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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Bay Area

Below are the 25 most recent journal entries.

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  2014.11.24  00.01
I'm Diffident, Modest, and Shylock

G&S/Bard mashup FTW!

One of the difficulties of editing or playing a trimmed-down version of Shakespeare is the need to keep as much of the character arcs as possible. In this case, a 40 minute version of TMoV means that Shylock (who is only in five scenes, even in the full version), unless you play him as a monster from the start (a fairly uninteresting choice, IMHO...or is it? See below) has to clearly evolve pretty quickly and demonstratively, without a lot of text for support.

Click us, do we not link?Collapse )

I had a blast. I love the challenge of (and original motivation for) putting on a show like this in such short notice, and it's The Bard, dammit! I also got to play a non-fool (though, don't get me wrong, I'd play another one in a second), and one of the most interesting characters in the canon, IMHO. And the UCSC theatre world feels so very different from Stanford, Lyric, etc, and gets me away from the usual Silicon Valley atmosphere (both literally and figuratively).
And I want to do it again :)


  2014.05.13  01.21
Pluggity Plug Plug. Come see our show this weekend!

Gilbert & Sullivan's Patience opens on Sat May 17th, 8PM, and closes after two performances Sun May 18th (2PM, 8PM) at the Graduate School of Business bowl at Stanford. The show has updated the Aesthetic Movement of the 1800's to more modern fads - Fandom and Cosplay. Specifically, the rival schools of poetry are now Star Trek vs Doctor Who. Watch twenty lovesick maidens change their allegiance at the drop of a fez. (see the phrase: "Fickle as a Gilbertian chorus") See their poor Dragoon guard fiances (including myself, the Colonel, who gets an updated patter song in this one) attempt to catch up....extremely badly (the costumes are frickin' brilliant; we broke ourselves laughing uncontrollably the first time we got into them).

Info: http://www.stanford.edu/group/savoyards/cgi-bin/
Interview with some of the cast, including some song snippets (and a poem): https://soundcloud.com/the-peninsula-report/savoyards-patience

[Edited to Add]
BTW, we need run crew and ushers (particularly the former). Anyone interested? We have a very minimal set; we may need need a bit of lifting for the platform and stairs and that's it (I think).


  2013.11.19  00.35
The answers:

* Kobe Acquired! (not really a quote, I hadn't been playing this game yet)

* Shoppin' Broccoli:
Dana Carvey stand-up

* Pear Pimples, but no Hairy Fishnuts:
Bloom County cartoon

* The Grasshopper Lies Heavy:
Philip K Dick's "The Man in the High Castle". In that universe, the Axis Powers won WWII. This is the title of a book in the novel in which the Allies win WWII

* I Am Disrepectful to Dirt...Join Me Or Die!
The Simpsons, "In Marge We Trust." Homer notices that he resembles the corporate logo of a Japanese cleaning product, "Mr. Sparkle." He writes to the company and receives a videotape containing one of their promotion videos

* Someone Set Us Up The Bomb
Zero Wing, Megadrive. The classic example of a bad translation in video games, as part of "All Your Base Are Belong to Us". One of the first big memes in the Web era.
People had a lot of fun photoshopping. The "official site" has plenty of links to pix at the left: http://www.planettribes.com/allyourbase/
And, of course, one of the best Flash animations ever, the 20,000 Zig, also known as All Your Smurf. I still giggle hysterically every time I see it:

* Let's Fighting Love! Let's Fighting Love!
South Park, "Good Times With Weapons." The kids are playing Ninjas (with real weapons). Every time it shifts into their POV, it becomes anime style. (And Kyle's ninja name is Bunraku, which is the name for Japanese puppet theater)
South Park Studios has all the old episodes online. A bonafide classic, and I love the corpulent design for Cartman and the face mask for Kenny. Poor Butters... Start at about 11:50 [you'll have to jump past the first set of commercials]

* There's a Hobo in my Room; It's Princess Leia, the Yodel of Life... Give Me My Sweater Back or I'll Play the Guitar
Surrealist early Flash animation. This takes the original Japanese version of the Pokemon theme and attempts to (badly) render a translation using what sounds like similar English syllables
(The title means 151 in Japanese - the original number of Pokemon)
In case the video's too painful for you, the section with the subtitles starts at 1:49

* "You liked Rashomon." "That's not how I remember it." Alternate: "Folks, we're experiencing some moderate Godzilla-related turbulence at this time, so I'm going to ask you to put your seatbelts back on"
Simpsons, "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo". The Simpsons win a trip to Japan, lose their money, then are forced to try to win plane ticket money on a deadly Japanese Game Show (the host is voiced by George Takei). I couldn't find clips of the quotes I chose, but here's my favorite scene in the episode
Actually, I take it back, I found the second quote, but it's in Spanish. The full quote is "Uh, everyone, please strap yourselves in, as we are experiencing a little Godzilla-related turbulence. It doesn't look too bad, though. He usually lets go at about 30,000 feet, and, after that, we'll just have to worry about Moth-Ra, Ged-Ra, and Rodan."

* I'm Sorry My Sister Turned You Parents into Pigs, but There's Nothing I Can Do. Alternate: There. Your body matches your brain.
Spirited Away. I'm not sure I ever heard these quotes directly, as I saw it, subtitled, at the AMC Kabuki in San Francisco when it first came out, and I don't recall how close the translation is. I can't find a clip of either of these.

* It Really SuckaSuckaSuckaSucka(etc) To Be Me. Alternate Title: "Blian! You Take Out The Lecycerabres!"
Avenue Q. It's the title of the song, but this is specifically referencing the broken English in Christmas Eve's verse.
The alternate is also Christmas Eve, from Everyone's a Bit Racist

* With a Purposeful Grimace and a Terrible Sound He Pulls the Spitting High-Tension Wires Down
Blue Oyster Cult, "Godzilla". Love the high tension wire effect.

