Snow Pics

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Taken at Ubuyama Bokujo. What you can’t see (to the bottom right, beyond the frame) is a big treaded set of tracks that told of multiple snow donuts on the tractor.
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Snow.
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Yuuto kun atop a mini-mountain of snow.
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Tried boarding down here, but it wasn’t steep enough.

Ridiculously Cold

sinksicle.jpgAre you under the impression that Kyushu is a warm place. Come to Ubuyama, my friend…
I used all of my faucets this just this morning. Despite this, every one of them has frozen. There is a 4 inch stalagtite hanging from my Kitchen faucet, a 3 inch stalagmite in my bathroom sink, and my bath faucet is frozen solid. Thankfully, my toilet works, and so does my shower! Hahaha! Finally some luck! Who cares that the water in the bowls and frying pan have turned completely to ice? Not me- dishes can wait indefinetely (as proven in college), but I can not live without a shower or a toilet. I recall having to boil water last year when my shower froze- remembering such experiences puts it all in perspective.

More Than Meets The Eye

When I was 5, the Transformers was one of my favorite cartoons in the action category, up there with G.I. Joe, Voltron, He-Man (remember, I was only 5), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (spot the double entrendre here), Thundercats, Inspector Gadget, Jonny Quest, Silverhawks, and Robotech. I remember thinking breifly about who would win in an all out battle- GoBots or Transformers (It didn’t take long to reach a definitive conclusion). If you happen to be curious, the answer to this question is exhaustively covered here.
However, Who would win this fight?:
The Constructicons (in Devastator form) vs. (Lion) Voltron.
My vote goes to Voltron, who would first fight the individual Constructicons broken down into 5 lions. A ferocious battle between the two teams would ensue, with the Constructicons slightly getting the upper hand. Outnumbered, the lions would come together to form Voltron, a move shadowed by The Constructicons. The Constructicons would get in a few good bitchslaps (while talking major trash to the seemingly mute Voltron- of course the pilots would be shouting encouragement, spitting out profanities, and grunting whenever they were dealt a telling blow) and maybe a couple of kicks to the groin before Voltron got pissed enough to clank his clenched fists together. Once Voltron unleashed his mighty longsword (at the apogee of a spectacular leap, of course!) he would streak down with tremendous speed and cut Devastator clear in half (who would be screaming “NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!”), resulting in an explosion of stupendous proportions. However, I believe that the Constructicons would win if they had help from Megatron.
And just for the record, I don’t give a damn what happened in the movie (King Kong won in BOTH the Japanese and American versions of the film) or that their incarnations were equally matched in Rampage (they made Godzilla a bitch in this game if I remember correctly). It isn’t even a question: Godzilla (destroyer of skyscrapers. special powers: invincibility, atomic breath, tail doubling as a bludgeon, super strength) would f*cking kill King Kong (climber of skyscrapers. special powers: super strength). Period.

