Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New Mexico Elk Hunting

[Warning: Death below]

I arrived at the tent around 10pm and we all settled into bed at 11pm. We woke up at 4am with a plan to chase some elk my dad and uncles had seen the previous morning. So we took off at 5:30 and got dropped off just before 6. Five guys hunting together make a lot of noise so just my dad and I went together (my dad is the sole tag holder for this New Mexico hunt). The plan was to intercept the elk as the returned to their bedding grounds from where they were feeding at night, so we didn't use any lights as we stumbled through the rocks down into a ravine and up the other side. At daylight nothing showed up and there had been many, many cars going up the road where we thought the elk would be coming from, so we changed plans and just decided to hunt around up into the basin above. Near the top we got real close to a saddle (low point between two high points) and jumped a half-dozen elk, which we didn't see. It was starting to get hot so we headed back down to the truck (when it gets hot the elk will bed down for the day and once they are bedded they are near impossible to sneak up on).

At 3pm we headed back out to a different secret spot the guys had discovered during their preseason scouting trips. At the head of the basin we were hunting was a burn on top of a mountain. It was a long way to the burn from the bottom, but these guys found a secret game trail up the backside that weaved through what appeared to be impossibly steep cliffs. All five of us went up the trail to the top with intention of getting to the burn and just glassing (looking around with binoculars), but near to the burn we stopped for a chat and my uncle John looked beyond us and spotted a bull elk. He saw antlers flashing in the sun and tried to get my dad on it, which he did quickly. I couldn't seem to spot the elk, which is abnormal for me, but the elk tag wasn't mine so I didn't need to spot the elk (so I held still instead of forcing the issue). I did what I could, which was to pay attention to the things people forget about when an elk is in our presence: I noted that the wind was not in our favor and I mentioned to my dad that whatever he did, he better hurry. After 20 seconds I picked out the bull, which was pretty busy feeding and miraculously not smelling us. I put up my binoculars and immediately recognized the shape of his antlers and where the points were sticking out and confidently reported that he was a small 6-point. A large 6-point was what we were after, but sometimes it's hard to turn down a bird in the hand. My dad turned for a consensus, asking if he should take him. I wasn't going to pipe up because it wasn't my tag, but John surprisingly said "yes, take him!" That was the only confirmation my dad needed so he put the gun up and took the 100-yard shot through the trees at the broadside bull. The bull jumped forward and slowly turned to face us, but he looked sick. I remember saying, "you got him, but hit him again!" But then the bull's head lowered down and didn't offer a clean shot so I told him to wait. I don't know if he was listening to me, but having worked as a hunting guide before I find it natural now to narrate and offer advice. My dad didn't have a clear angle so I told him to move into my spot. He did, then took another shot and the bull jumped to our right, still looking pretty sick. He was facing right, broadside again so my dad took one more shot just for assurance. The bull went down and that was that. We walked up and he was still alive, which presents a dangerous situation. I am always very clear about ending the animal's life quickly because I think that's most ethical, but trying to cut the neck (which is most efficient) of a 400-pound animal that is still alive and has large antlers atop his head is not easy. So I pinned the antlers down as best I could while my dad cut the neck. It was all over in less than 10 seconds.

[my dad's first 6-point bull]

It was 5pm so we decided to remove all the meat and hang it from nearby trees, then come back in the morning to haul it down on pack frames (external frame backpacks with the backpack removed). We did that this morning in quick order and took the rest of the day off. Monday we are planning to pack up camp and head to Colorado a few days early. I'm a little sick from jet lag, elevation adjustment (7000') and dry air, but I seem to be doing much better today as we move northward to our Colorado destination.

