Here is the first update letter since the Christmas letter. I'm getting rainfall data from my piconet and working on ways to work with the data. My Mom just had nose operation #6 and at the writing of this (1.5 days later) she'd doing very very well. They fixed her up so she has a more normal working nose (and hopefully many few or no more infections!).
This year (365 day period starting June 1998) has been the year of world travel for me. It's an amazing and big step for one who (up to last year) only had 5 miles into Mexico and 5 miles into Canada as my example of foreign travel (I could still see U.S. land all the time J ). But NO MORE! As the previous newsletter chronicles, I've now seen Fiji, Western Samoa, American Samoa, (Hawaii), The Ivory Coast of Africa- and now China and Japan.
Here is the China and Japan adventure.
Dee Anne Anderson is a great friend of mine who I met (through Scott and Nicole Kelley in Chicago when they created Star Trek Night- which I have carried on to this very evening). She is teaching American and British literature and English classes in China. I looked for many ways to get out there over the year she has been gone. Then, thanks to Valerie Maddox of California (the lady who we helped find a tornado here in the Great Planes), I got a vastly discounted flight to Japan (a bit less than 1/10th the full price when all was said and done). I choose the week before and the week of Spring Break (due to the stand by nature of the ticket).
The following are the entries in my diary (hand written since I did not take a computer with me).
|3/8/99 11:10AM CST (10:10AM MST) Day 1|
Yea! I got out of OKC and its early morning thunderstorms- I'm riding first class! First class life = hot towel, table cloth, drink before takeoff (OJ) a snack and breakfast (= muffin, banana yogurt, cereal, more OJ). The seats are BIG (my feet barely touch the ground!).
Salt Lake City: Wow! I got first class again. Before takeoff we had drinks (diet sprite)- then a meal (in the air) (= chicken & rice & salad, 2 chocolates and bread).
Portland, OR to Tokyo, It started with a glass of champagne- a towel (hot) - menu with a number of possible meals- a wine list and nuts.
1st Class (Called Business Class) was very empty (that's how I got in that section- I wore a suit and IF there were seats- I'd get to sit in them). This was due to the Asian financial crisis. A year ago, I was told, the Business Class seats were always full. There were only a few people in them now (and most of the were N. Americans!). I had a big Japanese meal (that was hard to finish). I had a second meal 8 hours later (American this time). They even supplied slippers, black socks, a blind fold, and a toiletries bag. Amazing.
I arrived in Tokyo at about 6pm (a full day later than it was at home) and found I could not get a train at that hour to go to southern Japan where I was to stay with Kemit and Tammy (about as far as Chicago is from Oklahoma City- but I didn't know that either!). So I had to find a place to stay- and travel in the morning. I had purchased a Japan Rail Pass (a definite MUST if you are going to Japan) before leaving the U.S. You must buy them before arriving in the country- and they are good for 1,2 4 etc. week lengths. Every form of travel in Japan is expensive- this was the BEST way to go. You can ride virtually ALL trains as much as you want and get on and off as much as you want. You do not even have to get a proper seat assignment- you can just hop a train and wave your rail pass. Very fun.
So I cashed in the rail pass (beginning my 2 weeks of use) and marched to the subway to ride to Tokyo to find a hotel to sleep in. A nice guy on the platform (who I asked to see if I was on the correct platform to get TO Tokyo). He asked what I was doing and I told him. He said that all the hotels are expensive in the downtown area and that I should go to the airport help desk and find a cheap hotel. It was a great suggestion. They hooked me up with the Narita Station Hotel- that had a free shuttle and was only $50/night (very inexpensive for Japan!). There was some mold on the floors and the room was cramped, but very comfortable. It was cold- and the rain changed to snow as we rode to the hotel.
If I speak slowly and keep word choice simple and sentences very short- I can get my point across to a population that has English as a second language. I was able to negotiate around the train station, airport and into the hotel pretty well. I woke a 3:30am quite alert and ready to go (around 1pm at home).
|3/9/99 6:00am JST (Japan Standard Time)- Narita Station Hotel Day 2|
Read and deciphered the train schedule this morning (not really- I messed it up).
