Wednesday, July 14, 2010
This will not be a long entry - just letting you know that I'm still here and kicking. My final class starts in three hours, and once that's done, I will be free from classes at Keio completely. All exams are done, so this last two weeks will be nothing but playtime. Huzzah!
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Sunday, June 6, 2010
It's been two months.
Sorry for the delay, but up until this point, there honestly hasn't been a whole ton to write about. While at the beginning of this journey, I am sure that I was writing about every little minute detail, things have really settled into a routine as time has gone on, to the point where I would actually consider what I have over here now to be something that at least resembles 'normal life'. As such, I decided to wait until I had a good set of things to write on, and then pour them all into one big beautiful post. Then, after two months, I decided that my lovely viewers at home needed an update, so here we are.
School's been rolling along steadily and surely. I definitely made the right call in switching from JLP to KIP at the semester break - I am so much happier this semester with both the scheduling and content of my classes. Of course, things can hit a bit of a dry spell from time to time, but in all, things are going really well and I am getting a lot of satisfaction from my courses. One of the nice thing about this semester is that whereas last semester was plagued with exams on a nearly constant basis, this semester is almost entirely graded on attendance and papers - two areas that I really excel in. What's more is that the paper assignments have already been distributed for the entire semester, so if I wanted to, I could power through seven more papers (on top of an already complete four) and be done with coursework for the semester save three small exams (two in language, one in culture) and one presentation. There are also a couple of class trips that have happened (one to a Buddhist temple and another to a kimono sale) and at least one more is coming up, a banquet at a teahouse in Asakusa with geisha. It's been a lot of fun, and we're not done yet.
The downside of this light workload is that I have recently found myself at an occasional loss for things to do. Only this afternoon did I finally realize that after the terrorizing gauntlet that was JLP Level 3, I've become used to that level of intensity and therefore have a lot more momentum and energy than I have things to spend on it. Luckily, several things have opened up to serve as remedies to this issue.
First off, things have been really busy with church lately. Today was Choir Sunday, when we in the TUC Sanctuary Choir replaced the weekly sermon with a performance of a piece that we've been working on practically since the end of Christmas. What we did was selections from Karl Jenkins' "Stabat Mater". It was a really cool piece and we had a lot of fun rehearsing and performing it (though it was still really tough) and it was very well received by the congregation. Now we're moving on to a couple of special projects and, believe it or not, preparations for the Christmas season will be underway in a couple of weeks. They waste no time over here, but we all enjoy it immensely.
I'm back up to teaching three classes a week at different branches of Tokyu Sports Oasis:
- Group Step at Jujo (they took me back for my last month - yay!)
- Group Kick at Musashi Kosugi
- Group Power at St. Luke's Garden
The other thing that has really started to draw my attention is the ever-looming prospect of my return to the States. We've booked my air ticket for August 3, long enough for me to finish classes, get my last paycheck, settle all my affairs (rent, phone, work, etc.) and have a little extra time to play around and do some of the things I haven't yet had a chance to do because of how busy I've been. Among these special excursions are a trip to a beach outside of Tokyo (probably Zushi, just because of the ease of access - I miss the sea), and a pilgrimage to Fuji Q Highland, a theme park with exceptional roller coasters and, opening in July, a life-sized model of Evangelion Unit 01 as part of a new attraction. I missed the Gundam in Odaiba earlier in this trip, so I'm definitely not missing this one. I'll probably also make trips to the Ghibli Museum, Karuizawa, and some areas of Tokyo I've still not been able to get to.
Even though my fly-out date is still two months in the future, being the obsessive planner that I am, I've already started making preparations for various elements of the journey home. I've started scouting out places that might be able to accept used furniture donations (there is a Salvation Army over here, along with several other similar businesses), shipped things home in order to lighten the load I have to carry when I go to Narita Airport, and made reservations at a hotel in Narita for the night before my departure. My flight leaves early, and the airport is somewhat far from here, so it just made sense to be close and have a fresh, easy start in the morning. Heaven knows that the trip itself is going to be tough. I have a very roundabout flight path - Tokyo to Beijing, Beijing to Vancouver, B.C., and finally Vancouver B.C. to Portland. It's a long and dull flight, but it saved us a good chunk of change on the ticket price. Hopefully I don't devote too much of my attention at this point to my return trip, because if I were to miss the last two months of my time here by thinking only about my flight home, that would be a tragic waste of the opportunities I still have open to me over here.
For you sports buffs, you'll be happy to hear that Keio has finished the season at the top of the Tokyo Big 6 league. The final matchup, as per tradition, is between Keio and its rival school, Waseda University, and are held at Jingumae Stadium, one of the professional baseball venues in Tokyo. Tradition states that if Keio loses the game on Sunday of the matchup, then all classes at Keio on Monday are canceled in order to allow students to go to Monday's game to cheer on the team. My friends and I, being opportunists, took full advantage of the day off to do absolutely nothing associated with Keio or baseball. Instead, my friend Dana and I met up and went to what is now one of my favorite restaurants in Tokyo. I think the name says it all.
Yes, the restaurant is just called "Eat". The food is un-be-lie-va-ble, and the prices follow suit. We each had a Kobe Beef burger, with all the trimmings, for 1,050 yen per person, with old-school 1950's diner-style fries. It's really good, and the place is really fun - it's really just a tiny little dine-and-dash style place - barely big enough to hold around 15 customers at a time. The problem is that this place is cheap enough and good enough that we both want to eat at Eat all the time now, which has led us to agree to live by the mantra, "Eat is a sometimes food."
Still, it's all right if I don't eat at Eat all the time - I've finally started branching out with my own cooking. Earlier tonight, I took one of the really big steps of a fledgling cook - I took my first stab at preparing fish. I figured that if there was a place where I should learn to prepare fish, it should be where the best fish in the world is available. I went over to Maruetsu (my nearby grocery store) and found a very appetizing salmon fillet that looked like a good candidate. I found some instructions and tips online to help me with prep, and I made my first attempt - foil-wrapped baked salmon with salt, pepper, garlic, lemon, and olive oil. All together, it was a very tasty dinner of taters, fish, and biscuits (buh!). Seeing as I haven't keeled over yet from food poisoning, I'm ready to consider this one a success. I had a pork katsu curry last week that threw my stomach for a loop (heavy enough to keep me home for a day), but that's all in the past now. I should note that Japanese ginger ale is fantastic for settling an upset stomach.
