Saturday, September 10, 2011

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Goodbye to friends

Friday night we had Thai food and said goodbye to friends that arrived in Yokosuka at the same time as us. Randy and Chris Christ headed to Seattle, so Chris could have some medical treatment that isn't done at the Yokosuka Hospital. They'll return in a few months.

Saturday night we had beach food. Our friends Capt. Rex Guinn and Capt. Treyce Knee are both retiring and settling with their two boys, Jason and Joshua in Virginia. Rex was with the JAG Corps. and Treyce is an Endocrinologist who was, of course with the Medical Corps.

We went to Zushi Beach and had tacos and beer. Two tacos and two beers for almost $40. Eek! But, we got a show. Rex recorded this with his I-phone. Click the full screen button on the lower right. The guy in front has a crystal ball and it looks like he's levitating it. Enjoy.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The General Patton Tour of Japan

I made a run to Narita Airport on August 3rd and returned with Bill and Elaine Schreiber. Over the next seven days, we saw 8 Japanese cities. They requested what we call the "General Patton Tour", up everyday at 0-dark:30, hiking with a backpack for ten hours and falling down exhausted at night. Then you get up the next day and do it all again.
Here are the Schreiber boys on the Japanese Battleship Mikasa. This day, we started at the base. It's almost 600 acres on Tokyo Bay, is homeport to 11 ships, and almost 30,000 Americans. We took a car tour, then parked and left the base on foot to exchange some money. The exchange rate is 75 yen per dollar $#*//@!! (that's me cursing). This is a real issue to those of us who live off base. Anyway, we hit the Mikasa before heading to Hase to see the big Buddha.
As is the custom, Elaine and I washed our hands and mouths prior to enter the sacred ground. And there she is with the big guy! You've seen him before, but he's pretty impressive.
Kamakura was our next stop. We had heard good things about a new Italian restaurant, but couldn't find it, so we hit the Hachimango Shrine. The others walked up to the shrine, but since it's at the top of those steps in the next photo, I haven't made it in my 5 trips to Kamakura. Actually there are about 3 times as many steps as shown.
We did see a Shinto wedding. This was lunchtime on Thursday. The Japanese calendar has good days, lucky days, unhappy days... This was definitely a good marriage day. The ceremony wasn't attended by many family members or friends. That will probably happen later, when the couple has a civil wedding or maybe just a party.
These guys sounded very oriental. Ha ha, but you know, harp and flute sounds, the gong, it's all very Asian.

We did finally stop at a ramen house Allan and I like very much. Bill and Elaine liked everything they ate during the trip. We had yakiniku, sukiyaki, sushi, tempura, bar food (tapas) and even Italian food (or the Japanese version of same).

On our way back to pick up the car, we stopped just outside the base at a pretty fancy Japanese grocery for some prepared foods, which we ate at home before going to bed early. Remember Bill and Elaine's bodies were still pretty much on New Jersey time.

So ends our time in Yokosuka, for the next few days at least. We took the bullet train to Kyoto. Apparently there's no superstition about the number 13 as that's the number of our train car.

We dropped our luggage at the hotel and went to the local mall food court for brunch.

Next was a visit to the Golden Pavillion, a Buddhist Temple which happens to be covered in gold foil.

Then off to the Imperial Palace. As Kyoto was once the capital of Japan, its Emperors would have lived there.

Have I mentioned yet that it was hot? The Schreibers have a new expression - Kyoto hot, which is not just hot beyond any other region we've experienced thus far, but so humid you can almost drink the air. We got back to the hotel to check in, shower and nap, with plans to meet at dinner time. Bill had a treat from a vending machine - a single of Chivas Regal, believe it!
Pontocho is a lovely area that I had not seen during previous visits, but now I'm sorry I missed it. We walked down an alley filled with restaurants, and we couldn't choose between them. Dinner was a great end to our day in Kyoto.
Early to rise again, we headed to Nara and the Todai-ji (temple). It's the largest wooden structure in the world, with the largest bronze Buddha. The original was 30% larger, but it burned down and this one went up in 1709.
The path from the Nara station to the temple is nice too, lots of deer. You can pet them. If you have food and don't feed them fast enough, they'll bite your ass. Oh yeah!

