2008 Archives

Morning Weezer

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Before I'm off to work, I'd like to post this vid:

The Taste of Vacation

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One of the last things I did on my vacation is something I haven't done since I lived in Japan: I made a big pot of curry.

Curry is one of those dishes that evokes a plethora of sentimental memories and can awaken experiences from long ago. I can feel the humid heat of Nara under my T-shirt, and taste the hot green tea accompanying it. I can see the perfect triangular slices of watermelon, an ice cold treat that waits on plates in the center of a communal table patiently waiting to be enjoyed after the curry. This is but one of those memories.

While enjoying doing the things that I do on my time off, I not only remember, but if I am successful at relaxing, I forget.

This vacation has imparted a beneficial sort of amnesia on me, allowing me to forget work almost completely. I forgot the things that stress me out, the things that make me frustruated, and the things that make me tired. I also forgot the things that I look forward to doing, dependable co-workers, and to some extent, work friends. This is not to say these things are not important to me. I am still mindful of my work culture and environment, it's just that everything is pushed to the way-back of my mind into storage.

I've been enjoying a vacation from my vacation, something that I've always wanted to do but have, up until this point, not been able to experience. The transition between vacation and work is often abrupt, jarring, and to some extent a traumatic experience. I've been able to hang out, go outdoors, stock up on groceries, cook, read, watch TV, catch up on correspondence, and generally digest my vacation. Like a well crafted culinary treat, this break left a pleasant lingering flavor that I was able to truly savor until the very end.

I have no regrets for this vacation, and thanks to the latter part of my time off I will have curry to enjoy well into my work week.

Perfect Timing

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In anticipation of the BJ Penn and Vanderlei Silva fights coming up, I'd like to share this video:

For Max

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It's funny that ladyboys are so ubiquitous in Thai culture that they appear in commercials!

On another subject, this is a project for Justin and Nam:

Start practicing to make Max the best bento in the World.

Camo Lizard

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I didn't spot it right away. As I was looking at the mural on the southernmost bakery in the United States, I found a gecko hiding in the lau lau.


Only when I got really close to it, did the gecko move away from the middle of the painting, bringing its vivid colors and patterns into full view, against the beige background. Those flashy patterns really do break up the full form of the body on the top picture.

On an unrelated note, I no longer catch geckos because the last one I caught peed on my hand. I think it was trying to tell me that it didn't like being captured, so now I only take pictures.

My brother, on the other hand, likes to eat them.

Interpreting on Diamond Head

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On a bright Saturday, late in the morning, Steve and I decided to hike up the volcanic cone that we could see from his house, located just next to Waikiki. We packed stuff that would unwittingly come in handy later that day: a flashlight, water bottles, camera, a hat, a first aid kit, and a permanent marker among other things.

The shot below shows the view that we came upon, after overhearing some man talking to a friend about calling 911. It sounded like he was talking about someone that was elsewhere (he mentioned that they were located at least 30 minutes away from help), so we continued on, and took a short rest here:


While starting back on the trail, the old man came up to us asking if we spoke Japanese, because there was a girl near the top of the mountain that couldn't speak English and was in critical condition. I told him that I could, and after a short briefing he sent us up before him on a sprint to the summit.

It took about ten minutes of passing people through narrow tunnels bored through the mountain and narrow switchbacks to reach the girl. The old man had told us that she was unconscious, and when we got there, a physician informed us that they had given her candy because they thought she was going into diabetic shock.

When we arrived, she was regaining consciousness, and I was told that she had hit her head. I asked the girl what her name was and where she was, and she was able to answer both questions. A physician who was also there asked me to interpret questions that the paramedics would need when they arrived:

Does she have diabetes? After being back for 2 years, I have had little opportunity to practice, so my Japanese was a bit rusty. Luckily, it seemed to come back to me, but I had no idea how to say "diabetes". Instead, I had to ask "Does she experience problems if she eats too much or not enough sugar?".

Did she hit her head?
Initially the answer was "yes" from the boyfriend. The answer on this changed later on, as the boyfriend thought she hit her head, but the girl didn't, and didn't have any visible marks, swelling, or discoloration on her head.

Can she wiggle her toes?
She was able to.

Does she feel dizzy?
She did at first, but after drinking some water and resting in the cool tunnel, she was able to regain her strength.

Is she pregnant?
No, she was not.

Does she have any pre-existing medical conditions that we should know about?

Is she taking medication?

I had to ask her these questions three times: once with the physician (who decided to leave her with us after he assessed her condition as stable), once with the firefighters who met us later on, and once at the ambulance at the base of the mountain. Her symptoms indicated that she was suffering from heat exhaustion, and her condition gradually improved in the shade.

After she said that she could make it down the hill with her boyfriend, Steve and I helped her down the trail, and met a team of firefighers a third of the way down. Once again, I asked these questions, and they made it clear that they wanted to airlift her out. It was my job to explain what was going to happen and why, but more importantly to reassure the couple.

It turns out that getting airlifted out of Diamond Head is free, and that there are 2 delivery systems. One rig uses a gurney-like platform where the person being rescued lays down. The other one, the Bill Pugh, is the one that you can see in the pictures.

The girl was afraid of riding in the rig, so we told her that a firefighter would be riding with her, and that she could decline treatment when we got the the ambulance. After ten minutes, the chopper showed up, dropped off their rescue team on a tiny pinnacle, and swung around to pick her up:






A firefighter accompanied her on her ride down to the bottom of the mountain to an ambulance awaiting their arrival. When we got there, I asked the questions a third time, and stuck around until they had finished their business. After declining treatment, the girl and her boyfriend thanked everyone and we decided not to climb Diamond Head a second time. We had come so close to the top and didn't quite reach the summit, but at that point it didn't seem as interesting.

We met the old man shortly after. Royce, it turned out, used to be a local firefighter, and he just had happened to be hiking the trail, and called in the rescue. Of all the people he passed on the trail, I was the only one who could interpret.

Usually, when I go on a short hike, I don't carry so much stuff with me, but on that day, we used them all, except for the First-Aid pack (ironic, huh?). We let her use our water to cool off, used the flashlight to assess her condition in the tunnel, Steve lent her a hat to keep her cool, and the marker to write down her medical condition to pass to the EMTs at the bottom of the hill. Things just seemed to work out well for the couple, it seemed.

As we were leaving, we saw them waiting at the bus stop, and stopped to give them a ride back to their hotel. They were from Wakayama, it turned out, on a Hawaiian vacation. In the air conditioned car, they were a lot more relaxed, and asked to take a picture with us:


It seems that things like this happen when I go traveling, and when I hang out with Steve. I have good luck meeting the right people, being in an interesting place at the right time, and just having fun or profound experiences. Maybe it's a sign that I should do both of these things more frequently...

