Monday, August 30, 2004

Back in Cali

Watching four movies in a row is the only way to pass the time on a long plane ride!

I started and read up to the most recent 鋼の錬金術師 (Hagane no Renkinjutsushi; Fullmetal Alchemist) manga in two days. Quite good, and I hear the anime diverges from the manga very early on. It's the #1-rated series in Japan this summer and I can see why. I have to download it all when I get back on campus. Meanwhile, the next manga comes out 9/12....curse monthly issues!

I am going to miss living in Japan. I think a summer work-abroad internship is the most ideal scenario....not too short, not too long. Toward the end, I was really starting to feel the grind from the work and especially the ridiculously long commute. I think I could do this for a full year, but I am not sure I'd be able work here for the rest of my life.

Nevertheless, I will miss all the little intricacies that I've gotten used to. The people, the public transportation system, the very urban lifestyle, the music I hear in stores and on TV, the TV shows/anime and commercials, the weekly Jump, the food, the sound of Japanese, ...heck, even the currency. I've gotten used to seeing the quadruple blend of hiragana/katana/kanji/English on signs and buildings in Tokyo....coming back to the States where everything is in English will feel so bland!!!

Here are some of the things I didn't get to do in my 7-week stay:
Did not get to visit Niko/Kamakura/Yasukuni Shrine/Tokyo Bay in the Kanto region.
Did not visit Nara in the Kansai region, and did not see downtown Osaka even though I was technically inside the city while touring Universal Studios.
Did not experience an onsen.
Did not eat sushi (whoah, even I'm surprised!), not even kaiten-sushi.
Did not meet a Japanese girlfriend (not that I was expecting this to actually happen).
Did not climb to the very top of Fuji-san (though at least I attempted it!)

As for the things that I did do...well, that's what the rest of this blog covers!
Indeed, I have learned a lot during these past few weeks, and I am glad that I got to experience this opportunity. Most of all, I've met a ton of people whom I intend to stay in touch with. I have friends in Japan now (not just gaming/internet friends!), and that's a great feeling to have.

One thing's for sure: I haven't had enough, and I will definitely come back again sometime.

Quote of the Day: "My Wife is a Gangster" --title of Korean movie [plot synposis: "A female gang boss is persuaded by her long-lost, dying sister to settle down. She finds that fullfilling her oath is a lot harder than she expected."]

Saturday, August 28, 2004

The Last Days

Damn, these last few days have been hectic.

I gave my final project presentation in front of my group on Friday morning but pulled an all-nighter in the middle of the week to try to wrap everything together. That's right, I stayed in the office all Wednesday night and worked my way straight into and through Thursday! There was an annoying bug that I was trying to solve, and also the task of drafting the final documentation so the rest of my team and future team members can understand what I did and add to it as they see fit.

Friday afternoon felt like graduation!

Saturday, I finally fulfilled one of my trip goals and found and visited a Pokemon Center. I went to the one by Tokyo Station (apparently there are a few scattered around Japan). There was a 30-minute wait in a line winding outside for half a block just to get in; it was nuts! The inside had all the Pokemon merchandise you could ever buy, and they were blasting Pokemon music (BGM melodies from the games) can call me lame, but I played the original games and man was it nostalgic. The only thing that was missing was Nurse Joy.

Sunday, I underestimated how much my にもつ would slow me down and made it onto the Narita Express two minutes before it took off from 新宿駅. Holy crap that was close....lesson learned.

Quote of the Day: "First you learn the Japanese language. Then you use it a lot and learn how the Japanese use the language. Then you will start to understand how the Japanese think and what it means to be Japanese." --Hassan Hajji, my mentor at IBM who came to Japan 7 years ago from Morocco without knowing any Japanese

Monday, August 23, 2004

The Last Weekend with Jelani & Liang

stomach infection = lamesauce

English-speaking doctors = 1337sauce

ナルト movie = complete crap

Yokohama ラメン屋 = umai!

