May 27, 2009

Tuesday, 2009-05-26

Today we had one major thing on the schedule: go snorkeling.

I don't remember what happened in the morning, but I think I slept in a bit. We eventually got on the road though before noon headed up to the North Shore. I had wanted to drive up the Pali highway, so we headed that way. It was really nice. We were driving in the Mustang with the top down. About halfway up the mountain, the rain started. Ooops. We pulled over and I put the top up. Lesson learned. Then we stopped and checked out the pali highway scenic overlook which is really pretty cool. And headed on our way around to the North Shore. My goal: the Turtle Bay Resort which had a pretty nice bay for snorkeling and is open to the public.

Before getting there though, we ran across Giovanni's Shrimp Truck, which Risa had wanted to try since we got here. We tried to find it the previous week, but missed it. It was about 200 meters further down from where we turned around the first time (when we went horseback riding.) It was really good. We got a half-plate, which was perfect for us since I feel like I've only been eating all the time since I got here and I am positive that I am going to explode even if I only have something that is wafer-thin (when nothing here is.)

After that, we headed out and hit the Turtle Bay beach. We rented scuba gear, and Risa went nuts. I didn't really do too well with the scuba gear. I had trouble when my nose and ears were at different pressure differentials, and I also kind of panicked when floating around (seems unnatural) and then when I got salt in my mouth I freaked out. So I went and read, Risa went swimming for a long time. It was good. I finished my book ( Light) and it was a good book.

Then we headed back to Waikiki and got dinner at Legend Seafood in Chinatown. It was good, and now we have a whole bunch of food in the fridge. We won't be able to eat it all… :(


May 25, 2009

Monday 2009-05-25

1 Monday 2009-05-25

Monday morning was consumed with packing. We had lots of stuff. More than we started with.

We then left the Kahala - after a bit of a delay in finding our cake - and went back to the Waikiki Banyan.

The big plan for the afternoon was for Risa and Alana and Jana to go to the VIP room at Louis Vuitton. The organizer there, Mariko, a friend of the Tanaka family's friend (Kobayashi, who helped with a bit of the arrangements here and a lot of the Tanaka family planning) gave us a cake there. It was delicious.

I might not have mentioned it, but our rental car was a Chevy HHR wagon type thing. It is a reasonable car. Mr. Tanaka said that I should get a big car so that we can shuttle people around. Turns out we didn't really do much of that. It was useful when we moved from the Kahala back to our other hotel though. But Risa was complaining that it wasn't really a cool car. So while she was at the Loius Vuitton showroom, I took the car back and changed it for a convertible Mustang. Protip: do not let them close out your car when you want to do an exchange. Use the magic words: "I want to exchange." If they close it out, it might take a long time to get the car you really want. It turns out that the change to a mustang didn't really cost anything. huh. Maybe it is a few dollars, but it isn't really much of a premium over the normal car.

Also, the speed limits are low in Hawaii: the fasted road I have found is 55 mph. There is hardly any benefit to getting a hot car over a normal one, but I can't argue that the mustang isn't cooler than the HHR, because it is.

1.1 Dinner at Gordon Biersch at Aloha Tower

After that, I picked people up, and we went back to our place. Eventually we made it to the Gordon Biersch Brewery where the Tanaka and Evans family had a last dinner together. It didn't really work too well though because of the Japanese - English barrier, and like I said before I am not really a very good interpreter. I was super happy to see Eric Tschetter and Sayuri there, but it looked like Eric was either perpetually embarrassed, or had a devastatingly sunburned face. Turns out it was the sunburn. After dinner he was out of commission as he (probably) repeated applied Aloe Vera to his face while cursing his pigment-lacking ancestry. I do that a lot too.

Dinner was nice. Dad met a friend there from Omak. He had friends everywhere. After dinner we went back home, then to the Moana Surfrider bar for drinks with Alana and Jana. And finally back home for more dead-like sleep.


May 24, 2009

Wedding

We got married on Sunday. It was great.

My thanks go out to Eric Han, Ron DeVilla, my family, the Tanaka family, Yuzuna (because she is so super cute), Eric Tschetter, Sayuri, Eric Han, and Tomoko for their translation help, Carl Sable, Jon Evans and Lilly, and everyone that came.

Our cameraman, Kenrick, was great.

Risa loved her makeup artist (Mariko) and our wedding coordinator from Issei company, Sayuri. Otherwise, I have nothing but good things to say about the Kahala hotel. I was amazed that so many friends came from the US. It was great to see everyone. Even those late people (I'm looking at you, Andy! But I love you anyway. I think it would have been strange had you been on time!)

We had a strange mix of Japanese and American ceremony. I know Risa and I ate more than say, my best bud Ron and Michelle at their wedding. So I think that means we are bad hosts. I loved how people gave impromptu speeches, and I knew my sister would cry. I wasn't sure which one it would be, but it was Alana.

I really should have given Carl more time for his palindrome.

We ended up with waay too much cake. But the dinner was delicious.

Did you know that we got married at the Magnum PI Bar? We did.

We were both exhausted by the time it was over.

May 23, 2009

Saturday 2009-05-23

1.1 Pick up Aiko and Satoko from the airport

I was supposed to drive us to the airport to pick up Risa's bridesmaids, Satoko and Aiko, but instead I spent the morning throwing up, feeling amazingly sick, not being able to sleep, and trying to stop the room from alternating from spinning to punching to my head.

Risa was a bit dubious about going out to drive on her own, but when we visited California a half year back she did some driving and didn't have much trouble, so I figured she should be able to make it to the airport and back. And she did! She did warn me on the way out that she might crash and die, but in the state I was in that sounded safer than me trying to get out of bed.

1.2 Move to Kahala

A few hours later I was feeling somewhat human again (with faint zombie-undertones) and got up and showered. I had a bunch of IMs from people, and managed to even get dressed by the time Risa returned. I think we had a bit of time to recover, and maybe we went out an ate something. I know that we eventually got back into the car, and I took up the wheel. We headed to the Hyatt, where Risa's friends were staying, and picked them up, then went to the Kahala, checked in there, and wandered around for a bit.

The Kahala Hotel is pretty crazy. It is a very nice place (they had pictures of both Shawn Bradley and Kareem Abdul Jabber from when they visited there!) and they have a kind of artificial lagoon in the middle of the property. With dolphins. And Sea Turtles. And other things. It is really crazy. There is also a nice beach and places to eat, a pool, etc. We were only there for two nights but it looks like we have to go back for a bit longer next time. I've been told.