Scrapes, Scabs, and Bruises

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A crust of coagulated blood shielding formerly open cuts and abrasions and tissue sore from light trauma and exertion remind me that this vacation wasn't some dream, and that I was just in Hawaii. The residual minor aches and pains are something that I enjoy, a reminder of scrambling and crawling over lava rock and coarse sand while hiking, tidepooling, and playing in the waves.

I don't get scrapes, scabs, and bruises as frequently as I used to when I was a kid. Maybe that's why I enjoy them: they remind me of when free time was a certainty, and most of the fun times I had were spent in the outdoors.

There and Back

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One and a half weeks in Hawaii seemed much longer than that, which was unexpected. From the moment the plane took off from San Francisco, time immediately slipped into a relaxed pace, packed full to the brim from the time we got up until we went to sleep. It could have been a month or two ago that I was last in Monterey, and I wouldn't be surprised.

Good food, spending most of the day in the water, catching up with friends, getting tanned, exploring new places, soaking up the local culture, more good food, adventure, and almost four gigs of photos taken along the way: this is a synopsis of how the trip was spent.

There is so much stuff I could write about, but for now, I will spend a bit of time digesting my time in Hawaii.

Break Time

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It's been a year and five months since I've had a substantial amount of time off from work, and it feels like it. Usually, I put a lot of thought and effort into my job, but it seems like the pace and load of my duties and responsibilities started to really gain steam, finally coming to rest five hours ago. It feels good to be able to leave all of that stuff behind, at least for a couple of weeks.

In two days from now, I will be in Hawaii. That plan seems so abstract right now, like a faded poster hanging in an ancient travel agency, complete with palm trees, surfboards, and tikis framing a faded blue wave crashing against the washed out white sand.

I plan to spend a lot of time in the water, to take a lot of pictures, to go exploring, to go hiking, to meet cool and unusual people, to appreciate the culinary versatility of Spam, to breath slowly and deeply, to enjoy a drink whenever offered, to poke around in the jungle, to crack open a coconut, to drink pineapple juice out of a fountain, to unwittingly start picking up pidgin, to get rid of my farmer's tan, to go everywhere in flip flops and short-sleeved shirts, to wake up rested and refreshed, to experience excitement and not too much pain or injury, to jump over or off of objects and document the results, to seek out strange, beautiful, and horrifying organisms, to get lost and then find my way again, to forget what day it is, to fall asleep on the beach in the afternoon under the shade of a few palm trees, to hear and make some good stories, to run into friends randomly, to read a good book during the times I'm waiting for something, to stop frequently along the way to take in the beautiful sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures, and to add more things to this list.

For me, this vacation will really start the second that the rear landing wheels leave the runway pavement. Only then will I know that, barring some freak emergency, I have left my work life behind where it belongs. I imagine, in this situation, that I know how a crab, who has outgrown its rigid carapace and sheds it to grow larger, feels.

My mind is currently fogged from fatigue, and I have to say, in this state I am really enjoying the anticipation of going on vacation. Ah, good stuff.

New Portishead!?

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I thought these guys disappeared!

Sleep Frustruations

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I had two very vexing dreams in succession yesterday.

In the first dream, I was talking with my little sister in her room, when she started screaming. I turned around, and saw a baby turkey-like bird walking past the cracked door followed by a larger one. I got a pet carrier and quickly put them into it. Then I saw a pair of hands place three kittens and what looked like their mother through the front door to our house. They ran upstairs into my sister's room.

The birds started screaming, so I ran to check them out and found my cat inside trying to eat them. It took a long time to shake Boo out of the pet carrier, and he looked pissed off when I finally got him out. He didn't like me taking away his meal. I heard mewing coming from my sister's room.

I opened the door and saw the three kittens' heads poking through the blankets piled up in the corner of the room, followed by a blur of something charging. I picked up the nearest item to fend it off. When it got up close, it turned out to be a badger. It was really pissed off and trying to bite me. Almost miraculously, I was able to knock it away time and time again using an ordinary pillow! At this point I woke up.

I quickly fell asleep again, finding myself in a really boring meeting at work. I was talking about all of the things that needed to be fixed with my boss, and the talk was dragging on. Suffice to say, I was pissed off when I woke up for the second time, and then relieved to be rid of that particular dream once I realized what was going on.

I know that I dream regularly, but I rarely remember them by the time I get out of bed. In this case, I know why I had both dreams and what they mean. My mom had left the dogs over, and they woke me up with their barking, which disturbed my sleep (messing with my sleep is usually something that will make me unhappy). The second one happened because work has been really stressful lately.

I much prefer wacky dreams, even if I am getting attacked by crazy animals. Even if they are scary and I wake up with a quickly beating heart, I'll take "fight or flight" dreams over the ones where the mundane parts of my life follow me into the sleep world every time.

Stupid Tetris

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Asian KG?

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Unplugged Solo - video powered by Metacafe

Now, where's the Asian Jack Black at?

Buy Japanese

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*Bonus Video*

*Uniqlo Bonus*

Horror, Non-fiction

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If you are looking for a scary story, you need look no further than this Vanity Fair article on Monsanto.

Monsanto is the archetypal evil organization who looks to extract wealth, despite the costs imposed on society, nature, or anything else that gets in its way. We've seen these types of cold, efficient operations in stories such as Star Wars, James Bond, Lord of the Rings, and countless other "good vs. evil" sagas.

Can life turn out like a Hollywood movie? Who will be the hero who, despite all of the overwhelming challenges, vanquishes this seemingly-invincible foe? Or will this juggernaut simply steamroll anyone who gets in its way and make us all its bitches?

Beware of any company that inserts a gene into an organism and names it after a relentless killer cyborg from an apocalyptic future that travels back in time to wipe out the human race. It's almost as if Monsanto is giving us the finger as we mindlessly throw money their way.

Secret Ingredient

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This video reminds me of the wonderful things that my brother and I have cooked over a few drinks.

Lump Sucka!

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They live in the colder waters of the Pacific Ocean, and most of the research on them thus far has been done by Russian scientists. Their pectoral fins have been modified into a sucker that allows them to chill out and hang on to stuff. They have the ability to change color, and look like a cross between a sculpin and a puffer fish. Other than that, not much is known about these small, orb-shaped fish.

Behold, the mighty lumpsucker!






Jumping the gun

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Google already has an April prank posted as a fake new Gmail feature, even though it's still March 31st:


Oh Google, you can do better than that...
(Don't mind the time stamp on this entry, for all entries are posted on Japan time)


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George Washington kinda reminds me of Walt Whitman.


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This little girl reminds me of one of my younger cousins, except for the Kansai-ben.

Musty Books

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Once, long ago, these books were treasured and prized possessions, the repository of knowledge available only perhaps in other books. Now, these books reside behind the locked door of the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. Though they are old, and some of their pages, covers, or bindings have become brittle and yellowed with age, the quality of how they were produced is evident in that most of them are still in good condition, in some cases almost 200 years after they were published.

