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Sunday, 12 November 2006
China Recap Part 2!
Next morning, back to the airport again, and we can kiss the choking pollution of xian city goodbye. We fly into Beijing to meet Mishiro's cousin, and... we can't find her! Nowhere to be seen. We try our IC cards at the phone, no good, have to by new ones, try to figure out what area codes to use, etc. Finally we call her, turns out her husband Brad was there to pick us up instead. So we find him and he takes us to their house, which is in a remarkably nice part of town. Brad was actually a really cool guy. He works in Beijing for a major news company so that lead to a lot of interesting conversation.

So, they've got two kids who are really lucky. They grew up speaking both English and Japanese, and have picked up some Chinese by growing up in Beijing. They've got friends from all over the world at their international school. So again, pretty lucky to be exposed to all that culture at a young age. They probably don't realize how fortunate they are though.

Back to the trip. We all hopping into the car and went to a great lunch restaurant that was popular with the international crowd. Then, we planned to drive to Tiannamen Square, but it was actually blocked off for an African presidential motorcade. So we hop on the subway instead. Turns out a lot of area was sealed off for the big China/Africa summit. So we couldn't see as much as we would have liked. Still, Tiannamen Square (it's really big), Tiannamen (big portrait of Chairman Mao), and a little bit of the "Forbidden City" (big, classic architecture). It's all a fairly impressive sight, and of course packed with tourists. Then, we found a shopping street and looked around, didnt buy too much though.

After that everyone was pretty spent, so we went back to the house. I don't remember how exactly, but we ended up getting pizza- real Italian-style pizza!- for dinner. I had been wanting that for awhile so I was pretty happy. We also had some of the shochu and kabosu we had brought with us from Oita, so that was nice as well.

The next day, our big goal was the Great Wall. We decided to go to the Great Wall at Mutenyu. It had plenty of great views and wasn't as swamped with tourists as the other sights. Plus it had a tobaggan ride you can ride on the way down (not part of the original wall of course; extra fee, of course). Normally it should only take about an hour by car from Beijing, but thanks to many poorly-signposted traffic roundabouts, we got pretty good and lost. So, taking one wrong turn at a traffic circle, that cost us probably about an hour. Great. Anyways, we finally got it figured out.

After buying our ticket, we had a good long walk up the mountain to get to the hill proper. Some good exercise. Then, we made it. Well the wall is pretty much as you'd imagine it to be- long, winding, an impressive sight. Definitely lived up to the expectations. It's very steep at times too, again, another good workout. I should mention it was extremely windy that day- that made it quite cold, but also blew out all of the pollution so we got a good view. We found a place out of the wind and sat down for lunch. Maybe the coolest picnic I've ever had. Then, we took the tobaggan ride back down- you just ride this sled down a long chute with plenty of twists and turns. It was pretty fun. Then we headed back. Everyone was pretty tired.

But we had one thing still left to do. We called up a driver and headed into town for Peking Duck. I should mention how cheap food was there. The two of us had a famous gourmet meal in downtown Beijing with beer for less than 50 bucks. Great. Anyways, we went to a recommended restaurant and it didn't disappoint. The duck was great, and the skin was really the best part- crispy and delicious. The problem was they served it to us last, so we were almost completely full already by the time it arrived. A real challenge to get it down, but I had to do it. It might have been my only chance to eat that so I had to finish.

We woke up early the next day to get to the airport. We rode with a journalist for the Guardian (British news paper). That was cool. But then at the airport, again, it wasn't cool. We actually couldn't find the check-in counter, and then I got a nosebleed! Great. It's not done yet. We get into our gate, and there are no shops! I'm not sure why, but I hate that airport now. Mishiro-sensei was freaking out because he didn't get enough souveniers to give away in Japan, and if you're Japanese, you have to bring back souveniers. Failure is not an option. Yeah, turns out it wouldn't be a direct flight to Fukuoka either- we'd have to stop at Qing Tao and switch planes. The fun never ends. But at Qing Tao, Mishiro gets his omiyage, we get on the final flight, and all is well. Except I got searched and patted down at Fukuoka customs, but hey, that's part of being a foreigner in Japan right. I did get to use the Japanese/Foreign Residents immigration line though, so I felt special (and it was only a fraction of the size of the regular foreigner line too).

