dorchadas: (Do Not Want)
There was a hashtag about gaijin confessions on Friday on twitter. My favorite is probably "Also told someone I wanted to buy a human instead of a carrot once" (Carrot is 人参 ninjin, human is 人間 ningen), but there's a lot of good stuff collected here.

It made me think of my own #gaijinconfessions, so here's a few of them:
  • To this day, my breakfast is miso soup, rice, salmon, and pickles while sitting on the floor at a low table. This despite that most of our students ate "bread and milk" for breakfast, including the kimono shop owner who met his wife through a 仲人 (nakōdo, "marriage broker").
  • I also took the trash out at night, because there's no way I was getting up at 8 a.m. on Saturday just to get the trash out by 8:30.
  • Japanese cheese is garbage and we happily paid $20 a pound for good cheese at the import foods store.
  • The first winter I was there I survived mostly off canned chicken soup from the Foreign Buyer's Club because we hadn't quite gotten used to proper shopping for our 3/4th size fridge yet.
  • We spent a week in Singapore in and I thought everyone was unconscionably rude because I was used to a Japanese level of service.
  • I got used to being able to talk about anything I wanted and would happy tell off-color stories secure that people around me almost certainly couldn't understand me.
  • Even though I'm American, I actually don't own a gun or eat hamburgers every day.
  • My favorite onigiri is the kimchi-ume one I bought while we were in Ōsaka for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd to take the GRE. It was only sold in Ōsaka and the Japanese people we told about it thought we were making it up.
  • I was never sure whether to use Japanese or English with staff in Indian restaurants.
  • I once boarded a bus twice with the same ticket after I forgot my laptop. I disembarked and took the light rail back into Hiroshima, retrieved my laptop from the ramen shop, and got on the next bus on the same line using my same ticket. The attendant looked at me nervously, wondering why a gaijin was going to Innoshima, and I flashed the ticket and walked on. Saved me ¥4000.
dorchadas: (Chicago)
Not at the same time, obviously.

Yesterday, my parents came into town and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went down to meet them at the Shedd Aquarium. They're members and go a few times a year. They're much better about it than we are--while we were members of the Field Museum for the last year, I'm not sure we went once--and often we only end up going when they come in to visit. This time, it was pretty fortunate that we were meeting them. The line was out the door, down the stairs, and stretching out into the park in front of the aquarium when we arrived, but we were able to skip all that and just walk in the member's entrance.

Maybe everyone was trying to forget the election. There was a large protest downtown yesterday which my parents walked by. My father mentioned that he wasn't sure what good it would do, since Trump was a terrible person but he had won the election, so I pointed out that it's more to demonstrate that Trump doesn't have a mandate despite any claims to the contrary. Though I admit, in some ways I share his cynicism. I remember the Iraq War protests and how much effect those had.

We had tickets for the cetacean show at 5 p.m. so we didn't have a lot of time to look around, but we did hit some highlights. The otters for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, the special frog exhibit for me--that's a special exhibit of frogs, not an exhibit of special frogs --and the penguins for my mother:


"I solemnly swear..."

The cetacean show was a lot more focused than I remember it being. I think the last time I saw it was twenty years ago, and then it was much more about simple entertainment. This time there was a conservation message heavily woven through the show, including a rescue dog that the aquarium keeps. There were no dolphins somersaulting through hoops, but I think I appreciated the show more.

After a dinner at Chicago Curry House, where even my spice-averse parents found something they could eat--though since they have the appetites of birds, they were pretty much full after the samosas we ordered as appetizers--we said goodbye since we had to make our performance:



We first went to Symphony of the Goddesses in 2013 and this is the third time we've been. It's slightly different each time--the first time we went was the "Second Quest" arrangement that featured a medley of the music from Ocarina of Time, and the second time we went was the "Master Quest" and had a feature of music from Link's Awakening. This time was more similar to the first concert, though with the addition of some music from Triforce Heroes and A Link Between Worlds, both of which came out since the last time we went to Symphony of the Goddesses. There was also a piece I remembered from Phantom Hourglass, though I say "remembered" in the loosest terms since I can barely remember anything about that game. That didn't stop it from being a great performance!

I think the loudest crowd cheer was when the conductor reached into her coat, pulled out a perfect replica of the Wind Waker baton, and then started conducting the theme from Outset Island.

There was a little girl, maybe four or five, cosplaying Princess Zelda sitting in the seat in front of us. She fell asleep during the intermission and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd exploded from cute overload.  photo wheeeeee_emote_by_seiorai.gif
dorchadas: (Eight Million Gods)
You can tell Japan is a high-trust society with good social cohesion because the elevators hang around forever but close instantly when you press the 閉める button.

I woke up late, so after showers and breakfast again at Lotteria, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and decided to go to Sanjūsangendō again. But apparently everyone else had the same idea, because when we got to the 206 bus there were roughly a hundred people waiting in line to use it. Faced with that, we figured walking would be better, so we set out east. Fortunately, the rain that's been forecast nearly every day of our visit but that never materialized finally arrived, so it was completely overcast during the walk and thus not that hot.

Sanjūsangendō does not allow pictures inside the hall and since it's still an actively-used temple--there are spots for praying and priests inside taking prayer requests--I didn't try to sneak a picture. But I did get this image of the exterior:


With artistic tree in foreground.

Sanjūsangendō is [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's favorite temple in Kyoto, because it's the temple of 観音 (Kannon), and because it feels like an actual temple. Even though it's also a tourist space, it's quiet, it's dimly lit, the whole hall smells of incense and sounds of dimly-ringing bells, and stacked in row on row in front of you as you enter are a thousand and one statues of Kannon, five hundred on each side of a giant seated Kannon almost four meters high.

We walked the circuit of the temple, in front of the statues and then the back hallway where they held the 通し矢 (tōshiya) archery competitions. There's even a wooden beam exhibited that has dozens of arrowshafts sticking out of it, the remnants of ancient contests.

After a brief foray onto the grounds to take some pictures of the garden:


I love this gardening style.

...we went back to the hotel room to get ready for the Tenjin Matsuri in Ōsaka. That took a bit longer than I was expecting because when we got back our room was still being cleaned, but eventually we were all ready. "We" being [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture, and myself, since everyone else had already gone ahead to Ōsaka to visit the castle. We walked to the train station, got on the next Shinkansen bound for Shin-Ōsaka station, and we were off. After a tasty チキン南蛮お弁当 (chikin nanban obentō, "Boxed chicken lunch of the southern barbarians") scarfed down in ten minutes because Kyoto and Ōsaka are really close together, we arrived in Ōsaka.

I've only been to Ōsaka once before because [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd had to take her GRE here, so I went with her for moral support. I remember the Human Rights Museum, that the conbini had kimchi-ume onigiri, and that's about it, so unlike the other cities we've been to I really had no idea where to go. Fortunately, as we were looking at a map, an English-speaking train station attendant came over and asked where we wanted to go, and we got on the train with a helpfully labeled map of our destination.

I then promptly ignored it, because we had a bit of time before the parade and I wanted to go to check out 四天王寺 (shitennōji, "Temple of the Four Heavenly Kings") first, after reading that it was one of the oldest temples in Japan (built 593) and the first known temple to be built officially by the state. So we walked there, against the flood of schoolgirls leaving school that had just let out, and arrived in mid-afternoon.

Here's the gate to the inner temple:


Fūjin and Raijin, guardians of wind and storm.

I did not actually go into the inner temple, because they charged admission and also because it was heavily under construction. I thought there was some kind of ceremony taking place with pounding drums until I looked into the inner compound and saw the heavy machinery.

There were a lot of smaller buildings scattered around the grounds, and I would have liked to spend more time looking around except we were on a schedule and also construction, so we left after a bit and walked to the subway, where we hopped on and came up near 大坂天満宮 (Ōsaka Tenmangu) into giant crowds of people in yukata, festival booths, a guy handing out fans, and, of course, the parade:


This is right after they put the mikoshi down and then picked it up again.

We watched the parade long enough for a couple mikoshi and one extremely-upset horse to pass by, and then the other group told us that they had found a place by the river to watch the later boat procession, so we left and worked our way through the crowd, across the parade route, over the bridge across the water, and over to the stone steps where the others were sitting. Then the boats came out on the water.


One of about thirty boats.

The boats were mostly dragged by tugboats, but a few of them, like the foreground of that picture, were muscle-powered, prompting feats of oarsmanship and [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat to say:
"I've never seen a boat do doughnuts before."
We watched the boats for about an hour and a half while the boat with the shamisen player, the boat with the bunraku performers, the boat with the dancers, and the various boats with oars doing doughnuts passed by. We were waiting for the fireworks to start, and they did start...further up the river and low enough that they were behind some buildings and we basically couldn't see anything at all other than some flashes on the clouds. After ten minutes of fruitlessly hoping they would move closer, we decided to give up and head home.

[livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat and [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega split off while the rest of us wandered around looking for takoyaki. We eventually found some, as well as kara-age, pineapple on a stick, and chocolate-covered pineapple on a stick, and fortified with those we took the subway to Ōsaka Station, the train to Shin-Ōsaka station, and the Shinkansen to Kyoto. Hurray for the JR Pass.

Once we got back, we headed back to the hotel so [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture could change out of their yukatas, and then there was only one thing left to do:


I don't know why they have Nightwish, but I won't complain that they do.

One hour turned into two, then into three, as is the way with karaoke. Finally, we ended with the traditional "Bohemian Rhapsody," all said our good nights, and went back to our separate places of rest.

Steps taken: 19430

Kyoto: Sunday

2016-Jul-25, Monday 00:33
dorchadas: (Eight Million Gods)
It's not just that our hotel is owned by a right-wing revisionist who thinks that comfort women were voluntary workers employed to help quell the desires of the barbarian Koreans, although he totally does and I read it in the propaganda in our hotel room desk. It's that the shower is terrible. And that's not just because its two settings are "off" and "sandblaster," although they are, or that the ceiling is too low, although it is. It's that there's piping or something in the shower area ceiling that drops half of it about 10 cm lower than the rest so what head space I have, I can't really use.

Somehow, I managed to shower and wash my hair and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went to the train station to find some breakfast, since among its many sins, our hotel also doesn't have breakfast of any kind. After a while wandering around trying to find a place that didn't have a bunch of ham or bacon, the hip modern breakfast foods of Japan, we settled on Lotteria Burger, a fast food joint I willingly admit I only really like because it's Japanese. I got the 絶品チーズバーガーワイド ("Perfect cheeseburger wide"), which didn't quite live up to its name but was worth the ¥600 I paid for it.

Then we took the subway, came up at Kyoto City Hall and, well...


The tree is what really got me.

When we came on the lion dance last night, I went online to figure out what was going on. It turns out that I had read the banners at the entrance of Yasaka-Jinja correctly. The entire month of July is the Gion Matsuri, and while a major portion of the festival is the parade that takes place on the 17th, dating back to 869, there's another parade on the 24th that's a few centuries old. This is that parade. It's ten floats that aren't used in the main parade and a few smaller groups walking by, and what floats they are.


Japanese Vikings.

Some floats--actually 神輿 (mikoshi, "portable shrines")--were wheeled, but several we saw were carried by dozens of men (everyone actually marching in the parade was a man), and when they reached the intersection, they would spin the float around a few times before continuing on in the new directions. If it was one of the gigantic floats like the ones I have pictured above, the people riding it would coordinate the movements of the people pulling the ropes to turn it without it tipping over, and all the while musicians played flutes and cymbals and drums. It was amazing.

After the last float passed us by, we went back down into the shipping arcade connected to the station to get a chocolate-covered croissant that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd had seen on the way in and some medicine for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's stomach. That accomplished, we walked south a bit to the private train line that led down to Fushimi-Inari Shrine, though not before taking a quick detour along the Kamogawa.


Ducks on Duck River.

You probably know about Fushimi-Inari even if you've never heard the name. If you've ever seen those pictures of rows and rows of shrine gates going up the mountain, spaced so closely that they're almost like walking into a tunnel, well, that's Fushimi-Inari.

We got there before [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek, who was planning on joining us, so we ducked into Kanoko Cafe across the tracks and bought an overpriced matcha float and waffle for the right to sit in the air conditioning while we waited. Unfortunately, [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek accidentally got on an express train and was carried off into parts unknown, so after an assurance from him not to wait, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd paid and started our walk down the streets leading to the shrine.

The street up was a bit like ninenzaka outside of Kiyomizu-dera crossed with a festival, with a lot of tiny shops selling traditional tourist kitsch plus festival foods. Then we passed through a giant orange torī and saw red lanterns everywhere, a stone staircase, and beyond that, the rows of torī leading up Mount Inari.


