Thursday, March 30, 2006

San Francisco of Japan - Nagasaki 3.19.2006

The next morning, after a quick check-out and a bus ride back to Hakata Station, we sat down for breakfast at the GIGA café. With so much time to kill until our train left, Isat back and used the time to study - actually catching up on some of my new vocabulary. Natasya was getting into her book (the Da Vinci Code) and I think we were both a tiny bit dissapointed to put our books away when it was time to board the train, but that passed quickly as we made our way south towards Nagasaki.

After only a brief wait at Tosu, the train pulled in to Nagasaki Station, and I admired the city views as we passed random buildings and structures along the way. I was struck almost immediately by how similar the city seemed to San Francisco, with homes and buildings literally built up the mountain sides. I didn't know before, but Nagasaki is situated in a valley between 3 mountains and the ocean, and as one may expect in Japan, with no room for the city to grow outwards, it has begun growing up, with tall skyscrapers across the city.

The station was joined with a mall, where we grabbed a quick but expensive lunch, and then we crossed over the giant overpass to the Tourist Center. There, we were able to find maps and tourist info in both English & Japanese, as well as purchase our bus passes for the day. We also found coin lockers (back at the station) where we stowed our luggage, and we raced back over the overpass to the center, and down to the cable car lines. Again, like San Francisco, the cable cars are the best method of transportation in Nagasaki. The JR lines only run in and out of the city, and the busses are great for residential neighborhoods, but the cable cars (trams/市電/whatever they are called) run between the main station and bus deport, and reach every possible tourist destination in the city.

Using the cable car, we headed directly for the A-Bomb Museum, hoping to have enough time to visit it before it closed. Natasya's guide book (Lonely Planet) told us that the museum would close at 4:30, but in fact the building was open until 5:30. We still didn't have enough time to see everything in great detail, but we were there long enough to be moved by the museum. My own personal thoughts were as follows: after seeing both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bomb museums, I think the northern one (Hiroshima) is geared towards an international audience. The museum in Nagasaki felt more personal; as though it was constructed with the Japanese in mind, and the pictures, testimonies, artifacts and other miscellaneous items on display at the museum, were labeled with semi-incomplete English translations. In fact, the section of the museum that covered Japan's role in International Affairs before the bombing was written entirely in Japanese with only the dates written out in Arabic Numerals (versus Kanji dates). I struggled to read some of the signs, but gave up and moved on to the anti-nuclear display further on. I suppose I can understand that Hiroshima draws a larger foreign crowd with it's proximity to other tourist cities, but I was still surprised to feel almost unwelcome at the museum in Nagasaki.

Shikatanai.

Following the museum, which I think hit Natasya harder than myself, we walked past the canal (and up, Up, UP the hills) towards the Peace Park, enjoying the quiet and chance to reflect on what we'd seen. At the park, the statues, fountains and various monuments were uplifting, and the blossoming flowers (and cherry blossoms) felt refreshing. We didn't stay long, however, as we wanted to get to the Dutch Slope before dark, so we headed back down the hill to the cable car.

The Slope was something I hadn't read or even heard about before arriving in Nagasaki. It turns out that it is just the name for the area where the homes and buildings look European (or specifically, Dutch) and therefore stand out in the city which had the longest stretch of outside influence in Japan's history. We walked through the streets as the sun set, admiring the European-styled buildings, but admittedly, I felt foolish being all the way in Japan to see what Dutch homes look like. We ended up walking so far that we found ourselves at the Glover Sky Way, which was an elevator that took us up 5 stories and gave us an incredible view of the city from above. We had the choice of taking the elevator back down, but I elected for climbing down the stairs, and I regret not counting them on the way down. There must have been 100s, as they wound back and forth down the hill, even encompassing circular walkways from which to view the city. About half way down we both regretted my decision, but thanked God we were at least climing Down!

Anyways, after all the walking and climbing of the day, we were happy to return to the station for our luggage and then work our way to my first Hostel experience, ever. The Nagasaki Christian Center Youth Hostel was not my first choice for a place to stay, but I was pleasantly surprised by the center. Our beds were actually tatami/futon bunks, and inside the bunk bed we each had a shelf (above our feet) which was wide enough to hold my suitcase, a light and an outlet (to charge our cameras and keitai). The shower room included 4 private stalls, and of course the Japanese Ofuro with public-style showers. The rooms, showers, toilets, everything were segregated for men & women, and with the exception of one girl who was in and out throughout the night, we practically had our own private room. It was great!