Well, I suppose that's enough of an update for now - like I said, things are moving along slowly but surely. There are a few big events coming up in the near future that I'll be sure to write about, so I may be posting more frequently than I have been recently. Again, sorry about the two-month delay - I'll try to do better (though it would be hard at this point to do worse ^_^) on keeping you all updated. Until next time...
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Well folk, here we go again!
It's been a while since I last wrote, but I can't say that too many major events have happened in the interim. I'm still on break from school (until this Thursday - simultaneous joy and agony) and I've just been working hard at making preparations for everything to come. As I sit here, I am joined by my massive bowl of mashed potatoes - he says 'hi'.
So then, what have I been getting up to...
I suppose the thing to start with would be the much talked-about concert at the Cotton Club. All I can say is that I have a new favorite concert venue, and that is it. The place is very small, only seating somewhere between 3-400 people, and it is built very much in the spirit of the old-fashioned jazz clubs of yesteryear. Before the show got started, there was a dinner service - I had a wonderful onion soup, as well as a wonderful little house cocktail called a "Little Wing". I'm not sure exactly what it was, other than that it was very tasty. Finally, the curtain went up, and there they were - The Manhattan Transfer themselves. They did a great set - lots of favorites, including "Birdland" and "Soul Food to Go", along with a bunch of songs from both their newest and older albums. The big surprise for me came right towards the beginning when they did my favorite TMT song - "Shaker Song". It's not one of their most famous songs, but I absolutely love it. Each of the singers also had a chance to take the spotlight for themselves and do something from each of their solo albums - it was just a fantastic evening all-around. At the end, we were able to coax them out for one encore, and we tried valiantly for a second - all clapping in rhythm and cheering for them to come back. When it seemed that that wasn't going to work, a couple people somewhere in the club started singing "Birdland" themselves, and before you knew it, the entire room had joined in. We all left on a very high note - smiling all the way back to Tokyo Station, or wherever we all were headed. I couldn't take pictures of the event itself inside the club, but here are a couple of exterior shots to give you an idea of the place:
Dana and I did another Costco run the next day, and I was very pleased with myself at what I was able to find while keeping myself to spending less than 10,000 yen (approx. $100). I walked away with lots of good foodstuffs, including my usual cashews, cheese bagels, and Stagg Chili, and I also had a few new finds, like Idahoan instant mashed potatoes (now my faithful companion) and a 16-pack of canned tunafish for sandwiches. I'm also starting to slowly work my way away from instant and takeout foods as such a large part of my diet, and I'm working on and refining a few recipes that I think people might be interested in once I return to the good ol' US of A.
Another big event was a little trip that I took to a place in Tokyo called Nakano, which is the third of the three major hubs for anime fans, the other two being Ikebukuro (where I used to live) and Akihabara (two train stops from where I live now - do I detect a pattern?). The thing that I learned about Nakano was that in addition to the usual merchandise, goods, and books, Nakano had a large supply of original animation cels from old anime productions. Nowadays, most anime are generated using computer technology, retaining the same artistic styles, but much more streamlined in production values. As such, most of the cels available are from older shows. I went there not knowing exactly what to expect, but boy, did I hit the jackpot. In one little shop, I found two cels from two shows that were among my very favorites when I was growing up - one of Gene Starwind from "Outlaw Star" (the first real anime I ever saw - I still remember fondly sitting on the couch with Dad and Nate in that little apartment on First Street in Gresham every night to watch the new episodes), then other of Roger Smith from "The Big O". The cels weren't particularly expensive - some of them run into the thousands of dollars - both of these were well under a hundred. Dana also found one that fell into the "I must have this" category, and so she picked it up. Subsequently, we met up at a later date in Shinjuku to go to a place called Sekaido, which is an art supply and framing shop. She taught me all the ins and outs, dos and don'ts of cel framing, and we both got what we were looking for. As I didn't want to spend a ton on framing (due simply to limited funds), I came to a good solution in custom-matting the cels to match a standard-sized frame. The matting cost around four dollars per cel, and I found two really nice frames in the shop, each of which suits its showpiece masterfully. Here are some pictures.
The last big event for me was a trip to the Tokyo Anime Fair, which was held at Tokyo Big Sight - the same place where the Tokyo Game Show happened last Fall. Sad to say, the show was actually a bit of a disappointment - it was more of a trade show than anything else, and there actually wasn't a whole lot to do. The big events were all ticketed, and we arrived unfortunately late to get into anything that wanted, either due to lack of tickets, or otherwise just because we didn't want to deal with the crowds. I'll have to say that of the big three (Tokyo Game Show, Comiket/Comic Market, and Tokyo Anime Fair), Comiket was definitely the most fun of the three. I have a feeling that the reason for that is that it is an even that is primarily put on by the fans instead of the productions companies. It was an event for fans, by fans, and the production companies just jumped on board. This time, it was by the industry and primarily for the industry - oh well, at least we can say we went, and here are a couple pictures.
Those are the big events of my break time here on my own in Tokyo, aside from hanging out with friends and a little bit more of exploring the city. Most of my time has been directed towards several things -
- Getting ready for the new semester at Keio.
- Getting ready for my triumphant return in the Fall to Rice U and everything that entails.
- Getting ready to take the GRE (Graduate Records Exam), the test necessary for entrance to graduate school.
- Getting ready to start teaching at two new Tokyu Sports Oasis locations across the city.
So, as you can see, there's been a lot of preparation that I've had to attend to in this last month, along with my own playtime. Keio, for some reason, was very slow about distributing the list of available courses for this upcoming semester, and so it wasn't until just a few days ago that I was able to start planning my courseload for this semester. It looks like it's going to be a good time, especially since I don't have to go to school until 1pm every day but Wednesday, when I have to be there at 10:45. Compared to last semester, when I had to be there at 9am every other day - including Saturday, and now coming from a place much closer to campus, I think that I'm going to enjoy this semester quite a bit more in terms of my own functionality. Yay for transferring to the Keio International Program! I'm still going to be taking language classes, and my courseload looks like it's going to be pretty involved, but I think it'll be fun. I'm doing two courses on Japanese literature, another seminar in ethics, a course on Japanese cinema, one on Japanese Buddhism and social suffering, one on geisha, and one on Japan in the foreign imagination. For language classes, I'm doing one on newspaper reading, one on reading modern texts, one on kanji, and possibly one that is a social studies course focused around production of Japanese animation and TV game shows (three guesses why I would want to take that one). It's supposed to just be for upper-level students, and I'm currently just at intermediate-level, but I'm still going to try and make a case for being able to take the course. We'll see what happens. The placement test for language courses went well - as I said above, I tested into the intermediate level bracket, specifically level 4. The actual level doesn't make that much difference to me - it's more just about the bracket now that I'm in KIP instead of JLP. So, in all, it looks like I'll be busy, but I'll be well-rested and able to manage. Good times.
