Monday, December 14, 2009

Bangkok - Outside the City


For Day 3, we elected to take a tour out to the floating market about 2 hours west of Bangkok. We (really me) are not normally tour people, but we did this a few times on this trip. First, we couldn't rent a car (you need an international drivers permit, which I don't have) and you learn more about the people, the area, etc. since we had a guide. I think we could manage the navigation (we figured out Ireland after all) but getting in/out of Bangkok would have been a nightmare with the traffic and all of the maniacs on the road. This was much more enjoyable.

So we hopped in a van and headed west. Specifically, we went to Damnoen Saduak. Once out there, we jump in another long tail boat for a trip through the canals. Once at the market itself, we switch over to a small paddle boat to maneuver through the market. There are really two different parts of the market - the people floating in small boats (usually fruit or food or souvenirs) and the stalls on the sides of the canal. If you want something, your boat either moves over to what you want or they pass it across the boats (kind of like buying a hotdog at a baseball game back home).

I say that because a good portion of the time is spent wedged into a traffic jam of long tail boats (with engines going and props being raised and lowered in the water) and paddle boats trying to push through. Like many things, it would have been a lot better with 50% of the people, but you get through it. We tried a couple of things - some spice Thai pancake things, a pomelo (kind of like a grapefruit) and I had some sweet sticky rice with the best mango ever - all right off the boats. Walking through the market later, we were stopped by a fruit lady ended up trying all sorts of crazy Thai fruits like rambutan, lychee, jackfruit, and longan among some other stuff. But no durian as it was not in season. We ended up buying a kilogram of it just because she was so nice. I hope the people in the hotel enjoyed when we left it there (as we went to Cambodia the next day).

After the time at the market, we spent some time walking around the market and buying more stuff we didn't need (a recurring theme of the trip). After the market, we stopped at another temple (or "wat"). It was big and famous and frankly I don't remember the name - wat fatigue had already set in - there are thousands of temples in Thailand and they are all big and beautifully decorated. Despite that, they all start to look the same after a while.

The next day, we headed off to Cambodia and Angkor Wat.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bangkok - Where does Pier 1 get their stuff?

Frankly, there is not a whole lot to report from Day 2 in Bangkok. We spent most of the day at the Chatuchak Weekend Market. It's kind of difficult to describe and we didn't take a lot of pics. Wikipedia says it has over 5,000 stalls and receives 200,000-300,000 each day it is open. Based on what we saw, that's probably about right.

They really have all sorts of stuff there - furniture, clothes, paintings, ceramics, housewares, pets (probably the quintessential definition of puppy mills), jewelry, antiques, etc, etc, etc. It's pretty much a certainty that anything you have ever seen in a Pier 1 is sold there at about 10% of the cost. But it's a very cool place to spend a day walking around and we bought a bunch of stuff that we didn't need.


We finished off Day 2 with a trip to the Sky Bar - not your normal roof top bar and probably one of the most incredible places I have ever been. It is an open air bar located at the top of a 65 story building. The only thing separating you from the express trip to the bottom of the building is a 3.5 foot railing - if you hop over that rail that you see in the pics you are off the side of the building. I don't normally have a height thing, but when you come out of the building onto the terrace it is really hard to believe how "open" it is. There is no way you could build something like this in the US. Anyway, we spent some time there and had a few expensive cocktails (felt like we were back in Tokyo) and met some interesting guys from Germany (who had a much different Bangkok experience than we did) and enjoyed the view.

Bangkok - Do Not Trust Wily Strangers


First, we feel like we owe everybody an apology for not updating this in a while... it's been a busy couple of weeks since we got back from Thailand, mainly Thanksgiving make-up (something else we probably need to address) and a series of visitors (shout-out to Todd & Tammy and Sandy and Katherine). Jenn is down in Hiroshima/Kyoto with them this weekend so I thought I would spend a little time on the blog and get some pics loaded. I'm breaking the trip up into parts to make it easier to read (and easier for met get through).

The trip kicked off with a 7 hour flight to Bangkok (reinforcing the fact that Tokyo really isn't close to anything) on Thursday night and got going on Friday morning with a long-tail water taxi ride on the Chao Phraya River (which cuts through Bangkok) to the Grand Palace. The long tail boats are interesting - long boats made out of teak wood with car motors mounted on the back with a long shaft running to the water. The motors are mounted on a pivot for steering and to control the pitch of the prop in the water (i.e., trim). The first one we were in seemed like it was going to shatter each time we hit wake, but the rest were in pretty good shape.

"Do not trust wily strangers" is from the sign on the wall of the Palace (in the pics below). There were really only two times we felt like people were trying to take advantage of us on this whole trip and the first was here. Basically anytime a cab or tuk-tuk driver (little motorcyle taxis) saw you looking at a map, they would offer to "help." The "help" usually consisted of telling you that wherever you wanted to go was closed for some unplanned reason, but they knew somewhere better that you should go see and they could take you there. It was really pretty irritating, but fortunately we were warned by several people about this. I'll save the second story for later in the trip.


The Grand Palace is contains various temples that have been built by kings over the centuries, many containing Buddha relics (which are apparently spread all over Asia since there are Buddha relics at some of the places we have been in Japan). The place is really incredible - very opulent with colored tile and gold leaf everywhere. It's also known for its murals (one of the longest in the world) and Wat Phra Keo or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It's really Jade, but at 31 inches tall it is pretty amazing. The covering on the statue in the pic is a kind of robe - there is different clothing for each of the four seasons. This winter outfit went on just before we got there. This temple is used exclusively by the king.



After that, we headed for Wat Po (The Temple of the Reclining Buddha) after being told on the way it was closed. This is one of the largest and oldest temples in Bangkok and it has to be large because the Buddha is enormous (hopefully the pics give you some sense of the scale).

After that, across the river on a water taxi to Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn). This temple was impressive for a few reasons... it's right on the river and had great views of the city. Second all of the color you see in the pics is from ceramics - either whole or broken pieces of pottery (re-used bowls, plates, etc.). The central prang (or tower) is 282 feet tall.

