Archive for May, 2011

Trip back home: Kawagoe 2010

I boarded the bus at Kawagoe station at 06:30 and was shortly on my way back to Narita.  Rather than going through Saitama and largely bypassing Tokyo, the bus dived straight into Ikebukuro and the northern wards of central Tokyo before crossing the Arakawa river and heading into Edogawa ward and Chiba prefecture.  The bus arrived around 08:30 and after quickly moving through the baggage check-in, I found myself with some time to kill before the flight.

20101219662I decided to have some breakfast before the flight.  While the Sichuan dan-dan noodles (担担麵) looked good, I decided to go with something a little more easy on the stomach.  I went with a bowl of kitsune udon with a small side of sashimi on rice. The warm udon sure hit the spot, and beats a plate of sausage and eggs any day!  Don’t even get me started on South Carolina grits…

20101219663Waiting to board the flight – ANA had good service and was only $100 more than Delta or United which are the most convenient for me to fly from the southeastern USA.  We primarily choose ANA because they have excellent support for traveling families and especially mothers traveling alone with a small child.


Peeling away from Narita I believe the building in the left side of the picture is the ANA Continental Hotel that I saw from the highway bus as well.


Blue Ridge Mountains and Dulles


I opened the window about forty minutes before touchdown and was delighted by the view outside.  In the distance through the clouds you can just make out the Blue Ridge Mountains.  I wasn’t sure if we were flying over Pennsylvania or Virginia at this point.


I love the way the clouds laid like carpet over the mountain range





The layers of clouds broke to reveal snow and ice on the ground below!  I loved the way the snow covered the hills with barren trees, and I loved the way the snow covered the small plots of farm land.  While some people just hate the idea of snow, I rather like it–everything covered in white, made clean again and not hidden by all of the green.




The temperature on the ground was -4*C around 09:00 – amazingly, most connecting flights were not delayed



I’ve always wondered it what it would be like to surf the clouds, and above northern South Carolina the Embraer jet surfed for about ten minutes before disappearing into the cloud layer.


Before long I was back in ol’ Boot – South Carolina.  I was worried that by going back to Japan I’d either really miss it and want to return, or really hate it and wonder why I ever bothered to go in the first place.  Luckily though, life is not so black and white.  I miss a lot about Japan, and I still long for an urban environment where I can just walk and walk and not have to worry about asshole SUV drivers yapping on their blackberries (if I were President of the USA I’d ban the production and sale of Chevrolet Suburbans).  But at the same time I do not miss Japanese corporate culture at all, and even though I’m stuck here in South Carolina…at least I have time to do what I like after work, learn things after work, and still have time to spend with the family.

When I left a stable job in Japan in May 2009, in the middle of the recession, I didn’t know whether I’d end up better of or not.  I managed to find a job (though it is in South Carolina), and its a pretty good job at that.  Who knows, I may return again one day, hopefully working for my current employer, but one cannot rule anything out.  Until that day comes though, I’ll look forward to the chance to return to Japan as a visitor again one day…I don’t know when that will be with airfare getting more expensive year after year…but one day…save me a bowl of miso ramen!

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Toward Narita: Kawagoe 2010

Toward Narita from Gaoshancha on Vimeo.

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A little Buddhism – Kawagoe 2010


We stopped for a late lunch at this fabulous tonkatsu restaurant call Tonkatsu Katsuzen (かつ善).  They serve fabulous tonkatsu, and I am going to put there address up here in case anyone in Saitama stumbles onto my blog and sees this:  埼玉県川越市大字鯨井544-1.  It is located further out in Kawagoe, close to the cities of Tsurugashima and Sakado.  Take the Tobu Toju line to Kasumigaseki, and then either walk a lot, jump a bus, or grab a taxi.  It is actually easier to get here by car or scooter.


They serve four sizes: small, regular, large, and super.  I went with the large, and it was filling and satisfying.  You get the tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet), a heap of shredded cabbage, a bowl of rice, miso soup, and some pickled vegetables on the side.  I think it total it was about 1500 yen or $15.  Completely worth it!  It is so much better than the standard train station tonkatsu shops.