As far as preparations for Rice are concerned, they just released the course guide, and it looks like Fall will be a good semester for me. I've got a tentative list of courses picked out, but I'll hold off on specifics until after registration - it tends to get a bit competitive. I've also got my rooming situation figured out, which was a very important thing that I wanted to have figured out. I'll be back on campus next year, rooming with three good friends, two of which were suitemates of mine from last year. It's a huge weight off of my mind to know that that's all figured out, and in a few days, I'll even know which room I'm in. Stay tuned!
I've only just started my preparations for the GRE, and I'm probably not going to get to heavily into practice with it during the semester, but it's a good thing that I'm getting this early start. Originally, I had planned to take the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test), but after talking with some friends of mine who are recent graduates of law school about what my interests were, they advised me that what I really wanted was a Masters and/or Ph.D. program in philosophy of law - seeing as my interest is more in legal theory than in legal practice. This doesn't exactly mean that that's what I'm going to be doing after graduation - I've got several irons in the fire, but it's good to have options and to keep them open. Unfortunately for me, part of the GRE is a mathematics section (go on, science majors, have your laugh), and I haven't done any intensive math work in over four years. Still, I found a GRE study book at Junkudo that had a comprehensive math review that has been very helpful. I still have a long way to go before I feel I'm ready to tackle the test itself, but by starting now, I'm saving myself a lot of stress and trouble later.
Finally, my new classes kicked off this last weekend - and I am EXHAUSTED from them, but very happy. Whereas for the last three months, I was teaching one 45-minute class once a week, I'm now up to three classes a week (one temporary) with a good chance that more may be forthcoming. The temporary one is a 45-minute Group Step class at Jujo, where I've been teaching for the last three months. As a matter of fact, it's in the same timeslot as my previous class was, so I knew most of the people there. Using what I learned from the event class I taught a month ago, I was able to tailor the class for the group, and the results were astronomical - right from the get-go, everyone really had a grasp on what was going on. It made me feel great. Another instructor will be taking over the class week after next, but I'll still be around Jujo every now and then for events, subbing, and just to take classes - I love the place and the people there, so I'm not just going to disappear.
I'm also working at one club that's farther than I've gone before, in a place outside of Tokyo called Musashi Kosugi in Kawasaki City. It's a really gorgeous area and it reminds me quite a bit of Portland in its layout, architectural style, and those sorts of things. If I end up moving here, I might have to settle down 'round there. The class I'm teaching at that branch of Tokyo Sports Oasis is a full 60-minute Group Kick class. Last night was my debut, and it went off really well - we all had a great time - there were about 30 of us total. It's kind of late-night, but I have a really relaxing train ride home afterward. The other class is at the Oasis branch at St. Luke's Tower in Chuo-ku. It's in the basement of a twin-skyscraper building which houses, among other things, restaurants, a full hospital, and about a hundred different businesses. This branch is the closest one to my house, and is actually accessible via the train line I take to school, so I can get there for free. The class is a 45-minute Group Power class on Sunday afternoons at 1pm. It was one of the best single classes I've taught on either side of the Pacific - the group and I just clicked, right from the start. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship...
Today was Easter here in Tokyo (I realize some of you are just starting off the holiday now - happy Easter to you all). We had three services at church, the first two of which I was able to come for (I had to get to St. Luke's by 1pm to teach my class). It was a great service with all the usual bells and whistles of an Easter service. The best part was right at the end, when our joint choir - comprised of regular choir members and other people in the congregation - came up to the front to to a super-spectacular happy-clappy gospel revival arrangement of Handel's Hallelujah chorus, complete with an amazing jazz trio. It was a fantastic morning, and the day just kept getting better and better - first church, then class, then home, and that most important element of Easter - the afternoon nap.
I've just got the next three days of break remaining, and then it's shoulder to the plow pretty much up until the end of the year when I move back. There are a few scattered breaks, and I've got some plans and ideas for them, but we'll just see how that all works out. I'll try to write again soon - hopefully before another month goes by. I'll leave you tonight with a couple pictures of the legendary Japanese cherry blossoms (sakura) in bloom. This is the symbol of the arrival of spring, and it is a BIG deal over here when they bloom. Since the wind over the last week has been something fierce, there was some worry that the blossoms would all be blown away before we had a chance to enjoy them. Still, they are hanging tough, and so are we.
Over and out.
Friday, March 5, 2010
It's been a long time since I rock and rolled - or blogged.
It has been an exceptionally busy time for me - one of the most jam-packed school breaks I've ever had - and that's really saying something considering the fact that this break is two months long. Let's see - where to start...
Well, when we last left off, I was just about to start my move to my new place in Ryogoku, on the East side of central Tokyo. Since the last post, I have moved everything to my new place via several train trips and many well-loaded suitcases. It was a very good experience for me to lug all that stuff about because it made me realize just how much stuff I have over here - stuff I will eventually need to get back to the States somehow. Fortunately, both my upcoming trip to the USA and my dad and grandma's subsequent trip over here to visit me would each afford me ample opportunity to bring some less essential items home, lightening the future load. Even still, my room in Ryogoku is full. In just the one month that I've been here, I've already rearranged the furniture from one setup to another in order to create more floor space for myself. It was a good move for me - I need all the space I can get.
I had to purchase a few extra furnishings for the room here that Sakura House had provided as part of the rental agreement. As a result, I went out to Ikea in Funabashi and picked up sheets, pillowcases, storage boxes, a suspendible bureau set, a wastebasket, and a couple other pieces of affordable Swedish crap. I also picked up a small wooden cabinet at Tokyu Hands that I'm using as a TV stand and storage box for my video game equipment. Pictures will be forthcoming of my wonderful furnishing skills.
The costume party I mentioned before was a lot of fun - a great way to spend a final Friday as a resident of Sakura House. The food and drink were on the house for us, and Clio and Elena absolutely stole the show with their costumes of Sen and No-Face from Miyazaki's "Spirited Away". I had fun with my own costume - Lambo from "Katekyo Hitman Reborn". Again, pictures will be forthcoming.
