Sunday, March 02, 2014

Simple Lighting System for Seedlings

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With the "polar vortex" settling in multiple times this winter, who knows when the last frost date will be this year?! The winter's shenanigans may not actually affect home gardens unless it means spring will be cold (I had an opportunity to observe that last night's didn't stop the Wrigleyville drunkards waiting in lines outside to get into bars, jaywalking by purposefully sliding across the street in snow, and otherwise acting foolish), but I thought I'd start some of my garden inside this year just in case. I also had success last year starting some plants from seed, so I also thought it'd be nice to start my own seedlings and cut the umbilical cord from Gethsemane and other garden centers and grocery stores that provide starter plants.

Apparently grow lights can be kind of fancy and really expensive, or it can be cheaper but slightly complicated, but I just wanted powerful lights over the seedlings and a way to adjust its height. So Mordecai built something simple and cheap--the lights, fixture, chain, and light switch all came to...$30? The pine was leftover from some other project and he assembled that in two sittings. The starter kit and starting mix soil were also inexpensive. The most expensive thing was probably the seeds, which I get from Kitazawa Seed Company out in Cali.  
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Last year, I had great success with Japanese pumpkin, kabocha, which I started from Kitazawa seed. I still have a couple left over--I use this recipe to simmer it in the holy trinity seasoning of soy sauce, mirin, and sugar. (I never take any of the skin off; I don't always cut the corners; and I have no idea what that paper dome thing is about.) My cukes also made it from their seed but they were not that skinny long classic Japanese shape even though they were supposed to look that way. It may have been because I neglected to harvest them at the right time... I've had other successes with them (chinese cabbage, pak choi, carrots, snow peas). This year, I'm starting indoors Japanese eggplants, "Money Maker"!!!; Japanese green peppers (not spicy but a little bitter), shishito (my friend Naomi points out you start to see this as a "fancy" ingredient at restaurants); another variety of Japanese cucumbers; a pink-fleshed tomato called "Momotaro," which I bought for the name and its referent. I'll be planting straight to the raised beds the following: turnip, green onion, komatsuna (like spinach, good for smoothies/juices), mizuna (salad green), "cosmic purple" carrot (orange on inside, purple on outside!), and daikon. 
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Requisite helper shot.
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From this picture, I will be able to remember what is where. But the bottom far left section only has seed in only one cell, the top far right corner--I found an old watermelon seed that never made it and wondered if it was dead or not. We'll find out. The top far left section has four edamame seeds from last year, and some old spinach seeds. There's no need to start spinach indoors but again..why not? Especially when you are sent hundreds or even thousands of some varieties of seeds. 
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Last night, I also got to observe a friend's ecosystem setup: turtles, whose poop gets filtered to starter plants, which can be fed to snails, who get fed to the turtles. They had grow light bulbs attached to a light stand made to light up bedrooms, not for plants, so it was all quite simple and they worked with what they had. That was cool to see. MiMi needs to step her helper game up! Although I will say, Yoshi the timid German Shepherd didn't seem to be contributing much to the turtle ecosystem. Just some sad, concerned looks in the general direction. Maybe we don't want any of that in our bedrooms anyway, poop and sad looks alike.

Our setup is in the bedroom, the warmest room in the house. We may still be frozen over in Chicago, and Mitsu's winter coat is still locked in securely. But garden work has begun. Spring is near! 

Sunday, August 04, 2013

First and Last Lollapalooza

On Friday, Mordecai and I got daring and we went to Lollapalooza to see New Order, The Killers, and Nine Inch Nails. I'm not interested in crowded outdoor concerts, nor the culture of Lollapalooza or music festivals, but these were bands he and I wanted to see. I had never been to a Lollapalooza (Mordo has back in the day when it toured) and figured I may try it out with at least two bands I'd want to see; plus, who knows what the future holds that may or may not be commensurable with outdoor summer concerts. So, as I said on Instagram, we went, and the kind of crowd was a bit much for me, but I was glad we went.

