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January 30, 2006

Almost six years and I still see things that blow my mind

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I saw a strange thing tonight. I was on my way home after attending some work-related event at Roppongi Hills. This took me along Roppongi Dori around 930pm. It is Monday night, but the street was fairly crowded as it usually is.

Anyway, I end up walking slightly behind this woman pushing a baby stroller. She is in a hurry. When I look over at her, I realise she is very young and my first reaction is she could not be more than fifteen or sixteen. Of course, lots of expats have a hard time with guessing ages here (it is usually a good policy is to not even try).

Unencumbered by a baby stroller, I soon passed by the woman despite her obvious rush. I glanced over at the baby as I moved forward and that was when I almost fell over/ran into someone etc.

Because it wasn't a baby. It was a baby-sized Hello Kitty doll.

Posted by Kirk at 11:53 PM | Comments (0)

January 27, 2006

Shelter Island boat launch

This picture has been sitting my camera since I returned and I finally got around to putting it on the laptop...and from there onto this site. I also had a few pictures from Saturday's travel nightmare, but there is probably no need for you to see a lot of disgruntled half-asleep travelers moping around Narita airport.

This is a view of downtown San Diego from Shelter Island. We stayed at the Humphrey's Half Moon Inn for a few days before leaving, which is a quality hotel that is surprisingly affordable. You should consider it if you ever take a San Diego holiday.

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There are also a few good restaurants around, including Boll Weevil which serves up some of the best hamburgers I have ever had anywhere, and Fiddler's Green - which seems to be the boat industry (yacht builders/sailors) local and has good clam chowder and steaks.

Posted by Kirk at 08:10 AM | Comments (2)

January 24, 2006

Imperial Beach sunset

This is Imperial Beach (IB), California at sunset. This is where I grew up - I did not realise at the time how lucky I was to live where I did. Cool, isn't it? That big wooden thing is the IB pier - it used to be bigger, but one of the winter storms knocked it down and they rebuilt this more compact version.

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IB is a sleepy town despite being its location and has managed to avoid all the massive buildup that other beach communities have seen over the last twenty-thirty years. The only tourist event of note is an annual sand castle building competition - it was not such a big thing when I lived there. Anyway, it is a cool place and I was happy to be back, even if it was for a short time.

I went there with my brother and sister - we had a coffee at one of the restaurants just off the beach and walked around for awhile talking about how things had changed etc. It was good fun.

Here is another picture of the pier from earlier in the day. It is amazing how few people there are...

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Posted by Kirk at 06:21 AM | Comments (0)

January 22, 2006

Narita nightmare

Sorry - I have been off-line for awhile. I will update this with the reasons why soon, but in the meantime I have to go through my experiences getting back to Japan. It is surreal.

I have been in San Diego for the last week. I left Friday...total flight time is 14 hours, so I was not looking forward to it. If only it was that easy.

My flight left at 730am from San Diego. That was uneventful - great weather, no delays etc. I made it to San Francisco by 9am. This is where things get crazy. The first thing I noticed was that my 1050am flight had been delayed until 2pm. Not a good sign. And when I got to the check in counter, it was even worse because they were saying the actual delay could be closer to eight hours.

I briefly thought it would be nice to spend some time in San Francisco, but arriving at Narita at 11pm did not appeal to me, so I took the option of switching to a different airline. They put me on a Northwest flight that left at 12pm - I would only be an hour late (430pm) getting into Tokyo. It sounded good to me.

My colleagues back in Tokyo warned that there would be snow on Saturday afternoon, but I did not think much of it. That would prove to be a big mistake.

The flight was uneventful...I slept a little, watched a few movies and read my book. Sort of like the quiet before the storm.

We were put into a holding pattern as we arrived in Tokyo. Circling around in stormy weather is not my idea of a good time, but it only lasted 30 minutes so that was not so bad. And, eventually, we were cleared to land. It was snowing pretty heavily and we did not break through the cloud cover until we had almost landed.

I was quite happy when we were on the ground.