That next Monday, I had an interview with the head of the Keio International Program, the program I am hoping to transfer to from the Japanese Language Program (JLP). I've hashed out the reasons for this on a previous post, so I won't bore you with the same details again. Suffice to say that the interview went very well - she agreed with me on all points that the KIP would be a better fit for my particular situation as a Rice exchange student. I'll have to wait until later this month to hear the final decision from the school, but I am being cautiously optimistic that they have approved my transfer. I'm also still waiting to hear about my final grades and the class schedule for the upcoming semester - they like to cut it down to the wire for some unknown reason. Thankfully, due to my rapport with a couple of my professors from this previous semester, a couple of my classes have already been decided - Japanese Literature and a new Special Lecture in Ethics. I'm already excited for both.
I had very little time to settle in to what would pass for a normal routine 'round these parts because that Wednesday, I was all set to hop on a plane and fly back for a week's stay back in the good ol' US of A. Thanks to a generous offer from my dear mom to pay for the airfare from and back to Tokyo, accented with the opportunity to see Peter Yarrow in concert at the Aladdin Theater (well played, sir), I was all set for a week back at home. I got up to all my usual shenanigans - teaming up with friends at Cascade Athletic Club to team-teach the new program releases for Group Ride and Group Groove; watching the Super Bowl with my mom's extended family - always a blast; meeting up several times with my cousin Joel to watch Dr. Who and other quality programs; meeting up with my old friends Theresa and Dylan to watch some newly-discovered anime; hooking up with my family in downtown Portland for a run-through at Powell's Books; oh, the list went on. (I even got to go visit my dentist and get my teeth shined up all pretty-like.)
On top of all that, there were a couple new adventures that I really had a great time with. First off was the aforementioned concert, which was actually a Portland folk music festival - WinterFolk 22. In addition to Peter Yarrow, there were six other groups performing that night - each one bringing the house down in their own way - it was a great night and a perfect venue for such an event. I never realized what a rich history of folk music existed right here in Portland and up and down the Columbia River Gorge. One of my favorite songs of all time - "Pastures of Plenty" was written by Woody Guthrie while he was working up in this area - go figure.
I got a chance to head down into Portland one glorious Friday afternoon to meet for dinner with mum and some friends of hers from work, including the delightfully decadent Rita, at a place called Carafe. As I was now of drinking age for the first time in America, I took every opportunity to flaunt that status, and tried out a little bit of the house wines. While not the best I've ever had, the significance really came from the fact that I could finally order it and be treated like a grown-up by general society. That's an important thing for a budding 21-year-old. We had a great time and a lovely evening.
Figuring that I'd need something significant to pass a lot of the time in the remaining break, I decided to take the plunge into a brave new world and purchase myself an XBox 360, along with a whole array of different games for it. It's all set up by my TV and unfortunately hasn't had as much loving as it deserves due to my extreme busyness since my return. Still, we have all the time in the world - as long as I don't keep it on 'til the red ring of death appears. Right now I'm hooked on Magna Carga II - the latest in a series that I've been particularly fond of. I'll get back to it some time in the next few days - I think.
I eventually had to come back to Tokyo (now there's a sentence I never though I'd say with any degree of despondence), but it was good. I was very happy that I'd gotten a chance to see my family and friends, and now I had about a week to further settle in and start meeting people at Oakhouse, as well as starting to learn my way around Ryogoku and its surrounding areas. It was a pretty lazy week - just getting things organized and ready for me to host my dad and grandma when they'd arrive just a week after I did.
That next Wednesday, I hopped the Keisei line bound for Narita Airport and went on up to the international arrivals lobby. I knew their flight was coming in a bit earlier than expected, but I missed the first train that I was accordingly planning to take. Still, I needn't have worried - I was standing outside the gate long enough for them that I started to wonder if the had possibly already gotten through customs and gone somewhere else. However, they eventually wandered out of the customs gate and met me on the concourse. We picked up a rental cell phone in the airport terminal and started on our way back to Ryogoku and the Pearl Hotel where they'd be staying. We got there and dropped off their baggage, and then decided that we were all hungry enough that we had to get some food and get it fast. I decided that a good place for a first Japanese meal would be Sukiya, one of Japan's three big beef-bowl chains (the other two being Yoshinoya and Matsuya). We bellied up to the counter and each placed our orders - which then arrived within minutes. With great eagerness we wolfed them down and then decided to take a little trip to tour my house. The stairs proved to be a bit much for gran, and she came up as far as my floor, but not up to the top floor with the rooftop balcony. After all ten minutes of the grand tour, I escorted them back to their hotel and we said goodnight.
We decided to take day two relatively easy - we had breakfast at - of all places - McDonalds (in our defense, it was local, cheap, and convenient), and then we hopped a train for Harajuku. We walked around the streets and shops in Omotesando Hills mall for a bit, and then we went into Yoyogi Park and on to the grounds of Meiji Jingu Shrine. As this was one of the only sunny days we had, that was a particularly good move. We took it all in and took our time at every location. After an afternoon nap, we played around for a bit in Akihabara Electric Town, starting with a proper kaiten-sushi (sushi-go-round) dinner at the top of Yodobashi Camera.
Day three started off with a trip to Tokyo Dome City in Bunkyo ward. Gran was interested in checking out the shops and the spa, and dad and I were looking forward to the shops and the Thunder Dolphin, the signature roller coaster overlooking the park. Unfortunately the coaster was closed that day, but we had a good time perusing the La Qua mall, particularly at one of our favorite stores - Lush. I got a refill on my Rehab shampoo, Jungle conditioner, and Coal Face facial wash - all quintessential items. After that, we went up into the observation deck of the Bunkyo city office, where we took in all of the glory of the city that can be seen from 25 stories up. We had lunch at Firehouse in Hongo, and then went to check out Ikebukuro, the area where I used to live. I showed them all my old haunts, and by the time we were done, it was time to call it a day.
