Monday, July 23, 2007

American Welcomes me home

I officially finished my travels yesterday... and what a pain!

My morning started out at 7am at the Itami airport. Which I didn't think would be trouble except I forgot the receipt of my flight information in the hotel! I got bounced by a couple of lines and told.. no no, not here. But then a very nice woman walked me over to the correct desk, explained the situation for me, and I had a copy of the receipt in no time. That allowed me to check in, go through security and still have plenty of time before my 8:30 am flight. That's right, all less than 1 hour.

I had a bit of a lay over in Tokyo, where I spent the last of my coin money, since I can't deposit that in my bank, and left there with no troubles.

Then after a long flight and a couple of movies, I arrived safely in America. Customs was fine, I rechecked my luggage and with the exception of every employee being rude (or apathetic I guess) I had no problems.

Then.... then, we board about 15 minutes late, and about halfway through the boarding people start coming back out. They were kicked off the plane because they had some maintenance thing to check on. So, now we have a bunch of people milling around the gate because we weren't told what was going on, and one of the mangers is getting mad that we're blocking the gate and there are other flights that need to board. We, of course, have no idea what is going on and keeping hearing the mumbled intercom announcing something is boarding.

Cut to about 2 hours later and we finally board. I guess there was some trouble with a door. And they made a couple of announcements along the way that they had to get a part from the hanger (if they had one) and blah blah blah.

Anyways, I landed in Greenville about 1:45 late, and then went to get my luggage. There was no overly dramatic lost luggage story, but I had to wait about 35 minutes for my luggage. Again, no explanations or apologies. So I finished my travels around 8:30pm. That put me at about 12 hours travel + the 13hour time difference. 25 hours! bleh!

Anyhow, Japan was great. Almost without exception we were treated great even though we were such obvious tourists. It was strange to have culture shock when returning home. But there you have it. I'd hate to be a tourist with very little English trying to make it around America. Granted not everywhere is a crowded airport, but still.

Lastly, I came home with a little bit of a sore throat, so I'm trying to take it easy so I don't get too sick. Welcome home!

This is likely the last blog entry so we'll return to more normal forms of communication and work on compiling our Japan photo album.

-A & A

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Home again

Allen's flight lands in Chicago in just over an hour, and I'm back from my various trips this week, so things should soon be returning to normal. I just wanted to say thanks to everyone for sharing our adventures. We had a great trip, but sharing it with all of you was the best part. And now we have a record of the adventure, rather than relying on our faulty memories! It was fun while it lasted, but it's great to be home...

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Time for the fun to end

My last full day did involve too much, but was pretty interesting as always.

I had a brief breakfast with some of the other students who hadn't left yet, packed and was out of the hotel by about 11. It took me quite a bit of public transit to make it to the Osaka where I had a quick lunch and waited to be able to check into the hotel here.

Let's see... I decided not to bother sight seeing so I could kind of relax, so I shopped and found the all you can eat sushi. I took a train to Namba which is where we had dinner once before (with the clown out front) and went to the Namba walk. There was a ton more around Namba than I realized before.

One interesting thing was the huge building of people gambling on horse races. There was seriously at least 3 floors of football field size rooms of people reading newspapers and watching horse races on tv. There was a security guard every 30 ft or so, i don't know what for exactly, but I took a shot of less about one quarter of one floor.

Anyhow, the other exciting thing was the sushi place. Whoo I left stuffed! I definitely got my money's worth though I thought I would've eaten more. Anyways 17 plates which was 28 pieces of sushi, yum!

And the other thing is trying to pack tonight. I don't really have much luggage space so that too more time than I anticipated and it's late now.

Anyway, not a riveting post I realize but a good day none the less. So, flying home tomorrow, wish me luck!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Small anecdote

Remember this...

I found a new kanji program on my palm pilot that lets me more quickly look up stuff and as it turns out this....

says "Danger. With the exception of an Emergency, please do not go out onto the veranda" .... Oops!

