Archive for the ‘Life in the USA’ Category

My daughter’s 12-inch bicycle had a flat recently. I do not know what she did actually, because it looks like she wore a hole in the tire itself that is 3 centimeters long and a centimeter across!  The front tire is in decent condition, but might as well change it too.  I looked into the cost of repairing the bike: $12 per tire, $6 per bike tube, plus taxes and shipping because the local shops did not carry white wheels which match her pink bike. I also looked at the cost of a new bike too: $49.99 for a Disney Frozen bicycle with training wheels. She likes her bike though, so I thought I would try to fix it.

Thinking I could fix it was the first mistake.  When putting in the new tube and tire on her front wheel, it seems I punctured the brand new inner tube somehow.  The wheel deflates in under a minute! I suppose along with the parts I probably needed to order some sort of special bicycle tire repair kit along with it.  So now I am out $40 on bike parts, an hour of my precious time off from work, and I am now heading to the store today or tomorrow and am just going to buy a new damn bike.

Wasteful? Yes. However I am out an hour of my life and $40 of my hard earned money at this point.  To get another bike tube, buy the right plastic tools, pull off the tire I just put on today, redo the job, and then still do the back tire….well, that is going to cost me more than just buying a new damn bicycle. That hour of my time is a big deal to as I have a long list of stuff to repair in the house. I would have been better off just picking up the $49.99 bicycle on the way home from work.

What a time and place I live in where its just easier to dispose and buy new rather than fixing something. It makes me feel really guilty, yet I just do not have the time to waste. Of course I wasted more time by writing this rant…but I boiling over right now and need to rant.

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Election Oddities

Election season is finally over!  Unlike in the past, I did try to keep up with the election this year.  I watched all three presidential debates as well as the vice-presidential debate.  I followed stories in the Washington Post as well.  I even stood on queue for an hour to cast my ballot on November Sixth.  I am glad it is over and done with, and I am very thankful that Rick Perry is not the president.  He sure was popular in Charleston while I was living there, but at least the primary voters bumped him during the primary.  I suppose now we have the budget issues to look forward to…more brinkmanship on the horizon!

So I had some interesting mail back in mid-October.  I was a registered independent in SC, and when I registered to vote in Virginia, there was not even an option on the form.  I am just stating this to make it clear that I am not (knowingly) on a registrar of any conservative or liberal groups.  In mid-October, about a week after I submitted my own voter registration application, I received an odd notice in the mail from Americans for Limited Government. I was very curious about this notice, not because of the sender, but because of the red lettering in all capital letters “VOTE HISTORY AUDIT ENCLOSED“.  I was curious, very curious.

Upon opening the notice, I found the vote history audit and an application for voter registration.  There were not any overt political messages thankfully, but the message was encouraging me to register for the vote and be active in civic participation.  Nothing wrong with that.  The vote history audit, however, was rather creepy.  It did not show for whom I cast my ballot, but it had columns for 2004, 2008 and 2012.  It correctly showed that I did not vote in 2004–because I did not request my overseas absentee ballot in time–and that I did cast my vote in 2008.  For 2012, it was marked pending.  Even weirder though, where the names of six other voters with street addresses around my parents’ home.  While living overseas, my parents’ address was the address I used with the US Govt.  My parents’ next door neighbor, whose name I immediately recognized, also had his voting history in the audit.

I suppose voting attendance in and of itself is public information, but it felt a bit creepy to have what appears to be a conservative group sending out information to others about my voting attendance record.  I probably would not have blinked had my parents’ neighbors vote attendance history not been included in the notice.  The notice concluded saying that after elections the group would be sending an updated vote history audit to myself and my neighbors. Perhaps there was a hidden message, such as nag your neighbors to go out and vote?

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Cars and white shirts

I had a real “American” day today, meaning that I worked on my car while also working on a cheap American beer (Coors Light, just 102 cal for 12 oz).  If only I were buff, I could star in a TV commercial.

While recently driving to work one morning before the sun had risen, I realized that my driver-side low-bean headlight was out.  I inquired with Honda about having the bulbs replaced, and they recommended to replace both low-beam headlights at the same time, and for US $50 each with labor included.  Nice idea on doing both lights at the same time, but not so nice on the price.  Instead I went to an auto parts store a picked up a set of bulbs for US $30, supposedly brighter than the default factory installed lights.  We shall see…

Before starting, I checked the manual that Honda included with the car.  It took about 15 minutes in the end to replace the bulbs, and I had to add an extra step that Honda did not mention:

  1. Rotate the tires so that you have access to the front part of the wheel area
  2. Remove the two plastic tabs holding the plastic boot to the body of the car
  3. Pull back the plastic boot, and the headlight bulb and connector should be visible
  4. Loosen the screws surrounding the connector (two out of three will do) — Honda did not mention this!  Simply trying to turn the connector in the socket will not work
  5. Turn the bulb and connecter counter-clockwise until it pops out
  6. Replace the dead bulb with a new bulb, being careful not to touch the bulb with your hands (I pair of non-slip rubber cloves can be obtained for $5 or less)
  7. Put the connector back into the socket, turn it clockwise until it fits snugly, and then tighten the screws loosened earlier
  8. Push the boot back into the body and attach the plastics tabs removed earlier
All in all, an easy enough task.  I have to remember to do a general check-up on the car this summer.  I bought it last June, and for the simple things I can replace, I really should…it is tough sticking to a budget.  Having left South Carolina back in February, I also got around to attaching a front bumper license plate holder.  Like many states in the Southeast, South Carolina only requires a license plate on the rear of the car.  When I re-title the car here, I’ll need both front and rear license plates.

