In Hakuba

Right now I’m in Nagano with Taro, staying at the lodge where he used to work in seasons long ago. The snow is superior to any I have so far encountered in Japan, but this is not surprising.
Taro and his friends are good skiers, but something crazy happened yesterday. Tori-san, a very skilled skier, was busting some crazy tricks on skis that made everyone say “Ooh”. I was watching him go off a jump, when he caught major air and his body tilted right so that it was unnaturally parallel with the ground. He landed so hard that he broke his carbon fiber pole in half, but luckily escaped with not broken bones or anything worse than pain when he laughs.
This reminds me of when I dislocated my rib after taking a spill in Mammoth. Luckily my father is a chiropractor so he popped that sucker back in, and I was back in action. I’ll try not to do anything so dramatic this time, but we’ll see.
By the way, if you’re up this way I recommend a bar called 902- foosball and a large screen TV playing big air footage. It’s a good thing that they don’t show those vids in the cafeteria on the slopes, or I would probably be riding the sled down the mountain with the ski patrol.

Death and Lake Biwa

This past weekend, Justin, Taro, and I embarked on a weekend trip, excited to finally have the opportunity to snowboard/ski this season. We were hoping to get an early start on snowboarding in Shiga prefecture, but rain on the coast did not translate into snow in the mountains. High winds prevented us from any other options than leaving or waiting for the conditions to change. Having packed fishing equipment for our contingency plan, we opted to go explore the famed Lake Biwa and try our luck.
On the way we got lost and saw abandoned buildings and fading remnants of a once vibrant lakeside community. Perhaps Lake Biwa is a bustling vacation destination, but on that gray, rainy day it set the mood frequently encountered in Stephen King’s short stories set in Castle Rock. Driving to the lake on a narrow, windy road through old neighborhoods, full of ancient, weather-beaten wooden houses, we were pursued by a wailing ambulance and passed the woman summoning it.
Taro had mentioned that it is against the law to catch and release black bass. If you catch one, you must kill it or throw it in a netted enclosure where it is certain to die of starvation. This regulation also applies to bluegill. Right now, there is great concern about the dwindling stocks of native fish in Lake Biwa for good reason. The bass and bluegill predate on and compete with the natives, so programs like this are essential for finding a new balance. Unfortunately, we did not contribute to eradicating anything at all.
It was really sad to see the forgotten boats, rotting and growing thick coats of algae. This pile of ripped up fiberglass (located next to the “No Littering” sign) is a sad testament to a society that prizes convenience over long-term responsibility.
The first three skulls were found at the lake, near to the fiberglass pyre and fish traps. The last one was resting underneath Sumoto Castle (on Awaji-shima).
A catfish skull.
The skull of a dog- yet another reminder of a waribashi society.
A heron skull.
An inoshishi(boar) skull, complete with tusks.
The high winds, cold rain, doomed fish, and other depressing things didn’t seem to have any effect on our day. They just served as interesting things to contemplate or discuss on another road trip. We ate fish sausage “hot dogs” with curried cabbage, explored random country roads, and ended up going snowboarding at a different nearby resort. The odyssey finally ended the next morning at 7, when we finally went to sleep after drinking at Bill’s Bar on its closing night. We didn’t wake up until well after 3P.M., and it felt good.