We wandered around the grounds and someone there gave us free Pineapple Popsicles. Score! Also, Risa and her friends hadn't seen a hammock before, and were pretty amazed at them. So we spent some time playing with hammocks.

By 3:30pm our bus had come and picked us up for the Paradise Cove Luau. Lena decided to go there, then we ended up getting a bunch of other people to go.


1.3 Paradise Cove Luau

The bus that came to pick us up was huge - a regular tour bus. There were only the four of us on it. We then drove to the next pick up point, met another bus, and filled this one up. Wow. Also, I called my favorite brother Jon and found out that he was totally waiting at some other hotel. I got him headed in the right direction and he and Lily eventually made it on the bus.

The trip out to the Luau place was about 45 minutes. Most of my friends made it, except for Carl and Cha-Eun, who went to the competing (supposedly much better, but Mormon-run and alcohol-less) Polynesian Cultural Center Luau. That's cool with me: I wanted to go to that one too, but on general principles think people should have the choice of destroying brain cells with alcohol if that is what they want (and what I often do, but didn't this evening since I had to drive.) I also am not sure what the Mormons are doing running that thing; I guess they didn't have enough of an imperial native-dominating experience back in the Missionary era? I hear that the pork is excellent though.

The Paradise Cove Luau is pretty cool. I was glad to see that cousin Doug made it, despite having been to this very Luau multiple times (I think.) He had some good advice on what do to. Generally I think the place was pretty cool.

I really liked Dave's Ice Cream. Surprisingly I have only had ice cream three times in Hawaii. One of them was here, where I got a nice Chocolate and Macadamia nut ice cream. It was good. Then Risa went and made a nice flower bracelet and a really cool headband with her bridesmaids. I tried really hard to translate and keep everyone involved, but I get the feeling that I'm not really a very gregarious guy. I need to work on that more.

We then headed over to the water and watched the tree climbing thing, where a dude totally just climbed up this tree like it was nothing. Then he threw flowers at people. Pretty rude if you ask me. ;) After that we watched a traditional fishing thing with nets. It was pretty cool.

Then I had the bright idea to get some drinks. I got in line. About an hour later I got our drinks and brought them back to Risa and her bridesmaids. The Luau had already started. It was a buffet, and it was good. The pork was amazing. It was very tender (a whole pig, probably more than one) and delicious. The other stuff was ok. The fried chicken was pretty good. I can't believe the pork though - it was great. Lena made me say into her video camera that it was the best pork I had ever had. I said that while eating chocolate cake though, so I am not sure how convincing it was. It was really good though.

Then we had the entertainment portion of the Luau. They had lots of dancing - hula and otherwise. The fire dancer was really amazing. I kept on saying "Sugoi" (Japanese for amazing.) I then noticed that I was speaking Japanese and started to feel self-conscious about it. It was just coming out naturally though. Have I turned into one of those people that thinks they are Japanese? Having Eric sit next to me can make me feel self-conscious.

Anyway, after the revue ended (did I mention that the fire dancer was amazing?) we headed home. Risa fell asleep on the bus. After that I had to drop off Eric, give Ron his pants and Best Man shirt, and pick up my bag from the, uh, … club … where I accidentally left bag back on Friday night. Then I came home and slept the sleep of the exhausted. But not without first noticing that the showers at the kahala are amazing. Also the bed is amazing. And the TV was amazing. Not that I got to watch it. Compare the TV in the Kahala to the one in our Waikiki Banyan condo. Their TV: large, LCD, wall mounting with an awesome swivel mount. Our Banyan TV: maybe a 24" electron tube (I can't believe I forgot what these are called) non-flatscreen TV where the colors are off (the Orlando Magic are green instead of blue) with no remote control.


May 22, 2009

Friday 2009-05-22

On Friday we had a meeting in the morning with Sayuri A., our wedding organizer from Issei Corporation. They did a really great job. The planning and wedding itself went very smoothly, and we didn't have to fret over many of the details. I highly recommend them if you are looking for a wedding in Hawaii, particularly if you have English and Japanese speaking people in the party. The meeting took about an hour and a half, we wrapped up some final details and went over scheduling. After that we had a bit of time, then Risa's makeup person (Mariko) came over and they did the test-run makeup and hair session.

After that we had a pretty good chunk of time. Risa's family had arrived earlier in the morning and made their way to the Kahala hotel. They had forgotten to buy diapers, so they asked if we could do that. We had a bit of an experience finding diapers, but finally did find them, and headed over to the Kahala hotel. It was my first time to see the place, and it is really nice. They have an actual lagoon type thing with dolphins in it. Also large turtles. And a variety of fish. It has a very nice property, private beach, the works.

After spending some time with Risa's family, we all headed downtown to Chinatown where we met everyone for drinks and dinner at Bar 35. Actually, most people were about an hour late, but we did eventually get everyone together and had some of the great pizza there. It would have been if it wasn't so loud though - I had a sore throat the next day from all the shouting.

After drinks the girls and guys split up for more traditional activities. I made it home sometime past 2am, but had had way too much drink.


May 21, 2009

Thursday 2009-05-21

Moco Loco

After getting the morning stuff done (some coffee and some work) Risa and I headed out to Keoni's for a brunch. We got Moco Loco, a dish she had heard about and was eager to try. It is basically gravy over eggs over a hamburger over rice. Add some Tabasco sauce and maybe a bit of salsa and you have yourself a big, hearty meal. It was good, but didn't really have much of a flavor. It tasted like someone mashed up a bunch of eggs, hamburger, and rice. Bland. Add some Tabasco and it was pretty good, but tasted pretty much like Tabasco. So maybe there are other places that will have more flavor, but I get the impression that it is more of a hearty meal with volume for the surfers than anything else. We split one order between the two of us and we were stuffed.

Perhaps it would be better to get it from one of the plate lunch places where it is usually sold, the problem is that it is hard to find those places and we are not locals so we don't know what is where. We also just want to get something easy in the morning without having to make huge plans or do lots of research, so usually we just limit ourselves to things in the area. Anyway, it was interesting to try.

I'm looking forward to some spam dishes. Looks like McDonald's actually has a spam and egg plate so I might try to find that at some point - I love the regional McDonald's differences. I also want to find Krispy Kreme, but that has nothing to do with Spam and is more just a general love of doughnuts.