Of relative non-importantness, I am in a job now where I should–in other words, must–where a necktie, so Sundays are usually when I make time to iron my work shirts.  Yes, I know, I probably should enlist the services of a dry cleaner.  I may do so one day.  I need to do a cost-analysis of time versus expense, and I also need a larger wardrobe so that I have enough shirts to cover the outage time.  For now though, I am my own launderer.  I hate to say it, but I do kind of miss the 作業着 (sagyogi – work clothes) that I wore at that very first job just out of college in Sakado…so much more comfortable than a tie around the neck.  Oh well though, moving up in life I suppose.

To get to the point though, I was astonished today when I went to the market to try to purchase some starch.  I have two shirts that I really like, but even after damp ironing they still wrinkle.  I need the power of starch to keep them looking sharp.  Unfortunately, there was no liquid starch, and I was left with only spray-on starch.  I suppose it will work, but I have read about staining with the sprays.  Will report back on how that spray starch works.

End of the day.  I’ve got some pork belly in a sweet and sour sauce in the pressure cooker that I am looking forward to.  Mad Men is on TV tonight too, that would be a nice way to finish off the weekend.  I should be listening to some Chinese recordings or reading some Chinese, but I’m not much in the mood for anything that requires thought.  It looks like the pleasant, cool spring weather will be replaced with 30*C weather.  As long as the humidity does not accompany it, I will be happy.

I need to get back into the blogging routine…

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It has been a long time since I’ve blogged anything. A lot has happened this autumn, but there is not much to say at this point. Hopefully 2012 will allow me more time. I’m just thankful I survived the lay-offs at work.

I do, however, have to say that the health care industry in the USA is out of control and absolutely horrible. Not only is it ungodly expensive, it employs the most lazy and the rudest people I’ve ever met in my life. You get better service at a Walmart! The next time I hear someone going on about how the health care system in the USA is supposedly the best, my head is going to explode. They are obviously people who have never received medical service outside of the country and are just saying that to make themselves feel better. We could do worse, but at the same time, we could do a hell of a lot better.

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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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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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Another Thanksgiving flies by

It was 26*C (80*F) around 13:000 and rather than taking what was supposed to be a nice long walk in the cool autumn weather, we turned back to the apartment after thirty minutes.  The sun was intense and the trees offered little shade mid-day; I think it was the first time in my life I’ve broken a sweat on Thanksgiving day  One day…one day I’m going to have my New England Autumn and Winter.  One day…

I tried to cook my second thanksgiving dinner, but I’m zero for two.  Last year my glazed duck was OK, but it was too dry and just not juicy.  Not being a real fan of turkey, I decided I’d try a glazed ham this year.  With the ham already being cooked, how could I possibly mess it up?  Well, once again I must have cooked it too long because it was quite dry.  Luckily it was not dry in a tough way, it just was not juicy and the meat fell apart as soon as I touched it with a fork.  My stuffing–obviously not stuffed in a turkey–was too soggy and not fluffy enough, but my garlic herb mashed potatoes turned out well. I skipped the yams and the cranberry sauce altogether, and just sauteed some vegetables in balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  The vegetables were the best part of dinner I think.

Ovens are very difficult, I think I should just stick to the grill…maybe I’ll just do yakitori next year.

It is not a four day holiday for me, however, because I went into work today for a half-day which turned out to be pleasantly quiet.  I do a lot of my shopping online now and I try to avoid Black Friday like it is the Black Plague.  It has been raining all day and I’m just going to take it slow, try to get in some quality reading time.  Hopefully it will be a slow weekend too.  I’m thinking about a day trip to Beaufort or Savannah next weekend, hopefully I can find something worth seeing in the meantime.

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Atlantic Coastline in Autumn

Have you ever been to the beach in autumn or winter?  If not, I highly recommend it.  Yes, the wind from the ocean is cold and of course you should not go for a quick swim.  But the beaches are deserted, quiet and peaceful–perfect for a picnic or just a place to sit and think while you enjoy natural beauty.



South Carolina does not have big waves or rough surf, but the beaches are long, which is good for walks, and the water is shallow, which is good for kids.





My son was fascinated by the sky and the airplanes flying overhead, he could not stop pointing to the sky



The only time when I feel like a giant

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These beautiful colors only come in in Autumn

Perhaps I have reverse bipolar disorder?  The leaves are changing color, the humidity is all but forgotten, and the cool air in the mornings and evenings is heavenly.  Paradise!  I don’t feel tired anymore, I have more stamina when going for a jog, and I think that over all I’m in a better mood all around.  I’m comfortable in long trousers and long shirts, and I’m glad the pastels and yellows of summer have been shown the door.  Good riddance, hot, nasty and wet Summer!  Welcome back, beautiful Autumn!


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Dimensional analysis

I decided to start using the mini-gym in the company building.  I ran on the treadmill for thirty minutes today, and I had planned to take it easy and set the speed to 5.0.  After warming up and breaking into a run, after just ninety-second my legs were tightening and I was started to feel a little beat.  “I’m incredibly out of shape,” I thought to myself.  I did not realize until later that I had set the speed to 5.0 without thinking of the units.  5.0 km/h is a brisk walk or comfortable jogging pace.  5 mph, or 8.0 km/h, while a good workout rate for jogging, is not the best idea to start off with when you haven’t run in almost a year.

I can just hear my my electromagnetics professor spouting off on units and dimensional analysis in his thick Nairobi accent.  I foresee sore legs tomorrow…

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