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Northern California 2012

I took a trip to Silicon Valley this year, and in my free time between work, I managed a brief trip to Pacifica to see the Pacific Ocean. I have see the Pacific from the shores of Japan in Chiba and Yokohama prefectures, but never before from the US.  Pacifica is about an hour east of San Jose, just south of Dale City, and just over the “hill” to the east of SFO airport.

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Words cannot describe the beauty of the Pacific coast

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Blue sky, blue water, jagged rocks

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Wait a minute, is that a trail?  I bet the view is better up there!

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Why yes, it is a trail, and that looks easy!  Just cross the stream and walk on up.

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OK, this might be harder than I thought.  I was wearing casual business shoes with NO GRIP.

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The view from the top was worth it though!

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Looking back to the land, there were no tall trees like one would find on the Atlantic coast, and lots of dry grass and land.  The trail in the center left had quite a few runners too.  There was no way down on this side of the hill though, so I had to go back the way I came, and it was a lot harder than going up.  It consisted of a controlled slide down the steep rocky portions, and a careful controlled walk on the dirt parts of the path.  Some shoes with some grip would have seriously helped.

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I had worked up an appetite, so after I had taken in the views, I headed back to San Jose for something to eat.  I stopped in Ramen Halu and tried their つけ麺 (tsukemen – cold ramen noodles dipped in soup).  The noodles and the soup were great, and the portions were large.  The only disappointing part of the meal was the thin char siu meat, but oh well.

It turned out this part of San Jose was like a little Tokyo, with a Kinokuniya book store and a Mitsuwa grocery store.  I picked up some study books for the JLPT at Kinokuniya, though I failed to find anything interesting for my son for learning hiragana.  I then picked up some basic supplies for my wife at Mitsuwa for the return trip.  It was only around 19:00 PST, but to my body it was 22:00 EST, so I headed back to the hotel to iron my shirt and get some sleep for the next day of work.  Pathetic, no?  I must be getting old.  But seeing the ocean, having a good hike, and finishing it off with a great meal simply made my day.  No need for anything else!

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2012 in Review

I can honestly say that 2012 was the busiest and fastest pace year of my life. I reckon that life will only get busier. Since this blog is primarily a journal for me too look back on, I thought I’d throw up some pictures to remind myself of the year that went by.

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Good-bye, Charleston, South Carolina. It was interesting. I miss the pink an auburn sunsets, the spanish moss, and walking along the Wando river.  We moved to Northern Virginia in early February

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View from Arlington National Cemetery – Lincoln memory at the end of the bridge, and of course the iconic Washington monument to the right

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Walking in the streets of Annapolis, MD.  Go Navy!

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Air show – F/A 18 Hornet – my favorite jet as a kid growing up.  The F-22 demonstration though sure made these planes look a lot less impressive

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Air show – what happens when a prop plane and blimp…?  I suppose this aircraft was used for zero-gravity testing and training?

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Teaching my son the fine craft of prepping and grilling bbq – the Korean grocery marts have excellent cuts of ribs at great prices.  In the warmer months I was preparing ribs once a month!

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Grilled pork satay

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烏賊 (squid) on the grill

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Great Falls on the Potomic

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Mule ride at Great Falls Park

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Our tour guide – he was full of great information about this history and lives of the people working the canal, and the impacts of rail road development on the canal

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Eden Center – an entire shopping center full of Vietnamese shops, such as food, entertainment, beauty, travel, and grocer shops.  Notice the South Vietnamese flags.

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Bahn mi – liver pate and head cheese and hot peppers – delicious!

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Autumn colors

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View from the Northern Shenandoah Skyline Drive

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Downtown Leesburg, VA – quaint and pleasant town to visit when you want to get away from the bustle of modern life.  There are quite a few coffee shops and pubs along the main street

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Part of the Christmas Parade in Leesburg, VA

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State House in Raleigh, NC – spent the time after Christmas and before the New Year in the Research Triangle Area of NC this year.

Hopefully 2013 will be an easier year with more time to enjoy the little things.

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An Orlando trip

My wife’s best friend since secondary school visited us in mid-June. We decided to do a short trip to Orlando, FL to visit Animal Kingdom in Disney World. While I do not have much of an interest in theme parks, I decided that this road-trip could be litmus for the possibility of making a road-trip to Miami–where I could enjoy little Cuba of course–and perhaps even make an excursion out to the Florida Keys.