Shopping

After Moco Loco we hooked up with Alana and friends to complete one of the wedding items from our checklist: buy white pants for the best men and myself. This turned out to be a lot harder than I expected. The other day Alana had put some items of clothing on hold at the Macy's across from the Moana Surfrider, so we headed out there. The pants were too transparent though, and another style that was less so were not available in all the sizes that we needed. I bought a pair that fit me anyway (on the theory that it is better to have some pants rather than no pants) and then we headed out to a larger Macy's at a mall down the road. They did have a wider selection, and we eventually picked up three pair of the same style of pants for the best men and I, but I'm not too sure of the sizings for the best men. Well, they can probably make do for half a day.

While shopping, I also picked myself up some new shoes, since the ones I have been wearing for the past two years are about to fall apart.

DK's Steak House

From about 7pm we had reservations at DK's Steak House at the Mariott. I had read good things about it. Another steakhouse that looked good (Hy's) seemed to have a pretty strict dress code, and didn't have any views of the ocean.

So, Alana, Jana, Dad, myself and Risa went out to the Marriot. It was a bit of a trick finding the place, but we managed in the end. Risa had a nice NY Strip, and I had an 8oz Filet Mignon. I meant to get it Medium, but I accidentally said "Well Done". It wasn't bad, but it also wasn't as good as it could have been - and that order mistake was my fault. It was a very good steak. Risa's NY Strip was also very nice. I think everyone enjoyed what they had. The soup that we got - I think it was a potato onion soup. It was delicious. There was entirely too much food, but it was all very nice. I had at least two glasses of a nice merlot with my meal.

After dinner, we got a picture or two (thanks random passer-by!) and then Risa and I headed back to the hotel.


May 20, 2009

Wednesday 2009-05-20

USS Arizona Memorial

After the normal morning work and coffee routine, we finally got moving and headed out to see Alana, Jana, and Dad. The plan: to go to Pearl Harbor and visit the USS Arizona memorial. We got there a bit before noon, waiting in line for about five minutes, and got free tickets to the 12:30pm visit to the memorial. It was really great that everything there was free: parking, and the Arizona memorial and museum. If you had the time and the money, you could pay extra to visit a restored destroyer and a submarine, but we didn't think we had the time. I would like to go back and do that some day though - it looked really interesting. I got Risa a Japanese guided tour and we hit the museum up for the introductory movie and boat ride over. The memorial is really nice, although it is a bit hard to tell what you are looking at. There is a diagram in the museum that makes it really clear, but we didn't see that until we got back. I'm really glad that we did it - it is a really interesting piece of living history.

I wonder how Risa felt, we talked about it a bit, but not in too much depth. It was very strange for me when I visited Hiroshima, but I definitely think it was worth it and am glad that I did it. I hope that Risa feels that same way.


Hotel Viewing

After the USS Arizona, we headed back to Alana's hotel and then took care of some business: I played tech support to Dad, and also made reservations for dinner the next night. We also ate the PB&J sandwiches that Alana had prepared in the morning. They were Risa's first PB&J sandwiches, and Alana was bit disappointed that she had to have somewhat stale sandwiches for her first ones, but it all worked out in the end.

A few hours later our friends Ron and Michelle arrived. They had just flown in, and were staying at the same hotel. Since Ron is the architectural superstar, he had some hotels on his hitlist that he wanted to see. We commenced with a hotel lobby viewing party. We ended up at the Moana Surfrider, a hotel that is right on the beach and has a real history attached to it. We got some light snacks and drinks, then split out.

Risa was interested in getting a bit more to eat so we stopped by at The Big Kahuna (some sort of bar / restaurant) and got a drink and some onion rings there on the walk back. It wasn't nearly as interesting as the sports bar (Legend's) that we had visited before, but it did have a kind of commercialized Tiki-bar atmosphere. I really should find a Tiki-bar while I'm here, since I like the Tiki-bar TV podcast, despite not really "getting it".

Then back home and some sleep.


May 19, 2009

Tuesday 2009-05-19

Did some work in the morning, and in the afternoon my family arrived. Dad and both sisters. We met up with them at their hotel and then went to get something to eat. The closest place that I saw on the way in was an IHOP, and since we were all hungry and didn't want to have to make a big production of finding a place, we went there. I also happen to really like pancakes, and haven't had many since moving to Japan, so IHOP it was. On the way in we were accosted by a big pancake ("Charlie") and he gave us some coupons that we used on the way in. Charlie was pretty cool as far as pancakes go.

We had some time making sense of the menu, and I went for a Rooti Tooti Fresh and Fruity (strawberries.) A while later we saw Charlie trying to get into some door. He was having a tough time because he was about 4x wider than the door. He eventually turned sideways and slid in that way. Surprisingly, he came back out bearing our pancakes! I didn't actually get a shot, but it was very funny. It looked like pancake cannibalism.

Not sure what else happened that night, but we made it home and got some sleep. The rest of the week people start showing up and things start to get busier.


May 18, 2009

Monday 2009-05-18

Up early, I did a bit more work. I got some coding done and got a build off an running before rushing out the door - I'm a bit curious to see if it worked, so I hope I can spend a bit of time looking at that tonight.

Anyway, we made it out the door at about 7am. We had to be at the place at 8:45am for the check-in, and it is about an hour or an hour and a half to the ranch, so we should have been ok. I punched everything into the GPS and we looked good, but it was putting us there at about 9:15am. Shoot. So I tried to go a bit quick. It took me about an hour to realize that the GPS unit was reading the time an hour fast - probably something to do with daylight saving's time. Well, we didn't get pulled over, so all's well that ends well. We even had a bit of time to stop at 7-11 and get a coffee. Risa got a Spam Musubi. Cool. She said it was good.

Up at the ranch we were about twenty minutes early. So pretty good, all told. The horse ride was very nice. I'll write a bit more about that later.

1.1 Horse riding at Happy Trails in Hawaii

So I set us up with a ride at Happy Trails on Oahu, a nice little ranch up on the North Shore. I think Risa has done one of these horse riding things once before, and I've done one out in Texas. It is generally really nice: get on a horse, and ride around for an hour or two. Enjoy the view, enjoy riding on a horse, and have a nice time. Maybe your butt gets sore.