With a full stomach and the sun starting to set in the short winter days, we headed out to the temple where the paternal side of the family rests.



Families rent a burial site at this template, often for the whole family.  Inside the enclosed area are headstones for members of the family.  I suppose it resembles the fenced in family lots at some cemeteries in North America.


These weathered headstones in a large family plot dated back to the Meiji era.


More headstones ranging from the Meiji era to modern time.


The mountains were not that for off – I miss mountains.  This flat wetland called the Lowcountry that Charleston sites in is rather geographically bland.  I miss seeing the mountain in the distance…California, you are calling to me again I think.  Will I ever make it there?



I NEVER tire of Japanese Buddhist architecture


While the sun was still standing, we wrapped up at the temple of the paternal side of the family and headed back into Kawagoe where the temple of the of the maternal side of the family is located



This temple is newer, but the architecture is still manificent


Another display of what the cemetery grounds look like


The sign says 慈思 (Chinese: cisi, I don’t know how to read this in Japanese, there are multiple ways) – the characters mean “mercy; compassion” (慈) and “think” (思).  I quick Google search doesn’t turn up much, I will have to look into this more.

On the way home we stopped by the Costco and the outlet mall to spend our last evening before I would have to head back to the USA.


The outlet mall had these blankets of lights set up for Christmas


And Costco had these magnificent king crabs on sale – two for $100.  You can get a much better deal at the Ohmicho seafood market in Kanazawa.

My bus would be leaving at 7 AM in the morning for Narita airport, so after getting something to eat and walking around some more, we headed back so that I could finish packing.

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Night walkabout in Kawagoe 2010

So I called up Mr. Hong earlier in the week to see if he was up for grabbing a drink.  End of the year is a busy time for Japanese employees; not only do they have end of the year dinner parties with their coworkers, they also usually have project deadlines.  In that antenna company I worked in, it usually meant that the employees with the hardest project were literally sleeping and living at the company for the entire month of December.  As this trip was an all of the sudden sort of thing, I didn’t expect anyone at the old office would have time to catch up, but Mr. Hong was able to make some time.  He was working late of course, so I set out an hour or so ahead of time just to get in some more walking time.


Someone had the Christmas spirit – note that this is very rare in Japan.  Very, very few people decorate for Christmas.  I liked it though, and he did a lot better than a lot of wankers down here in Charleston that just put electric light candles in their windows.


A corner “bar” – its mostly older guys who sit here and yap with the owner while drinking whiskey or shochu and snacking on something salty


The Seibu Shijuku line zips through the city


Red lanterns typically indicate that the establishment serves booze  They also have a sign advertising that they serve Kirin Ichiban Shibori beer.


A carry-out yakitori stand selling all kinds of grilled chicken and gizzards on a stick


Rogers – its like the Kmart of rural and suburban Japan. My wages were very basic in Japan, so I furnished my one bedroom apartment with goods sold here: curtains, bathroom mats, et cetera.  It was only about fifteen minutes from my apartment.  They also sell groceries and cheap clothing.  If you want to pick up a basic white shirt or belt for work, you cannot beat the prices.  I’m not ashamed to talk about it, but apparently Japanese are embarrassed to speak of shopping at Rogers, especially those who want to appear more “metro” and “urban”.  Nonetheless, I highly recommend the store to foreigners getting settled in Saitama.


My favorite ramen shop – あじ平 (ajihei).  It is on Rt. 16 and is basically a truck stop ramen chain that can be found in Saitama, Ibaraki, and other neighboring prefectures.  They have all of your basic types of ramen, but they prepare your miso ramen in an mini-iron caldron.  I’ve traveled to Saporro, home of Miso ramen, and I can proudly say I prefer this truck-stock ramen joint to the place in Sapporo I had to stand in line for just to get miso ramen.


A bow of the Ajihei’s miso ramen – the noodles are stacked in the middle, surrounded by chashao, and topped with sliced onion.  And of course all of this bathes in a heavenly miso soup base…this might just be my favorite meal in the world.