Unfortunately, our gate was still being used by an outbound plane so we were directed to park out on the tarmac. Because of the weather they need to de-ice the planes before take-off and it was taking longer than they thought.

What they didn't tell us is that they did not have enough de-icing equipment and that no flights were taking off. Eventually we found that out. In fact, we had a lot of time to think about it.

We landed at 430pm - we exited the plane at 1045pm. That is right - more than SIX HOURS on the tarmac. How can you explain that? The flight crew were excellent and everyone remained fairly calm, but you had to wonder why no one would come and take us in. (I found out later that it could have been worse...one flight actually got to the gate, but there was no one to move the jetway up to the plane. They waited eight hours...)

Needless to say, it did not get any better - passport control and immigration were packed with late arrivals and people from cancelled flights. It took 45 minutes to get through.

And it was still not over. Because the trains and busses had stopped running. the only option for leaving Narita Airport (70km from Tokyo) was by taxi. I assumed the Y25,000 fare to central Tokyo would put people off. But there were 200 people in line. I waited 90 minutes and saw three taxis arrive. Meanwhile, empty buses were parked all over the place.

I popped back into the terminal to warm up and bought a few beers from the only place that was open. There were hundreds of people in the arrivals lobby and someone had passed out a few blankets. I had resigned myself to sleeping on the floor and getting an early train.

Sometime around 3am I managed to jump onto a charter bus taking a group of people to Makuhari/Tokyo Disneyland, which is more than halfway to Tokyo. Most of those had been given rooms by the airline (not available for me as I was not connecting to another flight) and we were told that only people going to the hotel could catch that bus. Which was not much of a problem.

"I'm sorry, you can only take this bus if you have a reservation..."
"I do!"

Once we got to the hotel, I shared a taxi to Shinjuku Station and then took another from there to Akasaka, somehow managing to find the only taxi driver in Tokyo who did not know where Akasaka was. So, I got to see Omotesando and Roppongi on the way. I arrived home at 5am. Madness.

Tokyo is one of the largest cities in the world, but a simple snowstorm closed the airport and left thousands of people stranded. There were solutions, but the people in charge were incapable of acting on their own initiative when contingency plans proved inadequate. This is the same week that the Tokyo Stock Exchange closed because it could not handle heavy trading volumes. Draw your own conclusions.

Posted by Kirk at 02:21 PM | Comments (2)

January 13, 2006

I have arrived in Seoul

OK...I am in Seoul. I was telling everyone that the weather would be better than expected - and it is if you look at the temperature (2 degrees). But it is rainy and foggy, which is not exactly holiday weather. Anyway - I will hang out at the hotel for now, but I am meeting a friend later for dinner and drinks.

On my way from the airport to the hotel, I took this picture of a park from the taxi. It has no historical or personal significance...it was just there and I had my camera out.

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As for the taxi ride, I am probably lucky to be alive considering the driver. He seemed to have an aversion to stopping, which is not good when there is heavy traffic. And he also took me to the wrong hotel - surprisingly, I knew where I was in relation to the right hotel and could point which way to go. HE kept pointing at his head and saying something in Korean. I probably do not want to know.

Anyway - it is nice to be on holiday. And I have three days to find out if there is anything worth doing in Seoul. I will explain why that is important later.

Posted by Kirk at 01:01 PM | Comments (2)

Weekend getaway

Ha! it is Friday and I am not working...I like that!

I am off to Korea to hang out for the weekend. I know it seems like a strange place to go. More on that later, including pictures (hopefully!)

Posted by Kirk at 06:51 AM | Comments (0)

January 09, 2006

Google image search

Recently, the number of hits on this site has accelerated. What is surprising is that the number of entries I make has been decelerating. About 30% of all visitors are coming from Google's image search.

It seems that I am getting more credit for pictures of Zurich, London, and Mozart's house than anything I have been writing.


It seems that I am getting more credit for pictures of Zurich, London, and Mozart's house than anything I have been writing.

Google has re-worked the phrase "A picture is worth a thousand words" for the Internet age. Good thing I will be in Korea next weekend. With my camera.