Finally, we capped the day off with a long-tail boat ride through the canals west of the city. These canals apparently used to be all over the city, but they are slowly being filled in as the city continues to sprawl. It was interesting to see such a different way of living.

We found us a good place for dinner that night (the food was cheap and fantastic the entire trip) and called it a day. Here are some more pics from the day...

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween revisited...

So I have to give a little "shout out" to my wonderful friend Elaine once again for the awesome Halloween costumes that she sent me last year. We got called away from Tokyo last year so weren't able to put them to good use, so we took advantage tonight. So Happy Halloween from Fred and Wilma!

I feel compelled to fill you in on the blow up doll that is seen in the photo. My friend Jessie's (the one in lederhosen) husband Matt got called away for business this year, so she decided to attend Terri's annual Halloween party with a "friend" instead. So she sends me a text this morning to see if I could go to our local friendly Don Quixote and find a blow up doll to be her other half....well let me just tell you that was most definitely the place. There were several floors that posed likely candidates for locating said doll, but luckily (or unluckily however you look at it) we hit the jackpot and let's just say that I'm glad for a change that I don't read Japanese because there is NO telling what was written on that box.....ewwww. But I must say the doll was a big hit at the party.

Sadly we didn't win the prize, but we had a great time and I was just excited that John agreed to dress up...ha!

Until next time...Jenn

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Octoberfest (again)


We went to Octoberfest in Yokohama again this year. And we took some pictures. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fuji-san


So we've been needing to post this for sometime, but better late than never I suppose.

Way back on September 5, we set out to climb Mt. Fuji. The general plan was to set to start climbing Saturday afternoon, go all night and then catch the sunrise from the summit. So we headed down to Gotemba (near the base of Fuji) on Saturday afternoon, took a bus to the mountain, and got started around 6 PM.

By way of reference, Fuji is a little over 12,000 feet tall and we started around 5,000 feet. It is estimated that 200,000 people climb the mountain each year, most of them between July and August (the official climbing season). During this time, a series of mountain "huts" or stations are open on the mountain (we started at the 5th station). The huts provide a few different services like food and drinks, rest rooms (for 100-200 yen per use) and places to get out of the cold and even sleep. Some people elect to set out earlier in the day, sleep in one of the huts, then get up about 2-3 AM and head for the summit. There is generally a collection of huts about every 1000 feet on the way up.

We looked into the huts, but they were all booked. To tell you how many people are on the mountain any given evening, some of the huts hold 500 people... there is easily capacity for a few thousand people to sleep on the mountain. We were in one for a few minutes just to grab a bite to eat, and they are basically just big rooms with futon mats and people sleeping everywhere... kind of funny to see.

It was also interesting to see how prices changed on the way up. A bottle of water that would have been 100 yen in Tokyo, started at 250 at the beginning of the trail and was about 550 at the top. Somebody has to haul all that stuff up there though.

So we were off by 6 or so. It started off basically like a hike, though it got pretty steep pretty quick. We would stop at each of the mountain huts and rest for around 45 minutes to eat and drink something and let our bodies adjust the altitude. We were really concerned about one of our traveling party getting some sort of altitude sickness, fortunately everybody managed to avoid this. A lot of the Japanese had little cans of oxygen that were broken out the higher we got. That seemed a little overkill as long as you were smart about it.

There are a couple different ways up Mt. Fuji and we fortunately selected one of the less traveled ones. So we didn't really run into a lot of people until we got to the 9th station (probably about 1-2,000 feet below the top) where our trail merged with another more popular trail. This station also has several big mountain huts where people sleep. From this point the rest of the way up was basically a conga line - you waited for the person in front of you to go and then you went. It was also pretty steep... basically climbing up big rocks. This was also the point that I really started to notice the altitude - the lack of oxygen mainly. So that part really wasn't much fun.

But we finally made it to the top around 3:30 AM and managed to find a less crowded spot (there were already a lot of people up there) to watch the sunrise (scheduled for around 5 AM). Temperature-wise, it was probably in the mid-20's, but fortunately there was not much wind. We really lucked out with the weather... we had friends who went the next weekend and experienced rain and snow. So we all tried to stay warm and I even took a nap for about an hour.

The sunrise was really amazing to see. The pics are good, but they probably don't do it justice.

So after spending some time at the top, we decided we had our fill of Fuji and headed down. Coming down sucked... really no other way to put it. Most of the way down is on a "sand slide" which could best be compared to coming down a sand dune. But it has big rocks in it. And you come down it for a good 3.5 hours. It's really hard on your knees and quads (especially after having gone up 7000 feet already).

The whole trip was much harder than I thought it would be, but well worth it. Having said that, don't really need to do it again.

First, a few pics from the trip...


The view from the top, pre-sunrise:

video

A view of the crater:

video

Coming down the mountain... this will give you a good idea what these 3+ hours were like...

video

Friday, October 2, 2009

Doggie Cleaning

You can imagine my surprise when I walk outside my apartment and I see the new bandana that John's parents gave Cosmo sitting there with all the proper dry cleaning tags.  Apparently, it somehow slipped into the cleaning bag unnoticed.  This is a first....Cosmo should be styling it.  

Until next time...Jenn

Sayonara....

So, we had another first in Japan last week.  Some very good friends of ours left, which was so so sad.  However, in proper Tokyo fashion we threw them a Sayonara party to properly say good bye.  Good bye dear friends, we miss you already.  




Until next time...Jenn

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Summer Daze....

...are coming to an end.  And one of my biggest accomplishments has been my cross stitch project (I know...seriously entrenched in domestication).  My mom bought if for me like last year, but I just now bothered to put some MAJOR time into it and voila....a life lesson that everyone needs to know.  And what a journey it has been in the last year.

I'm awaiting the "official" start of fall where all the Japanese people will be busting out the fall gear in full force.  They are VERY specific fashion-wise about their seasons here.  The clothing colors change which I am in complete agreement with, however, they also start wearing fur-lined boots and sweaters, which given the temperature will still be HOT seems strange.  I'm still thinking it has to do with the fact that everyone is a toothpick therefore they get colder faster than their huskier American counterparts.  Just a theory I'm working on.  