Notable Observations: Japanese wear shorts (esp. kids) even in cold weather. There is no crime here indeed- I lost my train schedule twice (once for a few hours) and it was still where I left it later. [Much later- I found I could leave an umbrella outside next to a street for as long as I want as well.] Western bathrooms are definite add-ons in to buildings. They are often one piece fiberglass constructions. Phone cards are the fundamental way to call. You buy them in machines ($10 US dollars are the smallest denomination card) and stick them in green or gray phones around the country. Everything shuts down and lights and advertisements are turned off around 10pm in Narita (and other smaller cities in Japan). [ATM's shut down around 8pm and on weekends- unusually backward. Do computers need to sleep?!] It is VERY VERY quiet outside until after 5am. I am clearly taller than average and know what it must be like to be 6'2" in the U.S. Not bad actually.
9:18am Aboard Train #111 bound for Hiroshima (for me) from Tokyo. I rode the local commuter trains from Narita to Tokyo with my luggage and all this morning. I parked myself in the isle near a door (it seemed kind of out of the way). The train (though it was rush hour ~ 7:27am) was nearly empty when I got onboard (Great!) and off we went until two stops later- the crowd HIT! Hundreds of people flooded in and it got TIGHT on that train. People were pushing and crowding until I had elbows and shoulders pushing into me from all different directions. Off we went with the car swaying and the mass of tightly packed people using each other for support. We went to the next stop (still 4 stops from Tokyo) and there were crowds waiting! Five people got off and 40+ got on through each of the car's doors. The last group of men gave the crowd a shove by running into them from behind. The hard packed people tilted in, kind of falling on each other and those men got on (by grabbing poles and hand holds in the train). I tried to hold my ground but eventually the push of people got too much and I was inched back into the heart of the crowd. I couldn't see my luggage but could hear it scooting away. The press toward me was probably because people could see the hole infront of me (2'X2' in size) where my luggage was and they knew that 3-4 people could fit inside that space. The result was a pressure backwards.
On the train went. I could only move my fingers and head. We stopped again and 5 more people tried (and succeeded) to get on. They pulled on anything metal they could grab and forced themselves in. The last lady could not fit and half of her body was sticking out of the train.
Let me stop for a moment and describe what I call adrenaline music. When a train is about to pull out (and close its doors) a musical rift plays. That lasts 5 seconds then the music speeds up and goes up a quarter octave. Then it speeds up and plays at an even higher pitch. Even if you are safely on the train and even though there will be another train in about 11 minutes (usually), you can feel your pulse speed up and the adrenaline beginning to pump. Five seconds the doors close. Period. That is how the Japan Rail system gets the reputation for being accurate and on time enough that you can set your watch to it. It is so exact, in fact, that my watch (which is in sync with the world atomic clocks since Im a nerd) would hit the minute the train was to arrive at the same moment the train came to a stop beside me. Pretty durn exact!
So this lady had her body half way out the doors and the adrenaline music was playing. The conductor came up with a white stick with yellow tape on the ends. He placed it (with gloved hands) in her spine and pushed, then against her butt and pushed. Then he used his foot to jam her in as the doors closed. Amazing.
The even more incredible thing about it was the sound. There wasn't any. All this was done in complete silence. No one spoke, complained, groaned, or anything. I could hear the rain pattering outside the train station platforms and distant trains clattering on other tracks. It was spooky.
We continued to Tokyo with two more stops (but thankfully people got off, not on). The windows completely fogged up and I pulled out a Kleenex and wiped a small view spot in the water and watched the gray rainy world slide by. I kept reminding myself that I am not claustrophobic. The Japanese around me mostly slept standing up. I could not imagine doing that all the time- every day.
The Tokyo train station was very confusing- not only did it have many many tracks all meeting there, and many many people all rushing around, but it had few signs in english. There were times I just spun slowly looking for a number or pattern I could recognize (e.g. the important train stop town of Chuba had a window and a squashed spider characters in their Japanese names) and prayed. I could only read 1 in 10 signs. I ended up on a train bound for Hiroshima (correct) but without a seat assignment. In other words- I had jumped a train. Thankfully, the train pass and the language barrier kept me from getting in trouble.