Same Same, But Different

Reading this post at Vagabonding (a great travelogue, BTW) was like reading Off The Rails In Phnom Penh: Into The Dark Heart Of Girls, Guns, and Ganja all over again (this is a great book by Amit Gilboa that talks about his personal experiences and goes over the crazy history of Cambodia. before reading this book, all I knew about Cambodia was Angkor Wat).
I really wanted to go to Cambodia after reading this book- not because it romanticized the place, quite the contrary in fact. This is a place where you can pay to fire RPGs and large caliber machine guns at livestock, live very comfortably while employing servants and AK touting body guards to serve you on a meager salary, buy the “services” of underaged girls for the price of a pack of cigarettes from their parents, do any drug you could possibly want, and pretty much do whatever you feel like without fear of getting in trouble or being judged by society. Add in the explosive political past (with such players as Pot Pol, Hun Sen, and the Khmer Rouge) and cartoonish present with the unfamiliar culture of the Khmer people, add in a pinch of truly lost expatriates, and you have the makings of some good pulp fiction style stories. I am inclined to believe people when they say that their trip to Cambodia, and Phnom Penh in particular, was a wild time. This looks like a place to visit for a couple of days, have a wild adventure, and then to go back home- a place to get some perspective.
Dunno though. After seeing the fat German dudes in Phuket walking off with teenage girls, she-males (this I found sort of amusing), and on one occasion a young boy, I don’t think that I would like visiting a country that makes Thailand look like Disneyland. Reading “Hello My Big Big Honey!”: Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews made me really think about these things deeply. Seeing all of these perverted losers walking around with girls (who, if approached back in the states by these guys would be methodically hosing them with pepper spray) made me feel queasy to the point where I could not finish my pizza. Then again, some of the couples in the book ended up getting married and supposedly living happily together. Life is strange.
I don’t think that the sex trade is bad in general. In fact, I think that it is an important service, just like therapy, massage, and other treatments that people pay for to remain happy and in good health. Hell, legalize it and throw the money raised from taxes into our educational system. Then it could be regulated like any other legitimate business and held to higher standards while at the same time, contributing to our society.
What I do have a problem with are the pedophiles. Seeing these disgusting people openly paying to have sex with children, especially when they are obviously feeling comfortable about it, is one of the worst things that I have ever seen. It made me angry and sick, and really want to do bad things to bad people.
So maybe I will just visit Angkor Wat if I make it around to Cambodia. After all, I can always go hunting for water buffalo (or hopefully a bus full of pedophiles) with my RPG-7 on the way to the airport…

American Engrish

Damn, this picture is so great, I was tempted to cut and post it here, but I will resist my online klepto temptations. The site’s worth exploring with gems like “Chinese Hut“.
I had no idea that there were Mister Donut franchises in the states (who in their right mind would eat at Mister Donut when there are awesome places like Adam’s Avenue Donuts, Yong’s Donuts, Krispy Kreme, and all of the other Korean- uh, ahem, I guess I have been out of the loop for a while… make that Cambodian owned and operated donut shops that make GOOD donuts). Master Donut, heh. I know that in the Deathmatch Arena, Master Donut would undoubtedly kick Mister’s Donuts, and then cannibalize his bretheren, while uttering “Now I am the Master“.
On a related note, I heard a rumor that there is a Mos Burger located somewhere around Mater Dei High School in Orange County. I have also heard that one exists in Hawaii. Are there any Mos Burgers in the states? And I heard that they have Circle Ks and 7-11s over there too! What, what? Those stores didn’t originate in Japan?