Before bed, we climbed up the hill that our hostel was located on and found a tiny little sushi restaurant. It was a family-run place, with a bar and a little tatami room. The restaurant couldn't have held more than 30 people at once, and the old man behind the counter didn't appear to be able to make sushi fast enough to serve all 30, so it was probably a good thing that it was so late -- there were only about 10 of us in the restaurnt. Natasya and I sat down at the counter, and a woman beside me was happy to 'teach' us how to order sushi. The man, is his old & feeble state, couldn't remember a sushi order if his life depended on it, so we were given paper & pens to write down our selections. As such, everyone in the restaurant was esctatic to see us write in Japanese, and of course, to see us eat using chopsticks. The entire meal was delicious, super-cheap, and an experience. In fact, my favorite sushi experience yet.

there are no words - Fukuoka 3.18.2006

Where to start? This has been a day that will live in infamy; a day that defines the idiot that resides within.

They say that bad things happen in 3's, well... in my case, just try to comprehend what poor Natasya was put through today. Beginning with our late night (hah, 9 pm) return to the hotel, I fell sleep as she spent some time in the lobby using the free albeit slowwww internet service. She took it upon herself to go to sleep (and wake up) as quietly as possible, letting me sleep for over 12 hours undisturbed.

As we went in search of breakfast, I tried to be as easygoing and accomodating as possible, which landed us at Matsuya (a fast-food chain restaurant) and a breakfast I'd rather not repeat. While they excel at quick dinners, their breakfast (fish and rice set) was too salty for my taste, although the miso was warming in a day plagued with rain and other gloomy nuances.

After breakfast, I requested a quick jaunt to the nearby combini, where bad thing #1a occured: my pretty & flowery umbrella from Hiroshima met its end. The rust finally claimed my kasa as its watery victim, and I was forced to leave it behind for someone local to dispose of. Sadly, we headed to the 100 yen shop where I eagerly chose the stripped pink umbrella as a replacement.

From there, we enjoyed a visit to Robosquare, a free robot museum located in the basement of a shopping mall that is *actually* called Eeny Meeny Miny Moe. There, we were welcomed by a hello kitty robot that could say the infamous 'irashaimase', and we got to play with AIBO the robot dog. He could also speak, saying 'konnichiwa'. His voice box also included an array of music from the Sound of Music, which he played while dancing, both to command and by choice when left to free-will, sort of like a Sim character. AIBO was also able to sit, lie down, fetch a play-bone, and play with a ball all on his own. When AIBO's battery was low, he is able to set himself down on the charger. Also, the dog is affixed with sensors in his back, on the top of his head, and on the bottom of each paw, which allow the dog to be pet and praised via touch, which also induces a yelping sort of bark that somehow represents a happy dog sound. Most importantly, is that AIBO is extremely sensitive to the color red, and everytime that I would be playing with him, he'd somehow catch a glimpse of Tasya's keitai (which is bright red) in its camera view, and it would always turn towards her. I decided to rename him "Dum Dum", which will hopefully stick whenever we reminisce about AIBO, the Dumbest robot dog ever. Anyways, the bizareness of playing witha robot dog, it was fascinating to think what this robot could mean for future technological developments.

However, despite all the excitement to be had at Robosquare, what strikes me the most is bad thing #1b, when my NEW umbrella broke, for absolutely no reason. The handle actually bent as though the metal was made of swiss cheese, and I was left dumbfounded at the shoddy quality of a 100 yen umbrella. Thankfully, a return to the 100 yen shop left me with a 2nd brand new umbrella (identical to the first), and Natasya and I headed off to Tenjin, a shopping district in Fukuoka.

Instead of taking the expensive metro, we decided on the local bus, which was half price and took us the exact same distance without the hassle of stairs and ticket vending machines. The ride was somewhat scenic, if not simple, and I didn't realize it was our stop until Tasya stood up beside me. Rushing, I grabbed my things and followed her off the bus. I didn't realize until afterwards, which is always the way these things go, that I had lost my camera somewhere aong the way. Bad thing #2.