Seibu shinjuku line again, this time I’m off to central Kawagoe


Matsuya, Saitama’s answer to Yoshinoya and Sukiya.  Yoshinoya is big in Tokyo, but all over Saitama you find Matsuya.  All three brands are 丼 (donburi) chains with their essential product being a bowl of rice topped with beef and onions, and it usually comes with a side salad. In the winter time Matsuya had Kim-chee Chigae donburi, which really warms you up in the cold of winter!   It will cost you about $5 for the whole meal–and with such fast food options, who needs McDonald’s???

When you enter the store there is a vending machine where you select what you’d like.  The vending machine spits out a ticket (or more if you ordered other sides like natto or an egg).  You take that ticket and sit down at the counter where a shop employee will retrieve the ticket and begin to prepare your meal.    If you’d rather just take the meal back home, go to the carry-out counter and hand over your tickets, and in a few minutes you’ll be ready to go.  These chain restaurants are very popular with men and women.  Women, however,  are often too shy to sit at the counter where the men are woofing down a fast meal, but you do see the ladies lined up at the take-out counter.  Everyone likes a good donburi!


A small family-run shop selling Croquettes, fried chicken bites (kara-age) and deep-fried breaded pork cutlets – I am always happy to see small mom and pop shops like this staying in business.  Much like the USA, Japan is being overrun with national chain stores


If you have some money to blow, try one of the man pachinko and slot machine establishments in your local city.  Most employees in Japan are on some form of a pension system, either through their company, through an industrial union, or even a private pension offered through an insurance company.  There is also of course the state pension, so instead of having to tuck away money into a 401k and pray the market doesn’t tank when you are 59 years old, you can rely on your job and your state pensions for retirement, and then blow all of your cash gambling.



Taxi pool at Kawagoe station west exit – I met up with Mr. Hong here and we had to search for quite awhile to find a restaurant with some open seats.  The restaurants were packed due to the end-of-year parties.  We settled on a shop that specializes in the chicken dishes.


Mr. Nagatsuka andd Mr. Hong, my former coworkers at the antenna company.  Mr. Nagatsuka was the first person at the company to actually come up and talk to me.  Also an avid beer fan, we enjoyed many a night around the table sharing stories over beer.  Mr. Hong and I were in the same “entrance class”, meaning we went through the same new employee training program.  Mr. Hong is an ethnic Korean born in China, and he speaks Japanese, Korean and Chinese like a native!  Us both being foreigners and new to Japanese corporate culture, we just tended to stick together.

As the night progressed and I heard all about how the company had changed, I had forgotten how a man’s life is fully encompassed by his job in Japan.  No time for hobbies, learning outside of work, or recreational sports.  Just work.  Work.  Earlier in the week I had been really thinking hard about Japan, about how much I missed it.  But after hearing about these guys and how hard they are working, on average 70 hours a week, and during crunch times sleeping at the office just four hours a night, I remembered why it was I wanted to leave Japan in the first place.  It is a wonderful country, but unless you are lucky enough to have a good job, you work and just work.  Weekends are a time to sleep and rest to prepare for the coming week, and sometimes weekends are even for working.  The adverse health effects of high-stress and long hours really stands out after time.  Men have no problem with it when they are in there twenties, but problems appear in the thirties, and by the forties, the effects are very acute.  One of our former coworkers had to retire at the age of forty due to so much work and stress.  I miss many things in Japan, but I do not miss Japanese corporate culture.

After Mr. Nagatsuka headed back on the last train for the evening, Mr. Hong and I decided to go for another drink at a local yakitori restaurant.  Grilled chicken and chicken gizzards are great with beer, by the way.


Much beer was consumed


And then some more

We wrapped up around 3:30 AM, and headed home in taxi.  Mr. Hong had to go to work the following afternoon, even though it was a Saturday.  It would be my last day in Japan, and the plan was to visit the family graves to pay respects.  Amazingly, I woke up at 8 AM the following day with no pain in the skull.  Luck was on my side!

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More Kawagoe walkabout 2010

There really isn’t much of a time line to these, just pictures of things I noticed while walking. I snapped some of these while walking towards the park where Liam could play. Others I snapped on the way home from the 回転寿司屋 (Conveyor belt sushi restaurant).

We begin this walkabout on the industrial strip in Kawagoe and Sayama cities.