* Sandy Frank! Sandy Frank! Likes to Crap in His Hand!
Mystery Science Theatre 3000, "Time of the Apes", a horrible Japanese ripoff of Planet of the Apes, featuring an Ape President who looks like a simian cross between Abe Lincoln and Colonel Sanders. Joel and company, as usual mercilessly trash Sandy Frank, who imported many of the classic Japanese monster movies to the US. They also make quite a few poop-flinging jokes in this one as well (e.g. when the main characters are facing an ape firing squad: "Ready, Aim..." "Fliiiiiing crap!"). They've got the *entire* episode on youtube. It's worth watching - one my favorite MST3K episodes. Sorry, didn't go looking for exactly where the quote appears. [They're basically riffing on the "Sandy Frank" theme, the music that appears during his credit during the opening and closing of the movie]

* You've got me turning up and turning down And turning in and turning 'round
The Vapors, "Turning Japanese".
Oh, and in case anyone thinks this is a euphemism for masturbation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turning_Japanese

* My Heart is Human, My Blood is Boiling, My Brain IBM
Styx, "(Domo Arigato) Mr. Roboto". Oh, when is someone going to revive this reviled, critical flop of a Rock Opera?

* It Was Hot, the Night We Burned Chrome
William Gibson's classic short story "Burning Chrome", and the beginning of his stories career as one of the inventors of Cyberpunk. [Yes, other novels, such as John Brunner's "Shockwave Rider" come first, but everyone thinks of Gibson as the progenitor of the genre. I think he said he knew little to nothing about computers, which is maybe why he was able to imagine all of this]

* "This doesn't make sense. Are those stupid things supposed to be animals or robots or what?" "I don't know, but I suddenly kinda wanna own them all."
South Park, "Chinpokomon" (Emmy nominated). An early classic. The scene containing the quote starts at 8:47


  2013.11.17  00.44
the quotes contest

Here all all the quotes, consolidated. Any other guesses (no cheating!)

* Kobe Acquired! (not really a quote, I hadn't been playing this game yet)
* Shoppin' Broccoli
* Pear Pimples, but no Hairy Fishnuts. Multiple people got the reference; Bloom County.
* The Grasshopper Lies Heavy
* I Am Disrepectful to Dirt...Join Me Or Die!
* Someone Set Us Up The Bomb
* Let's Fighting Love! Let's Fighting Love!
* There's a Hobo in my Room; It's Princess Leia, the Yodel of Life... Give Me My Sweater Back or I'll Play the Guitar
* "You liked Rashomon." "That's not how I remember it." Alternate: "Folks, we're experiencing some moderate Godzilla-related turbulence at this time, so I'm going to ask you to put your seatbelts back on"
* I'm Sorry My Sister Turned You Parents into Pigs, but There's Nothing I Can Do. Alternate: There. Your body matches your brain.
* It Really SuckaSuckaSuckaSucka(etc) To Be Me. Alternate Title: "Blian! You Take Out The Lecycerabres!"
* With a Purposeful Grimace and a Terrible Sound He Pulls the Spitting High-Tension Wires Down
* Sandy Frank! Sandy Frank! Likes to Crap in His Hand!
* You've got me turning up and turning down And turning in and turning 'round
* My Heart is Human, My Blood is Boiling, My Brain IBM
* It Was Hot, the Night We Burned Chrome
* "This doesn't make sense. Are those stupid things supposed to be animals or robots or what?" "I don't know, but I suddenly kinda wanna own them all."

Our phone lines are open. Operators are standing by for the next couple of days.


  2013.11.17  00.35
"This doesn't make sense. Are those stupid things supposed to be animals or robots or what?"

"I don't know, but I suddenly kinda wanna own them all."

I couldn't get out of bed that early. Just too zonked. I decided I'd simply show up at 9, when the public can roam around freely. The hotel shuttle bus to the airport was leaving at 10:10 (there was another at 12:10, but I'd get to Narita with < 2 hours to go, which I thought was pushing it). The Tsukigi Fish Market was supposed to be close to the hotel. I could also take the subway there. Maybe I'd stay past 10:10, and simply take the trains/subway to Narita. I looked to the information on Hyperdia, certain I could it. I moved my shuttle reservation to 12:10, as a backup plan, in case I had any issues.

I had an issue. Specifically, I took a wrong turn and couldn't find the damn station. I gave up and ran over on foot. It was 9:15 at this point. Assuming I got there by 9:30, and assuming it was about 10 minutes from the hotel, plus a 10 minute cushion for getting switching the shuttle bus back to 10:10 if I thought I was going to make it, that gave me 20 minutes to explore the market. Sadly, I didn't get to see a lot of the odd fish - I really needed to be there earlier, but my body finally said "no mas". The market isn't set up for tourists, it just became a tourist attraction on its own, which actually is a bit of a nuisance to the people actually trying to conduct business - it's the largest fish and seafood market in the world. Forklifts whizzing everywhere, people packing things up and moving on. There are plenty of booths nearby selling fish, and other food as well. I got some good shots, but I wish I'd been able to get up early.

I hot-footed it back to the hotel: 10AM on the dot. Hopped on the shuttle, and we were off. I watched the hotel clerk bow to us as the bus pulled away. I never quite got used to all the bowing. Every time a train conductor would enter or leave the cabin, they would turn and bow. Everyone operating the elevator would bow. Just a different cultural norm. I usually tried to bow in return when I could remember to. Another interesting peculiarities of Japan is its ackowledgment of the rudeness of public cellphone usage, and Japan is all about avoiding rudeness. Hence, no one on a bus, train, subway, etc is supposed to be talking on a cell (texting, I believe, is another matter). The sign on the shuttle bus said it all: "Portable phone should not be used on the bus, and they annoy the neighbors."

Saw a good Engrish sign on the way: "Tokyo Heirport." (at first, I thought it had said Heliport, as I saw quite a few of the on the roofs I photographed the past few days). There was also one for a product called Placenta. I don't remember if M or I figured out what it was - a protective covering of some kind, I think. Other than that, not much Engrish.

The plane flight back was 9 hours. For the hell of it, I put on all three Lord of the Rings movie. If I hadn't watched the end credits, I wouldn't gotten through them all in time - every time the stewardess spoke (in English, Japanese, and Mandarin), the screen paused. Gandalf was saying goodbye to everyone at the Gray Havens when we touched down and the video switched off. When I got home, I turned on the TV, and Fellowship was just beginning - they were showing all 3 on TV. Nice timing.