Mishiro drove back this time, and he was on a tear. I think he must have been trying to set some time trial records on those mountain roads. Anyway, its not done yet. He insisted on going into school, on our day off, after a long ass trip, to hand out the souveniers. I wasn't happy, but what can you do in that situation. Man, that took forever, but finally everybody went home, and I had to get ready for school the next day! Great.


Posted by nc/frodaddy at 7:50 AM EST
Updated: Sunday, 12 November 2006 7:58 AM EST
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Saturday, 11 November 2006
China Recap Part 1
Now that my grievances are out of the way, on to the recap, the play-by-play, of my trip to China. I went with Mishiro sensei to Fukuoka airport, about a 2 hour drive or so. I even got to drive. We got on the plane and flew to Shanghai where we had to catch a connecting flight, so far so good. Then, uh oh! It takes our bus about 25 minutes to get into the terminal (no jetways), and the slowest immigration process in the whole world (our guy was a real prick, he was peering over my passport with a magnifying glass like it was a live specimen), so it took us an hour and a half to get through immigration. In the meantime, our connecting flight had been closed. Gone, outta here. We're stuck in Shanghai airport, can't speak Chinese, uh oh... so far things are shaping up like a disaster.

Finally, we call our travel agency, talk to some people on the ground, and find a nice business hotel near the airport to stay at. There was even some pretty decent food at the hotel, and we could see the famous Maglev train from our window. So far, I'm thinking, 'China is a lot like Japan', but of course, airports and business hotels are roughly the same anywhere. We changed our tickets for a flight the next morning. So that wasn't bad. But, thanks to missing the flight, we lost half a day in Xian.

We get up and fly to Xian without any problems. At Xian airport we meet our guide and driver, and head out for the Terra Cotta warrior museum. This was my first real exposure to the pollution there... the haze was everywhere and it stunk too. We make it there and head over the exhibits, with our guide who speaks Japanese but no English, so that was fun to try and decipher what she was saying. Fortunately I can say this part was totally worth it. The warriors were made 2,000 years ago, with incredible craftmanship and detail (every one has a unique face, for example). Very cool and I recommend it to anyone. Then, we stopped at a gift shop and paid way to much for some replicas. Lesson learned on that one.

Next, we stopped at what we thought was an art museum in the city, but it turns out they were actually trying to sell us some art/antiques. Weird. Back to the hotel, which was nice, too bad we would only stay there one night. At dinner, we started talking to our waitress who was studying Japanese at university. In a move that was potentially really dangerous, we went with her after dinner to try some gyoza, which is supposed to be famous in Xian. The food was pretty good and she was really cool , but yeah going with her like that was a stupid risk on our part if you think about it. The next day, we got up and boarded an airplane for our next stop...


Posted by nc/frodaddy at 5:17 AM EST
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Thursday, 9 November 2006
China Trip
I'm back from China, and I can certainly say it was an interesting trip. We had plenty of ups and downs along the way, but we managed to hit all of our big goals, and I learned a lot in the process too. So there is something to be said for that. First, some of the basic things I noticed about China:

1. You may have heard China is a super-rich place now. Don't believe it. Outside of the cities, most people appear to live in desperate, near-subsistance poverty. I've never seen such wealth disparity in my life. On one hand, you have the Chinese upper class driving luxury sedans, with the finest fashions and jewelry, just like any western consumerist lifestyle. Then on the other, hundreds of millions of peasants just scraping by in the filthiest of conditions you would expect in a third-world country. Amazing. No wonder the government has to keep such a tight lid on things.

2. Following up on the above point, China is a filthy place. The air pollution is truly impressive. In Xian, you could barely see 1km ahead thanks to all the smog. There are some beautiful mountains near Xian. Too bad they are practically invisible. Dirt and dust are everywhere. It stinks to breathe. Trash, rubble, abonded building-like structures, rusted heaps, litter, all over the place. I have really been taking living in a clean place for granted.

3. The traffic is horrible, every man for himself, gladiator combat. Every time I stepped in a car my heart rate went up a little bit and I lost some color in my face. Pedestrians walk unabated on freeways and intersections, ducking between cars and buses. Bikes swerve past apparently oblivious to the traffic around them. Massive trucks share the road with little more than glorified mopeds. Lanes may as well be abstract art. Driving manners? Inexistent. Imagine the most infuriating drivers you've ever encounted and make tens of millions of them. Brights, cutting off, sudden stops in the middle of intersections, going 50km above or below the speed limit, you can go on. It's just not a safe place to be.