Skimming through these books, one might find information that still is relevant today or outdated ideas that were accepted as fact in the not-too-distant past. What really grabs my attention is the textures, artwork, and the lettering on these books. I look at the covers, and my mind concocts the outlines of a story or a certain ambiance.













Once I open the book, that image shifts into something different, and my imagined book vanishes. Sometimes this can be disappointing, but sometimes the contents are even better than the covers.

Karate Kid waxes on his guitar

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The Darkside of Coke

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Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Founded by a drug addict, selling soda to the Nazis, anti-civil rights business practices, stealing water from farmers, and ignoring the plights of unionized workers targeted by hostile guerillas: all of these things, and more, apply to one of my favorite beverages.

I hate to say it but, even after watching this 5 part series (which is a bit biased I must say), I still like Coke, and prefer it over other colas. Though I don't drink soda that often, it's hard to avoid all of the products that are tied into the Coca-Cola company.

Though Coke has a less-than-stellar track record, I think I'll continue to consume its products in moderation.


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Pacific Grove Flowers

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You can see all of these flowers in the back yard of the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History.









Nighthike without a tripod

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Taken from Andrew Molera on March 21, 2008, over a Longboard Island Lager and in the company of a couple of brave field mice and friends.

Naturally Seuss

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Proof of alien life on Mars, or are they merely Basketstars?


Doesn't it look like it belongs in a Dr. Seuss book?

By the way, my good friend Brent Wong is part of the team who put out Horton Hears a Who, so go see it!

Flowers along the coast

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The first wave of flowers is crashing down upon the coastline, and here are a few that you may see if you go for a walk along the central coast:












Not as cold as I expected

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I just got back from my SCUBA refresher course, and am pleased to say that the water was not as cold and murky as so many people made it out to be. Sure, fifty degree water is certainly not warm, but I felt much colder when I was on a surfboard a few weeks ago in Huntington Beach.

While on the bottom, at Breakwater, I went through all of the safety drills and then spent another twenty minutes trying to optimize my buoyancy over sand, rock, and kelp. While on the bottom, we encountered many perches, a baby flatfish, a greenling, senorita fish, kelp fish, a rock fish, tube anemonies, various sea stars, and countless other invertebrates.

It was nice not to have to buy any new gear, as I have all of the neoprene needed, and was able borrow the rest (thank you, you know who you are). So now it's a little before ten and I've already been up for four hours. Perhaps it's time for a hike...

Fish heads!

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Some fish have the most expressive faces that seem to universally appeal to people. Others don't convey much other than a sense of "duh". What do you see when you look these fish in the eyes?

Black rockfish head!

Rainbow trout head!

Juvenile wolf eel head!

Morning Trout

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Trout are, perhaps, the fish I first got hooked on, metaphorically speaking. Trout are almost certainly the first fish that I ever caught. I still remember going fishing with my family in a hatchery somewhere in the Sierras, and how effortless it was to catch a farmed fish in their rectangular ponds.

I remember Justin lowering a sphere of spit on a mucus strand from his mouth, until it reached the limits of tensile strength. The orb smacked the surface of the busy water below, and a trout almost instantly fell upon the loogie.

Perhaps it was a little less surprising that these trout, clearly not as wily as their wild kin, bit our chewed up gum that we had exhausted all of the flavor from. The farmed trout bit upon unbaited hooks, and really cemented the idea that farmed fish are much less fit, both genetically and mentally, than wild fish.

Nonetheless, it is this memory, and other memories of looking for fish and fishing in lakes, rivers, streams, and ponds that secure the rainbow trout a special place in my heart.

One thing that still surprises me is how weak trout are when they come into contact with human activity. They are easily killed by messing with their water quality, by hooking them in the gills or if they swallow a hook, or even by touching them. But they are able to live in both salt and fresh water, to jump waterfalls to reach their spawning grounds, and some of them, the legendary uncatchable monsters, seem to be able to out fox any lure, bait, or fly that passes their way. Trout, like people, capture the concenpt of the tension of opposites.

I no longer like to fish for trout the way I used to when I was a kid. Part of the reason I don't like trout fishing is that I don't want to hurt or kill them because if I did I would feel obligated to eat them. I have had rainbow trout that taste pretty good, but I have had this fish prepared the wrong way or trout that was simply disgusting enough times to make me want to avoid it all together.

If you look at hatchery rainbow trout versus wild stocks, they look like different species of fish, though they are almost genetically identical. The wild strains tend to be darker colored, exhibit sexual dimorphism, and just look healthier. They also tend to be a little more wary than their inbred brethren, and I imagine they would taste better.

It would be interesting to see how long it would take hatchery fish to go back to looking and acting like native trout. How many generations would it take for these less-fit fish to optimize their behavior and characteristics to fit an environment that they are only generally suited to live in? Would interbreeding with the native stock be a good thing or a bad thing to replenish the local populations?

I think the answers are out there, but I know not what they are. But then again, I haven't dedicated much time to finding them yet.


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The landscape and seascape changes from hour to hour, day to day, season to season, all the way up the progression of increments of time. It is during my time spent in the outdoors that I feel like I am living in an old Hiroshige woodblock print. In a sense, I am probably capturing the same stuff he would be interested in, albeit in a much newer and less time-consuming medium and as an amateur:

A heron takes cover among the reeds that grow near the end of the Carmel River. On a sandbar I find some rocks that might turn out to be jade, or maybe they're some other kind of greenish rock. I walk along the top of a sand bar, heading up the coast. This is the start of what will become a two hour long hike.

The proper trail is not easily found from the beach, and it appears that most of the hikers are retired folks who own the houses that you can see peeking out over the hills. The flowers are in bloom, and the weather is perfect on this afternoon. As the only young person on the trail, and the only minority, I feel more out of place than if I was in a foreign country. I opt to explore the uneven grounds of the beach, away from the houses and their owners.

My plan works flawlessly. It seems that no one is interested in walking along the beach, and I have it all to myself. The colors I encounter on this section of my walk do not seem as if they should all occur together at the same place in nature. My gait slows from Osaka speed down to a nice Kyushu pace.

I jump back on the trail after reaching the junction of an unscalable sandstone cliff (no iceplant here!) and delta. No fish are visible from the edge, only a huge flock of sea gulls who are busy bathing in the fresh water.

I continue along the trail, and gaze down on the fields of sourgrass sitting next to the crashing waves. For the explorers who had to tramp through thick forests, plague-ridden swamps, bone-bleaching deserts, and all of the other obstacles and challenges, views like this must have helped to balance out some of their hardship and suffering. It pains me to think that some of those explorers probably enjoyed a view similar to this as they unwittingly rubbed up against a huge patch of poison oak (which also looks beautiful this time of year).

The trail, once again, veered toward the sprawling houses along the beach, and so I once again took a small, neglected trail. It appeared to be used mainly by maintenance crews working on the water lines that fed the neighborhood, and the furry woodland creatures, judging by the various turds (thankfully none human) and tracks that they left.