I got in around 9AM. JR picked me up at SFO. We went home, I showered, and we went out for lunch. Then I came home and tried to keep myself up long enough to counteract jetleg. Tomorrow, I'm off to Commedia rehearsal at 10, and Mikado Act I stumblethrough at 7. I've missed too much rehearsal already (for Commedia, due to Ruddigore, Japan, and XMas in WI, and we don't get that many rehearsals, period; for Mikado, there's a break Thanksgiving week, and a long one over XMas holidays). Monday I have one more week of work before I change jobs, and from the mail I've seen, there's a lot of work to be done and I don't want to leave people hanging. So, it's time for bed. The pix from my phone have been loaded onto my Mac, but the ones from L's camera will require a card reader - my built-in one hasn't worked since I shorted the thing out by pouring water on it while planning L's memorial.

There and Back Again, an Aimeric's Tale...


  2013.11.16  22.31
It Was Hot, the Night We Burned Chrome

We're now up to Friday (Tokyo time), still in Shinjuku [Keio Plaza Hotel] as the day begins. After talking to M, who suggested I look for LL Bean for a replacement bag (as they're likely to be much less pricey than most stores in Tokyo), I talked to the concierge. After some confusion over the name of the store (the LL was a bit of a problem), she tried to look it up but couldn't find anything, even though M mentioned there were some not too far away from what she remembered. The concierge suggested I head to one of the electronics stores in downtown, a few blocks away - they'd have a travel section. Actually, it turned out that there was a travel store there anyway, and I got a larger bag for 13800 yen (about $150, which M said was cheaper than LL Bean would have been when I talked to her later).

Insert coin to playCollapse )

I finally headed back to the hotel around 10:30. The fish market auction was at 5 AM (first come, first served; only 120 people overall get to tour the auction area, though anyone can come to the market afterwards), and I then had to get on the plane home later that day, to get into at 8:30 AM Pacific Time. I was going to be colossally overtired afterwards...


  2013.11.16  20.54
My Heart is Human, My Blood is Boiling, My Brain IBM

Impressions of Tokyo Disney rides, and the park in general.

General: Funny what's in English and what isn't. More on that in individual entries. No Main Street USA. There's something kind of like it, which is much shorter, but branches to the left and right to lead to a couple of sections to the park. No train to ride around the park. The monorail is located outside the park entrance, by the main hotel.

Star Tours: Identical to Disneyland outside (I like the Orlando "Ewok village" aesthetic better, but this is nice), and pretty similar inside. I was curious how the robots in the pre-show entertainment would sound with Japanese inflections. Actually, they sound similar. Seriously, imagine Patrick Warburton speaking words in Japanese, but otherwise using the same cadence and pitch he usually does. The stewardess warning is mostly in Japanese, but they kept a couple of sentences in English, using the original voice. Threepio and Vader just sound...wrong. As for sequences, I got Vader, Kayshkkk (only the 2nd time ever, actually), and Coruscant.

Space Mountain: Similar to Disneyland, but no Dick Dale surf music, just ambient noise. (Forgot to mention, during the Disneysea entry, that the Mysterious Island area has tons of atmospheric sounds on occasion, from the mountain occasionally erupting (and spewing fire) to sounds to work being done by Nemo and company). Although, I think this ride is longer, and turns more in both directions. No warp field before the picture, just a quick, abrupt halt.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Very similar, though some of the early skeleton scenes are out of order or on opposite sides. Davy Jones (no Blackbeard), Barbossa, and Captain Jack are all in English! (Unlike Indiana Jones, which was all in Japanese). Only one drop, and not as much as in Anaheim. Has the Blue Bayou restaurant, New Orleans Square and everything. No Club 33, however.

Monsters Inc Hide-n-Seek: Basically, a non-scoring version of Buzz Lightyear. Shine flashlights on designated areas to expose hiding monsters and explore a storyline which is a sequel to Monsters Inc (Sully's running the company, and the slogan is "It's laughter we're after". Randall returns to wreak havoc if he can).

(Holiday) Haunted Mansion: The outside aesthetic is the Gothic Mansion from the Orlando ride. It's situated at the back of Fantasyland, next to Small World.

Big Thunder Railroad: Pretty similar to Disneyland, but no real drops. (Splash Mountain supposedly is a left-right mirror of Orlando, but considering how the temperature dipped the day I was there, I didn't try it. Wasn't going to get drenched)

(Holiday) Small World: The facade is an odd mix. The outside is similar to Anaheim, with the working clock, etc (and I think it looked more colorful that its partner in the US), but no outside waterway. You go inside the structure to behold a large room with a large mural, and *that*'s where the ride begins. That's actually closer to the Orlando ride, except in Orlando, there is no outside at all (there'a Peter Pan-like overhang saying "Small World", and once you enter, the back of the large room has a 2D cutout mimicking the large clock structure from Anaheim).

The ride itself is pretty similar, though a) no Disney characters inserted into the scenes (hallelujah!), b) Japan was located at its usual spot, c) was there a U section? I don't remember it...neither in the beginning nor at the "all nations merged together" segment. For the holidays, there were decorations in different languages and as befitted the various cultures (what about the Krampus? What about in the Middle East section? And why are all the XMas Caroling books the characters are carrying written in English? During parts of the ride, instead of the Small World theme running through my head, all I could think was, "Do they know it's Christmas?")

Tiki Room: The outside resembles Orlando, with the under-thatched-roof waiting area featuring the extra animatronics, in addition to the usual tiki idols. As for the show: I never got to see the Iago/Zazu refit they did years ago, and I'm glad I never did. This one, though, was interesting (I wonder if they could program it so it could do both shows, alternating. It's have more replay value that way). Instead of having the Tiki Gods getting angry, it's Stitch messing with the performance, all the way through, while the birds freak out and are convinced it's the Tiki Gods - until theend, when Stitch pops up out of the fountain. The mischief he causes includes turning all the fountain birds blue (lighting effect) and screwing with the Hawaiian War Chant (it sounds a lot closer to the Spike Jones version). The narrative, actually, is changed quite a bit, as they start off singing the opening song from Lilo & Stitch, and the 4 main birds are all renamed to Hawaiian names (and one is female)...though the fountain birds retain their names. In the waiting area, one can notice Stitch's footprints in the ceiling, leading to a hole in the thatch where he presumably gets into the machinery. Occasionally, during the performance, you'll hear the patter of his feet on the roof, and instead of the rainstorm, he writes a couple of badly-spelled messages on the windows.