I got to Iwakuni that afternoon (after 7 hours on the train) and showed up at the wrong station. I was at the Iwakuni Station- Kemit was at the Shin-Iwakuni station. Instead of a 20 minute trip from Hiroshima and no stops- I had an hour trip with about 9 stops. Blech. But it was GREAT seeing Kemit and Tammy Spears and their kids (pictures included on the pictures page (if they are not there- they will be soon)).
Many people smoke (60% males, 40% females and rising according to an airline magazine). There are very smoky smoking cars in the trains. On average 1 in 30 people are walking around with dumb looking white square gauze face mask. I found out later that it was because they have a cold- and don't want to spread germs.
|The first night in Iwakuni with the Spears. (Still Day 2)|
We went to a place called the Chicken Shack (San Zo Ku in Japanese). That was FANTASTIC food! We had raw beef strips (like bacon) that we cooked over a pot of coals sitting on our table, I had shashimi (raw fish) in an ice hut, chicken leg on a stick and reat little triangle pasta like things (that are the Spear's favorite). We visited until it was time to sleep. For Day 3 I head by train all the way up the country to the airport and then off to China! (If you want to talk to me about the Spears- email me! (email@example.com) This is a general interest newsletter.)
To be continued
|3/11/99 0854 (Day 3)|
I learned about the trains and this time got a REAL assigned seat on all three trains from Iwakuni to Narita Air Port. The Tokyo to airport was a dream experience with my own seat and no one else on my car and only one stop. This time it took only 20 minutes to get there. Much better!
|1648 On board the Air China flight to Dalian|
On this flight, though I paid a coach fare, I got to sit in a strange land between business class and coach. The chairs are a bit better and there is good food service. This was a B747-400 series with a neat upstairs. They served beef strips on rice.
I exited the plane in the cold on the Dalian, China runway. The crowd walked and ran to the temporary buildings (un-heated) where customs and immigration were housed while the main airport was being rebuilt. They X-rayed my bags- and that was it. It was very easy to get in. I pushed through the crowd at the door (very packed!) and saw Dee!!! What a great relief. I had to swim through the tightly packed people-(and hands pushed me along- I guess to get me out of the way of the relatives they were waiting for). She looks fantastic- (see pictures). A knock-out in China! J
She and her friend (and my roommate while I stayed there) Dan had a taxi flagged down and we quickly were on the road going through the city towards Dan's home. They taught me the terms for currency and gave me a primer for most necessary survival words I'd need in Chinese. I paid attention, but it was hard to keep my concentration since it was so amazing that I was sitting next to somebody I knew from Oklahoma now on the other side of the world. There should be a word like anachronism for something that is out of place. But she wasn't out of place- this has been her home for quite a while and she was very able to communicate with the taxi drivers and in restaurants (though she claims she's not that good at all- ha!).
That night I slept well (no real jet lag problems at all!). In the morning there was a loudspeaker outside barking something (propaganda?!) and playing music. Strange.
|3/14/99 0748 Dan's apartment (Day 4,5,6) (Many details are omitted in China. If you want to ask me specific questions- then email me and I'll go into detail for you. I'm trying to keep this general and fairly short to appeal all the 180 people on my list who might end up here for readin'. Just click this here link firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll gladly plunge deeper!)|
On Day 4 she and I bussed to her old and new living places. But somehow I missed taking pictures INSIDE her house! What was I thinking? I ate my first REAL Chinese meal with them (including fried peanuts which I have since made at home. The funnest part is eating peanuts with chop sticks. Try it if you dare!). I got to ask Dan and Dee many questions and got a picture of how life works over there. That night I got to meet a bunch of friends and we watched some Babylon 5.
On Day 5 I slept in and Dee picked me up later in the morning. We had lunch with some other friends and ate Korean BBQ. Not too different from the San Zo Ku in Japan- but still FUN! This time there were pits IN the table that hot coals were inserted in and we got plates of raw food to cook on them. The sauces that you dip stuff in are what makes the whole thing work. I don't think those delicious flavors are available in the US!
