Monday, December 29, 2008

My Balcony Garden

I am proud of my garden. I've put a lot of work into it. All 15 planters were scavenged from beach combing trips and the soil was scraped off the forest floor using a clam shell. I didn't make my own seeds, unfortunately.

[counter-clockwise: cilantro, carrots, broccoli (?) and lettuce, carrots, planted lettuce(2), tomatoes(2)]

[cilantro, head lettuce, not yet planted, cilantro, lettuce, planted lettuce, lettuce]

I planted cilantro twice unsuccessfully before giving it one more shot. I put it in three planters, hoping one would work. All three worked. Now I have a TON of cilantro. Ideas?

[Red Sails and Romaine lettuce, just-sprouted Oakleaf lettuce, unknown lettuce]

[rainwater collection and compost]

Running Log 12/22-12/28

12/22 6:02am 5k 27.00.7
12/23 7:25am 14k 1:09.52
12/24 5:56am 6k 35.01.6
12/25 6:10am 2k + 5x300m hills 1:53.9, 1:51, 1:58, 1:55.2, one missing
12/26 off
12/27 7:55am 14k(race pace) 1:05.13
12/28 7:06am 31k 2:42.49

Total: 75k

Monday's 5k was two-tenths of a second faster than the same course a week ago!
Sunday's long run (31k) was a struggle for my right knee from 6-14k. I nearly stopped at 13k when I was back at my apartment. It was really hard and a not fun running day. An "am I going to do this again next year?" day.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Winter Planting Season

Crops are grown between October and March in Okinawa. The weather is cooler, the bugs are down, and it rains. I didn't catch on last year until about February, so my garden wasn't immensely productive. This year, as you'll see in my next blog post, my garden is doing much better.

[The flats around Furuzamami Beach]

The old people of the island are up just a little bit later than me each morning, working from dawn until early afternoon in their garden plots.

[That's the school over there]

I am inspired by the sustainability of the older residents who farm. They do all the work by hand. I haven't yet seen a rototiller or tractor at work. And they provide themselves with their own vegetables for about six months of the year, plus they sell the excess. This eliminates much of their living expense, leaving them only with utilities, maybe health-care co-pays, and the food they can't grow (or that's what it would leave me with if I was old, minus the health part).

Many of the pensions/hotels wisely have their own plots. The others buy vegetables from the old people. Last year I tried hard to organize a baked bread barter with somebody who was growing, but most people already had obligations for their crops. Though usually my requests for an exchange just resulted in the other person giving me a huge quantity of potatoes and onions for free. I plan to implement this strategy again this winter.

I like walking past this garden plot because it's the only one in Zamami that my garden beats (in progress, not area).

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Pig Party

[the irony here did not escape me]

Zamami's annual Christmas Pig Party was last night. I've been looking forward to it since last year, when they gave away two round-trip passenger ferry tickets to Naha as first prize in the costume contest. That's about $100 value. I've had my eyes set on the 8-year-old girl who won in a princess costume. My goal, of course, was to take her down.

When I was in America in October I swiped a bunch of wrapping paper from my mom's collection. Last month in Naha I got a couple Christmasy items from the 100yen store. This week I went to the local store to get some big boxes and found out later those kanji signs that were on the boxes... were the names of the people the boxes were reserved for. Whoops.

I did well with limited time and had a pretty convincing victory. The prize was downgraded to one passenger ferry ticket this year, but that was just a bonus. It was so much fun having a homemade costume that everybody wanted in their photograph. Good times!

[How many of the seven French maids can you find?]

Monday, December 22, 2008


Nobody from Geruma showed up at the Aka port this morning to pick me up. My JTE keeps track of how many times I am forgotten, I think this is seven. Sometimes they remember and get me while I am walking the 30 minutes it takes. Today I made it all the way.

[I saw this spotted eagle ray from the bridge - the second I've seen from that bridge and third total. Really cool considering they aren't very common.]

When I arrived, the school was closed. The "hooray!" feeling would be stronger if I had only invested the four-minute walk to Zamami school. But going to Geruma requires planning my morning (5:3oam wake up to run) around catching the 7:45am boat. Then, as in today's case, walking to Geruma. The next return boat was 12:15, which meant half my day "off" (it was a comp holiday for Saturday's culture presentation, which I attended - it's just nobody remembered to tell me we got a day off) was me being stranded.

I wasn't about to feel sorry for myself (well, not longer than 30 minutes), so I opted to do some much overdue Geruma exploration. I followed a road up, not expecting anything, but was pleasantly surprised to find a trail around the highest knob on the island.

[This trail, previously unknown, offered great views of Aka (foreground) and Zamami (backround, right)]

I saw three of the little black Kerama deer and also discovered a lime tree. I call them limes, Okinawans call them something else. But I grabbed a dozen, leaving many hundreds still on the tree.