4. Everyone tries to rip you off. Everyone tries to cut in front of you. Everyone is a scam artist. I've never seen a more selfish, pushy society. Maybe you need to force your way through a country of 1.3 billion. I don't know. I don't miss that part at all.

Ok. Those are some of my main observations I will take away from this trip. These should be obvious to anyone who has been there, nothing groundbreaking. But it's what I will remember. It sounds like maybe I'm pissed off here, but I did have a great time occasionally and it was worthwhile. I'll give a full recap with pictures soon. Just don't get me started on the airports.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 8:26 AM EST
Updated: Thursday, 9 November 2006 8:32 AM EST
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Wednesday, 1 November 2006
Quick Note
Well, I'm off to China. I hadn't planned on making a big trip this early, but one of my English teachers was going and offered to take me along, so I said sure. We will go see the ancient city of Xian and also check out Beijing for a couple of days. As I've never been to China before, I am a bit nervous, but it still should be a cool experience nonetheless. Who knows, I might even learn some Chinese along the way.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 8:29 AM EST
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Tuesday, 31 October 2006
Good News and Bad News
This past week my friend Beth came to visit to see what country life is like in Japan. I picked her up from Oita station on Thursday night, and we spent the next couple days checking out the sights and eating good food. I showed her around my schools and even my neighbors, the Fujimuras, treated us to a great dinner. So it was a really fun time for all. Here is a picture we took at the Usuki Stone Buddhas, which where carved into a cliff side a long, long time ago. After Japan, she'll continue here round-the-world travels. Good Luck!

Now, on to the bad part. Another 49ers pitcher was in the news recently, and it wasn't good. Erik Walker was out canoeing in Virginia, went under, and didn't come back up. I actually interviewed Erik for a piece in the school newspaper. He was having a great season, on his way to setting several school records. I got the impression that he could be quite a character at times, but he also seemed like a decent guy, which can be rare among talented baseball players. It just shows how fast things can go. One minute you're enjoying the outdoors on a beautiful fall day, the next minute, tragedy. Sometimes all it takes is one wrong step. In addition to being a good person, Erik also had potential as a baseball player, excelling in his one year of low minors ball. Sadly, we'll never know what the outcome might have been.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 9:19 AM EST
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Tuesday, 24 October 2006
Voting Rights
So, I've had my absentee ballot here for awhile now... just kind of sitting on the table, collecting dust. But time is running out if I want to mail it in time. So I figured I'll check out the candidates, and in my one national race, well, let's just say one guy didn't fare too well.

Basically our representative, Thomas McHenry, knows he is an incumbent in such a Republican district that he can go on national TV and pretty much say, well, whatever he wants. Except this time he got called out for it, and the results aren't pretty.Here's a page with a link to the YouTube video.

You don't need to read the accompanying blog if you don't want to, the video is bad enough. There's no need for partisan sniping here (although there is plenty of room available for that if need be). The guy is a REPRESENTATIVE, he represents our distrcit to the United States. If he looks bad, we look bad, and that's the bottom line.I know I only have a few readers in the 10th district, but cmon guys, let's get this bozo out of Congress.

In other news...

A long while back, I commented on how the strangeness of baseball at times can make it the most interesting sport anywhere. Case in point: Dirtgate! Looks like Tigers pitcher Kenny Rogers had something on his hand in Game 2 of the World Series... but what? Dirt? Pine Tar (a big no-no)? Chocolate Cake? The world may never know.

Click here for the inside, um, dirt

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 10:23 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 25 October 2006 6:54 AM EDT
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Thursday, 19 October 2006
Niners Pride
A quick tip of the hat to fellow Charlotte 49er alum John Maine, for shutting down the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the NLCS to win his first postseason victory. Click here for a recap. Facing elimination, Maine pitched 5 1/3 innings of no-hit ball against the likes of Perennial All-Stars such as Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, and Scott Rolen. Even better, he's a rookie. While Charlotte's baseball program has had the occasional player land in the Bigs, this is easily the biggest accomplishment for a former player. So congratulations, and who knows, he just might end up with a World Series ring before all is said and done.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 10:40 AM EDT
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Sunday, 15 October 2006
Bloggin' Again
OK, so it's been quite a long time since I blogged. All I can say is, sorry about that. In a weird way that totally snuck up on me, I've actually been really busy recently. I guess that is a familiar refrain by now but I haven't had enough time to just sit and type on the computer for awhile. In fact it's been so long since I've blogged I needed to check my previous entry to know when to start.

