Friday, February 27, 2009

Sick Season

The winter sick season is coming to a close here and I managed to make it through unscathed. It's fairly predictable that I'll get a weak cold once a year, but I think I just missed my chance.

You may have seen video before of Asians walking the streets wearing face masks. I used to think this was for pollution (maybe it is in big cities?), then I thought it was because people were taking preventative measures against sickness (which I thought a bit ridiculous). Finally I learned that the people wearing the masks are the ones who are sick. I am flattered by the selflessness.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Tonight a fellow eisa member called to ask if I wanted some oranges (sent from her hometown) and broccoli. Of course!

I had an extra loaf of bread I made last night, so I was waiting for her with it. But she became slightly irritated (in a good way) because her intent was to return the favor of all the bread I have given her before. So she asked me to come to her house where she went through all the vegetables she's been given in the last couple days - and which she can't possibly eat - and passed half of them along to me.

[spinach, cabbage, lettuce, broccoli, and oranges]

Also, I harvested my first tomato(!) this morning before the crows could:

[It's about 2" across]

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Okinawa City Marathon Numbers

Official time: 3:28.59
Chip time: 3:28.45
Watch time: 3:28.57

Chip time at half: 1:39.28
Watch time at half: 1:39.28

Heart rate average: 169bpm (beats per minute)
Heart rate range: 148-184bpm
Time spent above 170bpm: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Time spent below 150bpm: 2 minutes, 20 seconds

Ascent: 1030' (~340m)
Descent: 960' (~315m) (changing barometric pressure explains the discrepancy)
High: 430' (~140m)
Low: 30' (~10m)

5k time breakdown
0-5k: 23.23
5-10k: 23.06
10-15k: 24.23.7
15-20k: 23.13.7
20-25k: 25.01.1
25-30k: 25.30.3
30-35k: 25.38.9
35-40k: 26.39
the last 5k (37.195-42.195k): 25.33

10k time breakdown
0-10k: 46.29
10-20k: 47.37
20-30k: 50.32
30-40k: 52.18

Half breakdown
1st half: 1:39.28
2nd half: 1: 49.31

Heart rate breakdown(cumulative average)
5k: 155bpm
10k: 160
15k: 162
20k: 164
25k: 166
30k: 167
35k: 167
40k: 169
42.195k: 169
heart rate as I crossed the finish line: 184

I think the 5k time breakdown is the best statistic. It's easy to see that a significant hill was encountered between 10k and 15k. Also, the majority of the hills come between 25k and 35k. 35k to the finish is just fatigue. If you look at the 37.195k to finish 5k time and work backwards, you'll see that I cost myself over a minute on the 35-37k section.

I spent more time than usual watching my heart rate during this race. I knew that although I was speedy during the first half, I wasn't overexerting because much of my time was spent below 160. Anything in the 150's during a marathon is really sustainable for me. I was even spending some time in the 150's after 20k, which was encouraging.

Monday, February 23, 2009

2009 Okinawa City Marathon

My knee was in pretty good shape leading up to the marathon yesterday. I was confident I'd complete it and sure I could even push myself. But I also knew that my training was not top-notch, so I couldn't be expecting a new PR (personal record).

Slept well, had as good a morning as can be expected in terms of preparations. Was at the course and checked in a little after 8am. Did minimal stretching, a lot of peeing, and was in place with 6 minutes to go. I was kinda fast last year so I was seeded high (though not in the 'elite' group) and placed closed to the start line.

Start was uneventful except I knew the pace out of the gate was a bit fast. But I didn't have a game plan for this marathon so I just went along with it. First 5k was 23:23. 10k was 46.29. I stopped looking at my watch at this point because I knew I was running fast but I also knew I was feeling good and I didn't want to overthink it by tracking my splits. I will think a marathon to death if I keep track of my pace. Instead I opted for a new strategy: run at a comfortable pace until it hurts, then keep running until the finish. This differs from my previous strategy: run at a planned pace until I expect it to hurt (32k), then fight to the finish.

The other bit to my strategy was to write down all the hills on the back of my hand: 10k, 26k, 32k, 36k, 38k. The last two were only slight 'ups' on the elevation map, but they gave me something to plan for. Fighting through the last 6-8-10k can be utter misery if your mind gets overtaken by the pain. I have found that giving myself short-term goals to occupy my mind helps a lot.

And it mostly worked. Last year's marathon was miserable for the last 8k. This year was much more doable.

