Thursday, December 17, 2009

'S Been A Looooooonng Time

Hi Readers!

Dane speaking.

It's been almost a month since this blog has seen action! This post is for those of you who have no idea what's been going on in our corner of the world.

So, Ian was in Bali, Shan was in Sweden and Finland, and I was in Japan.

I can't speak for the other two, but I will give you a rundown of my time in Japan, and the happenings up 'til this point.

I stayed in Japan after the others left. This put me in Japan for a month by me onesy. Well, not exactly. I stayed in a hostel in Utsunomiya for about two weeks, and then Joey and Ton offered a room at their place, where I stayed for another two weeks.

I taught English at Mike's school for the last two weeks. I think I finally understand why teachers always want students to ask questions. All of my favorite students constantly asked questions, and the worst classes were the ones where I had to do all the talking. So, I'd like to apologize to my teachers if I was ever too quiet.

Anyway, Ian rejoined me in Japan on the 27th of Nov (I think), and on the 1st of December, we met Shan at Narita Airport and shipped off to Bangkok, Thailand.

Bangkok is a dirty, noisy, busy and rude city. Quite a shock after Japan. I hadn't realized how polite and quiet and clean the Japanese are. Just as I was beginning to speak a bit of Japanese, and read one of their alphabets (Katakana) I was thrown back into the storm of culture shock. I can't understand a word of Thai, I can't read a letter of Thai, and 99% of the people who are friendly to me want my money.

Despite all this, it's actually a pretty nice place.

Being me, I had to go to Pantip Plaza, the biggets IT shopping center in Bangkok. It's filled with small stalls on several floors, vendors hawking everything from legitimate, overpriced laptops, to ridiculously cheap pirated DVDs and software. I bought a headphone splitter for 20B (about 80¢). I had left my camera charger in Japan, at Joey's house, so I had to get another one. I bargained for a bit, and managed to knock the charger down to 600B, from 790B. That was fun.

The first hostel we stayed in cost us 100B/night/person. That's $3/night/person. Wayyy cheap. Thailand is FAR cheaper than Japan. My hostel in Japan cost me $25/night.

The second hostel we stayed at cost us 150B/night/person. That's $4.50. That hostel also had a bar and a restaurant on site.

The second day we were in Bangkok, we met up with Don, the father of Ian's friend from Exeter. He took us to a really nice private Polo club, where we had a really nice dinner and talked about Thailand. Then his personal driver took us all to the Oriental Hotel, which is really fancy, and we pretended to be guests there so we could get a free ferry ride across the river to a really nice restaurant.

The next day, his personal driver drove us around Bangkok, and we saw the Grand Palace (almost too ornate to be tasteful), and the Teak Mansion, which is one of the residences of Thailand's royalty.

Huge thanks to Don for the tour.

Anyways, my battery is dying, but the followup post will cover from when we left Bangkok to our current location.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

More Bali

Okay. Yes, I said we would update more. Yes, I meant it at the time. No, I have not updated in the 19 days since I wrote that.

Are we over it yet? Good.

So, Kuta: It's gaijin heaven, and not just for the gaijin. The part of town that I'm in, Poppies Lanes 1 and 2, is an ecosystem of tourism. Dozens of cheap hotels, overpriced restaurants, little tourist boutiques, and guys hanging around bikes saying "Transport?". Ten minutes walk in one direction is the beach, lined with guys renting out surfboards and selling drinks, and in the other direction are the clubs, lined with prostitutes. If I thought the separation between tourist and local was bad in Ubud, it's a mile wider here. Gaijin are marks, not people.

I'm being a little unkind here. Quite honestly, I've enjoyed the tourist experience; I've been rafting down a tropical river, scuba diving in a WWII shipwreck, and I learned to surf. Everything here is cheaper than the US or Japan ($7.50 a night at my hotel, and $5.00 for a full meal) and I'm finally warm at this time of year, which hasn't happened enough in my life. I've even been on a date to a temple with a local girl (pictures of which will be posted soon). I have one more week here, and then I go back to Japan for a few days, where I'll meet up with Dane and Shan again. I would say I'll post something then, but we've both heard that one before. Maybe we'll be lucky.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Our new whereabouts

Hello faithful readers,

First off, I'm sorry we haven't posted more regularly. That was our bad. In future, we promise (to try) to update more regularly. So, in light of our recent lax blog habits, this post has a lot to cover.

Some of you may have heard that the original plan was to continue on to China after Japan. That idea has been dropped like a Ming Dynasty vase in the Great Leap Forward. Now none of us are within two thousand miles of each other. Right now I'm coming to you live from Bali, Indonesia.

