Wednesday, December 31, 2008


On the way back to Osaka, I stayed in Beijing. It was my first time in China, but luckily my friend Carlos's friend Joy was able to show me around a bit.

I was only there for a bit and everything took longer than I had expected so I wasn't able to see that much. But we tripped around here and there and had some great food.

The best meal we had was probably the hot pot at this Muslim restaurant. The water was heated by that big cone filled with burning coals.

It was basically like Japanese nabe except the stuff you put in the pot was a bit different and, obviously, there was no pork.

Beijing was a strange experience in the winter. It was freezing and I could see that all the standing water was frozen as we flew in, but there was no sign of any snow. The city is basically flat and in the middle of an endless flat plane, sectioned into rectangular fields and cut through with wide irrigation canals. When you come in from the air, you can see at once that Beijing was constructed as an imperial city, laid out around a central palace. In the winter, however, everything was just brown and gray and cold.

Most of the streets are wide and the buildings massive, clearly designed to impress. Throughout the city, there are mammoth structures of every age, including those just finished this year for the 2008 Olympic Games. There is a vast sense of history, but somehow I found the feeling of history in Beijing unnerving. It seemed as though it little matters what I say or what I think ... as though there are great, ineluctable forces at work ... that they will sweep over me and swallow my whole life up.

I don't know. Maybe I'm just going through a strange period.


This Christmas I took the opposite of a vacation. From relatively warm Osaka, where I had been riding my new bike everyday and wrapping up my projects for this year, I went to Vancouver, where it snowed nearly every day, riding for pleasure was of the question and I spent a week doing manual labor.

Aiyana and Jackie are opening up a restaurant on the drive called Bandidas. They got the place sometime in December and hope to open in early January. I guess when we got there they had already been working on the place nonstop for weeks, but it still seemed like an impossible job.

Somehow, the magnitude of the project and the fact that we were all there, just feed into our family's mania for work. We pulled most of the standard moves - working all day without eating, working into the wee hours of the morning and thinking that it was still like 11 or 12, working for seven hours when we meant to just drop by for an hour or two.

I didn't think it was possible when I first got there, but now it actually looks like they might get it done in time. Most amazing is that fact that, with the exception of some electrical work, it will all be done by family and friends for no more than free food and booze.

So, for another year in a row, I worked on Christmas. But this time, it really felt like Christmas. The whole world was blanketed in snow and there were Christmas carols playing everywhere, not just at Starbucks.

But hey, there's nothing like painting, cleaning and stripping glue off of tables with toxic goo while wearing cold, wet shoes day after day to make you really happy to get back to the quiet warmth of your Osaka apartment.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Maiden Ride

I finished building up the Miyuki the about a week ago, and since I know of no other, she will now be called, simply, Miyuki-chan. Most of the parts, I had around - except the hubs and the toe-straps, which I obviously bought to suit the frame.

Above is a picture taken in front of a Pachinko parlor on her maiden ride. I put a drilled fork on it so I can put a break on the front, which I probably will do. But right now, the ride is just so fun I might not get around to it for a while.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Nara and such

John was in town for a bit, so we did some touristy stuff. Probably the most impressive thing I saw was this gigantic Buddha in Nara (奈良). We spent all morning in a museum full of Buddhas and I was pretty sure I had seen enough Buddhas to last me for quite a while, so the impression of this one was really something. I can only imagine how I would have felt if I came at it fresh, so to speak.

It's difficult to appreciate in the pictures how big it really is, or even when you're there in person. In fact, to help you get a grip on the size of the thing, the monks have cut a hole in one of the pillars of the building that's the same size as one of the Buddha's nostrils. The whole is big enough for school children to craw through; and so they do. While I was there, I watched a 10 year old kid go through with no problem.

The Buddha is guarded by various fierce looking figures. This one is a scholar. You can see his brush and his scroll.

Probably the best way to get a sense for the size of the Buddha is to see the building that houses it surrounded by tiny people. The Buddha's seat reaches all the way up to the roof of that building.

On a different day, we went for a bit of a hike in a town called Mino (箕面), north of Osaka. At the end of November, the leaves were turning here, so it's the best season to see the red leaves.

The area where we went was actually packed with people, but you could get off the busy paths pretty easily and have a quiet hike.

And, just so you don't think these days it's all about Buddhas and autumn leaves, here are some other random shots.

It's the x-mas season here now, so these sample girls, at one of the big stations in Umeda, are dressed up to match the season, as - Oh, I don't know - sexy, black Santas. They're handing out free samples of luxury, high-end cat food. You know, 'cause nothing says Christmas like giving your cat gourmet food that you got from a sample girl dressed in a sexy French maid costume that's really a Santa costume.

And then, out by the docks near the international convention halls, we have an ominous building somewhat vaguely called "Service Center" - where everything is yellow.

A few weeks back, I took another friend out to Nagasawa's shop and on the way out we walked by a sort of suburban stripmall. Below, you see the shelves in the parking lot where a liquor store keeps all it's bulk beer. There was no one around and no sign of any security, but there it was, just sitting there, right by the road - cases upon cases of booze. In the plastic cartons to the right, there are individual bottles of beer - again, let me reiterate, within easy reach of anyone who happened by.

Finally, a picture of a host, before going out on Saturday night, saying a quick prayer at a local shrine. After he threw his money into the container, he tucked his white Louis Vuitton bag between his legs, bent his head, pressed his hands together and said whatever it is one says under such circumstances.