26 September 2010

Summer's Gone!

Yes, indeed.  The weather has finally gotten cooler.

It was a hot one here in Japan this summer, and I hated every minute of it.  I work at a school that is not fully air conditioned, and it's amazing how a hot and humid public school, packed with naughty teenagers, can really sap all the energy out of a man.

This week was the week the weather changed... and right on cue, it happened on the autumnal equinox - September 23rd.  Banzai!

Work was tough this week.  My class schedule is basically packed on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and on those days I have no time for anything but teaching and grading papers.  Tuesdays and Thursdays are lighter, so I have time for planning lessons for the next week, making PowerPoint presentations, etc.  However, this past week there were national holidays on Monday and Thursday.  In addition, on Tuesday the school ran a Monday schedule.  Therefore, all week from clock in to clock out, I was running around all day, trying to do everything with the limited time I had outside of classes.  I'm still worn out from that.

Luckily I was able to unwind by doing some container gardening.  In anticipation of fall, I planted some loose-leaf lettuce seeds a couple of weeks ago.  The weather stayed hotter longer than I thought, but now that it has been cool for a few days, the first seedlings have popped out of the dirt.  I'll share some pictures when they get a little bigger.

And if you were starting to question my manhood (Which sex do you think did most of the gardening in the history of mankind?), I saw some Falcons highlights on the Internet this weekend, too.  Great game against Arizona.  I'm looking forward to the Falcons-Saints game today.

18 September 2010

Three Guys, Some Beer, and a Friday Night

I need to do that more often.

For the first time in I-don't-know-how-long, this past Friday I went out with the guys - specifically, with a couple of expat guys who teach English at a school I used to work at.  We went to a bar in Osaka, had a few beers, sat at one of the sidewalk tables and just enjoyed the Osaka night.  I was buzzed after just two beers.  Yeah, weak, I know, but I hadn't had any alcohol for two months before last night.

I forgot how much fun it can be to hang out with some expats.  Before Friday I could count on less than two fingers how many times I've spoken in person to a non-Japanese person since March.  I wasn't really bothered by that; after all, if you are going to live in Japan, might as well interact with Japanese people, right?  But there's something about hanging out with people who fluently speak the language you are fluent in, who have common interests and somewhat common backgrounds.  That is something I should try not to neglect.

15 September 2010

Student's Pet

At my school, most teachers basically shun the bad students if they can help it.  They try not to talk with them or otherwise interact with them.  I perfectly understand that and expect that to happen, because some of those kids are a real handful (not to mention their parents). 

What I didn't expect was how much effort teachers put into interacting with the good students. 

When teachers walk through the hallways at school, making their way through the sea of students, they usually have their eyes focused straight ahead, trying not to notice most of the students.  But if they happen to see some of the good students, they will stop immediately and chat, sometimes to the point of having to run to make it to their next class on time.

But there's more than that.  I've seen teachers compete against each other to get in the good students' good graces!  The students stop by the teachers' office to chat, and a teacher will come up and chat with them.  A few minutes later, another teacher will butt in, and before you know it, several teachers are around, trying to win their affection.  In addition, some teachers are lurking in the background, hoping the first teachers clear out soon so that they can move in and have the students to themselves.

I guess that shouldn't be surprising.  After all, teachers are supposed to like students, and good students make that a lot easier to do.  Still, the sheer difference in behavior towards the good students, as opposed to the not-so-good students, is quite interesting.

12 September 2010

Green Thumb Is Still There

Did some container gardening today.  Fall is around the corner, so I planted a long container of baby leaf lettuce.  I'm very excited about that, because I haven't had (eatable) lettuce on my balcony since about May.  Thanks to aphids and the brutal Osaka summer, it was impossible to keep the lettuce growing all year.  That was sad, because I came to like going out on the balcony, picking some leaves, and making real fresh salad.  Those days are almost here again.

