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May 30, 2007

Family

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I'm trying something new. The few of you who actually look at the blog instead of the rss feed will have noticed. Those who subscribe to the feed should not notice any difference unless you look at the main blog, which of course you are encouraged to do.

Basically I decided today to start posting larger versions of photos instead of the tiny 500 pixel versions you have grown to know and love. The reasons for this are three-fold:

  1. Force myself to concentrate more on quality of photo. A crappy photo can look OK at 500 pixels, but not at 800. If I have to post them all at 800 I should be much more selective.
  2. Give people an opportunity to see the photos how I want them to be seen. Some photos, like those I have posted today are really meant to be seen in at least full-screen.
  3. .... Well maybe the reason is only is two-fold.
  4. I would have posted the large version to the RSS feed also, but it would not really fit in anyones reader.

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May 28, 2007

To Lasic Or Not?

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My big dilemma.

Do I get that lasic eye surgery or not? Once again I have to buy new glasses because the "anti-glare" coating they put on the lenses (despite my specifically asking for no coating) has started to peel again and it gets quite annoying. I have contacts, but I have rarely used them since a few days back in University when I could not even open my eyes. (It really hampered my enjoyment of a free Guy Davis concert too, if I remember correctly).

Anyway, I don't want the hassle of contacts, and I don't want to have to buy new glasses every year. If I was sure that I would be 100% "cured" by the lasic I would do it in a second. Problem is, last I heard there is still a good chance that, although my eyesight will improve, I may still need glasses. What's the point then?

I guess I gotta decide quick because I am planning to go to the glasses shop today and I would hate to buy a new pair only to get the surgery later... I mean, the price of a pair of glasses could pay for my trip to Thailand to get the surgery!

Another perk about not needing glasses is that I can wear "cool" sunglasses instead of these freaky dork sun-glasses that fit over regular glasses.

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May 27, 2007

The World is an Ark


I saw this article about a boat found off the coast of China with 5,000 endangered animals trapped and dying of dehydration.

Endangered, hunted, smuggled and now abandoned, 5,000 of the world's rarest animals have been found drifting in a deserted boat near the coast of China.

I am sure (I hope) that people are outraged to read this. I hope that people feel some sense of "What are we doing?". Now, I know that the people who read this blog have never eaten, nor intend to eat pangolin, but when I think about it, I realize that there is no difference between that, and eating an egg from a chicken that endured far worse than a few days of dehydration, or pork from a pig that had his tail cut to make it "extra sensitive" so it will react quicker when the other pigs bite it out of the frustration that comes from being kept in such small, crowded pens for their entire life.

Would people, myself included, feel so repulsed to find that the cheese they were enjoying was a result of our keeping cows pregnant and pumped full of hormones iher entire life, and stealing her child once it is born? I can only wish that one day we will.

For now, I still eat an egg if someone puts it in front of me. Although I would not buy it on my own, I am weak, and unwilling to take a stand. Not wanting to hurt the feelings of my host, I relent and eat the egg they have prepared for me...

I gotta work on that.

* * *

I have no photos to post today, so the illustrations above and below are from Eiko Nagata, an illustrator I really like. We have one book she did the illustration for, and I have seen her work in magazines and the book store as well. Today Tomoe brought home yet another book sporting some of her illustrations, prompting me to look her up on the web. It seems she does it all with Photoshop. Just another excuse for me to stop posting anything I do with photoshop because I am paralyzed with fears of inadequacy.

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May 26, 2007

Great Despite Ginza

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Days don't get any better than this. (at least not until we are out of Tokyo for good.)

Laying in bed until 8:00 (after waking up at 6:30) with the birds crawling over me, a great lunch and later dinner (I have dearly missed Tomoe's macrobiotic cooking while I was in Hakuba), and an afternoon trip to Ginza to meet with some folks at an NPO that offers support to people who want to move to the country-side where rural populations are on the decrease (actually, according to scientists from North Carolina State University and the University of Georgia: For the first time in human history, the earth’s population became more urban than rural on May 23, 2007.)

The man was happy to hear that we have some leads in the Hakuba area, but was also anxious to help us get support from the village to set up our own environmental education program in the Sakae region which I mentioned yesterday. Although they have record amounts of snowfall, Tomoe seems to have all but forgotten that when she heard that people get paid $300/day to shovel roofs in the winter.

Although Ginza was a bit too much "city" for me, and we had to cancel plans to go to Shinjyuku and get a new pair of glasses made, I was able to stay somewhat sane because I had my camera and a new toy...