So, I have to be honest and say that it's been a long time since I've been inspired to write a blog post.  I have no idea why this is as things go on with us all the time.  I'm still surprised by things here in Tokyo or our travels, but nothing has "come to me" in a very long time.  Maybe today I just had a lot to say....who knows.  

We've done a few summer highlights for you along the way (ie. the Notre Dame game, camping, my trip home, etc.) however, there are a few more that are worth noting.  We went to a O'matsuri (or festival) a few weekends ago that was a lot of fun.  It was this area near us, the Juban and was packed but worth it and as you can see John was pretty adventurous with the Japanese culinary delights.  

Associated with this was Bon Dancing at Roppongi Hills, which was okay.  I had gone to the Bon dancing at Hibiya Park the night before, which was one of the most amazing Japanese experiences that I've ever had.  It was for lack of a better word...magical.  The pictures that I took weren't that great and don't do it justice at all...it was one of those lifetime experiences for me.  One that you'll always remember.  Unfortunately, John didn't get to go, but needless to say this will be on my must do list for our entire tenure here.  

Following that up, John decided that we needed to break in our hiking gear and climb Mt. Takao...because what better way to get those boots worn in, right?  Which, if John were posting, you would have all the pertinent information, but since it's me, let's just say it wasn't that hard a hike or so everyone says.  And I'm sure the fact that I've been sore for a week is absolutely no indication that I may not be in good enough shape.  Although even for me it wasn't that bad at the time, but we're tackling Mt. Fuji next weekend.  Needless to say, they aren't comparable.  But John has gotten himself prepared....as you can see.

So be thinking of us next weekend when you are comfy on your couches...we will be climbing overnight.  As a friend of mine said "wow, this just doesn't sound like you at all...you know anti-adventurous and not really into nature" she was right, but I know I'll be glad I did it....theoretically.  Of course, I'm pretty sure that I'll be disgusting afterwards, which let's just face it isn't that exciting.  What we do for our men...can I get an amen?

Well, that's pretty much it from Tokyo.  Things are getting rolling again.  September kicks everything back into gear.  The bible study that I did last year starts up again next week, my rice cake construction (which I didn't really break from) continues, and I started tennis lessons today.  As he walked out the door, John's words of wisdom were "don't hurt yourself"...nothing like a vote of confidence in my athletic abilities.  Regardless, I loved it.  I had heard some interesting things about my instructor from previous students.  For instance, "well, he's a bit of an odd ball".  So I couldn't help but laugh when another one of my novice counterparts turned to me today and said, "there's something about him that reminds me of Pee-wee Herman".  And now you can get a little insight into our lesson.  Other than that we are heading to Dallas next week for a wedding...congrats Terri and Steve.  I hope that you all had a great summer as well.  

So, whenever I've kept a journal (which this feeling like sort of except for the lack of girlhood angst about boys and life and all that) I've always added a song so that whenever I read them again, which has yet to happen, but you never know....I'll know exactly what I was listening to.  Anyway, thought I'd give it a go here too....so here is our first introduction of "Name that Tune".  This is a shout out to our upcoming visit home and to our Texas peeps....

"all the Federalis said they could have had him any day....they only let him slip away out of kindness I suppose...."


Until next time...Jenn

Friday, August 21, 2009

Notre Dame Football - undefeated in Japan!!!


Continuing my homework assignments...

So the weekend after we went to Seoul was American football - Notre Dame Alumni vs. the Japan National Team in the Tokyo Dome.  Notable on the ND team was Tim Rice.  Notable on the JP team were guys who play American football.  I think the ND team out-weighed the JP team on average by like 60 pounds.   They probably out-aged them by about 20 years as well... there were guys on the ND team well over 50 years old.

Unfortunately, the JP team seemed to forget this fact.  Or it could have been that they were simply intimidated by the coaching legend on the other side of the field - Lou Holtz and his national championship 22 years ago.  I have to admit that my favorite teams are the University of Texas, whoever is playing a&m and whoever is playing ND.  But having said that...
  1. Who is Charlie Weiss?  How great would ND be if they had kept Lou?
  2. ND is #1 right now... what other team is 1-0?
  3. ND fans came out of the woodwork for this game.  
  4. They trounced JP 19-3.  Don't let anybody tell you ND isn't back.
If I was going to a football game, I felt like I had to wear UT garb.  I ran into quite a few people from Texas because of it.  

All in all, a nice little slice of Americana with tastes of Japan mixed in.


Happy Anniversary to Me.

So my one year anniversary in Japan was this week.  Pretty amazing how quickly it has gone by.  I certainly (still) miss all of our friends back home, but it's been an incredible experience.

Seoul


Okay... this has been a long time coming.  Jenn assigned this homework to me before she went back to the US and I simply failed.  So here you go.

I feel like we need to go back to Korea.  

First, we had a very Malaysia like experience - it rained a lot.  So we dealt with that from pretty much the day we got there (Friday afternoon).  Second, there was really one thing that I wanted to do in Korea - visit the Demilitarized Zone (the DMZ).  We had our reservation for the USO tour where you get to go to Panmunjeom and straddle the border of North and South Korea, go into the tunnels that the North Koreans have built into South Korea, and stare across the most heavily defended border in the world.  You actually have to sign a waiver saying that you acknowledge that military action could break out at any time and that you won't hold the United Nations responsible if you are killed during your tour - how great is that?

But the heavy hand of swine flu swatted those plans aside.  A soldier at one of the military bases on the border contracted this glorified flu and, as a result, the bases were sealed and the tours cancelled.  We found this out when we showed up for our tour.

So we walked around Seoul and saw some markets and a bunch of palaces (in the rain).  Lots of Japanese regularly go to Korea, primarily to shop.  It's a combination of a lack of duties in Korea (as opposed to Japan) and a very strong Yen that makes stuff much cheaper in Korea as compared to Japan.