I interned with Sumitomo in Nagoya back in 2002.  Sumitomo is everywhere in Japan, and in this industrial park alone they have a logistics center and then this electrical machinery factory.


A typical industrial Japanese office – aluminum panel siding with windows that may or may now open.  Of course inside the traditional island desk layout is used. I spent my first two years working in an antenna company that had an industrial office quite like this.


A smaller enterprise tucked away in the industry park.  Despite the image of Japan as a place of large corporations with loyal employees, there is an ever-growing number of entrepreneurs starting up their own companies and trying to do things their own way.  I worked in both the large traditional style company and the small, single-owner company.  The styles were completely different, but Japanese business culture is still large the same.


武州 (Bushu) Gas, the local supplier of gas for industry and residential sites.  I was a loyal customer for nearly two years, their gas powered my single burner stove and the hot water to my bathtub and shower.  This giant orb sits in the industrial park, but residential areas are not far away, just two blocks actually.  When I lived in Kawagoe, I always wondered about how safe such structures are with respect to earthquakes.  After what happened this past March, it makes me wonder even more.



An empty 公団 (Public housing site) – this unused facility sits on prime real estate just three by foot from the train station.  There are many such sites in Japan, and I always wonder what the government is doing with these empty buildings.  Not all public housing looks like this, however.  This is just an old building that has served its time.


I think this modern design and the colors, it stands out fr0m the traditional style Japanese house, as can be seen on the left.  Japan has neighborhood associations, but there is no all-powerful Home Owner’s Association that can tell you what type of style house you can build, what colors are permitted, and what you can keep on your property.  Because the Japanese usually build a house and live in it their entire lives, they have a lot of freedom to do what they want.  Most Japanese don’t like to buy used homes anyway, so there isn’t any worry about resell value.


Not public housing, but close!  This is an NTT employee dormitory – yes, it looks old and not very nice.  But employees can live here a few years for little to no rent, allowing them to save money to buy their own home in the future.


Another typical Japanese home – the pole across the sliding door on the first level is for hanging the laundry to dry.  The balcony on the second level probably also has laundry hanging facilities, and one can also hang the futon over the edges to let the futon air our during the day.  A very functional home if I do say.


Public housing is a good option for foreigners actually.  While privately-owned apartment complexes are supposed to be fair and there is not supposed to be discrimination, I experienced it first hand and was turned away from a place I could have easily afforded just because the owner did not want to rent it to me.  The owner eventually ran out of excuses and it was clear he just didn’t want to rent it to me.  With public housing, any one who can pay is eligible and there is no gender, race, or nationality based discrimination.  You also don’t have to pay ridiculous fees like key money or have been in the same job for X number of years.  Public housing in Japan is also very safe and completely different from that of the USA.  You won’t find gangs, drugs, and violence in Japanese public housing.


Family-run そば (soba) shops are all over Japan…it seems like on every street corner even. I often wonder who their clients are and how they can stay in business.  I suppose they thrive off of local workers looking for a place to eat lunch every day.


This shop is called “Sabai Sabai”, which means “Hello Hello” in Thai.  This restaurant had popped in the time I had left.  The restaurant has a very reasonable lunch menu at very reasonable prices.  Pad Thai please!

They also advertise that they serve Asahi Super Dry beer.  I never really could taste the difference in Asahi and Kirin beer, but some guys swear by one brand.  When I lived in Nagoya, whenever we went out for drinks, we had to order Kirin beer only.  Apparently Sumitomo and Kirin had some sort of agreement, and we had to find a place that served Kirin beer.  I believe we had some sort of discount because of it.  I never understood how it worked, but the Sumitomo guys were serious about Kirin beer.


I just love these gray buildings, they fascinate me.  The sign on the fence talks about a 新狭山幼稚園 (Shinsayama Kindergarten) and my draw dropped….could this be a kintergarten? Poor kids, not a very happy looking place! As I turned the corner I saw the kindergarten just past this building.  Phew!  This gray monstrosity is a community center actually, probably only utilized by the retired locals in the area.