I don't know how people do Lolla all day long, for three days long, and with alcohol and/or drugs. I was exhausted after waiting for New Order, waiting for The Killers, standing for The Killers (damn the people around me, who I thought wanted to just chill and sit on the side, but in fact were just waiting for the opening guitar riff of "Mr. Brightside" to begin the set so that they can jump and scream and sing along, thus forcing me to stand up to see anything). I was so tired this morning I couldn't even ask Blathers to assess my fossils for me so I could at least see if I had to donate any of them to the museum or if I could just sell them. When I can't bring myself to continue playing Animal Crossing, that means means I am tired. Ooh wee!

If you don't know, I'm big on pop music, with a penchant for big voices and R&B sounds. I basically grew up on Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men, and production by Babyface, LA Reid, and Jermaine Dupri, and later Diddy. (Now that I think about it, Mariah's divorce and thus venturing away from her innocent pop star image and towards R&B and hip-hop influenced my tastes a great deal. Perhaps I have Da Brat and their friendship to thank for this, or Tupac winking at her that one time or whatever it was.) I largely avoided "alternative" music throughout the 90's and beyond. (Oasis was an exception, and I'm only a little better now thanks to Rock Band.) I encountered cable at my grandmother's in late grade school (a.k.a. junior high in other regions) and I would get so angry that MTV and other channels (and people--remember The Box?!) would waste my precious cable time airing videos of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and basically any other band made of white men with guitars. So, two relevant things here--one is that I did not care to see NIN (I am now fully aware they are not really a band, and that his sound far from relies on guitars) and so I thought it was better for me to see The Killers, and the other is that even though New Order has a dance-y quality to their music (I guess it's called "new wave"), their music seems largely centered on instruments I don't historically care for. Put another way, I don't know if the elementary school Kei would approve of or could accept older Kei loving New Order and demanding them to produce the soundtrack of her biopic.

I don't know a whole lot about New Order (I know how they formed--good premise/story!), but I read that their old bassist Peter Hook either quit or was asked to leave the band as of late, and that they continue to bicker amongst each other. In some interview, Hook described the current formation of New Order as a mere "tribute band," pandering to the masses by just playing old hits. Whether this was a mere "tribute band"or not, I loved hearing the hits live, my physical body completely enveloped and saturated by the music, reminding me that music is not just meant to be heard but also physically felt, as though you could put your hands out towards the speakers and touch what comes out. I'm so not used to live music that I sometimes wonder if I might literally be blown away or moved by it. Bernard Sumner sounds just like he does on the records, but his voice doesn't really match the power of the music. It's like another instrument, and I think this is what makes their music soundtrack-like and what I like about it.
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New Order performed at 6:15, The Killers at 8:15. I wanted to be closer to the stage for New Order, so we were in what might be the third row if there were such civilized things. We got there around 5 or so, after eating chicken tenders, ice cream and a big donut, so people must have been there since the prior band (Crystal something). It rained that morning, so the grounds were muddy.
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Mud tries to suck you in! We were next to a big mud pit, behind two guys who were clearly there to see New Order. (Older, crabbier.) I'm sure there were other New Order fans up there with us, but a lot of the people were there to see The Killers. Their plan seemed to be to stand and wait possibly more than four hours to see Brandon Flowers up close for another two hours during the show. There was a young crowd fine, even happy, to be in the mud next to us, but they got a little rambunctious during some of the most popular songs like "Blue Monday." Among the rather mellow crowd (either because New Order fans are relatively so, or because Killers fans don't care for New Order or their music), one drunk and wild girl started flinging mud in the air, which landed in some people's faces. Her boyfriend was more aware than she was and tried to do some damage control, but he was at least two or three selves short of the job. At one point they yelled, "It's Lollapalooza, people need to lighten up!" which was probably true, but still, "read the air," as we say in Japanese. No one else wants to dance with you and have mud in their faces on your account. They got a warning from the bouncers, who were obviously born to bounce. But during "Temptation"--the soundtrack to all great moments in life whether you're an active participant or not--she flung a little mud in the air again and the people got upset again and got the bouncer to bounce for real this time. She and her boyfriend were lifted above the barricade and were escorted out, to I don't know where. I felt kind of bad for them--my guess is that they were there for The Killers (dunno how that blasted girl was going to make it another few hours)--but this ain't no Woodstock. On the other hand, I don't know what the crabby folk were thinking, coming to an outdoor concert with a lineup of New Order and then The Killers. I was so mad that the two older guys in front of us left after the girl was escorted out! One of them was particularly pissed because he got a decent amount of mud on his face (I almost gave him my towel to wipe his face off was a Yokohama Baystars towel...I shoulda done it...but...maybe next time I'll be a better person...okay there will be no next time, sorry, sir). They should have stayed but I guess they were out of patience and tolerance. Perhaps they were there longer and had to endure other tests and were low, whereas I had just gotten started and was high on patience. I got some mud flung on me, and I was honored since the girl was removed, but I was most of all amazed that I only got a few specks of mud on my white skort (yes SKORT, get one here! As seen on Fashiontoast!). I'm almost thirty and can wear white! I can do it!
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Even from where we were standing, they were pretty tiny. The keyboard lady looked like a bored substitute teacher. The bassist seemed to be proud of his role in the music and perhaps his relatively new job. Bernard did a little footloose-type dance during "Bizarre Love Triangle"! 
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Melodica! (Sorry about the hat. But I remember it was a Detroit Tigers hat!)
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Whoever performed on the Red Bull stage got a nice view of the city's famous skyline. You can see the Sears Tower, also know as the Willis Tower, or also known as the "Williams Tower" according to tourists who asked us on the street how to get to it. Mordecai said, "The Willis Tower?" "The Williams Tower." "Oh, okay, just walk down a few blocks to Adams, then turn right and walk down a few more blocks, you'll see it." 