Ubuyama Snowboarding Safari

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My snowboard planted in a foot of powder in front of Yamaga Shogakko in Ubuyama. Arguably, this is the best place for snowboarding in my village.
Today I woke up late (10:00AM- I MUST be gettin old), and was shocked to see that 61 centimeters of snow (according to the news) had fallen over night, over the snow remaining from the previous storm. It was then that I knew that I had to dedicate today to finding some more spots to go snowboarding (last year I also went, but there was not quite enough snow to make it worthwhile). I spent 45 minutes debating under the kotatsu whether to go out for breakfast, or to go down into the caldera for groceries, since my fridge was empty. Instead, I decided to save time and get moving, went over to A-mart (this is NOT a convenience store, but a baser convenience store-like shop, with greatly hiked up prices) and picked up breakfast and dinner materials. That done, I cooked up a huge bacon, egg, and cheese sandwitch that seemed to be the best thing I had ever eaten in the cold of the morning, and set out at 11:10.
Phase 2. I thought long and hard about good spots to go, and drove around, scoping out the area. Since the roads were nearly impassable for the Wingroad, I decided to only board areas that I could reach on foot. I started out going boarding down by the logging road down by the swimming pool. This offered some stunning views of the clamshell terraced snow-covered rice fields that Ubuyama is famous for, and I stopped to take a few shots. Unfortunately, it was not steep enough to get sufficient momentum to cut through the fresh powder, and the snow was too thin in some parts because it was sheltered by the trees. As beautiful as this place was, I had to move on.
Despite the dangerous roads, I decided to jump in the car (this lead to some fun snow driving, more like sledding and sliding in areas) and to go to the steep hill next to the windmill. Unfortunately, some construction worker had the same idea, except instead of tearing down it on a snowboard, his idea was to use a backhoe to obliterate the hill and to flatten the surrounding area as part of the ongoing land development in that area.
So I began thinking… Blast! I live in the friggin’ mountains! Are there no new places to explore? I could go to Hokubu and check out around Ikeyama and Yamabuki suigen, but the roads are under construction, and so I might not make it through safely. I want to go to Mt. Kuju, but the roads up there are impassable for certain… And then I remembered last year, when I tried to snowboard around Yamaga Shogakko. So I walked up the mountain and through the tunnel (screaming such gems as “Echo!” and “Hey you guys”- you know whats up), up the long driveway, taking the shortcut up the long set of stairs, walking in back of the snow covered gym and past the frozen swimming pool, up the hill in back of the school. It was really steep, but also really short. I bombed down around there a couple of times and rode down the zipline, which shot my ass with a sharp parabolic curve deep down into the arctic blue powder, just below the pure white surface. As fun as it was, it was not satisfying for the purposes of a snowboard safari. I thought again of the road leading up to the shogakko…
The middle of the road was cleared by the blade of a tractor, but off to the side was a long, 8 foot wide stretch of virgin powder with a skinny, treaded groove (made by one of the tractor’s tires) running the entire 200 meters down. The grade was steep enough to be interesting, and the groove gave me a starting place to build up enough speed. The first ride down, I rode the groove like a record needle, and shot down with amazing speed. It was over within 30 seconds, and I was hooked.
I then started off into the powder, cutting back into the groove when the board would cut down and submarine, regaining speed. Eventually, I had groomed the whole length of the run, and practiced riding and jumping off of the long heaping margin of snow boulders separating my snow from the hard, steaming asphalt. I also practiced riding down on the backside of the board, slowly teaching my left foot to lead.
I spent a total of 4 hours climbing slowly up this hill, trying not to build up a sweat, and then shooting down. I could not stop myself from repeating the ride over and over, and despite the shortness of the run and the small area which I was confined to, I never lost interest. It brought back memories from one year ago, spending 2 hours on sliding my car around on the snow, doing donuts, finding out little secrets on how to make my car drive like it was not meant to be driven, and busting all manner of spins all the while blasting myself into a trance-like state with the help of DJ Shadow. Ah, the simple things in life are often the most enjoyable and addictive.
Occasionally a local would drive by and do a double-take, stopping to watch for a while and I will surely be questioned about this when I go back to work on Monday. Only when it got dark and cold did I retreat back to home. I reflected on a day well spent, while enjoying a hot bowl of garlicky kimchee miso based nabe (props to Jus for the original recipe. ah, the possibilities of future variations on this most excellent dish!).
As for snowboarding around Ubuyama, I can only think of two remaining spots to hit. I must remember to check out the construction roads that lead down to the dam, and the area around the Hokubu campgrounds and Higothai hana koen. I guess there’s always tomorrow.
Ah, and just for the record, snowboarding in Ubuyama kicked the pants off of going to the Mt. Kuju “ski resort” (but most likely, hiking up Kuju and then boarding down would be a better ride). Let’s take a look at the trade offs:
Yamaga Shogakko’s steep driveway/road vs. Mt Kuju ski resort
Yamaga pros:
Free (as opposed to 5,000+ yen)
Within walking distance of my house.
Fresh, virgin white powder.
No “Great Wall of Young People” sitting in the middle of the course talking on their keitais blocking the slopes.
No closing time.
Technically challenging areas.
Allowed to change or modify the course as I see fit
Good exercise
Kuju Ski Resort pros:
Speaking English ensures a crowd of awed people (maybe this is a con).
Cafeteria with decent food (but expensive as hell!).
Ski lifts.
500 meter long groomed “course”.
Ski patrol (if I got badly hurt, I would have to crawl 1 km to my home).
Young people in abundance (this is important when you live in a demographic such as my current village).
Being the best snowboarder on the mountain (no, wait… thats the SAME as Yamaga. and sadly, this is not an exaggeration. yes, they were ALL noobs, albeit noobs dressed and equipped in the latest, most expensive gear.).
Close to the Kurokawa onsens.
And so, although I had a good time at Kuju last year (since I got fresh powder there, and the blizzard chased away everyone else off of the slopes), I would have to say that boarding locally was a much more enjoyable experience. Would’ve been nice to have a few snow bunnies along, and a cafeteria in which to sip on hot cocoa and to munch on a cheese burger and Snickers bar. But it was still a pretty good day.

