Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas in Minnesota

I made it to my home state last Monday, two hours before I left Japan that same day, thanks to time zone changes. It was good to be home, even if there was no snow. I had gotten little sleep on the way so I was a little out of it by the time I met my parents at the airport but it was late anyways. I had them stop at Walmart so I could pick up things I hadn't wanted to pack (like shower stuff I hadn't wanted to take through security and snacks) before heading back to our place. We headed out to IHOP for breakfast (hmm...) then went walking in the Mall of America. As usual, I went into Beadniks, a bead store there, and Barnes and Nobles and spent way too much at both but I rationalize that it will be a while until I'll be in a position to get the stuff in those techniques. (Let's ignore Amazon for now, okay?)

The next day we went to Khan's Mongolian Barbecue for supper (yummy)and Thursday we went to the neighborhood deli. That's about when I realized how short this trip was and how little I would manage to get done of what I'd planned. Anyways, Friday I stayed home and worked on my projects while the parents went out and I didn't leave again until church on Saturday. This morning there were two church services before gifts and a quiet afternoon. It's nice to be home and not have the deadlines and red tape I need to deal with, even if my body thinks it's time to suddenly be wide awake after midnight when I just want to sleep. Oh well, that's the joy of changing time zones.
It's been awesome to be home and see some of my favorite places and people for a holiday designed for family get togethers and memories. I hope you all have an amazing holiday season and the best of luck in the New Year. I hope 2012 is your best year yet and I'll see you next year. :)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Tokyo 2011, Day 1

Last weekend both of my sisters came up to see me. They’d spent much of the week in Tokyo seeing the sights and on Friday afternoon we met in Kamakura and I took them to my new place where we would all sleep for the night before going up to Tokyo for the next two days. After I gave them the (rather short since there’s not a lot there) tour of my apartment, we tried to go to CoCo’s, a curry franchise (the food is the bottom picture and it tastes better than it looks), for supper. A favorite of the locals and the Americans around here, the place was full and the night was cold so we went to a ramen shop down the street. Honestly, I’d never had the ramen there, I’m not much for most soups, but I’d heard rave reviews from those I work with and my sister’s wanted to get the “Japanese experience”. I don’t blame them since one of them was only going to be in Japan for less than a month and I loved the shrimp fried rice the ramen shop sold so we went to eat there. I finally tried some of the ramen there, as we sampled each other’s meals, and it was good but we all agreed that the shrimp fried rice I ordered was the best choice of the three. After that I led them to a bar not far from my place and got us a chuhi to share. They didn’t feel much like drinking alcohol so I only ordered one and drank most of it (they were rather tired and didn’t want the alcohol to make it worse) but I wanted them to try it. The chuhi is a drink I have only found in Japan and can be bought like a soda in a can at any convenience store but around my place, it’s the favorite drink. A mix of club soda, flavored syrup, and a shot or two of strong liquor, depending on how strong it’s ordered, the drink seems like soda and sneaks up on a person. It tastes like a soda and a lot of people drink two or three before it starts to react with them and for some people that is too many. It’s not unusual for people to try it, decide the chuhi tastes good but is weak, and chug another one or two before the effects quickly overtake the person who’s never tried it before. A lot of Americans get very drunk their first night trying chuhis but I only ordered a regular which we each tried/shared so we didn’t really feel it. After they’d tried the chuhi it was time to get back to my warm room to catch up and get some sleep. The next morning we were planning to see my work and be on the train to Tokyo by ten in the morning.
Um, yeah, we left my place late, had breakfast at Cinnabon, and I gave them a tour of my workplace. We got lunch at a convenience store before boarding the train about noon for the two hour train ride up to Shinagawa Station where they had stored their suitcases for the night. On the way we went through a “learn your strengths” list my sister had found in a book and I realized how long it’s been since I had a good debate on psychology, especially about analyzing ourselves and each other. Each one of us has studied psychology with different aims in mind and it made for a very good conversation. My oldest sister is a drama teacher who works with children and young adults as well as doing some acting on the side so she’s studied psychology from a viewpoint of how people learn and how to teach children while my middle sister is in graduate school to be a Christian counselor to actually help people deal with any issues they may have. I just study psychology because it helps me understand people. (If you know me, you probably know I’m a very blunt person and like to know why people do what they do.) Psychology also helps me develop characters for the stories I write but I never intend to use psychology beyond that, except to play devil’s advocate with my friends. Three different perspectives on one topic and the ride just flew by.
After we (okay, my middle sister) navigated us through the Tokyo train system to the place we were staying, we dropped our stuff and went back on the train for the origami museum. We got there less than an hour before it closed at six p.m. and explored some. I’d never realized the intricate folding that could be done to make paper dolls that looked like the real ceramic court dolls sold in Japan or boats full of soldiers or full landscapes of places or crabs. We sat in front of a master folder who folded things like dragon heads and a traditional new years decoration and a puppy and a few other things before we got to pick one to keep and look around the store. I picked the dragon head and also bought some beginner origami books to add to my list of techniques I intend to learn but have yet to get around to before we left. After dark already, we decided to go to Ahkiabara, the area known as electric town. There we could buy just about anything with a current in it and we saw things like usb ports that looked like pieces of sushi, a screen that worked like an etch-a-sketch, antennas and gps gadgets for cars, and a shop that sold robots and parts to make them. By the time we left the neon town behind we were pretty hungry and finally found a sushi place to eat. In an area that didn’t see too many Americans, the patrons at the restaurant and the workers were very helpful. We finally ordered two plates of sushi to share and they brought out some pickled radish pieces for us to try for free. All was very good and we were ready to go back to the ryokan we were staying at. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese hotel with shared restrooms and the traditional shower/tub facilities. In Japan the tradition is that you shower outside the tub and then relax in the tub that is usually a one person Jacuzzi. Quite nice with the carefully manicured ground you could see through a small window by the tub after a long week at work.