I don't really have much else to say: I really liked the company, we had a great time, and it was a lot of fun. There is at least one other place on Oahu that does horse rides, but it sounds to me like they are a more touristy place. This place was small, and the people were very friendly.


1.2 Shrimp (lots of) at Romy's Shrimp

We stopped for lunch at Romy's Shrimp. We had shrimp. Lots and lots of shrimp. It was very good, but a lot of work: we had to peel it ourselves. Our hands were just a mess by the time we were done. It was very nice though. I don't think I'll need shrimp for a while though.

After that we drove along, and stopped at a random beach. Really nice, great waves. The north shore looks like it has some great beaches. I found a Fugu washed up on the shore. Crazy.

We then headed to the closest shopping center to try to find some swimsuits. Risa doesn't like the one that I brought so I need to get one that meets her approval. We didn't find anything at Ross (did get some cheap shorts and beach towels though) and now I am writing up the events of the past few days at a Starbucks. We'll head out in a bit to look for more swimsuits.

We eventually found a nice suit for Risa at the Hip Up store on Waikiki, and then went home for a relaxing evening for sleep.


May 17, 2009

Sunday 2009-05-17

No pictures: A pretty uneventful day! Still, imagine the pretty Waikiki beach, a completely pale white guy deathly afraid of a sunburn (so wearing way too much sunblock) and a cute Japanese girl wandering around looking for places to eat and trying to plan the next two weeks.
Sunday morning I slept in, and then got up and did some work. That is the main reason I went to all the trouble to get the net access - I have a few things I need to finish up this week and wasn't able to get done before the vacation. Things went well with that though. By about 1pm I was ready to head out. I had hoped that Risa would have spent the morning looking up things and deciding what to do, but when I asked her what she wanted to do, she didn't know. She was pretty mad at me.

At any rate, we headed out for lunch. Risa was being difficult, so (because of that?) we ended up at McDonal's where I got to try a Big N' Tasty, a burger that I always liked. Interestingly, they came with pineapple slices also. Neat. I thought we could get pineapple instead of french fries, but not so: you get both! It would probably be a lot healthier if they just let you do the swap right up. It feels kind of stupid to pay extra to have them not give you the fries though.

After lunch Risa was feeling a bit better. We bought some cheap flip-flops at ABC and walked down around on the beach. After a bunch of walking we went back to the hotel, and took a break. I ended up dumping sand all over the place. I should have checked out my rolled-up pants before laying down for a nap.

For dinner I had noticed a Chili's not too far from our hotel, and Risa wanted some Americana flavor, so we headed that way. A bowl of chili and their "make your own dinner" was enough to stuff the both of us. We wanted to check out a "local bar" so I spied a sports bar down a side street. I was interested in catching the end of the Lakers-Rockets series, so we tried that place. It was a small little place, but the people were having a lot of fun. According to the owner (I assume) that day was the place's 15th Anniversary party, and for that reason the beers were only $3 each. Very cheap! But also because of that the crowd, which had been there drinking since about 5pm, was totally nuts. Seemed like a nice group though. I chatted with a guy, Ike, for a bit. He apparently does something with Harley's. I've got his card around here somewhere…

We made it home by about 11pm or so, and to bed by about midnight. By now I had almost completely recovered from my cold, so I finally got a bit of a break there. Earlier in the afternoon I had looked into options, and not wanting a repeat performance of the morning's inexplicable animosity shot at me, I made an appointment to go horseback riding up on the north shore. That means we needed to hit the road at about 7am, and get up at around 6am. But, I made plans so hopefully that means a less hostile day.


May 16, 2009

(Another) Saturday 2009-05-16

I had arranged for a rental car, not a great deal, but a good enough one through National. We got our choice of about eight cars, none of which Risa really liked, but in the end she took a Chevy HHR. It is a pretty nice SUV-style PT Cruiser knock-off. I probably should have just sprung for more and gotten a convertible, which is what Risa was after.

We drove over to our hotel, the Aston Waikiki Banyan, but we were renting for two weeks from a Japanese-oriented company so the check in was on the 3rd floor instead of the normal place. We sorted all that out and headed up to our room on the 36th floor. It has an amazing ocean view. The place is a bit old - the building was built in the 70s sometime - and it looks a bit old. Most of the electrical fixtures in our place for example are loose. I get the feeling that it isn't the kind of place that Japanese people would like. Usually even older places are better kept than this place. It isn't bad though; just a bit on the older side. For what we are paying - which isn't really all that much, especially given the amazing view - I'm quite happy. Risa doesn't want to use the kitchen though because the pots & pans & plates are a bit dirty. They look fine to me though.

The strange thing is that we have two beds. Separated. Which is a little strange for a newlywed couple I think, but whatever. Turns out it wasn't much of a problem because usually we were exhausted when we got back and just fell asleep anyway. Also, the beds were pretty average, not really so great. And only two pillows. And small ones. There were some more up in the closet, but I didn't even bother to pull one or two down. Too tired.

I was pretty tired, but went out and did some shopping, and arranged to get the broadband option: a broadband over powerlines (a Motorola Clear Wire modem) solution. It wasn't wireless though, just one wired connection. Good thing I had bought an Apple Airport Express the other day. Set all that up and we were good to go. Well, I had to change to a different outlet than the one I originally chose because the outlet was loose and the internet connection was bad. Not surprising. It isn't the best connection, but works well enough.

I also picked up some local beer (Big Wave) for Risa.

In the evening we went out for a walk, checked out the beach, and got some dinner at a Korean BBQ place. It was very good, but not cheap. (Although, now on the second and third days I've noticed that as a theme: things are not cheap here!) I have some pictures of the food around here somewhere (Risa likes taking pictures of food) but it was just regular old good Korean BBQ, so I won't bother to put those up.

We headed home, and I fell asleep immediately. Risa took her time, but I have no idea what she was up to.


Saturday 2009-05-16 Going to Hawaii

These are my notes from our Wedding trip to Hawaii. I plan to post up a blog post for each day and backdate them so they are on the correct date in the calendar. I also notice that I don't really write interesting posts, and stick mostly with just a "what we did, what we ate" kind of approach. That's too bad; I would love to write more interesting, introspective, and emotional entries, but it turns out that I just naturally do a more simple and boring documentation.