So cute!

At the bottom things were pretty bustling and crowded, but as we walked further and further up the mountain, the crowds thinned out a bit, and where they didn't thin out, they got quiet. People would occasionally stop and take pictures, or say something to their friends, but mostly it was just climbing a mountain to the sound of crows and cicadas, surrounded by the orange of the torī and an endless green beyond.

About a third of the way up, we came to a mountain lake:


Serene.

There was a map here of the entire mountain, showing all the gates, the smaller shrines, and how much we had left to go, which was quite a lot. If we had more time, and if [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd hadn't been feeling kind of sick, we might have tried to hike all the way to the stop of the mountain. But she is feeling sick, and anyway, we already hiked one mountain this trip. There's no need to do another one.

We also saw a guy wearing a t-shirt that said:
"My soul has been corrected. I have what I need."
...which I would love to get for myself if I knew where he found it. But more directly relevant, there were a ton of tiny shrines scattered about the mountain:


Shrines all around

On the way down we bought a small kitsunemikuji, a good-luck fox, and some amazake from a shop that was almost certainly also someone's home--小森由夫, the nameplate said, "Komori Yoshio"--right on the edge of where Kyoto ends and the mountain begins. They served it cold for ¥50 more, which we gladly paid, and then when they brought it out, it came with a tiny spoon and crushed ginger to mix in before drinking. After climbing up a third of a mountain, it was exactly what we needed.


I haven't had this in years. Delicious.

You can buy amazake starter kits for the rice online, and now that I'm reminded how good it is, we're absolutely going to try that.

At the base of the mountain we met [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek, who had gone halfway to Ōsaka and come all the way back, but had an injured knee and didn't want to climb too much of Mount Inari. We hopped on the JR train coming back from Nara, taking advantage again of our JR passes, and went back to Kyoto Station for lunch, where [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture, who had stayed behind to do laundry, met us for lunch at Katsukura, which I didn't realize was so amazing when we went there, but which was definitely worth the ¥2980 I paid for the beef filet katsu set meal.

Lunch done, we tried to walk over to Sanjūsangendō, but because we had gotten started so late after a late lunch, by the time we got there, it was 4:45 p.m. and the gates had been closed to visitors for 45 minutes, so we split off--three of us heading back to the train station and one heading back to his Air BnB. After a stop at 7/11 to get cash, and another stop at a currency exchange, we went back to the hotel so [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd could rest a bit before her birthday dinner and I could hand-wash some laundry.

Around 7 p.m., we met up at Kyoto Station to take the bus to Gion and Maharajah, and after a brief adventure where we accidentally took the bus going the wrong way and had to switch to the other bus, we did make it and not too late. We ate delicious Indian food, talked about music, the economic plight of snake peoplesnake people, movies, and politics, and came up after dinner to find the final part of the Gion Matsuri parade--returning the mikoshi to Yasaka-Jinja.


Lots of chanting not evident in this photograph.

We stayed and watched it long enough for it to pass by--[livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega even got a hachimaki from one of the marchers--then we went to go find a karaoke place that was open. Right as we did, the one friend who hadn't been able to make it to dinner said she was available and asked what we were doing, so we left the place we were about to check in and headed back toward the station. One person peeled off there because he was staying closer to Yasaka-Jinja, and that caused a bit of a chain reaction, coupled with [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's stomach hurting. Eventually we decided to try again tomorrow, after the Tenjin Matsuri, and headed off for our respective beds.

Steps taken: 20296

Kyoto: Saturday

2016-Jul-23, Saturday 23:51
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
Finally we had a day where we didn't really have a plan or a schedule that required we be somewhere on time, so we lounged around in the morning, had a leisurely breakfast at the Toyoko Inn--better than Sakura Hotel, not as good as Hotel Active--and then left right at checkout time to head to the train station. Due to the heat and various injuries sustained while walking, we went east along Heiwa-Ōdōri to the nearest streetcar stop and took the streetcar to the station, then jumped on the next Shinkansen heading for Kyoto, which left in ten minutes.

The train was pretty low-key, because between Hiroshima it's mostly tunnels with no internet connection and everyone was trying to get Pokemon Go to work during the trip. We did have to change trains in Himeji, after which we had assigned seats, but it arrived right after our old train did and we arrived in Kyoto around 1 p.m.


And suddenly, shrine. Like you do.

We split at the station, since [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat and [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega were staying in an Air BnB and didn't have a check-in time until 3 p.m. We didn't either, but we were staying in a hotel, so we walked around Kyoto Station and found the wrong hotel in the same chain--there's two of them about two blocks from each other--and then dropped off our luggage and went back to the train station, since almost every major train station in Japan is a giant retail and eating hub as well as a place where trains run. If everyone is going to be there already, might as well take advantage of it, right?

After lunch at a noodle place called めん、いるんな ("Noodles, various kinds") in the Porta Dining center, we wandered around a bit try into find more water for [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture, who was feeling very dehydrated, but by the time we actually found a place selling some that didn't have too long of a line, it was time to check in and she figured that she'd get water in the hotel. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I bought some yatsuhashi, a local delicacy, as gagaku played from the speakers in the train station, and we all went back to the hotel, picked up our bags, and checked in. Though not before stopping to take a picture of this guy:


Cute mascots are mandatory.

In the hotel, one person discovered that the desk was filled with right-wing propaganda, and apparently the leader of the APA Group is a uyoku dantai. If I had known that, I would never have booked a room here, but we've already paid, so...

After we'd had a bit to settle in and the one person who had taken a detour to Okayama had time to arrive, we went back to Kyoto Station and took the express bus to Shijo-Kawaramachi and the Takashimaya department store, wherein was the pilgrimage central of nerddom, especially lately:


Gotta catch them all.

This was [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega's idea, but I'm really glad we went with it. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I wandered around and found a pikachu dressed as a maiko and another pikachu in summer festival clothes, so we bought a pair of them to display in our apartment since you can literally only get them in Kyoto, and then got a fan, a frisbee kind of thing, extra bags, and several fliers for buying the pair of pikachus and spending over ¥5000 total on them. We thought about buying a few other things, including a pair of pikachu tea cups, but decided against it since we'd just end up displaying them and we already had two plushies to do that with.

After we had all gotten our fill of Pokemon, we went up to the restaurant floor of Takashimaya to look for restaurants, but everything up there was a bit expensive and not super appetizing, so I looked to Google and found a kaitenzushi restaurant called Chojiri, which someone else in line waiting with us mentioned was a good choice since it's apparently considered amazing. And it was really good--I loaded down with a ton of salmon and the seasonal specialty, fried founder. Once we had all stuffed ourselves for about ¥2100 a person, we left and headed east toward Gion across the Kamogawa.


A good place for a sunset stroll. Just ask [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd.

Where Kawaramachi is full of glitz and glow, Gion is much more down-to-earth. Fewer designer goods, more traditional clothing and cobblestone streets lit by paper lanterns. We did a bit of walking, passing Maharajah, where we've eaten every time we've been in Kyoto so far and plan to do so again, and then [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega decided to head back to her Air BnB to prevent her ankle from getting too strained. [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat joined her, but the rest of us kept going into Yasaka-Jinja at the end of the street. Following the sound of the flute, we came on a performance:


Lion dance!

All those signs advertising the Gion Matsuri that I had seen but not really registered actually meant something. We came in about halfway through and watched the rest of it until the finale, after which the performers took off their costumes to stop sweating so much, the crowd dispersed, and the action ended. We looked a bit around the park, and seeing nothing else there, decided to go home, though not until after a quick look down a scenic cobblestone alleyway, made somewhat less scenic by the constant taxis driving down the road to pick people up from restaurants.

One of us was staying near Gion and split off, but one other person, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, and I took the subway back, including one transfer and a bit of confusion. But we made it back to the hotel, and after long showers, it was time for bed.

Also, we spent a ton of time playing Pokemon Go. We caught a カモネギ, which is apparently only available in Asia. Lucky!

Steps taken: 14603

Chiyoda!: Friday

2016-Jul-22, Friday 23:29
dorchadas: (Chiyoda)
One benefit of staying in a ryokan is that you get both dinner and breakfast, so after sleeping in almost until the last minute, I was awakened by [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd with exactly enough time to make it to breakfast after a quick shower. And such a breakfast:


Get in my mouth.

We had to eat a bit quickly in order to make the ferry, and originally I thought we were going to miss the shuttle from the ryokan to the port and would have to walk. What was I thinking? This is Glorious Nippon, after all. They held the bus for us, loaded our luggage into it while we paid for the room, and then drove us down in time to catch the 8:25 ferry and the street car that was just leaving after that.

We didn't try to make the 9:40 bus after arriving at 9:35, so we popped into a 7-11 to withdraw cash and get snacks--I got a melon pan, om nom nom--and then up to the bus center, where we bought tickets and asked for the proper platform to board the bus. I thought it was eight, but I was misremembering. It was nine, like it's always been.

Also, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd accidentally bought us children's tickets instead of adult tickets and we were worried for a moment, but we were being silly. This is Japan, and the ticket counter exchanged them for free. They were actually the same price, so I'm not sure why the 北部 line even offers separate tickets.

On the bus, we learned that Pokemon Go had finally gone live in Japan, causing a frantic burst of activity as [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega captured every unclaimed gym in sight.

And then, we arrived in Chiyoda.


From the highway. That building with wings is the community center.

Kaminaka-san, Hattori-san, and Sunada-san were all waiting to meet us at the bus center, and after a round of hugs (hugs! In Japan!) we started on our short tour. First we went to the Geihoku Cultural Center, new since we lived here, that had exhibits about local folk crafts like weaving and rice growing, about kagura performance, and about the festival of Mibu no Hanadaue. Then we went to Mibu itself, walking down the shōtengai where the festival takes place and ending at Mibu Jinja, where we went for hatsumōde our last year in Japan.


Not as impressive now, without the snow and lanterns and crowds of people. I wish I had a picture of that night...

After that, we drove up to a viewpoint on top of a hill, and after a short walking path, we found our way to 壬生城跡 (Mibu shiroato, "the ruins of Mibu Castle"). I didn't see anything that looked remotely like a castle had ever been there, but there was a spectacular view:


Facing toward Ōsaka.

After that, we went to look at our old house, still pretty nice looking and still sitting next to the abandoned twin house next to it, and and then off to Chiyoda High School! Unfortunately, due to the Japanese policy of transferring teachers after only a few years, very few of the people that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd taught with were still there. There were a couple, though. Umeki-sensei, who teaches math, and Nishihara-sensei, who teaches science, and the school nurse were all there. We also ran into Koyama-san, mother of Kazu, who I wrote about in this post and who is now a high school student. We didn't talk for very long because Kaminaka-san had set us a schedule, but we looked around for a bit in the school and then continued on to the Yae-sogo Communtiy Center for lunch, where we were met by Nakamura-san, the other Hattori-san, and Bōno-san.

Lunch was amazing. They had remembered I liked sake a lot and brought two small bottles for me, one of local sake from Chiyoda and one from Saijō, where the sake festival is held every year in late August. We had conbini bentō and okonomiyaki, as well as dessert jello from somewhere. I got a grape and aloe jelly that tasted exactly like the drinks I used to get from vending machines. We chatted, and I did a lot of translating to and from Japanese, and there were only a couple times where I just brought the conversation to a halt because I couldn't think of how to express an idea. It was amazing. Why did we leave?

Oh yes. So [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd could go to school and fulfill her dreams. It's a good reason! And yet, when I'm here, walking around Chiyoda, speaking in Japanese in a way that I was very uncomfortable doing when I lived here the first time...

If I had moved here before knowing as much Japanese as I know now, I'd be conversationally fluent. But, well, there's nothing to do about that now. I just have to keep trying and keep studying.


また今度, I said as we left. "Until next time..."

And we will be back, someday. Sooner than five years.

After a three-hour meal, we had to catch the bus back to Hiroshima, so we took the taxi Kaminaka-San had chartered and packed away the hand-made pottery pieces he had made for each member of our group, including [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek, who wasn't there due to having not been in Hiroshima with us, and we got on the highway bus and started the trip back. After the trip, we walked to our hotel--not Hotel Active, sadly, because there was a weekend price spike that made it not worth staying in--but in Toyoko Inn on Heiwa-Ōdōri, which was further but not significantly so. We were scheduled to meet some old friends from our Japan days, who happened to all be here at the same time in a weird serendipity, and after we checked in that's what we set out to do, though [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega and [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat stayed behind because they were still incredibly full from lunch.