Peeing on things

One day, I will have children who will ask me “What was college like?”, and if I choose to answer honestly I will reply “For young men, college is mostly about destroying things, refining procrastinating technique and bullshitting skills, but mostly it?s drinking cheap beer and peeing on things while at the same time trying not to get caught or hurt in the process”. Then I will tell them about my impressions of Del Playa ( mainly that the street smells like a urinal), of returning home to the dorms to find that all of the sit down toilets had been pissed all over along with the toilet paper, and how my apartment mates and I speculated about how urine made its way into and all over my apartment’s communal washing machine and dryer.
Here are a collection of stories, all that share a central, common theme, that I remember about my life as a student at UCSB:.
The D.A.
College parties often provide a good environment in which to observe the dynamic relationship between the police officers and students, who tend not to get along very well. In Isla Vista, UC Santa Barbara’s own college town, these two groups play a high-stakes game of “tag”, called “open container-tag” that illustrate the struggle between having a good time and being busted for having too much fun.
The game is played like this: Cops are “it” and partygoers are “not it”. 1.Partygoers can not be tagged if they are on home base, in this case defined as the property on which a party is held where cops have no jurisdiction. 2.Partygoers are also safe if they are not visibly drunk (i.e. acting like a jackass) or are not carrying an open container with an alcoholic beverage. When carrying a cup, it must be held upside down to avoid provocation..
The cops can tag partygoers if both conditions 1. and 2. are not met. If the partygoer is under 21, they face the possibility of a huge pain in the ass. If the partygoer is 21 and has an open beverage on public property, they can be tagged with a fine or citation.
As the streets of I.V. get packed with partygoers on any given night, cops can be easily evaded in the crowd, but if the partygoer has had too much to drink and their motor skills are impaired, this can result in hilarious, shame-filled stories that can and should be used to blackmail your friends and acquaintances in the future. Nicknames such as “Drunk Steve” are earned in this way, but that?s guy by himself deserves a post dedicated solely to how he became the ?Drunk Steve? out of all of the other Steves with whom we were acquainted with. For now, I?ll just sum him up by saying that whenever I saw him, he was with beer in hand and there was a good chance that someone was going to get tackled?
In the last quarter of our freshman year, we were well acquainted with open container-tag, and none of our immediate friends were ever caught. We were out one night, partying with our D.A. “Gheelberto”, when he was giving us some advice on drinking under the radar in the dorms. Gheelberto was a cool D.A. who often dispensed knowledge of this vein, and had helped us to stay out of trouble during our first semester, when we were inexperienced and careless.
Gheelberto left the house party that we were at to go meet up with some “hot chicks from another dorm”, and we left about five minutes later, only to see our D.A. getting written up for breaking the open container law. In his drunken state, he had been careless, and not-so-smoothly tried tossing the contents of his red plastic cup into a bush, right in front of the cops. This was an important reminder that cops often show up at the most inconvenient of times, and that there is no “time out”, nor are there ?do overs? in the ever-running game of “open container-tag”.
Unwitting Accomplice
Like many other UCSB students, one of my friends has always distrusted and disliked law enforcement officers, even before college. We had moved into I.V. but occasionally went onto campus to drink and hang out. On our way back from an event on campus and after having imbibed our fill of Red Dog(40 bucks a keg), we were passing the San Rafael dorms when we spotted a police truck. They had most likely come because some students were being too loud on a Friday night or because their D.A. ratted them out for drinking on campus (one of the D.A.s in San Raf was a dick!), so my friend decided to let his feelings about their actions be known.
“Let me know if they’re coming” he slurred, as he pissed all over the door, side window, and handle of the truck. Realizing it would be pointless to say “they’re only doing their jobs”, I instead resigned my protests to watch him, and was unable to hold back a flood of hysterical laughter. I guess I kind of wanted him to do it.
The food at the school cafeterias was almost always bad, but one friend found a way to make it even worse. This friend’s roommate was a dick, so one day while the roommate left the table the friend took his roommate?s soup under the table and pissed in it. The roommate returned and took a few sips before noticing, first, that everyone could not contain their laughter and, second, that his soup’s flavor had changed. I had some really immature friends back then, and even though this story makes me laugh I also feel kind of bad for his roommate. And then I remember that he was a dick, and then I laugh some more.
The Angry Exhibitionist
Another friend, who we’ll call “Topher”, shared my tradition of peeing on D.P. 6645, my “The Real World” experience of living with psychotic roommates during my sophmore year. We did this many, many times, after a long night out and about in I.V.. Anyways, Topher had been raised in an area where cops were almost considered as trusted members of the community. It only took one night to transform to get Topher to start hating the police on the same level as Public Enemy and the NWA.
One morning, after a wild night out with Topher and the gang, I went out with a friend for breakfast burritos (these seriously kicked ass after a night of hard drinking!) and we had a conversation much like this:

“Did you hear that Topher got a ticket?”
“What for? Was it a B.U.I. (biking under the influence)?”
“No, he was coming home from D.P., and stopped to pee in the bushes. That’s all I know right now.”