So now my balcony container garden consists of a container of baby leaf lettuce (not yet sprouted), two containers of timothy grass for Hoppy, a container of oats for Hoppy, a container of lemongrass, some ivy, and a small tree (and I have no idea what kind of tree it is).

05 September 2010

My Name Is Darth Vader!

Here I am at the store, modeling what a lot of middle-aged and elderly women in Japan like to wear in the summer when they're outside on a bicycle. It's supposed to shield their face from those dangerous UV rays as well as keep their skin as light as possible. I have no idea what it's called in Japanese. I just call it the "Darth Vader Mask."
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16 August 2010

It's Too Damn Early For This!

This is what I was doing at 7:30 in the morning.

I'm doing this at 7:30 in the morning? On a holiday? Man, what has happened to me.  Posted by Picasa

15 August 2010

Quittin's for Punks... So Is Tellin' Someone To

Last week, while I was on the train to work, my wife, who was also on her way to work, sent me a bunch of text messages saying stuff like "I don't want to go to work," "I want to go back home already," etc.  She's been dealing with a lot of stuff lately.  A bunch of her co-workers have been giving her a hard time.  So her job hasn't been her favorite place.

On that day last week, as the text messages came one by one, I became furious - not at my wife, but by the situation, that she was feeling so bad that she was dreading just going to work everyday.  So I went off.  I texted her a lot, saying, "Forget those fools.  You need to quit.  There must be a better job for you somewhere."  I didn't get any replies.

Eventually I realized I was wrong.  I was telling my wife to quit.  First of all, in this economy you can't just quit and get another job right away, especially one that is less stressful.  But this is the most important thing here: if there's anything I learned growing up, it's this: never let anybody get to you, or they win and you lose.  If my wife quit, those punks at her job would be the winner.  I was telling her to lose.  I later told my wife I was sorry about what I said, and that she can always talk to me about what's going on at work.  Lord knows I've dealt with my share of bad co-workers. 

Still, I feel ashamed to have told her to quit.  I should have told her to fight on, to win.

13 August 2010

Update, August 13, 2010

Ah yeah, it's Obon time.  Obon is a Japanese "holiday" (not sure of the best word to use here... yep, I'm an English teacher) in August.  Almost all Japanese have a couple of days off during Obon.  This year it's today and Monday sandwiched around the weekend.  Traditionally, Japanese people go back to their hometowns during Obon and pay respect to their deceased family members and ancestors.  But my wife and I don't do anything like that.  We just chill at home, rent some movies from TSUTAYA or something like that.  So that's what I'm doing now... just chillin'. 

Earlier I was looking at some other blogs on the 'Net, and I gotta admit, people have got a lot of time on their hands!  It took me 15 minutes to write everything up to this point in this post - I'm not kidding.  I take too much time thinking about what I want to write, then I write it.  And my blog stuff is pretty crappy, if I say so myself.  But some people put together these nice blogs, with long posts and a bunch of pictures and stuff.  Must have taken them hours just to write one post!

Maybe that's my problem.  Maybe I don't need to think about what I write.  I just need to write it.  I might end up saying something I really don't want to share with y'all, but hey...at least I would be able to update my blog every day.

30 July 2010

1000 Things About Japan

I'm beginning to really like this blog, 1000 Things About Japan.  Great format, well-organized, and while I don't agree with all of the opinions listed there, I can certainly relate to a lot of them.  For foreigners, living in Japan, like marriage, is not easy and requires a level of commitment to make it work.

Weekly Update (July 30)

Ah... a nice day off to enjoy.  That means I can update my blog.

Not much going on this week.  My students are out for summer break, so things are easygoing at work.  I can just sit, relax, plan future lessons and listen to music while I do it.

I've also caught up on some reading.  I read The Beckham Experiment by Grant Wahl, and I just started re-reading A History of Japan.  I read a lot of non-fiction.  I've wanted to start reading fiction, but I'm not sure what would interest me.

