Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Jet Whacked

Traveling is not just seeing the new; it is also leaving behind. Not just opening doors; also closing them behind you, never to return. But the place you have left forever is always there for you to see whenever you shut your eyes. And the cities you see most clearly at night are the cities you have left and will never see again.
from The Silk Road by Jan Myrdal

Wow, have I been hit with jet lag! I fully intended to write another post about travel in Japan when I got back to Michigan. Well, my circadian rhythms are so screwed up that I'm struggling to just get the laundry from the trip done.

Last night I was up until 4 am; heard the clock chime twelve times this morning, but when I got downstairs to look at a clock, it was 11 am. Reading a newspaper takes me an hour. Coffee has effect only after two plus cups. One hour I'm spaced out; the next hour I'm wide awake.

I did take a long walk last night. Walked down Geiger Road just after sunset so that when I returned, walking east, I could see the rising full moon in all of its clear-night-in-the-country glory. Had my FM radio on and earbuds stuffed in my ears and was listening to a show about mythical beasts like dragons and the yeti and creatures of the dark. Great stuff to consider as the moon appears full and glowing on an autumn night on a lonely country road.

Anyway, I'll get to the travel wrapup post soon.

On the plus side, Ed and I have beeen cooking these last two nights. Last night was scrambled CSA eggs with wonderful orangey yolks (high in Omega-3's, I'm told) with parsley from our garden, cheddar cheese and bacon. We added the last fresh blueberries (we've eaten about 20 pounds of blueberries this summer) and a sliced pear from our orchard to the menu. Topped it off with vanilla ice cream covered with Ed's raspberries, just picked that evening. And toast! How we are loving toast. Garrison Keillor says toast can solve the world's problems. Toast is like coffee -- you enjoy the wonderful scent of the bread toasting and then you eat that warm, slightly crunchy texture. Mmmm.

The dryer buzzed. Off to fold!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Travel Day Miscellaneous

Monday, Sept. 15, 2008 -- 7:10 am
Fukuoka, Japan

It's a national holiday here in Japan today and the usually bustling streets of Fukuoka are quiet. We're literally on our way out the door (well, Ed's in the shower yet) so you'll get to see some photos today with little commentary.

Peter and Ed did laundry last Friday morning and the images of tall Peter with the laundry man are great contrast of human form. Enjoy. Ask Ed sometime about the language barrier being broken on laundry day.

You'll hear more later this week about the ATM Adventures (we were calling it a crisis at first). Here's a photo of the famous 7-11 convenience store where the infamous ATM is located. Convenience stores serve as quasi banks here. More on that later.

Finally, here's Peter's photo from the souvenir book. From this photo you gain a perspective about his job as a performer with the Japanese company that owns the Blast Tour here in Japan.

Lastly, it's been great to blog from Japan. I've really appreciated the emails and comments. I'll add several more posts, but the immediacy will be gone as I'll be writing from Michigan.

So, we head back to the U. S. today, flying over Sarah Palin-land, with an ETA in Detroit of 11:45 am. This has been a fabulous experience for both of us.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

We Find the Bamboo Festival

Sunday morning, September 14, 2008
Fukuoka, Japan

The Oita Bamboo Festival, held here in city center Fukuoka, absolutely captured our hearts last night. We had spent the afternoon at the Sun Palace where we saw our third performance of Blast II: MIX. Peter had the lead visual role in the afternoon performance and it was a thrill to see him dance. (Dr. Dixie Duerr would be so proud, Peter!) Ed and I were hungry after the performance and headed back to the neighborhood around our hotel to find a restaurant.

We ate early, around 5 pm, and then enjoyed coffee at a Seattle's Best Coffee place, right across from the Starbuck's that we've been frequenting. Ed says Starbucks' brew is better.

We decided to walk a bit before sunset and came upon the Oita Bamboo Festival in a large open air plaza. There were vendor booths set up around the square, tables with umbrellas and chairs in the center of the plaza, a stage with live music, flags everywhere, and all of these strange pieces of bamboo surrounding the entire plaza.

Taking a closer look, we saw tea light candles inside a hollowed out spot at the top of the bamboo sections. There were hundreds of these bamboo chunks, most about 18-30 inches tall and 3-4 inches in diameter. A tealight had been placed in the hollow and the people standing around were holding butane lighters and waiting for something.

At 6 pm there was a loudspeaker announcement and the lighting began. The tall city buildings already provided less light; sunset was about an hour away, so the glow of the candlelight became more and more golden inside the bamboo as the sun went down. It was an enchanting sight and was made more magical by the live music (well, it did sound sort of like an acoustic Irish folk band, but we enjoyed it a lot.)

