Rambling travelogs from a world traveler

Monday, August 25, 2008

Reproducing past Emails

Gentle Readers,

As many of you know, I've been emailing these travelogs home for years as a way to keep my family and friends informed of where I am and what I've been doing.

I am going to try to reproduce some of the better of those old stories into this blog. They will be disconnected and rambling and not appear in any logical fashion as work my way through Outlook Express and find them.

You will notice right away that new posts go on top of earlier posts as I post them during this recreation process. I'm sorry if this is confusing, I don't know of any other way to do this. Inputs would be appreciated.

I hope you enjoy them.

Dad / Geoff

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Visit with George and Brook

Howdy all,
As you can tell, I’m trying out this new blogging opportunity from google. Please share your inputs with me whether this is a better way to do this or not.
It’s been a while since I’ve written. There are several reasons for that. First, it’s getting harder and harder to find new and interesting things to talk about. Much of what I do is the same-same every trip. Second, the company has tightened up on the amount of time I have on a layover so in some cases it came down to a choice between sleeping, eating and writing. But enough whining.
Right now am I sitting in this MD-11 cruising west over the Bering Sea at 32000’ above Mean Sea Level. We just ‘coasted out’ from the west coast of Alaska on a 7.5 hour trip down to Narita airport north of Tokyo.
This morning the departure out of Anchorage was very pretty. It was clear on the west side of Cook Inlet and you could see southwest for hundreds of miles. I got some nice pictures of the line of volcanoes that line the west coast of the inlet. They do not do justice to the scene as these monsters are truly awe inspiring to the naked eyeball. (Click the picture to see it full size.)
I just got back from a trip to the Orient yesterday and spent the night at Ilona’s Bed & Breakfast in Anchorage. The last trip was a lot of fun. I had a two day layover in Narita, which gave a nice opportunity to spend some time with George and Brook who live south of Tokyo on Yokota Air Base. I got into Narita at about noon and George drove up to get me. So we had a ‘nice’ two hour drive back down to Yokota to get caught up.
I say ‘nice’ because while Tokyo’s traffic is not close to the worst in the Mysterious Orient, it is still a big city and the road goes through the downtown area. Normally, when I get to Tokyo, it is roughly midnight on my internal clock and I take a nap. I hung in there OK until we got on base and into G&B’s house, but that was it. I crashed until dinner.
They took me to a nice Indian restaurant just off base. We had a nice meal and talked some more. Which pretty much used up my sleep reserve and we went back home and I bailed out and went to bed.
The next morning, George and I went to Yokota’s golf course and had a great time whacking the small spheroid around a very nice golf course. Neither of us is very good at the game, but that isn’t the point. We’ve spent a lot of good times together since he was a kid on golf courses together and this was no different. Land in Japan is at a premium and Yokota’s golf course is 13 miles away from the base or about a one hour drive.
Gentle reader, there are several observations I’d like to share with you. First, surface traffic in Japan is amazing. It literally takes you one hour to drive 13 miles in traffic that consists of little cars and big trucks.
Second is left hand side driving. I lived in Okinawa for several years and drove on the left side of the road so I ought to be used to it. There is an amazing mental thing that happens: it only takes about 15 minutes to get into the flow of things. But go to another country that drives on the right and you are reset to right side driving and must go through the readjustment process again. I found myself having to stifle outbursts when I was sure George was turning onto the wrong side only to realize that he – not I – knew what he was doing.
I am always fascinated by the ‘signage’ in Japan. Here are some examples.
First is this car repair sign. Is this guy attacking the car with the wrench or repairing it? Would this advertisement successfully attract your commerce?

The signs that caused George and I the most befuddlement; though, were the Happy Catfish Emergency Road signs. Make sure you click this picture to see it better.
Two questions seared our curiosity….first, why is the emergency road closed in the event of an earthquake? I’m sure there is a good reason but it seemed to us that would be the time one would want an emergency road to be open. But more important is the second question: “Why is the Happy Catfish the mascot of the emergency road system?” There are many questions that go unanswered in the Mysterious Orient – this is one of them.
Tama Hills Golf Course is another discussion. It cost us $27 American to pay the greens fee, rent a cart and a set of clubs for me. That, gentle reader, is dirt cheap, even on a goat track golf course in America. Tama Hills is a NICE golf course. It would run much more in America and the Japanese nationals that are allowed to play it on a reservation basis pay 15000 yen to play. The exchange rate is just a little over 100 yen to the dollar. Yes, gentle reader, Japanese Golfers pay around $150 American for a round of golf…..and they flock to Tama Hills because it is cheaper than the other courses around. Golf is not for the thronging masses in Mysterious Japan.
Here are some pictures I took on the course. The ranger’s Chevy cart was a photo opportunity that I could not pass up. I remember being driven around as a kid in a car that looked a lot like this cart. It was way cool. They wouldn’t rent it to us, though.

