Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Dancing Elvises

Yes it's true. Elvis and his multiples are alive and well in Tokyo. This is a short but I believe a quality entry. I was out biking in Yoyogi Park and there they were. Dancing away to 1950's Rock'n Roll with a Japanese twist. It was pretty amazing. These guys perform for themselves, and the King of course. With cameras flashing and videos recording they don't ask for money or applause, but they get it. They have a pile of empty beer cans and take a break when needed. So, if you go to see them make sure to bring them a beer or two for a tip and watch what happens.
!Notice the boots in the clips below!. They look as if they've been dragged behind and 1952 Buick after a cheap wedding in Vegas. Then taped back together with beautiful black electrical tape. Nothing beats a shine like a fresh coat of tape. And if the boots don't get you wanting to join this elite club. You get a matching red comb to keep that ultra smooth look to go along with the painted on black pants. So enough typing and trying to be witty. I will let you enjoy.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Tokyo Happenings


I feel it's about time to let you all know what's going on here in Tokyo. I've been writing about my travels and forgot to tell you about the great time I am having in Tokyo. About two weeks ago my good friends Ken, Rhonda, Kat and Cole Schwartz showed up from Hong Kong to hang out in Tokyo. They arrived on a beautiful day and were ready for some good sushi and great Saki. But, first we had to deal with Rhonda losing some of her documents and train passes. She forgot to take them out of the back of the seat and realized it as the train pulled away. We were there in the station for about an hour trying to figure out how to explain to the station men that we left them on the train that just left. They working so hard to help us and so friendly even though they didn't speak any English. But, it didn't matter at all. They understood what happened from my broken Japanese... and the help from an English speaking operator on the phone. It all worked out and we would pick them up 2 days later.
So, we got back to my place and immediately took the children to the metro to send them away with some friends they knew from Warsaw. We had a night alone without kids and ate some great sushi just around the corner from my place. I go there quite often and was greeted boastfully from the staff, well as boastful as the Japanese can be that is. We ate and ate some great food and toasted to friendship with some great saki and beer. Then a little more beer. There is a great place called Popeye's. It's a bar that prides itself on good beer at a good price. They have about 70 beers on tap. We sat, talked and enjoyed some great local and international brews. It was a good night to have friends in Tokyo. You know, I might end up there tonight.
Ken, Rhonda and I went out for a walk in my area of Tokyo called Tsukishimida. It is right just across the river Samida from me. It was a good walk that ended about 7 km (that's about 4.3 miles) from my house at the Emperor's Palace. We were lucky enough to come by a Omochi Party. Omochi is pounded cooked rice. It was mostly older Japanese men and women celebrating the blossoming of the cherry trees. Ken was asked by the elders to pound some omochi. It was great. He picked up this heavy wooden mallet and reach backed almost touching the ground and smacked the ball of rice over and over. I thought he was going to hit the old man moving the omochi in the head. Luckily, we didn't have to rush anyone to the hospital. But, we did have to rush in line to get some of that fresh omochi.
I could go on and on about the wonderful times the Schwartz Family and I had together. It was a pretty great week of fun, food and most of all friends. Ken, Rhonda, Kat and Cole made my year so far. I felt for the first time while living in Tokyo that I was home. It revived me from the winter and set me up for some great adventures to come.
I ask all of you readers out there if you feel like visiting please contact me. I love having friends, family or friends of friends. Like you, Dana Mason from Independence, Mo. I hear your daughter is thinking of international teaching. If so have her drop me a message and you must have her read my good friends blog. He and I taught together in Poland and he puts together a good argument for traveling. The Keilbasa Chronicle - Wanted: Teachers willing to relocate to faraway lands

After the Schwartskis left Tokyo I started getting out enjoying the lovely weather of Spring. It's so beautiful here and I can't wait to finish writing so I can head out again. But first I need to talk about the boat ride. I was out with my friend Kristy. She and I like to go on adventures in Tokyo and do anything we can. This trip came about after watching a beautiful concert in Hamarikyu Garden.