The tabe・nomihōdai was at Sōgo, not Mitsukoshi like we originally expected it would be, so it took a bit longer to get there than we thought it would. Not too long, though, and once we made our way through Sōgo to the special beer garden elevator and went up, we had a couple hours of drinks and food with friends. The food wasn't that great, but I got some nice use out of the bottle of sake that it didn't seem like anyone else was drinking from, and a lovely time talking to people I hadn't seen in years. And some Japanese practice with an acquaintance, though I think because of the beer, she forgot that I'm not that great and just launched into full native speed and I followed along as best as I could.

At ten they threw everyone out. Some people were going on to a bar called Koba and originally I was planning on joining them, but on the walk there I started getting more and more twitchy in a way that told me that it was time to go back to the hotel. So I said my goodbyes, walked back to the hotel with a friend, and read until [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd came back and then went to bed.

Steps taken: 14050.

Note: If you're interested in more about Chiyoda, I did a whole blog series about it here.

Hiroshima: Wednesday

2016-Jul-20, Wednesday 23:50
dorchadas: (Genbaku Park)
We woke up at 7:10 today, and so hopefully this is the last time I have to make note of our wake up time. Maybe it's because we're in Hiroshima, and like I said, it feels like home. Maybe it's the drinks we had before we went to bed calming us down enough that we were able to sleep through. Maybe it's just that all that walking and travel tired us out--I know that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd basically fell asleep the instant her head hit the pillow, before I had gotten more than a few words into the last writing session on yesterday's blog post.

Or maybe it's because Hotel Active has the most effective blackout curtains I've ever seen. Seriously, it's like being in an oubliette.

Sakura Hotel was a good price, especially for Tokyo lodgings, and double especially after we got that discount. ¥9300 a night. And ¥350 for all-you-can-eat coffee, tea, toast, and soup is nice too. But, Hotel Active cost us ¥8900 a night, breakfast is also all you can eat, it's included in the price, and it's a buffet that looks like this:


Rice and miso soup in the background.

This is actually my second plate of food. They have a full buffet with Western and Japanese breakfast, so I absolutely loaded myself to take advantage of it. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I still hadn't showered, so we went back to do that and everyone lounged around for an hour or so until we were all ready to face the day.

We headed out toward the Peace Park, walking down the covered Hondōri for all of its length and watching the shops start to prepare to open. When we got to the Peace Park, the sun was shining brightly and it was incredibly hot and humid, with absolutely no sign of the storms that were supposed to show up later. Just another Japanese summer.

I don't really like visiting the Peace Memorial Museum. It's not the sort of thing that one likes. I keep going because it's important, and because the museum does a great job of focusing on the horrors of the bombing while not falling to the Japanese tendency to cast themselves as the victims who always suffer at others' hands. The displays admit that Japan invaded Manchuria, for example, which is more than some of their history books do. But of course, there were innocent victims:


Shinichi Tetsutani. Born 1942, died August 6th, 1945.

We went through the museum in silence, and when we were done and people had bought souvenirs, mostly made of recycled paper from the cranes sent in from around the world, we headed out to lunch. Our original choice had a line waiting in the sun, so we walked back down Hondōri to Okonomimura, a multi-story bundling stuffed full of okonomiyaki restaurants. It's not somewhere we often went when we lived here, but that's because our neighborhood had an okonomiyaki restaurant run out of someone's house, so we wanted different food when we came into the city. Here, though, I figured that there'd be at least one restaurant in there that didn't have a line, and I was right. We went to Chichan and stuffed ourselves with okonomiyaki (I got negiyaki, which leaves out the noodles), and then split apart.

One friend went off to Hiroshima-jō to look at the grounds and castle, and [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega went back to the hotel. [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture, [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat, and I wanted dessert, so we walked over to the Polar Bear Cafe for gelato. ¥380 for a double, murasaki imo and rum raisin. [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat ordered a double after we did but before the workers put any ice cream on ours, so she got a giant stack of matcha and mango. We all ate our gelato together, I surprised a pair of obāchans with how huge I am, and then we went our separate ways.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I headed back out to Hondōri, now looking more like I remember:


That covering is really nice right about now.

...and did some shopping. Now that I overhauled my personal style and would actually wear some of the clothes here, I figured that I should look and see if I found anything I liked. And I did. A black button-down shirt with wine-red cuffs but a black collar, so I don't look like a total asshole, and an incredibly pretentious shirt with white birds and vines and swirls of mist that says: "We are born, so to speak, twice. Once into existence, and once into life." It's perfect for me.

We went up and down Hondōri, into Parco and Sunmall, up to the new Andersen's location and down to Bookoff, where I got another Neko Atsume souvenir and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd got a Sailor Moon brooch charm. This was a three hours of shopping, and by this point it was 5:30 and we needed to use the laundry machines at Hotel Active, so as it started to rain, we walked back to the hotel.

Unfortunately, all the laundry machines were full, so we took showers to wash the Japanese humidity off while we waited. Eventually [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd went down to physically wait at the machines while I headed over to the cultural center to check and see if the kagura performance we had gotten a flier for was still on, since it said that it might be canceled due to storms and there was a thunderstorm outside. When I got there, though, the rain had basically died, there were red banners placed all outside the building, and:


The archers confront the demon.

Kagura is one of [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's and my favorite memories of Hiroshima. It's an old art form that's not super common in the rest of the country anymore, though it used to be a thousand years ago when kagura was a ritual form used at shrines--it literally means "god music." Nowadays it's mostly for entertainment (though it still occurs in its original capacity in the Imperial household), and in Hiroshima especially there are kagura performances at most major festivals.

In another bit of serendipity, the specific show they performed tonight was Akkoden, which along with its sequel Sesshoseki was performed almost every time there was an event with kagura in Chiyoda. To happen to be here on a Wednesday, the night of the kagura performances, and then to have the specific performance be this one...

Also, at the end, they invited people up to the stage to take picture with the actors and, well:


Roar.

One other person came with us, and after the performance let out and we had gone out to dinner at an Indian restaurant, we took stock of the situation. It turned out most people wanted to stay in for the night, so our friend went back to the hotel and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went to check out a bar we knew. Unfortunately, it had closed in the meantime and been replaced by one with a ¥500 table charge, so we headed back up Nakimi-dōri toward the hotel and stopped in at a sake bar called いいお酒 一彩 (ii osake issai).

That turned out to be a great idea. It was small, seating maybe a dozen people, with smooth jazz playing on a low volume, and other than us there was no one in there but a single salaryman in the corner. The bartender asked us if we knew Japanese, and then handed us a menu and asked if we wanted oolong tea or beer as our free drink. We both picked tea and looked at the menu before asking the bartender for his recommendation--I couldn't read most of it, and even what I could read didn't mean anything to me because while I like sake a lot, I don't know that much about it.

He gave us a very dry sake that wasn't super strong, at least in taste. It got a bit much toward the end of the glass, but it was delightful before then, and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I drank our sake, ate our complementary fried tofu, listened to the music, and chatted. When our glass was done, we went back to the hotel, waited for our laundry to finish--it took close to five hours for a single load; good thing it was free--and then went to bed.

Steps taken: 21042

Tokyo: Monday

2016-Jul-19, Tuesday 06:59
dorchadas: (Green Sky)
Woke up early but at least this time I managed to sleep through the whole night. After leisurely getting ready and heading down to the attached cafe to eat--[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I had the sakura pancakes, which had a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top and a bit of cherry blossom flavor in it--some of us went back to the hotel to finish getting ready while [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture, and I went to Ikebukuro Station to do a bit of shopping. Except we forgot that this is Tokyo and there's a reason that when Gibson wrote about Tokyo in Neuromancer, he called the part of it where the story took place "Night City"--almost nothing is open before 10 a.m., and even the bakeries don't open until 7:30 or so. We went to Andersen and got a bit of bread and sat around until the rest of the stores opened, and then went to look. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd found a shirt at a store called Ozz On, bought it, and around then everyone else showed up and we got on the train for Ueno.

Multiple people had suggested a lower-activity day after all the walking there was yesterday, so we went to the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Kōen. It's a Japan-focused art museum, though there was a Greek art exhibit that was hilariously advertised as "Land of the Immortals." There was a statue gallery that banned photography, but most of the rest of the museum was fine with pictures:


Look at this detailing!

The museum was roughly ten times as big as the part we saw, but after statues, clay works, Jōmon and Yayoi crafts, and Ainu and Ryūkyū art, it was after noon and everyone was getting really hungry and the sun had come out so we didn't want to do that much walking or eating at the food carts in the museum courtyard. We waited around for a bit while [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat looked at the general Asian art building, and then we headed over to a building in the south of the park and split up between a Japanese restaurant on the middle floor and a Chinese restaurant on the bottom. I went for Japanese food, and after a steak bentō I had to get dessert because it looked like this:


I'm tempted to make a stupid panda joke, but it's not bread.

After the museum we split up. [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat and a couple of the others headed off to Tokyo Tower to try and see the city from the top while [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, and I headed back to the hotel, though we stopped on the way back to Ozz On to get a skirt that matched [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's new top. They ended up going out again before dinner, to a bunny cafe called Usabibi and met Bibi, Mikan, and Purin the rabbits. I tried to read for a bit, but pretty soon I got extremely tired and ended up napping for a bit, and again after [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd came back. At 6 p.m., I asked for three more minutes of sleep, and after that the two of us and [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek headed out to meet one of [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's old friends, who neither of us had seen since we got married.

We met up in Shinjuku outside a sukiyaki restaurant, and after [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd glomped her friend, we took the elevator up. Unfortunately, without a reservation the earliest they could fit us in was 8:30, so we left and went up to the top floor and another restaurant called Nanairo Temariuta, which had giant wicker balls built around tables in the center of the main dining space, all of which were occupied (手毬 is a traditional handball game). Instead they stuck us in the back room with the other group of gaijin, but that's the only (minor) complaint I had. It was great food otherwise, through the pictures were a little deceiving and we ordered way more food than we had the stomachs to eat. Two pots of nabe was probably one two many, though in our defense, the waitress did say each one feeds two people. Two sumo wrestlers, maybe.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's friend had to run to catch a show at the robot restaurant, but we didn't leave Shinjuku quite yet. We wanted check out the Square Enix cafe first, so after briefly checking out the lights of Shinjuku:


Night City.

...we followed google maps and two streets over, the crowds and lights pretty much vanished. We walked through darkened streets, deserted by almost everyone but a few people going about their business, and in maybe ten minutes of walking we arrived at the weird dome of Artnia, the Square-Enix cafe.

Well, sort of cafe, sort of bar, sort of gift shop. When we got there it was almost closing time and they didn't seem to have a menu out at all, so we looked at the gifts. Most of it was Dragon Quest oriented in honor of DQ's thirtieth anniversary, but there was a room in the back done up for Final Fantasy:



Not visible here is the way that the water appeared to be moving up into the ceiling.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd bought a keychain because she felt bad looking without buying anything, and then we made our way back to the train station and headed back to Ikebukuro. A quick poll of our friends determined that nearly everyone was ready for bed, except for one unfortunate who had taken a five-hour nap, so we went back to the room and went to sleep. I didn't even get halfway through writing this before I fell asleep, and so I post it now.

Steps taken: 15565
dorchadas: (Do Not Want)
(Bullet = dodged)

Background: Aya-sensei and I are reading 世界の中心で愛を叫ぶ and got to a part where Sakutarō is being an idiot. He's angry at Aki because the other boys in his class are bullying him for spending time with her, so he writes in to a Christmas Eve radio show with a song request, talking about how they were going to play Romeo and Juliet in the Culture Festival (true) but she got sick with leukemia (false) and is probably listening from her hospital bed (false). Aki confronts him the next day, and says that she doesn't mind if he talks about her, but there are people out there who are really suffering and she hates it when people are mean to them.

This led to a discussion about how Aki is the ideal stereotype of Japanese womanhood (大和撫子 in Japanese): soft-spoken, self-effacing, beautiful, courteous, caring, with long black hair. Aya-sensei mentioned the pressure that Japanese women are under to conform to this ideal and how she--being raised in America--feels like a lumbering barbarian (not her exact words) when she's around other Japanese women.

Then she asked me if I liked that kind of personality.


I managed to deflect a bit by talking about [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, who has a lot of those traits. She's softer-spoken (except when advocating for students under her care), loves cooking for people, likes cute things, tends to think of others, dresses more feminine, and probably most importantly for the purposes of the question, Aya-sensei has met her. So we talked a bit about [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, and then the conversation moved on.