I probably had a better day with a spontaneous schedule than I would have if I'd spent it on Zamami. (But that doesn't mean I'm not going to give the Geruma teacher a guilt trip.)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Solstice

Happy winter solstice! Today is the shortest day of the year, the first day of winter, and, as my friend Gordon says, the best day of the year because it only gets better from here.

It was a beautiful day here - sunny, warm, and calm. I ran 19k, then wore sunglasses while I ate breakfast on my balcony.

After talking to my parents for 1.5 hours I decided to make a long overdue kayak trip for some beach combing. I was specifically looking for one or two new planters (fishing crates) as well as a couple long 4x4's. I scored on both fronts on the NW beaches of Aka. The 4x4's will be used to raise half my planters about 5-6" to gain them some more sunlight. I also filled up two two-liter bottles with 'away from shore' saltwater for my salt-making operation.

And the sunset on the shortest day of the year:

Running Log 12/15-12/21

12/15 5:59am 5k 27.00.9
12/16 5:25am 14k 1:12.04
12/17 watch malfunction: 6k
12/18 5:49am 6x800m 3:10, 3:06, 3:03, 3:05, 3:04
12/19 off
12/20 7:40am 14k, race pace 1:04.08
12/21 7:41am 19k, easy 1:39.57

Total: 63k

On Saturday I passed the third runner I have seen since August. This week I began feeling noticeably stronger. My times are faster, as is my recovery. My body is strong and my mindset is replacing 'finish' with 'finish fast.'
This is a step-back week, as you can see by the mere 19k today. Next week will build and in two weeks I'll do my first of three 30k+ runs before the Okinawa City Marathon. Nine more weeks!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Curriculum

I'm not much of a holiday celebrator, but Christmas provides a great reason to shake up the usual curriculum. I did essentially the same lesson with slight variations for differing elementary grades: we made snowflakes and a Christmas card. In kindergarten we made Christmas trees.

In one of my junior high classes we had the kids write letters to Santa. Something interesting happened: nobody requested anything from Santa. As I was reading the letters, I kept asking the kids, "but what do you want?" I was on the verge of responding to the puzzled looks when I realized it would be better if I kept that consumerist tradition to myself.

[The Zamami kindergarteners aren't allowed to get their glue until they have a piece of newspaper in hand]

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Business Opportunity

When I arrived in Japan I think the huge fad that was Billy's Boot Camp (a workout video) was tapering off.

Today I was talking to our new Zamami kindergarten teacher, who I've known for two months. Somehow running came up, because it always comes up, and I may have mentioned how far I ran this morning. She said, "I've heard about you!" (In the way you'd say to someone when meeting them for the first time.)

Here's how the conversation played out:

her: You're crazy, aren't you?
me: Uhh, how so?

I heard you did Billy's Bush Camp!
Eh? What is Billy's Bush Camp?

You go camping, too, right?
Yes, how do you know?

Didn't you, like, eat things, too?
[She makes a cutting motion on her arm.]
Wait! Do you mean hunting?


Monday, December 15, 2008


We had a big rain recently. I live next to the mouth of the small river that flows through Zamami. After only ten minutes of rain I was amazed at how quickly the water hit the ground, collected into streamulets (I made that up, didn't I?), grabbed some dirt, and flowed out into the ocean.

[after only 10 minutes!]

[20 minutes, the ocean is not a willing mixer]

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Running Log 12/9 - 12/14

12/8 off - returning from Naha
12/9 5:24am 13k 1:06.03
12/10 5:41am 8k 43.33.3
12/11 5:42am 9k 43.16.0 (tempo - 15' slow/15' fast/10' slow)
12/12 off
12/13 7:50am 13k 1:01.32 (just slower than marathon pace)
12/14 6:58am 27k 2:21.31 (30-60 sec./km slower than marathon pace)

Total: 70k

Nothing much to note this week. Right knee and left ankle have been acting up. I've changed from stretching before my workout to doing a 1k super-slow warmup run. Marathon is 10 weeks away.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Work Ethic vs. Family Ethic

Today the Geruma English teacher, Ayano, became an aunt.

It started this morning before school when she told me that her mom had called and asked Ayano to try to get to Naha because her sister-in-law was in the hospital. Of course Ayano couldn't because she has to work. But apparently the reason her mom asked is because Ayano's brother - the husband - couldn't go either! Today was a week early. The husband planned long ago to take his nenkyuu (vacation) next week. (And the parents live on Kume Island, which is twice as far away as Zamami/Geruma.)