We left for Hawaii on Saturday evening, 2009-05-16. Sadly, the day before I started to get sick. At about 3pm in the afternoon I came down with a splitting headache, after having a sore throat all morning. This was bad because I don't like being sick, airplanes usually dry my throat out as it is, and worse, the first two cases of H1N1 Influenza spread by person-to-person contact between people who had not been out of the country had just been confirmed on the news. I was worried that they would not let me out of the country. Or back. Or something.

That evening was pretty tough, but at least we didn't have to leave early. Our flight out wasn't until about 9pm. We did some pre-travel shopping, packed up, and just barely made it to Shinagawa in time to catch our Narita Express. In the end though we made it. The trip through the airport was as usual, but nobody pulled me out or accused me of being sick (even though I was.) We made it on the plane though, no problem.

We flew ANA, which was nice. Very good service. The flight was about 8 hours. I couldn't sleep, but I did watch Gran Turino, a very good movie. They were running a whole Clint Eastwood marathon, with a bunch of his movies. I spent a lot of time playing "Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth" - I only made it through the first two missions. It seems like a pretty good game, but I don't really like real time strategy games. I want to take my time and plan out moves. Basically, I like turn based games. Still, I guess I have to get dragged into the 20th century at some point or another, so I might as well try to get used to the real time strategy paradigm.

The landing was really tough: because of my cold I was congested, so changing altitude was really tough on me. I thought my head was about to explode, or at least my eardrums. I did manage to get through it, although my nose did start bleeding a bit. Great. When we landed in Hawaii, happily, nobody pulled me over for being sick. Maybe I didn't look as bad as I felt.


April 14, 2009

From SFO to Seattle

R. and I were in Seattle. Click "read more" to see a bunch of pictures and words about it.    read more (1775 words)

March 23, 2009

Back in the USA

I'm back in the USA for three weeks. I flew in yesterday (Saturday) from Tokyo to San Francisco. It was a quick flight, 9 hours. That seems quick to me because usually I fly to New York, which is closer to 14 hours. Anyway, the flight was nice. What was really great is that this is the first time I had ever had a pair of noise canceling headphones - I have a pair of big Sony headphones that I've been using at work - which really cut out the cabin noise. I was really surprised at just how loud it was in the cabin after I had had the headphones on for a while. I watched one movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still (the new one with Keanu Reeves), read a bit, played some Tapper on my GP2X, and slept a bit. The movie was ok. I have never seen the original though, so I don't have anything to compare it to. I loved the cameo by John Cleese.

When I got into SFO I got some coffee, rented a car (Pontiac G5, seems fine but has poor visibility out the back. I should have taken a car without a spoiler.) and headed to the hotel. Then I slept for hours and hours...

I now have my cell phone working - a AT&T Go Phone, so I just added $25 to it and provisioned it with a number. I did some work in the morning, watched the Heat - Pistons game, and now will relax a bit, read some, and maybe do some more work in the evening.

Best of all: I got tickets to Bishop Allen show in San Francisco on Tuesday! I'm super excited about that!!

I have also already eaten a cookie and three brownies. I know I'm going to gain weight, and R. is going to be angry with me for getting fat...

February 25, 2009

A trip Hirosaki in the Winter

I'm always complaing about how I am busy and don't have any time. It is true that I am busy, but time is one of those strange things that you can definitely find more of if you have a good reason. Last weekend I took a kind of spur-of-the-moment trip up north to Hirosaki. The main reason for the trip was to get out of Tokyo and see some snow. I also thought it would be a nice trip to get a change of pace. I've been working pretty hard lately and it would be nice to get away from computers for a weekend and relax a bit. When my friend Ian suggested a trip up north, I thought it was a great chance for a change of pace.

I have been in Japan for three years, but haven't really travelled very much domestically. Thinking back, I'm a bit surprised at how little I've travelled. I'll try to fix that once R. and I get on a better schedule together. So Ian and I visited the local travel agent and got a great deal on train tickets plus an overnight stay at an onsen (hot springs resort) in Hirosaki. I haven't been up north for siteseeing much - I did go to Sapporo once for a conference, and did a little bit of travelling then, but I haven't done any tourism in the northern part of the main island. One of the goals of going there now is to see the snow, because we don't get much of it in Tokyo.

On Saturday morning Tokyo train station was absolutely packed with lots of young people carrying skis and snowboards, headed west to go skiing. Not as much people were headed north, but our train was still pretty full. After about an hour, we arrived at Sendai, and from there on things were snowy. It was amazing once we got up in the mountains because you could barely see out the window. It was snowing and things were just a white blur at the speed the Shinkansen was making. I really enjoy train trips, and this was no exception. As part of our ticket package, we got a voucher for coffee on the train, and like most coffee on Shinkansen it wasn't the best in the world, but it was coffee and came in a cute Suica cup. Also, I was amused that one of the trains on our trip was apparently executable. The trip from Tokyo to Hirosaki was supposed to take about five hours all told. The main bulk of the trip was from Tokyo to Hachinohe, on the Shinkansen taking about four hours, and from there another hour and a half or so to cut across West to Hirosaki. Unfortunately, when we got to Hachinohe (which means the 8th Door. There are also towns called 2nd Door, 6th Door, etc.) the trains were not in service because of high winds and snow. Instead they were using busses. So we got on a bus. It was supposed to be headed directly to Hirosaki, but instead at the last minute was changed to stop at Aomori. That probably added an hour and a half to the trip and the passangers were not very happy about it. Two old guy started yelling at the JR guy in very unpolite Japanese. The bus was packed - people in every seat, including the unfortunately souls who had to sit in the aisle on these lame fold-out seats that did not look very comfortable.

The bus probably averaged about 40 KM/H. It was slow. We stopped at two rest stops. There was nothing to eat there except for the standard types of omiyage (gift foods) so for lunch we had strange cake-like things and other gift-type foods. It was a long, long trip, but we eventually arrived at Hirosaki at about 4:30pm. Then we had another bus ride, about half an hour, until we arrived at our onsen, exhausted, tired, and out of daylight.

If you check the maps (hopefully on the right, or maybe a bit up above this) the trip is basically a mostly straight shot from Tokyo north-east up to Hachinohe. That is all on the bullet train. Very fast, very nice. Then from Hachinohe we take a normal commuter train (express style, called the Super White Bird I think) over to Aomori, the biggest city in the north-east. The final leg of the trip is on a tourist train with beautiful big windows called the "Kamoshika", but as I wrote above, train service was suspended and we were in a bus. For like 3 hours. And we stopped at small rest stations. And there was no food. Ian and passed the time playing video games, him on a cool PSP 3000 playing Star Wars Battlefront II while I was playing Tapper on my older, less well-known but more linuxy GP2X. Actually, I enjoyed the bus ride to the extent that long bus rides can be enjoyed.