Here's the temple. It is big! Impressive...

After the temple, we hopped a train to Osaka. I thought we'd be exploring the town, but we only went to the Osaka Castle (above). This castle was the home of Shogun Tokugawa when William Adams landed in Japan in 1600. Of course, he was held captive by the shogun and they had a history. Thus the book by James Clavell... Shogun.

That night we headed to Gion corner for a show. We saw 5 different forms of Japanese culture and entertainment... a tea ceremony (we only saw a short part of it since the show was just an hour and the full tea ceremony is quite long), then these ladies played the koto, or Japanese harp.

These maiko were next. A maiko is a geisha in training. They are young and can be seen around Kyoto in kimono. After the maiko came a play which we understood only because we had been given a synopsis in English. Last was this puppet show. We loved this part of the trip.
Afterward we walked to Pontocho and tonight we chose sukiyaki. It was dee-licious! We needed a walk to help digest dinner, so we headed back to the cruised to the shopping area. It was bustling and we ended the night there. Well, not really. We went to the hotel.

Our Sunday was a bit more relaxed, breakfast at the train station/food court, then a visit to Sanjusangendo. It's a temple with 1001 carved Kannon - these are non-gendered Buddhist dieties. They look female, but word is they aren't boys or girls.

The larger train stations in Japan have shopping and we did some shopping at the Kyoto station prior to boarding the Shinkansen (bullet train) back to Tokyo, then switching to the train that takes us home. Allan made pizza and we took some much-needed quiet time.

As temples and shrines abound in these parts, we made a stop at the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. That's where we saw this Shinto wedding. It was still very hot back in Tokyo. We did a little walking tour of the Harajuku and Shibuya districts. There's good shopping (we picked up a few things), and it's a very nice section of town. We ate at a sushi-go-round where Allan and I had eaten with Jory Ramer during one of his visits. We enjoyed it, and in addition to sushi, Bill and Elaine tried takoyaki. Sounds like a Mexican dish, doesn't it? Well, it's a little fritter with grilled octopus inside.

Tell me you recognize this place from previous blogs. Yep, it's the Tokyo fish market. It's Tuesday. It was no accident that the fish market was scheduled on the day I was scheduled to teach English. They came home with a story about seeing and octopus gutted. What fun!

There's always another temple to see, but this one is surrounded by a pretty extensive tourist shopping area. I've picked up a few things there, I admit it.

At the end of this row of shops is the famous Senso-ji. It's probably the oldest temple in Tokyo, at least this site is the oldest. The first temple was built here around 700 A.D., and very few structures from that far back still exist. Since they are wooden, they usually succumb to fire.

So, when someone says 'Japanese tourist', what image pops into your head? A guy with a camera hanging around his neck or up to his eye...

I guess that street runs east and west.

Oops! Looks like Bill got a bad fortune. Still at the Senso-ji here. You select a paper from one of many drawers, then read the top first - if it says "Bad Fortune", tie it here and walk away, otherwise, read on. I hope Elaine got to read on.

The last thing on today's agenda was a ride through Tokyo down the Sumida River with a Japanese language tour. There are recorders with headphones if you want to pay a few yen to hear the English version.

Day 3 in Tokyo. There's really so much to see, like the currently occupied Imperial Palace. Well, you can't actually see the palace, but here's the guard house and one of the out buildings. This is the single most expensive piece of real estate on the planet.

We went shopping in Ginza, and took a trip through Mikimoto, the Harry Winston of pearls. Elaine and I made a few purchases in less expensive shops before we headed to Yokohama, about a 30 minute train ride to Queen's Tower. We paid to go to the 69th floor of the Landmark Tower. After buying our tickets, a young woman escorted us to the elevator, where another guide talked about the tower during the very fast ride to the top, where yet another guide welcomed us. Westerners are so impressed by the Japanese peoples' attitude about their job. They are immaculate in their dress and enthusiastic about their duties.