One highlight for Korea - the food.  We didn't have a bad meal in Korea.  Koreans in the restaurants we went to seemed surprised that we liked the kimchi, but it was really good and there are lots of varieties (not just burn your face off hot).  The soup you see that I had in the pics below was really hot if you ate it alone, but was really good with the noodles in the soup.  We also got to experience true Korean barbeque thanks to our friends Michael and Lee... really good stuff.  

One unique thing about Korea (compared to Japan) - the chopsticks are often metal... a little difficult to eat noodles with.  



Monday, August 17, 2009

Here Comes the Bride....

So, I just get home from a lovely trip home.  I hate to report (yeah right), that I missed all the little earthquake craziness, but thankfully everything was fine and John wasn't too scared without me...ha.  For those of you that didn't know, my dear friend Marcia got married and I was honored to be a part of it.  

The wedding was in Savannah, which is a great little city.  My mom and my old friend Karrie decided to join me in my exploration of the city before the wedding festivities began.  We had the best time sifting through antique shops and touring historic homes.  After they left all the whirlwind that accompanies any wedding began.  It was a wonderful southern wedding and I got to catch up with some great people that I hadn't seen in a long time.  Here are a few pics of my time home.  

Until next time...Jenn


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Tokyo... back on top baby!

So Mercer (didn't Jenn used to work for them?) came out with their annual cost of living study and Tokyo is the most expensive city in the world for expats.  Wahoo!!! Take that Moscow.

New York serves as the basis (with a score of 100) and Tokyo came in at 143.7  Most of the change is due to currency movements, not actual increases in prices.  The yen/USD has gone from well over 110 to around 93 since we've been here.  I think it even dipped below 90 for a while last fall.  That's not a bad thing when you get paid in yen... it's like US dollars go on sale.

The flip side (for Japan that is) is that its exports become relatively more expensive.  We get a lot of questions about how the economy is here... unemployment is projected to go over 6% (which would be the highest since WWII), but is not nearly as bad as the 10% projected in the US.  But that number is probably lower than it should be.  There was a story last weekend (can't find a link now) indicating that nearly the same number of people were "over-employed" - meaning their employers would terminate/RIF/fire them if they could, but they are legally prohibited from doing so.

It is really hard to layoff/fire someone here.  As a result it is a big deal when it happens.  I need to catch some photos of this, but there are guys standing around doing a jobs that no one would ever do in the US.  For example, around construction sites there are usually 2 guys at each construction entrance to 1) make sure you don't go into the site, or 2) make sure you don't get run over by a truck.  Road patching crews have at least 2-3 guys at each end of the patch to direct traffic (I've never seen a bad road or a bad patch in Japan).  Pedestrian crossings of roads around the hotels have 2 guys (one on each side) telling you when it is safe to cross (as if you couldn't see the cars coming).  I have even seen a guy who's job it is to clean the phone booths.

It really is amazing and I think it (partially) explains why prices are higher here... there is a lot of extra labor cost being passed on to consumers.  I'm not sure it's always worth it, but it's the way it is here.  


I'm working on this...



-Cos

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Focus on da Lotus....

So, after getting in late from Seoul (post in progress), I decide to get up at the crack of dawn to go see some lotus blossoms with some great women that I met through my rice cake volunteering.  We met at 5:45 (yes, you can be properly impressed), which was very difficult.  I have to say though, it was most definitely worth it.  

There is this sea of huge lily pads in Ueno Koen and hidden amidst all the green are these gorgeous pink blossoms.  It was beautiful and I  wanted to share it with you.  


Until next time...Jenn

What....

is worst than a broken shoe - a broken shoe while on the subway midway to my destination.  Let's just say that there was no flip but a lot of flop.  It was an experience to say the least.  Unlike home, you can't just hop into a store and grab some new shoes....they don't have my size.  As you can see, some repair was attempted, but to no avail.  

Until next time...Jenn

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Baseball is the same everywhere, right?


I've been meaning to post this for a while now, but it can round out my blogging trifecta tonight...

We went to a Yakult Swallows baseball game a few weeks ago.  There are two teams in Tokyo - the Swallows and the Yomiuri Giants.  I think the Giants could best be compared to the Yankees - biggest payroll, big name stars, play in the Tokyo Dome, etc.  I think the Swallows are probably more like the Cubs or the Rangers.  I think there are about 16 teams in Japan and generally each one has at least one foreigner - either a hot, up and coming rookie or some fading star.  Bobby Valentine is GM for one of the teams.  I think my favorite named team (we didn't see a game when we were there) is the Hiroshima Carp.  They play in Zoom Zoom Stadium (Mazda's HQ is near there).

The Swallows play in a smaller, outdoor ballpark in the middle of the city not too far from where we live.  We went to a Sunday evening game with some friends, paid about $15/seat to sit in the general admission bleachers and took it all in.

So how is it different...
  1. The only real difference in the game is that it moves much faster.  There is much less jacking around by the pitcher, batter, catcher, etc.  US MLB could learn something here.
  2. Much like planes, trains, festivals, etc. people tend to bring their own food.
  3. Unlike at home, where each stadium will normally have an "official" beer, you can pretty much get any brand here.  And it is frequently distributed by a young girl in some kind of brand-related outfit (see the pics).  Many of them are carrying little kegs on their backs and distribute a draft beer to you on the spot.  It's probably cheaper here than at home.  No tipping - it's Japan after all.
  4. No chipwichs that I saw.
  5. Fans are into it.  The crowd could best be compared to European soccer.  Most people are there to watch the game.
  6. Songs.  When the home team is at bat, the partisans break out into each player's song and each one is different.  They are in Japanese of course, but there is a guy on the Swallows from Canada (I also learned the play baseball in Canada).  His song starts with "Oh Canada..." and goes from there.
  7. The road team's fans travel.  There was a huge section supporting the visiting team (can't recall who they are, but does it really matter?) but there were a bunch of them there.  They sang their team's songs when they were batting.  Our friends were saying it is huge when the Giants play the Swallows.
  8. In the game listings, the home team is listed first (opposite of the US).
  9. They have a dance team that goes out and dances during batting changes.  They are not cheerleaders (certainly by US standards).  They reminded me more of the ice girls at Dallas Stars games... something nobody is really going to complain about, but not really part of the game.
  10. Condiment distribution is different here... take a look at the slideshow.  And the mustard is different (I dare say better)... it has wasabi or horse radish in it so it has a kick.
  11. The 7th inning stretch is a bit different.  Each team's fans break out some sort of prop (for the Swallows, they are umbrellas that seemed to come from nowhere) and sing some special song.  It's kind of a "what is going on" moment.
So all in all, a very fun experience.  