But I realize that that's actually kind of a reasonable accomplishment--I extracted myself from a conversational land mine in another language. I mean, it wasn't really a trap, but it was structured as one, and I avoided it. Points to me!
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
I wrote a few months back about whether I actually hate LARPing, and since then I've signed up for [livejournal.com profile] drydem's Scion LARP starting in April. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I are playing scions of Izanami and Izanagi, respectively, since we've lived in Japan, know some Japanese, and otherwise are at least moderate qualified to do so. I was a bit reticent about this, because there's barely any information about either of those two. The 古事記 (Kojiki, "The Account of Ancient Events") has the story of them stirring the waters with a spear and the drops forming the islands of Japan, of Izanami dying in childbirth and Izanagi descending into Yomi after her, which goes as well as people doing into the underworld after their loves always goes in mythology. And that's about it, really. But I figured I could always do some more general research.

In pursuit of that aim, I'm reading Shintō and the State 1868-1988, which [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd checked out from the library and I asked to read when she was done. It's currently describing how Shintō in its modern form was basically invented whole-cloth during the Meiji Restoration out of various local cults and influential shrine practices for the political aim of unifying the nation. They repeatedly described it as not being a religion, because that way they could eat their freedom of religion cake while still having their compulsory state rituals.

Which gets to one of the problems I have with Scion. Most of them come down to "the rules are a dumpster fire," but that's not a problem in a LARP. However, Scion's depiction of the Shintō "pantheon" annoyed me because it has basically nothing to do with reality.

I mean, the Greek pantheon (it says "Greco-Roman," but Ares is a crazy berserker, so there's nothing Roman about it) is called the Dodekatheon, but if you asked a Hellene about it, they'd ask you "Which twelve?" At least there, though, there was an ancient concept that there were twelve Olympians even if there was disagreement on which gods counted among those twelve. There's nothing like that for Shintō. The most important deity for most ancient Japanese was the local diety of the fields or forests, or the tutelary deity of their family if they were nobility. Amaterasu was originally a tutelary deity of the Imperial family and was barely worshipped--and probably barely even known about--outside of that small circle.

As an example, the most important deity to the people of Chiyoda, to the extent that any deity is important to them--something like 75% of Japanese people describe themselves as 無宗教 (mushūkyō, "without religion), though that doesn't stop them from praying at shrines and participating in rituals and often just means they aren't part of a formal religious organization--is Sanbai-san, the local rice god who comes down from the mountain he lives on once a year to bless the rice planting.

Sure, it's a game that needs playable splats of roughly equivalent power level. As fun as it might be to play a scion of Sanbai-san, I wouldn't be on the same power level as a scion of Hera or Manannán. And other pantheons have the same issue, but I know more about Shintō so it bothers me more.

Then again, extending modern practice as though it were a glorious unbroken tradition into the past is a political tactic that itself is a glorious unbroken tradition, so White Wolf is just upholding that with Scion.

(And don't get me started on how the game has an Atlantean pantheon but doesn't cover the beliefs of over half the world's population in any way. Not even some kind of Canaanite pantheon.)

Oregon Vacation

2015-Jul-19, Sunday 14:58
dorchadas: (In America)
I tend to write pretty detailed posts about my vacations because even though they're mostly only of interest to me, I like to have a record for when I go back and reread old posts. But this time I was gone for two weeks and, taking into account how verbose my blog posts tend to be, a detailed account of everything I did would run for 10,000 words and be exhausting to write, so I'm going to do what I did when we first moved to Japan and didn't have any internet and write a series of smaller segments and put them all in one post.
Read more... )
dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
We hit another milestone this week, with the end of the chicken curries and the beginning of the seafood ones. And with that, we also begin the substitutions, because as I'm sure the title of this post informed you this curry is supposed to be made using shrimp. For a variety of reasons, I don't eat shrimp, but [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd looked around and we decided to substitute squid for this recipe. That was a bit of a last-minute substitution--we were originally going to use fish, but the grocery store we went to didn't have the fish we were going to use, so we went to plan B. It worked out the way fictional Plans B (I assume it's like "attorneys general") seem to, which is to say that it turned out probably better than the Plan B would have. Squid is pretty good.
Read more... )
dorchadas: (That is not dead...)
I was tempted not to even write a post about this since so much of it is reminiscing and catching up with friends, but I do go back and read my old posts occasionally. It'll have value for me even if it's boring for everyone else.

Friday
Nothing much exciting happened on Friday. We went to the airport after work, waited for our plane, got on ten minutes late, sat on the runway for half an hour, then took off. About the only memorable thing was the pilot subjecting us to a credit card advertisement halfway through the flight. Is that a thing now, or did we encounter a special case? I really hope it's not a trend that I somehow managed to miss before now...

We landed only fifteen minutes late, ran and got our bag, made it to the train with five minutes to spare, and headed out to our hotel, where we promptly went to sleep.

Saturday
After waking up early (accounting for time change), we lounged around for a couple hours and ate some Kind bars after discovering that the hotel wanted $13 for an omelette, plus $5 if you wanted any meat on it. We didn't eat much, though, because just after eleven we headed out to meet up with [livejournal.com profile] spacialk, her husband [twitter.com profile] Damionw, and another couple at Reading Terminal Market for lunch.

I'd been to Reading Terminal Market once before, when I was in university, I was honestly really provincial and almost never got off campus. Now that it was within ten minutes' walk of our hotel, I thought it was a great time to go back and take [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd along! I forgot how incredibly crowded it gets at any time close to when most people have meals, though, and while we managed to get seats and make our way through the crush, it was pretty claustrophobic. After [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I picked up Indian food, we ate it and chatted for about half an hour before we moved to the basement of the Bellevue, where there was a food court that was essentially empty. We stayed there until it was time for [livejournal.com profile] spacialk's nail appointment, then we all parted ways.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and went out and kept walking on to South Street, a part of Philadelphia filled with a lot of quirky and fun shops. Most of the ones that I remember going to in university were still there--shops like Mineralistic, Armed and Dangerous, Garland of Letters, and Hats in the Belfry. Even Digital Ferret CDs, where I bought most of the music that shaped my college music tastes, is still around, though I only know that after checking the internet because they moved and changed their name. We popped into most of those, checked out the Wooden Shoe (an anarchist bookstore), Atomic City Comics (which had an X-Men arcade cabinet in it! But we didn't have any quarters...) and a thrift shop before it was time to walk over to [twitter.com profile] tweetjoshtweet's apartment.

It was a big longer than I thought--Philadelphia blocks are shorter than Chicago ones, but 15 blocks is still a hike--but we made it with enough time before dinner that we had plenty time to chat. We sat down, ate some veggies and spicy dip, and played a game called We Didn't Playtest This at All. Each game took about 2-3 minutes before someone (or no one, in one case) won, and [twitter.com profile] tweetjoshtweet told us that his board gaming friends will often use it to decide who goes first in the real games (so to speak) that they're playing. After a couple hours, we had to make it to our dinner appointment, so we said goodbye and set out for the subway.

After buying tokens--SEPTA still uses them to my bemusement and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's astonishment--we got on the Blue .line and headed out to West Philadelphia to meet up with [livejournal.com profile] daveax for dinner. [livejournal.com profile] gurami and [livejournal.com profile] greyselke couldn't make it, but [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I got a tour of his old Philadelphia row house, a century old and in great condition, filled with books and pretty much the model of what I want my house to look like someday. After that, we grabbed the wine, got into the car, and headed out to Sapori Trattoria.

[livejournal.com profile] daveax had known the owner for over twenty years, but friendship can't magic up empty tables, so we arrived at a packed restaurant and waited forty-five minutes for a table. When we finally sat down, though, it quickly proved itself worth every second. I didn't take pictures of all the food, to his chagrin, but here is secondo:

Philadelphia 2015 Sapori dinner

It was even more delicious than it looks

And here's the full list:
  • Antipaste: Salad with grilled octopus and farro; Tomino cheese wrapped in speck and grilled, with balsamic vinegar on the side; Pork/fennel/provolone sausage with lentils on polenta.

  • Primi: Fettuccine with pork and veal; Tagliatelle with tomato and veal ragú; Risotto scoglio with clams, mussels, shrimp, and calamari.

  • Secondi: Front: Orata (cooked whole, shown after deboning) with EVOO sauce; Left rear: Veal Stew, mashed potatoes with mascarpone; Right rear: deboned rabbit rolled with prosciutto and herbs, butternut squash and fennel on the side.

  • Dessert: Tiramisu, profiteroles, Sicilian ricotta with orange peel.

  • Alcohol: 2011 Roero Arneis, Tintero (Langhe); 2011 Valpolicella Ripasso, Secoli (Veneto); 2014 Brachetto d'Acqui, Banfi Rosa Regale (Alba); Cioccolatto cello (owner's private make); Grappa Affinata Gewürztraminer, Marzadro (Alto Adige).
We ended up staying for hours in classic Continental dinner fashion, drinking wine with the owner, another man our friend met outside while on a smoke break, and some of the waitstaff. By the time we left, it was after midnight and nearly everyone had long since closed up and cleaned the restaurant out. It was one of the best meals I've had in a long time and a real example of the benefits of being a regular.

After that, we drove back, [livejournal.com profile] daveax dropped us off at our hotel, and went to sleep.

Sunday
We didn't have anything to do Sunday morning and only had to get to lunch at noon, so we lounged around for a bit on Sunday until we decided it was time to head out. We somewhat misjudged the time, though, and ended up on Penn's campus half an hour early. With so much free time, we walked around a bit and I pointed out some places to [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, like the English department at Bennett (now Fisher-Bennett) Hall, the parking lot where the unnamed food truck that I always used to get spaghetti and meatballs from before Professor Potok's Irish lit class was, Locust Walk, the bizarre new anti-plagiarism signs everywhere ("Nursing--you wouldn't share needles. Don't share your work."), and the LOVE sign. Of course, that led to touristing:

Philadelphia 2015 Upenn LOVE sign

I know about Love Park, but this will always be the original to me.

It took twenty minutes to get a picture because of all the other people who were doing the same thing, and by the time we finally did it was almost noon, so we headed over to Houston Hall and Pari Cafe Creperie, formerly a food truck over by the gym and now a takeout place in the building. After some confusion where I couldn't remember exactly where it was, I followed my nose upstairs and we snuck up behind [livejournal.com profile] jdcohen.

While we were waiting for [livejournal.com profile] greyselke and her husband and daughter to arrive, [livejournal.com profile] jdcohen told us about his new job as an attorney for the city of Philadelphia and the bone-chilling terror he now feels when he sees the phrase "any and all records pertaining to." We swapped stories for a while--mostly [livejournal.com profile] jdcohen and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, as I deliberately chose a boring job--until the others arrived, and then we got crepes. Huge crepes. I remembered them being as big as my outstretched hand, and they were exactly the same as I remembered, just with more varieties. I got a gyro crepe with feta spread, which didn't exist when I was an undergrad.

We finished our crepes and chatted while [livejournal.com profile] greyselke's daughter picked all the strawberries and Nutella out of her crepe, and when she was finished when took a tour of the campus. Much of it was as I remembered, including the brutalist high rise dorms that I spent three years in, but there were some changes. The old movie theatre where we watched The Fellowship of the Ring had vanished along with the entire block it was on, replaced with some shops and a black and silver apartment complex that looked like it should also be a moon colony. We stopped for gelato in one of those shops, and I found a treasure on one of the shelves that I was really tempted to steal:

Philadelphia 2015 Penn campus gelato book

I couldn't deprive others of the joy of discovery, though.

After eating gelato, we walked over to see if the Indian buffet place we ate at so often was still open (it was) and walked by the Chili's we ate at so often, which is now an Asian fusion place called Tarka. [livejournal.com profile] greyselke's daughter was loaded with sugar, and demanded that she be allowed to walk everywhere. She lasted a few blocks until her parents put her back in the stroller, and she was hugely unhappy about that for about five minutes until she was out like a light and stayed asleep as we went down to the new riverwalk on the east side of the Schuylkill. According to [livejournal.com profile] jdcohen, they wanted to put a riverwalk there but the railroad didn't want anyone walking too near their tracks, so their response was, "Sure, we'll just build it on the river, then."

We walked up and down the river a bit, then [livejournal.com profile] greyselke had to leave, so we all said our goodbyes and [livejournal.com profile] jdcohen, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I walked the dozen blocks to his apartment past lovely row houses and cute shops. Once we got there and said hello to his wife, we settled down with glasses of grape/cherry juice blend (we bought that basically by the case in university) and loaded up Soul Calibur II to determine whether the soul still burned.

