Archive for the 'Nature' Category

Things I’ve learned in Cambodia

Monday, July 18th, 2011 by Steph

A little list of Lessons Learned in honor of my 6-month anniversary here, one per week, just for fun:

  1. Everything is negotiable.
  2. Always look over your shoulder when changing direction, even if the traffic laws are on your side.
  3. There’s an art to cutting the perfect pineapple.
  4. To set up a cricket trap you need only some clear sheeting and a shallow pool of water.
  5. Duck embryos are best with lime juice and pepper.
  6. There’s a dark seedy underbelly to karaoke.
  7. If there’s less than 4 people on your moto, you are not using it to the fullest capacity.
  8. Why there are so many batman.tuk tuks (just because).
  9. The wats start rockin’ out at 4:30 in the morning.
  10. Sometimes it’s better to have your freedom than to have a full stomach.
  11. You can totally jump off that high tree branch into the river. Empirical evidence suggests that you get extra points for doing it w/o clothes.
  12. Sedans only rise to their true glory when filled with 8 persons (4 in front, 4 in back)
  13. 11am to 1pm is best spent sacked out in a hammock.
  14. The louder the music, the better the celebration.
  15. Nothing livens up a morning meeting like a fresh jackfruit. Or durian.
  16. There are better countries to be a dog.
  17. There are worse countries to be a dog.
  18. If the internet, power, or water goes out, it’s totally Vietnam’s fault.
  19. The New Year is an excellent opportunity to smash.powder onto people’s faces. And do lots of other.silly.stuff.
  20. Adults are crazy.
  21. Baby crocs don’t bite.
  22. Moms are the same across the world.
  23. $2 buys a lot of bananas.
  24. Monks can be flirty.
  25. There’s no where I’d rather than be in the dry season than floating on the Mekong. Preferably, without a boat.
  26. Never underestimate the utility of a good porch.

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Can you come over?

Sunday, July 10th, 2011 by Steph

“I didn’t really plan. Can you come over?”

“Why not?” I thought. I think I remember the way: down the wide unpaved road, right at the asphalt, left at the vegetable stand.

You’ve kindly laid out a feast, including some shredded meat that ran around this very yard about an hour ago. The freest-range chicken. The sky at dusk is distracting; bats begin to trickle along in an anemic inky stream, dispersing to find their own dinners. Mesmerizing. I could watch those wings twitch to and fro overhead all night.

Banter snaps me out of the reverie. My companions are discussing Cambodian politics (it mostly flows over and around me like water). Pot (outlawed two years ago; delicious in soup). The alarming frigidity of snowmelt (“I thought I would die!”) An excellent pick up line or two (witty juxtapositions of mirrors and pants). The costs and benefits of keeping a cat around (fewer snakes; more mosquitos). The daily rhythms of a monk’s life (hunger and peace). The proper way to add fruit to your rice wine (roast before adding, no oil).

As the night wore on, and the conversation fell away thread by thread, one singular thought remained: what luck to be surrounded by such joy, hospitality, and camaraderie.

Things I will miss about Japan

Saturday, July 11th, 2009 by Chris

As we prepare to leave Japan in two weeks, I’ve finally gotten around to something that’s been in the back of my mind for most of the three years we’ve lived here: writing down the things I love and hate about the place. Last week I griped about the things I find most annoying. Now it’s time for the bubbly conclusion.

So here’s the stuff I’ll miss when I go.

(more…)

Earthquake #5

Sunday, February 15th, 2009 by Chris

We felt our fifth Japanese earthquake today. We were having pizza with friends in Odate city, about an hour east of Noshiro. This one was very light; the epicenter was way off in the Pacific Ocean on the other side of the country. I didn’t even feel the thing; my first inkling was when someone noticed all the lights in the restaurant were swaying. We probably wouldn’t have felt it at all in Noshiro.

Feb 15, 2009

Feb 15, 2009

For reference, the previous four earthquakes were:

Iwate Earthquake

Saturday, June 14th, 2008 by Chris

About 20 minutes ago there was a large earthquake in our neighboring prefecture of Iwate. The epicenter was right around the “tri-state area” where Akita, Iwate, and Miyagi meet.