Mordo and I split up afterwards so he could see NIN and I moved over to the side where civilization resumed. I had a far but decent view of the stage; I was mostly concerned with seeing the screens because there was no hope in trying to see little people on the stage. A group of kids, who I initially thought were in the 8th grade or so but turned out to be at least 15 or 16 suddenly appeared and I heard too much of their non-interesting conversations. They were more talking at or to each other rather than with, though I suspect many 12 to 18 year olds do this to varying degrees. One girl, Bridget, got some beer from some older friend who was not part of the group; once the older girl disappeared, the redheaded girl within the group immediately asked Bridget "what that was all about?!" So they were quite innocent, which I could tell by their system of protecting their cash and iPhones in Ziploc bags. Jake wouldn't stop talking about awesome he experienced first hand, including the best concerts he had attended where he was in the VIP section for Phoenix? (is that the Sophia Coppola husband/baby daddy band?) and it was his 15th birthday, it was so awesome. One girl was upset about not being able to enjoy some performance because nearby people were rude, so she had to leave. "I can't even talk about it, I'm so upset about I'm about to cry." That was sad to see, more so than the people who were upset at Mudflinging Girl, maybe because Rude People weren't called and kicked out.
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This was the best shot I could get; you can't even see Brandon Flowers clearly on the screen. He had a short-sleeved collared shirt on; I think it was a royal blue-ish color with white stars of varying size on it. He looked tan and fit and moved around a lot on the stage. 

These kids loved The Killers, and so did the solo guys around me who seemed to be lounging but suddenly got up, cheered, and recorded from their iPhones when "Mr. Brightside" started. The Killers just performed old hits, which I guess upset some people on Twitter who go to concerts for new music, but the sublimely huge crowd seemed to love it. Brandon Flowers' voice traveled well with the music through eight softball fields. He also seemed cordial, amicable, in his bantering to the audience. I realize it's part of the act, but he seemed appreciative of the gig. He sang "My Kind of Town"; I then realized I had never heard the song all the way through. And you know I thoroughly appreciated that he shouted out both the Cubs and the White Sox when he switched up the lyrics to the song! He also brought Bernard Sumner back out on stage for a cover of a Joy Division song. Today I revisited some of their music videos and forgot how much I loved "When You Were Young" (featuring bucktoothed GACHAPIN), which was their last song of the setlist.

Some Friday and Saturday shows seemed interesting: 2 Chainz, The Cure...2 Chainz...The Cure...I don't really recognize any other names. But no, practically never again. I don't know who would have to be performing or headlining at Lollapalooza for me to go again, to put up with the outdoors and unruly people. I prefer seats, everyone sitting down and golf clapping, a clear view, appreciating sounds and stage presence from a safe distance. Maybe I should go to more concerts in Japan. I know some people go to shows to dance and sing and stuff; I am not opposed to all of that, but at a live show, I would just like to see the performance and observe. I am turning into Steve Harvey: "You ain't gon work my ass half to death! I came here to enjoy the show."

