Monday, August 31, 2009


I spent much of this birthday thinking how nice it would be to have someone to share the day with. No, I don't mean marriage, just someone else to make me a cake. But there must be something about the timing of my birthday because every year, no matter how much reminding I do, nobody remembers.

Knowing ahead of time I would be spending my birthday alone (it's a really safe bet), I bought a tub of pecan coconut frosting when I was in Palau. And tonight I made myself a German Chocolate cake. (I just took the first bite and it's really good.. ..girls, you're missing out!)

[After reminding them it was my birthday, the teachers at Aka offered me one more eggplant than my allotment]

[Me at 31-years-old. I was required to wear a mask today at Aka, which is a story for another blog post]

Last year
I listed a few facts and thoughts about myself, so I'll do the same today:

Birthday height: 181cm (5'11.25")
Birthday weight: 85kg (187 pounds), which is about a pound heavier than last year

Something I've been thinking about a lot this past year is eating less. I usually do okay at eating well, but I keep reading that eating less calories is a theme in the lives of people who live a long time. It seems to work well for the Japanese (and not so well for Americans), so I've been trying to tame back my portion sizes - or at least stop when I'm not hungry anymore. I thought that might shrink me a bit, but the 3 pints of ice cream I ate in Palau might have messed up my lower calorie intake.

I'm two years into my stay in Japan and less sure of my future now than ever. My trip to Palau tempted me to think about what's next. This isn't meant to be foreshadowing because I don't really know what's next, I just think there will be a next. I'm happy with much of my life here, but improvements could be made with my relationship status and my Japanese language skills.

I've had a good year for running (new PR at Tokyo) and fishing (seven marlin?), I was allowed to go home last fall to go on a great hunting trip with my dad and uncles. I know a lot of people in the community and my services are in demand for sporting events. Everybody likes my bread, or whatever I'm making. I have a great, cheap apartment and a pretty good life, if a bit lonely.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Palau - The Kayak Trip, Part Two

There's a famous marine lake in Palau that is only accessible at high tide and apparently has some big giant clams and cool birdwatching. We hit it just after high tide on the first morning and were not disappointed.

[A spotted eagle ray, one of two we saw living in the sanctuary that is Long Lake]

[Mangroves. Are awesome.]

[The way in - and out - empties at low tide]

We stopped for lunch at the first beach near the exit of Long Lake. There was still a fire going in the pit so we used it because we were already nervous about our fuel supply. We also scored freshwater showers - our last for a couple days.

That cut you see under the island is what makes the Rock Islands famous. A lot of people compare their looks to that of mushrooms. The islands are treacherously sharp limestone and have been eaten away at their bases by thousands of years of wave action. Some of the smaller islands have even toppled!

[Fantasy Island]

[Unfortunately the sun wasn't out for this classic Rock Island photo]

[A bluefin trevally assured we would have no food shortages on the trip.]

[Bluefin sashimi (really, really good dipped in the soy sauce/citrus fruit mixture), cooked bluefin with onions and citrus fruit, and instant mashed potatoes. Good enough to take our minds away from the horrendous rat problem on this island]

Coral Snake

I'm going to interrupt the string of Palau posts to describe an encounter I had this morning. Running season has started again for me, which is just short, getting-back-into-the-rhythm runs for now.

I did an 8k piece this morning, starting at 7:45am, which is about an hour later than ideal. The sun was already up and it was hot. I finished around 8:30am. Since our island is really short of water (dam is at 30% of capacity, so we are rationing) and I was sweating heavily I figured the best way to cool down would be in the ocean. I rode 2 minutes to the nearest beach and laid in the water for about 10 minutes, then sat on the beach in shallow water for a few more minutes.

I was sitting with my arms supporting me from behind when I felt something brush up against my arm. I turned quickly and saw a coral snake swimming through my arms. Coral snakes are beautiful, but they are not something you want to shake hands with. From the Wikipedia article:

New World coral snakes possess the second most potent venom of any North American snake, behind some rattlesnake species. However, few bites are recorded due to their reclusive nature and the fact they generally inhabit sparsely populated areas. When confronted by humans, coral snakes will almost always attempt to flee, and bite only as a last resort. Any skin penetration, however, is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. Coral snakes have a powerful neurotoxin that paralyzes the breathing muscles; mechanical or artificial respiration, along with large doses of antivenom, are often required to save a victim's life. There is usually only mild pain associated with a bite, but breathing difficulties and ptosis can occur within hours.

[The snake more venomous than the coral snake is the Mojave Green Rattlesnake, found only in the Mojave Desert. I saw two of them at only 4-5' when I was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.]