Kristy and I started walking around and she decided she wanted to go on a boat ride up the Samida to Asakusa. These boats go right by my house. I see them everyday and had always wanted to take a trip so I said why not. Let's go. It only cost 700 yen which is about 7 USD. Pretty cheap and it brings you back if you want and we wanted. So we had some beers, and some food and laughed all along the way. It was a great day for a boat ride and really enjoyed seeing my place from the waters. We came back to the park and checked out he great Japanese gardens and sat back to watch the people. As Jack Johnson says,
I like people watching the other people watching me. We're all people watching the other people watching we.

The gardens in this park are amazing. The ground they sit on were known as the hunting grounds for the Shoguns in the 1700's. It's now lined with tea houses and gives attractive views of the large metropolitan city surroundings from the middle of this peaceful garden.

This past Friday and Saturday were two highlights of my adventures in Tokyo. One of the parents of a child in my class asked me if I like baseball. Of course I do!! He had two tickets to the Yomuiri Giants, known as Tokyo Giants to many people around the world. Our tickets were amazing with ideal seats on the 20th row behind and behind home plate. The game is played the same obviously but the fans and food make it so much more fun and interesting. Hordes of fans dressed in white stand and cheer for the Giants while at bat singing songs and chanting for there favorite player. It's like nothing I had every seen before. I thought going into the game I would be distracted from the the noise and cheering. But it was the opposite. I was drawn into the cheering and yelling. It was entertainment at it's best. Topped off with food and beer girls. Yes, beer girl strapped with kegs of beer on their backs ready to top your glass off with a cold and refreshing Bier. Every where you looked there was another girl coming up the aisle. After the beer goes by you have your choice of food too. Not hot dogs or pretzels, though you can get hot dogs at the concession stand, but soup, rice bowls and sushi boxes. Nothing like enjoying game with beer and sushi. You gotta love Japan.

Sumo practice was on my agenda for yesterday. It' so hard to put into words and describe everything I saw. To make it easier I have included some videos instead. We were very lucky to be able to video and take photos. Rarely is that allowed and complete respect for the fighters is required or you must leave. No flashes, no talking, no sounds and your feet may never point to the ring. You must sit cross legged or with your feet to the side. It is a matter of respect and tradition. There are anywhere between 12 and 18 men in at the stables. I like the use of the word stables for the description of where these massive men workout. Before watching the videos keep in mind that these men are very big. Most much taller than I an weigh about 165 kilograms, that is 363 pounds!!! Try pushing that around while getting smacked in the face several times. The color of their Mawashi, the belt worn around their waist, indicates their level of rank. The sumo with black mawashi is very young and known as Amasumo or amateur Sumo. Often they are only teens in training. The dark grey mawashi are worn my the more experience fighters. Then the white mawashi are worn by the top fighters and these men compete at the highest level of competition. Enjoy the action and training. I know I did and I hope to bring you to see them in action when you come to visit.
Sumo Training

More Sumo

Highest Level of Sumo Training

It's been fun for me to relive my last few weeks. I hope you enjoyed. See you back here soon.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Kota Kinabalu

It's hard to begin writing about a wonderful Work/Spring Break Vacation. Sounds funny doesn't it? My school thought it would it be a great idea to plan our Spring Break during the
EARCOS Confernce in Kota Kinabualu (aka KK), Borneo. Yes, I know, it's Borneo what am I whining about? But still I had to work 3 out of the 10 days on vacation. So i decided that the conference is all on my terms. I left Tokyo on the 21st of March and planned to stay until the 29th. How I needed that break. I felt I was going to explode if had to spend another day in the massive city without a feeling of being lost in nature. So it was on a plane to Borneo.

I knew it was going to be a great time because I was going to see some good old friends from Warsaw. I knew I would see Jeremy, Jill, Chip and Lillian, Paul and Amanda Jacob and to my suprise Sally. I had not seen most of them for two years and having a great reunion together in the middle of the Malaysia was an ideal location. We met out for drinks and spent some good times together as well. It made me really miss Poland and my friends who are still there. So to those of you reading, lots of love for you.