In Japan vacation time works differently than in America. A worker has to request the time months ahead, without exception (it is clear to nobody why this is a strict rule, it's just how it's done). And sick time, although allotted, is only used in dire circumstances (being in the hospital is requisite). Since the husband didn't request today off months ago he couldn't attend the birth of his first child.

So his wife gave birth alone.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Me on NPR (Audio Version)

Thanks to my friend Wren for pointing out that the audio of my letter being read on-air exists here. Go listen!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Me on NPR

If you were listening to NPR’s All Things Considered last Thursday evening, you might have heard Melissa Block read a letter I wrote about a story they did on a buffalo hunter in Alaska. In brief, the story was about a man, Steven Rinella, who did a lot of research on the bison and ended up winning a lottery to hunt one in Alaska. He wrote a book about the experience and then did a little story on NPR.

Here was my letter:

As a hunter who sometimes struggles to explain the deeper elements of a hunt, I really enjoyed your story about Steven Rinella in Alaska. Hunting, to most of us who do it, is far beyond just shooting and killing. For me, it’s about knowing where my food comes from, being a witness or participant in the process of death, developing close family relationships, and, as your speaker noted, finding a connection to the history that is both my ancestors’ means of survival and the animals’ cultural relevance.

Running Log 12/2 – 12/8

12/2 5:22am 13k ~1:07 (stopwatch malfunction)
12/3 5:49am 8k 43.14.3
12/4 5:56am 5 x ~300m hill sprints 1.51.9, 1.47.1, 1.47.7, 1.48.6, 1.50.4
12/5 off
12/6 6:54am 13k marathon race pace 58:43.4
12/7 off due to Japanese test
12/8 off (still in Naha)

Total: 37k

Check out that 58:43 13k on Saturday. If only I can hold that pace (I can’t) for another 29k I’ll post a goal-breaking marathon time.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Yen Carry Trade

You may have only noticed this if you work in Japan, but the yen-to-dollar exchange rate has changed drastically in the last year. When I first arrived in Japan, 16 months ago, it would take about 120 yen to get 1 US dollar. Today it only takes 93 yen to get 1 dollar. I am paid in yen and my salary hasn’t changed, which means I’ve received a handsome raise without a promotion. If I sent home 10,000 yen in August of 2007, it would get me $84. Now 10,000 yen is worth $107. That’s a 28% difference.

I hadn’t thought much about why the yen was gaining so quickly on the dollar (after all, both economies are tanking, so why the disparity?) until I received a Wall Street Journal article last month from my friend, Gordon. It detailed the yen carry trade, which is something I’ve done a bit more research on. This is how it works:

Japan’s government offers super-low interest rates, like 0-.5%. So a lot of big-time investors borrow (sell) tons of yen, then exchange and invest it into a country that pays higher rates. Often this happens with countries known as the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) because they are growing fast and in need of investment money, thus they pay high interest rates. But some investors simply invest the money in U.S. treasury bills, which usually offer a rate in the 3-5% range.

But the economies of many countries are suddenly troubled, which means the big investors are getting really nervous. They’re now ‘unwinding their positions’ in both the invested country and Japan. They’re divesting their money in growing nations because it’s no longer safe, then they’re buying back yen to cover their loans. So a lot of people are buying a lot of yen. Yen is in demand. And it’s getting more expensive for outsiders.

And to that I say, "Keep it up!"

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dressing Up Hair

If you're a guy headed to a formal event in Japan, take note of what you should do with your hair:

Monday, December 1, 2008

Running Log 11/24-11/30

11/24 off
11/25 5:53am 8k 42.53.2
11/26 5:20am 13k 1:06.19
11/27 5:42am 5 x ~300m hill sprints 1:58.2, 1:47.5, 1:52.1, 1:49.9, 1:48.1
11/28 off
11/29 8:31am 11k 51.17.8
11/30 7:49am 16k 1:23.34

Total: 51k

I did some research on different training plans this week, keeping in mind that I need to incorporate some short distance sprints. I found many links to a guy named Hal Higdon. At his website I found tons of training plans and settled on his Advanced 1 plan. My new weekly day off will be Friday, followed by a marathon race pace run on Saturday and a longer, slower run on Sunday.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Japanese Wedding

Last night I attended my first Japanese wedding. It was on Zamami between two people who have lived here awhile, but are from the Japanese mainland. I didn’t know either of them especially well, but I was really happy to be extended an invitation.

One of the coolest parts for me was seeing all the young people of Zamami dressed up. It’s ordinarily a crowd who is clad in surf attire, or whatever they can find on the floor. There was an amusing mix of people who could count on one hand the number of times they’ve worn high heels or a suit (and hence were getting help with their ties at the event) and those who had a solid sense of fashion. I grouped myself on the conservative side of the latter group (I really wished I’d brought back my pink-and-blue tie from America). I’ve had plenty of suit-wearing experience and feel pretty comfortable dressing up.