As the article suggests, coaxing a bite out of a coral snake would require a serious effort, but would ensure a prompt helicopter ride to the mainland and slim chances of survival - completely dependent on the Naha hospitals stocking the anti-venom.

I took this as my cue to go home and make breakfast.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Palau - The Kayak Trip, Part One

In the last weeks before I left Palau in 2004 some Peace Corps friends and I took a self-guided kayak trip from Koror to Peleliu, the southernmost island in the lagoon. It's about a 25-mile trip, but we took 5-6 days to do it so the pace was really relaxed.

I've long remembered that trip as one of the highlights of my life, so I promised myself to repeat it if ever I found my way back to Palau. And so we did.

Unfortunately the kayak company has developed a bit and found new ways to get money out of their customers. All I wanted was the kayaks, we would provide everything else. But upon inspection of the maps, we saw a big skull and cross-bones over one of the reefs we wanted to cross. The short story is that they would not allow us to paddle across the reef and required us to pay $60 each for a 15-minute boat ride around it. This was a sour, frustrating note to begin the trip (especially after we went past the reef and the waves were about 6" tall.. grrr...), but we moved on.

I suffered a big blow to my ego the first night by being unable to start a fire (it had rained hard for a couple hours that afternoon, if I am allowed an excuse. Yes dad, I know I'm not). The next morning I suffered a bigger blow to my tongue - see below.

[A turtle apparently came up to nest while we slept a few yards away]

These structures are all over the Rock Islands and serve as great lunch spots for the dive and tour boats cruising around. They - and the 16 Koror State Rangers who patrol and clean them - are funded by the required $25 Rock Islands visitation permit. There are also composting toilets at most of them, which is pretty cool.

[Oats and raisins are prohibitively expensive in Japan, so that was an easy choice for breakfast every morning]

Partial blame to the pineapple, partial blame to the Atomic Fire Balls my parents randomly included in a care package, and maybe partial blame to more salt and sugar than I am accustomed to in my diet. But my tongue got wasted this first day of the trip. It stuck with me the rest of the trip, swollen and sensitive and not happy at all with foods that weren't liquefied or really soft.

On the first morning we kayaked to a place called Milky Way. It's buried in a cove and the bottom is volcanic ash (or so a tour guide told us). Hundreds of Asian tourists go there every day and rub it all over themselves. There was a hottie Japanese tour guide there who we would do anything to impress, so we figured this would be a good idea.

[Welcome to underwater photography, Dave (p.s. it's hard)]

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Palauan First-Born (Ngasech) Ceremony, Miscellaneous Pictures

[Jo and Desi]

[Coco Bella Macnee]

[the food wrapped traditionally in woven palm frond baskets]


Monday, August 24, 2009

Palauan First-Born (Ngasech) Ceremony, Part Six

There is nudity in this post.

[One of the traditions is to take these wet leaves and slap them against Emadch's ankles. More than a few times a wild old lady started whipping those leaves around and I barely escaped with a clean camera lens]

[You know how some guys use their grandmother's wedding ring to give their new bride? Palauan money is kinda like that, except it's been getting passed along for hundreds of years]

[There was a dance-off between the American and Australian delegations - a time when it's great to be the designated photographer]

[Emadch's siblings, Sam and Jo]

[Emadch's {not birth} father, Stuart, is the Palau representative to the United Nations. He gave a speech here about the high regard in which Palau holds their women]

[Three of the four generations]

[Andy, Coco Bella, and Emadch]

[Emadch's family]

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Palauan First-Born (Ngasech) Ceremony, Part Five

(There is nudity in this post)

Last-minute preparations:

[These girls come out before Emadch]

[Emadch is only allowed to walk on the woven coconut mats, so when she crosses onto the next one the ladies will grab the unused mat and move it to the front]

The band is playing the whole time while the little girls come out and also when Emadch comes. As soon as she is in place a song starts and the most important people - like the husband - do the first dance. The 'dance' is uniquely Palauan and involves a slight shuffle of the feet and waving of the hands (imagine a dance that requires the same skillset and difficulty as walking and you've got it). Also, a dollar bill is waved in one hand.

[Desi's job is to collect the dollars (I know the dollars are collected and kept, but I'm not sure who they are distributed to)]

[This is the position Emadch will hold for 1.5 hours, though she can sit for the second half. But she isn't allowed to wipe her eyes or move her arms. If oil or sweat gets in her eyes the older ladies will hopefully wipe it out]

This presentation is the culmination of nine days of steam baths for Emadch and represents her purification or cleansing. The ceremony will be the single largest community-attended moment of this woman's life until her funeral. Weddings are of lesser import in Palau than the first-born ceremony. There is no male counterpart to the first-born ceremony, which is really cool for those of us who note how societies treat their women.