One cool bit about this show: while it's in Japanese, you can request a viewing device which attaches to your wrist and close-captions the show in the language of your choice. I wonder if they could sync it to one's phone in the future?


  2013.11.16  20.08
You've got me turning up and turning down And turning in and turning 'round

(yes, I could've used the chorus from this song, but it's way too obvious)

So, onto Tokyo Disneyland. The shuttles times available were 6:30, 8:30, and 10:30. The park opened at 8, and it would take about an hour to get there. Fully cognizant of the ease of grabbing at least a couple of the crowded rides by getting there first thing in the morning (and having heard that Tokyo Disney is even more crowded than Anaheim, especially during holiday celebration season, and that there were no FastPasses because Tokyo Disney is actually contracted out to a Japanese company), I opted for the 6:30 shuttle. I chose the first return shuttle, 4:30, figuring I'd spend the evening in Akihabara Electric Town, the electronic/otaku mecca. [Friday would be spent at Ginza, the Times Square of Tokyo, while Saturday morning would be devoted to the Tsukigi fish market; since I had to change hotels on Friday due to availability issues, and the hotel was close to both of those places, it seemed reasonable. Of course, once you're in the main train/subway loop, you can probably get to anywhere in Tokyo within 30-45 minutes anyway. G-D I WISH WE HAD THAT HERE!]

First, let me note that although it is true that the Tokyo Disney company is a separate entity, it shares the same efficiency boons as the Japanese railway system. For one thing, yes, they did have FastPasses (maybe they didn't, originally?) And second, despite the large crowds, it was always very orderly and organized line-wise just as well as elsewhere. I think Walt would have admired some of the things about Japan, particularly the rail system.

In which I spent $60 for one ride, have a dish that"s banned in CA, and find I need to adjust my schedule a bitCollapse )

After that, I headed to Akihabara Electric Town, electronic/otaku/manga/anime/etc capital of the world. Unfortunately, it was 10:15 by that point, and everything was closing by 11, so I didn't get to see much. (I did take pix of several storefronts, including one I am NOT going to post) I was simply going to have to come back tomorrow, but that meant cutting into the Ginza trip, plus I was going to be changing hotels and still needed to buy a new suitcase and write/mail some postcards. Plus the rash had gotten bigger, and my ears and face felt warm. (fortunately, when I took my shirt off that night, I realized the latter was actually due to sunburn) I couldn't see the solution but simply accepted that it was all going to work out somehow...

(PS On the way back, walking through the underground area connecting the train station to the hotel, I saw a line of vagrants setting up cardboard boxes and bedding down for the night - the only time I'd seen that over the course of the entire trip)


  2013.11.16  18.42
Sandy Frank! Sandy Frank! Likes to Crap in His Hand!

The ride to Disneysea was amusing. During the 50 min drive, I took some pix of the Tokyo area out the window (missed the English “Welcome to Chiba” sign...sorry, Iricus), and watched the Japanese-only Disney promotional video playing in a loop on the monitor. I video'd a little of it.

Tokyo Disney doesn't really have park-hoppers for under 3 days. For two days, you can pay for both parks at a discount in one shot, but you only get one park per day, and you have to choose which one on which day. So, Disneysea today, Disneyland tomorrow. Actually, the price of entry was relatively cheap - even for a 1 day pass to one park, it amounted to about $60, which I think is less than the US parks.

Under the (Disney)SeaCollapse )

So, overall, I was not feeling the swiftest, and was a bit concerned, but I still enjoyed the park. I lamented skipping the Journey ride, and I hoped I'd be feeling better when I headed to Disneyland the next morning, bright and early...


  2013.11.16  18.41
With a Purposeful Grimace and a Terrible Sound He Pulls the Spitting High-Tension Wires Down

(title seemed appropriate, as this begins the Tokyo portion of the trip)

I'm going to split this into two entries. This part is going to focus on the logistics of transportation (and a setback or two); the second will deal with the rest of the day, e.g. Tokyo Disnseysea.

Got up at 6AM; wanted to make sure I put in as full a day at Disney as possible, but first I needed to get to Tokyo and to the hotel. The hotel has shuttles to Disney but the last one of the day left at 12:30 and required reservation ahead of time – which meant I needed to leave early.

Poppa needs a brand-new bagCollapse )

The Shinjuku station was huge; fortunately, the hotel was on the signs. There is an underground walkway that proceeds under the first 3 or 4 blocks of buildings, and ends right at the hotel. There were plenty of stores open for business there. I made it to the hotel around 11:45. Check-in time wasn't until 2, so I had them hold my bags (including L's camera – I still hadn't found batteries yet, and it was bulky enough that I was concerned going on some of the high impact rides with it. I'd just use my cell camera for now). They didn't have my reservation for the shuttle (I think there was some confusion – my last name is hard on native Japanese speakers), but there was room, so everything worked out. I hopped on the shuttle (the return shuttle would arrive at 10:30, half an hour after Disneysea's closing), and prepared to visit the Happiest Place Under the Sea.


  2013.11.15  23.19
brief tease #3

Buying a new suitcase at the last minute, downtown Shinjuku, Akihabara (and are otaku required to go to bed at 8PM on a Friday night?), Ginza (aka Tokyo Times Square) at XMas, 30 Megs per second at the new hotel, and more Blade Runner-esque cityscapes.


  2013.11.15  00.09
brief tease #2

There aren't enough hours in the day, it seems. It's midnight here, and I'm just sitting down to write this, so again, I've got the details in my phone, which I'll have to write up later (maybe on the plane ride back). Brief snippets for today: Tokyo Disneyland, a broken handle on my suitcase, a better buffet than Vegas, a bug bite that's testing my hypochondria, and a brief foray into Akihabara. And now, I sleep!