This part of the hike could have come straight out of the back roads of rural Southern Japan. Like many of my hikes along the many neglected roads, I encountered not one person, but many strange and beautiful plants and animals.

Why is the Pacific Grove Natural History Museum filled with such a variety of stuffed birds? Back in the old days, I have no doubt that the men who collected and prepared many an unfortunate avian bagged not a few of them somewhere within the view afforded from this hill side.

I find it highly amusing that hunting groups, like Ducks Unlimited, are the main evangelists of conservation of natural areas like these. Groups who kill the animals who live here have shifted to become their stewards. This is how most resources will have to be managed in the future, by those who traditionally exploit them. But I digress...

My hike ends in a fallow field, with a collapsed barn in the distance. In the space of two hours, it seems like I have experienced much more than I should have been able to, even if I was given a whole day. This, I reflect, is why some people have the exploration bug. Even if you get lost, hungry, scared, angry, or hurt, you know that you may come away richer for the experience. And maybe, if you are really lucky, you can have it all, if just for a moment.

The Happy/Sad Floating World

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A few days ago I took a long walk that started at the beach. After a few hours of following no particular path, I ended up in a large meadow next to the highway. If I had not strayed from the path and scrambled along the edge of the emergency lane into what was almost certainly private property (though there were no "no trespassing" signs posted), I would have never hopped down the steep bank where I found this:
I had chanced upon a cherry tree in the middle of nowhere, and it was in full bloom despite its dire situation.

Cherry blossoms are not long-lived, and it's partially because of their fleeting beauty that many people look forward to the season when they start to open. On the slope, surrounded by eucalyptus trees, poison oak, and dull colored scrub, it would have been impossible to miss.

The trunk was snapped, like a matchstick, at a 90 degree angle. It was impossible to see from the road, and since there was no footpath, its flowers were not likely to be seen by anyone who passed it by. I found it amazing that this tree, which appeared to have been broken a while ago (the splintered trunk was brown and dried out, with only a tenuous patch of fiber connecting the fallen portion of tree to the trunk), was able to flower despite being fatally injured.

It made me sad that no one would probably ever see this tree, or witness its last death-defying act of beauty. I regretted not having packed any food or drink to enjoy in its company, as I so often had under so many different cherry trees with so many different people when I was living in Japan.

The hike back to my car was long and the wind conspired to pull away all of the petals from the branch that I took. The branch, it turned out, was stronger than I thought and made it home safely.

And so, with this branch, I was able to enjoy hanami in my apartment this year. We dined on tuna melts (with croissants) and sparkling fruit juice. To someone who doesn't count any specific residence as their home it made the apartment feel familiar in a way not too different from nostalgia (How the hell do you translate natsukashii in this context?).

I was amazed, but the branch was still obstinately clinging on to its blossoms the next day at dawn. I had wanted to take pictures of the branch the day before, but had run out of daylight. These are the shots that I came away with at Lover's Point.



The twig was with me for only a couple of days, but during those days I had some good times enjoying the cherry blossoms.

A fallen, dying tree puts all of its remaining energy into blooming one last time, though no one will see it. Against all odds, the right person finds it and enjoys this last beautiful act. Though the tree dies, it is fondly remembered, tied into happy memories of the past.

Sound familiar?


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Raw Material

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Perhaps it's because I have my Nikon back in working order. Or maybe it's because I have an extra free day each weekend. It could be that winter is finally fading away.

What ever it is, I was able to find interesting things this weekend, which I hope to post soon.

Here's a shot that captures so many textures and colors, it was hard to believe. Why is the sand that purple and why does the water look so deceptively inviting? I don't know, but I do know that I found a new favorite beach hike...


Among the Wildflowers

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It's been a while since I've felt like taking pictures of, writing about, or even just thinking about flowers. For a stretch, I wasn't motivated to go out and find them, or for one reason or another, I didn't take the time to just go outside and look at them. Now, I feel like I'm ready to go forth and to dedicate some time to them like I did during the past few days off.

These blue flowers were thriving among the border of a road along the backwoods of Fort Ord, perhaps sitting atop some yet undiscovered ordinance. There are signs at the trailhead, warning hikers to avoid the various unexploded shells and explosives that are occasionally found in these parts.

This white flower was only growing in one small patch, next to some really small yellow flowers. I really love the tiny wildflowers that thrive during the spring. Perhaps I can use them as an excuse to get a better lens!

By the way, if you were wondering why I haven't been posting pictures, it's because my old lens died, and I had to search for a replacement. I found the same lens for cheap (refurbished!), but I don't think I'll be spending any more real money on this camera.

What I have learned is that, although the stock Nikon lenses work well, they are not very solidly constructed (a cool repair guy told me that they have tape holding them together inside!) and are not made for rugged conditions or heavy use. The general consensus, from the camera guys I talked to, was to go for the high-end lenses, starting from $500 to $600 bucks. I'm not sure if I would be comfortable pouring that much into my camera, as you can almost buy one new with two lenses, albeit cheaper lenses, for only a little bit more.

The bottom line is that I'm happy to have my camera working again. I intend to get into the field in the near future...

Benny Lava!

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This is like the Bollywood version of Yellow Ledbetter:

Why big dogs are better

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Though I am fond of my family's lap dogs, I don't understand the popularity of small dogs. Big dogs are much better.

Dogs are supposed to be Man's best friend, and long-dead dogs that we still fondly remember are the ones that fearlessly protected or faithfully served their masters.

Old Yeller, Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, Hachiko, Balto: these are the names of dogs we remember for doing something other than promoting cheap tacos. Benji is the only small dog that was relatively worth a damn despite his small size.

Little dogs taken into public, especially if they are wearing clothing or carried in a bag are a red flag. Sometimes the owners are regular people who like small dogs. More often than not, they indicate that their owner has a better than average chance of being selfish, annoying, and just generally someone you wouldn't want to waste your time on. In my experiences, it is best to avoid such parties, if possible. This isn't to say that people who own big dogs aren't the same way, but unpleasant owners of big dogs tend to be unpleasant in different ways than unpleasant owners of small dogs.

Small dogs can be formidable ankle biters, but they are nothing that a decent punt can't handle. Big dogs, like this one, can literally kick your ass. And if that fails, they can bite it...

No time for love Dr. Jones

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Indiana Jones is who I wanted to be as a kid, and nothing much in that regard has changed since then. Respect to Harrison Ford for demanding to use a real whip instead of a CGI one (hopefully it will not turn into a radio, like the guns in E.T. did).

This is one of the few movies that I would wait in line for on opening day, though not in costume. After the Star Wars prequels, I'm a bit cautious when it comes to movies that revisit the stories I knew as a child, but I'm pretty sure that Indy IV is not going to suck. Even if it does, I'll treat it like Episodes I, II, and III, and just ignore it and pretend it never happened.