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Olympus Pen Mini E-PM2

I acquired a micro four-thirds camera while in Japan this past spring. One of the main justifications included being cheaper in Japan even with the then-atrocious exchange rate. Another is that it's much more compact than the Canon Rebel DSLR. A relatively minor but still important one is that it's cute, and so is the girl who advertises for it. 
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Requisite shoe/foot "selfie" with fallen sakura petals. I had never seen Japan during the cherry blossom season, and my timing was perfect. I arrived as they started to bloom and left as they fell. So I got to enjoy quite the spectacle. Also, these Liberty x Nike Sky High Dunks are the greatest things ever. There's a hidden wedge, so you get a little boost in height and leg length, if they are exposed. It might be good, if this sort of thing can ever be good, to "practice" for wearing higher heels at all. I think Nike knows that these are too popular not to make any more, so I'm waiting for the right print to appear to grab another pair.  
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I planted radishes in late April. This past weekend, about a third of them were ready to be consumed with slices of buttered baguette and a sprinkle of salt.  According to Ina Garten, this is how French schoolboys snack. 
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While basketball and hockey linger, baseball begins and its headlines are routinely ignored for Miami Heat news. Here, we went to a Tampa Bay vs. White Sox game in late April. Of course, it was freezing. We went a month later, just this past weekend. Of course, it was freezing. At least we got to see fireworks both times. This Olympus has a lot of settings, including a "fireworks" one, so I got this semi-decent shot. Semi because the fireworks look fancy, but the rest of the stadium makes you feel like you might be a little tipsy. There are other "art" settings, or modes, you can use to take pictures. I don't know the details, but I think it's like using a filter (yes, like Instagram filters, what other filters would I be talking about) without saving a raw, unfiltered form of the image. It's kind of unnecessary but fun to have on hand. 
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On chilly days, I wrap her up in her tiger blanket. I'm not sure she cares. I think she at least appreciates the pillows, particularly the blue one with the now-old school Doraemon print. As usual, Mitsu is a happy camper!

My most recent obsession right now is the historical drama series "Yae no Sakura." So, I'm also interested in the collapse of the Tokugawa regime. It makes me think about Japanese identity in a way than I've ever considered before...but I think about it like, ALL THE TIME. I have had to read the chapter on the fall of the Tokugawa bakufu in a book I used in a modern Japanese history class back at Grinnell with Professor Hshieh. I'm even re-reading some sections because so much drama went down in Tokyo and Kyoto during this time, and it's hard to keep track of all the details. It's funny, I used to care more about World War II, but I realize now how terribly ignorant I was of Japan's modernity and how it came to be. And all I had to do was get sucked into at least ONE historical drama. Best believe I'll be studying up on Kuroda Kanbei for the 2014 series. It'll star my favorite Johnny's actor, Okada Junichi. I knew his time would come! Or does being in an NHK series mean you're done? Anyway, there are homework materials to gather in the next six months!

And in two weeks, we will be taking a trip to Japan where I serve as the main guide and translator for Mordecai's family. But all I can hear in my mind is olde [sic] style Japanese language used in higher courts among lords, nobles, and their advisors, and in either a western or northeastern dialect, on top of it all. None of these forms of Japanese are useful for me in present-day Japan! Anyhoo, I live, the blog lives; expect some more posts on Japan or Japanese things, the only thing I will spend extra time to blog about!  

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sweet face

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My next post was going to be about the skincare I won from Sephora on Twitter, or about the long-lasting Japanese gel nail manicure I had, but then I was struck with appendicitis at the beginning of the month. Usually, when I get sick to the point where I need to be hospitalized, it's around my birthday, so my present from my body to myself came a little early. (Don't get me started on what I believe to be the Bang Curse--every time I've been very ill post-college, it turns out I'd just gotten bangs!) So instead, here's a picture of my collection of breathing implements I've amassed, which will hopefully stop immediately! I do not recommend starting a collection. The first was from the mysterious lung collapse a few years ago. The second was from this appendectomy--they told me to use this to regain my lung's strength after general anesthesia and to prevent pneumonia. I like how my ailments are all mysterious and no doctor ever attempts to even investigate a cause. It's also nice (and more important) how I don't suffer in the long term as a result of them; the only evidence left behind are light scars on the torso.