And it did! The situation was pretty much the same as it was a decade ago. [livejournal.com profile] jdcohen is better than me and I'm better than [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, but all of us are close enough that no match was a total stomping unless one of us discovered a long-forgotten cheesy move again. We played that for an hour, remembering old times but with much less yelling nowadays, while [livejournal.com profile] jdcohen's wife did some work, then we shut it down and chatted for a bit until it was almost time for our dinner reservations, so we headed out to Brauhaus Schmitz.

I hadn't realized how much I missed German food until I got there. The last time I had it was over a year ago when we were in D.C., and much to my disappointment, there's no German restaurant that's convenient to our apartment in Chicago, so I pretty much dove face-first into the communal cheese plate and the roast beef, sauerkraut, red wine vinegared cabbage, and potato dumplings I ordered. After a delicious and satisfying meal, we said our goodbyes to [livejournal.com profile] jdcohen and headed back to our hotel where, other than the people in the next room deciding to sing an aria at 11:30 in the evening, nothing of note happened.

Monday
Unlike the other two days, we got up early and headed straight out because we wanted to get tickets for a tour at Independence Hall. They had some available for 10:40, do we picked them up,and walked over to the Liberty Bell. I remember coming to see it right after they built the current enclosure, but it had been a much more bare-bones affair then. Now there are displays all over about freedom and liberty and, somewhat to my surprise, how slavery of Africans and genocide of Native Americans doesn't have much to do with either of those. There was even a mention of how when the crack in the bell first appeared, it ran right through the word "liberty" on the bell itself. Poetic.

After some photos of the bell, we headed over to Independence Hall, where we got a tour from a ranger that I would best describe as quirky. She showed us around the lower floor, where the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution were all debated and signed, and then led us up to the upper floor and let us look around for a bit until the next tour group had to make it through. After that we still had a bit of time before we were meeting a friend for lunch, so we bought some peppermint tea and went to Washington Square, where some small children were running in circles around the fountain, before heading over to Campo's for cheesesteaks.

We ate as our friend told us about blacking out while waiting for a student to show up for a lesson, and then after we were done we parted ways. He went back home to finish recovering, and we headed over to our hotel to drop some stuff off and sit down for a moment before walking over to the Constitution Center north of Independence Hall. It was new the last year I was in university, and [livejournal.com profile] greyselke and I went soon after it was opened, but now they had a huge display of American history and various interactive elements to go along with it. For example, here's president-elect [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd at her inauguration:

Philadelphia 2015 Constitution Center

I solemnly swear...

There were "no photos" signs everywhere, but the employee standing nearby is the one who asked if we wanted to be sworn in and told me the best place to take a picture, so I had official sanction.

After looking around upstairs, we went to to an exhibit of Jacques Lowe photography on the Kennedy family. The exhibit portrayed it as the first real attempt at photographic mass media management--portraying Kennedy as athletic when he actually had back problems, the whole "Camelot" thing, etc. There was also a neat section about how they created the photos from restoration work on other prints, since the negatives were stored in a vault in the World Trade Center.

Around 4 p.m. we left the Constitution Center and walked to Elfreth's Alley, the oldest continuously-inhabited street in North America and one that's mostly in original condition, barring electrification and installation of other modern conveniences. There was a museum, but I had been led to believe it wasn't open January through March when it turned out it was just closed on Mondays. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd did get this picture of me while I wasn't looking, though:

Philadelphia 2015 Elfreth's Alley

And he walked into the Hedge and was never seen again...

Dinner that night was at Morimoto, which also opened the last year I was in university and which I hadn't gotten to go to before. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd described the decor as like being inside a cyberpunk movie, with low colored lighting and a funky soundtrack and curvilinear white furniture, but the meal brought me back to the sushi we used to get at the sushi shop in Chiyoda. We ordered the bone marrow appetizer, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd got a roll, and I got the chef's selection. They still put too much rice on their nigiri--the fish should be draped over all the sides, not flush with the rice underneath--but the taste was exactly what I had been hoping for at basically every sushi restaurant I've been to since I came back to America. It was exquisite. Absolutely worth the money if you're ever in Philadelphia.

After we were finished with dessert, we took a brief detour to a CVS to pick up some things and then headed back to the hotel to sleep and get ready for our early flight.

Tuesday
Not much this day for the same reason as Friday. We woke up and, having packed the night before, threw on some clothes and went down to wait for our shuttle bus. While on board, we chatted with the only other occupant besides the driver, a crisis management specialist who bonded with [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd over interventions and told us about her sudden decision to take a trip to Thailand.

Then we got to the airport, got on the plane, and came home.


It was really fun! It was the first vacation we took post-Japan--we've gone other places before, but it's been for an event, like a wedding or one of [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's conferences. This is the first time we've just been somewhere to go since the last time we went to Tokyo, and if you count times we went by ourselves, it's the first time since we went to Singapore. And we'll probably be back, since we have a lot of friends there and there's a lot we didn't get to see. We missed eating at the City Tavern, or visiting Penn's archeological museum, or going to the Art Museum and running up the steps, or eating dim sum in Chinatown, which admittedly we can do in Chicago but we spent the entire last year of our undergrad days talking about going to dim sum and we never did it.

It was a great trip and I'll be glad to go back. Hopefully sooner than ten years down the line! Kawaii heart emoji
dorchadas: (Chicago)
I've always loved the way that the Field Museum smells.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went to the World's Fair Exhibit at the Field Museum today, since it was the last day, we've been meaning to go, and we're members so we get in for free. Especially after I read The Devil in the White City with my book group earlier this year, I really wanted to go, and it's only our natural procrastination and the fact that since moving back to Chicago we've apparently become super social that prevented us from going for so long.

Well, and me losing that disagreement with a doorframe.

It was smaller than I expected, but pretty neat. The Field Museum began as a museum of the World's Fair exhibit specifically, so they had a lot of old material from their archives that usually spent time just sitting down in the basement in crates. Some of it was actually still in the crates, like a stuffed sea lion that had a really oddly and inflated elongated neck. I was half convinced that we could have stuck a couple arms on the sides and made some kind of sealiontaur thing. Now that would have been a worthy World's Fair exhibit.

A lot of the exhibit was focused on the scientific treatment of the fair exhibits. Or oftentimes, the lack thereof. Most of the exhibits were both examples of scientific learning and also pieces for sale, and some of the ones in the Field Museum's collection even had the price stickers still on them. Also, there were a lot of people from all over the world who were invited to come live in their traditional manner (as defined by the fair owners) in recreated communities on the fairgrounds. One group of Inuit did so, figuring that travel and promised room and board was a pretty good deal, but when they were given substandard food and dirty water, they eventually left and set up their own exhibition outside the fair's gates.

There was a bunch of other neat stuff, like the gourd made from a double coconut or the Javanese gamelan. I'd say you should go, but 1) today was the last day and 2) the Field Museum was able to put it on because they already owned all of the items in it. But if it does end up traveling some how, it's worth a trip. And if it doesn't, The Devil in the White City is a great book.

Distant Worlds!

2014-Aug-25, Monday 18:56
dorchadas: (Slime)
Yesterday, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went to the Distant Worlds concert in the Chicago Symphony Center. It opened with a performance of "Hymn of the Fayth" with soloists and a full choir, and they had me hooked from the beginning.

Well...kind of. My interest in the concert kind of resembled a valley. Since I never owned a Super Nintendo nor a Playstation, I skipped out on most of the Final Fantasy games after Final Fantasy I. I think the next game after that I played was Final Fantasy VI, and that wasn't until university. I didn't play Final Fantasy IV until five years ago (the DS version), and while I did play Final Fantasy VIII and IX, most of the music doesn't really stick in my head. They played the music from the Final Fantasy VII opening and I didn't even recognize it. I've never played FFXIII nor any of the spinoffs, nor FFXIV, so that whole section was nice, but it was just more orchestral music. For the first half of the concert, I only really checked in for To Zanakand, Eyes on Me, the aforementioned Hymn of the Fayth, and the Chocobo Medley, which had quite possibly the cutest chocobo babies I've ever seen.

I admit that music from the later Final Fantasies is definitely easier to set to orchestration because it's not the same 10-15 second clip over and over again, but I would have liked to see arrangements of Matoya's Cave or Temple of Fiends. Looking it up online, it looks like they did a lot more of that for the 25th Anniversary celebration two years ago--and where the only concert for that in North America was in Chicago grr why didn't I know about it (T^T)--but other than FFX, I don't have much emotional resonance with the later Final Fantasies.

Now, having said that, the entire second half after the intermission was one long string of Final Fantasy VI songs, and that part was great. From the character medley, which sadly didn't include Cyan's Theme but was otherwise excellent, to Dancing Mad done with a giant pipe organ, to a new arrangement of Balance is Restored (called "Reviving Green" there, according to Nobuo Uematsu's wishes, to a fully orchestrated Opera scene with three soloists, a narrator, and choral accompaniment, the second half definitely did qualify as hooking me from the beginning.

And then they ended with the Final Fantasy I Opening playing over the credits and did a medley of the battles themes as an encore. Well done.

It was a good concert and I'm glad I went, but I think what I actually want out of a Final Fantasy concert is full band live versions of Final Fantasy IV: Echoes of Betrayal, Light of Redemption and Final Fantasy VI: Balance and Ruin. As it was, I had a better time at Symphony of the Goddesses back in November than I did at Distant Worlds. That's probably because I've played more of the major Zelda games than Final Fantasy games, though--not playing VII at all means there's a huge chunk of the fandom I'm not connected to.

As a slight digression, Nobuo Uematsu was not at all what I expected:


That's him there playing the organ part on Dark World from Final Fantasy VI. He looks like...well, he looks like a sushi chef, honestly. I was expecting more of the typical Japanese sararīman, with the mandated black suit, white shirt, black tie, and no individuality whatever. You know, what the guy who was there from Squeenix was wearing.

I was kind of tempted to yell out "植松さん最高!" after he did his "solo" (whistling the victory theme), but I restrained myself.

I'm not sure I'd want to go to Distant Worlds again, unless it has a lineup covering more of the earlier games. Or if they're doing a Final Fantasy X focus. The 15th anniversary of that is in 2016, so I can hope! And I did learn that there's a chamber music version called A New World, which sounds like it might be more up my alley. I'm not sure I realized I wanted Baroque or Classical versions of Final Fantasy music until I wrote that sentence, but now I definitely do. Anyone know where I could find them?

I think what I really want is a Xenohearts Trigger: the Music of Yasunori Mitsuda series.
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
I'm not going to write a blow-by-blow account of it, but [livejournal.com profile] melishus_b came to visit us this weekend! We went to the Field Museum's biomechanics exhibit, a party a friend had on the beach, the Art Institute of Chicago with the goal of seeking out their arms and armor collection, a bunch of great restaurants, we walked around Andersonville and went to a bunch of shops, and test-drove [livejournal.com profile] melishus_b's Game of Thrones hack of the Guillotine card game, which I think is actually a lot better than the regular Guillotine game and would be amazing if IP issues wouldn't shut it down any attempt to sell it in seconds. There's a lot more card interactions, for one, and ways for the players to affect each other instead of mostly just rearranging the order of the line.

Huh, looking on the Art Institute's website to find the page for the shoji screens that we saw and there's a lot of stuff we missed that I really want to go see. When the Greeks Ruled Egypt? Chicagoisms? I need to see those!

Nothing else at the moment, just a quick entry after a nice weekend. (^_^)v
dorchadas: (Default)
I haven't been to that many weddings. I might have had an inflated image of how many other people attended when I was younger, but it seemed like I would always hear people talking about going to this or that relative's wedding, but I was the oldest cousin and no one in my parents' generation that we were close to got divorced, so the very first wedding I ever went to was when I was in university and the first wedding of a family member I went to was my own. My cousin's wedding last weekend was the second.

Well, I guess it wasn't technically a wedding. My cousin is Mormon, and the actual ceremony took place in a local temple and wasn't open to most of the guests, so what I went to was the "ring ceremony" and reception afterward. It was pretty short: the bride, groom, bridesmaids and groomsmen walked up, my aunt and uncle gave the invocation, the bishop gave a five-minute speech, the couple exchanged rings, and everone filed out. Cue reception.

Apparently, Mormon receptions are typically potlucks, but my cousin kind of went halfway and had food catered but it was pretty casual. Hummus and small sandwiches, beef and bell peppers, tons of cheese, fruit plates, and so on. Frankly, it was one of the best wedding feasts I've ever had, and I include my wedding in that--I honestly don't even remember what we ate at my wedding, other than having cheesecake instead of traditional wedding cake.