  2013.11.14  00.30
brief tease

It's 12:30AM, I've been up for 18 1/2 hours, and I have to catch a 6:30AM shuttle for Disneyland, so I'll make this short - I bullet-pointed everything for this entry on my phone, so I'll be able to put it in the full write-up tomorrow. To whet your whistle, let me say that Tokyo Disney Sea and a Shinjuku hotel with a view from the 33rd floor does severely not suck :) Stay tuned...


  2013.11.12  19.33
It Really SuckaSuckaSuckaSucka(etc) To Be Me

Alternate Title: "Blian! You Take Out The Lecycerabres!"

Got up at 8 for a traditional Japanese breakfast at the ryokan. Cold fish (one breaded, one intact with bones and skin; it wasn't fugu this time...at least, the intact one wasn't. I'm not sure about the other one), hot tofu (steamed in broth with mushrooms and carrot), a custard with mushrooms, a local orange and kiwi, plenty of rice with an umeboshi (small, very tart "salt plums", about the size of an m&m. By themselves, they're unbelievably tart, which I hate, but with the rice, it just *works*), soup, and a couple of other items.

Afterwards, I packed up and headed to Matsuyama Castle, accessed via cablecar or individual lift seat. I took the cablecar, since I had a huge backpack on my back. A good part of the castle was made of wood, so part of it burned to the ground when it was struck by lightning, while some of the rest was destroyed in the war. It's been fully restored at this point, and had a fantastic view of the surrounding area. The other highlight was the sword and armor collection, plus some displays showing how they built and assembled pieces of the castle. I tried on the samurai armor - I started taking pictures of me at each step (there were instructions on the wall showing how to do it), but around step 3 (of 8), some local tourists came over and offered to help. Unfortunately, they lengthened the process, and I didn't get any of the other intermediate steps...plus, L's camera ran out of batteries, so I resorted to my cell for the rest of the day. In the end, though, I got my picture in armor - I'm now ready to win Crown!

Had a nice talk on the way down with an Engish language guide - a retiree who volunteers here a few times a week. Then I realized I'd forgotten to go back to the Studio Ghibli store, so I headed there and accomplished my mission. Now it was time to head back. I missed the 12:30 train, so I had to wait another hour, but I made decent time - I got in around 6 PM. In the TMI category, I had to use a squat toilet, because I reaaaally had to go. As with the fugu, it's amazing what one will do when one finds one doesn't have much of a choice - something L pointed out during her Peace Corps stay (e.g. for her, eating habeneros).

I still haven't made it to McDonalds here, though I have had a hamburger with a fried egg, as I think I might have mentioned. But tonight, we're having Pizza Hut. I opted for the weirdest thing on the menu, made even more incomprehensible by Google Translate: "Very horse 4 series of winter only! It is a 4 series premium that combines classic pizza and a popular pizza luxury of winter. Combination: Combination of four types of: Pizza Hut Mayogurume (?), specialized horse bulgogi (M assumes me it's not actually horse, it's a translation hiccup, but she's not sure what it actually is), beef stew luxury melting away!, and Luxury Book Snow Crab". And it's $40.

Tonight, I need to pack for Tokyo. The night temperature's dropped to low 40's, so I need to make sure my long-sleeve shirts are available. Depending on if I can get Wi-Fi to work at the hotels, I may or may not be able to update again before I fly back. If not, I'll still keep a journal on my Mac each day so I can post it when I'm back in the US.

Oops, gotta go - my horse food's here :)


  2013.11.12  18.50
I'm Sorry My Sister Turned You Parents into Pigs, but There's Nothing I Can Do.

Alternate: "There. Your body matches your brain."

(I had quotes from a different source here, but I realized this was far more appropriate)

Couldn't get the Wi-Fi to work at the ryokan, so I'm posting this today instead (I did write it yesterday). I'll post today's entry immediately afterward.

So I ate Poisonous Blowfish, bathed at the bathhouse which inspired Spirited Away, and am about to sleep on a futon in a traditional Japanese inn. How was your day?

Don't envy me too much – I found out it's too late to get tickets for the Studio Ghibli museum :( (I can hear L admonishing me for not nailing this down sooner; I didn't realize I needed a reservation for a museum)
I was worried that this excursion was a bad idea; it's 5-6 hours to the south; had I chosen a different ryokan/onsen – say one somewhat on the way to Tokyo, e.g. near Fuji – I could have done it today and then made it to Tokyo tomorrow. As it is, even if I hopped on the train first thing in the morning tomorrow, I wouldn't make it to Tokyo until late, so I have no choice but to spent tomorrow back in Kobe, then get up at o-dark thirty on Wed. So I'm losing a day. I kept thinking, “Is this really worth it?”

Hell...yes.”F.O.R: Fugu, Onsen, RyokenCollapse )


  2013.11.10  19.50
"You liked Rashomon." "That's not how I remember it."

I was going to use "Folks, we're experiencing some moderate Godzilla-related turbulence at this time, so I'm going to ask you to put your seatbelts back on", but in googling the episode to see if I could find anything funnier, the above bit sent me into giggle fits.

Still trying to recover from the hike yesterday and plan for the Tokyo leg of the journey. M&B had a bunch of things to do as well. So, today was fairly leisurely:

- Kobe Beef lunch (about $100 per person) at Misono in downtown Kobe - the restaurant that originated Teppanyaki. I think I'm ruined for Kobe Beef back in the States. Also had an amazingly smooth local sake. I've got step-by-step pics of the meal as they made it for us (as I do with the okonomiyaki adventures as well).

- Picked up a TON of bizarre socks for L's family for XMas (see one of the previous entries for why this is so funny to me)

- Karaoke! Upscale, large, and touchpad-enabled, but quite similar to the booths in CA. The videos are about as strange as back home (D&M will be happy to hear that I "sang" Eminem's "Just Lose It": M stuck to hair band music, B and I sang the Weird Al version of Piano Man, plus a few karaoke favorites [California Dreamin', Don't You Want Me, Don't You Forget About Me, Sweet Dreams as Made of This, Ring of Fire, Just a Gigolo]). Quite an extensive food menu as well - we all got some desserts (mmm, milk products - great for singing!)