It's not hot here, it's just you.

I think we've posted some items here regarding how formal things are here and how dressed up people generally are around here.  It's not uncommon to see guys wearing suits on the weekend, women very well put together even on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, etc.  We generally feel (or felt - we've gotten over it) conspicuous wearing our shorts an t-shirts when it's 85 degrees out.  As part of that, I have to wear a suit to work October through May.  In between, we go business casual (i.e., no ties and jackets).

So what happens in June you ask?  Well that is when "CoolBiz" kicks in.   Here is a quick article from Newsweek regarding this phenomenon referred to as "CoolBiz."  The gist of it is that companies set the air conditioning at 82.4 degrees during the summer to reduce electric usage and save a salamander somewhere.  I think 82.4 might be bearable if a) you were wearing shorts and t-shirts and b) you didn't have to walk from you apartment to the metro, or the metro was even well air-conditioned, or from the metro to your office/desk or c) you have a cold beer in your hand.  But you don't, so by the time you get to your seat you're pretty much sweating and you get to sit at your desk and continue to do so.  There is a big market for desk fans and small towels to dab your brow here... you would think that would be an indication that most people think 82.4 is too warm.

The other solution being marketed here is CoolBiz clothing... clothing made from special fabrics designed to make you feel cooler (or maybe not show pit stains as much, I don't know).  I think it's primarily a lot of synthetic, very thin fabrics.  For the guys you seeing wearing suits, the jackets are just the outer fabric with no lining at all.

Another article I saw said thousands of companies have signed on to the CoolBiz philosophy.  Not to be a cynic, but most companies that could justify turning the AC up to save some money would do so (electricity is much more expensive here than back home).  If you get to say you're reducing your carbon footprint by doing so, that's just a bonus.  I think that whatever the total savings are from going CoolBiz are more than offset by special CooBiz clothing, desk fans, little towels and lost productivity (lots of breaks to go buy ice coffee here - probably a separate blog entry).  I'm happy to be at a client right now that has a more reasonable temperature in the office because our office is just downright uncomfortable.

One more temperature note... I think Japanese generally prefer it warmer than Americans do, particularly Americans from Texas used to a comfortably cool chill in the summer.  Case in point - We flew Japan Airlines to/from Malaysia.  The flight back (overnight while you would really like to be sleeping) was by far the warmest flight I have ever been on.  I couldn't use the blanket because I would get hot with it.  Needless to say, I didn't sleep very well on the flight (normally not a problem).  But when you look around the cabin, there would be Japanese people bundled up like we would normally see on a flight in the US.  It's just kind of interesting how people perceive something so basic as temperature differently.


Worst recession since WWII...

Found that out from this CNN story.  Great time to be in Tokyo.  Anyway, I thought everyone might enjoy this:


Friday, July 3, 2009

A Return To Nature...

Okay, so yes for those of you that know me well camping is so not part of my vacation genre.  I am not into bugs or sharing a community shower or sleeping on the hard ground.  Luckily, our Japanese camping experience held little resemblance to what comes to mind when one mentions "camping".  

Tokyo is rainy and hot nowadays, so when one of our friends suggested that we get out of town to discover nature we were totally on board even though "camping" was mentioned.  Luckily, so called camping included these amazing cabins that had bathrooms and futon mats and pillows.  Needless to say, we weren't exactly roughing it.  It was a really fun weekend....we hiked and played board games and wii and beer pong.  Perfectly normal for a bunch of 30-something's.  Anyway, thought I'd let you know what we've been up to.  I hope that everyone is having a wonderful summer so far!


Until next time...Jenn

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Cosmo's First Play Date....

Okay, so maybe John and I haven't had that much interesting going on lately.  Cosmo, however, has had some noteworthy interactions as of late.  My friend Andrea was dog sitting her friend's Yorkie and they stopped by briefly one day.  Despite her proclamation that Ellie never likes any dogs and barks incessantly, she made not a sound, but rather let Cosmo chase her around the house.  It was really entertaining to watch.  Although the highlight was when she pounced on him from her perch on the couch and landed on his back!  

Until next time...Jenn

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rain, rain...go away

So, rainy season has officially started.  Although, I have to say, compared to what I was expecting it hasn't been all that bad so far.  It has actually been pretty nice here with a day or so of rain thrown in.  However, to prepare for what we were thinking would be a month of non stop rain, John relented and bought Cosmo a raincoat.  Needless to say, it wasn't a big hit.  Thought I'd share his new fashion statement with you guys.

Until next time...Jenn

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Parental Invasion

So, we are heading into our 9th month here in Tokyo.  This coincides with the migration of the foreigners home for the summer, the rainy season and the heat...lots to look forward to here as you can see.  We had a taste of the heat today and while I did indeed grow up near Houston and it is hotter than anything there with humidity mixed in I still don't think I'm properly prepared for the coming months.  The main difference being that we have no car, so there is no avoiding the sweating.  

A highlight for us a few weeks ago was the visit of my parents.  I was so so excited to see them and to show them all that Japan has to offer.  They were here with us for 11 days and I was in major site seeing overdrive the whole time lest I leave something important out.  The day after they arrived we hiked over to Tokyo Tower which is fairly close to our apartment so they could get the aerial view of the city.  My mom was more interested in the Japanese school children that were all wearing masks along with the strange hair accessories they were sporting to care too much about the view.  Then after that she wanted to take a peak at the Imperial Palace Gardens, which I had never been to.  She assures me that they are good to go with the walking, so we head out.  I think we walked maybe 5 miles that day and needless to say they were worn out and calling me a ruthless guide.  