Day four started with a little breakfast for the three of us, and then I had to go off and take a class that I usually taught in Jujo at Tokyo Sports Oasis. Since it was the Jujo branch's 3rd anniversary, things were on a special events schedule, and my class was no exception. Instead of my teaching the 45-minute Kick class I teach every week, Japan's only national trainer, Tomo, came in and taught the new January 2010 release in its entirety. We played off each other a bit over the course of the hour, and he was a great guy to know and work with - I'm sure our paths will cross again in the future as I pursue a BTS Trainership. That evening was our big splurge - dinner at Joe's Shanghai, on the 59th floor of Sunshine 60 in Ikebukuro. I called ahead to make a reservation, and they pulled out all the stops for us. We had a corner table that was very private, along with one of the most spectacular views I've seen of any city in the world, let alone just Tokyo. The food was delicious, the wine was perfect, and the staff were incredibly fun. I'll definitely be dining there again.
Day five - Sunday. We went out to my church in Omotesando for the morning service, and the we jetted off to Jujo for my class of the week - the special launch of Group Step for the first time at Tokyo Sports Oasis. I'd been preparing for this class for a good long time, but there were still a few curves that fate decided to throw at me for the class. I had my loyal supporters - gran and dad - sitting outside watching me work. Most of the people in the class had never taken a BTS class before, or even a step aerobics class of any kind. Those factors, combined with my limited ability to coach Step in Japanese, made for a very interesting hour. First off, I typically teach facing the class, acting as a mirror of the movements they should be doing. However, within a minute of the first song starting, over three quarters of the class had turned to face the back wall and were craning their necks trying to see what I was doing. Figuring that another plan would be necessary, I paused the music and asked them if it would be better if I faced the front mirrors and moved with them. They all agreed, and we went for take two. Unfortunately for this group, the most complicated songs were, in fact, the first three on the CD. Still, after enough repetition, they were starting to get the hang of it. By track six, everyone was in the groove and on the move. We finished with a splash and the class got rave reviews. We headed our with our heads held high, but by the time we reached Ryogoku, we were tired. I mean seriously tired. We had a bit of a spat, trying to decide where to eat, but we eventually figured something out involving a temporary parting of ways and a couple of golden arches.
Heading into Monday, we had breakfast at St. Germain, the bakery-cafe that I discovered on that fateful day when my train was delayed and I got stopped in Ebisu - what turned out to be one of the best days of that semester. We were planning on subsequently going to campus for a quick tour before hitting our big-ticket item of the day, but we ran a bit short on time. We instead headed straight out to Maihama, home to Tokyo Disneyland and Cirque du Soleil's resident show "ZED". We were there for the show, not the theme parks. The show was absolutely spectacular - great production value, impressive acts, and an incredible soundtrack (now added to my music collection). After that, we headed home for a quiet evening at the hotel with snacks and a movie - the original "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" starring Gene Wilder. Afterwards, gran turned in for an early night, and dad and I went out to check out a little beer club in Ryogoku called Popeye. I'd first been attracted to it by the sign in the window for "Rogue Ales", a microbrew made in Oregon. As I'm always up for a taste of my homeland, we went in for a pint of Shakespeare Stout. We stayed for a good couple hours and had some marvelous conversation - definitely one of the high points of the entire week.
Tuesday, we decided to take things slow and eventually head out to campus only when we finally felt like it. We toured campus and then headed down the road towards Tokyo Tower. We had lunch at a Chinese buffet and dessert at Baskin Robbins, and then we hopped a train for Roppongi, an area that I had never been to before and wanted to explore. We went all through the Roppongi Hills area - a very upscale shopping and entertainment district, and decided to stop at the cinema to see the movie Avatar, which none of us had yet seen. Our reviews of the movie as a whole were mixed, and if you want my full review, write me personally and I'll get it to you.
Wednesday was our last day. The folks were scheduled to leave in the evening, so we decided to stay somewhat close to home. We went to Tokyo Station, just a few train stops away, to browse the shops and try and find some last-minute souvenirs. We wandered about a bit and eventually headed out towards the grounds of the Imperial Palace, which were right in front of the station. The sun finally decided to peek its head out again and we had a lovely walk through the park and sat on a couple of benches to soak up that wonderful light. Then, all of a sudden, it was time to go. We gathered the luggage at the hotel and started our last train trip back to Narita. It was a very emotional parting at the gate, but I know that this isn't the last time that we'll enjoy this magnificent land together. Still, parting is indeed such sweet sorrow. I was in a funk well until the next day - I just seemed to be missing something, or someone, from the complete picture. Thankfully, the Internet is indeed a marvelous tool, and we were video-chatting right after the two of them landed back in Portland. I'm even chatting with them as I'm writing this blog post.
Of course, pictures of the whole wonderful week are forthcoming, but this post is just the words.
Since I've been back on my own, I've started to readjust and settle deeper into life in a new house in a new town. I finally found a coin-op laundromat in this area, which makes me much happier than it probably should. The problem is that the dryer they have installed in this house is absolutely pathetic - it would take an hour for it to dry a pair of socks. Several of my clothes have started to sprout mildew due to incomplete drying, but now that I have found a place that works, that's been all taken care of. Small favors.
As for now, I'm keeping myself busy with all kinds of things. I just finished up the work on a research project offered to me by my advisor back at Rice. We have an archive of Asian subway advertisements, and the time has come to updated the Tokyo chapter of those archives. As I am currently "the man in Japan" as far as Rice is concerned, I was offered the post. I've spent the greater part of today riding around all the trains and taking pictures of the ads on the platforms and deeper inside the stations. It's been a lot of fun, and I've discovered a whole bunch of new places in Tokyo that I want to explore while I'm still here. Research for the win! Having achieved my goal of 300 unique advertisements photographed, I decided to reward myself with a spin on the Thunder Dolphin, the roller coaster at Tokyo Dome City, now open. It's a wild one, let me tell you. After that, I called up Clio on the off chance that she'd be free on a Friday night, and we met up for dinner and dessert. We hadn't seen each other in over a month, and we had some serious catching up to do. Good times.
And that leads me to now - I'm typing at 2:17 in the morning, and I really should be getting to sleep. I've got a big day tomorrow - teaching Kick at Jujo and finishing up the collection of advertisements for the research project. After that, who knows? All I know is that there will be some serious down time involved at some point. On top of that, my one big upcoming plan is on Sunday the 14th, when the Manhattan Transfer are playing at the Cotton Club Tokyo, and I've got my ticket all squared away. One of the greatest jazz groups ever, in a perfect venue for the genre and style, at a time when I just happen to be in town. How sweet it is!
Well, that was a mouthful. As I said before, pictures of all these wonderful things will be forthcoming, but not tonight - I need to get to sleep. So, until next time...