I've finally reserved the hotel for Wed and Thurs night in Tokyo, but of course it was stupid to wait so long for Disney Hotels - the minimum left is about $1000, so I've changed plans a bit. The hotel I've already booked is a Disney partner, so they have a shuttle to and from the parks. Therefore, I'll spend Wed and part of Thurs in Disney, then spend the rest of Thurs, Fri, and Sat elsewhere in Tokyo [Tokyo Tower, Akihabara, the Studio Ghibli Musum, Tsukigi Fish Market first thing on Sat - since the Fish Auction is 5:30 - 6:30 AM]. I've seen some serviceable hotels nearby the fish market/Ginza available for Fri night, and they're also convenient to the train for getting to Narita (the flight is 4PM, so I need to be there by 1...and maybe allow extra time for returning the rented phone and potential snafus).

Was tempted to cancel the Mon-Tues Ryokan down south to leave more time for Tokyo, but it's the one from Spirited Away, dammit, and there's a castle where I can try on samurai armor! (it's 8 hrs from there to Tokyo, so I'm not sure I'd want to blow an entire day travelling on Tues, hence I'll come back to M&B's on Tues, then head out for Tokyo first time on Wed).

I realize I'm giving Tokyo extremely short shrift, but actually, I was more interested in traveling the countryside anyway. Some of the things I'd like to do aren't available this time of year (e.g. watch a Sumo match), so clearly I'll have to come back :) (you know, right after I visit Italy, Germany, Ireland, Australia, England, The Netherlands, Denmark, back to France and Senegal, Kenya, The Galapagos, Macchu Pichu, etc)


  2013.11.09  22.45
There's a Hobo in my Room; It's Princess Leia, the Yodel of Life...

...Give me my sweater back, or I'll play the guitar.

We got started later than usual today due to some confusion over plans. B wanted to go on a hike; M wanted to go to Kyoto and an onsen. In the end, we combined the two. First, we hiked Mt Kurama and then, happily exhausted (several gazillion steps and a metric buttload of temples later [did I mention that shrines/temples are about as common as stained glass windows in Paris? I used to say you couldn't throw a rock without shattering at least 5 of the latter]), we went to Kurama Onsen to soak in hot spring water. (One washes off first, then hops in sans garments). Some onsen, such as the one I'll be going to on Monday (Dogo - the one that inspired Spirited Away) are indoors, but this one was outdoors and in full view of the changing leaves up the side of the mountain. [The one I'd really like to go to, if I were here later in the year, is up North, in the snow. Nothing like sitting in a hot spring surrounded by snow and ice].

Afterwards, we ate at an excellent Indian place in Kyoto, then walked through Gion, the "old district" (e.g. Memoirs of a Geisha; didn't see them, though we did see one of the theatres where they perform during festivals). Modernization has pepped the tight, cozy streets with the sense of being in two worlds at once. Establishments, whether eateries, artisan shops, or anything else, seemed to alternate between modern and classic style with almost every step. (Had another Blade Runner moment looking down the street, except this was much cleaner and less dingy)

Back in Kobe, I had my first takoyaki (technically, what i had the other day was a mix, and in a plate (not on a stick) - basically, octopus in a soba ball-shaped breading, on a stick, with sauce (and a little mayo). The octopus was my least favorite part, but it wasn't too rubbery; the breading and sauce, though, was extremely nummy. One more local delicacy checked off the list. [Not going to do fugu, though I would do the fish reproductive organs, if offered. Neither of those are from this region, though I'm sure I could find them in Tokyo if I wanted]

Not much else to report. Decided on the remainder of the trip, as mentioned, but haven't booked it yet - was intending to tonight, but too tired; will do it first thing tomorrow.


  2013.11.08  21.13
Let's Fighting Love! Let's Fighting Love!

No one's guessed the reference after the first day. Oh well; I'll list them all out afterwards.

I've done a *lot* of traipsing since I've arrived, with steady increases of both times and distances as I've gotten more comfortable with navigating. I needed a day of downtime. So, slept in this morning, had nummy takoyaki for lunch right down the street (mmmm, octopus. Actually, I got a mix, which included pork and chicken liver as well, with soba noodles [since I had udon in my okonomiyaki yesterday), then headed off with M and Evan for the Osaka Aquarium.

First, we rode the ferris wheel outside the aquarium - it's touted as one of the largest in the world, and it provides a stunning view of the city. Afterwards, it was time for the fishes!

One enters the aquarium towards the top, then follows the spiral downward, viewing the tanks on multiple levels. Interestingly, one of the tanks is modeled after the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Favorites included the river otters (so cuuuuuute and playful), the octopi hiding in some of the faux debris, and one animal I'd never seen before - a coati (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coati_roux_Amiens_2.jpg is the closest picture to the species I saw. Sometimes called a Brazillian Aadvark, but it looks more like a cross between lemur (tail and body) and pig (nose).

Afterwards, we headed home, had dinner (sushi and sashimi from one of the local markets), then discussed the remainder of my trip. The plan is:

- Sat: Kyoto, part II, or a hike.
- Sun: downtime
- Mon-Tues: south to Metsuyama, to stay at a Ryokan (traditionally Japanese inn) and visit Dogo Onsen (traditional Japanese hot spring. In particular, this is the one that inspired Spirited Away...you may now squee) and the local castle (including possibly trying on samurai armor!)
- Wed-Fri: head to Tokyo. Decided on a hotel, though not the activities yet.
- Fri-Sat: Tokyo Disney and Disneysea; stay at the park, then hop on the plane home.

I've reviewed my Act I work for the Mikado, though I haven't learned the steps for the Act I finale that were taught and posted on the private vimeo link while I was away (I did view it once, however). Also wanted to go over some of the Commedia lazzi. It's important, after a long layoff (especially coming on the heels of missing time due to Ruddigore), to make sure I keep these fresh...doesn't have to be too rigorous, just enough to keep the cache refreshed.

