Teaching In Socks


I want to ride my bicycle
September 1, 2008, 12:17 pm
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Finally, as promised, here is The Chairman in all his glory. That’s right, a heady blue, fixed gear, hell-raiser, complete with rear luggage rack, front storage compartment (basket), zero emission headlight and a presence notification system (technical and experienced riders refer to this as a PNS or “bell”). The Chairman is live and prime-time.

I hum the song by Queen on this bike uncontrollably

I hum the song by Queen on this bike uncontrollably

I suspect some readers might question the level of importance of such a device and amount of attention being paid to The Chairman. You have to understand, I’m not much of a biking enthusiast. I have had a cycling aversion from day one. It could possibly be traced back to an awful wreck I had once while improperly riding a big wheel down a hill, but I prefer to look at is as a predicament of logic.

I have problems trusting things with two inline wheels. They are unstable by nature. I find the physics behind the bicycle more unnatural than a curve ball or a gyroscope. Personally, I think the thing balances on black magic. The fact that this is a device championed by the French and Chinese does nothing to dispel my inclination to believe it is the product of dark sorcerers. Nor does the haunting image of the first bicycles- with their unnecessarily large front wheel and inconceivably tiny back wheel persuade me to believe that this is a friendly, stable device.

All witch craft and vectors aside, The Chairman is a necessary evil if I want to get anywhere in town. My firm resistance and commitment to more pedestrian means of travel was broken down a by a grocery run in 100+ degree weather. I don’t fear this change however. Historically, many great leaders have been known to make favorable and wholesome yet rash ideological shifts in the face of brutal heat: Indiana Jones, Pontius Pilate, Cortez…wait, this list is going downhill.

Anyway, there are many benefits to the people’s transportation: it’s versatile– you can chose both the sidewalk or the street as your terrain, plus any trek only contributes to my already Adonis-esque figure, and you can do jumps. Jumps are cool. There’s also the zero emissions thing, but enviro-friendly isn’t quite fashionable in Japan just yet and if it doesn’t help me score points with the lady-sans, I don’t count it as a benefit.

Unlike in America, bicycles are heavily regulated here in Japan. They don’t get a free pass like they do back home. Primarily, I believe this is because Japan likes regulating things (both good and bad) and because bicycles aren’t viewed solely as the transportation device of misguided fanatics, frivolous hipsters and persistent hippies. Essentially bicycles are very much part of the present and future of Japan, whereas in America, they are relics and toys.  Here, it is the people’s method and there will be rules. I haven’t determined all of these rules, but i have learned a few:

1.  No Umbrella holders. Older women often have these contraptions afiixed to the handlebars of their bicycles so they can bike in the rain and keep both hands free while remaining dry. This is a law where I understand the physics behind it. Umbrella holders present the bike rider with the dangerous possibility of simultaneously becoming a personal aircraft and a mobile lighting rod (neither of these transformations will be achieved in the cool, Chuck Norris, Delta Force flying motorcycle kind of way). It is imperative thse devices be removed.

2. Register your bike. Your bike must have a license. In the even your bike is stolen by ninjas, or involved in a freak cycling accident, they want to know who to call.They also want the 500 yen it cost.

3. Headlights are necessary. For some reason this is the one law that Japanese people like to rebel against. They want to bike around at night in the pitch black. I’m not sure why, they just do.  On Sunday nights, I often see several police cars parked outside the Ako City Train station running a bicycle checkpoint. Those without the proper registration or headlamps are detained, questioned and fined. It’s not Gitmo, but still a rather intimidating process (“Where are your papers? comes to mind). I’ve seen teenagers detained for twenty minutes on a sidewalk curbed while shamefully debating and mulling over the merits of the incandescent bulb.

So far, this is all the regulation I have observed. Nothing regarding helmets, speed, or proper gear inspection seems ot be in place.

As I am still new to the cycling phenomenon I lack some of the finesse of a professional rider. Regardless,  The Chairman and I will continue legally terrorizing the good citizens of Ako with questionable biking skills, white knuckle,  like a man trapped in his own invisible Peloton. That is, until I decide to be American about all of this and buy a motorcycle and a cool American flag leather jacket.

the witch's theme from the Wizard of Oz is also hummed time to time
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Castle Boy
August 20, 2008, 4:13 pm
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The previous weekend was perhaps my most accompllished this side of the Pacific: a cornucopia of squid was consumed, a face was sunburned, and gifts were purchased. Entire continents have had less to show for a weekend–that’s right, I’m looking at you Antarctica. The success story started on Sunday morning. After much begging on my behalf,  my friend agreed to give me the royal tour of Ako. I for some reason decided that 11:30am would be a suitable time for us to meet at the train station and for the tour to begin. When I arrived at 11:45am we decided it would be best to start with something to eat and pedaled down to JusCo, which I might start calling Xanadu-Ako location, to patron the largest food court the prefecture has to offer that is also within the city limits of Ako.

