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Japan - Day Two – Anime and Altitude PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 16 October 2018 19:21

fter a nice “American breakfast” (which was a casual-slow ordeal and had things I’d never seen in a rodeo cookup) we slipped out. Strolled through the Shinjuku Golden-GAI district (narrow streets catering to electronics and eateries) but in this early hour everything as closed and the only motion were the cut-through high-stepping commuters. Nosed into Shinjuku station but were unsure what to make of it, with the noise and flow of humanity. Backed out of that madhouse and decided to look in a different direction.

Just west of the hotel, in the shadow of the fifty-story Metropolitan Government Building, there lays the beautiful Shinjuku Gyoen Garden. We drifted through its quiet early-morning lanes and slipped into a shrine. Found a young couple getting ready to be married, with a small crowd of moms and a photographer. And one mother was quite nice; she had us share a photo with the bride and groom (she didn’t quite understand my weird focus settings).

Geektown!We also walked by “Niagara Falls”, a little artificial waterfall that started up just as we were passing (how hauntingly reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower doing that exact same thing years back). We also chatted briefly with a Toronto couple who gave us valuable tips to getting subway cards. Went back to Shinjuku Station and got it to work this time. With total freedom of travel now, we crossed over to my big thing – Akihabara! This is the huge manga (comic) anime (cartoon) nerdfest geekout section of Tokyo. Just stunning – block after block of stuff. My favorite was the Shosen Book Tower, a building with the footprint of an American pharmacy but stood ten stories tall. We got pitched by maids from the cafes, saw all sorts of animated movie trailers (new one for SteinsGate). Had fruit drinks out of street-side vending machines. Later, stopped in a hole-in-the-wall miso soup joint (you ordered from a machine on the door and handed your receipt to the cook, then had a seat at the bar). Great place! On the way back, we dropped off at Jimbocho Station to check out the Kanda Second Hand Books area. Of course, everything was in Japanese but it was still fun to nose through their stacks.

After an afternoon nap (I love these when I travel) we went up to the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, up to the observation deck on the 45th floor. Great view of the city which runs all the way to the horizon. Could just make out Mt Fuji (a hint of a shadow in the gloom of dusk).  Once we’d checked out this, dinner time. We chickened out and ate in the hotel, in a little “Italian” restaurant in the basement level. The pizza was strange but pretty good, with a crust rather like Indian naan bread (which made it about the best pizza I’ve ever eaten). Then we walked through the nighttime Golden-GAI district (now in full swing), just to bask in the crazy neon of the place.

Fuji is just in the shadows. But the city goes on forever!

Travel Note: A very interesting trait of the Japanese people is their use of crosswalks. I don’t think I ever saw a single jay walker. But they would patently wait for the walk signal before starting across the intersection, even if it was in front of a narrow side-street and nobody was coming. I did see one or two cyclists skip lights but nothing like the US or Amsterdam. The civility of the Japanese people was something I’d notice over and over in our trip (and, sadly, its contrast once we returned to the states).




Last Updated on Thursday, 18 October 2018 18:17
Japan - Day One – Transpacific PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 16 October 2018 16:45

vernight, JB and I were both restless, both worrying about that 3am wakeup alarm. What could go wrong?

But the trip to the airport was a breeze, security easy and casual. The fight to the first stop (Texas, another foreign country) was full except for one seat on our row, the empty seat making picking up extra sleep a little easier. And unlike Newark on that horrible rainy night so long ago, Houston was sharp. Crisp gate instructions, good signage (a color-coded E turned into a back-and-white E, which cost us one hundred paces each way). So we settled in for the long jump, Houston to Tokyo.

Thirteen hours on the plane. Hard to do. Watched Solo and American Soldier. Tried to watch Ready Player One but it was a bit afield from the book. And finally, after movies/reading/videoing and catnaps, we were making our descent over Haneda Airport.

The bus in was easy. We should have had it arranged as part of our limited tour (they were handling one day of guided sightseeing in both Tokyo and Kyoto, but we’d come early). I’d pre-scoped it and knew exactly what to expect and where to go.

The ordered chaos of the airport bus stand!

We rode the bus with wide eyes, taking in all the alien forests and eventually buildings. A little confusion at the hotel – we were told we’d base out of the Shinjuku-Washington for our two extra days and then trudge four blocks up to the Hilton. But we were in Shin-Wash the entire time (I hadn’t noticed the change in the tour docs). Fine with us. The Tokyo guide had left a welcome package so we were all set, and Tokyo was ours for two days.

We’d gotten settled in and went out into the early evening. The Shinjuku area is in the western part of the city, centered around a massive train station (with not just shops but a huge department store). A million commuters come through every day. The landscape is one of order and purpose, huge skyscrapers, wide streets, rushing phone-locked commuters. We walked up and down the boulevards, just taking in the fact that we were now on the other side of the planet. It was quite a place, and the adventure was only beginning.




Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 October 2018 20:38
Japan - Day Zero - Real worries PDF Print E-mail
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Friday, 05 October 2018 16:10

eople who read my trip reports know I worry. I worry about little things and big things. Possibly I shouldn’t be a tourist-traveler; I’m too strung for this. You can even see it in our last big trip, when we went to India.

And now here I am, a knot of nerves the day before we are departing (and even earlier this week, when I couldn’t sleep and, when I did, woke up in cold sweats).

First and foremost, at the start of the week I felt a dull pain down in my frontal-midships area. Went to the urologist yesterday (less than 48 hours before our 7am departure time) and found out I had a small hernia. Now, the doc said it shouldn’t be an issue and maybe it won’t be, but it’s certainly on my mind. And no drug store stocks them. Amazon would have to ship and there isn’t enough time. So I was freaking about that – a truss would be a good thing to have if it got any worse. Then, at 3am this morning, I woke up with a new google search in mind – looked for medical supply companies in Orlando and found one. Called them this morning and yes, they have them. So now I’ve got a backup, tucked into my backpack.

About that – that’s the second worry. We’re going to try to do this traveling on the light side – just a backpack apiece. Now JB’s has wheels so she can manage it. Mine is my bike bag; it should work and is only (loaded) 13 lbs. And hopefully I won’t have to carry it any distance (only possibly four blocks when we switch Tokyo hotels next week). But in thinking of this and my condition, I decided to ditch the tinytop computer. Usually I keep it so I can compose my blogs but the hassle of getting it out of the bag for security and lugging it all over Japan, hmmm. So yesterday evening I picked up a small notebook – we’re blogging this oldschool now. I’ll compose the points of my travels for the day, possibly even forming the paragraphs, and do the heavy composing when we get home. So that shaved 1.5 lbs off my carry weight.

I’m still not happy about flying Shitbag Airline (i.e. UNITED AIRLINES). I refer to our horrible experience HERE. Since we arranged this through a travel agency, I didn’t realize we were flying them until it was way too late to change. Lesson learned. Be Specific, Ship Union Pacific or whatever. Anyway, our seats are assigned and we’ve checked in (except for the passport bit). So I hope we don’t get bumped or blown out of the plane or deposited in Uruguay or something.

Trust me – I’m trying to adapt the philosophy of work-friends Kate and Manjula (who travel with kids and pack last-minute). If something goes wrong, that’s just part of travelling. I mean, we’ve had lost luggage, broken bones, missed flights. You’d think I’d be jaded now. But I’m still keyed up. It’s something I really don’t like about myself.

Okay, anyway, the clock keeps inching forward. Tomorrow at 7am, we’re out of here. My next entry – Transpacific!




Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 October 2018 22:21
Eulogy PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 16 August 2017 20:07

don’t know why I sang it. I hardly remembered the lyrics. But the shelter told us that when you get a cat home you should sit in the bathroom with her and her litterbox until she used it to calibrate her domain. And this new visitor/family member of ours, this little black and white darling with her tiny white nose and vastly curious eyes, she prowled the bathroom and sniffed at the box while I lay in the bathtub waiting for her to christen her abode with a poo. At one point she jumped into the tub with me (how small she was) and snuggled into my left armpit where she kneed my upper arm with pinprick claws, her purr roaring while I stroked her. And without thought I ended up singing softly the first few lines from Sweetheart, by “Franke and the Knockouts”.

The shelter picture, right before we adapted her.Sweetheart…

Who loved you from the start…

Who treats you like

    The stars …

Do dah do dah dah dah (like I said, I didn’t remember much of it)

But she didn’t mind. She wiggled even closer, her purr even louder, our hearts booming against each other.

So, screw a tiny little kitten BM. In every way, she was home now.

It’s hard to catalog (which is pun in itself) all the Mookie moments of a brilliant flame of existence over a blissful decade. But some highpoints…

When I hosted an operating session on my train layout and amongst the attendants was gruff old guy who hated cats. So trains were running and the room was packed and I stepped out into the living room for a second. And there was that cat-hater on my sofa, Mookie cuddled in his arms, belly up with a smile so catty, with the supposed cat-hater rubbing her belly. I stood there bemused – he looked up, saw that his cover was blown, whereupon moved his hand to her neck and (gently) pretended to strangle her. Gaaaaa! Sure, sure.

Whereupon the next train club election, Mookie got nominated for secretary and actually picked up a couple of votes. “I’m running against a goddamn cat,” the beleaguered incumbent asided to me. “I’d better not lose.”