Amazingly, I was watching the news when the earthquake happened, and an earthquake alert popped up on the television about 10 seconds before the earthquake actually arrived. The shaking was not heavy all the way over here in Noshiro, but it went on for over a minute. It felt like being on a boat, with a kind of constant vibration accompanied by big, slow swaying back and forth. I went outside and noticed all the powerlines swinging all over the place. Our landlord’s gardener was out there and didn’t seem to be noticing anything though!

More info

San Diego on fire again

Thursday, October 25th, 2007 by Chris

I didn’t hear about the southern-California wildfires until my mom told me about them on the phone yesterday. Since then I’ve been riveted by the Flickr community’s photos that are constantly being uploaded by photographers all over the region.

You can get an idea of the scale of this thing from this map from KPBS.

San Diego Fires 2007

The amazing thing is that this map covers as much area as the entire prefecture that we live in in Japan.

It’s deja vu all over again. We lived in San Diego for four years before moving to Japan, and the fire pictures are taking us back to 2003 when some of the same areas burned at almost exactly the same dates, starting on October 26 and continuing for several days after.

Our thoughts are with our friends in San Diego, particularly John and Kathie who live directly between the north and south fires.

My Cup Runneth Over

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007 by Steph

Well, there’s been another water incident, only this one wasn’t confined to my high school. Last weekend some sort of typhoon passed over the great state of Akita, and we took a little bit of a beating. As it was a 3 day weekend, I missed most of the storm warnings, though I could tell something was up. As far as I knew, we just got a lot of rain, nothing special. When I arrived at school on Tuesday morning, I heard a slightly different story.

I was a bit confused when my co-teacher told me that the school was being closed because of wind. The weather outside didn’t seem so severe, and I’d been in much stronger winds in Noshiro before. My confusion escalated to alarm when I heard that the teachers were required to stay at school even though the students were sent home. Our school building is, let’s say, on the crumbly side and is currently undergoing extensive renovation. When I heard that something was dangerous enough to cancel class, but that the teachers had to stick it out, images of being buried alive in a pile of rubble flashed before my eyes.

Which is when I heard about the evacuees in the gym. And the pieces started to fall together… we weren’t bracing ourselves for wind after all. The Yoneshiro river which runs through town was full to the point of bursting, and things were starting to get wet. Things like entire rice fields and houses. I sat back and took it all in for a moment. Flood? Where was I when all this happened?

As school was technically closed for the day, I had to go out and forage for my lunch. My usually peaceful town was abustle with traffic. Restaurants were closed. Police had blockaded now-underwater river-adjacent streets. I’m told that snakes and frogs lined the retaining wall, fleeing from the swollen river as the water inched upwards. Isn’t that some kind of sign of the apocalypse?

Luckily, Noshiro and the Akita river area in general is built for this sort of thing, with wide flood plains. Nevertheless, over 25,000 people in Akita have had to evacuate their homes. Entire bridges are missing a little farther to the southeast. Let’s hope that typhoon season ends soon so we can all dry out a little.

Niigata Earthquake

Monday, July 16th, 2007 by Chris

Niigata was hit by a big earthquake a couple hours ago.  I felt it sitting here at the computer, a slow swaying motion that went on for quite awhile and reminded me of being on a boat.  I just wanted to write this quick post to say everything’s all right up here.

Earthquake 2007-07-16

Volcanoes Rock

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007 by Steph

If you had told me that I was going to spend my summery June weekend trudging through snow, I definitely would have expressed some disbelief. I had settled into a relaxed Sunday morning do-nothing vibe, when my better half came to me looking for adventure. It’s sunny! It’s beautiful! We have to go, go, go! I took a moment to savor this role reversal, and then we joined forces, determined in our Quest for Fun.

My suggestion? The Hachimantai Plateau. It was a locale steeped in mystery: smack in the middle of Akita, but still inexplicably inaccessible, surrounded by mountains, with an alpine atmosphere juxtaposed with “evidence of volcanic activity”.

Tantalizing destination? Check.

We gathered together some intrepid friends and headed off by car into the heart of Akita. Once we reached the Hachimantai area, we had to ascend a punishing slope to get to the plateau. During the climb, my attention was equally split between the gorgeous mountain view and the temperature gauge of our car, which was stubbornly climbing upward as well. I’m not sure that name “Red Bullet” is appropriate any more; she certainly wasn’t faster than a speeding anything, and we had to give her a rest a few times on the way up.