The event went like this: (1)opening speech by the emcee (2)‘reveal’ of the couple (3) something with the parents (4) eating, watching performances by a Ryukyu (traditional Okinawan) dance, hula, and taiko drumming (5) humorous skits that were intended for people who speak Japanese (6) bride and groom go change then come out and light candles on each table then cut the cake (7) bride and groom give speeches to their parents – everybody cries (8) bride and groom’s best friends give speeches and everybody continues crying (I even felt like crying, but I didn’t know why) (9) bride and groom take gifts, which, as far as I could tell, were envelopes with money (10) bride, groom, and parents leave the room and greet us all on our way out, then give us a gift (cookies).

This was neither a traditional Japanese nor Okinawan ceremony. They were actually officially married a year ago and this was just the public ceremony. The bride and groom didn’t dress in any traditional Japanese clothing – only western attire. The event was low-key, which is why it was on Zamami. As I understand it, usually weddings are held in fancy hotels with fancy food. Our food was.. um, um… the same food that is at every event on Zamami. But something terrible happened yesterday that no doubt drastically affected some elements of the wedding: the ferries from Naha were all canceled due to high winds. I suspect they had a significant order of food and flowers coming out that were stuck in Naha.

[the groom had to come up and learn hula and sing a song with the band and do taiko, which is something he's good at]

There were two notable differences for me between this and an American wedding: (1) I paid ~$50 to attend. Everybody pays an 'entry fee' to help cover the cost of the wedding. I think it’s a great idea as it both relieves expenses from a young, poor couple and replaces wedding gifts. (2) The bride and groom didn’t do a ‘first dance’ nor did they kiss.

There was an after-party at a little karaoke place and the crowd chanted for them to kiss. She was not about to do this publicly so we had to settle for him kissing her on the cheek. One other interesting tidbit that I found out at the after-party: the bride is four months pregnant! It wasn't a secret, just not something I would pick up on.

[this is kind of an awesomely timed picture: they were lighting the candle at our table while people were pulling those little exploding streamer things]

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Engrish Shirt #11

[This only qualifies as an Engrish shirt because he didn't know what it said. Otherwise, perfect English!]

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Belated Birthday Present

My good friend Erin is in the Peace Corps in South Africa. She sent me a pretty awesome birthday present on August 20, timed just right so I’d receive it 11 days later on my birthday. But it never came. A writeoff to a corrupt mail system (hers) and a huge bummer. Now I know why she was so disappointed. Exactly three months to the day I finally received the card (no apologies or explanations). Inside was the infamous Horsie card, which my mom gave me on my birthday a few years back. I regifted it to Erin two years ago and she reregifted it back this year. Along with 5 billion dollars. Yes, 5 billion. From Zimbabwe. They expire on December 31st. The horsie card and 5 billion dollars: this is the best November birthday of my life.

Running Log 11/17-30

This week was off! That’s the present I get for running a marathon last week.

Now begins the second phase of winter training: the Okinawa City Marathon on February 22nd. Although I am going to Tokyo this year, Okinawa City is my primary focus. The first goal is to beat last year’s time (3:21) and my second goal is a 3:10. That’s a lot to ask and I am more aware of the challenge after putting forth a semi-heroic effort in last week’s 3:39. Cutting a half-hour is only possible on paper right now. I can’t envision how it will happen, but I trust there is a way (other people do it, right?). It’s not as simple as just running faster. There need to be some tweaks to my training plan that I don’t want to guess at so I’ll be doing some research and asking better runners than me for advice. Only 13 weeks to go! (I figure I’m in about the same place I was a year ago at this time, when I ran the Naha Marathon 3 weeks later and 5 minutes faster than last week’s marathon.)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Where Do I Get My Food?

I have three sources: our smallish store on Zamami, ordering from Naha, and going to Naha. I also grow or make a significant portion of my food.

For most things, I order them from a Naha store called the Co-op. I think this is more a name than a store model that resembles what we Westerners know as cooperatives. It's a real supermarket in Naha that distributes a weekly catalog to people living on the islands. Every Thursday I go online and submit my item numbers and quantities, get the order confirmation, then get that food the next Thursday. A generous woman I work with at the Board of Education picks up the food from the ferry at noon and brings it back to the BoE, where I get it after school.

[the catalog is about 30 pages long]

The Co-op prices are usually in between what I would pay at Zamami's store and Naha, plus I pay a 2% delivery charge (but that sneaky Co-op charges more in the catalog than in their store for the same products!). For all items that are similarly priced, I buy from the Zamami store to support them. There are a select few items that I buy in Naha when I'm there (olive oil, honey, tea).