The next day we went to the fish market, which was really cool.  It required waking up at 4:30 am or so to make the auction, which was definitely a highlight.  Then my parents were good sports and tried out sushi, which they weren't all that excited about and suki-yaki which they really enjoyed.  We headed out to Hiroshima the next day and went to the Peace Park and Museum, which were so very sad then headed to Kyoto.  Kyoto is this amazing city in Japan.  It is full of temples and shrines and unique pieces of Japanese history.  I loved it there and my parents did too.  

I loved having them here.  Their time here was way too short, but I think I gave them a good picture of Japan along with what it's like for us to live here.  Here are a few of the millions of pictures that we took during their visit.  


Until next time...Jenn

Monday, May 18, 2009

Channeling Bob Marley

So, the weekend before last we decided to go scout out Tokyo's Reggae Festival and let me tell you...SO glad that we did.  There were bands, picnics, Japanese people with dreds, vagabond apparel and accessories, jerk chicken and Jamaican attire.  

We took a beleaguered Cosmo, who promptly found a spot to sprawl in order to get some rest.  Little did he know that he was going to be part of the spectacle to be seen.  I lost count of the number of people that stopped to take his picture or to pet him.  The best were those that LOVED it when he licked them.  Needless to say he was a big hit at the festival.  By the time we were getting ready to leave he was so tired of the attention that I told him to sit down and he promptly backed up and literally sat in my lap so that people couldn't get to him.  

The entire day was quite the experience let me tell you.  To be honest, I think the pictures tell it all better than I could.  

Until next time...Jenn

Friday, May 15, 2009

Malaysia Experience...

So, for those of you that didn't know, John and I decided to get out of town for Golden Week, which is the big holiday in Japan.  After much debate on which amazing location to select we settled on Malaysia.  First we went to Kuala Lumpur (affectionately termed KL).  As you can see, we fully appreciated the culture and I conned John into dressing up in traditional Malaysian dress for the photo op.  Doesn't he look cute?

We hit up China town first and it was an experience.  There were fake purses galore, not to mention watches, perfume, luggage, you name it.  All this combined with the best food stalls everywhere.  It was quite the experience....not to mention it was a million and one degrees so we are pouring sweat!  

We also went to Central Market, which was indoors and so nice.  I was excited to see book stores everywhere with English books...all for normal prices....the things you take for granted.  The Petronas Towers were quite exceptional to see, but we didn't make it there in time to get  a ticket to go to the bridge, so we went to the KL tower observatory to see the city from above.  All in all, KL was a great time.  A bit dirty with an underside of shadiness, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.  

After a day and a half in KL we get on an Air Asia plane and head off to what I had been looking forward to for months....the beaches of Langkawi.  Our resort was gorgeous, the food was fantastic, the happy hour wheel was fun, BUT sadly the rain came and didn't want to give up for most of our stay.  
Let's just say...the white pasty legs that went to Malaysia were the same shade coming back to Tokyo.  However, we still had fun...we drove around the island and there were monkeys, monkeys everywhere.  I mean monkeys like soda too.  It was so much fun trying to spot them!  

We did managed to have a few hours of no rain, which we tried to take full advantage of...it would stop and all the resort guests would run out to the beach or pool and lay for an hour or so.  Then the rain would start again and everyone would head back to the outside bar and watch the rain.  

Regardless of the weather, John and I had a great time and would definitely recommend a Malaysian vacation.  As you can see in the picture to the right...it was so peaceful there.  

I'm attaching the full photo slideshow below for your viewing pleasure.  

Until next time...Jenn


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hmmm....

And I wonder why he looks at me like I'm crazy when I get mad when I find him by himself just lounging on the sofa.....

No, this is not my long promised post.  However, I have downloaded our Malaysia pictures onto my computer finally so there have been steps made in the right direction.  Therefore, you should have your next post shortly (like next day or so), so as my mom would say, "don't get your panties in a wad"...and you impatient people know who you are - HA!!!  What can I say, after being here - what - 9 months I managed to get myself busy and a bit lazy, let's be honest.  I've glided into the kept woman lifestyle beautifully if I do say so myself.  

Alright, hope you are all doing great and I'll get you more soon!

Until next time...Jenn

Monday, April 20, 2009

Back in Action...

Okay, okay, I know I've been falling down on my job.  So as most of you know, I'm back in Tokyo.  I have to say, hard to come back a bit with the exception of getting to see John and Cosmo.  Being home is just so easy and seeing my family so much was wonderful.  

I don't have too many exciting things to impart, unfortunately, as it was mainly just a relaxing experience.  Congratulations to my cousin John and his beautiful bride Julie for getting hitched.  The wedding was great and my parents' Easter celebration was everything it always is...craziness, busy, funny, and much too quick.  My mom and I did the official count and we were at 60 people total this year, which is only slightly insane.  I was so happy to be able to be there.  And I also got a fun visit from my friend Jessie and her family from DC.  All in all an excellent trip home.  

Now I'm back in full Tokyo swing...grocery shopping, walking the dog, and lunch with the ladies.  We had our first Japanese lesson last night after our hiatus and it was VERY painful...as in I didn't understand anything she said at all for the first hour...awesome.  John and I leave next week for Malaysia, so hopefully the blog will be much more exciting after that... 

For now....here are some pics from my time at home.  The only thing I'm missing is a pic of Renner, which is my friend Jill's cutie pie...

Until next time...Jenn



Sunday, March 29, 2009

More from Yoyogi Koen

As I said, Yoyogi is entertaining for a number of reasons... here's another one.  I'm sure this makes more sense if you can hear his music.  But the microphone didn't pick it up, so I added my own.

Without further comment...


video

How can you take something hard and make it harder?