I finished in 3:27.59. That's the official time. My chip time - more like my actual time - was 3:27.45. My time at the halfway point was 1:39.29. (Last year's halfway time was 1:39.21 - how's that for consistency?) I knew I was on a good pace and I thought I was in the 3:30 range, so it was a slightly pleasant surprise to be in the 3:20's. Only six minutes off my PR with what I think was a weak training season.

[You can see that desirable gray weather we had from start to finish.
It was warm, but we lacked direct sun.]

[My mind is an utter mess at this point. As is my hair.]

My friends Nancy and Eri (photo credits) were there for me at the finish, thankfully. They helped me sort out the great life challenges at that point like where to put my certificate and how to get water.

[Yaki-niku was a great, great idea (mine) for dinner. おいしかった!(delicious!)]

I'll post more detailed numbers from the race tomorrow.

Running Log 2/16-2/22

2/16 3k
2/17 3k
2/18 5k
2/19 3k
2/20 off
2/21 3k
2/22 42.195k

Bought my plane tickets to Tokyo this week. Also bought a new, way expensive ($35+!) knee brace. The old one - a neoprene 'sleeve' - stretched beyond usability in only a couple weeks.

Knee feels good. Doctors continue to be untrustworthy.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Zamami 3年生

Today I completed the coolest project I've organized since I've been here. I've been thinking of this since last year's graduation, but was unpleasantly surprised on Tuesday to find out this was my last week with the Zamami graduating class (known as 3年生, or j.h. 3rd grade, or 9th grade). The schedule shows I get them again, but it turns out I don't. I wavered, being unable to do the project to the extent I've been imagining, but decided to go forth with a cropped version.

Today fifth and sixth periods were allotted to English. We started by making brownie batter. When the brownies went in the oven it was showtime. For them at least. I'd been working on it all week and this morning made a delivery of 14 cinnamon rolls with instructions to various destinations around the village.

Each pair of students received a little envelope with an English map of Zamami inside with instructions on where to start and how to reach their destination. And off they went!

["This would be so much easier if it were in Japanese"]

Once they reached their destination, a local greeted them with a short list of English questions to which they had to respond. This was a fun way to incorporate the people in the community who either have a firm grasp of English or who enjoy practicing with me.

["I don't believe you, nobody's favorite food is natto."]

After it was all over we returned to the school just in time for the brownies to come out of the oven. And since this was our last class together, they presented me with a neat little "Thank You" board with contributions from everybody. It was really nice. I like them and will miss them.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Okinawa Newspapers

These were the front pages of the two Okinawa newspapers yesterday. Note they have the exact same picture of Hillary and Aso (and Hillary looks terrible). Slightly more important news, to both papers, was the resignation of Japan's finance minister. Aso's leadership was already shaky and his approval ratings were recently in the single digits. This didn't help.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Monday, February 16, 2009

I Don't Hate Japan

Last week I saw a Facebook status update addressing a conversation about why Sesame Street isn't shown in Japan. The reason cited was that there is an HIV positive character on the show and Japan doesn't want to advertise the existence of HIV by televising the show. (I looked online and the dubbed English version stopped airing in 2004 and a Japan-produced version started airing later that year, but nowhere did it say why.)

And more along the lines of the 'keeping foreigners out' thread, last year Japan instituted mandatory photographing and fingerprinting of any foreign national entering the country. Also last fall, according to some news reports I heard about, the Japanese legislature was contemplating a Japanese language requirement for any foreigner hoping to live here. You'd have to pass a test!

My point is, when living in a foreign country, it's easy to take note of things the host-country is doing wrong. In Palau - a developing nation - there were quite a few critiques we armchair politicians (Peace Corps Volunteers) could make regarding the decisions of the young nation.

Here, many foreigners get in their minds that Japan wants to keep bad things (disease, us) out and they look for evidence supporting this. Even if it's fourth-hand or lacks factual basis (Sesame Street is shown here).

But aside from my MIXI experience, I have not had any anti-foreigner sentiment. The closest I've come is talking to women who say they would never date an American because their parents/grandparents would forbid a marriage to anybody but a Japanese person.

But I am living in Japan. And I'm here by invitation. So there would have to be some level of hypocrisy to me making the 'Japan doesn't like foreigners' argument. (There is a lot more to it, of course, such as my country of origin, English language ability, and higher education counting in my favor.)

But I don't have much bad to say about this country. I haven't come to hate Japan. There are faults, but they don't dominate my experience. The scales are tipped heavily in the other direction: things Japan does right.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


I've been on a number of free whale watching trips recently and have been anxious to repay the boat owners with a gift. So I baked six loaves of cinnamon bread this weekend and made a bunch of house visits. At one house, the owner of the boat lives with his mother. I recognized her as one of the cute old ladies who always greet me with such sweet kindness. She wouldn't let me go empty-handed, so she sent me home with a bag of potatoes easily outweighing the value of my bread.