A specialist sake shop – notice the barrels in the window, which is how sake is sold and packaged in volume amounts.  No, I doubt you can purchase one like a keg, the barrels are probably just for display.  You can often see such barrels of sake stacked up at famous temples and shrines.  I just had to squeeze the mini post box in the picture too.


I really do miss Japan for its restaurants and dining out.  In the USA you cannot escape a restaurant without paying $40 these days, even just a simple place like a Pho shop.  At this 回転寿司屋 (conveyor belt sushi shop), during the afternoons all sushi is just 100 yen per plate, or about $1 per plate.  Of course the green tea is free, unlike in the USA where you have to pay $3 for a glass of tea.


My favorite sushi – ねぎとろ.  It is just minced tuna served with shopped green onions on top.  In may conveyor belt sushi joints, they don’t put wasabi on it as this sushi is popular with kids.  I am a simple person really.


Many conveyor belt sushi places are starting to sell cooked items as well as the raw fish.  Above is my wife’s favorite, charcoal grilled salmon.  It is so tender and juicy, I high recommend it!  I have also seem カルビ (Korean galbi — Korean BBQ style beef) too.


Regular 鮪 (maguro – tuna)   Yes…I’m one of those contributing to the depletion of the giant tuna in the ocean waters.  I’ll quit eating tuna when everyone in America gives up their steak.

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Kawagoe walkabout 2010

I was back in Japan in mid-December 2010 for a family emergency.  It was my first time back since leaving Japan at the end of May 2009.  I wasn’t sure what to expect upon returning to the country.  I forfeited my work visa and my resident status in 2009, so I was returning as a tourist.  While my time was very busy for the week I was there, we did manage to make some time to go shopping. I wanted to stop by the bookstore in central Kawagoe and pick up a book for learning more advanced Japanese grammar. Of course I was armed with my cell-phone camera…the good old Nokia N73!


It started out overcast with light rain.  While this building looks small from the front, the building is actually quite long.  Such a long and thin structure feels quite awkward, especially when there is nothing else around.


After arriving in Kawagoe the sun managed to break through the cloud, and the rain also let up.  This is クレアモール (Crea Mall), the central shopping area that stretches between JR/Tobu Kawagoe Station and Seibu Hon-Kawagoe station.


Kimonos on display – but who can afford one?


This was the first sushi place I ate at upon arriving in Japan back in 2004.  I ate here with the HR guy and Mr. Nguyen, who like myself, eventually moved back to his home country.  I also once tried to order a draft beer, and was shocked to receive two pieces of hamachi sushi instead.  I suppose my accent was very horrible and they just couldn’t understand me!


A standard 居酒屋 (izakaya)…I believe we had an engineering group  忘年会 (end of year party) at this establishment in 2005.  The food isn’t anything special, but it is cheap, the beer always flows, and it is a decent place to blow off some steam with the guys.


This was new, I had never seen it before.  It says “see na ra”, which means “fantastic”.  No idea what it is though.


A fabulous place to get an easy meal after work – Gyoza no Manshu.  For $5 you get a plate of gyoza (potstickers), a bowl of rice, and I believe a salad or something…my memory is slipping.  Any way, it is a bargain, and it is delicious too!  I have only seen this chain in Saitama, so if you’re ever in Saitama give it a try.


A traditional snack vendor – the sign says they sell Kawagoe City’s famous 芋菓子 (sweet potato snacks/candies).  The also have various 煎餅 (toasted crackers) and other snacks.  You don’t see young people shopping at stores like this, however.  It tends to be the older generations, and they like to make gossip with the vendors in the shop.


My wife was looking for some clothes for my son, so we stopped in a department store to have a look.  I managed to find a good spot to snap some pictures.  The empty-looking building on the left used to be a Nova English language school office.  In fact, one of the ESL teachers that worked there was caught by the police in Roppongi trying to buy narcotics.  I remember walking by this building one night on the way home and a news man stopped me to ask me if I worked at the school.  I was in a suit because I was on the way home from a job interview, and I guess the news man thought I was a teacher at the school.  I had no idea of the news at the time, and I said no and he then let me be.  Looking back, I should have said yes so I could have had some fun with the news man!