Posted by Kirk at 10:19 AM | Comments (1)

January 08, 2006

The BEST English language book selection in Tokyo (and other matters)

Maruzen in the Oazo building near Tokyo Station.

I haven't been getting out enough. I know that because I had absolutely no books to read this morning. That meant a trip to the bookstore. I used to go to Kinokuniya in Shinjuku, which was widely regarded as having the largest selection of books in Tokyo. And they may still, but Maruzen is good competition.

Their English section is like a store-within-a-store, with almost anything you would need. For example, I got a few fiction titles, a travel guide to Seoul (leaving next Friday), and a Spanish food cookbook. I could have been in London or New York. Very cool, especially as I had Spanish Omelet for dinner. I really like that place.

Shopping has its downside
After my book-buying spree I was feeling so good, I thought I would try my luck at getting a coffee maker. With Bic Camera in Yurakucho an easy fifteen-minute walk, it seemed like a great idea.

The store was absolutely packed, but I figured a mundane appliance like a coffeemaker would attract little notice. Hmmm...not exactly. I fought my way through the crowds around the humidifiers, washing machines and vacuum cleaners only to find that there was no oasis of calm or let up in the shopping frenzy.

There must have been thirty people jostling for position in the one aisle I need to be in. After fifteen minutes of looking over shoulders or squeezing between manic housewives to get a look, I gave up. I love coffee, but it was just not worth it.

Posted by Kirk at 09:02 PM | Comments (1)

January 02, 2006

Hie Jinja - Akasaka

Well, I managed to finish one thing I said I would do this year! I went over to Hie Jinja this afternoon to have a look around. It was not the ideal day - it is very cold and a touch wet - enough so that my fingers are still numb (and that is my excuse for any typing errors you find below).

This is the first thing you see when you come up the escalator.

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That's right, I said escalators. Hie Jinja is on a hill, but more importantly it has generous corporate neighbours and that allows them to upgrade the facilities quite often. There is a woman in my office who used to work in the building next door to the shrine and she told me that employees in her office always went on the first day of the working year and made a donation. So, thanks to her, I could ride in comfort and avoid walking up all the steps. I like this shrine.

I did not stay very long - it was very cold. But I did get myself a calendar (year of the dog!) and a frankfurter for lunch. I know it is not very Japanese, but it was the last stall as I was walking out and I could not resist. Earlier, I was tempted to sit down in the food tent (see below) with some yakitori, but the drinks were so cheap I was worried I would never leave...

This is a picture of the main event - praying. Those long, white/red streamers are attached to bells. You are supposed to ring one, clap your hands and pray. I may have got the order wrong...in any event it did not stop raining, so my requests were not going through.

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And that is pretty much it...except for the food tent (looks good, right?), the bonfire (this is the first year they have blocked it off...it used to be a fire pit), the wall of sake barrels, and the girls selling crepes in cow costumes.

I am pretty sure that last one is not traditional, but I may be wrong. I wish I had a better picture...maybe I DO need to get back to Hie Jinja again. In any case, it was a nice change of pace after the hours I have spent in my apartment this weekend.

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Posted by Kirk at 03:02 PM | Comments (0)

January 01, 2006

Year of the Dog

Happy new year!

I thought I would try something different and stay in this year. No parties, bars, or even champagne at home. Of course, it was not that much of a change, because I did the same last year. It did not help that the tentative plan I had fell through at the last minute.

Anyway, the real holiday started last night as over the next three days over 100 million Japanese will go to their local shrines and pray for good luck in the new year. I will go to Hie Jinja, which is five minutes away, at some point. I really like shrines at this time of year, so that should be good.

I also have a few days to turn the vague thoughts of self improvement over the last twelve months into specific goals (actions). I am not a big believer in resolutions for the new year - usually by February, these good intentions have fallen by the wayside. But maybe a month of eating better, drinking less and exercising is better than none at all!

This is the year of the dog...and I have always liked dogs, so maybe this will be a good year for me. As always, you can read all about it here. Happy new year and best wishes for 2006


Posted by Kirk at 10:55 AM | Comments (0)