At the top, we had a drink and saw the entire city. Each large viewing window had a legend and we saw Yokosuka on the southwest side.

We headed for Chinatown (still in Yokohama) and took a quick tour. While scouting for dinner, we saw a burning building. This area is so crowded with tall buildings, a fire could spread and really cause a disaster. There was a flash straight up from the top floor, but it was short lived and 6 fire trucks showed up to handle the blaze.

The day ended with Bill and Elaine preparing for the trip home. The following morning, we drove to the base and checked in for the shuttle to the airport, then went over to Allan's office to meet his co-workers and say goodbye. I think it was a fun adventure for them and hope they have many lovely memories of their trip, including this one.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

That little ole Ume Shu maker...

Oo-meh shoo - Plum wine. I made it just a few days ago. A student gave me the recipe, and I put it together.

You need a large jar. I bought a 4 liter jar at the local home store. Then you get some plums. Japanese plums are a bit different from the ones you're used to. They're much smaller, about the size of a golf ball, quite hard, and bitter tasting.

Allan picked the plums from a tree in our yard. It wasn't quite enough, so I bought a 1 kilogram bag.

I thought I was supposed to soak the plums overnight, but that's only if you're planning to make pickles. Oops! I considered making jam with the soaked batch, then decided I'm not really a jam maker.

I bought more plums, (having ruined the first batch), mixed the other ingredients and VOILA!!!

Now I just wait 1 year - ONE YEAR!!?? Yes, that's the bad part. The good part is that I can buy it in any number of places.

So, in addition to making alcoholic beverages, I was interviewed today by two prospective students. I have a few openings I'd love to fill.

Now it's 4th of July weekend, and we will be going to a picnic. I'm ready with my 'Stars 'n' Stripes'.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Bali... Bali... Bali...

Who saw The Bucket List? Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman leave town for a last hurrah. Jack brings his Admin, who schleps an espresso machine and Jack's special blend of coffee. Yeah, you remember, so hold that thought.

Our China trip became our Bali trip shortly after some friends gave rave reviews of their trip into Indonesia. The flight was uneventful, but our luggage was strapped with security tape in Jakarta and we went through security so many times, I ran out of fingers.

Then we arrived at our villa and this was part of my welcome. Those are rose petals floating in a bubble bath. Not too shabby.

I always say that being on vacation with Allan is like marching across Europe with General Patton. He tends to be a man on a mission, so when he said this would be a relaxing vacation, I admit I was skeptical. But on our first day, not only did we not leave the villa, but a massage therapist stopped by to give me a massage and facial.

It wasn't necessary to go out for food, oh no. Our butler gave our personal chef instructions of what and when we would eat. Then our driver took us where we wanted to go. The driver was a necessity. You do NOT want to drive in Indonesia. There is no speed limit, and there are 10 motorcycles for every car, and there are three lanes of cars on a two lane road (one row drives on the center line).

This rice paddy was on the road to Tulamben, where we dove the U.S.S. Liberty. The Japanese torpedoed the ship in 1943, and when the crew couldn't pump the water out fast enough to save it, they ran it up on shore. It shifted during a volcano eruption in the 70s, and now is 40 meters offshore. We dove a wall also and went down to 30 meters, but didn't see the bottom.

On the ride back, we stopped so that Welmoad and Michel, a very interesting couple from The Netherlands could buy a small sculpture made from black stone mined at volcanoes. Good souvenir. Allan is helping them pick it out.

We saw no other Americans in Indonesia (plenty of Australians), but English was spoken everywhere. Also on the dive trip, we met a British soldier and his wife, as well as a couple from Kazahkstan.

Above is a private Hindu Temple in Ubud. I don't think you can own a temple, but I suppose you can build one next to your house. On many corners, there are small temples where people make offerings twice daily. This country is full of small cardboard trays with rice and flowers.

When I first saw these two men, I thought they were relaxing and chatting. They are in fact, hand stitching shoes. I bought three pair of shoes in Bali for under $20. Not each - three pair for under $20.

