Monday, March 31, 2008

LPC China Adventures

Gary Li, our guide from the Silk Road Trip last May, was finally able to set up his company, Lonely Planet China Adventures (LPC China Adventures). The very first day of the trip, he mentioned that he was working on it as we were driving to Tienanmen Square to start our day's touring.

So, if you're traveling to Beijing for the Olympics this year, and have a yearning to see more of China than just the sporting events, head over to Gary's website, Lonely Planet China, and sign up for one of his tours. They span much of the country (unfortunately skipping the farther western areas - maybe in future tours) and he can give you an exciting, safe and incredible experience.

If you mention that I sent you, he'll give you 20% off the already very reasonable prices!

Travel with Gary!

Friday, March 28, 2008

VANILLA SOCKS

Not sure what this means, but these socks did not taste like Vanilla. I checked.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Melody packing to leave

I think that I mentioned in an earlier post how much Melody has changed in her packing strategery, culminating in the moment when she, frustrated with trying to pack a suitcase, threw up her hands and called for her backpack. It brought tears to my eyes, I was so proud.

Here she is packing the night before she left. Mind you, she's already had two weeks of packing, unpacking, repacking, culling, packing, culling, and repacking. In this short, crappy cell phone video, we see her in action, culling yet more. Again, I almost cried.

video

You've come a long way, Baby!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Tanuki Wrestling

During these last few weeks in Japan, I have seen more local fauna than in the previous three years combined. Other than birds, of course.

The crappy video below is a couple of tanuki who were fighting up and down and in the middle of the road a few nights ago. I was on the way to meet Melody for some Mexican food at El Bigote (The Mustache - not The Bigot). As I walked up the road, there was commotion in the bushes along side, and two tanuki came rolling out. I couldn't tell if it was a real fight or if they were just playing around, but they ranged up and down the side of the hill until the came to be in the middle of the street. Just then a car drove up, catching them in the headlights. They paused in their struggle, and then scampered off into the underbrush again. The video catches this moment.

About ten seconds after they ran off, one of them came back down the hill, and stopped in the street about 20 feet from me. He checked me out, figured I had nothing to offer, and ran off down the street.

First hakubishin, now tanuki! What's next? Whatever it is, it better hurry...I'm out of here in two weeks.

video

Friday, March 14, 2008

How to Fly Without ID

Tim Ferriss writes an interesting article about flying without ID. Just before a flight, his wallet was stolen, but he was still able to make it on board through online check-in, putting as much as possible in checked bags, and submitting to a physical search of his person and carry-ons. He actually made it through quicker than if he had had to stand in line.

This is good information to know as it could happen to anyone. Take a look.

How to Fly Without ID and Skip Lines

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Arkadas Turkish Restaurant in Kamakura











We had supper last night at another one of our favorite restaurants in Kamakura, Arkadas (pronounced Ar ka dahsh... it's Turkish...). Saleh, the proprietor and cook, is originally from Istanbul, and married a Japanese woman a while back. He's been here for about 15 years or so, if I remember correctly, and has a thriving Turkish restaurant and sports bar just around the corner from Hase station (that's the one nearest to the Daibutsu, or 'Big Buddha.").

Saleh's also a big football fan (the world kind, rather than American), and has jerseys, balls, and a game constantly on the plasma screen TV. If you like soccer, it's a great place to hang out.

Even with the sports theme, the place has a nice, romantic ambiance, and a view of the ocean. There is seating for couples and small groups, and Turkish kilims on the floor surprisingly complement the jerseys on the wall. A local socialite, Saleh regularly throws small celebrations, and a few times a month, he brings in belly dancers for authentic entertainment.

The best part by far is the food. Saleh uses all fresh ingredients, and has family in Turkey who send him spices and lemon infused salt on a regular basis. For regulars, like us, he's quick to make recommendations or whip up something special. Last night, he made a great salad that wasn't on the menu...just something special for us.

We were eating with friends who had never had Turkish food before, so Saleh dished up a small feast of multiple things to give them a good overview of the different types of food. Besides the aforementioned salad, we also had a combination tabbouleh, hummus, eggplant, sun dried tomatoes, and fresh bread. The main course was Iskander Kebab (like shwarma or gyro meat on top of pita bread and smothered in yogurt), and a mixed grill kebab set with lamb, beef and eggplant, and chicken. Everything was washed down with a couple of Efes Pilsen beers (for me and Harry), and rose hip juice for Melody and Catherine. After fresh baklava and Turkish coffee and tea, we lingered chatting before finally taking our leave.