Oh yeah... almost forgot.  Technically this was last week, but I started a second blog, this time all about my rabbit Hoppy.  You can go there by clicking below:

Rabbit Chronicles From Japan

I can't think of anything else interesting that happened this week.  Let me know if you want to hear about something.  Later.

09 July 2010

In This Box...

If you can guess what is sticking out of this grass box, you get the grand prize!

04 April 2010

Rome Trip 2

After a long delay, I'm resuming posting about our Rome trip over the New Year's. I'm going to be calling these posts Rome Trip 2, 3, 4.... because I'm just too lazy right now to think of a catchy title.

Here I am standing in front of the Spanish Steps, made famous by that Audrey Hepburn movie "Roman Holiday". I never saw the movie. In fact, I never heard of it until I moved to Japan. That movie is extremely famous here for some reason. Whenever I told someone in Japan that I was going to Rome, they would ask if I was going to eat ice cream in front of the Spanish Steps. When I asked why I should do that, they mentioned Roman Holiday. So I was going to do that, but eating ice cream is now outlawed there... oh well.

Trevi Fountain. This picture doesn't come close to capturing how beautiful and amazing this fountain is. Not only is it peaceful and serene, even with a bunch of tourists standing around, but the detail in the sculptures and artwork is unbelievable. One of the highlights of the trip, for sure.

Here I am standing in front of the Pantheon. This building is almost 2000 years old and dates from the Roman Empire, but is still standing. Talk about some good building codes. It was closed the day we took this picture, but we went back later when it was open. Pictures of the inside to come later.

Piazza Navona, only a few blocks west of the Pantheon. The piazza is so wide, it's hard to capture all of it in one photo. It's a very nice place to stroll around, maybe grab a bite to eat, or something like that. On the day we visited there, they had a carnival in the piazza with a lot of snack and game stands.
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27 February 2010

Goodbye to Facebook?

Well, the past few weeks I've been giving Facebook another shot, but I don't know... maybe it's not for me. I guess I would like it more if I did mobile posting. I see a lot of my Facebook friends using their iPhone or Blackberry or cell phone to post messages about what they're doing. But it costs me every time I send a post via cell phone, so I don't want to do that.

But another thing is this: I don't really feel the need to tell everybody what I'm doing every hour, or what I eat or buy or wear. Facebook works well when people are giving details of every facet of their lives, and their friends can follow along. Me... I don't feel a need to describe everything I do. In fact, what is there to describe? My life is quite boring. Except for work and travel, I do nothing. My wife is the more interesting person in my marriage, but of course she doesn't allow me to talk much about her or post pictures of her.

So, all I can really talk about is work or travel. And usually I have a lot to say about those things, more than the little box in Facebook is designed for. So this blog is probably better suited for that.

I will say one good thing about Facebook: because of it, I've been able to reconnect with a lot of people I've met over the years. Friends and co-workers I met in Japan, people from college, friends I had a good time with in high school in Hawaii, and a friend that really made an impact on me in my one year of high school in Atlanta (she probably does not realize how much). I even reconnected with a dude I was friends with in elementary school! How about that.

09 January 2010

Rome Trip - The Start

We went to Rome for four nights beginning on December 31, 2009. It was one of the best vacations I have ever taken.

As you can tell from the ground in this picture, Rome was a bit rainy at times, and it was chilly. It meant, though, that there weren't huge crowds.

This is the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, near our hotel in the center of Rome, near the main train station. We saw this on our first morning in Rome. Not a bad way to start the vacation!
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On-goings in January 2010

First up, Happy New Year, you all! Here's what's been going on in my life:

- We went to Rome around the New Year holiday. I'll post some pictures of our trip later.
- Forget the Crimson Tide, even though they just won the championship. I just don't feel it anymore. I'm hoping Hawaii gets there one day.
- Things are going so well at my school that they are lobbying for me to come back next year. (It's the Board of Education's choice, and they give me one-year contracts.)