Recently I had been looking for a lens with more zooming power and was happy to get my hands on an old Nikon 80-200mm lens, but it does not work with my camera's auto-focus or auto-metering systems, so finally I have to learn about exposure. I spent the day experimenting with getting the proper exposure using my hand-held meter and the "exposure rules", and here are some of my results. Although they are just photos of random people that I came across, I am quite happy that out of about 50 shots at least 4 of them were exposed somewhat correctly and relatively in focus.

The thing that really made the day so great though is that getting out and living our dream is soooo close. We can touch it. We can taste it. Tomorrow we give notice to the landlord that we will be moving out. (Too bad we just renewed our lease a few months ago... that was $1,000 down the drain.) I am cramming in as many "see ya round" dinners as possible into this next week. We are looking into movers, and by the time I go back to hakuba next week I hope to have as much packed as possible.

Finally it feels real. And real feels amazing!

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May 25, 2007

Who Doesn't Love Sit-Ups with Sausages?

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A friend of mine from my Nordic days has entered a mountain bike race sponsorship contest and she needs your support! (if you love me you would do it) Here's the rundown from Ms. Writeagainsoon's blog.

She's entered a contest for free entry into the UXC TransAlps Race, which is a 600km Mountain Bike Stage Race that goes from Germany into Austria, Switzerland and finishes in Italy over 8 days of riding.

Part of this contest included her and a friend submitting a video to Race Face (the sponsoring company). The top 5 videos were chosen (hers among them) and now it's up to website voters. The team with the MOST votes will be sent to the Alps, all expenses paid, a prize package worth $20,000.


Based on the videos, the girls are a sure thing, but you know how these website contests work! So if you love me (or if you just like to see hot girls in lederhosen), please check out the following video and vote for the Bavarian Bettys!


Here is how to VOTE for the BAVARIAN BETTY'S:


Go to www.raceface.com

  1. Click on the "VOTING IS NOW OPEN FOR THE TRANS ALPS".
  2. Enter your email address and password.
  3. Raceface will then send you a confirmation email to your entered email address.
  4. Click on the confirmation email in your email box.
  5. Watch the videos, then VOTE for the BAVARIAN BETTY'S.


***Please note you must view all videos (only takes a few minutes).

May 24, 2007

Back again

Spring in Hakuba


So I am back in Tokyo since this morning, a few days early for a meeting this weekend with some nice folks from the county office in the Sakae village of northern Nagano. They may try to entice us to move there, but I am just waiting to see Tomoe's reaction when they tell us the annual snowfall in their area. It is one of the harshest regions in japan, deep in a valley with many meters of snow each year.

Before coming "home", if I can still call it that, I was feeling a hint of anticipation. I began to doubt our decision to "move out". I mean, Tokyo is convenient. We do have a great apartment. Not too big (expensive and wasteful) as the places some of my ex-pat friends live, and not as small as the tiny "mansions" many people rent (although it is cheaper). Plenty of room for the birds to fly and great light (sunshine all day - unless its cloudy). I only live a 20 minute walk from Shinjyuku in one direction, and a 1.5 hour train from Okutama mountains in the other. What if we give this up just can't get "settled" into our new place?

Luckily, Tokyo is magic. Even on the bus, as the mountains faded into smog behind us, and all I could see out the window for an hour (one fourth of the entire trip) was the proverbial "endless sea of concrete", my doubts magically began to fade. The twenty minute walk from Shinjyuku bus terminal to my apartment was more than enough to kill any further doubt.

Being a weekday the streets were filled with people in their suits taking their precious one-hour lunch break, and overhearing my conversations about how Kentaro sent an email to Koji and now Shyacho is mad at Ichiro, blah blah blah. It always feels good to see/hear something that shows me how little there is for me here in Tokyo.

Having spent a month in Hakuba has convinced me even more than anything I need or want can be found there as well. One of my biggest worries about moving our of Tokyo was that I was moving away from an area with a large foreigner population. Its always nice to have people around who (sometimes) understand my attempts at humor. To mysurprise, Hakuba also has a large number of foreign folks - in fact, given the small population in Hakuba, I wouldn't be surprised if the foreigner to Japanese ratio is actually higher than Tokyo.

I feel good for now, mostly because this apartment is still the place I feel is my "base". The birds are here, my computer is here, my books are here. Living in Hakuba is still like living in temporary housing for now, but I am guessing that by the end of this week I will be anxious to get the heck out again.

The photo is from my bike ride to work yesterday morning.