If you ever get the chance, try it out. It's conveniently located to the Hase Train station and is a great stop after you've sampled the different temples around the area, such as Hase Kannon and the Daibutsu. Trust me. There's nothing like a refreshing Efes after walking around all day. For those who really want a taste of Turkey, ask for some raki, the traditional Turkish liquor. Its fiery anise taste is a bit like Sambuca, but distinctly different. Adding some water to it (the way it is drunk in Turkey) makes it look sort of like dirty dishwater, but moderates the heat just enough to make it an enjoyable digestivo or after dinner drink.

Here are the details. Click on the title above to go to the Arkadas website. It has pictures of the belly dancers...and food. And did I mention belly dancers?

★Open★
11:30-15:00(Lunch)

17:00-24:00(Dinner)
Monday is closed(祝日の場合は営業)


TEL:0467-24-0008
Mail:arkadas@y6.dion.ne.jp


〒248-0016 鎌倉市長谷2-16-15 サイトウビル2F 
~江ノ電・長谷駅より徒歩2分~

Translation: Saitowa Building, 2nd Floor, 2-16-15 Hase, Kamakura City, 248-0016 (post code); approximately 2 minute walk from the Hase Station.

Additional directions: Exit Hase station, turn left, and head toward the beach. At the stop light, turn right, and walk about 50 feet. Arkadas is the first small parking area on the right, just in front of a 2 story building. The restaurant is on the second floor.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

71.875 Days

Along with such things as trying to cancel our broadband Internet service, I also won't miss the time I spend commuting. Daily, if I drive, I spend an hour or so on the way to work, and about an hour and a half on the way home for two and a half hours on the road. If I take the train, then it is an hour and a half each way to and from work, a three hour daily commute. Melody's is also bad, at about half that.

It must be done though, because we can't just stop going to work...people might notice.

But, through the miracle of podcasts and a great invention called the iPod (perhaps you've heard of it...it is a popular little box shaped device that allows you to put songs and other audio on it. Pretty cool), I'm not missing much of my sanity, although Melody may vigorously debate that point.

In a retrospective mood lately, I've been wondering how much time my commute has translated into over the past three years. Here's what I came up with. I had to wrestle my old nemesis, Math, to come up with this, but I think I won. We'll break it down step by step (for you West Pointers who may be reading this, I am preparing to "Take Boards.").

Work:
(52 weeks) - (4 weeks leave/holiday) = 48 weeks
(48 weeks) - (3 weeks business trips) = 45 weeks
(45 weeks) x (5 days) = 225 days of work per year (not too bad, come to think of it)

Commute:
(225 days) x (3 years) = 675 days commuting
(675 days) - (75 days taking train) = 600 days driving

(600 Days) x (2.5 hours driving per day) = 1500 hours in a car

(75 days on train) x (3 hours riding) = 225 hours on train

(1500 hours in a car) + (225 hours in train) = 1725 hours commuting

(1725 hours) / (24 hours per day) = 71.875 days

(1725 hours) / (8 hour "work day") = 215.625 "work days", very nearly a year's worth of work days (see computations above).

Ouch. No wonder my rear end hurts.

But(t) - sorry, I couldn't resist - I'm doing it all in the name of Freedom.

Our new home will be about 12 minutes from work, depending on traffic. While I won't miss the time on the road, I will miss the time spent listening to different podcasts...I now feel like Rush Limbaugh is a good friend of mine, seeing as he's been on the road with me for nearly 24 straight days. Not to mention the guys at Pajamas Media, The Sanity Squad, Ben at Mysterious Universe, the other Ben at Popular Mechanics, Betty and her Suitcase, Leo Laporte, John C. Dvorak, and Steve Gibson from TWiT (This Week in Tech). I've relished the chance to spend that much time on such diverse topics ranging from politics and current events to computers and technology to the existence of Bigfoot (apparently true, in case anyone is wondering).

Before we came overseas, we both had easy commutes for the Washington DC area. Guess I shouldn't have laughed at my friends who had bad commutes...Karma's a, well, I think you know.