[packing the elk out on our backs]

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hunting [in Japan and America]

Today I am leaving for America to go elk and pheasant hunting with my dad and three uncles. I will fly straight to Albuquerque where an uncle will pick me up and we'll go straight to camp up in the mountains somewhere. My dad has a special tag for New Mexico, so this will be a new experience for us. After that hunt we will trek up to Colorado (same place as last year) for a week, then back to Montana again for some pheasant hunting. I'll wrap up my three-week trip with a couple days at home in Anacortes with my mom. Internet will be spotty so blog posting will be thin, but I'll leave you with a Zamami hunting story from a few months back:

[Warning: there is blood and death in the pictures below]

I didn't post this story when it happened because while I had permission to hunt goats on Zamami, I didn't want to draw attention to the fact that I was actually successful at it. I don't think anybody who said it would be okay actually thought I would (A) do it or (B) kill something.

The goats on Zamami live in a couple places far from the village. I think they must have been released many years back and have since grown themselves into respectable split-populations. There are maybe 30-40 of them.

I brought a bow and arrows back from America last fall with this exact purpose in mind. I spent much of the winter practicing on foam I found on the beach until I felt pretty comfortable out to 20 yards. The goats I am hunting aren't accustomed to looking out for predators, so they make decisions I consider somewhat irresponsible (like walking around blind corners quickly). With this in mind, I figured 20 yards was a safe distance to count on.

My friend, Vaughn, was out for the weekend so we went together to the beach I had been scouting. I knew there was a nanny and a couple kids hanging out there and I was hoping to pick off one of the kids. I wanted to leave the nanny for future breeding.

We showed up anticipating we might just practice with the bow, but we immediately saw the goats down the beach so I took a couple practice shots before we took off in pursuit. The goats were heading towards a dead-end so I planned on cornering them. It worked pretty well, as they were up on a hillside that was bordered by water and a 10m-wide chute. The goat I was after would have to come through the chute if it came down before dark. Which it did. I was all set up and Vaughn was off to the right watching. I shot at about 15 yards and went high over the back. The goat jumped back while I nocked my second arrow. She attempted the same path and I shot a second time, once again going over her back (I don't know what my problem was except I will say that the heart/lungs of a one-year-old goat are an awfully small target). This time she knew something was wrong so she ran back down the chute. Vaughn was able to retrieve my arrows and get them back to me without her seeing, but she was pretty wary so eventually I just showed myself and decided to see what we could do, me versus her in the chute. I pushed her down to the water, but she was darting every which way and not offering a shot for my last arrow (the other was bent from hitting a rock). I ducked under a rock and waited for her to return, which she did. But she came right up on top of me - maybe 1-2 meters away. The bow wasn't drawn back and I had no hope of doing it at such a close range, so it was good when she pinned me and ran back towards the water. But she was getting ever more desperate in her confined space (water, two rock walls, and me) so eventually she just made a run for it and tried to run past me. She would have been successful if I didn't shoot an arrow through her neck as she ran past.

I didn't think I hit her, but on her next step I saw blood spray out of her neck. She went another 10m and collapsed. I actually yelled to Vaughn "it's over" while she was still running. He came around the corner to witness the final death throes, then we went back to get my knife and bag. I hurriedly skinned her, took the 4 quarters and backstraps off, then we booked it home in the dark.

There wasn't much meat and I have vowed that my next goat will be at least two-years-old, which also makes it easier to determine gender (I'd prefer to take a male). The meat was pretty good. Half of it I made into jerky in my solar oven. I gave one quarter to Vaughn and cooked the remaining quarter into various meat dishes. It was slightly tough, but not too bad. Not too gamey, either.

One of my recently developed goals is to source nearly all of my meat from Zamami. I made this a goal after I realized I was already doing it. I have access to a big, walk-in freezer that I can use to store fish year-round (and I'm still working on the fish I caught last spring). Now I know I have access to the occasional goat when I get tired of fish (which is usually the case). If only I could find a wild pig population so I could get some bacon/ham from Zamami.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Most Important Day

Today I paid off my student loans, twelve years early. I graduated college in May, 2001, so it has taken me eight years to pay back the $23,000 of debt.