[$88 worth of groceries]

I placed my order two weeks ago and was surprised last week when I went to get the food but nothing was there. Apparently the order didn't go through. But yesterday, I found out it did go through. After the deadline. Somehow I just missed it. Which meant that this past week I had two orders in - one intentional and one unintentional. So all those order numbers from the previous week's late order bought me $44 worth of surprise groceries. I ended up with tons of tomatoes, tiny orders of onions, 5 bags of tempura batter (instead of flour), fancy little cheeses, individual yogurt (I would never buy this because of all the packaging), mayonnaise, and two refrigerated items that I couldn't identify. I gave them away. It all made for a good laugh.

One interesting note is that when I enter in my numbers there is a confirmation screen where I can see what I have ordered, but most things are written in kanji I don't know. So if I could read kanji I could've prevented this, but... this is the joy of living in a foreign country!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Meaghan Pimsler, Licensed Kickboxer

[Sorry the pictures aren't great - the lighting and ring ropes made exposure and focus difficult.]

On Sunday my friend Vaughn and I decided to finish off the best weekend of the fall term by attending our other JET friend’s kickboxing fight. Meaghan had martial arts experience prior to coming to Okinawa, but joined a gym here a few months back. She had her first fight in September and, after watching the video of her knockout, I was really intrigued and hoped to attend the next match.

Vaughn and I fortunately arrived at the somewhat sketchy facility just after the doors opened. We got great general admission seats and sat through all sorts of interesting fights, saving our cheering for Meaghan, whose fight was the last before the Double Main Event (which was freakin’ awesome). Two-thirds of the crowd was military and they really got behind the white guy in each of the fights (they all happened to be American vs. Japanese). But they really got behind Meaghan.

[Meaghan was around 150lbs. a year ago; she had to get down to 114 for this fight]

Meaghan appeared to be winning, but, short of a knockout, neither Vaughn nor I know much about how fights are judged. At the end, the announcer read two of the three judges’ scores and Meaghan took them both, giving her the win.

[the extent of Meaghan's post-fight celebration]

I haven’t gotten the details from her since the fight, but she told me last Thursday that if she won she would get her professional Japanese kickboxing license (there were apparently people in the crowd who came down from the mainland to observe her for this). The next step would be to have the organizing body fly a mainland fighter down to take her on in Okinawa and if she won that fight, she would then get flown to the mainland for fights. And of course she would be getting paid for all of this. How cool!

[how would you like your daughter to bring home either of these two guys? (the one on the left was a world champion from 2000-2004 in his category.)]

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Running Log 11/10-11/16

11/10 off
11/11 5:23am 13k 1:08.15
11/12 5:32am 11k 1:00.08
11/13 6:13am 6k 40.39.8
11/14 7:00am 4k 25.00.0
11/15 3:00pm 42.195km 3:39.32

Here are the watch statistics for the marathon:

heart rate average: 171
range: 71-189

time spent above 160bpm: 3:32
time spent below 140bpm: 4.50

ascent/descent: 680’
high: 138’
low: 49’

Monday, November 17, 2008

Iheya-jima Moonlight Marathon, 2008

I had written a pre-marathon post for the blog but couldn’t find internet! Essentially I listed some thoughts and expectations, including a time between 3:40 and 3:45 and that the last 10k would be exceptionally difficult because my endurance probably suffered from the three-week America trip gap.

The marathon was Saturday afternoon at 3pm. There were two of us running the full marathon, six running the half, and two just spectating. One interesting note was my friend Vaughn, who was called Saturday morning at 9am and told that our friend Emily signed up but wouldn’t be running so there was an open slot. It had been months since Vaughn had run, but he hurried across the mainland to catch the last afternoon ferry and he finished the half marathon under Emily’s name.

The start was hot. Hot enough that I thought to start slow and reserve energy until it cooled down later. But I struggled a lot in the first 15k – not with pace but with feeling good. I’d drank some electrolyte drinks that were causing me to burp and my insides just weren’t settling nicely. My pace was decent and consistent: I finished 5k in 24:22, 10k in 48:47, and 15k in 1:13. Numbers-wise, things get a little fuzzy from there, but I do remember how beautiful the course was. It was a gradual undulation around the exterior of the island all the way to the finish.

I finished 20k just under 1:40 and was a little disappointed to not see a halfway marker (km markings were an issue on this course as they only showed up every 5k), but I guessed myself to be crossing it around 1:45. From there I gradually picked off runners in front of me, passing about six people en route to the finish. It started to get dark at 6pm when I crossed the 35km marker (almost 3 hours exactly). At 36km (35km-42.195km were marked at every km) the running started to become pretty difficult. This is ordinarily a challenging part of the race, but it was slightly compounded by two respectable inclines just before the end. The top of the first incline was lined for a couple hundred meters by clear Christmas lights, which was a neat touch. (The second incline was lined with cheering spectators, an even better touch.) At 38k I began the inevitable countdown to the finish, but it’s really, really hard to say something to yourself like “only 25 more minutes of this excruciating pain.” (The answer is, of course, “isn’t 3 hours and 10 minutes enough?”)