Here's a bit of trivia, a Welsh friend of mine let me know that Jones is indeed a Welsh name, meaning "Son of John". And Sallah, the Arab dude, is actually a Welsh actor named John Rhys-Davies.

I miss Japanese 7 Eleven

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Clean. Efficient. Choices.

These are the three things that define Japanese convenience stores that American ones lack.

This video, despite the eccentric staff, made me remember how nice it was to have a large selection of canned coffee and tea, nigiri, and those sweets that come in such unexpected packaging and flavors. I wish all 7 Elevens were Japanese 7 Elevens.

I think this video is pretty old, because that Vidal Sasoon and soap with a name I don't remember have a retro 80's look about them.

*Bonus Vid: Japanese Baseball Slide*

**Yet more Bonus: Evolving Art (I've posted something by the same group before)**

The Keratin Harvest

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Every few weeks, right before my morning shower, I perform a ritual not unlike the Shingon monks that sit under the freezing streams at Oiwasan Nissekiji temple in Kamiichimachi. I mentally prepare myself, even when I'm still in bed contemplating what is to come. I squinch my upper lip to my nostrils and feel the scratch of my protruding nose hairs.

Barring some horrible event that results in cauterized follicles or severe emotional trauma, I think I'm always going to have a lot of hair, that is, except for a full mustache and beard. My super follicles push out thick, black hair at a slightly accelerated rate. Among my follicles, there are a few super follicles as well, that I wish were not such over achievers.

My nose seems to be the club where these turbo charged hairs like to hang out. Maybe it's because my nose is a pretty spacious, warm place to be, like a greenhouse or tropical island. I doubt that animals that have adapted to live in deserts, where they need long nose hairs to keep sand out of their respiratory systems, have nose hairs that would outgrow mine.

You know those electric nose hair trimmers? You would have about the same luck using a weed whacker to take on a giant sequoia as you would using one of those on my nose hairs, and the tips of nose hairs that are cut turn into miniature Punji sticks that slowly grow and poke the inside of my nose.

To effectively manage my nose hairs, I turn to the trusty hemostat for help. Not only are they handy when you're trying to control bleeding or need to suture something up, they also are ideal for nose hair management. The fine needle nose, with the help of the ratcheting lock, maintain a firm grip on hairs.

What comes next can only be explained as a sharp pain that travels to the brain almost instantaneously. When you rip a bundle of nose hairs from your septum, it goes against what your body thinks is a reasonable thing to do for the sake of self-preservation. In other words, it f*cking hurts. I remember the first time I did this, I had to wait until the pain passed before I did it again. It took me ten minutes to clean out both nostrils.

Nowadays, I can pluck my nose free of hairs that are too long in a few minutes, and I have gotten used to the pain. It sounds like a horrible thing to do, to rip out your nose hairs, but it's the only way I can clean them up without spending an unreasonable amount of time on those bastards.

After I'm done, I understand how you can gain a bit of horsepower by changing out a dirty or inferior air filter in your car. More air is reaching my lungs via my nasal passages without all of those keratin strands getting in the way. I clean off my hemostat and flush the small fallen forest of nose hair down the drain. If trees grew as quickly as my nose hairs, I muse, we would have to thin out the woods to keep them from encroaching on human habitations.

The benefits of ice plant

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This afternoon, I jumped in the car and headed South towards Big Sur. I was cruising along at the speed limit, driving with the windows and sun roof open, enjoying the sunshine and looking for spots along the side of the road that might grant me coastal access.

Every few minutes, I would spot an opening in the barbed wire fences that run along Highway 1, or for the telltale absence of brush, usually only a shoulder-width patch, that usually signaled the start of a hidden trail.

It seemed that everywhere I stopped, other people would see the car and follow me to see what I was looking at. I've grown to really like having these places all to myself, and so I'll hike places that are a bit more steep or challenging to get to than the average person is willing to brave.

I came upon a well-hidden path a few miles South of Garrapata State Beach, obscured by the thick brush. Once through the beginning patch, I spied a pristine beach, with what looked like a steep, but climbable path that made it back up to the highway. In order to get the secluded cove, I would have to descend the granite cliffs, skirt my way around some tidepools, and it looked like I would be home free. As if to motivate me, a group of tourists appeared a few hundred feet behind me.

Along the way, I looked among the wave-beaten rocks, and at the newly exposed layers of soil for cool rocks or artifacts. It was low tide, and though the waves weren't large, I knew that if I fell in, there was a good chance that I would be injured by the wild surge and the jagged rocks.

And so I came to a large mass of granite and quartz that stood like a large knife between me and the beach that I wanted to visit. Though the rock was tall and vertical, it wasn't too hard to climb over and around it. Before I started, I considered what I would do if a sleeper wave came in when I was on the blade of granite. It would have to be a huge wave, at least ten times larger than the largest wave I had seen crash, in order to get past the little islands that sheltered the cove and its immediate surroundings.

I made it to the beach, and enjoyed laying the only foot prints into the sand that I could see. There was something satisfying about knowing that no one would follow me to this beach, at least not the same type of people that had been following me earlier. I walked around for a while and soaked up some much needed sun.

From the waterline, I surveyed the cove, and picked the place where I would climb back up the surrounding cliffs. I could follow up the stream, but that was likely to be a pretty messy option, so instead I picked the area of granite that led to the path that I had seen from the beginning of the trail.

Hand and foot holds were sparse, and so I took my time testing to make sure that they were strong enough to support me. Before long, I had climbed much higher than I had though, and reflected that if it would be really hard to climb back down. I felt confident that I could fall and not hurt myself, but if I did, no one might come looking for me for a long time.

So I continued my climb, and the granite slowly turned into hard packed sand that formed a very steep grade. It was at this point that I regretted climbing so high in dress shoes. The smooth soles of my shoes had a hard time keeping purchase on wet concrete, and did not inspire confidence on the compacted sand. I flattened my body along the cliff, and shifted my support to my hand holds. A few arm lengths out of reach was a lone ice plant patch, and a larger patch was just a few feet above the closer patch.

Slowly, I tested crags and outcroppings of substrate, some of which crumbled before I committed to put a load on them. Digging my fingers into some of the firmer parts of the wall, I made steady progress to the smaller ice plant cluster. I grabbed onto the thickest part of the stem and tested it for strength. It snapped off, leaving me with a fleshy branch of withered lobes. I tried another part, hidden under a healthier part of the plant, and used it to reach the next, larger cluster.

The top of the ridge was in view, but it became a near vertical climb. Quickly, and carefully, I rooted out healthy stalks to hold on to under the green spikes, and scrambled onto a manageable area. The rest of the climb was through thick scrub, full of dead, pointy chaparral and hidden ground squirrel holes, and still rather steep, but it was a relative walk in the park.

I had noticed sand in the crags of the granite below, and had even seen the sand cliff, but it had looked less steep from the beach. Next time I will bring the appropriate shoes. Next time, I hope not to depend on ice plant in order to pull myself up and out of danger. I am glad for the ice plant, though. For a hand hold, I'll take ice plant on a cliff wall over chaparral any day, as long as it's healthy.