Frustrated, upset, and somwhat in disbelief, I tried to retrace my steps to figure out where I'd left/dropped it. First, I had Natasya call Robosquare. They were helpful, looking around the museum and giving us a phone number for the bldg info booth, but the camera was not there. Then I thought that I must have put the camera down at the 100 yen shop when picking out my replacement umbrella. So, taking the bus back to where we started, we walked down to the umbrella shop where we again had no luck finding my camera. Sad, more about the irreplaceable pictures than the camera itself, we decided to head to Yodobashi, the electronic store, to look for a replacement.

I bought a new camera - an Olympus that takes pictures with a 7.2 megapixel quality and an ISO of 1600 (which means super-clear pictures even though my hand shakes when I take pictures). The camera is shock and WATER proof for up to 3 meters, and while it only zooms to 3x, the display is huge, 2.5 inches diagonally, and the lenscap is still attached! Finally, my favorite feature of the new camera (which I think I will name by the end of this trip), is that it's PINK! It matches my jacket, my new umbrella and it's so cute!! Yay!

With my new camera in hand, we found an interesting restaurant and sat down for dinner, and to play with our new purchases from Yodobashi. The meal was really good, and I was so happy with my new camera that I kept taking random pictures. Afterwards, we decided to return to Tenjin, where we could hopefully find an internet cafe and find a nice place for desert. We did, and we did, but first things first. At Kinko's, where we were able to use the computers for only a nominal fee (210 yen/10 minutes!!!) Natasya transfered her pictures from her camera to both her and my USB sticks. As she was doing this, I recieved a phone call in Japanese, which I quickly handed over to her. It was the bus depot: someone had found my camera! Surprised and excitedly, she wrote down the info for the bus depot and we got a map from the Kinko's girls to be able to find it.

Instead of rushing there, we chose to find desert first. Under Tenjin, in an underground shopping arcade, we sat down for ice cream and a chat. I was playing with my camera again and put it down when our treats came to the table. I swear I remember putting it back into my Yodobashi bag, but an hour later when we were standing at the bus stop to pick up my first camera, I noticed that the new one was missing. NO, I AM NOT KIDDING. bad thing #3. Panicking, and shocked, and upset, we speed-walked back to the restaurant, where the camera was nowhere to be found.

Back on the street, we saw a koban (police box) across the way, and headed over there to fill out a report. With Natasya's help (actually, she did most of the work today, phoning people, explaining the situation, and basically keeping me afloat) I filled out a report about my missing camera. We didn't mention the first one... thinking it better that the entire police station not think I was an utter moron, which frankly I think I am, but anyways... We left the station, and I was convinced that my camera was gone forever. I mean what are the chances that I can lose 2 cameras in one day and that BOTH would somehow, miraculously, be returned to me? Whatever the odds are of it happening, I can still barely believe that as we got on the bus towards the bus depot, my phone rang and someone at the police station was calling to inform me that my camera had been turned in.

Basically, I am both the dumbest and luckiest person in all of Kyushu today. I cannot believe that I lost a brand new camera, and even more that it was turned in and is now safe upstairs in my suitcase as though nothing happened. I am afraid to pull it out and take pictures, but I'm sure that will pass.

With that, I'm off to bed. We leave for Nagasaki in the morning, and I want to be awake and hopefully, more alert than today, ne?

circling - Fukuoka 3.17.2006

The morning of the 17th, I met Natasya out front of E bldg bright and early for our train ride to Haneda airport. We were happy to get seats for the express train into Tokyo, but from Shinagawa on, we were on a train that was so packed I had to lean over my luggage for the entire ride. When we finally got to the airport (after about a 1.5 hour commute), we checked in quickly and were relieved to walk around the airport without the burden of our bags. Searching for breakfast, we finally settled on a bakery, which was the most reasonably priced food in the entire building. In front of the little café sat nearly 100 high school students in their uniforms. Natasya guessed they were going on a school trip, and I’m inclined to agree as we saw only a handful of chaperons surrounded by throngs of chattering teenagers.

After breakfast, we went on a search for the Starbucks that we had passed en route to our check-in counter. Finally, after circling the airport, we found a landmark that we both recognized and turned in the right direction. I was happy to head through the security gate with my mocha frap in hand, and although the guards thought I was crazy, I let my beverage go through the security scanner, hoping that the radiation might result in some fun mutations later in life.

