Archive for August, 2011

Charlotte Japan Festival 2011

Back in July we visited Charlotte, NC for the Charlotte Japan Festival.  This was the third year in a row we attended, and while for my wife and I it was the same old event, it was the first time that my son was actually old enough to enjoy it.  He made off with a few books purchased at the book sale event as well as some Anpanman (アンパンマン) swag.


Imagine living across from the Wells Fargo building in such an upscale condo!  How nice not to have to operate a car…


No Japanese festival is complete without kingyo (goldfish) catching games


Matsuriza (祭座) mans their stations


Matsuriza in the heat of their action – the drums just roar in the large atrium of the Wells Fargo building


All ages and skill levels participate in the Bon Odori (盆踊り) dance.


I found it interesting that this dance is not typical across all of Japan — our friend from Okinawa let us know that the dance is quite different in Okinawa — it was her first time to see this dance, actually


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Calm before the storm


It is August in Charleston, so that means that every afternoon we experience rain showers and grey skies.  It only makes the humidity worse and more unbearable.  Sometimes the sun is out and the sky is blue, yet the rain still falls upon us.  Thankfully, August will be over soon and though the autumn weather will not come until November, at least I can look forward to better weather. I’m tired of living in a pool of sweat…

August has been a busy month–we have three birthdays that fall in the same month.  As such, I recently visited the shopping mall after a long hiatus, and my son and I found something rather interesting…


….an “enSpire” machine.  It projects images onto the floor, and you can interact with the what is projected.  I won’t bother explaining, pictures should do the job, for example…


an action scene, when my son stomps on the orange flowers, they move around on the project surface.  Kids seem to enjoy chasing the flowers all over the projected surface.  After all, if they stomp on the floor in their apartments, their parents and neighbors tend to get rather upset!


When my son walks on the projected water, there are ripples and small waves.  While children in the shopping mall seem to enjoy playing on these projects, I have yet to figure out how they can make a profit on this.  They had several different projections, and then they also had an add for AT&T Mobility that would show up every few minutes.  I seriously doubt parents are paying much attention to the ads, and I’m sure the kids are more focused on kicking things around the surface than they are about what mobile phone service provider their parents use.  Between Google, Facebook, and this, I’m just rather disappointed that everything someone creates ends up being used for advertising.

Memory Lane

As my son and I were walking through the mall, we passed the pretzel chain that I used to work for when I was in my final year of high school as a shift supervisor.  Since we hadn’t had lunch and Liam was getting hungry, I purchased a basic pretzel which my son thoroughly enjoyed—like father like son.  I was shocked with the price, however.  In 1999 when I was working at this pretzel shop, a basic pretzel went for $1.86 before tax.  I remember the owner telling me that of the $1.86, it only cost them $0.11 in raw materials to make the pretzel.  The rest was for wages, electricity/water, rent in the shopping mall, and then pure profit.  I was surprised, however, to see that in 2011 the price for the same pretzel was $2.89.  In a decade has the dollar inflated that much?  Perhaps the raw materials cost is up due to transportation and distribution costs…due to oil?  Still, what a price hike!  Speaking of gas, I remember that gas used to be $0.99 a gallon in 1999.  Now it is $0.99 a litre!


This past weekend I decided I’d make my own pretzels from the recipe my brother gave me a few years back.  Using the recipe and my pretzel rolling skills gained from working in a shopping mall pretzel shop, I must say I’m proud of the results.  The color came out better this time, and I think I did a fair job on the pretzel rolling.

Thankfully hurricane Irene decided to skip Charleston and go straight for the outer banks of North Carolina.  We had some heavy rain and wind this morning, but the rain has passed and we largely have slightly strong winds now.  The humidity seems to have been sucked out to sea with Irene, and the air this evening was largely present, especially with the breeze.  I always love the calm before the storm.

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Ghost Month in Singapore

BBC Short on Ghost Month in Singapore

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Cypress Gardens

Cypress Gardens in Berkeley County, South Carolina is one of the lesser known treasures of the Charleston area.  Cypress Gardens used to be a rice plantation, but it was converted into man-made swamp by flooding the old paddies and letting nature do its thing.  The park has walking trails, boat tours on the swamp, and a Southern style garden that all of the Southern belles love to use for their wedding photographs and ceremonies.  The swamp is home to alligators, various birds, and of course various species of snakes too.  Do be careful on the walking trail, make sure to watch where you step, as the venomous snakes are also regularly seen and heard.

I highly recommend the boat tour on the swamp, where a knowledgeable guide paddles you through the swamp and explains the wildlife habitat, the ecosystem, and the history of the swamp.  Pictures will follow, but I thought it was interesting to note that the site used to be a rice plantation.  South Carolina used to be one of the major rice producing regions of the world too.  I asked the guide why the plantations failed, and he explained that while South Carolina used to grow some of the best rice in the world, eventually growing rice in South Carolina was no longer competitive in the rice markets and the cultivators had to give up.  The end of slavery also had a large part to play, I suspect.  The Rice Museum in Georgetown, SC (about an hour north of Charleston) might be worth the trip, if you can tolerate the post-industrial failure that overwhelms you in Georgetown.