There were cameras and people everywhere. The lighters were handed from person to person. Photos were snapped and there were smiles everywhere. Two young women from the staff of the Oita Prefecture Tourism Association, both English speakers, took us under their wing and explained that the Festival is a promotion to urge people to visit their area of Kyushu. Some of the bamboo chunks were arranged in the shape of the letters "O - I - T - A" and you can see some of the letters in the photos of Wanda (me) with the tourism staff. They insisted that we wear their tourism kimono jackets in these photos! What fun!
Stumbling across the Bamboo Festival was a delightful, unplanned part of our days here in Japan. Once again, we are so impressed with the friendliness and warmth of the Japanese people as we shared this beautiful evening with them.

Today's photos show the Bamboo Festival, the bamboo candle holders, the tourism staff with Ed and me, and a booth selling plums at the Festival.
NOTE: I missed posting yesterday and promised to write about Peter doing laundry and several other things. Watch for that post later today. WJ

Friday, September 12, 2008

Today is Yesterday Or is Yesterday Today?

11:30 pm -- September 12
Fukuoka, Japan

I'm writing this post really late on Friday here in Fukuoka. Tonight we went to the Sun Palace theatre and saw the second of four shows of Blast II:MIX that we're going to see this weekend. Peter performed tonight; tomorrow afternoon he'll do the lead role and we're eager to see him in that very demanding track.

Last night the cast and crew had their annual bowling tournament AFTER doing all their preliminary tech work and performing two shows. It was a long day for them, but we all went bowling here in Fukuoka at an entertainment center about six blocks from the hotel. We had a great time. The photo is of me with my BLAST bowling buddies. From left to right: Jim, choreographer and lead male dancer; Zeke, dancer (and a really good one!); Iso who is a lighting tech; Jay, production stage manager; and me (known to the cast and crew as Peter's mom.)

On Wednesday afternoon Peter, Ed and I took a taxi to the harbor area where we walked through an interpretive center about the importance of the harbor. Fukuoka is closer to Korea than it is to Tokyo and shipping is big business here. We learned that about 25% of what is imported here is food. There are numerous wharves, an international ferry between here and Pusan, Korea and smaller ferries that go back and forth across the harbor.

We took a ferry to the Marin Ocean aquarium which is part of a much larger park on a small peninsula that encompasses the harbor. We enjoyed the dolphin show and saw lots of sealife there.

The trip back from the aquarium showed us Peter' expertise in understanding the Japanese railway system. We left the park on one short line railroad and transferred to a Japan Rail line. When that second rail line ended, we transferred to the subway which runs about a block away from the hotel. It's all fairly complicated until you get the hang of the maps and charts and ins and outs of the railroads here.

Now you need an explanation of the "today is yesterday" comment in the title of this posting. We've been watching evening baseball from the US here in Japan. So, we're seeing an East Coast game (first pitch is usually at 7:05 pm) at 8:05 in the morning here. Ed and I have been watching the ABC nightly news at 7:30 am (with voiceover in Japanese and subtitles in Japanese and Chinese and maybe Korean) and then we tune in MLB ball games. So, you see, we're seeing yesterday's game but it's really today for us. . .and the game is live. So is today yesterday, or is yesterday today? Hmm. . .it probably doesn't make any difference at all.

That's it for today from Fukuoka. You've learned about US baseball which is really big here in Japan, some more about the railroads, and about a supposedly blue collar sport that's enjoyed right here in a Japanese city of 1.4 million people.


Tomorrow's topics: Peter does laundry with Ed; daily shopping; Ed continues his chopsticks education.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Chopsticks? Of Course We Can Use Them!

From Fukuoka, Japan -- 9:52 AM 9/11/08

As I write this post we are sitting in our hotel room, having morning coffee, watching the Tampa Bay Rays play the Red Sox (game is tied right now at the top of the sixth), and following the tsumani warnings for Northern Japan on several television channels. Apparently there is some seismic activity going on today in on Hokaido, the northern island.

Today is Peter's back to work day. He'll be at the theatre by 10 am for prep time and run throughs. Then there are two performances today at 2 pm and 7 pm. We'll see the 7 pm performance since Peter will be the "swing" then. Usually the swings don't perform in the first and last performances of a city run. Peter will do the lead track on Saturday at 1 pm so we'll see that performance, too.

We're located in the Nakasu district of central Fukuoka, about 20 walking minutes from the Sun Palace where Blast performs. The hotel is at the edge of a huge nightlife district. Guidebooks say this area has over 2000 clubs, restaurants, ramen shops and more. Last night we saw even more people on the streets and it was only Wednesday night.

The ramen stalls along the river open around sunset. Lined up one after another, the open air cooking booths have charcoal fires contained in metal cookers. Ramen is pork broth and noodles served in a large bowl. You get your choice of meat and/or veggies added to the bowl. You eat with chopsticks and drink the broth as you get further into the bowl.

