Sunday, August 19, 2012

Introducing. . .

August Charles Spadola Jolley
He was born on August 9th at 10:23am.  He weighed 8 lbs 5 oz and was 19.7 in long.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

8th Wedding Anniversary

 Craig took Friday off and we went to Kyoto to celebrate our 8th wedding anniversary. We'd heard a new aquarium had opened and was boasting about being the best in Japan. For those of you with some sense of Japanese geography, this may be surprising because Kyoto is inland and no where near the ocean. We learned, however, that it sits in a large river basin and the aquarium tried to take advantage of that unique water environment. Between the two of us, we've been to 4 different aquariums in Japan. Unfortunately, I would rank Kyoto at the bottom. Craig puts Churaumi in Okinawa at the top. I haven't been there so I put Osaka at the top followed by Suma and, lastly, Kyoto.

 We took our time getting into Kyoto, had lunch and then headed to the aquarium. We were worried because it was looking like we'd only have three hours to see the place. We finished in plenty of time.

Kyoto had your standard big tank with lots of fishes swimming about, a jelly fish exhibit, some small tanks with little fish, a very, very short dolphin show, penguins, seals, and some river life. Most notably, they had giant salamanders, Chinese, Japanese, and a hybrid. These guys were literally the size of a cat but were mud colored salamanders. We never saw them move, they'd contort themselves so they'd be under rocks, sand, whatever they could get below, but stretch their necks up so their nostrils were just above the water.

One thing I do at aquariums is wonder what the animals on display would taste like. I am not alone because we heard “oishisou” “looks delicious” at a lot of tanks. At the last exhibit, what Craig figured would be the “guilt you with an environmental message” section, we saw something much more honest – instructions on cleaning fish and food models of our properly prepared fishy friends.

 The highlight of the trip turned out to be our celebratory dessert. When we were looking for a restaurant in the train station we passed a bakery with gorgeous tarts covered in fresh fruit. We decided we had to stop by on our way home. In the US I always felt like bakery stuff looked better than it tasted, but I can confirm that these were as tasty as they appeared to be.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The fishiest place in Tokyo

A couple of weeks ago (2012/06/29), I had the chance to travel up to the main RIKEN campus in Wako for one of their “Discovery Evening” events.  This was the second of the year; the idea is that they invite RIKEN’s young acronymed researchers (FPR, SPDR, IPA, and JRA) to the Wako campus (outside Tokyo in Saitama prefecture) where they hear a couple of informal-ish research presentations by their peers and then mingle and eat.  Most of the attendees are from Wako and Yokohama (also pretty close).  Gianluca Esposito, an FPR from Italy, is apparently heading up the committee that organizes these things and had e-mailed me asking if I wanted to come up to Wako and give a presentation.  So on Friday (06/29) I took the shinkansen up to Tokyo and did the discovery evening thing.

On Saturday I figured I’d traveled all the way up to Tokyo on someone else’s dime so I might as well do some sightseeing.  Because I managed to get to bed fairly early on Friday (the party ended promptly at 8pm), I decided to get up early and visit the famed Tsukiji fish market (築地市場駅).  All of the web sites I’d looked at said one should get there super-early, so I got up at 4:30 to catch the first subway out of Wako at 5:00, which got me to Tsukijishijo at about 6:00.  I stashed my luggage in a coin locker in the subway station, then stepped out and followed the smell of fish.

 Those are eels.  Apparently they bleed a lot.
Our invertebrate friends were also well represented.

I ended up in a big covered area with lots of people dashing about in narrow little aisles and lots of fish everywhere.  I was so engrossed in all the fishy amazingness that I didn’t notice that I was the only person around who didn’t seem to be… ummm…. working.  Eventually a nice police officer noticed that for me, and came over and explained that the “Seafood Intermediate Wholesalers Area” wasn’t open to the general public until 9:00.  So I had a few hours to kill.  He directed me toward what appeared to be the tourist area, where there were a lot of souvenir shops and (more importantly) sushi restaurants.  So I at least managed to start the day with a sushi breakfast.