A few farewell thoughts about Japan: I loved it there. I loved how polite everyone was, I loved how clean and healthy everything was, I loved the food, and I especially loved the absolutely incomprehensible game shows they had on weeknight television. If I can I plan on moving to Beppu some time in the next few years. Also, an enormous thanks to Mike and Joey and all the gaijin in Utsunomiya, for giving us places to stay, offering us jobs, and just showing all of us a fantastic time. There aren't words to describe just how much we owe you guys.

So as I said, we split up after Japan. I came to Bali by way of Hong Kong, arriving in Ubud on the 30th. Thus far this place agrees with me immensely. Pros about Bali:
-The prices. I get a sizeable room with its own bathroom for $15 a night, meals cost between $3 and $8 each, and an hour-long massage costs $12 or less. I don't have to freak out about costs any more.
-Availability of services. Tourism has become such a part of Bali that everywhere has signs in English, international ATM's can be found everywhere, and there are cafes with free wifi every few blocks. Massage parlors are everywhere too.
-The scenery. Ubud is deceptively large, because everywhere you look there's massive foliage blocking your view, which makes you feel like you're in the jungle rather than on the main street. All the buildings are elaborately carved and decorated with stone heads or reliefs, usually with a religious motif. My personal favorites are these tiny squares made of woven palm leaves that are left on the sidewalk. They're about three inches to a side and filled with brightly colored flowers and crackers, sometimes with incense burning. I'm told that they're offerings left to appease the spirits who lived here before humans came.

The cons of Bali:
-The tourism. It's impossible to see how the locals live because the local and tourist lives are completely separate. Every local I see, besides the kids and the people who live by my hostel, is working in the tourism business, either in restaurants or shops or sitting on the sidewalk calling out "Transport?" every time I walk by. You'd think the trade-off of this would be more people speaking English, but it isn't. Everyone has a vocabulary of 10-50 words pertaining to their profession or convincing tourists to give them money, but they can't give directions or answer simple questions in English.
-The gaijin. Every fifth person I see is a white or Asian tourist. This by itself wouldn't be so bad, but the white people especially are loud, rude, and ignorant. I don't know if that's because of the time in Japan where everyone's so respectful or what, but they really irk me.

Anyway, there are my first impressions. Overall, I think I'm really going to enjoy myself here. Tomorrow I head for Kuta, where I plan to spend my days lounging on the beach drinking coconut milk and surfing, and my nights going out to the clubs. I'll keep you all updated.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

There is an explanation for this, you know.

Well here we are the month of October nearly over and we have posted a grand total of, well I guess this makes four times... yeah, that was our bad. In by way of an apology let me offer you this embarrassing little story. Rewind with me if you will a few weeks back to the little seaside twon of Beppu. You remember Beppu right? It's hot, the air is something you practically have to swim through, pockets of steam are rising out of the street and the rise and fall of the ocean is booming off in one ear. We are off to a little traditional sushi restaurant we discovered in a back alley a few nights before which had, quite honestly, the best sushi any of us had ever tasted, the people were also really nice and we had had an awesome interaction with them the last time we were there.
Since it was our last night in town we decided to splurge and get the most expensive thing on the menu. You should probably know the menu is in Japanese with no pictures and no one at this restaurant speaks English. Anyway when we point to the item in question the lady kind of raises an eyebrow but leaves and gets it anyway. It turns out to be a plate of sushi with a decorative shrimp head on it. We were thought it a bit odd but hey whatever it's something new. Anyway I'm just reaching out for a piece when Nate says, “Um guys. I think that thing is moving.”
We're all like, “What no way.” But in the spirit of adventure I reach out an poke it with a chopstick. Sure enough moves and we're all like, “Holy shit!” (pardon the language please.)
Anyway, we decide to eat other things and leave the poor thing to die in peace. We were just reaching for other stuff on the table when suddenly the head just freaks the hell out. If you've ever seen the movie Alien it was kind of like that. It opened it's mouth and shot out these prong-fan things that were opening and closing spasmodically.
If you've ever wanted to see four grown men jump that would have been the moment to be there. Nate nearly flipped the table over on Ian. Anyway we were all so wigged out by it we ended up covering the head with an empty bowl and all drinking water for the majority of the rest of the meal. Apparently the the actual piece of sushi that was the other end of the head was really tasty, only Nate and Ian tried it though so I can't really say.
Later we discovered this strange and emasculating dish is called "dancing shrimp" and is considered somewhat of a delicacy. Apparently we were supposed to tear the meat off it's head an eat that, they say it's delicious. Knowing this I can only imagine what the poor serving lady must have thought finding the most sumptuous part the meal carefully tucked away from sight after we left. I hope she got a kick out it.
As always semper fi.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Probability That We Are Dead

So. It's been, what, 18 days since you've heard from us? Wondering if we are still alive? We can answer that question.