I don't know why, but I feel like writing briefly about my experience here. Appendicitis is cripplingly painful; not even morphine could ease my pain. When the ER nurse told me they were giving me morphine and that the pain wouldn't go away until they removed the useless organ, I didn't fear surgery or general anesthesia. I just wanted the appendix out of my life. But what was a bit jarring to me about surgery was being brought into the bright, spacious operating room. My immediate thought was that it looked just like in the movies or TV shows. They hadn't administered anything to me yet so I was fully conscious, which seemed a desired state so that I could announce clearly my name, DOB, and what I was there for. I had never experienced surgery before; all I've experienced are a bunch of residents and young doctors coming to see me in my room, sometimes the chief of their staff (i.e., an older doctor, usually in a suit) dropping by for a special visit. When the many doctors come to see me in the room, there is at least one doctor who does all the talking, and others observe. Sometimes, when different doctors ask different questions, it's clear to me that they all have a general idea of what the problem is, but that each person might have a slightly different idea of what the details are or would defer to the speaking-doctor. They'll then get word from their "chief" or whoever is highest in the hierarchy; they may (or may not!) pass that down to my nurses and to me; but that higher word confirms the details--the diagnosis, treatment, and followup care. This is what I'm used to. But in the operating room--and I realize this is what you would hope and expect--I saw that every single person in there is on the exact same place of the same page. Obviously, the surgeon is the director of everything. And of all the doctors and residents and med students I met, only one of them ended up in the OR with the surgeon. But when I was in there and conscious, I remember that the nurse \seemed to oversee or manage a lot of things. I appreciated it, or found comfort in it. After that, I only remember being the breathing mask already in place and being told the anesthesia would kick in. But I was just so struck by how different things are in the OR compared to the ER room or the hospital rooms, even if I was only awake to observe things in the OR for a couple of minutes.

So anyway, it was interesting to see the dynamics of medical hierarchy in a slightly different light. As usual, I noticed again how important nurses are as much as doctors; I always strike gold with nurses. This is a cliche moment, but this is the kind of cliche moment you should want--I have always been and it seems like I continue to be given the best medical staff to help me get back on my feet when something has gone terribly wrong. Appendicitis is a straightforward problem you want to have if you have sharp, crippling stomach pains, rather than, say, some long-term stomach-related disease, but it still requires surgery and thereby general anesthesia. To be able to recover as well as I have been, you need a good support system, both in and out of the hospital. This time, my experience at UIC was near-impeccable. (Sorry, cannot say the exact same of U of C!) I am beyond grateful for each and every person involved, all the way from the ER staff, the transport staff, the nurses, to the chief and her budding underlings.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Kamakura December 2012

I guess I wasn't done with the people-and-dog-watching pictures! Here are more shots from Kamakura, but this time with my DSLR instead of iPhone.

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It seems that a common thing to do on New Year's Eve is visit shrines. If they don't want to face Times Square-like crowds then, then people go within the first week or so of the new year, but still face hefty crowds. On the day we visited in mid-December, the police were practicing their speeches for the throngs of people. It was endearing to watch them nervously read announcements about being orderly, which people do anyway. 
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I don't know what these boys were doing in their baseball outfits, heading towards the shrine. Maybe they wanted heavenly protection for practice or the coming season. One thing I love about Japanese kids is their dedication--whether genuine or socially constructed or both--towards their extracurricular activities. I like seeing them on the train in their uniforms, with their bags full of equipment, and how I sometimes catch the young yielding train seats to the older kids. 
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This woman was taking a picture of the sun setting, right by the train station. Again, she has that nonchalant Kamakura style I love so much--her hair, her cozy sweater, and her tote bag! I noticed the tote bag first, and then I realized the person carrying it was noteworthy too. What noteworthy person wouldn't choose to carry that bag?!
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Here is a second teddy bear poodle, who senses someone watching them. As if this one wasn't enough. This teddy bear phenomenon will likely wane, so I think Bisou should go to Japan soon and show them how silver is done right!
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I can't remember if my mom noticed a Shiba across the street, or if I did--one of us had a functioning Shiba-dar. In reviewing these pictures just now, I realized that a woman comes up to the Shiba in the man's arms and SMELLS ITS BACK. I smell Mitsu all the time (I don't know what it is, but she doesn't smell like dog!), but it'd be funny if a stranger noticed this habit and photographed it in sequence.
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I kept taking pictures as they crossed the street. Maybe the dog doesn't like crowds? Anyhow, I like its scarf/handkerchief--we've been looking for something like that for Mitsu but have been having trouble--but then look at its leash! It's just a piece of yellow rope. That Kamakura flair.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Japanese people continued

These pictures took less guts to take--the people are facing away from me, but they deserve no less recognition than forward facing subjects.