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Snow is dumping down on my village right now, and the roads have been covered in a blanket of snow three inches thick. Thank goodness that I am driving the Yakuba’s Nissan Wingroad with AWD and snowtires, or else I would have to break out the chains (although it sucks driving a car with no stereo!).
Between the residual snow from the blizzard from two days ago, and the resulting layer from today, everything is covered in pure white coldness. If you added a couple of AT-ATs and tauntauns, then I would indeed be living on Hoth!
If it keeps on snowing hard for a couple of days, then I will once again look for a prime spot to go snowboarding in Ubuyama, like the Bokujo or one of the logging roads (didn’t quite have enough snow last year).
Yep, so I think I shall stay inside and sip on some hot tea, hibernating (or more accurately, estivating) under the kotatsu table and slowly working through the DVDs that I bought in Shanghai. It is also about time to break out with the Nabe-fu and see how my Japanese culinary skills have advanced. Still much to learn, grasshopper…

Kagoshima Part 2

The very next day after I got back from Korea, I made a trip with Kaori-Sensei and her friend Emiko down to Kagoshima. But first we stopped by the city to visit a shogakko student who was in the hospital.
Ryusei Nishida is a very good student who is liked by everyone. He’s good at sports, and the girls like him because he’s quite a charming little boy. After feeling a sudden and excruciating pain in his hip, he was admitted into the hospital, and they discovered a problem in his hip joint. They had to put three metal pins to hold together his fractured femur, and told him that he can’t play sports or do P.E. until he is 20 years old. That means that from now (the 6th grade) until college, he can’t do any sports of any kind. When we went to visit him, he was in high spirits as usual. Its just too sad to dwell on, however, Ryusei is a strong boy both mentally and physically and so he will still do well, even with his debilitating condition. If it had been any other student, I would be more concerned, but I know he will be O.K. We played a few games of babanuki (old maid), and then left with a black, cloudy feeling about the future.
The original plan was that we were all going to run in the Nonahana Marathon in Ibusuki, Kagoshima. However, both I and Ko-chan (Kaori’s husband) came down with colds, so he stayed home and I went along just for fun. We went to sleep at about 10 P.M. and took off for Kagoshima at 2:30 A.M. (so that we wouldn’t have to spend an extra night and extra money in a hotel). This was pretty rough, and I slept most of the way down. However, it must’ve been torture for the girls, who had to run. We arrived in Ibusuki at about 5:30 and slept in the car for an additional hour and a half.
There were 2 courses that people ran: the full marathon (42.195 K) and the 10K. About 10,000 people ran the full marathon and around 2,000 ran the 10K. People of all ages ran, some in really strange costumes such as square packages of pickled garlic, fish-men, faeries, and a giant Olive. There were so many people running that the people at the back of the queue were only able to start the race 10 minutes after the bang of the start.
It was inspirational watching those running the marathon. There were so many old people (50 and over) and people in the 70 year old age range were not uncommon. Made me feel like a wuss for dodging out due to a cold. There’s nothing like healthy dose of good old fashioned shame to crank up the motivation. So I will be running the Saga Marathon on April 4th, most likely. Then again, maybe I’m not that ashamed of not running the race.
The atmosphere of the marathon was just like a matsuri. There were food booths, a magic show, a stage where I took pictures with Miss Ibusuki 2004, and lots of people in costumes walking around. The course was also spectacular. It was all flat and next to the beach, lined by bright yellow nanohana flowers (rape blossoms). If I’m around, I might have to run this marathon next year.
After they finished the marathon,
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we headed over to the sunaburo onsen (hot sand bath). This place was located right on the beach, and the natural volcanic heat rose up steaming through the sand.
First, I observed the bilingual sign telling me how to take a sand bath, and warning not to stay in for too long, or I might become baked like a piroshky. Next, I changed into a yukata (thin cotton robe), and went down to the beach, right in front of a calm ocean. I layed down between a bunch of sand mounds from which only faces protruded. A young man came over with a shovel and started to mound steaming hot black volcanic sand on top of me and asked me if I was Korean (I simply laughed as an answer, so he was probably thinking something like “those crazy Koreans!”). I was slowly covered, and when it was complete, I was entombed in a sarcophagus.