When we finally found our gate (after FOUR long moving sidewalks), we found front row seats and took photos of the airport grounds, our airplane, and the Engrish on our boarding passes. Check in onto the plane was simple, and despite the itty-bitty Japanese size seats, we made ourselves comfortable and waited for the plane to take off. We literally had to wait for a while, with our plane leaving nearly 30 minutes late after a lengthy queue of airplanes ahead of us which our pilot followed in a circle along the runways.

The flight itself was cheap for a reason, as we quickly found out. Except for the first class section, there would be no movie, music, or even drink service. I asked one of the stewardesses for some water and she sadly explained that they had none. I could barely believe my ears, especially after the incredible service I received on the ANA flight only 3 weeks earlier. Instead of a movie, they had a map displayed on the TV screens that traced our route from Tokyo to Fukuoka. The pilot, who I decided must be a rookie, took us for a ride winding between the ocean and mountains that surround Tokyo. He gave us unparalleled views of Mount Fuji (which Tasya got GREAT pictures of thanks to the pilot circling the mountain about 4 times) and a great panoramic view of Fukuoka as he first crossed overtop of, circled back and then gently descended into the city before coming in for a landing. The entire flight was incredibly picturesque; I strongly recommend checking out the photos!

After arrival and picking up our luggage in the airport, we found our way to the metro and towards our hotel. At our stop, we checked the metro map and headed towards exit number 5, the only one without an escalator, a common trend throughout our vacation. Up the stairs we went, schlepping our bags behind us and grumbling the whole way. At the top, I was delighted to find myself across from a shopping mall named “Eeny Meeny Miny Mo”, and vowed to visit the mall before I left Fukuoka. Instead, we turned in the opposite direction and walked through a classic Japanese shopping arcade to our hotel about 4 blocks down. The hotel itself was actually in the arcade, and ridiculously easy to find, but not much to look at. The front desk area didn’t really have enough room for both of us, our bags, and the computer desk that was set up. While we checked in, the owner & the woman (sitting at the computer, who I assumed to be his wife) spoke to each other in Japanese trying to figure out if it would be alright for us to leave our bags in the hotel room. I’m not sure if I mentioned before, but check-in in Japanese hotels is always at 3 pm, and usually not even a minute earlier. The couple didn’t seem to suspect that we spoke or understand Japanese, but when we answered the man’s English questions in Japanese, they seemed content to let us leave our bags despite the fact that the maid was still making up the rooms. Thankfully, we did; leaving our bags while we headed back out into the arcade where we circled back the way we came from to inspect our new surroundings.

The shopping arcade included escalators with signs pointing towards a mall called “Canal City”. This is where we ended up spending a lot of our time in Fukuoka, but only after enjoying local style Soba noodles and soup at a tiny restaurant behind the arcade. Canal City was a mall with street entertainers, shops, restaurants, and a canal running between it and a fancy Hilton hotel. The canal was decorated with underwater lights and a dancing fountain that operated every hour. The mall included an entertainment center (movie theatres, arcade, etc) and basically every mall amenity you can imagine.

However, instead of spending too much time at the mall, we headed back to the Metro and left in the direction of the Ohori district. Arriving, we weren’t sure what to expect, but both Natasya and I were amazed at the metropolitan oasis we found. Surrounded by a walking/biking/jogging trail was Ohori Lake, which was divided into a fishing district and a summery paradise including swan-shaped paddle boats, 3 manmade islands and walking bridges that connected them to the mainland. Surrounding the walking trails were trees, flowers, and parks each neatly groomed and well cared for. Within the parks were a number of museums and a giant playground for children of all ages. Circling the park, we enjoyed the serenity of the lake-side benches, taking the opportunity to relax, write emails and just enjoy the natural setting. We visited the art museum, walked across the bridges and man-made islands, and took a detour from the park to visit the ruins of Fukuoka Castle. Honestly, the ruins were exactly that, ruined, and completely un-exciting, but they seemed to enhance the beauty of the nearby park, where we returned to until sunset when we finally met up with Desy for a nice dinner, lots of pictures, and a quick farewell before saying goodbye for the duration of our trip.