By the way, if you tried to contact me on Facebook, I'm sorry... I don't feel that anymore, either. You can always leave a comment on my blog, though. My blog entries will show up on Facebook... for the time being.

21 November 2009

Like the Day After Thanksgiving

This morning, my wife and I awoke at 5:30 AM to do some shopping! And we did some shopping alright... this afternoon.

The reason we woke up so early is that the low price clothing store Uniqlo had a special sale starting at 6:00 due to the parent company's 60th anniversary. They were selling men's socks for 10 yen a pair! (For those of you in the U.S., that's about 10 cents.) I needed some socks, and we like Uniqlo, so we woke up earlier than we do on work days.

It takes about ten minutes to drive to the nearest Uniqlo store. However, our car never made it that far. We became stuck in a line of cars stretching at least four long blocks from the store (this at 5:40 AM)! We waited in line for another 20 minutes, moving only one block.

At 6:00, my wife got out of the car with my wallet and walked to the store. After 10 minutes, she came back with the grim news. What Uniqlo had failed to mention in the advertisement we saw, both on the Internet and on the morning news show we watch, was that the first group of customers at the store would be given tickets that would allow them to buy the items on sale. Without those tickets, you would not be able to take advantage of the sale, and that is what happened to us. They had already run out of tickets.

So my wife hopped back in the car and we headed back home to our still-warm bed. It was about 6:30 AM.

I did end up buying the socks I wanted at Uniqlo later in the day. However, I paid 990 yen for six pairs. (That's about $9.50 US.) A far cry from the 10-yen sale that morning.

I guess you can say that the day's events didn't really blow my socks off.

03 November 2009

Cool Cats

Today we went to a "neko cafe" (neko means cat in Japanese). Basically, you pay money to be in a room with a bunch of cats for a predetermined period of time. It was better than I thought.

We walked in, paid the money, and sat down on one of the benches in the room. There were about 15 cats scattered here and there around the room, and a few of them were friendly. Of course, all of them were friendly when we bought a small pack of fish to feed them.

We paid for 90 minutes. During that time, we sat and petted a few of the cats, took some pictures, and just watched the cats do what cats do. Some of them ran around the room, some fought each other, and others slept in the corners. But surprisingly, it was quite therapeutic. There's something peaceful about watching cats go about their business. It helps take one's mind off of the more stressful parts of life. It was money well spent, and I would definitely go back there.

As I write this, my wife is already talking about going to a rabbit cafe! Of course, the closest one is in Nagoya, so that would involve a long drive...

Anyway, if you are interested, we went to a place called Neko no Jikan in Amemura, near Namba in Osaka. The web page is in Japanese.

19 September 2009

My babies!!!

My garden, six days after sowing the seeds:
The broccoli and chamomile seeds were the first to sprout. I first saw green on Wednesday... just 3 days after planting the seeds. The rest of the seeds did not waste time catching up, though.

I think I noticed my first mistake in making this container garden: I used all the seeds in the packs. It's hard to realize it when the seeds and plants are this small, but using all the seeds in these containers will make it very crowded once they are mature. The broccoli, lettuce, and cabbage are going to be packed like an Osaka Loop Line train at 7:00 in the morning. Oh well... live and learn. Besides, the Internet says the fittest will survive, and the others can be cut and thrown away.

15 September 2009

My Garden: The Beginning

As promised, here are a few pictures of my balcony garden.

Not exactly green yet, is it? The hardest part of gardening so far is trying to be patient.

12 September 2009

Weekly Update: Going Green

I'm gonna have to reorganize my blog yet again. Nowadays I have no time on the computer during the week. After work and dinner, my wife takes the computer the rest of the night. In a sense she's not being selfish; she's often looking for ways to earn frequent flier miles so we can travel for free, or she's hunting for online discount coupons to help us save money. That helps both of us. But it means less time to blog.

So here's my latest grand idea. Long updates on the weekends, and short posts and pictures during the week when I'm able.