When I graduated I had the option of selecting a repayment plan. I could choose between the same monthly payment for 20 years or I could start with low payments that would graduate to higher payments later on. I would pay more in interest (overall) with the latter plan, but I selected it since I knew at any time I could just overpay. This was a wise decision as it allowed me to do really interesting things in my young adult days without worrying about finances. My plan, which is exactly what happened, was to eventually get a job that paid real money and just knock out the loans quickly.

This is a pretty important moment in my adulthood. Perhaps the most important yet for financial or love turning points. I can't help but look in both directions to assess the significance.

This debt has been an albatross since college. The interest rate was low, but owing money is just no good. It was always hard, though, to draw a connection between the large sum of money I owed (when it was over $15,000 I just couldn't even comprehend it) and its connection to me. What it meant, of course, was my college degree. But for the jobs I have pursued, that degree (major in Business Administration with a concentration in finance) didn't matter much. Since I wasn't applying for finance-industry jobs, the relevance of my degree seems have been a credibility inference from the highly-ranked university I attended.

So since I am not using my really expensive finance degree, do I regret getting it? That's a pretty hard question, the one of regret. Especially for something so big as an expensive, four-year period of my life. I know people who insist on living their lives without regret. It sounds nice, but mostly I think that's just a cop-out to avoid admission of bad decisions. It's an easy way to say "I love the person I've become" but it ignores the other [equally great/better] person you could've become with different decisions. So here's what I think about my college experience: I would do it differently. I would go to college, absolutely, but I would study something different at a different university. My college groomed its students for a life that I will never lead. I should have listened to the people who insisted that I do what I love (outdoors) instead of doing what I thought I loved (something that would pay me a lot of money). Or I should have concentrated on a foreign language. I can think of no more marketable skill in my transient life than the ability to communicate in another country.

But it's taken me eight years of adult life to learn what I'd wished I'd known 12 years ago when my outlook on life (make money = be happy) was incorrigible. The conclusion I've reached through living most years in poverty is that money doesn't mean freedom, mostly it just complicates things. So while regret is probably a fair word, remorse is not. I can hardly hold a decision this big against my 18-year-old self.

I didn't end up using what I excelled at during college - trading (options/stocks/and those fancy derivatives that cut your portfolio value in half last year) - but it's not fair to paint the college experience a wash. My time on the crew (rowing) team was arguably more valuable than my academics and I fully credit it with the dedication I have developed to health and running in adulthood. I will refrain from mentioning everything else one gets from a college experience because my point is to describe how my experience at my school differed from another university.

Ironically, now that I have paid off the degree, I get to start using it. From now on, my money is mine. I can invest, buy, and give away what I want. And as long as I stay in Japan I will be earning real money and I'll get to make decisions about investing (as opposed to some of my past jobs when I was just trying to survive). Fortunately my upbringing and college experience have left me with firm confidence in all matters money. I know how and where I want to diversify. And I have a thinly tentative goal of one day accumulating enough money to buy a piece of land or a house somewhere to serve as a home base. But as long as my parents stay cool with letting me store my permanent belongings at their house I will have nothing to do with my money but save it.

Thank you, Japan, for bringing me this day of freedom.

Monday, October 19, 2009

My Airport Friend, Ashley

I met Ashley in the Portland airport while we waited for our flight to Japan. I tagged along with her in Tokyo for dinner one night, impressed that she had the Japanese to decipher the subway system and order our dinner. I thought "if I could one day be like that, I'd be happy with my time in Japan." (I can do it now!)

We kept in loose touch over the last two years until she came to visit this spring with some of her Gifu-ken friends. Not much longer later I was looking at the BEE Japan website to see about their cross-country ride this summer. It's something I've been dreaming about doing the summer I leave JET. I was surprised to glance through the 2009 members page and see Ashley's name.

[Ashley and her sister, who is a university teacher in Kyoto]

So she finished her JET term this past July then immediately took a train to the northwestern tip of Hokkaido, where she started a bike ride that would last 2.5 months and cover 4300 kilometers. She finished last week at the southern tip of the Okinawan mainland. Her sister met her in Okinawa and they came out to Zamami for a couple days.