Better than you

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Understanding the Blues

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"I got a good woman" is a bad way to begin the Blues, unless you stick something nasty in the next line like, "I got a good woman, with the meanest face in town."

Read the rest here.

Thoughts on blogging

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Now, as I test out Movable Type v.4.1 for the first time, I can not help but think about what the interface looked like when I first used it, and how writing that first post felt. Blogging was pretty well-established by 2003, but it was new to me and it was with the encouragement of my brother that I started to run with it.

Back then I was living in a far away land, and the blog started to serve as a lifeline back to family and friends, allowing us to stay in touch, even though we were on different sleep cycles. Now, it still serves that purpose, though it does not occupy as much of my time. Life just doesn't seem as fast-paced and adventure no longer lurks just around a bend in the road over here. I almost feel as if I am living in a retirement community, and I am in a sense. Just under two years ago, I was teaching in one of the worst schools in Osaka during the day, out in the big city at night, and constantly exploring strange and foreign sub-cultures and worlds. There was a lot of stuff for me to share.

I probably would not have been as involved in writing or, for that matter, taking pictures as much as I do had it not been for Justin keeping this domain up and running, and that would have been unfortunate. Sometimes, when I feel like I'm forgetting my life in Japan, I look through the archives and everything comes back. My posts are a hedge against dementia, a touchstone to the past.

I am fascinated by Justin's efforts to keep the architecture of our blogs up to date. Whenever I take a look at the various templates, lines of code to make CAPTCHA or Analytics work, or any of the other moving parts that are hidden under the hood my eyes glaze over and my brain protests against trying to make sense of it all. I, the slacker, much prefer to focus on the content rather than the infrastructure.

I have a hunch that he does not like dealing with the installations - like is not quite the right word. I think he gets a satisfaction of learning how to use all of the tools to keep our blogs running smoothly and up to date, and it wouldn't surprise me if the process of staying on top of these things is one of his forms of meditation.

Given the choice between learning Movable Type from scratch and blogging on something that attracts some of the best features as a result of being open source or subscribing to a service like Blogger and not learning anything more than I needed to, I probably would have gone the Blogger route. I'm glad I didn't though, as I really like posting things here.

NeverEnding Nostalgia

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I took shelter from the cold rain, in an old, dark room, full of books with yellowed pages and a jumble of artifacts and well-worn work items. Scant light fell as running streaks on to the warped linoleum, I contemplated as I breathed in warm, stale air.

On the walk to the room, my Hawaiian pizza (with green onions!) had shed some of its cheese, which had coagulated onto the side of the carton. I tried scraping it back on the pizza, but when the cold fats and proteins were sampled, they proved unsatisfactory. Despite this, the flat bread with tomato sauce tasted really good after coming in from the rain.

Though I only had thirty minutes to eat, time seemed to slow down, as I enjoyed my packed lunch and read a book. It felt as if I were living another version of The NeverEnding Story, when Bastian cracks open a book and gets lost in the tale.

I wonder if this cartoon was inspired by the same scene...

For such a shitty cartoon, Beavis and Butthead was pretty entertaining.


Surprisingly, this little dog is able to go boulder hopping if you direct her along a clean, reasonable line.

Though she can climb up steep rocks and plows along like a little bulldozer, she doesn't necessarily like going off the path.

The yawn indicates that she's had enough, clearly not interested in checking out the critters left exposed by the low tide. It's probably better that way. We don't want her to stick her nose into the nematocyst-laced tentacles of the green anemone in the nearby pool.

We get back into the car, and she gets her muddy paws on everything (that I will end up wiping off later on in the day). Next time, along with dookie containment bags and water, I must remember to bring a towel to clean her off.

I'm curious to see just how steep a course she can safely handle, but that is an activity for another day...

Kid with Guitar

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What is Beef?

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Is it Nas vs. Jay-Z? Tupac and Biggie? Ice Cube talking smack on Common?

Cubicle Warfare

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Look around the cubicles at my workplace and you won't notice anything out of the ordinary. There is a war going on, and not everybody even notices it. Once you do notice it, you start to see things and to hear things that shouldn't be there.

There is an infestation of plastic army men, civil war militia, barnyard and African animals, and other miniaturized people and things. They're watching you from the light fixtures. They're blending into the office plants, communicating with each other. In every part of the office you go, there's another army man there with you.

There is also a mysterious beeping that no one seems to be able to locate. It doesn't beep at regular intervals, and must be well hidden because no one has found it so far. Sound familiar?

My supervisor is pushing the envelope with a USB Laser Guided Missile Launcher. He doesn't even use it and it's annoying because it constantly emits a laser from a concealed location.

It's only a matter of time before someone snaps and unleashes a Sonic Grenade upon the office. One day, someone will probably go a little too far, and it will be fun to see what happens.

Ah, it's nice to be a neutral party during times of conflict...

Old Bones

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Forgotten side roads, hidden deep in the green hills of Kyushu, are where I spent many epic afternoons driving around in my trusty '89 Civic. Often, I would encounter fallen trees or boulders blocking the road that I would skirt around, nudge out of the way, or get out of my car and physically move them to the side. Almost always, if I was at an impassable, the road was so narrow that I would have to drive what seemed like a mile in reverse, before I could even attempt a 3 point turn.

Even then, the 3 point turn would have a sheer wall of rock at one side, with a steep cliff on the other. The prospect of imminent death is a great motivation to learn the abilities of your body and vehicle. On more than one occasion, my neck was sore from looking over my shoulder for a prolonged session of driving in reverse.

Most of the time the roads would lead to a secluded farm, a colony of green houses, a pasture of rolling hills with cattle traps on the borders of the road and gates blocking further access, a rice field, or a uniform-sized grove of cedar trees used mostly to grow Shiitake mushrooms. Sometimes, there was a charming coffee shop or restaurant hidden away run mostly by people moving back to the country for a simpler life.

It wasn't uncommon to see an abandoned building on the side of these far away roads. Usually the surrounding woods would be well into the methodical process of eating, over growing, or generally reclaiming these forsaken spaces. Layers of leaves, dirt, mold, and animal droppings formed the beginnings of soil, mostly colonized by weeds and creeping vines.

On a late cold winter afternoon, under branches that formed a dark tunnel over a weedy road, I came upon one such house. Clearly, this place been abandoned by its owners a long time ago, but it had managed to evade vandalization. Stacked around the front and back yard that ran up to the edge of jungle, discarded appliances, media, and other semi-organized debris stood as testament to a sorrowful neglect.

Though the living no longer inhabit these places, you can still feel the shadow of their presence in the things that they left behind. Just thirty feet down the road, the sun shines brightly on the dusty road. The thick tangle of trees surrounding the house block most of the windows, and the dark green walls seem to absorb the scant light that makes it into the structure.