I think we all could have guessed as much, but the language barrier was a good enough excuse to enjoy the view and the fresh air.

Last full day in Kobe

The school has come to a close and I head off to Osaka again tomorrow. I don't have grand plans yet for tomorrow, but I'll try to come up with something.

As for today, I won't go into the details of the talks, but they were through by noon, so they weren't the majority of the day anyway. Most of the Japanese students left today (since domestic travel is easier than international) so I said my good bye's and hopefully since I handed out my Meishi with my email address on them, I'll stay in contact with a couple of students. I also gave the organizers of the school some Clemson swag today and while, on the one hand, I'm sure they're not overly excited about bright orange shirts with another school logo in it, I think they appreciated the gesture and let them know I appreciated their efforts.

Also, having begun packing again, I'm glad to be able to toss my poster and not have one more thing to carry!

Anyway, I planned what do do with my free afternoon and after some time set off to some Sake breweries in the area. I was told by several of the students that Nada Sake is the most famous in Japan, and it's brewed here in Kobe, so they suggested I tour one or many and do the taste testing they offer. Ok, off I go...

My walk began enjoyably enough. They had a 'riverside walk' which was much better than walking on any old sidewalk.

Then, of course, I get lost. Go in circles. And just when I literally nearly tore my "Map" to shreds and screamed, I found a sign that helped my calibrate the map, and I found one of the breweries! Oh, by the way, about 10 minutes earlier it had started to rain too (Shock!). Unfortunately my delay meant I only made it there 15 minutes before they closed and so I was a bit rushed and there was no tasting :-(

However, I took a bunch of pictures of the process so I could study them later, and bought a little souvenir. While I was packing my bag and looking at the map, one of the women who worked there came outside and gave me a couple of free... uh... things. I still not quite sure what they are, but I tried one and it's a sweet sakeish tasting liquid around some weird clear noodles. It's some form of snack anyway. Even though I think today was their sell by date and since I was leaving at closing time it was give them to me or through them out, it still cheered me up significantly. So I set on my way to the next one which had a slightly later closing time.

I found the second one fairly efficiently, but I was still only about 20 minutes before closing time. Here though, one gentleman, about 64 if I remember our discussion correctly, made it his job to educate me about the ways of Sake despite the language barrier. Seriously though, he was feeding me so many samples I thought he was going to ask me out or something. (ok, that's a bit off color, but the thought made me laugh while I was there) Anyway, I had my samples of Japan's most famous Sake, and I was able to set off to do more shopping.

I found a 5 or more story book store in which I purchased a comic book for myself, and walked around looking for souvenirs again. Somewhat disappointing selection, but the area is much less populated than Osaka, for example, so I'll get to try again.

Then I went in search of movie theaters for my beloved. :-) It's surprisingly difficult to find a movie theater in Japan, because of the 4 I've been to now, none of them have "movie theater" (eigakan) in the title. So, I can't what they are from the outside of the building and, what's more, they're usually in a high level of a tall building. So, I can't even necessarily see movie posters or something to let me know I'm on the right track. All of that, and the people I have asked for a movie theater, seem to be unaware of their existence even though it's less than a mile away!

Anyhow, long story short, I found one today and even though they don't start showing the recent harry potter movie until tomorrow (which made my shoulders slump when I started up the stairs) they did have the merchandise in! So Autumn, you may officially 'eeeeee *claps hands*' now.

That's about it, I watched a crappy Arnold Schwarzenegger movie and did some packing tonight and I'm basically through with Kobe. For tomorrow, I don't have any real sightseeing in mind yet, but I did find mentioned on the Internet an all you can eat kaiten sushi (rotating sushi) place in Osaka for *correction* 1575 yen! That's definitely going to be dinner, if I can find the bloody thing.