[Ashley thinks we look married, I think my new camera lens is awesome]

I'm really happy to have Ashley staying here. I love that we have maintained a friendship which developed purely out of the coincidence of sitting next to each other in the airport (if you believe it was coincidence that I sat next to her). We have a lot in common, though proximity isn't part of that. She will be leaving tomorrow on her way back to the U.S, but with the ease in which we pick up where we keep leaving off, I feel comfortable saying I think I will see her again and I'm looking forward to it.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Omiyage - おみやげ

Omiyage means 'presents you have to bring back for everybody you know.' In Japan, if I travel somewhere I have to buy gifts for my co-workers and other important people, like the eisa group. It's annoying. Not only does it cost a lot, in addition to the cost of the trip, but I have to carry all this extra stuff with me. And the stuff is invariably fluffed up with excessive packaging which all ends up in the garbage. It's a pretty wasteful tradition, though an important one culturally.

The intent of omiyage (oh-me-ahh-gay) is to bring back something to share from the place you visit. But the omiyage industry (seriously, it's big in all countries where Japanese people visit) has streamlined this into "stuff that looks like it came from the place where you visited." Take, for example, the people from our school who went to New Zealand and Canada this summer. They both brought back macadamia chocolates:

[New Zealand and Canada: famous for macadamias. Who knew?]

[Ed and Don are smart guys]

Omiyage does give the buyer a chance to search out something local to buy, which is a good feeling for me when I support a local community. I will be returning home to the U.S. next week for a long vacation and am happy to spend my money at the Anacortes Chocolate Factory and Seabear Salmon for good, local gifts. I'm just not happy to have to carry it all back.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Japanese Toughness

Something I like about Japan is its lack of manliness. In America it seems like men are always looking over their shoulders to remind themselves to be tough. Sure, men and women have distinct masculine and feminine roles in Japan, but men here don't feel the need to have big trucks, homophobia, and attend car races to seal any question about their gender.

No, in Japan we don't have monster trucks driving around on the streets. We have the opposite: the Pajero Snoopy Edition:

[the Pajero is an off-road vehicle, Japan's version of 'tough']

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tokyo Marathon 2010

I received this email today:


Congratulations! You have been selected to run the 2010 Tokyo Marathon.
To secure your place, simply access the URL below to arrange payment
of the entry fee no later than 30 October 2009.(Japan time)

There 272,134 people who applied to run this year's Tokyo Marathon, but only 32,000 are selected (and that is a deceiving number because over a thousand of those slots go to guaranteed entries). So the odds are slim (1:8.5) and quite a bit slimmer of doing it two years in a row. How did I do it? I am not Japanese. There is an unspoken rule that if you are a foreigner and apply on the English side of the site you are guaranteed entry.

The race is February 28, 2010.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Weight of Food (..and the People Who Eat It)

Saturday I went out to a Mexican restaurant near one of the military bases. It was notable, if fair, that the Japanese girl whom I was with received a Japanese menu and I received an English menu. We switched, to flaunt our skills.

After only a couple bites of my enchiladas, I really noticed the heaviness of the meal. Yeah, it had rice and beans, but it was also loaded with meat. I ate the whole plate (which was a bit small by American standards) but felt like it was too much. When leaving the restaurant, I was not happier for having sated my Mexican food desires.

Sunday we went out to a Japanese restaurant where I ordered a grilled chicken breast that was on a salad, accompanied by miso soup and rice. This meal was a good bit smaller than the previous night's, but it was perfect for me. While I was eating the greenery and light rice, I thought about how Japan has changed my tastes. I have adapted to preferring the lighter, smaller, nibbly meals to the big, heavy American dishes. Needless to say, I was in much better spirits after my Sunday meal.

When I arrived in Japan I remember being frustrated at how small the meals were. Now I've reversed and I marvel at the size and makeup of American portions. (And it feels great!)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The New Vegetable Store

Last week I got an email from a friend that said a new store had just opened and if I bought anything I would get 10 free eggs. So I went and bought some potatoes, finding out once there that this new store's specialty is to be vegetables. Their hope is to provide a cheaper alternative to our [really expensive] main store.