It's been over two months here and I'm starting to get more and more adjusted to life in Oita. Teaching isn't too much of a problem normally, I'm just trying to make sure that the classes stay interesting. I've made a couple of more trips to the elementary school, which again is quite challenging at times. But again, over the students are great fun to be with and makes the work worthwhile. The sports schedules are winding down, so I've got a little more free time, but not a lot more. I've also met a few more of the other local JETs, which is nice. My foreigner contact is still pretty limited though out here in the country. That's not necessarily a bad thing.

Anyways, on to what I've been doing. Last weekend ended up being pretty crazy without it being planned that way. Saturday at 9 am I get a phone call from Mishiro-sensei inviting me to go fishing. Well, it was a nice day so I said sure. First, though, was a "peace" march of sorts, protesting against new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's proposals to reform the education system. OK so I was kind of conned into this one, but if you know about Japan's history, a more "patriotic" (ie nationalist) education system only led the country down a dark path, so I didn't mind participating at all. Then we stopped by a cool limestone cave, and went fishing. Unfortunately conditions weren't ideal, and I didn't have much of a clue what I was doing, but I did manage to catch one decent sized fish. So hooray for me.

The next day, I went to see TAO, which is a fairly famous Taiko drumming group. It's not your traditional drumming performance, it's definitely more "modernized" and the speed of precision of the drummers is impressive. There was fireworks too which is always nice, although it was bitterly cold in the evening, and I didn't dress very warmly at all.

Well that wasn't too bad compared to what the students were doing. Some one thought it would be a great idea for the students to walk 42 kilometers (marathon distance) from Oita City to Ono Town. I guess it is tradition but I can't say I approve of that, just seems a little too dangerous to me. Now exercise is good, and there was constant teacher and parent support, but still. I have to give it to the students, almost all of them that started made it. It took the last group about 11 hours though. Every one who finished received a certificate and a hot bowl of udon soup. I'm sure if I stay, I will end up participating next year. Hope I have some good walking shoes.

Also, a couple of weeks back I saw Honda's humaniod robot ASIMO in Beppu. It's an impressive machine, although I was surprised by how small it is (4 feet or so). It can walk on two legs, stand on one, dance, has five movable fingers, talk, recoginize objects, kick, run (to a limited extent), lift stuff, etc. Like I said, very impressive, but also kind of creepy. ASIMO's movements were so smooth, it was really weird to see it coming from a robot. Having a bunch of those around will definitely take some getting used to.

It is starting to get cooler here, but still pretty warm during the day. October is a very nice time to be in this part of Japan, the weather is pretty much always perfect, but you can definitely tell that fall is on the way. Yesterday I dropped some pretty good money on fall clothes, but it's really important to dress warmly since Japanese homes can get really, really, cold.

Also on the docket, it's about time that I put up some pictures. I promise that will happen soon, and everyone will love the pictures. I should have some mountain hiking pictures, sports festival pictures, Asimo pictures, and some other random stuff up as well.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 10:40 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 26 September 2006
Long Time, No Blog
Well, what can I say, it's been a crazy week or so. First of all, the sports festival was delayed from Sunday to Tuesday thanks to the typhoon, which ended up being a big nothing here other than for the rain. At a Japanese school sports festival, everyone gets together, including parents, and plays games, does dancing, and of course some athletic competition. I participated in the 100m run and got totally smoked, those kids are fast. I also did the souran bushi dance which is really more like a workout I'd say, very dynamic with lots of movement. Unfortunately there was an encore performance I wasn't aware of, so I only did the dance once instead of twice like everyone else.

That evening was a yakuniku enkai, basically a big drinking party for the teachers. The yakiniku (beef you grill yourself) was excellent and everyone seemed to be in a pretty good mood. Unfortunately, that night I went a little bit crazy. There was an extremely loud insect in my apartment, and I literally spent hours looking for it (I think I was still a bit drunk, that's the only way I can explain my behavior). I even tried sleeping in my tiny car at one point, with no luck. Finally I put on some headphones and went to sleep, but I only got about 2.5 hours of sleep that night, which I'm still catching up on it feels like.

