Sunday, December 27, 2009

Holiday, Schmoliday

Tomorrow is Allan's birthday. He'll be as old as me. It's his little joke. My birthday is in March and he has until December 28th to be younger than me. Then he mopes around being crotchety, because he's my age.
His scuba diving trip to Hayama last Saturday was a bust. He enjoyed going, but of the five who went, only two got wet. And that was short lived. The water was choppy and the visibility non-existent. Since he pulled a calf muscle playing paintball a few weeks ago, it's probably just as well he didn't try to swim in heavy currents.
... and I have been published. Well, here in blogworld, I publish myself, but I also have a photo in the Fleet and Family Services newsletter (circulation slightly less than the Miami Herald). A few of the ships in the harbor are decorated, and I photographed the USS Blue Ridge in it's holiday attire.
The Blue Ridge is the flagship of the 7th Fleet, which means that the head guy (that would be Admiral Somebody) is on the ship. Odd that he's not on the George Washington, as it's a nuclear p0wered aircraft carrier, which sounds to me like the 'Top Gun'. Oh, well, that's one more military thing I just don't get.
Like George Carlin, it's my nature to think "Why do we park on the driveway and drive on the parkway?"
I'm sure I've mentioned that the food here is fabulous dahlings. This fellow is the 'Sake Master' at a Yakatori (grilled meat) place in Yokohama. We had dinner with our friends Chris and Jumi on Monday. Just like the states, restaurants come with categories; ramen, sushi, okonomi yaki, shabu shabu, you get the picture. Chris and Allan sampled some premium sakes while we waited for Jumi, who got stuck at work. I'm sorry I didn't get a photo of the silk covered box the Sake Master brought out. He took out a white glass bottle of sake. It was like presenting a gift to the Empress.
The sake was served at room temperature in that wine glass at the bottom. And those green things on the plate next to it are grilled peppers, very mild.
On Christmas eve, it was party time at Commander Paul Brochu's house. Paul and Sheryl arrived here just days before we did, and Allan is enjoying working with him. They have a nine year old, Bailey, who's a very adverturous eater. That's an attribute for living in Japan.
Allan found a pretty girl from Ft. Lauderdale to talk to at the party. Zayra is an Occupational Health Nurse, so her office is in the same building as Allan. She was also on the ski trip we took on the 26th.
CFAY (Command Fleet Activity Yokosuka) is a unit that organizes activities for off-duty times. It's a very large part of the base and there's no end to what they have available. There's an outdoor recreation center, and these guys do it ALL, fishing, surfing, white water rafting, mountain climbing. You remember that Allan went surfing. The same guy who gave him his surfing lesson gave him his skiing lesson.
I started with the lesson, but I was holding them back (falling is soooo time consuming, and it was a 2 hour lesson). The snow wasn't as dry as Wyoming, but there were some good runs. I'd heard that the Japanese were aggressive skiers, but I didn't find that the case. There were alot of snowboarders and they are generally dangerous on any mountain.

Here's Allan inside a gondola. This is a great way to get to the top. In Japan, our tickets are 1000 yen cheaper, because we fit into the senior category. I don't know if I really want to admit that, but what the hell, I'm glad we're still able to ski!
This next little item is my lift ticket. I stuck it in my side pocket, so I had to twist sometimes to get through the gate, but Allan had a little pocket on his left sleeve, which must have been specifically for an E-ticket because it was perfectly placed for the scanner. Some of the boarders and skiers attached bands around their left sleeve for the ticket. At the end of the day, we I got 2000 yen back for returning the tickets.
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Allan snatched this hat from the Massaglia ski lodge in Wyoming. It's former owner, Andrew Massaglia, wouldn't be caught dead in it now, but I'm told when he was 8, it made him easy to find on the slopes. Now it works for my 8 year old.

QUICK LESSON - If you need to use the toilet, don't ask for the ladies' room, bathroom or the restroom. A ladies' room would be a place where men aren't allowed, a bathroom is where you bathe and if you ask for a restroom, an Asian will probably think you want to sleep. So take my advice and just ask for the toilet. This is an English word most people understand.
Here's a sign explaining how to use a western toilet. Don't face the wall and straddle it or stand up on the seat. You might need the instructions for an eastern toilet when you come, but we'll save that for another lesson.

Allan and I send our best wishes for a healthy and prosperous New Year. Be safe and we hope to see you in March.