Today I stopped by the Zamami 'fair', where all the old ladies showcase their vegetables. I picked up this massive head of lettuce for 100yen, or about a U.S. dollar.

Running Log 2/9-2/15

2/9 5k
2/10 10k 51.51.5
2/11 6k
2/12 off
2/13 10k 52.06.3
2/14 13k 1:07.08
2/15 off

Knee feels pretty good at the end of this week. Unfortunately it's too late in the game to catch up. Okinawa City Marathon a week from today.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Mixi is the Japanese Facebook. After attending an event in Naha a couple weeks ago that was comprised of people who met on Mixi, I decided that I wanted to join. The site is a bit daunting, being all in Japanese, but I know enough to get around. First step, I had to have an invite. I posted this wish in my Facebook status update and got it within 20 minutes! That night I began working on it, but I got hung up on the required cell phone email address (Japan doesn't 'text', we/they send emails to each other's unique phone email addresses). I thought surely an 'alternate' email address (like at would suffice. But nope.

So I went to the internet to see how to get around this and I found a can of worms. Last year Mixi instituted a requirement that anyone wanting to join must have a Japanese cell phone. If you don't have a Japanese cell phone (anybody living outside Japan and me) and you think about this for a minute, you ask why? If you have ever heard the accusations of xenophobia in Japan and attempts at keeping foreign residents (not tourists) out, it doesn't take long to form an assumption.

A couple of comments I saw on blogs were from people who had written Mixi to ask why. Mixi's response was 'for security reasons.' So people with cell phones are inherently more secure than those without?

I want to give Mixi credit for having real-life meetings, discussing this at length, and NOT saying things like "we need to keep everybody outside of Japan (including Japanese ex-patriates) off our site." But I can't come up with anything more rational (or less irrational).

So I asked around and found out the cell phone is only used for one confirmation email that must be clicked through (from the cell phone). And that's it. So I asked a couple friends who are not joining Mixi if I could borrow theirs. I couldn't. But my awesome sister came through and got me in.

And now that I'm a member of Mixi, I haven't done anything with my page. I was describing to a Japanese friend that my initial interest was mild, but once I found out they didn't want me to join then I really wanted in. She described me with this Japanese phrase: まけずぎらい. That is said "ma-ke-zu gu-rai" and it means "don't like to lose."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Running Log 2/1-2/8

2/1 off
2/2 5k
2/3 8k 45.41
2/4 6k 32.05.7
2/5 off (little knee pain on 2/4)
2/6 off
2/7 10k and 21k, 53.24.4 and 1.43.55

Total: 50k

Still haven't bought tickets to Tokyo. I was waiting until after Tokashiki to make my decision, anticipating that it wouldn't go well and I would opt against Tokyo. But it went really well, so I'm back on the Tokyo bandwagon. Am having trouble with [a $400+] commitment, though.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Tokashiki [almost] Half-Marathon

I've been mostly out of the game since the end of December, missing all of my long weekend runs due to my right knee. With two weeks to go to the Okinawa City marathon, I decided to see if I could handle 30k (with the result being used to make a decision on Tokyo).

So I ran 10k when I woke up, then took the boat (which left five minutes early - and without me - but thankfully came back) to Tokashiki for the [nearly] half-marathon. Okinawa schedules all of its marathons (in Japan that word is all-encompassing for running races of any distance) in the winter because the weather is cooler, but it doesn't work. At least not when I am signed up. The weather was hot. Like mid-70's hot. Not a cloud in the sky.

[Taiko drummers welcome a ferry full of runners]

The race began at 1pm and started uneventfully. I didn't feel great for the first 4k, which is par for the course (usually that lasts 10k). But there was a giant hill at 4k and I excel at hills, so I took off and nailed it, passing ~30 people en route. I passed one slightly older lady near the top and wished her good luck as I went by. She passed me on the downhill with a wave. We played tag all the way to the finish, then talked and found out we are both signed up for Tokyo.

[the Tokashiki JET, James (from NZ), finishing]

Anyway, it was only 2o.9k so there isn't much of a story. I did well on the uphills and tried to be cautious on the downs. I didn't run the race hard, just intelligently. I finished in 1:43.55, 30th of 331 and 16th of 82 in my age bracket (30-39). I figured I'd be in the 1:40-1:45 range so considering the heat, I was pleased with this. Even more pleased that my knee didn't present any problems. I'm close to buying those Tokyo plane tickets.