Some stalls (the good ones, we were told) have lines of people waiting and sitting on little stools along the river. When you eat, you pull up to the counter in the booth and choose your food. One stall might have the Fukuoka Hawks baseball game broadcast on the radio. Another had a TV screen tuned to news. Still others have waiters walking the sidewalk and preparing guests for their seating.

It's all very casual and very conversational. Smells range all the way from "Hey, let's eat here" to "keep going, keep going." We considered a meal, but Peter wanted to introduce us to okonomiyaki which he calls Japanese pancakes. So we found an okonomiyaki restaurant in at Canal City, a beautiful multistory shopping and hotel complex further upriver.

At the okonomiyaki restaurant we sat in a booth that had a large hot plate built right into the tabletop. We ordered, or shall I say that Peter ordered. Most restaurants have English menus and non-Japanese speaking diners point to the entree that you want and say "hai" which is yes and then indicate how many you want. The exception seems to be Coke which is a universal word here.

We ordered okonomiyaki with beef, pork and veggies. The waiter brought a bowl with chopped cabbage, what looked like mayo and an egg. He stirred all together and put the ingredients into a shaped pile on the grill. Meat or veggies went on top. He left for five minutes or so. On return, he flipped the "pancake" and sprinked what might have been very thin dried bacon on top. Everything smelled very good since it was cooking right in front of us. Peter also ordered sea scallops with butter which they brought to him and he grilled separately.

The waiter flipped the pancakes again and then swirled a brown sauce on top. One guidebook said that the sauce contains worchestershire sauce. I thought it was sweetened, too. Then, we ate. Each of us had chopsticks and a small metal spatula to cut off our wedge of okonomiyoki. Ed had not used chopsticks before and quickly proved to have great dexterity. We enjoyed the foray into a type of Japanese cuisine that was new to us. For the record, on Wednesday night, Ed ate sweet corn OFF the cob with chopsticks. Hmm. . .he's getting good!
Today's pictures show the ramen stalls and the okonomiyaki meal.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Visit to Hiroshima

On Tuesday, September 9 Peter, Ed and I visited Hiroshima. We took the Shinkasen or bullet train from Hakata Station in Fukuoka to Hiroshima and then rode the streetcar to the Peace Park area.

First we came upon the Atomic Dome, a structure that was partially destroyed by the blast and has been preserved as a reminder of the power of nuclear weapons. Walking beyond the dome, we came in site of the full park which has been built over the area that was "ground zero" for the explosion. At this point of the day, we still did not have an idea of how large of an area in central city Hiroshima had been destroyed by the immediate impact of the atomic bomb.

I had read John Hershey's Hiroshima as a student and knew about the tragedy of the bombing. I have also stood under the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the bomb, down at the Air Force Museum at Wright Patternson Air Force Base near Dayton, OH.
All of that is only a prelude for walking on the site of the bomb and seeing the poignancy of the Peace Park. I was very moved by the Children's Peace Monument, a tall monument where schoolchildren, one by one, rang the bell. We saw strands of origami peace cranes at the monument -- chains that have been brought to the site by peace loving people from all over the world.

We walked through Peace Memorial Hall and Hiroshima Peace Museum. Both are massively moving experiences -- I had tears several times as I read exhibits and thought about what I was seeing and where I was standing.

Today's photos show the Atomic Dome, the Children's Monument, peace cranes, and 2 views of the Shinkasen ride, including a photo of Ed and me before we boarded the train.

More tomorrow. . .including a look at the ramen booths along the river here in Fukuoka and Ed's first chopsticks only meal!

WJ from Japan

Sunday, September 7, 2008

We're in Fukuoka!

Ed and I are "recuperating" from a long day of travel from Pigeon to Saginaw to Detroit to Osaka to Fukuoka, Japan.
Our yesterday was really less than a 24 hour day, but felt like quite a bit more since we packed about a 12 hour Sunday into the day.
Our first plane ride took us from Saginaw, MI (MBS) to Detroit (DTW.) That's the usual hop that we take to get to Detroit Metro. We left Saginaw around 10:30 am on Sat., Sept. 6. By Sunday night we had arrived safely at the Hakata Excel Hotel Toku after a long flight to Osaka and another, much shorter flight to Fukuoka.

We're wading into using the Japanese yen and I'll probably write more about that soon. This morning we watched television in both English and Japanese. We saw the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners play Sunday night baseball. So the game was happening yesterday for us since we're in Japan, but the game was live in Seattle. Cool. Just have to set the brain to the 13 hour time change.

Peter and the Blast II MIX company arrive this afternoon. I've hardly slept. Can't seem to reset the sleeping clock yet. I'm sure that I'll collapse and sleep well tonight!


Photo was taken as we descended into Fukuoka with the sun setting over what we think is the Straits of Korea. Fukuoka is on the south island, Kyushu, and is very near to Korea.