The large skies of the Saitama plains…with the mountains in the background


Hakamas, usually work on 成人の日 (coming of age day) or at graduation from university


Liam loved the book shop in the department store — it was so easy to get to the books at his level


He decided we should play hide and go seek – the old lady manning the cash register didn’t see so amused though.  Who cares though, we were carefree tourists!


Then he stumbled onto a Chupa-Chups machine.  If you press the blue button, it plays a song.  So he kept pressing the button, and when the music started, he clapped his hands and rocked back and forth.  Who would have though a chupa-chups machine would offer such entertainment?


The building houses a dansha, which is used in the famous Kawagoe Matsuri every autumn.


A nationwide bread store chain, but the bread is really good.  You don’t see bread like one would find in a European bakery.  Rather, they sell pastries and breads with lots of goodies on the inside.  My favorite is the french-bread with black pepper bacon and mayonnaise on the inside.  Heart attack all wrapped up in a nice little package!


Once day children won’t understand the concept of a pay phone


Your friendly neighborhood policemen…or the heat, depending on what you do for a living


Due to the privatization of the post office’s bank division, a new bank, Yucho Bank, was created to handle the savings accounts traditionally managed by the post office.  (Yucho is short for postal savings)


A typical post box – regular letters and post cards on the left, international mail and oddly shaped envelopes to the right!



The noodles and chopsticks actually move up and down mechanically.  I imagine back in the 1980s when the noodle shop owner purchased this it must have been something new and fun.  But in 2010 it really feels…like the 1980s.


A traditional warehouse building, with the first floor currently being used as a shop.  These type of old buildings are all over Kawagoe, and they are protected by the city government as monuments and local treasures. Thank the heavens that they are protected–otherwise another boring high rise condominium would sprout up in its place.


芋菓子 (sweet potato snacks) on display for the tourists– Kawagoe doesn’t get a lot of international tourists, but they do get a lot of tourists from other parts of Japan


A typical high rise condominium not far from the train station

More photos to come!

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Finally a place to get noodles!!!

Japan and America have a wealth of options when it comes to culinary experiences. Mediterranean, Indian, Thai, Italian, Sri Lanken…you name it. Each country, however, has a weakness that drives me mad. In Japan, it is almost impossible to get any Mexican or even TexMex food outside of a few places in the business distrcits of downtown Tokyo. In Eastern America, on the other hand, it is impossible to find a place selling Chinese or Japanese styles noodles. Sure, you may find a Japanese restaurant selling ramen or udon, but they are using the imported instant soup bases, which I can buy myself at the grocery marts. What I’m looking for is a true soup broth, one slow cooking away for days with bones leaking juices into the soup–a true carnivores soup base. I don’t want soup made from dehydrated powders! Nongshim already does a damn fine job at that!

Charleston is even worse than any other place I have lived when it comes to Asian cuisine.  To make matters worse, my local Pho shop closed doors!!!  NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I need my noodle fix!!!  There is only one Pho shop left now, but it does not serve Pho Ga (Chicken soup with rice noodles), and my spouse is no longer interested.  For the record, I’m a Pho Bo (Beef soup with rice noodles) guy.  Anyway, I’m out of luck in this rural, southern backwater excuse for a modern city!!!

Luckly, Grand Asia Market opened up a new store outside of Charlotte, NC.  I visit Charlotte a few times a year, so I think I have found a place to get my fix.  They also have a cafeteria that serves a variety of Chinese food, including Peking Duck.  To my delight, they also have their own Taiwanese beef noodles.


Make sure to come with an empty stomach, because this bowl of Taiwanese beef noodles is full of good stuff and will keep you satisfied for hours.  Flour-based noodles, beef, spinach, pickled greens, green onions…and of course the aromatic and flavorful beef soup broth.  And this will only cost you $7!  A bowl of Pho in Charleston will cost you $11 and will have half the amount of noodles, and very little beef or greens.

Oh Charleston…forget the shrimp ‘n grits…just give me a good bowl of noodles.

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IMG_0396 a video by Watson&Holmes on Flickr.

I have always been fascinated by the movement of water, all the way back to my first job at 15 years of age as a lifeguard at a swimming pool. At closing time, when no one was in the pool, it just sat there still. Motionless. Like glass.