The probability that we were dead, just before you read this post, was 0.0049%, or 49/10,000ths of a percent.

Wondering how we got that number?

Fairly simple. has a data set of the yearly mortality rate for every age. The average mortality rate for our age group (18-25) is 25 per 100,000.

25/100,000 = .00025

Divide by 365 to get the daily mortality rate.

.00025/365 = .0000006849

Add 1 and raise to the power of the number of days we have been out of contact.

1.0000006849^18 = 1.000012328 - 1 = 0.000012328

Multiply by four of us, and you get (approx):

.000049 or 0.0049%

Pretty good odds that we are still alive.

Anyway. What have we done since October 2nd? Here goes.

We went back up to Utsunomiya to visit the nurses' school. They asked us to come to their school festival, and what could we do but accept?

Friday night we arrived in Utsunomiya, went to Mike's place and crashed. Thanks a ton to Mike for letting us use his apartment, and thanks to Joey for providing sleeping bags and pads.

Saturday morning, we woke up at 9:30, figuring that it would take us a little over a half an hour to get to the school. Google maps had provided us with a path, and at 10:30, we set out, hoofing it in the general direction of the eisei-fukushi-daigakkou, or the Hygiene Welfare College. In Japanese, that's 衛生福祉大学校, which you may not be able to read. Don't worry, I can't either.

Anyway, 30 minute walk, right? WRONG. Two and a half hours later, and two hours late, we arrived at what we thought Google maps was pointing to. A middle school. Crying inside, we went to a Denny's (yes, a Denny's) and ate lunch, and then hobbled our way back to Mike's apartment, where I promptly fell asleep. We decided that, in the interests of not offending the girls too badly, we should take a taxi the next day. Thankfully it was a two day festival.

Sunday dawned bright, and we were up by 9:00 and out of the house. Several of the nurses we know were performing a dance at 10:00, or so we thought. We walked down the street, flagged a taxi, and I showed him the address of the school. He paused for a moment, and then with much miming managed to ask me what the name of the place was. I said eisei-fukushi-daigakku, and he grinned and nodded, and we were off.

After a few minutes of silence, he suddenly asked me a question, and when I motioned that I spoke no Japanese, he repeated one word several times.

"Noburu, noburu, noburu. "

What is noburu...?
Then he said:


Bing! Light bulb! The Japanese have no "l" sound, so noburu meant Nobel! I said "Hai, hai!" (Yes, yes!). Awesome taxi driver.

Then the bottom of my stomach dropped out. We were following the same route that we walked the day before. Oh no! My mind went crazy, thinking that perhaps we had the wrong directions... Augh! Lesson to be learned, if you ever travel in Japan:


They know what they are doing. Turns out, so does Google maps. I had misinterpreted the map and the middle school we thought Google maps was pointing to? Just a few blocks away from the Nursing school.

Damn it.

Anyway, the festival was awesome. A band played a few numbers, and quite well. Then the girls got on stage and did three choreographed dance numbers, set to pop music, all of which were really well done.

After the dance numbers, the girls showed us around the school a little, and then we sat and talked for a few hours. One of the friends of the girls had brought her son, who must have been 2 or so. I believe his name was Coco (Coco-chan, in Japanese, the chan essentially means little). Soooo cute. The girls got several pictures, which may or may not be arriving by email eventually.

After a couple of hours of talking, we finally ran out of conversation, and made our way back. Turns out it's about a 45 minute walk. Bleh.

That night, after Ian and Shan napped for a good four hours, we went to Joey's place, where he hosted a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. We were joined by Joel, a friend of Joey's who is also into D&D.

EIGHT HOURS LATER, we had slain several harpies, some skeletons, a succubus and her summoned Vroc (giant bird), and a Lich with wicked amounts of health, and an insanely irritating spell called Disintegrate that hits for 2d6/level. Joey was rolling 22 six sided dice to figure out the damage. Ian nearly died.

Anyway, at about 3:30am we headed back to Mike's apartment and crashed.

That's pretty much the extent of our adventures in Utsunomiya. Next post will cover Yokohama, and the tallest building in Japan!