The finish line was in a stadium with many spectators. My friends Cliff and Emily ran alongside me for the last 100m, which was really nice. I recall saying something to Cliff to the effect of “life sucks right now.” After the finish (3:39.32) I was in rough shape. The junior high school volunteers are instructed to put a medal around the runner’s neck then direct them to the drink table and over to the timing-chip-turn-in/certificate-receiving table, but I was having none of that. I grabbed my medal and wandered around for a few minutes before following instructions.

Recovery was slow. Fortunately I have run enough marathons that now I plan better for my post-race condition and what I will need. This time I wisely brought a change of clothes to the finish line, which I changed into after discovering hot showers. I learned to stick to my own food as I nearly threw up from the free beef stew – fortunately I did bring food.

I have a mixed reaction to my performance at the race. While I came in almost exactly where I predicted, I was hoping to finish a few minutes faster. But considering everything working against a good time (missing the most important 3 weeks of my training plan, a hot first hour, and an evening start), I probably did just fine. It was really hard to believe, though, that (a) I ran a 3:21 at Okinawa City nine months ago and (b) that I want to beat that time in 3.5 months.

By the way, I finished 8th overall, which is pretty cool. There were 164 marathoners, of which about 130(?) were men (my ranking is exclusive of women).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Tokyo Marathon

I just got this email:

''Congratulations! You have been selected to run the Tokyo Marathon 2009.''

This is important because it's relatively hard to get accepted. Last year they claimed to have 125,000 entries for 25,000 slots. The entrants are chosen by lottery. You really have to be thinking ahead on this marathon as lottery registration closes in mid-September and the race isn't until late March. This year the race happens to fall on a three-day weekend, too, which is great for my travel up there.

My concentration remains the Okinawa City Marathon in late February, but the possibility exists that I could be in superb shape by the end of March.

Running Log 11/3-11/9

11/3 5:26am 13k 1:12.43
11/4 5:31am 13k 1:09.04
11/5 5:33am 13k 1:09.15
11/6 5:22am 13k 1:09.47
11/7 6:06am 6k 31.44.4
11/8 6:30am 8k 41.46.1
11/9 5:37am 26k 2:14.46 (1:07.17 and 1:07.29)
Total: 92k

This was a purposely intense week, being that I have a marathon next Saturday and I hadn’t run in the previous three weeks. I ran 26k more than what the training plan called for and I felt it: my legs have been sore enough to make stairs challenging all week.
Sunday’s run was the worst of the year, weather-wise. The wind and rain were driving into the north side of my apartment as I stalled by drinking tea and stretching. But eventually I had to leave and, as is usual with terrible weather, the hardest part became the time I spent in my apartment thinking about it. The rain was only cold for the first five minutes and the wind only helped to distract me as I posted, back-to-back, the two fastest times of the year on the 13k route. I also tested a new secret (legal) supplement that I may give partial credit to, but it needs more testing.

Running Log 10/7-10/9

10/6 off
10/7 5:24am 13k 1:08.43
10/8 4:54am 17k 1:30.23
10/9 4:22am 21k 1:57.50
10/10 off
10/11 to America
Total: 61k

These were the last three runs before I left for America. It was a pretty intense 3-day schedule, all done on school days.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Poor Judgment

One of the highlights about my return from America is the presentations I get to give in my classes about the trip. I brought back pictures, videos, deer antlers, pheasant feathers, empty shotgun shells, elk teeth, and tons of Halloween candy to be used during the presentations.

I started yesterday with the 7th graders and had technology trouble so things didn’t go off very well. Then I had sixth grade and I was able to just gather them around my computer and run through the whole Powerpoint presentation.

Today the Zamami English teacher talked to me right away. She and the sixth grade teacher talked last night and concluded that there were some unacceptable elements to my presentation, namely the videos that show blood and dead animal parts.

I wish I could defend myself, but she is right. While claiming trauma in the students might be a slight overstatement, expecting the kids to go home and exclaim (boys) or complain (girls) to their parents is not. Parents might call, and if they do, it’s the Japanese English teacher who has to explain what the ‘point’ of the lesson was. Which is what she asked me this morning. I stumbled around and offered that I wanted to show my hobby and show something they won’t see in Japan (I nailed that part), but honestly I don’t know why I felt the need to show blood other than I thought it was cool.