Here are the numbers:
time: 1:43.57
HR average: 159
HR range: 102-183
ascent total: 1420 feet
high point: 673 feet, 32 minutes into the race
low point: 20 feet, 4 minutes in

side note: I check my stats on the 2008 Okinawa City marathon, known as a 'hilly' course. Total elevation gain for a distance twice as long was just 1050 feet.

[friend Eri finishing - and promising moments later to never run this course again]

Friday, February 6, 2009


This year was much harder than last. It's a huge decision: the difference between leaving in six months or 1.5 years. This being the halfway point is a bit daunting.

My decision doesn't include things like the economy or travel plans, but instead personal goals and how I'm doing at my job. I must be fair to myself and my students.

On the personal side, I'm really pleased with the extracurricular activities this place offers. Diving, fishing, kayaking, [illegal] camping, whale watching, Japanese girl watching, photography, and beachcombing are all things I really enjoy and haven't tired of yet. And it's nice to be in a climate to be outside all year long.

The teaching side is a little less rosey (hyacinthy?). I've been in a bit of a rut lately. My teaching is fine, but it's lacking creativity. I haven't been challenging myself and I've been struggling with monotony. I'm still unsure of the solution, but I suspect it will include more contact with my sister and other friends who teach as well as buckling down and making a plan.

Two years of Peace Corps seems like a long time during the first year. It seems like you've only just become a member of the community by the time you leave. I'm excited about further strengthening my connection to a community which already widely accepts (and knows) me. It will be interesting to see what develops out of this, the longest commitment I've made since college.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Sunset Whale Watching

I am serious about whale watching this year. I had five trips last year, two of which were good. I can't let another season pass here without making a heroic effort at a spectacular breach shot. Tonight I nearly got it.

A guy I know allowed me to jump on his sunset trip. We encountered whales immediately after leaving the confines of the islands - a cow and calf. We followed them for a bit and saw the calf breach three times (none of which were captured on my memory card) before moving offshore. We found a single boat waaay out amongst three pairs of surfacing whales. The whales we chose were averaging 11 minute dives and boring surface intervals. Our decision to move was solidified after watching two whales breach six times out on the horizon. Both boats sped towards them with the hope of capturing a sunset-backed breach in the last 5 minutes of orange light. In the six minutes it took us to close the distance, the whales breached eight more times! It was exhilirating while we willed the boat to move faster.

But just as we arrived they dove (naturally). They resurfaced quickly, though, because they were tired from all the breaching. When they came up, they did so only six meters from our boat and they stayed within that range for about seven minutes. It was SO neat. They kept blowing only meters away and we could see them floating underneath. They popped straight up (spy hop) to look at us and slapped water around with their pectoral fins. The woman on our boat got tons of underwater video just by dunking her waterproof Olympus camera under the surface. I got these shots, among many others:

The plan is to go out again tomorrow after that breach shot, but I'm going to have to move a class to make it happen. がんばってます! (i'm wishing myself luck)

Running Log 1/26-2/1

1/26 5k
1/27 11k 1:00.53
1/28 5k
1/29 off
1/30 11k 59.42.8
1/31 22k 2:02.48
2/1 off

I hate my running life right now. The first week of my 2-3 off was like a taper. I walked around feeling awesome and race ready, wasting away all the hard work I have put in during the last five months. Since seeing the doctor and getting no resolution I have decided to make an attempt at the Okinawa City Marathon in three weeks. But since I won't be anywhere near breaking last year's time, or matching this year's goal, I will not be satisfied. I guess at this point 'finishing' has become my goal. For me that is a weak goal. I am still deciding what to do about Tokyo.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Kerama Whale Watching Season

Now that I've been out on a trip I can declare whale watching season 2009 to be official. My goal this year is to get more trips in during February because this is their most active breaching month. Breaching is what we all want.

Fortunately by living here, I can pick and choose when I want to go out. Yesterday I watched the weather until five minutes before the afternoon trips left before committing. I made a good call as I got slightly sunburned.

It was a good trip, except our whales didn't breach. During the second hour I became a little obsessed with a whale far off on the horizon. It breached at least nine times during that hour.

Today the whales pulled something I may not see again. A couple of them passed slowly through the channel in front of the Zamami harbor. If I'd been more on the ball I could've made it out for a few close encounters in my kayak, but it turned out they were moving a little fast for me. In the picture above the whale is the spot to the left of the boats (photo taken from my apartment).