This store also promises to sell Zamami-grown produce this winter when it comes out of the ground. It used to drive me crazy that there was no market for locally-grown vegetables - instead they were shipped to Naha for selling while Zamami consumers had to order from Naha. Their prices already rival those found in the catalogs we use for weekly ordering, so I am more than happy to trade my catalog business to support a local store. This is a good step for Zamami, I hope they make it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

An Effect of 24-hour Rationing

I noted before that I didn't see much difference between the 12-hour and the 24-hour rationing. Here's an example of where it makes a difference:

Geruma's water system works such that the storage tanks at school are only hooked up to the main building - not the building that contains the cafeteria. So when we are on 24-hour rationing, like we are now, the cafeteria doesn't have any water. So they can't do the dishes. So we have to do our own. Which means we bring our own utensils for eating, then wrap up our dishes in newspaper to wash them at home.

Most of the kids have 'kits' with personal chopsticks, a fork, and a spoon. It was amusing today that I was the only one eating spaghetti with chopsticks (because I didn't look ahead at the menu and bring a fork).

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Most businesses in America either take Sunday or Monday as their day off, right? We don't have god in Japan, so I think most businesses take Mondays off (but I'm not an authority on this).

Today I noticed something different about our community, which depends heavily on tourism dollars. Tourists usually come during or surrounding weekends. So the businesses that depend solely on tourists - our photo gallery, a drink shop, some restaurants - take Wednesdays off because Wednesdays are as far from the weekend as you can get.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Typhoon Melor

This typhoon is passing well east of the Okinawan mainland, but typhoons pull a huge radius. This one has 132mph sustained winds right now a couple hundred miles away, but the winds are strong enough here in the Kerama Islands to cancel all the boats and bring out all the typhoon preparations.

Today I was working at Geruma when I was informed to go back on the 12:15 boat to Zamami because it would be the last of the day. They've already pulled that boat from the water in anticipation of tomorrow, so I'll be working on Zamami. Also Zamami has canceled Zamami Matsuri (festival), which was scheduled for this Saturday. This is the second cancellation (the first was for the flu) and they've rescheduled it to be during my trip to America. :(

[All the boats get pulled from the water]

[Except the boats that are too big - they're tied down in 8-10 different directions]

I usually complain that the boat-canceling storms always come on weekends. Next time I do that somebody remind me of this storm, which is hitting Tuesday-Thursday.

[When typhoons are scheduled to come in, mainland Japan surfers buy their tickets to Okinawa. We have at least four here right now hoping for big waves - sorry, no surfers in this picture, just waves]

[Closed shutters - and the inside is full of all the picnic tables that were previously outside. Preparing for an incoming typhoon is really a lot of work.. but they sure are fun!]

Monday, October 5, 2009

Friday, October 2, 2009

More Water Woes

Our story made the front page of the Okinawan newspaper yesterday. I think we can last about two-three more weeks on our current water supply. Water rationing is getting 'stepped up' to 24-hour cycles, though I am unsure what improvement is created over the current 12-hour cycles.

I blame our water problems on that scene above. Since early summer the Zamami vice-principal has regularly watered this entire field to keep the grass green for this weekend's Sports Day. It drives me nuts, but it drives me more nuts that nobody will say anything to him about it because of his status. I don't feel like I have a great relationship with him so I wouldn't feel comfortable bringing it up. Instead there are only disapproving whispers issued. My favorite Japanese word, 'mottainai' (don't waste), applies here. There's probably a couple days worth of water in that lawn.

Newer apartment buildings have their water towers (built above the apartments and below the dam to utilize gravity) included in the design. The need for water tanks has only come upon this village in the last 10-15 years, since a push for increased tourism worked - and created water shortages.

Today Kume Island, to the west of us ~20 miles, donated this bottled water to the schools. It was a very generous thought on their part, even if I'd rather be thirsty for a day than use all that plastic. The fine print on the label says 'semipure water'. Is that better than no water?