Some cool older men on the train. The first man seemed to have more character and flair than the second, but maybe the second guy is still developing his. He at least looks stylish. His stylishness seems to me uniquely Japanese in that everything is carefully calculated. Japanese fashion never seems to me whimsically put together, in that ubiquitous Olsen/Fashintoast "I just threw it on on my way out" sort of way (maybe that style is fading out now though). This man put more thought into his ONE outfit for this ONE day than I have for my own clothes and makeup in the past couple of weeks since I've returned from Japan. I mean, I put more effort into my clothes while I'm there, but I cannot look that well-edited when I go out.
This man below is delivering Kiyoken bento boxes to their counter at the basement (i.e. food) level of the department store Takashimaya. I always see pre-made bento boxes in grocery stores, train stations, and Haneda airport, and they usually look good. But ultimately, nothing beats a Kiyoken shumai bento. Luckily, there's a Kiyoken lurking at every corner everywhere, so you can have one whether you're on the go or not.
Here's what a shumai bento looks like. 
Shumai are steamed dumplings, not unlike like gyoza. There are other forms of meat: cooked tuna, kamaboko (the pink and white fish cake), and a piece of karaage, or fried chicken (has more soy sauce and ginger flavor then their American counterpart). There's also sweet egg (the yellow slice), a piece of dried apricot, and the best part, which I remember from my childhood: chunks of sweetened bamboo (very top left). I had this particular bento on the way to the airport, so it was my last meal. I rarely finish meals (I order too much and am picky) but this, aside from the tuna (not a big fan--can I get some more bamboo instead?), I finished. I felt like I won something! So anyway, my love for the shumai bento is why, when I saw the delivery man in his Kiyoken jacket, I took a picture of him. Thank you for your hard work!

I know I shouldn't make fun of "Engrish" or anything like it, but I can't help it. This sweater is delightful.
And finally, this is from my first full day in Yokohama. This is past the West Exit of the Yokohama train station, between Bic Camera and Vivre. This is where cars can't pass through, so it's just people. I wasn't doing any particular people-watching (or am I always doing it?), but I noticed this man walking in front of me. When I realized what was going on with his bag situation, I frantically pulled my phone out and started taking pictures. It's a miracle I got this shot where everything but him and his bag are blurry.
He's got a FANNY PACK AROUND HIS NECK. This is not normal, right? My first couple of days in Japan always feel strange, mostly because of being in a completely different time zone. Sometimes it's something like cultural shock that sinks in harder than it does later in the trip. But is this culture shock? This guy is just doing it wrong! But that's okay, he's got it figured out. I probably shouldn't be taking these pictures and posting them on the Internet, either, but it's okay, I want to share them and I mean to do it with love.