Once we got to our Ryokan, we were tired and so hit the onsen. I'm sure I've written about onsen (the Japanese hot springs that people here love so much) before, so I won't revisit that topic again. I will note that this place had a 露天風呂 (Rotenburo, outdoor hot spring) which we made use of. Walking naked outside in the cold, with lots of snow falling and on the ground was a bit tough, but the bath is only about a six second walk from the indoor bath, so it wasn't too bad. The suddent dip then into 42 degree C hot water probably isn't a good thing to repeat over and over (and I am suffering a bit of a cold after the trip!) but it was great to sit out in the hot bath and watch the snow fall a hand's reach away.

We had a great dinner (included in the price of the trip) which I forgot to take picture of. It was very good though. Then on the way back to the room stopped to see a live Tsugaru Shamisen performance. The guy was pretty funny, and put on a good show. Then on up to the room and bed.

One of the main goals I had was to get out and see some real snow. I grew up in LA as a kid, and didn't ever see snow. When I was around 13 years old we moved to New Jersey and this white stuff that fell from the sky when it was cold was amazing to me. Then I moved to Dallas, and after that New York, neither of which get all that much snow. Tokyo sees even less snow than New York. But Touhoku (the north-east region of the main Japan island) is full of snow. Not as full of it as Saporro, but full of snow. So I wanted to get out and walk around in it. Ian and I were on a kind of tight schedule, but got up at 6am, hit the onsen again, got some nice breakfast (which I did get pictures of), and then went out for a 15 minute walk to the nearest temple. The temple, 岩木神社 (Iwaki Temple), was great. It was up a hill, full of snow, and just seemed really neat. I wish we had more time to walk around and see the temple grounds. They had a sign set up near a hanging bulls-eye target saying that if you could hit it with a snowball (from the path) then you would have good luck. I completely missed the thing. But I like interactive temples, so it is all good.

The walk back was cold, but we eventually made it. Just in time to check out and head back to Hirosaki station. We really wanted to see some of the Hirosaki sights, but due to a variety of comical mix-ups, didn't really have all that much time. We did get a chance to see the Neputa museum though, which I was really excited about because I've seen some TV broadcasts of a festival in the area where people build these great lighted floats and walk them around town. The musuem had a bunch of these on display, and they look really great. I would like to go back to Touhoku in the summer for one of those festivals. There are apparently two main ones, the one in Aomori (which is crazy big) and the one in Hirosaki, which is not quite as well known and is somehow slightly different. It is probably like the difference between the New York Jets and the New York Giants: I'm not really too clear on it, but some people are rabid enough to kill each other over it (apparently.)

After a nice trip through the museum and some shopping for gifts - お土産 (Omiyage), which are required after every trip out of town. You need to buy enough for the people you work for and pass them around. It is the only enforced social contact that we have at work with people outside our groups. It is really cool actually, because usually once or twice a week someone comes and gives you a small cake, or cracker, and you can chat about what things are like way out there where they visited (usually an hour or two away by bullet train.) The region we were in is the #1 producer of apples in Japan, so most things were apple-themed. Pretty good stuff.

The trip back we were able to ride the great tourist train. Big windows, a nice viewing lounge, comfortable seats. Really nice. Unfortunately, we hadn't booked ahead for the train from Aomori to Hachinohe, and we were a bit late making the transfer. We were in the "open seating" train, and since all the seats were taken, we ended up standing for the hour or so it took to get to Hachinohe before we could catch the bullet train home.

All in all, a really nice trip out for the weekend. I'm really surprised that after living in Japan for three years, I haven't done more of these short weekend trips. As long as the trains are running they really go pretty quickly, and you can get pretty far for a good deal when you do the package hotel + meals + train tickets plan. I'm really looking forward to taking R. out to go snowboarding sometime.

February 1, 2009

A visit to Kashiwagi Farm and Ooyama Temple

In mid-January R. and I had a party at our apartment. R. wanted to make roast beef for the party, and since we had a rare instance of days off at the same time coming up she thought it would be fun to drive somewhere to get the meat. She was wanted to go to Kashiwagi Farm, about an hour out of Tokyo in Kanagawa that is apparently pretty well known. Of course, that means I was going to drive, but it is just as well since I need to get used to driving in Japan anyway.

The drive went well, and the farm had a nice shop. We got a bunch of meat, and then on the way out checked the nearby building where they milk the cows. You can take a tour, but it costs money and takes time.

Since we had the rest of the afternoon, we thought we would take a trip to nearby Ooyama Shrine up on Ooyama. I've never been to Ooyama, but I liked it because it was a big mountain and that is exactly what the characters mean: 大 big, and 山 mountain. I love it when things make sense like that. It must be a big mountain because even after we drove up pretty far (through some super narrow roads that were absolutely one-way despite what R. kept telling me) we then walked up lots and lots of stairs. Then we took a rope-train. Cool! The view was really great from up there (not that you can tell from any of the pictures.) Since it was "Adult Day" they had set up some special stuff that I do not know the purpose of. The last train out was at about 5:30pm or 6:00pm, so we just had time to really look around, take a few pictures, then get some tea before catching the train back to the midway station. Then lots more stairs, back to the car, and back to some super narrow roads before hitting Tokyo traffic.

It was both fun and stressful, but I do feel like I'm getting a bit better at driving in Japan. I don't know if I will ever be as comfortable as I am in America though.

You can see all the pictures at the Flickr set.

September 10, 2008

Napa Valley Trip

Last week I packed up a bag, and flew from Tokyo to San Francisco. I'll be here in CA for about a month for training at my new job. It is really nice to be back in the US after two and a half years.

L. joined me after the first day, and stayed for almost a week. We only had one weekend together in CA, so I planned a trip up to Napa Valley.

I enjoy wine, and so does L., so I thought it would be fun to visit the valley. We drove from Palo Alto early on Saturday morning and took the scenic route, up 101 and over the Golden Gate bridge. The drive itself was a lot of fun, because the car I rented was a convertible, so we drove with the top down. Things started out pretty cold, but by the time we got to the valley we were both pretty hot! I had made a reservation at the Hennessey House Bed and Breakfast for the evening, so we headed there and dropped off our stuff. We made it just in time to catch our 11:00am wine tour.

