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.