Friday, January 22, 2010
Ah, sweet victory. 'Tis good to bask in thine warmth once again.
If you couldn't tell, I'm in a particularly good mood right now.
Let's start off with the thing that has been occupying a good hundred and thirty percent of my time since my last post - preparation for and taking of final exams. In all, to wrap up this semester (excluding those classes I finished before Winter Break), I was responsible for two papers, one presentation, and three MASSIVE exams in order to get to where I am now, which is a little place I like to refer to as 'sweet freedom'.
First off was my final paper for my graduate seminar on Kant's 'Die Religion Innerhalb der Grenzen der Bloßen Vernunft', or, for those of you who don't speak German, 'Religion Within the Bounds of Bare Reason." My paper topic almost literally fell into my lap, thanks to the theology reading group that I am a member of at Tokyo Union Church. We chose a book called "A New Kind of Christian" which was about the changes that are happening in the church and what they mean for the life of the church as a whole. It was a perfect book to juxtapose with Kant and critique it by Kant's reasoning - the two authors see eye-to-eye on many different levels. Fifteen pages later, we were done with paper number one. We celebrated the end of the seminar with a Tabehodai/Nomihodai party (all you can eat and drink) at an Italian place near the school. The evening was great fun, and the best part for me was that the restaurant's menu even had a "Kami no Shizuku" wine recommendation. For those of you who don't know what that means, "Kami no Shizuku" is a Japanese serial comic about a pair of wine connoisseurs trying to find the twelve greatest wines on the planet. Along the way, the discover all kinds of spectacular wines, and the series has actually been called by experts to be an exceptional guide to wine. Now, I like Japanese comics, and I like wine, so this was a win for everybody - we ordered a decanter for the table and all agreed it was a great choice.
Here's a pic of the recommendation from Kami no Shizuku.
Next up was my other seminar, this one on the book "An Encouragement of Learning" (Gakumon no Susume), written by the founder of Keio University, Yukichi Fukuzawa. This was a class I was very excited to take because the history of this school is really a spectacular thing. Fukuzawa was a mid-level samurai who lived both before and after the Meiji Restoration (one of the key events in modern Japanese history, when Japan's doors were finally opened to the West). He observed the societies that he lived in during both periods and wrote this book and founded the school because of his passionate beliefs about the importance of education, especially after it became available to so many more people after the Restoration. We took the book in chapters and would each present three times on a complete chapter. My final chapter presentation was on the last day of the class, and I turned in my final paper (the assignment being 1000 words on what we learned by studying the work) on the same day. We also had a conclusion party of the same type for this class - all you can eat and drink at a cool little izakaya (pub) in Tamachi.
Here are a couple pics from that night:
Sakura Chu-Hai - an alcoholic drink with a small branch of cherry blossom in it.
Now, the tests. I had three of them, as I mentioned before. Two were on the same subject, but in different classes - that subject being kanji, the Japanese pictograph alphabet that is a near mirror of the Chinese alphabet. The first kanji exam was in the kanji-only class - a whole semester-long class focusing on learning 250 of these characters. Kanji has never been my strong suit, and many of us were worried about the exam, which was cumulative. As such, we all took a great deal of time to study up. Mercifully, and much to the credit of the professor, the exam wasn't the terrifying monolith we were expecting. As a matter of fact, my friend Dana agreed with me that it was actually kind of fun, and would only have been improved by the addition of one of the professor's kanji-based "Where's Waldo"-type games. Still, having one question on the test be - "Write your favorite kanji and why you like it" - filled the bill for me.
By the way, my favorite kanji is 東. It's pronounced 'higashi' and means 'east'. The reason is that when I look at this kanji, it really seems to be the quintessential kanji - a kanji's kanji, if you will. This is the first one I think of when I think of these characters.
Anyway, the second and third exams were in the JLP Level 3 core class. These were the big ones. First off was grammar, which took place yesterday morning. To give you some idea of the breadth and depth of what we have covered in this course, all I can really say is that we went through two entire textbooks in a single semester. Twenty-five chapters, each with multiple grammar points - very few of which built off of each other. I spent a great deal of time between the end of the first kanji exam and this exam studying like a madman. I even spent four hours on Wednesday afternoon creating a study guide. Test day came, and I was as nervous as I've ever been about any final exam - this one was, I thought, going to be brutal. As a matter of fact, as I ascended the eight stairwells to reach our classroom, I felt a little like a prisoner heading for the gallows. Still, once I got my brain going on it - it was just a five-page exam, it wasn't any harder than, say, the SAT (which I enjoyed). It was definitely a taxing exam, but I got it done and I think did rather well. There was only one question I could not come up with an answer to - so as a result, I drew this:
I think it went over well.
Finally, there was my last kanji exam. 26 new combos. One good afternoon of study got me all set for that one. I think I might have aced both the reading and writing on this one - what a way to go. I was also a bit worried about his one at first, but on advice of my friend and Group Ride teammate Dena back in Oregon, I put on my hardcore remix of "O Fortuna" as I entered campus and it got me all revved up.
After that, every member of the class had a 10-minute interview with Kim-sensei, the Level 3 coordinator and our Thursday-class professor - great gal. I drew the lucky number one a few weeks ago, so I got to go first, and thus finish the entire course first. The interview was more a one-on-one exit interview than a test-style interrogation. We talked about how I felt with my progress and what I felt I had achieved over the semester, which was quite a lot. I thanked her for all her help over the semester and headed out the door.
My joyous exit should have had a film crew - that's the only thing that could have improved it. I descended the stairs while "There She Goes" by the Boo Radleys blasted in my headphones. I walked out of the building and tossed my hat in the air, Mary Tyler Moore-style. I pulled out a bit of cash at the bank and went into the corner pub, where I ordered a half-pint of Guinness (my first time drinking that divine ambrosia) and some fish and chips in celebration. Once it was in my hands, I raised it to the sky and shouted "Let's get pissed!" in a Scottish accent. That's how I celebrate.
After that, it was off to Ryogoku to meet up with my new house manager and check in to my new place. I'm moving over the course of the next ten days, and then I'll fly back to the States for a little visit. We're all set, and my new place is great - if a little funky. I'm moving from a house with six people to a house with thirty five. It's gonna be a change, but it's a much shorter commute, a rooftop balcony, an actual lounge area with a couch, as opposed to just the kitchen, and all other sorts of cool things. Now I'm home and ready to go have a little Friday-night movie night with my Sakura House housemates.