Back to Cypress Gardens though.


The water looks black, but it is crystal clear–the tour guide stuck the oar in the water and I could see it clearly.  The leaves fall from the trees, and as they decay at the bottom of the water, they release an oil that makes turns the leaves dark and creates the illusion that the water is dark.  In fact, it is just the bottom that is dark.  The water is not deep either, with the water level at thigh-level (around two feet) in most places.




During the revolutionary war with Great Britain, Francis Marion, otherwise known as “the Swampfox“, lead his militia men through swamp land like this all over Eastern South Carolina.  By moving through the swamps he was able to use a gurilla-style warfare that seriously disrupted the British Army.  Just imagine trying to tread through such swamp land searching for the man and his unit.


Alligators often rest near these trees in the hot summer, and thus the guide bumped the boat into the trees to try to stir up an alligator.  During winter, he said the alligators sink to the bottom of the swamp and hibernate at the bottom of the swamp.  Another good reason not to go for a walk in a swamp!



The swamp land is beautiful, yet eerie, especially when the sun is hidden by the clouds or closer to dusk.

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Things you just don’t see every day


I just had to post these to share with you a different side of Japan that you don’t see everyday.  Certainly not if you only hang out in the swanky parts of Tokyo.


Its not just the fundamentalist Christians of the southeastern USA who can make me turn my head.  This group was decked out in white (mostly) and following a monk (the guy at the very front) along the many shrines that exist on Takao-san (Mt. Takao) in Hachioji.  Besides the chanting and white headbands, what really stood out was …


…just in case it isn’t obvious, yes, those are animal pelts.  Let it never be said that one doesn’t have freedom of religion when it comes to democracies.


Have a problem with cats and birds getting in your garden?  This hairdresser’s solution was to put heads in her little garden.  Heads…the last time I saw this place the number of heads had increased…as has the creepy feeling about the place!

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Signs of modern life


Office building in Charlotte, NC – I like the glass window walls, and would love to see the view from the top


CATS (Charlotte Area Transit System) blue line that runs from Pineville into “Uptown” Charlotte.  I understand there have been some trouble with this above ground rail system, but I certainly hope they can continue with the project and improve it.  More cities need to take on projects like this.  Though the returns might not be immediate, with proper planning and the foresight to look beyond election cycles, more cities can provide better public transit systems.

A great place to start is by improving the bus systems–four dirty buses a day just will not cut it.  After all, do we all really like sitting on those parking lots called the interstate highway system around our cities in the mornings and evenings?


I always thought this would make a good cover photo for a math or engineering textbook – the bottom of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge in Charleston SC


The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge is the longest cable-stayed bridge in the Eastern USA.  To the left of the photo is the Port of Charleston.


Chinatown in Yokohama, Japan

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Yearning for autumn

In mid-summer when its too hot to want to do anything, I start to yearn for autumn.  Autumn is my favorite time of the year, the weather is not too cold or too hot, and the humidity that rears its ugly head in summer fades away day by day.  The brisk air of October and November are priceless, and of course the colors of the leaves remind us not everything is green.

So I turn back in my photo archives and found some pictures I had not yet shared from Taka0-san (Mt. Takao), just outside of Hachioji.


You’ll find natural beauty on Takao-san, as well as great hiking trails, some fabulous restaurants, a great summer beer garden, a monkey park (Takao-san Zaru-en), a Buddhist temple, and a handful of shrines


I’ve always been fascinated by the statues one finds at Buddhist temples, I just wish I knew more about them!  On the both sides of the guardian figure, you find little men with beaks and wings, as well as an 猪 (inoshishi – wild boar).  I wish I had spent less time at work and more time learning more about thing like this.



Takao-san is a great escape in the brutal heat of summer.  The humidity is gone at the top of the mountain, and on an overcast day it can get a bit chilly.  In the bottom left corner, you can see the national highway system diving through the base of the mountains.


I don’t know what type of temple this was, but based on the signs it was built by a group of Buddhists that are based in Thailand and popular in and around western Tokyo.  This architecture of this temple is quite different from typical Japanese Buddhist temples.



Nothing like a bowl of noodles after walking around all day from the famous ramen chain 万豚記 (Wanzhuji).   Each store in the chain is usually a little different from the other, but they have an awesome core menu of Chinese-style food, mixing in elements of Japanese and Korean cuisine as well.  The kim-chee fried rice is to die for, as is their 坦々麺 (Dandan noodles).  My absolute favorite–that I have only seen offered in two of the chains in Hachioji–is the Taiwan ramen.  They put a heaping topping of dried shredded pork on the top that complements the soup so well.

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