So when Topher came over to the apartment we inquired about the incident:

“You got busted for peeing in the bushes?”
“I (expletive deleted) hate cops so much! (expletive deleted) the police!”
“How did it happen?”
“You know that open lot in the 6700 block of D.P.? I was taking a pee over in the bushes and those cops jumped out and busted me! (expletive deleted) pigs!”
“What do you mean they ‘jumped out’?”
“They were hiding in the bushes, waiting for someone to pee there and they caught me.”
“Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah. Heh, that really sucks… how much was it (the ticket)?”
“It’s 200 bucks, and if I get caught 2 more times I have to become registered as a sex offender! Can you believe that?”
?That?s?.. Awesome! Hahahahahahahahaha!?
(look of hurt on Topher?s face) ?(expletive deleted) you guys!?

Oh, how much ammunition did this provide for future jokes, taunting, and the final word in our arguments and conversations? I don’t know, but it never got old and I still look for the opportunity to drag this gem out every once in a while. Because, really, that?s what friends are for.
What’s that on our couch?
One of our friends acquired an almost legendary status on campus. One night he went to a party and fell asleep on a couch in an apartment that he had never been before. He was woken up by a girl who was a resident of the apartment who didn’t know who he was. The girl clearly saw that he had passed out and wet his pants along with their couch, and quite understandably she told him to get the (expletive deleted) out. He made a hastily made a weak apology and walked out of the apartment and into the mythology of I.V..
And what happened to the couch? I don?t know for certain, but like most other ?too funky for even college students to keep on using? couches, it was likely dragged into the middle of the street, set on fire, and then jumped over by a group of drunk college students led by Drunken Steve.
Don’t come around here no more
On Sabado Tarde, we regularly held parties with multiple kegs. At one of these parties the boyfriend of one of our friends, who we didn’t like to begin with, was manning the tap. Word got back to us that he had pissed into one of the cups and passed it off to a guest as a beer. My roommate got so angry that he was going to feed the punk a knuckle sandwich, but he got away just in the nick of time. He was later given warning that his presence would not be tolerated at any of our parties ever again. What did she see in this guy? I?ll never know.
A Night Raid
I was driving my Legend through I.V., on my way with a friend to jiu-jitsu lessons in downtown Santa Barbara, when I spotted a group of punks who had rigged a garden hose to spray passing cars. I kept my Legend in top condition and had just washed and waxed it, so I stopped my car and told them not to spray my car. Luckily the window was up, and although we both wanted to get out of the car and confront these losers, we decided to get to class on time instead.
That weekend, we were out drinking and discussing this over a few beers. Somehow, it was decided that we would get revenge that night. At two in the evening, we returned to the house, first rigging some black cats with a slow fuse next to a window (burning cigarette). Then it was decided that we would get payback a la Hammurabi’s code, except substituting urine for water. He would piss all over the front door, and I would get the glass one. We were fully loaded from the beer, and the blast of the foamy stream against the glass door produced a loud, sustained snare, unmistakable in the quiet night. We got everything- the handles, lock, crevices?
I’m not especially proud of this incident, but it never fails to bring a smile to my face. Is this what college was really all about? No, but it does make for more exciting stories than what you learned in O Chem and Statistics. Do you still remember anything from those classes, really?
The Bed-wetting Roommate
My sophomore year in college I lived in the #8 apartment at 6645 Del Playa Street. I moved in with a couple of friends before really getting to know each other. The apartment mates who I didn’t know turned out to be awesome people who helped me to fight the dreaded Axis of Evil, 3 of us against 3 of them- but that?s a whole different subject..
I lived in the same room with “Argonaut”, who seemed cool at first. One of the first signs that Argonaut was strange was his policy on toilet paper. We all took turns buying TP, but Argonaut insisted on stealing TP from the university which was obvious because he took the huge industrial sized (1 ft in diameter) rolls of 100 grit toilet (sand)paper on his rotation. It only got worse after that.
One morning I woke up smelling urine in the room. Argonaut was gone, but clearly visible on his sheets was a huge wet stain, clearly the source of the stink. When he returned I confronted him, saying that his sheets were stinking up the room, but he denied it, as if I were making things up. Confounded, I enlisted the help of my other roommates, and it was only when the members of the Axis asked him to change his sheets that he complied.
His next move shocked us all. Instead of washing his sheets like a normal person, he left them to soak in the bathroom sink. This was much the same as pissing in the sink to me, but as long as I didn’t have to sleep next to the soiled sheets I let the point slide. From this point, Argonaut became known as “Bed-wetter”

Kumamoto Ramen Anywhere!