Then there was the front window which looked out over the corner of our streets where an entire world of dog-walkers, feral felines and chittering squirrels cavorted. It became our beacon of home, to return from dinner or a walk to see her silhouette perched there, ears perking as lustrous eyes caught sight of us. As we came up the walk she’d jump down to attempt to nose through the door, nine parts greeting, one part daring escape.

The overnight counterpart for this was the sill in the bedroom where she’d keep her nocturnal watch through the sleeping hours, tail lashing my face as creatures of interest crackled through the ferns. Some nights something would excite her so much she’d leap from the bed and run through the house like a madcat, dashing to who knew where, only to return all aprickle to further track the mysterious trespassers. And that brings us to the night of the Grande Adventure – perhaps she threw herself at a screen-walking gecko or fluttering moth – I don’t know. But suddenly there came a crash as the screen folded and dropped from its frame, Mookie tumbling out to land in the ferns. I woke up, blinking in the sight of the gaping empty window and ran to the back door. Tossed open the door (and set off the alarm) to find her dancing on the back deck, eyes as wide as moons, her whiskers a starburst of excitement. I scooped her up before she decided the feral life was for her, feeling her little heart clattering against my shoulder as I carried her inside.

Mookie at her cutest.Being a corporate-contrarian, I once brought her up to the 14th floor of my office, releasing her to wander the pods on Take your daughter to work day, daring the forces of compliance to contest the bonds of adoption. She prowled the area, eyes unblinking as she looked down halls that ran away to eternity, charming the Indian ladies (“So soft,” they’d exclaim as they gingerly petted her sleek coat) and even mugging for her admirers inside a box. She truly was my daughter, and I was her daddy.

My mom remembers well the time Mookie showed total feline independence. We brought her out to mom’s condo at the beach. What we didn’t know is that a recent storm had soaked the carpets around the balcony doors. The building managers had put two fans every bit as loud and large as B17 Wright/Cyclone engines to thunder away the moister. It was thought that Mookie would cower beneath the bed in the back room. But no, she strolled between the vibrating casings, sniffing this one and then the other, fully in control, totally nonplussed.

When I got home from work, she’d stand in the crook of my arm, front paws over my shoulder, her spine curving to match the line of my chin, her purr a comforting rumble. She loved to crawl between my side and arm, to sink into that warm place, to work my skin with all four feet, blissfully happy (always the left side as she had that first night, never the right). She would follow me around the house like a little poodle. She’d walk the books behind the sofa, perching atop the highest stack, overwatching her living room. She’d greet guests with genuine warmth, helping cat novices to locate those places that needed scratching and stroking. She loved the computer heat vent. But mind you – she was not a creature of habit: every month or so she’d discover a new sleeping place, a new observation post, a new trick, a new charm. Every day with her was new, every touch a comfort.

But these stories end as they always must. It was her kidneys that failed in her tenth year. If God is reading this, it was way too soon – I should have had another ten years with her. But then there was the drop in appetite, the grim diagnosis and the slide in weight that went on and on over the long weeks we tracked it. In the end we were hydrating her with a bag and needle. Multiple food bowls and water dishes were placed strategically about the house – we didn’t want to miss an opportunity. When she lowered herself dutifully (and without enthusiasm) to eat we’d freeze in silence, not risking a distraction. But her disinterest became total; she didn’t eat for days. I thought of ways to fix it – more hydration, another trip to the vet, but my wife sobered me. “She’s just not happy anymore.”

She wasn’t.

The next morning we took her to our vet, quietly consulted our options and chose the most merciful (and hence soul-wrenching) solution. We watched her bright little soul leave her exhausted body. We drove her remains home.

Over the desperate weeks I’d considered her plot. Outside her favorite front window where she’d vigil for our return, that was the place. Of course there was a bed of wild vines which I tore into with a weeder. The ground I turned, the matted compost revealing soft warm dirt, her eternity bed. I dug down four feet, as far as I could go. Meanwhile JB moved her remains from the box to a towel, her shroud. Into the hole we lowered her, making her comfortable. Her two favorite toys, a little worn cloth ball and a mouse with a bell on its tail, were placed with her like the pharaoh’s treasures. And there she lies, her body at rest, her memories burning my heart. My eyes are wet as I write this.

But she was a cat who lived her life as I live mine: she made the world a better place. My train buddies, my movie watchers, my friends, my coworkers: everyone knew her and liked her. She had no enemies. Even the dogwalkers of our street smiled and tossed waves as she stood on her sill, monitoring the avenue’s events. My heart aches for Mookie as it has for all the cats of my life. She will be forever in my heart.

To Mookie, I leave this link where we can cuddle again and listen to Sweetheart, the song that defined us.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 August 2017 20:38

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