The weight of the sand bearing down on my thorax brought to mind that old puritan man who’s last words before being crushed to death with a huge pile of stones on his chest was “more weight” (what a badass!). The sand was heavy, pinning my whole body. This amplified the effects of the heat, which pierced straight through my flesh to my lungs and heart. Watching the rise and fall of the mound on my chest with each breath, I noticed that my heart beat was also visible, and the heat made it so that I could feel my pulse in my fingers and feet. This was one of those strange moments in which I felt completely in touch with my body, kinesthetically, spiritually, and physiologically speaking. After 10 minutes, the heat grew uncomfortable, and so I slowly emerged from my bed of earth, like a mummy come to life under the Egyptian dunes. If you happen to be in Ibusuki in the winter, or during a bout of cold weather, I highly recommend slapping down the 1,500 yen, for it is well worth it. However, during the Kagoshima summer, I think that this might prove to be an unpleasantly hot experience, but maybe not. It was 4:30 when we left, and there were still many people running the final 5k of the marathon. They had been running for 6 and a half hours, and I no longer regretted not running at all.
After the sunaburo, we made a trip down the Ibusuki Skyline. Like the Aso Skyline, this drive offers some excellent curvy roads to practice your mountain driving technique, and the view was breath taking. We drove into the sunset, with Kaimondake looming against a golden orange sky. I had previously climbed up Kaimondake, dubbed the Fujisan of Kyushu, six months ago so it was cool to see it from a different context. It was like looking at a Hokusai print in real life. I must say, if you have the chance to climb this beautiful extinct volcano, I highly recommend it (climbing this mountain was much more fun and offered a better view for me compared to Mt. Fuji).
That night we stayed at Eyouken Hotel, a Ryokan North of Kagoshima City.
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This Ryokan boasted 3 onsens and was right on a beautiful river, filled with carp and minnow-like fish. If I ever go back, I will bring my fishing equipment or fashion a line and pole out of some stray bamboo and grass.
I went to the onsen once that night, and once the next morning. Both times I was completely alone, and had the massive pools to myself. It was a bit spooky and had a Purgatory-like ambiance because the rooms were filled with steam, so that you couldn’t see anything past two feet in front of you. My morning onsen was awesome. To reach the baths, I had to walk outside in the bitter cold, on a stone bridge arching over a koi pond. Once inside, I showered off and walked slowly through the mist, entering the scalding-hot red-tinged opaque bathwater. My nerves screamed in out in that sharply specific cry that is about 30% pleasure and 70% pain. Large windows situated near the ivy draped vaulted ceiling let in an strong arctic draft, so my face was whipped by the cold while my body turned lobster red from the heat. I walked around the fog, and discovered a miniature landscape with giant statues of frogs, naked women, woodland creatures, and a fake stuffed crane. Had it not been for the heat, I would have stayed in that bath for the whole day, completely happy to have the place to myself.
The women didn’t have as good of an experience. Their onsen, the rotenburo, was located outside, in plain view of any who happened to be strolling along on the adjacent bridge that spanned the river. Needless to say, they quickly hopped in and out and so we finished at the same time (girls always take a friggin long time in the bath, so taking my time is roughly equivalent to women hastily racing through the same actions).
The last thing that we did in Kagoshima, before leaving for Kumamoto, was go to eat Shirokuma (white bear, polar bear, or shaved ice, depending on the context. In my case it was the latter of the three) during coming of age day. It was cool seeing all of the 20 year old girls fully dressed in kimono as well as a few guys. Everyone was in a good mood, and had gone though lengths to look their best on this important day. If you have a kimono fetish, this is the day that you want to visit Japan on.