In the near future, Clio, Elena and I are going to a costume party hosted by Sakura House to celebrate the new year. I'm going as Lambo from Katekyo Hitman Reborn, an anime I'm a big fan of, and they're going as other anime characters as well.
On another note, here are some pics from my phone that I haven't posted yet:
This was a delicious apple pie baked by my friend Julie Fukuda when she invited me over to her place to help polish off their New Year's leftovers.
This is a poster in Tsukishima station, featuring the character who is the anthropomorphized version of the station - Izayoi Tsukishima, from the series Miracle Train: Welcome to the Oedo Line. The show is about six anthropomorphized train stations who travel around on a magic train and solve their passengers' problems. Tsukishima loves making monja-yaki, a Tokyo specialty. Not surprisingly, the best monja-yaki in Tokyo is in Tsukishima. And that is what the next two pictures are.
When you first get an order of monja-yaki, it looks like the first picture. When you cook it up, it looks like the second picture. It's basically a batter without egg - a bit water and OH SO TASTY! Anyone who comes to visit me is going to go with me to go eat some - you will love it.
Until next time...
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Brace yourselves, this is a long one. This is primarily due to the fact that there are thirty-one pictures in this album, tempered by the fact that I've got pretty much the entire Winter Break and subsequent weeks' activities to detail, of which there are many. Well, better get started.
Getting To Work
First off, there was the Group Kick/Group Power event at Tokyo Sports Oasis - Koganei. This was my first scheduled class as an instructor for Oasis, my new employer here in Tokyo (I subbed a Kick class the previous Saturday). I teamed up with Ryutaro (pictured below) and we taught a fantastic set of classes. Kick in particular had a packed house and a really excited crowd. We had a great time both preparing for the event and actually running it. We'll definitely be teaming up again sometime in the future.
I had another event on January 3rd with Sakai, an instructor at Tokyo Sports Oasis - Urawa. We just did Power, but again it was a full house and a great time. I also started, just this last week, teaching my own Kick class at Oasis' Jujo location. 18 people came, and I felt right at home, despite the fact that I hadn't taught these people before, they had never seen/met me before, and I was teaching in less than perfect Japanese. Still, we all got through class and it went amazingly well - I can't wait to see how things continue this next Saturday. One more thing - and you may have read this on a recent Facebook post of mine - as a little amusement for myself, I put the Victory Theme from Final Fantasy on the music CD right after the last song of the class, just as a kind of joke. Not only did everyone in the class get the joke and the reference, but a couple even did little victory poses a la Final Fantasy. It absolutely made my day. I think this is the start of a beautiful working relationship - hopefully they'll want to take me on again once I return to Tokyo, whenever that may be.
New Year's Eve
To start with, New Year's is a much bigger event in Japan than Christmas - there's no contest. The country practically shuts down for 2-3 days - only the trains and a few select stores remain operational. I celebrated New Year's Eve with my housemate and dear friend Elena, from Italy. Early in the evening, we went out to Omotesando - one of Tokyo's high-fashion districts, and the location of Tokyo Union Church - to look at the lights and take in the sights. Because of some other plans we had, we were out a bit early, so the crowds hadn't quite amassed yet. Still, there were all kinds of little events and fun things going on, including a whole row of specialty food booths, from which I picked up a chocolate-covered banana (SOOOO GOOOOD!) and Elena got an okonomiyaki (a Japanese pizza-like food).
One big tradition of New Year's Eve is the NHK Kohaku, an extravagant and non-stop excitement-type show featuring 50 of Japan's most noted and famous music artists - 25 male perfomers/groups and 25 female performers/groups. They go back and forth, rapid fire, each artist performing a single song. The whole thing lasts almost three hours, and Elena and I were home to watch the whole thing. She was primarily looking out for Arashi, a boy-band she's particularly enamored with, and I was just looking for new music and artists to enjoy. I'm discovering that I really have a taste for enka, which is an indigenous musical style of Japan, characterized by very ballad-like lyrics and musical styles that trend towards what one might think of when one thinks of Asian music, as well as the occasional infusion of jazz and/or blues. Some of these enka performers had been on Kohaku for 20, sometimes 30 consecutive years, and their performances made it crystal clear how they had been able to accomplish something like that. There was also a surprise guest appearance by Britain's Got Talent's overnight superstar Susan Boyle, singing her signature song, "I Dreamed a Dream". It was really fun to see her performing live on our TV.
Naturally, I was equipped for New Year's celebrations - as pictured below.
Yes - the quintessential New Year's checklist - pounded rice on a stick covered in teriyaki-like sauce (dango), manga (comics), ice cream, and a little bit of liquid loopy to help keep out the cold once you go out at midnight. My drinks of choice - White Russian (Kahlua and milk) and Ether (an original creation, mixing one shot of gin with the promotional Elixir drink from the new Final Fantasy game, FFXIII.)
One of the great things about this house has been the fact that we live right next to Gokokuji Temple, a very large and very beautiful area of Tokyo. As is tradition in Japan, just before midnight, Elena and I headed over to the temple to ring in the new year. The temple bell is rung 108 times, signifying the end of the old year and the dawning of the new. At midnight, there was a little burst of fireworks, and everyone in the crowd burst forth in congratulations of "akemashite omedetou gozaimasu", which basically translates to "Happy New Year". We got up to the temple and tossed a couple coins into the troughs that had been set out for people coming to pray for a new year. After that, we picked up a paper fortune from another area of the temple grounds, walked around for a bit to go see the bell, and then we dashed home where we could warm up. After drinking a toast to the Year of the Tiger, we called it a night.
New Years Day
First thing I did after getting myself woken up and alert on New Year's morning was to go and check the mailbox for nengajou (New Year's postcards - similar to Christmas cards in the West). I got a couple from friends of mine around the city, and I sent plenty out myself too. The post office guarantees that they will be delivered on New Year's day, and often hire students to help with all the deliveries. On some nengajou, there are lottery numbers printed, and a few lucky people receive their nengajou on New Year's morning, along with such things as new refrigerators and other fine prizes. I didn't win anything, but I still considered myself very lucky just to be able to enjoy the fun of sending and receiving nengajou - I'll definitely keep this tradition up.