We drove around and sight-saw (a term?) then bussed and taxied (Dan and I in our best- her in her Chi-pau (spelled wrong- but see picture!)) to a Chinese Opera!. It was a bunch of clanks and whines in the music- with very slowly pronounced and intoned (almost sung) Chinese. Dan and Dee gave me sometimes accurate and sometimes goofy interoperations of what we were seeing (a very important part of the opera actually was their funny analysis). It was in the 40's in the building but we had hot tea to drink. After that we went to an Italian restaurant and I had something like fettuccine (yep- a far cry from protein drinks!).
Observations: The language barrier is the BIGGEST hardship in travels. If you can get around that- you can function and live anywhere.
Day 6: Dee took me to actually exchange money. I have Quan (probably spelled wrong as well). I got to help pay for taxi rides from here on out. Yea! Taxies are pretty inexpensive (less than a US dollar to just a couple of dollars for most trips). Busses are even cheaper (just a few cents to still less than a dollar in US currency). We visited more folks there and had a big breakfast. I got to play violin there with a group and Dan coined many names for me (Johnny Cyper, Johnny fruit salad, basically Johnny _______ ). I worked on computers there (there is a big need for computer support in China- one could set up a GREAT business doing computer support there- and work as many hours as one wanted to stay awake!).
I waited for Dee to come in a taxi on the morning of Day 7 and got MANY stares. Folks waking by would stare until they were well beyond my position and were craning their necks far back. It's not often you see a white western guy standing around. I went to her English speaking classes and got to see her teach (she is enthusiastic, cheerful and really gifted to be standing in front of a class- I should know too!). I became the topic of her classes as I was put in front to be questioned in English. They had to make up English questions and follow up on my English answers. It was fun. I got asked- "How do Chinese girls compare to American girls?" "Are you married? How old is you son?".
After that we watched some Star Trek Voyager with a neighbor of Dee's and then went back for a BIG afternoon class (American Literature). I learned stuff about US history during this class- and napped a bit- I was getting tired.
That night was Taco night at some friends home. If you want to make friends in other countries really happy(be it England, Fiji, Japan or China) send the necessary spices and fixin's for American food like Taco's.
For Day 8 I was escorted (thankfully!) into the city to meet another teacher who's class I got to also speak English with. This class had an extensive question and answer period where I met with small groups. I got asked about global warming, the ozone hole, and war with Iraq. A wild meeting of cultures! I got to do a bunch of downtown sightseeing and we taxied to the ocean for some pictures. (And we saw the golf course for the Japanese).
Day 9 Dee met me after her morning class and we taxied in to the airport. It was a FAST week but fantastic. I couldn't have done the trip better. Dee and Dan were complete host studs!
More China Observations:
The flight back to Japan was eventless. I met a guy who's name (he choose in American) is David- though his real Chinese name is a bunch of dashes in a box in my journal (he wrote it). He was reading an L.Ron Hubbard book in Chinese (woopie, scientology spreads (gosh! My spell checker knows scientology!). Anyway- the plane was mostly empty and he moved to the aisle across from me because he was lonely. We held broken English conversation for the duration of the flight. I became his buddy, and he helped me with my carry on luggage in the airport (good thing I knew about observation 7 above- or I would have though he was stealing my luggage).
I checked into the Narita Station hotel again (why explore ALL the time?! A good deal is a good deal.). I hopped the first train to Tokyo and zipped in. When I got there, I found that the last train BACK to my hotel was to leave in an hour L . I ran straight away from the Tokyo train station and took pictures for 20 minutes- then rain straight back, got my ticket and rode back. I explored Narita, Japan into the evening. I wanted to find one of those coffin like 4 foot wide 3 foot tall 7 food deep hotel rooms and stay in one for a night- but they steer westerners far from those. I guess they think we'll freak out. Maybe we do.
Day 10 I took a Japanese bath with my knees up in my face in the tiny tub and headed out to get to Kemit and Tammy again. I stopped by the bakery again and got some pastries with chocolate filling for lunch later- and took a commuter train TO the airport (the wrong way on purpose). There I hopped the one stop express cushy seat train to Tokyo. Then the bullet train to Hiroshima and the correct train (no stops not 13 from Hiroshima to Shin- Iwakuni). I even negotiated my way out of a smoking car by changing to a later train on the Tokyo to Hiroshima leg. I feel like quite the train rider.
The chocolate filling in the donuts was actually a bean and fish paste. The donuts were more like bread than anything sweet. Blech.