After our round of golf and the hour long return ride to Yokota, George treated me to a sushi lunch at a counter near the base frequented by the denizens of the base. Good stuff and dirt cheap. We do like our sushi. We did not ask if they had any horse…….

We spent the afternoon driving around the base with Brook. Visited the BX and tested a Sony Reader. I want one of those things. I carry – on average – two books on every trip and they get heavy. This thing is very light and can hold up to 10 books. Methinks Santa will get a letter from little Geoffer.
By now, Gentle Reader, you may have noticed that I have not included a picture of Brook. In all the hubbub and running around, I intended to get a group picture of us all, but somehow it fell through the cracks. The pictures I did get stand no chance of making it through any female's vanity filter – as I did a poor job of photographing her - and it is a simple fact that I am much too frightened of Brookean retribution to include them. I adore Brook and am more than a little chagrined to have allowed this lack of photos to have occurred
That evening we all drove back up to Narita to return my tired carcass to my hotel. There is a Teppanyaki style restaurant very near the ancient Buddhist Naritasan Temple in Narita Village called “The CafĂ© Bon” featuring the spiral staircase. Gentle reader, the spiral staircase is a big letdown. The restaurant is a small place and aircrew from all over the world frequent it. We had to wait for a contingent from Quantas to finish eating before we could sit down. As is her wont, Brook did not allow our fellow diners to remain unbefriended for long. She was a true God-given talent for meeting people that I am simply in awe of.
Then they dropped me off at the hotel and had to make the two hour drive back. You just have to love well-bred offspring. We had a great time!
The next day was a long two leg flight down to Manila and then back up to Taipei. .
The meals catered out of Narita always include the little works of art that are dessert. This one may be the prettiest one yet. However, it still tasted like someone had made a small ball out of a mixture of library paste and powdered sugar. I just know the chef was laughing: “I got that stupid gaijin to eat one again!” It’s an awful thing to put in your mouth.

After leaving Manila there was a huge thunderstorm that had popped up to well over 45000’ over the town of Laoag in the far NW corner of Luzon, the biggest island in the Philipines. The sun was shining out on the South China Sea on the other side of the storm. It was very pretty, provided you remained well away from this monster. Flight into that baby would be a one time event.
I did not leave the hotel in Taipei and slept a lot as I had a lot of sleep debt built up by then. However, Gentle Reader, I’d like to share with you a small scene I observed in the hotel. This is yet another of those stories that may not be appropriate for young eyes so those of you sharing this with your offspring may want to read ahead in order to do some parenting. There will be a vulgarity that is integral to the story.
The Taipei Sheraton is very nice . Marble fountains, lobby art, well dressed guests in serious business attire are in abundance. No riff-raff welcome, thank you very much. Gentle reader, frequently in the Mysterious Orient you will find people wearing T-shirts with English language logos of dubious meaning. One gets the impression that the wearer thinks it is cool but they often don’t realize that English is a subtle language full of double entendre. I have seen one that said: “Milk Soda”. I’m still curious where “Pocari Sweat” came from.
I saw one that has to be an all-time Oscar winner in the "Best English Language on an Oriental T-Shirt" category. A youngish Taiwanese man got off the elevator. Unlike most others, he was dressed in ragged blue jeans, sandals and a wife-beater t-shirt with large, loose, baggy arm holes. He had a goatee and a longish ponytail; earrings completed his ensemble. Gentle reader this is your last chance to edit this for your children.
The logo on his chest, enveloped in a laurel wreath said simply: “World’s Greatest Fuck Buddy”.
I rue that my camera was up in my room as I am sure he would have posed for a picture. I can go to my rest now knowing that I have truly seen everything there is to see.
The next morning, I had a very nice breakfast in the hotel buffet. The buffet offers many Western and Oriental delights and is one of the best that I know of. Pastries, fruit, omelets, juice, sticky rice, pot stickers, you name it, they have it. I bring this up because I was more than a little surprised to see that one on the more popular items being taken back to tables for consumption was “Creamed Beef on Toast.” Yes, Gentle Reader, all these gourmands were eating SOS - that’s the Mysterious Orient for you.
The trip back to Anchorage was uneventful and undercast the whole way back. I was disappointed as we flew right over Shemya. I could not see the island and I've always wanted to.
And with that observation, I remain,