that. It was strange seeing a huge Asian complex peppered with Canadian flags among motels and suburban houses. After a nap on a Buddha statue, we walked back and I drove most of the 5 hours to Amanda’s mom’s house in Monroe, Michigan.

Some more non-facebook pictures:


1 A rainbow at the American Falls
2 Part of the Buddhist Temple

We spent the next 3 and a half days doing exactly what one should during spring break – relaxing and being lazy. I saw a lot of movies I had been wanting to see (including “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” and “Team America”), watched a lot of cartoons and kid shows (Yo Gabba Gabba!), ate a lot of good food, and played with two ridiculous dogs. Her mom and stepdad were really nice, which made the time even better. Eventually we had to leave, and so on Thursday afternoon Amanda drove us back to Chicago.

And that’s that

Toronto

March 14, 2008

Wow, somehow everything worked out! I guess I don’t know what I expected.

The border:
[Give the guard our passports]
Guard – “Where are you going? How long will you be here? For what purpose? Where are you staying?”
Us – [answer questions]
Guard – “Ok”

And we were in Canada! The land that looks just like America, except for fun little differences. Like people have a vague Minnesota/Irish accent sometimes, the highway numbers are inside of crowns, and the nickels and quarters look the freaking same. We look just like Canadians until we attempt to buy something, rummaging around through our coins like foreigners.

So after walking around Chinatown and Kensington Market (the hip area where Amanda bought me a scarf) and the University of Toronto and walking down Yonge St. through all the skyscrapers, we went to Tim Horton’s for dinner (a fast food chain we felt obligated to eat at since they’re everywhere) and then to a bar called C’est What? for some odd tasting beers. A pint!

Also, Toronto is very colorful, artsy, Asian, and at times gay. I don’t know why Zachary Johnson doesn’t live here.

Found in Beijing

January 18, 2008

I made a video of Beijing that I put together from clips around the city. I think it’s pretty good:

Found in Beijing


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