One cute point is that my cousin made up a reception schedule with times listed for the father/daughter dance, the bouquet toss, and so on. She was apparently thinking of people who wanted to stay for the cake and leave after, or who didn't care about the first dances, and so would want to know when things were so they could plan where they would be when they happened. It does make sense, I admit.

In addition to the wedding, I also got to see [livejournal.com profile] t3chnomag3 and [livejournal.com profile] melishus_b, which was definitely a highlight of the trip. [livejournal.com profile] t3chnomag3, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went to Pike's Market and Piroshky Piroshky (which sadly didn't agree with [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd), the Seattle Aquarium, lunch at a place that [livejournal.com profile] t3chnomag3 knew of, SAM, and then we had to go to the surprise rehearsal dinner that we hadn't known about until the previous evening. We only had time for brunch with [livejournal.com profile] melishus_b because the wedding was the same day, but she drove up from Federal Way--for which I give her props, after seeing all the construction everywhere and how LOVELY Seattle traffic is--and took us to Lot No. 3, which was fantastic. They had candied bacon on the menu, which was nothing like I would have expected it to be, and a pickled pear salad with enough goat cheese to drive a goat into a homicidal rage. [livejournal.com profile] melishus_b had some pulled pork benedict with sauce that was rich enough for Croesus. I know it's not that useful a recommendation for most of the people reading it, but I can recommend it if you're ever in the Bellvue area. Om nom nom.

It rained every day, of course. Including the wedding, but my cousin had planned ahead and set up a tent outside. As we say in Japanese, "さすがシアトル!"
dorchadas: (Not the Tale)



I don't actually remember how I heard about Kinfolk originally, but I started following them on Twitter months ago and heard them talking about the Japan issue and that got me hooked. I devoured the whole thing in less than an hour, and then immediately went to [livejournal.com profile] softlykarou and asked her if we could subscribe. And we did, and the Aged issue came...and then I let it sit for a while, because I have to admit that the concept didn't grab me quite as much as the Japan issue did. Then I read it today.

It's a mix. There's recipes, like this lamb shepherd's pie recipe that [livejournal.com profile] softlykarou made that was absolutely fantastic, because I'm not a huge fan of mashed potatoes even though I'll tolerate them on shepherd's pie because it's so tasty, and with this recipe I don't have to worry about that at all. There's photo series like this one about centenarians' hands or this one about glaciers. There's short articles, like one about preserving or curing foods or or one about Shaker crafts or one about how your tastes change with age.

I know that last one's true, because just in the last few years I've grown to like onions, which [livejournal.com profile] softlykarou always used to have to leave out of everything because I hated them; beets, especially when they're pickled; and olives, though black ones are still a stretch. That last one is especially worrisome for [livejournal.com profile] softlykarou, because of the How I Met Your Mother rule about olives in relationships.

The one thing bothers me is that none of the articles are more than a two-page spread unless they're recipes, where you might sometimes get a photo and an interview with the chef, or photo essays. I'd really like if there were more long-form articles--or "longreads," I suppose is the current parlance--but I guess that has the benefit that any of the articles I didn't really care about were over pretty quickly.

The Lost Art of Reading Aloud especially stuck with me because for the last year or so, I've been intermittently reading The Lord of the Rings aloud to [livejournal.com profile] softlykarou, and I'm noticing a lot of stuff that I hadn't noticed before even when I've read it probably a dozen times. It's more obvious how much the language changes from being similar to The Hobbit to being similar to The Silmarillion. Some of the subtle humor in the character interactions. It probably helps that I'm using different voices for different characters, which [livejournal.com profile] softlykarou has commented on as being something she really enjoys.

I was also surprised by just how much I liked sitting down with an actual paper magazine in my hands to read it. The new magazine smell, the feel of the paper, the way the light glints of the magazine gloss... I've almost entirely switched over to ebook and PDF since I got an iPad, because the convenience of being able to carry almost all of my RPG collection plus a small library around in my satchel is just too high, but I definitely enjoyed the act of reading the Aged issue more than I liked the Japan issue even though I liked the content of the Japan issue better.

Man, I really am a hipster.
dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
Friday - Burgers, Art, and Sauerkraut
The next morning, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd again had to be somewhere early. This time, though, I didn't even wake up when she wished me goodbye, so I was pretty disoriented when I woke up and the room was otherwise empty. I loafed around the room for a couple hours, getting progressively hungrier and less willing to leave the bed, and then I finally scarfed down all the remaining nuts and headed out the door to a burger place I had looked up on my phone. When I went outside, the weather was pretty much my ideal weather: cloudy skies, cool breeze, wet ground, and the smell after the rain. It was almost enough to make me change my mind and go into the Irish bar I saw along the way, but I kept to my original plan.

I had originally set out with the intention to walk from our hotel down to the National Mall, and I managed to stick to that plan even though when I left the restaurant it was raining. I went to the Freer Gallery of Art (and apparently just missed an exhibition about the tea ceremony! By one day! ARGH!), which was recommended I think by my father, though I can't remember exactly who told me to go. Anyway, it's a collection of art from what a 19th century art collector would have called "The Orient," so there was everything from Japanese screens to Arabic pottery. The last one I didn't devote much time to, despite how beautiful it was, because I've never really been interested in pottery. Honestly, I'd be happy with plain white bowls or bowls made out of dark wood, much like my taste in furniture.

There were other interesting things, though:
2014 DC Meteoric Iron dagger for Emperor Jahangir

That's a literal starmetal dagger. Emperor Jahangir had it made out of a fallen star, and later said that it "cut beautifully, as well as the very best swords." So maybe there is something to that meteoric iron superweapon fantasy trope!

2014 DC Kobo Daishi going to China

That's a picture of Kōbō Daishi on his trip to China to learn the teachings of Buddhism, which he later brought back to Japan. I mainly liked this image because it has a literal example of red oni blue oni (赤鬼青鬼), though the art is definitely beautiful as well. It's the kind of thing I'd love to have in [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and my bedroom, in my imagined dream residence where the bedroom has byōbu, tatami floors, a futon instead of a bed, zaisu and low table, and so on. I can probably do a lot of that even if there isn't a tatami flooring, really. I actually prefer sitting on the floor in a lot of cases.

Oh! Also, in a weird coincidence, I found proof that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, like Nicholas Cage and Keanu Reeves, is an immortal vampire who has survived through the ages and secretly manipulates us from behind the scenes:

2014 DC Green and Gold: the Little Green Cap

Green and Gold: the Little Green Cap, but it's pretty obviously a picture of my wife. I'm on to your schemes!

The collection of jades was neat, but it's just jade discs so it doesn't make a very good photographic subject.

After I looked all around there, I used my remaining time to head back into the Museum of the American Indian and look around some more. There was a short movie called Who We Are that they showed in the theatre on the top floor, so I headed up there to watch that. It was maybe fifteen minutes and primarily served as a well to tell people that Native Americans aren't just records in history books or cultures frozen in time, both of which I already knew, but it was a good introduction to the idea. Then it let us out in an exhibit that went into detail on various tribes' traditional beliefs and practices, most of which I knew almost nothing about. I couldn't stay for the entire time, though, because [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd texted me to let me know she was finished with her presentation an hour before I expected, so I had to start walking. I was determined that I would walk from our hotel to the National Mall and back to our hotel, and I did. It just took me about an hour since it was mostly at a slight-to-moderate incline. I didn't go back to our room when I walked into the hotel room; I just sat on the couch and let [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd know that I was down there.

We were going to meet with [livejournal.com profile] satinalien for dinner at Old Europe, but she was feeling under the weather, so [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went ourselves. Here's a sample of what we ate:

2014 DC Dark rye bread with schmalz at Old Europe

That's dark rye bread with Griebenschmalz vom Schwein, or a spread made from rendered pig fat. It may have been the least kosher thing I've ever eaten, but it tasted fantastic. I also got the Schnitzel Old Europe, which had veal, chicken, tomatos, onions, hollendaise sauce, and sides of sauerkraut, potatos, and mixed vegetables. And beef stew as an appetizer and a dark chocolate cake. It was quite possibly the most stereotypical German meal I could have eaten other than the lack of bratwurst, but you can't have everything at once. I also learned that my pronunciation of German is not particularly good, which shouldn't surprise me since I've never studied it at all. Maybe I should look into that if I plan to go to German restaurants more often.

After that, we went home and went to sleep. We were going to meet up with some friends, but they were drained from the day's activities and so were we, so we all went to bed.

Saturday - Trip Home
Not that much to say for the final day, since it was mostly just taken up by going home, going shopping, and then sitting around at home. There was one minor hiccup when it turned out that the hotel's free shuttle didn't run on weekend's until 9, so we had to walk from the hotel to the Metro, and then that Metro trains only run about every half an hour on weekends, but we made it there, made it to Union Station in time to take the MARC train (which only started weekend service in December!) back to the Baltimore airport, and then flew out. The only notable thing was the restaurant we ate in in the Baltimore airport had USB plugs in the wall. They also were locally-owned and served locally-sourced food which was really good, but I didn't take any pictures so you'll have to take my word for it.

It was pretty great. I'm glad we had enough money and I had enough vacation time that I could come along, because if I'm going to be a tourist in a city, DC is a great place to be one, and a lot of [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and my friends seem to live either in DC or in the cities around it. Next year is Orlando and I've heard that it's in Disney, but how much fun would that be by myself? The year after that is New Orleans, though, where I've never been before, so I have to go to that one.

Whew! That took forever to write. Smiling sweatdrop
dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
The continuing adventures of [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and myself at her NASP conference in DC.

Wednesday - All the Smithsonians, Free Middle Eastern Food, and Good Company
[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd didn't have anywhere to be on Wednesday, so we got up relatively early and set out to meet up with friends at the Air and Space Museum. After taking the shuttle to the conference site and then diving into the Metro, getting out at Metro Central, and walking down to the Mall in the rain, we wandered around and checked out the space side, but I don't have much to report on it. My father inherited my grandfather's interest in flight and airplanes, but I never did, and while I have the same interest in space that any reasonable person does, I don't have much to say. Those rockets sure are cool, though.

After that, we headed over to the Mitsitam Cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian because [livejournal.com profile] q99 had told me that it was fantastic, and truer words have rarely been spoken. This is what I ate:

2014 DC Mitsitam Cafe food

From left: chili-roasted carrots in jalapeño butter, celery roots and raisins with honey vinagrette, roasted brussel sprouts and onions, and buffalo chili. It was fantastic. Much like Marrakech, if you're ever in DC for any reason, stop by in here, or in the coffee-and-dessert cafe closer to the entrance that sold me hot chocolate with enough chili in it to burn my throat. They even have a cookbook, which I'm really tempted to get now. The food is really expensive, though.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd had to go after lunch, but the rest of our friends decided to skip the rest of the conference day, so we wandered around the museum for a bit before moving on. We had a bunch of stuff we wanted to see and needed to be at a Loyola-sponsored mixer at 5 p.m., so we didn't stay long, but we went up to the Our Lives exhibit at the museum which was all about different tribes in the Americas and their customs. I mostly wandered around and looked at the ones about the tribes in the Southwest and a bit about the Yakima. The Yakima exhibit was actually pretty hopeful, since it repeatedly made the point that they still live on their ancestral lands (well, the 10% of their lands that are left) and can practice most of their traditional practices, which is way better than the vast majority of tribes are doing, sadly.

While we were there, someone mentioned that there was a similar museum in Evanston, so now I have to go to that.

We left the museum and hit up a few of the other museums and exhibits in relatively quick succession. In the Museum of Natural History we ducked in past the water life and mammals exhibits and saw the human origins exhibit, where I learned to my surprise that I'm much taller than the neandertals were. I'm not sure why I expected them to be so huge, considering that modern height is mostly a result of modern diet and modern medicine, but I had this idea of the neandertals as being huge in proportion to how they were apparently much stronger than our ancestors. Nope. I was completely wrong.

After that was the Museum of American History, where we just popped in quickly and poked around the main display on the bottom floor. The one thing that sticks out in my memory other than seeing Kermit was this:

2014 DC Smithsonian walkman

The iPod already being in the Museum of American History is an obvious sign of how old I am. I remember when they first came out, and I told [livejournal.com profile] nytesenvy that they were a fad that would obviously never catch on. That was my own "640K ought to be enough for anybody" moment, as should be obvious considering I took all these photos (and indeed, all the photos I've taken in the last five years) with my iPhone.