Fukuoka Day 1 Photos

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

CARTER!!!

Crystal! I am loving Japan, and travelling down south is only increasing that. I envy your chance to spend a year in Hokkaido - I missed out on skiing adventures and lots of sightseeing up there - but Honshu and the southern islands are amazing. I don't believe that I can see everything I want to in one year, so I guess I'll just have to come back. :)

U of A... I have avoided this subject for a long time now, neither wanting to think about the 4th floor lounge (although I read most of Kristine's blogs and know what's been going on there - Kevin sits saiza? Is he crazy?) nor face the idea of going to back to school in Canada for even one more semester. Basically the situation is as follows: when I finished classes last year I was short 24 credits to graduate. Kabata-sensei reassured me that for spending the year here I was guaranteed the 6 language & culture credits for the summer programs, which leaves 18 to go. The Arts Faculty REFUSES to grant credit for any courses prior to completion, which means that after I finish my year here at Chiba Dai, I need to bring home all of my course work, syllabi, and any other misc. info I can find and deliver it to the FOA for their analysis. Only then will they decide which courses are applicable and their appropriate credit matches. Because I have no way of knowing until then, there is a chance I will have to take one final semester to finish my degree (I am assuming that I get at least one class worth of credits leaving me with 15 to go - or one semester's worth). Then again, because of the amount of classes I have and will take (7 per semester), hopefully I will have all if not most of the credits I need, and maybe I can squeeze out a degree out of the course work I will complete in Japan.

Of course, I won't know the answer until late August, after my return, and you know how much help the International Center can be. In fact, if you have any words of wisdom, please share.

On the other hand, what have you been up to? I know you graduated, and with 3 languages you must have a lot of options even despite certain limitations - such as living in Edmonton, etc. ;)

Do you plan to come back to Japan and see more of the south? Are you interested in the JET program at all?

Monday, March 20, 2006

venting

I AM SO FRUSTRATED I NEED TO SCREAM!!!! ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!

Why is it that everyone I see anywhere INSISTS on talking to me in Japanese? I approach people to ask for directions, or to offer to take a picture for them or for any simple reason. I say something to them in Japanese and without fail, they answer in English. When Natasya and I are accosted at train/bus depots, it is always in English. When I want to order a drink at Starbucks, I WANT to hear 'hotto' not 'hot' for Christ's sakes. ARGH!

How am I ever going to learn Japanese when people insist on speaking to me in English? I am not in Japan to help them learn/practice their English. CHRIST!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Monday, March 13, 2006

Speed Boat

Driving Along the Maui Coastline

Active Volcano

The Pride of America

Making Waves

View from the Ilikai Glass Elevator

2nd Fire Dancer on Waikiki Beach

Fire Dancing on Waikiki Beach

Farewell Oahu - Hello Pride of America

Saturday morning, after a quick breakfast and one last walk along Waikiki beach, we returned to our hotel room and packed. After waiting 20 minutes for a bellboy who never came, we struggled with our luggage and made our way down to the lobby where we caught a Taxi to Aloha Tower, the main pier in Honolulu. There, we checked in a total of 3 times. First, we had to drop our luggage off with the baggage handlers, which they took and promised to drop off in our room. Secondly, we had to go through a security check, where they checked our passports/ID and had us walk through metal detectors. (I felt like I was at the airport). After this stage, we were each given a lei, mine was fresh flowers again, and Dad & Steve each received a shell-lei. We were then asked to pose in front of a giant green screen, and a photo was snapped. From there, we lined up for the 3rd and final check-in. This time, we were given our room number, and our key cards. Our pictures were taken again, for on-ship security and we were through! Finally, we headed up the ramp to the ‘bridge’. Crossing over from land to ship was surprisingly un-exciting, but our cruise liner made up for that.