On the polished eves of the house, yellowed black and white pictures of the family patriarchs, all stern-faced males dressed in formal attire, glare down from their heavy frames on the rotten tatami mats, amidst the weeds and scattered, yellow papers and books as if in disapproval of the house that they are watching over. Were they, at one point, looking down on a family with contentment? It is hard to imagine that there might have been happiness, laughter, or even a relaxed conversation under these eves.

Scrolls with highly-stylized kanji hang on the adjacent wall, edges curling and black with moisture and the very same mold that is eating the wood, tatami, paper, walls, and even the very glass. The kitchen is littered with a few old, worn out plates, bowls, and cups. Opposite the kitchen, the tatami mats have rotted through and the very floor boards have caved in, exposing the ribs of supporting beams. The darkness, right below the floor, might be hiding any number of things that go bump in the night.

Just past this ominous chasm lies another room, almost pitch black, and packed full of mistreated, old luggage, broken toys, and other creepy artifacts. Getting there would involve walking on rotten beams over the darkness. I carefully put one foot down and test the narrow 2x4, and it starts to give. Slowly, I retract my foot, and decide that I'll stay on this half of the divide.

Though it feels like a really long time, I only spend a short time investigating the house (the watch indicates that I've been in for seven minutes). I take care to leave everything as I find it. Snapping pictures does not seem appropriate with someone's ancestors looking down on me. Quietly, and carefully, I exit the house, taking the same route out that I took in.

The feeling that I get when I enter places like this is similar to the experience of walking into a great cathedral through a dark beam of light in an ancient Toledo neighborhood, or hiking by myself alongside magnificent giant sequoias on a rainy day. It's not scary, but it weighs profoundly on my mind and soul.

Not all abandoned buildings can stir up these feelings, especially when you are with a rowdy group of friends. With this in mind, I never shared the location of some of these places with anyone else, and I like to think that they will remain forgotten, and will return to the earth unmolested by others.

Dusting off the cobwebs

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Why is it that things that I like to do seem like such a pain in the ass until I end up doing them? I'll give you a few examples of what I'm talking about:

I like to cook, but I haven't cooked more than a handful of times this year.
I like to exercise, but until recently I haven't gotten out much to do it.
I like reading, but I only get through an average of one book every two weeks.
I like making clay figures, but I haven't made but three last year, all of which suffered catastrophic structural failure when I fired them.
I like photography, but I don't shoot as much as I would like to.
I like snowboarding, but I haven't been on the slopes for over two years.
I like a clean room, but entropy takes control and matter goes from a state of higher to lower concentration, requiring ever-increasing amounts of energy to clean up.

Now that I'm doing these things (I still need to go boarding), I am enjoying them again, even if I've fallen out of practice.

Take cooking as an example: tonight I am making stew. It doesn't taste nearly as good as I'm capable of making it, but just getting back into the practice of cutting, peeling, frying, browning, simmering, and reducing, has been therapeutic in a way I can not fully articulate.

Now that I'm pushing past my resistance, I've already gained the motivation to do things that has been sorely lacking.

I think that this vacation was just what I needed. I've been back to work for only a day, and already I can't wait until my next vacation.


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Tonkotsu ramen is my favorite noodle soup by far, and unfortunately, there are no places to get really good tonkotsu in Monterey. I had gone so long without tonkotsu that Shinsengumi was the place where I wanted to eat the most on my last trip to Southern California. If only I could get Tonkotsu up North, I would be really happy - I remember thinking this when I departed on January 2nd for Monterey.

Vacation came a few days later. On my first day off, I received a notification that an undelivered parcel from Japan was waiting at the Pacific Grove post office for me. Due to power outages and other obstacles, I wouldn't end up getting this parcel for another 3 days, and only then after a 20 minute wait in a line packed with people trying to do everything that the post office was capable of, it seemed. The staff at the PG post office is polite and efficient, much like a Japanese Post office.

I was surprised to read this label on the box that was handed to me:


Reading the label, I knew that this wasn't going to be a pack of Top Ramen or Cup o Noodle, but it did raise a chuckle.

One of my favorite teachers from Ubuyama, Hieda-sensei, must have been listening to my thoughts because he quickly dispatched a 3 pack of instant Kumamoto-style tonkotsu ramen, complete with takana from Aso-prefecture!


Here are the ingredients for my Kurotei instant ramen:
cup noodle
pork broth
natana oil
karashi peppers
amino acids
caramel color
rendered bones
sweet flavoring

And there's more, but I'm getting tired of looking up kanji and trying to remember Japanese. I think I'm going to have to prepare extra noodles so that I can enjoy the broth to the fullest with kaidama...

To Hieda-sensei, the man who dared to climb Mount Kuju during the middle of a blizzard on April 4th, 2004 with Ubuyama-mura's 3rd resident ambassador of gaikokujin, I am truly in your debt!

Green peeks through

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About this time of year, when the days are slowly getting longer, I used to look forward to the plum blossoms coming into bloom. During this season, snow still falls in the mountains, we'd eat nabe under the kotatsu table, and the plum blossoms appearance would encourage us that in a few months hanami and the release from the bitter cold would be upon us.

In Pacific Grove, we have no orchards of plum or cherry blossoms. Instead we have succulents. Right now, like the plums of Japan, our massive aloe plants are flowering up and down my stretch of coast. Thankfully, it is not cold enough to make using a heater necessary (though we still turn in on occasionally).

In the near future, our smaller variant of ice plant will send up a carpet of purple flowers. To me, it's not as beautiful or as fun as cherry blossom viewing, but it is still very nice. It would be fun to set up a picnic and invite friends and family out to drink amidst the blossoms, but we would probably be busted by the police pretty quickly.

These heavy rains have coaxed the grasses to reach for the sky and climb over the dead, brown stalks and leaves of last year. It shouldn't be too long until the flowers start to come out.

Vacation stops here

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Well, that was a fun five days off. As much as I like the aquarium, sometimes we need our own time and space to ourselves.

For my last day off, I woke up late, and went for an afternoon hike at Point Lobos. Thankfully, today, the rains let up, and I was able to survey the effect of the storm in the woods.

Trees were uprooted, and the trunks of some of the larger Monterey pines were snapped in half, splintered like disposable chopsticks. Paths were eroded by the deluge, and rocks were freed from their earthen prison.

Walking was nice today, as wet pine needles formed a lush blanket along the whole trail, covering the viscous mud. The phrase "lather, rinse, repeat" came to mind, as I looked up, all of the dead, brown needles and many of the rotten boughs had been scrubbed off and washed to the ground.

I always remember how much I love getting out into the outdoors when I get there, and then I promptly forget it when I'm debating whether to go out or to do something else. I wonder why this is...

Taking these five days off has made me realize how much stuff I really have to keep me occupied, and has allowed me to spend time doing things that I don't spend enough time doing because of a busy schedule. I would not be opposed to taking five more days off, but I might never return to work!