Sapporo has come out with an instant tonkotsu ramen (the bowl to the left) that kicks the pants off of anything widely available outside of Kyushu. This is all the more remarkable since all of the ingredients in this Kumamoto-flavor ramen are freeze-dried and full of preservatives. The tonkatsu broth is rich, creamy,and full of roasted garlic with green onions, ginger, char siu, and kikurage(the crunchy, brown, wakame-like seaweed). I think that it might be worth discarding everything else but the broth, substituting fresh ingredients.
The ramen in the box to the right is from Kurume Taiho, from Fukuoka-ken (just North of Tosu in Saga- I know, it’s counter-intuitive, but driving up the expressway from Kumamoto, you first pass through Fukuoka, then Saga, then its Fukuoka again…). Kurume Taiho makes 2 main kinds of ramen, plain tonkotsu and mukashi tonkotsu. Mukashi tonkotsu is the quintessential tonkotsu of old, family run ramen shops. When you enter one of these often hidden dens, a musty, slightly sour smell creeps into the nostrils and may be considered offensive if it is taken out of context. To the initiated, this smell reveals that there is rustic culinary treasure to be had, real tonkotsu, the stuff that has soul, that is cherishingly cultivated from tried and true methods and ingredients. The broth of mukashi tonkotsu is a creamy white, but hidden under a tanned skin of funky goodness, not unlike the crust on a nice cup of French onion soup. The broth coats the noodles almost like cream sauce hitches on to alfredo. If you love garlicky tonkotsu ramen then this ramen is for you.
Moving away from Kumamoto and Kyushu has brought the painful realization that not all ramen-ya serve tonkotsu, and when they do it is very likely to be lacking in character or fall short of expectations (but not necessarily of what is expected). All of them seem like failed versions that aren’t held to the high standards from back home. The tonkotsu ramen up here is parallel to the seafood-covered, corn-splattered, mayonnaise drenched pizzas of Japan. They’re similar enough to be subconsiously tempting, but too often result in crushing disappointment.

Gigapxl Project

Can you imagine having a camera that took pictures in such fine resolution (measured in gigapixels!) that you would need a special infrastructure to effectively wield it? What would you do with such awesome capabilities if you were retired and had the time and determination to create photographs of incredible scale?
For one thing, this team is traveling around America, taking awesome pictures. Another goal is to preserve all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites by capturing them on film. These pictures and the cameras that the team uses remind me of Ansel Adams.
There is no explanation on the FAQ about the macros capabilities of the camera. It would be cool if the camera could capture the miniature world of plants and insects, as well as other natural environments.

Killing Pain

Here’s some good reading about how war has been the perfect labaratory in which to study and refine anasthetics.

Modern surgery was invented in the 16th century by Ambroise Par?, a lowly barber-surgeon in the French army. When he joined the ranks, guns were the latest upgrade in weapons of mass destruction, bullet wounds were washed out with boiling oil, and the standard practice for relieving a soldier’s pain was to slit his throat.

I wonder, why would the human body adapt to develop chronic pain for limbs that no longer exist? It must just be an unresolved quirk. Maybe people that suffer such trauma would almost certainly die without modern medicine, so nature has never had to bother with getting rid of unnecessary stimuli in this contingency.

Stalactites and Stalagmites

Calcite is one of those mediums with which nature fully displays its crazy genius in the open. These sculptures have been shaped so long ago, that one can not truly comprehend of timescales using a human generation as the incremental measurement. They appear as complex forms with patterns that resonate deeply within innate beliefs and intuition, yet in the end they were created by the same force that creates plaque on showerheads. Which leads me to the question, has anyone ever had a stalactite grow out of their faucet or shower as the result of a high mineral content in their water supply, coupled with prolonged neglect? I had 3 inch stalactite hanging from my kitchen faucet, but that was merely an icicle.
The following pictures were all taken in the same cave, which I plan on posting more about shortly.

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