I had been invited over to my friends Nancy and Hiro's house for their New Years Party, which was done very much in the traditional Japanese style. The Osechi (first picture below) are all the traditional new year's foods that the Japanese eat, each representing a different blessing in the new year - prosperity, longevity, etc. Some of the delicacies are a bit more popular than others, and as is our running joke now, there always seems to be kazunoko left over. Aside from the traditional foods, we also had some wonderful roast beef and crab that was absolutely spectacular. Then, for dessert, home-made lemon tart and fresh whipped cream. I was in HEAVEN!
In total, there were eleven of us at the party - Nancy, Hiro, and their two children; Hiro's mother, sister, and her two kids; an old neighbor of Nancy and Hiro's who had been joining them for New Year's for many years, my friend Simon (pronounced Shimon - Danish pronunciation) who was taking one of Hiro's classes at Keio (both he and Nancy are Keio professors, if I never mentioned that before) and also took the same philosophy seminar that I did, and myself. We had a blast. One of my favorite things about it was the fact that everyone around the table was seamlessly slipping back and forth between speaking Japanese and English - there was no communication breakdown of any kind between any two people.
After dinner and dessert, we played a couple of card games which are another part of the Japanese New Year's tradition. The main one was Karuta, a game in which 100 cards are spread out - scattered - around the table, each one with the last half of a Japanese poem written on it. Hiro had a stack with the entire poem written on it, and he would start reading one. Whoever was able to correctly slap their hand down on the correct matching card won the card, and whoever had the most cards when they were all gone was the winner. Again, I didn't win, but I definitely held my own, netting 10 out of the 100 cards. It's not easy reading Japanese in 30 different directions, especially when you're competing with people who not only natively speak the language, but also have played the game so many times that they know the poems by heart. I wasn't even sure I'd be able to slap down on one, so ten was, I though, very respectable.
After all that, we decided to travel en-masse down to the river near Nancy and Hiro's house to fly a kite and take in the first sunset of the year. Wow - this day just kept getting better and better. As soon as we walked out of the neighborhood and crested the hill leading to the riverbank, there was one of the most iconic images of Japan, and it was just as majestic as I imagined it would be:
富士山, the grand and majestic Mount Fuji, resplendent in the sunset.
We got the kite going (miraculously) after multiple failed (but very comedic) attempts that left the kite-string almost irreversably tangled. We also invented a new sport - team kite flying, in which five people hold different parts of a hopelessly tangled string and try to fly the kite anyway. It's really hard, but it gets a lot of laughs. Finally, we headed back to the house, where we all said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.
Christmas, part 2.
Here are a few more snapshots from all of our Christmas festivities at the house.
I picked up some novelty soap for Clio and Elena at my favorite store in the whole wide world - Lush. This was jelly soap, and it functioned as soap but looked and felt and acted like Jell-o. It's always been a favorite novelty of mine, and they both enjoyed it.
This was our lovely spread on Christmas morning - homemade chocolate-chip pancakes and strawberry syrup made from scratch. What a perfect way to start the day.
We did some fun little candid shots - wonderful memories all.
I got a set of fan-made comics (doujinshi) from Elena, which I have started collecting recently, and Clio gave me a set of things from a game called Starry Sky, which features twelve characters who are incarnations of the signs of the zodiac. She got me a mini-lithograph and notepad with the Libra character on them (my sign). We were all very happy with our little exchange.
One more shot of our lovely little Christmas tree.
These are just some random pictures from different little happenings around the house that I finally got from Clio and Elena. They aren't in any particular order, but all of these happened before the Winter break.
Here we see Elena with her legendary Vesuvius microwave pizza. No, that's not the brand - it's what she turned the pizza into by putting it into the microwave for as long as it would have taken had she put it in the toaster oven. When she opened the microwave after smelling something odd, smoke poured out of the microwave like a tidal wave. Once the initial cloud cleared out, we saw that the pizza was continuing to spew forth a plume of smoke, all emanating out of a single hole in the crust. It was almost supernatural - there was not enough space in that pizza to possibly accommodate the amount of smoke it produced. Then we discovered that there was a face in the pizza - it didn't have any connection to the explosion, but it made us laugh.
The above three pictures are from a fantabulous event that shall heretofore be known as "Riesen Wrapper Night". I had gone to Costco a couple days before and purchased, among other things, a large bag of Riesen caramels. As is my tradition, I put the whole bag in the freezer and ate them frozen. One night, I took out a handful and passed them out to my housemates who were in the kitchen at the time. Once the treats were gone, somebody started playing around with the wrappers, and, well, you can see what happened.
These are some chocolate mousse cups that Clio made. Not only are they aesthetically pleasing, but they were OH SO TASTY!
Wow, this one was from a long time ago, back when my hair was long and brown. I bought a pineapple at Seiyu, our local grocery store, and after cutting it up, decided to make a hand puppet out of the top and bottom, which I wasn't able to cut up in any useful way. We had some fun.
Around that same time, Elena offered to do an Italian night for us with polenta and salami. It was a fantastic meal, and it prompted me to subsequently do a burger night for the whole house a couple weeks later.
Ah, this has been a refreshing jaunt down memory lane. Now to the news.
I'm back in school now - break ended last Wednesday - and I'm ready for it to be over. After 15 years of having a brand new semester waiting for me right after New Years, this has been a tough change for me - going back to the same old classes that I've been dealing with since September. Luckily, there are only two weeks left, including final exams, and then I'm FREEEEEE!
Well, at least for two months.
The other big piece of news is that I am now considering moving to a place a bit closer to campus. I should start off by saying that the only real reason I'm even thinking about leaving this place is because my two great friends, Elena and Clio, will also be leaving the house sometime in the very near future. If they were staying, then I would be too. However, we all have paths to follow, and this doesn't by any means mean that we are going to lose touch.
The place that I am looking at right now is in a place called Ryogoku. It's on the east side of the circular Yamanote line, which I take to school every day. I've been in this area before, and I really like it. It's got a great history and is the Sumo center of the city, if not the country. The best part? My rent, my commute, and my train fare will all be significantly less than they are now. In the time that it will take me to get from my room at Ryogoku to campus, I would only have been able to walk from my house in Otsuka/Ikebukuro to Ikebukuro station. This is going to chop my commute in half. Since I'm heading into the second half of my time here, I want to be very careful with how I'm spending my time and my money, and this seems like the right move to make and at the right time.
We're going to be very, very busy in the upcoming days and weeks. I'll either post to let you know how it's going, or I'll post after it's over to let you know how it went. Until that time...