Santa Cruz Visitor Decathlon

Firstly, good work to all those that correctly identified last post's interchallenge: Trees Of Mystery near Klamath, CA on highway 101. In all the times I've passed by it, I've still never paid the $13 to do the tour. Maybe someday...

We just finished with a wonderful (albeit way too short) visit to Santa Cruz. Although it may have been short, we still managed to complete 7(ish) of 10 of the Visitor's Decathlon events.

1. Tree Platform: a platform 72 feet up in a redwood at the top of a ridge overlooking the Monterrey Bay.
2. frisbee golf: we played 9 holes on the world renowned frolf course.*
3. roller coaster: the Giant Dipper is the 3rd oldest roller coaster in the US. It is wooden, it is historic, and it is awesome. *
4. Saturn Cafe: quirky vegetarian cafe. We ate there. It was delicious.
5. Malobar's or Dharma's: this is one we missed. We only had a few meals to eat out and this missed the cut.
6. pier and sea lions: check.
7. surfing or watching surfers: this is the ish. The weather wasn't great so they weren't out in droves, and we had already stopped for a bit up highway 1 to watch the gnarl be shralped.
8. Tandem bike: missed it. Next time...
9. Mystery Spot: Alisa and I thoroughly enjoyed this one*.
10. Adult gymnastics: had we had more than 48 hours in Santa Cruz, this is one we definitely would have liked to get in. Instead, we played some beach volleyball*.

I had so much fun on this decathlon, maybe I should consider looking into the Olympics...
Thursday April 9 2009File under: travel, USA

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Changing Gears

For those of you who recognize where this picture is taken, you might be feeling a little confused. (For those of you who don't recognize the location of the photo, consider it an interchallenge*.) "I could have sworn Wren was in Japan." Well, I was*. Then I came home. For 36 hours. Then I left again. Wheeeee!!

I don't want to divulge too much about my current location because interchallenges are so much fun. But since a picture-less blog post is so thoroughly frowned upon, I have to add these little pictorial hints as to location of said road trip. Hint #1 Hint #2
Monday April 6 2009File under: travel, USA

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Vending Machine Restaurants

I mentioned how the Japanese love their vending machines*, right? Well, it's not only street corners where you find them. Some restaurants use vending machines in place of counter people. You just put your money in, select the button of the item you want (assuming you can read what the button says, which I can't (although sometimes there are pictures)), and then take the ticket over to the cooks, and you're good to go.

It is really a clever business model. It gets rid of the need for a person to deal with the money and orders and no one can be blamed for screwing up an order. All the restaurants of this type that I saw (which were pretty much in any big city) had only 2 cooks, and that's all. It really serves to keep costs down which is reflected in the price of the food. Most places, you could get udon or soba noodle soup for around $3.00. If you wanted a little meat in the form of a tempura prawn or processed fish tube*, it might cost a little extra.

Yep, once you learn how it works, vending machine restaurants are awesome. Before you know how they work, well, not so much*.
Friday April 3 2009File under: travel, Japan

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Pachinko Postcard


Wednesday April 1 2009File under: travel, Japan

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East Japan Picture Catch-up

I know my last couple posts have been light on photos, so here's a sample of what I've been up to. (East Japan is actually better described as northern Honshu, but my rail pass calls it East Japan, so I'm just rolling with it.)
Tuesday March 31 2009File under: travel, Japan

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The Great Asian Breakfast Dilemma

I'm an unashamed breakfast guy. For me, it's easily the best meal of the day*; such variety, such flavor, and oh so much comfort. In my travels in Asia, however, a satisfactory breakfast is hard to come by.

Sure I get by. I'll do fruit from a street stand, steamed bread dumplings from a convenience store, or even the occasional McDonald's breakfast sandwich*. If I'm lucky enough to be staying with a friend, I'll whip up a scramble with whatever recognizable veggies I can find and some proto-cheese or rejoice in a bowl of cereal.

More often than not, however, I do as the locals [presumably] do. Often that means rice and fish or really white white bread with non-jam jam. At the occasional hotel, a breakfast buffet is included which stateside would make me wake up early like a kid on Christmas morning. Here, however, I trudge downstairs with at least the promise of a comfortable chair to do my crossword in if little else.

Lunches and dinners, give me what you got; mayonnaise and corn pizza, seaweed noodle soup, cabbage pancakes, etc. I'll at least try it and walk away feeling my horizons have been expanded. As for breakfast, a nice Denver omelet would really hit the spot right about now. Heavy on the cheese, please.
Sunday March 29 2009File under: travel, Japan

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File this one under completely random Japanese experiences:

I'm now in the city of Towada in northeast Japan. It is a small-ish city that again doesn't see many honkies. As per usual, I set out on the town with no agenda but to wander around (and possibly buy an ice cream or 3). I was being shown around by a friend of a friend (people are awesome!) - getting the back story on the town, recommendations for which sushi place to check out, etc. Anyway, walking through the town's park (home of baseball and soccer fields, track, and sumo ring, all open to the public), we happened upon the high school's baseball practice.