 What the policeman hadn’t told me (and that I fortunately figured out on my own) is that right next to the official Tsukiji market there’s a great big unofficial market.  It doesn’t have the same frenzy of fresh-off-the-boat seafood activity, but there is a lot of pickled and dried stuff along with plenty of seafood that probably had been at Tsukiji earlier that morning.  Basically, if you want ingredients of any kind for Japanese food, that’s the place to be.  There were also lots of shops selling unusual cooking implements like fish-scaling tools.  There were plenty of free food samples to be had; I tried lots of different things.
The funny-looking green things on the left (under the 本わさび sign) are fresh wasabi.  I had no idea that's what it looked like.
 There was a shop selling plastic models of sushi for restaurants to put in their display windows.
 Dried squid.

 This shop was fun; they had all sorts of different vegetables, all pickled.  Lots of samples.

 Those black things are sea urchins.
 Giant slabs of sashimi-grade tuna.
I brought this home for Quinn -- a trail mix with little dried fish in it.

When I made it back to Tsukijishijo after 9am, things had quieted down quite a bit, and most of the wholesalers where cleaning up; probably finishing a solid 8 hours of work.  It still seemed too early to go back to Kobe, and I wanted to check out another neighborhood of Tokyo.  Ginza was nearby and I’d heard of it, so I took the subway to Ginza.  I think if you like shopping Ginza is probably the most amazing place in the world; otherwise it’s not really so exciting.  Tsukiji is totally more my speed.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

In Honor of Father's Day

I learned an interesting fact yesterday.  I was talking about golf with one of my English students and discovered "hole-in-one insurance."  I've never gotten a hole-in-one but I assume that in America, if you do get one, your buddies buy your drinks.  In Japan it is the exact opposite.  If you get a hole-in-one here you buy the drinks.  Seriously, you are expected to put on a party for your close friends and all the people with whom you play golf.  This isn't just a round of drinks at the club, either.  So people can buy hole-in-one insurance just in case they are "lucky" enough to get one and have to put on a party.

I talked to my dad on Father's Day and asked him what happened when he shot a hole-in-one.  Turns out he did have to buy the drinks (that's what happens when you assume) but it wasn't an all out party and just was the guys at the club house.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Baby Shower - American Style

Yesterday two of my sisters from the Kansai Branch threw me a baby shower. Baby showers are not something people do in Japan so all of the Japanese women who came got to experience one for the first time. We had a brunch, which was delicious and featured actual breakfast sausage that Rachel had to specially order (I know, back to food but it was a real treat) and then played some games.

 Here we are flashing peace signs, there was some Japanese influence at the event.  Left to right, in the front row is Setsuko-san, me, Lisa, back row is Rachel (our host for the shower), Sister Zinke, Sakamoto-sensei, Ayumi-san, Sister Dalling, Sherilyn, Hazel, and Stephenie (who not only did a lot of the organizing but built the diaper "cake").
 One of the gifts was a baby yukata, sort of like a kimono but meant for warm weather.  Kim, the woman the gift was from, stated that every baby born in Japan needs to have one.
 I would have to say the most entertaining game involved everyone using toilet paper to guess how big around I am.
 Lisa made the best guess.
 Everyone else guessed a little big - I've still got two months but I don't think I'll grow another two feet in circumference.
I'm very grateful for all the friends I've made here.  It has and will definitely make it easier to have a baby so far away from family.  In Japan women usually have their moms present at the delivery, instead of husbands, and then go back home for a month so their moms can take care of them.  There are many things I've seen here that I think my mom would love, I know this is one of them.  She's got all her passport paperwork submitted and, even though she won't be here for the birth, I'm sure she'll make it here within the next two years now that she's got a grandbaby on the way.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Golden Week Day 7: Last day in HK

This is the last installment of this series, and I did a terrible job of taking pictures on my last day in Hong Kong.  I had breakfast at a noodle place in Causeway Bay where I had a noodle soup with fish balls and some other unidentified things in it.

It was still sort of rainy, so I decided to take it easy and check out the Hong Kong Heritage Museum up in the New Territories (the northern part of Kowloon).  Part of the trip there involved a double-decker bus; I made a point of riding on the top level just because it was novel.  I was a little worried that it would be room after room of Ming dynasty pottery, but it was much more interesting than that.  They a great big exhibit of Tibetan religious art and a couple of exhibits on Cantonese opera with lots of costumes and clips from performances.  If I’d been in Hong Kong longer I definitely would have tried to see an opera; I’ll have to keep an eye out and see if they ever come to Osaka or anything.  There was a huge exhibit on Roman Tam, who was an iconic Canto-pop star for decades.  My favorite part of that exhibit was the videos of some of his concerts; he was very into outlandish Las Vegas-style costumes with lots of sequins and peacock feathers and that sort of thing.  There was one number where he shared the stage with a bunch of women in cat costumes whose job was apparently to sort of paw in his general direction while he was singing. 