Once at the top, you could truly get a sense of the mountainous spine which runs down the center of Japan. We found an alpine marsh, preparing to burst into bloom. Pockets of snow could still be seen on the mountain, and in the distance, we could see Japanese skiers who had flocked to a still-covered slope, and were enjoying the last bit of powder as they jumped off of snowy hillside ramps.

Several paths led to and around the summit, skirting past many of the partly frozen ponds that characterize the Hachimantai area. Elevated planks led us across still-barren meadows, soaking wet and dripping with the sound of snow melt. Stone paths led us through thickets of pine, and voluminous clouds added majesty to a scene still tinged with the breath of winter.

meadow collecting water

Ten minutes into the hike, the planks we had been happily traversing were completely covered in snow. Snow had been tiresome in March, but in mid-June, as heat and humidity begin to afflict the lower altitudes in Japan, discovering snow was like some uncanny summer hallucination. We all did our best to shuffle, slip and slide across to where the planks emerged again, including our friend Claire, who was dressed to the nines a very summery go-go dress and boots. We repeated this maneuver over and over again… plank-snow-plank-snow, working our way through the intermittently frozen landscape.

On our way out of the park mid-afternoon, we made a detour to visit a nature trail from which you could observe “volcanic phenomenon”. “Phenomenon” was a huge understatement. I’m not saying that there was red-hot lava flying through the air or anything; but if you stepped off the path, imminent death awaited you. There are not enough words in the English language to explain the smells which suffused the air. My nose couldn’t quite parse all the olfactory excitement. “Smelly” does not begin to cover the spectrum of the fumes which poured forth from this conduit to geothermal happiness.

We passed several bubbling mud pools, and steam periodically hissed from beneath the rocks at our feet. Holes in the soil beside the trail swore and spit, belching fumes from the belly of the earth. Here and there you could see where the path had been re-routed in deference to a newly-formed steaming pit. One of these bubbling cavities surfaced directly under a pole by the roadside, which had sunk several feet into the mire. We stumbled upon a mud volcano (the biggest one of it’s kind in Japan!), which looked downright quaint until we read that the pool was 25 feet deep and 85 degrees Celsius.

Mud Volcano Environs

Signs warned not to touch the deceptively benign water running by our feet, as the pH was somewhere in the vicinity of 1.5. We skirted a small volcanic rim, and soberly noted a sign on the far side that had been subsumed by all the bubble and toil.

A hot springs resort occupied the real estate adjacent to these hellish pools. Thick and incredibly ugly black tubes snaked around the nearest spring, piping hotter than hot water to the baths. Guests emerged from the resort in kicky little white and green yukatas (little more than thin bathrobes), to stroll nonchalantly amongst the scalding and bubbling mud, before returning to their hot spring retreat. On a distant rock was a Christian cross, surveying the scene from on high… I’m not sure what was going on there. Make the corresponding parallels to fire and brimstone if you wish. It was a surreal scene on a lot of levels.

I am thrilled to live in a place where, even after a year of relentless investigation, there is still more exploration to be done. Surprise still lurks in the cracks and crevices of this odd back-country, a niche half-forgotten, half-ignored by those living in the bigger city, on the faster track.

Out for a Stroll

Friday, June 15th, 2007 by Steph

The sky is clear and brilliant, littered with stars. In this cloudy, waterlogged country, that in and of itself is a miracle. Though the sky is clear for now, early summer’s rainy season is well underway. With it comes the humidity, and the insects (I had forgotten you), unobtrusively grotesque on my living room wall.

It’s refreshingly cool this evening, a June Aberration. A radio tune I can’t quite hear winds through the street from some far off window, delicately drifting in and out of reach. Water rushes quietly under the street, hurrying to some unknown secret place.

I pass the elementary school field, which is abuzz during the day with children, my students, shouting ohstephaniesenseihello! ohstephaniesenseihello! At night it seems empty by comparison, until a chorus of frogs hums up out of the night, krrr-chickchick-ga-ga-ga! krrr-chickchick-ga-ga-ga! They’re proudly broadcasting their froggy tune, the welcome song of summer.

Tonight, there’s no snow, no strong wind, no steely flat clouds. No screaming children, no staring adults, no witty repartee. Just me and Japan, out for a stroll, sharing this perfect evening together.