The neatest thing, once I was again with the Spears was I got to go San Zo Ku again!!! We were saying goodbye to a serviceman returning to the U.S. We feasted. I purchased a table grill (which I have yet to use as of 4/12/99) so I can cook raw meat at home. Fun fun. I think it is made of discarded Space Shuttle heat shielding J .
Sunday is a BIG work and travel day. Trains are often extra busy. Monday is often a day off. Saturday is also often a day off. I don't have that part figured out really.
Day 11 I explored Hiroshima in the rain and took scads of pictures. Kemit and Tammy were busy with many things- so I didn't bug them and I trained in and went crazy all over the city. I bought an umbrella near ground zero of the atomic blast (there is a BIG shopping mall with in .5 km of the spot over which the bomb exploded now).
Looking for the dome building (the atomic bomb memorial) I went to the first domed building I saw. I ended up in a children's science museum and found a planetarium!! I convinced them (in broken English and hand motions) that I worked at one in the US and- although it was closed for upgrade of their equipment- they took me in and fired it up! The planetarium holds about 390 people and has such detail that you can use a pair of binoculars (which they handed to me) and look at objects and see them as they would really appear in the sky (satellite galaxies to M31, the trapezium in M42, many more stars in the Pleiades). I was GREATLY impressed.
I finally found the dome building (and took the pictures you see on this site). Then went to the atomic bomb museum. That was very harsh and hard. There were more non-Japanese per person inside than on the streets. The museum was kind of multi-facetted. One display would say how evil and wrong the Americans were for killing children, the elderly, animals and plants and destroying art and history- then another display would talk about the expansionistic intent of Japan, and the Koreans and Taiwanese that were enslaved in Japan and such. At one point there were tumors and deformed limbs preserved in formaldehyde. Ouch.
That night I went to the Sea Bee ball (the Civil Engineers of the Navy - CB, Civil Engineering Battalion ) on base. Kemit was the master of ceremony and since I had my suit with me- I got to dress up and come! Kemit did a great job and the formal part of the evening ended just before the younger men (and some of the older men) got too relaxed to stay civil (no pun intended). The worse part of the night was the local band who tried to do American songs. The best part was seeing the pride our service men and women have in their jobs and the camaraderie they have together.
Day 12- I got to go with the Spears to church that was in a former Japanese home near downtown Iwakuni. Kemit did the message and it was durn good. He's got a future doing that! We had a BIG meal after that (pot blessing instead of pot luck J ) . That afternoon (squeezing all the tasty things they could fit in a weekend) they took me to another Japanese restaurant that served lots of fish parts and strange meats raw with an egg and noodles in a bowl. You dump the meats first (if you are western) and cook them then add the rest to a big hot flat grill in the middle of the table. If you are Japanese, you dump the whole thing on not worrying about meat getting cooked all the way through.
The Spears have two great daughters who are well disciplined and fun to be with. They are great parents! They will be heading back to the U.S. in about a month and a half (if I remember correctly). They'll be in California. You should visit them if you know em (or even if you don't!).
We all hit the sack early being most full and sleepy.
Day 13 - It was time for the train ride back and the flight home. With Monday being a holiday (Spring Celebration - the first day of Spring), the Monday trains were totally empty. Very nice. I changed into my suit (to try to get first class again on the way home) at the Narita Airport.
I did get first class (woopiee!).
More Japan Observations
Meals on the trains are sold wrapped exactly like Christmas presents. They even have bows and all (sometimes only marked in the paper- sometimes actually ribbons). The boxes are made of wood with wood compartments. Each compartment holds fish parts or some paste and rice. I didn't eat one.
Customs coming into the U.S. was the only rough customs I hit. My carry on was searched through- right down to the business cards in my wallet! He didn't dig through my big suit case much- but he completely unpacked the person before me. I must have looked suspicious in my suit and all (WHAT?!).
It's good to be home though. Enjoy the pictures (as soon as I get them up!). My next trip (in just a few days from this writing) is to Rio Grande in extreme southern Brazil. I'll be teaching a Earth System Science seminar down there (see www.esse.ou.edu and click on Rio Grande, Brazil Talk).
Come back for more stories after THAT trip!
The Adventures are To be continued