The next day, tired and hung over, I did something pretty foolish- played soccer with the kids after lunch. It was so hot and I got so tired, I felt like I was about to pass out. Not good. Fortunately I got some liquids in me and cooled down but that was not a pleasant experience at all. The soccer was fun though.

Next up, Thursday, I had a demo lesson. Luck of the draw apparently, all of the teachers from the area came to watch Mishiro-sensei and myself teach a class to first-year students (7th grade equivalent in the States). There was a lot of preparation, and everything went fairly well, but of course I was pretty nervous which didn't help my state of mind much. Afterwards, another drinking party, but this time it was kaiseki ryori, which is basically Japanese gourmet food. Quite an experience but I definitely took it easy on the alcohol this time.

Saturday, I slept for about 12 hours (no joke), woke up and heard the Ono JHS baseball team playing outside. I watched them play, then drove over to Chitose to watch the Chitose baseball team play. They didn't do so great, the coach was rightly pissed, so there was an impromptu practice scheduled afterward. At the practice, I took a grounder to the face, but don't worry it wasn't serious and the balls they use at the middle school level are a little softer than regular baseballs. Just a flesh wound, as they say.

Sunday was another big day- I climbed a mountain! No really, Ono Town organized a small group to climb up Mt. Kuju, which I believe may be the tallest mountain on Kyushu. I was under the impression it would be a fairly routine hike, but it was definitely more of a climb/vertical scramble- very demanding. It all depended on which route you took I guess. While I was going up, all I could think was, "This is torture!" But when we summited after about 2 1/2 hours of climbing, it was in fact really cool and felt like a big accomplishment. The sights were nice, we could see a smoking volcano, a brilliant green mountain lake, and plenty of cool rock formations. I definitely want to go back again. Then it was a good 3km hike on a different trail to get back to the bus. After that, we had some soft serve ice cream which is supposed to be famous, and I must say it was in fact pretty darn good.

But the main thing is, I'm just really tired. I need to sleep more. I might need to cut back on the activities a little bit, but last week was probably just a situation of a bunch of stuff happening all at the same time. But yeah, sleep is good.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 8:40 AM EDT
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Friday, 15 September 2006
Darn Kids
I had one my my crazier experiences when I went to teach at Elementary school this past week. By "teach" I guess I should say more like "trying to control hoardes of psycho kids". I was actually really nervous about this, I didn't feel like I had prepared at all, it was a different school with different teachers, and I had never done anything like it before. In fact I had to wake up extra early and make some extra printouts, without the help of one of my regular English teachers, Moriki Sensei, I might really have been in trouble. First off, I had an assembly in the gym, in front of the old school. For about a minute I was just stammering, surely boring the kids to tears, then I remembered "audience participation" and that got them into it some more. It was still kind of a sloppy presentation, but not a total disaster.

Now I said the kids were psycho, but actually the school was full of really adorable kids. They just have a little too much energy at times is all. My first class, was the first graders. They already knew the alphabet song, so I tried to make some games and songs out of that. They went crazy for a game where they had to circle correct letters on the board. Then I stopped by the kindergarden class which was in a different building. Wouldn't you know it, these were the best-behaved kids I had all day. Very well behaved, asked lots of questions. Next, the second graders, where I played the "color touch" game- I say a color, for example red, and the students would have to touch something red like a backpack. Oh, there was a fight in the class too, between a boy and a girl. Fun. That was my last class at the elementary, and I headed back to the middle school, pretty tired.

In other recent news, Chizuo Matsimoto, (aka Shoko Asahara), leader of the Aum Shinrikyo cult that perpetrated the 1995 Tokyo Subway sarin gas attacks, lost his final appeal and will receive the death penalty. A part of me is glad that he will die, that some vengeance will be served. Simply put, the man is basically a monster who used the promise of religion to extort, manipulate, and murder. On the other hand, how much does the execution solve? It may provide closure to some, but the damage caused will remain, and of course it won't bring back those who were lost. But I suppose these are the standard arguments any time there is a death penalty.

Finally, a big typhoon is heading this way... should hit around here sometime tomorrow, probably in the afternoon. Now both my middle schools have their sports festivals scheduled for tomorrow morning, so hopefully they can get them done in time. Of course, typhoons are tough to predict, so who knows really. I'm stocking up on non-perishables and stuff like that anyway, just in case.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 11:38 PM EDT
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