Saturday, June 26, 2010

Kissing In Dark Places

We had a couple of school trips to Zamami this week, the latter of which had 300 high school students from somewhere on mainland Japan.

I had to go to the store at 8pm, which is after dark.  I opened my door, on the second story of the apartment building, and was surprised to surprise two high school kids who were making out below my building.  They heard my door and quickly scampered around the corner.

Having been a high school student once, I was on their side, so as I rode my bike past them I pointed to a more secluded place and said "over there! over there!"  The girl said "huh?" in an "I don't get it" tone.

Upon returning from the store I had planned out how I could better word what I wanted to say.  I had it all down when I came to their place, but the girl was alone now.  I quickly - and in retrospect, wisely - didn't say my line, which would roughly translate as:

"If you want to kiss in secret, you should go over to that dark place."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Rough Water Swim 2010

After last year's bad experience at the Rough Water Swim I'd sworn not to participate this year, but I got roped into being a member of a Zamami-based relay.  I even tried unsuccessfully to recant on my commitment.  Alas, I was bound to a $30 entry fee to get nothing in return but the opportunity to swim between two islands that I could swim between for free any day I'd like.  

[the start of the 1.5km race]

A couple of my friends came out from Naha to swim the 1.5km course.  They both finished, which I guess was the goal.

[Laura, finishing]

[the island where I began the second leg from]

The relay was predictably a bit of a clusterf***.  Forty teams (at an entry fee cost of $120 each!! Why??!! (Because it's a rip-off, that's why)) and forty kayakers (each team had a (volunteer) kayaker for safety).  There wasn't any cover on the uninhabited island beaches, so we baked while waiting to swim and baked when we finished (and our sunblock had washed off).  Nor was there drinking water.  :(

The leader of our team reached my island in 29th place, then I took off on my first swim since last year's RWS.  I did the whole thing breaststroke because I suck at freestyle.  Twice I had to stop to deal with hacking and dry-heaving (I really dislike saltwater) while my kayaker wondered what to do.  It wasn't really fun at all, but it turned out that I passed TEN people on my leg.  I was the hero of the team, but it was an unfair honor since I haven't swam in a year.  I think I just took a better line than the other swimmers.

In the evening, as I was preparing for the eisa performance at the evening party, I got an email that the performance was canceled.  Followed immediately with another email that said "because a swimmer died."  I was in shock, as I had only just returned from the race and didn't recall seeing anything 'medical emergency-like'.

It was an older guy who apparently only swims in pools and was worried about this distance but urged on by his teammates.  His kayaker got him out of the water while he was still breathing, but apparently he stopped once he was transferred to the lifeguard jet ski.  Those are all the details I was able to glean.  I went to a kayak race meeting (I was scheduled to compete in that today) at night so they could cancel it.  While we were meeting a police boat from Naha came into the harbor, loaded the body (with clear 'dead body loading' protocol), then took off, leaving everybody even more somber.

The mayor was present for all of this and it was quite interesting to see his body language.  Not only was he crying, but he went around to each of us apologizing and repeatedly bowing.  I'd never seen this sort of "genuinely really sorry maybe even ashamed" bowing, and I felt bad when it was done to me.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Pretty Big Deal

I was having a bad week - everything was turning the wrong way and seemingly snowballing.  Until this morning.  I woke up and checked - for the 150th time in the last four days - to see if the Oregon hunting draw (lottery) results had been posted.

Every year I apply to hunt in about eight western states.  I apply for many species - elk, deer, Bighorn sheep, California Bighorn sheep, pronghorn (antelope), mountain goat, and moose.  The rules are different in every state, but they are consistently complex.  It takes a lot of work to analyze all the different draw methods and how to best optimize my chances every year.  I also have to couple this with the fact that I live abroad and can maximize my U.S. stay at three weeks (so I better not draw too many tags).

I've been applying in all of those states for anywhere from four to 12 years and I've never drawn a good tag.  Until today.  I opened my results and found out I drew an Oregon Bighorn Sheep tag for the North Snake River unit in the NE corner of the state.  These tags are so rare that simply drawing the tag disqualifies me from ever participating in the Oregon sheep lottery again in my lifetime.  There are only five of these tags given to non-residents of Oregon, distributed between five different units around the state.  Mine, according to last year's stats, was just barely the second-hardest to draw at 749 applicants to one tag.  Optimistically you could apply for a sheep hunt for 50 years of your lifetime, which means I would statistically be expected to draw this tag only once in 15 lifetimes.  To do it in my first ten years of applying in my first life (is this my first?) is pretty freakin' lucky.

It's a ten-day season in October.  The tag costs an astounding $1300.50.  Killing a ram shouldn't be a problem, so the goal will be to find a big one.  This is a once-in-a-15 lifetime opportunity so the work starts now to make the best of it.