There were plenty of bargains to be had, but I never get to spend as much time as I need. Allan's an old fuddy-duddy, and he makes me stop before I've run out of money!

We found a open air restaurant, and stopped for a beer and a nosh. I just love the dress here. All the servers (male and female) wore sarong skirts. I have to have one. To go with my new Bali shoes, of course.

Bali is a poor country. The roads are full of potholes, the sidewalks are cracked, buildings are dilapidated, but I noticed that there were no old cars anywhere. All the cars on the road were very new. I suppose that very few people privately own cars, they ride motorcycles. Then we saw this - a 1963 Chevy Impala.

We just had that one day in Ubud, but if you go to Bali, it's worth a little more time.

Bali is 90% Hindu, so it's people are pacifists, unlike a lot of Indonesia, which has a larger Moslem population.

Here Allan and I are with a performer from the Barong dance, based on a Hindu story about the struggle between good and evil. The play is performed every day at 9:00 AM, so you can stop by any day. The stands were packed.

I'm happy to report that peace and order win out over chaos and evil. The band accompanied with drums and wooden flutes.

One of these (below) is the devil. Can you guess which?

After the show, we took a ride to the top of a volcano. During the ride we were pulled over by the police. We were warned that we might get stopped, but bribe money was ready. It's cheaper to pay a bribe than registration.

Close to the top, we stopped for a little roadside shopping overlooking more rice paddies. At the top, we had a buffet lunch with a great view.

There's a lake at the far side of the volcano's center. We didn't get to ride over, or take the boat across. Katut, our driver said the road was worse than average and the boat was not running.

What better way to follow lunch than with some gourmet coffee? We did that at a coffee plantation.

Ah, now the end of the story... Jack finds out the process used for making his coffee. A small animal called a luwac ingests the bean. It is marinated in the animal's digestive system and then released covered in luwac poop.

The beans are collected, cleaned and roasted in the traditional way, shown here.

After a short tour, we were given a flight of coffees (hot chocolate for me). Allan tasted several varieties other than luwac, which we purchased as gifts. And yes, he paid $35 for 100 grams (about 4 ozs.) of luwac to try at the office.

It wasn't a big hit.

We stopped here at my insistence. I had to have a picture of the furniture at this shop. I'm sure this is where I lost my glasses.

Most wooden items in Bali were carved deities, animals - mythical and otherwise, and oddly I thought, the male copulatory and urinary organ in a variety of sizes.

Another stop put us at the beach, where locals had shops selling souvenir shirts, hats, more shoes and the usual tourist stuff.

All that walking made us hungry.

This was dinner out. I like the cuisine in Indonesia, the spices and flavorings. But I got really tired of fileting my own fish. I carefully separated the bones, but most bites I ended up with at least one in my mouth. But the drinks were good!

This is Taneh Lot, a temple built on rock about 100 meters off shore. During high tide, it's surrounded by water. We visited in the afternoon, during low tide, like all the tourists.

To reach the temple, you pass dozens of... you guessed it, souvenir shops. We reached the Holy Spring, but people weren't touching the water, which surprised me a little. (Don't you need to touch it for affect?)

We couldn't walk up these steps, but we walked pretty much around the structure. Then up some steps nearby for some rest and relaxation, and some people watching.

We stayed right here until sundown to get a nice shop of the temple with the sun setting behind it. And the beer (Bientang - the local brew) wasn't bad either.

These two were interesting - monk photographers. One spent a little time doing glamour shots for a western woman in jeans and a pink shirt. Allan and I had fun speculating about that threesome.

Though we had most of our meals by the pool at the villa, we always have one dinner at a nice restaurant, so we ate outside at one called the Living Room.

The last full day we did some horseback riding. Indonesian horses are a smaller breed than we're used to, but they didn't have any trouble carrying the two big Americans along the beach on the Java Sea.

I had another massage the morning we left, this time with a body scrub and a bubble bath. It's a pretty great way to end a week in Bali. I could go back. Wanna come?