Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Privacy: Part of the Past?

The other day I read an article in the Rocky Mountain News that discussed a new program for frequent travelers. Rather than get in the same two hour + security line that everybody else has to slog through, you have the option to pay $100 a year and submit your biometric data as part of a government background check. In this case, biometric data includes your fingerprints AND retinal prints.

Retinal prints? Did I just walk into a bad James Bond rip-off? I'm sorry, but we shouldn't have to pay extra money and submit to intrusive government checks just so flying is convenient. The horrors that have been visited upon travelers by the TSA should be fixed, rather than have yet another layer of cost and intrusion forced upon us.

Also in the news is Japan's move to fingerprint and photograph EVERY foreign traveler and worker as they enter the country. When my friends in Ishikawa leave and re-enter the country over the New Years holidays, they get printed and photographed, their only crime is being foreigners. Of course, the United States already does the same thing, so I suppose I should keep plenty of my ire reserved for my own government.

When did protecting travelers begin to be about treating everybody like a criminal, and making us subject to very intrustive, expensive, and time wasting procedures? It's a wonder anybody goes on vacation anymore.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Criminal Me

In my search for gainful employment, one of the many companies I have applied to is an in home tutoring provider. The pay is great but the hours are almost non-existent. The position is a way to make a bit of extra cash, but certainly isn't a good way to earn a living. But I do enjoy teaching kids, especially one and one and in small groups as I did in Kanazawa, so I figured I'd fill out all the paperwork anyway.

Wow. I have never seen a more imposing stack of paperwork and procedures. I can understand the impetus, after all, who wants there child being tutored by some freak of nature, let alone allow said freak into their home. On the other hand, making me feel like a criminal before I've even had a job interview is ridiculous!

The first thing I had to do was get fingerprinted, which was a rather intimidating process. The second thing I had to do was fill out a stack of background check papers, each requiring my full name and social in multiple places. I'm sorry, but these days I'm feeling a bit weird about giving out my social to too many people, all those identity theft horror stories have finally hit home. To add insult to insult, I have to fill out a Dept. of Homeland Security form to verify that I am eligible to work in the US. I have to show my passport to my employer, who then has to fill out their half of the form and send it in!

All of this for a job that might make me an extra 100 bucks a week. MIGHT I am honestly wondering if it is all worth it. When it was easier to work in a country where every official document is covered in oodles of Kanji than it is in the land of my birth, something is wrong.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Roxborough State Park

If there was one 'thing' besides enchiladas that I missed while living in Kanazawa, it was the Rocky Mountains. While the views of the Southern Japan Alps were very pretty, they just weren't quite as impressive as the glorious peaks that form the backbone of North America. While I haven't had a chance to take off and enjoy the really high peaks yet, since snow has already dusted them, Matt and I did have an opportunity to go to one of my favorite nearby areas.

Roxborough State Park is a beautiful collection of trails winding around and through fantastic examples of the red sandstone rocks of the Fountain Formation. This group of rocks was formed by the erosion of an ancient mountain range called "The Ancestral Rocky Mountains." The uplift of the current peaks broke and tilted the rocks into the fantastic shapes that form Roxbourough, as well as the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs and Red Rocks Amphitheater in nearby Morrison Colorado.

I myself have a pretty long history with the park. One of my grade school birthday parties was held there. We froze our water bottles to keep them cool in the hot July sun, but while it was VERY hot and sunny, it wasn't hot and sunny enough to melt the several quarts of ice we brought along. Luckily we didn't hike very far, but man were we a thirsty group when we got back to the visitors center. I also did my Eagle Scout project at Roxborough, cleaning up a field that had been used as a convenient garbage dump for the locals.

While it may lack that rugged and epic vistas of a high peak along the continental divide, Roxborough will always be one of my favorite areas in Colorado, and I suppose it is pretty fitting that it was one of the first things I did when I got back in the States.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Reverse Culture Shock Lives

After living in Japan for a while, you get used to answering the same few questions every time you meet somebody new. "How long have you been in Japan?" "Why did you come to Japan?" "Can you use chopsticks?"...

The list goes on and on, but today we are discussing a new question, "What is it like, being home?"


There, I said it. I find America to be a strange and unusual place. Given that I just returned from a country that considers raw octopus to be delicious bar food, one might wonder where I get the guts to call the "land of the free" weird. I think it's less that America is weird, though at times it certainly is, its that I did change in unanticipated ways. Besides, America and Japan are about as different as can be, so again I have to adjust to everything being different. For one thing, the size differential between Japanese and American portions keeps causing me pain, as their large (L Saizu) is about the same size as an American medium (M Saizu). I suppose that might help explain the size difference between people too. I went from being taller (and a bit wider) than average to being distinctly smallish.

It didn't help that I caught a horrific cold on the flight home. Cold + Jet lag + Reverse Culture Shock = one really tough first week back. After that though, things have been getting better and better. Getting reconnected with all my Denver friends has be a real treat, and of course seeing the family. I've even been dating a nice girl! After three weeks home, despite dismal job prospects, I have to say that things are looking up, bit by bit. It's been a rough couple of months, don't get me wrong, but life is looking a lot brighter than it has in a while. Now if I could just find the perfect job...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Goodbye Kanzawa...

My last two weeks in Kanazawa were a blur. I busily packed all the two years of accumulated junk, tried hard to plan for the future, and still tried to make time to see all my friends before I skedaddled out of the country. Added to my list of duties was the orientation of my incoming replacement, one Fiona from Canada. (Interestingly enough, that makes the third Fiona to move to Kanazawa in three years. I don't think I ever knew anybody named Fiona before I moved to Japan.)