The drive from Charleston takes one along the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia, and Northern Florida, before turning inland towards Orlando at Daytona Beach.  It is a long drive with very little scenery and takes around eight hours with lunch and bathroom stops included.  From Charleston to Daytona Beach, the drive is seven hours, and Miami is a further five or six hours.  I realized quickly that the idea of driving to Miami was not such a good one.  The railroad can get you to Orlando, but then you’d have to jump a bus or rental car to get to Miami…also five hours.  So there are two things we can draw from this:

  1. Florida is a REALLY long state
  2. Fly to Miami, don’t drive

We reached our destination though.  The only memorable things were the red skies over southeast Georgia due to the forest fires, and the natural palm trees every in Florida.  Unlike South Carolina, where the palm trees are planted by man, pruned for their appearance, and laid out in symmetrical patterns, the palm trees in Florida grow tall and grow wild–the way they should.  They even can keep their own in the pine forests!

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Disney World is huge — four them parks, a shopping mall, golf courses, various resort hotels and condominiums, and an extremely efficient highway system — all contained within the bounds of Disney World.  And if that is not enough, Sea World and Universal Studios are just down the road.

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Animal Kingdom is split into continent-themed areas.  This is a snapshot of the South-Asian/Indian Subcontinental section.  The Yak & Yeti Restaurant serves….hamburgers and fries.  What, did you really think they’d have curries and other subcontinental dishes?  I’d rather be in the real Nepal…

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I think this was supposed to be the Lion King tree, there are all sorts of animals carved into the tree, and the insides are actually an IMAX 3D theater.  Overall Disney did a great job hiding traditional human structures and blending them into their Animal Park theme.

IMG_0460Unlike the stupid humans walking around in the intense Florida sun and humidity, this gorilla had the right idea–a light brunch in the shade

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Where the monkeys roam and play

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This guy was a real showman.  He was just relaxing on the ledge when a crowd starting to form

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“Alright people, you want to get your admission ticket’s worth?  Just look at me!”  This monkey began to swing all over the apparatus showing off his speed and agility.

IMG_8111“I can even do pull-ups with my triceps and deltoids!”

Sorry for all of the monkey photos, I am endlessly fascinated by monkeys.  Just as my wife and niece about the time we all went to the Takao-san Monkey Park (高尾山 サル園)…

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We stayed in a time-share unknowingly.  Apparently the owners can rent out there time if they won’t be using it.  Since we stayed in Disney World, we could take the free shuttle buses rather than paying the $10/day parking at the theme park.

The heat in Florida was intense.  The humidity is not that different from Charleston, but the sun is much stronger and more intense.  I sweat more in Florida than I ever did in Taipei, and I was constantly having to hydrate myself.  The next day I had a horrible fever, no appetite, and little patience for anything…and I had to drive back to Charleston.  I have never experienced anything like it.  STAY AWAY FROM FLORIDA IN THE SUMMER!!!

On Disney World

I have always been of the opinion that there is not much of a reason for international tourists to visit the USA.  If you can tolerate our customs and immigration services and their draconian policies that actually detract tourism, you next have to deal with the fact that outside of a few cities, there is no public transportation and you’ll spend a fortune on rental cars, rental car insurance, and gasoline.  Why on earth would you visit the USA to see the cities with little-to-no history (outside of some on the east coast) or see natural sites that are hours away from any civilization with little to no services?

Well, after visiting Florida, I learned that you do not visit the USA for those reasons.  Only Americans and Canadians do this.  Instead, you go to Disney World and other Orlando area theme parks.  With the exception of Times Square in NYC, I’ve never see so many international tourists in one place in the USA.  “America…fine purveyors of Disney since…”

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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.

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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.

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Blue Ridge Mountains and Dulles

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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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bei Rosenthaler Platz


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So I am a Public Agent and don’t know who I work for, get my instructions from street signs, newspapers and pieces of conversation I snap out of the air the way a vulture will tear entrails from other mouths.

– William S. Burroughs

 

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Viva Berlin!

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10,000 meters

Ten thousand meters above Winnipeg, it is hard to even fathom the idea of ten thousand meters.

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If I fell from ten thousand meters, would I even hear anything?

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If I fell from ten thousand meters, would the clouds catch me?
Would I bounce off the clouds like on a soft mattress?

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How long would it take for me to hit the clouds?
Would I be able to walk on the clouds, or swim in the clouds?

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If I fell from ten thousand meters, would I continue to fall through the clouds and would I get wet?

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