May 20, 2007

Temporary Home

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I haven't taken many photos lately, because I don't have my own computer here, but here are a few I took the other day to show mom and dad where I live.

Above is a general view of the Japan Northern Alps from the Hakuba valley, taken from the van window as we shuttle clients back and forth to Lake Aoki for a kayak lesson, and whatever pension they may happen to be staying at.

The shot below is a few mornings ago, taken from my window on the second floor of the abandoned Kokusai Lodge, at the base of a ski slope, and only a one minute bike ride from work.

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May 19, 2007

Big Dreams Still Alive

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The big update ... and the unveiling of the big dream.

I have made allusion to a "big dream" project for the past year or so now, but I never made it "public" (at least not on my blog) because in the beginning I was sick of feeling pressure, mostly imagined, to do what I say I am going to do, and of mentioning projects that somehow never seem to really happen, and by the time it was clear that this was something that was happening, I just never found the "best" way to introduce it on my blog. I was also pursuing a few other big dreams as well, and felt guilty about wasting time blogging about them instead of actually pursuing them.

Well,

Big Dream/Update 1:

Dream: Get the heck out of Tokyo.

Anyone who has read my blog for any amount of time may have noticed that I have no overflow of love for life in Tokyo. I have been aiming to escape for some time now (in fact, back in the first year of my blog I mention how I almost moved to the nearest mountain area of Fujino. That dream apartment was rented a few hours before I called the realtor to say "I'll take it". In retrospect, I tell myself, that was a good thing, of course, who knows what would be different now if I had actually made the move.

Anyway, after a year in the beautiful small town of Karlskrona, Sweden, followed by several months in the mountains of Washington and Nagano respectively, I am once again living in a small mountain valley village. The big difference this time is that this time Tomoe will be joining me soon, and we will cease to be Tokyo residents.

Calling it a small mountain village is a bit misleading. In fact, it is one of the major ski resort areas of Japan - home to the '97 Olympics. During the summer, however, its quite quiet. This is Hakuba. This is where I am working from a month ago. This is where Tomoe and I will make our "base" as we search for a traditional Japanese style house in the surrounding, yet more remote, mountains.

So far I have a few leads, one that seems almost exactly what we are looking for... Imagine, a large traditional Japanese farm house with more then enough fields right outside the door (many houses we have found would require us to rent fields some distance from the house). This house is much larger than we need, complete with a room for the horses, which used to be a source of heat in the cold snow-country winters. The only down-side of the house is that it is snuggled closely into the side of a mountain shortening the amount of direct sun-light available to houses in more wide-open areas. The other negative, and something we will have to negotiate with the landlord if we decide we want it, is a ban on wood-burning stoves. The owner is afraid of fire.

Did I forget to mention that it is only 5,000 yen ($50) /month?

I am currently living in an abandoned hotel, a remnant of the bubble years and the big Olympic boom. The kitchen leaves something to be desired, and I always wait until I can get to the office to use the "comfortable" toilet, but my employer give me tickets for the local hot-spring bath, and I have a south facing room with two big picture windows. For the past month it has served me well. Once Tomoe gets here next month we will be moving into a smaller cabin owned by a new friend.

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I will be sorry to give up the 5 am sunrise-light wake-up call, but am looking forward to not having to walk so far to the kitchen.

Hopefully it will not be long before we close a deal on a place of our own.

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May 15, 2007

Mother's Day Picture

Wheelin' in Shinjyuku

Unfortunatly, I left my computer in Tokyo and don't have access to a couple good photos I took of mom last month, so all I have is this re-run.

Happy mothers day! (and birthday too!)

May 12, 2007

Tent-collapsing Bears

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Despite a few scrapes, scratches, bruises, and rumors of bears "collapsing the girls' tent", Evergreen's (where I have been working) first kids' camp of the summer was a great success. Forty-seven fourth graders from Tokyo International School spent three days camped on along the shores of Lake Aokiko here in Hakuba. Days were filled with mountain biking, canoeing, rock climbing, and even swimming in Aokiko's chilly spring waters. Nights introduced kids to the joys of scary camp-fire stories (for some reason the kids' stories always ended with "and she got stabbed and died. The end."), star gazing, and moon-lit nature walks.

For many of the kids it was the first time to camp in a tent. For me, the greatest sense of satisfaction (with a pinch of sadness) came when a young boy told me how much he loved capture the flag.

"It was great because we got to run around in the forest and there were hills so it made it kinda hard to get the flag 'cause you had to run up. I have played capture the flag a few times before, but only on Play Station...."
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