Neither L. nor I had never been on a wine tour before, so I thought the best thing to do was to get someone to show us around and drive us around, in case we drank too much. That was definitely the right way to do things. The late harvest Riesling from Trefethen vineyard really left an impression on me: it was super sweet (like an ice wine) and probably wouldn't work well in quantity, but seemed like a good dessert wine. I really enjoyed going around to the different vineyards, and we met some fun people (a couple from Brazil) on the trip. There were also three younger American girls who got totally wasted and then had a huge argument over some boy that two of them liked, but that was kind of amusing also (once you get past the annoyance.)

I wanted to write this up sooner, but it has been a bit over a week, and the details are starting to fade.

After the wine tour we took a nap at the B&B, and then went to dinner at a nice Italian place (Tuscany) in Napa. The food was good, but we were still full after all the wine, and the portions were fairly large, so we ended up going back to the B&B feeling a bit bloated (but that has how almost every dinner in America has ended so far!)

Since it was the first time for L. and I to travel in America together, I wanted to make it memorable so I also made a reservation for a hot air balloon ride. We had to get up at 5am to make the 6am gathering time, but it was worth it. The views were great, and smoothly floating through the air was also really amazing. The only way to control the balloons is up and down, and the rest is up to the prevailing winds. It was really impressive that the pilots are actually able to target a field, and then get the balloon there. Of course, they have many options, but still they can't just land the balloons anywhere.

The landing on our balloon was a bit wild, since the balloon was still going at a pretty good clip when it touched down. I thought that the basket would flip over, but it just barely managed to keep upright after a few bounces. I don't know if I'll get a chance to ride another balloon, but I really enjoyed it, and I was surprised that I didn't have any sort of motion sickness. I usually have trouble on boats, elevators, and airplane landings, but I didn't have any trouble with the balloon. I don't really think it will replace planes as my preferred method to get to Japan and back, but still.

After the balloon ride we had a nice brunch, and then took things easy before the drive back to Palo Alto. If I do things again, I would go a bit easier on the wine tour, but it was a lot of fun.

June 28, 2008

Conference Honeymoon

After L. and I got married, we took a trip to Morocco for our honeymonn. Actually, I had made a committment a long time before to attend the 2008 LREC Conference in Marrakech, Morocco, so we went together as a kind of honeymoon. It was the best honeymoon conference ever.

Read more for notes from the trip, and a few pictures.    read more (8661 words)

January 3, 2008

The Seven Gods of Happiness New Year Temple Tour

The Tokai Seven: like Ocean's Eleven, but much older.  And less criminal.  They are both pretty lucky though.

The Seven Gods of Happiness represent different types of good fortune, and for some reason in Shinagawa there are seven temples, each devoted to one of the Gods.  One of the traditions of the New Year is the 初詣, the first visit to a temple of the new year, and while often this occurs at midnight, it isn't unusual for the first visit to be done anytime in the first few days after the new year.  The most busy time of the year is probably the First, and the most busy temple is probably Meiji Jingu.  I'm not going to brave those crowds, but since I was staying in Shinagawa, Lisa and I decided to make the rounds and visit all seven temples. 

At your first stop, you can buy a poster-board with a spot for each temple.  As you go to each temple, you can collect a stamp for that temple.  Collect all seven!  You can also buy a boat, and buy little figurines that go in the boat at each temple.  The suggested order for visiting the temples is:

  1. Shinagawa (Shinto) Temple, for Daikokuten God of Wealth 品川神社 (大黒天)5 minutes to
  2. Yougan Temple, for Hoteizen God of Good Fortune 養願寺(布袋尊) 1 minute to
  3. Isshin Temple, for Jyuroujin God of Long Life 一心寺(寿老人) 5 minutes to
  4. Ebara Temple, for Ebisu God of Wealth 荏原神社(恵比須) 15 minutes to
  5. Shingawa (Buddhist) Temple, for Bishyamonten Buddhist Guardian God 品川寺(毘沙門天,金生七福神) 20 minutes to
  6. Tenso / Suwa Temple, for Fukurokujyu the God of Happiness, Wealth, and Longevity 天祖・諏訪神社(福禄寿) 25 minutes to
  7. Iwai Temple, for Benzaiten the God of Music, Wealth, Eloquence, and water 磐井神社(弁財天)

I didn't know much about the different Gods when I was visiting the temples, but I did do a little bit of research when I got back home.  A "little bit" means that I looked them up on Wikipedia, and noticed that there was an English page as well as the Japanese page.  So now you know about as much about them as I do.  It took a long time to visit all of the temples.  I don't remember the order that we did it (although possibly you can reconstruct the order from the pictures on Flickr) but it took us two days.  We visited five on the first day, ending with Shinagawa.  Shinagawa temple was probably the largest of the lot, and had police managing the crowds.  We waited for about forty minutes or more to make our offering there.  I also picked up an Omikuji (お神籤), which is a written fortune.  I was lucky and got "The very best of luck" (大吉) so I'm hopeful that this will be a good year.  So far, so good anyway.  After the long wait, and previous hour or so of walking around going to the other four temples, we decided to go back to Lisa's parent's place. 

The next day we went to the last two temples, Iwai Temple and Tenso / Suwa temple.  I've never seen a temple with two names in it like that before, and I wonder what that is all about.  I'm sure I could figure it out if I did some searching on the Japanese web, but I'm not too interested in doing that right now.  The Japanese web makes my head hurt when I stare at it for too long.  Iwait temple houses Benzaiten, which I think is my favorite of the Gods because I've always been a fan of Benten Records, a record label that focuses on female Japanese bands.  In all honesty though, I think you would be best off with Fukurokujyu, since that God seems to be a general jack-of-all-trades Gods.  Also, unless I'm really bad at looking these things up, it looks like there are two Gods of Wealth (Can't have too many of those I guess) and some other overlap also, but nobody ever said that your pantheon had to be orthogonal.  If I was to build my own pantheon though, I would probably try to select both orthogonal and complementary Gods, but that's just me. 

