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Friday, 22 December 2006
The Shortest Day of the Year
Today, we had another one of our crazy sports events. It was a 10k run, and up some killer hills, too. Somehow, I got suckered into participating. Now, I can play sports, sure, whatever. But I'm not exactly so great when it comes to running long distances- I just normally crap out after about a mile or two. By the way, did I mention the huge hills we had to climb as well? Somebody with a lot of hate in their heart must have designed that course. Man, that was a long run. I'm really going to be feeling it tomorrow. My time came in a 1'19"38... that's really slow, something like 12 or 13 minute miles, pretty embarrasing. I probably shouldn't even be putting this on the internet. By the way, the fastest student, Kazu, ran it in 43 minutes... that's just sick.

Note: I wore one of those Under Armor stretchy-type shirts today, and a lot of the kids seemed to get a kick out of that. So, if you want to pick up some street cred with Japanese middle schoolers, by all means have a closet full of Under Armor.

Today was the last day of school for this semester, and honestly I'm looking forward to the vacation. I was just getting worn down recently, always tired, never getting enough sleep, in a negative frame of mind, probably having a little cold or something like that too. So some time off will help. The fact that the days are super-short this time of year probably doesn't help much either. I'm convinced that not getting enough sun everyday puts me in a down mood, maybe more than most.

Now all this is funny, because compared to the work load I had at Clarks last year (especially around Christmas), this job isn't bad at all. In fact, if 2005 Mike could meet 2006 Mike, I'd probably kick my own ass just for complaining like this. I guess the big difference is that I was living in relative luxury back in the States, and my arrangments in Japan leave plenty to be desired. Again though, I can't complain too much on that front either. This is what I wanted, and I knew what I was getting into the entire way. So at a certain point you just have to live with it. At least from here on every day will be getting longer than the one before.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 7:54 AM EST
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Sunday, 17 December 2006
Baseball News plus Exciting Bonus Material!
The Red Sox recently signed Japanese baseball star Daisuke Matsuzaka to a multi-year, mega-dollars contract. Add to that the "posting" fee sent as compensation to his former Japanese club, and they have spent over $100 million dollars to bring in a player who has never thrown a pitch in the major leagues.

Seems like a lot, right? Well, one thing people need to consider is the Japanese market. Matsuzaka's contract press conference was shown live on 4 of my 5 TV channels this morning. Even before he signed, sports shows over here were already highlighting his future matchups against Hideki Matsui (Yankees) and Ichiro (Mariners). So the market for the Sox TV rights and merchandise just expanded by about 120 million people thanks to one player. Not too bad. You see the Yankees logo on all types of merchandise here thanks to Matsui, and now you'll start seeing a whole lot more Red Sox jerseys and ballcaps as well. Everyone is so concerned over whether or not Matsuzaka will become a good player that they have forgotten the potential Japanese business aspect of the deal.

You may recall how I mentioned that I met a reporter from The Guardian during my time in China. Here is his article he was on his way research at the time, concerning an endangered dolphin species in the Yangtze River. Basically, it doesn't look good.

Link to Guardian Article on Chinese Dolphins

I've also seen this story on CNN.com and Yahoo! News. They both said the dolphin is essentially extinct. That's too bad.


Finally, Donald Rumsfeld officially left his post as Defense Secretary, and I can't say that it is soon enough. But do you expect him to go away crying about it? No, how about having a huge ceremony to crow about your "accomplishments". Read this article and ask yourself, "What kind of parallel universe do these guys live in?" It's certainly not this one. Unfortuntely, their decisions will affect all of us.

Rumsfeld gets big Pentagon Sendoff

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 8:12 AM EST
Updated: Sunday, 17 December 2006 8:15 AM EST
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Thursday, 7 December 2006
This and that
I haven't been feeling well for the past couple of days, with a runny nose, stuffy head, fatigue, etc., and I bottomed out yesterday after second period. I kept nodding off in the staff room and I must have not looked well, because the other teachers convinced me to go see the school nurse. So the nurse at Chitose, Miyo-sensei, is really nice, and she gave me some medicine and warm kabosu (lime) drinks. After that, I slept very, very soundly in a warm bed for over two hours. Guess I needed it. I've been feeling better since then, but not all the way back. I can do things like breathe through my nose now, so that is an improvement. The fact that today is cold and rainy probably isnt helping much though.

Chrismas is coming up soon, and this year I decided to send a package of stuff back to North Carolina and Ohio for everyone to enjoy. I decided to put a lot of "fun" items in there, nothing serious, but it if gives everyone a laugh/chuckle then I suppose mission accomplished. Of course, Japan is very far from the East Coast of the US, and time is running out, so it cost the same amount to money to mail it as the contents themselves. Good times at the Japanese post office. "Um, don't you have something a little bit cheaper?" Good Japanese practice. As long as it arrives on time and in one piece, right?

Of course, I have my own Christmas list as well... the big items are all DVDs, seeing as how they are either really expensive or not released here. Of course, there are plenty of edible items on there, got to have that comfort food. This weekend, there is a little Christmas event done by some JETs at an orpahanage in Oita city... songs, games, gifts, etc. Should be good times. I don't actually have any plans for Christmas day yet, so I will have to figure something out.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 9:59 AM EST
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Thursday, 30 November 2006
NOTE TO SELF: PAY INTERNET BILL
Ok, so I haven't written for a while. My internet company shut off my internet, it happens. Somehow, I didn't pay my internet bill, so I was "off the grid" for a little bit. Sorry if you were waiting for China pictures, I promise if I ever go to China again while on the JET program I will certainly remember to pay my internet bill when I get back ASAP. Ok. Now that is out of the way, on to the pictures. For now, I'm just posting them to my photo page at photo.xanga.com/delafro and I'll work on them more as time allows. So go ahead and check them out and let me know what you think.

As for around here, it is certainly getting colder. That definitely matters in a place like Japan where the houses are made from little more than plywood, old newsprint, and stale chewing gum. What I'm trying to say is, the temperature outside is more or less the same as the temperature inside. It's cold, and your feet and hands suffer the most. This year, I decided to take action. I set up my kotatsu (a heated table thing), bought plenty of thick wool socks, those little hand warmer packets, got out the electric blanket, many many layers of clothes, will shower before bed, etc. So hopefully I will be able to cope with it better now than in the past. Because knowing is half the battle.

Also, both of my schools had their culture festivals recently. Essentially, it's a way to put on plays, sing, have little charity events, make displays showing off school activities, and so forth. The community can get involved in the school, and the kids have projects they can work on outside of the normal academic routine. One school even had a great lunch cooked up for everyone as well. One thing I was surprised of was the seriousness of the play topics. They covered: AIDS, school bullying, treatment of Okinawans by Japanese troops in WWII, and discrimination of people with Hansen's disease (leprosy). Not exactly lighthearted stuff. But there were important lessons to be learned from the plays, so I guess that was the point.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 9:09 AM EST
Updated: Thursday, 30 November 2006 9:14 AM EST
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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.

NEXT>>> PICTURES

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...

NEXT UPDATE>>> BEIJING!

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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