I took this short clip at the public pier on the Wando River. Just look at all of that motion and chaos!  How can mankind ever think it can control anything?

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Changing seasons

Silence on the wire as of late.  Yes, I know.  I do not know where the time goes these days.  Well…yes I do.  Since January I have had a lot on my plate.  I enrolled in a graduate level course and it has occupied far more of my time than I had planned for.  I learned a lot from it, but I worked my arse off for it too.  I took the final exam yesterday and it is now behind me.  Work is as usual, I get busier and busier every month.

I have much I want to add here, my EuroTrip last year, the visit to Japan at the end of last year, but I just could not find the time or energy.  For now though, while I try to organize and compile everything for the above, I thought I’d share some pictures of the seasons changing.  Everyone seems to love the idea of tropical climates and islands, but me, I’d get bored after awhile.  I love the seasons, for all of the nastiness each brings, there is also something I miss about each season after it passes.  In summer I miss the cold and clean air of winter.  In winter I miss the slow pace of summer and the warmness of the air.  And I always miss the colors of autumn and the crisp, brisk air that comes with the season.


Snow fall in Charlotte – as long as it snows once a year I’m satified


The white blanket hides the bareness of winter and makes everything look beautiful and pristine


Thankfully the Republicans have not defunded budgets for roads – the drive from Charlotte to Charleston was no problem, and I also was able to observe the snowfall area.  The snow made it halfway to Columbia (SC) before turning to just rain.


It was not such a cold winter, and the Cranes and Canadian Geese did not bother to leave Charleston.


I may moan about Charleston a bit too much, but my favorite thing about this area is the pink skies at sunrise and sunset.  There must be something about the subtropical climate and geography, but such skies are quite common here, at least several times a week.


In early March the flowers started to bloom against Ceylon blue skies.  Winter doesn’t last long in Charleston, and neither does spring.  One must enjoy it while he can.

The top of a small palm tree reveals the beginnings of new palms.  I went back recently and these have been transformed into greenery now.  Nature always has amazing surprised for us if we stop and look.


The honeysuckle was wonderfully fragrant in April, filing the air with a sweet and fresh aroma, especially after the April showers that are so common on the Atlantic coast.



I’ve noticed the volume of cargo ships unloading at the Mt. Pleasant terminal seems to be increasing compared with last year.  Perhaps the economy is starting to recover?  A lot of the ships stopping at this port seem to be MSC or ZIM, which would– very naively–indicate routes from the Mediterranean to Charleston.  Is Charleston trying to fightback against the ever-growing shipping port of  Savannah (GA)?  Savannah has a superior warehouse and truck distribution network, which has long been stealing business from Port of Charleston that is constrained geographically.  Port of Mt. Pleasant is South Carolina’s attempt to fight back I suppose.


Alabama was devastated by a spring storm that brought tornadoes and destruction.  That same store swept through Charleston, and the days before it were dreadfully muggy and humid.  After the big storm passed through Charleston, we had five days of very pleasant and cool weather, our last chance for sanctuary before the oppressive June and July heats.  It won’t be until August, when the rain season begins, that we get a break from Atlantic jet stream’s determination to beat us down.  Prepare to perspire, friends.

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Nice apartment!

I stumbled across the video of an morphing 344 sq. ft. apartment in Hong Kong designed by an architect so that it can transform into whatever type of space he needs. I thought this was a very novel idea for dealing with the small spaces and high real estate costs in Hong Kong.  If I were a bachelor again, I’d love an apartment like this.  However, I’d be out of luck when it comes to cooking–I don’t think I could go back to cooking on just one stove burner.  But then again, eating out in Asia is very affordable and often what most bachelors do.

I thought the movable walls were a very interesting idea, and it reminds me somewhat of my first apartment in Japan.  Of course my first apartment was in a old building with old amenities and not anywhere as nice as this!  My apartment had a bed mounted to the wall that would rise to the ceiling so that when it was not in use, the space occupied by the bed could be freed.  It also permitted access to the closet.  Looking back now, it was very nice, as I was always annoyed in my other apartments having to put away my futon.

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