Speaking of my replacement, it was lucky that she was really cool, because it felt really weird handing her my job, apartment, bike, and friends. "Hi, nice to meet you, here is my life. I've enjoyed it, so I hope you do too!" Add in that to all my other issues at the time, leaving, relationship pain etc, and you can imagine it was a pretty weird week for me. Though, I'll admit that going out EVERY NIGHT for two weeks was kinda cool too. I got to see a lot of people.

Indeed, my good friend Marie swooped down from Wajima (two hours away, up at the tip of the Noto Peninsula) exclusively for my farewell party that weekend. She was pretty broke, but made the trip anyway, which meant a lot to me. All in all, we had 16 people at my party, which included all the closest friends that were still in Ishikawa. I would say I was touched, but honestly after two hours of all you can drink Asahi, I don't think the finer emotions in life were forefront in my mind. ;-)

The very last night I spent in Kanazawa we went out to one of my favorite restaurants, the best Yakitori in town. 1 Liter draft Asahi + Chicken on a stick = A good time. It was nice to spend my last night with some of my favorite students, and at the same time introduce Fiona to the glory of food on a stick.

And then, just like that... it was over. I remember, back when I worked at the library, I mentioned to my boss, who had done two years as a JET up in Niigata prefecture, that someday there would be a time when living in Japan was the past, but in the flush of anticipation of my great adventure I couldn't even imagine what that would be like. Well, here it is, and now Japan is the past. A glorious past, but the past nonetheless, and it is time to look to the future, though who really knows what that holds? Never fear though, as I will keep updating my blog, though under a new title. Perhaps I'll just change it to Denver Tales!... Stay tuned...

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Nara and Kyoto, again

I decided for my last weekend, I wanted a good mix of seeing old friends, new sights, and reconnecting with some of my favorite spots in Japan. Since I was in Kansai visiting Zach, I decided to swing back to Nara and Kyoto for a quick return look at the worlds largest wooden building. Another motivation to get out of bed was that I got to see my good friend Liz again. Being that she lives in Okazaki, we don't get the chance to get caught up all that often, and it was good to see her before I left.

Our first stop was Todai-ji, the massive temple complex that houses the famous Nara Daibutsu, or Giant Buddha. The casting of the statue in the 700's used the entire bronze production of Japan for several years. While it almost bankrupted the country, the resulting work of art is amazing to behold. This building, more than any other I've seen in Japan, is probably the closest thing to a Gothic Cathedral, in height and width and general grandeur. Of course, the function, design, and material construction are all totally different, but when considering the time to build and the vast resources required, the comparison is valid.

After dodging the pushy sacred deer, we managed to get up to a glorious overlook, and see the vastness of Nara spread out below. Unfortunately, the day was getting increasingly overcast, so the panorama didn't produce any photos of note.

My next goal was to revisit my "favorite place in Japan." Yes loyal readers, I went back to Fushimi Inari in Kyoto. The hundreds of bright red gates just draws me in every time. Sadly, we arrived just after dark, so we missed the sunset, which looked glorious from the train, and the light just wasn't bright enough for pictures without a tripod. I did get one good one of the cityscape though. As we were leaving, the upper part of the temple complex was wreathed in an ethereal mist that made an already magical place even more so. The lack of a tripod stymied my photography attempts again. One of these days I'll learn...

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Guest Post: To Grant, From Zach

The truth of the content of this post may be subject to opinion or solar activity.

So Grant is gone from Japan (see disclaimer above) and back in America (If you believe everything you read on the internet).

How did it get to this point you might ask? Well it all goes back to a rainy night last August when Grant was bitten by an Ukai cormorant ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cormorant_Fishing_on_the_Nagara_River) that thought Grant's chubby thumb was a delicious river fish to be captured for it's master. Grant contracted avian cormorant rabies which can easily be cleared up with antibiotics. An easy enough fix, however, since the recent resignation of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, all antibiotics have been made unavailable to non-native residents until a new Prime Minister can pull Oda Nobunaga's katana from the stone.

Well, rather than face a slow painful loss of digits to the avian cormorant rabies (the silent killer) Grant decided to go back to America where antibiotics are available to anyone with a concealed firearms license.

(end disclaimer- these statements following previous introduction are not all made up crazy talk and actually did happen)

But before Grant left his Asian "home away from homeland" he wanted to spend one last weekend in the big Osaka, living it up in Japan's most exciting city.

I met Grant at Osaka station where he was having a little trouble with the transition of things in his life. By this I mean, actually all the things in Grants life that he owns were stuffed into three suitcases and two bags and he was having serious issues with the transition between the ticket gates at the train station. With an extra hand (my right one) moving Grant's things became a much simpler challenge and we carried his luggage halfway across Osaka to a prison restaurant where the guards were nice enough to stash his bags in the prison-kitchen.

My friend Gothic-Lolita Kate and her acquaintance from Tokyo had already arrived ahead of us and had been escorted to our cell-table in handcuffs by a lovely young Japanese waitress in a blue latex police uniform. Since Grant and I were late we didn't get the handcuff treatment and were shown to our table, un-manacled. We ate deep fried cheese balls and avocado fondue while sipping cocktails from beakers and eyedroppers.

After about an hour the lights dropped and all the waiters ran around in monster masks screaming, smashing walls and kissing Kate's head while alarms rang and latex lady-cops fired their cap guns for our own protection.

A lot of other things happened for Grant that weekend and since this is his blog, I shall leave the rest of those tellings to him. Please don't make fun of his lumpy discolored thumb.