The something hard, in this case, is the Tokyo Marathon which was last weekend.  The marathon course came within about a mile or so of our apartment so we decided to go down there and check it out.  

We were just past the 12 km mark, so about 7 miles in which is important to remember when looking at the pictures.  It's probably worth noting that 30,000 people participate in the marathon and that number is capped.  For Japanese applicants, there is actually a lottery to get in.  I think foreigners actually have a better chance of running the race.  

So I think some people try to take full advantage (and make it harder) by going with a costume.  After 7 miles, I think most of these people still thought the costume was a good idea - they were all high-fiving us and smiling and waving etc.  I was wondering how many of these costumes (or the runners) made it across the finish line intact.  Oh yeah, it rained on the course later in the day - a lot of these costumes look like they would hold quite a bit of water.

Enjoy the Tokyo Marathon... we did.


Sakura!!!

So Jenn is back home in Houston for a couple of weeks, so I'm going to try to catch up on some blog posts here.

As has been well-documented here, Cosmo arrived in Japan a couple of weeks ago.  So we've been adjusting to having him here and he's been adjusting to life on a leash.  One of our big concerns was where we could take him on walks, to get exercise, etc.  

Some of Jenn's friends with dogs said they take their dogs in the taxi cabs.  This struck us as somewhat odd since the cabs here have almost like lace covers on the seats and some of the taxi drivers wear white gloves (in addition to their suits).  But we decided to give it a shot last weekend.... sure enough, no problem.  He just has to stay on the floor, but so far we are 4 for 4.

This has opened up a whole new world to Cosmo, namely Yoyogi Koen (or park) which is right in the middle of Tokyo and has an off-leash dog park.  The pics in the album below are over two different trips to the park.  The park is entertaining on a number of different levels, but dog-wise the best part is the outfits on the little dogs.  And Cosmo is a huge hit here... we've more people talk to us in the last three weeks than we have in the prior 6 months.  Lots of people wanting his picture, wanting to pet him... he seems to take it in stride.

This weekend also marked the beginning of the cherry blossom (or sakura) season, so I snapped some photos of those as well.  Accompanying the sakura are the hanami.  Hanami are kind of like picnics to celebrate the arrival of the cherry blossoms.  In current form they involve laying a tarp down and taking a bunch of food and booze to the park.  People will get there hours in advance to stake out their area with the tarp and a sign indicating who it belongs to.  The best comparison back home would almost be like tailgating before a football game - some people had kegs, generators, etc.  

These pics really don't give you a good idea of how many people were at Yoyogi this weekend - some areas were just crammed with people.  And apparently it is better to be directly under a sakura - near one is not good enough.

I think next weekend will be better for the blossoms though.  This weekend was supposed be the peak, but it was very cold this week.  They only last about a week or so - some sort of metaphor for fleeting nature of beauty.... pretty while they're here though.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Happy Belated St. Patrick's Day


So, John and I decided to welcome Cosmo here in style and throw a little get together for St. Patrick's Day for all our friends.  My grand idea was to have everyone wear green - obviously - and to make all green appetizers.  This of course if far more difficult than one might imagine.  There are not many green foods that present themselves as finger foods.  I am happy to report that after picking the brains of my cooking experts, I was able to provide a good spread that fell in line with our party theme.  And thanks to mine and John's mom we were plied with decorations both for the apartment and for ourselves as you'll see in the slide show.  It was a great time and I'm pretty sure that everyone had a grand time even though John beat them all in Guitar Hero.  I think John agreed to the party just so that he would have someone to compete with.  That or to show off his skills on the toy guitar.  Just a thought. 




Until next time...Jenn 

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Wait... we live in Roppongi

Whenever you move or travel abroad, you can sign up for automatic updates from various embassies. When I got to Tokyo, I signed up for the US Embassy's updates which come out each month. They usually tell you about events at the Embassy (like Independence or Memorial Day parties, etc.), or about how Hillary Clinton came through Tokyo last month, State Department travel advisories to other countries, etc.

They also send out advisories or warnings regarding the country you are living in. I got this one today:

* * * * *

Date: March 17, 2009

This is to inform the American community that the U.S. Embassy has recommended that the embassy community avoid frequenting Roppongi bars and clubs in Tokyo due to a significant increase in reported drink-spiking incidents. American citizens may choose to avoid frequenting drinking establishments in this area as well.

The number of reports of U.S. citizens being drugged in bars has increased significantly in recent weeks. Typically, the victim unknowingly drinks a beverage that has been secretly mixed with a drug that renders the victim unconscious for several hours, during which time large sums of money are charged to the victim’s credit card or the card is stolen outright. Victims sometimes regain consciousness in the bar or club, while at other times the victim awakens on the street [jrs: the "victims" I see on the street normally appear to have administered something to themselves].

Because this type of crime is already widespread [jrs: um, first I've heard of it] in Roppongi bars and is on the rise, the U.S. Embassy has recommended that members of the embassy community avoid frequenting drinking establishments in this area [jrs: how much time is the embassy community spending in the bars exactly?]. American citizens may consider this recommendation as it applies to their own behavior. If you, nevertheless, choose to participate in Roppongi night life, we urge you to remain extra vigilant of your surroundings and maintain a high level of situational awareness. Establishments in the area of Roppongi Intersection (Roppongi Dori and Gaienhigashi-dori) have had the highest level of reported incidents.

* * * * *

Just to put this into perspective for us, here is my walk to the Metro station to get to work:
  • Come out of apartment and turn left.
  • Walk to Gaienhigashi-dori and turn right.
  • Walk to Roppongi Dori (through Roppongi Intersection) and turn left.
  • Go down the Metro entrance.

I still think Tokyo is probably one of the safest large cities in the world, certainly much more so than NYC. But it's still kind of surprising to get something like this. I'm gonna have to tell Jenn to be careful out there. ;-)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Japanese Tea Ceremony...