While I do firmly believe that there is an important lesson to be learned through experiencing [animal] death, especially for those who eat meat, my English lesson in a Japanese school is probably not the best place for that. This has been a humbling lesson that I am capable of pretty poor judgment. (But just between you and me, I may skip the blood but I’ll probably show dead animal pictures on Aka and Geruma in the next two weeks – those kids aren’t so soft.)

[update: While I was typing this blog post I got talked to again and now I am not allowed to show any pictures or videos with dead animals nor am I allowed to pass anything around nor am I allowed to give out the pheasant tail feathers as prizes (which was extremely popular yesterday). Thankfully I have video of a bear and a porcupine...]

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Cold Showers

I stopped using hot water last April with the goal of making it until I left for my trip home in October. That last week at the beginning of October was starting to get a bit chilly during my morning showers, but I prevailed. Now I am back, and the water is pretty cold. A bit too cold. But I realized that I don't even know how the hot water works at my new (recall I moved in June) apartment. It's an on-demand water heater, as most in Japan are, but I couldn't get it to work.

Yesteraday I asked my supervisor and he sent a maintenance guy right away. I was curious how he was going to solve it so I watched as he tried all sorts of ideas (ideas I'd already tried) then settled on opening up a pipe and removing some sort of filter. Whatever the reasoning was, it worked! (But now I feel guilty for using hot water and the fossil fuel that is heating it.)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Returning Home

I’m back in Japan. Home. The flights were fine, I timed my plane sleep well and I feel really great.

It was a little comforting to go from the overweight, overwhite offcoming traffic in Honolulu to the waiting room for my flight to Osaka, which had 200 Japanese and four whites.

Making quick jumps between cultures offers an interesting opportunity for comparison. Something I noticed about my time in America was an unfair expectation of mine that, after spending a year in Japan and getting used to the great things about this country (public transportation, healthy food, a superb trash/recycling system, tiny cars), America would have adopted these sensible practices into its society. But of course that’s ridiculous, things don’t happen so fast - or because I want them to.

Some of the obvious ‘reverse culture shock’ experiences include visits to the grocery store and the righteousness with which many Americans regard their freedom and opinions. What’s more fun are the surprises I experience. One of those was the size of American vehicles. I knew they were big, of course, but after hearing about soaring gas prices, shrinking cars, and families in financial trouble for a year, I thought huge vehicles had magically disappeared. They haven’t. Neither, apparently, has the status one associates him or herself with regarding the car that person owns. I saw a lot of young guys driving monster trucks through cities, sometimes with trophy girlfriends leaning up against them. This attitude is just not present in Japan, where cars are seen as more utilitarian (and thus they’re smaller).

Any expectations I had of change would be slightly skewed by the fact that I spent most of my time in rural places, where I think change is a bit slower to catch on.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Colorado Hunting

This hunting thing may be hard for some of you readers to understand - particularly those who only know me from Japan. But it's something I've been accompanying my dad on since I was four years old, and I've only missed two hunting seasons since. This year I came back for three weeks to go along with my dad and his three brothers on a trip to the San Juan Mountains of SW Colorado.

I spent the first three days camping out in a remote section of wilderness that I thought might hold big bulls due to its inaccessibility. I was a little wrong, though, as people from the neighboring private property were hunting there.

I hiked back on the third afternoon and at about 4pm - still 3 miles from camp - I heard a bull bugling below the trail. I left him be and the next morning my dad and I went back in for him. He bugled just after dawn, above the trail. We circled in above him, staying downwind, then spread out 200 yards and entered the timber. My dad was in the right position and fell right into the small harem of cows and the bull. He missed his first shot, but hit the bull in the back of the neck on the second - a perfect, instant-death shot.

That day we cleaned out the bull, went back for pack frames, returned to the bull, and packed out his two rear quarters. The next day (Wednesday) I left early and went hunting a mile past my dad's bull while he and his brothers finished the packout job (and a bear had visited the remaining meat during the night). I climbed a huge ridge up to treeline at 11,200 feet amidst falling snow and a falling temperature. I didn't see a track or hear anything. At the top I had to decide whether to hunt to the right or left, so I wandered right to survey the neighboring drainage. Immediately I looked across some 600-700 yards and spotted a cow elk standing in the snow. I glassed around and found two more cows above her and a 5x5 bull in the woods behind her. After hemhawing for about 1.5 hours, I decided to see if I could get closer without them seeing me. I had to keep circling back and down to avoid the cliffs below me. Eventually I ended up on a good rock outcropping and tried my best to estimate the yardage. The bull stood up from his bed and I decided to make my move. I guessed between 400-500 yards, which is my longest shot ever (at an animal) by 300-400 yards. I aimed about 4 feet above him and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. I tried again. This time the bull ran into the woods. Then I remembered the slight up-canyon breeze. I aimed 4 feet high and guessed 4 feet back. I pulled the trigger and he sprinted out from the trees, then angled left (downhill) and stumbled off a cliff. He was dead 4-5 seconds after I shot.