Likely just one more blog from Japan, and this vacation/business trip is officially over.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Banquet and international politics

This will just a quick post this morning before I run off to my last 2 lectures. The fun part about yesterday, and why I didn't post last night was because we had our banquet with everyone. It was a lot of fun.

As usual, it started out a bit slow for me since I'm not exactly the most socially graceful person but I soon started talking with Aoki-san, a student I met at the reception on Monday, and soon I was surrounded by students and doing my best to eat/drink/speak Japanese. Very difficult! I think everyone's English is quite good so they can usual figure out the English word for something if I couldn't understand the Japanese.



Anyway, towards the end of the 2 hour banquet I had even discussed Okinawan Awamouri with the head of the department here. How's that for an experience?

After that we retired to our lecture hall to continue the party, and I met some more people and talked a lot. Eventually there was a group migration to a Karaoke bar, which the group I was talking to at the time missed, so I don't get to say I did Karaoke with a group of Japanese but I can say that I stayed up to around 1am with two Japanese students talking international politics. Now that was a hard conversation. It's hard to summarize any question like, "What do american's think of...?" and then there is the obvious language barrier and culture barrier.

Anyway, I hope this isn't too rushed and full of all types of errors. We're done around noon today but I don't yet know what the afternoon will hold. More to come!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Half work, Half touring, Half lost....

Not much exciting to discuss about this morning. Talks were again informative. The one i think was particularly good was just too fast. I couldn't digest enough information and keep up with him so I derailed and worked a random physics problem for a bit.

Anyway, the interesting part of today was it was our excursion day to Himeji. Which I believe to be quite distinct from Kyoto. Anyhow, we had two hours to kill and wait around before were to meet at the train station and someone would escort everyone to the castle for the tour. I couldn't sit still for two hours so I decided to venture out on my own and find something else to do there and meet up with the group later. The plan started out fine, I correctly negotiated the trains to Himeji, and had a tourist brochure with several sites to see. I set my eyes on Shoshazan Engyoji which was a big training ground for the Tendei sect. (don't' know much about them).

Anyway, it's up on a mountain and is where "The Last Samurai" was filmed. I remember that being particularly beautiful so I started walking. As it turns out the B2 I started walking to was actually A-B2. I was supposed to walk to B-B2 which was a different map altogether and significantly zoomed out! So, walking was not an option. It stayed open until 6pm, but I couldn't squeeze it in before the tour group and the Castle closes at 4pm anyway.

I decided to tour the castle myself so I would have time to make it to the other temple, and the castle was beautiful. It feels more appropriate wandering around on my own then being baby sat anyway. So, I spent about an hour touring. Right before I left an elderly Japanese man started talking with me and we made small talk for at least 15 minutes. It was simple, he knew a little English, but it was really neat to just strike up a conversation in Japanese. While I was talking was when the actual tour group came up behind me so I felt a little weird chit chatting with this older gentlemen while everyone else came up to the castle, but it was really neat.

Then I find out that to go to the other temple it's a 30 minute bus ride and then a something like 15-20 minute rope care up the mountain... and the bus wouldn't leave until 40 minutes after I arrived at the station. So long story short, by the time I would've made it up there I may or may not have been let in anyway. Sigh.

Instead I walked the shopping district and thought I'd treat myself to some sushi. I couldn't find sushi anywhere! I must of walked around aimlessly expecting to see a sushi place for over 2 hours. I finally stop and ask the people in the police station and they pull out the phone book and draw me a map to a relatively nearby sushi place... guess what? It was closed!

Fortunately I walked no more than 5 more minutes before finding this tiny hole in the wall Okonomiyaki place. It was barely visible, on the second floor, had about 4 tables, and one woman tending the place. It was fantastic though. It helps that I was starving but I could definitely eat okonomiyaki occasionally.

Anyways, all the wandering made me pretty tired so I think for what's left of the evening I'm just relaxing in the hotel. Some of us hung out fairly late in a hotel room but it was pretty mellow. 4 Lectures tomorrow so I'll need my strength. More to come....