To begin this first weekly update on an exciting note... I'm starting a garden! Yes, I'm man enough to admit that. It's a balcony garden, to be exact, since we live in a condominium with no yard.

I'm starting off slowly. I planted baby lettuce, cabbage and broccoli, as well as thyme, chamomile, lavender and one tulip bulb. The tulip will not bloom until next spring, but I'm expecting results from the others within the next few weeks. The lettuce should start coming out of the dirt in two or three weeks. I'll try to keep you updated with posts and pictures. If I fail, it will be out there for all to see.

31 August 2009

(News Dog) DPJ takes power in Japan

In order to make this blog more interesting, I'm going to introduce some "segments" that I'll update on a regular basis. The first one I call "News Dog", which makes fun of the strange names that some Japanese news programs have, such as "News Bird", "News Zero", etc.

A historic event happened on Sunday here in Japan. The people elected the Democratic Party of Japan to power for the first time, knocking the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (which is anything but liberal) out of power.

How big is that? Imagine that after World War II, the United States' government was reorganized. Even though there is a multiparty democracy, one party - say, the Republican Party - has basically been in power ever since then. Then in 2009, the Republican Party is dramatically swept from power in a landslide. That is what happened in Japan yesterday.

Of course, I couldn't vote, being an American and all. But it's nice to witness it.

asahi.com(朝日新聞社):DPJ takes power in landslide win - English

11 August 2009

(Japanese TV rant) Dance club DJ + tattoo = drug user

I like Japan. It's a great place to live, and it's fairly safe. The food is fabulous. So you won't hear me say too many bad things about Japan... unless it's about Japanese television.

I'm beginning to despise Japanese TV. Yes, there are some good shows, and terebi is partly responsible for my growing Japanese vocabulary. But there is a lot of ridiculous stuff, too.

Take, for example, the news about pop star Sakai Noriko being arrested for drug possession this week. (This BBC article writes her name the Western way, i.e. family name last. I'll write it Japanese style.) Sakai was a popular singer back in the late 1980s, in her teens, and then later added acting to her repertoire.

I tried to think who from the U.S. I could compare her to, but that would be impossible. Sakai was one of the many "idols" (aidoru) that were popular in the 1980s. "Idols" were female singers around 16 or 17 years old. They had carefully-manufactured girl-next-door images, meaning "cute". Everything about them was cute: their costumes (bows in their hair, fluffy lace dresses on stage), what they ate (no matter the idol, they always ate strawberry shortcake), even the way they held microphones in press conferences (with both hands).

Apparently, Sakai Noriko is more famous than most aidoru. She seems to be some kind of superstar not only in Japan, but in other Asian countries like China, Taiwan, and Malaysia. I never heard of her before this week, but my wife knew exactly who she was when she saw her on the news. You can imagine the shock around Japan when Sakai turned herself into the police. The story has been big for the media here.

Anyway, back to my rant. I was watching the news yesterday, and they were talking about Sakai. They showed some video footage of Sakai as a DJ at a night club. They also showed shots of the small tattoo on her ankle.

The message was loud and clear: "No wonder Sakai Noriko was doing drugs! She has a tattoo, and she DJed at a club!"

I burst out laughing when I saw that.

People in Japan, watch out. If you have two turntables, headphones and some vinyl records, you may be labeled a drug user. If you have a tattoo, they might think you're doing cocaine.

Reviving the blog... once again

There's really no excuse.

Yeah, since my new job started in April I've hardly had any time to work on my blog (and believe me: with the way I want my blog to be done, it comes close to work). I spend more hours at work than my previous job. At home, my wife dominates the computer, spending hours looking for travel deals and ways to get frequent flyer miles. (Where would I be without my honey?)

So what this means is that it's hard to write regular blog posts. But that shouldn't be an excuse. I'm sure I can do at least one post a week if I put my mind to it.