Roppongi Hills = 1337sauce

Roppongi @ night = yabai!

Quote of the Day: "ダブルデート!" --Jelani Nelson MIT '05, on being asked to go on a double-date by Manuel Soto MIT '05 with two Japanese girls

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Fujisan Update

Liang's version of the Fujisan trip:

    Hehe... Fujisan wasn't too bad on the way up.. the stick is a huge lifesaver. I took a triple dose of drugs (my medication), so I felt fine. I got to the top 2:30am, just before it started raining. It was so cold up there, and the inns were closed till about 3:30am, I felt like a homeless person trying to sleep on the alcove of a inn =( Lesson: A single layer of pants is NOT enough. I was trying to wait for you guys, since you said you were starting 7pm, I expected you to come up sooner. There was a lot of mist up there, and there were enough people/inns that I never got to see Sam, who claimed he came around 5am. The sunrise was utter crap, nothing could be seen through the clouds. Major disappointment. I got some (expensive) food, some omiyage, and the stamp at the shrine at the top. The weather was only getting worse, so I started descending about 7:30am. Descending was a bitch, much worse than climbing. It took a whole 5 hours and 30min till I reached 5th station. I was totally soaked, covered with volcanic dirt, and felt like shit. I split a soaked 10,000 yen bill with Sam, giving us both enough to make it back home. The end. Despite not being able to take those wonderful sunrise pics I was expecting, I'm happy I survived.

    Lessons learned: NEVER climb fuji-san again.
    And in case I ever do again, 1. Bring ONLY 2L water. 350-500yen per 500ml bottle isn't bad at all, comparable to American movie theaters and theme parks. 2. Don't bring too much food. I am so fsking sick of calorie mate, which I didn't even get to finish. 3. Bring lots of yen, fuji-san will cost easily 15,000 yen counting transportation 4. Bring completely waterproof gear.. god i was screwed here 5. Bring really really warm stuff (screwed again). 6. Boots are go. Those volcanic pebbles nearly killed me up there. 7. Get NTT Docomo Keitai for fuji.. it's the only service that works reliably.

    On the way back.. I felt like a soldier returning from the battlefield. I noticed how happy and excited looking all the climbers were, just like how I was yesterday. I warned a couple of them.. "Turn back! Turn back while you still have the chance!!" XP

Wow, that last quote sounds just like that crazy old granny we met at the beginning of the trail! Haha.

Quote of the Day: "....immediately ninja-patch it so warlocks aren't gimper than Christopher Reaves at a stairclimbing contest...." --WoW beta forums, regarding the latest "World of WarCraft" patch

Monday, August 16, 2004

"Fujisan? Who's Fujisan?"

Damn, this weekend's activites were a wake-up call for me to start working out.

The Kansai gang came up to Tokyo this weekend to visit Comike (the largest doujinshi convention in Japan) and climb 富士山 (Mt. Fuji). After dinner at Ueno on Friday night, Sam and Kalvin crashed at my apartment overnight in preparation for the long day ahead. I wasn't originally planning to climb Mt. Fuji at all, but being as how everybody else was going and sekkaku nihon ni iku kara...

Before I continue, let me give a quick description of Fujisan, taken from a FAQ that a MIT-Japan alum made:

    It is not a hike offering varied views, forest trails, peace and solitude or exceptional flora. It is a means to one end - to climb the highest mountain in Japan. That's all.

Out of a party of 7 (Lisa/Liang/Jelani/David/Melanie/Sam/Kalvin), only 2 made it to the top. Some people in our group are still mystified at exactly what happened, so I will outline the events that transpired:

-- Lisa dropped out the morning of the trip.

-- Liang got to Fujisan ahead of us, as planned, but we never met up with him and he was considered MIA for the rest of the night (cellphone reception is flaky on the mountain).

-- Sam, Melanie, and Kalvin went on a pre-reserved bus and arrived at 河口湖五合目 (Kawaguchiko go-goume), the 5th station of the Kawaguchi trail, at 7:15PM. Jelani and I arrived via train/bus combo and arrived at 8:35PM. Our party of 5 sets off.