For the first day I sat at the pool side and drank up some beer and relaxed. I met some nice new people from my school. I hadn't met many from the main campus but did meet Steve, Peter and Glenda. I had a great time with them and hope to keep seeing them. But, the main campus is so far away it's tough but i will make it happen. Later on I met others from all over the world and had a wonderful time talking, laughing, singing and being happy. Most of you know me pretty well and are saying "figures, you always meet so many people". I am a social butterfly and I was feeling very good buzzing around talking and enjoying life. I hadn't done that in a long time.

Now, one of my highlights of the trip was going to dive on Mantanani Island. Oh my! If this place isn't heaven then I don't know what is. We took a nice skid across the bay for about an hour to arrive on a dive shop, restaurant and rooms to rent stilted in the middle of the ocean. Not on the beach. Just out in the middle surrounded by water and islands. So amazing. If I had known about that before I left Tokyo I would have stayed there for 3 days diving and living the life without electricity, phones and computers. If you want to know where the place is and feel the need to get away send me a message and I will give you the contact. I don't want to put up a link cause it needs to stay secluded and peaceful. I hope it never changes. The diving was good and I saw some wonderful creatures. I am so happy I took the classes in Bali. It's changed my life and my outlook on life. Being out in the middle of nowhere was so wonderful. Blue skies, blue water, beautiful people, wonderful food and Peace and Quiet. Maybe the best place I'd been in a long time...OK 4 months. I hope to be there again or someplace like it soon.
When I was out on the Mari Mari Lodge I met this great traveler name Carlo. He was out there hanging out for a few days and just relaxing. We talked and enjoyed traveling stories and laughed about how crazy people are in the cities. Getting away from the world and life outside of nature is something I need as often as possible. We said our farewells and said to each other "I hope to see you again."

About two day later I decided to take a trip to Mount Kota Kinabalu to do some birding and hiking alone with a guide. Before I go on I must say this was the first time going birding on my own and I am so happy my friends Ken, Rhonda, Kat and Coletrain turned me onto this wonderful world. A lot of you know I am from Kansas and born and raised as a hunter. Listen, looking for birds and not shootin' them was hard and a very different for me, but realized now that my hunting life is over thanks to these wonderful friends. Well, at least until i get back to Kansas in the Fall, which may never happen. Anyway, this guide I hired, CK is an amazing guide. You can reach him at Borneo Birds if you are in the area and need to get out. I won't go into the names and species but I did some some amazing birds that can only be found on that mountain. I really enjoyed my time in the mountains and wished I had more time. Hoping for more time will become a repeated pattern in this post. After finishing up hike and heading to the truck for another site who do I see walking down the stairs? Carlo!!
There is was again just as we said to each other meeting again. Funny how life works and throws good people back your way. It's proves what I have said many times to many poeple "Whenever I look over my shoulder to the places I have left, I always know someone has helped change my outlook on life."

People People and more People on my vacation. I have a friend, Ellen in Bangkok who told me some good people were coming to the conference. She told me I should try to find them. So one day out in the pool I see 5 lovely ladies swimming and decide to approach and see what's going on and sure enough, it' Ellen's friends from Bangkok. We talked, drank, laughed and made plans for the Happy Hour evening provided by the conference. We all met up and planned a night out after the free drinks and set out for a good time on the city of KK. When getting out of the taxi and going to the bar I hear from behind, "Hey, do you know Heidi Laffey?" Heidi is a friend who works in Warsaw. After some searching through my brain and talking I realize this is Nancy from Zagreb who worked with Heidi in Mexico. We had met 4 years before at a conference in Croatia. Crazy huh? We talked and she introduced me to a great person, Jen. Soon after meeing I learned Jen worked with the Schwartz family in Hong Kong and was new in Bangkok. We had a great time together for a few days and once again I hoped I had more time but i had to catch a flight back. I hope to see Jen and Nancy again in Bangkok real soon. It might be sooner than they think it could be tomorrow so be ready ladies.

This international world of teaching is a very small world and I love it. If you have ever thought about getting out of you routine and day to day life then CHANGE IT. I beg you to do it. If it's not traveling then it needs to be something. Just make the change. It was the best choice of my life. Look at this view. Could I have ever seen it if I was still teaching in Kansas? Glad I never had to find out.