I haven't been completely out of the World Wide Web since April. A few months ago, I decided to try Facebook. Through that I've been able to contact people from college and high school - people I haven't spoken to for years. That's a good thing. The problem is that Facebook isn't so good for writing the long posts I need to write every now and then.

And this Mafia Wars thing on Facebook... I still don't get it.

I'm not giving up on Facebook just yet. But I will spend less time there and more time working on my blog.

31 May 2009

Life In the Happy Lane

Before I begin, I must apologize about the long hiatus. I've spent the last couple of months getting used to my new job, which I'll talk about in a moment. The new job means I have less time on the computer, which means I've had to prioritize other things over this blog. From this point in time, I'm going to try to dedicate more time towards this blog, but we'll see what happens.

My new job is going well so far. I now work for the prefectural government board of education as a native-speaking English teacher (as differentiated from regular English teachers, who are all non-native-speaking Japanese). I teach at a school in the southern part of Osaka prefecture.

Before I started work there, my predecessor gave me a sort of "transition call" to explain about the school. He said the kids were downright terrible, and the teachers just go through the motions. That scared me a bit; it reminded me of my time at a similar school a few years ago. However, once I started working there and teaching classes, I began to think that my predecessor was wrong, or at least the school wasn't a good fit for him. It certainly seems to be a good fit for me so far.

How is it different from the school from a few years ago? First, I have my own classroom - a "language lab", they call it, complete with a computer system, projector, sound system and monitors for all the students. I don't have to go to the homerooms and wade through hair curlers or manga. Second, at this school the students actually call me by my own name! At the old school, they called me anything but my name. Third, while the teachers do have a hard time with some students, overall there isn't the depression and sullenness that was prevalent among the staff at the old school. The teachers at the new school are friendly, bright and generally happy.

The students themselves are quite friendly. When I see them on the train or in the hallways of the school, they greet me and usually chat a little bit - usually in Japanese, but sometimes in English. I can't say that about the old school; the only time the students talked to me was when they were making fun of me.

That said, the educational level of the school is quite low, and it will be a struggle to get them to learn any useful English for communication. But so far I'm off to a good start.

22 March 2009

Moving On To Another Job

Starting in April, I will have a new job. I will work full-time as a senior high school assistant language teacher.

For the past five years, I've worked for the outsourcing division of a well-known foreign language teaching company in Japan. I had a hybrid job; half the week I was teaching at public and private schools, and the other half was spent working in the personnel department of the outsourcing division. I enjoyed most of those five years. I enjoyed both teaching and personnel work.

However, I think it's about time for a change. I still like teaching, despite the various troublemakers I've had in my classes over the years. Personnel work, however, has started to affect me, I think. Personnel work is always stressful, but I think I'm becoming less tolerant of stressful situations. Maybe getting into teaching full-time will help me out... I'm hoping.

Anyway, I'm excited about my new position, and I hope it works out for me. I'll keep you updated.

14 March 2009

Walk like an Egyptian...

Me with some buddies on the wall at the Luxor in Las Vegas. (December 2008)
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Start spreading the news...

A shot of New York New York in Las Vegas. It does look a bit like the real city. (December 2008)
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Ca va?

I'm standing next to a scale model of the Arc de Triomphe at the Paris Las Vegas. One day, I hope to stand next to the real thing.
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At the base of the Paris Las Vegas. (December 2008)
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This is me after tasting some really sweet cake at the Bellagio Buffet. (December 2008) Having lived in Japan several years, I don't have the tolerance for sweet American dessert anymore. The cake in Japan has far less sugar, and you'd be lucky to find cake in Japan with frosting on top.
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A glimpse of the fountain show in front of the Bellagio in Las Vegas. (December 2008)
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10 March 2009

What are you looking at?

It's a fact of life in Japan: if you are a non-Asian foreigner living here, Japanese people are going to stare at you. It's something that you can't change, and it's something that you have to live with if you plan on living here a long time, like I am.