We walked past the Washington Monument, which is still closed due to the 2011 earthquake, and went into the Lincoln Memorial, and then went off to the bus stop where the L1 bus promptly failed to show up. Not wanting to risk being too late, we hailed a cab (and later learned that the buses don't take temporary fare cards, so good thing we did) and took that to Lebanese Taverna, where Loyola University was hosting a meet-up/party for its students and assorted hangers-on, including myself. At least, I think it was for hangers-on, though I didn't see anyone else there who wasn't a student. Well, I won't complain. Great Middle Eastern food, including plenty of kabob meat, waiters going around refilling people's wine glasses, falafel and vegetable trays along with big bowls of hummus, and trays of baklava dripping with honey brought out near the end. I didn't eat much of those, though, because we had other plans with [livejournal.com profile] nytesenvy later on.

She was at dinner nearby, and after the party was over--I did not really get to meet [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's professors, since they were talking shop most of the time--we met up and she took us to Dangerously Delicious Pies, which were indeed pretty damn delicious. I mean, look at this:

2014 DC Dangerously Delicious Pie Winter berry pie

Winter berry pie a la mode. There were pears and raspberries and a couple more fruits in there, and it was fantastic. The conversation with [livejournal.com profile] nytesenvy was fantastic too--it's been a year and a half since we've seen each other--but for obvious reasons I don't have a picture of that.

After our pie, she took us back to our hotel and we went to bed. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd had a presentation to get to in the morning again and I had other plans.

Thursday - Alexandria Old Town and Seeing Friends
I woke up with [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd in the morning because [livejournal.com profile] nytesenvy was going to pick me up and take me down to Alexandria. We ate in a cafe and chatted, and then I left her to study for the bar while I wandered around and looked at the sights. Well, I only briefly wandered, because I had seen that there was a history museum in town that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd told me she didn't care about going to, so that was the first place I headed and I stayed there until she finished her presentation and headed down to Alexandria.

Did you know that Alexandria used to be part of DC? I didn't. Apparently they thought it would bring in a bunch of business and help grow the town, and when that turned out to be completely wrong they decided that they had gotten the wrong end of the bargain and petitioned to be let back into Virginia. And having been let in, when the rebels seceded from the Union, Federal troops were pretty much waiting at the bridges and marched right across from multiple directions and captured the town, which was occupied for the remainder of the war. There was a neat exhibit about the occupation with excerpts from people's diaries, newspaper accounts, books written afterwards, memoirs, and so on which it turns out I didn't take any pictures of so I can't post one of them here. Boo.

I did take this one though:

2014 DC Pitt St in Alexandria

Not the best picture of either of us, but what's what happens when you're awkwardly trying to take a selfie that also gets the street sign into view while having to deal with the bright sun.

We went to a restaurant that [livejournal.com profile] nytesenvy pointed out as a good one (and it was), and then went down and took that picture and then just wandered around Old Town, going into shops and down to the Torpedo Factory, which is now an artists' display area, though we sadly didn't have enough space in our apartment to get any of the great art that we saw in there. Same with the furniture store we went into. Battered dark wood is probably be favorite decor ever, and the store was just loaded with great pieces on sale, but even if we had bought it and had it shipped back to Chicago, we really don't have any place to put it. We did have a place to put yarn, though, so we went into Fibre Space where [livejournal.com profile] nytesenvy works and bought two skeins of yarn. One for my wife to make into a scarf, and one for [livejournal.com profile] nytesenvy to make into a hat for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd.

After buying that, we walked back to the Metro stop, but I persuaded [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd to go past it to the George Washington Masonic Memorial that I had seen listed when I was looking around for places to go in Alexandria. I figured that maybe it was in the park somewhere on the other side of the giant building we could see. But then we got closer:

2014 DC George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, VA


Nope, it's totally the giant building. The inside is exactly the way you'd imagine it to be too:

2014 DC Masonic Memorial Interior


There was a tour, but we decided not to go with it since it was $8 each instead of $5 each and we did have other places to be and didn't want to be tied down to a schedule, so we wandered around and looked at all the displays of masonry in America. In addition to a lot of Washington's personal masonic memorabilia, they also had artifacts (I guess that's the term) from Franklin and several other figures of prominence in America. And John Philip Sousa's conducting baton, for some reason. My middle school band teacher would be proud.

We had an appointment to meet [livejournal.com profile] bexplant for coffee near the Foggy Bottom stop, so we spent about an hour in the Memorial and then got on the Metro and headed over. It was a bit rainy again, so we ducked into the nearby George Washington University Hospital and waited for her to show up, which didn't take long. I was pretty quiet, since I didn't know [livejournal.com profile] bexplant that well since I was only at Knox on alternating weekends, but it was nice seeing old friends. Then, we had another meeting to see more old friends, so we said our goodbyes and walked up to M Street to meet up with [livejournal.com profile] redpikachu and her boyfriend at Clyde's. We had originally planned on going to Paper Moon, but I happened to look it up on the internet because I wanted to check the menu before we went to see what I would get (a habit I've gotten into now that we all carry the sum total of human knowledge in our pockets) and noticed that it only had two stars on Yelp. The new restaurant was a whole lot better than the internet thought the old one was, though.

After that we went out for dessert at Gelateria Dolce Vita, where the gelato was average but the view was really nice:

2014 DC Georgetown waterfront building

I'm sure if it had been summer I would have been able to take a great picture of the waterfront or the river, but it's winter and night, so the ice skaters are what you get. Though it's still kind of impressive that they were able to skate that well, considering how warm it was. It had been above freezing for days at this point.

After gelato, we parted ways and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went back to our hotel.

Next post: Friday and Saturday
dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I spent most of the last week in Washington DC because she had a school psychology professional conference. That meant she spent a lot of the time at presentations or presenting herself, but it also meant that I got to wander around DC myself. Here is part of the record of my adventures.

Monday - Arrival, Dinner, and Forest Friends
Our trip started out a bit exciting because our flight had previously been cancelled the previous night and we had to scramble a bit to get another one, so after some time on the phone for me and an hour on the phone with American Airlines for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd when we didn't see any seats assigned to us and couldn't check in because we weren't able to have seats assigned. The call cleared up that the airport was just holding on to the seats and would assign them based on when we got there, so with a slight grumble we went to bed and set our alarm for 6:45 a.m. The next morning, though, there wasn't any trouble at all. The flight went fine, [livejournal.com profile] nytesenvy picked us up at the airport and drove us to our hotel in Georgetown, which apparently isn't technically in Georgetown but was close enough for me. We checked in, got a message that our friends were eating at a restaurant on the other side of the city, and set out to get to them.

Because I'm incredibly stubborn, we tried to walk down to the DuPont Circle Metro station instead of taking advantage of the free shuttle that our hotel ran to anywhere within a mile radius--which includes the Metro, and indeed, a large chunk of the city since DC is so small--and walked down there only to find that there was a portion of the Red Line shut down for work on Monday only. Fortunately, there was a free shuttle bus running, and so we got on it going the wrong way. There was an express shuttle running the other direction to Metro Central, so we hopped on that, I checked my phone, and then we walked to El Rinconcito where I proceeded to eat an absolutely enormous amount of food (a theme for this whole trip, really). We then retired back to their hostel to play Illuminati, and after a game where the Discordian Society pulled out a win on literally the last turn, we decided to go home.

We took the shuttle from Metro Central up to Woodley Park, and then I decided to walk home, consulted Google Maps on my phone, and off we went. As you can see from that link there, it does look a bit suspicious, but I figured what could go wrong? Well, nothing really went wrong, but it was exciting--the path took us through Embassy Row and then into Dumbarton Oaks Park, so we walked down nearly-empty and silent streets to a cul-de-sac where the Danish Embassy was located. It looked like a dead end, but I found a path next to the security wall around the embassy and took us down a path that was pretty much solid ice, across a half-frozen river, then up an icey path along the other side to right behind our hotel. As we had crossed the road earlier to get to the dead-end road that led to the embassy, we saw a deer bound away into the woods, and when we came out of the other side of the park, this is what we saw:

2014 DC Deer in Park

They looked at us like that until we crossed the road away from them, at which point they bounded away into the woods. Then we went back and went to bed.

Tuesday - Old Houses, Cathedrals and Moroccan Food
The next morning, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd had a presentation she had to be at, so she left early while I lounged around the room for a bit. After I got sufficiently hungry that I didn't want to wait around anymore, I grabbed a handful of nuts (which we brought specifically for situations like this) and headed out to lunch at a Middle Eastern restaurant I found along the way and then down to Dumbarton House, which I picked based on randomly searching for things to do in Georgetown and having it pop up close to the top. It was your standard Colonial period house, and with no photography allowed I don't have a record of all the things that were really cool, like the dining room with the bright green wallpaper or the best chamber (so-called because chamber originally referred primarily to bedrooms), but it took about an hour and if you like old houses I can recommend it. Maybe the main hallway will be done when you go, too--it wasn't when I was there. I also felt kind of bad for the tour guide. Not because she did a good job, but just because she was about half my height and all that looking up at me must have been uncomfortable.

Right when I was leaving, a couple from France (or maybe Belgium. Or Quebec. They had what I think was a French accent, anyway) came in and said they'd be happy to pay admission but only wanted to see the green wallpaper in the dining room, since it had been under renovation when they were there last. So that tells you how awesome it was, that they'd be willing to go there specifically to see it. I mean, they were probably in DC for other reasons, but they did make the effort to stop by.

It was now about 1:30 and I had an appointment to meet up with a bunch of people at the National Cathedral at 2:30, so I started walking. Google tells me that it was two miles and it was almost entirely uphill, so I'm glad that I got there early and sat on the bench for a while, basking in the sun. It was something like 15°C out, and having come from -10°C in Chicago it felt like high summer. Then my friends showed up, and we wandered around for five minutes to find the entrance, and went inside, and it was absolutely worth it. The moon window:

2014 DC National Cathedral Moon Window

was definitely a highlight, but the entire cathedral was fantastic even considering the state of disrepair it's in. Not because of any neglect on the part of the Church, but just because the earthquake of 2011 damaged the stone enough that parts of the spires actually fell onto the roof, and there are large nets all over the ceilings of the cathedral just in case any stone falls. There's even a section called the crypt, though just because it's underground and not because there's a large number of people buried there, though there are a few--Helen Keller, Woodrow Wilson, and Cordell Hull are the ones you've probably heard of. Or maybe they're just the ones I've heard of.

It also had by far the best bathroom door I've ever seen anywhere:

2014 DC National Cathedral bathroom door

Sadly, you did not need to pull the ring to open the door--it opens inward. But they get massive points for ambience.

And to explain the title of this post, it came from this book that they had in the cathedral gift shop.

We hung around the cathedral for a couple hours, poking into the various niches and crannies, until it was almost five o'clock, which meant that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd would be done with her presentation and that two of the others had to get to their own presentation, so [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went back to our hotel room for a bit and rested for a while until it was time to meet up for dinner at Marrakech. I'm not sure if it's a chain or if it's just coincidence, but there's a restaurant in Philadelphia also called Marrakesh that my friends and I always used to go to at the end of every year as a sort of celebratory meal, so when I saw Marrakech on the walk that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I did to the DuPont Metro on Monday, I knew we had to go there.

It was exactly as good as I remembered even if the two restaurants are totally unrelated. They had the seven-course meal I remember Philadelphia Marrakesh having, but we didn't get it because [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd didn't think that she was hungry enough to eat it, so instead I got some lamb and prunes dish that was absolutely fantastic, along with a hummus and baba ghanoush appetizer plate, the free bread with the olive oil, pepper, garlic, and onion dip...yum. Just yum. I can give this one my unqualified recommendation if you ever have the chance to eat there.

After that, we went out to dessert at Thomas Sweet, about a half-mile away. I figured that the walk would help stoke people's appetites, and I was right at least for myself and managed to eat the entirety of my brownie and rum and raisin ice cream dessert, but no one else was nearly as lucky. Like I said, me eating everything in sight was kind of a theme of this trip, though in fairness I did walk a lot.

And that was pretty much it, since we were all tired from all the walking we did and all the food we had eaten, so everyone who wasn't [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd or myself hailed a cab and went back to their hostel and the two of us walked back up the hill to our hotel and went to bed.

I'll do Wednesday and Thursday in the next post!
dorchadas: (Kirby sweatdrop)
I've been reading books and listening to podcasts about cognitive biases and psychology (examples: Thinking Fast and Slow or the You Are Not So Smart podcast), and while a lot of it just covers the kind of things I already knew, it's still destroying what little faith I had left in the human race, which wasn't much to begin with.