-- At the start of the trail, we asked an old lady coming back along the path if we were going the right way. The lady starts freaking us out by saying things like "ima kara? heeeeh? muri! muri da yo! samu-sugiru! taihen-sugiru! zetai taihen!!"....basically, she was saying how we were crazy, that it was impossible, that it was catastrophically cold up there, and that if we went it would be overwhelmingly disastrous. What a way to start a trip!

-- Before we reached 6th station, Sam zooms off ahead of us and says he'll "wait for us ahead." We don't hear from him until 5PM the next day.

-- I call it quits on station 7.3. My thighs are burning, my head is spinning, and I feel just plain miserable. It's pitch black (there's nothing to see anyway), the mountain trail is ugly volcanic rock, some parts of the trail require everybody to climb up on all fours, my backpack is ridiculously heavy, and the motivation to get up (catching the 5AM sunrise) just wasn't good enough to keep my body going. I have to concentrate on each step to get myself up without slipping, and thinking about each step for an 8-hour climb is a big psychological no-no. Most of all, I feel like I am slowing down the group by taking so many mini-breaks and that at this rate we would never make it to the top by 5AM. Despite telling Jelani to go on with the group, he stays behind with me.

-- Jelani and I climb back down to station 7.2 and rest in a mini hotel-hut there for the next few hours. We wake up at 5AM but we're in the middle of a cloud and can't see sunrise. The descent back down to 5th station takes 1 hour, despite climbing down in the middle of rain and mist, and we manage to catch the 8:30AM bus.

-- Meanwhile, Melanie and Kalvin slowly ascend up to 8th station. Kalvin is miserable and decides to call it quits. The two of them nap and wait for sunrise, but they are also in the middle of clouds and can't see anything. They descend the mountain to 5th station. Everybody is worried because Sam is nowhere to be seen (or Liang for that matter), and we know that Sam has nearly no money on him. Melanie & Kalvin have no way to contact him since he has no cellphone, and they end up arriving back to my apartment at 2:30PM.

-- Melanie/Kalvin/I take showers, eat dinner, and wonder if Sam & Liang are still alive. We assume that Sam wasn't stupid enough to waste all his money on the souvenir seals you buy at each station to prove you were there, and that he saved enough money for the 3 hour ride back home.

-- We get a call from Sam at 5PM, and as I lead him back to my apartment he tells me his story: He made it to the top of the mountain without stopping (holy crap). From 8th station to 10th station (the top) it started raining really hard, and he had no hat/hood, so his head was completely drenched. Ironically, he got every seal except the one at the summit....because he ran out of money. =P He saw the sunrise and then waited several more hours because he thought we'd come up to meet him. He wasn't sure how to get down either, but luckily for him, a nice old lady who was on her 11th lifetime climb led him down to 5th station.

-- Just before 5th station, Sam sees a guy hobbling slowly in front of him. It's Liang! Apparently Liang soloed his way to the top. Sam lucks out and manages to borrow enough money for tickets back to my apartment.

-- Everybody is safe, sound, and accounted for! Sam/Kalvin/Melanie leave my apartment at night to meet up with Lisa, and they take the bus back to Kyoto.

It's ridiculous how our party of 7 splintered into 5 groups over the course of the day. As for me, this is definitely a wake up call for me to start working out and get into shape. I don't even need to do bodybuilding, I just need to do aerobics so I can increase my stamina for long trips (I always was a sprinter-type). Otherwise I'm gonna die young, like at 50 or something.

Nevertheless, it's ridiculous how heavy our backpacks were. 6 liters of gallons, 2 meals worth of food, and heavy winter clothing (the recommended gear to bring) is insanely heavy to carry up the tallest mountain in Japan. I'd be re-energized at every break, but everytime I put the backpack back on my shoulders,....oh man. We all thought that the weight would get lighter (and the trip would get easier) as we consumed the water/food, but it never really happened. Even Sam had 4 out of 6 liters left at the end. On the other hand, last year's interns became severely dehydrated because they didn't bring enough water. I wonder what the balance is.