I was persuaded to try Takoyaki, which essentially batter, squid, (which I still call calamari for my stomach’s benefit) and what the Japanese universally call “sauce”. Sauce is BBQ sauce, and I think the BBQ nomenclature is something this country should embrace. Let’s be specific Japan, “sauce” sounds a bit vague by virtue and bit suspicious–like something they give you at Jack In The Box (oh wait, that’s called “jack sauce”…still).

I know what you’re thinking, squid balls for breakfast? gross. I agreed, and consequently was compelled  reward my stomach for it’s cultural martyrdom with two scoops from 31 flavors. I won’t contend that BBSQ squid balls and ice cream is the foundation of a healthy breakfast, but at least it has more flavor than Special K

Having satisfied our culinary aspirations, the tour embarked. Our first stop was Ako castle. It was once a large castle built in the 1300’s but all that remains now are few castle walls and guard posts, a small temple building and assorted ruin among the footprint of the castle. We took few pictures, prayed to a few Buddhist gods, and then headed to the beach

The beach in Ako is small but adequate. It’s a place where I would recommend one build a sand castle, nor encourage any scuba diving, but a book can be read and a sunscreen-stubborn Caucasian boy can find himself with vicious sunburn. That same Caucasian also may have bruised my foot on a rock. It wasn’t my best moment.

Afterwards we headed to Ako’s finest restaurant for dinner, Sakuragumi. Sakuragumi is a fairly famous pizza place near the castle, and has full Napolitana accreditation. It happened to be prix fixe night, so we each spent around the equivalent of $55 for the meal, but it was a delicious eight course feast. Three of the courses were squid based.

The next day, my friend was nice enough to be my guide as I scoured Himeji for a gift for my mom’s birthday. They have a little broader shopping selection in Himeji and it’s small trip from Ako. to avoid any present revelations I’ll skip the shopping details until the gift arrives stateside, which will most likely be in October. Ships are slow.

After the shopping mission was completed, I kind of hinted that I might have an interest in walking through the castle. Himeji Castle is a world heritage site, and it lives up to it’s billing. The castle construction began in 1346 and was completed in 1618. It’s cool to touch things significantly older than my country, however the two castles in two days gave me flashbacks childhood summer trips.

Himeji castle, from below.

Himeji castle, from cellphone.

At some point in the mid 1990’s my family decided it would be a great idea to take vacations that involved extended road trips across the country. I’m not exactly sure why this decision was made, perhaps we wanted to put the family motto, “Fortitudine et Prudentia” (Fortitude and Prudence) to use–with an uneven concentration on the former, or maybe we had decided things were going a little too well and we needed to pursue a balance by spending thirteen hours in a car during the hottest months of the year. Catholic guilt can be a strange and persuasive motivator.

Regardless, these things happened and we spent eight hour nights at Hampton Inns in Ashville, NC and kept a running survey of McDonald’s Playlands from Memphis to Mobile. Often on our return trip, my dad would be determined to detour us to some arbitrary civil war battlefield that may or may not be along out route. It wasn’t bad enough that we were on a 13-hour road trip, it had to be educational too. To my father’s credit, I can only recall one such occasion where we pilgrimaged to one of these AAA “points of interest”. I think it was in 1995, but other than that all I remember was that it must have been 15 degrees hotter there than anywhere else in the world, and that I spent a significant amount of time in the backseat of our minivan beating the hell out of a a plastic child car-seat.

However, this past weekend both of castles kept a temperature that was five to ten degrees cooler than the outside, and I observed absolutely zero no car-seats were abused by frustrated teenagers,or anyone else for that matter . Clearly, my childhood could have been marginally improved with an American castle or two

I did make one error though; by visiting two castles back to back, with the same person, I acquired the “Castle Boy” nickname. I wouldn’t mind it, in fact I coined it, but the Japanese are crafty. If word gets out, it could only be matter of days before I end up with a finished, “Castle Boy” spandex and rayon outfit in my hands and the Japanese take gifts very seriously.