Not too long ago, though, I read Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, which is all about how willpower is a limited resource, works like a muscle in that it can get tired and not be there when you need it and be strengthened by exercise, and also that there's one kind of willpower that isn't subdivided by type of activity, so having to resist eating chocolate makes you more likely to rage when someone cuts you off in traffic.

The real name for that is ego depletion, for the curious.

Where this meshes with utopianism is that I have what I call a cynically utopian view of the best possible future, in that I think human minds are so flawed that the only way we'll get a government and society that's more than "great for a few, adequate for some, horrible for the majority" would be turning all important functions over to AIs, much like Iain M Banks' Culture.

The problem comes in when it turns out that self-control and resilience, or what's lately been called grit, are the personality traits that consistently predict success better than any other traits (not counting stuff like parental income here). And while we aren't sure where grit comes from and why some people have more and some less, I think it's not an unreasonable assumption that it develops through adversity and exercising it, because that's how willpower can be strengthened as well. That gets in the way of the ideal future being a crystal spires and togas civilization where robots do all the work and humans are free to devote themselves to the life of the mind, since it'd probably just end up with people watching holovision all the time and slowly falling into barbarism while a small percentage of the population keeps the flame of knowledge alive through the Long Night that follows.

What's more, apparently our grandparents' advice is correct and one of the best ways to resist temptation is simply never to be exposed to it in the first place. The best way to avoid eating chocolate is to not keep any chocolate in the house, and the best way to avoid civilization from descending into a decadent orgy of bloodsport and barbarism is to make sure that...okay, that's not the best analogy, both because individual brain activity can't really be broadly applied to society that way and also because it's trivially easy for civilization to descend into a decadent orgy of bloodsport and barbarism no matter what the technology level is. It's really easy for humans for decide to be terrible to each other for no reason.

Then again, if we can get to the point where we can make superintelligent AIs to rule us, maybe we can hack our brains to remove these problems, so maybe there's still hope. And this does rely on a supposition on grit, though if it turns out to be unalterable then that rapidly heads into Gattica-style dystopia. So at least I can maintain my cynicism unchallenged, and use confirmation bias to reserve my mental energy for other tasks!
dorchadas: (Link and Zelda sitting together)
On Saturday, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went with my parents to the Art Institute of Chicago's Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity exhibit, which I'm posting about now but you can't go to because it ended yesterday, which is why we went.

I was a little leery of going, because historically, my taste in art tends toward the ultra-realistic. I tend to view the progression of Western art history as being great in the Roman period, falling into crap like the rest of Western civilization after the collapse of the Western empire, then a steady climb as technique improved over the ages until paintings were almost photorealistic. Then along came a bunch of punks who thought that they didn't need all that skill and technique because they could just make blurry paintings or put shapes on canvas and call them "Black Square" or whatever. I mean, look at this fucking hipster:


Frédéric Bazille. Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1867.

Of course, much like how I now like onions and celery but despised them in my youth, that's a pretty ridiculous narrative. It's easy to say that all art should trend towards realistically depicting life, but there's a perfectly reasonable argument that it's not an important question after the invention of photography. I mean, if we need photorealistic art, just take a picture. That frees art to focus on other qualities of life than just what exists, like the play of light and shadow (as in Impressionism), or the representation of pure emotion, or the sensation looking at a scene provides instead of a literal vision of that scene, or what have you. And those are pretty good goals, and not something photography does as well. Well, maybe light and shadow.

Anyway, the actual exhibit! As the title indicates, it was about all the Impressionist painting that was done on the subject of fashion, complete with actual dresses, shoes, hats, and so on. Mostly women's fashions, but there were a couple men's suits--the reason given is that men's fashion was pretty much "wear black or brown with a white shirt," so it didn't give nearly as much for the painters to work with as women's fashion did.

Much to my surprise, the suits they had on display were almost big enough to fit me, and while the dresses were the same size as [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, the wasp waists due to excessive corseting would probably prevent her (or anyone else in the room) from wearing them. The shoes and gloves were definitely too small, and while the hats would have fit, a lot of them looked like alien mind control devices.

I think the part that sticks out most in my memory was there they had Monet's The Woman in the Green Dress:


across from an actual dress in the same style from the same period. I was really struck by the contrast between the old dress, faded with time and, well, "the play of light and shadow," and the vibrant colors in Money's painting. They had them set up across from each other, so it was easy to compare and contrast them. That was most of the exhibit--pairing clothing that had inspired paintings with the paintings themselves--but Monet's is the only one that easily springs to mind.

There were also some pieces of furniture and other household accoutriments, and wow were they ridiculously gaudy. Not the exact pieces displayed on this page, but pretty close. There were a few pieces that were less terrible, mostly the sort of dark wood that's probably my favorite decor ever, but if that's the kind of furniture that was in fashion in the U.S., but I can see just where the term "The Gilded Age" came from.

The second thing we saw was an exhibit of Hokusai's Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, and I must admit with some embarrassment that I had never realized that Mount Fuji was in the background of The Great Wave off Kanagawa. There's a full depiction of all the prints at that link. My favorite is probably #25--I love the way Fujisan is depicted in both summer and winter through the reflection in the water, and how it's given a prominent place because it's the only thing that's reflected. #2 is great also, but that's probably feeding into my own memories of having been on Fujisan at dawn:


Fun fact: the "san" in Fujisan isn't the honorific -san, it's 山 san, which means "mountain." That's one of the things I picked up from my Japanese, along with calling air conditioning "aircon" instead of A/C and calling [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd "my wife" in casual conversation even if she's literally standing right next to me.

And finally, something we once knew but had forgotten--as a Loyola student, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd gets into the museum for free, and as a Chicago resident, I get in at a reduced price. We really should go more often. They have a collection of medieval arms and armor that I've heard is fantastic but which I still haven't managed to see, and we have ~9 more months of free admission for one of us to get in to do that.

Why Japan?

2011-Jul-19, Tuesday 21:30
dorchadas: (Enter the Samurai)
Something a friend asked me this weekend made me think a bit. We were playing the Lannister Drinking Game[1], and the statement to me was that my interest in Japan began in my early teens. This was, however, completely wrong.

The first time I saw any anime at all was when I was 19.[2]
The first time I tried sushi was when I was 21.
The first time I tried green tea was when I was 23 (or maybe 22). It was at [personal profile] fiendishfanfares's suggestion--I probably wouldn't have done it otherwise.
The first time I actually made a study of Japanese as a language was when I was 23.

So, why the interest?

I'm not sure. The main reason I liked watching anime so much early on wasn't necessarily that it was from Japan, but more because of the plots. Most of the anime I watched was fantasy, and it was easier to do all kinds of fantastical things and have them look good in a drawn medium than it was in a live action one, and much cheaper as well. My favorite fiction has always been fantasy, so it was probably just a logical extension of that--I don't tend to watch non-fantasy/SF anime either, other than slice-of-life high school anime (which are a lot funnier if you've actually worked with Japanese highschoolers).

As I grew more interested in the structure of the language, I started watching it in preference to non-Japanese series for extra exposure, though I can honestly say it didn't really do many any good at the time. I get much more out of it now that I actually have some knowledge of Japanese to go on and can make out whole sentences rather than just the odd individual word here and there.

I actually don't watch that much anime anymore. I think the main reason I watched more of it a while ago was back then, my main exposure to Japanese culture was 1) watching anime and 2) eating at Japanese restaurants. Living in Japan, my main exposure to Japanese culture starts when I wake up in the morning and ends when I fall asleep[3], so I don't really need any additional exposure. Nowadays, also, I have a lot more things to be interested in since I've experienced them firsthand--tea ceremony, onsen, kagura, hatsumōde, etc., etc.

We'll see how my habits change when I go back to America. I'd be great to figure out if I can get an NHK stream so I could have appropriate noise in the background while studying Japanese or just reading the web.

[1]: It probably has another name, but it goes like this--make a guess about someone. If you're right, they drink. If you're wrong, you drink.
[2]: It was Akira. Some days, I'm honestly surprised it wasn't also the last anime I ever saw.
[2]: I'd say "when I go to bed," but I sleep in a futon on a tatami floor so it doesn't end there either. :p
dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
I'm tempted to replay Portal through again, since the new one comes out on Tuesday (before Episode 3, which is the new Duke Nukem Forever to me, even though it hasn't really been all that long). So much else to do, though...well, all in due time, I suppose.

I just beat Arcanum, and I do admit that it deserves all of the praise that was lavished on it. And a lot of the complaints, too. By about level 14 (out of 50), I could beat groups of monsters twice my level by abusing the magic system. By level 30, I was an unstoppable demigod who probably could have killed everyone in the game. The plot and mechanics are really good, though. It's entirely possible to be a crazed murderer and still finish the game because any important figure can have their spirit ripped from the afterlife and interrogated for important info. Similarly, if you know the Resurrection spell, a lot of quests take into account that you could find that the only person who knows the secret info has been murdered by assassins, resurrect them, and then join forces against the person who killed them originally.

The end boss annoyed me a bit, though, mainly because it's another one of the "Death is better than life, life is suffering, death is peace, I will bring peace to the world through death" negaBuddhist omnicidal maniacs you get so often in JRPGs. Plus one for the option to get into a philosophical debate and convince the guy he's wrong, though. Also the option to join him and actually wipe out all life on the planet.

We just this week got back from Tokyo to see [personal profile] fiendishfanfares, her husband and a couple of her friends. We went to a lot of the standard places I've been before, as is our custom, so I won't go into that again, I'll just deal with the highlights. The first was when we went to Meiji Shrine, we ran into a group (around 6-7) of Japanese college students who came over to talk to us and asked if they could show us around. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I had been there before, of course, but [personal profile] fiendishfanfares and the others hadn't, so we agreed. Some of the things we were told we already knew (how to properly purify ourselves, etc.), and some things were new, but the main neat part was talking to some people who obviously cared about learning English and were actually pretty good at it. It turned out they were students at Tokyo Foreign Language University and most of them weren't actually studying English. The one who showed [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I around was a French Major, there was a Czech Major there too, and one English major whose accent was frankly amazing. We ended up friending our guide on Facebook, and she's said she'll show us around there and the Imperial Palace when my parents come to visit. Neat :)

The second is the first real racism I've experienced in Japan ([personal profile] schoolpsychnerd ran into some at Mt. Fuji, of all places, but I didn't go on that trip). We went to an izakaya in Roppongi that had a 400 cover charge for non-Japanese people. I mean, I suppose it's possible they charged Japanese people too...except that it was only mentioned on the English menu and in English signage. Nowhere in the Japanese literature I read said anything about it. This kind of thing is still perfectly legal in Japan, even though the UN is always on the Japanese government's ass to do something about it. The government's response is usually that it would be "impossible to enforce" (which basically translates to "Fuck you gaijin, we don't care about your standards."), so there's no much I can do about it other than pay extra and be extremely annoyed. Oh, and I guess ask my sister if she wants to experience actual racism, which would be so ludicrously clueless upper-middle-class hipster I might do it just for the total irony that wraps back around into idiocy. Or something.

While we were there, a lot of people kept thanking us for coming. The college students at Meiji and the chefs at the sushi restaurant in Tsukiji (which was deserted. When we went there a year and a bit ago, there were probably 200 people waiting for seats on restaurant row. This time, there were maybe 20, if that) were especially kind.

The other weird things was doing translations. I mean, I really actually liked it, a lot (and wouldn't it have been fucking lovely to find something I'm good at, have talent for and enjoy earlier? I'm good at and have a talent [or so I'm told] for writing, but half the time I don't enjoy it :p), but I'm nowhere near even conversationally fluent in Japanese, so it was still a bit strange to be always translating for other people. The context-based nature of the Japanese language does help, though. Leaving stuff out, leaving sentences hanging, and so on is a fixture in daily speech, which worked to my advantage. When the fare adjustment machine wouldn't refund us the 10円 we had overpaid by, we went to the ticket counter, and I got as far as "Ticket Refund Machine" and a slight pause to think of how to format "isn't working correctly" (I think you can use 働く, which usually means "to work" in the sense of "I work at a movie theatre," in the "that machine doesn't work" way, but I'm not sure) and he ended up refunding us the money and writing us a new transfer ticket that got us all the way there. That was nice.

Also, totally random thought. You visit tons of planets in Mass Effect, and lots of them have ruins. If you look at the dates, it quickly becomes obvious that the ruins all date back in in multiples of 50,000 years. Foreshadowing!

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