Oh, and one of the kanji totally looks like a guy with a penis. Just saying. (And if you know the reference above, you might want to look up the translation of the beginning of the song; you might find the comment at the beginning of this paragraph to be surprisingly relevant - although, given the authors, it's not *that* surprising)


  2013.11.07  23.01
Someone Set Us Up The Bomb

Appropriate title, but a bit cruel? Visited Hiroshima and Miyajima today.

This was a long day - out the door at 8AM, back at 9:30PM. Took the JR rail as far as Himeji, then hopped on the Shinkansen for the rest of the trip. Took about 2 hrs transit, plus time to walk to and from the station, plus changeover time.

From the Sands of Miyajima to the Sounds of HiroshimaCollapse )

If you're curious, Human Japanese is a fantastic tutorial (in everything, from vocal to grammar to the actual brushstrokes - which you need for some of the other apps. If you want to draw the Kanji and have the apps look it up, you'd better get the strokes in the right order and have the right features); Midori is a very comprehensive language reference (translation, roots, combos, derivation, etc. Only thing is that the pronounciation for the Kanji is written in Hiragana, not Romaji, so it helps if you've drilled the kanas first. OTOH, this helped me learn some of the kanas and get used to them instead of having Romaji as a crutch). Japanese for Dummies is a Berlitz-like compendium of useful, every day phrases, particularly for travels. Google Translate is great as well as a reference, but you need a connection for google for that, and my phone is wifi-only to avoid roaming (to call M, I used the non-smart-phone I rented from the airport)


  2013.11.06  20.50
I Am Disrepectful to Dirt...Join Me Or Die!

Same drill. I've got another quote from a later episode of the show for a different day.

This morning, I Facetimed with mom and dad. They were especially happy to see little Evan; in the absence of a grandchild of their own, they delight in whoever's kid they get to make faces at :) I'll call them again in a couple of days - mom's b-day is the 7th. Mom continues to mail me a plethora of reminders, including remembering to clean up my hair from the shower area every day. *sigh* I'm surprised she hasn't told me to remember to wipe my butt :)

These are getting progressively longer, so here"s a cut. Click it or die!Collapse )

Now, time for dinner. Carnitas!


  2013.11.05  20.21
The Grasshopper Lies Heavy

Another 1000 yen to the person who can identify the title - not really that relevant, but I couldn't think of a different one.

No mishaps in my solo travel today, although a near one on the way back. Basically, we looked up the route for the trip online before I left, and it worked swimmingly; I had one changeover, which amounted to jumping off the local and onto the rapid one already parked on the adjacent track.

Destination, Himeji Castle (2 days in a row of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. How gauche :) ). Ever see The Last Samurai, You Only Live Twice, or Akira Kurosawa's Ran? Then you've seen the place - but you've probably never been there, and I now have, so nyah-nyah! :) It's the most visited castle in Japan and is considered one of Japan's three greatest castles. It's also breathtaking and friggin' huge!

I got there around 10, and spent the morning exploring the castle. It's actually covered by scaffolding until 2015, though you can scale it and view the restoration effort. Walked along the grounds, the battlements, etc.

There were a ton of schoolchildren on the grounds, eager to try out their English. As I left, I was greeted with a chorus of Hellos. I started to say Konnichiwa, then realized it was more rewarding if I answered back in the same tongue. They beamed at me. I smiled back, then gracefully tripped over the sidewalk.

I then walked effectively next door, to the Koko-en Garden. Had lunch at the restaurant on-site (Conger Eel Bento, including the best lychees I've ever had), then headed to the authentic tea ceremony. They provided English language instructions for what to do; I failed miserably with the sweet beforehand (and how to sit), but I did fine with the tea (actually, that part B had already explained to me when he had tea yesterday). Afterwards, they had candied orange. Yummy. I also failed miserably at small talk with the servers, what with the language differences. I think they were trying to tell me something, but we eventually lapsed into pleasant but noticeable silence, until one of the other patrons turned to me and asked Amerika desu ku? I explained I was from San Francisco (didn't know if they knew San Jose) and that I had friends in Kobe (since I suddenly realized I actually knew "tomodachi"). At one point, they mimed flying a plane, so I think we'd moved on to discussing transportation, but I got a bit lost at that point, and hoped that wasn't a premonition for the trip home.

Afterwards, I toured the grounds. Japanese Maples, in the prime of their fall foliage; koi by the ton (including a huge golden one - never seen one that color); a few birds, though not much. I took a gazillion pics.

Finally, headed toward the History Museum, for which the brochure boasted allows one to try on a 12-piece kimono and real suits of armor. Sadly, they were closed (yesterday was a holiday). Was tempted to try the nearby zoo to see if they had a tanuki, but instead noticed it was possibly time to head back to the train station. On the grounds in front of the castle, they were having a Pottery Festival, with a plethora of booths containing merchants from the length and breath of Japan. Somewhere, Laura is laughing at me, as these are the places I would tend to avoid like the plague (or try in vain to steer L away from, usually to no avail). My main plan was to pick up some items for friends and family, though there were some booths that made my jaw drop, so I enjoyed it in spite of myself :)

Heading back to the station, I instead travelled parallel to the main road, traversing the length of a covered mall. There are quite a lot of these in Japan - basically, blocks of shopping, open to the outside at the sides, but there is a roof that completely covers the buildings (closest analogue I can think of is the Fremont St experience in Vegas - though I will say I've had a couple of Blade Runner moments as well).

I found the right platform for the main part of the trip back, but wasn't sure which track. My waffling cost me the first train I saw, so I headed down to grab something to nosh quickly. when I came up, I ended up facing the other direction and got on the wrong train. I realized it and hurridly tried to read the map; someone took pity on me and guided me outside the train to try and find the correct route, but it cost her *her* train as it pulled away, leaving behind her traveling companion, who at first tried to keep the doors open. She said, "This side, 5th stop." I uttered the land-speed record for consecutive arigatos (and sumimasens, but she seemed completely unperturbed), then hopped on the train and was on my way. No problem with the remainder of the trip.

