Thoughts on blogging

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

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…

What does Pinky think of tidepooling?

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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…

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

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 2×4, 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

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.

Tonkotsu-gram

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:
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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!
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Here are the ingredients for my Kurotei instant ramen:
cup noodle
pork broth
salt
shoyu
natana oil
lard(!)
garlic
?
starch
karashi peppers
amino acids
caramel color
rendered bones
sweet flavoring
seaweed
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!