I have to admit, it bothered me a couple of years ago. Nowadays, I don't let it bother me. The same can't be said for my wife, who is Japanese. Whenever we go out together, there will be at least one person we pass by on the street or see on the train that is staring at me. My wife will get upset, make an angry face, and stare back at the person, who quickly looks away! It's nice to have people stand up for you, isn't it?

Back when I was in elementary school in Alabama, there were a few times when a white boy or girl would stare at a black classmate. The black kid would say, "What are you looking at? You act like you ain't never seen a black person before!" To which the white kid would say, "Sorry." I thought at the time, I gotta use that if that ever happens to me.

But here in Japan, where 98 percent of the population is ethnically Japanese, that doesn't quite work. Imagine:

ME: What are you looking at? You act like you've never seen a black man before.
JAPANESE PERSON: Well... I haven't.
ME: Oh.

Just taking it in stride, man, just taking it in stride.

11 January 2009

Freezing Las Vegas

This is me in the courtyard at the Flamingo before heading out to the Strip on Christmas Eve 2008. Look at what I'm wearing; that should tell you how cold it was that day. Even that wasn't enough; I needed a bigger coat and some longer undergarments. It was freezing!
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Disappointments - '08-09 U.S. Trip Pt. 2

We woke up late on Christmas Eve, still a bit tired from the previous day's travel. Our excitement increased, however, after we took a look at the view from our hotel room in daylight for the first time. What a view! (Picture to the left.) We couldn't wait to explore Vegas.

We went downstairs to the courtyard of the Flamingo. It quickly became obvious to us that it was freezing cold. The night before, the hotel employee who checked us in told us that a few days ago there was actually snow in Las Vegas... snow!!! It was hard to believe. Also, we watched the weather forecast on TV before heading out, and it said it would be around 42 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius). But down in the courtyard, it felt more like 32 degrees (0 Celsius) with the wind factored in. The cold didn't seem to bother the hotel's namesakes (pictured left). It bothered me, though; I had my fleece jacket, knit cap and gloves that I usually wore in Osaka, but even that didn't seem to be enough.

The cold would remain with us the whole time we were in Las Vegas, which was the first disappointment of the trip (certainly not the last!). We left Osaka to go somewhere warm and comfortable, and we thought our U.S. trip in California and Nevada would provide that. But nope - it was actually colder in Vegas than it was in Osaka when we left. My image of Vegas as a hot desert area was out the door for good.

After perusing the Flamingo courtyard, we first headed to the Venetian, where we planned to ride the gondola there, but changed our mind at the last minute, in part thanks to the $13 price tag. (I'd rather save my money for the real ones in Venice, Italy.) Still, the hotel itself and the shopping areas were beautiful and luxurious.

After that, we were hungry, so we headed to the Bellagio for lunch at their buffet, which we heard was the Strip's best. I was shocked at how long the line was to go in - on Christmas Eve! And they had special holiday rates: $35 per person, compared with the usual $25 lunch price. Two more disappointments. However, the food was very good, and so was the service. You could say that it was worth it. They had a nice assortment of dishes. I enjoyed the meat, salad and some of the side dishes, while my wife enjoyed the crab legs and sushi.

We had plans for after the Bellagio, such as looking around at more casinos, enjoying some of the free shows, and perhaps doing some shopping. But after lunch, we felt too tired. Our bodies had not yet recovered from the long plane ride and subsequent car ride. So we just went back to the Flamingo and slept most of the afternoon.

We woke up around 5 P.M. or so, as Vegas turned dark. After eating instant ramen in our room (we brought a bunch of the stuff with us, along with a portable hot water boiler, to save money), we headed back to the Bellagio to watch "O", one of a few Cirque du Soleil shows in Las Vegas. The title refers to water, which in French is eau, pronounced like the 15th letter of the alphabet. The acrobats did their performances mostly over a pool of water (sometimes they performed in the water). It was a good show - the performances were daring and exciting at times. However, the tickets were $150 a pop, and we felt that the show was not good enough to justify the price. We left somewhat entertained but a bit disappointed.