M's currently looking at options for the latter portion of my trip (hot springs and traditional lodging), while little Evan is currently exploring behind my back and under my feet. He's utterly adorable, and very photogenic. Okay, time to help B make a traditional Japanese meal - carnitas, featuring the stylings of Penzys spices!


  2013.11.04  19.35
Pear Pimples, but no Hairy Fishnuts

1000 Yen to the first person to get the reference.

Today we went to Koyasan, which is a sacred Buddhist mountain area. Took the cable car up (basically, a huge train moving at 45 degrees), went to this insanely huge Buddhist cemetery, in the cedar forest, with the weather alternating between misty and sunny (the cedar smelled amazing) and Japanese maples and other trees in the midst of their fall foliage. We made some matcha tea, had some mochi-like sweets, explored a couple of temples, then headed back down the mountain and hopped on the train back to Kobe. We stopped in Osaka for some okonomiyaki (always pissed me off I had to go to SF, or at least San Mateo, to get it when there's a perfectly servicable Japantown in San Jose, but they don't serve it), which was A*M*A*Z*I*N*G (Osaka and Hiroshima are the two main places for Okonomiyaki).

Sad that I didn't have time to try and cram at least some Japanese before I left, due to the shows/work/interviews/etc, but I'm starting to learn and recognize a little. M&B had a conversation with a couple of Japanese kids (about 7 and 10) and their mom on the train ride home; the kids spoke a little bit of English, and I picked up a little of the conversation (they were guessing ages; apparently, their first guess for me was "84").

M&B have given me some basic pointers on getting around, and tomorrow's going to be my first challenge (since B is working and M has a few things she needs to do): get to Himeji on my own. It should be fairly simple, not too far, and I've got a pay-as-you-go phone I rented, in case I need to call for help. It's good training for my solo trip heading up to Tokyo. A little nervous, but Japan's a pretty friendly and forgiving place, and the crime rate here is very low. Basically, when in doubt, point, and that should at least get me as far as the next turn, after which I can ask again. [wish the phone I'd rented was a smartphone; could really use the GPS and maps]. I'm surprisingly not nervous, though that may change once the reality of it hits me tomorrow :)


  2013.11.03  16.26
Shoppin' Broccoli

Went to church with M&B today. Nice service (I tried to sing harmony, even if I didn't know the tunes), very friendly people, though I was a bit shy. The church has a decent mixture of nationalities, and quite a few expats. Then had lunch at Bikkuri Donkey (got my hamburger with fried egg; I can check that off my list), then did some shopping. I've figured out what I can get L's family for XMas. Basically, one XMas, L's mom got us all tons of white socks...each individually wrapped. (then L accidentally set one on fire, leading L's mom to exclaim, "That's why I got you so many.") The Gift of the Socks has been a long-running family gag. Hence, I'm going to find the most gaudy pairs of socks I can find (of which I've already seen a ton) and buy them for the whole family. I think they'll appreciate it.

Off to the supermarket to pick up sushi and/or sashimi for dinner at home.


  2013.11.03  07.25
Kobe Acquired!

Not the beef (yet); the city.

Landed in Osaka yesterday (well, it's Sunday here; it's still Saturday for most of you reading this. It's +16 hrs Pacific Time). The plane got there very early - the friends I'm staying (Maura and Brian, and 9 months old Evan, who is utterly adorable) with hadn't made it to the airport by the time I'd gotten through customs. I was a trifle worried at first but figured it was something like that.

Got a pay-as-you-go cell, traded in my Japan Rail Pass voucher for the actual pass (you can only buy vouchers outside of Japan; they're not for residents), and away we went. It was about 6PM at that point. Ate at a pretty yummy yakitori place in Nara, then continued on the train to their apartment in Kobe. They tend to go to bed around 10 and get up around 6; I wasn't too jet lagged on arrival (I think I've gotten used to being sleep-deprived over the past few days - didn't sleep much the previous night, and only dozed briefly on the plane, though that seemed to be enough in the short term. I read recently that small, short-naps are sometimes better than one longer one), and I fell asleep easily and slept the requisite # of hours, so I think I've hopefully adjusted - we'll see how I am later in the day)

Today will be a pretty mellow day. I'll go with them to church in the morning (I forget the denomination, but sounds similar to Universalist), spend some time in downtown Kobe in the afternoon, then an evening at home in prep for Monday, which will be the first of several excursions. Also, need to plan for the latter half of the trip (heading north, ending with a few days in Tokyo); we've talked about possibilities, but it's easier to discuss when we're all in the same room (though the latter half will be mainly on my own; since I don't speak or read Japanese, I'm a little nervous, by M said that if her mom could manage, I'll manage :) ). Looking at Matsumoto castle and surrounding area, Tokyo Disney, etc - maybe a night staying at a ryokan (traditionally Japanese inn), visiting an onsen (hot springs; not wigged about public nudity - more concerned about making sure I do it properly [e.g. one bathes/cleans oneself before hopping in the hot water]), etc.

One of M&B's best friends lives in Mountain View (when they came for his wedding, I got to see them briefly - their hotel was in walking distance from my apartment I was living in Sunnyvale; small world), and he brought various consumables for them, so I'm currently eating an English muffin with homemade apple butter. They're not big on traditional Japanese breakfast (e.g. fish), though I'll probably try some at some point.

Why am I busy typing? Time to explore! (and shower)


  2013.03.15  10.35
Who likes short-shorts?

I have, amazingly, written a story.

It's a short-short, after 2-3 pages, since that's about all the time I have. I have a million projects I'd like to do, but between work and L, there's no time for it and, more importantly, no free brain cells either.

The idea popped into my head while on FB for the requisite 2 minutes a day, right before bed, and I *HAD* to write it.

Actually, I have two different endings, each illustrating a different point...I wonder if it'd be worth leaving *both* endings? The first ending is longer and needs some polish, whereas the second is simply a one-sentence zinger.

Between this and Commedia last wkend at PPF, it feels good to be creative again, if only for a little bit.

Hm, I wonder if it'd be worth seeing if it were publishable. [Not that I think it's the Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread, and I'm understandably rusty at writing anything that doesn't have nested {'s except for semi-coherent blog entries] Anyone want to critique it?


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