Japanese people

Every trip to Japan calls for a trip to Kamakura. Currently in Japan, there seems to be a big boom in miniature poodles of this brown color, I think because they look like teddy bears. My mom wants one (I'm not sure to what degree she's being ironic-funny because Oji is so huge [friendly, but huge]) so she coos at them when she sees them. This woman seemed kind of social, like she wanted people to notice her teddy bear dog, so my mom asked if it was okay to take a picture (so this is not a "stolen image.") I wanted it to be a shot of the two of them but the woman held herself back a bit. I loved the woman's look--compared to other people, she had the aura of a "celeb." When we took the picture, she said to dog, "Aren't you lucky, they wanted your picture!" Somehow this strikes me as classic Kamakura. People are naturally cool about everything, including their wealth and dogs and the city's rich and long history. Just a giant Buddha statue and tons of old shrines and temples people love to visit, no big deal.
Halfway through our trip, my mom and I remembered we needed to visit the family grave. We spoke with the temple's aging priest, wandered around my mom's childhood neighborhood, and stopped by this lovely little coffee shop, "Coffee Yama," right around the corner from the Koganecho train station. They love their cigarettes--a sign at the entrance almost boasts that there are no non-smoking seats. (Non-smoking areas are increasingly more common these days; GyuKaku was all non-smoking!) They sell them at the register, too, including some Che Guevara variety. When we walked in, we were greeted by Kraftwerk's "Pocket Calculator." The interior is very Showa--1970's-80's, dark, kind of comfortably cramped. I thought it provided the perfect scene for strange characters to meet in a Murakami Haruki novel. Most customers were by themselves, but these ladies were chatting away. They had apparently ordered Coke floats and were delighted by their arrival. 
This lady, even in her train-nap, is not pleased. This was on the Keihin Kyuko (KeiKyu) line, which is *so cheap*! How could this woman still be mad? She even has an end seat and no one next to her! Just an obnoxious weirdo across from her, taking pictures of her and posting them on the Internet.
While waiting for Naomi at Sakuragicho, I noticed a kid on a payphone. That means he doesn't have a cell phone. I loved the expression on his face while he waited for someone to pick up on the other line. He seems serious and earnest. Also, the Japanese always carry extra bags in addition to their main one (like purses, or in this case, a "randoseru," or the bulky, square backpack elementary school kids carry). I imagine in this kid's case, at least one of the bags is for "juku," or cram school. But that doesn't fit in the giant box-bookbag thing he's shouldering? The other thing is that people always carry "omiyage" or gifts to their destinations, especially if they are seeing or visiting someone. I can see that giving gifts as often as the Japanese do might require extra bags. But what's in the TEPRA bag? 
More stolen images to come.

America is big and dirty!

This isn't quite a fair comparison; it might be like "comparing apples to oranges," which I've noticed my students like to say (which is code for "Why are we talking about this?" to which I want to exclaim "Because it keeps philosophers employed!"). But these are the streets with which I am familiar.

This is a small, two-way street deep inside of west Yokohama. There's a bus route that stops along here. I don't like it when my grandma jaywalks on this street. 
And here is Chicago's Fullerton Avenue. There are two lanes for each direction. Again, the 74 Fullerton bus is probably not the same as the 53 route that runs by my grandma's apartment, but still, we're talking about bus route streets. I don't like it when big families jaywalk on this street.
Since about high school, when I'd return home from Japan, the first thing I'd really notice and appreciate was the high ceilings of American homes. Lately when I return home from Japan, I feel like in addition to things like ceilings and streets, the sky seems bigger, too.
I walked with Mordecai and Mitsu on Christmas morning. We walked along Fullerton, where I took these pictures. Looking at them walking ahead of me, I remember thinking, "Damn, it's dirty here." Still, it is nice to be back home. 

Japan - December 2012

Totsuka, Yokohama
My mom and I visited my grandmother for two weeks this past December. I rarely go to Japan during the winter so some of the experience was rather novel. Naturally, the soundtrack was George Michael singing "Last Christmas" and Mariah Carey "All I Want For Christmas Is You." Reservations were being taken for Christmas cakes, cooked chickens and turkeys, and KFC (I couldn't get fried chicken on the 23rd because they were only fulfilling reservation orders!). It's quite festive, except there's no religious or any real meaning behind it all so it felt a bit surreal. I wanted to see Santa on a cross, but I think they got past that gaffe a while ago.

Aside from experiencing the Christmas spirit, I ate a lot of steamed buns and udon noodles. Other noteworthy components of my experience was the weather--it rarely gets below 40 degrees (F), so it was kind of confusing. I'd get hot while walking or on the train, but it'd be freezing at night. I was also there during the elections and saw the changeover of power from the Democratic Party of Japan to the more conservative Liberal Democratic Party of Japan. I was amazed at the reality of political third parties--some people I know voted for the Communist party; I was rooting for the doomed green "Future Party." The elections made me think about Japan more generally: its (homogeneous) population as a whole, its relation to foreign countries, the war's ongoing effects, the current generation, potential directions for the future. I often think about these things here and there, but it wasn't until this trip that I've been able to better collect my thoughts.