[The bull was on that other hillside]

It took me 25 minutes to get to him as I had to descend the hill I was on, cross an icy creek, then go up the creek bottom he'd fallen into. I cleaned him, removed the head, kicked him off another cliff (to make packing easier later), then quartered him out and removed the prime steaks from inside and outside the ribcage along the spine. This all took three hours and I was physically dead, but I still had 5-6 miles of hiking to get back - and a head to carry along.

[The bull ran off those cliffs above me, breaking off two of his antler points in the process]

I spent the next day packing meat from the carcass down to the trail, via the creek bottom. The next day I went all the way in for the last rear quarter while my dad and brothers came in for the front quarters that I'd left on the trail. A bear had visited that night but did minimal damage.

Then today we left. So I never really got a day off. Nor did I get a shower for eight days. But I did have a heck of an adventure at 10,000+ feet. Oh.. by the way, I used a range finder Thursday day and found out my shot was 432 yards - and I hit him right threw the front shoulder which was a great (lucky) shot. The bull was at 10, 950 feet when I killed him.

[My dad and me with our bulls, plus another 6x5 skull I found in the woods]

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Back in the U.S.A.

Tonight I am in Utah en route to two weeks of elk hunting in SW Colorado.  I'm still not sleeping well and sniffling from a student-caused cold I caught two weeks ago.  But tomorrow we will reach our camp at 9000ish feet above sea level.  Friday I will head out with my backpack into a remote section of ground I have been thinking about for three years - the last time we hunted this area.  It'll likely be cold and oxygen-starved - quite different than where I was a week ago.

Early observations on my first few days back in America after being absent for 14 months:
* the cars are really big
* the girls are plastic looking
* materialism is still rampant
* consumption or waste are not on the minds of many people
* this is a car-based society (as opposed to trains in Japan)
* every town over 20,000 people is pretty much the same in its offerings
* there's a lot more support for Barack Obama than I expected - even from conservatives

I will likely be absent from the blog for awhile.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Geruma's Great English

This was my schedule on Geruma last week. During my weeks on Zamami and Aka I teach each elementary class just once. I've usually taught two of each class on Geruma as they really like to make use of the English teacher. But when the new teachers came in April the 3/4 teacher started scheduling me three times a week (I didn’t mind, she’s attractive). Then this week she went crazy and scheduled me four times in four days. And the sixth grade teacher apparently thought that was a good idea. The junior high JTE was lenient on me and didn’t schedule anything, but usually I would have two each of 8th and 9th grade classes (or junior high 2 and 3, as it's known in Japan).

The kanji you see on Wednesday and Thursday is for you-chien (kindergarten). That teacher always schedules me twice. It works, her kids know the alphabet (the three-year-olds have already picked up half of it), colors, fruits, vegetables, basic emotions, and most of the days of the week. This is why the English level on Geruma is amazing.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Geruma Undoukai

[I want to see an argument for a more beautifully-placed school in Japan(or the world).]

I wrote a few days ago about how this is a good time of year to visit, but I only cited one reason. There is also the nice weather and the chance of seeing an undoukai. Geruma’s undoukai was last weekend. This is my fifth and they’re starting to get old, so here are just some notes:

I came on the early boat (7:45am versus 10am) to help out. But instead of being thanked I was scolded by two people for showing up wearing slippers (zorries, flip-flops). I changed immediately and then questioned why it was an issue. (Because it’s sports day and you should be wearing shoes to be active.) I gave up my ground pretty quickly since nothing was to be gained, but I did need a break so I went on a walk. I was slightly annoyed because (a) I know when I need to put my shoes on to go running and (b) the teachers can be so anal about such small things! But the walk solved all of this emotional distress.

I pay close attention to gender issues. In this picture the students are lined up by class (Aka students standing behind Geruma students): j.h. third, j.h. second, sixth, fourth, third, second, first, kindergarten. There are also lines of high schoolers and adults from Geruma. In every class or group, if there is a male present, he stands at the front of the line and girls line up behind him. The only instance where a girl stands in front is if she is the only student in the class. This replicates class lists, where boys are always listed first, alphabetically, followed by girls, alphabetically. It bothers me for all the regular gender inequality reasons, but also because (a) the girls are introduced to their inferiority in kindergarten(!) and (b) the girls and women in Japan are so resigned about it.

Here are two of the better pictures of the day:

[This is a contest where old guys make ropes from grass. The winner was about 3m long in 3-4 minutes.]