All of the sudden, while we were just chatting on the side line, we hear the coach yell "Ohio gozaimasu" (which means "good morning") and the whole team stops what they are doing, turns to face us*, and yells "Ohio gozaimasu" (loudly, much like a military response). Then comes the weird part: they all bow, very deeply from the hips, showing us the top of their heads, and just staying like that. Um...awkward. We said "ohio gozaimasu" back and bowed back (although of course no one saw us bow because they were all still very bowed.) Then we slowly backed away.

Traveling is neat.
Saturday March 28 2009File under: travel, Japan


Sister City

Does your town have a sister city? Would you know what it meant if you did? Besides an organized student exchange and town crier representation at very select municipal events, I had no idea. With the hope of remedying that under-education, I set off northward from Tokyo to visit my home town's sister city.

Kisakata, Japan rates barely a paragraph in the ever ubiquitous Lonely Planet, which is a pretty good indication of how many foreigners they see 'round these parts. But escaping the beaten path was high among the reasons I chose to find my way here. And just because they don't see many honkies doesn't mean that tourism doesn't thrive. From great signage* to a visitors center and gift shops, the town seems to really welcome travelers. Walking paths along the water, abundant nature, and a great coast line complete with sandy beaches* are just a few of the attractions that draw Japanese folk here.

Slowly, similarities between Kisakata and Anacortes become apparent. But is that all a sister city is, a similar city on the far side of the globe? Is there no special handshake you can give someone on the street and get invited to their home for a traditional meal and warm bed? No privileges or special responsibilities of individual citizens? While I didn't go knocking on the door at city hall, it didn't really seem like Kisakata had any great familial love it was ready to show me.

Despite no key to the city or party thrown in my honor, I feel I appreciate Kisakata more than most places I go. I find myself imagining life here for the people, from a simple trip to the grocery store to how it would be to grow up here. I smile at people I meet on the street knowing that although they don't know I'm from their sister city, and even if they did BFD, I feel a little closer to them, kind of like the bond to a second cousin once-removed; you share very little tangible, but hey, they're family.

So while my visit to Kisakata is, on the surface, similar to my time in any other random city (wander around, take random pictures, geocache, see the sights, etc.) it feels a little deeper, a little bigger. This place may not have benefited from my being here, but I have. And I hope this appreciation, while founded on an abstract, almost contrived concept, can be spread to the Anacortes people I share my experience with so when a grubby backpacker from Kisakata finds his or her way to Anacortes, their chances of a stranger taking them in for a meal and showing them around town is a slight bit better. After all, they are kind of like family.
Thursday March 26 2009File under: travel, Japan

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The Story of the Poop

With my recent turlets post and the awesome bathroom antics over at IHJ, I figured this an appropriate time for this post, which has been cooking for some time.

Back in Taiwan, about a month ago*, I was getting all gussied up for Bob's wedding (keep in mind that "gussied up" for me is like decent looking for anyone else). When I got my fancy slacks on, I noticed something in the pocket: it was a piece of rubber poop. What immediately came out of my mouth was, "Well played, Allison."

For some time now, whenever I leave town on an adventure, I always end up carrying along with me this piece of rubber poop, although never by choice*. My neighbor Allison started the tradition of stowing the poop in my luggage some years ago. As I grow keener to being on my toes to catch it before I have to explain it to customs*, she keeps getting more and more devious in getting it in. This last time I was sure I was poop free, but sure enough, I was wrong. Maybe next time, I will steal away in the middle of the night, not having told anyone my plans. Or perhaps I will just need to get used to the giving a piece of poop a personal tour of the world.
Tuesday March 24 2009File under: travel, Japan

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Tokyo Marathon 2009

Have you ever watched a marathon in person? Toyko 2009 was my first. It was so overwelming just getting from place to place, wading through the crowds, and watching so many people exert themselves so much, I am completely pooped. I can only imagine how the 30,000 some participants must feel: a little out of sorts, perhaps.

My reasons for cruising all over town to catch bits and pieces of the festivities was to support my good buddy Dave* who ran like the dickens, beating his goal time by some 30 seconds. For all the stats and times, you'll have to check in with his blog tomorrow where he'll have a much better wrap up than me.

Despite getting rather lost (numerous times) on a rented bike that had only one speed that wasn't exactly perfect for the starting and stopping required for city sidewalk riding* and getting a little wet and really wind blown, it was a good day. There is nothing like a good mission to give purpose to your day.
Sunday March 22 2009File under: travel, Japan

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