For the past year, I've dedicated myself to learning everything about my job at the aquarium. On my time off, I read books about marine biology, social marketing, how the brain works, leadership, and science. I've also started up a couple of internal blogs at the aquarium, which are much less fun and even less rewarding to post to. At least when I post here, it doesn't feel like I'm having a conversation with only myself. In the race to get a public-facing blog up and running, I lost. In this new year, I will make one last hard push in the hopes of jump-starting these other blogs, and if it fails, then I will move on.
Which brings me to this mini-vacation. After working on a few of my weekends, I accrued 3 extra days that I am now using to make a 5 day vacation- a much needed respite from the work environment. As cool as it is to work at the aquarium, it is a place that will take as much as you have to give and more.
Yesterday, due to the high winds and rain, the power went out all around Monterey County. When I got off of work, we drove along a coastline devoid of lights, other than the stray passing car. I almost expected to see zombies emerge just outside of the reach of our headlight beams.
It's amazing how many candles it takes to generate enough light to read a book with. It's also amazing to see just how much we depend on electricity for our basic needs, our work, and our entertainment. I was just glad that the water and gas were still working, so I could use the restroom and take a shower.
Can you imagine not having running water? I imagine that we would set up a plastic bag in a bucket to make a crude squat toilet in case our water ever stopped flowing. For bathing, we could use the 50 degree waters at the Lover's Point beach, which would probably best be used in the morning before work. Dried salt would form grains that itched every time we shifted in our clothes.
The power turned back on for a few hours, but was out from early this morning until half-past noon. I went to the Post Office to pick up a parcel, but they had locked their doors without an explanation. I could hear the employees inside, sorting mail and chatting, and decided to go read a book over at Border's. So much for the old post officer credo. Rain and wind, it turns out, can effectively keep you from getting your mail.
I have allowed this vacation to sneak up on me, and have decided to let it decide what it wants me to do, but I have certain things I want to accomplish:
1. Get my mail! But tomorrow is Sunday, and the P.O. is closed so it will have to wait.
2. Start cooking again. Tonight I will look for short rib recipes and think of what courses I want to eat.
3. Plow through my growing list of books to read. I feel like they're starting to stack up like a losing game of Tetris.
4. Get out on the trail more. I am now equipped with my trusty Mephistos.
5. Concentrate on photography a bit more, specifically shooting in manual mode and paying more attention to exposure.
6. Fomulate new strategies for the new year.
7. Visit friends who I haven't had time to visit due to my unique schedule.
8. Lay out options for education and extracurricular activities (diving, exercise, etc...).
9. Test out my rain gear on the way to a waterfall hike.
10. Post more here instead of the other blogs.
And for the 10th thing I want to accomplish, this should merely be getting back into the practice of documenting the thoughts and ideas that go through my head each day. It should be much easier to do with a 5 day break than my usual 6 day grind, as i usually have things I want to say during the day, but I steadily lose momentum due to other distractions and challenges by the time I come home.
I have been thinking about Japan a great deal lately. During my three and a half years over there, I developed a strong attachment to the people, culture, places, food, and experiences that I have shared with friends, family, or myself. In future posts, I intend to write themes that are more well-developed, but I will now share some random thoughts and observations that pop into my head.
RE: The Last Samurai
I truly think I would like this movie if Tom Cruise were removed. It just isn't right that this Scientologist was chosen for the role of "last samurai" (or was he merely intended to be the last samurai's friend?). He, single-handedly, ruins the whole movie for me, and that's not even taking the Scientologist factor into account.
RE: Drink Bar
For those of you who have been to a family restaurant in Japan, do you miss the drink bar? Well, it turns out that Burger King and other fast food places now provide a similar set up where you can get different types of coffee drinks right next to the soda fountain. The only things that are missing are the ice cubes that you have to grab one at a time with a small pair of tongs, and the pot of consomme that no one really ever drinks.
RE: Sad Books on Japan
If you were to only read Michael Zielenziger's Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation, Alex Kerr's Dogs and Demons, and Karl Taro's Speed Tribes: Days and Night's with Japan's Next Generation, you would probably never want to visit Japan.
These books should be required reading for those who want to spend a year or more teaching in Japan, but they need to be put into context. There are just as many problems in any other part of the world you go to, they just happen to be different.
RE: The relative value of food
When I was living in the middle of Kyushu, in the hamlet of Ubuyama, I was surrounded by high-quality foods that incorporated ingredients that were locally produced, if not grown by the people that prepared them. I enjoyed these foods, but had cravings for In-N-Out, Mexican food, good cheeses, and many other foods and goods that were simply not available in my location.
I think I miss Japanese food, like tonkotsu ramen, izakaya food, and inaka-ryouri, more than I ever missed the foods I could not get in Japan. I certainly ate healthier, higher-quality foods when I lived abroad than I do now.
One cool thing is that In-N-Out still tastes as good as I remember it, probably because I don't get to eat it on a regular basis. By going without In-N-Out for long periods, it tastes so much better on those occasions when I do get to eat it.
Tip for travelers: If you are bringing In-N-Out to a friend or loved one that lives a long drive or flight away, order the burger "Protein Style" with the buns on the side. By packing the buns separately from the lettuce-encased innards, you can reheat the burger, maintaining the textural integrity and distinct flavors of the ingredients.
RE: Natural gas central heating vs. Kotatsu, Toyu and "space" heaters
It is nice to be able to change the temperature in an abode with the flick of a switch on the thermostat, and eliminate the trips to the gas station to buy kerosene, and to breathe in fumes that make your eyes water and stink up the air. If you live in an apartment, you can sometimes leech off of your neighbor's heat as well, eliminating the need for heaters.
I do miss my Kotatsu. It is really the hub for much of the socialization one has during a Japanese winter. Kotatsu tables hold portable burners to cook sukiyaki and nabe, beer and other libations, and provide a great place to take a nap on a cold evening.
Well, that's probably more writing than I've done in the past two months on this blog. I'm going to stop now so that I can eat and get around to the other nine things on my list.