The Pride of America, the newest boat in the Norwegian Cruise Liners collection, was HUMOUNGOUS. The boat includes 3 swimming pools, 4 hot tubs, a spa, 24-hour fitness center, a kid’s playground, teen hangout center, a basketball court, golf diving net, a chapel, library, game room, shopping mall, video arcade, 7 meetings rooms and an auditorium. There is a Hollywood Theatre, a conservatory, the Mardi Gras Cabaret Lounge & Nightclub, the Napa Wine Bar, Gold Rush Saloon, Pink’s Champagne & Cigar Bar, the John Adam’s Coffee Bar, the Ocean Drive Bar, Key West Bar & Grill and the Waikiki Bar. The restaurant selection included the Skyline Main Restaurant, the Liberty Main Restaurant, Jefferson’s Bistro, Little Italy, East Meets West, the Lazy J Texas Steakhouse, the Cadillac Diner, and the Aloha Café which was a buffet that was open for 3 meals a day. (Check out the website for more info!) After walking through the ship and exploring our ‘home’ for the next week, it was a relief to return to our tiny stateroom and relax for a few minutes before the emergency procedures began. An intercom system informed us that before casting off, it was mandatory that the ship, crew and all passengers go through a mock-emergency run-through and ours would take place that afternoon. Under our beds we found lifejackets, and we were told to carry them with us to deck 6, where our meeting place was. (there must have been nearly 50 meeting places for all of the passengers, and 2 crew members were leaders of each group, with more crew members leading them and so on up to the captain & his 1st officers) Following instructions, we made our way up the stairs (from the 4th floor) and found our way onto the deck where throngs of passengers were donning their fashionable orange life jackets. We put ours on, and took pictures since it was so comical to be standing there while we were still docked on Aloha pier. Irregardless, we finished the emergency walk-through, and quickly returned our life-jackets to their under-the-bed storage before working our way back to the 6th floor for our first dining experience at the Liberty Diner.

We were lucky enough to get a window table, and while we ate we were able to watch the ship cast off from the pier and head out towards the great wide open. When we first took off, it was before sunset and one of the few times we would see the boat moving with sunlight to enjoy the scenery passing. Also, it was the first time I experienced the rocking/swaying of a boat on water (other than canoes & other small water-craft) and I was happy to find that it didn’t bother any of us. We finished dinner, enjoying the fact that the food on board was all included in the cruise fare, and since we purchased ‘soda club cards’ when boarding, we enjoyed all-we-could-drink soda for the week. It was a treat for the week to get American class service with the Japanese style luxury of leaving when you’re finished a meal, without the pressure/hassle of paying afterwards.

After dinner, Stephen and I took advantage of our ship by spending time in one of the bubbling Jacuzzis while we cruised through the Pacific, sipping Coke and catching up. We were surprised at how windy it was on deck, and after only a half hour or so, we headed back indoors, to the Pink Champagne Lounge, where we joined Dad, who quickly befriended the bartender, Derrick, and made this his favourite watering hole for the week. We each had our first cocktail on the cruise, and turned in fairly early after all the excitement of the day.

Oahu

Since the majority of my Hawaii vacation was spent on the cruise ship, I will summarize the first few days in one blog entry. Also, since I was going through jet-lag, there’s not much to actually say, other than the following.

It makes sense to start off with the flight to Hawaii, and it’s worth mentioning because this is the first time I’ve flown internationally with a Japanese airline. ANA, or All Nippon Air, is definitely one of the best! Check-in at the airport was a bit silly, mainly because I was so early that I was literally the ONLY one there. Because of this, the security folk were bored and decided to rummage through my suitcase to check for ‘dangerous’ items, which there were none of. Following this exciting invasion of my privacy, the check-in staff walked me through the self-check-in which was entertaining as they tried to spell my last name. ‘Plucer’ is tricky enough for English speakers, but for Japanese it is next to impossible. Heh, heh, heh. Finally, they let me input the letters myself and I got to select my seat from the vast array of choices throughout the Economy section. I decided on a window, approximately halfway between the wings/engine and bathroom area. (It was a good choice, both quiet and with very little traffic passing by.) From there, after a farewell dinner with Claudia, I headed to my gate and was happily surprised to find a free internet café, as I mentioned in an earlier entry.

The plane itself was a treat. Each chair had an individual TV set up on the seat-back ahead. It was equipped with a remote (in the arm rest) which controlled the video (approx. 8 English channels, 5 Japanese, and 3 each of Chinese and Korean), audio and GAME selections. I got to watch 2 movies through the flight, and play chess, solitaire, and other misc. card/memory games while I was suffocating on the incredibly warm flight. Also, there were 2 meals served, a hot dinner and a refreshing breakfast. I didn’t sleep much, but I made up for that over the four days I spent in Waikiki.