One final note: to give you an idea of how desirable these tags are, there is an auction every year for a single tag that allows the holder to go sheep hunting anywhere in the state (and the once-in-a-lifetime rule does not apply to this tag).  The winner might choose to hunt around the John Day River area (the other unit that had slightly worse odds than me at 799:1), but he would otherwise choose to hunt in my unit.  Last year that auction tag sold for $120,000.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Filleting Fish

You can't really be a fisherman unless you know what to do with the fish once you catch it.  This next step intimidated me as a kid, until it finally clicked that the goal is just to get all the flesh off the skeleton, and you get extra points for making it pretty.

I've never thought myself great at filleting, but I thought I was good.  Then I watched these two guys (both restaurant cooks) whip out these mahi on Sunday leaving no flesh remaining on the bones and no slash marks in the fillets:

[They don't even use traditional fillet knives, just whatever's lying around, except sharpened beyond imaginable.]

[In true Japanese fashion, somebody said "You're cutting fish? You might as well cut us up some sashimi!"]

[team orange looking on]

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sam's Cup Billfish Tournament, 2010

This marlin tournament is one of the highlights of each year I stay in Japan.  I get out of school early on Friday so we can take the boat into the mainland and get to the opening party, then it's two solid days of big game fishing.

[part of our team at the opening party]

The food at the party continued its year-to-year decline in quality, but I scored points with our group by bringing tupperware and caching a bunch of food for Saturday's lunch.  Needless to say, the food tasted much better the next day when we were 30km from land.

[a neighboring boat of really rich Japanese guys testing the drag on their reels]

[boats en route to the 6am shotgun start]

[first day's catch - 6 mahi and 2 wahoo]

The tournament didn't go so well for us or, for that matter, anybody.  On the first day we only heard reports of three marlin being caught (and the 40-pounder hardly counts in my book) out of 40 boats.  We woke up at 3:30am today and left the harbor at 4:30am.  We got to our spot in the dark and had to lay our lines using a flashlight, which was interesting.  Unfortunately the head start only gave us less sleep, as we caught just two mahi-mahi all day.

We never even had a marlin hit, which is really depressing.  Sometimes we come back empty-handed, but we nearly always at least get hits.  Here are some summary numbers:

fish caught: 10
marlin hits: 0
hours spent on the boat Saturday: 13.5
hours spent on the boat Sunday: 12
hours slept Friday night: 4.5
hours slept Saturday night: 5
time I'm going to bed tonight: before 9pm

So, in summary, a bummer of a weekend.  It's understandable to catch less fish because of bad weather, but that wasn't an excuse this weekend.  If there are really less than 7 marlin brought in, which is the rumor, then that's a big disappointment.  With 40 boats fishing, we can only conclude the marlin have already moved north or they just aren't hungry.

Here's a video of a mahi brought on board yesterday (thanks Gordon for providing the Gorilla Pod tripod to make this angle possible) (feel free to skip the first 1:20) (Mom, that wasn't me swearing at the end):

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Air's Thin Up There!

There's a couple girls from the eisa group whose job it is to do research on the whales in the winter, then the turtles in the spring and summer.  They travel to many of the beaches accessible by land, noting new nests (and they actually dig them up, count the eggs, then sometimes move them to a safer location).  I find their numbered stakes all over the place because I go to beaches often.  And for that reason they often solicit me for information (where I've seen fresh nests).

[typical turtle nest]

Usually turtles will make their nests about 5-10m above the high water mark, depending on how deep (inland) the beach extends.  But this next one is just crazy:

[The turtle that made this nest climbed a hill and dug her hole at the top!]

[the nest is on the left]

[note the turtle flipper tracks]

I've marked in red some of the turtle nests on this beach.  Nearly all of the nests fall in the vicinity of the three red marks at the base of the hill.  But if you look closely at the top-most red dot, you can see the stake of the nest.  Turtles are huge and slow.  I can't imagine how long it took this mother to climb that hill.  Neither can I imagine what the survival percentage of her hatchlings will be.  They'll have not only a marathon to cover, but also an imposing obstacle course.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

School versus Family

Teachers on Zamami generally have to stay here for a minimum of three years before they can be transferred back to the mainland.  One of our teachers came two years ago with his wife and one-year-old boy.  This year, when his son turned three, his wife moved back to the mainland with the boy.

Today I asked the teacher why his wife and son moved back and he said that they didn't want their kid to have to attend two different pre-schools.  (This teacher will be transferred back next year so the kid would have to change.)

I thought it was pretty fascinating that their family would choose continuity in a three-year-old child's school life over a year of living with his father.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Worth Checking Out

update: Japan's Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama resigns.  News article sub-heading says: Yukio Hatoyama resigns over failure to honor election promises including relocation of Okinawa's U.S. air base.   So yeah, this air base thing is a big deal.

My friend Cliff did a nice summary of the Futenma Air Base controversy, which has been occupying Okinawan and national news headlines for awhile now.

Here is another little blip I stumbled upon today indicating how this issue has far-reaching consequences:

"This weekend, PM Hatoyama fired Mizuho Fukushima from his cabinet over their disagreement on relocating Futenma air station.  In response, Fukushima's Social Democratic Party decided to quit the coalition.  This development probably has some serious implications for PM Hatoyama..."