And now, it's time for me to go to work. See you in an hour or so...

Monks with Mad Skillz

I'm now a "published" travel writer. Check out our old blog home, Bootsnall, for an article I submitted. I don't get any money for it, but it was fun to reminisce and write about it.

Spend some time with some of the other writing, travel blogs, and resources as well. It's a great site.

How to Rid Yourself of Yahoo BB

As we come to the close of our years overseas, we've been doing a lot of reflection. All the different places we've been, the fantastic sights and experiences, the people we've met...we think on these things with moist eyes, because it actually hurts to think that we're leaving all this. Japan has been incredibly good to us, and we are really grateful to have had the chance to live here for so long.

There are a couple of things we won't miss, though. Take for instance the dichotomy between the high tech world of Japan (Akihabara's electronics district, talking vending machines that have hot and cold drinks, killer robots) and the surprisingly low tech side of business transactions.

We have high speed Internet (DSL) at our home through Yahoo!BB and have been really happy with the service. It has been incredibly reliable, and for anyone living in Japan for an extended period of time, is a great way to go because of a great guy named Jimmie (www.bbapply.com) who will help you get it set up. The only times we had any problems with it were when I tried to do something outside of my skill level, and even then, turning off the box and letting it sit for a while was all it took to get it working again.

As easy as getting everything set up was, getting it turned off is another story. Melody and I are adoptees to the wired generation, and use the Internet for much of our daily life. Email, news, paying bills, online shopping, ordering steaks from "The Meat Guy", Amazon.com, are all such a part of our life that we want to stay connected for as long as possible. Seeing as we're a week from moving out of our home in preparation for leaving, we figured that a week would be enough time to get everything done. Nope. Not gonna happen...

In order to cancel our service, apparently, we should have started 2 months ago. Here are the steps to "kill the broadband":
  • Call Yahoo BB. Try to find an English Speaker.
  • Find one.
  • Find another one.
  • Call back.
  • Find an English speaker.
  • Explain that you need to cancel your service.
  • Explain that you need to cancel your service.
  • Receive letter requesting your end date and why you want to cancel your service.
  • Send letter to tell end date and explain why you need to cancel your service.
  • Attempt to return modem and other items to Yahoo!BB in their original containers.
  • Look for original containers.
  • Realize that original containers are now buried in a box inside of a crate on the back of a truck on its way to a shipping container to be loaded on a ship to get sent to the USA to be loaded on a truck to be stored in a warehouse somewhere in Texas.
  • Buy a similar sized box.
  • Return modem and other items to Yahoo!BB.
  • Cancel your NTT phone service.
  • Final Bill #1 (one month later).
  • Final Bill #2 (yet another month later).
Guess we should have planned ahead a little better, but oh well. The process above is one reason why there's such a high employment rate in Japan. Everyone has a job. You see the same thing at the Land Office where one does car registration. Take a piece of paper to seven stations in three different buildings to 12 different people...you get the point.

It will all work out in the end. We'll have to have one of our friends receive our last bills and pay them for us with money we leave behind. But, as inconvenient as the process to cut off the service seems, all our friend will have to do is walk down to the conbini, or 7-11, and pay.

Imagine that...Convenience Stores that are actually convenient for something other than gas and beer. That's something we'll definitely miss. That, and Yahoo!BB.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Hakubishin















This morning, as I was emerging from the house to get in the car, I saw a small, brown critter, about the size of a cat, but different. I thought at first, it was Tanuki, the Racoon Dog common to Japan (and caricatured in countless statues outside of izakayas). So, when I got to work, I Googled it, and turns out I was wrong. I asked around, and finally, my Boss' secretary suggested that it might be a "hakubishin." Sure enough, that's what it is. In English, it's called a "masked palm civet." Tomoko said not to mess with it because they're mean. Apparently, they've also been indicted as co-conspirators in the SARS outbreak a few years ago. In any case, it didn't stick around long enough for me to do anything except stare at it in wonder as it scurried across the street into the neighbor's yard.

It was neat to see something other than tonbi, though (those are the seahawks (black kites, really) that try to steal your lunch by the beach). Hopefully, I'll see it again before we leave.

(Photo courtesy of Animal Photos!)