So, last week a few of the girls and I got to experience a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.  There is tea room in Ginza that caters to foreigners that are hoping to just experience the ceremony, but in a language they understand.  My Japanese teacher recommended it and we had the best time.  I must say I doubt I would ever have enough sophistication to pull off a tea ceremony.  There are certain ways to do everything including entering and leaving the room and certain things that you are supposed to say.  We had a great time and the hostess was so wonderfully instructive and helpful.  Here are a few pictures to give you a bit of an idea.  



Until next time...Jenn

Friday, March 6, 2009

Long Awaited Arrival...

And now we're introducing our wonder dog...Cosmo.  Let's just say we are over the moon that Cos has finally made it safely to Japan and getting adjusted to his new city dog life.  He's already found the sunniest spot in the apartment and is getting acquainted to his new digs.  I think he's going through a little withdrawal.  He misses John's parents and his backyard.  And he's having some abandonment issues as anytime John or I leaves the apartment (no matter that one of us is still there) he cries or barks until said person returns.  Let's just say he'd be happy if we were both with him at all times poor thing.  I'm sure all that will ease once he gets more used to it.  He is fascinated with all the people and the noises outside, which slightly distracts him from "getting business taken care of" if you know what I mean.  Anyway, we hope that you are all doing well and just wanted to assure everyone that Cosmo made it and we are so excited!  I think we are heading out for a long walk around the city and some Starbucks people viewing, which I think Cosmo will appreciate.  I can't wait to see his reaction to all the doggies with clothes on around here..ha!  Hope you all have a great weekend!


Until next time...Jenn

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Well Travelled Puppy...

So, this is such a sad little picture.  Cosmo's plane arrived in Tokyo, but we don't get him until tomorrow.  I'm so excited I can hardly contain it.  I hope that he can get used to "the facilities" being concrete rather than grass....here's to hoping.  There will be more pics to come once he gets here.

Until next time...Jenn

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Comin' Atcha from Kamakura

So this weekend, after a week long rainy spell (and a spot of snow) in Tokyo, we decided to get outta town for the day and head to Kamakura to finally see the Big Buddha.  It was really cool.  We hit a few other Temples, which were cool.  Although, I hate to say this, but they all are starting to be a bit the same...all really old and very intricate, but the same nonetheless.  

The Buddha, however, was definitely different.  And a little down the road from the Buddha is another Temple spot that houses the children's shrine.  There are rows and rows of shrines representing children who have died, either through miscarriage, natural causes or abortion.  It is just such a sad thing to see, but beautiful and so peaceful.  

I'm attaching pictures of it all for your viewing please.  And for those of you that have been wondering...Cosmo is coming this coming week.  He leaves the US on Wednesday and we get him Friday.  John and I are both so excited that we can hardly stand it.  I'm sure we'll have a million pictures of him and the Tokyo sites.  Anyway, stay tuned for that.    



Until next time...Jenn

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Snow is Fallin' On My Head...

So, as promised I'm here to tell you about our fabulous trip to the Snow Festival and skiing.  We left two Friday's ago and were off to Otaru (our hotel location).  It was a bit of a long day as we were delayed getting there and hence we had to take the local train, which means almost an hour extra riding time.  

The next day we woke up and headed out to Sapporo.  We spent the day looking at some of the coolest snow sculptures I've ever seen.  There was a street of huge displays several stories high.  Then there was another street with all ice sculptures.  Both were simply amazing.  Hokkaido is also known for their crab.  Luckily, our friend Sam had made us all a reservation at a well known restaurant known for their crab and it was oishi desu (delicious).  

The next day we hit Otaru, which was also really fun.  They have this canal that we explored during the day (in the snow), then we got a chance to make our own glasses (Otaru is known for their glass), and eat some great sushi, and they on a whim headed back to the canal and man was it worth the trip.  They had glass balls with candles inside floating all up the canal and along the bank there were mini snow carvings with candles inside as well.  It was so pretty and very romantic....well it would have been if my hubby hadn't been so obsessed with trying out all the features of his new camera, but se la vie.  

We spend the next two days skiing.  The first day we went to Niseko to meet up with our friends who were staying there.  It was so strange because there were more Australians and New Zealanders there than any other culture.  The next day we went to Kiroro, which was very Japanese.  They were both amazing.  Skiing was like floating on a cloud the powder was so perfect.  

That pretty much sums up our trip.  We had the great time seeing Northern Japan and hanging out with our friends.  As usual, I'm attaching some pics for you to see some of the neat things we got to.  




Afterwards we were pretty tired and I think this picture says it all...


















Until next time...Jenn

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

And away we go....Hokkaido (volume I)

So, John has our camera held hostage in Hong Kong.  Therefore, I don't have the majority of our pictures from our most recent trip to show you yet, but never fear they will be coming your way soon and they are fabulous if I do say so myself.  

For those of you that don't know, we went to Northern Japan to see the Sapporo Snow Festival this past weekend and then stayed a bit longer to hit the slopes, which were amazing.  More to come on all of that, but here are a few pics to whet your interest.  


Until next time...Jenn

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tokyo in 15 hours or less.....

Okay, okay, so I've been letting the blog slide a bit.  I guess that since our lives are entering somewhat of a routine I feel like there isn't quite as much to report and say (other than my cross stitching re-discovery).  However, we did have our inaugural visitor....thank you Todd.  One of our friends and an old co-worker of John's from Dallas was flying through Tokyo and stopped in to see the pad and the city and generally say hi.  Poor thing was pooped by the time he got to our house and we were both so excited to impart all that Tokyo had to offer...his head was probably spinning.  

Unfortunately, Todd didn't have but one night to spend with us before going to service for PwC elsewhere, but we managed to catch a few great pics of him in the city (yes...to prove that he was in fact here).  Now for the rest of you...we are totally soliciting visitors so if you've had a yen (no pun intended) to hit up Asia we have a spare room...so the ridiculously expensive plane fare won't be quite so painful.  Think about it....ha!

As for us, we are heading out to Northern Japan on Friday to hit up the Snow Festival and skiing, so look out for more fun postings.  Not to mention, John should have the best pictures ever considering the fact that we are now the proud owners of this fancy camera mentioned previously.  


Until next time...Jenn