After the museum, I went back to Causeway Bay and had an early dinner at Kung Tak Lam, a very well-reviewed vegetarian Shanghaiese restaurant.  It was incredibly awesome food, and motivated my only photographs for the day.
 They brought out this appetizer thing -- peanuts with a little seaweed and (I think) both salt and sugar.
Left: fried rice with seaweed.  Right: Sauteed mushrooms with asparagus and some kind of mock meat in a hot and spicy sauce.  Yes, I did eat both of those.

After eating I went back to the hostel, picked up my backpack from the front desk, and started making my way to the airport.  I flew to Shanghai, where I had an overnight layover (too short to really do anything interesting), and then got on another plane to Osaka.  I picked up a copy of Martin Jacques's When China Rules the World at the Hong Kong airport and read about half of it on the way home.  Interesting, although I was a little surprised to see a book with buzzwords like "contested modernity" and "civilization-state" being sold at the airport right next to the Twilight series.  After that, it was pretty much back to real life.

Golden Week Day 6: Cheung Chau

By Day 6, I was ready to get a break from all of this urban stuff and get out of the city a little.  So I went to Cheung Chau, a little island that’s southwest of Hong Kong Island.  Cheung Chau is Cantonese for "no air conditioning here."  Actually it's 長洲, which literally means "long island" -- it would be chōshū in Japanese.  It’s a short ferry ride from Central.
Central as seen from the ferry.

They really love the bamboo scaffoldings.

One thing that was a real contrast to Hong Kong was the little neighborhood shrines that were scattered all over the place – it actually reminded me a little more of Japan in that way.  Maybe they do have those in Hong Kong, just not in the neighborhoods that I’d been in.
I went to the Pak Tai temple; she is apparently Cheung Chau’s patron deity and saved the island from plague.

One thing that is apparently a big deal on Cheung Chau is these steamed buns with sweet bean paste inside.  They’re delicious.  Unfortunately, I’d missed the annual bun festival by a couple of days – from what I heard it involves building big towers of buns which people then climb in a race.  At the various tourist shops you can also buy plush buns to strap onto your cell phone.  They’re about the same size as the real ones; significantly larger than a typical cell phone.

They also have some pretty nice beaches.  The people in this picture looked like they were filming an interview; the guy on the steps was apparently looking and sounding really cool, while the others held up reflective panels (Quinn probably knows the technical term for these) to ensure that he was perfectly lit.

I hiked up a big mountain thing in the middle of the island that had some nice views of the ocean.

Along the harbor there’s a strip of restaurants that sell really awesome seafood; I had the steamed fish for lunch.  Good thing I don’t mind making eye contact with my food.

After lunch it was back to the beach, where I swam in the ocean and hung around for a few hours.  I got a minor sunburn.  It was a really nice beach for swimming – small waves, no rocks, and a big net to keep the sharks out.

After a hard day’s work, I headed back toward the seafood area.  As I was looking at different places, it suddenly started pouring rain, so I decided that the place I was standing directly in front of had a sturdy-looking awning and was an excellent choice.  I ordered the fried squid, and sat down to discover that there were only two other people in the entire place.  I was feeling oddly extroverted, so I decided to see whether they spoke English.  It turns out that they did and were more than eager to practice on me.  They introduced themselves as Vivienne and Candy and enjoyed coaching me on correct Cantonese eating protocol.  Apparently one never eats from plates; the plates are only there to keep the bowls (which you eat from) off the table.  Also, your bowl, glass, and chopsticks are to be washed with the tea, which then gets emptied into a big plastic bucket thing.

They insisted I sit down for this picture so that I wouldn’t be too tall.  I didn’t realize how sunburned I was until my camera was handed back to me.  It actually makes me look sort of scary; I’m surprised they talked to me at all.  I don't think that Vivienne (on the right) intended to give me bunny ears with her peace sign, but that's sort of how it turned out.

After dinner, it rained some more so we all caught the ferry back to Hong Kong; they went to Sheung Wan and I went back to Causeway Bay.