After "O", we started to (again) feel tired and sleepy, so we called it a night and returned to the Flamingo, hoping to rest enough so that tomorrow we wouldn't sleep most of the day again.

Beginning of a Long Vacation - '08-09 U.S. Trip Pt. 1

In late December and early January my wife and I took a nice 12-night, 14-day vacation that took us to two countries, three states, and a number of cities, primarily Las Vegas, San Diego, and Los Angeles. It was the longest vacation that the two of us have ever taken together, even longer than our honeymoon to the Maldives in 2007.

While I was looking forward to the vacation, I was not looking forward to the first day of the trip, which involved me driving us from Los Angeles to Las Vegas immediately after flying from Japan to the U.S.

We flew from Osaka Airport, a.k.a Itami (the smaller airport in the Osaka area), to Narita International near Tokyo to transfer onto a flight from there to Los Angeles. The Japan Airlines airplane from Osaka to Tokyo had our hopes up for a comfortable airplane ride. The plane was large for a one-hour flight; it was a Boeing 747, I believe. The coach seats had a lot of leg room, comfortable seats with moveable headrests, and foot rests. Very comfortable. First class must have been heaven! We were thinking, if the airplane to Tokyo is this comfortable, the airplane from Tokyo to Los Angeles must be really good.

We were wrong. The seats on the second flight were cramped, somewhat uncomfortable, and the seats had no foot rests. So much for a comfortable airplane ride to the U.S. I brought a lot of stuff to help me get some sleep on the airplane: neck pillow, eye cover, earplugs, among other things. But I just couldn't sleep. I can never sleep on airplanes. So when we arrived at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), I was tired and sleepy - not exactly the state you want to be in when you have to drive six hours.

After getting the rental car, we departed LAX. I was happy that I could drive on the right side of the road without really thinking about it. However, I got lost trying to get to the freeway. Before the trip, I got driving instructions using Google Maps. But I had instructions from LAX to Vegas, not from Dollar Rent-A-Car, which was a few blocks away from the airport.

We spent maybe 30 minutes trying to find the freeway that runs right by the airport. Once we found it, we had to contend with massive traffic in the Los Angeles area, and that was around 11 A.M.! It took an hour for us to drive to the other side of L.A., where we stopped at a Wal-Mart to do a bit of shopping.

My wife and I always make it a point to stop over at Wal-Mart whenever we travel to the U.S. We can buy a lot of American foods and goods to take back to Japan, and at reasonable prices. During this Wal-Mart stop, though, we bought sandwiches, a salad and fried chicken from the deli for lunch, a lot of bottled water for our travels, and a six-pack of Coca-Cola for me to stay awake during the drive to Vegas.

And I definitely needed that Coke as we drove up I-15 through the California desert. I had to do all I could to stay awake. We had the radio blasting, and I sang along. I was drinking sips of Coke every opportunity I got. My wife would speak to me with a loud voice. It was difficult, but we made it to Las Vegas sometime before 8 P.M.

It was amazing to see the lights of the Strip, the place I had heard so much about ever since I was a kid. We saw the MGM Grand, New York New York, the Bellagio, and Caesars Palace as we drove up to the Flamingo - our home for the next five nights. We checked into our room, and the only thing we did before quickly going to bed was take a good view of the north Strip from the window. It was beautiful - we had a great view of the Mirage, Treasure Island, Harrah's, and the Venetian, not to mention the Stratosphere in the background. A relaxing way to end a tough and busy day.

01 December 2008

Biking in Kyoto - Part II

Here's a shot of some beautiful yellow and red and green leaves. The scenery was indeed nice.

And here's more leaves for you.

After Nanzenji we decided to ride over to Heian Jingu, which was nearby. The red shrine is a beautiful place.

Here's another part of Heian Jingu.