Waikiki Day 1: Airport arrival was scheduled for 9:30 am, but due to a late departure, I was an hour late. Normally, this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but because my grandmother was waiting at the airport for me, it raised her stress level and led to tears as she finally saw me emerge from the airport. It also didn’t help that she was waiting for me at one door and I came out of a second one. I had to walk around the airport and came up behind her, which both surprised her and upset her, I think. She happily placed a fresh-flower lei around my neck and squeezed me as she tried to make up for 6 months of not seeing me in a single hug. When we got back to her condo, she (typically) wanted to feed me, but I kept turning things down until she finally gave up and crawled into the bed next to me. I fell asleep (quickly) while she held me and cried, hopefully out of happiness…

When I awoke, only 3 hours later, it was because Stephen and Dad were arguing at the foot of the bed over whether or not they should wake me up. Ironic, ne? Since I was up, I joined the 3 of them in a shopping excursion to Ross, my Dad’s favourite USA shopping destination. He and Stephen splurged, buying handfuls of clothes and I was happy to find a pair of goggles, which Dad paid for since I had no wallet! (this came in handy maaaaaaaany times over the holiday!!) From there, we wandered through various familiar Hawaii sights, and reminisced about old vacations. [Throughout my childhood, Dad would fly Stephen & me out with him for 2 weeks every winter to visit Babi (grandma) as she spent her winters in Hawaii. It sounds extravagant, but getting out of the -30˚C weather when possible was more a necessity than anything else. Actually… it was pretty extravagant, but I never said I wasn’t spoiled back then, so meh.] Included on the walking tour was a visit to Old Navy, where I managed to pick up a few new outfits for the upcoming humid summer in Japan.

Also, we visited some of my favourite restaurants and I got to eat some of the foods that I missed most, as also mentioned earlier. Included were chocolate chip pancakes, a steak & potato dinner, and various chocolate bars/candies that I can’t get here in Japan. Dad made mental notes throughout the vacation of things I missed and I’m pretty sure I’m getting a care package soon with the Canadian stuff that wasn’t even available in Hawaii. (Salt & Vinegar chips, how I miss you!!)

After Babi left (Thursday morning), Dad, Steve and I spent most of our time just hanging out at the hotel, enjoying the pool side and beach front, and just vegging until the cruise began. We visited with Fran, my Mom’s cousin from home, who happened to be in Hawaii at the same time, and went souvenir shopping to get everything I promised ppl back home.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

yum yum

I feel like I am going to explode after the dinner I just ate. It was incredible and scrumptious and WAYYYYYY too much food. We went to a restaurant called the Chart House which specializes in Seafood, Steak and Spirits, or so their sign on the front door explained. We had reservations, which seemed a good idea at the time, but after walking in the front doors, were obviously unnecessary as most of the tables were empty. Enjoying the quiet, we sat down in our booth and looked over the menu while the waiter went through various specials.
I made my choice, excited to taste a juicy medium-rare steak after 6 months of Japanese food (delicious, but not like what I eat back home) and chose the soup instead of salad to go with it. After taking our orders, the waiter brought fresh baked rye bread to the table and we quickly devoured it, but not before I snapped a quick picture. The bread was great, slightly sweet with a crispy crust and soft, delectable inside. Our appetizers were quickly brought to the table, and I dunked pieces of bread into my clam chowder soup. It was sugoku oishii.
When our meals were brought to the table, I could barely contain myself. Garlic mashed potatoes, a juicy medium rare steak and buttery green beans. My grandmother ordered prawns, and was surprised to have them served with the heads & shells still attached. I wanted to taste my steak, so badly, but I first helped her peel her shrimp. It wasn't difficult after all the practice I've had back in Japan, but she seemed to be thoroughly discusted with the entire procedure. As a result, despite my de-shelling services, she refused to eat the shrimps, or anything else for that matter.
When I tasted my dinner, I couldn't keep from drooling. Luckily, it helped me swallow the fluffy mashed potatoes and steak even quicker. The whole meal dissapeared before I even realized how much I had eaten, and when the dessert menus came to the table, I couldn't help but order the giant chocolate Mudd Pie.
<== Real Bread


Mudd Pie ==>

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