Another lesson learned: Don't take a train from Shinjuku to Kawaguchiko station, because that only takes you to the base of the mountain; you have to pay another 1000 yen to take a 1-hour bus ride to 5th station. Just reserve a bus from Shinjuku directly to 5th station and you will save both time and money.

Thanks again to Jelanie for being a pal and staying with me at 7th station over night. I'm sure he could have made it to the top without any problems.

Quote of the Weekend 1: "This just sucks soooooooooo much." --Kalvin Stewart MIT '05
Quote of the Weekend 2: "I'll meet you guys at the next turn." --Sam Kwei MIT '05
Quote of the Weekend 3: "A wise man climbs Fuji once . A fool climbs Fuji twice." --old proverb
Quote of the Weekend 4: "I'm going to climb it again next year to get the last seal." --Sam Kwei MIT '05
Quote of the Weekend 5: "Mewmew is hot." --Jelani Nelson MIT '05, after seeing a picture from the anime "Tokyo Mewmew"

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Edogawa Hanabi

Now I know what a crowd of 1.4 million people looks like.

Quote of the Day: "I hope MC Hammer's broke ass sues you." --WoW beta forums

Monday, August 02, 2004

Hanabi Weekend

In my opinion, out of all the traditional Asian women's clothing, the Japanese cultural dresses look the best. Chinese dresses (chi-pao, etc.) look alright, but for me at least, they make the woman look sharp and almost intimidating. Korean traditional dresses can occassionaly look cute, but usually they just plain look weird, with the strange waist-line that comes up to right below the chest.

Japanese yukata and kimono, however, look beautiful, sexy, cute, and high-quality all at once. The gorgeous patterns, the vivid colors, the pretty bow (they're not only beautiful, but useful, as you can hold a fan, etc. within the layered belt), and the shape of the dress in general all look splendid. Together, those factors form a synergistic effect that enhances the beauty of the wearer. Maybe it's just me, but even a so-so looking girl looks great when she's wearing a kimono/yukata.

Note that this doesn't apply to males, as male yukatas look like complete crap and make the wearer look dirty and poor (what's with the popular dirt-brown and dark blue patterns?). Then again, all male Asian traditional clothes are fugly beyond redemption.

Jelani and I saw a lot of girls wearing yukatas while visiting Asakusa (lazy lazy Liang overslept and didn't come, even though he was the one who picked the location). The occasion was the Sumida River 花火 (fireworks), and a good percentage of the packed crowd was wearing traditional clothing. I saw some yukata-wearing girls playing around with their keitai, and I really enjoyed the image of the old meeting the new. After walking around Asakusa Kannon Temple and seeing cool stuff like realistic-looking plastic food at Kappabashi-dori (the center of the Japanese restaurant supplies industry), we headed over to the legendary 東京大学 (Tokyo University, a.k.a. "Todai"), the #1 university in Japan. The school looks really old, with paint wearing off in most places....I dare say it is uglier than MIT. That surprised me, because anime like "Love Hina" make the campus look really beautiful and new. There were almost no students around since it's summer break, but we did find a bunch of people in the gym and also saw 1 Todai girl...w00t.

Ian invited us over to the Mazda campus, where he works, to watch the Yokohama fireworks on Sunday, and Mike, Ilan, Manny, Jelani, and I joined in on the fun. I saw kimonos selling for 800,000 yen ($8,000!) in a department store, with the minimum price being $3,000. I've also heard that kimono wedding dresses sometimes cost $50,000 (!!!)....WTF.

Some more pictures of the weekend can be found here:

Quote of the Day: "I feel like we're walking into a giant restroom." --Jelani Nelson MIT '05, upon entering Tokyo University's gymnasium area