I'll be posting some pictures I took, mostly with my iPhone, and which were edited with an app called Camera+. I've got more "stolen images" of random people! :D

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Next - Autumn Kyoto Kaiseki Menu

A few nights ago, we went to Next for the first time. The fall menu for this year is "Kyoto," or their take on the kasieki meal. Most of these dishes are the chef's interpretations of kaiseki ryori. I was a little nervous since I had never been to Next, I've never had kaiseki, and a lot of fancy Japanese food has historically repulsed me. But I was brave, and I was rewarded well for it. Photos, descriptions from their menu and my own elaborations, and some thoughts below.

"chestnut, apple, white miso, hay aroma" -- the little block is chestnut tofu, and the sauce was described to us as white miso with apple butter. 
"japanese maple forest" with many shrimp and roe hors d'oeuvre type things
The "trees" are crispy shrimp heads.
Maybe these were supposed to represent toadstools? Roe and (salty!) corn pudding in a little yuzu rind.
Skrimpf eyes! It's like fancy kappa ebisen
"sashimi, shiso, tamari": kampachi, salmon, medai with gold flakes and fresh wasabi (there were two dipping sauces: tamari and shiso)
"abalone, cucumber, red sea grapes" featuring kinome leaf, which make tongues tingle
"anago [saltwater eel], maple dashi, shimeji mushroom"
"matsutake chawanmushi [savory egg custard], pine" 
I eat my chawanmushi like Pepperidge Farm Verona cookies (the ones with the jam in the middle)
Ayu. Dipping sauces were soy sauce with cured yolk, and wasabi puree.
The ayu was reportedly from a river in Kyoto. I still don't understand how that is true. Our server said that this wouldn't be available in a couple of weeks since they'll be out of season, so I guess in November, people will be getting another kind of fish.
Fried chrysanthemum, eggplant, and shiso leaf. Flower was edible but this was an item I had trouble eating. 
Red miso soup with wagyu beef and vegetables. This was served with rice (Tamaki Gold, available at Mitsuwa [I asked]). There were pickled vegetables with this dish but they were too wasabi-y for me.
Dessert: roasted fig, yuba (tofu skin), and grapes on a little bed of reduced soy milk. This was a little salty to me but whatever the grapes were, they reminded me of tiny kyoho grapes.
Shime (closing): warabi mochi (childhood favorite of mine, but the ones I know are the ones from convenience stores) with red bean paste/jelly inside and macha green tea.

We had a non-alcoholic beverage pairing, so that many of the courses came with some concoction of strange flavors. For instance, we had a yuzu, pear, seaweed, and bibb lettuce puree drink with the forest course; the sashimi came with a ginger, soy, cucumber and lime drink; the soup came with an apple-barley-licorice drink. There were a couple more of these strange, what were ultimately, juices. This might be a bit of a backhanded compliment, but they reminded me of juices sold in PET bottles in Japan. Like Natchan and Calpis. Subtle in flavor (at least compared to American juices) and kind of thin and watery in texture. They were interesting combinations, never unpleasant even if one was suspicious of an ingredient. I was happy we went with that rather than just water or alcohol.

My favorite dishes were the following: anago maple dashi soup (reminds me of Yokohama's Wakana, an eel establishment from mine, my mother's, and my grandmother's childhoods), the red miso soup (reminds me of what sumo wrestlers eat; it has a very home-y feel, but still special because of the buttery wagyu), and the warabi mochi at the end. It was better than Japanese convenience stores' warabi mochi, lol. Aside from flowers and wasabi being a weakness of mine, there was an uni-mayo dipping sauce for the fried lotus rings in the "maple forest" course that just straight up tasted like what I imagine licking the bottom of the ocean to be like. For similar reasons, the abalone course was a little tough for me to get through. For similar reasons, I thought I'd have difficulty with the sashimi, but I did not! It was the prettiest dish and very much edible by my standards. I'd even say I liked it a great deal. 

Eating at Next feels like getting exclusive seats at a show or concert, or like getting an exclusive and personal tour of a rare art collection, only you're eating everything. I felt a little guilty, enjoying this exclusive and expensive meal as a mere grad student, but my grandmother has some saying about there being no such thing as wasted luxury. This is a meal I will always remember, undoubtedly a point of reference in years to come.