I really enjoyed this trip around to various different temples, and now that I've looked into it, there are lots of these things.  http://park1.wakwak.com/~hisamaro/tokyo2photo.htm lists many different temple tours, and has a convenient list of temples and gods for the Tokai Seven.  So I'm sure there are lots of other temple courses I can try out - but to be honest, it is a lot of trouble, and probably not something I'll repeat. 

Note: while writing my post, I relied on http://www.evam.ne.jp/tokai7/index.html as a general site on the Tokai Seven Gods of Happiness.  But I didn't rely on it too much because it is part of the Japanese web.  

December 4, 2007

Bad Omens

Today started off with a bad omen: I slept in for an entire hour. Usually I'm very good about getting up on time, but I was up a bit late last night. Even though I went home early (home by about 7:45pm) I logged on to some machines at work, and (slowly, while watching House) did some work-related stuff. I ended up going to bed at about 1am, instead of my usual 11pm, with a 7am alarm.

I almost never use the snooze function on my alarm (which is actually my cell phone) but this morning it was so cold that I just couldn't stand it. I turned on the heater, and then somehow an hour passed before it was warm enough to get out of bed.

Now, this isn't really a big problem since I don't have strict hours that I need to be at work (I just need to get my work done.) The problem comes in with the commute: they way things are now, a slight delay on my part changes my commute from annoying to unbearably crowded, hot, and sweaty.

If I wake at 7am, wash my face, and then hop on the train I generally will be able to sit on the second leg of my trip (~20 minutes) and can sit after the second station on the third leg of the trip (~20 minutes.) If I can't sit, at least I can stand and can hold a hand-strap, and generally I have some space and am not too crowded.

If I am delayed by twenty minutes or more, I skip the first train leg of my trip entirely (only 2 stops, maybe 5 minutes on the train) and walk the 15 minutes to the start of the second leg because that fifteen minute delay means that the train is so packed that when the doors open, you just see a wall of people. To get on the train you turn around with your back facing the people, and then press your way in. If you can get some leverage on the train door side that helps. Usually, somehow, miraculously, there is enough space to squeeze in. Your face will pressed up against the glass, which is slick with condensation from the hot breath of the people jammed into the train, making cattle cars seem roomy by comparison. If you are unlucky, more people will be getting on after you, and you will find yourself bent into improbably shapes as bags and briefcases force your lower body and legs one way, while other pressures force your upper body another way. If you can reach a strap that helps a lot, otherwise it is a crazy balancing act in which unusual muscles start to ache from holding odd positions. It doesn't matter much in the end though because you are packed in so tight it isn't possible to fall over, only lean more awkwardly onto the people around you.

So generally I'll just skip that mess entirely and walk the 15 minutes to Jiyugaoka. It is a nice walk anyway, and I can do with the exercise.

At Jiyugaoka things are slightly better because I can choose to take the local train, which isn't nearly as bad as the express, or god forbid, the commuter express, which is just comically packed. Typically though, even the local train is unbearably hot and humid from all the people. Also, don't think that there is the up-side of at least sometimes being pressed up against cute women: the rush is worst from 7:20am until about 9:30am, which probably 70% of the ridership is male. The women are smarter and try to avoid the typical salary-man hours.

Of course, on the express and commuter express train there are "women-only" cars so maybe more of them crowd in there. I don't know; I always take the local because it is only about five minutes longer from where I'm at and substantially less crowded (which isn't saying much.) The women only cars are supposed to address the problem of men groping women, which I might talk about at some point, but in reality I don't know much about it: I don't do it, and I don't know that I've ever seen it happen. I'm not sure I would know if it was happening though, so I generally just try not to think about it too much.

Anyway, today with my delay of one hour, I was in the packed train at Shibuya. It is usually pretty back until you hit Naka-meguro where lots of people get out (yay!) but then you are only two stops away from Shibuya, so it isn't really much of a win.

I transfer at Shibuya to the Hanzomon line. Today things were strange: I got down to the ticket gates, and there was a crowd of people backed up to the escalator. The place was jam packed. A few of the signs had information on the problem: due to a "personal accident" (人間事故, literally human or personal accident) the trains were severely delayed. A personal accident is a euphemism for suicide. They happen sometimes here in Japan, someone decides that the commute is unbearable, and in a sarcastic lash back at the commuting system they jump in front of a train. This has happened a few times in the approximately two years that I've been here, maybe four or five times. Usually the trains are running within twenty minutes to an hour.

This time, the accident happened at 6:15am and they were not letting people into the gates. I don't really know what happened, but I decided I wasn't getting anywhere fast, and I went for a cup of hot chocolate at the Starbucks in front of Shibuya Crossing.

I really need to remember this, but I hate that Starbucks.

Every few months I go there, and I hate it. Then, a few months later, I decide I want some hot chocolate or something, and I go back. And I hate it. The problem is that the place is always packed. You always have to wait for a place to sit. Even once you do sit, it is unbearably hot. The building is facing East (I think I don't know these things), and gets the full brunt of the sun as it comes up. It has a large glass face, and it is always unbearably hot. The tables are small and always crowded. One of my favorite things to do is to read a book and have a drink at the coffee shop, but in this place I can't spread out much which is a major problem: when I read, I need space for my book, my electric dictionary (ancient, so huge by modern-day standards) and a notebook that I write down unknown Japanese words (writing is still the best way to remember things.)

So while I'm drinking my hot chocolate, in a cramped counter seat in front of a huge glass window with the full force of the sun beating down on me in an over-heated coffee shop, I'm sweating like mad. Finally, the last thing about this place is that it is always packed with foreigners. Now, I'm a foreigner and I'm not one of those people that feels like other foreigners around me are invading my own special private Japan where I'm the only unique guy. But I don't like when I hear a bunch of people talking English loudly about things that annoy me. And you tend to get a lot of guys in this Starbucks talking about picking up Japanese women or other things like that which can be annoying. Or people doing impromptu English lessons - which is common in coffee shops, but this one is just so crazy crowded that it makes no sense to do one there.

Anyway, I eventually finished my hot chocolate, and headed back to the subway. They were finally letting people back on the trains, and I picked up my little ticket that said the trains were delayed for an hour (they pass them out so people can prove to their bosses that they weren't, in fact, just hanging out at a coffee shop making disapproving body language at strange foreigners) and finished the commute -- still crowded because of the delay -- to work.

I'm usually here at about 8:30am, today I didn't get in until 10:30am. Already two hours behind schedule!

And I love my schedules. Ah well. At least I get to rant about it on my blog. :)


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