Until next time,


Friday, October 2, 2009

The Next Stage

Hello all,
If you've been following the chronology of this blog you'll notice there's a chunk of a couple days missing between getting to Hiroshima and Beppu. That post about Hiroshima will show up, but we left it in Nate's hands and he asked for a little more time to write about it. Rest assured, it's coming.

We left Beppu on the 28th and stayed another wonderful night with Joey, Ton, and Luke in Utsunomiya. The next day we left for Tokyo to meet with the gaijin house agency so we could move into our apartments. We got into the city at 6:00, couldn't find any of the landmarks on our map, realized we had confused Tokyo Station with Shinjuku Station, took another train, ran through Shinjuku, and burst into the agency's office at 7:59, just before they closed at 8:00. Fortunately we were able to sign our lease agreements and move into our apartments that evening. That's where we've been these last few days.

As living quarters go, we've seen worse. The apartments are in a suburb of Tokyo called Kosuge, which puts us about 30 minutes away from Shinjuku. We have one room that's 12 m^2 with a tiny table, a bed, and a futon on the first floor that Shan and I live in (I'm on the floor, because that's how dibs works), and a 9 m^2 apartment on the second floor with two futons for Nate and Dane. There's a communal bathroom and shower and a shared kitchen with basic uttensils. Apart from us, there's an Asian woman living in another apartment who doesn't seem to like us (she has yet to respond to inciting comments like "Good afternoon" and "How are you?") and a cockroach that I've dubbed Lewis.

My only real problem with this place is the garbage. It's not that we live in a filthy house. Quite the opposite. I just think it's a little overly complicated when you have four separate trash bins, each with it's own label for what should go in it, and you still think you're missing a bin. We're supposed to separate the trash into burnable, non-burnable, glass, PET (plastic) bottles, and plastic waste. This raises interesting questions, such as "At what temperature is something no longer considered burnable?" "If it melts but does not actually produce flame, is it burnable?" "Can you burn styrofoam?" The gaijin house agency showed us an eight-minute video about it that said one thing, the list on the fridge says another, and our housemate seems to sort trash in a way that completely contradicts the first two. The only thing we know for sure is that we're doing it wrong, since on our third day we found a post-it note politely asking us to sort the damn garbage properly.

Our day-to-day existence has been very laid back compared to our traveling of the first few weeks. We usually wake up between 11:00 and 1:30, have a leisurely breakfast-lunch, make an excursion to Tokyo or the nearby neighborhood, pick up dinner from the nearby 24-hour grocery store, cook, then hang around in the rooms browsing the internet or watching anime together. We usually make a food run to the grocery store around midnight, then crash at about 3:00 or 4:00. We'll probably get off our asses and go do stuff soon, but right now it feels really nice to just not do anything for a while. Anyway, with this post our blog is finally caught up and current (except for Nate's long-awaited Hiroshima post) and we'll do our best to keep it that way.


Beppu and Humidity

Beppu is a comfortably medium size city on the southern end of Japan. It is nestled between heavily forested mountains and the pacific ocean.

Beppu is also situated in an area scattered with hotsprings, and thus it is Japan's official onsen (hot spring) town.

Because the onsen is a piece of Japanese tradition dating back thousands of years, it has certain rituals and customs associated with it. The onsen is probably the best indicator of Japanese attention to cleanliness. The onsen bath houses are split by gender, and swimsuits are not allowed in the pools. The only piece of cloth allowed into the bathing area is a small towel for each person. This can be used to cover one's self, but most people don't bother. To keep the pools clean, everyone must wash thorougly, with soap, at washing stations clustered along one wall. The nudity was a bit of a shock for us, at first, but we quickly became accustomed to it.

One thing to know is that there is no chlorine in the pools. Just mineral water. This may make some people hesitant, but let me tell you, the Japanese onsens are far cleaner than any American hot tub I have ever been in, and they have the added advantage of making you feel really good after you are done. You will never feel that dry itchy chlorinated awfulness that American pools bestow upon you.

Another thing to make note of: most onsens, including the really good ones, are cheap. The best one I went to in Beppu cost 100 yen. That's $1.11 according to  Google. Our hostel had an onsen, that we were free to use at any time. On the 26th of each month, every onsen in Beppu costs 260 yen, even the most expensive ones.

Another thing about Beppu: the air itself is practically an onsen. It was unbelievably humid. The air was a warm soup. I sweated constantly.

We stayed for three nights, and had an awesome time. We lazed around in various mineral pools, played much Fire Emblem, ate cup ramen, and slept lots.