Monday, December 14, 2009

'Tis The Season

Christmas is alive and well in Japan, albeit slightly different. It's for children and sweethearts. Families have a big New Year celebration. But Yokosuka looks like any city dressed for the season, and the lines outside the local mall Saturday morning would've rivaled Space Mountain.
On December 5th, we went to Tokyo with the Russells for the hospital holiday party. The Russells caught the train at their local station and we met up with it in Kanazawa Bunko. That plan was put together by Allan and Gene and it worked like a charm. When the doors opened, we heard Gene calling us and we hurried to their car. The best thing was accessing the hotel through the underground passage as it was cold and rainy.
We dropped the luggage with the Bell Captain, and Allan took us to his favorite restaurant in Tokyo. I gotta admit, I do like the shrimp balls, and most everything else. Allan and Gene enjoyed beer and sake. There's no rule about mixing drinks here, you start with beer and then moving on to sake (it's not pronounced saw-kee, it's sah-keh). The restaurant is Gonpachi in the Roppongi district. I took this shot. I'd say Allan, Raeni and Gene are enjoying Gonpachi.

We took our time with lunch and a little browsing in the subway shoppes. Back at our hotel, guests were gathering for a wedding which we watched from the sidelines. It was a western style affair. Because of the weather, we caught a cab to the party, which was at the New Sanno, the American military hotel. I neglected to put my ID card inside my evening bag, which was a bit of an issue. There was dinner and dancing, and I was glad we decided not to take the 2-hour bus ride from the base to the party and back.
After sleeping in and grabbing lunch in the subway, we got the train home. Even in the subway you can get a good lunch. But then we love the food here.

The following Friday was the first night of Hanukkah (Dec. 11), and we lit candles with our Friday night group at the chapel on base. We didn't have dinner with them. We had steak and pototoes at the VFW. Yes, there is an American VFW in Yokosuka, and we met several retired and former Navy enlisted that night. This gathering was Allan's dive group, called the Bubble Club. A few of the crazier ones (yes Allan) are diving this Sunday, probably in 50 degree weather.

On Saturday, we went to Atsugi Naval Base for services and a Hanukkah party with folks from other bases in the area. Atsugi is where the aircraft from the USS George Washington 'park' (above) when the ship is in port in Yokosuka. The GW is a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, and not everyone is happy about having it docked at a Japanese port. Maintaining relations with Japan is a high priority for the command here, and they seem to have worked something out regarding the ship.

The chapel at Atsugi might have been built before it was a base. Someone put a very non-ornate cross on top of a shrine or a dojo (temple of martial arts), but the inside is very 'church' looking, and there were wreaths on the doors. We used a very plain room for our little shindig and had lunch and a rowsing dreidl game.

This week and next week, I teach English at the Turtle School. I was reading a book about feudal Japan during the train ride to Kawasaki. The lead character is on her way to Kyoto, but she had gotten as far as Kawasaki. I got so engrossed, I almost missed my stop.

I taught 4th - 11th graders in seven different classes. I don't want to go to Kawasaki too much more. I hope to get some students here. I teach a Monday group on base which is military wives. They are Chinese, Thai, Ethopian and Japanese women.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sites, Sounds and Smells

I have a very intellectual blog following, a high powered attorney and two calculus geniuses. And you!
Well, let's start with sites, then we'll talk about sounds and smells.
Remember we arrived in Japan on Rosh Hashanah, so we went to services. We haven't missed a Friday night since (we have dinner out at a different restaurant every week). Our lay leader went to the states for Thanksgiving, so Allan and I hosted services and dinner on Nov. 27. As always, one person is behind the camera (that would be Mark). Seated are Hiromi, Allan, Liz and Shayna.
Here's a sight I never saw in the states, Allan is changing the oil and filter on our car. There is an auto hobby shop on the base, so anyone can work on his/her own car. It cost $3 for Allan to work this day.

Did I tell you about the trash? We take it out every day. Kitchen trash and paper on Monday, cans and bottles on Tuesday, soft plastic and recycling on Wednesday, and so on... The cardboard boxes, newspapers and magazines that make up the recyclables are tied with plastic cord.

I drive Allan to the base most mornings. This sign tells us which lane to get into to pass by the guard gate.
This is a grocery store item. We eat alot of raw fish around here. This package has tuna, salmon, whitefish, eel, salmon roe and sweet omelet (really) over rice. Yes, I stopped these guys and asked if I could take their photo. So call me a tourist.
This is where worshippers put incense. Kinda like lighting a candle for Catholics. At shrines, people drop money in a large container and pull on long cords to ring overhead bells.These little guys are at a shrine in Kamakura. I'm not sure if they're symbolic of something or not, they're just cute.Here's the dollar store, although with the current exchange rate, it's more like the $1.25 store.
If you're looking for Nirvana, it's in Japan. It's an Indian restaurant on Blue Street.
Public transportation is efficient and well run. The passes are interchangeable for buses, JR (Japan Rail), and several private rail lines. I will be taking the train to teach English in Kawasaki.
And here we are, sitting on mats on the floor in a ramen restaurant.

So there are a few sights. To enjoy sounds and smells, just get yourself a ticket and join us for some Asian experiences. See you soon.