The Shirokuma was excellent. The ice was finely shaved and had a feather-light quality, not grainy or pebbly like the cheaper shaved ice that you get at the country fair. I got the one flavor that I had never seen before, despite skepticism and rude noises made by those who chose their flavor of Shirokuma with less skill. And it turned out to be the shit! It tasted better than theirs, and they kept asking for more. So remember, the chocolate Shirokuma kicks the most ass in the “pure flavor” Shirokuma category.
I must say that traveling with girls is a completely different experience than crusing with the guys. Instead of roughing it, we enjoy the comforts along the way. Instead of getting drunk and wrestling and getting angry and laughing at other’s misfortunes, we get drunk, and play games, and have in depth conversations. Instead of saving money by eating food bought exclusively out of convenience stores, we eat frequently at good sit down restaraunts and nibble on delicacies famous to the region. Instead of doing stupid things that might get us into trouble, we relax and enjoy the views and other sensory input, taking on a more reflective role in contrast to a hyperactive one. Instead of covering our B.O. with deodorant, we bathe regularly and remain in a perpetual state of cleanliness. Ah, its good to hang out with the girls for a prolonged period every once in a while, allowing the body to heal from inevitable wounds and other miscellaneous damage that results from hanging out with the guys.
Places That I Enjoyed In Kagoshima:
1. The Kagoshima Suizokan (Aquarium). A top notch aquarium complete with some excellent specimens such as adult Pirarucu from the Amazon, a giant sturgeon, various gigantic rays (but no mantas), a tiny whale shark, and an electric eel of notable girth complete with analog voltmeter that displays the electric output during feeding time. Admission is 1,500 yen.
2. Sakurajima (Cherry Island). This volcanic island sits in the middle of Kagoshima Bay, and there is a youth hostel you can stay at for around 2,000 yen a night (this is super-cheap, and better than camping out during a hot and humid Kagoshima night, as I found out). The onsens on the island have red, muddy, sulfur-rich water that is said to be theraputic (but mostly it just feels good to soak in one after a long day). The ferry is also pretty cheap, and you can even take a car over to the other side (for about 1,500 yen, if I remember correctly).
3. Kaimon-Dake.
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This mountain is a medium challenge to climb. Takes about 2.5 hours at a slow and steady pace to reach the top. The view is spectacular, both from the peak, and from a distance. It is free to climb if you enter through the town. Also, the beaches around this area are spectacular, with black sand. My only complaint is that just below the tideline, medium sized stones will crush your toes is you forget to pack the aqua socks (I didn’t so I was O.K.).
4. Kagoshima City. This place is a lively, decent sized metropolitan area. I feel at home here for some reason, and find it more exciting than Kumamoto city. There are many historical sites to check out in and immediately around the city center. At night time, the red light district is really lively, and the girls flirt more agressively to drag prospective clients into their snack bars.
5. Unagi Mura. This place seems even more inaka than Ubuyama, because everyone seems to be at least 80 years old. Unagi (meaning “eel”) is a small town located in the middle of a dead volcano, with a lake in the bottom of the caldera. I went to the local onsen (a tiny hut) with a hairy Portugese ALT, and it was a true life anthropological experience interacting with the native “small people”. Dayamn pops, yeah we’re foreigners, but staring at another man’s wang is poor manners in any culture that I know of. Tend to your own unagi. Anyhow, this is a cool place to drop by and experience a deeper level of hidden culture.
There are so many cool places to check out in Kagoshima, and I have the feeling I will return once again.

Back In The Motherland

I just stepped back into my apartment after a full day and two nights in Seoul, which I will write about later when I am not about to nod off. I just want to say thanks to everyone who made time to see me, and who did stuff to make my trip a great experience. Even repeatedly puking up partially digested medium-rare lamb and recovering for the majority of my trip home could not keep me from having a good time.
It was good to go home and to see that I was not as disconnected from everything as I had feared. Much has changed while I have been away, but the main things that I love about living in California pretty much remain the same, while my appreciation of them has grown extensively.
Much to write about, but I will wait until I am coherent enough to put together a cohesive sequence of verbage. Thanks to everyone who was there, you know who you are.