Fun on a trampoline

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Grizzly Adam

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When I was in the 6th grade I wanted to have facial hair. I don't know why I wanted it, only that it seemed like a cool thing to have. I imagined that when I started shaving, it would encourage my follicles to produce a luxurious mustache and beard.

I carefully assembled all of the materials I needed to remove the peach fuzz on my face. Next, I slathered an over-generous amount of shaving cream below my nose and ears but above my neck. Slowly and carefully, I scraped away all of the foam under my chin and on the sides of my jaws, leaving the area where my mustache would be for last.

Emboldened by my results thus far, I quickly swept my disposable Bic single-bladed razor down my upper lip, and felt the stainless steel blade bite into my flesh, and a warm gush sprung forth. The coppery tang of my blood laced the cologne scent of the Colgate shaving cream and dripped into the white suds in the sink. Despite this set back, I meticulously finished the job. It wouldn't do to leave a few patches of peach fuzz on my face.

The cut was so deep, it took a few days to scab over completely, two weeks for the scab to peel, and almost three months for the pink scar to disappear. I think my dad noticed the cut, because that Christmas I got an electric shaver as one of my presents (I barely had enough facial hair for it to cut, but I still did it religiously). I wouldn't shave with a razor blade again until I received a Gillette Mach II in the mail, as a present on my 18th birthday, from Proctor and Gamble.

Occasionally, I have gone several days without shaving to see what the effects would be. It turns out that despite regularly shaving for about ten years, I do not seem to be destined to have thick facial hair.

On this vacation, I have gone without shaving for six days so far, and although my facial hairs have grown to about 2/10ths of an inch, it just doesn't look like much. I would post pictures, but really, it's not worth it. It has been kind of fun growing it out though.

If I make it to an old age, I plan on growing out a really long, really stringy Fu-Manchu mustache and beard just for the hell of it.

On a side note, I seem to have about three hairs in my "beard" that are red. What the hell is that all about?

A walk in the rain

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I went for a long walk in the rain today through the streets of Pacific Grove.

I used to frequently go for a walk in the other neighborhoods I lived in, but the prospects of having an adventure, experiencing exotic sights, sounds, textures, and smells in your home country just don't seem like they could stack up to a place where you are not used to.

Today, and the other times I've decided to walk around, proved this preconception to be wrong.

A house not too far away from my apartment has the same garish leg lamp that Ralphie's dad in A Christmas Story fights with his mom over.

The recent storms that have knocked out power for thousands of homes in California has gone through the streets, leaving a path of destruction. One large wooden fence looked as if it had been karate chopped by the very hand of God. Much termite damage was exposed, as the strong winds wrenched the rotten cores of 4x4 posts from soil, loosened by the torrential downpour. Piles of broken tree branches and fallen trees were stacked aside the road.

Walking by these things, I was able to take in so much more for two reasons. Walking afforded me the time to focus on the details of the houses, things I would miss if I were in a car. I was also able to bypass roadblocks and other obstacles easily on foot.

One cool thing I happened across was this flower:

I don't know what kind of flower it is, but it looked as if it didn't mind the drizzle...

Ocean Force!

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It's weird to see how popular Huntington Beach has become, and seeing people on the show who I didn't know were lifeguards.

They call it "actuality TV" as opposed to "reality TV", but it's interesting to see how fancy editing, a dramatic voice over, and a sound track can hype and dramatize a regular day at the beach.

Lifeguarding is a demanding and exciting profession, especially at Huntington, but it's still strange to see an area that I consider home on TV.

TV worth watching

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The only reason I have cable is for the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, PBS, the Travel Channel, and Comedy Central. These three channels constitute what I watch 80 percent of the time, with Comedy Central being the one channel I probably watch the most.

Laughter is indeed therapeutic, but there is something else. Comedy showcases some of the most intelligent and insightful people around.

South Park, for example, is not a cartoon that most people think of as anything other than an outlet for toilet humor and profanity, but it is probably the best satirical voice for those interested in keeping up with the most ridiculous things that our culture is currently obsessing over. When I lived overseas, I got my news via Google and stayed on top of everything else with the Daily Show, the Colbert Report, the Chappelle show, the Mind of Mencia (which really went downhill after the first season), and South Park.

I just caught the tail end of Chris Rock's Never Scared performance. Like always, he put on an entertaining, thought-provoking show.

I'd have to say, Chris Rock and George Carlin have consistently produce things worth watching and sharing with others. On that note, George nails my feelings on the impending elections:

I am going to vote for the candidate who I dislike the least, but I'm not going to lecture anyone who stays home...

Rediscovering Weekends

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Ah, to socialize on a Sunday! I forgot what it was like to have my days off overlap with my friend's days off. Going a year working on Saturdays and Sundays has profoundly affected how I socialize, though it is not all bad.

Nowadays, I usually spend half of my first day off working at the Tuna Research and Conservation Center, doing water quality, prepping food, and maintaining the place (siphoning tuna shit, scrubbing bio-growth from the sides of the tanks, and scraping rancid anchovy fat from Weir boxes is time consuming and labor intensive). The next half of the day is usually spend doing chores and errands.

My second day is either dedicated to other chores, but sometimes I get a day that I get to spend how I really want to. On these rare occasions, I try to find cool places around here to hike on the cheap. It seems like every park wants to charge people money to use the trails. I'm happy to contribute money to help protect our natural resources, but I can't afford to pay as much as they ask. Like many others, I am more than happy to hike a bit longer to avoid the fees, and this is one benefit of having Tuesday and Wednesday as days off - I usually have the trails all to myself.

On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, I work. After work, I am usually not up for much more than a movie, or hanging out for a few hours, and then it's bedtime. Living in a small town, once again, has made me want to go to bed early every night.

For about a year, I had been intending to visit Joy and Eric, up in Los Gatos, but our schedules never overlapped, so I was never able to make the trip. I ended up going today, and we tried out a new restaurant, went hiking in the hills, had a Wii bowling tournament, and had a nice dinner together. I used to do things like this with friends on a regular basis, but since starting this job, these days spent with other people have been few and far between.

The drive out to Los Gatos, via the 17, was like driving through the Japanese mountainsides, except the roads were wider and there was more traffic. Clouds drifted right over the roads, and the dense foliage was rich and had a green usually reserved for the beginning of the Spring months. It reminded me of some of the roads that I drove down in Kagoshima.

On a sad note, it looks like the auto-focus on my D50 might be broken. I hope that I am wrong, but we shall see... Cleaning and testing equipment is something I will add to the ever-changing list of things to do.

Also, it doesn't look like I will make it up to the powder this Tuesday or Wednesday. Boarding, it seems, will have to wait for another time...

For all of you that have regular weekends off, enjoy them! For if they ever shift to non-standard days off, your social life will almost certainly be a little lonelier.

If I had a cappuccino maker...

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...I would add this to my list of things to do on vacation.

Away from work

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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.